Trip Report 27 Nov – 3 Dec 2016
Hi. This report is terribly late and awfully long. Apologizes to those who been waiting with bated breath. We returned home to a leaking water heater and then work and the holidays took over leaving me with little time to get this together. The month of January was spent pleading with my kids to send me their photos for this report. Got a few but I’ll go with what I have.
My intent is multi-faceted. First, I’d like to report on how we planned for this event. Now, I know in this forum it’s like preaching to the choir but maybe there are some folks here that can use some of this information.
Second, a plan is only good as the first day of execution. As much as I would liked to have EVERYTHING go as planned, sadly its does not (LOL). I have a couple of comical (well its was funny later) incidents to expound on that threw us for a curve and how we managed to make the best of it.
Lastly, we have some great moments/stories to share about the grandkids, their favorite rides and picture galore.
First some background info. Irene and I have been going as empty nesters since 2002. This will be our first trip as a family since the kids were in grade school in the ‘90s. The kids are now adults and have children of their own. The big kids are Jack and Christina with their children Ava (4) and Jaxs (1 ½). Then there is Joan & Gene and their little guy Lucas (5).
PLANNING: The Unofficial Guide is my bible to WDW. I’ve used it for every trip since I heard about it in 2009 and is indispensible. The forum is new to me but the folks here helped me clear up some misconceptions I had about FassPass, better way to make dining reservations for those hard to get places, touring plans and other matters. You can count on them for an honest answer.
This is the first time I planned for a group. I quickly discovered planning for a group has its own unique challenges. Our story starts waaaaayyyyy back to Sept 2015. This was to be a X-mas surprise from us to them and I had all intentions to get them involved in the planning before I booked any reservations. But, the Wicked Witch offered a poisoned apple and planning the plan got off to a rocky start. Here is what happened:
I am retired Army and take advantage of the Disney Armed Forces Salute discounts. The Armed Forces Salute program is a Disney discount not associated with the normal military discount at the ticket window. This program is temporary and is renewed by Disney annually with specific start and end dates. No one knows when this discount will permanently end but they are very deep discounts. For example, in 2016 an adult 4-day hopper ticket is a fixed price at $192.00 (limit to six tickets). Water parks add on is $25 extra.
Normally, the Armed Forces Salute window to book rooms opens in Jan or Feb and is not announced until the day it opens. Disney and the military renegotiated an earlier window to start in October so military families can take advantage of the Christmas room discounts. Somehow, an e-mail announcing the window to open in Oct at 3 PM was accidently sent hours early to those on the MS distro list. I know only a limited number of rooms would be available at a 40% discount, I had the resort reservation phone number on speed dial.
Here is a good link about the program: http://www.militarydisneytips.com/blog/disney-military-discounts/2017-disney-armed-forces-salute-starts-today/
With only two hours before the discount window opened, I had to make some decisions without input from the family.
We only had 4-day tickets so I wanted to spend as much time at the parks as possible therefore a Disney resort was the preferred location.
I’m sure the big kids could keep up the pace but, I also knew the little guys would tire easily. Even with a school schedule they were on, mid-day/late-day naps were the norm. And, since two of the four days would be at MK anyhow, I narrowed the selection to Disney hotels on the monorail.
The next decision I have to make is when to go. The easy answer was the less expensive time in the middle of hurricane season commonly called Value Season. Kids are out of school so no conflicts there. But can the little guys handle that oppressive humid Florida heat? The other choice was in December. A bit more expensive but the kids would love the decorations and Christmas theme. Looking at the new tiered pricing, I noticed the week after Thanksgiving and before mid-December (Fall Season??) was the least expensive in the month. Hey, its all about the kids right?
I had pre-dialed the phone number to the Military Salute Disney reservation desk and noted it took 10 seconds to dial and punch thru all the automated prompts. So, at 10 seconds before 3 PM, I dialed the number and like pixie dust on a rotten apple, I was talking to an agent.
So, I am about to book with the agent…PAUSE…lets talk about the budget…
I knew this was going to be more expensive than our recent trips. I had worked out a budget based on the last five trips Irene and I made. We went to the Poly, Pop Century and each of the All-Star resorts. Each time we used the basic dining plan; twice we drove and flew the other times. The last three times we used the Military Salute discounts. We always went in the spring (not Spring Break) or the week(s) after Labor Day. The last visit in 2014 was our first visit to the Food & Wine Festival and that was AWESOME!
I have a pretty good idea what this is going to cost. The day I’m making the call, I have the budget spreadsheet for tickets, transportation, food options in front of me with the three monorail hotels and; if they are filled I have back up hotels, A of A, Pop Century and the All-Stars. Polynesian was my first choice, been there and I liked the décor. GF was next but I knew that would be out of my price range. We went there when it first opened I think in ’91 or ’92. Never been to the Contempory so this might be my first time. I’m thinking A of A would be good choice. It was the only place to have room for 9 of us. All of the others would require 2 rooms. To my knowledge, suites are not discounted at the deluxe hotels.
Back to phone call and I’m talking to Jason the reservation agent and he is surprised I dialed in for the Military Discount, it had just popped up on his screen when I called…imagine that!
What I know is, we’re going the last weekend in November for 6 nights and it’s going to be a Disney Hotel.
I asked for the Polynesian…nothing available. My heart sank. Why of course, they are still renovating. I ask him to look at the GF. He has two rooms. When he quotes me the Standard Rate, it’s LOWER than the Poly..I said “no way”! He says, “I can’t believe it my self, that’s a low rate”.
So, I say I’ll take it! I’m as giddy as anything, he says Meal Plan? Not thinking about anything else, I say I say, “sure, go for it”..I don’t even look at my spreadsheet to see what the price is, I get the Memory Maker cause 1) everyone in my party can use it, 2) the advance price is $99 compared to $149 and 3) the photographers do a decent job (more on that later). They could have sold me the Brooklyn Bridge and think I would’ve taken it…
We’re booked. I put a deposit down on each room, six nights, 27 Nov – 3 Dec Standard room, Disney dinning (TS, QS, 2S), memory Maker. But, the story gets better…the Ice Queen shows up and freezes every thing in it place….
I get an invoiced e-mailed to me but I don’t look at it until the weekend. When I finally look at it a few days later, every thing looks okay…6 days, Disney plan, blah, blah, blah..until I see:
BALANCE DUE 20 NOVEMBER 2016!!! NOOOOOO…we’re going 2017!!!!! It was to be due mid-October 2017..
I panic…. No wonder I got these low prices, I was ready to kill Jason…I called the reservation and spoke with the women on the other end and explained what happened. Well, the Ice Queen started to melt, the agent told me, Jason used the right 2017 codes for the prices, he/we just booked 2016 rooms. In a few moments she had everything switch to 2017 dates and even upgrade us the Lagoon View rooms, cause hat was all that was left.
Though I was happy to get that all fixed, I wonder now if Jason was looking at the 2016 Poly rooms…could there have been 2017 Poly rooms available?...wondering minds…
I’m gonna rest and catch my breath now…in a day or two or sp, we’ll get in more detail about how the planning went for a group for the first time. What a chore THAT was!