The Actually Affordable (and Convenient)

SBO Staff • ChoralOctober 2019Travel • October 21, 2019

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I often write about the importance of student travel for performance, clinic, festival, and workshop opportunities. The educational benefits are immeasurable, the experiences are irreplaceable, and the memories last a lifetime. It is nearly impossible to gauge the lifelong impact this can have on a student. The slightest thing experienced on the trip can spark something in a student that may lead them in so many directions as they grow, become adults, and go out into the world. The career path they chose could be influenced, or their future academic path, or more. And we all know it comes at a price.

Travel Budget Battles

In my position as editor of Choral Director (and SBO Magazine), I’m constantly meeting music educators serving all manner of socio-economic populations. More affluent districts and programs might have greater school funding, parental contributions, community support, and opportunities to engage their music students with trips to big cities and even international travel.

Most schools are lucky if once a year, or even every other year, they can swing a trip to a place like Orlando, perform at a theme park, take in a workshop, and all of the benefits that come with it. Some never travel.

I was a choral kid in a predominantly Title I high school. We took the bumpy old yellow bus to Orlando. We stayed at a run-down Days Inn 20 miles away from Disney, four to a room. We struggled to raise money. We knew the school across town had the chartered bus, stayed on-site at the park, but we were happy enough to get to go at that point. On a personal level, kids know when they are the “poor ones” versus the “rich ones,” so to speak. If they are staying at the aging 1-star motel and arriving in the yellow school bus, versus flying, or traveling in a chartered bus, and staying at a resort with amenities, they know. I knew. I remember well, coming from a broken home with no money and parents in the throes of divorce, a couple of kind choir parents each handing a twenty to my director, when I showed up ready to go with little in my pocket at 14 years old.

Not only are these trips often the first time some of your students may have left their hometown, or been to a theme park, or benefited from performance and workshop opportunities; it may well be the first time they ever see the inside of a hotel. Wouldn’t it be grand to make that first experience a little extra awesome on a budget? When you can give a kid like me a break, and let them experience the nicer things in life, all the benefits of the trip, take their mind off home for a few days, and also provide the full resort experience as affordable as the run-down motel miles away for about the same price, I think that’s important. For a few days, the students might feel less like the poor kids, their learning experience will be elevated, their self-esteem with it, and that will lift all boats with its rising tide. This is why Universal Orlando Resort’s new hotel excited me when I heard where it was located and thought about all that can mean for your students.

When the Wet’n Wild water park, owned by Universal, closed for the opening of their new Volcano Bay water park, the folks at Universal had a golden opportunity to do something no other theme park property has done, or can even do quite as effectively, given Universal Studios, Islands of Adventure, and Volcano Bay’s proximity to Orlando’s International Drive. With their partnership with Loews Hotels, they’ve built another beautiful hotel that offers the full resort experience and the unique park benefits that come with a park resort hotel, but did it in a value-priced category. And it’s really nice.

The first thing I wanted to see when I walked into the lovely lobby of the new hotel was the restaurant. I wanted to know what a burger, fries, and beverage would cost. To my surprise, all-in, it was around $10. Breakfast vouchers for the hotel restaurant can be bought through group sales for $10. This is about 30 percent less than the same meal across the highway at Cabana Bay Beach Resort. That is a lot of savings, while getting the same overall benefits. The whole experience at this hotel versus Cabana Bay is about 30% less, give or take.

Universal’s Endless Summer Resort will eventually feature two hotels, with the Surfside Inn and Suites (which just opened in August) being the first hotel to open with 750 rooms. Sister property Dockside Inn and Suites will add 2,050 rooms and suites and open in 2020. Depending on the season, stay length, and the size of the group, you may find rooms for your students at even less than $90 per night. So, for about $25 a night per student, you can put four students in one room. In a family-style two room suite, you could get as many as six students, or chaperones in the separate bedroom and students in the main room, or use that affordable suite for students with special needs or accommodation needs. The food is good, there is a full-service Starbucks, and an awesome pool.

More Choices, More Conveniences…

The other convenience is International Drive itself. If your budget requires more choices for dining, International Drive has hundreds of choices for eating, additional attractions, affordable souvenir shops, and something you’ll no doubt find very handy: a Walgreens pharmacy. Sunscreen, bottled water, and who-knows-what-else you’ll need, all right there. It is also an enclosed hotel, not a drive-up motel with rooms opening to the outside, meaning your students’ safety and your chaperones’ abilities to supervise are greatly enhanced.

All of this adds up to a great deal, and that is a big deal.

“This hotel checks every box – quality, spacious suites and exclusive benefits that only come with staying in one of our hotels at a value that is simply unmatched in Orlando,” said Vince LaRuffa, Senior Vice President of Resort Sales and Marketing at Universal Orlando Resort. “With the addition of this new value hotel category, we now offer a hotel that accommodates any group’s style and budget.”

The Good Deal is a Big Deal

Now, with a million hotel options in or around International Drive, in this price range, why is this such a big deal? If your trip is centered around a visit to Universal Studios for a workshop or performance, then some fun in the parks, your students and your parents and co-workers have myriad ways to make their dollar stretch further. First, as a resort hotel, the benefits only obtained previously by staying at the top-end hotels or just the next-level affordable resort hotel, Cabana Bay Beach Resort (one of my favorites), are all part of the Endless Summer Resorts experience. By that, I mean supervised, staffed luggage storage for instruments, park transportation, early park admission only given to resort guests, and more. That means, park your bus, check your students in, and use park bus transportation your entire stay. Buses are constantly running late into the evening from early in the morning. There’s no worrying about coordinating with your bus drivers – they can enjoy the park with you. Smaller groups of students can come and go with their chaperones or even on their own (for the older, trusted ones!). After the park closes, your group can stay at the Universal Orlando Citywalk and enjoy the restaurants, shops, movies, fireworks, and more. Your students will have more fun, everyone saves money, and you’ll have more options. Check it out.

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