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Off-Season Benefits: Oh, the Places You’ll Go When You’re Not Waiting in Line

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.

Should fun have a waiting line?

Should fun have a waiting line?

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.

Well worth the wait without waiting in line.

Well worth the wait without waiting in line.

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.

Cheese Curds are a special, every day, at The Old Fasioned

Cheese Curds are a special, every day, at The Old Fashioned

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!

Image credit to DISNETCOMEDY.COM, INSIDETHEMAGIC.NET, TRIPADVISOR.COM, and MIDWEST BEER COLLECTIVE.


Eric Labanauskas

Eric is a data entry specialist and contributing writer for the QLP Blog Squad. He is a city boy with a country heart, with an appetite for anything chicken-fried. He has studied as an apprentice at the Frank Lloyd Wright School of Architecture, performed across the country as Buddy Holly in "Buddy: The Buddy Holly Story," and can tie a bow tie by himself without the aid of a mirror. 1950's rock 'n roll is his soundtrack, especially while on road-trips with his lovely girlfriend. Suffice it to say, he is also the owner of some good cocktail party stories from his many experiences. You can also connect with Eric on Google+.

Comments

  1. Mandy Kilinskis

    What a great blog, Eric! I’ve traveled to Europe a few times, and each time I’ve gone at the beginning of December, which is a definite off-season for most of Europe. I have a love/hate relationship with traveling on the off-season.

    Love: As you said, prices are lower on everything. Hotels, food, transportation, exhibits, etc. I got a cheaper ticket for Disneyland Paris. ;) You save so much money, and there’s hardly anyone else around. When I went to Cardiff in 2008, me and my friends basically had the entire castle to ourselves. (This could also be because Cardiff isn’t that hopping, but that’s not the point.) When I was in France in 2006, I was able to see the Mona Lisa without having to push past mounds of people. I didn’t have to wait AT ALL to kiss the Blarney Stone.

    Hate: A lot of things were closed with shorter hours. While in Dublin in 2007, I lamented for days that Oscar Wilde’s childhood home was only open from May-November. They kicked us out of Dublin castle as soon as it got dark (at 4 pm). Also, the gardens of Versailles in December, while still impressive, are a little lackluster with all of the flowers are dead and the fountains turned off. I get that you can see more, but your options are sometimes severely limited, too.

    However, as money is still the driving force behind the majority of my travel plans, I’ll still be traveling within the off-season for the foreseeable future. And I guess that seeing more and seeing it with less people around is a decent exchange for not seeing it at its prettiest. One day, when I’m a millionaire (har har har), I’ll give it a try in the summer. So for those thinking about traveling on the off-season: triple check that the things you definitely want to see and make sure that they are open.

    • Eric

      It’s a crap-shoot. My first time playing the game, I took Shelley up to Door County. It was a week – and I can’t stress enough, ONE week – after the “on season” had ended, and rates dropped by at least 50%. I did all my planning by way of the information readily available on the internet. Well, stupid me, when you’re going someplace full of mom-and-pop establishments, where you’re lucky if they’ve got a phone number, much less, a web address…you’re better off calling them up to ask if they’ll be open. I had to scrap about 90% of my pre-planning and spent the whole time flying by the seat of my pants. Turned out to be a heck of a trip, though.

      Like you said, Mandy…my best advice? Literally call up the place(s) you plan to stay/eat/visit and either speak with someone on the phone, or get them to e-mail you back a response. Sometimes, even, they may not be generally open, but if they’ve the chance to do some business over none, they’ll hold the doors open a little later, or sneak you in for part of the day.

      Funny mental image, by the way, having to push through throngs of tourists to get a glimpse of the Mona Lisa…remember what it was like, here in the States, to get a view of Monet’s Water Lillies when they were on display…and you can see those damn things from the next room over!

  2. Alex Brodsky

    Spot-on!

    Couldn’t have said it better myself. When you spend an entire vacation standing in lines or waiting at restaurants, it doesn’t even feel like a vacation. I’ve returned from trips more mentally and physically drained than I was when I left. That made it feel like a waste of a vacation and certainly a waste of money.

    My girlfriend and I recently went to Door County, Wisconsin off-peak. Our B&B suite (had a jacuzzi tub!!) was 1/3 the cost it normally is.

    These are great tips I highly recommend EVERYONE take advantage of.

    • Eric

      I’m somewhat infamous around here for shameless verbosity, so I’m going to use a little restraint and not make myself an unpaid promoter for Door County Tourism, as much as I’d like to.

      The three days I spent in Door County were probably the most relaxing I’ve had in my life. First legitimate “getaway” I had in my adult life. Turned off the phones, turned-up the fireplace in my room, and enjoyed the view out to Baileys Harbor with a nice beverage.

      Thanks for the endorsement! Seriously, though…waiting a week until the “off-season” comes and saving 50, 6o percent or more? What I saved on the hotel room alone paid for some VERY nice dinners and the massage of a lifetime (The Spa at Sacred Grounds in Ephraim).

      Waiting that week gave me the opportunity to enjoy a vacation that’d normally be way out of my price range. Was it a little cold? Yes. Was it worth it? Oh, hell yes.

  3. Cybernetic SAM

    Here is my off-seasonal travel advice: don’t travel during the on-season. Especially if you are an avid camper, nothing is worse than 20 hillbillies having a kegger ho-down on the site next yours in the beautiful outdoors, especially when they bring their entire sound system and blare toby keith’s entire catalog…. Great post!

    • Eric

      Oh, Toby Keith fans. Tailgating even when there’s no concert to tailgate. I would love it, though, it a bear came along and made himself a new toy with one of their kegs. That’d give ‘em a good scare.

  4. amy

    I’m with Sam and her advice. We camped next to a site full of construction workers who had a truck bed full of scraps and proceeded to burn them all while staying up all night drinking and playing poker, loudly. It was beyond obnoxious. Since that incident we do as much research as possible before booking a campsite at a new campground.

    Excellent tips all around, Eric!

    • Eric

      Should’ve added that tip in.

      “If the establisment in question is blaring any kind of Toby Keith, et al, proceed in the opposite direction until you find the next best place.”

      I’m the kind of guy who calls staying at a Holiday Inn “roughing it.” That’s mostly a joke, but there have been some times where I wish I’d the option to stay in a tent, elsewhere, instead.

      Another tip: ALWAYS check against the website for the physical location of the hotel. One time we had a room booked for us through hotels.com, only to discover the pictures we saw were of another hotel.

      I kid you not, it was just like that one Travelocity commercial where the family’s kid jumps in the big, empty swimming pool. That was the first thing we saw upon checking it at the hotel lobby: a big sign reading, “Pool is Closed for Repairs.” And, sure enough, comically empty and devoid of any such water.

      Luckily the hot tub still worked. Otherwise, I don’t know what in hell there’s to do during a weeknight in St. Louis.

      Moral of the story: research and fact-check!

  5. Jill Tooley

    “It’s never a bad thing to be an early guest at the savings party.”

    BRILLIANT.

    I agree with you 100%, Eric. Traveling in the off-season is where it’s at! I visited Disney World in mid-January a few years back, and it was an amazing experience. My dad and I didn’t have to wait in lines for ANY rides (and in fact, we got to leave the ride and pretty much walk right back on for another one) and the crowds were the thinnest I’ve ever seen them! Also, we doubled the “off-season” benefits and went during the week as well — as you know, that’s extra fun and a bunch of money saved! :)

    As Mandy pointed out, though, sometimes it all depends on your destination. If you really love water parks, then Wisconsin Dells in the dead of winter may not be the best idea (unless you stick to indoor ones), and etc. Any frugal trip will require extensive research first.

    Great tips, I enjoyed reading this a lot!

    • Eric

      On the other end of the spectrum: this summer, on that immeasurably hot day (above 110 with the heat index), my girlfriend and I were at Six Flags. Not intentionally, mind you, but it just so happened it was the hottest day of the summer. Well, I’ll admit it was a little disconcerting seeing water slides stop pumping water when a “brown-out” would cause a power outage, but once the juice got up and running for good? No wait time over 10 minutes. Literally, you’d walk through the entire line queue without stopping, get to the main platform, and basically wait for another train or two to pass through. There were rides like Raging Bull where we were told “Now, if no one is waiting to get on your car when you pull back in, you’re welcome to stay in your seat and ride it again.” And so we did. Spent the last few minutes of their operating hours seeing how many times in a row we could ride the Demon. Think it came out to be six, or so.

      If you can suck it up, and take the heat? Well worth it. I almost keeled over in disbelief when I saw the sign outside the park listing the wait times, and nary a one was more than 10 minutes.

      There’s risk involved, usually, a little sacrifice, too, and even sometimes a little sweat. But if you can make it past that? Might wind up having some of the best trips of your lives, folks.

      Thanks, Jill. Glad to see the folks here at QLP know what’s up when it comes to vacationing smart!

  6. Rachel

    Great post, Eric! My family and I have traveled many times to Disney World, and we almost always do it in the first week of December. It’s one of the least crowded times of the year, the temps are in the cool 60s or 70s, plus all the Christmas decorations are up, so you get to experience all that with the bonus of very few people getting in your way. I am so spoiled by this — wait time for the Tower of Terror more than 20 minutes? Eh, get a fast-pass, we’ll do it later. One time my mom and I rode Splash Mountain 6 times in a row. They wouldn’t let us stay in the ride vehicle over and over, so the only wait time was weaving through the empty queue line for 5 minutes to get back to the front of the ride. In short, I am a SUPER big fan of taking vacations during the off season! :)

    Like others have said, though, you do have to make some compromises. At Disney, the parks close much earlier (usually 7pm for Magic Kingdom, compared to as late as 1am during peak season — though when there’s no one in the park, you can get a LOT more done in a shorter span of time), and you do miss out on the occasional ride that’s being refurbished. We went in May recently and discovered the joys of Disney’s flowers and landscaping, which is something you don’t really get to experience in December. But I still think I’d choose off-season over peak-season any day. :)

    • Eric

      Getting to ride a Disney ride more than once is an accomplishment they should merit with a trophy of some sort. Only happened to me once in my life, back when I went with Shelley in ’09. We were at Hollywood Studios, and just had gotten off the Rock ‘n Roller Coaster. One of the staff workers was making small talk with folks exiting the ride, and asked Shelley and myself, “Would you like to go on it again?” Thinking she meant, “In the next several decades of your lives, or the next time you make it through the line queue – whichever comes first – would you eventually ride it again?”

      Being a city guy, I kept the conversation going while walking on my way out, until we noticed she was surprised by us moving in the opposite direction of her. Nope. She was literally asking us if we wanted to ride it again.

      My response? Well, let’s just say it was a little more enthusiastic.

      Apparentely they selected two people from every ride to get the “VIP” treatment, and walk through the back door (with a star on it) which takes you right back to the loading platform. So, we got to go on it twice in a row. I won’t forget it, especially because it was in August and still very much high season there.

      That was the good news. The bad news? Space Mountain was closed! CLOSED?!?!? Go figure, my favorite ride in the park, after Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride…don’t even get me started.

      I’m sure you missed the summer heat, but man, let me tell you…once you get spoiled enough to not have to wait in lines, you never want to go back to waiting in line for hours.

      December would be neat. It’d be a trip to walk down Main Street, USA, and see everything bedecked and bedazzled for Christmas. Always have wondered how those folks down there in Florida do it up for the holidays!

  7. Amanda

    Looks like my advice is somewhat backwards of everyone elses–in location anyway. As many of you know, we are HUGE fans of everything Arizona–and opposite of us midwesterners, their off season is in the summer. From June-August, people mainly stay inside to avoid the super hot days, but it still makes it a great time to visit! Yes, it’s 120 somedays, but it’s honestly no worse than it being 90 with the humidity here. So we don’t mind it. You just need sunscreen, a hat, and lots of water. =) Hotels and activities are all still open, and most don’t even have limited hours. It’s really only their off season because the rest of the year is honestly perfect weather, somewhere between 60 and 80 degrees and full sunshine–so that’s when everyone is out. So, if you’re ever headed to the Southwest, I’d suggest checking it out in the summer–better prices, less crowds, and the same activities available! Yay Arizona.

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