Monday, February 06, 2012

Why Pay Full Price?

Living in Tourist Land has its disadvantages, like traffic and crowds during peak seasons, but the advantages far outweigh them. The most obvious upside is living next door to Disney World and within spitting distance of the other big attractions. A lesser known, but very handy, advantage is rarely paying full price for things like attractions and food.

Sure, we have all the usual coupons, like the postal bombardment of handy-dandy Bed Bath & Beyond discounts that come in handy for stocking up on K-Cups and restaurant deals from joining various e-clubs, but being in a touristy area means that things are kicked up a notch. Many of the local souvenir shops, restaurants, and hotels have racks full of brochures and books. Inside the pages of those innocent-seeming glossy publications is a treasure trove of ways to save money.

Going to one of the attractions on I-Drive or a Kissimmee dinner show? Don't do it without looking for a coupon first. Ditto for offbeat activities. Everything from horseback riding stables to hot air balloon companies to air boat rides can be had at a discount because they need a hook to attract you away from Disney's dominance and the lure of Harry Potter. You won't find deals from the major parks, mainly because they don't have to give you a deal, but if you want to expand your horizons to other experiences, like zip lining, helicopter jaunts, or indoor surfing, you should never pay full price to do so.

There are lots of coupons for local restaurants, too. You'll find everything from a straightforward percent off your bill to a free drink or appetizer or kids' meal. I love the Ahi tuna salad at Houlihan's, so I have a stash of 10 percent off coupons for when I get that raw fish urge.

There's only one slight hazard in taking advantage of the discounts. Some of the book racks are located in peaceful places, while others are near "ticket sales booths" that are really thinly disguised timeshare baiting spots. Joe Tourist has just arrived in town, and he's not sure what the family wants to do other than visit the Mouse. He's lured over to the colorful brochure rack, and as he stands there with his head spinning from the sheer volume of offerings, the salesman smells his confusion and goes in for the kill.

"Interested in _____?" (Fill in the blank with an appropriate theme park/dinner show/attraction.) "I can get you really cheap tickets, or how about free?"

"Free?" Joe Tourist likes that word, and the logical part of his brain is still shorting from trying to compute the attraction overload.

"Well, all you have to do is take a little tour. Just a short one. Give me one hour of your time and these free tickets are yours."

If Joe doesn't regain his common sense really fast, he's going to be off for a four-hour ordeal and be several thousand dollars poorer due to his new timeshare ownership by the end of the day.

That sort of thing poses no problems for jaded locals. As soon as the slickster starts his lure-her-in spiel, I give him the evil eye and say, "Don't bother. I'm a local," as I load up on my coupon book bounty.

I belong to a vast array of eclubs, too, since we've got virtually every chain you can name in the Celebration area. The only chain missing from Florida that I'd really love to see spring up is Culver's. Their burgers put McDonald's cardboard food to shame, and they have the most blissfully decadent and calorie laden custard you can imagine.

Other than that, I'm pretty well set for dining options. My favorite chain is Sweet Tomatoes, which is basically a salad bar on steroids. Throw in lots of soup and bread options and soft service ice cream (and usually a cobbler or something similar) for dessert, and that's pretty much what it is. They send weekly coupons, and they're got a really convenient restaurant on West 192, near the 429 tollway, so those advantages all combine into a perfect storm of attraction for me.

Sometimes I think businesses are sorry they offered a deal. I love Logan's steakhouse, which is right across 192 from Celebration, as well as in other nearby locations. They recently sent out a coupon for a buy-one-get-one-free meal on Super Bowl Sunday, no doubt hoping it would lure in football fans on what would otherwise be a deserted night.

Unfortunately for the restaurant, people decided to take advantage of the coupon in droves, but early in the day. We needed to go shopping, so we went to a different Logan's around lunchtime and were stunned by the sheer mass of people overrunning the parking lot and spilling out the door, freshly printed-out coupons in their grubby little hands.

We actually got seated fairly quickly, and then I proceeded to watch the circus show. People would come in big parties, then insist on a bunch of separate checks so they could use as many coupons as possible. I pitied the poor servers who were trying to make sense of the mayhem. I'm sure they were glad that hubby and I were only a party of two so we couldn't pull the "I know there's 20 of us, and we didn't tell you before hand, but we want to pair off into 10 checks with two people each now, and here's our 10 coupons" routine.

Fortunately things are usually much more calm and straightforward. You bring your coupon, present it, get your discount, and have a little extra money in your pocket as a result of living in Tourist Land. And then you'll burn up the savings by sitting in endless streams of traffic as your engine combusts all that extra gas.

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