Day one of our Multiple Family Disney World Vacation

Port Orleans Riverside dockDisney World trip report time. I promised I’d start going through the Multiple Family Walt Disney World trip that my family and I went on this month (December 2013). In all, five families, myself, my three siblings and our parents, traveled down to spend a week together at Walt Disney World. Not surprisingly, we weren’t all able to arrive at the same time. Based on everyone’s work schedule, and the number of days they wanted to stay at disney, everyone arrived in more of a phased approach.

Because my Mom and I were the ringleaders of this magical trip, and because we’re Disney nerds, we were there first, staying from Saturday to the following Sunday. Eight days. Arriving first gave us a chance to set up everything, and make sure things were ready for the two families arriving the next day and the third family arriving two days later still.

It is a very good thing that we did.

When we booked this trip, through the lovely Disney specialist travel agency Mousefan travel, our agent made sure to code things with Disney as “travel with” to make sure they kept all five of our hotel rooms as close together as possible. When Mom and I (and my family) arrived, we found that four of the five families were together in the same building, and the fifth family was half way across the resort.

This was not good.

My Mom freaked out just a little bit. (It was all internal, but I could tell).

This was also not good.

As it turns out someone on the Disney side of the resort booking messed up . I verified with my travel agent, that she had made sure we were all “travel with.” She had even called earlier that week to make sure the reservation was all set and we’d end up together. So, it was entirely on the part of the Port Orleans Riverside folks.

We had specifically chosen the Port Orleans Riverside because we had a couple of families with five, and didn’t want to go up to either the Art of Animation or a Vacation club resort based on price. The trouble was that two of our five families have three children, making for a family of five but only one of them was seen as an “actual” family of five. The second family of five had a two year old as the fifth. At Disney,under three only counts as half a person in resorts and free at park entry. So, the family with three kids over three was placed in Alligator Bayou somewhere, and the rest of us were in the Magnolia bend section.

This was not at all acceptable to my Mom.

Thankfully, there were two lovely cast members working the check in at the resort, and they worked with the back office (I don’t know what to call reservations, but they had to do a lot of calling to some folks off site) to get us all together.

They offered an option (and I think at this point, it was our only option) where my family and my Mom (my step dad was joining us later because he couldn’t get the whole week off of work) had to rooms in one section of the resort (the Magnolia Bend) that first night, then we would move our stuff over to Alligator Bayou the next night, where we’d be joined by the rest of the families as they arrived. They didn’t have rooms all together until the next night.

That is what we ended up doing. It was hassle for us, because we had to wait for our bags to be picked up in the morning before heading to the parks, then wait for them to be redelivered when we returned from the parks. But in the end, bell services saved the day and managed to get everything where it needed to be.

For the rest of my siblings, they arrived and checked in, then found us in the Alligator Bayou section, never knowing anything had been amiss. In fact, we were all together on the same floor of the same building. The cousins spent every morning, running from room to room as they all woke up. It couldn’t have been more perfect. Everyone enjoyed the resort, and loved the theming over in the bayou section.

Hitch one successfully handled. Much love and thanks to the kind cast members at Port Orleans check in who helped me to keep my Mom from having a very bad day and managing to get her kids and grandkids all together.

Day one down.

Stay tuned for more Disney magic.

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Continuing my Multi-Family Disney World trip planning – Bringing your own food

In continuing my series of posts with ideas for our upcoming multiple family Disney trip (and really, these are all based on emails I am sending to my family members to plan our trip), I thought I’d provide some more background to the post I did yesterday about Garden Grocer (the online grocery shopping site).

When my handsome husband (he reads this blog from time to time) and I take our kids to Disney World, we bring snacks for the kids (goldfish crackers, cheerios, granola bars, things our son with food allergies can eat) to supplement the food we can buy in the parks or the restaurants in the disney hotels. Thankfully, Disney places no restrictions (aside from alcohol) on the food you can bring in with you when you go to the parks.

There are multiple ways to get food once you’re down in Florida. Here are some of the options we’ve used.

1. Bring it with you in your suitcase.
This is my Mom’s favorite when she flies down to Florida to join us at our DVC. She fills her suitcase with as much food at it will hold, then ends up with an empty suitcase to fill with things she buys at the parks for the flight home.

2. Stop at a grocery store
If we drive down we have plenty of room to fit the non-perishables (cereal, granola, chips, etc) and we can stop at the local Winn Dixie with a list to buy some of the perishables (milk, orange juice, soy yogurt).

3. Order from a grocery shopping service (Gardengrocer.com)
As mentioned in f we fly, and don’t have access to a car, rather than renting one for a day or taking a taxi to go to the grocery store, we use this service to preorder food to be picked up and delivered to our resort.

4. Send some nonperishables to yourself via the mail
This last one I am going to touch upon here. You can mail a package to yourself to be delivered to the hotel you will be staying at. They will keep it behind the desk, and retrieve it when you request it when you check in. Give it about a week to get there, so mail it at least a week before you arrive.

Address it to your name, Care of the hotel, write the word GUEST on the front of the package and mark down your arrival date as follows:

Name of Resort
ATTN:c/o Guest Name (GUEST)
Arrival Date: D/M/YR
Resort Confirmation Number
Address of Walt Disney World Resort

You can get the mailing address for any of the Disney resorts by calling the main reservations number at 407-W-DISNEY.

When you arrive at the resort, you can ask about the package at check in. If they have it where the check in folks can get to it, they will bring it out to you. If not, then you can ask Bell Services to bring it to your room once you’re all settled.

Then you can keep the box to mail stuff back home if you end up buying more than will fit in your suitcases.
Best of luck if you’re traveling to Disney World.

RSM

Continuing my Multi-Family Disney World trip planning – Grocery Delivery

As I continue to plan the multi-family trip to Disney World for myself and my siblings and Mom, I thought I’d capture some of the things we’re working on here on my blog. It’ll give me something to write about, and it might be information worth sharing with other folks who are working on their own Disney World plans.

Today’s post is about saving money on food when visiting the parks. You certainly won’t starve at Disney World, but it can get expensive to eat all your meals in the parks and the surrounding resort hotels. It can also get challenging if you have picky eaters or kids with allergies as I do.

Typically, the husband, kids and I drive down to Disney, so we make a stop at the Win Dixie for a quick grocery run before checking into our Disney Vacation Club resort hotel (complete with kitchen and full refrigerator – We’ve been DVC members since the kids were born). This trip, we’re flying down, so we won’t have a car, and taxis can be expensive. But there is an alliterative to getting food down in your hotel room at Disney from packing it and bringing it yourself.

For the trips that we’ve flown down to Florida in the past, we have used Garden Grocer

https://www.gardengrocer.com

We found this one through allearsnet.com and some of the other Disney World related websites that we typically frequent.

To use the service,  you effectively go grocery shopping online, picking out the items you want (refrigerated and otherwise, anything you can find in a grocery store –including baby stuff like diapers and wet wipes). Pick the date you want them delivered and the hotel you will be staying in. Enter a tip amount and your credit card information, and the food you’ve ordered will be delivered to your hotel on that date and time.

If you arrive at the hotel and through check in after the food arrives, the hotel desk will store it in the bell services area and they will keep all cold items in their refrigerated areas. Once you check in and your room is ready,  just call the bell services desk and ask that your items be delivered. It’s actually quite easy.

We are staying in a moderate and not a DVC resort this time, so will only have a mini fridge in the room, (sadly, no freezer), but good enough to keep milk, juice boxes, or other small things cold. That’s enough to make sure you can have milk and cereal every morning instead of eating in the park.

It is a good idea to book the service in advance because the scheduled times of delivery can get filled up the closer you get to your date of arrival.

A second option is to mail a package of non perishables to yourself at the hotel. That will be an upcoming blog post.

Enjoy!

RSM

Planning a multi-family trip to Walt Disney World: Where to Stay

As I have mentioned on this blog, I am trying to plan a multiply family vacation, in answer to a request from my Mom, for my siblings and all of our husbands, wives and kids. I started the planning by sitting down with everyone to fill out a questionnaire asking what were their priorities. As it turned out, cost was the number one thing everyone is concerned about.

With that in mind, I’ve started the process, with the help of a travel agent at Mousefan travel, to look into locations and get pricing on rooms. It’s proving to be challenging because some of the travel group are changing or altering their focus and priorities mid-planning, but as with planning for any big group, the person researching has to remain flexible, as well as patient or she will simply lose her mind. 🙂
In a trip to Walt Disney World, there are only two choices in where to stay: On property or off property.

Staying on Property
By on property, I mean to stay in one of the Disney World resorts located on the Walt Disney World resort property. These resorts are arranged in Value, Moderate and Deluxe classed in order of increasing price. There’s also the Disney Vacation Club resorts, but for my purposes, those can be considered deluxe because to pay cash for them is not a way to save money.  If you say in the value or moderate resorts, you get a hotel room, themed with Disney theming, access to Disney transportation and pools, food courts, etc.  What you don’t get is a lot of space, a kitchen, multiple bathrooms or bedrooms that you could get if you stayed off property.

A couple of the families going in this group have three children. In the lower cost resort category, the only moderates that sleep a family of five are the Port Orleans Riverside resort Alligator Bayou section. These rooms are nice, and the refurbishment and theming are really cute. The bed for the third child is a fold out of the wall type of trundle bed. The only trouble is that with a family of five in them, these rooms can feel a little small.  For a family with the dates next year that we’ve previously chosen, the room cost is: $1200(rounding). This is the rate in a combined ticket/room package. Note that this is not a discounted rate. At least I don’t think that it is. Perhaps there are discounts yet to be had.  That is more than we had estimated way back when we had started to plan this whole trip and might actually be a bit too high for the sacrifices to be made in a smaller room.

On the first trip my husband and I took together to WDW, long before we had kids, we stayed at the Port Orleans Riverside resort (then called Dixie Landings). We loved it, but now having kids and all that comes with traveling with them, it will be hard to step down to a room without a kitchen, and cramped quarters.

If cost isn’t an option, and you want to stay on property, then the suites at the All Star resorts or the new Art of Animation resort are a great idea. However, for the group of folks I am helping to plan for, cost is an option, and I just don’t know if they’d be wiling to go up in price.

Staying off property

If you want to keep cost low, you can always stay at a regular hotel somewhere off of the Walt Disney World property. But this won’t get you more space. It might also add to the cost because not you have the need to have a car to provide your own transportation to and from the parks.

An alterate would be looking at one of the vacation homes available for rent located near the parks. Through Mousfan travel and the WDW themed podcasts I listen to, I’ve heard a lot about the All Star Vacation homes. So I logged onto their site and got some on the spot quotes for our dates.

The homes come in 3, 4, 5 star ratings based on amenities and location, and sleep 8, 10, 12 people depending on # bedrooms and beds. I don’t have a good handle on what the difference is between the star ratings, but there must be more stuff in the five star over the three to justify the increase in cost.

Since in total, we are a group of 20, I looked up sets of two houses that sleep 10 people each in the 4 and 5 star categories above for our dates (rates change through the year and are most expensive in the busy times of the year.)

1. Two sets of 4 bedroom 4 star houses, sleeps 10 per house for the week we are looking at, including taxes, deposit, cleaning fees: $862 per family. (note this will be a total of $4314 for the two homes, divided between 5 families).

2. Two sets 4 bedroom 5 star houses, sleeps 10 per house for the week we are looking at, including taxes, deposit, cleaning fees: $1106 per family (note this is $5534 for the two homes, divided between 5 families).

Bottom line: You can save some money by staying off property if you are willing to provide your own transportation to and from the parks. It’s just not as much money as I had hoped.  My mother has been telling me anecdotal stories of friends of friends who stayed in 6 bedroom vacation homes for $1200 total per week. I haven’t found those numbers yet.

The issue with the cars is a sticking point for me. Some but not all of the families will be flying. Those that drive could get stuck providing transportation to those who flew. My main goal was that this be a vacation and as hassle free as possible.

At this point, we are taking a pause in the planning so we can reassess what our goals are for this trip before I continue down one path or another and have to backtrack. We still have some time before next fall (our target trip date) and I’d rather everyone be happy with the planning than someone be upset with me for making one decision or another.

What would you do? Where would you stay?

Pixie dust

RSM

Planning a multi-family trip to Walt Disney World: Deciding when to go

As I mentioned in my last post, I have taken it upon myself to coordinate a multi-family trip to Disney World in order to get myself, my family, my five siblings and their families, and my Mom and Step Dad all down to Disney World for a mega-family once in a lifetime vacation. I thought that I’d capture what I am going through as I plan here on the blog in case others who’ve done this have advice or others who are thinking about doing this can follow along.

Once my siblings gave me either resounding positives or luke warm non-negative responses to whether they wanted to embark on this crazy trip, I sent each of them a survey. I will reproduce the part of the survey that deals with step one in the planning: Deciding when to go. I felt that the answers below would help us to select the date for the trip. Deciding when to go is easily the hardest but most important part of this whole process.

From the survey:

Instructions: Circle one or fill in the answers

  1. Are you interested in going as a group to Walt Disney World?
    1. Yes
    2. No (you may now stop completing this survey)
  2. How long would you want to spend in Disney World
    1. 4 days/3 nights
    2. 5 days/4 nights
    3. 6 days/5 nights
    4. 7 days/6 nights
    5. 8 days/7 nights
    6. Other ___________________________________
  3. What time of the year would you be more interested in going:
    1. Late August (right before school starts, but hot)
    2. Early October (the first week of the month)
    3. Early November (the first or second week of the month)
    4. Other time of year  ___________________________________
  4. Are you willing to take your kids out of school?
    1. Yes
    2. No

Probably the most important decision you make to start off this whole Disney World vacation planning adventure is deciding when to go. If you have school aged children, which all of us in my family do now, then you have to discuss whether you are willing to take those children out of school to go to Disney World. If that isn’t an option for you, then you are limited to the breaks during the school year and summer vacation which are typically the more crowded times in the parks.  If you are not against taking your children out of school, then you can open your search to the less busy and less hot times of the year like spring, fall and winter.

We started our discussion with the year (2013). This would give everyone a little over a year at least, to save up for the trip. Next we had to narrow down to the time of year. Down to the last, every one of my siblings was willing to take their kids out of school in order to go to Disney World. So we were not limited to just the summer months for a vacation. I am not sure if this is because we work a lot with our kids and are willing to take homework down there with us (something my husband and I have done with our kids on a few of our trips) or that as midwesterners, we just can’t take the heat of Florida in June and July. Either way, we were clear to look at dates in the fall.

To start, we looked at the calendars of the members of our party who’s schedules revolve around school schedules. One sister is a teacher, and another works in the admissions office of a college. With these in mind, we identified a week in November and a week in October that would work.

For crowd levels, we looked over the 2012 Touringplans.com crowd calendar for those weeks this year to get an idea of how busy the parks will be on similar dates in 2013. I highly recommend a Touringplans account if you’re planning a Disney World vacation. We’ve been subscribers since long before their Lines iPhone application was even in beta.

For a data-centered nerd like myself, who has a bit of experience with mathematical optimization techniques, I love that the Lines app and the algorithms behind the touring plans inside of it are based on the traveling salesman problem. The solution is backed up with loads and loads of actual park wait times data taken over years.  If you want a little more background on the science behind the Touringplans, you can hear Mr. Len Testa (coauthor of the Unofficial Guide to Walt Disney World, and member of the podcast WDWToday) himself over on the now-defunct podcast Betamouse. Part one is here and part two is here. If you are interested in the background, I highly recommend giving these two episodes a listen. Perhaps if I drive the listenership up a bit, some of the members of Betamouse who did not leave the podcast to go work directly for Disney might consider restarting it. 🙂 If they need a Rocket Scientist to join in, I’d gladly volunteer.

Ok, enough about betamouse. 🙂

According to the crowd calendar, the equivalent two weeks we were looking at in 2012 ranged from 2’s to 6’s out of 10. If we go in October, we will be able to catch the EPCOT Food and Wine Festival (which is my favorite special event in the parks) and if we go in November, we will miss F&W but the crowd levels will be even lower.

Initially, we were set on November, but were going to have to restrict our visit to 5 days, 4 nights based on vacation restrictions of one of my sisters. Then she got engaged, and has planned her wedding date for 2013. That means she’s out of going on this trip, since she will be paying for a wedding and a honeymoon.

That freed us up to look at October again.

With a week in hand, it was time to start getting data of costs together. That’s where I turned to the travel agent we’ve used in the past, at Mousefan Travel. But that part of the story will have to wait for my next post.

Good night all.

RSM

Planning a multi-family trip to Walt Disney World: Initial steps

If you know me, or read any of my tweets, you know that I love Walt Disney World (WDW). My husband and I have taken our kids down to see the Mouse at least once a year since they were born. But our love didn’t start when we had kids. Our first vacation together as a couple was a week staying at Dixie Landigs (now called Port Orleans Riverside) at Walt Disney World. Together and apart, we’ve both lost track of just how many times we have visited the Magic Kingdom resort area.

My Mom first talked my Dad into taking my sisters, brother and I to Disney World when it was just the Magic Kingdom in 1976. We were lucky enough to be down there during the bicentennial celebration.  We went two more times together before I went off to college and my parents got divorced. My husband went with his family even more times than that, starting out shortly after the Magic Kingdom opened in 1971.

On almost all of the WDW trips we’ve taken our kids on, we’ve also taken my Mom and step Dad. It started because my step Dad had never been, and my husband and I were DVC (Disney Vacation Club) members and wanted to show him the magic of Disney. He was instantly hooked, and each time we went back, he and my Mom would charm their way into joining us.

It’s long been my Mom’s dream to get all of her kids, their significant others, and her grandkids down on a mega-family trip to Walt Disney World. The grandkids are almost all in grade school now, so after bounding the renewed idea off of my Mom, I decided to start the ball rolling. Starting last December, I pinned my siblings down to give me a yes/no answer on their interest level. If only one or two of them were interested, I’d still do the planning, because my husband and I would most likely be taking our kids down to Disney World again anyway, but it wouldn’t accomplish the family gathering my Mom had in mind. Thankfully, everyone either said “oh, yes!” or “ya, ok” and everything in between. We were go for launch.

In order to go the next step (to our travel agent – more on her in later posts) I needed to have additional information to start getting some quotes. I put together a short questionnaire for everyone, sent it to them via email or snail mail depending on which would work, and we reconvened with their answer.

In order to plan a trip to Disney World, the four biggest things you need to decide are:

1. When do you want to go (this is related to when can you take off work, are you willing to take your kids out of school).

2. What is your budget (this is tougher, because you have to start looking at prices of things in order to set your ballpark figure).

3. Where do you want to stay (on property or off property)

4. How are you going to get to Florida (Driving, flying, etc).

Because this post is getting a little long, and because I haven’t been really good about getting new posts up here on my site, I am going to end here. I will pick up in the next post with deciding when you want to go to the parks.

Wish us luck on this journey.

RSM