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Old 03-30-2012, 10:43 PM   #1
kristenrice
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The big one: Trip report!!*NOW WITH PICTURES! POST #69*

Well, here it is...Our big trip! We are just under three months out...or just over two months out, however you want to look at it. I'm going to try and kill the time by writing a pre-trip report. Even if nobody cares to follow along, it will be a nice way to journal our long-awaited extended-family vacation.

Part 1: The Cast

My dad and mom...the BEST parents ever. They are 64 and 60 respectively. Dad is one year away from retiring from his 40+ year career as a computer programmer. Mom is a lymphoma survivor who was forced into an early "retirement" from nursing 20 years ago when the chemotherapy knocked out 50% of her lung function. She is currently doing fine, but does have frequent respiratory infections due to her fragile lungs. They have been to WDW 6 times, most recently in 2010.

Me (37) and my DH (43) and our two daughters, ages 8 and 6 currently. We have been DVC members since 2008 and this will be the fifth visit for our children. DH is not a Disney fan but he comes along anyways...and would never admit that he actually has fun when he is there.

My brother (35) and his wife (35) and their three children...DD10...DS8...and DD7. My brother's last trip was in 1988 when our parents took us as kids. His wife took her first trip in October 2011 with me as an information-gathering excursion. This will be the first trip for their kids.

My sister (33) and her husband (36) and their two daughters, ages 3 and 5 months (currently). My sister's last trip was also in 1988 and neither her husband or kids have ever gone.

So, in case you lost count, that is a total of 15 people, ranging in age from 5 months to 64 years old. Dad and mom are paying for EVERYONE!

...up next...Part 2: You're Planning HOW Far Ahead??
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2001 OKW 2002 WL for HONEYMOON!January 2008 POP/OKW October 2008 AKV GIRLS ONLY! June 2009 AKV October 2009 POP with my BFF for my Birthday April 2010 AKV April 2011 HHI Oct 2011 BLT/BWV with DSiL June 2012 GRAND GATHERING at OKW April 2013 HHI November 2013 AKV *1st Half-Marathon*Oct 2014 Surprising the Nieces at AKV

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Old 03-30-2012, 11:32 PM   #2
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Part 2: You're Planning HOW Far Ahead??!!

The seed for this trip was planted over 11 years ago, in February 2001. I wanted to take a trip to WDW as a "grown-up". My only requirement was that I was going to stay on-site since I had never done that as a child. DH and I (engaged at the time, not yet married) thought it would be a nice bonding experience if we invited my parents to drive down to Florida with us. From a practical perspective, it was the prudent thing to do. We split the gas and lodging costs en route and we were also able to split up the driving between the four of us. It proved to be quite an adventure! Our first night on the road, we put the 4 of us into a Best Western that we affectionately dubbed "The Dive". I thought it would be a great bargain ($40 for the night, split in half, made it $20 per couple) but not so much. There was no heat when we arrived (in February) and the "free breakfast" was a bag of powdered donut holes set out on the lobby table in the morning. We only needed the room for about 8 hours to sleep so we dealt with it. After we'd been asleep for about 3 hours (fully clothed, jackets and all), we awoke to find that the heat had kicked in. If felt like we'd gone to bed in Canada and woke up in Cancun. After we stopped laughing at the irony of the situation and changed into appropriate bed clothes, we tried to snag a few more hours of sleep before heading out again. The next night was a step up. We stayed at a Country Inn & Suites in Lake City, FL. It was so nice, compared to the dive, but we noticed a lot of construction supplies. We asked what that was all about and the front desk staff told us that the hotel had just opened....the day before!

Ok, trust me, I have a point to all of this ...

We arrived in WDW and drove to our resort of choice...Old Key West. I thought it was a great bargain! A 2BR villa for "only" $429 a night. Since I was budgeting for $250 a night for our half, this fit my budget perfectly. (*This is also where I learned my lesson to do more research before I travel) We were completely surprised by the sheer size of the villa. It was amazing! Of course, it wasn't going to take too much to impress us after "The Dive". Up until that trip, we'd never even heard of the Disney Vacation Club. Now, here we were, staying at the first DVC resort and not even realizing it. We actually sat through the DVC tour too and they comped us a lunch at Big River Brewing. We were intrigued by the DVC pitch, but with a wedding and hopefully children on the horizon, we decided not to purchase at that time. (*BEST DECISION EVER*) We loved our first onsite stay and dad said he would never stay off-site again.

On the drive back home, dad made a mention that he would love to take the entire family there someday. At the time, only my brother was married so the "entire family" was only a total of 7 people at the time. In 2007, I rented DVC points for the first time from a fellow Michigander. My dad was intrigued by the process when I told him how much money I'd saved. I found out that the person I'd rented from was more than willing to transfer the points we'd need for our entire family. That was when my dad decided that in 2012, he was going to treat the entire family to a WDW vacation at Old Key West resort. Let the planning begin!!

The first decision to tackle? When are we going to go? Although we all live within 15 miles of each other, our kids are in different schools. The main consensus was that we wanted to avoid taking anyone out of school. Christmas was immediately off the table since nobody was interested in tackling the crowds, especially the first-time visitors. The first suggestion was spring break. Unfortunately, we could not be sure that everyone would have spring break at the same time. The second suggestion was missing a little school and going in February over mid-winter break. This corresponds with President's Day. My dad was really pushing for this option since he likes the weather in February. Unfortunately, one of the schools involved cancels their mid-winter break if they accumulate too many snow days. I also pointed out that we'd have a legitimate risk of weather-related travel delays which could prove financially catastrophic if 15 people got stranded.

So, we decided on June. We would have preferred early June, but again, when the dates had to be finalized, we didn't know the exact days that everyone would be breaking for the year. As it turns out, June is the perfect time for our celebration. My parents have their 40th wedding anniversary on June 30. Then there are the birthdays... nephew turns 9 on June 12...my daughter turns 9 on June 23...AND my niece turns 4 on June 23...and my brother's wife turns "29" on June 25. We settled on June 16-23, 2012.

Dad had his heart set on OKW. Initially, he'd dreamed of a grand villa. The family quickly grew and he realized that two 2BR's would be cheaper and more practical. We now have two 2BR's booked for 7 nights (cash-points-cash) and hopefully, it will all be correct when we arrive.

That is how this trip was born....stay tuned...

....up next: Part 3: How are we going to get 15 people to Orlando?
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2001 OKW 2002 WL for HONEYMOON!January 2008 POP/OKW October 2008 AKV GIRLS ONLY! June 2009 AKV October 2009 POP with my BFF for my Birthday April 2010 AKV April 2011 HHI Oct 2011 BLT/BWV with DSiL June 2012 GRAND GATHERING at OKW April 2013 HHI November 2013 AKV *1st Half-Marathon*Oct 2014 Surprising the Nieces at AKV

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Old 03-31-2012, 01:09 AM   #3
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I'm totally in Kristen! Can't wait to hear how you're going to wrangle all 15 of you. Sounds like you're going have a lot of fun.
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Old 03-31-2012, 07:26 AM   #4
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What a great story! Don't forget . . . Father's Day is on June 17th!!

I grew up in Michigan, but now live in Indiana. I wish the Michigan schools got out before June, like here in Indiana. We have some friends in Michigan who are teachers and have a 7 yo and we would like to take them to our "second home" sometime. I just wish we could do it in early June when the point values are lower. Of course, our schools start by mid-August, so we can't take advantage of the lower point values at the end of August, as you can.

Looking forward to the rest of your report!
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Old 03-31-2012, 07:40 AM   #5
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Thumbs up Wow

Sounds like an amazing trip. Can't wait to see the TR on this one. Have a great time.

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Old 03-31-2012, 10:00 AM   #6
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Sounds like a fun family "memory maker" trip. Looking forward to hearing more.
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Old 03-31-2012, 04:34 PM   #7
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sounds like a lot of fun!! Can't wait to hear about all the first timers first impressions. Ready for some more!
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Old 03-31-2012, 05:53 PM   #8
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Also looking forward to more...
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Old 03-31-2012, 07:33 PM   #9
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I think we may have tried to stay at "your" Best Western. We were also lured in by a low rate. However, it being summer, we were scared off by the enormous COCKROACH on the pillow.

Looking forward to more!
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Old 03-31-2012, 09:03 PM   #10
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Part 3: How are we going to get 15 people to Orlando?

Dad knew right off the bat that flying is the ONLY option. Although we have driven before, it just was not a good option for this trip. The working budget was $500 per person for airfare, or $7000 total. (At the time, the baby was not yet in the picture so he was planning for 14) I thought that was WAY too much, but better to over-estimate than under-estimate.

We live in West Michigan and the most remote family is about 30 minutes from the Grand Rapids airport. Historically, the major carriers have not offered non-stop flights to Orlando and the average price has been in the $300-$350 price range. When AirTran came to Grand Rapids, I was thrilled. My family of four had already made the drive to Detroit (twice) just to fly AirTran, and it saved us about $400 each time. Even though I did not have a trip planned, I began to watch the AirTran flights from Grand Rapids to Orlando. The lowest I ever saw was $92 one-way on the non-stop option.

When the time rolled around and our flight dates were released (in early November 2011), the non-stop flight was listed at over $350. We tried calling AirTran directly and talking to their group sales division. They quoted us the same price so there was no advantage to booking at $350. My dad thought about it, but I told him to wait a few weeks because I thought we could do better than $175 each way. The lowest I saw it drop was down to $96 for the flight down...but it was still over $150 for the return.

The other issue was that there is only one non-stop option from Grand Rapids and it departs at 7:15am. I know, most people would love to get to the resort by 11am, but not me. At first, my dad really liked the idea...until I pointed out a few disadvantages. First, the kids (and me, a career third-shifter) would have to be up by 4am so that we could be to the airport by 5:30am at the latest. Then, we'd have the flight and DME ride...that's no big deal, we'd all be excited. Then, we'd arrive at OKW around 11am, only to find out that our room won't be ready for 5 more hours. I am fairly certain that the younger children, particularly the baby, would like to rest and nap. Well, we'd just hang out by the pool, right? Maybe...but in the middle of the day in the middle of JUNE!? It could be sweltering (not good for the baby, or anyone) or it could be thunderstorming so then what?

This led us to look at Detroit. The flight times were much better for the non-stop options, plus there are two non-stops to choose from. The morning non-stop leaves at 11:30am and the return departs at 4:15pm, landing around 7pm. We'd prefer a little bit earlier return, but not the 10:30am option. We also found the prices to be a lot cheaper from Detroit. I also convinced him that getting a seat for the baby would be the safest option and that he was going to be way under his budgeted amount anyways. He agreed so we began looking for 15 seats.

In order to take advantage of the "fare buckets", I told my dad to book each family separately. I also told him to BUY THE SEAT ASSIGNMENTS!!! He agreed and even booked the "premium" seats at the front of the coach section. The total cost for all 15 seats, including the seat assignment fees, came to $3650. Just for reference, the cost for the flight out of Grand Rapids would have been about $3700, without the seat assignments.

Now, we have flights out of Detroit....a three-hour drive from home. Luckily, I have experience with this scenario, as I have done it before. Since our flight is scheduled for 11:30am, we are going to drive over the night before. That way, traffic backups or any other unforeseen delay should not cause us to miss our flight. ( I was involved in an accident on the way to board our dogs before our first trip. If I hadn't added time into our itinerary to have a sit-down breakfast, we would have missed our flight. Instead, we had to eat on the run.) We booked three rooms at the SpringHill Suites, using the park and fly rate. The suites sleep up to 6 people so even my brother's family of 5 can be accomodated in one room. My family has a Suburban so we offered to drive my parents to Detroit so that we will only need the parking for three vehicles. Dad booked a king-bed room for him and mom. It was about $450 for the 4 rooms, which includes parking for 8 days!

Since my parents are the best in the world (did I mention that already?), they have offered to give each family a $100 gift card for gas to drive to and from Detroit. They have also offered to pay for a hotel room for anyone that wants to spend the night upon our return so that we don't have to drive home after a 2.5 hour flight. So far, everyone is just planning on driving straight home. We'll see if that changes...

Let me catch you up here...

We are all leaving on FRIDAY, June 15, and driving to the SpringHill Suites in Detroit. Then, the next morning, we will all be flying AirTran, non-stop to Orlando at 11:30am.

The next thing that we hope to add to our flight is the business-class upgrade. Airtran offers an upgrade to business class for $69 each way but you can only purchase it 24 hours or less before your flight. The upgrade entitles you to 2 free checked bags, priority boarding and free snacks and beverages, including alcohol. I've done this for every flight I've been on to Orlando and I highly recommend it. Since there are only 12 business-class seats, we cannot all get the upgrade. Dad decided that he will try to upgrade two families on the way down and two families on the way back, if possible. On the way home, there are already 3 of the 12 BC seats booked so that means our chances are less. We're keeping our fingers crossed. We're mostly interested in the upgrade so that all of our checked luggage will be included. As of now, it looks like we will have a total of 6-8 checked bags. Those who are upgraded will check the bags and the others will stick to carryons. Even if we can only get one family upgraded, we should be covered.

When we get to Orlando, it is Disney transportation for the rest of the week.......... There's no sense in having multiple rental cars since we have no intention of leaving WDW property. The bus system is not perfect, but it is a much better alternative considering how much $$$ it would cost to rent vehicles.

That's it for this installment...

...Up next: Part 4: Dining Without a Plan for 7 Days with 15 People...!
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2001 OKW 2002 WL for HONEYMOON!January 2008 POP/OKW October 2008 AKV GIRLS ONLY! June 2009 AKV October 2009 POP with my BFF for my Birthday April 2010 AKV April 2011 HHI Oct 2011 BLT/BWV with DSiL June 2012 GRAND GATHERING at OKW April 2013 HHI November 2013 AKV *1st Half-Marathon*Oct 2014 Surprising the Nieces at AKV
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Old 04-01-2012, 06:13 PM   #11
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We are arriving the 16th...four adults, two children...first night in a two bedroom at Bay Lake Towers, then we move to OKW on the 17th, in a two bedroom by HH until the 23rd. We did a grand gathering last year, in a GV, 7 adults, 4 children. Was wonderful. We ate breakfast most times in the Villa, and had table service together once a day. We'll be on the look out for your family. You got a great deal on airfares...we are paying $300+ a ticket.
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Old 04-02-2012, 08:16 AM   #12
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Lovin' your PTR! Look forward to reading more.
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Old 04-02-2012, 07:01 PM   #13
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Nice start to your PTR. As a GVSU alumna who flew a lot .... going to Detroit is really the best, and its great that you get a relaxing start to your trip going to a hotel even before you fly! Would not want to drive to DTW then hop on a plane, especially since I remember the two seasons in Michigan: winter and road construction!

DH keeps eyeing the GVs since they look so beautiful, but always come back to the reality of how much farther points go with the 2 bedrooms.

Sounds like y'all have made some great choices and are ready to go! Can't wait to hear about your ADR's (or lack thereof).
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Old 04-09-2012, 12:38 PM   #14
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Part 4: Dining for 15...without a plan!

Let me clarify...we do not have a DINING plan. When this trip was in it's "research and development" phase, my dad wanted to get the Deluxe DDP for everyone. He figured that would be the easiest way for every family to get their three meals a day. He changed his tune in 2010 when he came with us to AKV. We did the DxDDP for 2 nights and he was able to experience first-hand how much food it is. I tried to warn him...

Since DVC did away with the segmenting of the reservations, we had to decide between going with a DDP or skipping it altogether. One of my dad's main concerns with this trip is making sure that everybody gets the most out of it as possible without completely breaking the bank. Dining at WDW is such a big part of the vacation expeirence so dad wanted to make sure that everybody could eat a sit-down meal every day, if they so desired. We crunched the numbers and came to the conclusion that the DDP would not make a lot of sense for our family. Thus, dad created our own dining plan.

DSiL and I went to WDW in October and bought AP's. Dad gave us each $300 towards the cost since that is what he spent on the 6-day PH's for the others. I bought a TIW card in October and DSiL is planning on buying one when we arrive in June. These cards will be used extensively as you will soon see. Dad even reimbursed me for half the cost of my card and he is paying for half of my DSiL's card too.

For the most part, we are going to one park each day for the first four days of our trip. We don't plan on being together all day, every day, but we do want to meet up for dinner.

I made our reservations at the 180-day mark. I think I made some online and then went over to my dad's house to make the rest over the phone. So, without further ado....here they are...

Arrival night (Saturday)
6pm dinner for all of us at T-Rex
...more on this later...

Sunday: Epcot Day (Sunday...Father's Day)
5:20pm dinner at Garden Grill for the entire family...except our family of 4...
...we *have* to eat at LeCellier (5:50pm) for dinner

Monday: Hollywood Studios Day
Dad is treating the entire group to the Fantasmic "Dinner" Package at Mama Melrose's. I put "dinner" in quotes because the latest "dinner" we could get is at 3:30pm. I told my dad to try calling back inside of 30 days in case a later time opens up. Fantasmic isn't until 9pm that night so 3:30pm for dinner is rather early.
UPDATE: We opted to book a lunch ADR at 1:20pm. This way, there will be time for the young and restless to head back to the room after lunch for a nap or brief swim.

Tuesday: Animal Kingdom Day
Everyone is splitting up today!
My parents and sister's family chose Tusker House for dinner at 6pm.
My brother's family chose Yak N Yeti for dinner, also at 6pm.
My family has to have our traditional meal at Boma at 6:25pm.

Wednesday: Magic Kingdom Day
We are sending mom and dad to the 5:15pm Spirit of Aloha Dinner Show for their anniversary present. The kids bought them Cat 1 seats so we're hoping they get a great view.
While they are enjoying their luau, the remaining 13 of us have a 5:00pm dinner at O'Hana.

Thursday: Open Day
My sister's family is going to Akershus for an 11am breakfast with the princesses.
My sister-in-law really wanted to try the Coral Reef so they are eating there at noon.
My dad loves the 50's Prime Time Cafe and he wanted to squeeze that one in somewhere. My kids love that one too so we are going to eat lunch with them at 12:05pm.

Friday: Last Full Day
We are closing out the trip with a 5:45pm dinner for all of us at Chef Mickey's. My dad is elated that the MK has EMH that night and he wants to stay until 1am. I think he is going to be napping before dinner.
I really wish that they would open the TOTWL to all DVC members and their guests because I think it would be so neat to close out our family trip by watching Wishes from the roof...but I digress...

Saturday: Time to leave...
As of now, we have a breakfast booked at Olivia's for all of us at 10am. This is still up in the air because we have ordered groceries that are mostly breakfast foods. If we have a lot left over, we'll just eat in the room before checkout. OTOH, it is my daughter's 9th birthday and my niece's 4th birthday...oh, and my niece's name is OLIVIA! It almost seems like we *have* to eat there.

We'd like to do something special for the birthday girls ON their birthday (besides subject them to 8 hours of travel) but we will be working with a limited timeframe. My mom is making birthday cupcakes but since I'm fairly certain the restaurant will not let us bring them with us, we'll probably have a little make-shift "party" by the pool. Our flight is scheduled to depart at 4:15pm so I'm planning a DME pickup time of about 1pm. I figure we'll have at least an hour to enjoy the pool, which would still give us another hour to change, re-pack the swimsuits and ready ourselves for the DME bus.

Getting back to dad's dining plan (our version of a "DDP")...

Each adult has been allotted $50/day for 5 days and each child has been allotted $25/day. Dad based it on 5 days because he is paying for two dinners for the group (Mama Melrose's and Chef Mickey's). He is also paying for the grocery order which includes most of the food we will need for breakfast. Mom has "The Box" packed in her basement, ready to be shipped. She has cereal, pop-tarts, granola bars, trail mix, pancake mix, syrup, and a whole bunch of stuff for the baby, all ready to go. They paid for all of that stuff too since they really wanted to make sure that everything was covered.

After purchasing gift cards for each family, dad realized that my oldest niece is 10 and considered an "adult" for dining purpose, but he counted her as a child in his calculations. He decided to adjust their family's dining allowance by an extra $50.

Dad is awesome (have I mentioned that already?) and when he looked at the T-Rex menu and that we were all eating there together, he had a concern. He said that he didn't want everyone's dining budget to take a huge hit on our first meal. So, he decided to give each family $10 per adult and $5 per child towards the cost of their T-Rex meal. (In case you weren't paying attention, my family's "first" meal will be at LeCellier...for dinner...THAT will make a dent)

I went through everyone's table-service meals and gave them a rough estimate of how much they would have left to cover any of their other meals and/or snacks. Each family will have about $200 left over for their snacks, beverages and counter-service meals.

So there you have it...7 days of dining for 15 people. We leave in 7 weeks and 4 days!

Up next...Part 5: Packing and Other Pre-Trip Tasks
(It might be a while until the next update now that Spring Break is over and there is a LOT of stuff coming up on the kids' schedules)
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Old 04-09-2012, 03:22 PM   #15
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Subscribed! I will be in your boat NOV of 2013, so I can't WAIT to see how this goes, and HOPE to learn something from your experience. THANK YOU for sharing!

-KJ
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