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Old 11-30-2012, 09:32 PM   #1
BensDaddy
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Disneyland and GCR Villas - Week After Thanksgiving

Just returned from our surprise trip to Disneyland with our six year old son and thought I would provide a trip report. We have been Disney enthusiasts for many years and, in fact, have taken Disney vacations in each of the last three years. When our son was three we took a long weekend to WDW. When he was four we took a "fact finding" mission to Disneyland. And when he was 5 we sailed on the Disney Dream. This trip, however, was special because it was the first trip that he would be tall enough to ride virtually all of the rides and, perhaps more importantly, old enough to decide what he wanted to do and hopefully to remember it.

I enjoy planning and our family vacations - the research, the money saving opportunities, you name it. We usually will take one big vacation each year and other a number of long weekend trips. This trip was about 11 months in planning. We knew that we wanted to bring him to see "Cars Land" at Disney's California Adventure, but I also knew that 6 was a great age to experience Star Tours, Toy Story Mania, and Pirates of the Caribbean. So my first course of business was determining when we should go. Our family typically vacations in October. It is a little cooler, prices are lower because the kids are back at school, and I am easily able to get vacation approved at work. This year, however, I decided to book our trip for the week AFTER the Thanksgiving holiday weekend. This is widely reported to be one of the periods of lowest park attendance.

Once we chose the week we could nail down what we wanted to do. My original plan was to fly into San Diego (much cheaper) and spend a day or two at Sea World and exploring the nearby tide pools with my little animal lover. Then we were going to take Amtrak up the coast to Anaheim to finish out our trip. As my planning continued though, it seemed that trying to squeeze that much into a six day vacation was going to leave us time-compressed. I knew that I wanted 4 full days at the Disney parks to give us ample time to experience some of the higher demand attractions, especially Radiator Springs Racers which frequently went down for maintenance.

I settled on flying into Orange County Airport (SNA) and spending the next four days at Disney. Then something odd happened. Almost overnight my little boy who loved Mickey Mouse suddenly became enamored with Scooby Doo and the Transformers. Don't get me wrong, he still loved Disney, but his tastes were maturing. On a hunch I showed him a YouTube video of the new Transformers ride at Universal Studios Hollywood. I know it was a little violent for a 6 year old, but who knew when we would be there again. For the next several days he wouldn't stop talking about the Transformers ride. So, I decided we needed to add a day. I changed our airfare (saving about $75 in the process) and set out to find a hotel.

Now, I mentioned that when he was 4 we visited Disneyland on a "fact finding" mission. That was only a two day trip during which we flew into LAX, rented a car and stayed at the Courtyard Marriott on Harbor blvd. That trip was challenging for a number of reasons. On the one hand, we were able to fly nonstop from our little town in Arkansas. On the other, we landed right in the middle of LA rush hour. It took several hours to drive to Anaheim, and then the hotel charged us for parking. We used ART to get back and for to the parks each day on that trip, which wasnt too bad, but I decided early on that I did not want to deal with a car on this trip. Moreso, I did not want to deal with LAX.

I had paid careful attention to the hotels adjacent to the main gate at Disneyland and noticed a Fairfield Marriott within walking distance with a McDonalds and a few other restaurants right outside. Perfect! I cashed in Marriott points from work (2free nights, the rest at around $150/night) and booked the week long trip. Then I booked flights in Southwest from Tulsa - about a 90 minute drive west from our home, but fairly priced considering I wanted to fly into Orange County.

I need to pause for a second to mention that I have always been intrigued by Disney Vacation Club. I have studied DVC, crunched the numbers, and unfortunately never been able to make it work for our family (mostly because we live so far from any Disney resort). Still, after each trip I can't help but to drool over DVC ownership a bit and fantasize about what it would be like. This was the case one day when I stumbled across a website where DVC members could rent points that would otherwise go unused to non-members. I was intrigued - who wouldn't be? DVC properties are generally larger, have kitchens, and - I won't lie - have an air of exclusivity that I found appealing. The Grand Californian hotel, it turned out, had DVC villas on site.

I had looked at the Disneyland hotel or the Grand Californian but quickly dismissed them based on the $300-$500 per night price tag. Maybe by renting points I could bring the price down a bit. I didn't want to rent just from any old individual I met on the Internet though - that seemed risky. So after a little additional research on DisBoards and elsewhere I found David's vacation rentals. For $13 per point, I could rent a studio villa at the Grand Californian. That worked out to be a little over $1000 for the 4 nights. Still expensive, but now within only about $50 per night of the Fairfield Inn I had planned on. Plus, we would have the advantage of early magic hours by staying on site, a kitchen to prepare breakfasts and snacks, and a very appealing location right within the resort.

To save money I kept the first two night reservations at the Fairfield - they were booked with points and if we intended to go to Universal it really didnt matter if we were on site at Disney yet. Then I booked the remaining 4 nights from Monday through Thursday with David's vacation rentals.

I booked the Disneyland Airport Express (Southern California Gray Line) to avoid the need for a car. I also went through that company to book our on day excursion (with transportation) to Universal with front-of-line privileges (since Sunday was still a holiday weekend and crowds were expected). There was a $5 per person discount for the airport transportation on the Anaheim visitors center website. I also found a $10 per person coupon for the Universal package.

All that was left was to take the trip. We left our home in Arkansas on Saturday morning - still keeping the trip a secret. We told our little boy that we were driving to Tulsa to celebrate his Mom's birthday (not entirely a fib...)

We told our little guy as we parked at the Tulsa airport. He was, as you might imagine, over the moon with excitement. Our SWA flight departed Tulsa and landed in Las Vegas on time. We had a 3 hour break between flights in LAS so we took the train to the "D" concourse for dinner. There was a larger modern food court in D, plus a nice children's play area featuring a control tower for the kids to climb on. This helped little guy burn off some energy before we caught our connecting flight.

We landed in SNA at around 8:30 and by 8:45 we were sitting on the Disneyland Resort Express bus. We were the only passengers! The bus drove us to the Disneyland hotel where a ticket agent boarded and took our payment. Then the bus drove us to the Fairfield where it dropped us on Harbor right in front of Milly's restaurant. We dragged our luggage and a VERY sleepy six year old to the hotel. They checked us in quickly and we arrived at our room at 9:30 Pacific, 11:30 Arkansas 6-year old time. ;-)

The Fairfield is an adequate motel with exterior corridors and pleasant decor. The front desk staff was extremely helpful and went out of their way to make us comfortable. The room had two queen beds and a split bath with sink in the room and toilet and shower in the bath. The room was recently renovated and looked fairly crisp and clean. I did notice that the walls are extremely thin so you hear absolutely every sound your neighbors make. I also found the beds to be rather hard and uncomfortable. I was glad that we were only staying for two nights.

We were up early the next morning - our bodies not yet accustomed to Pacific time. We dressed and went to McDonalds for breakfast (10% coupon on the Anaheim website). After breakfast we still had some time, so we walked to Disneyland to pick up our tickets from will-call. (I had purchased them from tickets-at-work through my employer). Disneyland tickets in hand we walked back to the Fairfield to wait for the Gray Line bus to Universal.

The bus picked us up on-time and took us to their terminal not far from the hotel. There we paid for our excursion, and boarded a second bus - this time a double decker - to Universal. Little guy loved riding on the double decker but quickly grew bored with the driver's running commentary enroute. The ride from Anaheim to Universal was about 45 minutes. We arrived shortly after park opening. The front-of-line passes give you the ability to bypass the line one time for each ride. It also gives you priority access to shows. We went straight to Transformers and were there early enough that we did not need to use our passes, so we pocketed them and stood in the regular line. In less than 5 minutes we rode Transformers. When we got off, little guy's favorite Transformer (Bumblebee) was taking pictures. We took a few photos and then went back on Transformers again, this time using our front of line passes. My wife then used the pass to quickly ride the Mummy coaster.

We had some lunch and then used the passes to ride Simpsons and the studio tour with no wait. (The King Kong 3D segment is amazing!) We watched the Animal Actors show and the front of line passes gave us special access after the show, so son was able to pet some of the movie dogs. Very cool!!

The park was busy, but those front of line passes made it a breeze. Definitely worth the money on a holiday weekend. After dinner we boarded the bus for the :35 minute ride back to the hotel.

The next morning I had arranged a taxi to take us from the Fairfield to the Grand Californian. I had purchased and inflatable booster seat on Amazon, and it worked perfectly to make sure our son was safe and comfortable for the 10 minute drive. By 8am we were checked in at Grand Californian and given our room keys to use for early entry at California Adventure. The front desk staff told us that they would text my cell phone when the room was ready, we left our bags with the bell staff and reminded them that we had ordered groceries from Von's (free delivery!) - Since we don't drink, they could sign for it on our behalf. They told us to just call when we got to our hotel room and they would bring everything up.

California Adventure has a private entrance from the GCR, but there is only one turnstile there, so we walked to the main entrance. At about 8:30 am we were the third family in line at the security tent. They promptly opened security at 8:45 and we were 3rd in line at the main gate. At 9am they opened California Adventure (early magic hours) and allowed people to enter and go about as far as Cathay Circle. There they had a long, yellow rope. There must have been hundreds of families piling in behind the rope. We made sure to be as far to the right as possible and right behind the rope. We followed the wide-right technique and walked to Radiator Springs behind the rope-walkers. Most people were pleasant and there was little running or pushing. RSR opened on time (phew!) and we were in the first twenty or so people to ride.

RSR is amazing! From the themeing, to the music, to the ride experience itself, it is truly an E-ticket ride that should not be missed. Little guy was immediately begging to ride it again, but by the time we got off the standby line was already showing 60 minute wait. So my wife went and stood in line for a fast pass while I took him on The Mater ride.

After Mater we took a few photos (Photo Pass Plus $69... I'll let you know how it worked out) and then met my wife who had Fast Passes in hand. We ducked down through Bugs Life while the park opened to the general public and the masses poured through the gates and swamped Radiator Springs.

We have a Disney Visa card, so we took advantage of the free 5X10 photo with Stitch, then went on Soaring with no wait. After that, little guy wanted to burn off some energy so he did the Wilderness Explorer challenge course and got a picture with Dug. We decided to go back to Radiator Springs for lunch. My wife and I shared the chicken with rice. I also had the baked beans (yum!). My little boy had Mac and cheese (not popular). Then it was our fast pass time, so we rode RSR for a second time. (Same ending, Luigi's tires)

We got a text around 3 that the room was ready so we checked in, unpacked, and put away all of the groceries that Von's had delivered. Then we went to Rainforest Cafe for dinner. I had joined the Landry'select club a few weeks earlier. That gave us priority seating and a $50 meal credit ($25 for joining and $25 for my wife's birthday!). With an appetizer and 3 meals the bill came to $7 after the credit. Nice!

While we were sitting there I decided to check RSR wait time. It said 60 minutes. We made a family decision to ride it one more time - at night! We got in line and almost immediately the ride broke down. They announced an indefinite repair time. We figured we had planned to wait an hour anyway, so we would give it a feww minutes before bailing out. Over the next few minutes almost everyone in line ahead of us left, leaving us only about 20 people from the front of the line. A half hour later the ride reopened and we rode RSR for a third time - and at night! (Not to be missed!)

We returned to our studio villa at GCR and opened the curtains to find that room 5504 overlooked California Adventure. We sat on our balcony and ended our first night at Disney by watching World of Color! (Audio is in channel 46 in your room). The studio villa was like an ordinary hotel room, but slightly larger. Ours had a king bed, a fold out couch, and a balcony. The bathroom was split with the sink in the hallway, but recessed so the light from the sink didn't quite make it around the corner to the bedroom where it could wake up the little guy. The toilet and shower were obviously separate, a pocket door installed to make everything more spacious. There was a large closet, with two bathrobes, vacuum cleaner and plenty if linens. The kitchenette had a dorm-sized fridge, microwave, toaster, and plenty if paper plates, napkins, paper bowls, and plastic cutlery. The studio was not equipped with washer and dryer, but there was one in the first floor that was free for villa guests.

The next morning we went to Disneyland during early magic hours and rode Buzz Lightyear, Star Tours, and Space Mountain before the park opened to the public. We stayed until closing, watching the Holiday Magic fireworks display. I think we all felt pretty choked up when it started to snow on Main Street!

We finally did get to see World of Color from ground-level on our third day. It was technologically marvelous, but - and don't hate me for saying this - I thought it lacked the emotional "punch" of other Disney shows. I didn't leave with the choked up, happy feeling I got from other shows. He had a blue fast pass, by the way, stood just to the right of the pergola, and my 6 year old could see perfectly without being held. Oh, and I highly recommend the chicken and tzaziki sauce at the Paradise Garden Grill if you're on that side of the park.

On the last day at Disneyland we decided to just check and see if there was space at Blue Bayou. There was! The food was expensive, so my wife and I split the Monte Cristo ($12 for an extra plate charge) and my son got another Mac n cheese kids meal. I enjoyed the monte Cristo and didn't find it to be greasy at all - it was, however, very filling! (About $70 with tip)

We spent the day going on Star Tours (3 times) Matterhorn (6 times... Try it at night!) and exploring all of the little details that one might miss if you are rushing from line to line. We watched "Steamboat Willy" on Main Street, rode a double decker bus back to the castle, and got an "Honorary Citizen of Disneyland" button for my little boy. We rode in Walt's caboose on the train, took photos with Mickey and Goofy, and rode Haunted Mansion 3 times!

We spent about $300 on meals in the parks over those 4 days. That was splitting meals between my wife and I, eating breakfasts in our room and bringing snacks and choosing water over soft drinks most of the time. That included our one "splurge" (Lunch at Blue Bayou). Not cheap, but could have been worse.

With photo pass plus, supposedly all of the photos we took are waiting for us online. We had over 80 at last count and plus includes a release so we can have them printed anywhere we want. I will report back.

The Disneyland Airport Express picked us up at 8am this morning and we were at SNA around 8:45 for our 10:30 flight home. As I write this we are about 200 miles from Tulsa on Southwest and, with a little luck, should be home in about 2 and a half hours.

The big takeaway was that staying on site (early magic hours) was worth its weight in gold. Renting DVC points is awesome and the room we got overlooking Paradise Pier was more spectacular than I could have imagined! We saved knew where we could, but splurged where we thought we should. You only make these memories once, and I wanted them to be special.

Thanks for reading all of this, please feel free to ask questions and I will answer as best I can.
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Old 12-07-2012, 12:54 PM   #2
blackjackdelta
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Thanks for writing the report, I really enjoyed how you told the story. We always try to stay at the Villas if we can rent the points, but is getting much harder each year.

Thanks again,

Jack
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Old 12-07-2012, 09:18 PM   #3
BensDaddy
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You bet, happy to do it! Has renting worked well for you over the years, or have you ever considered buying in?

I usually bat around the idea of buying in for a few months after each trip... Then I forget about it until the next trip.
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Old 01-04-2013, 11:38 AM   #4
Susie63
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Great trip report!Does the studio really have a king size bed? I thought it was a queen.I will be super happy if I am wrong.We are also renting for the 1st time.I can't wait
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Old 01-04-2013, 12:13 PM   #5
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Loved your TR! I'm hoping we can rent points this year at VGC through David's so fingers crossed.
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Old 02-03-2013, 07:23 AM   #6
BensDaddy
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Honestly I don't remember if it was a king or queen... I'm sorry.

The David's worked great for us. So great that within 24 hours of getting home I booked a few days at Animal Kingdom lodge in FL for later this year.
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