Twenty-five years ago, buying tickets to Walt Disney World consisted of showing up at the gate and purchasing a ticket. It was simple, and it didn’t require much more effort than having money in the bank to afford them. Now, thanks to our new normal that includes living with COVID among us, buying tickets to visit Disney World is a little more complicated than the last time I did it in 1996.
2020 & the Dawn of the Park Reservation System
Prior to the March 12, 2020 closure of Walt Disney World, the park reservation system did not exist. Once the park reopened in July, it was necessary to implement new COVID-19 restrictions and procedures to ensure that park employees and visitors were able to safely enjoy the park. Part of the new normal included face protections (masks), social distancing rules in the ride queues as well as on the rides, and limits to the number of attendees in the parks. Now, for one to enter one of the four parks at Walt Disney World, both a park reservation and valid ticket (or pass) for the same park on the same date is required. And heads up, the limited availability of park reservations means that you should make your theme park reservations IMMEDIATELY after purchasing your admission tickets. Don’t push it into the “do it later” pile and end up without a park reservation.
Below is an example from the Disney site that shows the desired search result: green means all parks available.
You’ve got the green light for dates, and now you’ll need to get your tickets. You have many options when buying tickets. You can purchase direct from Disney, you can go through a travel agent, and there are a number of websites that sell tickets, too. Don’t forget your local banks, credit unions, shopping clubs, and possibly insurance companies. Check out their website or give a call to inquire if they sell tickets. Discount tickets are everywhere, but vet the sources before spending your money. You’ll really need to do your homework when researching ticket vendors. Read reviews of those services and sites. I did a lot of research and happily landed at Undercover Tourist.
The Undercover Tourist site is user friendly, and there is no delay between ordering tickets and receiving communication from them, whether it be receiving an emailed receipt or the confirmation of the purchase of your tickets. For example, I received an email with a receipt at 1:30 and had my ticket ID numbers emailed to me at 1:36. They do not charge any hidden fees, tax is included in the price, and your actual tickets are mailed to you with free shipping! You will receive an email with the actual ticket ID numbers that will allow you to immediately go into the Disney phone app and reserve your park preferences! I was seriously nervous about plopping down $1,500 for the tickets to an unknown source, but the online reviews were all extremely positive. They were also running a great promotion that discounted the purchase an additional $30.
The Undercover Tourist offers a refund policy. Per their site, “Your confidence in purchasing takes priority, which is why we offer a 90-day Return Policy and use common sense and fair practices when dealing with your cancellations & refunds. If you believe you are eligible for a refund, please contact us for further shipping instructions. Once tickets have been received and verified by Undercover Tourist, we will issue a refund back to the initial form of payment according to the terms below within 15 business days.”
Our plan was to visit Disney for four days, providing one day per park. Undercover Tourist featured a promotion for a 4-Day ticket with an extra day at a great rate, so we chose for that option, giving us five days at the park.
Note that this is a 5 day ticket! Tax is included and that is a nearly $100 savings (see below)! The online promotion made it an easy option to pick up an extra day!
When price comparing, check out the daily price of the ticket at the Disney site. The price will vary based upon time of year, day of week, and what ticket option you are selecting (park hopper, water park admissions, etc…). My party will consist of three adults, and we wanted four days in the park with the park hopper option without any water park visits. It works out that we are traveling when tickets appear to be less expensive, and that really helps the budget restrictions. The more days you add to your visit, the cheaper tickets are per day!
Let’s check out the Disney site. As you can see, tickets per day are $106, for a total of $527.39 per person before tax.
After tax, the total came to $1685.04. Also note, the tickets at Walt Disney World are not refundable. They do offer free shipping on your actual tickets mailed via USPS, or you can opt to receive the tickets via email and use that email when you reach the park.
4-Day Disney Theme Park Ticket with Park Hopper® Option – with Extra Day – ADULT $529.82 per person (and tax is included in that price), but after the $30 promo discount (and applying $10 of the discount to each ticket), that brought the tickets per person down to $519.82! Five days at $104 per day!
At the Disney site, the 5-Day Disney Theme Park Ticket with Park Hopper® Option -ADULT $527.39 per ticket (before tax) and after tax, $561.08 per person. Five days at $112.22 per day.
Undercover Tourist came out ahead for atotal savings of $125.58versus purchasing the tickets at Disney. I’m excited to have the option of an extra day, especially if we need extra time to fit in the rides we are really hoping to experience, like Rise of the Resistance.
Remember, your savings experience may vary. You may find a greater discount when you are combining on-site lodging with your admission tickets. Different coupons and promos may be offered at Undercover Tourist, too. For the purposes of my trip, and as a general guidance, I am encouraging everyone to evaluate the options that exist and scoop up the best deals that will help you create the memorable trip you desire.
Have a frugal ticket purchase tip? Let me know!
Disclaimer: I became an affiliate for Undercover Tourist after I used the service and wanted to share them as a resource.
Starting in September, Carowinds becomes SCarowinds. It is a haunting event for the young and old!
For $8.00, you can purchase a plastic necklace that features a glowing pumpkin to alert the costumed employees that you do not want to be scared. I know, there are some of you who think this is ridiculous. After all, you’ve come to SCarowinds to be scared, right? Well, while I didn’t purchase one of the necklaces (because I think they cost too much and I didn’t see them offered until I was leaving the park), having had the experience of the employees getting a little too close for comfort and screaming in my face, I can see the value of purchasing such a necklace.
No, I don’t like to be scared. I like to stand back and admire the scary displays and costumes, but I do not like to be screamed at or grabbed, and I’m not a fan of someone coming up behind me in a darkened walkway to scare the crap out of me. Nope, not a fan.
Mazes and Scare Zones
I went through the Seventh Ward maze (aka haunted house), and had the actors refrained from shouting in my face or reaching into my personal space, I would have enjoyed it. The strobe lights and mirrored walls didn’t help. The maze is indoors and very detailed and interesting, but I couldn’t enjoy it due to the constant onslaught of people screaming in my face.
I didn’t want to go in any other mazes after touring the scary “mental institution” that I’d raced to get through. My friends (two adult males in their 40s) went through the Cornstalkers maze (which they found scarier than the Seventh Ward), and the Zombie High maze (which they also found spine-tingling).
There are also established scare zones. The Bloodyard resembles a junkyard where you are surrounded by thirsty vampires waiting to turn you into one of their own. The London Terror scare zone doesn’t look too bad, but the small area in which there is to walk, and the mass of costumed characters waiting to scream at you make it less than a welcoming stroll down the streets of London.
If you love haunted houses, I think you will love SCarowinds. If you don’t, I think you should invest in a glowing pumpkin necklace or just skip SCarowinds and stay home where you can watch a scary movie with the mute button depressed to prevent hearing the horrible scary music and sounds from reaching your sensitive ears and heart. Is that just me?
Delights for the Ears and Eyes
The employee costumes and makeup is definitely my favorite thing about the SCarowinds experience. With over six hundred monsters to create for the event, the work of the makeup artists really shines. Read more on the SCarowinds blog to discover what goes on behind the mask. The article states that each artist is given 8 – 12 minutes to complete the makeup, and as someone who has toiled for hours to get Halloween makeup 1/2 as good as what the employees of the park are sporting, I am amazed at how quickly it all comes together every night of the event.
Rated PG-13, Leave Your Costume at Home, & You May Not Re-enter
The park states that the event is rated PG-13 and may be too intense for young children. I saw plenty of small children in the park enjoying themselves, but I know that won’t be the case for all young children. The younger children (or scared adults) can always come to Carowinds during the day before SCarowinds opens in the evening, and there is even a Great Pumpkin Fest to enjoy.
There is one extremely odd caveat to the SCarowinds event: guests cannot re-enter the park if they leave for any reason. It is normal for Carowinds guests to receive a stamp on the arm upon exiting so they can re-enter the park during the same-day visit with ease and no extra charge. This is not happening for SCarowinds. Everyone is held captive to this rule, so don’t think you are exempt Gold Card Members. I’m not sure why they’ve put this new rule in place, but that means guests can’t take a break to exit the park during their SCarowinds visit. What makes the SCarowinds event so special that guests cannot leave the park and return? I have no idea. If you find out, let me know. I asked several employees during my visit but none seemed to understand the arbitrary rule, either.
Darkness & Security
The park is too dark during SCarowinds. The regular low lighting that is used at night is made worse by colored bulbs and fog machines that occasionally make it hazardous to walk. There was security presence at the park, but the two people I saw aren’t enough for such a large crowd. The lack of security is one of the features that most people find disconcerting during regular Carowinds hours. Considering that the majority of the employees are teenagers, the park doesn’t exactly feel like the safest place at all times. While I know that many people feel safe allowing their teenagers to go to the park alone, I would not allow a minor to go to the park alone with the current security presence.
Scary Deals & Dates
The best deal (outside of the regular Carowinds Gold Pass) is the Haunt Pass which allows for unlimited admission to SCarowinds. You can attend every night of the SCarowinds events for a low price of $59.99. If you have a regular Gold Pass to Carowinds, you can also attend every night of SCarowinds, too. If you don’t have a pass, prepare to pay $15.00 to park.
Do yourself a favor and check the site before you head out to the park. If you are looking for some Halloween night fun, the park is open from 7:00 pm until 1:00 am. Have fun, but you won’t see me there. I’ve had my fill with the one night I attended. But then again, I’m a scaredy pumpkin.
I’d love to hear about your visit to SCarowinds!
Hours for SCarowinds:
Fridays & Saturdays
7:00 p.m. – 12:00 a.m.
Fridays, Saturdays, Sundays
7:00 p.m. – 12:00 a.m.
Late Night Closings
October 24 & October 31
7:00 p.m. – 1:00 a.m.
This past weekend, I escaped the ten inches of snow we received in Charlotte, North Carolina, to attend the seventh annual Savannah Book Festival in Savannah, Georgia. On the way down, I was stuck in traffic for two hours, as a tractor trailer had hit a guard rail and caught on fire. Thankful for my obsession of never falling below half a tank of gas on a road trip, I made it to my destination in one piece and with gas to spare.
Like a child anticipating the presents they’ll unwrap on Christmas morning, I found it difficult to sleep. I used the time to plan my festival itinerary. I planned to see Alice Hoffman, Wiley Cash, Hugh Howey, Anita Shreve, and Megan McArdle. Thirty-four authors were scheduled to appear, with up to four presentations running simultaneously. Authors were given an hour time slot, and following their presentations, they were available to sign books that attendees had purchased at the event.
The festival took place in Telfair and Wright Squares among a handful of churches and museums in historic Savannah. The sun shone brightly, but the wind was sharp and reminded me how grateful I was for having worn long sleeves and a sweater. I would have been more comfortable with a jacket, but the sun was very deceptive and lured me into a false sense of security for the day’s weather.
I and my companion arrived late to Alice Hoffman’s presentation in the Trinty United Methodist Church. We settled into some folding chairs in the balcony, as Ms. Hoffman had a packed house. I initially thought I had never read or owned one of her books. I knew she’d written Practical Magic (yes, the one that inspired the movie of the same name), but I’d never linked her as the writer of Here on Earth, a book that has sat in my vast library of books waiting to be read. Like so many of the books I own, I’m not sure how it came into my possession, but like chance encounters with strangers, I feel it has been placed in my path for a reason, so I have held onto it.
Ms. Hoffman won my heart when she declared herself a reader and said that the books we read when we are twelve years old are the ones that stay with us. Yes, I believe this too, and know that without those books, I would be a very different person. Those books helped to shape me in ways I’ll never understand. Ms. Hoffman spoke of her love for “the magic in the language” found in Toni Morrison’sThe Bluest Eye.
An audience member asked if Ms. Hoffman takes breaks between writing her books. Ms. Hoffman laughed and excitedly explained that she has so many books in her head that the stories wait in line to be cued for takeoff like airplanes at the airport. Once those stories have been written, she moves on and leaves the stories and characters for her readers.
I was excited to hear another writer say that they often forget details about their stories and characters. I have a very long memory about the most mundane things of everyday life, but I can hear a sentence read back to me from a story I’ve written, and I’ll be the first to ask who penned it. Friends and family are quick to point out that I did, and they cannot understand how I could forget writing it. I explain that writing is the only way in which I can truly release myself—rid myself of those feelings and emotions I pack up and carry with me every day. Once I’ve written it down, I’ve released it.
Our short time with Ms. Hoffman ended, and we were quickly on our way to hear Wiley Cash speak. Wiley Cash, in his plaid shirt and jeans, was relaxed and personable with the small audience that gathered in the Telfair Rotunda. Surrounded by works of art, Mr. Cash spoke about his latest book, This Dark Road to Mercy.
I traveled to the festival with his book in my bag. I often visit the setting of the book, Mr. Cash’s native Gastonia, a city west of Charlotte, North Carolina. Mr. Cash read from his novel, his southern accent bringing his characters to life. Nothing compares to hearing the author read his or her own work. The emphasis placed on certain words and the pause of a breath is so much more profound than one can ever experience from a recording read by someone else.
As questions of dialect and language arose from the audience, it was wonderful to hear someone speak about the slight variations in speech between counties in North Carolina, specifically Buncombe County, where my book Manual Exposure is set. Mr. Cash diligently strives to reflect the truest vision of the people and places he writes about, and his attention to detail was not lost on those who had read his books.
Asked how he felt about self-publishing and the success of fellow author Hugh Howey, Mr. Cash said that he knew self-publishing was a hard path. “The reason you know Hugh Howey’s name is because there are so few of them.”
When you write a book, you don’t know what’s gonna happen. You have to make decisions early on. What do I want? What am I gonna be satisfied with? The night we got the call that my book had sold, my wife and I decided this is gonna be the best moment…. So—self-publishing—you really have to decide, what’s gonna be my ‘best moment.’
I agree with Mr. Cash. Writers should choose what that best moment is for them and seek to attain it. In doing so, writers must also understand what that means for their work and future works. Some writers never aspire to see their books in Barnes and Noble. If they are content with seeing their work available online at Amazon.com in the form of an ebook, then that is their measurement of success and they should have that moment and embrace it. However, if a writer does want their book on that bookstore shelf, one has to accept that there is no time for complacency.
Asked about his writing process, Mr. Cash said that he encourages writers to have an event to pace the book against—a method he utilizes in This Dark Road to Mercy, as he believes it forces the writer to focus. I have to agree, as I used one semester of school as the bookends of my story, and it kept me on point and pace. Forcing yourself to tell the story within a frame of time eliminates the unnecessary elements of your work. Additionally, knowing that the story needs to be completed by a certain time helps maintain reader engagement. This method helps create an element of suspense and excitement in your storytelling.
It was time for lunch, and my friend and I were off to explore. I was surprised to see McDonald’s and CVS among the independent shops and historic buildings. We strolled to River Street and found more shops and eateries squeezed along the scenic view. We dined at the first café I found that offered a veggie burger. Vegans, you can find food to eat among the seafood and barbeque offerings.
Having grown weary of the afternoon wind attacking us, we quickly walked to the Lutheran Church Fellowship in Wright Square to hear Hugh Howey speak. I’ve only recently become aware of this author, in part because of his timely article on self-publishing. He has had great success with his self-published books, and has been lauded for signing with Simon and Schuster to distribute the Wool series while maintaining full digital rights of the book.
Prior to the start of the presentation, Mr. Howey walked among those who had arrived early, asking if they were in the right place. He stopped to engage with the attendees and speak with them in private conversations. Readers of his work were visibly excited to meet him.
He spoke about his experience self-publishing Wool. Comprised of five previously self-published novellas, Wool has been compared to The Hunger Games, and the film rights have been sold to 20th Century Fox.
Asked about his success as a self-published author, Mr. Howey stated that he doesn’t actively promote his materials by asking people to read his work. He appreciates the fact that his readership has grown by word-of-mouth suggestions—from one friend passing his book along to another. He believes this organic growth is inherent of a good story, but he acknowledges that his tale is a lucky one.
We made our way back to the Trinity United Methodist Church to hear Anita Shreve speak. Ms. Shreve is a favorite author of mine, and I was very excited to see and hear her. Happy to find a window seat, I enjoyed the warmth of the sun and felt like I had been welcomed into her home. She spoke candidly about her work and experience as a writer.
Ms. Shreve spoke about her journalism career in Africa and her decision to follow a different path as a fiction writer. As for her writing process, she prefers to write in the morning, avoiding any distractions or interruptions as she wakes from bed and makes it to her desk. She writes her works by hand and uses the computer for editing. I’m thrilled to share the love of writing in longhand with her.
An audience member asked for advice for those who are attempting to make it as writers, and Ms. Shreve didn’t hesitate to say that there are no shortcuts or magic formulas. She acknowledged the difficulty that writers face and spoke about the advantages of being lucky enough to have two of her novels featured as selections in Oprah’s Book Club.
Megan McArdle’s new non-fiction book, The Up Side of Down: Why Failing Well Is the Key to Success, informs the reader that failure makes success possible. Ms. McArdle explained that in order to discover what works, we must first learn what doesn’t work.
She spoke of the way in which many parents hover over their children in an attempt to eliminate any opportunity for them to experience failure or pain. She argued that those actions do not contribute to the success or growth of the child. For example, the way in which humans learn to walk—the fall is inevitable, but we must learn to get back up and try again. The small failures we experience as we learn to walk teach us about both our bodies and our environment.
Growing up, I was never given the green light to fail. Failure was not rewarded with a gold star. If you failed, that meant you didn’t properly prepare, you didn’t do your best, and you came up short against those who succeeded. Success and failure were the only two paths in front of me, and I was expected to succeed in every task that I attempted. Failure meant that you were a failure, and you should move on and try something else.
It wasn’t until a few years ago that I learned that failure is a tool for learning. Failure is inevitable. We won’t always succeed, and instead of seeing it as an end to that interest or aspiration, we must take a step back and learn from the reasons we failed. If I could go back in time, I’d teach young Jeannie this, and perhaps prevent her from having stomach ulcers at the age of eighteen.
While she doesn’t believe that everyone is a winner at all things, Ms. McArdle believes that we can become winners by learning from our failures. Our failures hold secrets that we never would have learned had we not dared to try. As we learn to overcome our failings, we venture to take new paths that may not have been available on the straight path to success, and these experimental avenues may hold answers to questions we’ve never thought to ask
The hour with Ms. McArdle came to an end, and with that, the festival came to a close. I, who had worried that attending the presentations of five authors wouldn’t be nearly enough, was thoroughly exhausted.
As I processed the events of the day, I found a unifying thread that ran through each of the authors’ presentations: luck had played a major role in their successes. Whether they had been successful as a traditionally published or self-published author, they each acknowledged that it is hard to become a successful author. While talent and hard work are requirements, they alone are rarely enough.
Sadly, I didn’t walk away from the festival with a recipe to guaranteed success. However, I did benefit from the companionship of fellow book lovers and writers. I feel lucky to have been able to attend, and I doubly enjoyed it, as I was with a childhood friend whose love of reading is a new occurrence, and it was interesting to experience the event with her by my side. While I don’t love the bridge to Savannah, I thought the city was beautiful and inviting. I’d love to spend more time exploring the city, and if you ever get the chance, I encourage you to do the same.