Showing posts with label first family vacation. Show all posts
Showing posts with label first family vacation. Show all posts

Disney World: Tips for First Time Visits part 2

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

*This is the second part of our post on tips for people planning their first trip to Walt Disney World. Read the first part here.

5) Use the Disney Mom Panel advice. Research the different hotels in your price range. The Port Orleans Riverside is not the same as the Port Orleans French Quarter. Take into account location and transportation hubs. The Polynesian, Grand Floridian, and Contemporary sit in prime locations, with water taxis, monorail, and bus service. You can walk from the Contemporary to one park. Animal Kingdom Lodge on the other hand has only bus service. Not necessarily a deal breaker, but something to consider when planning your days. Some resorts offer convenience and modern amenities while others focus on charm and immersion in themes.

6) Use the Key to the World. Having your room key as a charge card, fast pass, and park ticket all in one is tremendous. This conceivably allows you to leave everything else in the wall safe and just carry that and your I.D. We had a bunch of American Express and Visa gift cards [to use for out of pocket expenses], but keeping track of the different cards and their balances was a pain. Using the room key to cover all charges and then using the different gift cards to pay the final balance at the end was a great help. To illustrate how awesome the dining plan is again, the final bill for a 7 day stay was about $170. This was mostly from gratuities on the sit down meals, with a few souvenirs and adult beverages thrown in. The dining plan virtually guarantees you won't be buying [a lot of] food out of pocket.

Anyone else remember the commercial jingle?
We cashed in our credit card reward points for a pre-paid Visa and combined it with Christmas presents, some pre-paid Visas I won and one with a leftover balance from Tastemakers and took all them with us for our out of pocket expenses. Combined with the Disney gift cards we got from the Vacation Club presentation and we had about $700 to use (and came home with almost all of it). 

It took a few days for Phil to think of this, but we started charging everything to our room. Hot chocolate, the tips on our sit down meals, the hats and scarves we bought because it freezing. It was nice not to have to keep track of cash or the balances on the various cards. The key is this (and it's important!): you MUST settle those charges the night BEFORE you are to check out or they will automatically go onto the card you used to reserve the trip! 

We stopped into the hotel lobby on the way back from a late dinner and took care of it. The most money we spent out of pocket was in the airports on breakfasts and Starbucks. If you have any means of earning pre-paid cards, answering emails or taking surveys and buying cards with that money I highly suggest it.

7) Plan your trip carefully on the website. The website is very helpful, but there are some snags with it. Two [things] that bothered me the most were the itinerary function, and the initial booking function. You have to be very careful when booking your trip because there are several defaults in the system. 

When you pick your initial date, number of people, and hotel range, it will kick out a recommended package. This is when you can go in and change options around such as dining plan, room choice, and ticket options. Be careful, because when you select an option for one thing, it may effect other categories you didn't intend. 

For instance, the default ticket option gives you the park hopper and water park. If you select a dining plan, it resets that option to the base ticket, which is what comes with the dining plan. The itinerary function is just buggy. I had a hard time making and editing notes. I wanted to keep dining reservations there, but it was difficult, and didn't always display right. Also, the printout isn't as functional as it could be.
Hollywood Studios stunt show
8) Make dinner reservations. Early. If you don't have reservations when you start your trip, you aren't getting in to any restaurant during peak hours. Period. If you find yourself without reservations, your best bet is to hit the place right when it opens for lunch or dinner. If you try at noon or 6 without reservations you can forget it. The resort restaurants are less crowded then the park ones, so you may have better luck there.

This is definitely necessary but leaves little room for flexibility because reservations need to made at least 180 days before your trip! Say you're in Magic Kingdom waiting in a 90-minute line for Space Mountain. You have 6:00 reservations for dinner at Animal Kingdom. You have to be very aware of your time, factor in travel times around the park and be prepared to give up your fast passes.

If you're late, your reservation is gone. If you make a reservation plan on being in that park for the day. There were a few times we didn't want to leave where we were. We also had some rain that we didn't feel like venturing out into but didn't want to lose the chance to eat at the various place in the park (there's some awesome food at Disney!)

Phil originally had eight tips but I wanted to add one item.
9) Check, re-check and check the weather again. We had a freak cold because of the snow the east got. We were under dressed and not prepared. I was at the conference on the day it poured and Phil wasn't sure where to go to spend a rainy day. We didn't know there was a movie theater in Downtown Disney and we hadn't gone to Epcot yet and didn't know about Innoventions either. It's easy to kill about 2 hours there. The couches for tired parents are a welcome bonus. Have a back up plan for weather.

What We Learned From Our First Trip To Disney World (part 1)

Thursday, March 11, 2010

*This post got really long so I'm splitting it into two parts. We weren't asked to do this and aren't getting anything for posting about it. 

Going to Disney World for the first time was a little overwhelming and was definitely a learning experience. During the trip we talked about what we'd do differently if we were to plan it all over again. Phil was nice enough to type his observations out for me. I cleaned up a few spelling and grammar errors but copied it directly from his email. My editorial is in purple (natch).

Here are my [eight] lessons learned from the trip. Your mileage may vary.
Animal Kingdom
1) Research the Disney Vacation Club ahead of the trip. There will be plenty of opportunities to purchase it while you are there, but if it's something you really are interested in [pursuing], it only makes sense to get it before you go and immediately cash in your points for the trip. You can also purchase it for less then you would at the parks from re-sellers. This leads into number two.

There are a ton of opportunities to listen to the vacation club presentation. We had time to kill between checking out of the Polynesian and into the Port Orleans and the gift cards were a bonus. We had no intention of signing up. We did join while we were there but then un-joined for several reasons. Buying from re-sellers has its own risks. If you really want to know the details I'll be happy to email you about it. 

2) Research your hotel. Not all are created equal. Based off of a 7 day stay in April for a family of two adults and one kid, Economy is $2133, Moderate $2668, Deluxe Villa $3680, and Deluxe resort $4558. The moderate is only $76 a day more than the economy, with the deluxe resort is running $345 a day more then the economy. The deluxe resort gives you the queen bed standard which is a must for two adults sharing a bed. The moderate comes with the double size standard, which is tough to accommodate two adults. 

We slept in separate beds and Tyler was on the pull out on the floor at the Port Orleans. Phil is over six feet tall. A double bed is hard enough for him let alone both of us. Tyler slept with me for the last three nights. He kicks. 

The deluxe obviously is much nicer in several other areas, such as size, and amenities. I think moderate is the way to go however for bang for the buck (having only seen the moderate and deluxe resort, not sure what the others would rate). The economy is located pretty far south on the property so will increase your travel times, and it doesn't have the fridge standard which cuts down on your ability to keep leftovers and things like milk, etc.. This leads to three.

3) Get the dining plan. Using the above scenario, a mid level dining plan tacks on an extra $309. This is huge [in terms of savings]. The dining plans come in 3 levels. Lowest gives you 2 quick meals a day and a base 7 day ticket. mid level gives you the ticket plus 1 snack, 1 quick meal, and 1 sit down meal a day per person. Highest level gives you the ticket, plus 3 meals a day (sit down or quick) plus a souvenir refill mug and choice of accommodations. The mid level is again how I would choose. At a cost of $44 a day, this deal is incredible. An average sit down meal for a family of 3 will run $80. The quick meal for that family is around $30, and 3 snacks would run you between $7.50 and $12.00 dollars. So $44 is getting you about $130 worth of food.

The lowest plan I don't like because it doesn't offer sit down meals. Quick meals are fine once a day, but you can't survive on pizza and burgers for a week. The highest plan is just too much food, and the souvenir mug is wasted. This is the smartest way to use your quick meals: everyone has a large breakfast. This gets you the fuel for the day. 

The breakfast at a moderate hotel is huge, and each meal comes with two beverages, so it's perfect to grab an OJ for breakfast and a bottle of water or soda for later. Eat a small lunch at the parks, or rather skip it entirely and use your snacks to get some fruit or a pretzel. Use your sit down meal for a large dinner. The amount of food they give you is huge.
He looked like this pretty much the whole trip. Priceless.
I wish the plan had a little more flexibility. Dessert came with every meal. We don't eat sweets that often. The money we spent out of pocket came from adding a soup onto the meal. I would much rather have had the option to choose an appetizer OR dessert, not just dessert. We had a fridge full of cheesecake and brownies at the end of our stay. 

I also would have liked more snacks, for the same reason Phil described. We ate huge breakfasts and weren't really hungry for lunch but we had to share pretzels and fruit (rather than each getting their own) to space the snacks out and we still used them all before the week was up. On the day we left for home, Phil and Tyler were out waiting for the shuttle to the airport and I was in the hotel cafeteria using the last of our meal plan for sandwiches and drinks to tide us over in the airport. The dining plan gives A LOT of food. 
4) For stays of 7 days or longer, forget the park hopper. Definitely get the water park one if you're in the right season though. Realistically if you have enough time to hit each park once then a few days to re-visit your favorites, there is no need to park hop. It takes time to hop, as there are no buses going between parks. You'll have to transit from the park you are in, to a resort, then from that resort to the park you want to go to. Also, with fast passes on the best rides usually running out later in the day, you may hop to find out there is a 2 hour wait for the ride you want, and no fast passes available. The water park option also includes Disney Quest and golf, so it is worth the money if you plan on doing any of those three.

Part two with tips 5-9 coming soon.

And Now He Wants to be a Pilot Too: Wordless Wednesday

Hey, Hey, Hey Goodbye!

Saturday, February 20, 2010

After nine awesome days, we kiss our first Disney vacation goodbye!

Wordless Wednesday: Epcot Center Through A Child's Eyes

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

I gave Tyler the camera for a little while today at Epcot. I love seeing thing's through his eyes. There are more of his pictures on Flickr.
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