Monday, July 2, 2012

The Wonderful World of Disney Final

The Boy talking with Anakin Skywalker
Day 13 – Homeward Bound
As I thought, I didn’t sleep last night… well, not until about hour or so before I was supposed to get up. So off we went on Disney’s Magical Express to Orlando International with a bus driver who thought he was hilarious. He wasn’t. Not only that but his diction and sinus congestion left even more to be desired... We had to wait an hour and half before they let us board our flight. Actually, we didn’t hear the call and missed our priority boarding so we had to sit near the back of the plane. Oops. Not so bad but it was a full load. Our layover in Denver was literally about ten minutes, just enough time to get off one plane and on the next.

We thought we’d have time to at least grab a sandwich. In fact, we were counting on this since we didn’t eat breakfast. The pretzels and drinks just weren’t enough. Our travel agent had sent us a gift basket filled with snacks and we had a few left over from our meal plan so we didn’t starve but it was far from a proper meal. Needless to say, we arrived home to an empty fridge. Normally when we’re traveling my mom and dad will pop by the market for fruit, eggs and milk and turn on the a/c (which needs fixing) or heat before we return, as well as provide dinner that first night. However, mom and dad were with us so that didn’t work. After unpacking and getting the laundry sorted and the luggage in the garage, we went to Chipotle for dinner then to Whole Foods for some basics.

The Captain was in bed at 6:00. I followed him at 8:00 and got up an hour later to insist The Boy go to bed. It was sooo nice to be in my own bed with my own pillow. I slept like a baby – until about 04:30.

The courtyard in the Jamaica section of WDW's Caribbean Beach Resort
Post - Walt Disney World Vacation Notes –
We stayed in the Jamaica section at the Caribbean Beach Resort (CBR) on the WDW property. This is a huge resort; the largest in WDW. It has its own bus system. Jamaica is about a four-minute walk to the main pool and the chow hall… close compared to many of the other sections. Considering the number of guests, they do a pretty good job; however, I read in the Unofficial Guide to WDW (a great resource) that they do not make any of the cooked food on site, that it is brought in and kept warm. This has to be true. The building wasn’t big enough to accommodate a kitchen large enough to get all those meals prepared.

Next time we are going to stay at the Animal Kingdom Lodge. It is a step up in the WDW hotel scale and about $75 more per night. However, it was beautiful and had a cozy, warmth the CBR lacked. Having lived in Africa for three years, The Captain wouldn’t even entertain this hotel as one of our options because he just knew it would be cheesy; after seeing it in person he agreed that it was just like a high-end hotel one might find in Kenya. And they have queen size beds. And the food was better. And they have an on-site kitchen. And a TV tuned to the Disney Channel in a separate area from the fire pit in the lobby.

The Boy and Dale at the
Grill in The Land at Epcot
The Disney Dining Plan saved us hundreds of dollars. We were able to eat healthier meals in nicer restaurants than we would have without it. The Captain said next time he wants to save all of our dining receipts so we can compare to get a better handle on our savings but we know it saved us money because the receipts showed the average table service meal was about $90 for the three of us. To quote The Captain, we didn’t feel like we were hemorrhaging money every time we sat down to eat. He was relaxed and enjoyed himself more because of it.

Our travel agent (the best TA ever) has been to WDW many times and gave us great advice. The dining plan options are hard to grasp when you’ve never used them before. It goes from a) two “counter service” (fast food) meals and one snack per day to b) one counter service, one table service, and one snack per day to c) something like three table service and two snacks per day. That last one is a huge jump, especially considering that each meal, whether counter or table service, includes a drink, entrée, and dessert – lots of food, more than we’re used to eating. If we had chosen the last one, I’m pretty convinced we would have done nothing but go from restaurant to restaurant and wouldn’t have had time to enjoy the parks. On our travel agent's advice, we went with the middle option b) of one counter service, one table service, and one snack per person per day. As it fell, the last day we still had four counter service meals and seven snacks. My parents had four counter service and eighteen snacks leftover. Since leftover meals and snacks expire at midnight of checkout day, we opted to get fruit and yogurt, pretzels and chips, and some sweet treats to take home with us. Good thing, too, since we didn’t have time at the airport!

Advance dining reservations are a must. Even though our travel agent knew when to call and did so immediately, she had a really hard time getting preferred times for us since they book up so quickly. In fact, we weren’t able to get one reservation at all at Chef Mickey’s due to its popularity. I even tried while we were there and they couldn’t accommodate us as no one cancels. Many reservations require a credit card hold and if you don’t show up or fail to cancel at least 24 hours in advance, they charge $10 per person. This didn’t happen to us despite about seven such reservations. My cousin took his family to WDW last year and didn’t do the dining plan or book reservations in advance and it was a struggle while they were there. He said he will make use of those options next time.

The real beauty of the dining plan is that you know the total cost of your vacation before you leave home, excepting souvenirs and gratuities, of course. We paid for only three meals: one at the airport on the way, one at Universal Studios, and one at Kennedy Space Center.

Regarding Extra Magic Hours… take advantage of these. EMH are only available to WDW Resort guests so it pays to stay on property. At least one park each day opens early and/or stays open late. To get on a ride guests have to show their currently dated room key, which is also their park hopper tickets, and dining plan. Therefore, if you’re staying elsewhere, you might as well go home cuz Disney is closed for you! Wait times are often ten minutes or less. We found that a posted ten-minute wait time usually meant you would be through the line and finished with the ride in less than ten minutes.

We are from northern California where it is wet and cold in the winter and dry and moderately hot in the summer; best described as a Mediterranean climate. In other words, we’re soft and spoiled. It rains in Florida in the summer. A LOT!!! My cousin’s family went at the exact same time as we did but last year. All I heard from them was that it was HOT!!! …and it rained a bit so take your ponchos. So we were prepared. Our experience was that it was WET!!! …and it was hot sometimes so stay hydrated. Had I known our experience would be wet instead of hot, I would have looked for different shoes to take. It doesn’t bother some people to walk around in wet shoes all day. However, I can’t stand it. It’s all I think about with every step. My Teva’s, which I took, were purchased to be creek shoes not walking shoes but I taped up my toes and put gel pads under the balls of my feet and that worked well... too bad I didn’t come up with this plan until three days before we left. Loads of people were wearing Keens and I think I need to find myself a pair for next time (I have about five years to save my pennies…). The Captain wore his water moccasins with socks and was happy as a clam. The Boy was in the same boat as me. His Merrill’s are super comfy for walking but the suede is not great for wet weather and he’s just not much of a sandal kid. Everyone was wearing Crocs and we let The Boy wear his on the first couple of days… which created blisters that had to be cared for for a week. Poor guy. Mole skin and blister packs are your best friends. Buy them before you go and carry them in your day pack. If you start to feel a twinge STOP RIGHT NOW and fix it. Don’t wait. You can thank me later.

After rereading my posts, I am aware of my fixation on food. Yes, partly that's an admitted addiction in my everyday life, but vacations for me aren't just about sight seeing. I need to be immersed in my experience to fully appreciate it. All five senses must be engaged. So to all those thin people out there who don't appreciate my obsession, sorry. Sort of.

Disney is not a cheap vacation. Souvenirs are expensive but we knew that going in so it didn’t bother us. Not that we’re made of money, however, some things just are what they are. So instead of complaining about it, cheaping out, being resentful, or doing without something we want, we just go for it. We know other families who don’t buy any souvenirs and eat all their meals in their room out of a cooler. But running back to your room in the middle of the day or going hungry because the food is expensive seems ridiculous. Stick to your budget but embrace your vacation and enjoy that $4 Mickey shaped ice cream sandwich.

1 comment:

  1. The food plan was the best! We had healthy choices, often excellent food, and good, sometimes great service. One caveat was that, at the walk-up counters, the logic of what constituted a counter service meal varied from kiosk to kiosk. For instance, at our resort, The Caribbean, breakfast could include many choices like bacon, eggs, potatoes, and toast (drink included) as one meal OR a small serving of oatmeal and a drink as one meal. Same price on the meal plan.... Go of a very few complaints. There was never a need to go hungry.

    Do not leave home without the meal plan--and reservations at the various venues. We got to eat at several of the nicest resorts for the same "price" as we would have paid for one of the least attractive resorts. Have I said enough about the meal plan?