Thursday, June 30, 2011

Fantasyland Expansion and Other Updates.

I just finished a conference call with the some Pixie agents and  Disney tonight.  Our Disney representative had some interesting news about some big changes going on at Disney World. Some of this has already been reported all over the web, but it's nice to get an official confirmation.  Here's a brief run-down.

Common area in the new health and wellness floor at the Contemporary.


  • The Art of Animation Suites will open in phases, starting in May 2012.
  • You'll be able to book the new health and wellness suites at the Contemporary Resort starting in November. There's not a set opening date, but expect them to be open at Thanksgiving, at the latest.  Rumor has it you can start booking right after July 4.
  • The suites will hold up to six people.
  • Our Rep didn't know the exact prices of the wellness suites, but he said to expect them to start at around $800 per night.
  • There's a very strong rumor that the refurbished rooms at Port Orleans will only sleep four guests because the queen-sized beds won't accomodate a trundle.   I'm trying to get confirmation on this, but it's been hard to get anything solid.

Fantasyland Expansion: 

  • The first part of the expansion will open up in the fall of 2012.  This will involve The Little Mermaid attraction as well as Belle's cottage, Gaston's Tavern (quick service) and the Be Our Guest restaurant (table service).
  • The Be Our Guest restaurant is NOT slated to be a character meal at this time.  Update:  Per The Disney Blog, Lumiere will appear on a cart like Remy at Chefs de France in Epcot. There may be photo opportunities as well.
  • The new princess meet and greet will open in Snow White's Scary Adventure in the Fall of 2013. It will be called the Princess Storybook Hall.
  • The Seven Dwarfs Mine Ride, which will be located in the middle of the new Fantasyland expansion, will open in LATE 2013. This will be the last of the major additions to the expansion.
Please check out the latest Fantasyland expansion pictures and a brief update here.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Book a Trip, Get a Free Gift Card Worth up to $150.

I'm still doing the free Disney gift card offer through the end of this summer.
The trip must be a new booking.  Gift cards are based on your final package amount.  Please mention the website and this offer when you contact me.

Gift card amounts are as follows: 

  • $25 for vacations worth $1800 - $2599;
  • $50 for vacations worth $2600 - $8999.
  • $75 for vacations worth $9000 - $11,999.
  • $100 for vacations worth $12,000 - $15,000.
  • $150 for vacations worth more than $15,000.
  • Ask about special per-room offers for Grand Gatherings.
  • Multiple room bookings are not combined.  You will receive a gift card based on the amount of your per-room booking.
  • Get a $25 gift card for referrals over $1800 when the client travels.
  • Total amount excludes airfare, which is not a commissionable item.

 Here's how it works:  Book any of the above vacations and you'll receive a free gift card with your travel documents. Travel between now and the end of 2012.  Pixie Vacations does not charge for their services nor do we charge a cancellation fee.  When you book with us, we'll continue to watch for discounts and apply them to your existing reservation if it saves you money.  There's generally no penalty for this.  So what do you have to lose?  Worse case scenario, you save $25 over what Disney can offer by booking with me. Contact me at

This offer is exclusive to me and does not include Pixie Vacation's exclusive deals for October and December.  For more information on those discounts, please email me.

This offer ends on 8/31/11.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Booking a Base Package vs. a Room-Only Reservation or a Regular Package.

Even on a dreary day, still a happy sight.

Most people think there are only two options for booking a Disney vacation, a room-only booking or a package, but there's one option you might want to try:  A base package.   A base package is essentially a room-only reservation, but unlike a room-only reservation, you'll only pay a $200 deposit when you book.   A base package is booked with the assumption that the guest will add tickets and dining later, but it's not mandatory. 

Who does a base package work for?

1.  Guests who are booking an expensive room-only reservation. Why pay a $500 deposit when you can pay a more comfortable $200? Even if you have the money on hand, it's nice to keep it a while longer.

2. Guests who plan on adding dining and tickets in the event that free dining is announced.  If you already have a package, its easier to convert it to free dining and add your tickets. If you have a room-only reservation, you'll need to cancel that and re-book a package, which means you can't transfer the money from the room-only reservation to the package; you'll receive a refund for that. With the base package, you won't need to do all of that, you'll just change to free dining, add your tickets, and be on your merry way, provided there's availability.

How does it work?

All the same rules that apply to a regular package apply to a base package as well. You'll receive a full refund if you cancel 45-days prior to travel. You'll also have to pay for your trip in full at the 45-day mark.  If you cancel after the 45-day mark, you're out your $200 deposit, nothing more. As noted above, you are not obligated to buy tickets or dining.

One more huge advantage:

If you cancel a room-only reservation within five days of travel, you'll lose night's deposit.  For a value or a moderate room, that's probably under $200 depending on the time of the year. But if you've booked a deluxe room or villa, you could be out hundreds of dollars; many villas rent for $800 or more a night.  A base package means you'll only lose $200.

One final thing.  Make sure you ask for this option if it looks like it will work for you.  Disney doesn't always offer it because it's fairly uncommon.

Friday, June 24, 2011

Finally, a Room Discount for December!

Disney hasn't announced any general public discounts for December yet, but you can still plan your vacation and take advantage of savings at some of your favorite resorts.  Pixie Vacations is proud to announce its latest exclusive offer for travel to Walt Disney World in December. Save up to 37% off your resort room plus get your theme park tickets for 10% off. Buy a two-day ticket or longer and get a FREE water park or DisneyQuest admission!  Not only are these tickets reduced, but they're also the old ticket prices (pre-June 12th), so you'll save even more.

This offer is available at the following resorts:

  • Disney’s All Star Music Resort (Value Resort)
  • Disney’s Coronado Springs Resort (Moderate Resort)
  • Disney’s Boardwalk Inn Resort (Deluxe Resort)
  • Disney’s Polynesian Resort (Deluxe Resort)

Book by:

June 28 through November 18, 2011

Travel Window:

December 15 - December 21, 2011


Disney’s Polynesian Resort

Room: 5 Nights / 6 Days
Sample Party: 2 adults, 2 children (age 8 & 12)
Park Tickets: 6 Day Base Tickets
Disney Dining Plan: Plus Dining

EXTRA: 1-Day Ticket into Disney’s Typhoon Lagoon Water Park, Disney’s Blizzard Beach Water Park, or DisneyQuest for each person in the party.

Standard Price: $4128.99

Vacation Package Price: $3185.60 (Save $943.39)

Disney’s Boardwalk Inn Resort

Room: 5 Nights / 6 Days
Sample Party: 2 adults, 2 children (age 8 & 12)
Park Tickets: 6 Day Base Tickets
Disney Dining Plan: Plus Dining

EXTRA: 1-Day Ticket into Disney’s Typhoon Lagoon Water Park, Disney’s Blizzard Beach Water Park, or DisneyQuest for each person in the party.

Standard Price: $3864.55

Vacation Package Price: $2999.98 (Save $864.57)

Disney's Coronado Springs Resort

Room: 5 Nights / 6 Days
Sample Party: 2 adults, 2 children (age 8 & 12)
Park Tickets: 6 Day Base Tickets
Disney Dining Plan: Plus Dining

EXTRA: 1-Day Ticket into Disney’s Typhoon Lagoon Water Park, Disney’s Blizzard Beach Water Park, or DisneyQuest for each person in the party.

Standard Price: $2733.95

Vacation Package Price: $2381.23 (Save $352.72)

For more information, please email me at

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Trying at Split Stay at Disney World.

The pool at Disney's Wilderness Lodge.

Next trip, consider doing what many seasoned Disney World guests do: A split stay. A split stay is exactly what it sounds like, staying at more than one resort during a single trip. It's a great way to save money (by staying at both a value and a deluxe) or to get to know what a resort has to offer, but there are a few rules you'll need to follow to make it work.

Who does it work best for?

Split stays work best for guests who don't mind packing up their things and moving mid-vacation. If you have very young children, you may want to reconsider a split stay. It's a great choice for a guest who wants to give a new resort a try, but isn't sure if they're going to like it. If you're the type of guest who always stays in the same resort, it's an easy way to change things up a bit without losing out on your favorite resort entirely.

Can I book a split stay at the same resort to take advantage of two different discounts?

Yes. If you're travelling when one discount ends and another begins and the first discount doesn't carry over (or isn't as good as the second one that comes out), you can do a split stay at the same resort and use two different discounts. The only problem is that sometimes you won't get the same room and you'll have to move. This usually happens when the discount code only covers a preferred room.

Can I still use the dining plan?

Yes, but keep in mind that the dining plan can only be added as a package. All packages that have the dining plan must also have a one-day ticket (at a minimum) added to them for each person on the reservation. If you want the dining plan for only one of your reservations, it's really no problem. But if you want the dining plan for your entire trip, you'll have to add tickets to both reservations.

Here's what you'll do. Say you're visiting for ten nights. You'll be spending five nights at Pop and then moving to the Beach Club for an additional five nights. You've decided you want the dining plan for both stays.  You'll purchase a 10-day admission for your stay at Pop; this is the most economical way to buy your tickets because they're the most expensive on the front end, that is, the first three days. Then you'll add a one-day ticket for each person on the reservation at Beach Club. You won't use that ticket. Instead, you'll keep it and use it in the future, upgrading to a multi-day ticket or an annual pass. This ticket will never expire and will only gain in value. Make sure the front desk does not add it to your room key. Ask to have it separate and put it someplace safe.

Remember, if you're an annual pass holder, you can add the dining plan without adding tickets, provided you're not trying to get free dining. 

What about tickets?

You can do what I discussed in the section above or you can just add tickets to any part of your stay. Say you don't want the dining plan for your stay at Pop, so you're just doing a room-only reservation, but you do want the dining plan for your stay at Beach Club. You'll just add your ten-day tickets to your Beach Club stay and then when you arrive for the first part of your vacation at Pop, go to Guest Relations in any park and ask for your tickets early. You'll have your ten-day ticket for the entire stay.  One warning:  This may only be available for three extra days, so check ahead of time to see if you'll be allowed to do it for longer stays.  I've heard conflicting reports.

Remember, this only works if you don't need the dining plan for that part of your stay.  Otherwise, you'll have to add that pesky one-day ticket.

What are the advantages of a split stay?

Besides getting to explore more than one resort, one advantage of a split stay is that you can save a little bit of money on one part of your trip and go all out on the other. It's a great way to afford a more luxurious resort while not breaking the bank or having to shorten your stay. A few nights at a value early in your trip can make a more expensive room seem much more affordable. I especially like this idea for those checking in late. Why pay for a deluxe room when you're just going to drop your luggage and go to sleep? Finally, this plan allows you to try out different dining plans, so you could do deluxe for one part of your trip and the base/plus plan for the other.

Or you could do what some really savvy guests do and try out the Platinum dining plan for just one night. The platinum plan, at around $260 per person, is a plan that gives you virtually unlimited access to Disney perks during your stay. In theory, you could check in in the morning and do it all: Unlimited behind the scenes tours, spa treatments, fine dining, Cirque du Soliel, even take advantage of the unlimited use of the child activity centers. And since your meal plan is good until midnight the day you check out, you can do all this for around 36 hours! Considering what you get, this plan, while exhausting, sounds like a lot of fun for the money.

Finally, another advantage of a split stay is that you can tailor where you stay around the parks you plan to visit. Say you plan on spending a couple of days at the Food and Wine Festival and you want to be within walking distance of Epcot. You could stay at Beach Club. But you're also traveling with kids and you really like the idea of being on the monorail so you 'll have easy access to the Magic Kingdom. So maybe your second stay is at the Contemporary. This type of arrangement allows you to have easy access to both parks and the cost isn't really going to be that different than if you stayed at one resort.  The only downside is a change in resort rooms mid-trip.

What about my stuff!?

Easy peasy. Bring it to Bell Services at your resort and they'll send it on to your room. Don't forget to leave a tip when you drop off your luggage.

How should I split it up?

Go posh on the second part of your trip, if possible. I love all of Disney's resorts, but it can be a letdown to go from a deluxe to a value in one trip. If you're staying at a Disney Vacation Club villa, do that second, no matter where you're staying first. The reason? Laundry. If you're staying in a one-bedroom villa or larger, you'll have a full-sized washer/dryer in your room. That will come in handy after a few days visiting the World. Finally, villas offer you more space. If you're traveling with kids, you'll probably appreciate that space more during the second part of your trip.

What will my reservation look like?

You'll have separate reservation numbers for each stay and you'll pay your deposit accordingly. Each package will require a $200 deposit. Each room-only reservation will require a one-night deposit; if the deposit is too steep, consider doing a "base" package which requires only a $200 deposit.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Making Your Dining Reservations at the 180-Day Mark.

Shrimp appetizer at Citricos in the Grand Floridian.

When I talk to first-time visitors to Disney World, they often balk at the thought of making their advanced dining reservations (ADRs) a full 180-days before travel.  Who, they say, plans out what they're going to eat six months in advance?  And they're perfectly right--everywhere else but Disney World.  Because Disney allows guests to make their ADRs 180-days prior to travel, and because many guests plan their trips a year in advance, the most popular restaurants will fill up right away. You can bet that restaurants like Le Cellier and Cinderella's Royal Table will be full except for a few odd seatings within an hour of being available.  The irony is, some of the best restaurants on property are often the most overlooked.  So what should you do?

If you're planning far in advance:

  • Make your ADRs at 180-days out.  I start with a spreadsheet with desired locations and times. You'll want to be organized when you start. 
  • If you're working with a travel agent she's probably making your ADRS.  Give her alternate  locations and times and let her know what you consider a must-do.
  • Disney resort guests can make their ADRs at 180-days plus 10. This means you can make your ADRs at 180-days prior to check-in plus for up to 10 days of your trip, so you can basically make all your ADRs at once. 
  • If you're doing a split stay, you'll only be allowed to make your ADRs for the first part of your trip, even if your entire stay is less than 10 days.  You'll call back for the second part of your trip when you hit the 180-day mark for that stay.
  • Use the online service at 6:00 a.m. then, if you're not finished, consider calling 407-WDW-DINE when they open up at 7:00 a.m. if you haven't gotten everything you need. The reason I suggest this is that sometimes, tables aren't "loaded" yet. It's better to have a cast member confirm this than to  think your ADR isn't available.  If this is the case, call back the next day.
  • Make your hardest-do-get ADRs first.

If you're planning a few months out:

  • First, don't panic.  Some of the best restaurants are actually not the ones that fill up first. If you're not a fan of character meals or if you want to try signature dining, you're in luck. 
  • Try a walk-up. It's particularly easy to get one in the World Showcase at lunch. 
  • The more exotic the menu, the more likely you'll get an ADR.
  • Try same-day reservations. Call first thing in the morning.
  • If you're staying at club level at any of the resorts, try asking the concierge to find a reservation for you.
  • Be willing to eat at odd times. Late dinners tend to be easiest to get.
  • Keep calling.  People cancel vacations all the time.  While the system does not cancel dining reservations when you cancel a resort reservation, many times clients will cancel those as well.
  • If possible, make your ADRs before you add the dining plan.  While you can eat well no matter when you make your ADRs, the value in it for you is getting the ADRs you want, so consider not adding the dining plan until you're aware of availability.  You don't need a resort reservation to make ADRs.

Very Difficult to get:  These reservations often book up within the first hour of being available.

  • Le Cellier
  • Cinderella's Royal Table
Hard to get:  These restaurants often book completely full within the first week of being available.
  • Ohana for dinner
  • Chef Mickey's
  • Hoop De Doo Review'
  • California Grill, particularly during Wishes, which can be viewed from the restaurant.
  • Hollywood and Vine.  Located in Hollywood Studios, this popular character meal is a buffet.

Medium difficulty:  Book in the first month of availability to ensure the best times.

  • Akershus/Princess Storybook Character Meal, particularly breakfast.
  • Crystal Palace, particularly early breakfast seatings.
  • Via Napoli. This has become very popular.
  • Kona Cafe
  • Liberty  Tree Tavern.  Easily the best table service location in the Magic Kingdom.
  • Brown Derby
  • 50s Primetime Cafe
  • Mama Melrose

Easy to get, but great food:  Book as soon as you make your travel plans.  These restaurants are good possibilities for short-notice travel.  I'm not including everything here, just the ones where I think the food is very good.  Many of these locations are two table service credits on the Disney dining plan.
  • Yachtsman Steakhouse.  The best steak on property.
  • Chefs de France
  • Artist Point
  • Narcoosees
  • Citricos
  • Biergarten
  • Grand  Floridian Cafe.  Somewhat pedestrian menu, but always reliable. Breakfast is particularly good.
  • Flying Fish. On the Boardwalk.  Hidden gem with excellent seafood.
  • 1900 Park Fare Character dinner with Cinderella and friends.  Easily one of the best princess character experiences, this is also one of the most overlooked character meals.  Worth it for the evil stepsisters alone.  Located in the Grand Floridian.
Good last-minute reservations. Because these locations have strict cancellation policies, you can try to call 24-48 hours prior to when you want to dine.  If you're not successful, keep calling. I've gotten same day reservations at these locations.

  • California Grill. 48-hour cancellation policy.
  • Cinderella's Royal  Table. Cancel 24 hours in advance or you'll be charged for the full meal. S
  • Akershus. 48-hour cancellation policy.
  • Hoop De Doo Review. 48-hour cancellation policy.

A few final pointers:

  • You can no longer double-book.
  • Please cancel reservations you won't be able to keep even if there's no penalty.
  • Don't overlook calling Disney directly. I've had cast members find tables that the online system wouldn't give me.
  • Some locations require a credit card.  For Cinderella's Royal Table, the person's name on the reservation will need to match the card.
  • If you have a group of six or more and can't get your reservation, consider splitting the group and making two ADRs. When you check-in, just tell the cast member you're together.
  • If you're a resort guest booking at 180-days plus 10, you'll need your resort confirmation number to book beyond the 180-day mark.
  • As noted above, you don't need a resort reservation to make your ADRs. If you're waiting to book or if you aren't staying on site, you may still call at the 180-day mark (or sooner), you just won't be able to book "180 plus 10" unless you have a resort reservation.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Book Review: Cast Member Confidential.

I think a lot of Disney fans pick up Cast Member Confidential by Chris Mitchell, hoping to get an inside look at what it's like working for The Mouse. Unfortunately, none of what Michell writes about is new or even particularly shocking to those of us who follow Disney--gosh, you mean there are tunnels under the Magic Kingdom?  Cast members like to get a little crazy after work?  I'm sure most of us don't need to read through a couple hundred pages to realize that--knock me over with a feather--20-somethings are going to do some crazy things! 

The premise of the book is this:  An edgy (this is important, you'll find) man in his late 20s, part of the action sports scene in Los Angeles, chucks his responsibilities and runs off to Orlando for a year to work as a cast member at Walt Disney World.  A good start, I think.  That's where it ends. 

I thought the first couple of chapters were insightful and well-written and I think as an essay in a magazine, it would have made for an interesting read. Unfortunately, as a book, you expect something more, whether it be personal growth or some ephipany--you want something concrete and you don't really get it here.  Instead it's impossible not to feel that the author is being incredibly self-indulgent, at your expense.  Mitchell never goes beyond the initial hint that there's something more to the story.  Instead, the reader is treated to the same scenarios and is endlessly beaten over the head over just how cool the author is.  I found myself wanting to throw the book up against the wall and scream "I get it. You're edgy and cool."  Normally, I would have stopped reading but I kept hoping for some sort of redemption, some point other than "I tried to escape my fears but even here, in the happiest place on earth, I discovered there is a sordid underbelly. Oh, by the way, I'm edgy. You can tell because I'm wearing a skating shirt I bought at the mall."  Sorry. I can't help myself.

There were some gems in this book.  I particularly liked the part where he talks about his childhood and how he felt about Disneyland; it was really solid and Mitchell easily conveyed that feeling that so many of us have for the parks.  Overall however, the book felt contrived.  I know that writing dialogue that seems genuine is difficult, but every conversation felt unnatural. In fact, most of the scenarios in the book felt that way as well.  Cast member breakrooms seem more like prison yards.  I expected Goofy to pull out a homemade shank any minute.   His girlfriend, a wanna-be vegan Ariel, gets cast as Cruella de Vil and starts eating red meat at every meal and speaking with a British accent.  Your average cast member leads a double life, like the coked-up Maleficent in Fantasmic. And apparently all college cast members do is sleep with their bosses.  And trust me, this isn't as interesting to read about as you might think!  Did he ever just have a normal day? Did he ever meet a cast member who went home at night and fed the cats, had dinner and watched TV? Because every single "character" in Mitchell's book seems to have a devious underbelly that they magically turned off when it was "show time."  Makes you wonder how they did it, day after day in the hot sun.

Reading this, you might think I disliked the book because I'm a huge Disney fan and it sheds a bad light on the company. That's not it at all.  My problem with the book is that it's tiresome and quite often, boring. I had to force myself to finish it.  Further, I'm not so sure I buy Mitchell's premise, that he just up and moved to escape his responsibilities.  More likely, he had an idea for a book before he worked at Disney.  I just wish he'd done something with it other than this.  This book could have been so much better than it is. 

If you're looking for a good Disney read, check out Realityland by David Koenig. It tells the story of the company, warts and all, and while it may be a little less "edgy," it's certainly not going to leave you wanting to throw the book against the wall halfway through.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

When Should You Make Resort Reservations?

Grand Villa at Bay Lake Tower, with a view of the Magic Kingdom.

You can make resort reservations up to 499 days in advance, but you really don't need to. The question is then, when should you make your reservations?  While there are always exceptions, particularly during the slower months, the following provides a guide for booking most times of the year.

For difficult to get reservations, you should consider making reservations as soon as prices come out. These resorts are as follows: 

  • Any room at Bay Lake Tower.
  • Epcot resorts during the Food and Wine Festival.
  • The Contemporary Resort
  • Any two or three-bedroom villa any time of the year.  Period.
  • Certain campsites at Ft. Wilderness, especially during the holidays.
For less difficult to get reservations, consider the 6 to 9-month mark as being ideal.  Because Port Orleans Riverside sleeps five people, this will fill up pretty quickly.  The value resorts fill up quickly as well, with the All Star Music suites and Pop Century going the fastest.  You can probably get a value room closer to your stay, but you may not get your first choice of a standard room. Often, preferred rooms will be the only ones left closer to travel.

Finally, there is generally good availability at the following resorts at the 3-month mark:

  • Saratoga Springs.
  • Animal Kingdom Lodge.
  • Grand Floridian.
 If you require a special type of room, book as soon as you can. This includes any suite. You'd be shocked at how difficult a $12,000 a week suite at the Grand Floridian is to get at the 6-month mark.  By far the most difficult rooms to book are two-bedroom villas. If you want to stay at a resort like Bay Lake Tower, which is extremely popular, and the prices aren't out yet, consider booking a room-only package at the old prices. When the new prices come out your cost will be adjusted.  It's inconvenient, but it's a good way of ensuring your room is available.  Keep in mind that no matter where you book, the least expensive standard rooms tend to go the fastest.

A special mention should be made about holiday availability.  I've been booking Christmas week vacations since the beginning of this year.  Popular resorts and the values should be booked as soon as you make your plans; this includes the cabins and campsites at Ft. Wilderness.  The busiest holiday weeks are Christmas and the week before and the week after Easter.

Finally, if you don't see what you need, keep checking back. Resorts like Coronado Springs and the Contemporary have blocks for conventions.* As you get closer to travel, you'll see rooms being released.  The same is true for Disney Vacation Club villas. When those resorts don't fill up or when members trade out to other timeshares (such as RCI, which is partnered with DVC to allow owners to stay at their resorts), that inventory is moved over to cash reservations. 

It's hard to plan your vacation so far out, but Disney's cancellation policy is pretty generous and you'll usually get your deposit back within a week or so.  I think it's definitely worth it to get the room you want.

*October is the busiest convention month at WDW, leading to lots of complaints about availability then.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

New Summer Room Offer.

Pixie Vacations has another exclusive summer promotion.  Purchase a package for 5 nights / 6 days at select Disney Moderate or Deluxe Resorts and get a Free Disney Water Park or DisneyQuest Ticket for each person in your party:  You can save up to 17% to 30% off your Disney resort.

Booking and Travel Window:
  • Booking Window: 6/20 – 7/11/11
  • Travel Window: 7/25 – 8/12/11

The following resorts are available for this promotion on these dates:

  • Disney’s Coronado Springs Resort (Moderate Resort) 7/27 – 8/1/11 & 8/7 – 8/12/11
  • Disney’s Yacht Club Resort (Deluxe Resort) 7/25 – 7/31/11
  • Disney’s Contemporary Resort (Deluxe Resort) 7/31 – 8/3/11

Some examples of the savings:


Disney’s Yacht Club Resort:

Room: 6 Nights / 7 Days

Sample Party: 2 adults, 2 children (age 8 & 12)

Park Tickets: 7 Day Base Tickets

Disney Dining Plan: Plus Dining

EXTRA: 1-Day Ticket into Disney’s Typhoon Lagoon Water Park, Disney’s Blizzard Beach Water Park, or DisneyQuest for each person in the party.

Standard Price: $4336.58

Vacation Package Price: $3560.97 (Save $775.61)

Disney’s Contemporary Resort: 

Room: 3 Nights / 4 Days

Sample Party: 2 adults, 2 children (age 8 & 12)

Park Tickets: 4 Day Base Tickets

Disney Dining Plan: Plus Dining

EXTRA: 1-Day Ticket into Disney’s Typhoon Lagoon Water Park, Disney’s Blizzard Beach Water Park, or DisneyQuest for each person in the party.

Standard Price: $2654.31

Vacation Package Price: $2286.73 (Save $367.58)

Disney’s Coronado Springs Resort:

Room: 5 Nights / 6 Days

Sample Party: 2 adults, 2 children (age 8 & 12)

Park Tickets: 6 Day Base Tickets

Disney Dining Plan: Plus Dining

EXTRA: 1-Day Ticket into Disney’s Typhoon Lagoon Water Park, Disney’s Blizzard Beach Water Park, or DisneyQuest for each person in the party.

Standard Price: $2898.39


Vacation Package Price: $2611.55 (Save $286.84)


Call me at 1-919-889-5281 or email me at for more information. We still have a few rooms left on our Food and Wine promotion, so if you're traveling in October, ask me about that promotion and save up to 50% off.




Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Using a Points Broker to Rent DVC Points.

Boardwalk Inn and Villas.

In the last couple of years, brokers who rent out Disney Vacation Club points have begun popping up all over the place.  Briefly, Disney Vacation Club is Disney's answer to the timeshare market:  Owners buy points and then use those points for visits.  When owners can't use their points, Disney allows them to give them away or rent them out. Owners who don't want to hassle with renters often choose points brokers.  What points brokers offer across the board is pretty standard:  You send the points broker your request and he matches you up with an owner and then does all the legwork for you. 

Points brokers exist in a gray area as far as Disney is concerned. Let me say outright that what they're doing is perfectly legal: There are no laws stopping individuals from acting as brokers between renters and owners. And Disney wants to allow owners the freedom to rent or give away their points as they please, a benefit which is very important. But Disney has, in recent years, taken steps to stop commercial renters and by extension, points brokers. One way they've done this is to limit the number of associates to four that you can have on your DVC contract. What this means is that only those four individuals may make reservations on that contract. The way points brokers get around it is that they don't deal with Disney at all, just individual owners, so Disney is never aware of the transaction.
There are several advantages to using a broker:  One, you have recourse through the broker if your owner flips out and cancels your reservation.  To me, this is the main advantage of using a broker.  Two, the broker has a relationship with the owner and he has, presumably, verified that the owner is an actual DVC owner. And three, the broker takes care of all the messier aspects of travel, like arranging your transportation (which he'll do by going through the owner, since the owner is the only one  who can do this) and making your dining reservations.

As noted above, the broker does not have access to your reservation.  He'll go through the owner for everything, so that means if the owner is slow to respond to emails, it's a non-issue for you.  It also means that Disney isn't aware of the broker's involvement, just the owner and the renter, so you won't go to Disney if you have any complaints.  Think of the broker as a silent partner in this transaction. You'll never talk to the owner and your messages and concerns will all be delivered by the broker to him. This is what you're paying $2 to $3 more per point for.  On a 200 point reservation, that's a nice sum of cash. 

Conversely, if you rent directly from an owner you'll need to verify that your owner owns DVC, which you can do through the Orange County website. You'll need to ask for recommendations. And you'll need to set up a solid contract (there are excellent examples available here) which will allow you some recourse in the event your owner does not hold up his end of the agreement.  When it comes time to arrange Magical Express or add the dining plan, you'll need to contact your owner. And finally, you'll have to make your own dining reservations.

At first glance, it probably looks like working with a broker is a great deal, right?  Except that verifying ownership, making arrangements with the owner for transportation, and making your own dining reservations takes a couple of hours, tops.  There's no advantage, for example, in having your broker make your dining reservations unless you have absolutely no desire to do them yourself; he has no more of an "in" than anyone else and he may not even be inclined to get up at 6:00 am at 180-days to do them.  So it's really an issue of whether or not paying an extra $2 to $3 per point more is worth the convenience of not having to take care of these things.

As I said earlier, the main advantage of using a points broker is having recourse against a bad owner.  Plenty of things can go wrong when you rent DVC points; that's why it's cheaper than going through Disney directly.  For example, take the extremely rare occasion where a DVC owner rents points but hasn't paid his yearly maintenance fees.  When that renter shows up to check-in, he won't be allowed to do so until the owner--or someone--pays those fees.  A call to your points broker can solve this type of problem easily and without dipping into your wallet.  A broker, especially an established one who wants to maintain his good reputation, can save your vacation from going terribly wrong.

At the same time, this type of scenario is extremely unusual. Hundreds of owners rent out their points every year with zero complaints.  The more common problem results when a renter has to cancel his vacation.  The problem with renting DVC points is that once you've made the reservation, you're locked in, not just to the sale but often to the exact date as well.  Most brokers offer no recourse in those situations. Some owners will try to find a solution, particularly if you've addressed this issue in your contract.  I recently had to move a DVC points rental and the owner was fantastic about changing the dates. I literally asked him the night before and my reservation was changed by noon the next day.  If possible, talk to the owner about this type of scenario before you sign the contract.

What I'm going to write here won't be very popular with some people, but I don't like using points brokers to rent DVC points.  For one, despite the fact that it may feel like a more secure transaction, brokers don't give you any more protection in the event of cancellation than using an owner directly.   Both individual owners and brokers can sell you insurance if you have to cancel, but you'll pay a steep price for it.

Further, there's the danger that unscrupulous brokers will  partner up with equally unscrupulous owners to "buy up" certain popular weeks, such as Christmas.  Availability for those weeks at DVC extremely scarce. You'd be hard-pressed to find a two-bedroom at Bay Lake Tower for a popular holiday week, even at the 7-month mark.  There's nothing to stop someone from making a reservation and sitting on it until closer to the travel date, and then renting it out for an exorbitant price.  This type of practice hurts owners, particularly those renting at the 7-month mark (the point at which a DVC owner can rent at resorts that are not her "home" resort).  Notice I said "unscrupulous brokers."  The vast majority of brokers are honest. But it does happen and I've seen it myself.

Finally, and perhaps more importantly, points brokers drive up the cost of renting DVC points.  Most brokers charge between $12 - $13 per point. Your paying for the convenience of using their services and for those who want that, it's worth the money.  On average, they pay the owner $10 per point.  Lately I've seen individual owners selling their points for the same amount as brokers. Now honestly, if the only price available for my resort is $13 from a private owner or $13 from a broker, you can bet I'm going through a broker.  Better, yet, if there's a discount I'm going to go through Disney directly because the cancellation policies are so much more friendly.  Ultimately, if you're going to take a risk, and anytime you rent points that's exactly what you're doing, that risk should be considerably cheaper than renting from Disney directly.  Otherwise, it's not worth it.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

2012 Packages Are Out Today.

Disney surprised us a lot this week. First, they announced on Friday that they were increasing ticket prices today, June 12. And now they've also announced package prices for the upcoming year. What's so surprising about this? Well, historically they've done this in August?  What's going on?  Sadly, I have no idea what the implications for the company are or what it means for future discounts (although I have a few theories) but for the guest, it means you'll get a little more time to  plan  that winter vacation and a lot more time to dream about the one you're taking more than a year from now. 

Remember, you can book now and apply discounts later. Either keep up with the discounts yourself or your travel agent will do it for you and automatically apply them if they help you.  There's generally no penalty to apply discounts to an existing reservation. I will always have new discounts up on this site as soon as they are announced--sometimes sooner--so keep watch here and on other good Disney sites like Disboards, Chip and Co and Touring Plans.

Here's one thing I can't help but wonder:  Will Disney also release discounts for the rest of the year sooner rather than later?  We haven't had any general public discounts for October through December yet, so those should be coming.  If follow last year's plan, Disney will announce discounts for the rest of 2011 and most of 2012 in August, but now I'm wondering if those will be early too.  It's hard to say, as they seem to be changing everything, but I certainly hope so.

I'll keep you posted. In the meantime, book a new vacation with me now through the end of August and I'll give you a free Disney gift card worth up to $100. That's in addition to current and future discounts.  My service  is free and there are no cancellation fees, so you'll always do better with me than booking through Disney directly.  Please email me at for more details.

Friday, June 10, 2011

Disney Ticket Prices Go Up June 12, Military Prices Out, and More.

Just a quick post to let everyone know that ticket prices for Disney parks will go up on Sunday, June 12.  Price increases are as low as 3.66 percent on a one-day base adult ticket to a whopping 13.8 percent increase for a ten-day base child's ticket.  Easy WDW, who is clearly better at math than I am, has all the price increases here.  This announcement is a change from previous years, as ticket prices have historically gone up in August.  If you have a confirmed package reservation or a valid hold, your ticket prices will not change.

I'm also being told that 2012 package prices will come out soon, as early as Sunday or as late as July 1.  On a related note, military room rates under the Disney Armed Forces Salute, which was extended earlier this spring, came out yesterday for the rest of the year.  To qualify, you'll need a valid retired or active military identification card. You may also take advantage of discounted tickets under this offer; you are not required to book a Disney room to purchase these tickets. Though this offer is good for most of 2012, resort room prices under the Armed Forces Salute are not out for 2012. I'll update when they come out.

Finally, I'm still offering a free Disney gift card giveaway with each new vacation booked through the end of August; this offer is in addition to published discounts.  See this post for details.  Please email me at for more information.

A Good Hat.

Princess Beatrice's wedding hat:  This won't do.

Every now and then I find something I love to use in the parks.  This post is about one of them.

Chances are if you spend much time in a  Disney park during the warmer months, you'll need a good hat.  Unfortunately, a good hat is harder to find than you might think. This is particularly true for women, the focus of this post--men can throw on a baseball cap and look just fine, but many women don't care for them.  First, you want something flattering and you want something that you can toss into your luggage or even fold up into your handbag when you're not using it.  After all, it's not a lot of fun to carry a big hat around when you're on a ride.  Finally, you want something that is inexpensive, because if you lose it (and you just might), it can be easily replaced.

I don't have a  "hat head," which is to say I'm  not one of those people who put on a hat and is instantly transformed into someone more glamorous than they are, but one thing I've found is that almost any hat will get compliments.  This is probably because, let's be honest, how often do you see a woman in a hat? Not that often. And that's too bad because a good hat can give you a lot of relief from the sun and look cute as well.

I'm really pale, so sunblock alone doesn't keep me from burning. I find that a hat helps tremendously and it also makes me feel cooler. It took a while before I found a hat that worked well for me in the parks, however.  I learned pretty quickly that this style was just not going to happen:

I see a lot of people wearing these, and they work great, but I looked pretty ridiculous in it and while truthfully I probably don't care how I look on day three of 95-degree weather, I care enough on days one and two to pass.

I see a lot of big straw hats in the parks too:

This hat retails for $290. Seriously.

This was my first choice as they look great on almost anyone, but the downside to a straw hat is that they can't stand up to the abuse you're going to heap on them during a normal Disney park day: Sweat, sunblock, and water, to say the least of occasionally being sat on or otherwise crushed.

Sadly, because I don't have a hat head, this look doesn't work either:

Although it would be great, wouldn't it? Still, not very practical for the parks.  Let's move on.

What I finally settled on was something a little in between:  A durable hat with enough structure that it held its shape but was still easy to pack and care for, and just as importantly, was flattering on my non-hat head:

This hat by Scala is under $30 and you can find it at places like Amazon and even on Ebay.  What I liked about this hat is that the brim was wide but not so wide that it got in everyone's way.  I could also just throw it in the washer after a day or two and it came out fine.  It has a drawstring that adjusts, so it fits most sizes, even my "big-headed friend," as she refers to herself.  Plus, it comes in every color imaginable.  I know this hat isn't the most fashionable hat, but I get tons of compliments every time I wear it, regardless of the color. 
One last thing:  Find your "good hat" before your trip. You can buy hats at Disney, just as you can sunglasses, and in recent years the selection has gotten really good, but you'll pay a lot more for it.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Disney Resorts: The Values.

Disney value resorts are decorated with huge, kid-friendly icons.

Disney resorts are divided into three categories:  Value, moderate, and deluxe. The values are, as their name suggests, the least expensive resorts on property, ranging from around $70 to nearly $200 a night, depending on the season and discount.  For that price, you'll get two double-beds with a nightstand in the middle, a table and two chairs, a dresser/TV hutch combination, and a small bathroom with a separate, single sink.  You'll also get a room that's clean and has all the amenities that come with staying at any Disney resort:  Magical Express transportation to and from the airport, package delivery to your resort, Disney on-site transportation, extra magic hours in the parks, and excellent customer service.   Is a Disney value resort right for you? Here's the nitty gritty on the values:

 Where you'll stay:  There are four value resorts on Disney property:

  • All Star Sports
  • All Star Music
  • All Star Movies
  • Pop Century

The All Stars are located in the same area and are accessed through a main gate. They also share a bus, which can add a few minutes to your park commute. All the value resorts are themed with larger than life icons (think a giant bowling pin at Sports or an oversized 8-Track at the 70s building at Pop) and bright colors.

One of the poos at Pop Century.

Noise:  This one might surprise you.  Value resorts are designed motel-style, so the rooms open to the outside.  This is actually a good thing from the point of view of peace and quiet, because the outside doors are insulated against the heat and cold, therefore blocking out quite a bit of noise.  I've actually found the values to be as quiet as the more expensive resorts--I almost never hear noise from the outside. Now, on the other hand, I've had a problem with the sound of other guests' toilets flushing in the morning.  If this bothers you, you can fold up a towel and put it next to the crack at the bottom of the bathroom door and block out a good bit of the noise from your neighbors.

Yo-yo icon at Pop.

The Rooms:  Value rooms are small, coming in at around 260 square feet.  They hold four people plus one child under the age of three. If you have more than two adults in the room, you will be charged a small additional fee per adult.  You can get a Disney-sized Pack-N-Play in the room (they're slightly smaller than non-commercial brands) but it will be very crowded.  Many guests bring their own storage organizers to free up some space.  Housekeeping comes daily.

All value rooms have two double-beds.  You can request a king-sized bed, but these are on a first-come, first-served basis.  If a larger bed is important to you, consider booking at a moderate or deluxe.  You may request a handicapped room, with or without a roll-in shower. 

All Star Music has 192 "family suites" that come in at around 520 square feet.  It includes a kitchenette with a mini-refrigerator, coffeemaker, and microwave, a queen bed in the bedroom, plus a fold-out couch and two chairs that convert to single beds in the family room. These rooms sleep six.  Coming in the summer 2012, Disney will be opening more family suites at Pop. 

All Star Sports. 

Availability:  The value resorts tend to fill up quickly.  If you want to stay here, especially at a busy time, make your reservation as early as possible.  I find that Pop fills up first, followed by Movies and the suites at Music.

Photo copyright Disney.
 Discounts:   Because the room-only discounts at the values tend to fall in the 10 to 25 percent off range, you'll likely save more with a free dining promotion if it's available.  There are fewer room discounts for the suites, but I do see free dining and "kids free" promos coming up for these rooms. Make sure you watch for these even after you book, as I've had clients save several hundred dollars just by switching promotions. 
Amenities:  Each value resort has its own lobby and check-in area.  My personal favorite is at Pop, just because I like the theming the best and I think it's the most attractive off all the values.  You'll find an arcade and a shop that sells a small amount of groceries and souvenirs in each lobby.  Each All Star resort has two pools; if you're staying at one All Star Resort, you can "pool hop" at the other All Star pools.  Pop has several pools as well.  Most have some sort of snack bar.  Laundry facilities are available as well.

The lobby at Pop.

Food:  None of the value resorts have sit-down restaurants, but they do have food courts that serve a variety of foods at reasonable prices. If you have a Tables in Wonderland card, you can use it in the value food courts and receive 20% off since there is no sit-down restaurant at these resorts.

A Disney value resort might be for you if:

  • You tour the parks commando-style, i.e., long days in the parks, very little time at the resort.
  • You go several times a year but still have to stay within a budget.
  • You're not set on a specific resort theme.
A Disney value resort may not be for you if:

  • You place a lot of value on having a "grown up" theme. 
  • You spend a lot of time relaxing in the room and like to have certain amenities, like a balcony or quiet nooks and crannies to relax in around your resort.
  • You prefer to have at least one sit-down restaurant at your resort.
My personal opinion:

As a travel agent, I sell the values pretty hard, which is to say, that if I have a client who is on the fence about whether or not to stay at a value or a moderate resort, I usually recommend the value, particularly if it's a cost issue. Why? Well first I hate the idea of someone spending more money than they should and then worrying about it on their vacation.  This is not supposed to be a time for worrying.  But also, to me, there's not a huge difference between the moderates and values.  Unless you're looking for a specific thing (a pool slide, hot tub, slightly larger room, a certain type of theme) the values will meet all your needs.  Keep in mind that I do this in spite of the fact that I would make more money selling a moderate. That's how  much I like the values. 

Want to hear more about the value resorts?  You can listen to our review on Mouse Chat here.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Getting the Most Out of Your Snack Credits on the Disney Dining Plan.

Muffins at Starring Rolls in Hollywood Studios:
Tasty, but at $2.29, not the best use of your snack credit.

You can save money on the dining plan, but you have to be smart about how you use your credits.  One of the easiest ways to mess up is with your snack credits.  Snack credits give you the most value when you buy the most expensive snack. In fact, that's really how all the credits work.  Here's how you can easily mess up when purchasing snacks.

It's a hot day and the kids want drinks. What's the easiest thing to do? Pay for it with your dining plan snack credits.  But those drinks cost maybe $2.59 at the most.  Later in the trip when they're at Starring Rolls and asking for cupcakes and you've run out of snack credits, you end up paying nearly $4 a per cupcake.   It's not a huge amount of money, that's true, but if you bought the dining plan to save money, mistakes like this can add up and work against you.

This sign next to an item tells you it's on the dining plan.

The truth is, you can buy a $4 pretzel at a cart in the Magic Kingdom or some veggies and light dip in Hollywood Studios for $3.69. That's a good deal.  So is the $3.29 side of chili at Casey's Corner or the  $4.59 funnel cake.  But the $2 fries? Pay out of pocket for that.  My advice is to use your snack credits for anything over $3. This gives you a lot of choices, anything from pastries for breakfast to Dole Whip Floats.

At around $4, these chocolate crepes from
 Epcot's French Pavilion are a bargain.
Photo courtesy Chip and Co.

Drinks will get you into a lot of trouble.  It's hot most of the year in Orlando, so you're probably going to drink a lot.  You could easily use all your snack credits buying drinks here and there the first couple of days.  If you have young children, know that milk is a horrible bargain on the dining plan, coming in at around $2.19.  For most drinks, either pay out of pocket or, if you have access to a refrigerator, think about bringing some of your own drinks with you into the parks or to keep in your room.  Buying bottles of water or shelf stable milks will save you a lot of money and free up your snack credits for more expensive items. 

Don't forget that certain items in candy shops like Karamel Kuche and Goofy's Candy Kitchen can be purchased with snack credits.  Depending on how far you have to travel (and how hot it is outside), these snacks can make nice gifts for friends back home.  If you're going to Disney World during the Epcot Food and Wine Festival, you can use your snack credits for many of the (non-alcoholic) items being sold at the kiosks.

Make sure you keep track of your credits and allot them over a period of days. You can don't want to end up with too many on the last day. If you do find you have too many left, you can do what a lot of guests to and buy snacks for the ride home.

Looking for more information on approved snacks on the dining plan? Check out this thread on Disboards.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Cancelling a Disney Trip.

It's a Small World.

I just cancelled the Disney vacation that I had planned for October. It was just going to be a quick weekend trip, but even doing the creative "Disney math" that I usually do, I couldn't quite justify the expense of a trip in October when I was going for a longer trip in December with my husband and children.  I'm a little sad that I won't be going to Disney World for another 190 days, but I know that I'm lucky to go as frequently as I do and I can't complain. Still, this got me thinking. I haven't had to cancel any trips before, although I've moved a few around.  What do you do when you cancel a trip? How do you make it a little easier?

The Practical Side.

Cancelling a Disney Package:

  • More than 45-days prior to travel:  You'll receive a full-refund, no questions asked. Disney usually tells you your refund could take several weeks, but in my experience, it takes about 7 days.
  • Less than 45-days prior to travel:  Unless you have insurance, you'll be charged $200, your original deposit amount. This is the case even if you paid for your trip in full at the time of booking.
  • Some elements of your package are non-refundable, such as airfare and insurance.  If you book airfare with Disney, strongly consider getting insurance.

Cancelling a Room-Only Reservation: 

  • You can cancel your room-only reservation up until 5-days before check-in (6 days if you booked online).  The penalty for cancelling a room-only reservation is one-night's deposit. 
  • As an aside, if you're booking an expensive room, such as one at a deluxe resort, consider having your travel agent or Disney book this room as a "basic" package.  The premise of this package is essentially that you'll add tickets or dining later, but you don't have to.  The upside of this, is that you only pay a $200 deposit when you book, just as you would with a regular package. While you'll have to pay in full at the 45-day mark, just as you would with a regular package, if you have to cancel you're only out $200 rather than the a full night at an expensive resort, which could run your $400 or $500, easily.

Changing a room-only or a package reservation: 

  • Disney charges $50 to change a reservation under the 45-day mark for packages.
  • Changes to room only reservations after the 5-day mark will cost $50.
  • If you think you'll be coming back at some point, this can be a more economical solution than forfeiting $200 or the cost of one night's stay.
 Making Yourself Feel Better.

So you cancelled a trip. What do you do to make up for it?  Well, first of all, you remember how lucky you are that Disney World will always be there. Whether it was for financial reasons, school, or some of the sadder things we all go through from time to time, one of the best ways to make up for having to cancel a trip is to plan another one! In fact, I would say that cancelling a trip can be a gift in some ways:  You've got another opportunity to plan a new trip and get everything right.  Plus, we all know that planning is half the fun.  And while you can't make the time between now and your next trip go faster, but you can make it go . . . funner?  Okay, that's not a word. But, you know what I mean.  Here's a few things to consider:

1.  If you cancelled for financial reasons, congratulations for taking control of your finances and making the right decision even if it hurt. Whether you're going in six months or in two years, you can start putting money away for your vacation now. If you've already got a new reservation, Disney will let you make small payments (as little as $20) as you go. That money can really add up.

2.  Go into full-blown planning mode. If you've ever wanted to do a vacation right down to the smallest details, you've got a little extra time. 

3.  Become a Disney expert.  There are tons of great websites that can make you a smarter Disney guest and a better consumer. 

4. Do a trip report.  Disboards, Passporter, and WDW Magic all have active trip planning forums.  Start a pre-trip report with all your details. You'll be surprised how many nice people you'll "meet" while brainstorming about your next vacation.

4.   Get into shape. I sometimes hear people worrying about how they'll deal with all the walking at Disney World. It can be physically challenging, no matter who you are.  So, if you're worried about the shape you're in, consider using this time to get into better physical condition.  Disboards has a WISH board section devoted to people getting into shape and changing their lives. Get motivation and support by reading their stories.

5.  Have a Disney day close to home.  See a traveling show like Disney on Ice or maybe a Disney movie when it comes out in the theater.  Or maybe have a family Disney movie night just like we used to do before everyone had Netflix!  Pop some popcorn, walk away from the computer, and enjoy the great stories and characters you'll get to relive in the parks.  If your kids are into scrapbooking or crafts, get them involved in planing. They can start a scrapbook for the trip or even just work on a paper countdown chain.  There are lots of fun ways you can get everyone involved in planning your next trip.  One tip I love is to get a family change jar that everyone tosses their change into at the end of the day.  By the time your trip rolls around, you'll have plenty of mad money for treats and souvenirs. 

It's disappointing when you have to  cancel a trip, but the old adage is true:  Absence makes the heart grow fonder.  I promise that when you do get there, it will be even sweeter.

A great way to support the Disney online community and meet other writers is by submitting and reading articles at Dismarks. You can check out the latest posts from the Dismarks Blog Carnival here