Category Archives: Tips &Tricks
One of the biggest discussions for many people when planning a vacation to Disney World…especially if you are trying to save money….is the one about how you are going to get there. You know, it’s the “are we driving or flying” conversation. Obviously, many folks don’t have an option, but if you do, you may very well have considered driving…or maybe you even have driven in the past. If you’re trying to have an Affordable Disney Vacation, then driving may be the best and most economical solution for you.
But will you and everyone in your family go crazy on a drive to Disney World? Can you survive with your sanity intact? Sure you can!
I live in Maryland, about 14 hours of straight-through driving down I-95, from my house to Orlando. I know this because we have driven to Disney World on more than one vacation. Like anything else related to planning a Disney vacation successfully, planning a long drive will also require some planning to insure that everyone enjoys it. Because you can all enjoy it.
Here are a few tips that may help make it a magical journey for your family:
- Personally, I’m a big fan of breaking the trip up into manageable parts. I know that not everyone likes doing it that way, and honestly, I think it’s a matter of preference. I grew up taking “road trips” every summer, so I love the idea of stopping, exploring, and seeing new things and places along the way. Now I readily admit that this can add time and cost to your trip, so weigh the adventure aspect against the money and time.
- If you have the luxury of time at least, consider getting off the main roads from time to time and enjoy the local scenery. Taking even these brief breaks can recharge everyone’s battery, and allow the driver to relax a bit. Better yet, pack a picnic lunch or dinner, and stop for a relaxed break where the kids (and grownups) can stretch their legs and let off a little steam.
- Games for the kids are a must. You can do this several ways: you can purchase some simple “car games” that will be entertaining but not take up a lot of room, or you can opt for the traditional games that we all grew up with: looking for license plates from other states, “I Spy” etc. Don’t discount how much fun these can be either: we probably logged many hours….and laughs….over the years just playing I Spy. You would be amazed how quickly time flies! If you opt to buy some new games for your children, keep them “new” to preserve the desirability factor, and introduce one at a time. Maybe each time you get to a new state, or something like that.
- I think many/most folks have access to car or portable dvd players so this is the perfect time to make use of them. Bring along some favorite movies or shows to pass the time. Again, having some new ones just for the trip would be even better: if you don’t want to buy, then rent them. Clearly, anything Disney is appropriate here. Bringing out dvds of the Disney parks can build the excitement as well as help everyone decide on what they want to see and do once you get to Disney World.
- This last tip is one of our favorites, and is, in fact, one that we still use today to drive to the beach: audio books. This can be a fascinating way to spend the time no matter your age, and honestly no matter if you have read the book or not. Listening to someone read and “act out” the story can really pull you into a great book…and before you know it, you’ve traveled several hundred miles.
Driving to Disney World does not have to be something to be dreaded: in fact, it can be a great deal of fun! The key is to do some planning, be flexible, and use some imagination. Before you know it, you’ll be driving under the welcome sign….and you just may wonder where the time went so fast!
This question comes from Christina, who asks: “Is there a Disney Dining Plan for Disneyland. I hear you guys talk about Disneyworld all the time what about Disneyland?
Christina, thanks for reading and for your question. I’ll answer your second question first: We mainly talk about Disney World because it’s the resort we go to the most often, but we’re hoping to rectify that in the future and put out more Disneyland information.
There isn’t technically a dining plan at Disneyland, at least not like the one that’s offered at Disney World. The way it works is that you pre-pay for your meals and are given vouchers. Depending on the number of days, you’ll be given a voucher for specific meals (character and breakfast). The number of table service meals isn’t equal to the number of days you’re there, as it is in WDW. The other vouchers are equal to $5, $10, and $15. If you don’t spend the entire amount of your voucher, you won’t get your change back, so you have to work to get just the right amount or lose money.
You won’t find a lot of information on this plan, mainly because most people don’t use it. If you want to pay for your meals ahead of time, something that I prefer to do just to avoid “sticker shock” during my trip, consider buying gift cards. Not only will you get your change back, you can use them at Downtown Disney, where there are a lot of good restaurants.
Hope this helps!
Have a Disney question? We have answers! Write us at Chip and Co. We answer every question.
Disney Confidential — Dessert off the 2011 Dining Plan, Toontown Speculation, and Is That Justin Bieber in My Car?
Is Disney doing away with the included dessert on the dining plan? It looks that way. 2011 packages released by Disney to travel agents in the United Kingdom don’t include dessert on either the quick service or regular dining plan. The refillable mug that comes with the quick service plan has also been dropped. 2011 packages aren’t available for sale in the U.S. at this time, but U.K. packages are usually a good indication of what will be available in the States later in the year. Disney certified travel agents in the U.K. are confirming this information, so either the desserts are gone for everyone in 2011 or British guests are being punished for something. Not eating their veggies, perhaps?
Move along, Brits! Nothing to see here.
This change is no doubt in response to complaints that the dining plan is just too much food. Last time there were changes, prices did go down, so let’s hope this works out for everyone.
I’m hearing rumors that the 1900 Park Fare character dinner is going to change from Cinderella, her Prince, Stepmother and the evil Stepsisters to a villain dinner. Let’s be honest, Cinderella is great, but the real draw at 1900 Park Fare has long been the campy Stepsisters and Lady Tremaine. They’re hilarious. I think if they can make this fun and not too scary for little kids, this will be one of popular character meals in WDW.
Why, hello Gaston. Need any help with the big words?
Finally, one last food rumor. I’m told that the 180-day advanced dining reservation change (now 190 days for resort guests) is a promotion to get people to book their dining reservations online. At this point, we don’t know if this is permanent or not.
I’ve heard that there are plans for a new Disney Vacation club resort next to Blizzard Beach. The resort will be a free standing resort (in other words, not attached to a deluxe resort), something along the lines of Saratoga Springs, and will have a California theme. Likely? It’s possible. We know that Disney wants to keep new DVC inventory available. With sales at Animal Kingdom Villas and Bay Lake Tower closing out in the next few years, it’s likely that plans are already in the works for a new resort. The rumor that this resort could feature a back entrance to Hollywood Studios is intriguing as well. As nice as that would be however, I’m putting my money on Disney building another tower at Bay Lake where the Contemporary Resort’s Garden Wing currently stands. Everything is already in place and that location has sold well for DVC, even in this bad economy. It’s really a no-brainer.
It looks like Mickey’s Toontown Fair won’t be closing until sometime in Spring 2011. I’m betting it will shut down before the Spring Break rush, sometime before mid-February. This means you still have time to “bake” a cake in Minnie’s kitchen.
Is it just me or is Justin Bieber everywhere? I actually went out to my car this morning and he was sitting in it. You know, because he can’t drive yet and needed a ride. Because he’s fifteen. And everywhere.
But seriously. In a radio interview, Justin revealed his secret crush and it’s not Disney stars Miley Cyrus and Selena Gomez, with whom he has worked in the past. It appears that Miley just isn’t “his type” and neither is Selena, who he calls “very pretty.” So who is Justin’s type? None other than Mrs. Jay-Z, Beyonce Knowles.
When asked to comment, Miss Knowles mumbled something about not being ready for this Jelly.
The blogis reporting that Rapunzel, Mother Gothel and Flynn will begin meeting guests in the Magic Kingdom in October, just ahead of the release of Tangled in November.
I think that about does it for today.
Got a tip? Send it to Anonymouse@chipandco.com. Thanks!
This question comes from Michael, who wants to know about renting Disney Vacation Club (DVC) points: “How does it work? When you rent points do you have to sign up for the DVC service? What other fees are there?”
David, renting points can save you a lot of money and it’s fairly easy, at least from the standpoint of the transaction itself. The most complicated issue is finding someone you trust to work with, but we’ll get to that later.
First, you don’t have to join DVC and there are no other fees. In fact, unlike other timeshare businesses where staying at their timeshare requires you to sit through a sales pitch, you’ll never be approached by Disney during your stay about joining DVC. Once you check in, Disney doesn’t treat you any differently than a regular DVC owner, so you’ll have access to Magical Express, the dining plan, Disney transportation, free parking and all the other benefits enjoyed by resort guests. You’ll even be greeted with a “welcome home” when you drive in the gate, something that may give you the warm fuzzies and make you think about buying DVC yourself.
Finding out how many points you need.
Familiarize yourself with the point charts before you start shopping around for a rental. You can find point charts and other important information about DVC over at Mouseowners, a website devoted to DVC. The point system is simple and basically works like this: You check the chart and see that a week in a one-bedroom standard view villa during adventure (low) season at the Villas at Animal Kingdom rents for 169 points. The same type of room in an extremely popular resort such as Bay Lake Towers goes for 201 points. At $10 a point, your entire transaction for Animal Kingdom would be $1690 (you don’t have to worry about taxes). Points are higher on Fridays and Saturdays and during busier times of the year.
In general, I’ve found that renting points can get you a one-bedroom at most resorts for about the same cost as renting a standard room in a moderate resort (without discounts). Depending on the discounts available at the time, you’ll sometimes find that renting a DVC unit through Disney is actually cheaper than renting through an owner, but you’ll need about a 40% discount for this to be the case. The benefit of renting the same unit through Disney is that they have a much more favorable cancellation policy and you know who you’re renting from.
The cost per point is often in flux. DVC owners are smart. They know when Disney is offering discounts and they know when they need to adjust their prices. Prices are often higher farther out and at the better resorts during busier times of the year. Bay Lake Tower, as Disney’s newest DVC property, is more expensive than Saratoga Springs, for example, where you’ll almost always find availability. Boardwalk Villas during Food and Wine is nearly impossible to get, so expect to pay top price. And while it’s new and beautiful, the Villas at Animal Kingdom Lodge almost always have availability, possibly due to it’s location. While $10 per point is standard across the board, some owners advertise as low as $7 and as high as $13 per point. Points brokers usually charge $13 per point, even for less desirable resorts. Brokers often advertise last-minute rentals for around $7.
Having said this, I’ll be blunt: I’m not going to pay $13 per point for any resort unless I go through a broker. From what I’ve seen, owners who advertise on the higher end, say $12 and $13 a point, are much less likely to close a deal unless it’s for a really desirable time of year. My advice to you? Don’t pay that much unless you’re going at Christmas and want to stay at BLT or at Villas at Wilderness Lodge. And then, if you’re paying that much, go through a broker and save yourself some hassle.
One last thing about costs. If you’re willing to gamble, you can rent a guaranteed reservation close to your arrival date. Here’s how this works. A DVC member makes a reservation with the intention of going. At some point his plans change, but he is at the point where if he cancels, he’ll lose his points. His best bet is to rent out his points at a lower rate to someone who can travel on the spur of the moment. I’ve seen guaranteed reservations for as low as $5 per point, although $6 is more common. This situation works well if you have some flexibility and are open to trying different resorts. If you do this, you may want to consider having a backup reservation in case you don’t find a last minute rental.
Next, you’ll rent points.
There are two ways to rent points. 1) Directly through a DVC owner, and 2) through a points broker.
DVC owners rent out points for any number of reasons, as you can imagine. The result is beneficial to owner and renter alike and the vast majority of transactions go very smoothly. I don’t advise renting through Craigslist or Ebay; there’s just too much risk of fraud. My experience with owners looking to rent is from two places, the DVC boards at Disboards and Mouseowners, which is a website that specifically caters to all things DVC. There are other places out there but these seem to be the most active boards and the moderators, particularly at Disboards, are pretty quick to put a stop to outright high jinks. If possible, rent from posters with a high post count or who are long-term members.
Mouseowners has a very liberal policy for posting. Just post what you’re looking for, say a one-bedroom at Bay Lake Towers with your dates, and an owner will usually respond. They don’t have a problem with you “bumping” up your thread if necessary. You may also want to search for owners renting out points. Once you meet an owner who has the points you need and the price works for you, ask for references and if that checks out, you’ll draw up a contract and pay. Most private owners take bank checks or Paypal (with the 3% fee tacked on).
Disboards is a little more strict, but they also have many more owners and renters. I’ve also noticed that the owners there tend to have higher post counts than they do on Mouseowners, something that allows you to “get to know” the owner before you consider renting from them. I always check out a poster’s previous posts before I rent from someone. It’s not a guarantee, but a poster who’s formed relationships with his fellow DVC owners is more likely to want to safeguard that reputation. On Disboards, you’ll only be able to respond to the post of an owner who advertises points for rent, rather than putting up a post requesting to rent points. It’s really not a big deal, it just requires a bit more searching. If your concerned about posting rules, read the FAQs at the top of the page.
Being able to rent out your own points is one of the advantages of owning DVC and Disney doesn’t put limits on owners renting their points; they can do so every year if they wish. Professional brokers however, fall into something of a gray area. Obviously, Disney isn’t in love with the idea of brokers selling points for a variety of reasons. Because of this, Disney recently limited the number of associates a member can have on his DVC membership to four, which means that only those four individuals can make reservations. Since brokers can’t make your reservation for you, they act as an intermediary between the renter and the owner. Once the initial negotiations between the broker and the renter are completed, the broker finds a prospective owner and the owner makes the reservation in the renter’s name. The broker herself has no contact with Disney. If you use a broker, your transaction is perfectly legitimate because the broker is something of an invisible partner in the whole process. It’s a good system, but you’ll pay for the privilege, about $3 more a point.
For some people, it’s worth it to pay a few dollars more per point not to have to search for an owner and deal with the little stuff. A broker transaction generally goes pretty smoothly and if it doesn’t, it benefits the broker to fix the situation. Be aware that Brokers often have the harshest cancellation policies (no refund, no transfer), so while you’ll ostensibly have more protection from unscrupulous owners by using a broker, that’s where the protection ends. If you cancel, you’re out the entire amount. Most brokers can put you in touch with someone who can offer trip insurance, however.
Regardless of how you rent, the owner will have to arrange Magical Express and sign you up for the Dining Plan. Shortly after the owner makes the reservation in your name, she’ll give you your reservation number and you’ll be able to verify your reservation on the DVC reservation website. Make sure you use the DVC reservation verification, not the regular resort verification which won’t recognize your reservation and potentially cause needless worry. You’ll also need to verify the resort check in date and the resort you’ll be staying at. When you go to make your advanced dining reservations online, you’ll want to add that reservation number under “My Disney Vacation” so that you can make your ADRs at the 180 + 10 mark.
DVC owners can make reservations at their home resort at 11-months out. They can make reservations at all other DVC resorts at 7-months out. If you have your heart set on a specific resort, contact an owner of that resort prior to 11-months. This is particularly critical if you want to visit during the busier times of the year.
Once you find someone you want to rent from, you’ll discuss fees, cancellation policies and draw up a contract. You’ll also be doing your best to verify that your owner is trustworthy. Don’t be afraid to negotiate a lower rate than the owner advertised. If everything is agreeable, the owner will make a reservation in your name and verify with you that this happened (some owners will send a page snapshot, for example). In most cases, you’ll have 24-hours to send the entire amount due. Some owners ask for everything up front, by the way. In these cases, you’ll have to decide how much risk you’re willing to take.
Make sure that the owner puts everyone who’ll be staying in the unit on your reservation when he makes it. Since you can’t contact DVC member services directly, it can be difficult to add family members later. No less than two weeks before you arrive, have the owner make arrangements for Magical Express and the dining plan. You’ll pay for the dining plan when you check in, so no money needs to change hands between you and the owner at this point. Once you check in, the reservation is yours and you’ll be treated as if you made it yourself.
First, I just want to say that the vast majority of point rentals go very smoothly. I’ve only heard of a few transactions that went bad and I’m pretty involved in the DVC community. That’s not to say it doesn’t happen. One thorny issue that’s cropped up lately (admittedly, this is very rare) is how to deal with an owner who is in the process of bankruptcy when you’ve already renting points from him. If the court takes this asset, you’re pretty much out of luck. This is why knowing your owner is essential. Require references and check them out.
The benefit of going through a broker is that they know the owners they work with. Ideally, they’ve worked with these owners in the past. They’ve verified that they own DVC. They also pay the owner in installments, so there’s less chance that an owner could cancel your reservation at the last minute, leaving you without a place to stay and worse, taking your money in the process.
Most owners have a no-refund policy due to the difficulty of cancelling DVC reservations, although you may be able to transfer your reservation, depending on the owner. Make sure you read and understand every element of your contract. If being able to cancel your reservation is important to you, you may try to negotiate something with the owner, for example, transferring your reservation to another renter for a small penalty. Cancellation is the biggest risk of renting points.
If you rent points from an individual, here are a few things to remember:
- Get references from past renters!
- Verify with the Florida Comptroller’s Office that this person is a DVC owner. Scams are unusual, but it can happen.
- Most DVC websites have blank contracts that you can use as a guideline.
- Ensure that you fully understand the owner’s cancellation policy.
- Be wary of owners who advertise points on a website where they have only a few posts or post only occasionally. While it’s not 100% guaranteed, posters with high post counts usually have a reputation they want to protect. You can check out their prior posts and get a feel for who you’re dealing with by clicking the information under their user name.
- Consider buying trip insurance.
- Do not rent from an owner on Craigslist or Ebay. While there are undoubtedly legitimate deals, the potential for being scammed is too high.
- Use credit cards, PayPal, or bank check. Don’t use Western Union.
Good sources for those thinking of renting from DVC:
Disboards DVC Board. Fast moving, very active board.
Mouseowners. Lots of information for renters, including contract examples and floorplans of every style of DVC unit.
DVC by Request. Probably the most well-known points broker out there. Tons of good recommendations. The owner is active on both Mouseowners and the Disboards. Check out his last-minute specials newsletter for really good deals if your travel dates are flexible.
Animal Kingdom Lodge Fan Site. Great site for checking out AKL and the villas.
AllEars. Photos of all DVC resorts, inside and out.
Contemporary Resort fan site, including pages on Bay Lake Towers, Disney’s newest DVC resort right next to the Magic Kingdom.’
I also like The DVC Life, a blog devoted to all things DVC.
I hope this helps. Thanks for reading and for your question.
Have a Disney question? We have answers! Write us at Chip and Co. We answer every question.
This is huge, so if you’re making your advanced dining reservations anytime soon, please be aware of this. You probably know that anyone can make his advanced dining reservations 180 days from the date he wants to dine. If you’re a resort guest, you can make your reservations at 180 days to the date of your resort check-in plus10 days. This extra ten days gives resort guests a bit of edge when making ADRs and is a huge perk of staying on-site. I’m going to Disney on December 4th which means that tomorrow, June 7th, is the date and I can make my reservations for my entire stay, which is eight days on Disney property. I was getting a bit nervous about availability so I decided to go on Disboards and check out the latest news.
It turns out that people have been making their ADRs 190 days out rather than 180 and have been doing this since at least May 28th. No one knows if this is a glitch in the system or some change Disney is implementing. This is only for resort guests and it’s only for that one day, so it’s not 190 + 10, just a simple 190 days out. The only drawback is that you have to call each day to get your ADRs. Of course, the other drawback is that most people don’t know it’s going on, which is creating some frustration among Disney fans.
I was able to make all my ADRs (and yes, I felt a twinge of Catholic guilt getting in early) except Cinderella’s Royal Table and Fantasmic, neither of which would come up, which makes me think this is intentional. There wasn’t any availability the entire week for Le Cellier dinner, although I could get a lunch seating every day. Earlier dinner seatings for Boma were full every night but I could get in at around 6:45. Chef Mickey’s was available for breakfast every day of my stay. I got into California Grill and 1900 Park Fare easily as well. This makes me wonder if Disney isn’t holding back bookings at their most popular restaurants until the 180 mark. I’ll be up bright and early tomorrow morning to find out and I’ll update then.
Here’s theDisboards thread if you want to read more.