February 18, 2015

Disney Planning Part 2 - The Big Meeting

I said after Christmas, but this is a little longer than I planned between posts.  However, since we are snowed in and cabin fever is setting in hard, I figured it was time for an update.  In my last post I discussed pre-planning leading up to a big family meeting to get the ball rolling on a large, multifamily trip to Disney World.  To recap in case you are just joining me on this adventure, we are planning a trip to Walt Disney World for my family of 3 (husband, toddler, and myself) along with extended family adding up to a total of 9 people.  If you would like to read my post about pre-planning and getting the process started, you can do so here. 

So, in that post I mentioned that a big step to planning a trip with a large group is to have a planning meeting with everyone who is going on the trip.  It is important to make sure everyone is on the same page.  Here are 5 things you need to make sure you cover in this meeting:

1: Choose travel dates and a resort/hotel.
If you have not already done so, choose dates for traveling.  Make sure the time works for everyone in the group.  For our family that meant going when school was not in session.  We were also taking into consideration a big move and job hunting.

You also need to choose a resort or hotel.  Your first question should be, are we staying on-site?  Meaning, will you be looking into Disney resorts or nearby hotel options.  There are many great lists of pros and cons to staying on-site versus off-site floating around the internet.  As for my family, we have decided that on-site is the way to go.  We gave off-site a try one year and did not enjoy the experience as much.  Here are the main reasons to stay on-sight:
  • Travel Time:  When we stayed off-sight it took us a large amount of time to get to and from the parks each day.  That 2 hours or more is invaluable at Disney and we would prefer not to spend it in the car.
  • Experience:  When you stay on-sight at Disney, you never have to leave the magic.  The hotels and resorts are immersive experiences in and of themselves.  Plus, nothing beats a wake-up call from the Mouse himself or one of his delightful friends.
  • Value:  Most people think staying on-sight will be considerably more expensive.  It may not be.  Look at the Value Resorts and the cost of splitting a Villa and compare it to the nearby options.  But, don't forget to take into account the extra gas you will need to drive back and forth everyday (and idle in traffic), the cost of parking at Disney which is considerable (but complementary to resort guests, and the lost time.
 If you decide that on-site is the way to go, find out what resorts everyone is interested in.  The main ones we considered where Art of Animation, Pop Century, and the Treehouse Villas at Saratoga Springs.  Break out your calculator and do the math.  Decide what is the best value and will accommodate your family the best.  I outlined the pros and cons of these resorts on the previous post if you want more details.  We decided on the Treehouse Villa because it was not much more expensive per person, offered a very cool experience to everyone, and gave us a great lay-out for sleeping and toddler naps.

2: Discuss Dining Reservations.
If you are new to Disney planning, this may sound crazy.  The thing is, at Disney, the best dining experiences require what is affectionately known as an Advanced Dining Reservation (or ADR).  If you stay on-site, you can make these reservations 180 days before your check-in date and for up to 10 days into your trip (another perk!)  If you are staying off-site, you can make them 180 days in advance of each day, meaning you need to make one a day for the length of your trip.

When you begin to discuss dining, you must first decide if you are interested in a dining plan.  Disney offers the option to essentially pay for your food up front with a variety of dining plans.  There are 3 classifications of food at Disney when it comes to Dining Plans.  Table service meals are sit-down meals at a restaurant.  Character meals fall into this category.  Quick service meals could also be described as counter service.  You order food, you pick up food, you find a table.  Snacks can be anything from a Latte to a cookie to a Mickey Bar.  The three most popular dining plans to choose from are:
  • Quick Service Dining Plan:  This plan will get you 2 quick service meals and a snack per day.  It also includes a mug that you can refill for free at your resort. 
  • Disney Dining Plan:  This plan will get you one table service meal, one quick service meal, and a snack per day.  It also includes the resort mug.
  • Deluxe Dining Plan:  This plan includes 3 meals (quick service or table service, your choice) and 2 snacks per day.  It also includes the resort mug.
The right plan for you depends entirely on your budget and your preference for meals.  The food at Disney is amazing.  Way better than typical theme park food.  Even quick service meals can be quite delightful if you go to the right places.  But, if you are interested in character meals or any of the sit-down restaurants, I find that the Disney Dining Plan is a great option.  I like paying for my food up front.  Then I don't have to budget for it when we leave.  It also leaves me free to choose whatever I want at the restaurants guilt free.  For example, on our last trip we ate at the Japan Pavilion.  I was able to order the Filet Mignon instead of the Chicken, because I had already paid the same amount either way.  We have never had a need for the Deluxe Plan because frankly, that is a lot of food.  However, if you were interested in some of the dining experiences requiring 2 points, then it may be a good option.  You can explore the plans more on the Disney website.  

So, we picked the Disney Dining Plan.  Note if you are traveling with toddlers: children under 3 are not eligible for their own plan.  They can eat for free at buffets and share with adults at other meals, but will not have their own set of meals.  Next we had to decide what meals we wanted to book in advance.  We needed one table service meal per day.  We knew a few places we for sure wanted and a few we did not feel like we needed to do again.  I will write a whole post about dining at Disney, but for now, just know that you need to pick them early.  Designate someone to make all the reservations, set a calendar reminder on 180 days out at 6:00 and may the odds be ever in your favor.

3: Discuss money.
This is especially important.  You need to talk numbers.  Not rounded hypothetical numbers, but real numbers.  Put you information into the vacation reservation tool on the Disney website and find out exactly how much it will cost.  Divide it by the number of people going.  Each person in your group needs to know exactly what it will cost them to do this trip.  Calculate how much needs to be saved per week or per month.  Make sure everyone has a plan.  When you go with a large group, especially if you are on the same reservation or sharing an accommodation, someone backing out could be the difference between going and not going.  You need to make sure everyone is all in and is sure they can do it.  You also need a $200 deposit per reservation.  For us, we all booked on one reservation, so that was only $25 per person.  Collect it before making the reservation.  Once the reservation is made, make sure everyone has the confirmation number so they can make payments.  No one has to be the broker.

4: Discuss other experiences and what your must-sees are.
For us, we are looking at a day at Universal Studios.  We looked up the cost of tickets and spent some time discussing who would be interested in going.  There are many things to do and see in the Orlando area, so if your family is interested, now in the time to talk about it, especially if it means budgeting extra money (see number 3).  Also start talking about what your priorities are at Disney.  Do you just have to ride Space Mountain or Tower of Terror?  Is there are character you are dying to meet?  Maybe you really want to play a round of miniature golf or bowl a couple of games at Splitsville.  Reservations for these things don't need to be made, but it is good to know what everyone is thinking as it gets closer to your trip.

5: Watch the Vacation DVD.
Okay.  I know this seems corny, but hear me out.  Watching the Disney vacation video has become a tradition for our family when we start to make plans for a trip.  It helps build the excitement plus it can give good information on new attractions that may have opened or are coming up.  You can order one for free from the Disney website or you can watch it on Youtube.  Either way, it is actually quite fun.

So that is it.  The main things you need to talk about at your meeting.  The next step is to make the reservation and anxiously await your 180 day mark to make you Advanced Dining Reservations.  More on dining next.  

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