So last weekend, I went to a gathering at my friend Denise's home in New Jersey. It was a girl's day in, a pot luck- wine fest to help us moms recoup after the holidays. When I arrived, Denise gathered up all of my baked goods that I was contributing and announced, "Ladies, this is Sally. She's my travel agent friend from Pennsylvannia, Sally meet everybody". Denise left me to fend for myself in a room full of strangers.
When folks learn that you're a travel agent, normally the topic of conversation immediately shifts to travel adventures, questions on finding the cheap deals and vacation horror stories. I'm a bit shy at parties so I find it to be a bit stressful to have a ton of rapid fire questions being hurled in my direction. Still I love to talk about travel so I just went with the flow instead of making an excuse to help Denise in the kitchen.
After a few minutes one of the women said "This year Denise and her family are taking a cruise to the Caribbean right?" Of course everyone was curious about the ship and itinerary Denise and her family would be taking. This same woman, Rachael, spoke up again and said, "I would LOVE to take my family on a dream cruise like that but we'd neVER be able to afford it...our family does our annual cheap summer roadtrip". I politely asked her about her family's plans for this coming summer.
Rachael and her husband Steve have two kids, Michael 8 and Kristen 4. She and Steve have never really traveled anywhere. Since the kids were born they have taken road trip to either visit relatives, the Jersey shore or kid friendly spots within driving distance of their home. Their plan for this summer was to drive from Central New Jersey to Great Wolf Lodge in the Poconos so that the kids could enjoy the waterpark there for 3 nights. They would make a stop at the Crayola factory in Easton, PA while driving out to Hershey Park for two nights for chocolate world, the zoo and amusement park. From there they would spend two nights in Philadelphia so that they could visit the Franklin Institute and nearby Sesame place before heading back home.
I did some quick calculations in my head and said, "If you can afford to do this kind of a roadtrip, then you can certainly afford to take that Caribbean Cruise that you've been dreaming about". The women all thought I was a bit crazy (OK, Maybe more than a bit). I told Rachael to facebook me her travel dates if she was interested. There was a message and friend request from Rachael by the time I got home that same evening.
I got to work on her vacation details that she requested....3 nights in a standard room at Great wolf waterpark, 2 nights at the Marriott near Hershey and Philadelphia. I included all of their admissions, gas and tolls. We even included a night out at the movies for one night which is a vacation tradition for their family. I estimated $60 per adults daily and $30 for each child per day for meals, drinks and snacks. The grand total for their "cheap" road trip vacation came to $3,778.00 for their family...an average of $945 per person for 7 nights.
I compared this vacation to a 7 night cruise to the Bahamas on the Carnival Pride sailing the exact same dates in August. I had the family sharing a quad cabin with an ocean view. The cruise price included all taxes and port fees. I calculated in the driving costs for their three hour car trip to get to the port in Baltimore from their home in N.J. Port parking was included for the lenght of their cruise. I even added in gratuities and soda cards for the kids. The grand total for the family cruise that Rachael's family thought could never afford totalled $3,383.00 for their family!...an average of $845 per person for 7 nights.
By comparison the "dream" Caribbean cruise came out $395 cheaper. The cruise included all of their gourmet meals and snacks without having to settle for fast food and road side restaurants. The kids could enjoy pools and slides for 7 days instead of only 3 nights at a waterpark in addition to all the kids club activities. This meant Rachael and Steve could actually get a real break and some time to relax away from the kids too. The family could enjoy a movie on board the ship complete with free popcorn. Every night they would also have broadway style shows, dancing, games, casino and enjoy lots of entertainment choices for all ages. Besides being $395 cheaper, the cruise offered even more vacation VALUE for their money.
Rachael admitted that when they were planning their cheap road trip, they basically only looked at the cost of their hotel rooms and amusement park admission. They never really calculated all of the costs of their vacation. She and Steve never considered the cost of their meals. She actually went back to their credit card bills from last year to tally up food costs because she thought my food guestimate was way too high. Here I came in $125 cheaper on my estimate compared to their actually meal costs from last year.
Needless to say...Rachael, Steve, Michael and Kristen are taking their dream cruise to the Bahamas this coming August. It looks like Steve's parents may be booking a cabin also. Two of the other women from Denise's party are thinking of taking their families on the same cruise now. If this keeps up, they may end up with additional group discounts if they can get 8 cabins worth of people to go.
I think Rachael's story is a very common one shared by so many families budgeting for a family vacation. Few families really know the actually cost of what they spend on a family vacation. They just assume their dream vacations are over their budget. To make this cruise even more affordable, Rachael and Steve put down a small deposit for their cruise and we're breaking their balance into monthly credit card installment payments for them. By paying a little each month this way, their cruise will be completely paid off before their cruise so they won't have to dread their credit card bill when they get home.
Come to think about it, I went to Denise's house to relax and unwind but I ended up doing more work. Maybe I need to take that cruise too. How about you?