spreadsheets and suitcases

organization + travel = family fun

Bits & Pieces: FastPass+ update, Disney Dollars, Disney Cruise out of NYC

  • Disney updated their FastPass+ system, for the better!  This applies to WDW only.  Previously, once you’d used up your initial 3 FP+ selections for the day, or the time to use them had expired, you could choose a 4th option in the same Park or another one, if there were times available, but only at an in-Park kiosk.  You could see availability on the app, but not choose it until you’d traveled to the next Park.  Now, with the enhancement, you can choose a 4th option (again, after you’ve used the 1st 3 or their usage time has passed) from the My Disney Experience app on your phone, no need to be in the Park!  This saves time, always a premium at Disney. Note: the in-Park kiosks, with a Cast Member present to help you use them, will still be available. Other great improvements: the ability to only make 1 or 2 selections instead of being forced to make 3 per day, and being able to make selections for individuals instead of the whole group (there was a way to do this before, but it was pretty complicated and often caused all the other people’s selections to temporarily disappear).  On my personal Wish List for the next upgrade…being able to make selections in different Parks in a single day, for when you plan to Park-hop.  If you could just have that in place before we go back in 2021…


  • A sad Disney announcement: no more Disney Dollars! As allears.net reports, the manufacture of Disney Dollars has ended.  Disney Stores that still have them in stock will sell until they run out.  The Dollars have no expiration date, so if you have some and want to use them in the Parks, you still can.  I remember using Disney Dollars as prizes for a Disney trivia game I made up for DD and DH before our 2008 trip.  This was a neat way to give kids money to save for Disney, since they can’t be used anywhere else.  But I guess the move makes sense- I didn’t buy any Disney Dollars in anticipation of this recent trip, because gift cards are just so easy.  Aw, farewell, Disney Dollars! dollar
  • When I think about an extended family vacation that doesn’t involve Ecuador, I think about a cruise.  What, no WDW, you say?  You wouldn’t want to have 9 people (my parents, my sister, her DH, my niece, plus the 4 of us) touring a Disney Park at the same time?  The answer is no.  So, what’s better than a Disney Parks vacation for extended family?  A Disney Cruise Line vacation.  You unpack once, visit cool ports of call, the ship is beautiful and air-conditioned, Disney characters are available for greeting, and most lovely of all- the ship is contained.  You can’t get too far away from each other, so meeting up for food/shows/games/swimming is fast and easy, but you still have your cabin close by if you need privacy.  Disney Cruise Line has announced itineraries departing from NYC for Fall of 2017.  No specific dates released today, but this year’s NYC cruises are all in October.  I would LOVE to do this itinerary: depart NYC, days at sea, stop at Port Canaveral, go to Epcot/MK since *1 day Park-Hopper tickets to WDW, including port transfers, are part of the cruise price*, go to Disney’s private island Castaway Cay (pronounced “key”), days at sea, back to NYC.  Alas…..too many school days missed, because of travel time.  My other dream cruise is the Mediterranean one that includes Greece.  Very pricy.  Ah well, a girl can dream…


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Disney World October 2015 Trip Report Part 9: AK and MK

Last full day at Disney.  Boo!  I was determined to “squeeze the juice” out of the day, to use a Latin expression (‘sacar el jugo’).  Let us commence to squeezing!

We started out by sleeping in just a bit.  Had I known the transportation rigamarole we were about go through, I might have gotten up earlier.  But I didn’t, so I blissfully slept like a corpse in that dead-comfy bed (see what I did there?) at the Animal Kingdom Lodge.  When I woke up, I headed straight to the balcony to check out our Savanna View in the daylight.  Oooooooh, looky here!

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Disney World October 2015 Trip Report Part 8: DHS & MK

We’re approaching the end of the trip report 😦  2 full days plus the travel day is all that is left.  But let us not be prematurely sad, for there is still Disney fun to be had!  Hey, that rhymed!  I’ll see myself out…

OK, another early morning today.  We had finished our packing the night before, so we could drop our bags at the Art of Animation Bell Desk for the Cast Members to transfer them over to the Animal Kingdom Lodge.  Naturally, I also wanted to make Extra Magic Hours at Hollywood Studios, which began at 8am.  Like I said: early.

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Disney World October 2015 Trip Report Part 3: Magic Kingdom/Epcot

Note: Terrorists are cowards, and I hope they are brought to justice in every way possible.  I feel for all victims and their families, and have renewed my determination to take my children all around the world to learn and grow.  I will not be made afraid to travel, and I hope none of you will be, either.

Trip report, continued…

I woke up on Monday, October 5th with a pit in my stomach.  All the time spent daydreaming, planning, and anticipating my little boy’s first visit to a Disney Park was about to happen, and here I was, a bundle of nerves.  I was apprehensive.  Not that he wouldn’t like WDW, but that he wouldn’t LOVE it.  What if he didn’t find it fun, or cried and asked to go home, or screamed when we tried to take him on rides?  I could kiss my whole rosy picture of future planned family vacations goodbye.  DD and I would have to leave the boys at home, or be forced spend half our Orlando time at Camp Jurassic and Seussland on every trip.  Now, we HAD had fun at Universal, but remember when I said that just 1 full day was enough for several years?  I was serious.

On the other hand, I was happy to the point of bursting.  I was about to walk down Main Street, USA, toward Cinderella Castle and all kinds of Disney fun.  There is nothing like the atmosphere of a Disney Park, especially in the morning.  The sidewalks are freshly washed, the Cast Members (CMs) are smiling, and something wonderful is in the air.  I put aside my worries about the little guy, strong in my belief of Disney Magic, and we all got ready for the day. Read the rest of this entry »

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Dealing with Disney withdrawal…

So, we’re back.  It was a magical, wonderful time.  But the post-Disney depression is just beginning.  Today, I woke up, and had no FastPass+ for any beautifully-themed rides, fantastically-produced shows, or amazing fireworks displays.  No reservations for unique restaurants.  And no MagicBand on my wrist.  So sad.

disney cry

I’ll just have to relive the experience with a Trip Report.  I didn’t take any notes while we did our Park touring, but I have the written itinerary that we followed pretty closely, and my pictures are in order, so it should be too hard to piece everything together.  Some general impressions:

  • FastPass+ worked perfectly for us.
  • I implemented a “walk in the morning, stroller in the evening” strategy for our 5-year-old, and that was a stroke of brilliance with our touring plan.
  • I’m glad to have stayed at Art of Animation, but the walk from our room in the Little Mermaid section in the WAY BACK of the Resort was pretty far (a 10-15 minute walk from the bus stop) and I wouldn’t stay in that section again.
  • The My Disney Experience App was very useful.
  • Memory Maker continues to be worth it.
  • Nothing will ever top IllumiNations for me, but the Hallo-Wishes fireworks, Hocus Pocus Villains Spelltacular, and Boo to You parade during the Not-So-Scary Halloween Party were really impressive.  The Festival of Fantasy parade was visually stunning, too.
  • I wanna go back….now!

Stay tuned for the full Trip Report, including pictures!


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Disney Pre-Trip Report: FastPass+ing in my sleep

Ok, maybe that’s an exaggeration. And, in my case, the organization was easy because our party of 4 will pretty much always be together on rides/attractions.  But I also prepared quite a bit, and I think that contributed to it being a very pleasant experience.

So, in a nutshell, FastPass+ is a ride reservation system.  It lets Disney know approximately how many people to expect, crowd-wise, for a given ride at a given time per day, and also allows them to distribute opportunities to experience their biggest headliner rides and shows.  For all you tin-foil-hat folks, I’m sure it’s also a data-mining opportunity, since by the time you make FastPass+ reservations, Disney knows how many people are in your party, their ages, the kind of tickets you bought, whether you are staying on property or not, whether it’s your 1st visit or 20th, what the average income of people in your zip code is, and even what your favorite color is (based on MagicBand customization).  I don’t mind Disney knowing too much about me- I am a shareholder after all 🙂

There has been a lot of negative stuff printed about FastPass+: specifically, that it forces you to decide your plans for the day so far ahead of time, losing the spontaneity/fun of a Park day, and causing longer lines at attractions that typically didn’t represent long waits because everyone who couldn’t get a Space Mountain FastPass+ opted to get a Barnstormer one instead.  Some of these points are valid.  Obviously, the point about needing to do advanced planning doesn’t bother me!  The point about losing some spontaneity holds a little weight, but in my opinion, you can add fun at Disney in a million different ways, plus, if you PLAN right, you have some buffer time to allow an awesome character interaction to go on longer than you expect or to have that extra Mickey bar on a hot day.  The last point is fairly valid, some rides do suddenly have bottlenecks/long waits because they are FastPass+ eligible.  But again, with smart planning, pretty much any wait can be minimized.  Lastly, a point about managing expectations: Disney stopped having well-defined “slow times” a while ago.  The Parks are pretty crowded all the time now, so no one goes to Disney without having to wait in a least SOME lines.  My personal limit is 30 minutes (and that’s only because a lot of the ride queues are interactive and you might actually miss something fun if you walk through too fast), though with the kids I’d prefer not to wait more than 20.

Quick FastPass + facts:

  1. you can make up to 3 selections per day in advance
  2. all 3 advance selections have to be in the same Park
  3. each FastPass+ is good for 1 hour (so if you get one for 10:00am, you can enter the ride any time between 10:00am and 11:00am)
  4. after you’ve used all 3 of your advance selections, or your FP+ times have expired, whichever comes first, you can use an in-Park FastPass+ kiosk to make another selection in that Park if any are available.  I’ve heard the in-Park kiosks are a bit slow, so people have been choosing whatever ride comes up first on the kiosk screen, then using the My Disney Experience (MDE) app on their mobile devices to fine-tune their 4th, or 5th, or 6th, etc., selection. The kiosks are clearly marked on all Park maps.
  5. Your selections are stored in My Disney Experience, and that information is linked to your MagicBand.  To use a selection, simply tap your MagicBand to the “tapstile” at the ride entrance during your selection time range, and it should light up green.

When you have a FastPass+ for a ride, you can have little to no wait at all!  Disney resort guests (those staying on-property), have the ability to make FastPass+ selections 60 days from their check-in date.  Those off property can make them 30 days before check-in, as long as they have an MDE account that has park tickets linked to it.  As I waited for my magical 60-day date, I checked out the following:

  • TouringPlans.com: this is the sister site to the Unofficial Guide that I mentioned when discussing ticket options.  If you want a customized plan, you need to register and pay the low yearly fee.  I found that taking the book out of the library and being able to access the generic touring plans in the back was enough.  I was then able to customize my plans using some of the advice on the site.
  • easyWDW.com: another great site, they offer FREE “cheat sheets,” touring plans for each Park.  The author lives locally, so he is always posting about new stuff in the Parks, and updating his crowd calendar, where he makes recommendations on which Park to visit on what day, depending on historical/anticipated crowds.  He advocates never going to the Park that has Extra Magic Hours (EMH), stating that this Park becomes more and more crowded as the day goes on because many Guests just gravitate toward it, even after the extra morning time has passed.  I agree and disagree.  Where I Disagree: I always go the EMH AM hours, ARRIVING BEFORE THE PARK OPENING TIME, enjoying the extra hour, plus the 2 or 3 lower-crowd hours after the Park officially opens, and leaving as soon as it starts to get hot/crowded for a dip in the resort pool.  So if Magic Kingdom is open for all guests from 9a-10p, and EMH is from 8a-9a, I arrive at 7:30a to be among the first in the Park, enjoy lots of rides with little or no lines until 10:30a, stop for a snack or show, use some FP+ for things that will have developed a line by mid-late morning, then have a nice lunch and get the heck out of there. Where I Agree: do not go to the morning EMH Park late in the day or anytime after the Park opens, really.  Also, note that some Parks also have PM hours, staying open after the Park is closed to non-resort guests, though in practice they don’t kick those people out- they just can’t get on rides.
  • DISboards.com: again, a site where you easily get lost in minutiae and uber-planning.  I stuck to the Theme Parks Attractions and Strategies board for itinerary research.
  • my own head/heart: yes, this is where my previous Disney experience came in, and where I balanced the tendency to pack a lot into each day with the need to make sure my kids and husband have lots of fun the whole time, i.e., taking time to smell the roses orange groves on Soarin’ 🙂

So what did all this research get me?  Why, it’s a day-to-day itinerary, with built-in breaks, time for snacks, and even distribution of rides, shows, and character meets.  The most important part of the proposed itinerary was the “ideal FastPass+ selections” for each day.  Some days I knew we would sleep in in order to have a later night, so I wanted FP+ afternoon/evening selections.  For our first day, I wanted to guarantee the popular stuff that would really wow the family, so I planned for morning FP+.  Some days, we would be Park hopping, and able to take advantage of the early morning little/no lines at the first Park, so I made FP+ for the second Park.  My final wish list wound up like this:

Day 4 Day 5 Day 6 Day 7 Day 8 Day 9 Day 10
FP+ #1 Anna & Elsa 10:30a Seas w/Nemo 10:25a Exp Everest 9:00a Space Mtn 4:00p Disney Jr 10:30a Mickey Mouse 4:30p Character Spot 5:00p
FP+ #2 Enchanted Tales 11:45a Turtle Talk 10:45a Mickey/Minnie 11:30a Barnstormer 5:00p TSMM 11:45a Splash Mtn 6:00p Spaceship Earth 6:00p
FP+ #3 Peter Pan 12:45p Test Track 12:45 Kali River 12:30p 7DMT 6:00p L,M,Action 12:00p Haunted Mansion 7:00p Soarin 8:00p

My abbreviations: MK = Magic Kingdom, EP = Epcot, DHS = Disney’s Hollywood Studios, AK = Animal Kingdom, MNSSHP = Mickey’s Not-So-Scary Halloween Party.  It’s pretty easy to guess the full names of the attractions from what I wrote.  The * is for the EMH Park.  Finally, my chart starts with Day 4 of our vacation because the first 2 days are taken up with travel, and Day 3 is when we go to Universal Islands of Adventure.  And I hereby present to you, my actual FP+ selections!

Day 4 Day 5 Day 6 Day 7 Day 8 Day 9 Day 10
FP+ #1 Splash Mtn 9:50a Seas w/Nemo 9:30a Mickey/Minnie 9:50a Space Mtn 3:00p TSMM 10:35a Mickey Mouse 5:00p Character Spot 5:10p
FP+ #2 Enchanted Tales 11:50a Turtle Talk 10:45a Exp Everest 11:40a 7DMT 4:10p Disney Jr 11:50a Anna & Elsa 6:00p Spaceship Earth 6:30p
FP+ #3 Peter Pan 12:50p Test Track 12:50p Kali River 12:50p Barnstormer 5:10p Frozen Sing 12:35p 7DMT 7:10p Soarin’ 7:30p

Not too shabby!  My 1st Priority was the Anna & Elsa character greet, meaning I would rearrange any other plans to accommodate FP+ availability.  Since Resort guests can make FP+ for any of their vacation  dates as of the 60-day mark, I started searching availability for Day 9 first, since I was planning to be in MK that day, and more people with my check-in date would be searching for earlier in the week (their “Day 1”), as is human nature.  As you can see, my strategy paid off immediately with a FP+ for 6:00pm.  I moved on, working backwards date-wise, and was able to pretty much get everything I wanted.  The whole process took approximately 25 minutes.

With this task done, this will be me until we leave for the trip in October:

Sorry, coworkers.

Sorry, immediate family.  Not sorry, coworkers.

And finally, unless you’ve been under a rock for the past week, you’ve heard about some of the new stuff coming to Disney Parks in the next few years!  Toy Story Land, Star Wars Land, new restaurants, updated rides, shows, etc.!  Here is a great overview…guess I’ll have to start planning my WDW next trip now…haha, START?!  I already have it penciled in for 2020.  With Disneyland coming up in 2018 🙂


Disney Pre-trip Report: food, glorious food

As we approach the 180-day mark to our Disney trip, I’m madly revising and updating my park itinerary. Why is 180 days out important? Because Disney has decided that yes, you can decide 6 months ahead of time where and when you will want to eat while on vacation. This is not mandatory- you don’t have to make Advanced Dining Reservations (ADRs) so far ahead, but since you can, I do.

This little guy always makes me laugh.

This little guy always makes me laugh.

But this doesn’t involve simply sketching out a general plan for each park day, and leisurely deciding when you might want to stop for food.  No- I’m afraid that you have to put some real work into this ADR thing.  Also, you need to know that Advanced Dining Reservations are not true reservations- an empty table is not waiting for you at your ADR time.  ADR means that you will be seated next, when a table appropriate for your party opens up.  There are NO tables reserved for walk-up guests at all, so unless you feel like taking a chance and having to wait until all park guests with ADRs have been seated….make an ADR.  It’s easy, on the WDW website, or through the My Disney Experience app.  You must have an account to make ADRs, so get on it tout de suite if you have a trip coming up.  Let our food journey begin!

Served with a side of MAGIC.  And Disney bacon, of course.

Served with a side of MAGIC. And Disney bacon, of course.

  1. First, we decide how many park days we’re going to have during our trip.  This time, we’re getting 6-day Park Hopper tickets (meaning we are not limited to 1 Park per day, thank goodness, since there are 4 magical Parks at WDW).  So we have 6 days when we can eat some meals in the Parks, a few times when we eat in the Art of Animation food court, at other Disney resort hotels, and at Downtown Disney (in the process of being renamed Disney Springs), plus a day when we will have most of our meals at Universal Islands of Adventure Park/CityWalk (we’ll be strictly Quick Service over there).
  2. Next, we check out the list of Table Service (sit-down, “TS”) restaurants in each Park or Resort hotel.  You don’t need ADRs for Quick Service (walk-up) places, the kind that serve mostly fast food options.  We start making a list of what sounds good.  For this part, while I love the Internet, I much prefer to have a written list that I can refer to.  The Unofficial Guide to Walt Disney World 2015 and PassPorter’s Walt Disney World 2015 are perfect for this kind of thing.  The restaurant listings are organized by Park/Resort, and include a description of the kind of food you might expect, plus ratings.  Note: the PassPorter 2015 has not started shipping their pre-orders yet, but when you buy the physical Guide from the PassPorter website, you receive the entire Guide contents as an updateable/savable PDF file at the time of purchase.
  3. Now, narrow down the list.  I always have too many meals in relation to available vacation days, and it’s painful to cut any of them out, but we must be realistic.  Too many TS meals cuts down on Park time and sure puts a dent in the wallet.  This is a great time to make a MUST-DO list (for me, that means a favorite restaurant that I absolutely can’t skip, read: Boma), and MUST-TRY list (usually the hottest new place, hello Be Our Guest!), and an assortment of MAYBEs.
  4. You sort your restaurants, and it’s time to research menus.  I love perusing the Disney Food Blog and AllEars for full menus, and the previously mentioned guidebooks for info on the restaurant opening/closing times and average cost per entrée.  This might also be when you wade into the DISboards Disney Restaurants section- warning: this may be an overwhelming amount of information, as the forum members really get into the minutiae of Disney food and debate the merits of each meal, restaurant, snack, and adult beverage at the World.  There are even Dining Reports, complete with pictures of each and every morsel consumed.
  5. OK, we rescued you from the rabbit hole that is Disney Dining comparisons.  You are left with your A-Team of restaurants, which includes a nice mix of Park restaurants, Resort eateries, and times when you will be in a rush and grab yourself a Kid’s Breakfast Platter from the food court (what?  it’s almost the same amount of food as the adult plate, and usually $2 less.  You are perfectly entitled to the cash and calorie savings in a food court situation).
  6. It’s time for a big decision.  Disney Dining Plan, or not?  The Dining Plan is essentially a (mostly) prepaid dining package.  Official Full Explanation from the Head Cheese here.  Bit more user-friendly version here.  Finally, to find out the exact cost of the different plans, use this Dining Package Calculator.  If you’re still not sure whether it’s a good value for you, use this FANTASTIC Dining Calculator to have somebody else do the math.  But only after you’ve done at least a rough estimate on your own <a math geek always double-checks her work><stern teacher look>.  Basically I have been dividing my time between this step and step 7 over the last month.  No matter what permutation I look at, it just doesn’t save us any money to use a Disney Dining Plan on this trip.  I have used it in the past to great effect, but the plan price has gone up, plus we have another Disney Adult with teen DD now, so it doesn’t wind up making sense.  It is very convenient though, and it’s great to have all that taken care of before you even go on your trip.
  7. It’s almost the moment you’ve been waiting for!  Plan your ideal dining situation.  Dream big!  Character breakfast in Cinderella castle? Done!  Romantic dinner at Le Cellier? Check!  Grab a turkey leg on the way to the Great Movie Ride? As you wish!  <– Gasp! a Non-Disney reference!  Set up your dining preferences on your handy trip spreadsheet (remember that for a Disney trip, you’ll have your dining info on your Itinerary Tab– to see how the food break fits into your overall plan for the day, and on a separate Dining tab- where you make note of the dates/times/confirmation #s of all your ADRs.  Since we’re not doing the Dining Plan on this trip, I also have approximate costs for our TS choices in my Dining tab:
If you look closely, you'll see that some cells have comments- this is where I've noted that a restaurant gives a discount for having the Disney Visa card or some other detail I want to remember.

If you look closely, you’ll see that some cells have comments- this is where I’ve noted that a restaurant gives a discount for having the Disney Visa card or some other detail I want to remember.

8. Wait the torturous amount of time between when you have your ideal plan ready and the date you are allowed to book. Review this helpful step-by-step on how to make an ADR UPDATE: forgot to mention that Disney requires a Credit Card Guarantee for most TS ADRs- make sure you have a linked CC in My Disney Experience before starting to make ADRs.  If you don’t cancel by midnight the night before your ADR, or don’t show up for your ADR, they will charge the CC $10 per person.  You don’t have to ultimately pay for your meal with that card though, it’s just a guarantee. 

9. Ack, it’s still not your ADR date: the 180-day mark. Begin having nightmares of having to survive on the leftovers from Goofy’s Candy Company.  Sugar twitches optional.  <This is my life right now>

10. The night before your ADR date, poise yourself at the computer/smartphone on the Disney site or My Disney Experience app, ready to pounce the moment the clock hits 6:00am EST.  You are fueled with adrenaline, pixie dust, and borderline-legal substances.  YOU CAN DO THIS.

11. And…..go!  Make those ADRs!  Screenshot every confirmation screen!  Record the details in your Dining tab!  Guests staying at a Disney Resort may make ADRs for up to 10 days after the check-in date, so don’t stop until the website’s wheels fall off!  Make sure your ADRs are linked to your resort reservation on My Disney Experience!  Call 407-WDW-DINE (407-939-3463) starting at 7:00am EST if all else fails!

12. You are now ready to eat, drink, and snack around the World, trusty ADRs in hand/app/spreadsheet.  Mickey Bar, here I come!

mickey bar

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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?
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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