Our Disney World Experience: Disney World Dining

This is the 4th post in my series on our recent trip (November 2015) to Disney World.  This was a huge trip for our family, one that we consider ‘once in a lifetime’ and that my wife planned out to give us the most magical and memorable experiences.  I’ve already talked about our visits to the parks as well as our hotel, so I wanted to concentrate on Disney World Dining.  It’s definitely worth a post of its own.

Meal Plan

We decided to dine at Disney with the standard meal plan.  With that plan, you get one full service meal, one quick service meal, and one snack per day.  You can divide how you use up your dining credits over the course of your trip. Our plan ended up technically being ‘free’ because we upgraded to a deluxe hotel during our stay, and Disney offered the ‘free dining’ option to entice visitors.  And, it did as things were hopping!

Tips On Planning

If you plan on eating at Disney, you will want to be prepared in order to really enjoy your experience.  Here are a few things we learned:

Know what you want

Disney has all sorts of options.  They have fancier options, things that lean toward kid friendly, and everything in between.  We wanted a few ‘character’ meals where the characters will walk around and pose for pictures, and knowing this type of preference up front helped us focus our list.

Plan your days in full

We set out a rough plan of what park we wanted to go to on what day.  In some cases, we planned the park around the dining options available, and in some cases it was the opposite.  Either way, you have to have a plan. However…

Be flexible

You can start booking your dining reservations (I think) 180 days out from the start of your trip. mb-2016-01-ears You want to have a list of places that you want to go, and have an idea, but be flexible.  You may see that a ‘must dine’ place is not available on your preferred day, but is available on a different day, and if that happens, you might have to act quickly.

Don’t lose hope

After you make all your plans, you may find that you’ve settled on some options but don’t lose hope.  There are apps you can download that will allow you to plug in where you want to go and when, and they’ll send you an alert if something opens up.  The problem is that there are probably others who are getting the same alert at the same time, so be prepared to act quickly.

Use resources and past experience

We had a great book we bought off Amazon, plus a plethora of web sites that we used to get our information.  Everybody will find what’s important to them (and hopefully this post helps some), but use the information that’s out there to make sure that you’re getting the best experience.

Our Favorite Disney World Dining Options

Now, onto some of the memorable dining experiences we had.  In each case, I outlined the name of the restaurant, where it was, the type of dining credit that was used, and some thoughts that I hope help.

1900 Park Fare

Grand Floridian Resort – Table Credit – We dined here on our arrival night, and it was a character dinner with Cinderella and some other characters.  It was a buffet and the food was good.  We had an awesome waitress, who was friendly, great with our kids, and gave us some tips that helped us not only at this meal but in just about every other character meal we had afterward.  One of our best Disney meals!

La Hacienda de San Angel

Epcot – Table Credit – We had a dinner reservation as we really enjoy Mexican food, and it’s one of our favorite dine-out options at home.  While there was nothing wrong with the meal, I think that we had higher expectations but it really wasn’t much above some of the options we have at home.  While we enjoyed it, there was nothing earth shattering and we’d probably skip it in the future.

Hollywood N Vine

Hollywood Studios – Table Credit – Another buffet meal that was character based.  It was a good time but the kids were tired, and the characters took quite a bit of time before they made their way to our table.  We actually had another reservation booked at this restaurant for later in the trip, but ended up cancelling it.

Be Our Guest (Breakfast)

Magic Kingdom – Quick Service – This was a really cool breakfast, as the experience of being in the Beast’s castle is the most memorable part, so much that we actually had a lunch and dinner here as well (the lunch was quick service and the dinner table service).  The food was good, and this was the only place where we were able to order in advance, which did make it nice in that the kids didn’t have to wait long to get their food once we arrived.

Tusker House (Breakfast)

Animal Kingdom – Quick Service (pretty sure) – This was another character meal and also a buffet, but had really good food.  In fact, all of the Animal Kingdom dining options seemed a step above most other parks.  We really enjoyed our location, the food, and the characters.  It was very relaxing but fun at the same time.

Sanna

Animal Kingdom Lodge – Table Service – Each deluxe resort has a full service restaurant, and this was a spur of the moment change that we made.  I am not really one to try ‘new things’, so the idea of eating traditional African food was a bit scary to me, but I went with it, and I am glad I did!  The food was really good.  Definitely get the add-on bread service as that’s a basis for the entire meal.  The wait staff was very friendly, the ambiance was great, and while the kids got a little bored by the end, they still enjoyed themselves and the food.

Cinderella’s Royal Table

Magic Kingdom – Table Service (2 credits) – This is the premier reservation, as you actually dine right inside Cinderlla’s Castle.  Pretty snazzy!  Expectations are high, and that’s actually why we dined there twice as our first experience was less than stellar.  We were very rushed and had less than accommodating wait staff, largely because we were the last lunchtime reservation and they were focused on turning things over for the upcoming dinner meal.  We spoke to the manager, and he apologized and offered for us to come back at no charge.  That experience was wonderful.  It was one of our best dining experiences!

In fact, when I e-mailed the manager later in the day to thank him, I said that the breakfast experience was exactly as our family had imagined that dining in ‘the castle’ would be, and thanked him for making sure that we had that.

Wolfgang Puck Express

Disney Springs – Quick Service – This was a spur of the moment decision for us to head to Disney Springs (formerly Downtown Disney) and we loved it.  We all got pasta and really enjoyed the quick and easy experience.  In an earlier post, I mentioned how the quick service restaurants at the resorts seem a bit lacking.  See, they might not offer as much because they know that they have a ‘captive audience’.  However, we quickly found that it’s not really that much difference.  In the 45 minutes we might have stood in line to get disappointing food at our hotel’s quick serve, we were able to get ready and take a bus over.  We ended up with much better food and a great family dinner.

Mickey Shaped Stuff

The great thing about Disney World is that Mickey is everywhere, including in the food options.  It’s all over the place.  From waffles to pretzels to ice cream (my favorite), you’ll get to take a ‘bite’ out of Mickey just about anywhere you look!

There Was More

This barely scratches the surface of all of the different places we went and the food we ate.  Still, I wanted to highlight a few options that stood out.  It’s been a little over a month between the time that we got back and when I wrote this. I’d say that food is probably the first memory that tends to fade on a trip like this.  So, that these stand out means they are remarkable in some way.

I hope you found this helpful.

Readers, I’d love to hear your experiences with Disney World dining.  Let me know if I can answer any questions (in which case, the true answer will probably come from my wife as she put all the legwork into getting us well fed!)

Copyright 2017 Original content authorized only to appear on Money Beagle. Please subscribe via RSS, follow me on Twitter, Facebook, or receive e-mail updates. Thank you for reading.

How I Keep Brown Bagging Fresh

I don’t go out for lunch.  Period.  Or at least, it’s pretty rare, maybe once or twice per year.  Outside of that, I brown bag it.  Well, actually I have a reusable bag that’s gray so as to save on waste, but you get the idea, right?

So, how do I keep it fresh.  Well, it’s not easy, but really the secret for me is mixing and Brown baggingmatching, all while staying within a few guidelines.

Generally there are four components to my lunch, and presented in the normal order which I eat them:

  1. Vegetables – This is the one area where I don’t have too much in the way of variety, as I take carrot sticks 95% or more of the time.  I just don’t get sick of them.  It does help that we cut our own carrots.  We started doing that a few years back, and after doing so, quickly realized that they taste much better than the pre-cut baby carrots.
  2. The Main Portion – Next, I move on to the main part of the meal, which more times than not is a sandwich.  However, there’s no way I can take a sandwich five days a week, week in and week out.  Just not going to happen.  So, usually 1-2 times per week on average I’ll have some sort of leftovers from an evening meal.  However, on the sandwich front, I try to keep it up by switching between salami, ham, PB&J, and occasionally turkey, all from the deli.  We also mix up the bread we buy, usually buying whatever is on sale between 5 or 6 different types.
  3. Fruit – I always have some sort of fruit.  This rotates between what’s in season.  For example, right now we’re eating a lot of strawberries, but in the fall, we’ll have lots of apples to eat.  If we have multiple kinds of fruit in the house, often I’ll combine them to make a simple fruit salad.
  4. Yogurt – I have a yogurt cup every day.  I am apparently one of the few people in the world that has not moved to the Greek yogurt craze.  I prefer regular yogurt.  I do like different flavors, so I keep this fresh by rotating flavors.  I generally get whatever is the best price between three different brands (Aldi, Meijer’s Purple Cow, or Yoplait) that I have found I like the best, and between the three, there’s enough rotation in the flavor to keep it from getting too boring.

That’s really it.  I guess you could say that my lunches have definitely moved toward consistency, but by trying to mix things up between the different areas as much as possible, it makes brown bagging an option that, so far, I have not gotten sick of.

And, I do love the savings as opposed to people that consistently go out.

Readers, do you brown bag it?  What do you do to keep yourself from revolting against the same lunch day in and day out?

Copyright 2017 Original content authorized only to appear on Money Beagle. Please subscribe via RSS, follow me on Twitter, Facebook, or receive e-mail updates. Thank you for reading.

At What Point Does Declining Value Become A Concern?

I’ve had a few recent situations where I was presented with declining value in varying circumstances.  In each of the circumstances, which I’ve briefly outlined below, I pointed out the declining value through social media circles, and I was surprised to see the response by other followers.  Or, more exactly, the lack of response.

Halloween Fun At The Zoo

The Detroit Zoo holds an annual event called the Zoo Boo.  It actually stretches across most of October, and on Friday and Saturday nights, families can come and walk through a portion of the zoo where there is a corn maze, seasonal themed displays, an activities center, and some handouts of candy and other treats.  It’s pretty popular and we have gone for the last three years.  So, we were thinking about going again this year, when my wife pointed out two changes:

  • Admission for the event went from $7 to $8
  • They were now charging parking.  Typically, all parking for the Zoo Boo was free for both members and non-members.  Parking for regular zoo visit is free for members who purchase an annual pass.

mb-201310moneyFor a family of four, this meant that the cost (assuming they all drove together in one car) would go from $28 to $37, over a 30% increase.  I felt this was unwarranted.  I was kind of annoyed by the fact that they were charging for parking (especially members, which we have been for many years).  I questioned why the cost needed to go up, especially considering that most of the handouts were provided by the sponsors, so it’s not like they had to pay for the candy and such that they give out.  I even looked closer to see if maybe they were adding new events, displays or access, but the description of the event was the same as in years past.

Nobody from the zoo responded, and not a single of the 173,000+ followers liked my post or expressed similar concerns.

Restaurant Rewards

There’s a local chain of Italian restaurants (Andiamo) that has been a favorite of ours for years.  We had our rehearsal dinner at one location, we threw a surprise 25th anniversary party for my parents there, we’ve dined there multiple times for various events such as birthdays, New Years, and our anniversary.  So, a few years back, it was a no-brainer to join their rewards program.  We paid a one-time enrollment fee and for that, we got a free dinner during the month of my birthday, as well as a program where after every $350 you spent, you got $25 in credits.

They announced that they were changing the program, and promoted it as ‘new and improved’ as you now got rewards after only 250 points.  The reward changed to $10 after you crossed this threshold.  I did the math in my head, and realized that on a reward-per-dollar spent you were getting 44% less bang for your buck.

I wrote on their Facebook wall pointing out that the program was definitely changed, but maybe not necessarily improved.  To their credit, they actually did write a very detailed response acknowledging that they made other changes which would offset the reduction in other ways (a second meal sometime during the year), and also basically acknoweldged that the program needed to be tweaked to allow them to balance the rewards with profitability.  I was actually pretty impressed and gave them a lot of credit.  In my mind, I understood the changes, and didn’t have a complaint about the changes themselves (especially given that the cost of joining the program were a one-time only thing), but it was just that they presented it as ‘improved’.

Still, after I posted on their wall, there were over a dozen people that liked their announcement, but only one that liked my response pointing out the 44% reduction.  that one person…my wife.

The Sliding Scale of Value

These incidents both happened within a couple of days of each other, so the lack of attention by others was amplified since they both happened.  And, I spent a couple of weeks thinking about why the issues I raised really weren’t of concern.

I think one of the reasons would be that there’s a sliding scale of value, and that there are thresholds along the way, and only after you cross those thresholds do you get concerned.

Some examples would be:

  • Gas – We don’t generally get alarmed every time the price goes up, but over the past few years, anytime prices in most areas get anywhere near $4, the chatter instantly heats up.
  • Food packaging – It’s long been a pet peeve when food packaging changes (new look, same great product!) only to find out that the new package contains less of the product than the old one did, but the price stays the same.

In these cases, or similar cases (like my examples), there’s probably some wiggle room before a trigger goes off.  I’m sure in the case of food packaging, there are lots of studies done beforehand to find just how much they can get away with taking away before consumers howl.

Removal of Excess Value

After thinking about the zoo example for so long, I looked at it a different way and thought that maybe people felt that $37 for a family of four was still a value.  Maybe, for many, the previous cost of $28 was considered a great deal.  Meaning, that there’s wiggle room in what they can get away with charging before they put attendance at risk.

Acceptable Loss

Sticking with the zoo, what if the zoo full well knew that the price increases were going to turn people away, but were completely fine with that?  This could make sense if the loss of customers was made up by the price increase.  What if 10% of families decided to skip the event this year.  The other 90% are still going to pay the extra 30%, meaning that they’d still come up with a revenue increase of roughly 17% (90% of last years attendees x 130% of last years pricing).

This could go south if too many people decided to skip the event, but again, I’m thinking there are probably studies and such done in circumstances involving national brands and the like.

Long and short

I spent the first week or so after these two things completely bewildered about why the concern that I was expressing didn’t even warrant a few likes.  But, after thinking about it, I started to see a little sense in it.  Maybe some of the long ago learned items from my marketing classes in grad school started to bubble to the surface.

Readers, have you ever raised a concern about pricing or something else and found apathy, especially in the day of social networking?  What are some of your thresholds or hot buttons that get you going when it comes to pricing and marketing?

Copyright 2017 Original content authorized only to appear on Money Beagle. Please subscribe via RSS, follow me on Twitter, Facebook, or receive e-mail updates. Thank you for reading.

I’ll Take No Icky Water For 90 Cents, Please!

Our office campus is undergoing a multi-phase renovation.  We have two buildings, and essentially one half of a building is being remodeled, with the intent to expand our space and bring us from the 1970’s era furniture and layout to a more modern approach.

My desk sits in the recently completed first phase.  It’s much brighter, cleaner, and laid out in a much more open way, definitely more conducive to today’s collaborative approach for teamwork.

Phase two is currently underway with the other half of the building (where I used to be) in the midst of being gutted and re-built.

Last Monday, I got in at my normal time of slightly before 7am.  I made my coffee as normal.  A little bit later when I went over to rinse out a bowl, no water.  I checked and it was out.

Turns out it was only out for about 30 minutes, and that it was because they were doing some connecting of the water system between the two parts of the building.

After the water came back on, it didn’t look very good.

Definitely not good enough to make my oatmeal, which is what I usually have for breakfast.

Hmmm…what do do?

My options were:

Skip breakfast.  Not an option.  I have to have something to eat.

Break into my lunch and eat some of the stuff there.  That would have worked for breakfast, but would have left me lacking in the afternoon.  Not a good long-term solution.

Go grab breakfast.  There are a couple of fast food places right around the corner.  I probably could have been there and back in 15 minutes.

Hit up the vending machine.

In the end, I went with the vending machine.  Breakfast at a fast food place would have probably meant at least $2-3 and would have been less healthy. Plus, I’m the type that, once I get somewhere, I really don’t want to leave.

I ended up with a two pack of Pop Tarts.  They were 90 cents.  Which, after I put them in the toaster, were pretty darn good.

Not something I plan on doing every day, but it definitely beats the alternative of oatmeal made with icky water.

Have you ever had an emergency change of plan with your meal due to circumstances outside your control?

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