Christmas in (almost!) July - The Castle Lighting Ceremony

It is Christmas in July time! Our family did a week long trip to Disney World during the first full week of December last year. I think it is my new favorite time of the year to visit. So through out the month, I thought I would share some snippits of our December to remember...

One of my favorite things happens every night at the Magic Kingdom. Right around dusk, head to the hub and find a great view of the castle. It won't belong before you hear the Fairy Godmother lead the Castle Lighting Ceremony.

In case you have not been to the Magic Kingdom in late November or December, the castle is beautifully draped in over 20,000 lights. The "Castle Dream Lights" are turned on each evening by the Fairy Godmother's magic..."Bibbidi, Bobbidi, BOO!"

Enjoy this video of the castle lighting ceremony.  Please pardon the first few seconds of wiggling, the family next to me wanted to be a little ahem "cozier" than I expected.  If you want to get to the good stuff, skip ahead to the 4:30 mark.  Enjoy!


Good things coming soon...

It is hot.  My children's schedule is oddly demanding.  Work has been pleasantly busy...It is summer time.  Vacation time.  And while I am not headed off to Disney this summer, there is a sandy South Carolina beach calling my name.

But I am also getting really excited about my upcoming Disney cruise.  Well, it is not upcoming until spring, but since we are now officially in summer that means I am one season closer...Right?  I know, I am mildly pathetic.  But did I mention that I am REALLY excited about checking out the Disney Dream?!?

Another thing that has me excited is that I hear a new blog dedicated to Disney cruising is on the way!  No comment on if this is part of the reason I have been staying up half the night lately.  Stay tuned for more details.

I am also working with several families who are headed off to Disney in December.  I love the first week of December at Disney.  The decorations, the parties, the lights, the low crowds, the Santa Mickey Ears...what is not to love?  To that end an executive decision has been made to run a Christmas in July series on The Mouse Connection.  Disney has really gotten me in the mood by publishing a partial list of guest narrators.  In case you missed the announcement, here is the latest (no official date on the dining packages, but I would expect it will be sometime next month):
     Nov. 25-27 — Mira Sorvino (“Romy and Michelle’s High School Reunion”)
     Nov. 28-Dec. 1 — Michael W. Smith (Christian singer)
     Dec. 2-3 — Whoopi Goldberg (“The View”)
     Dec. 4-6 — TBD
     Dec. 7-9 — Isabella Rossellini (“Alias”)
     Dec. 10-12 — Neil Patrick Harris (“How I Met Your Mother”)
     Dec. 13-14 — TBD
     Dec. 16-18 — TBD
     Dec. 19-21 — Trace Adkins (country singer)
     Dec. 22-24 — Susan Lucci (“All My Children”)
     Dec. 25-27 — Blair Underwood (“The Event”)
     Dec. 28-30 — Marlee Matlin (“Celebrity Apprentice”)

My whole family really enjoyed the Candlelight Processional last year, in spite of the freakish cold snap. Susan Lucci was our narrator and she did a great job.  I would love to see Whoopi or NPH this year, but sadly, I do not think it will be in the cards for us this year.  (Did I mention a few months after Christmas I am going on a Disney cruise? )

If you want to whet your cruse whistle, check out this video posted on the Disney Parks Blog.  Their amazing photog Matt Stroshane assembled 10,000still photos to condense a week long Alaskan cruise into 1 minute and 58 seconds.  While I am a total and complete beach bum, and it is hard for me to fathom taking a vacation where sunscreen is not involved, this has me rethinking things!

If I can help plan your cruise, Alaskan or otherwise, send me an email and we will find something perfect!


You can now Book Art of Animation, Princess Rooms, and a Pool View at Pop!

As expected with the early announcement of ticket prices, Disney has announced new package rates for 2012.

At first look, there do seem to be some changes...

Dining -
  • The Quick Service Dining Plan now only includes 1 snack per day instead of 2.  At $34.99 per adult, $11.99 per child, the price remains constant, but with one less snack.
  • The Regular (Plus) Dining Plan now includes a refillable drink mug.  At $51.54 per adult, $15.02 per child this is an increase of $5.50 for adults and $3 for kids.  With the addition of the refillable drink mug, I am calling this a good bargain, in spite of the higher price tag!
  • The Deluxe Dining Plan now only includes 1 snack per day instead of 2.  At $85.52 per adult, $23.79 per child., this is a $6.50 increase for adults and a $1.80 increase for kids.
  • Both the Regular and Deluxe dining plans still have peak pricing.
  • No Wine and Dine option is offered this year.

Resorts -
  • Ready to check out the Art of Animation?  The newest Disney Resort starts taking reservations for arrivals beginning May 31.
  • Are vacationing with royalty?  If so, your little princess will surely enjoy the Royal Guest Room at Port Orleans Riverside beginning March 4
  • An Affordable Room with a View?  At Pop Century, guest can now pay a premium to insure a pool view!  The All Star Resorts do not offer a pool view at this time.
  • No information yet on the new health and wellness rooms at the Contemporary.
Stay tuned...I am sure more details will follow!


Disney Announces Price Hikes Sooner than Expected

Usually in late August there is a flurry of activity for those trying to get their vacation packages booked, effectively locking in their ticket price before the next year's rate increase takes effect.  Perhaps the unseasonably warm temperatures have fooled Disney into thinking that August is here, as they have announced ticket prices will increase 3 months earlier than usual.

If you have kept up with this blog, you may remember that I posted some rumors regarding Disney announcing next years resort rates and ticket prices earlier than in previous years.  While it stinks any time prices rise, the silver lining in this news is that it paves the way for long range planners to book their trips for the next calendar year earlier.  In years past, you had to book your dining reservations before you knew how much you were going  to be paying for your hotel, dining, or tickets! 

You can find a complete list of all ticket types HERE.  But in a nutshell, all tickets increases in price, with the largest percentage increases tickets of longer duration and on tickets for kids.  Instead of a adding a day to a 4 or more day base ticket for $5, it will now cost you $8.  That is going to be a tougher sell for families to add on arrival or departure day!  For a typical family of four to add a day - even if it was only a few hours - for $20 was kind of a "no brainer".  Now that it will cost over $32 may give more folks cause for pause.

So thinking of a trip to Disney World and want to get in under the wire?  Good news!  I will be happy to get your vacation booked and locked in at the lower rates this weekend before the price increases Monday morning.  I will be available all weekend to take your call or email.  Contact me and we can get the ball rolling.  If you want to take a few days to think things over before you are ready to make your deposit, we can get a courtesy hold on a room for you which will allow you 7 days to thinks things over.

And if you are thinking about Disney in 2012, let's talk soon...it looks like we can get started sooner than expected!


Do you REALLY save money on the dining plan?

To dining plan or not to dining plan...that is the question.

Many of the families I work with are gung ho about signing up for the dining plan, and others are more than a little suspicious. Critics of the dining plan site its cost, the overabundance of food and not wanting to be “tied down” to dining reservations so far in advance. While all of that is absolutely true, I decided to wear the hat of my number crunching husband. I took the practical approach to see if the dining plan actually saved us money. Turns out, for our family, the dining plan is not only a winner, but a BIG winner.

We opted to go for the Regular Dining Plan, often called “Plus Dining”, which consists on one table service meal, one quick service meal, and one snack per day for each night of our resort stay. This plan made the most sense for us because I like to have one sit down, relaxing meal each day. In fact, it is my favorite part of the day. I love to be face to face with the family and talk about what we loved, what we didn’t and what we are looking forward to the next day. After we order, I have been known to discreetly pull out the video camera and do a quick interview with the kids. I love hearing about the day in their own words while it is still fresh. I like the break, the “forced” time out from the world to relax and really talk.

Another reason the dining plan makes sense for our family is that I hate nasty surprises. My thought going into the trip that I would either break even or come out slightly ahead cost wise with the dining plan (Boy was I wrong, I came out WAY ahead!). I signed up any way because I wanted to know exactly what our food costs were going to be.  The husband I and decided that even if we ultimately spent a little bit more on the dining plan, it would be worth having as a sort of "insurance" policy.  Also, I like to splurge a little on vacation and Idid not want to “settle” for the hamburger when I really wanted the steak. It was a good feeling knowing that meals were budgeted and paid for in advance. We could order whatever we wanted off the menu guilt-free….no surprises…no sticker shock.

To be fair, the critics of the dining plan do have some reasonable points. If you have paid for so many table service meals, you want to make sure you use them, which requires dining reservations…which requires advance planning. Of course, if you want to eat at any particular tables service restaurant, you will need a dining reservation whether or not you are on the dining plan! I also tend to plan most of my park days well in advance any way. While I do not necessarily believe in scheduling every second, I do not like crowds, so for most days I pick my park based on crowd levels…once I pick my park my dining falls into place.

Assuming that you are going to eat one sit down meal every day, the most compelling argument against the dining plan is the cost and the “too much food” aspect of the plan. So I dutifully saved my receipts and crunched the numbers. I looked at the numbers in two ways…what I actually ordered vs what I would have paid and what I would have ordered if I were not on the dining plan vs what I would have paid. If I were not on the dining plan, we might have shared a snack instead of buying more to take home with us, we would certainly have skipped dessert at lunch, and instead of my husband and I both ordering dessert at dinner, we would have gotten one to share.

I figured that I would have come out ahead on the apples to apples comparison, but what if I compared apples and oranges?  What if I compared the cost of the dining plan to what I would have ordered as if I had to pay on the spot? Would that 1 dessert and 1 snack for the family to share ultimately mean the dining plan cost us more than it was worth?

Well...let’s see… I used our first 4 park days as an example since we ate one quick service and one counter service meal each day. I totaled up what we ate and subtracted the cost of the dining plan to see the savings. To be fair, I did order more than I would have if I were not on the dining plan so I subtracted out the “extras” that we would have passed if left to our own devices.

So over our first four days, we saved over $280 on dining! If you subtract out the extras we still would have saved over $190! I must admit that I was really surprised at the savings. I honestly thought we would come close to breaking even or maybe end up getting out snacks “free” out of the deal.

To be fair, if we were not on the dining plan, I might have chosen some less expensive restaurants. For example, I might have traded in Liberty Tree Tavern for the Plaza. I also may forced my kids to eat from the kids menu. But I am sure that I still would have kept some of my favorite higher end restaurants in the mix. Of course, some of those snacks that I subtracted from my end of day total went to buying rice crispie treats to bring back home as little gifts…so that savings would ultimately have been added back into my souvenir budget.

For our family the biggest savings was a result of having children under the age of 9 on the dining plan and eating at buffet restaurants. The cost of the kids dining plan is $11.99. The cost of some dinner buffets is $14.99-16.99. So we came out several dollars ahead with just one meal! Also, Disney does not distinguish between adult and child counter service credits, so if my kids preferred something on the adult menu, I allowed them to order it. While Disney policy states that kids under 9 should order from the kids menu when available, every cast member when asked, allowed me to order from the adult menu for my kids.

So is the dining plan for you? I give you an enthusiastic “YES!” if one or more of the following is true:
  • You plan to sit down and eat one meal a day.
  • You have a budget that is important to adhere to.
  • You have kids in the 3-9 age range.
  • You enjoy eating from the "higher end" of the menu.
  • You enjoy eating at "higher end" restaurants.
And if all of the above are true - you are crazy NOT to be on the dining plan!

If I can help you with your vacation planning please contact me at TMC Travel or by email.  As always there is no fee for my services!