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!

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Disney on the cheap, part 2: The Bare Necessities, AKA, what to eat

This is the sequel to this post here where I looked at a multitude of overwhelming options for where to stay when you go to WDW, on the pretense of saving you money. 😉 No, actually, it’s TOTALLY about saving money, it’s just a lengthy discussy post. *G* And guess what? So’s the sequel! Read on…

Now I know in my last post I said we’d be looking at tickets next, but I decided to save that one for a later post, because it’s probably the one expense at WDW you can’t really massage away with a little know-how. So instead I’m going to look at some of the things you really NEED, and how those can take up a bit less of your budget.

Because we can’t all look under the rocks and plants and take a glance at the fancy ants. Hakuna Matata maybe, but I am afraid I have never been able to subsist on bugs while at WDW. 😉

I picked this picture partly b/c you can see all the food we got at the Garden Grill, and partly because Chip seems to like my son so much in it.

I picked this picture partly b/c you can see all the food we got at the Garden Grill, and partly because Chip seems to like my son so much in it.

 

Instead, here’s a good look at food options and ways to slim that cost down.

Part I: The Longest Part Is the Dining Plan Part

LOGO, PEOPLE. (c) the Walt Disney Company.

LOGO, PEOPLE. (c) the Walt Disney Company.

Now, first of all, you’re probably aware that Walt Disney World offers a dining plan. It has several iterations and I’m not going to go over them all and how they work or what’s included – that’s the subject of a different post. But I will talk a little about the Basic Dining Plan, which they promote as their best deal, and the cheapest DDP, the Quick Service plan. With these plans, Disney tells you, you can save a good deal of money.

And this is true. You’re going to eat, no matter what, and there’s a very good chance that as long as you’re at Disney you’re going to want to eat in the themed restaurants available. And personally, I LOVE Disney restaurants. It’s very hard to go to WDW and *not* at least look longingly at the dining options, even if you’re not particularly intersted in Cinderella’s Royal Table.

So, the Quick Service plan entitles everyone to two counter service meals and one snack for each night that you are staying at a Disney resort. It is an add-on option to the Magic Your Way package, meaning you can’t get it if you book a room-only offer and don’t add tickets (same goes for all levels of the DDP). The Basic Dining Plan, moderately but not hugely more expensive, gets you one table service, one counter service, and one snack per night of your stay. According to Disney, the basic plan can save you up to 40% off of food.

The big question is, are these plans worth it?

I’ve considered it long and hard and my opinion is – it totally varies. Sometimes OMG YES. Sometimes they’re AMAZING. But “sometimes” is not “always” because everyone has a different set of needs for their vacation, as I’m pretty sure I said in my previous “on the cheap” post; so you’ve got to weigh the pros and cons, and the particulars, of each plan. Which I will do in a different post at a later date; but for right now, I’ll be very general.

The Basic Dining Plan is great if you want to eat at a lot of character meals or buffets and you have the time to spend to do that. You can save a huge amount on this option – the cost per adult is about $56 more per night, and per child it’s $18. Kids do have to order off the child’s

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

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

menu, so look at the prices of the restaurants you most want to eat at, because this can be tricky. For instance: $18 per night per child seems like a very small amount, but if you look at the price of an easy sample day of dining at Hollywood Studios: lunch at Backlot Express, dinner at 50s Prime Time Cafe, and a Mickey Bar snack add up to $18.33 before tax. On the other hand, if you go with *dinner* at Backlot, the Mickey Bar, and a character lunch buffet at Hollywood & Vine, well, the cost of the lunch buffet for a child is $17. So you’re pretty much paying only for lunch that day and dinner is free. 🙂

For adults – same thing, except since you’re not limited to the kids’ menu and their prices, you have a few more options to make sure you get your money’s worth. But you have to remember, most counter service lunches are only going to run you about $10 pre-tax; on the dining plan you get your drink and a dessert free, so that’ll take you up to perhaps $16 or so on average. Then say you get a $4 snack so you’re at $20; you want to be sure that, for dinner, you’re going to get a $35 meal (entree, drink, and dessert) to be sure you get what you’ve prepaid for. That Hollywood and Vine character buffet is about $30 for an adult and that leaves you overspending for the day by about $5. On the other hand, if you go to Epcot’s Akershus Storybook Princess Dinner, the adult price on that is $47 and it includes a photo! So obviously – depending on your tastes, your time, and your decisions, this plan can be a great money-saver or just a convenience of you not having to worry about paying for your meals when you eat.

The other problem with the DDP is not about money, but about time: you have to be sure you’ve got the time, more or less every day, for a sit-down meal. Is this time you’d rather be spending in the parks? At the pool? Taking a nap? Or is this really what you’re looking forward to most? If “yes” to that last one, go for it.

The Quick Service plan? Well, again – tricky. For adults this is significantly cheaper per night than the basic: about $38 each. For kids though, it’s only about $3 cheaper. So here’s the very tricky part for children: “snacks” count up to about $4, tops. Nearly all kids menu counter service options are $5.99 before tax. So you’re basically paying $14.50 per night to get, tops, $16 worth of food and that’s assuming that your child wants a $4 snack and not a $2 snack (or they want a snack at all). Plus some of the kids’ menu options are $5.49. If your kids prefer those options, and a $2.50 snack, you’ll pay $14.50 per night for $13.50 worth of food… I know I’m picking at nits but you know, that’s the topic of this blog today. Saving money. 🙂 Those dollars CAN add up.

I also did not actually mention that you get these refillable mugs good for your entire stay. One per person on the plan. It's like a $15 value for the mug alone plus all the beverages you want to put in it. So there's that. Photo (c) the Disney Food Blog.

I also did not actually mention that you get these refillable mugs good for your entire stay. One per person on the plan. It’s like a $15 value for the mug alone plus all the beverages you want to put in it. So there’s that. Photo (c) the Disney Food Blog.

For adults it’s about the same; depending on what you get with your counter service credits, you might break even, you might save a tiny bit of money, but you also have the chance of losing a little bit of money.

If this blog was about convenience today, I’d say who cares? I’m nickel-and-diming this to death. But since it’s about saving money, I just want to point out that it takes some careful planning to be sure that you’re saving money with the basic DDP, and that your chances of actually *saving* with the QS DDP are pretty slim.

Do note, however; when the dining plans are free, this advice up here? All those lengthy paragraphs? THROW THEM OUT THE WINDOW. You’re not going to get a better deal! Doesn’t matter if it’s free Quick service at a value resort, or free basic at the others, or what. If it’s free, you are saving HUNDREDS of dollars, and it is worth it. Keep in mind you can’t combine offers, but you’re probably getting the better deal with the free dining plan.

Also, I can totally book you on this deal for serious, give me a call. ;)

Also, I can totally book you on this deal for serious, give me a call. 😉

Part II: So let’s assume you’re not getting the Dining Plan.

Putting all that above information aside; what other options do you have? No, they never have sales on Disney dining. 🙂 (In fact, at certian times of the year – usually holidays – prices at restaurants go up.) You *can* get a membership with Tables In Wonderland, which gives you a percentage discount at participating restaurants. Assuming you are not doing that, your best bet is:

BRING YOUR OWN FOOD! *lalalaaaa!*

Daddy's Hot Rod loved his raisins back then.

Dad’s Hot Rod loved his raisins back then.

I don’t mean you shouldn’t eat ANYTHING at the parks. Because that’s like blasphemy. But try to anticipate eating at least one meal with food you brought yourself. Nearly all the resorts now have a mini fridge in the rooms, so if you bring your own perishable foods you can keep them cool; bring breakfast supplies. Bring snacks. Disney never enforces a “no outside food” rule, perhaps because they know there would be mass revolts if they did. Bring whatever you need to make it through most of the day and make use of informational sites that post menus (*cough*) to figure out where you’d like to eat and what the costs are so you can anticipate what you’re likely to be spending.

You are also not a complete captive; if you run out of supplies and you can get offsite transportation, there are grocery stores nearby, like a local Publix that has, you know, normal prices. 😉 Depending on where you stay there are also options like lounges with free snacks, low-priced parties where you can pick up enough finger food to make a meal, or if you want to do just one buffet you can make that your only “bought” meal of the day – fill up while there and subsist off of snacks the rest of the day.

You can also split offerings at Counter Service restaurants. Some are better than others for this, but Flame Tree Barbeque has this great chicken and it’s HUGE, I mean it’s like an entire quarter chicken, for about $10 and it comes with slaw and beans. GUYS! 😀

The other option? Do a buffet… at BREAKFAST. 😀 They are always the least expensive buffet times, you get nice and full to start your day and can usually just skip lunch, and you still get the character interactions. Er, assuming it’s a character breakfast (unlike, say, Trail’s End – which by the way is good food and quite reasonably priced!).

Part III: I Open the Floor To You, The Reader, for Suggestions

I got these from Estelle, from This Happy Place Blog, and they apply mainly to money saving on food:

I know you aren’t this far yet but one suggestion as far as food is… eat in a lot of lounges. You can still get the Disney quality but not have the price of a full on restaurant experience. Not park hopping is another. And just cutting it close on other things in the parks: snacks, souvenirs and things. When does the Food and Wine start? That’s a great way to get an eclectic dinner on a budget too.

Food & Wine, it was just announced, will be held at Epcot from September 27 to November 11. If you’re unfamiliar, this is an international festival highlighting, uh… food and wine 🙂 My husband and I did this back in 2005 and it’s *terrific*. If you’re on the Dining Plan, most of the food offerings at each section in the World Showcase can be purchased with a snack credit! We had not used our snack credits for a full week and so on our last day we went around sampling a huge variety of food and well, we ended up very full! So I fully agree with this advice! My advice has to do with staying very basic to cut down on food costs, but Estelle’s great advice applies to trips where you are willing/able to pay for a little bit more, but you want to know how to get the most that you can. You don’t have to go sit down at all the restaurants in Epcot to get a taste of their amazing cuisine!

Part IV: My Choice, drumroll please…

Okay, so my trip in the fall, which I am still planning for. Since I’m trying to do this as cheaply as possible, I’m not really splurging on any extras, except the day we do the Magic Kingdom, where we will PROBABLY be doing Mickey’s Not-So-Scary Halloween Party. Hence the splurging. 🙂

My splurges/ice cream will no doubt include Dole Whips, because I've been told that I am insane for not loving them yet.

My splurges/ice cream will no doubt include Dole Whips, because I’ve been told that I am insane for not loving them yet.

This means I’m going to be bringing breakfast – non-perishable, because we’re camping and won’t have those mini-fridges – for most days, with the option of picking up something extra to share from Trail’s End To Go if we feel really peckish; we won’t be eating at any sit-down restaurants UNLESS I really feel like splurging and doing a Crystal Palace breakfast buffet. Which I am considering.

Instead my plan is to have breakfast covered, each get a snack every day (probably will usually be ice cream, haha, but we’ll see), and for remaining meals split one counter service on one, then each get a full counter service on the other. I camped before with this plan and it worked out fine, but that was just me, so it may not go perfectly with a 7-year-old child… but on the plus side, with the option to buy more if she’s starving, no harm done. I’ll still be trying to do it as cheaply as I can and I’ll let y’all know how well it works!

Have any other tips? Please leave a comment! ❤

Review: Marrakesh at Epcot

Image (c) tripadvisor.com.

Image (c) tripadvisor.com.

 

I’ve eaten at Restaurant Marrakesh twice, once pre-children and once with kids.  The experience sort of varied.  To sum up, it was better without the kids.  I don’t know if that means it’s gone downhill or just that it’s not one of the best restaurants for children; I’m really betting it’s the latter, but I’d have to go back to find out, I guess.  Here is the adult dinner menu, to start with.

The pre-kids experience was in 2005, while I was pregnant.  My husband and I arrived in a rainstorm and were soaking when we got there for our reservations.  In spite of that it was a great night.  We were on the DDP, so we got to choose whatever we wanted; I’ll be honest and say that it was so long ago that I don’t recall what I had, but it was delicious.  I’m a real lover of pretty much any ethnic/exotic food and a particular fan of anything meditarranean, east indian, or similar.  I know it had cous cous and I think it had lamb, though it might have been chicken.  Back then the DDP still included appetizers and desserts, so we got some chicken bastilla as well – oh lord, that was good.  And for dessert, although we were stuffed, we were given a platter of pastries like baklava and others.  We were so full we asked to be able to take it to go, and they let us.

Entertainment was spectacular – of course there was the bellydancer.  She was wonderful!

This is not the Marrakesh bellydancer, but she is gorgeous and at Epcot, so close enough.

This is not the Marrakesh bellydancer, but she is gorgeous and at Epcot, so close enough.

We loved the decor and the whole evening was comfortable, beautiful and pitch-perfect… one of our favourite dining experiences on that trip.

Anyway, our first trip with the children in 2011, we had the free DDP again and so we made reservations there.  As I said, it was just not as good.  Part of this might have been because my son was 1, and thus not on the DDP, and as a result I did a lot of sharing with him off my plate (which is totally allowed, btw).  This was no trouble at all when we were at a buffet, but trickier at ala carte restaurants because I had to find things off the adult menu I knew he would like; fortunately a lot of the time my daughter was willing to share as well.  But not always. ;P

In any case, I’m not sure why I did this, but instead of getting Chicken cous cous I got Lamb Shank cous cous to share with my son.  Who, at the time, would eat anything – but did not like the lamb.  And to be honest, the lamb was not well-cooked.  Lamb can be hard to cook properly, I realize, so I am gracious about that; it tasted fine, but it was tough, so not the easiest for my little guy – or me– to chew.  And there was a lot less meat and a lot more bone than I’d have expected.  And there were bone fragments. 😦

Actually this meal put me off lamb, which I had really liked for some time and rarely got to have… I suppose that’s why I ordered it like a dope (lol).  But what happened was that my son decided not to eat it but to smear it around, and it got in his hair.  And even though he got a shampoo, his hair still smelled like lamb.  For the next three days.  And then he got a stomach virus (NOT, for the record, from the lamb!  It spread through my family, was a legit bug, not food poisoning; I got it 2 days later) and his hair still smelled like lamb the entire time.  So yeah.  I can’t really do lamb anymore. 😛

But that’s not Disney’s fault, lol.  A lot of this I do chalk up to my own bad choices.  My husband wasn’t quite as impressed with the food either, if I recall, but my daughter had a GREAT time; she got chicken tenders and got up and had a belly dancing lesson.  Which goes to show you, it’s all in the experience as much as the food.  I don’t even remember if we had pastries at dessert or not; the rest of it is kind of blocked out.

The decor is just as nice as ever, though.  It’s honestly just such a comfortable restaurant – everything is all plush and nice.  Every Moroccan restaurant I’ve been to has this same thing going.  Like sitting on pillows. 😀  Service was quite good; I’ve read reviews that said that the staff at Marrakesh is not attentive, but that’s not something I’ve ever experienced.  They were fine with us. I was just super distracted and ultimately I believe I had to take the boy outside before everyone else was done, which is probably why I don’t remember a lot of the last bit, haha!

So over all: my recommendation would be to give this restaurant a shot, without young children, and keep an open mind about the cuisine you’re going to have. And I’m cautious about that, because I wasn’t hot on my lamb last time, but there were external factors seeping into that; as far as I know the chicken is still fine.  I still really love the look of the restaurant and the bellydancer is still terrific.  I’m not writing this one off until I give it a third try and see what happens.