June 7, 2012

You Learn Something New Every Day

The exciting happenings around here have revolved around planning our anniversary/pre-deployment vacation. And of course, there was no question about where we’d go.


We aren’t able to go on our actual anniversary, but since this year is the big 0-5, we’re celebrating it while we’re at Disney. And, it just so happens that SoldierMan’s pre-deployment block leave falls during the slowest 2 weeks in the Disney calendar.

How slow? This slow: for the first time ever, we’re getting to eat dinner in Cinderella’s Castle! And when I went to make the reservation online, the whole day was wide open.

Strap in: I’m going to walk you through our current planning process. Maybe some of you can learn from our…mishaps.

The plan was, in the spirit of hitting the first semi-major marriage milestone (5 years) and it being SoldierMan’s big pre-deployment shebang, we were going all out: Staying at a deluxe resort, getting all the best dining reservations, even getting tickets to Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party (another first for the SoldierMan household).

SoldierMan spent weeks doing research and calculations to figure out the best way to make this happen without taking out a loan (a joke, we would never borrow money for a vacation). SoldierMan figured out that, if we rent Disney Vacation Club points from a DVC member, it would cost about as much $$$ for us to stay at his dream Deluxe resort as it would at a Value resort at cost.

(And because I know someone will mention it, no, Shades of Green isn’t even on the nomination list.)

So, that was our big money-saver. Unfortunately, the time of year we’re going, all the regular military discounts on tickets or resorts don’t apply (as of today). So we were really looking at both A) building a fund between now and then and B) getting a deal on the resort through a DVC member.

SoldierMan finds a major third-party DVC point rental company and begins talking to them about point and reservation availability. In the meantime, SoldierMan worked up an Excel spreadsheet with our general park visitation schedule and preferred dining choices. The way the dining reservations work is that you can only book sit-down meals a maximum of 180 days in advance. Which might sound like a long time, but this is Disney we’re talking about. The fancy sit-down restaurants book up fast and early.

So while he’s calculating the budget and I’m checking the Disney dining reservation website every morning, SoldierMan is going back and forth getting the details nailed down on the DVC thing. Truth be told, we’ve (very casually) considered buying a DVC membership, not only because there are exclusive DVC-only aspects to the Disney parks, but they also have dozens of locations around the world that you can use your points to visit, everywhere from Ireland to South Africa to New Zealand to Hawaii, many of which with guided tours. Of course, it’s expensive, so right now it’s just a theory.

One thing leads to another and we get everything planned and plotted, and SoldierMan contacts the rental company and tells them to book our room. The next day, we get up and book dinner in Cinderella’s Castle, and buy our Christmas Party tickets for the same night. That’s going to be an epic day.

That afternoon, SoldierMan gets an email from the rental company. Everything is booked. Everything.

Um, what? Every other resort we checked was wide open. Cinderella’s Castle was wide open! How is this possible?

Turns out, DVC operates on a whole different set of rules than the rest of Disney. Obviously, like with any vacation timeshare, members buy a certain number of points per year. Instead of buying points for, say, Hawaii or Las Vegas, you buy points with a “home resort,” that you can use at other Disney resorts or to travel the world. But you do get your set amount of days at your home resort. And you can book as early as 11 months out.

11 months. Did you get that? The DVC rooms gets booked up 11 months out.

There was a time we could compete with that.
Not so with the Army.

I’m not gonna lie, that was a disappointment. Especially because Plans A, B, C, and D all fell through, thanks to DVC people booking up all the rooms 6 months ago.

This also solidified in our minds that, regardless of whether or not it fits into our budget, a DVC membership will never be possible as long as we’re in the Army. 11 months? I don’t even like planning 6 weeks in advance, thanks to the Army.

Anyway, so it was on to Plan….whatever. Once people recovered from the intense disappointment at not being able to stay at their dream resort after all, we explored other options. And it turns out, the new Value resort, Art of Animation, will be opening shortly before our trip. We could stay at our favorite Moderate resort, we even considered shelling out the $$$ for a Deluxe – after all, you only have your 5th anniversary/pre-deployment trip once! – but we finally agreed that, not only are Disney Value resorts nicer than many fancy hotels, it would be fun to stay in brand new rooms. So, Art of Animation it is.

Next task was getting our restaurant reservations booked. As I said, we got Cinderella’s Castle all dealt with, and it was because, this far out, it had TONS of openings available. Next on the priority list was getting SoldierMan’s favorite restaurant, Garden Grill, in Epcot.

2009-10-29 20.07.42

We get online to book, plug in the info – and nothing. It’s full. exactly 180 days in advance. I should preface this by saying, SoldierMan had been checking availability for our restaurants for a couple of weeks, just so we could get an idea of what to expect. But, I mean, Cinderella’s Castle was wide open, but not Garden Grill? What?

Okay, maybe it was just that day. So we check again the next day. No openings. And again the next day. Nothing.

I’m not going to lie, it was baffling. Made no sense at all. After a couple of phone calls, we found out what the story was.

Our trip happens to fall during the beginning of Epcot’s Candlelight Processional performances. The Candlelight Processional is a beautiful open-air concert where choirs from around the country come and sing traditional Christmas hymns while a famous personality narrates the Christmas Story. If you don’t want to stand in the back of the amphitheater, you have to set there super early, like an hour, and wait for seating to be opened. Unless you buy a Candlelight Processional dinner package – you pay some extra $$$, book a sit-down lunch or dinner at one of the participating restaurants, and then you get reserved seating for the concert.

Garden Grill is one of those restaurants. And since they are a dinner package restaurant, they don’t want to sell out of regular tables when they can sell dinner packages for even more, right? So all the restaurants participating in the Candlelight Processional dinner package are on hold until the end of the summer. So we have to wait until then to finish all our planning.

So, why did I just tell you all that? Because there are always new tips and tricks to learn when it comes to going to Disney. You can make it as extravagant or as frugal as you want, you just have to do a little digging and do more than just show up. I know that sounds like it’s taking all the fun out of it, but believe me, if you dot all your I’s and cross all your t’s before you leave, it’ll make the actual trip much more relaxing and much more fun.

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  1. Are you getting a dining plan? We used it that last 2 times we were there and it's awesome!

  2. We did Disney World at Christmas last year. It was great (we stayed at SOG)!

  3. I had no idea that much planning had to go into Disney. However, I have not been there since I was 11. Mental note: contact JG when planning a Disney vacation.

  4. Crossing my fingers Garden Grill works out! Can't wait to read the review and see the pics from the Candlelight Processional and Art of Animation...not to mention seeing SoldierMan's spreadsheet when we visit. The countdown is officially on!-kids are doing a test run at Grandma's this weekend.


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