Blog Archives

Booking with a Discount

Several times per year, Disney vacationers can book their trip and choose to either apply a room discount or receive a free dining plan. This promotion usually runs seasonally (it is now currently active for summer) barring specific “blackout” dates during which the discounts cannot be applied. It’s generally a good plan to wait for these discounts to become available before booking, because they can save you a lot of money. But how do you know which one to choose?

Below is a breakdown of prices from a Value, Moderate, and Deluxe hotel comparing the savings of the room discount and the free dining plan during the summer season.

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If you’re staying at a Value or Moderate resort, the Dining Plan could wind up saving you more money per night. Keep in mind, however, that Value resorts are only offered the Quick Service Dining Plan, which may not help as much as you think. Read more about the different types of dining plans here.

If you’re booking a deluxe room, applying the 30% room discount is usually the better buy. However, it is still worth researching the dining plans available and determining whether or not applying one would best suit your vacation.

 

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The Disney Dining Plan

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The Disney Dining Plan can be purchased as part of you vacation package, and is a method of budgeting your expenses that will provide you with tokens (stored on your MagicBand) that can be redeemed for various meals and snacks throughout the parks. There are different tiers of the plan that are paired with certain hotels, and during particular dates throughout the year, the Dining Plan is offered for free. How does this work? Let’s take a look:

The Tiers

Quick Service Plan: includes two counter-service meals and one snack per day at $42/day; offered for free with Value resort rooms

Standard Dining Plan: includes one counter-service meal, one sit-down meal, and one snack per day at $60/day; offered for free with Moderate and Deluxe resort rooms

Deluxe Dining Plan: three meals (either counter-service or sit-down) and two snacks per day at $110/day; not offered for free

Details

The three types of meals offered (counter-service, sit-down, and snacks) can be purchased at specific types of restaurants. Counter-service are your fast food type places, like Casey’s Corner, Gaston’s Tavern, and Liberty Inn. On the plan, you would generally pick up lunch at one of these spots. Sit-down meals are your fancier restaurants, and you would ideally use these for nice dinners. They can be redeemed at places like 50’s Prime Time Cafe, Mama Melrose, and Le Cellier Steakhouse. Snacks can be purchased at kiosks throughout the parks.

Because tokens are not affected by price, you can use one to purchase an entree that costs any amount. That is to say, a sit-down restaurant token could be used to buy a $15 salad, or a $25 steak. In this way, if you utilize the tokens effectively and manage your meals beforehand, the Dining Plan can wind up saving you a lot of money. This isn’t always the case though, and poor planning might make the plan not worth it in the end. It all depends on how you can budget your tokens. Look into where you would like to eat beforehand to determine whether or not the Dining Plan would work for your trip.

The free promotion can be a good thing to take advantage of, but remember that selecting it for your trip would mean that you cannot receive the room discount offered at the same time—look for another post coming soon about knowing which discount to apply.

 

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Spotlight: The Yacht Club

There are a lot of factors that go into deciding which on-site hotel to stay at during your vacation: price, location, atmosphere, amenities, etc. Some people feel a certain loyalty to their hotel of choice, and will stay there for every Disney trip—others like to explore the wide range of options available. Personally, I enjoy knowing exactly which hotel I’m going to book for all my vacations, and that’s the Yacht Club.

The Yacht Club is a deluxe hotel located in the Epcot resort area next to its sister hotel, the Beach Club, and across from the Boardwalk Inn. The resort is modeled after a New England seaside beach town and features a gorgeous landmark lighthouse, as well as Stormalong Bay, an outdoor pool complete with sand and a massive shipwreck-themed water slide. The rooms are boat-themed, and there is a special floor reserved for a “Concierge Level,” which contains a lounge that serves food and a private balcony. Here are some great reasons to stay the Yacht Club:

The View

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The back of the resort looks out over a scenic lagoon with sandy beaches and a boardwalk that leads to the lighthouse. It’s incredibly picturesque, and is especially pretty at dusk. The resort holds movie screenings and other events right on the beach, and you’re always free to walk along the sand and lounge in the beach chairs. You can see Epcot’s IllumiNations right from the beach, and many of the resort’s rooms give you a view of the lagoon from your balcony.

The Rooms

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The rooms at the Yacht Club are simple but elegant, and are slightly more refined than the ones found at the Beach Club because the Yacht Club typically caters to an older crowd. All rooms are furnished with a private balcony that provides great scenery. The lobby is also very elegant, and when you arrive you are greeted by The Captain, who hangs around the resort completely in character.

The Amenities

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Stormalong Bay is an outdoor pool that connects the Beach and Yacht Clubs. It’s an enormous facility with plenty of sun, sand, and beach chairs. It’s got a great water slide for the kids, a lazy river section, and has plenty of noodles and tubes to go around. The Yacht Club is also home to Yachtsman’s Steakhouse, an upper-scale restaurant with some really quality food options.

The Location

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Perhaps the best reason to stay at the Yacht Club is its position between the parks. A short walk from the hotel will take you directly to the back of Epcot (pictured above) and right to the France Pavilion. From the park, you have boat and monorail access. If you choose to walk down to the lighthouse, there is a boat service that will take you across the way to the Boardwalk, or over to Hollywood Studios. Buses also stop by the lot to bring you to Magic Kingdom and Animal Kingdom.

 

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Spotlight: Flower and Garden Festival

If you’re booking a last minute vacation this spring (and you love Epcot as much as I do), you’ll want to check out the Flower and Garden Festival, held every year from March to mid-May. The special attraction takes place in both World Showcase and Future World, and features gorgeous character topiary and flower arrangements throughout the parks. The festival hosts special events for Earth Day, as well as entertaining “Flower Power” concerts on select weekends. You can also visit “Outdoor Kitchens”  throughout the park, which are similar to the offerings of Epcot’s Food & Wine Festival. For an extra fee, you can also participate in a “Gardens of the World Tour,” in which you’re led around the park by a horticulturist for a 3-hour tour of the most impressive garden displays. Also feel free to stop by the United Kingdom Pavilion for a “tea garden” afternoon special tour.

Here are some displays you’ll see throughout the parks:

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It’s a great time to visit the parks, and for the avid Disney-goer, it’s something you’ll want to see at least once.

 

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Favorite Rides

The attractions at Walt Disney World are iconic, innovative, and immersive—but which one’s the best? It depends on your taste, but here’s my list of the park’s top five greatest rides. (Disclaimer: I’m no thrill-seeker! You can keep your Rock n’ Rollercoaster and your Tower of Terror.)

5. Pirates of the Caribbean

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This classic Magic Kingdom ride is such a must-see that it inspired an entire movie franchise. It takes you on a boat ride through deep, swash-buckling caverns as 18th century inhabitants pillage, plunder, and party all around you. There’s nothing really thrilling about this ride, save for a small drop at the end—the enjoyment comes from the atmosphere and attention to detail as you traverse the water-way. A fun legend surrounding the ride helps add to its captivating theatrics; many Disney visitors have long-since acknowledged that Pirates is haunted by a (mostly) friendly ghost named George, who will break down the ride if you denounce him in your boat.

4. Haunted Mansion

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Speaking of ghosts, another one of my favorites is the Haunted Mansion. Similar in style to Pirates, Haunted Mansion takes you via Doom-Buggy through the ghoulish residence of Madame Leota. The technology on this one is pretty impressive, and there are so many undead beings floating around that you’ll have to ride multiple times to catch all the details. But don’t worry—this ride never gets old.

3. The Great Movie Ride

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This Hollywood Studios landmark doesn’t have the universal appeal of some original Magic Kingdom favorites, but as a lover of all things movies, it’s a must-do for me. I’m hooked right from the queue, which features a clip-show of great films throughout the years. When you are seated in your vehicle, everything is flashing dazzling lights and you really feel like a part of Hollywood. The live-action part of the ride is always entertaining, and can change each time you return. This one truly lives up to the name.

2. Kilimanjaro Safaris

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Instead of taking you on a journey through the movies, Kilimanjaro Safaris brings you to the African savannas. This ride in particular has the most potential for a completely unique experience each go-around, and new animals are constantly arriving at the location. It’s an adventure unlike anything else at Disney, and has become a landmark attraction over the years. As an animal-lover, I really enjoy this up-close encounter with the parks’ residents.

1. Soarin’

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Fly over California in this amazing attraction located in Future World, Epcot. Your vehicles are only a few feet off the ground, but their swinging momentum coupled with the dazzling scenery in front of you really makes you feel weightless. Some of the scenes are even accompanied by scent to add to the immersion. This ride always has a really long wait, but it’s definitely worth it, and the journey’s ending is unforgettable.

 

Honorable Mentions: The Jungle Cruise, Test Track, & Buzz Lightyear Space Ranger Spin

 

Images provided by buzzfeed.com, pinterest.com, grumpymickey.com, and thegreatmovieride.tripod.com.

 

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Spotlight: Haunted Mansion

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This iconic supernatural journey through a ghostly home is located in Liberty Square, Magic Kingdom, and is one of Disney World’s most famous attractions. Just because it’s well-known doesn’t mean it’s overrated! The ambiance and attention to detail are just a few great things that puts this ride on my must list.

The Haunted Mansion attraction starts with an interactive queue that builds the spooky atmosphere, complete with an eerie crypt and ghostly graveyard. Inside the mansion, Disney Imagineers put forth some of their greatest work with a room that inexplicably stretches right before your eyes. When you get to the ride, an invisible Ghost Host invites you to take a seat inside your ‘doom buggy’ and tour the home where ghosts lurk at every turn! You’ll want to try out this ride a couple times to catch all the details – they’re worth it!

While a little scary at times, this ride is suitable for younger vacationers, and is perfect for the kid at heart. It truly sums up Disney Magic.

Images courtesy of vimeo.com, answerparty.com, and disneyworld.disney.go.com.

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Spotlight: Disney’s Boardwalk

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For an enjoyable and laid-back evening, stop by Disney’s Boardwalk, located just outside of Epcot and across from the Yacht and Beach Club hotels. Though it’s open during the morning and afternoon, the best time to experience the Boardwalk is at night, when the entire strip is lit up and comes to life. The environment is evocative of a classic Seaside boardwalk, complete with arcades, bakeries, shops, and live performers. If you walk along the strip, win some prizes by playing games of chance and skill, and end your evening by picking a table along the water’s edge and treating yourself to a beautiful view of Epcot’s IllumiNations, visible just above the Boardwalk buildings.

I personally love ending my vacations with a trip to the Boardwalk, which is somehow simultaneously relaxing and exciting. There are many great places to eat (the ice cream shop is particularly delicious) and the performers are so full of life. The Boardwalk is a must for me, and it’s something unique that everyone should experience at least once!

Image courtesy of disneyworld.disney.go.com.

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Trip Log: November 20th, 2013

My most recent trip to Disney World took place from November 20th to November 24th just last year. My family was hoping to see the Christmas decorations and events up and running before the large crowds descended, and indeed, when we arrived on Wednesday, 11/20, Disney’s holiday spirit was already in full swing.

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We were staying at the Yacht Club on the concierge level, and were checked in to room 5177 at around 12 PM. For those of you wondering, the concierge level is basically a special floor in on-site hotels that has its own check in/check out desk and its own “concierge lounge,” which concierge guests can visit and get complementary meals, snacks, and drinks throughout the day. It costs a little extra, but I would recommend trying it at least once! The accessible food is especially convenient, and if nothing else, it’s a really fun experience that helps you feel a little like Disney royalty!

Here is the view from our balcony:

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Pretty great! We were basically right across from the iconic lighthouse, which was unbelievably lucky. It was especially cool to sit on the balcony at night, when the entire boardwalk was lit up just across the way.

Once we were all ready to go, we headed over to one of my favorite places in Disney: Epcot’s World Showcase!

A great perk to staying at the Yacht Club is the ability to walk directly into the back of World Showcase. There is a path that will lead you right into France, and it was remarkably uncrowded this time around. We arrived the week before Thanksgiving hoping that crowds would be light, and we were in luck!

The weather was cloudy and a little rainy, but temperatures were steady in the high 70’s. We explored France for a bit, stopping in the well-known stores and taking pictures by the wonderfully decorated Christmas trees. We eventually made our way to Morocco, where we had a lunch reservation at Restaurant Marrakesh.

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I’m not the most adventurous eater, but my mom was dying to try Moroccan food and so we dove in to the authentic dishes. They were actually quite good, and my mom (who is a far better judge of good food than I am) was very impressed by the chicken bastilla.

We finished up at Epcot (enjoying our time in Italy, Germany, Norway, and Mexico) and then caught a Monorail to Magic Kingdom at around 4 PM. First stop, Main Street, USA!

The three of us shopped around on Main Street for a bit before exploring the other subsections and getting on some rides. We ventured off into Adventureland in pursuit of two of my favorites: Pirates of the Caribbean and the Jungle Cruise! Despite the little bit of rain that fell in the afternoon, the rides were so much fun. We took a quick detour through Liberty Square to ride another personal favorite, the Haunted Mansion, and then proceeded to new Fantasyland.

We didn’t have a whole lot of time to dedicate to new Fantasyland, as our dinner reservations were coming up, but we did take a peek at the new Be Our Guest restaurant, and I even got to hang out with Gaston! If you’re in the area, he’s definitely worth waiting for — he’s completely hilarious!

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At about 5:30, we went to the Plaza Restaurant for our dinner reservation. They had pretty basic dishes — meatloaf, chicken, sandwiches, burgers — but we were all relatively satisfied with both the meal and the service. Honestly, the best part of the dinner was the view of the castle; we were able to watch Magic Kingdom slowly light up as the sun set.

After dinner, we gathered around Main Street to watch what is now one of my favorite parts of Christmas at Disney World — the ceremony that lights up Cinderella Castle with thousands of sparkling holiday lights. It was perfect!

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While waiting for Wishes, we decided to spend our time in Tomorrowland. It was relatively uncrowded since the rest of the park-goers were likely staking out spots for parades and fireworks. We were able to use our FastPass+ for Space Mountain, which is always scary but in the end really fun. Then we stopped by Buzz Lightyear’s Space Ranger Spin, and eventually the Monsters Inc. Laugh Floor, which we had never been to previously but turned out to be hilarious, thanks to some funny interactive bits with the crowd.

Finally, we made our way over to the Rose Garden, and presented our FastPass+ to watch Wishes.  We arrived just a few minutes before showtime, and had a great view of the castle. (Be sure to head over to the Tips section of the blog to read about exactly how we did this!) The show, as always, was absolutely perfect, and is one of my favorite things to do in all of Disney World!  Check out some of my dad’s great pictures from the show:

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Thanks for reading! Next time I’ll be talking about our time at Hollywood Studios and the Osborne Family Spectacle of Dancing Lights!

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Tip: Purchasing Park Merchandise

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Worried about having to carry bags of souvenirs on your day at the park because you don’t have time to stop back at your hotel? Here’s a quick tip: ask the cashier to package up the items and have them sent back to the room you are staying in. Though this is a very popular tactic for veteran park-hoppers, a lot of vacationers might not realize this option exists. As long as you are staying on property, cast members can bundle your purchases and have them shipped right back to your hotel, where they will magically appear waiting for you. It doesn’t cost any extra, and it’s a great way to avoid carrying your souvenirs all over the parks!

Similarly, if you’re worried about carrying cash, remember that your Magic Band can now be used to charge items to your room bill. This means that you can now scan your Magic Band at any restaurant, quick service, or store in the Disney parks, and have the total purchase automatically added to your overall hotel bill.

 

Image courtesy of wdwhints.com.

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Tip: Nighttime Show Viewing Areas

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Wishes

For the traditional and rightfully classic view of Magic Kingdom’s nighttime spectacular, Wishes, many vacationers will want to line up along the edges of Main Street, USA. While this will certainly provide you with a fantastic vantage point, you’ll need to arrive very far in advance (sometimes more than an hour) to reserve a good spot, and you’ll have to deal with very heavy crowds. If you’re eligible to use the FastPass+ system, therefore, I recommend picking up one for Wishes. This reservation guarantees you a “preferred viewing location,” and allows you to arrive to the site anywhere between 5 and 20 minutes before showtime. With this FastPass+, you’ll be surrounded by significantly thinner crowds, as only people with a valid FastPass+ will be allowed to enter the viewing area. You also won’t have to scout out your spot an hour ahead of time, so you’ll have a better opportunity to enjoy the park.

The FastPass+ for Wishes allows you entry to an area called the Rose Garden, which is located on the outskirts of Tomorrowland and is in very close proximity to Cinderella Castle. The Rose Garden is roped off by employees until the window of entry arrives, at which point cast members will welcome you into the viewing area. Because the Rose Garden is to the side of the castle, you won’t get the traditional vantage point pictured above. You will, however, get extremely close to the castle without having to deal with large crowds or wait an unnecessary amount of time, and in my opinion, this option is very well worth it. For a quick sneak peek at what Wishes looks like from the Rose Garden, check out my video.

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Though there is a similar FastPass+ option available for Epcot’s IllumiNations, I prefer an alternative viewing method. For any fans of the Great Britain pavilion, I suggest booking a reservation at the Rose & Crown pub. This dining option is delightfully themed and boasts some great authentic dishes. If you eat close to the showtime of IllumiNations (I would recommend around 7:00 or 7:30) and speak with the very accommodating wait staff, you will be allowed to enter a roped-off viewing area just around the back of the Rose & Crown. If you’re familiar with the pub, the area I’m talking about is just past the outdoor tables around the side of the restaurant. This area never has more than a dozen people in it, and does not require you to arrive much earlier than 20 or 15 minutes before showtime. You’ll have an up-close, unobstructed view, and I highly recommend trying this out. For a sneak peek of what your view of IllumiNations will look like from outside the Rose & Crown, check out my video.

Images courtesy of disneyworld.disney.go.com.

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