In 2017, LaShera and I were planning our first cross-country camp excursion with our children. For us, it was ambitious — from Texas to the far western coast of California, up, and back again.
On that first trip, we contemplated whether we should go for the big bang and bite off a couple of days in Disneyland. After an initial price check, and after comparing Disneyland to Disney World, we decided that perhaps that once-in-a-childhood experience for our kids would need to hold off for if we ever took a Florida trip.
As you know, we are currently on our third summer cross-country trip. This time, we were Eastbound, with a trajectory straight through Orlando.
This trip took a great deal of soul searching. We don’t generally do touristy vacations. Most often, I find them to be soul sucking endeavors and utterly unfulfilling. However, I have a memory of my childhood when I was 8 or 9 and our family made that once-in-a-childhood trip to DW.
In truth, this trip is largely because of the perseverance of my wife.
Since the McElhanys don’t do debt, we paid for this trip 100% in advance. That includes Disney, Universal Studios, Kennedy Space Center, Dry Tortugas Ferry, and a fan boat ride in the Everglades. To prepare, LaShera and I took on extra gigs — LaShera through teaching, and me through freelance consulting, writing and digital development.
The Long Ruse
For one year, we kept the secret from our kids. Universal Studios was the cover. If we ever slipped and talked about the “park” we could say, “You know, Universal.” Or, if we ever slipped and said Disney, we could say, “I mean, Universal.”
We played the ruse even when we arrived with our children in Orlando.
Our first stop was to the Disney Springs shopping district, where Addie literally said, “I feel like Disney created this place for people who would never spend money to go to Disney World.”
We played the ruse even when we arrived at our campsite in Disney’s Fort Wilderness.
Addie asked, “Daddy, is our campground owned by Disney?”
My reply, “Yes. We figured if we couldn’t do Disney, at least we would stay at their campground so you could tell your friends you went to Disney.”
They rolled their eyes.
We played the ruse even as the cast member at the entrance asked, “Did you receive your magic bands for the parks in the mail?”
I held up a single finger to signal silence and winked. His eyes got wide as he hunched and whispered, “But you got them, right?”
We played the ruse even when we were setting up the camper.
Setting up their bunk, Addie said, “I didn’t expect any sort of a surprise for Disney. I saw Daddy’s face when he paid the money for Universal, I can’t imagine his face if he’d paid for Disney.”
As I cooked supper and the girls giggled outside and made plans to use the resort swimming pool, LaShera prepared the reveal inside the camper. She had her friend Paula Manley help make custom shirts for each of 4 days — one at each park.
Finally, we ushered the children into the camper.
The Sort-of Reveal
There are those amazing videos on YouTube of kids freaking out, fainting, or losing their breath when they are told they are going to Disney.
Those aren’t our kids. Our kids saw the shirts. Our kids saw the magic bands. And, they didn’t believe us.
That’s right. Our children thought we were playing a joke.
They didn’t squeal, scream, or show excitement of any sort. At least, not immediately. Then, we began to see the excitement spread across Emmie’s face. I still don’t think Libbie knows well enough what to expect.
The funniest moment was much later as we discussed plans. The girls said, “So, does this mean we’re not going to Universal?”
“No, we’re going to Universal too.”
Then, they were genuinely excited. After all, their parents who are committed to zero debt somehow found it in their hearts and wallets to pull off the trip of all trips.
Our first little glimpse was a visit to the Chip ‘N Dale Campfire Sing Along. Libbie and I went down to the front to do some dancing.
Then, we did our night-before preps — getting our lunches and snacks ready so that we can do this thing on a budget.
As for you at home — pray for us. The next 6 days consist of the following:
- Universal Studios
- Kennedy Space Center
If we survive, on the 7th day we will rest as we put our feet up and relax somewhere in the Florida Keys.