I am not a Pinterest mom. I am not a soccer mom. And I am not a PTA mom. I have never cut my kids’ sandwiches into little teddy bears, or made caterpillars out of grapes, or recreated an impressionist’s painting with their broccoli, mashed potatoes, and grilled chicken. I often use sarcasm and Bugs Bunny like dialogue when speaking to my kids, and they understand it. I am sometimes quick to anger. Our house often looks like a scene out of the movie Animal House instead of Martha Stewart Living or a Pottery Barn catalog. I feed them highly-processed, near fluorescent, mac & cheese alongside their antibiotic free pork chops, because they like it and because it is cheap and easy. I use harsh chemicals to remove the stains from their clothes and virtually every other surface in our home because it works. I let them watch TV because I watch TV. I let them stay up late and sleep late every weekend because I stay up late and sleep late every weekend. All four of them have hand-held electronic devices that they could spend hours on, and if homework is done and they’re not on restriction, I let them.
It works for us. I should be okay with that. Instead, I find myself constantly feeling inadequate. But I finally did something that all parents (whether they admit it or not) aspire to – I took my kids to Disneyworld.
My husband and I were blessed to receive a week in a condo in Kissimmee, FL from my parents for Christmas (my mom told me at the end of October), we booked it for the week of Spring break, and I set off to plan the most magical vacation ever.
I started on the Disney website – with its bright colors and cheerful music and bibbity-bobbity-booing all over the place. I found the tickets, went to add 7-day “Park-Hopper” tickets to my cart for 2 adults and 4 kids, and was prompted to enter their ages. My cart showed 4 adults and 2 kids and the total was 3-months-worth of mortgage payments, a week’s worth of groceries, and the blood of a virgin. I was certain that there had to be a mistake. I didn’t want accommodations, I didn’t have a dining plan or a personal guided tour from Mickey Mouse – we were only buying tickets. They were calling my 11-year old an “adult.” So I did a little research and discovered, sadly, that there was no mistake and that children 9 years old and older are considered adults by Disney. I mean, I guess I sort of get it; the average 9-year old is tall enough to ride everything in the park, so they should pay full-price, but holy crap. My 11-year old daughter is tiny! I will admit that the idea of fibbing about her age crossed my mind, but I didn’t. I did, however, call the reservations people to try and use my awesome negotiating skills to try for a better deal. I had worked in corporate sales for years before I had kids, and I have successfully gotten a stubborn group of 4 kids to eat their vegetables, brush their teeth, and take a bath almost every night, Disney reservations should be putty in my hands.
Here’s the thing: Disney has more people wanting to give them money than they can allow in the parks at one time, so they don’t negotiate. They don’t have to. They will, however, help you find the best deal. I learned that I could get the 7-day tickets that I wanted, a Memory-Maker package, AND add a single night at a Disney Value resort with a dining plan to get Magic Bands for all 6 of us for only about $50 more than I was going to pay for just tickets. So that’s what I did. They even let us pay for it over time (which felt a lot like debt, so I freaked out about 6 weeks later and paid the whole thing off rather than following the original plan). I was so excited to tell the kids about it Christmas morning.
Of course, the snoopy little 9-year old found out early, but she kept her mouth shut.
About 2 months before we were scheduled to leave, I had a freak-out moment about the cost. I called Disney to see how much we could save if we dropped a day or 2 at the parks. Maybe we should just get 5 or 6-day tickets instead of 7-day tickets – if I averaged things out, it should save us about $500 or so. Nope. Because this is where the genius of Disney comes into play. Every day of tickets that you buy, the price drops considerably. So I asked about dropping one day and discovered that we’d only save $6 a ticket, or $36 total. Drop 2-days? We’d save less than $100. See, Orlando is chock-full of family-friendly attractions like Lego land, Universal Studios, and Sea World (if your family is into animal torture). Disney does not want you go and spend any money at any other park – they want all of your money – so, they make it very expensive for you to leave their park and go somewhere else during your average 7-day stay.
My kids’ current obsession with Harry Potter meant that I had to look into Universal Studios for their Harry Potter world. I discovered that there are actually 2 Universal Parks and that they have Harry Potter World in one and Marvel Universe in the other. Obviously, we’d need to go to both. A 2-day Park-Hopper ticket for the 6 of us would be about $1,800, but going from a 7-day ticket to a 5-day ticket at Disney would only save us about $100. I was too cheap to pull the trigger and decided that this would be a Disney-ONLY trip. When we told the kids, they were completely over the moon excited.
Let me tell you – doing Disney “debt-free” IS possible, but it is NOT easy. Our family gave the kids Disney gift cards that they could spend in the parks for Christmas. I was in total save mode. Whenever I was at the grocery store and went under budget, I would grab a Disney gift card or 2. I had a jar on my counter that said “Disney Dough” on one side and “Mickey Money” on the other, and I would drop random change and small bills into whenever I had them. I was determined not to dip into savings to pay for this trip, and we do not do credit.
I am happy to say that we had an AMAZING time at Disney. Yes, it was insanely expensive, and overly crowded, and there are “stories” that I will tell in subsequent posts (seriously – people provided a wealth of post material), but it was a great experience for our family. Disney has a way of doing EVERYTHING right so that the pain of spending all of that money feels worth it, and you want to come back and give them more money. And I do want to go back. As soon and as often as possible.