The Ultimate (Financial) Mousetrap
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Last year, 2018, was a strange year for me.
It was the first time in a very long time where I did not take any true vacation days.
Apart from the day off a week I had scheduled, I ended up working 52 weeks straight.
Launching a blog during 2018 also consumed a lot of the remaining time I had and, at times, felt like an additional part time job.
What kept me going, especially at the end of 2018 when I really started hitting the wall, was knowing that I had already 3 amazing weeks planned in 2019 to look forward to.
I am writing this just 2 days after returning from my daughter’s spring break, which is the subject of this post.
It had been two years since our last major spring break when we went to Walt Disney World in Orlando and had an absolute blast.
Given the long hiatus, I wanted to go all out for Spring Break ’19.
Initially I was debating between a Disney cruise (my daughter has never been on a cruise before and I have only been on one 17 years ago) and the Atlantis Resort in Nassau, Bahamas.
It just so happens that there was indeed a 4 night Disney Cruise that coincided with my daughter’s spring break.
As luck happened to have it, one of the cruise stops for this trip was in Nassau, Bahamas and lo and behold there were various port excursions to the Atlantis resort.
It seemed like I could have my cake and eat it too.
I did not have to choose between two great experiences but instead could do a hybrid vacation.
So Disney Cruise it was.
Now for those of us who have visited anything Disney, you know that those mouse ears add quite a premium.
A Disney Cruise was certainly no exception.
I personally made some choices that drove the cost of this vacation even higher.
Trust me, this is not a travel hacking post and the following financial breakdown with explanations will make savvy travel hacking individuals (I’m looking at you, Dr.Mcfrugal) faint.
Spring Break 2019
The participants: Xrayvsn, my 13 year old daughter, and my girlfriend.
We flew from our nearest airport into Orlando (nonstop going, 1 stop on the way back) on Delta Airlines.
I am not sure if I had to pay a premium, but I booked it via the Disney Cruise Line Air Program.
- I did this because there was an added safety component that if something interrupted our travel or if there was a delay in flights, Disney would make it right and compensate us.
Round trip airfare cost for 2 adults and 13 year old: $1672.
In addition to this fee, our airline charged $30 checked bag fee (we had 1 large suitcase checked and 3 carry on cases for the trip).
I knew because of the timing of the flight, lunch would not be provided so we purchased food and beverages at the airport of origin prior to takeoff: $22.
I had decided to take advantage of the free weekend before the cruise to fly down to Orlando Saturday afternoon and visit some Disney parks on Sunday, the day before the cruise.
I therefore booked two nights at a mid-level Disney resort, Disney’s Caribbean Beach Resort, which came to $449.
- A bonus perk of staying at a Disney Resort was that you got to book Fast Pass attractions 60 days prior to your arrival date (versus only 30 days for non resort guests).
- I woke up early on the day my 60 day window began and was fortunate to score the coveted Avatar Flight Of Passage Fast Pass (2:15-3:15pm (the timing of this will come into play later in this post)).
- In addition I was able to get Fast Passes to Expedition Everest: Legend Of the Forbidden Mountain ride and the Rivers of Light closing ceremony at Animal Kingdom
Fortunately transportation to the resort from the airport, as well as between the resort and parks, was complimentary via the extensive Disney bus service.
On my previous Disney trip I had one of the best sushi experiences ever at Chef Morimoto’s restaurant in Disney Springs.
I therefore had made a dinner reservation months in advance at this very popular restaurant.
My girlfriend and I ordered the Sushi Tower for 2 and my daughter had her own Sushi Platter.
Total cost of dinner for 3: $203.
Unfortunately I thought this meal was a big letdown compared to the meal I had before.
I noticed the sashimi pieces were far smaller/thinly cut than before and there was no “wow factor” like the original meal had.
In addition my daughter wanted to go to Sprinkles for cupcakes: 2 cupcakes for $10.
Since our last visit there were two new attractions that we really wanted to visit, namely the Avatar experience in the Animal Kingdom and the new attractions added to Toy Story land in the Hollywood studios.
Given we had only one day, I was forced to buy a Park Hopper pass for all 3 of us: $556.
Non-complimentary breakfast at our resort for 3 Sunday morning: $43.
We decided to do Hollywood Studios first as all my Fast Pass reservations were in the evening at the Animal Kingdom.
My daughter wanted to do the Twilight Zone Tower of Terror first and, since it was right next door, the Rock n’ Roller Coaster Starring Aerosmith.
Both were rides we loved before and they did not disappoint (although the wait time for the Aerosmith ride was much longer than stated, easily topping 2 hours).
We then headed to Toy Story Land to hit the newest attraction we came for, the Slinky Dog Dash Roller Coaster.
When we got there we saw that this was not quite the coaster we were expecting and geared towards the younger crowd with a more sedate appearing ride.
We decided to skip this attraction and hit a ride that we enjoyed before, Toy Story Mania.
I checked the anticipated wait time at the entrance (70 minutes) and felt comfortable that we could finish this last ride and make it over to Animal Kingdom before the Avatar Fast Pass expired.
Unfortunately the wait time was again vastly underestimated and the time safety buffer quickly vanished as this turned out to be another 2 hour+ wait.
The way the Toy Story Mania line was designed was brilliant as you never did get to see how much further you truly had to go (we had no idea how long the path was because in our previous time here, we were fortunate to use a Fast Pass).
It really got to the point where I was getting nervous we would miss even the back part of our 1 hour Fast Pass window and lose that coveted Avatar line skip that I woke up so early for 60 days prior.
More than once I felt like we should cut losses and just leave the line and head to the Animal Kingdom.
However I felt there was some Sunk Cost Fallacy at play in my final decision to remain in this line and hoped that we did not sacrifice the Fast Pass because of it.
By the time we got to the actual ride we had already hit the beginning of that Fast Pass window and the 60 minute timer began.
Now Disney parks are fairly crowded any time of year, but you can imagine the extra bodies present due to it being spring break for many.
With girlfriend and daughter behind me in tow we expertly bobbed and weaved amongst the human obstacles and made the fairly long trek to the exit in record time.
Originally I had anticipated taking the free Disney bus to travel between the parks.
However I knew the odds that the bus would leave immediately upon us getting there were slim to none and I was already running out of precious time.
So I quickly made the executive decision to hire a taxi to drive us to Animal Kingdom and ended up paying $23.
This decision, in retrospect, was indeed the right one.
We were dropped off at the entrance, went through security, and then made another long trek to the Pandora section of the Animal Kingdom and was able to scan our wrist bands before the deadline of 3:15 pm.
My daughter, who apparently was feeling the effects of two long hikes and skipping lunch, was apparently dying on me and had to be resuscitated from a local vendor with chips and drinks (okay I admit, the rest of us needed it as well): $17.
I will tell you The Flight of Passage ride was absolutely spectacular.
My daughter even ranked this attraction higher than any at Universal Studios (the first Disney ride to do so in her opinion).
It truly was an amazing, immersive experience, and the technology made you feel like you were in Pandora flying (it is like the Soarin’ Ride at Epcot on steroids).
When we finished the ride we had to exit through the gift shop (a clever design by Disney) and there was quite a lot of amazing souvenirs to choose from.
I originally gave my daughter $100 of spending money for the entire trip.
There was one item in the Avatar gift shop that caught both of our eyes and I knew she would balk because she did not want to spend the majority of her cash on one item.
It was the “Create your own Na’vi Avatar Action Figure,” where they do a facial scan and then create a doll for you to take home.
Of course this customization comes with a price but given that I knew I would regret it if I did not do one for my daughter, I took the plunge and forked over $85 to have a personalized Avatar of my daughter created.
Now do I really believe there is some sort of manufacturing capability that can truly match my daughter’s face to a blue-headed Na’vi?
Of course not.
I’m sure they have a set number of premade heads and grab the one off the stockroom floor that has the closest features to the individual being scanned.
But I will say that the entire production process and presentation was an experience in itself and my daughter was pleased with her new “bonded” friend.
I did not escape the Avatar gift shop unscathed myself.
I purchased these Gummi like strawberries (highly recommend) and Avatar Jelly Beans (would pass), adding $12 to total for these snacks.
While I was in the store, another patron had a colorful frozen drink that caught my eye and I asked where she got it.
It happened to be right around the corner so I ended up buying 2 frozen Avatar concoctions (my girlfriend declined) at the cost of $13.
- It definitely had an interesting taste and the above referenced article probably best summarizes it as “sour Skittles.”
- My daughter and I both agreed that we would not order this again.
There was one other Avatar ride, the Na’vi River Journey that forced us to make a decision.
We had a Fast Pass for the Expedition Himalayan coaster ride, which we had ridden before and loved.
However, if we chose to use that Fast Pass, I did not envision a scenario where we could come back and do this new attraction as I already had dinner reservations made which would then be immediately followed by the River Light Show closing ceremony (that I also had a Fast Pass for).
Another executive decision was then made and we chose to wait in line for the River ride (approximately 80 min wait).
The ride was beautiful and I am glad we experienced it but, if you have to choose between the two Avatar attractions, I would choose Flight of Passage in a heartbeat.
We then headed over to the premier restaurant in the Animal Kingdom, Tiffins, for dinner.
For the appetizer we had an amazing grilled octopus ($16).
For our entrees, my daughter ordered the braised short rib ($49) which she loved, my girlfriend ordered a pan seared fish ($42 (which she thought was not served at proper temperature)) and grilled brussels sprouts side ($12) which was amazing, and I had the lamb shank ($43).
With tax and tip, this dinner for 3 set me back another $201.
After dinner we made it in time for the Rivers of Light show and had front row seats courtesy of our Fast Pass.
Remember the Fast Pass ride we had to give up to experience the Avatar river ride?
Well as we were walking past the attraction on the way to the exit, my daughter astutely pointed out that people were still going in as the light show finished 10 minutes prior to park closing.
We quickly joined the line and within 5 minutes (even faster than a Fast Pass) we were hurtling down the mountain, screaming along the way.
It was definitely a great way to cap off our hectic multi-park day in Disney.
Total cost for this segment of the trip: $3,436.
Some Travel Tips:
Unless it is absolutely necessary, I would advise dedicating a full day to each desired Disney Park.
- The Multi-Park Hopper not only added a sizable upcharge ($37/one-day ticket), but the day was also far less enjoyable because of it.
- Felt rushed to get from one park to the other.
- Only got in 3 rides at the first park and 3 rides and a light show at the second park.
The Avatar Flight of Passage is worth the price of admission and ideally can get a Fast Pass for it to skip the typical 2+ hour lines (likely only available for Disney resort guests making use of the extended 60 day window for Fast Pass reservations).
If you are a Disney resort guest, check and see if the Disney park you plan on visiting that day has extended hours (or change your schedule to visit the park that does).
- I forgot to do so and the park we went to in the morning (Hollywood Studios) did indeed have an early 1 hour head start compared to the general public.
- Because I was unaware of this bonus time, we ended up only getting a 3-5 minute head start instead and paid the price with longer lines and less attractions visited.
Because of this post already becoming quite lengthy, I am going to detail the (more expensive) cruise segment in a follow-up post.
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