Tips for Renting Cars for Walt Disney World

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One of the big dilemmas facing many people is if they should rent a car at Walt Disney World, and if so, how to save money when renting a car at Orlando International Airport. This post covers the pros and cons of renting a car for a Walt Disney World vacation, as well as how to go about saving the most money on rental cars, and other rental car hacks, pitfalls, and other random rambling.

As a threshold matter, you have to determine whether you need to rent a car at Walt Disney World in the first place. Unlike many other vacation destinations, a rental car at Walt Disney World is not a strict necessity, so don’t assume that a booking a rental car is an inherent step in your trip planning. In the first section of this post, we’ll explore the benefits and drawbacks of renting a car. If you already have determined that a rental car is right for your family, you can skip ahead to the second half of the article, which covers tips and tricks for saving money on rental cars at Walt Disney World (and beyond).

We have a lot of ground to cover in this post, so let’s start by taking a look at whether you should rent a car at Walt Disney World or roll the dice and rely on Disney’s “lovely” “free” transportation system… (more…)

Sailing Day Buffet Review

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Sailing Day Buffet is a restaurant in Tokyo DisneySea’s American Waterfront. As the name suggests, it’s a buffet, and it serves mostly Western options, but it really isn’t all American cuisine as the location would suggest; there’s a broad enough selection of different international items (all of which are completely tame), conventional options, seafood, carved meat, and more. It even it moderately vegetarian-friendly!

This review takes a look at the food available on the food on the buffet, plus the seasonal ambiance we experienced at Sailing Day Buffet at Halloween. The review costs 2800 Yen, which is currently about $23. I figured I should start giving the actual yen amounts in these reviews, as the Crystal Palace buffet is the same price, yet our review reflects a dollar cost of 30, which was what the conversion rate was at the time. As you can see, things have improved significantly since then. For an all inclusive price of <$25, Sailing Day Buffet represents tremendous value.

Now let’s take a look at the environment. The restaurant is set in a dockside warehouse for the United States Steamship Company, which is based on an actual company formed in 1848 to carry U.S. mail from New York to California, with stops in New Orleans, Havana, and Panama. The company had the SS Ohio and the SS Georgia built in 1848, and purchased the SS Falcon in early 1849; it also carried the passengers by steamship. It’s unclear whether the building is based on any historical photographs of boathouses used by the actual company. There’s plenty of details and supplies stacked high in the upper level and it feels authentic. Unfortunately, as far as Tokyo DisneySea goes, the concept itself is on the weak side (“a big warehouse filled with supplies where people get to eat–how exciting!!!).

That’s about the only downside of Sailing Day Buffet; let’s take a look at all of the ways it excels, including the skeleton performers! (more…)

Disney Parks Pet Peeves

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To borrow the immortal words of Frank Costanza, I’ve got a lot of problems with you people, and now you’re going to hear about it! That’s right. I know this blog is normally rainbows, unicorns, and all sorts of other good vibrations, but it’s time for you to hear what I really think (…as if I’ve been holding back ;) ). Here, it’s time for my “Airing of Disney Parks Grievances.”

On the surface, I’m a reasonably patient person with a fairly relaxed attitude. Just under that lies a surly curmudgeon who holds back festering irritation about myriad little things that probably should bother no one, many of which are witnessed in the parks. Much like an internal combustion engine somehow magically converts fuel into energy, I think in a way I turn these minor irritations into some sort of energy for (hopefully?) fruitful endeavors. So this isn’t all negative!

With that said, this post is in no way helpful to Walt Disney World, Disneyland, or other park trip planning. Actually, it’s not really helpful to anything anywhere at all. Think of it as a junk food blog post that you shouldn’t waste your time reading. That is, unless you read any of the crap on BuzzFeed, ESPN, Facebook, Twitter, etc. In that case you clearly don’t care about wasting your time, so read away, kind souls!

Now I’ll let my inner Statler & Waldorf take over and share a few of my many Disney theme park pet peeves…

(Fair warning: this is my inner Statler & Waldorf talking, so it does have a bit more bite than normal–for the sake of balance, I’ll be back next week with a post titled “Endearing Things About Disney Parks”) (more…)

Disneyland Good Neighbor Hotel Review: Anaheim Marriott

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Anaheim Marriott is a Disneyland Good Neighbor Hotel within walking distance of the parks, and a few hundred yards from the Convention Center. In terms of quality and amenities, it’s one of the nicest hotels in this part of Orange County, California. This review features photos of the hotel, plus thoughts about our experience of staying here. It’s not going to be a hotel for everyone, but for a certain segment of Disneyland visitors and, more importantly, Anaheim Convention Center guests, this is going to be a great option.

As is the case with all of these hotels, let’s start with distance to the parks. Given its proximity to the Anaheim Convention Center, if you’re familiar with the area, you probably realize it’s not as close to the parks as the hotels right across the street on Harbor Boulevard. It’s actually located past Katella, on Convention Center Way, which is a loop containing a handful of major names. During our stay, I exclusively walked to and from the Anaheim Marriott, and each time it was about a 15 minute walk. It’s just under a mile away and although there’s the ART bus that can get you to Disneyland, it might be a bit far for those who like to walk.

In terms of demographic, I think it’s probably catering just as much to business travelers and convention-goers as it is to those visiting Disneyland. The business travelers coming to Anaheim who are loyal to Marriott are likely going to stay here, and then it’s one of the best options in terms of proximity to the Anaheim Convention Center. Still, it ranks as one of the better overall hotels among the 39 Disneyland Good Neighbor Hotels due to its amenities and overall room quality. If those things matter to you and distance isn’t as important, this should definitely be a strong candidate for you. You can get an idea of how it stacks up to the competition, plus our overall comparison of the benefits of staying off-site versus on-site in our Where to Stay at Disneyland post.

Now let’s take a look at what I’m going to call the good, the bad, and the ugly of the Anaheim Marriott… (more…)

How Much Does a Walt Disney World Vacation Cost?

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The cost of a Disney trip can be shocking, often being much higher than people anticipate. This post takes a look at Walt Disney World vacation price ranges for each element of the trip, from park tickets to hotels to dining and beyond. Hopefully, it will help you avoid sticker shock when you make that Walt Disney World vacation quote request, or will help you to come up with a more reasonable plan if you’ve already received the quote and realize it isn’t feasible.

Frankly, this is a tough post to tackle. Even with hypotheticals it’s impossible to pin down the actual cost for every set of circumstances. Rather than try that, we’re going to look at some ranges and prices for each aspect of the trip, come up with totals based on those, and let you extrapolate for your own conclusions based upon that information. Given that the thing most readers report surprise over to us via comments and emails is cost (crowds and lines are a very distant second), I felt this a topic worth addressing, even if I can’t give any hard numbers for everyone.

As a blunt preface: a Walt Disney World vacation is an expensive proposition. It’s undeniable that Walt Disney World vacation costs have skyrocketed in the last 5 years, and with record attendance, that trend doesn’t seem likely to reverse itself anytime soon. Despite this, I think that the comparative cost of a Walt Disney World vacation is not out of line with many other destinations.

Sure, you could travel to one of America’s National Parks and pay a $10 entry fee for your entire vehicle for a week, camp on-site for $15/night, and cook food by campfire for $25/day for a party of 4. You could also travel to New York and spend the cost of theme park tickets on daily entertainment, pay $150/night for ‘adequate’ accommodations, $55/night for parking, and an exorbitant amount on food. The point isn’t that a Disney vacation isn’t expensive, but that expensive is a relative term.

This post assumes a 5-day, 4-night Walt Disney World vacation for a family of 4 (2 adults and 2 kids) that is not within driving distance to Walt Disney World, with no rental car unless otherwise specified. Airfare is not discussed as it varies so widely based upon origin city that there’s really nothing meaningful to say–just know that it’s another cost that’ll probably add another $200-500 per person to your trip.

With that in mind, let’s take a look at the range of costs you should expect to incur for each element of your Walt Disney World vacation… (more…)

Disneyland Annual Pass Info & Tips

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This post breaks down the confusing world of Disneyland Annual Passes to help you determine if an AP is for you, and if so, which one. It also covers some of the benefits of having an Annual Pass, and ways to make the most of those benefits.

Worth noting up front is that a Disneyland Annual Pass is probably not for most people who live outside Southern California. Even if you’re the type who has a Walt Disney World Annual Pass while living in Indiana, since typical visiting patterns are different for Disneyland, the percentage of out of state visitors to Disneyland who will need an Annual Pass is pretty small. Basically, it’s those people who will make a few trips to Disneyland per year, or who already have Walt Disney World Annual Passes.

With that said, a Disneyland Annual Pass is one of only three things Southern Californians need to survive (the others being In-N-Out Burger and Rainbows flip flops). Also, possibly water–but hopefully not, since there isn’t much of that stuff to go around.

Wondering if an Annual Pass is right for you? Let’s crunch the numbers and take a look at the benefits… (more…)

An (@f/1.4) Day at Disneyland

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The spirit, the charm, the beauty of Disneyland is not found in its rides. Indiana Jones Adventure, Space Mountain, Haunted Mansion are all nothing in isolation. The magic of Disneyland is found in its quiet moments, its meticulous details layered on over the course of some 60 years, its people who work hard to make it a special place for guests. The attractions may be construed as the meat of the experience, but if so, it takes brilliant chefs, careful seasoning, and delicious side dishes to turn that raw meat into a wonderful meal. Perhaps that’s a flowery metaphor, but I think it fits.

In a day spent at Disneyland, it’s so easy to breeze past what truly evokes a sense of magic about the place as we race from attraction to attraction. Yesterday, I headed to the park with a goal of slowing down, and breaking out of a photographic-funk I’ve been in. Over the past couple of months or so, I felt like I had lost a bit of my fire, simply going through the motions when I did take out my camera. Wanting to regain my intensity and creative spark, I set out with just my Nikon D600 and Sigma 35mm f/1.4 lens (no other lenses; no tripod–nothing else) and gave myself an assignment to capture something creative and interesting, with the ‘threat’ hanging over my head that I’d be doing a blog post today with 10 photos no matter what…so I had better come back with at least 10 shots that didn’t suck.

Going in, I had no idea what I was going to shoot, but after a couple of shots I decided to up the ante by focusing on those little details rather than E-Tickets, and also leaving my aperture at f/1.4 the entire time. I think the end result is a photo essay that differs in tone, style, and substance from my normal photography. Its a set of photos with which I’m pretty happy, if only because I think it ultimately did break me from that funk, and has me eager to head back and try some other new ideas.

With that, I’ll shut up and let the photos speak for themselves from my f/1.4 ‘Day at Disneyland’ yesterday… (more…)

Disney World Free Dining 2015 Dates

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Walt Disney World typically offers its Free Disney Dining Plan promotion in the spring, with dates for the late summer and fall vacations made public in late April or Early May. Free Dining becomes available for booking to Disney Visa credit card holders a couple of days after the announcement, and then to the general public a few days after that. Free Dining dates for 2015 have not yet been announced, but we will update this page as soon as the dates are rumored. You can also sign up for our newsletter to be alerted as soon as we hear anything about 2015 Free Dining dates.

There’s currently a rumor making the rounds that Free Dining will be offered for the following dates, with booking beginning April 27, 2015 for Disney Visa cardholders, and for the general public Thursday, April 30, 2015 or Friday, May 1, 2015:

  • August 15 through October 2, 2015
  • October 25 through October 31, 2015
  • November 8 through November 19, 2015

I can’t vouch as to the veracity of these dates, but based on what I’ve heard, I think there’s a reasonable chance they are correct. They certainly seem plausible based on historical information (see below). Additionally, due to increased attendance during last Christmas season, it wouldn’t surprise me to see no Free Dining at all for the Thanksgiving rush all the way through the end of Christmas season. One variant of these dates does suggest some ‘Free Dining’ in December, with the promo being offered select dates then, but I haven’t been able to corroborate these dates myself, so I do not believe them to be true.

There’s also a rumor that purchase of the Park Hopper option will be required this year. With that said, these dates and details are totally unconfirmed…I guess we shall see if they are accurate once Monday rolls around. (We’ll keep you posted as to any developments between now and then.)

In the interim, here’s historical information concerning last year’s Free Dining announcement in case you’re wondering what to expect. Note that the dates are pretty consistent from year to year, with slight shifts for holidays, weekends, and special events (like Pop Warner), or other things that may be excluded from the Free Disney Dining Plan promotion. In other words, if your vacation dates for 2015 had Free Dining offered to them last year, there’s a good chance they will again in 2015–and vice-a-versa.

Last year, the Free Disney Dining Plan promotion became available to Disney Visa cardholders for booking beginning on May 2 for arrival dates beginning at the end of August through late December, with blockout dates. Exact dates are listed below. The general public was be able to book Free Dining packages on May 7. With this Free Dining offer, Value Resort guests receive the Quick Service Disney Dining Plan during the promotion, and guests at Moderate and Deluxe Resorts receive the standard Disney Dining Plan. Upgrading to higher tiers is possible for an additional charge (see details below).

Note that what follows is historical information that was posted for last year’s free dining, and has not been updated for 2015…

Free Dining Dates:

  • August 31 – October 3
  • October 26 – November 1
  • November 9 – November 20
  • December 12 – December 23

If you will be traveling during these dates, we highly recommend making Advance Dining Reservations now, even if you’re not eligible to book free dining yet, or even if you don’t plan on booking it. Everyone gobbles up the good ADRs quickly for Free Dining dates, so if you don’t book early, you will be stuck eating counter service or unpopular restaurants for the duration of your trip. We also recommend booking as soon as possible, as some popular/low capacity resorts book up fast. Also, be prepared to spend a couple hours on hold when you call in the morning that Free Dining becomes available to the general public.

If you need personalized help with planning any aspect of your vacation, or want someone to watch for the Free Dining promotion for you and book it once it’s available–we recommend contacting a no fee “Authorized Disney Vacation Planner” (Disney’s term for a travel agent) to get a quote and to help you plan. They get their commission from Disney, so none of the authorized (key word) planners will charge you for booking their trip and helping. Here’s one such recommended Authorized Disney Vacation Planner.

Here are the room exclusions: All-Star Movies, Port Orleans Resort Riverside, Port Orleans Resort French Quarter, Fort Wilderness campsites, Grand Villas at all resorts (3-bedroom Disney Vacation Club rooms), Art of Animation Little Mermaid Rooms, and the Villas at Disney’s Grand Floridian Resort, are all not eligible for Free Dining.

If you are wondering which hotel to book for the Free Dining promotion, check out our new Best Walt Disney World Hotels for Free Dining post. It gives our preferred option for each resort tier! (more…)