Monday, February 23, 2015

Death of the Family Vacation

Recently I took my family on a short trip to southern Utah and Las Vegas. It was the free National Park weekend and after visiting some of the historic sites in Saint George, Utah, we headed off for LasVegas.

While the sin is still plentiful there, the family based attractions have stagnated. You can't see a pirate battle at Treasure Island anymore because its now a bawdy show featuring a bevy of female pirates.

For family based fare, the only thing really outside anymore is the volcano at the Mirage, and the water fountain show outside the Belagio. This is good and bad.

The Good
 Lets admit it. When you have a family in Vegas, the first rule you teach your kids is, "DON'T LOOK AT THE SIDEWALK!"

The Bad
You're driven inside for the hotels individual attractions. Why is that bad? A revelation came to me while sitting in the Venetian waiting for my wife and I's gondola ride. We were enjoying a pricey scoop of gelato with our daughters when I began surveying the businesses located inside. Every one was a expensive item shop. You know, those ones where everything inside is going to cost you hundreds of dollars--minimum. I even saw a kiosk for Ferrari watches, and if the real estate is too expensive for a full Ferrari shop...

Las Vegas has become a destination for the wealthy or single child family
Prices have gone through the roof, making a majority of the activities in Vegas beyond the ability of many middle class families.

Take for instance the following per person prices:

New York New York Roller Coaster - $14
Rio Carnival World Buffet - $32
Venetian Gondola - $19

For an individual couple, the price may not be that big a deal. But add in two or more children, and one-day in Las Vegas quickly becomes unaffordable. Vegas has attempted to make up for this discrepancy by offering low room prices on off days, but even then, a family may be forced to skip the Vegas experience for cheaper fair.

Walt Disney's vision wasn't a theme park for the Ultra-Rich
Unfortunately, there is a rapidly diminishing supply of cheaper destinations for families. Take for instance, Disney theme parks. According to an Orlando Sentinel article, a one-day ticket price (one park, one day) at Disney World rose from $59.75 in 2005 to today's $105. For a family of six, a trip to Disney can get quickly out of hand. Disney World attempts to make up for this ridiculousness by offering their three-day park hopper + water park passes for $388.75 each. That means, for a family of 6 (2 adults, 4 children) you'll pay $2332.75 for three days in the magic kingdom.

Today, according to the same Orlando Sentinel article, the average median income of families visiting their parks are in excess of $95,000 (in 2013). And Disney literally doesn't give a flying fig about lower income families getting into their parks. Take the following quote from the Orlando Sentinel:
"I do think that Disney's perspective is they're a premium-priced, premium product," said Scott Sanders, a former vice president of pricing with the company. "They believe that … there are some people who can't afford it, but there are a lot of people who are willing to pay for the experience."
And the trend is continuing throughout other theme parks in the country. Again, from the Orlando Sentinel:
Typically when one park raises prices, others follow suit. Universal Orlando has charged $96 and SeaWorld $95 for base tickets at the gate. "The minute you stop keeping up with the Disney prices, you automatically tell the general public, `Hey, we're not as good as Disney,'" said Scott Smith, an assistant professor of hospitality at the University of South Carolina.
So where does that leave us?
Sadly I believe the family theme park experience is over--or at the very least--become a once in a lifetime opportunity. Management in these establishments have lost their minds, but fortunately for them, there are enough wealthy to keep them operating.

But for the family based crowd, we are forced--perhaps wisely--into other options. The National Parks still have many destinations throughout every nation in the world. And camping or visiting reasonably priced hotels with our kids offer more relationship building moments than you'd expect. Better still, we have the opportunity to teach our children about thrift and family.

And that is something Walt would be proud of.

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Be Who You Think You Are

A couple years ago I went to a Sunshine Lodge Writing Retreat. The entire weekend was amazing and filled with dozens of empowering moments (not to mention an uptick in my word count).

Saturday evening of the retreat, we drove down to the restaurant at the nearby Sundance Ski Resort. The event coordinator had called ahead, reserving a larger table in the back for our group of writers. I was having a ball drinking in the stunning view and fancy restaurant, so I was last to file past the waitress and waiter standing at the entrance to the back room. I gave a happy smile to each as I walked past them, then was surprised to hear the waitress whisper to the waiter, "Who was that?"

"Dunno," he replied in a hush.

I moved for a chair, stunned.

Did they think I was somebody famous? Maybe they were just buttering me up for a better tip. Why would they think either?

As I thought about it, I think I came up with the answer: I was acting like someone important.

Through my writerly studies, I've learned from others writers that it's important to act and even dress professionally. Sure you can bum around in a t-shirt and jeans, but if you tried that in a professional workspace, it wouldn't fly. So consequently that night, I was dressed in nice jeans, a button-up shirt, sweater vest, and leather shoes (a wonderful neighbor with excellent taste gave me the shoes--I feel like a casual CEO when I wear them). My beard was well trimmed (a necessity for facial hair). I had on my best watch (a $25 Father's Day present from the Avon catalog, but it looks AWESOME), a silver Celtic braid wedding band ($10 from an incense shop), and my college ring (looks like it has a huge rectangular ruby with a diamond on top). When I dress up like this, I feel like Writer-Man, superhero writer.

So what? Who cares?

I care and so should you. Why? For two reasons:

First: everything I was wearing gave me self-confidence.

It may sound silly, but human beings really are affected by what we wear. For instance, I felt dressed up, which oddly enough, made me feel relaxed. I didn't have to worry what others thought about what I was wearing because I was putting my best foot forward. That took a LOT of emphasis off of me, giving me the opportunity to be myself.

Second: what I was wearing told others that I was serious about my work.

If you want someone to take you seriously, do you wear raggity clothes and don't shave? If you are asking for a raise, would you do it in a clown suit? No, you wouldn't. So don't broadcast that message to those around you--and even more importantly--to your self.

And So...

Try dressing up a little. Business casual should work if you normally slouch around in jeans and a t-shirt. Maybe NICE jeans and a t-shirt if your default is pajamas (just saying). Take yourself seriously. Get the self-confidence that makes others wonder who you are. You'll be glad you did.

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