My Great Disney World Adventure

Yesterday I wrote about my recent business trip to Orlando. This is the “rest of the story”, a behind-the-scenes look at how I spent way too much money for a one-day vacation.

When Kris and I agreed to fly to Orlando for the unveiling of The Great Piggy Bank Adventure, we hoped to have time to explore the rest of EPCOT Center. But when we received the itinerary, it was clear that all we’d actually be doing was attending the opening ceremony. We were scheduled to fly in at midnight, attend festivities from 10am until 1pm, and then fly home at 5pm.

“That’s a bummer,” Kris said. “You should ask the PR rep if there’s any way we can stay an extra day.” Since the public-relations firm was arranging the trip (and presumably paying for it), we were at their mercy. But as many GRS readers have noted in the past, it never hurts to ask. So I did.

“I can delay your return flight by a day,” the PR rep said. “That’s no problem. But you’ll have to pay your way for the extra stay, including the hotel and meals.” So, in essence, Kris and I had a 24-hour vacation in Florida and didn’t have to pay for airfare. (We also received a reduced rate at the hotel.) How expensive could it be?

Packing light
While preparing for our visit to Orlando, we decided to put to use all that we’ve learned about traveling economically. We packed light. I took one pair of nice shoes and one pair of nice pants, but three of everything else. We shared one piece of carry-on luggage between us, and we each took a small shoulder-bag as well.

The travel and the time-shift were uneventful but exhausting. Our plane arrived in Orlando at around midnight, and Disney’s Magical Express (aka The Bus) dropped us at our hotel an hour later. We awoke at the equivalent of 4am Pacific to prepare ourselves for the media event. Our introduction to The Great Piggy Bank Adventure concluded with a buffet lunch during which we spoke with two Disney Imagineers.

After lunch, we said good-bye to our host and to the representatives from Disney and T. Rowe Price. Under our original plan, we would have immediately returned to the hotel to catch the shuttle to the airport. But because we’d arranged for an extra night, we had 24 hours to explore the theme park. We stepped out of the restaurant and into…a torrential downpour!

A warm wet rain was falling on EPCOT. Tourists — most of whom were wearing identical $8 Mickey Mouse ponchos — waded through huge puddles or huddled together under the eaves of the buildings, trying to stay dry. Coming from the press event, Kris and I were not suitably dressed for that kind of weather. “Uh, what do we do now?” I asked. “I’m in my nice clothes. I don’t want to ruin these shoes.”

“I don’t want to ruin my shoes, either,” Kris said. “We need to get back to the hotel.”

We killed time until the rain let up a bit, and then scurried back to our room. Once there, we had a tough decision. Kris had a spare pair of shoes, but I did not. “I can’t wear these shoes if it’s going to rain,” I said.

“See if you can buy a pair of Crocs in the gift shop,” Kris suggested. “They were selling them in the park.”

I managed to find a pair of Mickey Mouse Crocs for $37. Though I had sworn never to own a pair of those hideous things, I bought them anyhow. They served me well for the rest of the trip. I also bought a $46 rain jacket. “So much for packing light,” I thought as I paid my $83. “But at least these will get lots of use back in Oregon.”

I changed into my rain gear (including a pair of shorts that Kris had packed for me) and returned to the park.

Living with the land
We spent the afternoon following tips from Get Rich Slowly readers. The highlight for us was the Living with the Land boat ride (it’s like Pirates of the Caribbean — with vegetables!), followed by the “behind the seeds” tour of EPCOT’s hydroponic gardens. The former was free, but the latter cost $32 for the two of us. It was well worth the cost, though, to see the amazing tomato tree (which produces over 1000 pounds of fruit in a season!) and to be snapped at by the baby alligators.

On YouTube, someone has posted a nice video of the greenhouse portion of the Living with the Land tour.


This tomato plant has been nurtured to be tree-like. It’s amazing!


In the late afternoon and evening, we sloshed around the wet sidewalks, wandering the 11 countries of the World Showcase, trying to find things to do that didn’t involve spending. There weren’t a lot of options. Much of EPCOT consists of places to eat and shop; it’s designed to part a tourist from his money.

We ate dinner at Edo, a Benihana-like restaurant in the Japan section of the park. (Benihana is Kris’ favorite.) Moments after we entered the restaurant, the rain began to fall in torrents. It was even literally falling sideways at one point. “I’m glad I have my Crocs,” I muttered. After our $85 dinner, we stayed in EPCOT to watch the raucous fireworks show before turning in for the night.

All wet
In the morning, I was pleased to see that the sun was shining. Or trying to. There were clouds, but there were also patches of blue sky. “My shorts are still soaked from yesterday,” I told Kris. “I’m going to wear my nice pants.”

“You do that little thing,” she said.

We ate breakfast in the hotel ($45!!!) before heading back to EPCOT ($160!!!). “Wow,” I said. “How can a family afford this? We’ve got the money, but can you imagine some of our friends with kids? To spend a week here would be ruinous.”

We spent our morning looking at the butterfly garden (lame!), observing families at The Great Piggy Bank Adventure, and riding Mission: SPACE (we chose the “intense” option, which was a mistake — we’re too old, and we felt nauseated for hours afterward).

“I’m glad it’s not raining today,” I said as we headed to lunch in Morocco. We enjoyed our kabobs and lemon chicken ($48) and then decided to return to the hotel. We stepped out of the restaurant into…a torrential downpour!

“You’ve got to be kidding,” I said. Kris laughed. She pulled out her $8 Mickey Mouse poncho and I zipped up my rain jacket. We sprinted through France to England, where we joined a group of tourists under an awning. We watched the water cascade down the sidewalks.

“My pants are soaked!” I said as the rain began to fall even harder. I was happy to at least be wearing my Crocs. My shoes really would have been ruined by the rain.

“This is unbelievable,” said a woman next to us. Lightning flashed and thunder rolled. Everyone was drenched.

“We need to get back to the hotel,” I said after a while. “The Disney Magical Express leaves in twenty minutes.” We darted over to the ferry, but the captain told us he couldn’t run the boat in the heavy weather. Instead, we ran down the sidewalk, exposed to the elements, sluicing through a couple of inches of standing water. We cut into the first hotel we saw (because all of them are basically interconnected). Disney employees were there to greet us and to hand out towels. We dried off as best we could, but we were both soaked to the bone.

“We’re from Oregon, but we’re not used to rain like this!” I told the hotel employee as I gave her my wet towel.

“This is unusual,” she said. “This is the kind of rain you’d expect with a tropical storm, but there just isn’t any wind.”

As we gathered our luggage, I realized I had another clothing-related problem. “I don’t have a dry pair of pants,” I said. “I can’t spent ten hours on planes in wet clothes. I need to buy a pair of shorts.”

“Hurry,” said Kris. “The Disney Magical Express will be here in just a couple of minutes.” Fortunately, Disney stores are ubiquitous at the resort, and I was able to pick up a pair of “surf shorts” ($40). We changed into dry clothes and were out front to meet the bus just as it arrived.

$20 per hour
“You know, I’ve spent over $100 on clothes here,” I said as the bus left for the airport. “I bought almost as much as I brought.” We laughed at the irony of the situation, but agreed that we couldn’t feel too bad about the clothing purchases. I chose practical items that I’ll use for a long time. (In fact, I’ve practically lived in the “surf shorts” since we returned. I’m wearing them right now!)

On the long flight home, I contemplated how much I’d spent for that extra 24 hours at EPCOT. If I’d stuck to the original itinerary, I wouldn’t have seen much (if any) of the park, but I also wouldn’t have spent anything. In the extra day we stayed, my non-business expenses totaled:

  • $160 for one night in the hotel
  • $160 for a day in EPCOT
  • $178 for food (oh, my frugal heart)
  • $32 for the “behind the seeds” tour (money well-spent!)
  • $123 for clothing

That last line-item is unfortunate, but acceptable. I’ll use the clothes for years to come. But in retrospect, I’m not sure it was such a smart choice to spend $530 to experience EPCOT for one day. That’s over $20 per hour! Plus, that’s $530 from my vacation fund that could have been saved for a trip to Europe.

One of the first things I did when we returned home was to look up information on how to save money at Disney theme parks. It turns out that Nancy Benac has a recent article on this very subject that is making the rounds: “How to do Disney World on a Dime“. Benac says there’s not much you can do to get around the high cost of park entrance, but there are other things that can make a family vacation to Orlando more affordable, such as:

  • Use the web to find inexpensive lodging outside the Disney resort complex.
  • Eat as many meals as possible outside of the theme parks. And pack snacks so that you don’t have to buy expensive treats. (This is something Kris and I would have done under normal circumstances.)
  • Set a budget for souvenirs.

Though this trip depleted my vacation sub-account at ING Direct, I do not regret the expense. I consider it a learning experience. In general, Kris and I take frugal holidays. During our five-day vacation to the San Juan Islands last fall, for example, we didn’t spend much more than $530. Our EPCOT experience simply reinforces how much we prefer to take cheap vacations close to home. Disney may be fun, but it’s too expensive — and too wet — for my tastes!

Here I am, all tough in front of the hydroponic winter melon. Dig the new rain jacket!


I feel like I’ve been spending a lot of money lately. It’s money I’ve saved, true, but it still feels extravagant. It may be time to focus on frugality for a while.

Update: Several commenters have recommended as a great source of discount Disney ideas.

Coping with Life’s Little Setbacks

I had a lousy weekend. It was one of those weekends where anything that could go wrong did go wrong. The individual problems were minor enough, but taken as a whole, it was all rather overwhelming. Some examples:

  • When I left the house to go on my marathon training run Saturday morning, the cover to porch light fell to the ground and shattered into a million little pieces.
  • Our internet connection died. And, of course, the only way I know how to contact my provider is over the internet. (Fortunately I now have an office just up the street with a working internet connection.)
  • I mowed the lawn on Sunday. For five minutes. Then the lawnmower died. The blade just sort of seized up and now will not turn at all. I have no idea what’s wrong, and I won’t have time to diagnose the problem until I return from Orlando.
  • On Sunday evening, we went swimming with a group of friends. Naturally I left my suit and towel at the aquatic center. I didn’t have time to retrieve it before my flight yesterday.

This is but a sampling of the avalanche of small setbacks that have befallen me over the past few days. As I say, no individual problem is particularly dire, but when encountered in a clump like this, they make me cranky. For each one, I imagine how much money it’s going to cost me to fix. I see dollar signs floating over the broken light fixture. I see dollar signs crawling over the lawnmower. I see dollar signs next to the DSL modem.

The Olden Days
In the Olden Days, back when I struggled with debt, a series of setbacks like this would have been more than just frustrating. Because I had no emergency savings, I would have been forced to resort to my credit cards. I would have found myself drawn deeper into debt.

There’s no question that these mishaps bug me. But I know that I’m financially prepared for them, and when I’ve taken care of each problem, I’ll be able to build up my savings and return to life as it was.

If this had happened five or ten years ago, however, it would have been a different story. These setbacks wouldn’t just bug me — they would have made me depressed. I would have felt like life was conspiring against me, dragging me down. I would have felt unlucky. And as I charged each repair on my credit card, I would have felt like I was sinking deeper and deeper underwater.

This has been one of the great revelations of fiscal responsibility. A broken lawnmower is still a pain in the neck, and it’s still going to cost me money, but it will cost me money that I have saved. While the money has waited to be used, it’s been earning me 2% or 3% or 4% in interest. Previously, I wouldn’t have earned interest at all, but would have charged repairs to a credit card, which would cost me 12% or 18% or 21%. By saving, I am in control of my money.

Even Steven
“You know what this is, don’t you?” Kris said when we realized I had left my swimsuit at the pool. “It’s karma.”

“Karma?” I asked. I didn’t feel like joking around. In fact, I was in a foul foul mood. I was imagining all of the dollar signs floating above my broken world.

“Yeah,” she said. “Karma. Things have been going so well for you for so long that they were bound to balance out. Just think: The site is producing income and you’re saving and investing. You’re doing awesome. These things don’t matter. They’re inconsequential. You can afford to fix them, and you will.”

My wife is a smart woman. She’s right. I shouldn’t let small problems like these bother me. I’ve put myself in a financial position where I can handle small setbacks — even when they come in waves. I’m going to fly to Orlando, have a good time, and when I return home I’ll tap a bit of my savings to make things right again.

Update: Just as I’m ready to leave for Orlando, the bathroom sink clogs. I pull out the drain plug, but when I do, the long “stem” to which it attaches comes loose and falls down the drain. Another minor annoyance, and probably another few dollars literally “down the drain”. What is going on? It’s as if I have a hex on me!


As a life-long Oregonian, you’d think I would have learned by now: you don’t leave the windows down on your car in spring-time — not matter how clear the sky is. And if you have a brand-new (used) Mini Cooper, you most definitely don’t leave the sunroof open while you run into the comic book store for a few minutes.

But no.

Apparently I’ve learned none of this.

So, yesterday afternoon I made a quick stop to pick up some Star Trek comics (unsuccessful). I didn’t close the sunroof. During the five minutes I was inside, the heavens opened and the sky fell in. I came out to find pools of water in the bucket seats.

I went back into the store to bum some paper towels.

Lesson learned — I hope.

Beam Me Up, Scotty

The reviews for the new Star Trek film are glowing. They’re positively glowing. I’ve read every one so far, and they’re beginning to bring tears to my eyes. I’m not joking. I’ve waited so long for a Star Trek to make me rekindle my love for the franchise. Rumor has it, this is it. This is the one.

It’s only Tuesday afternoon, I know, but Rotten Tomatoes is showing 100% of 32 critics giving favorable reviews and an average score of 8/10. That’s pretty damn good. Meanwhile, Metacritic tallies a 94% rating on eight reviews. That, too, is pretty damn good.

I’ve told both Kris and Paul J. that I’ll see this with them. And I think it goes without saying that I want to see with Dave and Andrew (right, guys?). Plus I want to see it in IMAX. And on opening night. I don’t really care, to be honest. I’ll watch this over and over and over again.

But what I really hope is that this isn’t just a one-shot. I want for this to be the beginning of something grand and glorious, a brand new journey to brave new worlds. I want to see these folks boldy go where many have gone before.

p.s. Just for fun, here’s the original trailer for what is still the best Trek film, The Wrath of Khan.

p.p.s. I just checked Fandango. Have you seen how many screens this is playing on? With this wide distribution and the rave reviews, it has a chance to set a record for box-office opening…