Disney Vacation Club

disney-vacation-clubSeveral years ago April and I became Disney Vacation Club (DVC) members and we have not regretted it a single day. If you have read our About Us page, you know that I was not enthralled about going to Disney World at all, but when we got down there something magical happened to me.

Every little stress of life seemed to melt away on our very first park visit. I did not think about work the entire week, which is rare for me. It was then that we really got into all things Disney World and we have not looked back. I would say it’s probably a topic of conversation for us at least a few times per week. We are even in the process of planning three vacations to Disney World in Orlando right now.

What is the Disney Vacation Club?

In simple terms, it’s a timeshare, but it is a very unique one.  No Disney Cast Member will ever refer to it as such, but let’s face it, that’s exactly what it is.

Disney Vacation Club is a points based system, so you can vacation whenever you want. You’re not buying a specific week like you used to with the old timeshare programs.

The amount of points it costs to stay at a resort varies greatly both by resort and by the time of year. Obviously, the more desirable the resort and the busier the time of year, the more points it will cost you. Weeknights are also always less expensive than weekends.

You get your allotment of points for the year in a month that is called your “use year”. For example, our use year for both sets of points we have purchased is in June. So every June we get our full allotment of points.

Your points must be used or banked for the following year within your use year or borrowed from a previous year. In our example, we received our last allotment in June of 2014. We must use those points between June 2014 and June 2015 or bank them for use in the following year. Unused, banked points expire. You cannot bank points for more than one year.

Boardwalk Inn by Silent Wind of Doom at the English language Wikipedia. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Commons
Boardwalk Inn by Silent Wind of Doom is licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0

You can also borrow points from next year. Say we have 100 points but we want to take a vacation that will cost us 280 points. We did not go last year and banked all of our points to this year. So we currently have 200 points, 100 from this year and 100 banked from last year. We can then borrow 80 points from next year to use for this year.

You can only borrow points from the following use year. You cannot borrow 2017 use year points in your 2015 use year. You can only borrow from the 2016 use year.

With all of that said, it is still a very flexible system. And if you ever have questions, the Cast Members are extremely helpful.

What resorts are included?

Disney's Grand Floridian by Scdis32 is licensed under CC BY 3.0
Disney’s Grand Floridian by Scdis32 is licensed under CC BY 3.0

The quality of the resorts is outstanding. You can stay at any of the Disney Deluxe resorts. The vast majority of them are on the Disney World property in Orlando, FL, but there is also Aulani in Hawaii, Vero Beach in Vero Beach, FL, the Grand Californian on the Disneyland property and the Hilton Head Island resort in Hilton Head, SC. Here is the full list:

You can also use your points to go on a Disney Cruise. I, personally, do not advocate this. I don’t think using points for a cruise is a good value because it costs so many to use them this way. I think the better value is to pay cash for a cruise and bank your points if you cannot also make it to another DVC resort that year.

Disney Wonder at Port Canaveral by Rennett Stow is licensed under CC BY 2.0
Disney Wonder at Port Canaveral by Rennett Stow is licensed under CC BY 2.0

Can I exchange points and vacation somewhere else?

Yes, there is an exchange program through an RCI exchange program. RCI is the leading exchange program and offers over 500 locations to choose from. There is a non-refundable $95 transaction fee associated with an exchange.

This gives you the option to leverage your DVC membership anywhere in the world.

What if I can’t use my points?

If you have banked points and know that you are not going to be able to use them you can rent them out. There are a few folks who provide that service and we have actually taken advantage of it. The absolute best place to rent is from David’s Vacation Club Rentals. That is the only place we use or recommend.

Is it worth it?

You really have to do the math on this for yourself. For us it has worked out extremely well. So well that we bought a second allotment of points and are actually talking about getting a third allotment as well.

The payments on our “mortgage” were easy to make and the interest on the load is a tax write off since you are technically buying a deed. I would not make a purchase for this reason, though. But here is why we think it is worth it. If we had booked our room without using our DVC membership for our first two stays, we would have paid more than we did for our entire membership. It more than paid for itself in two stays.

Are there other benefits?

There are a few other benefits. You can read in-depth about them here. A few of the highlights are discounts on lockers, free parking at the parks, occasional offers for discounted annual passes and exclusive offerings.

How do you become a member of Disney Vacation Club?

There are a couple of different ways to join DVC. One is directly through Disney who is currently selling at the Aulani and Polynesian resorts. When you purchase your points you have to select a home resort. You can still use your points at any of the Disney resorts but you get the added benefit of being able to book a few months earlier than anyone else at your home resort. Our home resort is Animal Kingdom for all of our points but we may buy at a different resort for our next allotment because that is a great benefit.

Right now the points are selling for $165/point for both Aulani and the Polynesian. They have gone up in price nearly every year since we became members.

There are also a few places to by “used” points as well. Because we have not gone down that road yet, I don’t feel qualified to talk about it yet. Like I mentioned earlier, we will likely be purchasing more points soon and we are really considering going the used route.

I hope you have enjoyed this article. If you have any questions or feedback I’d love to hear them. Just leave me a comment below.

 

Disney Vacation Club Rentals

disney-vacation-club-logoI have heard time and time again how darn expensive it is to stay at Walt Disney World, and you know what? One great way to save some money on your vacation is to find a Disney Vacation Club rentals program.

Where can I find Disney Vacation Club Rentals?

There are quite a few programs that will rent you Disney Vacation Club (DVC) points. In our opinion David’s Vacation Club Rentals website is the best place, by far, to to rent them. DVC points are used to book lodging at deluxe Disney owned resorts.

How does it work?

Basically the site acts as a middle man, securing points to book your stay. DVC members who will not be able to use their points contact the service and sell their usage rights to them. Then when you contact the site they pair you with points to suit your wants and needs.

This service will save you hundreds of dollars by booking through it instead of directly through Disney.

How far in advance should I book my vacation?

This really depends on where you want to stay. Some resorts are more desired by guests and therefor book sell out faster. Generally speaking, the earlier the better. For many of them you will want to book as far as 11 in advance.

Here is a list of the most desired rooms. If you want any of them it is wise to request them 11 months from the date you want to check in.

Animal Kingdom Villas

  • Concierge Level Studio
  • Concierge Level 1 Bedroom
  • Concierge Level 2 Bedroom
  • Value Studio
  • Value 1 Bedroom
  • Value 2 Bedroom

Bay Lake Tower at Disney’s Contemporary Resort

  • Standard View Studio
  • Standard View 1 Bedroom
  • Standard View 2 Bedroom
  • Theme Park View Studio
  • Theme Park View 2 Bedroom

Boardwalk Villas

  • Standard View Studio
  • Standard View 1 Bedroom
  • Standard View 2 Bedroom
  • Boardwalk View Studio
  • Boardwalk View 1 Bedroom
  • Boardwalk View 2 Bedroom
  • Grand Villa

The Villas at Disney’s Grand Floridian Resort and Spa

  • Standard View Studio
  • Standard View 1 Bedroom
  • Standard View 2 Bedroom

Aulani Villas in Hawaii

  • Standard View Grand Villa

The rest of the rooms can be booked later. The site goes into more detail on how far in advance you should request certain room types. It’s fairly detailed and ranges from 11 months to 3 – 6 months in advance.

How do I book my vacation?

  1. Go to David’s Vacation Club Rentals.
  2. Click on the Reservations Form button.
    disney-vacation-club-rentals-form1
  3. Read through the first page of the form carefully. They go over in great detail what the process is. In a nutshell you will pay a $98 partial payment. This is not a fee and is refunded to you if the service cannot secure you a reservation. Once you have read through all of the details on that page and understand the process, proceed to step 4.
  4. Click the big blue button at the bottom of the Reservation Form Details page.disney-vacation-club-rentals-form2
  5. Here is where it really starts to get fun. Select the dates you want to schedule your vacation. Remember what I mentioned above. The farther in advance you can request your reservation, the more likely it will be that they can secure it for you.disney-vacation-club-rentals-form3
  6. Select your first choice for your room. You will have an opportunity to select a second, third and fourth choice in a minute. My first choice is a studio with a theme park view. You can see that it tells me how much this room will cost. You can play with this depending on your budgetary needs.disney-vacation-club-rentals-form4
  7. Next you can optionally select your alternate choices. Remember, that these will be booked in in the order that you select them if your previous selection is not available. Put a check in the “I understand, please allow me to choose” check box.
    disney-vacation-club-rentals-form5
  8. Select your alternate choices. Their price will be displayed for you.
    disney-vacation-club-rentals-form6
  9. Click the Next Step button and fill in your personal details on the Personal Info page. Please don’t forget to tell them you found them through wdwmagicalmemories.com.
  10. Click the Next Step button and fill in your details on the Guest Info page. Here, information is filled out about each guest. They need this information because a “Magic Band” will be mailed to you for each guest. A magic band is an RFID that you wear on your wrist. You will eventually link your park passes to it as well as other goodies such as Photopass*.
  11. Click the Next Step button to get to the summary page. Carefully review all of your information.
  12. Once you are satisfied with your details click the Next Step button. Here you will pay your $98 partial payment.

Once you have completed all the steps above the good people at David’s Vacation Club Rentals will begin securing your reservation. Once your reservation has been secured you will get a confirmation email with a confirmation code.

You can confirm your reservation through Disney at this point. Here is where you can do that. When asked how you booked your reservation on that page, select “Using a Disney Vacation Club membership”.

Details on how to complete your payment will be emailed to you.

A completed invoice, including rental agreement will also be emailed to you. Your payment in full is your acceptance of the rental agreement.

*A quick not on Photopass and RFIDs: Probably the coolest thing about the Magic Bands coupled with Photopass is that not only can you have your picture taken by Photopass photographers throughout the park, but your picture is taken for you on attractions (rides) and automatically linked to your Photopass account as long as you are wearing your Magic Band.

Are there extra fees?

Nope. That’s it. You just pay for the lodging. Keep in mind that you still do need to purchase your park passes. The rental program only covers lodging.

Disney Vacation Club Rentals

This is a great way to keep costs down for a trip to Walt Disney World. I hope this helps you plan your vacation where dreams come true.

As always, if you have any questions on this process ask them in the comments below. If you have used David’s Vacation Club Rentals in the past, please let us know how it went for you.

New Restaurants at Disney World

There are a few new restaurants at Disney World that are opening soon at Magic Kingdom and Disney Springs.

Jock Linsey’s Hangar Bar recently opened with some fan fare as did Mrimoto Asia both of which are in The Landing at Disney Springs. There is more exciting news! Jungle Navigation Co., Ltd. Skipper Canteen was announced last August and Homecoming: Florida Kitchen and Southern Shine which will be operated by celebrity chef Art Smith which was just announced today.

Homecoming: Florida Kitchen and Southern Shine

This new farm to fork concept restaurant is scheduled to be open sometime in the summer of 2016. The cuisine is described as rustic southern with a Floridian twist. Some of the southern influenced dishes served will be deviled eggs, low country shrimp and grits, grilled Blackstrap pork chop with sawmill gravy and homemade pimento cheese.

Each dish has a little Florida twist and make guests feel like they’re on the back porch with me for every meal. – Art Smith

The new establishment claims that deserts will be a specialty with daily made pies and cakes including the restaurant’s Mockingbird Cake. I don’t know what Mockingbird Cake is and tried to look it up and could not find much but it is fairly clear that it is not made with mockingbirds. It seems it is a cake with pineapple in it with a cream cheese frosting. I love pineapple so I’ll definitely try it.

Who is Art Smith?

Art Smith was Oprah’s chef and also appeared on Top Chef, Top Chef masters and Iron Chef. He was defeated by Cat Cora on Iron Chef. He has also cooked for several heads of state including Barack Obama.

Jungle Navigation Co., Ltd. Skipper Canteen

jungle-navigation-co-ltd-skipper-canteen

I’m pretty excited about this new joint scheduled to open sometime in 2015. It will feature “jungle fair” and have several dining rooms. One will be sort of like a “crew mess hall” and another is to be a “once-hidden secret meeting room of the Society of Explorers and Adventurers.”

The wait staff of the restaurant will be all Jungle Cruise skippers. If you’ve ever ridden this attraction you know you’ll be entertained by the skippers for sure. If you have not, come to the restaurant ready to laugh.

Jungle Cruise by DearCatastropheWaitress is licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0
Jungle Cruise by DearCatastropheWaitress is licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0

I have heard rumors that the serving experience will be similar to Be Our Guest. What that means is that it will be a counter service for lunch and table service for dinner. The nice thing about that is you can eat there for lunch first and save some bucks then if you like the flair, you can go back and try it for the more expensive dinner at a later date.

New Restaurants at Disney World

One of the greatest things about dining at Disney World is that they are constantly adding new stuff. I will readily admit that some of the dining experiences are a bit of a flop, particularly in Magic Kingdom. I’m hoping with the new offering at Skipper Canteen will improve upon that.

Disney Springs does not suffer that issue, though. The competition for really good dining is at a premium. With this in mind I’m pretty confident that Art Smith’s new joint will be a good place to eat.

Disney Has Raised the Price for Tables in Wonderland

crying-baby

We have confirmed that Disney has raised the price for Tables in Wonderland (formerly known as the Disney Dining Experience) and it’s a pretty steep hike. *insert sadface here* The new prices are:

$150 for annual pass holders and DVC members.
$175 for Florida residents.

What is Tables in Wonderland?

Tables in Wonder (TIW) is a program that provides a discount (usually 20% for a party of up to 10 people) at participating Walt Disney World restaurants available for annual pass holders, Disney Vacation Club (DVC) members and Florida residents..  We have found that most restaurants do participate in the program and we usually purchase it for our trips.

An easy way to tell if a restaurant you want to visit participates in the TIW program is to either go to the TIW website or to visit the restaurant’s page on the Disney World dining website. Its also not a bad idea to ask your server, regardless of whether you are at a table or counter service. You can also ask the cast member on the phone when you call to make your reservations.

Sounds great! Where can I buy it?

If you are a DVC member you can visit any guest relations location at Downtown Disney er… Disney Springs or in any theme park.. You will need to show a photo ID and your DVC membership card.

If you are a Floridan resident or an annual pass holder you can either purchase them like a DVC member, at a guest relations location or by phone. If purchasing by phone, you will need to allow three to four weeks for delivery.

The Teaparty by Patrick Emerson is licensed under CC BY-ND 2.0
The Teaparty by Patrick Emerson is licensed under CC BY-ND 2.0

OK, so how much did it go up?

For DVC members and annual pass holders it went from $100 to $150. For Florida residents it went from $125 to $175. Why? We do not know. The Tables in Wonderland card is valid for one calendar year from the time of purchase.

A second card can be purchased for a spouse or partner for $50. Both individuals must reside at the same address and be over the age of 21.

Are there blackout dates?

Yes, there are. TIW cannot be used on any major US holiday. Those holidays are New Year’s Eve, New Year’s Day, Easter, Mother’s Day, Fourth of July, Thanksgiving, Christmas Eve and Christmas Day.

And from the TIW website:

These select locations are subject to the following blackout dates: 1900 Park Fare, Chef Mickey’s, ‘Ohana (Dinner Only), Cinderella’s Royal Table, Le Chefs de France, Akershus Royal Banquet Hall, and Le Cellier Steakhouse. The dates are November 22-28, 2015 and December 20-26, 2015; March 6-27, 2016; May 29- June 18, 2016; November 13-27, 2016; December 19-25, 2016.

Are there other restrictions?

There are a few. If you’re paying for TIW by credit card, the card must match the name the membership is being purchased under.

Bills cannot be split. If you are using TIW the person with the card must pay the entire bill that is being discounted. If a second card is purchased and both individuals are at the table the discount may be applied to a party of up to 20.

That’s not too bad. Are there other benefits?

One is that if you use valet parking for a restaurant, the valet fee is waved. (Still tip your valet, please.) Parking is also free but only for the express purpose of dining. Let your valet know that you are on TIW when dropping off your car.

waiterDoes Tables in Wonderland include gratuity?

Nope. And remember to always tip based on what the pre-discounted charge would have been. Disney makes this really easy for you by including different tip rates (starting from the recommended 18%) on the bill.

Is it worth it?

The answer to that question is a resounding, “it depends.” You really have to do some math. We always try to figure out where we are going to eat and about how much each meal is going to cost both with and without a TIW discount. If you’re just breaking even or under breaking even on the difference between the full price and the discount price, it might not be worth it for you.

Another consideration is are you going to be visiting Disney World more than once in a calendar year. I can’t imagine that it would not be worth it if you are visiting for at least two weeks and plan on eating most of your meals on Disney property.

For us it usually is worth it. We are a family of five and as long as we are staying for five or more days, the card will more than pay for itself. Not only does it discount food but it also discounts drinks, including those of the adult variety (usually). April and I use this for date night.

But what about the Disney Dining Plans?

If you purchase a Disney Dining Plan, TIW may still be a benefit but it is not likely. There are a few restaurants that offer a TIW discount that are not on the dining plan. You can also get a discount on items you purchase that are not included on the dining plans such as appetizers and alcoholic drinks. I think TIW being a benefit in this case would be an exception and not the norm, though.

Tables in Wonderland does not offer a discount for the purchase of a Disney Dining Plan.

disney-world-beeches-and-cream-family-dinner
The whole fam at Beaches and Cream at Disney’s Beach Club Resort

We are going on three trips to Walt Disney World over the next 12 months so it will really pay for itself when we buy it in December. I’m sad that the price is going up but I have full confidence that it will still add value to our vacations.

Disney’s Animal Kingdom Lodge

Yesterday I wrote a review of our most recent stay at Disney’s Beach Club Villas. Today I want to share with you another review of probably our favorite Disney World resort, Disney’s Animal Kingdom Lodge!

Entering the Animal Kingdom Lodge by Loren Javier is licensed under CC BY-ND 2.0
Entering the Animal Kingdom Lodge by Loren Javier is licensed under CC BY-ND 2.0

This place makes me very happy. For full disclosure, I must admit that this review may be a bit biased. We are DVC members (Disney Vacation Club) and Animal Kingdom Lodge is our home resort. This is also the very first resort we ever stayed at on Disney World property.

Savanna

Probably the biggest attraction to Animal Kingdom Lodge is the savanna. You can even get rooms that overlook it. The animals are quite active in the mornings and again in the evening. It is really neat being able to sip coffee in the morning or a glass of wine in the evening with your own private view of Anikole Cattle, Bongo, Blesbok, Eland, Grant’s Zebra, Greater Kudu, Impala, Reticulated Giraffe, Thomson’s Gazelle, Waterbuck, Red River Hogs, and White-Bearded Wildebeest.

Animal Kingdom Lodge by Dave & Margie Hill is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0
Animal Kingdom Lodge by Dave & Margie Hill is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

Unfortunately there are no lions. They would eat the gazelle and you would probably have a crying child.

If you are not fortunate enough to get a savanna view room there are plenty of places for you to view the savanna from within the resort.

There are actually four savannas at the resort. Pembe which is along the Northern tip of Kidani Village (more on Kidani Village vs Jambo House later), Sunset which is sandwiched between Kidani Village and Jambo House, Arusha which is in the “horseshoe” of Jambo House and Uzima which is in the south east portion of Jambo House.

All four of the savannas will have animal activity. They all also have savanna overlooks (viewing areas) and there are frequently qualified cast members talking about what animals are in the savanna. It’s great for kids of all ages.

Rooms

Disney’s Animal Kingdom Lodge is enormous. It is actually split into two building. The first is Jambo House. Jambo House actually started as a Deluxe Disney World hotel. Some years later it was transformed into villas. What this means is that the Jambo House rooms are slightly larger than the Kidani rooms but will be shorter one bathroom for both one and two bedroom villas.

Animal Kingdom Lodge Room by DebMomOf3 is licensed under CC BY-ND 2.0
Animal Kingdom Lodge Room by DebMomOf3 is licensed under CC BY-ND 2.0

The image above is a picture of a studio. The possible configurations are as follows.

  • Studio – Two Queens (or a queen and a pullout sofa) – Sleeps 4
  • One Bedroom – One King, One Queen Sleeper Sofa, One Pullout Chair – Sleeps 5
  • Two Bedroom – One King, Two Queens, One Queen Sleeper Sofa, One Pullout Chair – Sleeps 9

There is also a 3 bedroom bungalow that is two floors, sleeps up to 12 and has 4 bathrooms. You should also note that the two bedroom is a lockout meaning it is a one bedroom and a studio with an interior door between them.

When deciding to book between the two buildings I usually think Kidani is better for a couple of reasons. The first is, as I mentioned before, the one and two bedrooms get an additional bath as compared to Jambo House. That is important when you have a few teens traveling with you.

Kidani is also a little bit quieter than Jambo House is. Jambo House’s lobby is incredibly impressive. If you are there from November – January you should stop by to see the Christmas decorations. The tree is very impressive.

Animal Kingdom Lodge Wide Angle by MBL Photography is licensed under CC BY-ND 2.0
Animal Kingdom Lodge Wide Angle by MBL Photography is licensed under CC BY-ND 2.0

As you can see in the picture above, the tree stretches three stories high. There are other nice touches as well during the Christmas period.

Dining

The dining at Disney’s Animal Kingdom Lodge is excellent. I know I say that about nearly every resort but Disney does take its dining seriously. There are three table service restaurants on the grounds; Boma, Sana and Jiko.

Boma – Flavors of Africa is a buffet located on the lower level of Jambo House. It has a carving station with a few different meats. They are roasted in a traditional American style, but then there are about five African sauces to kick them up if you want. They are both good by themselves and with the sauces.

One of our favorite things on the buffet is the lamb curry, but it is not always there. Even when it is not there you are sure to always be able to find something that you like, even if African food is not your cup of rooibos (African tea).

Deserts at Boma Restaurant at the Animal Kingdom Lodge at Walt Disney World by Mark is licensed under CC BY-ND 2.0
Deserts at Boma by Mark is licensed under CC BY-ND 2.0

Two of our favorite deserts can be found at Boma: Zebra Domes and Kenyan Coffee Tarts. Be forewarned that the coffee tarts do pack a punch. One of our daughters ate a dozen of them once and was bouncing off the walls for several hours.

One other warning on Boma: be prepared to eat. On one occasion, I ate so much that I could barely walk back to our room. I almost laid down in the bushes to wait for the pain to stop.

Boma is open for breakfast and dinner. I cannot speak to the breakfast menu as we have never eaten it there. Also, Boma is very similar to Tusker House in the Animal Kingdom theme park.

Sana is a more traditional Indian restaurant located in the lower level of Kidani Village. Its seating allows for a view of the Sunset savanna which makes for a thrilling dining experience. My favorite dish there is probably the butter chicken, but don’t pass on the naan bread (Indian-style Bread Service). You get your choice of three different types of naan and they are all delicious.

Finally, there is Jiko – The Cooking Place which is located across the hall from Boma. Jiko is a Disney signature (fine dining) restaurant. That means that it is very good but you will fork out a few extra dollars for it. April and I ate there for an anniversary dinner a number of years ago and we were not disappointed.

There are also a few counter service dining options as well as a few lounges. This is one place I would like to see them improve, though.

Pools

There are two great featured pools at Disney’s Animal Kingdom Lodge: Samawati Springs at Kidani Village and Uzima at Jambo House.

I have mentioned this briefly in other posts, but one great thing about DVC (Disney Vacation Club) membership is that you can pool hop. That means you can enjoy the pools at any resort with a few exceptions (like Storm Along Bay at Beach Club Villas).

One really nice thing about Animal Kingdom Lodge is that you get two featured pools and you can use either of them, even if you are a “regular” guest as long as you are staying there. At Uzima they usually show movies at night so you can take a dip and enjoy a movie on a large projector screen.

Both pools have a bar that also serves sandwiches and snacks (Maji at Samawati Springs and Uzima Springs at Uzima). The Mara is also not far from Uzima.

Uzima Pool at Jambo House at Animal Kingdom Lodge by Loren Javier is licensed under CC BY-ND 2.0
Uzima Pool at Jambo House at Animal Kingdom Lodge by Loren Javier is licensed under CC BY-ND 2.0

I do tend to prefer Samawati Springs. One reason is we usually stay at Kidani. The other is it is a bit quieter, which is important to me. Either are great options though. Both pools have slides and kiddie play areas.

Proximity

I do hear a lot of people complain about the location of Disney’s Animal Kingdom Lodge. It is on the edge of Disney’s property, but very close to Animal Kingdom itself. Also, because there are two buildings, the transportation can get a bit chaotic, particularly at Jambo House.

The way the buses run, the parks pick up first at Kidani Village then swing down to Jambo House. That means that if there are long lines at both buildings it may take a while for you to catch a ride.

animal-kingdom-lodge-bus-stop
Waiting for the bus at Kidani Village

We have seen a few times when the bus filled up at Kidani Village so there was no room left for guests to board at Jambo House. This is typically not the norm in low season but it can be a real problem when Disney World is busier.

The bus ride is probably in the neighborhood of 20 minutes or so to Magic Kingdom, Epcot and Hollywood Studios and 5 – 10 minutes to Animal Kingdom.

One quick note on transportation between the buildings: as I mentioned before, all of the theme park buses stop at Kidani first then go on to Jambo. Downtown Disney Disney Springs stops at Jambo first then goes on to Kidani. So if you want to hop a bus between the two buildings, jump on a Disney Springs bus if you are at Jambo or any park bus if you are at Kidani. We usually walk but it can be quite a hike depending on where in the building you are.

Pros

  • Savanna views
  • Close to Animal Kingdom
  • Good dining options
  • Large resort with lots of rooms
  • Two featured resort pools to choose from

Cons

  • Longer travel distances to Magic Kingdom, Epcot and Hollywood Studios
  • Large resort means busy transportation
  • Only Disney transportation is by bus
  • Due to the size of the resort you may have a long walk to the pool, especially at Kidani Village
  • Limited counter service dining, especially at Kidani Village

Would we stay here again? Absolutely. In fact we have a trip booked for December, 2015 that we are really looking forward to. I actually do not view the cons of this review of this resort to be that big of a deal. But I have heard other people complain about them so I felt they are definitely worth mentioning. I can see the size being an issue if you have difficulty walking for long periods of time.

Have you stayed at Disney’s Animal Kingdom Lodge before? Leave us a comment with your experience.

 

Disney’s Beach Club Villas

 

Today I want to give you our perspective of Disney’s Beach Club Villas. We stayed there for a few nights in September of 2014. Our opinion of the resort is a bit of a mixed bag. We would definitely stay there again, but you have to understand what you are getting yourself into.

Playing Catchup Part III by
Playing Catchup Part III by Christian Lambert is licensed under CC BY-ND 2.0

The grounds are breathtaking as you can see in the few images I’ve included here. As usual with Disney, the attention to detail is great. When we arrived, our checkin was expedient and we were in our one bedroom villa within about 30 minutes.

The rooms at Disney’s Beach Club Villas are smaller than what we were used to at Disney’s Animal Kingdom Lodge, but they were comfortable and large enough that we did not feel crowded. The decor was something like what you would expect from a beach cottage. The colors were a mixture of pastel and warm hue.

The kitchen was fully furnished. There was enough flatware and plates that our entire family of five could eat in the room. It was also equipped with a dishwasher and other necessities (such as wine glasses!!!).

There were several reasons we were excited to stay here and here are just a few of them.

Cape May Cafe

For starters, one our favorite restaurants for dinner is at the Beach Club Villas resort, Cape May Cafe. This restaurant is a buffet that is supposed to resemble a New England clam bake. Now, I’m from New England, and they missed the mark by a long shot on that, but the food is good.

The buffet consists of snow crab legs, steamed clams, steamed muscles, peal and eat shrimp and a carving station with beef sirloin (the only cut you call “sir”) and pork loin. There is also a full salad bar and some other more ethnic seafood staples such as paella which I would not consider an authentic Spanish paella but is tasty, non the less.

On the salad bar they always have either New England clam chowder or a fish chowder. I prefer the fish chowder but they are both very good. I do not recall ever seeing a Manhattan clam chowder there, but it is supposed to be a New England clam bake so one would not expect a Manhattan chowder. Then again I would not expect a carving station or peal and eat shrimp either. But I digress.

There are sides such as mashed potatoes, green beans, steamed new (red) potatoes, steamed corn and a great selection of bread. The steamed potatoes and corn are a nod to a traditional clam bake. I cannot give you a very good review of most of the side items because I rarely waste precious stomach real estate when there are crabs and clams on the table.

There is also a kid’s section with pizza, chicken nuggets and other kid’s staples as well as a desert section that has a great variety of deserts. Most of the deserts are what I would call “bites”. They are small but that just gives you opportunity to try more.

The quality of the food is usually really good, but keep in mind this is a buffet. Keep an eye out for when they are putting fresh crab legs out. The muscles and clams don’t seem to matter much but it is very easy to overcook crab legs and they will continue to cook under the warming lights and get soggy or harder to shuck and eat.

While I do love crab legs, I love clams and muscles more. They are both very good at this restaurant.

We really love Cape May Cafe. Our entire family loves seafood so we always eat here when we are at Disney World. One drawback that I would illustrate is that it is a very popular restaurant. We have never had a problem getting in but we have had to stay flexible with our time on a few occasions. One time we took one of the last seating’s and towards the end of the meal we felt like the staff was ready for us to leave. Grant it, when I go to a buffet like this I plan on at least an hour or more of eating so maybe their snide looks were somewhat justified, but they still were not appreciated.

Disney's Beach Club Villas by Loren Javier is licensed under CC BY-ND 2.0
Disney’s Beach Club Villas by Loren Javier is licensed under CC BY-ND 2.0

Other Dining Options

In addition to Cape May Cafe there are a ton of other great places to eat. The options in the resort in addition to Cape May are Yachtsman’s Steakhouse, Beaches and Cream, Captain’s Grill and Hurricane Hanna’s. Hurricane Hanna’s is a counter service by the pool. There are also sandwiches and other food items available from the Beach Club Market Place and there are three cocktail lounges where you can usually get hors d’oeuvresand and/or finger foods.

In addition to the dining on the resort, Disney’s Boardwalk Resort is a very short (and pretty) walk around Crescent Lake. There are a few table and counter service restaurants there, one of which is Big River Grill and Brewing Works that has a very good steak, is moderately priced and has a decent selection of beer.

Also you are another very short walk to Epcot, which, in my humble opinion, has the best dining options in all of Walt Disney World. More on that below.

The Pool

All of The LightsAll of The Lights by Christian Lambert is licensed under CC BY-ND 2.0

One of the best features of Disney’s Beach Club Villas is the pool. This thing rivals small water parks. It has its own lazy river and parts of the pool have a sandy bottom. There is even a place on “shore” to build a sand castle. There is also music piped into the pool that you can hear under water.

The resort provides tubes for use at the lazy river. We have heard that they can run out of tubes and I’ve read several reviews that state that they found it impossible to get one. That was not our experience. While it was busy, we did not have an issue getting one at all.

There is a slide that my youngest daughter, Iris, loved going down. It starts from the mast of a ship wreck on Crescent Lake (the body of water the resort is on).

 

Beach Club Pool Water Slide by Chuck Kramer is licensed under CC BY 2.0
Beach Club Pool Water Slide by Chuck Kramer is licensed under CC BY 2.0

The pool at this resort is exempt from DVC’s pool hopping policy. That means that only guests staying at Disney’s Beach Club Resort or Disney’s Yacht Club Resort are eligible to use this pool. I believe this is the only resort pool that has cast members manning the gate to enforce this policy.

Please note that you cannot pool hop at all if you are not a DVC member. Pool hopping is only eligible for DVC members.

Proximity

Probably the best thing about Disney’s Beach Club Villas is the proximity. You are a short walk from the back entrance to Epcot which is located between France and England pavilions on the World Showcase. April and I plan on staying here again for the Food and Wine Festival in the near future because of the fact that it is so close to the Epcot entrance.

epcot-spaceship-earth

It’s a bit longer of a walk but you can also walk to Hollywood Studios. Most people recommend taking the boat there but if you stay for Fantasmic (my favorite Disney World night time spectacle) having the option to walk is nice versus waiting in line for transportation.

One Major Detractor

If there is a detractor for Disney’s Beach Club Resort, it would be that it is incredibly busy. Even staying here in off season the lobby and pool are going to be very crowded. This was a bit of a contrast for us.

We usually go to Disney World in the lower seasons. On our stay at the Beach Club we arrived in mid-September which is usually pretty light on the crowd scale. Other resorts such as Animal Kingdom Lodge and Old Key West are much quieter this time of year.

We requested a specific room towards the back of the resort which is closer to Epcot. We had a slight view of the Eiffel Tower in the France pavilion. As a result we could hear the bands play at Epcot from inside the room. This is not the case for all rooms, but you may want to take that into consideration if this is something that would bother you.

I would still highly recommend this resort.

Pros

  • Great exclusive pool (no pool hopping allowed)
  • Great dining options
  • Spacious enough room for a family of five with two teens
  • Well appointed kitchen
  • Location – walking distance to two parks and two resorts

Cons

  • Busy lobby
  • Busy pool
  • Can be a bit on the loud side

Downtown Disney to Disney Springs

disney-springs-splitsville
Splitsville Bowling by M. C. Bob Leonard is licensed under CC BY 2.0

Well, it is official. The name “Downtown Disney” is officially Splitsville! No, not Splitsville. They are changing the name from Downtown Disney to Disney Springs. It’s a work that has been in progress for a few years. And September 29th, 2015 is the last time they want us to stop using the old name.

Read more here.

There will be a ribbon cutting ceremony of sorts and it will coincide with the grand opening of Morimoto Asia, Iron Chef Morimoto’s new restaurant. I can’t wait to eat there. I’m hoping we can get there in December with our parents.

The construction at Downtown Disney… er… Disney Springs has been plaguing guests for a while. Last year when we visited they had a large chunk of the parking lot closed which forced us to park across the street. That is the first time we have ever had to do that. Fortunately, I believe with the new parking structures, garages with around 6000 parking spots, parking will not be as trialsome as it has been in the past.

There have also been a myriad of theme changes. Too many for me to list. I have been told that the theme change is supposed to be akin to a 20th century Florida town or village or something, whatever the heck that means. I can say it’s pretty and impressive. The glimpses that we’ve seen of the theme changes have been well thought out. Disney is known for this.

The Landing

The first phase of Disney Springs was their construction on Disney Springs’ The Landing which started a few years ago. It is in the area where Pleasure Island used to be. Pleasure Island was sort of an “adult” area of Downtown Disney. It opened in 1989. It was kind of neat. Every night at midnight New Years Eve was celebrated with fireworks.

In 2008, Disney closed all of the clubs in Pleasure Island but left the shops open and changed its name shortly after to Hyperion Wharf.

What’s Leaving

There have been a few things that have left already. One of the bigger changes was announced a few months ago. They will be closing Disney Quest. This news initially made me sad because it was a great rainy day stop for us. But the more I thought about it the less upset I was about it.

Disney Quest to me was nostalgic. When I was a kid a trip to the arcade was a big deal. Today we have four video game console in our house. My kids are much less impressed with arcades than I was. All I had was the Atari 2600. Pong FTW! Actually my favorite game was Adventure.

I’m a creature of habit. I usually resist change, event when Disney is making it. For some reason I get uncomfortable with it, but I will say this. There have been very few changes Disney has made that have disappointed me. Yes there are some attractions that have closed that I do miss, but usually whatever they put in place of whatever they nixed is good. And I’m happy to experience it.

What do you guys think? How do you feel about the Downtown Disney to Disney Springs transformation? Whatever you feel, don’t say Downtown Disney again after September 29th. Leave us your thoughts in the comments.

Last year of Osborne Spectacle of Lights

By Michael Lowin (Own work (own picture)) [GFDL or CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons
Osborne Spectacle of Lights by Michael Lowin is licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0
Well, I’m really sad to say that this is the last year of Osborne Spectacle of Dancing Lights. That’s right, 2015 will be the last time you can see it. This makes me really sad. We’ve always enjoyed this fantastic display when we have been there over the holidays.

Fortunately for us, we will get to see it one last time since we have a trip scheduled in December. We feel doubly fortunate because we are also taking our parents on this trip and we are glad they will be able to see it.

A brief history

The display started in 1986 when Jennings Osborne bought 1000 lights and set them up with his six year old daughter at their home in Little Rock Arkansas.  The display at their home grew each year peaking in 1993 with around three million lights. Jennings had to buy adjacent properties just to support the display.

The display grew so large and garnered so much attention that the Osborne’s neighbors began to complain about the traffic congestion caused by the hoards of people driving to see the spectacle. It was in 1995, as a result, that Disney acquired the rights to host the display.

Once Disney had hold of it, they did what Disney does best. They made it huge. If the millions of lights that are now used were stretched in a straight line it would be ten miles long.

Disney Announces Final Year

In a blog post, Thomas Smith, the Social Media Director for Disney Parks announced that 2015 would be the final year with this statement:

In order to prepare for some incredible experiences coming to the park, including the recently announced Toy Story Land and a Star Wars-themed land, we will not be able to present The Osborne Family Spectacle of Dancing Lights in the future. Our heartfelt thanks go out to the family of Jennings Osborne for letting us share their family tradition year after year. And thank you to all of you for being part of the spectacle with us. Here’s to making more memories in this, the 20th and final year.

While I’m excited for the new things Disney is bringing to Hollywood Studios (particularly with Star Wars) I am greatly saddened that this will be our last year to enjoy the Osborne display. It truly is remarkable and if you have never seen it, I recommend that if you can, by any means possible, get there to see it in its final year.

What do you think about this closure? Please let us know in the comments.

 

When Should You go to Disney World

We get asked this question all the time.  When should you go to Disney World?  There is no easy answer for this question but I’ll try to give some recommendations here.  Ultimately you need to decide what works best for your family.  Many people looking to go are greatly hindered by their kid’s schedule at school.

The most difficult thing about your vacation to the most magical place on earth may actually be leaving.

disney-world-we-are-sad-to-leave

Crowds

I think the major thing most people consider is the crowds.  The day of entering a park at rope drop and having it to yourself is all but over, even when the crowds are at their lowest.  No matter when you go, you will have some crowds to deal with, but how those crowds affect you can greatly be mitigated.  We will have a comprehensive guide to the crowds at Disney World coming soon.

In the meantime, we will break the crowds down into four categories:

  1. Low
    1. Mid January through most of February
    2. The first two weeks of May
    3. The last half of August
    4. September
    5. The last half of October through the fist week of November
    6. The first week of December
  2. Moderate
    1. January 4 through Mid January
    2. The third week in February
    3. The first half of March
    4. The last half of April
    5. The last half of May
    6. The first two weeks in June
    7. The first half of October
    8. The second week in December
  3. High
    1. The second half of March
    2. The first week of April
    3. All of July through the first half of August
    4. Thanksgiving Weekend
  4. For the love of all that is Holy I can’t even walk around
    1. December 24th through January 4th

Low crowds are obviously ideal, but they are low for a reason.  Most people are not afforded the time to go during this time due to life’s schedule, be it kid’s school or work.  We typically try for Low or Moderate times to go which is a good balance.  We have also been during high crowd times and it is very manageable if you make good use of FastPass+ and dining reservations (more on that another time).

We have not visited during the “For the love of all that is Holy I can’t even walk around” time but April really wants to go for Christmas sometime.  Based on people we have spoken with and other reviewers it can be shockingly busy.  I know for fact that Walt Disney World does have a capacity limit and will close parks to entry of new guests when they reach it.  This has, in fact, happened in July which I would consider a High month.

christisn-with-tinkerbell

I think our best trip was the time we went for the first two weeks of December in 2012, but I’m probably biased because Tinkerbell landed on me in that trip.  But the crowds were good.  We even were able to walk on many rides, something that definitely would not happen later in December.  Early December can be considered Low – Moderate.  Late December is definitely High.

Special Events

Another consideration to make on making your decision is special events.  We love, love, love the Food and Wine Festival.  April and I always make a date night and walk around and sample a bunch of the great international food that the best restaurants have to offer in Epcot (not to mention the wine and… ahem… beer).  You basically get a bite or two for each sample but the price is reasonable.  Try the escargot at the France pavilion.  Thank me later.

There are several special events throughout the year.  Some of them require a special pass that you must purchase and others are included with your Magic Your Way Base Ticket.

No matter what your interests are, there is likely a special event that you will enjoy.  We will have an events guide page coming soon so please check back for a more comprehensive guide for events.

Weather

Florida weather can be unpredictable.  No, you’re not going to get snow, but no matter when you visit you are likely to see at least a little rain.  The summer months can be absolutely sweltering.  Couple temperature in the 90’s during the day with high humidity and you will be sticky.

Conversely, the day time temperature in the winter months can be chilly.  The average temperature in January is a high of 71 and a low of 49.  Now if you’re from Chicago, a 60 degree day in January is going to feel nice and warm, but will it be warm enough to visit Typhoon Lagoon or Blizzard Beach?  That is up to you.  I will go to the water parks any time.

The water parks do stay open year round and they keep the water heated to a comfortable level.  They do close for inclement weather and if the temperatures get too low to keep the water a comfortable temperature.  If the water parks (or water rides) are on your “must do” list, you may want to make sure you are planning your vacation for when you can really enjoy them.

typhoon-lagoon-water-slide

The pools are a bit of a different story, at least to me.  All of the Walt Disney World Resort pools are also heated so you can also enjoy them year round.  It’s not as bad to make the short walk to get inside as it is if you’re out of the water for long periods of time hiking two the next slide, like you would be at a water park.

Back to the heat.

If you have to go in July or August there are ways to beat the heat.  They have a lot of shaded places and the dining rooms are all climate controlled.  Another option is to return to your resort or hotel in the heat of the day.  Take a lunch break and go back to the park when the sun is lower in the sky and the temperature is starting to drop.

Rain, rain, go away…

You will get wet in Orlando.  I think that goes without saying.  The rainy season typically starts in mid-May and runs through October.  That’s a long rain season.  With that said, most days it’s going to be a passing shower.

Speaking of rain, you know what brings a lot of it?  Hurricanes!  And Florida gets them.  Disney World does have a good hurricane policy but if this is a major concern of yours I would avoid September and October.  Personally, I would not avoid these months for this reason.  To the best of my knowledge Disney World has only closed the parks due to hurricanes twice, once in 2004 and once in 2005.  They do have an excellent policy and work hard to keep their guests safe and comfortable.

There is a lot to consider when planning your trip to Disney World.  It will be fun regardless of when you go.  There is always something magical to do no matter when you are there.

 

 

Our Fist Trip to Disney World

Our first trip to Disney World was many years ago.  I’m going to recount this tale of grandeur, what we learned from it and how I fell in love with all things Disney on this magical trip.  I understand these types of vacations and experiences are not for everyone.  They certainly used to not be for me! But now I look forward to our Walt Disney World vacation each and every year.  We are leaving for The Most Magical Place on Earth in 94 long days from the time of this writing.  And I cannot wait!

Many, many moons ago I got a call from Hilton Grand Vacations offering me a stay at their new facility in Orlando at a discounted rate.  I cannot remember the exact figure, but it was something like $160 for three nights at their new resort in Orlando.  April and I had already been talking about taking the kids to Disney World for a few years and we figured this would be a good, cheap way to do it, even though we knew we would have to endure a timeshare tour and inevitable hard close from a pushy timeshare salesperson.  We bit anyway.

April started to plan our vacation almost right away.  She was very excited and had never been to Disney World, but grew up in Southern California and was a frequent visitor of Disneyland.  I had been to WDW once as a teen.  At that time, there were only two parks: Magic Kingdom and Epcot.  From my experience, I honestly thought three or four days was plenty of time and was concerned about the kids getting bored of going to the same old couple of parks for longer than that.  To be completely honest, I was going a bit begrudgingly.  I was not looking forward to it.  I enjoyed our beach vacations (and still do), but I felt that it was my fatherly duty to take my kids to meet the mouse (Mickey!) and the princesses one time in their lives.

As April got deeper into her planning, she came to me with a problem.  She felt like we were not going to have enough time to experience everything we wanted to.  Initially, I resisted her pleas to extend our stay.  I wanted to go down there for a few days, then to to a North Carolina beach for the remainder of our time.  I was trapped in what my experiences were as a kid.  But she made a good case and a happy wife makes a happy life, so I relented.

Let me state, that at the time my perceptions of what the parks were from my visit as a teen, were wrong.  Dead wrong.

Because we were on a budget, April set forth to find another timeshare resort stay for less expensive lodging than The Hilton Grand Vacations.  She found a 4 night stay at the Calypso Cay Resort that sounded nice and booked it.

Side bar, your honor: We do not recommend Calypso Cay.  At all.  The rooms smell of mildew, cigarettes and some unknown chemical they have used in a failed attempt to remove the cigarette smell and kill the mildew that failed.  The place was a strange mixture of a nice resort and a dump.  The rooms were absolutely lousy, but the pools were actually quite nice.  Unfortunately, we were not able to use them much because of the weather (March).  I have nothing bad to say about the staff.  They were actually quite nice and helpful.

Back to your regularly scheduled blog post.

So, we now had a total of seven nights to stay in Orlando.  That’s plenty of time to get through everything in the parks (plus two timeshare tours).  I was sure of it.  Once again, I was wrong.  Dead wrong.  There is no way you can get through everything in one trip.  Our longest stay was at Animal Kingdom a number of years ago for 14 nights.  Even then we could not get through everything in every park and we were there in early December which is considered low season.  We will have a planning guide up soon, but in the meantime, just keep in mind that you will NOT get through everything you want in one trip.  Make a “must do” list and keep to it as much as possible, but even then, try not to be too disappointed if you miss something.  It’s about priorities and the needs of your family.

After we were through with all of our planning (and by we, I mean April) all we had left to do was wait.  Finally the day came and we got in our beloved Sienna, Bessy (may she rest in peace), for the 836 mile trip.  Our kids travel really well so the ride down was uneventful.

On day 1 we went to the Magic Kingdom.  I was unimpressed with the crowds getting into the park.  It’s not that it was busy, I’m just not big on crowds which is something I’ve been able to overcome since I now love all things Disney.  However, when we got to Main Street – USA, my vision of what Walt Disney World is was completely transformed.

We came in under Walt Disney World Railroad , walked through Town Square and landed on Main Street – USA.  From here we had a great view of the castle.  I was transformed.  I was seeing the sites and hearing the sounds and smelling the smells through my children.  And it was magical.

Iris, our youngest, was extremely excited about “going inside Cinderella’s Castle”.  We tried to explain to her that you could go through a tunnel under the castle, but not really “into” it.  Her young mind could not grasp it. So, we walked down Main Street past all of the sites and sounds and delicious smells.  As we walked, all the stress of work and everyday life melted away.  We went through the tunnel under the castle and came out the other side.  Iris seemed a bit confused about that, but not terribly disappointed.  After all, there is a bunch of stuff to distract you, so we just pointed out the next shiny thing.

magic_carpet

We made our way around the park for a little while, unsure of what to do.  We had no real plan (make a plan, folks).  At the time Disney was employing paper Fast Passes.  We had no idea what they were or how to use them, but we figured it out pretty quick.  After walking around aimlessly and enjoying the scenery and the immersion into Magic Kingdom (and it is magical) we finally decided to ride The Magic Carpets of Aladdin.

We all squeezed into one “carpet”.  The kids were still small enough for that (so was my waste line).  April, Josh and Iris sat up front and Kaelynn and I sat in the back.  Iris was enthralled that she could control how high the “carpet” went.  The delight on her face cannot be replaced by gold.

There were several things that happened that really made the experience magical for me.  April and I got to spend a lot of time with Kaelynn and Josh riding the bigger rides Iris could not ride yet.  We also got one on one time with Iris.  I got absolutely soaked on Splash Mountain.  To date, that’s the wettest I’ve been at a Disney World park,  other than a water park.

Iris and Ariel

Something also happened with Iris that I will remember for the rest of my life.  While I was off riding the big rides with the older two, April took Iris to the smaller kids’ area.  There she met Ariel in mermaid form, who at the time was Iris’ favorite princess.  That day was a slower day for Ariel so she took a lot of time with Iris.  They talked about how they shared red hair and what it was like to be a mermaid and all kinds of other things that were magical.  She even told Iris they could be sisters! A few days later, we were having dinner at Akershus Royal Banquet Hall and Ariel came out in human form.  Iris sprung from her seat, grabbed Ariel’s hand, brought her to our table and  introduced her to Kaelynn, Josh and I, because we had not met her when Iris & April had a few days before.  *wink wink

Usually on our beach vacations, I need two or three days to decompress and completely forget about work.  I have found that at Disney World that happens immediately.  On our first trip (staying off Disney property) that happened when we entered the park on our first full day.  Since we have become Disney Vacation Club members, it happens from the time we hear the cast member checking us in say, “Welcome home.”

These vacations mean the world to me.  I know April and I are building magical memories that we will talk about and cherish forever.  Our kids will also remember them and how their daddy is transformed into something that he is not at home.  This is a place where we are all allowed to just be kids.  It is truly magical and I want all parents and kids to experience this.  It really is a magical place where dreams come true.