It’s beginning to look a lot like (time to plan a trip for) Christmas…
I've never done a pre-trip report before, but I've enjoyed reading others'.
I need somewhere to talk through my thought process and strategy before I drive someone (ok, really, myself) insane. My husband loves Disney as much as I do, but he is so not a planner. He doesn't realize the amount of research and planning that goes into a trip. (It all just happens magically, right?) We've only just started even talking about the possibility of this trip and he's already totally over my incessant questions about which restaurants, which parks, how many days, etc.
I'd also greatly appreciate anyone's insights, advice, or support.
So here goes... come join my crazy. I've got spreadsheets.
Part 1: Backstory. We got it.
Part 2: The big questions: When? How? Where?
Part 3: Ideal park days and ADRs
Part 4: Disasters averted
Part 5: The new plan* (subject to availability)
Part 6: The time has come, my little friends...
Part 7: Check that off the list... then uncheck... then check...
Part 8: Christmas in Jul, er, August!
Part 9: Epcot dining shuffle
Part 10: What should Santa bring?
Part 11: Just Desserts!
Backstory. We got that.
So who is involved in all this, anyway?
The cast of characters includes me, DH, DS5, and DD3. We live just outside Philadelphia. I work in the marketing department of a credit card company (not evil! I swear!) and DH is a pediatrician, finishing up his hematology/oncology fellowship (not rich! I swear!) If it happens, this will be our third trip as a family. DH and I also went to WDW on our honeymoon in 2004, and once each before then (DH in 1984 and me not until 1999!) We have become mad crazy obsessed. (Don’t tell him I posted this, but DH has watched a YouTube video of Wishes pretty much every night since we got back from our last trip.) Even with our (ok, my) semi-commando planning and touring style (I’m a project manager – it’s what I do!), Disney is a magical and relaxing escape for the insanity of our regular life.
And the backstory…
After our two recent trips, I fancy myself to be a Disney trip planning expert (basically thanks to obsessively reading the DIS, easywdw, and other sites.) The two trips we’ve taken have been during marathon week 2012 and 2013. (We didn’t/don’t run. We went with our bestest friends who did/do.) During these trips, we honed a solid strategy that works for us. The 2013 trip was so easy to plan. We basically dusted off the 2012 plan, made some tweaks, and called it a day. First off, we are DxDDP people - we love food. We love sit-down meals. We love knocking out character visits while we are eating. We also like the added benefit of a little down time for the kids (and us!) to be off our feet. We use the time to strategize the next chunk of the day. Each day, we book an ADR in the park of the day at 8 am to get in before the park opens, then we hit all the good stuff before the park gets too busy. We make a 1 pm ADR for a sit-down lunch and a dinner ADR around 7 pm. Our afternoons and evenings are more relaxed and flexible, generally with the kids napping in the stroller at some point. We rock out in the park as long as we (more so the kids) can tolerate it. One day this past trip we were in the MK from well before open until after close (7:45 am until 11:30 pm.) The kids are troopers.
And the rest of the backstory…
We spent Christmas 2012 with my family in MA, as we do every year but this year, it was an absolute nightmare. My mother does not let us open presents until everyone is there. Usually this is around noon and then we eat. Not the pre-dawn wrapping-paper-flying chaos of some households, but bearable, even with the kids since they can play with the toys Santa left. This year, my sister and her two kids (5 and 1) were visiting from Chicago. We were up from Philly. We were all staying at my parents’ house, so we were there and ready to go with 4 super-excited kids. But my brother who lives right in town has to make the rounds with his wife’s family before they come to my parents’ house. They did their own little family Christmas at their house. Then they went to her mom’s house. Then they visited her dad. Then they went to her grandma’s. Then to a cousin’s. They did not show up at my parents’ house until 3 pm. And then my SIL insisted on putting my nephew (18 months) down for a nap. In the room with the tree and all the presents. By then, the food was ready so we had to eat. So we still couldn’t open presents. The kids were going insane. DH was so annoyed (my sister and I were too, just to a lesser extent.) We didn’t open presents until well after 4 pm. DH and I vowed that we are done with extended family Christmas. After our most recent trip to WDW, we jokingly said we should come back for Christmas. But we really weren't joking. Soooo here we are.
Christmas week is the peakest of peak (how very Dr. Seuss!) Our pre-opening ADR trick is not going to work when the parks all open at 8, or even 7 am. And the parks will be open a lot later than we are used to. We need a new strategy. I feel like a Disney novice again. I am back to poring over old threads, obsessively taking notes, toggling between like 8 different sites at the same time, and generally driving myself (and DH) crazy. But I love it.
The big questions: When? How? Where?
It’s really hard to plan a trip without several critical pieces of information, but I am trying. Since we’re so far out, I don’t have the park schedule or the park recommendations to do the more detailed planning. But even more challenging is the fact that I don’t have next year’s school schedule. We pulled DS5 out of kindergarten for a week for the 2013 trip and got all kinds of grief for doing so. As he moves into higher grades, I don’t want to pull him out. He has ADHD and struggles with school already. He needs to be there as much as possible so he doesn’t fall even farther behind his classmates. I am just guessing at this point, but I am assuming the last day of school before Christmas break will be Friday, December 20. I am also hoping it will be a half-day (it was this year.) Fingers crossed. So that gives us an earliest check-in day of Saturday, Dec. 21.
Our 2012 trip was 5 nights and we wished we had more. Our 2013 trip was 6 nights and we wished we had more. Christmas break affords us a little more time off than a normal vacation would. We definitely want to stay longer this time, especially knowing it will be even harder to get it all done with all the crowds. The extra time also gives us a choice in how to get there. For the two previous trips, we had to fly. It’s a 15 hour drive and we couldn’t sacrifice 2+ additional days to travel. We were also able to score some pretty cheap flights the past two times, but that’s not going to happen at Christmas time. The best I’ve been able to find so far is $370 per person which is more than double what we’ve paid for our January trips. Given that we have a bunch of family in Virginia and South Carolina, we have built in places to stop along the way. It may be crazy, but we have decided to drive.
So then we need to decide how long to stay – really it’s a question of how many nights can we afford. I estimate that driving is going to save us almost $1000 (less if we decide to rent a car instead of driving our own.) After discussing it, we think we want to see what 8 nights is like.
The basic schedule would be:
Fri. 12/ 20: Drive as far as we can (to VA or SC ideally, to score free lodgings with family)
Sat. 12/21: Get up early and finish the drive; check in to resort that evening
12/21 – 12/28: Stay and play onsite – 7 full days of fun, plus 2 partial days for check-in and check-out
Sun. 12/29: Check-out, drive to VA or SC for the night
Mon. 12/30: Finish to drive back to PA (and start planning next trip!)
The last big question is where to stay. Given how much time we spend at the MK, I would love to do a monorail resort, but that’s not going to happen without an awesome PIN code (c’mon awesome PIN code!) We’ve gone moderate the past two times: POFQ in 2012 and POR in 2013. In the absence of an awesome deluxe discount, we will probably go moderate again. Of the two, we preferred POFQ, so that’s where we’re leaning this time. Part of me wants to try another resort, but the other part is clinging to the comfort and familiarity of POFQ. Advice?
Tentatively the big questions are answered:
Ideal park days and ADRs
Note: all subject to change once official park schedule and recommendations are published. Also based on what ADRs we can actually get. I’m just too impatient to hold off planning. Must get it perfect in time for my 180 out day.
Wed. 12/25 (Christmas!!)
Other things I need to think about:
Clearly this could all shift around based on park recommendations and ADR availability. But I think it’s the right division of time between parks for us: 3+ days in MK, 2 partial days in AK, 3 partial days in Epcot, and 1 day at DHS.
I am officially crazy.
And now I have a ticker. That means we have to go, right?
Subbing!! Be back to read up on it in a minute!
I am overdue for an update... it's been a crazy few weeks. Maybe tonight I can find some time?!? I hope!
Holy cow. It’s been a while…
A lot has happened over the past few months.
DH had a mini midlife crisis and briefly pondered a new career direction (complete with moving the whole family to the Outer Banks.) If that had happened, we wouldn’t have been able to go to WDW for Christmas because he wouldn’t have had any seniority and likely could not have gotten the holidays off. After a few months of hemming and hawing (and basically driving me crazy,) he decided to stay put for now. The bad news is that I don’t live at the beach, but the good news is we could still go to Disney World!
Then we had a tax scare. My first attempt at our taxes had us owing an obscene amount of money (like 4 WDW trips worth) to the IRS. Eek. That definitely would have killed any discretionary spending, including a trip. But we sucked it up and went to an accountant who got us all squared away. Phew.
So we booked our trip! Woo hoo!
We watched the planning DVD with the kids a few times and both of them were super excited about MVMCP. Unfortunately, as ours plans stood we would be arriving the day after the last party. We thought about it, and decided to just head down 2 days earlier. We will have to pull DS out of school for 2 days to do that, but that last week before Christmas break is an entire week of ½ days, so really he wouldn’t be missing much of anything. We still planned on driving because airfare remained insane, even on Southwest, Jet Blue, and Air Tran. We would leave right after school got out on Wednesday, stop somewhere along the way, finish the drive on Thursday, and check into the hotel Thursday night. Neither of us were super excited about driving all that way, but we just couldn’t justify the costs of flights.
But then I learned that Frontier Airlines is starting a new Wilmington, DE to MCO route in July. I work in Wilmington, so it’s really not that far out of our way. I stalked the Frontier website waiting for December dates to become available. Last week they finally were and I could not believe it – we could get the whole family of 4 on direct flights to and from MCO on days that worked with our schedule for $1000. Considering what we would have spent on gas and potential hotel rooms if we drove, it is really only costing us a few dollars more to fly and it is saving us a TON of time.
Booked the flight and bought MVMCP tickets!
The new plan* (subject to ADR availability)
So with the decision to fly instead of drive and the addition of MVMCP into our plans, we had to move some things around. It also sneakily extended our vacation from 8 nights to 10 nights. Shhhh. Don’t tell DH. :rolleyes1
And since the original plans were drafted, the easywdw recommendations came out. Things actually stacked up pretty nicely. Yay!
So we’ve tweaked the plan… This is the “pie in the sky” ideal plan. Given how hard it seems to be to get December ADRs, we are / will be ready with assorted back-up plans. And if we can’t get the meals we want, we can always ditch the DxDDP. Got to admit I’m kinda freaking out about it.
I really, really, really want to get that free dining PIN that’s out there. I fear that our dates would end up being excluded if it turns into a Visa and/or general public offer.
Wednesday, 12/25 (Christmas!!)
Saturday, 12/28 (last park day)
The time has come my little friends, to talk of other things…
Ok, not really not really other things. Still ADRs. I’ve just got major Alice-brain right now.
Saturday was our -180 day. It was also my daughter’s way-too-elaborate (my fault, of course!) Alice in Wonderland unbirthday (but really 4th birthday) party. Mommy went a *tad* bit Pinterest crazy, and basically got no sleep Friday night. But, the good news is the party was awesome (maybe I can finally figure out how to post pictures?)
I was completely, totally stressed about pulling off the party. But I was even more stressed about ADRs. With it being Christmas and with so many free dining PINs out there, I assumed I was going to have a hard time getting what we wanted. Then you add on all the concerns about the stability of the MDE site, and I had basically convinced myself I wasn’t going to get anything I wanted and would be stuck eating QS every single meal.
I was ready and logged on at 5:45 am. I had pencils and scratch paper and print-outs of my target plan and bazillion back-up scenarios. I had the MDE site up in Firefox, Internet Explorer, and Chrome. The site never seems to load for me in Firefox. I decided to try Chrome. That really seemed to work. MDE is still really slow, but I powered through. A couple of times I jumped over to IE but that was even slower so I just went back to Chrome.
Here is the breakdown of what we wanted (in blue) and what we got (in pink):
Originally, due to some website booking challenges with Le Cellier on Christmas night (see below) I booked LC for this night and moved Akershus to Christmas night. But I called in at 7 when the phone lines opened and got squared away.
Day #1 = success! :thumbsup2
Originally, I nabbed a 5:10 at BOG but then read some posts saying that was “too late” to be able to be done in time for MVMCP waiting, so after DD’s birthday party I tried again and moved it up 15 minutes to 4:55. I had no problems getting BOG either attempt. That was the one I was most worried about. Phew.
Day #2 = success! :thumbsup2
Boma is a bit later than I wanted but I am totally fine with it. It will actually give us a bit more park time at AK.
Day #3 = success! :thumbsup2
Pretty darn close!
Day #4 = success! :thumbsup2
The last breakfast seating at RFC is 9:45 so we couldn’t do a 10:30ish. But, this is our 2nd AK day so I think we are ok with an earlier breakfast.
Day #5 = success! :thumbsup2
Christmas Eve at CRT!!! Yay!! Got right through to BBB at 7 and easily snagged the 8 am appointment in the MK. I am hoping that being one of the first appointments of the day will minimize the amount of time the whole thing takes. I’m a little worried about being done in time for our 10:20 at CP, but think we’ll be ok. Originally, I couldn’t get anything early at CRT (6:40 was the earliest I could get) but I just kept trying and eventually a 5:15 was available. We’d still like to do the Wishes Dessert Party this night (if it’s offered on Christmas Eve?)
Day #6 = success! :thumbsup2
Wednesday, 12/25 (Christmas!!)
The website was showing absolutely no availability for LC for dinner. I tried every time slot between 4 pm and 9 pm. I tried just searching dinner. Nothing. So I swapped out our LC and Akershus dinners and made ADRs based on that. But I kept trying all weekend. Still nothing. I just assumed LC was a popular Christmas meal and assumed others had beaten me to the punch. Then it finally dawned on me to call and ask. Amazingly we were able to get a 7:15, so I switched LC and Akershus backed to their original nights. Yay! Now I just need the CP booking to open up so I can trade out our regular San Angel Inn lunch ADR for a CP package.
Day #7 = success! :thumbsup2
No matter what I tried I could not get anything at LTT (just like LC above) but I was able to get it easily when I called. I really seems like the MDE site is not showing all the times that are actually available. Making ADRs online is certainly more convenient (and you get the extra hour) but it seemed like the phone agents had more times available than the site was willing/able to show.
Day #8 = success! :thumbsup2
I decided to push back our desired lunch and dinner times by 30 minutes. Just like LC and LTT above, there was absolutely no availability showing for Marrakesh. But I called and easily got when I needed.
Day #9 = success! :thumbsup2
Saturday, 12/28 (last park day)
Same troubles as above… nothing available on the website. Called and what exactly what I wanted.
Overall, a resounding success. The MDE site is maddening, but not nearly as bad as I had feared. I definitely got the “server is busy” message a few times, but I would just click back and try again. Eventually it worked. I did not get confirmation emails for a few of my ADRs, but they do show up in MDE and I confirmed them with the agents on the phone. Seemed to be the best approach – make as many ADRs as possible online at 6 am, and then just call at 7 to fill in any holes.
So now we need Candlelight Processional and Wishes Dessert Party reservations to open up. Oh, and a Disney Visa and/or GP free dining offer would be nice too :woohoo:
Your plans sound great! :thumbsup2 We're arriving right before you leave (on the 28th). Thank you for posting about your ADR experience...my ADR is a week from today. It's so weird - and annoying! - that not all of the times seem to show up online.
I booked ADRs for a different trip about a month ago and MDE didn't work for me at all...so it sounds like they've worked out some of the kinks. Progress?
Glad you got everything you wanted, even if the times aren't perfect. You'll love 'Ohana dinner, it's one of our favorites. :)
I have 2 (ideally 3) tasks left for trip-planning:
I also have a shiny new ticker, since I realized my old ticker was based on our original pre-MVMCP plans.
Don't mind me...
Just trying to see if I can post photos...
Check that off the list... then uncheck... then check...
After seeing a post on a CP thread I subscribed to, I discovered that people were able to book online reservations for CP packages this morning. I shot out of bed and downstairs to my laptop so fast. (I knew checking the DIS on my phone before even getting out of bed each day was a wise thing to do!!)
With minimal trouble, I was able to book us a 12:50 pm CP ADR at San Angel Inn, for the 5 pm CP on Christmas day. Victory!
I was hoping to get something closer to 1:30 so I tried again. The system showed a 1:30 so I pounced on it, letting my 12:50 go. Yay!
Until I looked at the confirmation... the 1:30 was just a regular San Angel Inn lunch, not the CP package. Eek. Boogers. And other non-DIS appropriate expressions of displeasure.
I scrambled into action. At this point it was after 7 so I immediately called and got on hold. I also kept trying to get a new CP package online. My faithful Chrome browser failed me and wasn't showing anything for 12/25 at San Angel. Stress level rising. I totally had the reservation and screwed it up. Rawr.
So I logged on to MDE on Firefox and tried there. Success! Got my 12:50 CP package ADR back.
Roller coaster ride. And I'm not even at WDW yet!
Now to wait for Wishes Dessert Party slots to open...
And that Visa and/or general public free dining would be nice too...
I'm debating on trying to book the dessert party too...so I'm right there with you on waiting for that to open up! :surfweb: Congrats on getting your CP reservation (twice!)!
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