Thursday, April 21, 2016

We've Got The Disney Reservation Blues

Allison and I have noticed that Disney is a bit hypocritical.  Over the last few years Disney has done everything to make Disney World more technologically advanced.  They've made it so you can book restaurants, tours, special events, and even fast passes (basically rides) long before you even step foot in the park.  Don't get me wrong, I don't really have a problem with setting up things in advance.  After all you can still eat at the parks, and you can still go on rides, even if you don't have reservations in advance.  We on the other hand decided to embrace this system and have as much fun as possible with it.  Next week you'll learn about the fun we had making dinner reservations.

The problem we're having right now is fatigue.  On paper Disney gives you two dates that you have to worry about, 180 and 60 days till the start of your trip.  180 days before you're eligible to make dinning reservation (and popular ones disappear quickly) and tour reservations (sort of), and 60 days you can book your fast passes.  I like this idea because it gives you milestones before your trip to get you excited.  The problem is that these two dates aren't are only days we have to worry about. In fact a number of dates that we have to worry about have yet to be announced, and so we're checking daily because they could be at any moment.

The two big announcements that Disney seems to be dragging their heels is the times that Animal Kingdom will be open, and the day tickets go on sale for Mickey's Not So Scary Halloween. There are times that Animal Kingdom is scheduled to be open available on the website, however they've been teasing later hours for some special night time events.  The Not So Scary Halloween party is an important part of our plan, and although the dates are out, tickets are still not on sale.

We're also interested in taking a fireworks cruise one night, and the dates that it's available are only slowly creeping up.  There doesn't appear to be any rhyme or reason to when the dates open up either.  Sometimes I week opens up, then a whole month will open up.  We're stuck checking regularly.

I've also noticed that Disney has been in the habit of announcing the opening of attractions well within 60 days of the ride opening date.  This means if you book fast passes, and a ride you're interested in opens all of a sudden, you have to re-arrange everything to fit it in.

My problem here is simple, Disney has asked us to stick to a schedule that they're not willing to keep.  Book some things 180 days before the trip, and others 60, but other things will just be random. I understand there's logistics to these things, but Disney, you're starting to wear us out.  We're getting sick of visiting the site every day checking for tickets and open reservations for certain things.  We booked 2 tours and a boat rental already, why can't you get your act together and let us buy tickets for events at your park at the same time.  Why aren't the Halloween party and the cruise also available 180 days before, like all your other tours and dinner reservations?

Thursday, April 14, 2016

Our hotel is booked.

The first thing you need to do when you visit Walt Disney World is book a hotel.  You have many categories to choose from and they can range in quality, and in proximity to the parks.  The first choice you have to make is if you want to stay on property or off of property.  The biggest difference you'll find between staying on or off property is the price.  Staying on property is always more expensive, and not just by a little bit.  Many of the cheapest hotels on property are more expensive than the pricier off property options, and keep in mind that there's a Ritz off property.  Almost all of the hotels on property are owned and operated by Disney, with a few exceptions, and all of the Disney hotels offer some extra perks such as transportation to and from the parks, Extra Magic Hours (extra time at the parks), and a general feeling that you haven't left the parks at all.

We decided that since this was to be an Epic "Disney" Vacation, staying on property was a must, so our next choice was what kind of hotel did we want to stay at.  Disney offers several different qualities of hotels on property, Value, Moderate, Deluxe, Deluxe Villas, and Camping.  We considered all of these options, however we cut out Value first.  We figured that Value resorts would be full of kids and families, and while Disney parks will be full of kids all the time, we thought living with them might be kind of crappy.  Both of us have stayed at Port Orleans before, a Moderate resort, and really enjoyed it.  So we played around with the idea of going back.  Deluxe was a thought, because as mentioned in the name of this blog, this trip is going to be "Epic".  We event thought about getting a cabin in the campground.  Then we came across the Deluxe Villas, or more to the point we discovered DVC.

DVC, or Disney Vacation Club is a timeshare thing.  I'm not too sure exactly how it works, but we learned that in some cases people who own "points" in the DVC sometimes have extra points.  You can buy these points on the open market and stay at a Deluxe Villa for about the same price as a Deluxe room.  Best of all for about the same price as this Deluxe room your villa will have one bedroom, and a kitchen.  This pretty much sold us as Allison is a breakfast monster (she loves breakfast) and we've read that breakfasts at the Magic Kingdom are regularly disappointing.

So when the time came, and we knew for sure that we were going on this trip (no more cancellations), we contacted a travel agent that could organize the purchase of points and allow us to stay at a DVC one bedroom villa.  We had several choices for places we wanted to stay.  Our first was the Yacht and Beach Club, however they had no availability for the time we were going.  Our second choice was right across the lake at the Boardwalk Inn, and it was good.  So we booked our room, bought our points, and we were set.

Once you get your room booked, this is when things start to happen.  Your Disney Experiences account can now be linked to something.  For those unfamiliar My Disney Experiences is basically an account you have on the Disney website that lets you build an itinerary, book restaurant (more on that later), book Fast Passes (more on that later too), and basically see what you may want to do on your trip.  With the hotel booked things started to get rolling.  We immediately got our accounts in order, made sure they were linked to our hotel reservation, and we even started getting mail to prep us for future planning options for our trip.

We're really happy with the Boardwalk Inn as it's in a prime location (walking distance to Epcot and Hollywood Studios), and it has stuff to do around it.  There's even a bakery just in front.  We looked online and thought that the rooms looked pretty spiffy as well.

This was the first step in officially planning our Epic Disney Vacation... Oh did we mention, we've decided to stay for 12 days... Epic.

Thursday, April 7, 2016

It's Been A Little While, And A Lot Has Happened

As you may have remembered (or you can just look back on this blog) a few years ago our trip was postponed due to a moving situation.  Well, it's official, we're going to Disney World, and we're going in less than 180 days.  To the average person that doesn't mean very much, but to the Disney Parks nerd that means a lot.

We've been pretty busy the last few weeks and over the next few weeks I'm going to recap what we've been up to.  The thing about Disney is there's a lot to plan way in advance, particularly if you want to eat at certain restaurants, and take certain tours.  There's also been a few announcements and closures over the last few weeks that is going to affect us.  Most interestingly, we've discovered that we're going to be in the parks during two special events, and it looks like we'll be trying them on for size.

So here's what we have to cover:

Our hotel is booked.

Dinning reservations, how we managed to get two Be Our Guest Dinner reservations.

Special tours we've booked, some are simple, one is pretty epic.

What's closed down since we last posted a blog, and what might be open.

Epcot Food and Wine, yup, we're going.

Mickey's Not So Scary Halloween, we're likely going.

So the blog is back, and I'll be recapping you on some of the fun we've been up to.

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Tiered Pricing At Theme Parks

I've recently heard that Universal Studios theme park in California is going to start up tiered pricing for tickets into the park.  For those unfamiliar with this concept, it's basically how hotels and airlines work right now all over the world.  Rather than have a fixed price for admission into the park, Universal will change the price depending on the number of people expected to visit that day.  Notionally you'll pay more for a park when it's busy, and less when it's not.

This idea makes a lot of people nervous, and it makes me nervous too, however I think it makes me nervous for different reasons than most.  Most reactions online seem to be nervous about this because they worry that the parks will be too expensive during the times when they can visit.  Many people don't have the luxury of choosing when they can travel.  Either because of school or work schedules, many people must travel during certain periods of the year.  This is often the times when these theme parks will likely be at their highest prices.  So people assume that they won't be able to afford to go because the prices will push them out.

This is an logical reaction to this, however if you investigate this program at Universal you'll see that they'll have a ticket price cap.  This cap will likely be close to the current ticket price, with discount prices for slower days.  The parks are not going to price themselves out of existence, the goal is to get more people to come, not less.  This is not why I'm nervous about the idea of tiered ticket prices.

The reason I'm nervous come from theme park bonuses.  In recent years Disney has made it their goal to keep their parks busy all year long.  Their solution has been to offer extras during the slow seasons.  In some cases it's discounts such as the "free dining", but more often they offer things like the Food and Wine Festival, Star Wars Weekend, and Flower and Garden Festival.  Rather than discounting prices, they offer incentives, and some pretty great ones at that.

My fear is that with the addition of tiered pricing, Disney will stop offering incentives, such as food festivals, to bring people into the parks.  Likely the cheaper tickets will do this for them.  Already Star Wars Weekends have been cut, and free dinning has been modified.  Running these incentives can be expensive and require a lot of planning, lowering ticket prices is simple and cheaper in some cases.

Theme parks around the world are working to one up each other in order to get people into their parks.  This competition is good for the theme park goer, because it forces theme parks to up their game.  Tiered pricing is simple for the management yet adds nothing to the park experience.  It's a slippery slope to focus on lower prices instead of quality, if this keeps up high end theme parks will quickly go the way of the carnival.

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

A Quicker Trip

During a recent discussion about our plan to visit Disney World, we discovered that our timing for getting there and getting back wasn’t going to work with the time we have.  We had to make a choice, do we cut back on the Disney experience, or do we cut back on the getting there experience.  It wasn’t an easy choice, and a middle ground didn’t seem logical at all.

Our original plan was to take 4 or more days to get to and from the parks from Canada.  This would allow us to visit friends, stop at historical places, and generally meander a little between our house and the parks.  This would have probably worked a few years ago when we originally made this plan; however now it seems like our timing is a little tighter.

We spent one evening discussing what we wanted out of this trip, what was the key to an “epic” Disney adventure.  We eventually settled on the idea that Disney was the heart of this adventure, and we shouldn’t rush that at all. So our journey down and back up will have to be much more rushed.  This decision also came from the fact that we are going to want to de-stress a little when we go on this trip (for various reasons) and jumping from hotel to hotel is not a way to do that.  While we’ll have to do a bit of hotel jumping getting to and from the parks, we want to be sure we have a good long break at Disney to calm our nerves.

We also don’t want to rush the parks.  There is a lot to see and do, and we want to relax and take in all of the details.  While a road trip through the US is a lot of fun, it’s not the focus of this particular trip.  As a side note, we’ve also started to plan our cross the US road trip in the years to come; it might involve a stop at Disneyland too.

So now we have to decide where we are going to stop on this adventure.  However, now are stops are going to be on the way, with no side trips.  We’ll still stop and smell the flowers when we can, but we’ll no longer go out hunting for a particular bud.

Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Star Wars Is Here To Stay!

A few weeks back I posted about some of the new experiences that would not have been at Disney World had we gone when we originally planned.  One of the experiences was that of the Star Wars additions to Hollywood Studios.  While the finished Star Wars land will not be ready when we go, Disney has added several new Star Wars additions to tide people over.  Originally they were scheduled to be taken out in the spring, but Disney just announced that they're extending theses special exhibits well into the time we plan on going.

These exhibits include the Star Wars Launch Bay, a special exhibit with props and interactive fun things to do all about the new movies.  Special character meet and greets, including new and old characters.  As well as a special fireworks show, that looks pretty awesome.  In general it seems like they've put a Star Wars overlay over a section of the park, and they're keeping it for a while longer (in some cases it's staying forever).

My guess is that they put the "limited time" label on these additions just in case the movie bombed.  This way if there wasn't any interest they could switch everything out without having to commit.  However the movie did far from poorly at the theater, and it seems like they're actually adding new things regularly to these interim Star Wars attractions.  I've been keeping up with what's going on and it seems that new character meet and greets are being added, and the cruise ships are also adding more and more Star Wars material.

The only thing that I'm not so keen on, is the change they made to Star Wars the adventure continues.  Originally the attraction would have a random story line that changed every time you rode it. Now they have a "guarantee" that you'll see the new addition every time.  This never really appealed to me, even though the new scene looks pretty cool.  I like the random idea more, and it seems like the only people that would enjoy the guarantee are regular visitors.

My hope is that even more is added before we go. Although Allison may get Star Wars'ed out, I can't get enough of it.

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Planning With Friends

While writing this blog I've realized that my information has really only been coming from one source, the Internet.  Any scholar would tell you that sourcing only one source is a bad idea; if that source is the Internet it's an even worse idea.  While there are a few "peer reviewed" historical and technical accounts of Disney World, frankly many of those are a little dry for my liking.  So our only option for a secondary source is to find an expert(s), and talk to them ourselves.

There are a couple of problems when it comes to finding experts.  First of all we're on the other side of the world right now, I could safely say that most of the people around us have never even been to the parks once, let alone have any hands on knowledge.  Secondly, we don't want to find someone at random because they don't know us, and frankly this blog is about our adventures in Disney World.  Then one day, during an improv meet up (I'm full of surprises), we discovered that two of our improv buddies used to live in Florida.  Better still they go back regularly, and they love Disney World.

So a plan was made, brunch with Allison's famous pancakes, and discussions about Disney World.  In this afternoon we went over lots of information.  Allison, who's been making a matrix of our timing in the parks based on reservations and extra magic hours, gave out copies of this matrix to our guests.  They were very impressed.  We went through some of our expectations and ideas for the trip.  For the most part we seem to have a pretty solid plan, however our friends had some tweaks that seem to improve our plans a fair bit.  Here are a few things that they've suggested that we're going to work into our plan:

Allison and I love miniature golf (we hate regular sized golf), and we want to try out the options at Disney World.  We had decided to do the Winter Summer Land course when we visit Blizzard Beach, and that was considered to be a good plan.  We also wanted to try our Fantasia Gardens at some point as well, but for this we were warned to avoid it on hot days, as there's no shade at all.

Throughout this planning, we've been trying to figure out if we wanted to do the Hoop-Dee-Doo Musical Revue or the Spirit of Aloha show at the Polynesian.  Our friends suggested that the Hoop-Dee-Doo show is not to be missed.  While they admitted that they haven't been to the Spirit of Aloha show in a while, so they don't really remember if it was good or not.  They were very enthusiastic about the Hoop-Dee-Doo show.

Our plan at this point has us possibly ending up at Disney World during part of the Food and Wine show at Epcot.  I've heard great things about this event, but I've also heard that it can be insanely busy.  We've been wondering whether or not we should avoid Food and Wine, to keep away from the crowds, or indulge in Food and Wine because it's that awesome.  Apparently it's that awesome.

Finally, the one piece of advice that really inspired me was that we shouldn't avoid leaving the Disney bubble.  We were encouraged to explore a few things outside of Disney World while we're in the area.  We're still not sure about that yet, however we'll have a car, so we may just venture out a little.