10 Things I Loved About Our Disney World Trip (And 2 I Didn’t)

We recently went down to Disney World.  This was the second time for our family. It was a great time.  We actually spent a few days in Florida at the beach, so it was like two trips in one!  It was a fantastic trip, for the most part.  Disney World can definitely be the most magical place on Earth, though magic means that you’re tired, that’s for sure.

Here are ten things I loved and two I didn’t.

Things We Loved

Our Hotel

We stayed at the Port Orleans French Quarter hotel.  This was our first time staying at a moderate.  We loved it.  Compared to just about every other resort, it’s very small.  The rooms aren’t decorated with Disney themed decor, but more New Orleans decor.  At first my 6-year old daughter was not impressed.  However, by the end of the trip, we were all in love.  It was a very peaceful and relaxing place to stay.  We took a stroll along the riverside, which was practically right outside our door.

We even got to save money here.  They offered us $10 in gift card credits if we would decline housekeeping.  We were glad to do this, and got a $40 gift card as a result.  Bonus!

Our Meal Plan

When we booked the trip, we were just going to pay as you go.  But, a few weeks ago we booked the meal plan.  This gives each person the following per day:

  • One table service meal
  • One quick service meal
  • Two snack credits

My wife did a lot of research and we definitely got good value for our plan. She booked us at some places that would have cost quite a bit out of pocket.  Plus, we got to try some amazing side dishes and deserts that would have cost quite a bit.  But, in the end, we had no regrets at all about this cost.

YouTube Videos

There are bloggers and vloggers that make a living dispensing Disney related advice.  I’m not lying.  And it’s good advice!  My wife spent the weeks leading up to the trip watching videos while on the treadmill each morning.  We learned a lot of fantastic things as result.  From places to eat (and to avoid) to travel tips, we learned a lot from different videos.  And best of all, it’s all free!

Travel Agent

On both of our trips, we used a travel agent, but this was a much better experience.  Our last agent really didn’t seem all that helpful.  She worked with us but never really seemed to got to know us.  The whole ‘blah’ experience was exemplified when she never followed up during the trip or afterward to see how things went.

For this trip, we found someone different, and she was, in a word, incredible!  Her name was Kelly from Simply Enchanted Travel.  (I get nothing back from referrals).  She was in constant touch with us before, during, and even after the trip.  She sent us this goodie bag before the trip, complete with a customized, bound itinerary handbook.  Booking through a travel agent doesn’t cost you any more than if you book things yourself.  So the cost savings is good to begin with, but it’s especially awesome when you find a great agent!

Great Wait Staff

One of the knocks on Disney World is that their dining experiences are often iffy.  Wait staff can be a big knock here.  But, for several of our ‘signature’ meals in the places we were looking forward to the most, the staff was awesome. This turned several really good sit-down meals into absolutely awesome meals.

Alcohol

The dining plan has recently been modified so that table service and quick service meals include an adult beverage.  After a long day at the park, this definitely was a nice little touch.  On our last trip, we often purchased a drink anyway, so this worked out very nicelly.

Fun Characters

Our kids are of the age (8 and 6) where meeting characters was still a big draw.  There were a few really fun characters that they’ll remember for a long time.  Olaf (from Frozen) acted scared of my son’s Darth Vader shirt.  Sadness (from Inside Out) was just perfect, making you want to do nothing more than give her hug after hug.  It’s really cool to see the characters that we all know ‘come to life’.

The Nighttime Castle Show

I can’t remember what’s it’s called, but they do a show at the Cinderella castle that’s amazing.  I grumbled at having to stake out our spot over an hour in advance, but it’s awesome.  The castle is transformed over and over again to capture moments from many Disney and Pixar movies.  There’s fireworks and music and it’s truly amazing.

The Love For Mickey & Minnie

On our last day, each kid got a stuffed character toy.  My son got Mickey Mouse and my daughter got Minnie.  After they got them, there were so many cast members (Disney workers) that would acknowledge them, waving or saying hello to Mickey and Minnie.  It always brought a smile to the kids faces.  It’s great to see the special love for the characters that got the whole thing started.

Flight of Passage

The hot ride across all four parks right now is Pandora: Flight of Passage.  It just opened last year and the wait times are always high, and the longest of any ride.  We got a Fast Pass for it so we got right on.  Both my wife and I agreed that we didn’t want to know anything about it.  As such, we avoided reading about it or having others tell us anything about it.

With that in mind, I won’t spoil any details, either, but I will say this: It. Was. Awesome.  I’ve been on a lot of different rides at different parks and this was definitely like no other.  It was absolutely breathtaking.

Things We Didn’t Love

There were a few things we could have lived without.  None of this took away from our overall experience, as we realize no trip is ever perfect.  Still, maybe this will help others in future planning.

Mission: Space

I’ve been on this ride before.  It’s where you get buckled into a simulated space ship and go for a training mission around Earth. It’s a pretty cool ride and was shaping up to be this time as well, when it abruptly stopped.  Something malfunctioned and we stopped moving.  Normally this wouldn’t be a big deal but you’re in a very, very enclosed space.  Like, you sit down, the shoulder harness comes down, and then the pod closes right on top of that.  Once we stopped, you quickly realize how you are trapped.

Luckily, we were only trapped for about ten minutes, but both my son and wife started getting upset, and we were extremely glad to get out. Disney did give us an extra fast pass to use for the trouble.  Still, all four of us agreed that we’ll definitely skip this one in the future.

Busy Season Is All The Time

Many people try to plan trips around how busy it gets.  A piece of advice: Don’t bother.  It’s busy all the time.  Disney is spending a lot of money on park upgrades and really focusing on revenue growth in this area.  They just opened Pandora last year.  Toy Story land will open this year.  Star Wars land will open next year.  These are all projects where they are spending hundreds of millions of dollars apiece.

With that in mind, they are working hard and succeeding at keeping the parks full.  Simply put, there is no time where things aren’t busy.  You will have to wait in line.  You’re going to be among crowds of people most of the time.  It’s unavoidable.  But, if you go in knowing what to expect, you’ll be fine.

That, and a great travel agent helps!

Have you been to a Disney park lately? Any plans?  Let me know in the comments below.

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.

Greed Or Smart? Disney Overnight Parking Will No Longer Be Free

We are just a couple of weeks away from our family spring vacation.  Part of it will be spent at Disney World.  We did a family vacation a few years ago at Disney World, and had a blast.  We wanted one more experience while the kids are still charged at lower rates.  With our vacation coming up, we’ve been following all things Disney related.  Last week a big announcement came in that Disney overnight parking will no longer be free.

The Old Policy

Previously, if you were staying at a Disney resort, overnight parking was free.  This was a nice perk, presumably to make their resorts more attractive than surrounding hotels.  But, they announced that soon, there will be a daily fee between $13-$24 depending on the resort.

Bummer.

What This Means For Us

Thankfully, we are not impacted for our upcoming trip.  Although we’re driving, the fee only impacts bookings made after March 21st.  Any bookings made before then will not have this charge.  We made our booking a few months ago, so we’re good.  For this trip.

Greed Or Smart Thinking?

Many people are outraged.  Reading some of the Facebook groups, people are upset.  This should come as no big surprise.  It is, after all, an extra cost to which customers get no added value.

So why is Disney doing it?

Greed?  Many people say that Disney is being greedy with this move.  They point out that this was a nice perk for people that made Disney resorts more attractive.  Many also point out the ever increasing cost, and figure it’s just a money grab.

That could be.  Or maybe they’re being….

Smart?  One of the things that we’ve seen with Disney World is that it’s busy.  You’d expect this, but it’s always busy.  When we went a few years ago, there were certain times of the year that you could book and expect to enjoy low or moderate crowds.  Now, there is really no such thing.  If you read the real time reports, crowd levels are either high or really high. That’s pretty much it.

So you could say that Disney is making a smart business decision by increasing their revenue.  If demand is up, then you could argue that they have a responsibility to their shareholders to maximize their revenue based on that demand. Yes, I majored in Economics in college! After all, if park admissions (and presumably resort reservations) are running at robust levels, would an increase in costs put that at risk?

Probably not.  I’m sure the bean counters at Disney made sure of it.

What Do You Think?  Greed Or Smart?

I’m curious what you think.  Is Disney being greedy or smart by charging for something that was formerly free?

My answer: I think it’s a bit of both.  If I were a Disney shareholder, I’d love the move.  As a Disney customer, not so much.

What do you think?  Leave your answer in the comments below.

 

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.

Why We’re Spending $2,540 On Gift Cards In A Single Week

Over the past week, we have spent $2,540 on gift cards.  You might think I’m crazy.  I’m not.  Maybe we’re going nuts for Christmas this year?  Nope.  We’re actually cutting back.

So then why are we spending all this money on gift cards?  Because….we’re going back to Disney World!

What does one have to do with another?  Well, read on.  I’ll first go over the trip, then make clear why we dropped some serious bank on gift cards.

Recapturing The Magic

Long time readers might remember that we went to Disney World in 2015.  We had a great time.  During that trip, we stayed for eight nights.  We stayed at a deluxe resort.  We dined with a Disney meal plan.  It was a fantastic time with all of our family.

My wife is our trip planner, and from the moment we got back, she was planning our next trip in her head.  She wanted us to go while both of our kids were nine or under.  Why?  Because tickets get much more expensive after they turn ten.

We went on a fantastic spring break trip to Tampa last year during the kids week off of school.  We loved it so much that we booked the same rental for the same week in 2018.

It was early fall when my wife brought up the idea of modifying the trip so that we could go back to Disney World.  We looked through the numbers and made it work.

We’re still going to our rental place, but for five nights instead of a week.  Then, we’re going to Disney World!

Trip Variations

It’ll be different than last time in a few ways:

  • Length – We’re staying at Disney World for five nights.  It’s still a longer total trip, but less time at Disney made it more affordable.
  • Resort – Last time we stayed at a deluxe resort to get the best experience.  This time, we are staying at a moderate resort.
  • Dining – Instead of using the Disney meal plan, we’re paying our way.  We’ll still be eating at restaurants around the parks, but we think we’ll save money.  We found that with the meal plan (which was free as part of a promo last time), we were eating all the time.  We ate meals when we weren’t hungry because we felt we had to.  This time, we’ll eat less frequently.  Plus the kids can split meals and such.
  • Driving – We flew down to Disney World on our last trip.  Since we’re going to Florida near Easter, flight prices were not affordable for us, so we are driving.

Where Gift Cards Come In

It’s the holidays.  For some reasons, holidays find great deal on gift cards.  They mark them down so that you shop at the store.  So deals are bountiful and we took advantage.

Meijer

We do most of our grocery shopping at Meijer.  Now, Meijer has a whole display of gift cards.  You can buy gift cards for just about anywhere.  Amazon, Home Depot, Applebee’s.  And also Disney.

Meijer is running a special where, for every $100 you spend on gift cards, you get a $10 credit on your next bill.  Each person registered in their in-store rewards program can spend up to $1,000 to get this reward.

So, we each spent $1,000 on Disney gift cards and each got $100 towards future shopping trips.  By spending $2,000, we are getting $200 in groceries for nothing!

Target

This was another great find.  One day per year around the holidays, Target offers 10% off their own gift cards.  Each person can buy up to $300 in gift cards at 10% off.  You can then use those gift cards to buy other gift cards, including Disney cards.  So, we each bought $300 of Target gift cards for $270.  We then each ‘spent’ those on $300 of Disney gift cards.

Grand Total

So, when it’s all said and done, we spent $2,540 and ended up with:

  • $2,600 in Disney gift cards that we can apply toward our trip costs
  • $200 in Meijer gift cards that will pay for 2+ weeks of groceries.

By spending $2,540, which was money we were going to spend regardless, we ended up with $2,800 in spending power.  It doesn’t get much better than that!

The Offset

The only downside is that we lost a little bit of money on cash back rewards.  Had we spent the equivlant $2,540 directly with our travel agent, we would have gotten 3% cash back on our credit card.  That would have given us $76.20.

Our card gives us 2% cash back at Meijer, and 1% at Target, so we’ll end up with $45.40 in rewards.  So, while we’re gaining $260 in freebies, it does, in a sense, cost us around $30.  But we still come out ahead.  Plus, I always look at the cash back as extra, in that we never count on it.  So, either way we’re still coming out ahead.

All in all, we are pretty pleased with how things turned out.  I love when we can find ways to save on spending that would happen no matter what.

Readers, have you ever used gift card promotions as a way to keep money in your pocket?  Let me know what works for you in the comments below.  Thanks so much for reading!

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.

Disney World Problems: Unplanned And Unavoidable Issues

As I’ve outlined with my series of posts, our Disney World trip last November was an incredible experience.  It was made more so this way because of all the plans that my wife put into the trip. She spent hours and hours and it definitely paid off.  However, on a week long trip, it’s inevitable that you’ll have issues that no amount of planning could have avoided.  As much as they try to prevent them, Disney World problems exist.

Here are a couple of things that threw us for a loop and how we responded to them.

The Late Snack Delivery

I’m a frugal guy.  I know how expensive Disney World is for just about everything.  That said, we looked at various ways to save money while we were there.  One money saver was trying to get a good deal on all the snacks I knew that we’d need.

We had just recently joined Amazon Prime.  I looked into what they could offer.  It urns out that as Prime members, we have access to the Amazon Pantry.  This is a service  where you can order lots of things like snacks and water.  You do pay a nominal shipping fee, but it’s charged by the box, not by the item.  You also don’t get 2-day shipping, but it is normally pretty quick nonetheless.

We decided to use this. We even called Disney to find out the specifics about whether our hotel would handle this.  It turns out it’s a pretty common thing.  Theygave us the details we needed.  We also got a tip that we can have the shipment show up before we arrived.

Our arrival was on a Saturday, and when we placed the order, it was set for a Thursday delivery.  Perfect, right?

When Wednesday morning rolled around, I figured it was a bit odd that it was still preparing for shipment.  Since it was our first time with Prime, I assumed it was OK.  After all, it’s Amazon, right?

Amazon Isn’t Immune To Problems

Well, it turns out that Amazon had problems too!

Our shipment went out but with a new arrival date of the following Tuesday.  Yikes

We were shocked and very disappointed.  After all, the stuff arriving that late meant that we would have several days without the snacks and water, and we’d have way too much of it given that we’d have a few days less than planned to use it.  Since it’d already shipped, we couldn’t even cancel the order.

We ended up dealing with the issue with a two step approach:

  • My wife spoke to someone at Amazon and explained the situation. They explained that there had been a glitch in the Pantry system, and the problem that we had experienced was pretty widespread.  Basically anybody that used the system over the day or two period that we had was going to see delays.  There was no way they could re-ship the items to arrive sooner, and of course they couldn’t cancel it.  But, they did refund the full order amount, provide an additional $5 credit, and they had no problem with us keeping the order.  So, essentially we got the entire order for free.  Plus $5!
  • We doubled up. My wife was part of a number of Facebook groups where people talked about the trip and shared ideas.  One thing that she’d found was a local grocer that would deliver to your hotel.  We had looked into them prior to Amazon but they were more expensive, so we went with Amazon instead.  After we realized we’d be a few days with no snacks, we revisited them.  We ended up placing an order, and even had a code for free delivery, which was normally around $10 or so on top of the higher price.

In the end we ended up with a ton of snacks and water.  We ended up taking a lot of the snacks home (we still have a few pouches of Goldfish crackers, some applesauce pouches, and some other odds and ends), and left the remaining bottled water in the hallway before checkout.

About That Free Backpack

When we were packing for the trip, we realized that we would need something to carry stuff around to the parks for snacks, things to wipe off with, autograph books, and other various stuff.  We found a backpack that my wife had received for free, and I was assigned the task of wearing it around the parks.

For the first couple of days, all went well and there were no issues.  On the third day, after we got back to the room, I was changing my shirt, and my wife pointed out that I had some weird marks.  I looked in the mirror and saw that it looked like a rash on my right shoulder and under my armpit, in the area where the backpack was.

Strange.  But it didn’t hurt or bother me in any way so I kind of forgot about it.

The following day I went about my business and wore the backpack again.

HUGE MISTAKE!

This time when I got back to the hotel room and changed my shirt, I knew there was trouble.  The two or three small areas had turned into five or six big areas.  And now they were rubbed raw.

Then they started to hurt.mb-2016-01-bandage

Then the blisters started to form.

And that’s when it got really painful.

Many Days Left And I Was Hurting

The big problem wasn’t that we still had a few days left.  For that, it was no big deal not to wear the backpack.  I could just start carrying it around.  I also started thinking that maybe taking a free backpack wasn’t the best idea, especially when, after that, I noticed lots of other people wearing backpacks, but with better straps and additional straps to better spread out the weight, which presumably I didn’t have.

No, the big problem was that I had already inflicted the damage and because of the position of where all the wounds were, there was no possible way I could bandage them  or cover them up.  See, anywhere near your arm moves around a lot, and any type of band aid, gauze tape, or otherwise peels off right away after you start moving your arm around.

So the last couple of days of the trip were very uncomfortable.   Because some of the wounds were under my armpit, I was walking around with one arm a few inches away from my body.  I brought antibiotic cream and petroleum jelly to try to keep it from rubbing the shirt fabric anymore than it had to.

I had my Fitbit with me and we were walking between 15,000 and 18,000 steps per day, just about every day.  That’s a whole lot of rubbing.  By time time we left, I was raw, and the blisters were popping, and it was…ugly.

It was really only after I got back and was able to get back to work and minimize my movement that it was able to start healing.  Even then it took about two weeks before I could even go back to the gym (think about running and all the back and forth that each step takes…yikes).

I found it very strange that it only happened on one arm.  I figure I must carry more weight or handle things differently.  It also, I think, was the strap that I put on last and took off first anytime it went off or on.  Maybe that has something to do with.

It didn’t put too much of a damper on my vacation, but it definitely made things a bit more uncomfortable, that’s for sure!

Readers, what unexpected circumstances have thrown you for a loop on vacation, and how did you end up dealing with them?

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.