Monday, November 4, 2013

I Don't Think I Can Walk the Walk

There is a practice among Disney guests – in particular, DVC members – with which I was completely unacquainted. It's referred to as “walking your reservation”.

Are you familiar with this? If not, let me break it down for you.

First, it helps to know how the DVC program works. As a DVC member, you buy points at your “home resort”, which can also be used at other DVC properties. Where you buy is usually determined by where you like to stay, the going cost per point, annual dues (which differ from resort to resort), and contract ending date. I, for example, bought at Saratoga Springs Resort. While perhaps not my favorite DVC resort, it had one of the lowest costs per point, low annual maintenance fees, and a contract good through 2054.

Why does your home resort matter? In one word: availability. You can book your home resort eleven months in advance of your trip, but all other resorts only seven months. For example, if I were to log into Disney's DVC website, here is how they would describe my options:

You can start requesting up-to-7-night reservations for arrival as far out as:
Home Resort - Arrival Date : October 04 2014
Non-Home Resorts - Arrival Date : June 04 2014

This ensures that owners at, say, The Villas at Disney's Grand Floridian Resort and Spa -- who paid $150 per point to own at that resort -- have a much better shot of getting a room there than I do... which is only fair, since I'm skating in on a purchase price of just $67 per point.

That being said, I've had pretty good luck at getting the resorts I wanted so far. On our first trip as DVC owners, we stayed in our home resort. It's a perfectly lovely resort, but its biggest draw is its proximity to Downtown Disney – which, during this area's construction phase as it transitions to Disney Springs, isn't so much of a draw right now.

On our next vacation, we stayed at Bay Lake Towers. It was our last trip with our daughter Kira before she left for college, and she'd never stayed in a monorail resort. I wanted a theme park-view room, but was only able to secure a lake-view. That being said, it was still my first choice of a resort, and our “lake-view” ended up having a wonderful view of the Magic Kingdom!

Our last trip was to the Villas at the Grand Californian Hotel and Spa. This is the only DVC resort at Disneyland, so it was imperative that we be able to get a room there for our West Coast trip – and we did. So as I said, thus far we've totally lucked out. But...

My husband and I would just love to get a concierge level studio at Disney's Animal Kingdom Lodge. AKL is the only DVC resort that offers a concierge option to members, and we'd really like to give it a shot. However, there are only five concierge studios. That's right, five. So the odds of us as non-Animal Kingdom Lodge owners getting one of those for a week are close to nil – unless...

Here's where the “walking” comes in. This is a method DVC members have devised to help secure some harder-to-get reservations. How does it work? You make the first day of your reservation start earlier (perhaps seven days or so) than when you really intend your vacation to start. You then call into Member Services every day moving the start date of your reservation back one day and extending it on the end by one day. Eventually, you'll end up getting the dates you originally wanted. This gives you a head start on all of the people who followed the rules and waited until seven months from their actual vacation dates.

Sigh... I can see why people do it, but I just can't seem to bring myself to do so. While I don't think this hurts Disney at all, I do think it's being unfair to the other guests – both those who waited until the official date to book their trip, and those who may have been trying to book for the dates you were “walking over” -- the dates you booked and canceled (thus making them unavailable at the seven-month mark), that you were never even intending to use in the first place.

I contacted Disney Vacation Club to see how they felt about this practice via the chat feature on their website. Here's the exact conversation (although I changed the Cast Member's name to protect his anonymity):

Teri: Hi Gaston!
Gaston: Welcome Home!  How may I assist you today?
Teri: I'm wondering if Disney has an official policy regarding members "walking" their DVC reservations...
Gaston: No, we do not. They are basically modifying the dates of their existing reservation.
Teri: So there's nothing to be done to discourage this policy? Does Disney have any feelings on it one way or the other?
Gaston: There is no way to discourage this policy because they are modifying their dates and Members are allowed to do this.
Teri: Okeydoke. Thanks!

So there you have it. Disney doesn't seem to have a problem with it (at least not a big enough one to do anything about it), even if I do. What do you think? Am I just being a prudish stick-in-the-mud, or is this as unfair to other guests as I think it is? Or is the real problem just that I'm too lazy to go in every day and modify my reservation? Speak your mind here or on Facebook!

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

A Tale of Two Coasts

I'm back!

Having just returned from a glorious week on the West Coast, I wanted to take a quick minute to give you a look at Disneyland through the eyes of a Walt Disney World veteran. While many of the more obvious comparisons are well-documented (Disneyland has a better Pirates of the Caribbean, Walt Disney World has the superior Twilight Zone Tower of Terror), there were a lot of differences I noted that I haven't heard mentioned often, so I thought I'd highlight a few for you:

1. Better Tasting Water – Hey; I never said they were life-altering differences. That said, Disneyland has tolerable-tasting water, unlike the foul fishy fluid that comes from Florida taps. We actually filled our water bottles out of the sink in our villa at the Grand Californian and chilled them overnight for use the next day. You couldn't pay me to do that at Walt Disney World.

2. Better Healthy Food Options – At Walt Disney World, your choices generally seem to be between an apple, an orange, or an under ripe banana. At Disneyland the fresh fruit options are more varied, including my personal favorite: Mango with Lime and Chili Spices. Yum!

3. Convenience – Okay, this is a “depending on how you look at it” sort of thing. Flying to Los Angeles from Ohio? Not even remotely convenient; Florida definitely has the edge there for me, personally. But once you're on Disneyland property, life is awesome. Two words for you: No buses. You want to head to the Disneyland Hotel for dinner at Steakhouse 55 or a drink at Trader Sam's? No problem; it's just a pleasant stroll through Downtown Disney. You get off Pirates and want a real drink instead of a kiddie Mint Julep? Sure thing; let's just cross the Esplanade to Disney California Adventure. I can't overstate how awesome this was. Even navigating inside a particular park was easier due to the more compact size. And being that close to the parks can make for a nice view from your room. I'm telling you, I believe that had I shouted from my balcony, guests in the park could have heard me. (That surprises no one; I know.)

4. Speaking of Drinking – What can I say; I have my priorities. While I very much missed my annual tour of Epcot's Food and Wine Festival, between the Karl Strauss Red Trolley Ale and the fantastic wine samplings at the Mendocino Terrace, I was a happy girl. A very happy girl.

5. Navigation – Getting around was a lot easier, thanks to the general lack of Electric Conveyance Vehicles hogging the paths. I'm not criticizing anyone for using them. I'm just saying I saw far fewer of them in California.

6. Shopping Walt Disney World definitely has the edge here. Maybe it was the lack of Epcot. Perhaps it was the smaller Downtown Disney. Heck, it could have even been due to the small number of resorts to tour, but any way you look at it, I felt a little short-changed in the shopping department... particularly when it came to jewelry.

7. Dining – In-park restaurants sometimes quit taking reservations an hour before the park closed! That would never fly at WDW, and was something of a disappointment. But that said, it was really nice not to be tied to a strict schedule of ADRs. And the food itself was great. Steakhouse 55 was our favorite restaurant of the trip – including the time we spent in Los Angeles and on the coast. Nothing else even came close.

Well, there you have it. This isn't a complete list of the differences between the two resorts – heck, it isn't a list of the major differences. These are just the ones that really stuck out in my mind as being noteworthy and not necessarily excessively documented. I hope this information helps you if you ever decide to head west!

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

What's Old is New

It's finally happened: my baby has left for college. For the first time in eighteen years, it's just my husband and me. And wouldn't you know it -- since it'll just be the two of us, my husband's one request for our vacation this year is that it not be to Walt Disney World.

Fine. This time, we'll go to Disneyland.

Okay, technically, I did bend a little more than that. We're splitting our week between Disneyland and Los Angeles. I get some quality Mouse time, and he gets to camp out in Meltdown Comics for two days. That's a fair trade, right?

Seriously though, planning this trip has been a little weird for me. I'm a Walt Disney World veteran, and I know that resort like the back of my hand. Disneyland? Not so much. It feels quite strange to be a novice at planning any sort of a Disney vacation.

I'm sure a fair number of you find this whole topic a little nuts. The non-Disney geeks (why are we friends, again?) are sitting there thinking, "Disney World/Disneyland; what's the difference?" And most of my Disney friends are probably tearing their hair out: "We have over 42 square miles, four theme parks and two water parks; why in the heck are you flying all the way out to California?!" (P.S. I know some of you want to correct me on the square mileage, but don't forget that we sold off some land a couple of years ago for that whole Flamingo Crossings thing. Whatever happened with that, anyway?)

But I digress. Back to "Why Disneyland?" In addition to technically fulfilling my husband's request, that is. For starters, it's the perfect time for us. We have airline vouchers that need to be used by October and one less ticket than usual to purchase, so airfare that would normally be out of our budget is now ours for the taking. But who am I kidding? That's not the real reason.

This is Disneyland we're talking about. The original. The park that actually has Walt's fingerprints all over it. I'm going to dine at Steakhouse 55 in the Disneyland Hotel. I'm going to see classic attractions like Great Moments with Mr. Lincoln and the Matterhorn. Best of all, I'm going to take the Walk in Walt's Disneyland Footsteps Tour. I'm so excited about the tour that I can barely keep myself from squealing like a twelve-year-old girl every time I think of it!

Sure, there are a lot of other reasons to be juiced up. I'll get to visit some long lost friends like Mr. Toad's Wild Ride and Snow White's Scary Adventures -- favorites from my childhood that are gone forever from WDW's Magic Kingdom but can still be found at "The Happiest Place on Earth". (By the way, did you know that phrase is technically only Disneyland's tagline? Walt Disney World's is "The Most Magical Place on Earth" or "Where Dreams Come True". I don't make this stuff up, folks.)

Of course, there are a lot of totally new (to me) things, too. Haunted Mansion Holiday will be celebrating its 13th anniversary during our trip, and I am totally stoked to check that out. There are the Storybook Land Canal Boats,  the Indian Jones Adventure, and Roger Rabbit's Car Toon Spin just waiting for me, and let's not forget the totally revamped Disney California Adventure Park with the out-of-this-world Cars Land that everyone's buzzing about!

But as I mentioned earlier, planning this trip has me a little out of my Disney comfort zone. Some things are just strange to me. For example, dining reservations can only be made 60 days out. What's even more bizarre is that for the four nights we'll be on Disney property, I only made one dining reservation. This would be my idea of heresy at WDW. I can only assume that this is what Eddie Valiant felt like as he fell from the window without a parachute. Everyone says, however, that ADRs (Advance Dining Reservations) aren't generally necessary at Disneyland, so I'm going to trust them and (gulp) play it by ear.

Another difference: My idea of doing a Disney vacation properly is to get up at 6:30 so that I can be showered, dressed, and travel across the aforementioned 42+ square miles to be waiting at the front gates of the theme park of my choice at least a half hour before park opening. But Disneyland's parks won't be opening until 10:00 AM on the days we are there. What the heck!? And since we are staying at Disney's Grand Californian Hotel and Spa, I'll be able to practically fall out of bed and land at the front gate of either park. Considering the time zone difference and my level of excitement, I'll probably be pulling a Buzz Lightyear from the old DCA commercials and get caught trying to peer over the fence while waiting for the parks to open. Admit it; wouldn't you?