Disney Trip Planning: 180 Days Out (Well, more like 177)

Howdy friends and neighbours!  It’s been a long time – I keep meaning to come back and get into the blog habit again, but things keep getting in the way. 😛 So here I go to try again!

That's the spirit, Ralph!

That’s the spirit, Ralph!

I figure maybe I can make weekly updates on my planning for my family’s upcoming Disney World trip.  This is our first trip as a full family since 2011; my daughter was just about to turn 5, and now she’s 9. (If you’ve followed at home long enough you know that my daughter and I took a trip together in 2013, which was awesome! but now it’s time for my son and husband to get to come too ^_^)

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Which WDW Offer is Better? Free Dining, or Room Discounts?

With the two competing promotions at Walt Disney World this Fall/early Winter, it’s worth comparing them to see which is the better deal.  It’s easy to automatically think “Well, free dining. Right?”  After all, you get your food taken care of, you’re good to go!  Right?

Well, there is more to consider than just cost; there’s also timing, and resort choice, and it’s worth at least briefly considering whether or not you want to spend the time needed to invest in the Disney Dining Plan.  Even if it’s free, there is a time deficit involved in having a table service meal each and every day.  Don’t get me wrong, if the dining is a big part of the experience for you, it’s a no-brainer!  But if it’s not…

So let’s cover that first.  Let’s say that you really want to have one character dining experience in the course of your meal.  Let’s say you want to eat at Cinderella Castle.  (Aim high! Dream big!  Get your ADRs early! LOL!)  You’re going to be staying for four nights, and other than that one meal, you don’t really care where you eat and you want to see as much of the parks as possible.  In that case, what do you do?  Do you get the full Dining Plan for free, or do you go for a room discount and pay out of pocket on the Cinderella meal (which, btw, takes 2 table service credits so that is your TS for two nights, not just one; for a meal with two adults the out-of-pocket cost would be approximately $120).

In this case, a free DDP would actually make sense in most cases. If you’re not interested in where else you go, using up two table service credits on Cinderella makes sense. That leaves you with two other table service restaurants to pick out, and still with four quick service credits.  However, if your tastes are a bit lower – let’s say you love Sci-Fi Dine-In and eat there every year, but that’s the only place you feel like sitting down and being waited on… well if you’re staying at a moderate or a deluxe, skip the DDP, pay out of pocket on meals, and get a discounted room.  If you’re staying at a Value, getting the Quick Service DP for free is probably a good idea.

The other biggest consideration is your resort choice.  Determining whether or not the DDP is the best value for you has a lot to do with what resort you are choosing to stay at, vs. what your savings are for meals.  Looking SPECIFICALLY at cost-savings for two adults, it goes like this:

For Value resorts the free Quick Service dining is better than you’d get on room-only.  Period, hands-down.  A 4-night, 4-day package with park-hopper tickets at Pop Century on the free dining promo might cost you $1232; the same dates with the 15% room discount and 4-day park-hoppers would cost $1155, and if you add Quick Service dining, it’s $1491.  It’s clear that the Free Dining is the winning promo here, unless you absolutely don’t intend to eat inside the parks at all (good luck with that).

For Moderate resorts it’s a bit trickier, but still tips in the Free Dining’s favour.  The same package as above, with free base dining instead of quick-service dining, might cost $1532 at Caribbean Beach, and the same dates with the 20% room discount and park-hoppers is $1369.  Add the base Dining Plan to this and it’s $1749; add the Quick Service Dining Plan instead, and it’s $1687.  So obviously this leans towards the Free Dining plan again, since you’d save over $200 vs adding on the DDP to the room discount and ticket combo.  BUT… buying just the room-and-ticket combo with the discounted room saves you over $150, and if you’re looking for the best price and willing to budget on your food, you want to really consider the room discount.  Keep in mind that even with the dining plans, if you want to eat 3 meals a day you will still pay out of pocket on one of them.  But be prepared, bring some extra food, and you can keep your dining costs down.  On the other hand, if you want to put it all on red and have a table service dinner each night, well, you know what to do. 😉

Last, let’s look at Deluxe resorts. This is where the lines blur.  The 4-night/4-day package with free dining could cost $2187 at Animal Kingdom Lodge.  Not bad.  Take the same length of stay and tickets, with the 30% discount on the room, and you pay $1748.  Add the base Dining Plan to that and your cost is $2217… only $30 more than the free DDP offer.  Change the base Dining Plan into a Quick Service Dining Plan and your total drops to $2065, $120 *less* than the free DDP.  That means you can get the quick service dining plan and lunch at Cinderella Castle for the same price as the free base DDP offer. Or you can drop the Cinderella lunch and just save money!

Of course, dates and availabilities and resorts are going to vary.  The point is that you want to know what your options are, and what your needs are, before you say “Oooh, a Deluxe Resort AND Free Dining? How can I lose!?” or the like.  Consider all your options to know what’s going to meet your requirements and desires the best, because one vacation doesn’t fit all!

Contact Fairytale Journeys By Rebecca Kelly for lots of help and advice planning your Disney World vacation this fall… or next winter, spring, summer, etc!  Also specializing in Disneyland, Disney Cruises, and more. 🙂  Also on Facebook!

Will Free Disney Dining be extended to Fall? –Yeppers.

A month or so ago I posted about whether or not the Free Dining at Disney World offer would be extended past September.  As of yesterday we know the answer is yes!

And there was much rejoicing. 😀

'Raaaaay!

‘Raaaaay!

However, it’s not that straightforward. The offer is not just “Come in the Fall and get Free Dining!” as it often is.  Some resorts are excluded, many dates are excluded… And with ticket price and package increases, in some cases, you will save more money by keep the reservation you have.  Plus, availability is limited.  All in all, it’s a bit of a headache!

Are you not sure how this is going to work out for your trip?  Is it a little overwhelming?  You are NOT alone. 😀

So let me try to break it down for you!

"I am the Wondrous Wizard of the Disney Dining Plan!"

“I am the Wondrous Wizard of the Disney Dining Plan!”

The basics are thus: book a trip at a Walt Disney World resort during the valid dates, and your package will include a free dining plan.  If you book at a participating Value resort, you get a free Quick Service plan (entitles each person on the reservation to 2 counter-service meals and one snack per night of the stay, plus a refillable mug); if you book at a Moderate, Deluxe, or Deluxe Villa you get a base Dining Plan (entitles each person to 1 counter service meal, 1 table service meal, and one snack per night, plus a refillable mug).

But you gotta know your details.

Everything tastes better when it's shaped like Mickey.

Everything tastes better when it’s shaped like Mickey.

First of all, there are blackout dates.  And there are a lot of them.  The offer is valid “for arrivals most nights Sep. 29 – Oct. 2, Oct. 18 – Nov. 2, Nov. 11-23 and Dec. 12-22, 2013.”  But wait!  What does “for arrivals” mean??  It means that if you arrived on October 2 and you spend a week there, you get the free dining because you arrived on a night included in the plan.  But if you arrive October 3 and stay two weeks, you are outta luck!  (Don’t worry, though. There is a room-only promo that covers a lot of the blackout dates!  You can buy your own dining plan with the money you save!)

That is a lot of holes, though.  That is a swiss-cheesy schedule.  But as long as you’re arriving on one of those nights, you get the free dining plan, right?

Well.

If you want to stay here you pay for your OWN food!

If you want to stay here you pay for your OWN food!

Point two: there are some resorts that aren’t included in the offer. From the fine print: “Excludes Disney’s All Star Movies Resort, Disney’s Art of Animation Resort, Disney’s Port Orleans Resort – French Quarter, The Villas at Disney’s Grand Floridian Resort and Spa, 3-Bedroom Villas and campsites.”  If you are travelling with a family of 5, for instance, you’ll have to stay either at All Star Music’s Family Suites or Port Orleans Riverside (they have trundlebeds in certain rooms), or stay at Art of Animation without a free dining plan. (Again, there is a room-only discount available for certain dates at AoA!  Not all, but some!  So you can still save 15% on the suites depending on when you go, and put the savings towards your meals.)  You could also get two adjoining rooms – and in my experience, there are times when this is a cheaper option than getting a family suite.

“Okay,” you say, “this is all fine.  I am already booked to arrive on October 19, I’m staying in the Caribbean Beach Resort, bring on my dining plan!”  Unfortunately, even this is not that simple.  See, here’s the thing: Disney is not just opening every room that is not yet booked to this plan.  They have allocated a specific number of available rooms for the free dining offer, and various resorts are already booked through their promo availability.  Yes, full, 36 hours after the promo dropped. (Actually, 12, if what I was hearing yesterday was right.  There were numerous places with no availability yesterday afternoon.)  You may need to switch resorts to get the dining plan.  You may need to go to a higher, or a lower, resort category.  And you may just plain not save any money by making the switch.

I’ve said before that the free dining plan offer is always the best offer you can get – and now I’m taking that back.  Sometimes, it’s not.  Sometimes, under certain circumstances, you will get a better value if you book under a promotion and pay for the DP, or even if you just stick with the rate you got.  Remember, the room/ticket package is non-discounted; you’re just not paying extra for the DP.  So if you booked months ago, before the ticket prices went up, rebooking now with the free DP will actually drive your total up – and depending on your length of stay, it could be close to the price you would pay if you paid for the DP.  It’s a matter of context.

Having said all that, do you still want to get free dining?  I’m sure you probably do!  Because even if it’s not saving you hundreds of dollars, that dining plan is convenient and it’s FREE.  Can you get it?  Well, try!  I hope the above clarified things for you as to what to expect!  Oh, and the last question: is there a minimum length of stay to get the dining plan?  Well, most of the marketing says you must book a non-discounted 6-night/7-day stay, and “ask about shorter stay lengths”.  I have heard that you can get the free DP offer for stays of 3 nights or more, with a minimum of 2-day tickets.

Seriously. Mickey-shaped = delicious.

Seriously. Mickey-shaped = delicious.

 

If all of this is still confusing and overwhelming, and that’s before you get on the phone and try to book this stuff, guess what?  You can get someone to do it for you!  Me! 😀  If you’ve already booked a WDW vacation within the last 30 days and you want to add this promo – not to mention get your dining reservations in while you still can – you can transfer your reservation to me and get a free gift card as thanks! Once that’s done, I can get on the phone for you and sit there on hold for hours (I’m not exaggerating) and take care of any changes you need to make.  If you want to book a new trip and get the free dining, I am beyond ready to help you with that.  We’ll get you set up and ready to go this weekend, or sooner!

Leave me a comment here, or email me at rebeccak@fairytalejourneys.com, or visit me at http://www.facebook.com/fairytalejourneysbyrebeccakelly/, OR *deep breath* get a quote from my website at http://fairytalejourneysbyrebecca.weebly.com.  Or there’s also Twitter, which you can get to from the module lower on my main page. 🙂  Anything!

WDW-FY14-Q1-Free-Dine-Web-Banner-728x90

Is Free Dining Coming to Walt Disney World in Fall 2013???

You actually can get that much food on this plan if you know what you're doing.

There is a rumour that it might be… but I don’t know!  WATCH THIS SPACE, and when we know for sure, I’ll say so! 😀  I’m hearing that it will be announced (IF it is going to be announced!) in August.  So hang tight for another few weeks and we’ll know!

If it does come out, why not get some assistance snapping up your dining quickly with some expert advice?  As a travel agent I’m trained with Disney destinations and can happily book you a great – dining included – stay!  Or if you book your own trip and transfer to me within 30 days of booking, not only do you get assistance, you get a transfer “thank you” gift of $25 or more! 🙂  See http://fairytalejourneysbyrebecca.weebly.com for more info, or email me at rebeccak@fairytalejourneys.com.   But mostly let’s just cross our fingers that the free dining comes out! 😀

Speculation on Free Disney Dining

I had a search hit on this blog with the phrase “Do you think Disney will extend free dining through October?” and that’s a really good question, and so I’m going to make a quick post about it.

 

First of all: THIS IS ALL SPECULATION. NONE of this is official and it’s not even Official Rumour.  It’s me looking at facts, thinking about a few things I’ve heard, and pondering a bit.  This is all MY idea and not something I heard through the grapevine, I have NO sources, none of that.  So don’t take this anything but a bit of thinking on my part, okay?

I'm gonna let Mickey explain this one to you, guys.

I’m gonna let Mickey explain this one to you, guys.  Disclaimer: Mickey Mouse was not involved in the writing of this blog post.

 

With that out of the way, here is what I’ve heard.

 

The biggest thing I’ve heard lately is that Disney Parks’s revenue is up 73% for the last quarter.  That’s pretty huge.  With all the new attractions at both Disneyland and WDW, plus the two new cruise ships, they’re obviously making really good money.

 

Now, in terms of discounts: in the past Disney has used free dining to drive attendance throughout the year.  In fact most of my recent big trips had free dining, and they were in October (several years ago) and February (2011).  I can’t remember the last time there has been a mid-to-late Fall period without free dining.  But this year, nothing in the winter; it’s announced (a bit late) for one month only, in September, with no indication as to whether it will be extended… what’s up?

That thinky-hard face I know we all wear sometimes.

That thinky-hard face I know we all wear sometimes.

 

So putting these things together, here’s my thinking.  Disney is doing EXTREMELY well right now.  Stocks are up, attendance is up, all the money they’ve poured into Cars Land and New Fantasyland is paying off and they’re huge.  But the Free Dining Plan is the single most popular promo that they run.  There are people who quite literally count on that package and wait for it each year – rely on it for their vacations.  How much money do you think Disney actually makes off of it? (This is entirely me speculating, and I don’t know the answer.)  They usually run it during their off-seasons to drive attendance when they might otherwise be much slower than usual, which is why it traditionally isn’t offered in the summer, or spring break, or etc.  Now looking at this past winter, when they didn’t have a free dining plan, the question is: WAS there an off-season?  Price-wise yes, but attendance-wise?

 

My thinking is that September-only free DDP is a test, to see just how much more attendance jumps from this promo in September compared to a rough comparison to Jan/Feb or so without the DDP.  If they see a significant bump from it, I’m betting it will be extended later in the fall.  If they don’t – if the numbers stay about even – who knows?  Would they get rid of the free dining plan entirely when it’s as popular as it is?  Disney actually does play close to the chest when it comes to their discounts – they don’t announce early so people look for hints wherever they can.  The answer is I have NO idea.

So what I'm saying is, I have no idea. Thanks, Pierre Trudeau.

So what I’m saying is, I have no idea. Thanks, Pierre Trudeau.

 

If the plan will be extended, we’ll probably hear around June or so, which is about when the discounts for October are usually announced anyway.  So let’s keep our fingers crossed!  And meanwhile, remember that you can book a trip and cancel for a full refund any time up to 45 days before your arrival date, so there’s no harm in getting a reservation in early just in case!

Free Disney Dining Plan, September Only!

The big news right now is that Disney Visa cardholders can book a Magic Your Way package for September and get the Dining plan for free. This is of course not a new promo, but it is the most popular one that Walt Disney World offers, and with good reason: it’s awesome.

I mean, the one thing that is a given at Disney is that you’re going to have to eat. And, yes, you COULD bring your own food but there’s a pretty good chance that you’re going to want to at least try one or two of their restaurants, and if you don’t, you’re going to sit there and wish you were. And that food you’re bringing yourself, it’s not free either.

So the Free Dining offer is a great way to pare down your budget and sample some of the best dining at Disney. Honestly, I do feel like there are times when the Dining Plan is not the most financially sound choice to save you money (and I’m going to write a post about that), but when it’s free, it’s THE BOMB. You have nothing to lose!

Anyway, this offer in September is the first time the free dining plan has been offered for 2013, and thus far it’s only for vacations which are starting between September 2 and September 25. Will it be extended? I don’t know. No word on that, literally none, so far. I think they’re looking to see just how much it boosts attendance this year. Traditionally it’s offered through the Fall, so if it has a major impact I’m crossing my fingers that we’ll see it offered at least through October as well!

Because if not this is totally me. Image (c) VisualPhotos.com

Because if not this is totally me. Image (c) VisualPhotos.com

But yes… as you’ve probably noticed, this offer is currently for Disney Visa cardholders only. If you don’t have a Disney Visa, you have two options: A) wait for it to open to the general public (which it will), or B) get a Disney Visa. Let’s talk about Option B for a second.

I have this card design. Plus a couple others.

I have this card design. Plus a couple others.

I love my Disney Visa card. I use it all the time. Yes, I am a Disney fanatic, but honestly it’s a great card. 🙂 It’s a Chase card, and they’re well-run. The Disney benefits are terrific. It’s easy to manage and there is no annual fee. You get $1 in Disney Rewards for every $100 you put on the card. If you use it for groceries etc and pay it off right away there’s no interest accumulation. And the Disney Rewards can be redeemed on pretty much ANY kind of Disney purchase, from a movie, a CD, a Disney store purchase, or park reservations or purchases. You can get a Disney Visa Card at this link. Thank me later. (No, full disclosure, I do not get ANY kickback at all if you get one or not. It’s just a benefit, I love mine, and I recommend it!)

Now there is fine print, stuff you need to know before booking this offer.

1) It’s only valid on non-discounted reservations. So if you’re using a AAA discount, or a Florida Resident package, or the like, you can’t get free dining without switching your deal; there’s no discount stacking. That’s OK. Trust me. Under most circumstances, Free Dining wins, unless you really only plan on eating only one meal in the parks each day and bringing all your own snacks and other food.

2) Moderate, Deluxe, and most Deluxe Villas are eligible for the Basic Dining plan (ie, one Table Service meal, one Counter Service meal, and one Snack per night of your stay); most Value resorts are up for the Quick Service dining (2 Counter Service meals, one Snack).

3) Campsites at Fort Wilderness, 3-bedroom Deluxe Villas, and Art of Animation rooms do not participate in this offer. Why? I don’t know for sure but my guess is because the first is already exceedingly inexpensive and they stand to lose money with this offer, and the second and third are getting the bulk of the business of those particular resort types this year, so they’re looking to spread the clientele a bit farther.

4) The fine print on the offer:

Advance reservations required. With the Disney Dining Plan, children ages 3-9 must choose from children’s menu if available. Excludes gratuities and alcoholic beverages. Some table service restaurants may have limited or no availability at time of package purchase. Deposit must be made at the time of booking with your Disney’s Visa Card or Disney Rewards Redemption Card. Subject to availability.

This means: You pay tips; you pay for alcohol; you have to prove that you have an active Disney Visa so you may have to make a $200 deposit when you book this deal, even if it’s on an existing reservation you’ve already made a deposit on. I’m not sure of that last one, but I’ve heard it. I do know that the vacation has to be booked on the Disney Visa card, though, so if you’re making a new reservation, you’ve got to use that. Alternatively you can use a Disney Rewards card with the Rewards Dollars you’ve saved up by USING your Disney Visa Card! 😀

5) I love my Disney Visa card. I so, so do.

6) Although I can’t find any details on dates that aren’t available for this offer, I did notice that the offer says “This special offer is valid for arrivals most nights between September 2 and September 25”. This means two things: first, there might be blackout dates. Second, note that it says arrivals, so that means that as long as you start your trip by September 25, you can keep the Dining Plan going for up to two weeks (14 days is the limit)!

Do as the picture says. Image (c) TouringPlans.com.

Do as the picture says. Image (c) TouringPlans.com.

7) If you are at a Value and want a Basic DP, instead of the Quick Service, you can upgrade by paying the difference between the two plans for each night. That comes out to about $18 per adult, per night. You can upgrade from any plan to a higher one by paying the difference!

8) And finally, the DDP is good for everyone ages 3 and up, so what about kids under 3? Well, it’s kind of like they don’t exist, basically. *G* They aren’t charged for park entry, and they aren’t charged on the DDP. BUT that doesn’t mean they eat free, it only means they don’t charge you on the DDP. If you go to a buffet and pick up a plate for your baby, have at it, go to town! However if you go someplace ala carte, you have two options: share your meal with your youngster, or pay for something extra for them. Same goes for counter service restaurants. It’s really not hard to keep your little ones fed, but it’s important to know going in how that’s going to work.

Okay, some sample pricing just to give you an idea. Disney gives sample pricing for mid-September on, with the note “lower prices may be available” for the first half of the month. Let’s look and see:

From Monday September 2 until Monday September 9, for two adults, one 10-year-old, and one under-10, we have:

Pop Century: $2288.65 – $81 a day, per person. This includes the Quick Service dining.

Caribbean Beach: $2839.87 – $101 a day, per person.

Animal Kingdom Lodge, standard room: $3698.31 – $132.08 a day, per person.

Contemporary, Atrium Club level: $6300.35 – $225 a day, per person.

Boardwalk Villas, 1-bedroom villa: $5543.31 – $198 a day, per person.

These prices all include 7-day park hopper passes, and of course FOOD. 🙂

As I said, the offer should be opening to the general public in a few days so non-cardholders can get in on it too… however the offer is going to fill up fast, especially because it’s only for a month! But here is a plus of using a travel agent, okay? Okay hear me out. Okay:

If you book NOW, and make a deposit NOW, then in a few days when the offer opens to the public I can call and add the DDP for you, for free. I’ll take care of it and you don’t have to do a THING, and you’ve got your dates all lined up in advance. It’s what I’m here for! It’s what I like to do! Let’s go for it! 😀

Any other questions? Leave a comment and I’ll answer! Want a quote for different days, different resort, or different set of party members? Email me at rebeccak@fairytalejourneys.com!