Friday, July 22, 2011

It All Started With a...

It All Started With a Mouse Vacation!

Some of you may remember my almost, but not quite, adventure of applying to be on the Disney Moms Panel last fall.  Advancing from tens of thousands to the semi-finals was exhilarating, and although I didn't make it to the finals, knowing that Disney actually thought I might make a good candidate was a great consolation prize. My friends' encouragement that they just knew Disney HAD to choose me, solidified my belief that I could and someday hopefully would make the panel!  Unfortunately, despite one friend's thinking, I did not get extra credit for traveling all the way from Indiana, and much to her surprise, there really are more Disney obsessed moms and dads out there as crazy about Walt Disney World as I am. And now, making the panel is my biggest goal.

I know some of  you are thinking, "What the heck is the Disney Moms Panel?"  Its an online panel of both moms and dads who help answer future Disney guests' questions about planning their trips. You can see the current moms and dads and check out the site HERE.  Some of  you who know me well, know that I'm already a kind of a local Disney Mom Panel of my own.  The Disney moms and dads on the panel however, get to do it officially! While not Disney cast members, they still get to be a recognized part of the pixie dust.  When I advanced to the semi-final round, I found this awesome video of the training weekend from 2009, and with all my heart wanted to make that panel! (note if you watch the video, you may need to pause this site's music, found at the bottom of the blog)

Since not making the cut last fall, I have been thinking of (okay, plotting) a way to be chosen for the 2012 Disney Moms Panel. One of the questions they have asked the past several years has been focused on the use of social media.  They have specifically asked if you have a blog. And several of the current panelists do. So I decided to "join the jamboree", and start my own Disney vacation planning blog.  I spend a good deal of time helping friends plan their vacations, and also friends of friends, people online, and complete strangers I meet in Target for that matter. Why not start saving all that information I type out and email to people, and put it all in one place? And so this blog was born!

I have already created several pages of basic Disney planning advice. If you or someone you know is planning a trip, have them take a look.  They can also email me, and ask me any questions about planning they may have.  I still have a few pages I want to get up, specifically one on Do's and Don'ts, and one on touring plans.

In addition to the static pages(listed to the left as "Basic Planning Advice"), I will be doing blog entries from time to time, hopefully one every one to two weeks. These entries will be more about Disney planning, but also about fun Disney things such as book reviews, Hidden Mickey's, restaurant reviews, new attractions and information, and trip reports.  I also plan on having some of my Disney obsessed compatriots write guest blogs. I'm hoping to have one coming soon on runDisney, as well as my own post with personal photos and information on Disney's newest resort hotel and spa, Aulani, on Oahu, Hawaii.  There are quite a few blog entries already, composed of prior trip reports I have posted on Mouseowners. On the left side panel of the page I have also added links to the sites I most often send people to such as MouseSavers, MouseMisers, and The Unofficial Guide's webpage

So please, share my site with family and friends that might be thinking of a trip to Walt Disney World, or who just love Disney in general.  If they are interested in coming back they can register and sign in with Google as a follower of the blog, or even submit their email at the top of the blog, and they will get new posts sent to their inbox.  Anyone can email me anytime with questions at

Thanks everyone! Have a Magical Day!
Me, age 13, with my family, after returning from performing at Disney's Magic Music Days in August 1989

The next trip at age 15, at a character breakfast at The Contemporary, second trip for Magic Music Days, Aug 1991.
First trip to Disneyland, CA. With my Notre Dame roommate Adri, March 1995.
First trip with the kids and hubby, summer 2008. We won Year of a Million Dreams Fastpasses!
First Trip as Disney Vacation Club members. Animal Kingdom's Kidani Village Sept. 2009
35th Birthday at "The Original" Disneyland, CA. June 2011

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Ins and Outs of the Disney Dining Plan

Depending on how you like to dine, the Disney Dining Plan (DDP) can save you some money.  Even when you are not saving a lot, it can be worth it for the convenience. It is only available to Disney Resort Guests. In recent years Disney has offered free DDP during slow months as a promotion. There are three types of DDP: Quick Service, Regular, and Deluxe. 

DizKrazKate's Disney Tips in a Nutshell
 The Quick Service plans allows for 2 quick service meals, and 2 snacks per night stay. You also get a resort refillable mug.  In 2012, you will only get 1 snack per day.

 The Regular DDP gives you 1 quick service, 1 table service, and 1 snack per night stay.  In 2012 it will also include a resort refillable mug.

The Deluxe Dining Plan includes 3 meals per night stay (either quick or table), 2 snacks and a resort refillable mug.

The Premium and Platinum DDP are the same as the Deluxe, but are part of the Premium and Platinum levels of vacation packages.

Dessert is included, however appetizers are only included in the Deluxe plan.

The DDP does not include gratuity at table service restaurants.

Alcoholic beverages are not included. If you wish, you may add the Wine and Dine Plan to any package that includes dining for an additional fee in 2011.  This will not be available for 2012.

Some people are confused because they think they are getting allotments "per day" when you are actually getting them "per night stay".  If you have a 6 night, 7 day vacation, you only get 6 sets of allotments, not 7.

I think the DDP used to be a better deal than it is now, but we continue to get it because we do still save money, and you can’t beat the convenience!  The DDP isn’t for every family, and you’ll have to decide if it’s right for you or not. If you are staying on property, have at least 2 children between the ages of 3 and 9 and plan on eating all of your meals out, it’s probably a good idea. If you are on a tight budget and are going to eat a lot of meals in your room, are just adults, always order an alcoholic drink and an appetizer, or have picky or light eating children (or adults I guess!) over the age 9, it might not be such a good deal for you.  Additionally, if you cannot stand being tied down to dining reservations, and only like to do things as you go along, the Regular or Deluxe DDP is not for you. If you purchase those plans, you must make reservations, or risk not getting a table at anywhere you want to eat, and losing a lot of money.

If you like the idea of pre-paid dining, but don't want the DDP, you can consider purchasing a Disney Gift Card and put your food budget money on the card.  Then you can use that card to pay for your dining while at the parks. It is accepted at most restaurants, but not all food kiosks.

How does it work? 
The DDP is a basically a pre-paid meal plan.  You get a certain amount of allotments, or credits, per night of your stay.  The credits are in one big pool, so you can use them in any order you wish. For example if you have 2 adults staying a total of 3 nights on the regular DDP, you will have 6 table service credits, 6 quick service credits, and 6 snacks. If you want to have two snacks on one day, and none on your last day, that is fine. You can use the credits whenever you wish, but they do expire on midnight of your day of check-out.  Any unused credits are gone. With a little thought there is no reason for credits to go to waste.

Two of the plans for 2011, and all the plans in 2012 include a resort refillable mug. This allows you unlimited free refills on soft drinks, coffee and tea at your resort hotel. Just make sure you understand the free refills are at you resort hotel only, not at the parks.
All the credits for a room are lumped together, and can be accessed from anyone in that room's Key To The World Card (KTTWC).  Simply present the card when you go to pay for your meal or snack, and the credits will be deducted from the pool.  This can be super convenient for teens who might venture off on their own. They can get a snack or meal without needing to carry cash.

Keep in mind, kids must order from the children's menu where available. Also note that some very nice restaurants, most notably Cinderella's Royal Table, and dinner at Le Cellier are considered "Signature" restaurants. These will require 2 Table Service Credits, and are usually not an economically wise choice.

Where Can We Use It?
Disney Dining Plan Icon
The DDP can be used at over 100 restaurants and food kiosks throughout the resort including the theme parks, water parks, Downtown Disney, and the hotels. Upon check-in at your resort you will receive an informational pamphlet on the DDP that lists the eateries that are currently accepting the DDP. You can also look for the handy icon that Disney places on the menus next to snacks that you can purchase with the DDP.  Pretty much anything under $4, and quite a few things that cost more than that, are considered a snack in Disney's eyes. You can see this year's pamphlet by clicking here for the 2011 info.

What Does it Cost?
For 2011 the prices are as follows, are on a per night basis and are listed as Adult/Child:

Quick Service Plan- $34.99/$11.99
Disney Dining Plan- $45.99/$11.99 (regular season)
                               $47.99/$12.99 (peak season)
Deluxe Dining Plan -$78.99/$21.99
Wine and Dine Add on - $39.99

For 2012 the prices are going up a bit, along with the addition of the resort refillable mug to the Regular DDP, and the fact that the Quick Service Plan with only have 1 snack per day rather than 2. And alas, for you wine drinkers out there, no more Wine and Dine add on. It is being phased out apparently.

Quick Service Plan- $34.99/$11.99 (no change! Yea!)
Disney Dining Plan- $51.54/$11.99 (regular season)
                               $53.54/$12.99 (peak season)
Deluxe Dining Plan- $85.52/$23.79 (regular season)
                               $89.52/$25.79 (peak season)
Wine and Dine Add on- No Longer Offered!

Is it Worth the Money?
That depends.

Let's look at the Quick Service (QS) plan first.  For a family with 2 adults and 2 kids between the ages of 3 and 9, your cost in the regular season will be $93.96 per night stay.  If you add up the price of food for one day:

Early morning snack/breakfast using your refillable mug and a snack credit:
                                Dad:  Danish and Coffee $4.39
                                Mom: Coffee Cake and Coffee $4.59
                                Kid 1: Cinnamon Roll and soft drink $4.59
                                Kid 2: Oatmeal and soft drink $4.29
Lunch at Cosmic Ray's Starlight Cafe at Magic Kingdom using 1 quick service credit each:
                                Dad: 1/2 Chicken and BBQ Rib Combo and drink: $16.68
                                Mom: Turkey Bacon Wrap $11.08
                                Dessert for Dad and Mom $7.18
                                Kid 1: PB&J meal $4.99
                                Kid 2: Turkey Sandwich meal $4.99
Afternoon Snack at Magic Kingdom using 2nd snack credit.
                                Dad: Mickey Premium Ice Cream Bar $3.50
                                Mom: Popcorn $3.25
                                Kid 1: Dole Whip: $3.19
                                Kid 2: Funnel Cake $4.29
Dinner at Columbia Harbor House:
                                Dad: Fried Shrimp and drink $12.38
                                Mom: Fish and Chips and drink $9.98
                                Dessert for Dad and Mom:  $7.18
                                Kid 1: Chicken Nuggets $4.99
                                Kid 2: Macaroni and Cheese $4.99

Total Price $110.53. So your savings for the day is modest, but still, $16.57 for 7 nights is now $115.99! You may save more than this if you tend to get more expensive items on the menu, or less if you tend to get the least expensive, or use your snack credits for something small like a bottle of water or small soda. If you don't normally get dessert at the quick service places, your savings would only be around $57 for the week.

Now the Regular DDP. For 2 adults and 2 kids between the ages of 3 and 9, your cost would be $115.96 per night stay. For convenience we will use some of the meals from above. Remember you only get 1 snack credit, so you are on your own for 1 meal. (Tip: eat cold cereal or bagels in your room).

Lunch at Cosmic Ray's Starlight Cafe at the Magic Kingdom using 1 quick service credit:
                             Dad: 1/2 Chicken & BBQ Rib Combo w/drink: $16.68
                             Mom: Turkey Bacon Wrap w/drink $11.08
                             Dessert for Dad and Mom $7.18
                             Kid 1: PB&J meal $4.99
                             Kid 2: Turkey Sandwich meal $4.99
Afternoon Snack at Magic Kingdom using snack credit.
                             Dad: Mickey Premium Ice Cream Bar $3.50
                             Mom: Popcorn $3.25
                             Kid 1: Dole Whip: $3.19
                             Kid 2: Funnel Cake $4.29
Dinner at The Crystal Palace Character Meal with Winnie the Pooh and Friends using table service credit:
                             Adults $36.99x2 is $73.98
                             Kids $17.99x2 is $35.98

Total for the day is $169.41 for a savings of $53.45 for the day. If you ate this way every day your savings would be around $375.  If however you ate at somewhere less expensive than The Crystal Palace, like The Plaza for example, your spending for the day might only be $122, and savings might only be $6 that day. You really save the most money I feel, on the kids. If  you have more than two kids, as I do, the DDP becomes even more of a value. Most of the buffets and character meals, cost more per kid than the actual cost of the DDP for the whole day! That kind of savings really adds up.

Either way, you can save a little or a lot of money, and it certainly is easy and convenient. Also, for some families it can be helpful to have their meals pre-paid before they go.

Making Advance Dining Reservations (ADR's)
  Disney does not make "Reservations" the way you may be used to. You may and should make ADR's for all your table service meals at the world. However, it's more of a call ahead seating than a reservation. You still may have to wait 10 to 20 minutes for your table.  If you do not have an ADR however, especially during busy seasons or free dining promotions, you may not get a table at all.  You will often see signs saying "Not accepting walk up's at this time".  We have an acquaintance who sent us a text while at Disney, that he hated the place.  They couldn't get a seat at a single table service restaurant.  Well, if you have no reservations, and go during Spring Break, that is what happens. It's supply and demand. If you are purchasing the DDP, or especially if you are getting it during a free dining promotion, you really MUST make ADR's. ASAP. Like yesterday. If you decide to just show up with no ADR's you may find yourself frustrated, and wasting a lot of money using your table service credits at quick service locations, because you cannot get a table.  If you are the type of person that needs to make plans on-the-fly, and cannot be tied down to reservations, DO NOT buy the DDP.

You can make ADR's for up to 10 days of your vacation, starting 180 days before your check-in day. You can find some handy online tools for calculating your 180 call day, like this one, click here.  You can either call, or  use their online dining reservation system. I prefer the online system, found here.  The online method is much faster, and you can get access to the reservations at 6am Eastern Time, rather than waiting for the phone lines to open at 7am Eastern Time. If you are wanting a hard to book place such as Cinderella's Royal Table, Chef Mickey's, Le Cellier, or O'Hana's, that extra hour can make the difference. (Tip: try to book hard to secure reservations towards the end of your trip, as the farther out towards the end of the 10 day window you get, the more likely you are to get a table. And book in order of restaurant popularity, not chronologically day by day.)

Disney Dining Plan Tips and Tricks

  • The quick service plan is not a big money saver, but it is convenient.
  • The regular DDP can save you some $$. Only 2 meals may scare you, but trust me there is plenty of food.
  • The Deluxe DDP is honestly A LOT of food, too much really, and a major time waster as you spend a good deal of time in restaurants.  By the time you finish at one, you have a few short hours and its time to eat again!
  • If you have more than 2 kids between the ages of 3 and 9, the DDP can be a really money saver, especially for buffets and character meals. 
  • If you have the Regular or Deluxe DDP, you really need to make Advance Dining Reservations ASAP. At the 180 day mark is preferable. If not, make them as soon as you can, popular times and places fill quickly.
  • Try to book the hard to secure reservations towards the end of your trip, as the farther out towards the end of the 10 day window you get, the more likely you are to get a table. And book in order of restaurant popularity, not chronologically day by day. This only applies if making ADR's on the 180 day mark.
  • You get the best value for your table service credits at dinner and buffets.
  • Consider eating at off-times, such as an early lunch at 11:30, late lunch at 1:30, or early dinner at 4:45, especially with kids. You will find it less crowded in the restaurant and get faster service. Additionally, you will then be in the parks doing attractions, while everyone else is eating at a more popular time.
  • If you have kids, consider buffets. There is a larger selection of foods, and faster service. It's hard for a cranky kid to wait to order, and then wait for the food to arrive. At buffets, you are often eating within 5 minutes of sitting down. 
  • At quick service locations, know what you are entitled to and decide before you get to the cast member to order. (Others behind you in line -like me- are hungry) Each person gets an entree and side, or combo meal, drink, and dessert. Kids meals automatically come with healthy options like grapes and carrots, and milk, juice or water, but you can get a soft drink, fries or a cookie as a substitute by asking.  Its in the fine print at the bottom of the menus.
  • Know before you go! While the Disney literature uses popcorn, ice cream bars, and bottled water as examples, there are hundreds, thousands even of items you can get as a snack. Look for the DDP icon next to items that are snacks.  Also, check out the DisBoard's "List of Confirmed Snacks".
  • Kids must order from the kids menu. Ahem. Skip this if you think you may be morally compromised... look away now! (at quick service places, the credits are all the same, so sit your kids down with mom, and order them whatever you want if they are tired of chicken nuggets, or you need more chicken nuggets to share with an under 3 kid).
  • If you have a stroller or wheelchair to store bags, keep a small cooler bag with you, and Ziploc bags.  The plan can have a lot of food, and you can put your dessert or a kid's uneaten bag of grapes in your cooler bag for a snack later!
  • Kids under the age of 3 cannot have the DDP plan purchased for them. They can however eat from everyone else's plates, and at buffets they can eat for free! Most menu type places will usually bring the wee one a beverage for free.
  • Snack credits can be used for a pastry or muffin in the morning as a breakfast. Get your coffee in your resort refillable mug and you are set to go.
  • If eating at a quick service at your resort, get your beverage in your refill mug, and use the beverage you are entitled to with your meal credit to get a bottle of something to go for later.
  • Some quick service places will automatically give you a medium soft drink with your meal, but you can have a large drink if you ask!
  • Also at some quick service places, especially at the resort hotels where you may be choosing some pre-made things from a cooler case, they will often let you swap a dessert for a side salad or fruit, as long as the price of the swapped item is less than $4.
  • If for some reason you end up with an extra table service credit or two, most but not all quick service places will let you use it there. You are not getting your money's worth for sure, but in a pinch, it's better than letting it go totally to waste.
  • If you have extra meal credits, consider getting a quick service to go on your last day, and taking it to eat once you get to the airport.
  • Have extra snack credits? Pick up some souvenirs to take home for friends such as Mickey shaped rice krispie treats, lollipops, cotton candy, cookies, or any other pre-packaged food item less than $4!
  • If you want to spread your quick service credits out to have enough for both arrival and departure day, some places have rather large menu items that 2 adults could share.  Share on 2 days and you have gotten an extra day out of your credits.  Try the 1/2 Chicken and BBQ Rib Combo at Cosmic Rays at Magic Kingdom, 1/2 Chicken or 1/2 Slab of Ribs meals at Flame Tree BBQ at Animal Kingdom, or split a sandwich, share a large soda pop,  and use a snack credit for an extra side of fries.
  • For the best dessert options with your quick service credit, use it at resort hotels, Sunshine Seasons or Kringle Bakery at Epcot, or Starring Rolls at Hollywood Studios. Zebra Domes at Animal Kingdom Lodge's Mara, a creme brulee at Sunshine Seasons, or a rice cream at Kringle Bakery top the chocolate cake in a cup you get at most of the quick service places.
  • Don't waste a snack credit on a bottle of water or soda.  Bring a refillable water bottle, or bring your resort refillable mug with you to the park and ask at any quick service for a cup of ice water, it's FREE! Pour it in your bottle or mug and you've got free water to go.
  • If you like the idea of pre-paid dining, but don't want the DDP, you can consider purchasing a Disney Gift Card and put your food budget money on the card.  Then you can use that card to pay for your dining while at the parks. It is accepted at most restaurants, but not all food kiosks.

One of my favorite uses of the snack credit is the famous Dole Whip and Dole Whip Float. YUMMY!

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Benifits of Staying on Property

Except in a few rare circumstances, I always recommend staying on property.  When you take into account all the benefits of staying at a Disney Resort, the possible small increase in price is well worth it.  Often a Disney Resort is not more expensive at all, but can actually be more affordable than off-site depending on how you travel.

DizKrazKate's Disney Tips in a Nutshell
Free roundtrip transportation via Disney's Magical Express between Orlando International Airport (MCO) and your Disney Resort.

Free Magical Express Luggage Service where Disney will pick up your bags at baggage claim and "Magically" deliver them to your room in 3-4 hours. (Actual pixie dust not included)

Free transportation throughout the Walt Disney World Resort via buss, Monorail, and boats.

Access to Disney's Extra Magic Hours, where you may enter a park up to an hour early, or stay up to three hours later than off-site guests.

Ability to book the Disney Dining Plan, and sometimes even get it for free during certain promotions!

Free parking at all Disney Theme Parks.

Ability to book hard to secure Advance Dining  Reservations ahead of off-site guests.

Delivery of your park purchases to your resort room. 

Convenient use of Disney's the Key To the World Card for your room key, park ticket, dining plan, and charges.

Resort Refillable Mugs

Resort Airline Check-in (RAC) at your resort where you can check your bags and receive boarding passes for your return flight

If you are the type of family that is content with public transportation, staying on property and using Disney's free transportation is a big money saver.  It alone can save you hundreds vs. staying at an off-site hotel. Disney will provide you with free round-trip transportation via motor coach from Orlando International Airport to your Walt Disney World Resort via their Magical Express. If you wish to use it, Disney will also provide free luggage service to those using the Magical Express. Before your trip, you will receive bright yellow luggage tags. These tags go on your checked luggage.  At the airport, you can skip baggage claim and go straight to the Magical Express! Disney will claim your luggage and transport it to your resort hotel.  Your luggage will then "Magically" appear in your room in 3-4 hours.  What a treat not to have to haul your luggage!  Do keep in mind that your luggage does not travel with you but on a separate truck, and it won't arrive until after you do. So pack what you may need in the immediate future in your carry-on, such as park tickets or sunscreen. We often arrive late morning or early afternoon, and I pack swim suits and sunscreen so we can swim at the resort pool while we wait for our room to get ready. Usually when we get the text message our room is ready, we go to our room and find our luggage already there. One thing to keep in mind though, is that the luggage service is not available after 10pm. If you arrive after 10pm, you will need to claim your own bags, or be content without them until the following day.

While visiting the parks, you have unlimited free use of Disney's Resort transportation buses, boats and monorail. If you consider cost of a rental car from Orlando International for a subcompact from Avis is $360 in the month of August, plus parking for 6 park days at $14/day for total $84, plus gas at $3.50 to $4.00 a gallon, your total additional cost of staying off property with a rental car is an additional $500 for a week!  That means, whatever fantastic deal you found off property.... add an additional $70 a night to that price.  Disney Resorts are sounding pretty good right now aren't they?
This DVC member got the DDP in July 2010

When staying on Disney property, your room key is that and so much more.  Disney calls it your Key to the World Card. Besides opening your room door, it is your park ticket, and it can be used to charge purchases and meals to your room, gain entrance to Extra Magic Hours, and if you are on the Disney Dining Plan, it is used to charge your food to the plan.

Disney Resort guests are eligible to participate in Extra Magic Hours (EMH).  On most days one of the parks opens an hour early or stays open up to 3 hours late for Disney Resort guests only.  You will be required to show your Key to the World Card (KTTWC) to gain admittance to the park in the morning or to any attraction during evening EMH.

Only Disney Resort guests can purchase the Disney Dining Plan (DDP).  This is a pre-payed meal plan that gives each person a certain number of meal credits per night stay. Depending on how you dine, this can be a money saver. It certainly can be a convenience and time saver, and frequently it can be had at a discount or even for free during promotions for slower times of the year.  Click on this link for more on the Disney Dining Plan.

Current 2011 Mugs
A Resort Mug Refill Station
You may also purchase a Resort Refillable Mug to use at your Disney Resort.  This mug runs around $14, or is included in the DDP starting in 2012, and can be used for unlimited soft-drink, coffee and tea refills at your resort for the entire length of stay. Usually Coke products, some form of Powerade, Minute Maid Light Lemonade, and sometimes ice tea, in addition to hot coffee and tea are available depending on your resort.

 If you are trying to secure that hard to get princess breakfast at Cindy's or dinner at the ever popular Le Cellier, staying on property can give you a leg up.  Disney's Advance Dining Reservations (ADR's) open to booking 180 days in advance.  However, if you are a resort guest, you may make dining reservations for your entire trip, up to 10 days, starting 180 days from your check-in day.  This means if you are checking in on a Sunday, 180 days prior to that day you can book ADR's for that day, plus the entire following week up to an additional 10 days.  If you are off-site, you can only book 180 days in advance, one day at a time.

One benefit we frequently use is the resort package delivery service. Sometimes when you find that perfect gift, you are tempted not to purchase it because the idea of lugging it around the park all day like a pack mule is totally unappealing. If you are a Disney Resort guest, you can make your purchase and have it delivered to your resort by the following day!  You simply fill out a simple form, and sometime the following day you will receive a message on your resort room phone that your package is ready for pick up in the resort gift shop.  The only important thing however, is to not use this on the last day or two of your trip as your purchases may not get to your resort until the following afternoon.  For big, hard to pack items, or an item you do find on your last day, Disney can ship them for a fee directly to your home!

Disney even makes going home easy. Most major airlines participate in RAC, or Resort Airline Check-in.  Each Disney resort hotel has a RAC desk.  The morning of your departure you can go to this desk and get boarding passes and check your luggage.  If you have any luggage fees, you will need to call and pay for the bags the night before.  Once your bags are checked you won't see them until your home airport.  No need to lug them to the airport. You can use this service with or without using Disney's Magical Express.  We always use this service.  If we are going into the parks for a few last hours before our Magical Express bus, we leave our carry on with bell services.  When we return, we pick our carry on bags, and are ready to go to the airport. No dragging of luggage required! (Dragging the kids home is bad enough!)

I'm sure you can see there are multiple great benefits of being on-site. On top of all the practical perks, we just enjoy being "part of the magic" while at Disney.  How can you beat Mickey Mouse on your soap and in your swimming pool? Or walking to a park from your resort? Or getting up in the morning and drinking your coffee while watching giraffe? We don't think you can.

Friday, July 1, 2011

There are So Many Resorts! What is the Difference, and Where Should We Stay?

Disney has several tiers of Resort Hotels, with corresponding prices, trying to figure out where to stay can be a large part of the vacation planning fun, but also a tough decision!

DizKrazKate's Tips in a Nutshell
Stay on property!

If you are on a tight budget, you want a Value Resort.  Best bet is Pop Century, or if you have little kids All Star Movies.

If you are on a more modest budget, choose a Moderate Resort.  Best bet is Port Orleans. If you can afford it, I recommend the Moderates over a Value
If budget is not an issue, Disney’s Deluxe Resorts are beautiful.  All are excellent choices. 

For families or groups of 5 or more, click here for my page on "Where to Stay for Larger Parties of 5 or More".

Value Resorts
Pool at Pop Century Resort
These are Disney’s answer to a tight budget- running from $80-$150.  The four value resorts include the 3 All Stars, and Pop Century.  These resorts sleep up to four, except for the family suites at All Star Music that sleep 6.  Soon the “Magic of Disney Animation Resort” will open in Summer 2012 that will also contain family suites.  The rooms are smaller and basic, but a good price. There are nice pools, but no waterslides.  Food courts, but no sit down restaurant. They are perhaps a bit louder due to the fact that groups of band students, cheerleaders and sports teams often stay at these resorts. I have stayed at All Star Movies, and for $100 a night with a discount over spring break, it was worth what I paid. I would stay there again for the price.

Moderate Resorts
Pool at Port Orleans
If the budget allows I do recommend a Moderate Resort. The three moderates are Caribbean Beach, Port Orleans or Coronado Springs.  Moderate Resorts run $155-$230 depending on the season. Moderates are still basic hotel rooms, but have sit down restaurants,  pools with waterslides, and are generally better themed and more extensively decorated and landscaped.  Port Orleans is considered to be the nicest, and rooms in the Riverside section have trundle beds to sleep up to 5. 

Deluxe Resorts
Lobby of Wilderness Lodge
Disney has a number of Deluxe Resorts. These resorts have elaborately decorated rooms, expansive pools with waterslides, several with zero entry pools, fine dining, room service, health clubs, valet parking and all the other usual hotel services.  If the values and moderates are a Holiday Inn Express, the Deluxe Resorts are the Hiltons and Marriots.  My personal favorite to date is Animal Kingdom Lodge, but all the Deluxe Resorts are fabulous. Prices range from $250 for a basic room up to $2,000+ for presidential suites and the like.

Savannah at Kidani Village

Disney Deluxe Villas- Disney Vacation Club
The villas are part of the Disney Vacation Club family, and are available to rent through Disney or members.  They include Deluxe Studios with a kitchenette, 1br, 2br, and even 3br Grand Villas with full kitchens and separate bedrooms.  These are great for larger families and groups.  They can even be a good deal for a moderate budget family.  I would however, never recommend renting them direct from Disney unless you get a very good promotional deal. It can save you quite a bit of money to rent Disney Vacation Club points from a member.  I recommend Dave's Disney Vacation Club Point Rentals. I have used his service to rent my own points, and he is a reliable businessman, endorsed by the BBB.  You can click on the link to his site on the left side of this blog. For more information on Deluxe Villas and renting points, see my page on “Travel for Larger Families and Groups”.  All these resorts are beautiful as well.  Old Key West is the best value, but I love Kidani Village at the Animal Kingdom Villas.  Bay Lake Tower, or Wilderness Lodge Villas are great if you will be spending a lot of time at the Magic Kingdom, and the Beach Club is a good choice if you love Epcot.  We have owned Disney Vacation Club since 2009, and we just love it!

Mary at does an excellent job giving very extensive information on the different resort costs, benefits  and promotions. I love her site and use it frequently.  Check it out!

Understanding Disney Tickets

Disney tickets can be very confusing, and are not as simple as a novice may think.  Disney calls their ticket program “Magic Your Way”.  I think a lot of people misunderstand the ticketing system, and either spend too much, or not enough. I will try to make it simple to understand and make the right decision for your family.

DizKrazKate's Tip in a Nutshell

Get a multiday pass, at least a 5 day, and take your time to enjoy the parks.  You don't save much money by only getting a 3 or 4 day pass.
If you are on a budget, or this is your first, or will be your only trip to WDW, skip the Park Hopper and the Water Park Fun and More options.

  A one day adult Disney Ticket for one park for one Day as of June of 2011 including tax is $90.53.  A 6 day ticket is NOT  6 x $90.53.  Many families will see the one day ticket price, and make the assumption that the above statement is true. Then they try to save money by deciding , “we’ll just get 3 day tickets, and skip a park or two to save money”.  In fact, a 3 day Magic Your Way Base Ticket is actually $247.08, or only $82 a day.  It gets better.  A 6 day base ticket is, in comparison, is only $275.84. Yes, I use the word “only” rather generously.  So the admission price difference per adult between 3 park days and 6 park days is only $29!  You get more bang for your buck by staying longer, paying only $45.97 per day.    This is how Disney gets it’s line “The more you play, the less you pay per day”.  

The point I want you go get is that to get the most value for your vacation, stay longer, and take it easy.  Trying to cram 4 parks into 3 days will not make for a fun vacation.  It will make you exhausted, hot and crabby.  If you have 5,6, or even 7 days to spend in the parks, you can take it easy, have time for a mid-day rest, or even do half days in the park with time for swimming and relaxation.

Now let’s talk about the Park Hopper option.  Park hopper allows you to visit two or even more parks in a
single day.  A Base Ticket allows you to only enter one park per day.  You can come and go from that park as much as you need, but your ticket will not allow you to enter a different park. This is where the Park Hopper come in.  I’ll admit I like the flexability of a Park Hopper.  We usually have annual passes which allow for park hopping.  If you have the money to spend on it, and want it, go for it! If however this is your first and maybe only trip to WDW, and/or you are really trying to go on a budget so your spouse doesn’t strangle The Mouse, the Park Hopper option, while nice, is not necessary.  It adds $58.58 per person to the ticket. For a family that really adds up! Will it makes some things easier? Sure. Can you still have a magical Disney vacation without it? Absolutely!

What about “Water Park, Fun and More” option? This also adds a flat rate of $58.58 to each ticket.  I’ll admit we have never purchased this option.  My kids at ages 8, 6, and 4, are small enough that I have not felt ready to take them to one of the water parks or to DisneyQuest.  The pools at Disney are great, and the Moderate category and up all have waterslides of their own, so you can still have awesome pool time without the water parks.  If you are on a tight budget, skip it. 

If your kids are older though and/or going to one of the water parks is a must, this may be a good option.  If you are just going to 1 water park on 1 day, skip this and buy that ticket separately.  If you will be making at least 2 trips to the water parks, Disney Quest or golf at Oak Trail, or are staying in the area for more than a week, this may be a good deal for you.  The Water Park Fun and More option will add one day of extra fun for EACH day of ticket you purchase. So if you purchase a 6 day Magic Your Way Ticket, with Water Park Fun and More Option, you get 6 park admissions  AND 6 water park/Disney Quest/Oak Trail Golf Course admissions to be used with-in 14 days.  If you are taking a 10 day trip, this would get you six days in the parks and the other four could be used to do other activities.  This is a good deal for the right family.

Commonly Used Disney Vacation Abbreviations and Acronyms You May See Me Use

Below is a list of abbreviations and acronyms commonly used in "Disney-speak". The ones that are bolded are ones I tend to use.  Clicking "here" will take you to an even more extensitve list.

ADR-Advance Dining Reservations
AKA – Also known as
AK – Animal Kingdom
AKL – Animal Kingdom Lodge
AKV - Animal Kingdon Villas
AP - Annual Pass
AFAIK – As far as I know
ASMo – All Star Movies
ASMu – All Star Music
ASSp – All Star Sports

BB – Blizzard Beach
BC – Beach Club
BCV – Beach Club Villas
BF – Boyfriend
BIL - Brother-in-Law
BLT - Bay Lake Towers
BR – Bedroom (i.e., 1BR, 2BR)
BTMRR - Big Thunder Mountain Railroad
BTW – By the way
BW - Boardwalk
BWI – Boardwalk Inn
BWV – Boardwalk Villas

CBR – Caribbean Beach Resort
CP - Crystal Palace
CoP – Carousel of Progress
CR - Contemporary Resort
CRO – Central Reservations Office
CRT - Cinderella’s Royal table
CSR – Coronado Springs Resort

DCL - Disney Cruise Line
DD – Disney/Dear/Darling daughter
DH – Disney/Dear/Darling husband
DL – DisneyLand (Anaheim)
DLP – Disneyland Paris
DME - Disney's Magical Express
DS – Disney Studios (MGM)
DS – Disney/Dear/Darling son
DTD - Downtown Disney
DVC - Disney Vacation Club

DW – Disney/Dear/Darling wife

EE - Expedition Everest
EMH - Extra Magic Hours

FIL - Father-in-law
FP - Fast Pass
FW – Fort Wilderness Campground
FW - Future World at Epcot
FYI - For your information

GF - Grand Floridian/Girlfriend
GMR - Great Movie Ride

HHI - Hilton Head Island Resort
HSM - High School Musical

IASW – It’s a Small World
IG - International Gateway
IoA – Islands of Adventure (Universal-not Disney)

JIYI - Journey Into Your Imagination

KTTW – Key to the world card (room key and possibly charge and ticket while in WDW and on DCL)

LOS - Length of Stay

MCO - Orlando International Airport
MIL - Mother-in-law
MK – Magic Kingdom
MNSSHP - Mickey's Not So Scary Halloween Party
MS – Member Services
M:S – Mission Space
MYMCP - Mickey's Very Merry Christmas Party
MYW - Magic Your Way

OCD - Obsessive Compulsive Disorder
OKW - Old Key West

PAP - Premium Annual Pass
PD - Pixie Dust
PI - Pleasure Island
PoC/PotC - Pirates of the Caribbean
Poly – Polynesian Resort
POP – Pop Century
POFQ – Port Orleans French Quarter
POR – Port Orleans Riverside (fka Dixie Landings)
PTC - '50s Prime Time Cafe
PV – Preferred View

RCI - (not sure if this is an acronym or a name, but it is the DVC exchange partner)
RnR – Rockin’ Roller Coaster

SAB - Storm Along Bay
SE - Spaceship Earth
SGE - Stitch's Great Escape
SIL - Sister-in-law
SM - Space Mountain
SO – Significant Other
Splash - Splash Mountain
SSR – Saratoga Springs Resort
SV – Standard View
SW – Sea World
SWW - Star Wars Weekend

TGMR - The Great Movie Ride
TL - Typhoon Lagoon
ToT – Tower of Terror
TGM - Tour Guide Mike
TSMM - Toy Story Midway Mania (sometimes also TSM - Toy Story Mania)
TT – Test Track
TTC – Ticket and Transportation Center
TTA – Tomorrowland Transit Authority

UG - The Unofficial Guide to Walt Disney World
US/IOA – Universal Studios/Islands of Adventure

VB – Vero Beach
VGC - Villas at the Grand Californian
VWL – Villas at the Wilderness Lodge (aka WLV)

WDW – Walt Disney World
WL – Wilderness Lodge
WLV - Wilderness Lodge Villas (aka VWL)
WS – World Showcase

YC – Yacht Club
YMMV – Your mileage may vary