Tuesday, November 23, 2010

New Disney World Discounts are Out for Winter!

The latest Walt Disney World  resort discounts are out for travel from January 2, 2011 through April 16, 2011.  Both general public and annual passholder discounts were released yesterday. They are as follows:

Room-only offer for the general public:

Save 20% at Disney Value Resorts and Animal Kingdom Lodge if booked by 12/31/10. You can still save 15%  if you book between 1/1/11-2/13/11.

Save 25% at Disney Moderate Resorts and Polynesian Resort if booked by 12/31/10.  Book between 1/1/11-2/13/11 and save 20%.

Save 35% at the remaining Disney Deluxe Resorts if booked by 12/31/10,.  If you book between 1/1/11-2/13/11, you'll save 30%.

Save 35% at Disney Deluxe Villa Resorts if booked by 12/31/10.  You'll save 30% if you book between 1/1/11-2/13/11.

Annual Passholders Discounts:

 Save 32% at Disney Value Resorts, Animal Kingdom Lodge and Polynesian Resort.

Save 35% at Disney Moderate Resorts.

Save 42% at the remaining Disney Deluxe Resorts.

Save 42% at Disney Deluxe Villa Resorts.

Keep in mind that there are some black-out dates for travel during this period. From what I've seen, the annual pass discount has fewer black out dates.  Check with your travel agent for more information. These rates will go fast, so book as soon as possible.  Since free dining is running during the same time, make sure you ask to have both a free dining package and a room discount run see which is a better deal for you and your party.  Depending on how you vacation, how many people are in your party, and where you plan on staying, it can make a big difference.

This information comes courtesy of  Pixie Vacations, a Disney travel agency which does not charge for its services.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Is Mickey's Very Merry Christmas Party Worth It?

Holiday themed show in front of the castle.
Photo Copyright Mommy from the Midwest.

One question I hear a lot is whether or not Mickey's Very Merry Christmas Party (MVMCP) is worth the price of admission. The party, which takes place several nights a week in the Magic Kingdom from early November until the week before Christmas, is a hard-ticketed event, which means you'll need a separate ticket to attend. There are slight discounts for annual passholders and Disney Vacation Club members. In addition, some parties are discounted a few dollars if you buy them in advance. Full price tickets are $59.95 for adults and $53.95 for children ages 3 to 9; these prices do not include tax.  Tickets bought the day of the party cost a few dollars more.

This float smells like a candy shop.
Photo copyright Mommy from the Midwest.

The party is from 7:00 p.m. until midnight, but you can enter the Magic Kingdom as early as 4:00 p.m.  You'll be given a wristband to show that you have a tickets.  During the first few hours of the party, you'll be asked to show your wristband to enter attractions, shops, and restaurants.  Guests who are spending the day in the Magic Kingdom can get their tickets scanned and receive their wristbands in the Rose Garden, so they won't need to leave and re-enter.  Just before the party officially begins, you'll see cast members putting up ropes to encourage non-guests to begin leaving the park.  Crowds normally clear out pretty quickly after that.

Special event-themed merchandise is on sale during the party.
Photo copyright Mommy from the Midwest.

There's a special holiday fireworks display, cast members handing out cookies and hot coco*, a Christmas-themed show in front of the castle, Mickey's Once upon a Christmastime Parade twice a night, and many opportunities for character meet and greets.  You won't see any of this during the day while the party is going on, but after December 19th, the parade takes place in the parks.  Most attractions are open for the party, but some quick service dining locations are closed. Keep in mind that if you want to shop, the party closes at midnight and if you're not in the stores at that time, you won't be allowed to enter. This differs from a normal night, when you can generally browse for an hour after park closing.

Copyright Mommy from the Midwest.

The big draw of the party, to me, is being able to enjoy the holiday atmosphere at night in a less crowded environment.  In the many times I've gone to MVMCP, I've only been to one that I would consider crowded.  Once the fireworks end and parents take sleepy kids out of the park, you'll be able to walk on many rides, even popular ones. The first parade and castle show are the most crowded, so if you want to see those, line up early.  After that, you'll find the that crowds for shows and the parade thin substantially.  Generally, weekends and the last week of the party are more crowded, but even then, I think they're manageable.  In fact, while Disney doesn't release numbers for party attendance, I suspect that MVMCP is usually less crowded than the Halloween party, to give those of you who've attended the Halloween party an idea of what to expect at MVMCP. 

Another benefit of attending MVMCP is that you extend your park hours. Look at it this way: You've traveled all the way to Disney World.  If you're like most people, you want to get as much time in the parks as possible.  But one drawback of visiting Disney World during November and December is that the parks close earlier (except, of course, for holiday weeks).  This is particularly true for the Magic Kingdom, which will close at 7:00 at least three nights a week for MVMCP. There's a good chance that you could visit Disney World during early December, for example, and only get one late night in the parks that week.  Because that night will be an extra magic hour, it will likely be crowded. Personally, I love the parks at night, particularly during the holidays; I think they're especially beautiful then.  But I really don't want to fight crowds, which is why I go during this time of year. Attending the party, even though I have to pay extra, allows me to do this. 

Copyright Walt Disney Company.

Clearly, I think MVMCP is worth the money, but even with that in mind, I don't think the party is worth  it if you find yourself having to stretch your budget too much.  These are hard times financially for most people.  A family of four could easily spend $260 on a night at the party.  Frankly, we live in a time when vacations are becoming a luxury and while we still want them, we're having to pick and choose what we do more carefully.  Your vacation is about relaxing, connecting with others, and having fun. It shouldn't be about worrying that you've spent money you don't have.  If attending the party means you'll miss out on that one great meal at Disney World, don't do it; you'll appreciate a memorable meal more than an extra night in the parks.   Or if it means you can't buy park hoppers, really think about how you visit the parks before your decide; parkhoppers are very convenient. There's plenty of holiday spirit in Disney World that you won't miss it. 

*For those who want an alternative to cookies and cocoa, apple slices and juice are available. There are also sugar-free cookies for those who cannot have sugar.

Special thanks to Mommy from the Midwest for allowing me to borrow these photos from her blog.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Fast Disney Facts: Using Your Annual Pass to Book Room Discounts.

As you probably know, one perk of being an annual pass holder is the ability to get room discounts. These often range as high as 30% off at value resorts to 45% off at deluxe villas. These rates historically came out prior to general public room discounts, but this isn't always the case; sometimes they come out after.

Some people wait on the availability of room discounts before they decide to purchase their AP.  This is a smart thing to do if you'll be close to the number of park days you'll need to break even for the pass; remember, you'll need about ten days in the parks or two shorter trips to break even on your pass.  This way, you can factor in your number of estimated park days plus your discount to determine if you'll save money.  When AP discounts for your travel dates come out, call Disney or your travel agent and have them check on room availability with the discount.  You don't need an AP to do this or even a voucher, but unfortunately, you can't do this online.  Just explain to the cast member that you plan to purchase an AP prior to check-in.

If you book under an AP rate and don't have one or a voucher at check-in, you'll pay full rack rate for the room, but you don't need to have activated your AP at this point. The voucher that you buy online or from the Disney store is good enough. I recently checked in at midnight using an AP discount based on the voucher I'd purchased earlier in the day at the Disney store back home. Since the parks were already closed, it was impossible for me to activate the pass, but since I had he voucher it was no problem.

Friday, November 19, 2010

While I Suffer from a Snuffly Fever . . .

please enjoy this video from the official Disney Parks Blog.

And while were at it, this video of the castle lighting ceremony is nice too.

If you want to hear a review of Mickey's Very Merry Christmas Party, we talked about it on the latest edition of Mouse Chat. You can listen to it here or on iTunes.  Bonus:  You get to hear me sounding like Bea Arthur due to my cold.

I hope to be up and functioning in a day or two.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Monday Morning Distraction.

Go ahead. Wrap yourself up in your Disney-themed Snuggie and check out these recent happenings in the Disney blogosphere.  Your boss won't mind.

John Frost over at The Disney Blog talks about Disney's new rule against the use of mobile devices while driving company vehicles. And he makes me snicker just a little at the end.

Most Disney fans are excited about the Fantasyland expansion in the Magic Kingdom.  WDW Magic has an entire sub-forum devoted to pictures, news, and speculation. 

If you're doing Weight Watcher's at Disney, check out the Disney Babies Blog for some tips. Good information for anyone who wants to watch what they eat with ease while visitingthe parks.

On the Mouse Chat Podcast we talked to author Lisa Battista about her book "Beyond the Attractions," a guide to taking preschoolers to Disney World. Lisa has tons of useful tips and firsthand experience for parents, whether it's your first trip or your . . . too many to count (and you know who you are).  You can check out Lisa's site here.

Studios Central has a photo tour of this year's Osborne Family Spectacle of Dancing Lights.

The Disney Food Blog has a list of holiday drinks available in Hollywood Studios that makes me want to grab one and a Disney Snuggie and go watch the Osborne Lights.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Buying an Annual Pass outside Disney Parks.

You don't have to be in a Disney park to buy an annual pass.  You can purchase a voucher online at the Disney website, at your local Disney store, or by calling 407-WDISNEY.  You won't receive an actual AP, but rather a voucher that you'll activate when you go to the parks. Here are some tips on buying your pass:
  • Vouchers are made of plastic; APs are made of Tyvek, a sturdy paper material used to cover houses. 
  • Vouchers don't expire.  Some people buy vouchers prior to rate increases (usually in August) to save a little money even if they aren't traveling for a while.
  • Keep your receipt and voucher separate or make a copy of your receipt and store it once you get home.  There's a code on the receipt which allows Disney to look up your voucher number and replace it if it gets lost.  I've been told by my local Disney store that they cannot replace your voucher if you lose your receipt, even by using your credit card to look up your purchase.
  • To activate your pass, take it to any Guest Relations window in the parks or at Downtown Disney. You'll need your voucher and your photo ID.
  • The character you get on your voucher is not necessarily the one you'll have on your AP, which are distributed randomly. 
  • The date your AP begins is the date you activate it, not the day of purchase. Make sure the cast member who activates your pass doesn't put in the date of purchase as your expiration date. This is an easy mistake to make, particularly if you buy the pass close to when you activate it.
  • If you haven't activated your AP yet and will be paying for parking that day, take your parking receipt to Guest Relations when you activate your AP and they will reimburse you.
  • You can no longer upgrade your regular, used park ticket to an annual pass when you get home.
  • Want a fancy "gold card" annual pass? Well, if you're staying concierge, you can upgarde your voucher there. Your annual pass will be printed on the same gold plastic card as your Key to the World Card (room key, park admission).
Last updated January 28, 2012.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Reader Email: Purchasing Someting from the Park at Home.

World of Disney, Downtown Disney.
Photo copyright Disney.

From the mailbag this morning:


We just came home from ten days in Disney World and while we there I saw something I'd like to buy my son  for Christmas but didn't get a chance to buy. What can I do?  I've had no luck at the online Disney store.

Thanks, Ellen A.

Dear Ellen  A:  Your best bet is to call Disney parks mail order. There number is 407-363-6200.  Try to give them the best description of the item you can (including location, if possible).  You'd be surprised at how adept they are at finding things with just the most basic information.

If this doesn't work out, there are a number of small, online businesses who sell park merchandise.  Send me an email if you'd like the links.

Good luck.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Less Waiting at Jedi Training Academy. It's Now Sign-Up Only. Now with Update!

You no longer have to rush over to Jedi Training Academy in Hollywood Studios and wait in line until it's time for your show. Instead, little Padawans can sign up and then go enjoy the park. Kids will be given a return time for later in the day. Space is still first-come, first served, but this means a lot less waiting and a lot more enjoying the park.

The change first took place during Jersey Week, one of the busier weeks this time of year, so it may just be temporary. We know that Disney has been doing this when it gets more crowded, but for now, proceed with the assumption that this is how it will be from now on with the possibility of reverting back to waiting in line.

UPDATE: For a full review of how the new process works, please read here.

Tables in Wonderland vs. the Annual Pass Discount.

I've gotten a couple questions lately regarding the difference between the annual pass dining discount and upgrading to the Tables in Wonderland (TIW) card.  One is really quite different from the other, so let's compare.

The TIW card, which is good for one year, gives you 20% off alcohol, food and beverages at most table service restaurants in Disney World. It also adds an automatic 18% gratuity to your bill.  Some quick service locations also get the discount if there is no table service restaurant available.  For example, you can use your TIW card in the food court at Pop because there is no table service location at the resort.  Having a card means you'll get access to Tables in Wonderland events held throughout the year; last year, this included a pricey but impressive dinner in The Great Movie Ride.  It also entitles you to free valet parking if you're dining at a resort restaurant or free parking at any park if you're dining in the park.

The TIW card is available to Florida residents for $100; annual passholders pay $75.  The cards are good for up to ten people, but it's unlikely you'll be able to split checks and apply the card to each check.  I've heard that some servers who will do this, but don't bet on it happening.  Blackout dates include major holidays and Mother's Day.

Annual pass discounts for food are much more limited.   In general, with a regular annual pass, you'll get 10% off during lunch Monday through Friday in participating World Showcase restaurants. There are also a handful of restaurants in Downtown Disney that offer between 10 to 20 % off your bill if you present your AP.  This benefit, while always appreciated, is pretty minor.

As you can see, they really are two entirely different things. I always say that you should only buy an AP if you're going to at least break even on your park admission days that year; discounts should be seen as an added benefit above your admission, a perk but never guaranteed.  Many people, particularly those who take more than one trip per year, swear by the TIW card, but  keep in mind you'll need to spend approximately $350 that year to break even, so weigh that against your purchase. Betting on how much you'll save is a little like an annual pass, in that you have to project your potential savings a year in advance based on how often you'll visit.  If you're only taking one trip, if your groups is small, and if you don't eat at a lot of table service restaurants, it's probably not a bargain for you.

If you're going to purchase a TIW card, give Disney about three weeks to process your order; if you're going sooner than that, buy it once you arrive.  One quirk is that cards that are mailed to your home are often plastic, while cards that you purchase in Disney World are made of very sturdy Tyvek paper; some people have a preference. Unlike your annual pass which will be replaced for free in the event you lose it or it's destroyed, it costs $50 to replace a TIW card.

Cards can be purchased by calling 407-566-5858 during business hours (Eastern) Monday through Friday or by email at WDW.Tables.In.Wonderland@disney.com

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

How Much Should You Pay When You Rent DVC Points?

Boardwalk Inn and Villas. Photo copyright Disney.

I’ve written before about the process of renting Disney Vacation Club (DVC) points and how it’s one of the least expensive ways to stay in Disney’s better resorts while enjoying separate living and sleeping areas, as well as a full kitchen. Briefly, DVC properties are deluxe Disney resorts that are owned by DVC members. Members buy points and can use those points any time of the year that there’s availability. They are a timeshare, but only in the loosest sense of the word: No one will pester you into buying during your stay. When DVC members can’t use their points, they’re allowed to rent them, a process which benefits both renters and owners. Renting DVC points is almost always a better deal from a financial standpoint than going through Disney directly, but it’s important to be careful that you’re not paying too much.

Renting DVC points is not for everyone. Point rentals are and should be a bargain for you and a benefit to the owner because there’s an element of risk involved. If you have to cancel, in most cases you’re out of luck. This isn’t the case with Disney, where your room-only reservation will be refunded right up until a week before your stay. Further, this is a transaction that is based a great deal on trust. You’re probably renting from someone you don’t know, relying on recommendations from previous renters. While the vast majority of points rentals go smoothly, you’re still taking a chance that yours will not.

I am a huge fan of renting DVC points, but I’ve been in the situation where I rented at 11-months out and ended up having a family emergency several weeks before my trip that kept me from going. While I could use my tickets any time and the dining plan had yet to be added, I was in possession of a $2000 rental that I couldn’t use. Because I worked with an owner I knew well, he and I were able to find someone else to take the reservation, but it’s highly unusual for an owner to do this. This isn't because they want to take your money and leave you with nothing, but because of the strict penalties placed on the owner for cancelling close to the reservation.

Before the advent of room discounts, renting DVC points was always the cheapest route to go. For example, a week in a Jambo House (Animal Kingdom Lodge) one-bedroom in January goes for $3780 full price. The points rental for that week is 169 points. At $10 per point, the standard rate, you’ll pay $1690. That’s less than half-price. In fact, it’s actually less than you would pay to stay at a moderate resort, assuming you stayed without a discount. What makes this confusing is that Disney has been discounting rooms for the last few years, meaning that if you shop around carefully, you’ll never pay full-price except during the busiest weeks.  Unfortunately, this also requires you to project in advance what a room will cost off the usual rack rate. With the standard 40% off villa discount, that room runs around $2268 for the week, clearly still a good deal, right?

The problem is that some owners charge around $12 to $13 a point. That’s a bit steep in my opinion, provided that discounts are available. I know this won’t make me popular with DVC owners and really, it’s not my intent to interfere with anyone’s ability to make money, but then again, allowing DVC owners to rent points is not about allowing owners to make money from owning DVC. In fact, Disney frowns upon this practice quite a bit. Renting points is a safety net that allows owners who might not be able to travel that year a way of getting rid of their points rather than losing them.

Consider our Jambo House situation again. At 169 points for the week, if you pay $13 per point, your total room cost will be $1956, or a savings of $312 with the 40% off discount offered by Disney directly. That’s a nice savings, but when you consider the risk to you that's involved with renting many months out, you have to ask yourself if saving a few hundred dollars is worth that risk. To me, for that amount, it’s not. In that scenario, I'd rather book through Disney.

DVC units are rented out at the 11-month mark at an owner’s home resort, which is the resort they originally bought into. This means that if you have a strong preference for where you want to stay, you’ll need to contact a home resort owner just prior to that time and make your arrangements. This also means that you’ll need to be able to project your vacation availability nearly a year out. DVC owners can book at any non-home resort at 7-months out, but the availability for more popular resorts during busier times of the year can be tricky since they’re competing with home resort owners who had the availability to book at 11-months and beyond. For example, a unit at the Wilderness Lodge during December, the most popular time of the year at that resort, may be scarce or even non-existent within 8 or 9 months out, so waiting until 7-months out is unwise if you have your heart set on that resort.

But here’s another wrench thrown into your planning. Disney holds back a certain number of DVC rooms as cash-only rentals. You can reserve them 500 days ahead, but at about the six month mark, sometimes later, they’ll probably announce discounts for these rooms. Of course, again you’re having to project whether or not this will happen and that’s risky, but if it does, you can then try to apply an existing reservation to the latest discount if there’s availability. Keep in mind that what you can’t do is get out of a DVC rental contract you made five months prior when better deal comes along.

Mention must be made regarding the popularity, or lack thereof, of some resorts and the time of year you plan on visiting. Old Key West and Saratoga Springs, both of which are free standing (that is, not attached to Disney deluxe resorts) resorts, are generally less desirable. Part of it’s location, part of it’s the age of the resort or the theming. While these resorts do have their charms and I happen to like them, for whatever reason there are often rooms available close to when you want to travel. Don’t pay $12 a point at 11-months out for one of these resorts unless you find yourself particularly drawn to them. These two resorts are the most likely to show up for “fire sale” prices closer to your trip.

Conversely, owners of very popular resorts know they can get more than the usual going rate per point for their resorts. It might be worth it to you to pay $13 a point to stay at Bay Lake Tower, Disney’s newest DVC property and the only one of the Magic Kingdom monorail, or to stay at an Epcot resort during Food and Wine.

Finally, if you plan on traveling during the most popular times of the year, be aware that availability will be snapped up quickly. If you’re searching at 11-months out for a unit at Christmas, that owner is probably aware that she can get a higher price per point than say, late September, so when you go in with a plan to negotiate your price, keep that in mind. The owner may be willing to walk away knowing that someone else will snap it up. Also, historically, discounts are much less likely during popular weeks, particularly Easter and Christmas week. I wouldn’t gamble on getting a discount from Disney those weeks, although it happens. I f you really want to stay in a DVC resort during this time, be prepared to pay a bit more per point, but don’t be afraid to do some comparison shopping either.

Here are three scenarios to consider:

1) If you’re making your reservation early, don’t pay more than $11 a point in most cases; as noted above, I’m leaving some flexibility for popular resorts where you simply may have to pay more, but don’t do it right off the bat. Shop around first. Not only is there a great deal of risk for you renting this far in advance, it’s also simply outrageous given the probability of discounts available from Disney. Paying a lower price per point means you’ll save regardless of how much Disney discounts the room in relation to the element of risk you’re assuming. You’ll want to be in contact with an owner whose home resort is the resort you want to stay in just prior to the 11-month mark so that she can make your reservation at the time when there is the most availability for home resort owners . If you’re looking for a highly desirable resort and can’t find a lower price, consider going through a points broker who will act as a go-between between you and the owner. They’ll charge the maximum, around $13 per point, but they’ll also do all the legwork for you.

2) If you’re willing to gamble a bit with your vacation but want a little security, make a room-only reservation as soon as you firm up your plans, say 12-9 months out. You’ll be required to pay for one night’s stay, but this is fully refundable up to a week before your visit begins. Meanwhile, you can wait until the discounts for that time come out. If they’re not to your liking or you can’t apply it to your room, you can then consider renting points. Once you secure a reservation that works for you, you can cancel your room-only reservation with Disney. This plan works well for people who are flexible about where they want to stay, who can’t easily project their ability to vacation a full 11-months in advance, and for whom renting DVC points farther out is a high risk.

3) Finally, for the real thrill-seekers among us, at about 2 – 3 months out, consider renting “fire sale” points. The way DVC is set up, owners who cancel close to their stay pay a hefty penalty. Rather than losing their points, some owners will rent them out at deeply reduced prices. Sometimes these come in the form of a confirmed reservation, for example “one-bedroom at Bay Lake Tower for the week of 12/3-11” and then a price per point. These are often a very good deal, as low as $6 to $7 per point, but again with more desirable resorts, expect to pay more. This type of rental works best for individuals who are very flexible about when they travel.

One thing to be careful of in the last scenario is the occasional owner who reserves confirmed weeks during the most popular times of the year (Christmas, for example) with the sole intent of selling that week for much more than it’s worth closer to the reservation date. This seems to be less of a problem in the last year or so as message board owners have cracked down on the practice, but it still exits, particularly on less moderated boards and on places like Craigslist and the like.  Again, there are only a very small number of owners who engage in this practice, but just be aware that it happens.  Personally, I don't want to give this type of owner my money; they make it harder for owners trying to get reservations when they need it or get rid of weeks they can't use for a legitimate reason.  Of course, if you truly want that week, it’s possibly worth the higher price, but check with Disney first.

In closing, if you're looking to save a great deal of money on your resort rental, consider renting DVC points.  Just be careful that you weigh the very real risks against the benefits.  In addition, keep in mind that all but the busiest times of the year will likely have room discounts, at least for the near future, possibly making a reservation directly through Disney a better deal in the long run.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Monday Morning Distraction: It's Beginning to Look a lot Like Christmas.

Christmas starts today in Disney World and it's a good thing, because there's so much to do you need two months to experience it all. Let's see what's going on, shall we?

Tonight is the first night of Mickey's Very Merry Christmas Party.  It's my favorite event in Disney World, hands down.

The Osborne Family Spectacle of Dancing Lights go on tonight at Hollywood Studios.  Studios Central has all the details, including the music. You can see them every night at around 6:00 until after New Year's.  Make sure you see them go on at least once. The contrast between the dark buildings and the stunning light display is breathtaking.

Disney's annual Christmas parade tapes December 3-5.  No details yet on how you can be an extra in the parade audience and see the shows, but if you'd like me and Chip (from Chip and Co) to send you the information when it comes out, send me an email at EverythingWDW@gmail.com and I'll add you to our parade email list. As soon as we find out the details, we'll send them out to you right away.

Out in Disneyland, they've already taped some of the performances that will air during the Christmas day parade. Performers include Nick Cannon and Selena Gomez.

Selena Gomez at Disneyland.
Photo copyright Disney.

Disney Food Blog has a post and pictures on holiday treats at Disney World.

The latest episode of the WDW Today podcast talks about the holidays at Epcot.  Lights of winter, anyone?  No? 

Full list of Christmas highlights courtesy of Disboards/WDW Info.

Photo copyright Disney.

Dwayne Bevil of the Orlando Sentinel with the transition from scary to merry at Disney World.

Friday, November 5, 2010

Your Disney Vacation is Good Enough.

I often see people second guessing their vacation choices: Are they staying at a nice enough resort? Will the kids be disappointed by not getting some special treat? Should they pay for extra perks? The answer to these questions is pretty simple, because as corny as it sounds, every Disney vacation is fun and special, whether you stay off site at a Motel 6 or in a suite at the Grand Floridian. But getting to that answer, that's the complicated part, because everyone wants that magical vacation, those perfect pictures, that little something more, and a lot of us make the mistake of thinking it comes with a high price tag.

The biggest culprits, I think, are parents, including myself. We’ve come to view little luxuries as necessary for our children’s happiness. Most of us weren’t raised that way, of course, even if our parents had the money. If we were lucky enough to visit Disney World as kids, we likely remember bringing in baloney sandwiches for lunch and staying at cheap roadside motels. But we don’t remember it bitterly: It’s with fondness—and maybe a bit of gratitude that we didn’t get sick--that we recall the smell of those sandwiches on a hot day, not disappointment. We had fun.

Today it’s totally different. We all feel the pressure to buy our kids the latest clothes and electronics, anything that will give them an edge. We live in a society where our kids can turn on the television and watch shows where spoiled teenagers are given cars worth more than most people make in a year; as the parents look on disappointedly, their little princess stomps her designer-clad foot because it’s not the right color. Surely when compared to that kind of excess, giving own children have an extra special vacation isn’t too much to ask?

Well, it’s not, if you can afford it. But if you’re wringing your hands wondering how you’re going to pay for tickets to a special event or all those souvenirs, it’s time to put down that credit card and look at what’s really important. The fact is, despite what you’ve heard, you don’t need a trip to Bibbity Bobbity Boutique, matching t-shirts for the whole family, and any number of perks that you can purchase. What you need is to realize that your child is going to love his visit to Disney World, regardless of what you spend.

The thing is, I don't blame Disney for this trend. Most Disney commercials simply show guests having fun in the park. That’s it. You'll rarely see an experience depicted that isn't accessible to anyone with more than a basic ticket. Unfortunately, as much as I love Disney planning and message boards, I think they do a lot of perpetuate the idea that the only good trip is one at a deluxe resort spent throwing money around the entire time. That’s just not true. Clearly, I’d be a hypocrite if I told you that, all things being equal, I prefer staying at the value resorts or that I think a counter service meal is better than dinner at the California Grill. But the truth is, I’ve had bare bones vacations and I’ve had splurge vacations and I’d be hard pressed to tell you that one was better than the other. They’re just different.

Look at it this way. Disney park tickets are expensive, there’s no getting around it. But the value for your money is pretty extraordinary and once you pay that money, your trip just got as good as they guy paying thousands of dollars more. Just about everything you see in the parks is included in your price. You couldn’t possibly do everything on one trip if you tried and you certainly wouldn’t enjoy trying, believe me. With all that, why would you need to do more?

I’m not going to lie to you and tell you that everything at Disney World is magical. It’s sometimes hot and crowded. You will encounter the occasional grumpy guest, to say nothing of a toddler having a meltdown. And then there are those frustrating lines. But there’s something about a Disney vacation that makes you shut out the outside world that facilitates closeness with the people you’re travelling with. Maybe it’s just the fact that Disney resort TV is pretty bad and the internet service isn’t much better, but at some point, despite the sometimes frenetic pace of a Disney trip, you find yourself descending into that happy bubble where the most important thing is having a good laugh and getting fastpasses for Toy Story Midway Mania. You see it all around you. I’m a people watcher and it’s touching to see teenagers, sleepy at the end of the day, leaning on their parents on the bus or the happy smiles of an exhausted older couple who just spent an entire day running around a theme park, acting like kids. Tell me where else can you get that kind of experience?

And that, really, is what it’s all about. Your vacation is good enough because you’re spending it with people you care about. And that’s what your kids will remember.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Reader Email: Requesting a Late Night Check Out.

Going to try to clear out the old mailbox this week. Here's an especially useful email on late check out:

Chris.  We have a late flight on our last day. Is it possible to get a later check out since we don't plan on going to the parks that day and would like to relax?  Thank you.

The Cline Family

Cline Family:  Thanks for reading and for your question.  You can request a late check out but it will most likely cost you. Usually, if there's space available, housekeeping will allow you to check out up until 1:00 p.m. without any cost.  If you check out between 1:00 and 4:00, expect to pay half of that day's rack rate for the room. Rack rate is the full price that Disney advertises before discounts, so your room rate won't reflect any discount you may have had during your stay. Check out anytime after 4:00 and you'll be required to pay for the entire night.

If you do this, you must notify housekeeping 24 hours ahead of time.  Keep in mind that late check out is never guaranteed and can be difficult to get during busier times of the year.  Finally, late check out is generally not available at Disney Vacation Club properties.