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-   -   Aussies take on DL, WDW & USO (then onto Iceland and Paris...) (http://www.disboards.com/showthread.php?t=3023678)

backinoz 11-20-2012 06:45 AM

Aussies take on DL, WDW & USO (then onto Iceland and Paris...)
 
I'm a long time DISlurker and occasional poster - tried my hand at a PTR last trip to WDW but inevitably became way too busy doing things to keep writing about them. So since I'm home feeling a wee bit miserable with the flu have decided I'll have another go at a PTR and share what we're planning, and what I've learnt in the hope of helping others, and possibly getting some good hints and pointers along the way.

The 'players' in this story are:

Me (Mum 40 - an Accountant in a former life), currently working part-time as a Teacher's Aide at my DDs high school and loving it!

DH (44) Currently working away from home in Iceland - meeting us in Orlando for our WDW & USO stays, and coming with us to Paris for the weekend on our way home

DD15 A Crazy Disney Fanatic with a borderline obsession with NBC & Tim Burton. Only movies she ever cries watching are animated Disney Classics. She's a clever cookie but school is well balanced by her love of singing, performing in school musicals, and school bands.

DD13 The family Muso - plays flute, piccolo, tuba, trombone & is teaching herself the keyboard/piano in her 'spare' time. She's the 'girly girl' in the family, but loves blowing apart peoples perceptions (does karate in her spare time, and loves turning up to Music Workshops with the Tuba in tow - literally - it has wheels!)

After our last trip to WDW, I'd hoped we may get back to WDW 'one day' but didn't think it'd be any time soon, and probably not before one (or both) or our girls had gone off to Uni. That all changed around Easter Time when DH did a short trip to Iceland for work, supposedly to report back on a project happening there, and then finish up the project he was working on here in Qld. That quickly changed after he came home, and was asked to go back for the next 12 months or so - 10 weeks on, then 2 weeks at home, but instead of him coming home for Christmas, they'd fly us over to spend Christmas with him. COOL!!! (Literally)

backinoz 11-20-2012 07:57 AM

The planning begins... Where to stay???
 
I think I (subconsciously) started planning for a Disney stay right from the start, or at least started thinking of how to convince DH that it'd be a good idea. He rolls his eyes and tunes out when I start to talk Disney most of the time, but does agree that the Disney holidays we have had have been some of the most memorable and stress free ones we're ever had (even though he broke his leg ice-skating at DLP).

So I became re-aquainted with the DISboards (& found out about the DCA Expansion, Carsland, and the NBC HMH holiday overlay at DL), and then started looking at how we could make 'it' happen. How do we everything in, spend the 4 weeks DH had off at Christmas with him, and make the most of the opportunity? Firstly sort out what everyone's priorities were - for DD15 it was NBC HMH at DL - what??? not in WDW??? so we better stop in LA on the ways over. How to convince DH to do the Orlando stopover (& him fly out from Iceland)? Well when we were last in Orlando WWoHP was under construction and we said we'd love to see it at some stage, so maybe he'd be sold on that? DD13 found out about BOG being built in WDW, and since we'd be in Orlando on her birthday, then it'd be great if she could have her birthday dinner there. As for my priorities - make everyone else happy - I was going back to WDW so that was enough for me (at that stage).

Now as our flights were being booked through DH's work, I knew we'd have a bit of a wait for them to be confirmed, which was fine UNTIL the WDW free dining promo for December came out. Too bad - I'll assume it'll all work out and flights will be as I hope... Tentative plan was for us girls to spend 6 days in DL, arriving in WDW on the dame day as DH, buuuuutttttt, the last day for free dining check-in was Dec 13 - we'll just change our plans to arrive in WDW a day early.

Up until this trip we have always been value resort people - we only want a bed and a shower as the days are for parks, and it's waaaayyyy to cold for us to be swimming in a Florida winter. But the FD promo has the mods offering the full DDP, as opposed to the QS DDP at the values, so it was actually cheaper for us to book a room at a Mod than upgrade the QSDDP at a Value. I decided on POFQ partly because of the ferry to DTD, partly because of the smaller size, but mainly because of DD13's love of music (and blooming love of Jazz in particular).

We changed things around a little, (initial plan was to do WWoHP first, and then WDW), but given we were saving a fair bit having 4 ppl on FD, decided we'd stay onsite for USO (only 2 nights though) and make the most of WWoHP early entry and the 'free' Express Pass to get around the busier crowds as Christmas approaches. Initial cost for HRH was ridiculously expensive ($700+ for the two nights), but I've since rebooked using an APH rate ($199 per night - the AP more than pays for itself in room savings and discount on the other tickets). Again the resort choice came down to both DDs love of music & the theme just seemed to suit us.

I also decided I needed to figure out our accom in DL, and as much as I wanted to stay in a Disney hotel, there was no way on earth I could justify the cost. I know they get EMH, but I don't think that it's worth over $150 extra a night for one extra hour in the morning. I 'settled' on Ramada Main Gate for our stay, mainly as it's so close to DL and their customer service via email has been exceptional. I do have some reservations since they've just started redeveloping, but unless I hear negative stories before we leave, am happy to see if they live up to the service we've had so far.

So we have our accom all booked, but no flights confirmed yet - Arrrggghhhhh!

backinoz 11-20-2012 08:49 AM

Next step - OMG it's time to make dining reservations...
 
Here's the thing with having to make ADR's so far out at WDW - just when you think you have it all sorted, then they extend park hours, change show times and just generally 'mess with your head'.

Having never done DDP before, I've never had the 'must make ADR's' pressure, apart from seeking out that elusive meal at CRT (done, t'was lovely but in no hurry to repeat). Then you start thinking 'am I getting the best value for money doing it this way?' and start questioning your thoughts on what'll work for you and your family so our ADR's have changed a fair bit along the way.

In my never ending research I came across the Disney Food Bog, and Tom's Disney Tourist Blog (which was an absolute revelation), and I blame them for the idea that took root in my head - I wanted to have dinner at V&A, with my DH & DDs. Three years ago i would've said that paying that much for dinner is absurd, but when last in Melbourne DH & I had dinner at a lovely small intimate restaurant in St Kilda to celebrate our Anniversary, and for the first time I put myself in the hands of the sommelier and let them choose my wines for the evening - That dinner was the most expensive we've ever had, and the best by a mile - for the food and the experience it was good value for money, and this, along with reviews from Tom & AJ's blogs, convinced me that I should take the plunge at V&A. Since both DDs have a love of good food on par with mine & DH's, and that we're all very adventurous eaters, i knew we'd be doing this as a family - 'date night' will have to wait until Universal, or when we get to Iceland.

Dinner ADR at V&A's was no drama to book thanks to online booking, but I was on tenderhooks waiting to find out when we could hop online to book ADR's for BOG. Then the news came out - phone bookings only at first. I knew from the 'buzz' on the DIS, that there were going to be a LOT of people seeking that elusive BOG dinner reservation when they finally opened up the phone lines for ADR's. So I resigned myself to a VERY late night, with my mobile and landline phone at the ready... I dialled those numbers over 235 times before finally getting through (around 2am in the morning here). Minimal time on hold and I blurted out my preferred date - I was very very lucky - they could fit us in for a 4:10pm dinner - I'm assuming that if I'd gotten through 5 min later then I probably would've missed out coz who would actually choose to have dinner at 4pm? On this occasion I didn't care though. I did think about making more than one booking, but decided that if I was 'mad' enough to be doing this, and it took me over 2 hours to get through, then that meant many others were also trying so best to share the love around.

I also had a bit of an epiphany last week when I realised that we were better off using the free DDP to experience places we would enjoy eating at, rather than being so concerned about getting 'bang for your buck'. I know FD is not really 'free', but if were were to stay discounted RO at a Value resort, we'd be saving around $600 on what our DDP package is costing us at POFQ - that works out to around $75 a day extra for the DDP - very good value for a family of four I think.

SO... here's our ADR's for WDW - feedback & thoughts are very much appreciated:
Sat 15 Dec - 12:50 lunch at Brown Derby in DHS - use 4 TS credits to split 2 meals & maybe order a couple of appetisers (OoP) to split if hungry. 7:30pm dinner at La Hacienda San Angel in EPCOT - DH loves Mexican food and I am partial to a glass or two of Tequila, with the Mexican food of course :-)
Sun 16 Dec - Celebrating DD13's 14th b'day (her actual birthday is the 22nd but we're flying out to Iceland that day so wanted her to have a day to celebrate in WDW) 9:40am Breakfast at 1900 Park Faire (at her request - hope the Mad Hatter is still making appearances then), the dinner at 4:10pm at BOG in MK
Mon 17 Dec - 6pm dinner at V&A
Tues 18 Dec - 8:05am breakfast at CP in MK - will be changing this to lunch if park hours are confirmed to change as per the 8am opening rumour posted on the touring plans website. MVMCP that night
Wed 19 Dec - 9pm dinner at Cali Grill to conclude our time at WDW

WanderlustNZ 11-20-2012 12:38 PM

Great read so far. Thanks for sharing.

Can I ask you to elaborate on the perks of a Universal AP? Am I reading it correctly that you got everyone else's tickets cheaper because you had one AP? If so, how much cheaper?

Ms. Shuttergirl 11-20-2012 04:10 PM

I'm very much enjoying reading along so far. Sounds like it's going to be a wonderful trip. I'm super interested to hear about the Paris and Iceland portion too.

Hopefully life doesn't get too busy and you will have time to update us on the full experience when you get back.

My family are staying at POFQ in December as well - from 9-20 December so I'll keep an ear out for some other Australians.

We also managed to get the coveted BOG dining reservations but I didn't have to stay up late, our Disney TA did it all for us.

Looking forward to hearing more. :)

Aussie Wendy 11-20-2012 06:02 PM

Sounds like a wonderful opportunity-intrigued by a an Aussie job tat takes your DH to Iceland! The planning so far and meals look good-will enjoy reading along as the planning and trip unfolds!

backinoz 11-20-2012 06:08 PM

Quote:

Originally Posted by WanderlustNZ (Post 46752716)
Can I ask you to elaborate on the perks of a Universal AP? Am I reading it correctly that you got everyone else's tickets cheaper because you had one AP? If so, how much cheaper?

Universal AP holders get a 15% discount on multi-day tickets purchased at the gate, which is around $6 a ticket cheaper than the $20 discount you get for purchasing online. So... we don't have to fork out the $$ to purchase tickets in advance, we get the big room discount, ticket discount, and 10% merchandise and dining at most locations through USO and Citywalk. Even for our short 3 day/2 night visit, it's well and truly worth it for one of us to have an AP.

Quote:

Originally Posted by Ms. Shuttergirl (Post 46754336)
My family are staying at POFQ in December as well - from 9-20 December so I'll keep an ear out for some other Australians... We also managed to get the coveted BOG dining reservations but I didn't have to stay up late, our Disney TA did it all for us.

Lucky you - I've used Disney TA's previously (Dreams Unlimited), but now that dining reservations could be made online, thought I'd just do it myself - didn't count on the whole BOG booking debacle at the time - but you do what you gotta do for your kids :thumbsup2 You may pick us out from DH's or my Aussie Accent, but don't count on hearing Aussie teenagers. We spent 6 years living in Mozambique, and the girls started their schooling in an American school, so after our 5 days in DL I'm fully expecting the US twang to creep back in.

backinoz 11-20-2012 06:12 PM

Quote:

Originally Posted by Aussie Wendy (Post 46755114)
Sounds like a wonderful opportunity-intrigued by a an Aussie job tat takes your DH to Iceland! The planning so far and meals look good-will enjoy reading along as the planning and trip unfolds!

DH is a Mechanical Engineer, that has migrated into Project Management. He's been lucky enough to travel quite a bit through work, including us living in Southern Africa for 6 years. Timing of the Iceland Job was just wrong for us to join him this time as DD15 has just finished 2 year 12 subjects, and will complete year 12 & graduate next year. At least we get to visit though:thumbsup2

backinoz 11-20-2012 07:09 PM

DL Planning & Dining - and the waiting... waiting... waiting...
 
Here's the thing - Some-one really needs to let the people in DL know that for those of us who've done WDW, the idea of not knowing Park Hours until 6 weeks before our trip, and not being able to make dining reservations until 2 months in advance - well, it's just not on. Not really but the big gap in between sorting out what we'd be doing in WDW, and finally having the info to plan our days in DL was like being lost in the wilderness - a wilderness where I spent waaaayyyyy too long reading this DISboards and listening to Disney Podcasts (but they are a great way of keeping you alert when driving). Plus what sense does it make to be able to make ADR's when you don't even know what the park hours will be????? (Minor vent over, and really if that's the major stress I have, then I should count myself very very lucky, and I do).

Now here's the thing to come out during all our discussions... DD13 has celebrated her birthday in WDW twice already, and this trip will be number 3 (All due to good luck more than us planning for it to be that way). DD15 (to be DD16 in Feb next year), has never had the 'Disney Birthday' experience, and actually (in a good humoured way) voice her opinion of this injustice. So we'll be doing what I've always said I'd never do, and DD15 will be having a 'fake, early sweet sixteenth birthday' during our time in DL. It's not a whole trip of birthday celebrating, but one day has been put aside as her birthday celebration. Her only request was for a character meal and for her to choose the rides/attractions for that day (just like her sister has done previously). After much procrastination, she decided on Minnie's for breakfast, nothing to do with the food - she just heard that was where you got to meet the most characters. DD13 and I also decided we'd give her a birthday surprise and have booked the Holiday Tour (which covers everything she loves about Disney), and then unknown to both DDs I've booked us a late dinner at Goofy's kitchen. She also mention that she'd like to do the love it or hate it much sought after meal at the Blue Bayou - I asked if it'd be OK for us to do this on another day - no problem - I figured we already had enough planned for her "Very Merry Unbirthday" (I found out from the DIS that the best chance of getting a waterside seat was to do an 11:30am booking - will let you know if it works).

The other adjustment to plans came a few weeks ago when DD13 asked if we could please take some time out to see the iconic Hollywood sights like 'the sign', the walk of fame etc. so I'm still in the process of booking a half day tour on the Sunday. It is the day after arrival, but I figure we can have a little nap while cruising down the freeway to and from LA, and that we won't miss out on so much park time as DL is open very late on the weekend (but not midweek).

So here's our plans for DL (at the moment):

Sat - arrive into LAX at 6:30am, private transfer to Ramada Main gate, hopefully inside DL by 9am - wishful thinking I know but I've gotta hope for the best :thumbsup2. Blue Bayou lunch booked for 11:30am, hopefully we'll be hungry but have already decided I like the look of dessert best, so may just go with that ;). Otherwise we'll split a meal or two, but not the Monte Christo - it just doesn't do it for me, looks like way too much bread and batter, held together by the oil from frying - I know I'm treading on dangerous ground here as there are many many fans out there but yuck! Hopefully hotel room will be ready early/mid afternoon for us to go back and have a nap, I figure we'll probably need it by then. Back to DL for dinner at Cafe Orleans, just something light, but given they're predicting big crowds I thought it'd be a good idea to have an ADR to sit down for dinner. Plan is to stick around to watch the second show of Fantasmic - still debating over booking the dessert package - a lot of $$ for a dessert tray, and what if we're too tired and want to go back to the hotel to sleep? But then again it's only showing the first two nights of our stay and we HAVE to see it, at least once!

Sun - DL at opening, don't think I want to fight the EMH hoards at DCA for the elusive RSR FP, but that may change as from what I can see, RSR FP's take longer to run out on weekends when the park's open longer hours. Depending on crowds, rides etc. we may duck out to DTD for brunch at Ralph Brennans and indulge DD13 in her love for Jazz. Leave late morning for LA tour - nap on the way there, nap on the way back, then back to the parks for the evening's entertainment - Mad T-Party (since it's also only happening on the first 2 nights), ride RSR (if I decide to brave the madness and they're not enforcing FP return times yet), and maybe back to Fantasmic if we want to do it a second time. I'm really counting on them not enforcing the FP returns to make this plan work, collecting FP's in the morning ready for when we return after the LA tour. If not we'll just soak in the atmosphere and ride anything with a short enough line (that we actually want to ride - I've learnt now that there's no requirement that you should experience EVERY ride, especially when no one in the family has any interest in the ride what-so ever).

Mon - DCA to brave the RSR FP que, am hoping that Mondays's mean less people in the EMH FP line in front of us. Lunch reservation at Carthay Circle as that place looks amazing and the menu looks soooooo good. Since we're eating there, we may as well have dessert and get the WOC reserved area admission too - right??? The sacrifices we make... eating dessert is a price I'm willing to pay for that reserved area. (who am I kidding, I want the dessert way more than the WOC tickets)

Tues - DD15's (16's) Birthday Celebration 10am Plaza breakfast with Minnie, 1:30pm Holiday Tour, 4pm Christmas Parade, 8pm Dinner at Goofy's Kitchen - the rest of the day is up to her.

Wed - last day in DL :( I have reservations at for BB lunch at 11:30, and Carthay Circle at 5:40pm - but they're 'just in case' reservations which we'll decide if we want to keep after our first day or two at DL. We'll check out of hotel early and get them to hold bags and then head to the parks for the day...

backinoz 11-20-2012 08:00 PM

Flights confirmed!!! But what to do about LAX???
 
I probably should've put this post before the DL planning one, but I was on a dining discussion roll.

A month after I bit the bullet and decided to take the risk in booking our accom and WDW package, our flights were finally booked and confirmed. I must say i was very impressed as not only had they got us on the Brisbane/LAX direct flight (which was showing no availability on the Qantas website) but... we're flying Business Class :cool1:. I'm just hoping that it doesn't ruin me for every trip we take in the future as I just can't justify the extra $$ for the lay flat seats, when the difference in airfares for the four of us could (for example) pay for 2 whole weeks at WDW. The whole legroom issue isn't really a thing for me as I'm just under 5'3", with DD15 an inch or two shorter, and DD13 two inches taller. DH, on the other hand is 6'2", but his desire to save $$ will override his desire for extra legroom any day. Us girls logged into the Qantas FF website to check out our seat allocation, we change it around a bit so DD13 has window seat and DD15 has Aisle, and I just grab a seat as close to them as possible. All set for flights :thumbsup2

So we arrive at LAX at 6:30, DL Express's first bus is at 7:30 and will take us at least on hour to get to our hotel (probably more like 2 hours) - that's a lotta time that we could be spending actually in DL. Other options... Super Shuttle? don't go much on the reviews and looks like than won't save us any time, Karmel Shuttle... mixed reviews also, then I stumbled across 4Most Coach - many positive reviews, smaller company based in Anahiem and wonderful responsive emails. So we've booked with them. $216 return fully inclusive of gratuity and a $20 'after hours fee' - unavoidable unless we were willing to give up our final 3-4 hours of park time in DL - no way!!!

Our flight out of LAX to Orlando leaves at 8:30am... means we need to be at the airport by 6:30am, so leave DL area around 5:15am, up by 4am... YUCK!!!! How's about we stay close to LAX the night before - talk about sticker shock over the difference betweeen hotel prices in Anaheim and near LAX :eek: On a whim I decided to check out the hotel's website for the Radisson LAX (supposedly the closet to Airport), and they just happened to be having a 24 hour sale, which was ending in 30 minutes... Check the fine print - no prepayment, can be cancelled up to 24 hours in advance for no penalty - quick BOOK - $125 plus taxes (around $145 USD total) Well worth it to not have to get up until 5:45 the next morning - a much more respectable hour.

backinoz 11-20-2012 08:24 PM

My gigantic Trip Planning Spreadsheet...
 
So I'm still at home with the flu (which is confirmed as a throat and upper respiratory infection now) so will continue with my planning ramblings...

In case you haven't already figured it out, I LOVE planning holidays - any holiday, preferably involving flights and accom, and I don't have to be going to enjoy the planning. The quest to find the best value for money, and the best option to keep everyone (or at least the majority) happy is the 'happy place' for my mind. I'm also a BIG fan of excel and it's capacity to help you plan, calculate and evaluate. At one point of the planning process my Excel workbook was an unwieldly monstrosity - mainly due to the six or seven WDW package options involving Value + QS free dining, Value + upgrade to full DPP, Mod + free DDP, buy an AP & TIW card, and hope for a 30% RO discount, no AP and hope for a 20% RO discount, rent DVC points etc etc. That's on top of the Flights and Reservations sheet, the ticket prices calculation sheet, the time zones sheet with all our plans in the six different timezones(I use a formula to convert the times - makes it so much easier to figure out how to best work with the sleep patterns of us all), the RSR FP tracker sheet (used that and the Lines App to try and see if there was a pattern to the time RSR FP's ran out each day of the week - general rule is BE THERE AT ROPE DROP), and then there's the mega planning sheet - it has all the park hours (with touring plans crowd rating for the day), our flights, our dining reservations, and our 'plans' for each day in DL & WDW. It may sound like a lot of work, but it's made it soooo easy to keep track of what I've booked, what we have planned, and what we hope to do. I also means that when WDW does something crazy, like the rumoured expansion of December park hours, I can go straight to my master planning sheet and see how that will affect our plans, and then make the necessary changes. It was also very handy to show DH how we were actually better off staying at a Mod in WDW, and staying onsite at the HRH in USO (if we buy one AP). If only there was some miracle way I could find to justify staying at the DLH in Anaheim... Not gonna happen I know, but a girl can dream.

backinoz 11-20-2012 08:56 PM

A weekend in Paris & how to convince DH...
 
DD13 is the main driver for the stopover in Paris on the way home (and part of me is very happy that she is) - she was only 4 when we visited previously, so has very few actual memories of the place (as opposed to memories attached to photos). When I first mentioned it to DH, he did seem a bit put out that we'd cut short our time with him for a few days to stop in Paris on the way home. We couldn't extend the holiday as DD15 has to be back to attend a 2 week Youth Science Forum at ANU in Canberra in Jan/Feb, but I did think to play the 'it can be your Anniversary Present to me if you come and spend the weekend in Paris with us' card - luckily it worked, and I do think DH is actually looking forward to our weekend before he goes back to work in Iceland, and we come home to Oz. I can understand his reluctance somewhat as the last time we were in Paris together we spent a few days touring the city and surrounds, and then out to DLP for 3 days but... DH broke his leg (very badly) while trying to assist our eldest DD iceskating on our second night there. Not happy memories for him, but I must say Disney were fantastic, and thank goodness for travel insurance - our total bill was 30 Euros!!

The flight from Iceland is around 3 hours so we'll have Friday afternoon, Sat, Sun and Mon morning with DH in Paris (he flies out just after lunch, we fly out later that night). As much as I'd love to spend a day at DLP, I think it'd be pushing my luck a bit, and it's not as if there aren't dozens of other things (which we won't be able to fit in) that we want to see and do while we're there. A word of warning though, rooms in Paris are like rooms at GCH in DL, BIG $$ only MUCH MUCH smaller. You can save quite a bit staying further out of the city but since we're only there 3 nights, we're staying close to the sights, in fact we'll be about 400m from the Eiffel Tower. That's probably a good thing as Paris in winter will be COLD and a much longer walk is likely to freeze our faces.

We'll spend out time doing the usual touristy things like the tower, the Arc de Triumphe, the catacombs, the Notre Dame, the Louvre and Musee de Orsay, multiple (hopefully) yummy meals in little french bistros, plus DD13 & I will be searching for the ultimate in French Yumness - the perfect Macaroon. We'd also love to recreate the most fabulous picture from our previous trip there - DDs with the most humungous ball of fairy floss on a stick you're ever seen, standing together under the Eiffel tower. I'll have to sort through our photo archives and add the photo to this post later.

To be honest I haven't spent all that much time on the Paris Plans, I figure I have 3 weeks in Iceland to worry about that, and as long as we know how to get from CDG to the hotel, we'll be all good (which is sorted thanks to the French Rail/Metro website). I'm sure there's probably a few things I should sort out well in advance, but Disney planning just seems so much more fun :earsboy::earboy2:

WAMUMOF4 11-20-2012 09:31 PM

Wow you have an awesome trip planned, I don't know how you cope with your DH being away for 10 weeks at a time, mine is only away for 2 at a time and that is way to long for me.

5ofus 11-20-2012 10:05 PM

I'm loving this! I really like all the details. Lucky you getting to fly Business!

Hope you feel better soon :)

Travel Mum 11-21-2012 07:09 PM

Wow, thanks for sharing and it all sounds fantastic!:banana: I'm really hoping you will be able to do a TR for us too :thumbsup2


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