Saturday, August 23, 2014

5 Things You May Not Know About Disney Vacation Club

Have you visited Walt Disney  World and had such a magical time, you were tempted to stop by a Disney Vacation Club (DVC) kiosk? Maybe you were afraid the salesperson would pounce on you in your Mickey Ear Hat and Dole Whip induced haze and you’d never get away, or maybe you thought there was just no way you could afford to buy in?  Disney Vacation Club prides itself on being unlike other vacation ownership programs, and it just might be a good fit for you. Here are five facts you should know about the Disney Vacation Club:

1. There is no “Hard Sell.”  
Disney Vacation Club does not promote the “hard sell” that timeshares salespeople tend to have a reputation for.  If you have ever been trapped in a 6 hour sales presentation just to earn a $100 gift card, you may have sworn off timeshare presentations forever. Disney simply presents the information to you in a comfortable, no-pressure manner, and there are no hard feelings if you are not ready to purchase. You can attend a DVC Open House while you are on vacation, and Disney will provide transportation to and  from the parks or your resort, and some ice cream at the end, but you won’t be trapped or pressured into making a large financial purchase on the spot.
A lot of folks, like our family, purchase from home!  We contacted Disney Vacation Club for the information and were able to look it over on our own time. After we came to the conclusion that it was a good purchase for our family, a few phone calls and a trip to a notary was all that was needed and we were members! We even had our first vacation reservation made right for us when we purchased.
Photo of Kate Melody taken at The Villas at Disney’s Wilderness Lodge.

2. You aren’t locked into the same size room during the same week every year.
With a traditional timeshare, you are buying a week long reservation in a particular size room every year at the same time. Disney Vacation Club is much more flexible, and you can stay at any time of year you want, and book any size room.  DVC works on a points system, and each night stay is worth a different number of vacation points. Larger rooms and more popular times of year are worth more points, with quieter seasons and smaller studios requiring fewer points.
You can check in any day of the week and stay as long as you need, as long as you have the points and the room is available. You can also stay at other Disney Vacation Club Resorts at Disney World, Disneyland, Hilton Head, Vero Beach, Oahu, sail on Disney Cruise Line and more!

3. Being a Disney Vacation Club Member gets you some great discounts.
Mary Poppins themed fountain at The Villas at Disney’s Grand Floridian Resort and Spa. Photo courtesy of Kate Melody.
Villas at the Grand Floridian
Members do receive discounts throughout the Walt Disney World and Disneyland Resorts.  There are small discounts on merchandise, and select dining establishments, as well as discounts on special ticketed events such as the Halloween and Christmas Parties, golfing and other recreation, and special events. Members perks include a discount on the Tables in Wonderland dining card which then gives the card holder 20% off at most restaurants at Walt Disney World.
Our family makes the best use on the DVC savings we receive on our Annual Passes. For our most recent purchase, we received $100 per person off the price of an Annual Pass. By then scheduling two, week long vacations within that 52 week time frame, we see a significant savings over purchasing two separate sets of 6 day passes.

4. Over time it can save you a lot of money on your accommodations.
Yes, the initial buy in is a large purchase, but over time you can save quite a bit on your accommodations at Disney. If you go to Disney at least every other year, and especially if you have a larger family or stay in deluxe accommodations you will probably do better with DVC Membership than by paying rack rate. We purchased in 2009, and in just five years we reached the break even mark.
This past February, we stayed in a one bedroom villa, for eight nights. Had I paid rack rate for that room, with taxes it would have been approximately 1/3 of the initial amount we paid to buy in to Disney Vacation Club!  It can also save you a few grey hairs, as our family of 6  enjoys having the added space, separate sleeping arrangements and bathrooms, the washer and dryer and the full kitchen that come with a DVC Villa. We cook some meals in our room, and the washer and dryer allows us to bring less luggage, both of which save us even more money.  And let me add, being able to close the door between the kids and us has a LOT of value!
Lion King theme on bedding at Disney’s Kidani Village.
"The Lion King" themed bedding at Disney's Animal Kingdom Villas

5. You can start small, then add more points later.

For some families the initial buy in price for a 2 bedroom villa during spring break can be overwhelming. But while this may be the dream, you do not have to join Disney Vacation Club at that level. A Disney Vacation Club Guide (Disney speak for salesperson) will work with you to help you determine a number of points that will be comfortable for you, while helping you reach your vacation goals.  While that Spring Break room clocks in at 398 points, a 4 day weekend in a studio in the fall or early winter can run close to or even less than 50 points.  You can buy a contract for 50 points now, then as your family expands, or your financial picture changes you can add on more points with an additional contract.

For frequent Disney travelers, owning a bit of the Disney magic might be a good purchase, so don’t be afraid to go to an Open House on your next vacation, or even call and speak to a Disney Vacation Club Guide over the phone. You just might find that you too could soon hear the famous DVC greeting “Welcome Home.”
The Melody Family on their first family vacation with Disney Vacation Club to their home resort Kidani Village in fall 2009, with DVC's signature “Welcome Home” greeting.
Our first trip "Home" to Kidani Village, part of Disney's Animal Kingdom Villas

This article was originally published as a guest piece for Mom Factually. Check it out for more Disney and everyday fun!

Friday, August 8, 2014

Ten Ways to Make a Trip to Walt Disney World a Learning Experience for Kids

 This piece was originally published in July 2014 as a guest blogging piece for Friend's Friday on The Main Street Moms. Check them out for more Disney fun!

A vacation to Walt Disney World is of course filled with pirates, princesses, roller coaster mountains and flying carpets, but Walt Disney also wanted his parks to be a place of continued learning for guests. Whether you are looking for ways to sneak something educational into your trip because you’re pulling the kids out of school, or just like to add a little learning into all aspects of your children's lives, here are ten great ways to learn while having fun at Walt Disney World!

Working on his journal at Wilderness Lodge

1. Keep a Vacation Journal
Have kids keep a written travel journal. During the course of each day talk about things they see or hear they want to add to their journal. Take photos of things they plan on writing about such as people they meet, Epcot pavilions they visit or animals they learned about.  For preschoolers or kindergarteners, they can create an alphabet book. Take photos of things you encounter, something for each letter of the alphabet (don’t worry, you can supplement with printed google images when you get home). For example “M” is for monorail, “C” is for castle, “V” is for villain. The child can practice writing the letter, then paste the picture in the journal to go with it. This can also turn into a wonderful souvenir from your trip.  Make a photo book using your child’s written work to narrate your vacation photos

2. Epcot World Passports and Kidcot Fun Stops in World Showcase
Sold at gift shops around Epcot, you can purchase your kids an Epcot World Passport for around $10. It resembles a real passport, and has a page for each country in the World Showcase. At each of the World Showcase Pavilions, kids can visit the Kidcot Fun Stops and have the passport stamped with the country’s stamp, and the cast member will write something for the child in their native language. This makes the journey around the World Showcase more engaging, and encourages kids to socialize with international cast members. You can also do the Kidcot Fun Stop craft, adding a different decoration at each location as you make your way around World Showcase. Cast members will stamp the craft with the country stamp for a fun and free activity!
Epcot World Passport

3. Innoventions at Epcot
These two technology pavilions in Epcot promote new products and services from corporate sponsors. Kids can learn about saving their pennies at “The Great Piggy Bank Adventure”, compete in the Liberty Mutual fire safety game, ride a Segway or learn roller coaster physics by designing and then taking a simulated ride on their roller coaster at the Sum of All Thrills by Raytheon.  It might be just the ticket to inspire your future Imagineer!

4. Wilderness Explorers at Disney’s Animal Kingdom Park
With more than 30 activities spread throughout Disney’s Animal Kingdom Park, kids can satiate their never-ending need to collect things by visiting the Wilderness Explorers’ stops.  At each location they will be led in a short activity by a Cast Member and a sticker will be added to their field-guide. No need to finish them all in one day, you can spread the fun out over several visits, just keep bringing your field-guide back with you. Activities include animal identification, fossil exploration, african music, and even learning about native yeti folklore.  If you complete all the activities the child will receive a special sticker to commemorate their accomplishment!

5. Disney’s Animal Kingdom Lodge
My kids learning about biodiversity with a Cast Member from Botswana
Disney’s Animal Kingdom Lodge offers animal and African themed activities. Of course there is animal viewing (viewing with night vision googles in the evenings offers a new perspective), but kids can be introduced to the many Cast Members from Africa who serve as cultural guides. Cast Members do an excellent job speaking with kids and answering questions about both their home countries and the animals. Cultural activities are offered throughout the day.  My children have participated in a traditional drum circle, learned about biodiversity and ecology while playing a modified game of Jenga, and competed with other kids to identify animals native to the African Continent. And while you might not consider your resort hotel a museum, Disney’s Animal Kingdom Lodge has one of the largest collections of African art in the United States.

6. Animation Academy at Disney’s Hollywood Studios
Have you ever thought about convincing your kid to become a Disney animator? Check out the Animation Academy inside The Magic of Disney Animation attraction. Meet an animator and learn how to draw a Disney character. Animators guide you from start to finish and your drawing becomes a free souvenir. While schools are cutting art programs around the country, you can give your kids a short art of animation education on your trip! Shows are every 30 minutes, and often fill up, so plan to arrive early to be sure to get in. If you enjoy the experience, a different character is taught at each show, so it is worth repeating the attraction later in the day.

7. Living with the Land at Epcot
Home to the world’s hottest pepper, a nine pound lemon, and pumpkins shaped like Mickey, the Living with the Land attraction in Epcot is a leisurely boat ride through The Land Pavilion’s greenhouses. Learn about the future of agriculture, fishery and hydroponics as you cruise, and see where Epcot grows some of the food served in its restaurants. If you are particularly interested in what the attraction has to offer, you can add to your experience by taking the Behind the Seeds Tour offered several times daily. There is an additional fee, but it does provide a one hour walking tour of the greenhouses and fish farm. Discounts are available for DVC members, AAA, and Disney Visa Cardholders.

8. Map Reading
While GPS may be everywhere, learning to read and use a map is still an important skill that kids should learn. Nowhere are the maps more fun, or lead to more exciting places than at The Most Magical Place on Earth, Walt Disney World! So give your kids a copy each day, and let them help find the way to your next FastPass attraction. 

9. Budgeting Souvenir Money
Set a souvenir budget for your kids before the trip, and make sure they know what they have to spend. Have them keep track of their purchases in their journal over the course of the week to be sure they don’t go over their budget or yours.

10. Disney’s Youth Education Series
If you really want your vacation to be an educational experience, consider participating in Disney’s Youth Education Series. Classes are available seasonally for elementary through high school youth and cover topics such as leadership, marine science, animation history, animal conservation, physics and American history. Extra fees are associated with the classes, but  discounts on park ticket may be available. While kids may resist initially at the idea of taking a “class” on vacation, they are sure to have an experience unlike any they are used to in a traditional classroom.

Whichever of these you decide to try on your next Walt Disney World trip, your kids are sure to have both a magical and education vacation!