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Brian Bennett

Walt Disney World Trip Planning Guide Reader Feedback

by Brian Bennett

11/18/02

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Now, as has become our custom, we'll review some reader responses to recent Notes From the World material before we move on to cover some new letters...

Chris provides this information on the Villas at the Disney Institute: Brian- I noticed there is still discussion about what is happening to the Disney Institute so I thought I would add what I was told by a Disney Vacation Club sales person. When we we given a sales presentation last August at the Vacation Club sales office at the Boardwalk, our salesperson said that they were indeed tearing down all of the Disney Institute to put up a new Vacation Club resort. He said they were selling out much faster than anticipated at the other on site properties and therefore running low on "inventory". The Institute area already had the utilities infrastructure (water, sewer, power, etc.) in place and they would save considerable time constructing a new resort by building there. He said they may leave a few of the Treehouses for "old times sake" but everything else would be new. Just thought I'd pass that on.

Thanks for your great site. I check it daily and have done so since before you merged with MousePlanet. I have also been inspired by your personal beliefs and experiences. Your commentary on the boycott was an excellent piece of research and I received great inspiration from it.

Keep up the good work!

Thanks for the kind note Chris, and for the information on the Institute.

Anton writes: Brian, In your latest Notes From the World there was a question from "Christine" regarding annual pass discounts at the resorts--having to have the pass at check-in. Given how deep the discounts are for the annual pass, I can't blame Disney for being strict about this. Anyway, I just returned from Walt Disney World and one member of our party had booked a room under the annual pass discount rate. The easy solution, at least for those flying in, is to get the annual pass at the Orlando airport. The Disney store (I think it's called "The Magic of Disney") in the the main terminal building sells annual passes. Note, however, that they cannot convert vouchers into passes. You can only do that at the parks. Hope this helps.

Thanks, Anton. That's a great tip for folks that are flying in... and that haven't yet purchased their annual passes. In Christine's case, I think she already had the vouchers in hand, so she really needed to deal with that.

I don't think any front desk cast member would refuse to check in a guest with vouchers as long as the issue of converting the voucher is resolved (perhapes, as I've suggested, by the guest agreeing to stop by later in the trip or at check out time with the annual pass in hand).

Daniel wrote on the same subject: Hey, buddy. Christine recently wrote you with some information about checking in to a WDW hotel with a voucher for an annual pass. You responded:

"What I would do is just deal with things at check in time. Certainly the Cast Members can check you in when you arrive "on the honor system." You could then stop by at the office later (even a day or more later) after you've done the voucher exchange to confirm that you have annual passes."

That is exactly the procedure I've used in the past. I've been allowed to check in with only the voucher in hand. Immediately I then left for Epcot, got my AP, and on return to my hotel that evening swung by the front desk to present the actual AP. This was a few years back, so I can't vouch for any recent changes in policy. But it worked great back then.

Also, a couple of quick questions: Do you know what time the Osborne lighting ceremony typically kicks off? And do you know if Carousel of Progress and/or the Transportarium will be open for business during the Thanksgiving holiday? Thanks.

Thanks for the positive feedback on the check in situation for AP voucher-holders. I really can't see a CM giving a guest a difficult time about that. :)

I can't answer your questions, unfortunately. Based on the recent past, I think it's a good bet that the Carousel of Progress and Timekeeper will be open, but I certainly can't say for sure. As I understand it, the Osborne Family Spectacle of Lights is typically presented from dusk until park closing time, but I don't know what time that would be on the clock.

Daniel responded: Thanks for your quick response. I'm just hoping against hope that CofP and Timekeeper (I knew Transportarium wasn't the current name, but I couldn't come up with it ;)) are open at least one more time, so I can properly say goodbye to a couple longtime favorites. I'm trying to fit in a tight dinner / Osborne / Fantasmic! schedule, and I'd really like to be at the grand opening of the Osborne lights. Oh well, that's what a Disney vacation as a solo is all about - flexibility! Thanks again.

Rochelle adds this tip for folks whose feet tend to easily tire: Brian, one of your readers spoke of foot problems. I too have problems with my feet, and have had to make several trips to the podiatrist within the last year. I found something at the pharmacy that might help. They are wide elastic bands that wrap around your foot and are made especially for people with fallen arches or other tendon related problems with their feet. They cost less than $5 each so I bought one for each foot. I have had them a couple of weeks and intend on taking them to Walt Disney World next week when we go for nine days at Thanksgiving. They work great because they work in addition to the arch supports in your shoes.

Thanks Rochelle. With all the help I've gotten on this one, about the only better advice I can give anyone with a foot condition is to see a podiatrist to get professional help. That's especially true for folks with diabetes as that disease can cause major foot problems!

Leslie writes on the topic of trip insurance: ...I just wanted to put in my 2 pennies about trip insurance, prompted by Lynnette's query in this week's Notes From the World.

For our springbreak 2001 trip, we had gotten trip insurance for the first time, prompted by our friends' unexpected Mickey trip cancellation due to a death in the family. They had not gotten insurance and took some pretty significant losses with the very last minute cancellations. We booked the trip through AAA and requested the trip insurance which was (insert short term memory loss) approximately $ 68 for the two (2) adults, one (1) child.

Our day of departure found us at BWI airport bright and early for our 8:00 A.M. flight. Through flight postponements, cancellations, lack of available flights/seats, thunderstorms in northern Florida, lack of available flight crews, lost luggage, etc., etc., etc. we found ourselves in our room at Port Orleans/Riverside, not at 12:20 P.M. as I had hoped, but rather, at 12:20 A.M.

My then 7 year-old took it all in stride better than her parents. We lost 1/2 day out of our plans and gained unbelievable aggravation; plus the trip went downhill from there ! But, that's another story. According to the insurance policy, we made it eventually and our luggage made it eventually, so no claim there. However, I called the insurance company and explained the situation; they had me send a copy of our itinerary and we got back $200.00 for loss of a day's tickets. It doesn't really make sense but, then, insurance never does make sense to me.

The potential for financial hardship, depending on your situation and arrangements, is significant. For people with a situation as Lynnette outlines, I think that insurance is a necessity. After our experience, trivial as the problems were comparatively, I think the insurance cost is worth the peace of mind. As always, I thoroughly enjoy the site, especially your part in it. Thanks for all you do ! Hope you and your family are well.

Thanks Leslie! I agree that insurance is a good thing to consider... especially if circumstances indicate that a problem might arise.

Julianne writes, regarding Amie's comments from a previous Notes From the World about finding the characters at WDW: I just returned from WDW with my 3 year old and a 6 year old. They both loved seeing the characters. Some suggestions: Character meals are great. We did two of them - Pooh and Friends for dinner and Mickey and friends for breakfast. Price wise, breakfast was a much better deal.

The campfire with Chip and Dale in Fort Wilderness is free and you get plenty of time with Chip and Dale. You do have to pay for 'smore makings if you choose.

There were LOTS of characters in all the parks. When you walk into a park and see someone with a long line waiting for pictures. I recommend you just move on. You will see more with little or no lines later.

In Toontown Fair you wait in short lines (or none at all) to be ushered into a quiet room with nice walls for back drops (no crowds of people in the background). It is cool and quiet and not rushed at all.

Remind your children to use their best manners. The characters notice this. Cinderella commented on my son's manners and told him that he was a handsome prince! He beamed! (so did I).

We brought lots of snacks, water and juice for the kids and spent less than $120 a day for the 4 of us.

Thanks for the great site. Because of your site, I was very prepared...

Thanks for the great suggestions, Julianne!

And now, back to our regularly scheduled email...

Q.

John writes: Caribbean Beach Resort will now open December 21st (as opposed to the original scheduled date of December 28th). I already have reservations at Coronado Springs at a Canadian $ at par deal, arriving December 23rd and checking out on January 3rd. This was the only option I had when making my original reservation for the special 'package'!

I immediately called Disney Central Reservations and was told that Caribbean Beach is not accepting reservations at this time - according to the computer.

I then went to Disney.com and read info on Caribbean Beach that says, reservations CANNOT be made until December 21st?

Any suggestions on what the 'hold up' could be?

A.

Sorry John, but only the gremlins in the Walt Disney World reservations computers can answer that one. All I can suggest is that you keep on trying.

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Q.

Denise asks: I love your web site!!! Thanks for all the great info! My family will be at Walt Disney World in January 2003 from the 18-25. I was wondering how much Martin Luther King Jr.'s Birthday affected the crowds and if that was just on the weekend and the Monday holiday or all week. I was just wondering what the past trends may have been. Also if you had suggestions about which parks to do over that weekend and Monday holiday.

Thanks again for all the great tips!

A.

Denise,

Any time there is an excuse for a long weekend, there will be bigger than usual crowds. In mid-January, though, "bigger than usual" still isn't that bad.

I'd suggest you just plan the trip as if nothing out of the ordinary is happening. If it turns out that the park gets more crowded during mid-day than you're happy with, head back to your resort for a swim or nap and return when things quiet down in the evening.

Frankly, I don't think that you have to worry much.

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Q.

Andrea writes: Do the Magic Kingdom, Epcot, and the Studios still open half an hour before official time? (And during Extra Magic Hour days would that be an hour and a half before official opening time?)

A.

Andrea,

Although there is never any official admission that the parks open a bit early, they often do. What happens is that the gates open and you're allowed into the first part of the park until "rope drop" when the official opening announcement is made and the park opens. In the Magic Kingdom, for example, Main Street is roped off at the Plaza end and guests are allowed into the shops, bakery, and so on... but not the rest of the park.

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Q.

Ryan asks: Hello, I read your web site every night before I go to sleep, I really enjoy hearing all about what is going on at Disney.

I also have a question, last March i stayed at Port Orleans Riverside for $89 a night, right now the going price is approximately $160 for the same time period this year.

Do you know if Disney offers discounts on room rates on a regular basis? I remember getting a flyer in the mail from them about summer discounts but I have not heard anything about the upcoming spring season... and I need to start planning soon!

Any information you may have about this subject would be GREATLY appreciated! Thanks!

A.

Ryan,

Room discounts are, indeed, available during all of the less busy times of the year. Fall (September/October) and mid-Winter (January/February) are the best bets for good rates.

Two ways to get "plugged in" are to get an annual pass (excellent passholder rates) or the Disney Club... although the Disney Club will only be accepting members for a few more weeks as it will be going away at the end of 2003.

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Q.

Clinton writes: Brian, Just a bit of feedback on the Walt Disney World Transportation article, that is actually some information about Disneyland Monorails.

A few weeks ago, we were visiting Disneyland and I approached the cast member at the Downtown Disney Monorail Station about riding in the front car (as our family had done a few years ago at Disney World.) Before I could even ask the question, the cast member jokingly said No. After I asked the question, he again said no, explaining that they had stopped the practice after 9/11 for security concerns. He said that he pretty much knew what my question would be even before I asked it, because that is the most common question at the station.

I don't know if the new ban has carried over to Disney World.

A.

Clinton,

During my last trip, front seat rides were still available. Also, I've heard from more recent visitors that you can still do so at Walt Disney World.

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Q.

Bill also writes about the recently shared piece on Walt Disney World Transportation: Brian, Thanks for the update on the Disney World transportation.

One of the things that we've discovered is that you have to know your options. If you ask the Disney employees how to get from point A to point B, they will likely give you the official route but not necessarily the one which may be fastest or more pleasant.

For example, we were going from the Polynesian Resort to Pioneer Hall in Fort Wilderness. The "official" way to do this is to take the monorail or bus to the Ticket and Transportation Center (never mind that it was within walking distance), transfer to a bus to Fort Wilderness, then transfer to an internal Fort Wilderness bus to Pioneer Hall. Instead, we took the boat from the Polynesian to the Magic Kingdom and then transferred to another boat to Pioneer Hall directly. This was much more pleasant than the bus rides and I think was actually quicker.

The Disney employees often do not recommend the lesser-used conveyances because of load factors. If everyone tried to use the boats, they would be overwhelmed.

A.

Excellent points, Bill. Thanks for sharing them.

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Q.

Matt had these comments: Dear Mr. Bennett, I live in Orlando, and visit Walt Disney World nearly every weekend. As a result, I have become quite an expert on how to visit the complex without going crazy. My chief strategy is NEVER park in one of the giant theme park lots, for usually are so usually packed with cars and people that it can take an eternity to park, reach the Main Gate and to "escape" at closing time. Plus, the sheer amount of driving and sitting in long lines of cars can waste a lot of time and gas.

My favorite parking strategy is using the lots at the resorts. However, now that they have Security booths stationed at the entrances, you are either prohibited from using them (which is usually the case at the budget places, like the Caribbean Beach Resort), or for no more than three hours. So, what I now do is park at those hotels not run by Disney, such as the Swan, Dolphin or anywhere at the Hotel Plaza. Of these, the Swan is the easiest to use, for it usually has a huge assortment of empty spaces. It is also the most lushly landscaped lot on property.

From there, I can walk to the Studios or Epcot. For the other parks, the bus stop is right there! If I really want to save driving, I can pop right into the Hotel Plaza, which is right around the corner from SR 535. I prefer the Best Western, where spaces are easy to find. To get to any of the parks from any of the Hotel Plaza hotels, I can use Walt Disney World's little-known SECOND INTERNAL BUS SYSTEM.

Starting at the top and bottom of the hour, during park hours, a caravan of buses snakes its way through the area. They make direct stops at Epcot, the Studios and Animal Kingdom, where you are just a few minutes' walk to the Main Gates.

The only park where the Hotel Plaza buses are at a disadvantage to the Disney resort buses is at the Magic Kingdom, for you are left a mile away, at Ticket and Transportation Center. But I don't find that a big deal, for you have several choices on how to arrive. You can take a monorail or ferryboat. If you are in no hurry, I can walk next door to the Polynesian, which lies next door. From there, you can also hop on the monorail or a launch from its dock.

Whenever I use the Hotel Plaza lots, heading home is somewhat tedious. Since I usually end up at Epcot for IllumiNations, and I hate schlepping back to the main bus depot, I head out via the nearby Gateway and walk over to the Beach Club. From there, I hop a bus to Downtown Disney. I then have about a half-mile walk to the hotel where I parked. This is the "price" I pay for avoiding up to ten miles of driving, and all that traffic.

In your article you describe how guests staying at the Magic Kingdom can get a bus to the Downtown Disney area from the Ticket and Transportation Center. This is no longer true. Now, one can only catch one of these buses from the monorail resorts directly, for they no longer stop at the Ticket and Transportation Center. The same bus makes stops at the Contemporary Resort, Polynesian Resort and the Grand Floridian. This is more convenient to those staying at these resorts.

Day visitors only have to change their routines slightly. Instead of taking an Express monorail to the Ticket and Transportation Center, they just have to get a Local to any of the resorts.

A.

Thanks for the note, Matt.

Do you have any information on the Downtown Disney routes? Is there a brochure that explains it?

Q.

Following up, Matt responded: ...Yesterday I used the buses three times to visit the Studios and Epcot! Yikes!

When I finally ended the day at the Pleasure Island depot, I asked at the information counter about Wilderness Lodge and Fort Wilderness. I was told that buses make pickups at the former, then make two stops at the latter- Pioneer Hall and the day visitor "Gateway" main parking lot. (That is, the one found at the main entrance to the Fort Wilderness complex).

I wish the Transportation Guides would explain these things better. You might remember the one they had a few years ago. One could go insane trying to make sense out of it. Now, they have redesigned it and simplified it so much that it is pretty much useless. Under the column entitled "How to go to Downtown Disney and Disney's Typhoon Lagoon Water Park" it says this-

From: All Resorts Take: Bus That's all it says! The rest of the column is blank.

A.

Yep, I've seen the same thing in the tranportation brochure. :(

But it It just dawned on me that I didn't clearly ask my question...

I was really asking for more specific information on the Downtown Disney Resort buses themselves (the ones that service the non-Disney hotels on Hotel Plaza Boulevard).

Q.

Matt provided this great follow-up: Dear Brian, The buses serving the Hotel Plaza are not the same as the ones for the Disney-owned resorts. The Hotel Plaza buses are the type are really "motor coaches," the type you would use for a cross-country trips, like those Greyhound uses. I'm not sure who runs these buses, but I know it is NOT MEARS. I'll make a note of the company next time I ride. Whoever it is, they contract out to Disney.

Like all the other on-site buses, there is no charge to ride. Also, the drivers do not ask for resort ID. You just step aboard and find a seat.

These buses provide a MUCH nicer ride than the ones serving the Disney resorts. Like on a Greyhound, you sit higher off the ground, getting a more unobstructed view during the trip. Below the passenger deck is an expansive luggage compartment. Drivers will stow any stroller or package down there, as well as retrieve it for the guest.

One key disadvantage to the Hotel Plaza buses is that, unlike the DIsney resorts buses, they lack any ability to accomodate a passenger who uses a wheelchair. Getting aboard requires stepping up three tall steps!

For everyone else, these buses provide a ride not unlike those found on an airplane or a Greyhound bus. The seats are cushioned, with head and arm rests. The windows even have shades! I think there are also individual lights and air blowers for each seat. The final extra found on these buses is a series of overhead TELEVISION SETS, on which a "loop" that describes what is found in the Hotel Plaza resorts sometimes plays continuously.

A.

 

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Q.

Amy asks: Hi Brian, I love your website and enjoy reading your answers to readers questions. I have one myself, if you don't mind. We are staying in a FWC over Thanksgiving this year and I've read conflicting reports on the number of TV's in the cabin - can you tell me - is there a 2nd TV in the bedroom? I know, I know, it's Disney and who needs the second TV? We (my husband and I do!) So, if there isn't a TV in the bedroom, is it possible to bring my own and hook into an existing cable jack? (Kinda like how you do it at KOA cabins?)

A.

According to the information I have there is a second TV in the bedroom. You should be all set. Of course, you could always call the Campground to confirm that. :)

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Q.

Mary asks: Dear Brian, I am planning a trip for January or early February. I have been reading a lot of stuff about the parks being sort of "Un-Disney", painting and refurbishing going on during open hours, attractions operating on a limited basis, restauraunts closing during slow times, etc. etc., presumably do to lower attendance and an effort to minimize the staffing costs.

I'm wondering if the allure of vacationing during this historically low attendance period will be dampened by shortened hours and closed attractions. Any personal observations on this? In particular, any comments on when during that period the parks are most likely to be "up to speed"?

Also... I happened upon an opportunity to book a room for New Year's Eve... Have you experienced this holiday at the parks? Any comments?

A.

Mary,

In today's world Walt Disney World is much more likely to have workers out and about (gardening, maintenance, etc.) during daylight hours than used to be the case (at Walt Disney World and Disneyland) in the "good old days." The concept of "show" just isn't as important now as it used to be.

The best way to ensure that you visit when the parks and attractions are fully functional is to go when the crowd levels are typically greater. That means, during the January / February timeframe, you should go during President's Week, as that is when the crowd levels spike a bit. Unfortunately, that's always the tradeoff... crowds and capacity. :)

Frankly, though, I don't think you'll have a problem with crowds at all during those months (except for the days right after New Years before the holiday crowds dissipate).

I've never personally been at Walt Disney World over New Years Eve, so I can't be of help there. I'll copy Sue Holland, though, because I believe she has some experience that she can share on that.

Sue provided this additional input:

"Hi Mary,

"Last year I was at Walt Disney World beginning December 28th until after New Year's. I've been there during the summer, and during other holidays, but never saw anything as crowded as it was at this time of year! We visit frequently and don't care if we only see a couple of attractions before giving up and leaving the parks. I would not recommend you visit at that time if seeing most of the rides & attractions is a priority for you. Even with Fastpass, you'll be spending alot of time in line.

"We were in MGM on 12/31, and although they had bands playing it was kind of chilly (we're from Florida but even our friends from Scotland were chilly). We basically spent the night outdoors waiting for the fireworks, which were nice - but not worth a 4 hour wait.

"I apologize if this sounds overly negative, but you won't find me going to Walt Disney World during the 12/25-12/31 period again.

"I agree with Brian's observations that the low attendance times are great. I've not noticed any "un-Disney" activities that lessened my experience."

Thanks Sue!

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Q.

Kathleen writes: Brian, I have enjoyed your site so much. Thanks for doing a great job.

My problem is I made a reservation for Animal Kingdom Lodge for five nights in a standard savannah view room. I got a great deal back in September.

When I was making my final payment last week the cast memeber I was speaking with told me the reservation was for a standard room not a savannah room. I am very disapointed. She said there were no more standard savannah rooms available. I know that when I made the reservation we had the savannah room. otherwise we would be staying at one of the value resorts at $55 a night. Can I complain to anyone? Is it worth it? Thanks!!

A.

Kathleen,

If you are certain that you booked a savannah room and are now being told that you're not going to get it, I would DEFINITELY take that issue up with my travel agent or directly with Disney if you made those reservations yourself.

If you're not satisfied with the resolution, you can always change your reservations to one of the value resorts (or cancel them altogether and stay off site).

Well, I hope you enjoyed the reader feedback for the WDW Trip Planning Guide!  Feed free to send more questions or comments to brian@mouseplanet.com!

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Brian's Archive - Contents

I've always gotten email about the WDW Trip Planning Guide, but since we added the feedback form to the site several months ago, the number of questions has increased dramatically!  I do my best to answer each and every question personally, but I've noticed that a lot of the questions are asked again and again.  The question that one person asks might very well be the question that someone else is wondering about.  Thus this page!

So...I'll post reader email and feedback every once in a while, because the question someone else asks might be the same one you're thinking about yourself!

 

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