Showing posts with label DVC. Show all posts
Showing posts with label DVC. Show all posts

What is the Disney Parks Moms Panel?

Confession - Even those of us who eat, breathe, and sleep all things Disney sometimes have questions.

I consider myself to be well versed in the world of Walt Disney World travel, but new experiences like the first time I took a Disney Cruise Line vacation or getting ready for my first runDisney race sometimes leave me scratching my head.  How does transportation work?  What should I pack?  What can I find at the expo?

So where do I turn when I have a question - the Disney Parks Moms Panel!  These ladies (and a few gentlemen) can answer any Disney vacation question you throw their way.  And they do it all with a smile and a splash of pixie dust!  The Disney Parks Moms Panel features specialists in Walt Disney World, Disneyland, Disney Cruise Line, Disney Vacation Club, and runDisney to name a few and also features panelists from a variety of countries.  Whether you are planning your first vacation or your twentieth, if questions come up, this is the perfect place to turn.  Previous questions are posted on the website and categorized so you can easily search questions and answers if you don't even know where to begin.

Last year I made it to Round Two of the search.  Will this be my year to go all the way?
And if you think you know Disney, why not try applying for the panel?  Each year, there is an application process to find new panelists.  The first round begins in September with the excited new members being announced around Thanksgiving.  I've applied each of the past two years and made it to round two last year.  In the past, applicants have answered questions similar to what may be posed to the Moms Panel, submit videos, and complete an interview. While every year there are thousands of applicants, only a small handful can be selected.  What's the secret to getting selected?  If you figure it out, tell me!  I'm sure though from what I've read that knowing your Disney nomenclature, practicing near perfect spelling and grammar, and letting your unique personality shine through are some of the most important criteria.  I can't wait for the applications to open up again this year on September 8th and keep wishing upon a star that this year will be my year to be a Walt Disney World specialist!

Saratoga Springs Resort and Spa

I'm fresh off our latest trip to Walt Disney World where we enjoyed the comforts of Disney's Saratoga Springs Resort and Spa.  For each of our seven nights, we called this lovely resort "home" and enjoyed what it had to offer.  Saratoga Springs is a Disney Vacation Club property featuring a wide variety of rooms ranging from studios to the Treehouse Villas.  The resort is absolutely beautiful and sprawling.  The resort is themed after Saratoga, New York and highlights a golden era of horse racing.  It's located near Disney Springs (currently transitioning from Downtown Disney) and features a walking path to that area.

"Welcome Home"
The resort has five areas - The Grandstand, The Carousel, Congress Park, The Paddock, and The Springs.  We requested a room in The Springs as it is the closest to the main building and pool.  Due to the size of the resort, there is an internal bus system.  If you want to be first on the Disney Transportation busses, stay at The Grandstand.  Even though we were the last bus stop at The Springs, we never had a problem getting a bus when we waited.  There are three separate pools throughout the resort.  We opted to visit the pool at The Paddock which also included a specially designed children's area with water features and a water play area for children under 48 inches.  This pool was also zero entry which was perfect for our 3 year old.

The Paddock Pool
There are also several restaurants on property.  The Turf Club Bar and Grill is a table service restaurant featuring traditional American / country club type entrees.  There is also Artist's Palatte - a quick service restaurant located next to The Turf Club Bar and Grill in the main building.  In addition, you can find limited menus at restaurants and bars near the pools.

One of the beautiful walkways around the resort.
During our vacation, our family of four (including a 3 year old and a 5 month old infant) stayed in a studio villa.  Like many other Disney Vacation Club properties, the studio villa features a bed, sleeper sofa, table and two chairs, TV, full bath, closet, and kitchenette.  While a studio was tight when we had to add the pack 'n' play for our youngest family member, we were able to make due for the week.

The view from our standard view studio villa.
Saratoga Springs was a beautiful resort, but featured little "Disney" theming.  If you're family is looking to be surrounded by Mickey and immersed in Disney movies, you won't find it here.  Considering all of the resorts we've stayed at previously in Walt Disney World, Saratoga Springs would not be my first choice simply because it is not convenient to any of the parks - a perk that is important to us with young children.  However, I wouldn't hesitate to stay there again.  From a Disney Vacation Club standpoint, Saratoga Springs offers a lot of rooms at a relatively "cheap" point value and is probably the least popular.  This means that you can often find rooms available here at the last minute - a rare find for Disney Vacation Club studio villas.  

Have you visited Saratoga Springs on a Walt Disney World vacation?  I'd love to hear your experiences too!


Last Minute Disney

"Sometimes it's fun to do the impossible." ~ Walt Disney

Anyone who knows me well knows that I am a type A, perfectionist, super planner - especially when it comes to Disney.  I've always preached the importance of planning out your Disney trip well in advance to get the best resorts, dining, and FastPasses.  I don't think I've planned a Disney trip in under 6 months. . .until now.

Friends, I have done the impossible.  I have planned a Walt Disney World Resort vacation in just 12 hours only 33 days before we were set to leave.  How you ask?  Well, let me tell you!

We had our July vacation plans change and were now faced with both my husband and I having a week off a work, 2 kids, and looking for family fun.  *Cue the Disney music* I'm always up for a Disney trip, but all it took was one cute "I want to go Disney World, Dad" from our three year old and Dan was also convinced.  Once I had the green light to get planning, I wasted no time!

Step 1:  We really enjoyed using David's DVC Rentals on our last trip to get a Deluxe resort at non-deluxe pricing.  I went out on a limb to see if I could find any last minute availability through them.  While we couldn't get our first choice resort, we were able to find a Studio available at Saratoga Springs Resort and Spa.  In just three hours from my initial inquiry, we had secured our reservation and had a confirmation number - ready to keep the planning rolling!

Step 2:  Next, we went after our tickets and FastPass+ reservations.  You can't book FP+ reservations until you have purchased park tickets and linked them to your My Disney Experience account.  In the past, we have used Undercover Tourist to purchase tickets at a slight discount.  However, we felt more pressed for time on this trip so that we could book FP+ before even more experiences were gone.  With that in mind, we opted to purchase our tickets directly through Disney and they showed up in our My Disney Experience account immediately.  After a few hours of intermittent planning online, we had secured FP+ reservations for all of our top picks and I was pleasantly surprised how many experiences and how many good times were still available.

Step 3:  Last part of the initial planning rush was to look for dining reservations.  We opted to not do the Dining Plan again.  I'm not sold on the value of it, especially for our family with a three year old that is a really picky eater.  We were able to get dining reservations at three character breakfasts and a few good dinners.  Only 33 days out meant that we missed our chance for the most popular places and best times, but overall I'm pretty pleased with what we got and plan to check back each day to see if we can find any last minute cancellations.

So that's it - Disney trip planned in less than 12 hours.  While I was doing all of this, Dan had the job of booking flights so we are all set to go!  In the weeks ahead we have a few more details to iron out - like our Garden Grocer order - but we're in a great place and counting down the days to Disney!


Understanding Disney Resort Categories

Recently, I've been chatting with my cousin about an upcoming trip that he is planning with his family to Walt Disney World.  In our conversations, I was reminded how overwhelming the seemingly simple task of choosing a hotel for your Disney vacation can be for those who aren't familiar with all of the options and categories.

(Note: I've updated this post as of April 2019 to reflect my most recent stays! Enjoy!!)

The pool at Disney's All-Star Movies Resort
Value Resorts - All-Star Music, All-Star Movies, All-Star Sports, Pop Century, and Art of Animation - These provide the most basic accommodations on Disney property.  Rooms will vary a bit from resort to resort as the All Stars provide relatively small rooms while the Art of Animation resort offers family suites with multiple sleeping areas and 2 bathrooms.  Dining options are limited here as well with typically only a quick service restaurant.  Theming and pool areas are generally well done and kids will be impressed with the larger than life Disney characters at each of these resorts.  Out of this category, I've stayed at the All-Star Music Resort (back in 2003) as well as All-Star Movies Resort.  I'm excited to check out Art of Animation and hope to stay there on our next vacation with the kids.  I think the over-the-top theming and the inclusion of some recent Disney/Pixar films make this a perfect place for families with young kids.

Moderate Resort - Port Orleans Riverside
Stately mansions and a fun pool (where I enjoyed being a big kid!) 

Moderate Resorts - Caribbean Beach, Coronado Springs, Port Orleans Riverside, and Port Orleans French Quarter - These resorts feature more "subtle" Disney theming while transporting you to another place.  The grounds of each of these are beautiful and spread out over the greatest distance - something that may sound wonderfully relaxing to some of you or incredible inconvenient to others.  Recently, Disney has updated some rooms in these resorts to make a more magical and themed experience including Pirate themed rooms at Caribbean Beach Resort.  I've stayed at the Caribbean Beach Resort back in 1994 and Port Orleans Riverside in 2008. More recently, I visit Disney's Coronado Springs Resort in 2017 for Princess Half Marathon Weekend. Dan and I really enjoyed our time at Port Orleans Riverside and I would say it's my recommendation out of this category.  It seems to be universally well liked on all of the Disney Social Media groups that I follow and the laid back theming of an old Mississippi River plantation allows you to truly feel relaxed on your vacation.

Beautiful, modern, and close to the Magic Kingdom!
Deluxe Resort - The Contemporary
Deluxe Resorts - Contemporary, Grand Floridian, Polynesian, Wilderness Lodge, Boardwalk, Yacht Club, Beach Club, and Animal Kingdom Lodge - The deluxe resort category offers convenient access  to the parks, spacious rooms, luxurious accommodations, exceptional theming, and fantastic dining. . .all for a pretty high price.  There isn't a deluxe resort that you'd be disappointed in - they are fabulous.  If you will be staying at a deluxe resort, the biggest thing to consider is which park you would like easiest access to or if there is a particular theme that you love.  My personal favorite in this category is the Contemporary because with two young kids, you can walk to Magic Kingdom and are just a monorail ride away from Epcot.  You are also int the same resort as Chef Mickey's and again just a monorail ride away from great dining at the Polynesian and Grand Floridan too.

Deluxe Villa Resort - Animal Kingdom Lodge Kidani Village
Studio properties offer a larger room size and kitchenette matched with the luxury of a Deluxe Resort
Deluxe Villa Resorts (aka Disney Vacation Club properties) - Bay Lake Towers @ The Contemporary, Villas at Grand Floridian, Villas at Wilderness Lodge, Boardwalk Villas, Polynesian Villas and Bungalows, Saratoga Springs Resort and Spa, Old Key West Resort, Animal Kingdom Lodge Villas, and Beach Club Villas - Most of these resorts are paired up with a deluxe resort so the perks of staying at a deluxe resort are the same, but the room quality is enhanced in this category.  Depending on the property you can find studios, one bedroom villas, two bedroom villas, or grand villas.  These rooms are great for traveling with larger parties or if you want more of a "condo" experience as opposed to a "hotel" experience on your trip.  This is the most expensive category to reserve directly through Disney.  Since these are also DVC properties, you can find third party websites and brokers that you can rent points from online.  We've used David's Vacation Rentals before for a stay at Animal Kingdom Lodge Villas - Kidani Village.

Other Disney Options - Campsites and Cabins at Fort Wilderness - If you are looking for a "rustic" experience while visiting Disney, these are two options you may want to consider.  The campsites are available to rent if you are visiting with your camper while the cabins offer a woodland setting and accommodations for 6.  These are both over by Wilderness Lodge and offer boat transportation to Magic Kingdom (busses everywhere else), campfires in the evening, and easy access to the Hoop-Dee-Do Revue.  I can't give an honest review or recommendation here because I haven't experienced either of these.  Those who know me, know I'm not a big "camper."

Yeah.  This is me.
So that's it - a quick summary of Disney resort categories.  The magic of Disney is alive and well in each of them and the Disney service that is well known can be found everywhere.  The choice really comes down to your budget and family preferences.  You can visit the Walt Disney World website for a more detailed look at each of these categories and the resorts in each.

Saving money on food in Disney!

When traveling to Walt Disney World, one very large (and oftentimes underestimated) cost of the trip is buying food.  Even if you choose to purchase the Disney Dining Plan, you will probably still need some snacks and staples throughout the day.  So how can you save money on food?  Easy, buy groceries!

Now, you may be thinking I'm nuts.  Nobody wants to grocery shop on vacation and a lot of resort guests don't rent a car to easily get out.  Orlando though is home to numerous online grocery shopping services that are worth considering on your next trip.  On our most recent trip, we used Garden Grocer and couldn't have been happier with their service.

Here's how it works.  We visited their site about a month before our trip.  I knew that in our Studio at Animal Kingdom Lodge - Kidani Village we would have a fridge, sink, and some cabinet space.  I ordered easy breakfast items (milk, bananas, grapes, yogurt, bakery fresh muffins, cereal) and drinks (Capri Sun, soda, juice, case of water) as well as a few healthy snacks to pack for the park (granola bars, apples, pretzels, etc).    We don't know exactly how much money we saved by taking advantage of this service, but I know it was substantial.  Think about just water alone.  Water is one snack credit on the Disney Dining Plan or $2.50 a bottle when you buy it out in the parks.  From Garden Grocer, we received a case of water for $6.99 (or just $0.29 a bottle). The case was more than enough for what our family of 3 needed to last for the 5 days we were in Disney.  Between the online grocery order and some snacks we packed from home, we had a lot of options that saved us a great deal of money in the parks.  Once you place your order on their website, you select the delivery date, time frame, and resort destination.  They will deliver the groceries to bell services at your hotel where Disney staff will keep cold stuff refrigerated for you until you are back in your room to receive them.  When you arrive at your hotel, simply call bell services and they'll deliver your groceries to your room.  Voila!    

Having some breakfast food in the room allowed us to enjoy some leisurely mornings watching the animals from our balcony.
So how do you know if online groceries are right for your next trip?  The biggest suggestion I have is to check out what kind of refrigerator your room has.  All Walt Disney World Resort hotels now feature a refrigerator, but they do vary in size from mini-fridges in the value resorts to full size refrigerators and kitchens in most Disney Vacation Club property villas.  You'll want an idea of how much space you have for cold things before you place your order.  Many park visitors aren't aware that you can bring food into the park (including soft-sided coolers), but this little trick can add up to big savings!

What other tips or tricks do you have to save money on food when visiting Walt Disney World Resort?

Renting DVC Points

Ever since I heard of the Disney Vacation Club (DVC), I've patiently dropped hints to my husband at how fabulous this sounds.  Unfortunately, as a young couple having kids, daycare bills, and purchasing a house, putting out the upfront cost to join DVC has not been in the cards.  I had previously read about renting DVC points, but had never taken the plunge before this year.  Dan and I enjoy staying at the Deluxe resorts but don't like paying the Deluxe price tag.  So, we decided back in May to try out David's DVC Request website.  Everything I read about them was positive and we were very pleased with our experience.

How it Works - DVC members who have points that they can't use or don't want to use connect with David's.  Guests who want to stay at DVC properties fill out a simple questionnaire with information about your family, requested dates, and requested resorts.  David's then goes to work seeing if they can match up your request to points that are available to them.  We were originally trying to book during October which happens to be Food and Wine Festival.  We were unable to find the original reservation we wanted 5 months out, but were able to find a vacation option that would work by tinkering with our dates just a little.  The whole booking process was completed in less than 48 hours from my initial inquiry with the team being extremely responsive and helpful.  Once booked, you receive your confirmation number which you can plug into your My Disney Experience account to begin planning your vacation!  You pay David's a significantly discounted price over what Disney rack rates are for the villa properties.  They in turn pay the original owner and keep some for themselves.  You can easily price out your trip with their price calculator.  Remember that David's availability depends on the points that they have.  If you're looking for a popular week, season, or resort, try to get your reservation in close to 11 months out when DVC rentals open up.

Tickets, Dining, and Magical Express - You have to purchase your tickets separately.  I would recommend either going directly through Disney (don't forget your Disney Gift Cards from Target to save 5% with your Red Card) or Undercover Tourist.  Don't worry - you can still link the tickets to your Magic Bands on the My Disney Experience site.  You can also take advantage of Disney Dining Plan and Magical Express through David's.  They request that you get them these details at least 30 days in advance of your trip.

We loved our experience with David's and can't wait to go back to another DVC property in the future!

Animal Kingdom Lodge - Kidani Village

We just returned Sunday night from our most recent Disney trip where we enjoyed a wonderful stay in a savannah view room at the Animal Kingdom Lodge-Kidani Village.  AKL is a deluxe resort and DVC property.  We rented a DVC studio using David's Disney Vacation Club Rentals.  I'll review them in a later post, but overall we were very pleased with the resort and our whole experience.

Location - If there is one criticism I read about AKL prior to our trip, this was it.  AKL is made up of Jambo House and Kidani Village.  The lodge is spread out to maximize space along the safari.  Since this resort is located adjacent to Animal Kingdom, it is at the far end of Disney property.  You have to take WDW bus transportation to all theme parks and Downtown Disney.  The bus ride to Magic Kingdom is the farthest at about 20 minutes, plus whatever wait time you have for the bus to get there.  We did find that busses ran pretty regular and we never waited more than 15 minutes for a bus at a park or the resort.  Busses were very crowded, but a plus side to staying in Kidani was that the busses came to that part of the resort first so we were able to get seats without a problem.  The people at Jambo House were not always so lucky.

Dining - AKL has some nice choices for restaurants.  Again, it's important to note what part of the resort you're staying in when considering dining options.  Boma (buffet), Jiko (signature / fine dining), and Mara (quick service) are all located in Jambo House.  Sanaa (table service) is located at Kidani Village.  We did not eat at Jiko on this trip because of having Brody with us and we also passed on Mara, mainly because it didn't seem to be the bus/shuttle ride over to Jambo house just to have a counter service meal.  We did eat at Boma and Sanaa (both will be reviewed in another post in more detail).  While I think Boma is overpriced, the food was good and a nice mix of Amerian and African flair on the buffet.  Sanaa was wonderful!  I would definitely recommend that to anyone traveling to AKL.

Theming - Bonus points here!  Where else can you see a safari out your window??  This resort is perfect for families with kids (young and old) who will love watching animals and learning about them.  It's also a very quiet and peaceful resort which was perfect for mom to enjoy some quiet balcony time while Brody and Dan napped in the afternoon.  You feel a bit removed from the Disney hustle and bustle here which can be a nice retreat in the middle of the day or at night when you return.  The lobby was a delight to see and the African artwork throughout the resort provided a wonderful touch.

Loved seeing so many giraffes each day!

More animals just passing by our room!

Lobby at Kidani Village

Rooms - We had a studio with a savannah view and loved our room.  We were located near the Rafiki elevators so not too far off the lobby (Room 7730) which was nice because some rooms have a very loooong walk at the end of each day.  The furniture and accents in the room were very well connected to the theme and everything was comfortable.  In the studio room, we had a bed and a pullout sleep sofa.  While the studios can sleep up to 4, we would probably go with a one bedroom villa once our family adds our new addition simply because the extra space with 2 kids would be greatly appreciated.  There are a few different savannah views that your room may end up overlooking.  I would recommend requesting the Sunset Savannah as this has zebras and giraffes as well as some other large animals that will be easily recognizable for any kids that may be traveling with you.

Sleep sofa in our studio.  

Overall Grade - A-

Dan and I both agree that we would stay here again in a heartbeat.  Sure the bus rides were a bit longer and the lack of a quick service restaurant at Kidani is somewhat of a drawback, but neither of these dampened our experience in the least and they were easily overshadowed by the relaxing views of the safari and watching Brody's face light up when he saw the animals from our balcony.  I think Disney travelers of every age will find something to love about AKL!