After an article regarding controversial Chicago politics (when are they not?), this blogger’s going to take a little vacation…well, at least in terms of subject matter. Congratulations, Rahm. You’ve got the week off from my blog, at least.
When it comes to vacations, some folks spend their time doing as much as they possibly can. In 2009, my girlfriend and I went to go hang out with Mickey Mouse at his Florida complex. He’s a heck of a host, but man, he’s got a lot of guests. And I mean a lot.
I think it was somewhere in the seemingly-never-ending line queue for the “Dumbo” ride at Walt Disney World where I’d hit my wall. Mind you, I’ve never liked line-waiting (not many people do), but when you come to realize you spend more of your vacation time waiting to do things, than actually doing things? Something just doesn’t seem right.
Disney tried to eliminate the problem with the invention of the “Fast Pass.” Promising a shorter wait time if you would come back at a later time, a machine prints a ticket with a specific time window at which point you return and enter a – hopefully – much shorter line. Most times, it does help. It doesn’t eliminate the line, but it does help. Some rides and attractions, however, are so immensely popular that they run out of “Fast Passes” for them. We tried getting a couple passes for “Expedition Everest” in the Animal Kingdom, and made that the first thing we did – period – in the park. By time we made it to the machine, we were too late, and ultimately spent the last two-and-a-half hours of our day waiting in line for the ride.
Now, unless there’s a nuclear apocalypse, chances are there’s going to be a line for the rides and attractions at Disney World. Even if there is a nuclear apocalypse, you’ll probably still have lines for all the folks scratching “Splash Mountain” off their bucket lists. I knew it was something that came with the territory, so to speak. But, after Dumbo, after more than 12 consecutive hours of being on my feet, and after being shuffled-around like livestock, I’d hit my limit. That said, I think “Disney Magic” has its expiration date at about the 12-hour mark.
Don’t get me wrong, now. My girlfriend and I had a lot of fun, but we spent a whole lot of time having to clear the brush that is line-waiting to have said fun. Well, I wanted to have fun now. No waiting. Surely, there had to be a way.
I’m the kind of guy who doesn’t need much when it comes to a vacation, and really, it’s more about what I’m not doing than what I am doing.
About a month ago, my girlfriend and I stole away for the better part of a week to the Wisconsin Dells. I know, I know. There’re more family-oriented rides, attractions, and fudge shops than you can shake a stick at. You’d figure trying to avoid crowds there would be like trying to avoid the cold in a snowstorm.
It can be done. And here are some tips I learned from the trip:
Most folks leave Friday, enjoy the weekend, and return home Sunday evening.
Okay! Instead, leave Sunday afternoon, and as everyone else is checking out, check in.
With that said, we not only were booking off-season rates, but additionally, weekday off-season rates. To give you an idea of what kind of savings that’ll get you? The Wilderness Hotel & Golf Resort (where my girlfriend and I stayed) books rooms in their peak season for more than $200 per night. At the time of year and time of week we stayed? $99 a night. The only thing different with our room was the price. Before I mention anything else, this is the simplest, easiest way to save some serious moolah when it comes to vacationing.
Timing is everything. Make like a salmon and head upstream.
So you’ve got the room booked, and a place to kick up your feet. Now, while you’re enjoying that comfy sofa in the room, take a moment to do some light reading.
Most folks will stick to the sure-thing, year-round activities and attractions when it comes to the off-season months. The peace of mind knowing you won’t encounter the disappointment from seeing a “Closed for the Season” sign is nice, sure, but there’s no need to limit yourself because of it.
We did some research, and by “research,” I mean a couple simple little phone calls. Just making sure things were open, and if so, what their operating times or business hours were. They may open a little later, and close a little earlier, but most places are still open for business. Yep. Even in the most “off” of the off-season months.
It makes sense. Say you’re a business. And, in a place like the Dells, most businesses come a dime-a-dozen. Want fudge? There’re about a dozen shops you can find it. Want to play mini-golf? You can choose from several courses, some even across the street from one another. How, then, can you attract more business than one of your competitors? It’s simple: don’t close, and stay open. Stay open the extra week, or two, or even for a couple months until it becomes physically impossible to putt that ball into an iced-over hole.
We had 36 holes of mini-golf to ourselves. Horseback rides for just the two of us, plus the trail guide. And sit-down meals at restaurants that didn’t require a reservation – or even a wait in line – to be seated at the best tables in the house.
It never hurts to ask. The worst you can hear back is a polite “No.”
Speaking of sitting for dinner, that brings me to my last point: take advantage of the specials and discounts provided by the hotel for their restaurants.
As a guest, they’re the closest possible places to go eat, and usually don’t even require getting in the car. You can walk. Or, if you want to save a little more money, you can order it for carry-out, and bring it back to your room (there’s a reason you’ve a dining table and chairs!). Not only do you save a few dollars, but also, you get the chance to eat at a place you may not otherwise be able to afford.
The premiere steakhouse on the Wilderness property, Field’s, offered an early-dine special for guests. If you brought in the coupon provided by the hotel, and ate a little earlier than the usual dinner-rush hour, you saved ten dollars off the price of an entrée. It was well worth it. Being a slower time of the year, and a slower time of the day, it helped the restaurant fill tables that would otherwise be empty. The “off-season” experience for the diner was no different than it would be at any other time, and, honestly? The service was impeccable, and the food, just as much so. I’m glad we decided to veer off the path of our pre-determined itinerary and go there instead of one of the token steakhouses in the area.
If your budget doesn’t allow for prime rib, well, fear not: there are places like The Old Fashioned in Madison that offer daily specials, which are just as filling and flavorful as their infamous regular items. If you’re ever in Madison, around Capitol Square, you’ve got to at least stop in and try some of their fresh-made, fried cheese curds (you can even substitute them as a side with your lunch or dinner). I’d an open-faced meatloaf sandwich they made, in-house, that rivaled any meatloaf Mom ever made. Just remember to take advantage of specials, whether they come in the form of a coupon, or the option for an off-menu daily special.
It’s never a bad thing to be an early guest at the savings party.
I came back from the trip, but I don’t know if I could ever come back from my off-season method of vacationing.
Instead of letting the crowds and lines arbitrate what we could do and when we could do it, we had the leisure of enjoying the trip at our own pace. If we felt a little more ambitious, we could jump from one activity to the next, and if we felt a little more lethargic, we could sleep in without regretting we did. Moreover, we saved some money by simply waiting a couple weeks to make the trip at the beginning of the off-season.
If you’re patient enough to wait a couple hours in line for a water slide, or a roller coaster, try waiting a few weeks and vacationing in the off-season. You’ll be amazed at what you can do – or not have to do – when you’re not stuck in line all day.
Do you generally travel on or off-season? Do you successfully market yourself in an off-season? Does it matter to you? If so, why? Feel free to share of your own off-season travel or marketing advice!