Our first trip to WDW was in 2008 with some close friends of ours. Back then, I thought of the parks as being overrated and really no different than any other theme park I had ever gone to. I was not even a fan of thrill rides. The Disney Experience blew me away though. From the moment we checked in for the Magical Express, the free ground shuttle from the airport in Orlando, Florida to the WDW resort where we would stay, I was impressed. Our bags were picked up for us and arrived in our rooms by the time we checked in. The service was hands down the best I had ever experienced. I felt like Disney thought about everything and really took the time to customize the service we received to our tastes and preferences. The rides were "a good start" for me, and over all, I didn't want to leave. I was like Jack Shepperd from "Lost" screaming to my family, "We have to go back!"
Here's really why returning to WDW four years later means so much to me though. Unfortunately, for the next two years, every attempt to make a trip to WDW was thwarted by a rough financial period. 2009-2010 was probably the toughest financial time in my life where I saw my real estate business in Corpus Christi really dry up. We would make plans, and cancel, make plans, and cancel again. Thinking about WDW and even hearing about friends going to WDW became a depressing topic for us at times because we were struggling to keep our home.
After some serious prayer, soul searching and a goal setting exercise from Bil Cornelius's I Dare You to Change, I realized that it was time to hang up the real estate career, get a regular paycheck, and revisit God's intent for our financial freedom. So, it was time to start job hunting. That didn't go the way I had expected either. I applied to over forty positions, interviewed for about a quarter of those thinking I was a shoe-in for the job only to be passed up for someone else. I made a hail mary for a community educator position, was interviewed and hired almost immediately. The job was for Women's Shelter of South Texas and it allowed me to talk about the other end of the spectrum of what Olivia and I are committed to doing, promoting healthy marriages.
2011 became a recovery year for us, and in 2012 we saw some major changes taking hold. With our bills caught up, house saved, and a solid monthly budget in effect, we were able to look up for the first time and ask ourselves, "What if we were to go to Walt Disney World in 2012?" From there, we began pricing a trip to see how much we would need to save and make a plan for how long it would take us to save that amount. If we were to go, it would be paid for in cash and not on credit. After all, the best vacations are the ones that don't follow you home via your credit card statement, I believe. We priced our ideal vacation to WDW, and from there we began to figure out how we could get that ideal trip at a much lower price. Then, we priced airfare from our town compared to driving and began watching airfare prices to come as close as possible to the driving costs. Thanks to Kayak.com we did just that.
All that said, I'm excited that we in a financial position that we can afford to make a vacation trip to WDW. I'm excited that my family is excited about getting back to "normal", but really we've gone beyond normal. This trip is completely paid for rather than on credit. We are firm believers that the borrower is slave to the lender, and truly feel the pressure of bondage when we borrow money. Actually, just the thought of going into new debt freaks me out now. We worked on this together, and I firmly believe that God brought us to this point through our obedience to what He placed on our hearts to do. Saving for this trip did not take away from paying our bills, we did not dip into our emergency fund at all, we gave more than we ever have before, AND I finally got health coverage for my family for the first time in a while.
I wish I could say that 2013 will be a Disney Cruise trip, but we are already sure that it will be a time to rebuild. There's a lot of work that needs to be done on our home such as a new fence and new roof...new carpet/flooring, and so on.
So, that's it. I'm not so much a fanatic about Mickey Mouse, but I am amazed of the journey that God has taken my family through. This trip is more about the break from tough times that it represents to me than anything else. It doesn't mean that we won't face financial challenges in the future, just that we are leaving a dark period of time behind.
Feel free to leave a comment. If you want to know what we did to plan this trip, I'll be happy to post the process we went through, the resources we used for our research, and the tools we used to book our trip. You'll just have to wait until we get back from our trip.
In the meantime, here's some stuff you can use:
- We kept an eye out for "Free Dining Plan" offers on http://disneyworld.disney.go.com/special-offers/
- One of the first books we read was Disney on a Dime (2005...a bit outdated, but the principles are good) by Chris and Kristal Carlson.
- Newest book that has helped a lot The Unofficial Guide to Walt Disney World by Len Testa.
- Websites that have really helped include the following: