We couldn’t wait to take our 5-year-old to Disney World, but gasped at the hefty hotel rates. So we booked a place “just 10 minutes away.” The nice lady on the reservation line even offered us free tickets to Magic Kingdom. All we had to do was attend a brief breakfast presentation on a luxury timeshare community.
“That’s like a $250 savings” I said to my husband. “We’ll listen, say no, and get out. We’ll be at Disney by nine.”
So the morning after arriving at our cigar-smelling second-floor motel walkup, a van came and whisked us half an hour away to a premiere golf course community in the making (a big field).
We were met by Dave, a middle-aged man in khakis and a royal blue blazer. He led us to a club house dining room packed with Middle American couples — all sitting with other guys in the same “this is how wealthy people might dress for leisure” uniform.
“If they’re trying to give me a luxury vibe, shouldn’t these dudes be decked out like Thurston Howell III?” I wondered. “Where are the straw hats and ascots? This looks more like a Best Buy convention.”
Dave whipped out a binder that doubled as a mini easel and launched into his spiel. How much do we typically spend on vacations? At least $2,000? Multiply that by 30 years, and that’s $60,000. The $25,000 we could plunk down on a one-week timeshare was a steal.
Bells went off as blue-blazered condo guys leaned into microphones, excitedly boasting: “Ladies and gentlemen, please welcome the newest members of our community — Bev and Bob Snurd, all the way from Tuscaloosa, Alabama. … Ladies and gentlemen … Billy Bob and Cammie Jo Tyler, from Morehead, Kentucky.”
“Are these people out of their minds?” I marveled? “They’re spending their life savings on a whim. Is there crystal meth in those scrambled eggs?” I noted their faces, so I’d be sure to recognize them on Dateline.
Next: a golf cart tour to the model units. Dave began each sentence with, “Imagine.”
“Imagine playing golf on a world-class course …”
“Imagine sipping margaritas in a Tiki hut by the pool…”
“Imagine,” I thought, “that you’d just give us our tickets to Disney, and spare us the rest of this imagining.”
Dave obviously didn’t know that my idea of a world-class course was a giant fiberglass mountain where you putt your lime green ball through a fake pirate ship and encounter waterfalls dripping with unnaturally blue water.
He stressed how safe the community was.
“How safe could it be” I’m thinking, “with golf carts full of cheap tourists coming through every day to score free Pop Tarts and passes to Magic Kingdom?”
Poor Dave. He wanted so much to jog up to that microphone and welcome the two newest suckers from Jackson, Michigan. But I gripped my purse and said, “I’m sorry, Dave. We just can’t spend this kind of money without going home and looking over our finances. We need to think about it. Why don’t you give us your card?”
He stressed the great deal he was offering, neglecting to mention you have to outlive Betty White to realize your savings. He brought in his manager, who brought in his manager.
“No thank you,” I said.
“Not interested,” I said.
“Please,” I begged. “Send back the van. Let us out of here!”
FIVE HOURS LATER, we were finally released to the prize claim trailer, where we waited in line for another half an hour, only to be told there were no tickets to Disney, but I was welcome to a complimentary tote bag.
That’s when I lost it.
“A complimentary tote bag? I just lost five hours of my life for a complimentary tote bag? It better be a Prada totebag that I can sell on e-bay for the cost of three tickets to Magic Kingdom, or I am going to be your worst nightmare.”
I refused to leave until I had my tickets in hand. Nobody said you only got the tickets if you opted in.
I held my ground and got my prize. By the time the van took us back to our crumby motel and we drove to Disney, then caught the monorail to Magic Kingdom, it was 2 o’clock in the afternoon. We’d lost half the day.
But nothing was going to ruin this for my little girl. We decided to stay until closing, which gave us nine hours to cram in as much fun as we could. We hit every major attraction and souvenir shop, ate fudge and frozen lemonade, saw the fireworks and stood through three parades. Cinderella plucked my kid out of the crowd to dance, she met Ariel and Goofy, flew in the giant Dumbo, spun in the teacups, bought Minnie ears and Belle shoes and was out cold in her daddy’s arms on the way out the gate. Boarding the last ferry back to the parking lot, we waited with a sleeping child for the shuttle back to our off-brand hotel.
And we waited.
And we waited.
Finally, we went over to the ticket booth and called a cab, after noticing the fine print on the bus schedule that said shuttles only run on certain nights of the week. And we paid dearly for that cab —$70 for a 10-minute ride. I vowed to get back at the hotel chain. I would write letters to their home office. I would name names. I would stuff a few extra boxes of cocoa puffs in my handbag at their overpriced breakfast buffet.
So what did we learn?
We learned to never, EVER cut corners on a vacation. Life’s too precious and we work too hard to eat a cold packaged Danish in Kissimmee while the rest of the world is enjoying eggs benedict with Snow White.
It’s been a long time since we had a real vacation. When you’re raising kids on a budget and starting up a business, you just can’t afford to do it right. Life becomes a series of tough choices … swilling a café au lait in gay Paris or buying the kid a coat before it snows. … the dream trip to Tuscany or a college education. How I envy people who can swing it all.
Oh, we’ve taken road trips … to the Smokey Mountains, North Carolina, Savannah and home to Michigan. Those kinds of vacations are filled with going and doing and seeing and catching up. And we usually stay with friends and family, which means you need to tidy up after yourself and lend a hand with the dishes.
But this mama needs a towel art vacation. … you know – one of those 10-day breaks where you can leave your towel on the floor and find a fresh one on the rack when you return from breakfast … where the staff is trained to delight by providing small touches, like turning down your bed with an Andes mint and sculpting your washcloth into a chicken.
I dream of a vacation where money will be no object – where I can spring for the speedboat, the kayaks, the wave runners, the lobster dinners … where nothing is off limits except the $10 Toblerone in the mini bar (Hey, a girl’s got to take a stand. That’s highway robbery).
Because when you cheap out, in the long run, you always pay. And you don’t want to find yourself clenching your jaw as you sail past little dolls dressed like European peasants, muttering “It’s a small savings, after all.”