spreadsheets and suitcases

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Disney World October 2015 Trip Report Part 10: See ya real soon!

I woke up on Monday, October 12th, and realized that it was our last (half) day at Disney before we started the long journey home.  So bittersweet, because of course I didn’t want to leave my happy place, but I was also looking forward to the traveling ahead of us.

I savored the last early morning view of the Savanna from our room.  It’s really just beautiful.  I took an extra moment to appreciate it, because it’ll be a long time before we stay at Animal Kingdom Lodge again.  Now that all of my little family group has stayed there on their 1st trip to Disney, it’s time to branch out to other Deluxe resorts for future split stays and get more Resorts checked off my list.  Based on experiences on this trip, I’m leaning toward PO-FQ and the Grand Floridian for our next trip in 2021.  Of course, availability and price will guide the final decision. Read the rest of this entry »

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Disney World October 2015 Trip Report Part 1: flights and arrival

All you need is faith, trust, and pixie dust.  Here we go!

Cast of Characters:

Me: Disneyholic and planner extraordinaire, 6 trips to the World, 2 Disney Cruises, 1 trip to Disneyland, 1 stay at Aulani

DD: teen daughter, Disneyholic planner-in-training, 4 trips to the World (1 in utero!), 2 Disney Cruises, 1 trip to Disneyland, 1 stay at Aulani

DH: husband, happy to leave the vacation planning to me, 1 trip to the World, 1 stay at Aulani, 1 Disney Cruise

DS: toddler son, loves the characters, 1 stay at Aulani, 1 Disney Cruise

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Disney Pre-Trip Report: Disney TV and split-stays

Loved the Disney touches during last night’s Oscars: wins for Big Hero 6 and Feast, plus an appearance by Disney Legend (that’s a real designation, BTW) Julie Andrews.

From Disney movies to Disney TV….a long time ago (late 90s/early 00s) The Travel Channel used to run some Disney specials produced by Lighthouse Entertainment.  They had a 30-minute show called Great Hotels, hosted by Samantha Brown, which would occasionally feature the Deluxe Disney resorts.  They also showed some hour-long specials, titled Disney Cruise Line, Undiscovered Disney Parks, Disney’s Animal Kingdom, and Disneyland Resort: Behind the Scenes, among others.  I recorded these shows (on a VCR!) and would play them anytime I felt the Disney bug. Understandably, these types of shows become outdated quickly, but I still loved watching them.  I was happy to find an updated Disney Parks special on Hulu Plus, which had been filmed in 2010.  But that was it for a long while.

I belong to a Disney message board called DISboards (a fantastic place for Disney information), and in late 2013, there was a thread about some recent updates to these shows, filmed in 2012 and 2013.  They would be running on a channel called Destination America, which is an offshoot of the Discovery Channel.  They were premiering all the updated versions of the specials, and showing a few of the older ones as well, a sort of “Disney Programming Day.”  I was thrilled- but then I realized that we don’t have that channel (it’s only available as part of the digital cable service, not something we feel is worth paying for).  Bummer!  No way to watch it online either.  I searched for it on Netflix, no go.  I had to give up and just hope they would appear on Hulu Plus eventually.

Well, lo and behold!  This past Saturday morning I woke up, turned the TV on, and what was playing on TLC, of all places?  Three Disney shows in a row, as part of a promo for the Destination America channel.  I caught the tail end of Ultimate Walt Disney World, then saw Disney Cruise Line: Behind the Magic, and Disneyland Resort: Behind the Scenes.  It was awesome!  No way to record them this time, though.  They appear to be one-off showings because I couldn’t find any further listings for the them on any channel at any point in the future.

Still, it put me into (even more of) a Disney mood for the weekend, so I got to (almost) finalizing my decisions for our resort split-stay.  You may remember that I have a goal of staying at all the Disney World Resorts at least once.  To achieve that, I like to do split stays when we travel, which just means that we switch hotels at some point. I also have a directive that my immediate family must stay at Animal Kingdom Lodge on their 1st trip to the World- so that’s one resort already decided, since this is my little guy’s 1st time.

That left the other resort.  Here’s where I had to make a decision on my definition of “every” Disney Resort.  As a natural completist, I would love to literally stay at every single hotel on property.  But as a confirmed realist, I know that our trips to the World are only going to occur every 6 years or so, as part of the South America-USA-Europe-East Coast-Disney something (World/Land/Cruise) rotation.  With 31 separate hotels/campgrounds,  it would take me a LONG time to achieve that particular goal.

So I decided to appease my OCD tendencies by combining the “like” hotels into groups, so that once I stayed in one of the “like” hotels, I would be able to check off the group altogether.  Example: on a mother-daughter trip in 2005, DD and I stayed at the All-Star Sports Resort.  This hotel is part of the “All-Stars” group, which consists of All-Star Sports, All-Star Movies, and All-Star Music.  By staying at Sports, I have completed the group, and do not have to experience Movies and Music on future trips.  Similarly, when it comes to a Resort that also has Disney Vacation Club (DVC) Villas in addition to the original building, I would choose one or the other and consider it done.  Example: The Wilderness Lodge has the Resort proper as well as the Villas at Wilderness Lodge.  Either would complete the Wilderness Lodge group.  That line of thinking brings me down to 16 properties.  I’ve stayed in 4 of them so far.  Looking to add another one this trip, of course, and I decided to go for the Value resort we haven’t stayed in yet, Art of Animation.

I picked this resort because the kids are only getting older, and bigger.  With DS being only 5 at the time of the trip, this is the last time that the 4 of us can fit into a Standard Room at a Value resort without feeling packed in like sardines.  Also, Value resorts only have food court dining, which is fine for him at this age- he can only eat so much.  On future trips, I will want the bigger rooms and better amenities available at the Moderate and Deluxe Resorts for the duration of the vacation.  So, I made my reservation for the first part of our trip at Art of Animation (AoA) with no issues, and turned my attention to the Animal Kingdom Lodge (AKL).  We want to stay there for 2 nights at the end of our trip.

AKL is truly a wonder.  The resort has its own savannas (separate from the one in Animal Kingdom Park).  Guests staying in Savanna View rooms just look out their balconies, day or night, and see zebras, giraffes, ankole cattle, ostriches, and all sorts of other wildlife.  Most animals are out 24 hours a day, and the exterior lights in the savanna view rooms are lit with artificial moonlight in the evenings, so there is just enough light to see the animals’ activity, but not so much as to disturb their normal eating/resting patterns.  Of course, guests are not allowed to enter the savannas except on special tour vehicles.  Nor are you allowed to throw things into the animal area, including food.  There are always Cast Members around the special viewing areas off the lobby and in between the buildings, available to answer questions about the animals or resort.  There are many resort activities, several restaurants (Boma!  OMG so good), and a lovely zero-entry pool.  It smells heavenly, too.  So, it’s pretty cheap, right?
no
The cost for a Savanna View Standard Room at Animal Kingdom Lodge ranges from $429 to $677.  PER NIGHT.  Now, I love me some Disney, and can justify most costs associated with same…but, the average cost of $553 is kind of obscene.  I’ll point out that most people don’t pay “rack rate,” or the non-discounted price, for AKL or any of the other Deluxe Resorts.  They stay there using DVC points, using a PIN code discount they receive in the mail from Disney, using a general room-only discount, as part of a bundled package from a travel agency, etc.  There are various ways to get resort discounts.  Another way to stay for less is with DVC point rental.  This will be my method of getting us into AKL for this trip!  At least, I hope so…

Disney Vacation Club is Disney’s version of a timeshare.  It’s a points-based system, which I won’t go into too much detail over.  See the official DVC site and this excellent e-book on Passporter to learn more.  In a nutshell, DVC members purchase points that have a specific Use Year, or time period they are eligible for resort bookings.  Sometimes, members can’t use all of their points in a given year, or prefer to travel elsewhere, and they decide to put their points up for rental.  This allows non-members to experience the Deluxe Resorts at a lower rate, based on the price-per-point charged by the rental broker.  Be advised, this is not an official Disney process.  There are several highly-rated and reputable brokers out there for points rental, which I find more secure than just private messaging someone directly online. I’m choosing to go through David’s Vacation Club Rentals.  By requesting a point rental for the dates of our October trip, I can pay a total price of under $500, for both nights.  I would be renting a Savanna View Studio, which sleeps up to 4 (5 if one of us was in a crib), and includes a kitchenette. These rentals can be linked to the My Disney Experience online vacation planning tool, and are eligible for Disney’s Magical Express service.   Woo!  The only catch is that sometimes the resort has availability, but the rental broker doesn’t have any DVC members with AKL points to rent for that particular date.  This is currently happening to me.  I’m on a waitlist, and it’s killing me…

She's a bad egg.

Me too, Veruca.  Me, too.

But any good planner has a variety of resources, and a backup plan.  The other resource in this case is keeping an eye out for a room-only or package discount.  Disney usually releases fall discounts in the spring, so they’re not out yet for our dates.  It’s possible that Disney releases a discount of up to 35% at the Deluxe Resorts for the fall.  If our dates fall within the promo window, I would add a day at Art of Animation and just do 1 night at AKL, using the discount.  The backup plan is (gulp) a reservation at another resort.  I don’t think I will allow this to happen, but life is full of surprises.  I made a 2-night reservation for our AKL dates at the Port Orleans-French Quarter Resort (POFQ).  It’s a nice Moderate resort, and DS will be taking a Pirate Adventure Cruise from there during our trip, so it made sense.  I fully intend to get the AKL DVC point rental through sheer will/pixie dust and then cancel the POFQ one though.

So as it stands, we have reservations at AoA and POFQ, but are waitlisted for AKL through DVC.  And with that alphabet soup simmering, I will move on to planning my Advanced Dining Reservation (ADR) strategy, since my booking date is coming up in April.  More on that soon!

The struggle is real.

The struggle is real.

 

 

 

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Disney Pre-Trip Report: flights are booked!

Q: SpreadsheetsandSuitcases family, you’ve just confirmed the school/work calendar for the next year, what are you going to do next?

A: We’re going to Walt Disney World!


Yes, indeed, we have official trip dates set for October!  My Disney2015 spreadsheeting activities are in full swing, and I’m crossing things off my lists left and right.  Super exciting, especially once I remembered that not only would Mickey’s Not-So-Scary Halloween Party be going on at Magic Kingdom during our trip dates, we’d also be able to partake in the Epcot Food & Wine Festival.  But in order to enjoy all this fun, we must first travel the 4,747 miles from Honolulu to Orlando.

First order of business was to research flights.  Honestly, I have been tracking flight prices for both trip date options (July/August and October) for months already.  So I knew what the prices would be like, and I knew that, barring any sudden 80% off fare sales, our best bet would once again be using the Companion Fare benefit of the Alaska Airlines Visa.  I did fresh research, and came up with the same answer.  Using the Companion Fare will save us quite a bit- here’s the breakdown on my reasoning and calculations.  Warning: itinerary minutiae ahead!

  • the least expensive (non-Alaska) RT fare on our trip dates in October 2015 was $897 on Delta.  Itinerary is OK, both outbound and inbound flights get us to/from Florida in the one day over the course of 11-14 hours with brief stops in Los Angeles (LAX), eliminating any need for layover hotels.
  • the least expensive Alaska RT fare came in at $843.  This itinerary included overnight layovers both ways, in San Diego (SAN) on the outbound and Seattle (SEA) on the inbound, requiring airport hotels.  When I looked at the options, I decided that a different return flight was a better option for us, which added $20 to the fare, so the final price was $863.  Let’s put our Comparing Caps on!~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
  • the Delta itinerary includes arriving at Orlando Int’l (MCO) at 5:35am EST…this means our first day in Florida is kind of a wash: nothing will be open, the resort room may not be ready for hours, the parks don’t open until around 9am, and we’re unlikely to have slept enough on the flights to handle a day of activities.  By the time we got into our room, I think we would all just crash and be useless for the rest of the day trying to get off of HST.  In contrast, because of the overnight layover in SAN on the outbound Alaska itinerary, we’d arrive at 6pm EST, giving us time for a hearty dinner and some exploration of the resort before hitting bed fairly early to prepare for Islands of Adventure the next day.  In both cases, we’d be looking at 2 days of travel/adjustment, but the Alaska itinerary is definitely more appealing.
  • on the return, the Delta itinerary leaves MCO at 7:00am.  Since we’re using Magical Express to get to our resort, we’d be looking at a pick-up time of 4:00am. They want you to be at the airport 2 hours early, and sometimes stop to pick up guests at a few different resorts, so they pick you up 3 hours before flight time.  EWWWWWW, and it messes up our last night at the parks.  Either we go to bed super early and miss fun evening activities, or we try to stay up all night.  In contrast, the Alaska itinerary has us leaving at 6:55pm, leaving us most of a day to sleep in, relax at the resort, and have a good lunch before being picked up at 3:55pm.  Side note: Disney’s Magical Express is a complimentary bus service to/from MCO, and is available only to WDW Resort guests staying on-property.  It includes luggage transportation as well- they pick up your luggage at MCO for you and deliver it to your resort room a few hours after you land. Very convenient.
  • finally, with the Delta itinerary, we arrive at HNL at 5pm HST (since we’ll still be on EST, it’ll feel more like 10pm), and we’d need another “recovery day” before going back to work and school.  With the Alaska itinerary, we land at HNL at 1:16pm HST, and can get unwind/unpack with time for a full nights’ sleep and not miss anymore work and school.  DD will be in high school, so I’d prefer to limit school days missed (even though travel is educational, of course :))
  • alright, let’s talk numbers!  Delta itinerary price is $897/traveler, no layover hotels, luggage fee of $25 for 1st checked bag since we have no status (I’ll assume 2 bags each direction, each one assigned to a different family member, 4 flights total): = (897*4)+(25*4) = $3688.  Alaska itinerary price is $863/traveler for 2 of us, and $99 + tax/traveler for 2 of us, 2 layover hotels averaging $115/night each, luggage fee of $25 for 1st checked bag (I’ll assume 2 bags each direction, each one assigned to a different family member, 8 flights total because we have to repay the luggage fee after picking up the suitcases for the overnight layovers- Alaska STILL charges CC holders checked luggage fees, gah), the $75 annual fee for the Alaska Airlines Visa for both of us, and some taxis to the layover hotels since we arrive later at night: (863*2)+(166.08*2)+(115*2)+(25*8)+(75*2)+(50) = $2686.16, a savings of a little over $1000, even with all the extras.  That averages $671 per person for RT transportation, not too shabby.

We bought the flights this week!  If you’re curious about the taxes breakdown with the companion fare, here is my detailed receipt section.

Total transportation cost averages $671/person, round-trip!

Both sets of taxes include: US Alaska/Hawaii Departure Tax $of 17.80, US Flight Segment Tax of $16.00, US Passenger Facility Charge of $18.00, and US Sept 11 Security Fee of 11.20. The difference in totals comes from the US Transportation Tax, which is $24.11 on the Base Fare of 775.89 and $3.08 on the Base Fare of $99.

Now I have to research airport hotels.  I have to tell you, I’m baffled by the lack of airport-only hotels in San Diego based on my research so far.  They’re mostly called Sea World/Airport, or Zoo/Airport…and none of them seem to be within 1 or 2 miles of the airport.   That’s why I factored in the cab rides in my transportation estimate- we’re looking at $25 cab rides to airport hotels in San Diego, because we’re landing near midnight and most of the airport shuttles have stopped running by then.  That’s crazy talk.  I’ll keep looking.  Any recommendations for San Diego?

And will October get here already?!  I have new magnets to buy!

 

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