Magic moments don't always come cheap
ORLANDO, Fla. - As the Marriott saleswoman wrapped up a sales pitch, the idea of buying a $30,000 time-share just outside Disney World was starting to make sense.
Three days and $2,000 into our four-day "Disney on the cheap" family getaway and we were mulling the two-bedroom/two-bath unit overlooking the golf course with an attached studio option for an extra $6,000.
What happened? Let's just say we learned a lot about Disney and a little about life while we were at the Magic Kingdom.
"It's a splurge," said Brandon Chaffee, a construction worker from Ware, while we waited in a roller coaster line at Disney's Animal Kingdom.
"I just beat cancer, that's why we're here," said his sister Audrey. "We're celebrating."
A promise to two house-bound grandchildren and their mother back when the economic outlook was brighter had brought us to Orlando. You don't renege on a promise to a 6-year-old aspiring princess despite what's happened to your 401(k).
Yet we were seriously considering doing just that in early October when Marriott called and told us that friends had recommended us for the time-share presentation. We were offered a four-night stay in a luxury suite minutes from Disney World for $199, about $50 a night.
We took the deal and started looking for other corners to cut. My wife found a Budget rental car for $35 a day; the Marriott time-share came with a kitchen; and credit card air miles covered our plane fare. That left the tickets, which we would buy when we arrived.
Four months later I was on the phone trying to convince someone with Visa security that I really was spending nearly $1,100 on park tickets (three four-day adult tickets at $233.24 each and two children's four-day passes at $196.96 each). The bright idea of doing Disney on the cheap was dimming.
Our first 20 minutes at Disney's Hollywood Studios killed the fantasy altogether: $6 Goofy key chain, $10 Pirates of the Caribbean gun/flashlight, and $15 Mickey T-shirts all stuffed into the mesh pockets of a stroller that rented for a little less than our Chevy Impala. We had been in Florida for six hours and we had spent almost $1,500. Disney unfolded before me like one massive marketing scheme, with cash registers everywhere.
We headed off to "Beauty and the Beast," a live, expedited version of the animated Disney movie. I was pondering the balance on my Visa card when I looked over at my granddaughter staring at the stage. She was enraptured.
We worked our way through "Journey into Narnia," a roam-around movie theater with a panorama of screens, scene-setting props, and a mini-museum of costumes retired from the original movie set. Next stop was the "Honey I Shrunk the Kids" Movie Set Adventure playground, based on another Disney mega-hit.
The idea of trying rides like the Tower of Terror was squelched by my grandson Jake, 8, who said, "I don't like scary rides." Buzz Lightyear's Space Ranger Spin, a shooting gallery-cum-amusement ride aimed at thwarting the evil Emperor Zurg, was more his speed. Still pining for the tower, I agreed to wait with Jake in a 45-minute line for the Spin. That was as much time as we had spent alone together all year. For the rest of the trip we were joined at the hip, doing every nonscary thing we could find.
We ended our first day at Disney World right outside our time-share on a water slide that shot us into a heated pool the size of a parking lot. Later, after watching SpongeBob SquarePants on a 48-inch flat-screen TV, the kids thanked us for the fun day and headed off to sleep. "I could get used to this," I told my wife as we climbed onto a bed slightly smaller than our back porch.
The cash burn resumed in earnest the next morning with $20 for parking, $15 for four camera batteries, and $120 for a Disney character breakfast. An endless supply of orange juice, sausage, scrambled eggs, fresh fruit, and delicious Mickey-shaped waffles made the check go down easier. The excitement on the kids' faces as Minnie, Pluto, and the other characters signed their Disney autograph books made me stop fretting about the tip.
Our next stop was the Kilimanjaro Safari, where lions, rhinos, hippos, and giraffes roamed several hundred acres of savanna with no discernable protection for the passengers taking it all in from an open-air tour bus. Like the Spin the day before, the safari was more than a ride. We were on a mission to catch unseen poachers who retreated behind a trail of staged evidence as our bus closed in on them. It is that same attention to detail in an area twice the size of Manhattan that makes Disney World, even for adults, much more than an amusement park.
Disney is not a simple pleasure. It has 5,500 performers scattered among 50,000 employees. There are 67 attractions, 34 exhibits, 90 places to eat, and 164 shops. You don't visit Disney, you escape to it. Check your cares at the security gate.
"It is something magical," said Todd Korchin, of Raynham. "When you walk in it gives you the chills. It gives you a sense of promise. After you come in here, you come out with a better feeling about yourself and life in general."
Tim Wacker can be reached at email@example.com.