How Dollywood Gave Me A Glimpse Of Retirement
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For those not familiar with Dollywood (not to be confused with Bollywood the hub of Indian cinema), it is a fairly large amusement park tucked in the the hills near beautiful Gatlinburg, Tennessee, created by the famous country singer, Dolly Parton.
I happened to visit Dollywood a couple of times in 2018 and it essentially gave me inspiration for the title of this post.
And no the title of this post is not meant to imply that I am going to spend my “golden years” hurtling down roller coasters or being drenched in log flume rides (although now that I think of it, there are worse ways to go).
So what on Earth did I encounter in Dollywood that made me think of retirement?
It was the Time Saver, specifically the two types of Time Savers that Dollywood offered.
When you buy a park entry ticket there is an option to buy a Time Saver Pass which allows you to skip the majority of the lines with its own separate entrance and shorter waiting periods for each attraction.
The two offerings were the regular Time Saver ($35/person) and the Time Saver Unlimited ($45/person).
The $35 regular Time Saver allowed you to use it a total of 10 times before it was rendered useless (at each ride they would punch a hole in the corresponding box on the pass).
For $10 more per person, you are allowed unlimited access to the Time Saver line for that day.
The first visit to Dollywood (just my daughter and I), we did not get the Time Saver pass right away but instead went to the first attraction and waited…..and waited…..and waited.
After the ride, I told my daughter we should get a Time Saver pass so that we can get more rides in.
We promptly headed back to the front of the park where they were being sold and was told that although the Unlimited Time Saver Pass was sold out (they only have a set number for a given day) the regular Time Saver (which I believe is always available) could still be bought.
I promptly bought two of these regular Time Saver passes and we headed back into the park.
The Time Saver did its job and we enjoyed breezing through the attractions throughout the day.
But then a strange thing happened.
About the halfway point (5 of the 10 time saver boxes left), I noticed a change in my behavior pattern.
I started contemplating.
Should I really use this dwindling resource on a particular ride which may not have as lengthy a line as a more popular attraction at the other end of the park?
In fact there were some smaller attractions that we indeed did wait 30-40 min or so in the regular line to save that precious Time Saver pass for what we thought might be a more efficient use later.
With each use of the Time Saver pass, the decision making process intensified.
I could not predict how many more rides we were going on before the park closed or what the best “wait savings/time saver ratio” was.
I also could not predict what ended up happening about an hour prior to park closing.
At that point the ride attendants then started treating all Time Saver passes as unlimited and no longer punched holes in the card.
So all those efforts of trying to save our Time Saver were in fact unnecessary as both my daughter and I still had 2 more holes to punch each when the park officially closed (which translated to waiting in 2 attractions far longer than we needed to earlier in the day).
The second visit to Dollywood was a completely different experience.
This time I was joined by my girlfriend and her 2 kids as well as my own.
When I bought the tickets online, I made sure to also buy the Unlimited Time Saver Pass so that I eliminated any possibility of these passes not being available on the actual day of entry.
All those mental calculations etc. that had plagued me that first day were gone.
If we wanted to ride a small ride using a Time Saver pass and immediately go back on it through the same expedited line, we did with not a care in the world.
For me it was a completely different experience and that day in the park was far more enjoyable than the first one.
In fact the only problem I see with having unlimited Time Saver passes was the fact that we probably did too many rides too quickly and we became “roller coastered out.”
I am sure by now the majority of my readers can see where I have been going with this and how it ties to retirement, but I am going to spell it out nonetheless.
In terms of retiring early, if you decide to pull the plug at the absolute minimum threshold advised for your planned annual expenses (referred to as Lean FIRE), it will be as if you got the regular Time Saver Pass.
Sure you will likely be fine and likely have enough, but it is inevitable that as your finite resources dwindle you begin to do mental gymnastics constantly running through scenarios that may or may not come to fruition.
This situation will undoubtedly take some of the joy out of your “golden years” much like I had some of the joy taken out of my first park visit.
You still get to bypass the regular line that the more traditional workforce has to undergo of working till age 65, but you will always have the concern of what happens when that last hole is punched.
If, however, you choose not to retire the very first chance you get, but instead continue to work to pad your nest egg and create a larger financial buffer, it is like you have decided to go with the Unlimited Time Saver pass.
Caution must be made however of the “One More Year Syndrome,” where there is continuing postponement of your target retirement date due to being overly cautious.
So next time you are at your local amusement park, or better yet, visiting Dollywood, spring for the Unlimited Time Saver Pass and get a taste of what Fat FIRE retirement is like.
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