Dumb Financial Decisions: Financial Fails From Our Walt Disney World Vacation
Last month the ROMT family made our first trip to Walt Disney World!
While both Mrs. ROMT and I had visited in the past, this trip was the first time our elementary school-aged children visited Florida and the House of the Mouse.
All in all, we had a great family vacation and made lots of memories with one another. We’ll share some of the highlights in this and future posts.
Along the way, we also made a number of smart – and dumb – financial decisions.
We’ll focus on the poor financial decisions associated with our vacation in today’s post, and save the good financial news for next time around!
Financial Fail #1 – I Prepaid For Gas For Our Rental Car
I am usually pretty good at avoiding questionable financial decisions and being manipulated by marketers.
I never purchase the extended warranty for small appliances or cheap electronics.
I don’t just buy items at eye level in the grocery store.
I’m good at saying no to add-ons at restaurants.
I generally avoid buying anything from the checkout aisle.
I even rarely fall prey to the temptations of the “free” samples at Costco.
But as someone who doesn’t have the need to rent cars very often, I am usually a sucker for buying a full tank of gasoline up front, and I fell for it again on our vacation in Orlando.
I always worry that we’ll be rushing on our way out of town and unable to find a gas station in an unfamiliar locale.
A tank of gas seems like a modest price to pay for the extra peace of mind, and besides, we were likely to leave the car running on fumes by the time we dropped it off. Right?
Of course, we didn’t even use half a tank of gas driving around the Orlando area.
And we had tons of time on our way out of town at the end of our vacation.
And we passed plenty of gas stations along the way.
Prepaying for the gas made our exit slightly easier – but definitely was not worth the roughly $25 it cost us.
Financial Fail #2 – Our Mode of Travel Was Relatively Expensive and Inefficient
Mrs. ROMT is not a fan of flying, so we took an Amtrak train to Orlando from the Northeast.
While coach fares for Amtrak were less expensive than a similar flight, the idea of sharing a giant bedroom and two bathrooms with several dozen of our closest friends for nearly 24 hours did not appeal to anyone in our family, so we sprang for two tiny sleeper cabins, which were more expensive.
The privacy and quiet offered by the sleeper cabins was much appreciated by every member of our family during our journey, and rail was actually a fairly relaxing way to travel. There were a few other families in the sleeper cars on our trains, along with some older passengers, and meals in the dining car were included in our fare.
That said, even accounting for a few mediocre meals, we still opted for a mode of transportation that ended up costing about twice as much as flying, and took much longer to get to our destination.
It definitely was not a great financial decision.
But not all decisions are based purely on economics.
As the saying goes, “happy wife, happy life.”
Financial Fail #3 – Mickey Always Gets His Pound of Flesh
As we’ll discuss when we highlight the Smart Financial Decisions we made during our vacation, I think we did a reasonably good job eating at “home” and bringing our own food into the theme parks while we were at Walt Disney World.
That said, as many parents have learned, the snacks available at the park are always much better (and MUCH more expensive!) than anything you could possibly bring in.
The weather was also beautiful while we were in Orlando, in the mid-80s and sunny every day, so we quickly went through the cold beverages we brought each day in our small cooler.
Over the course of four days at the theme parks, we ended up purchasing several frozen treats, beverages, and snacks, all at Disney’s full prices, despite our best efforts to minimize unnecessary spending.
While we appreciated that the theme parks now carry some allergy-friendly snacks by Enjoy Life Foods, the mark up on those items was significant. A chocolate bar cost twice as much as at our local grocery store, while two chocolate chip cookies cost as much as an entire box does back home!
I think we probably spent much less on food at the parks than many of the other guests.
But despite our best efforts, it’s hard to avoid buying anything while you are at the theme parks with your kids.
After all, “we’re on vacation.”
Financial Fail #4 – We Didn’t Take Full Advantage of Everything We Paid For at Walt Disney World
We stayed on site at one of the Walt Disney World resorts, but because we didn’t make our reservations until a few weeks before our trip, we weren’t able to take full advantage of the premium we paid for our Disney experience.
FastPass+, Disney’s service that allows guest to reserve a time slot to visit certain attractions so they can avoid potentially long lines, opens for guests at Disney’s hotels 60 days before their arrival, and for other guests 30 days before their arrival.
So by the time we got around to booking our FastPass+ reservations, many attractions weren’t available until later in the day, and some of the most popular attractions were no longer available to reserve at all.
Of course, we always had the freedom to wait in a line for 60, 90, 120 minutes or even longer if we really wanted to go on a certain ride, but for the most part we skipped the long lines and took advantage of the FastPass+ reservations we were able to secure to get through our visits to the theme parks as efficiently as possible. Because we didn’t sign up for our FastPass+ choices until relatively late, this meant we missed out on some very popular rides we probably would have enjoyed.
Guests staying at Disney Resorts also get the benefit of “Extra Magic” hours, when one theme park each day opens early or closes late. Only guests staying at a Disney property are allowed into rides and attractions during those extra hours.
We only took advantage of Disney’s “Extra Magic” on one of the four days we were at the parks, but I’m sure our hotel room was priced with the expectation that we’d partake on all four days!
Financial Fail #5 – Purchasing Low-Tech Distractions For Our Kids
Thinking back to some of the long car trips we took when I was a child, we purchased our children a few old school distractions ahead of time in preparation for our two long train rides.
Things that I loved when I was a kid.
Like Mad Libs.
While our children enjoyed those low-tech games – particularly the Yes & Know Books – they were still much more interested in using their Kindles while on the train, especially since there was free Wi-Fi on Amtrak. We definitely gave them more leeway than usual to use their technology while on our long train rides, and they took full advantage of it!
I enjoyed playing a few rounds of the travel games with our kids, but they would have been just as happy to spend that time on their Kindles, talking, or looking out the window and discussing the scenery and history of whatever state we happened to be in.
The old school games weren’t a big-ticket item in the context of our entire vacation, but in retrospect that expense was completely unnecessary.
Financial Fail #6 – We Were Wasteful
Because we tried to eat at our hotel room, which was equipped with a reasonably functional kitchen, as often as possible, we went shopping for groceries twice while we were in Orlando.
While we did our best to purchase only what we would consume while on vacation, we did end up with some leftovers when it came time to check out.
Some we were able to bring with us for our trip home on the train.
But some we had to throw out.
While it wasn’t a large amount of food that we ended up having to dispose of, it still felt – and was – wasteful.
Positively, we did also make some Smart Financial Decisions while on vacation, which I’ll discuss in a future post!
What’s the worst financial decision you ever made while on vacation?