By the co-author of The easy Guide to Your Walt Disney World Visit 2017, from the best-reviewed Disney World guidebook series ever. Paperback available on Amazon here. Kindle version available on Amazon here. PDF version available on Gumroad here.



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Category — zzzz. Rumor-mongering

First Disney World 2016 Deals Expected Shortly

Disney World 2016 Deals Expected Next Week from yourfirstvisit.netUsually reliable sources have let me know that Disney World is expected to offer a couple of deals for 2016 early next week.

They say that both a room rate deal and “Stay, Play, Dine” deal will come out September 28 and cover many dates from January 2 thru March 19.

As usual, not all room types will be included.

I also hear there may be major news on a different topic late this week.

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September 23, 2015   7 Comments

Disney World Converts Polynesian Bungalows to FastPass+ Viewing Areas

Target Market for Polynesian Bungalows from yourfirstvisit.netApril 1, 2015: In a surprise, Disney World announced today that it is no longer taking reservations for the 20 new Bungalows that line Seven Seas Lagoon at Disney’s Polynesian Village Resort.

Instead, Disney is converting the deck of each Bungalow and the boardwalk that connects them all into FastPass+ viewing areas for the Electrical Water Pageant.

Disney World’s FastPass+ program is a way for guests to make poor decisions about which ride to do when as many as 60 days before a visit, rather than saving those mistakes for only the time they are actually in Walt Disney World.

“We don’t have a FastPass+ offering at the Magic Kingdom comparable to key FastPass+ options at Epcot like Captain EO and Journey into Imagination with Figment,” a Disney spokesman noted. “Adding an Electrical Water Pageant viewing area to Magic Kingdom FastPass+ options solves that problem.”

The Electrical Water Parade is a moving display of lights and sounds that visits the Disney resorts on the Seven Seas Lagoon and Bay Lake nightly unless cancelled by weather or mercy.

Electrical Water Pageant from yourfirstvisit.net

Much loved by both the elderly and their parents, it combines the visual sophistication of a blinking stoplight with music whose tonal qualities were dated three decades ago.

The change powerfully illustrates the failure of the new eight-person Polynesian Bungalows to attract their target market.

(c) Disney

(c) Disney

Compared to most other Disney Vacation Club two bedroom options, Bungalows have great outdoor decks and nicer dining rooms, but also have less space and a worse second bedroom.

Even so, they rent for more than twice as much, from $2,400 to $3,400 a night.

The pricing is easy to understand when one remembers that the Four Seasons now has a presence at Disney World, and its suites go for as much as $10,000 a night (before parking fees).

The Polynesian Bungalows at these price levels represented Disney’s attempt to stay competitive in the important and growing President for Life/dictator/oligarch/drug cartel jefe “get me the most expensive room” market that’s now being siphoned off by the Four Seasons.

Unfortunately, a design feature has made the bungalows not really well-suited for this market.

The President for Life/dictator/oligarch/drug cartel jefe market requires not only a spectacular space for the Supreme Leader and Nutmeg of Consolation himself, but also a whole constellation of connecting or nearby rooms for the oligarch’s entourage that have to be in regular rooms nearby, but not in the suite itself—bodyguards, children, mistresses.

This is easy to pull off in a standard hotel room tower, where such rooms can be connected (mistresses), down the hall (bodyguards), or just an elevator ride away (children).

FastPass+ Viewing Area for Electrical Water Pageant from yourfirstvisit.net (2)

But with disconnected individual buildings like the Bungalows, this is much harder, and as a result the target market is not responding.

Thus, Disney has given up pursuing this market through the Bungalows and is converting the Bungalows to FastPass+ viewing areas for the Electrical Water Pageant instead.

Insiders suggest that Disney may yet pursue the high-price market, via other alternatives.

For example, refurb plans for the Pirate Rooms at Disney’s Caribbean Beach Resort are still not clear.

At current pricing, one could book one of the 64-room Pirate accommodation buildings in its entirety for the price of three or four Polynesian Bungalows. This yields vast refurb scope for building as many as six “Pirate Castles” at Caribbean Beach with more than 20,000 square feet each—plenty of room for the entire entourage to spread out a bit.

But even if this Caribbean Beach piratical refurb goes forward, walking away from the Polynesian Bungalows is still a bit of a black eye.

Creativity requires the freedom to make mistakes, so it’s not that big a deal.

Yet when put in the context of other recent reversals—the brief cancellation of FastPass+ about a year ago, the abandonment of a pain-themed DVC resort, dropping the addition of a Minnesota Pavilion to Epcot, and still no word on the groundbreaking for the high-speed option for leaving Rafiki’s Planet Watch—well, it does make you wonder…

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April 1, 2015   3 Comments

The Updated Best-Ever Free Dining FAQ in the History of the World, 2016 Edition

Update: the 2016 Free Dining deal was released on April 25. See this for details.

2015 Free Dining FAQ from yourfirstvisit.netFree Dining is the favorite deal of many Disney World fans, and I get questions about it all the time.

In an unusual attempt to actually provide good answers, a while ago I put heads together with DISboards.com legends Smitch425 (Sarah) and Black562 (Joe Black–Joe’s also on Facebook here; Sarah’s shy).

We–well, mostly they–came up with the following FAQ. I’ve updated it for 2016, including the March price increase.

WHAT IS FREE DINING AND WHY SHOULD I CARE?

Q: What is free dining?
A: Free dining is a Disney World deal where, if you buy other stuff, you can get one of the Disney World dining plans for free. Most recently, eligible folk staying at an eligible value resort have gotten the quick service dining plan for free, and those staying at eligible moderate or deluxe resorts have gotten the regular dining plan for free.

Q: Is this a big deal?
A: For many families, it really is. The regular Disney Dining Plan costs $63.70 for people ten or over, and $22.85 for kids 3 to 9.

So a typical family of four with one younger kid and one older who would have otherwise paid cash for the dining plan will save more than $200 per night.

In the 2015 deal, you had to buy a Park Hopper or Water Park and More add on to your tickets to be eligible for free dining.  If the same is true in 2016, and you hadn’t planned on buying one of these, you have to deduct the extra costs from your free dining savings to see if it’s a good deal still. The hopper cost is $59 to $74 per person extra, depending on the length of the ticket.

Savings are less but still substantial for the quick service plan that’s free for value resort stays—at $44.13/19.04, the same family would save $150/night.

Q:  Blah blah blah on that typical family–how much would my family save?
A: See the table below (as always on this site, click it to enlarge it):

Free Dining Savings from yourfirstvisit.net
Q: Is it the best deal?
A: Not always.

The value of any deal is the difference between it and your next best option. Room rate deals are usually out for the same dates as free dining, and for some families—especially smaller families with younger kids staying at more expensive deluxe resorts—the room rate discount saves more money than free dining.

The least expensive Grand Floridian rooms during the September 2016 value season at 30% off generate savings of about $200 a night. From Regular Plan part of the chart above, you can see many family types will do better here at 30% off than they would from free dining, especially if they had not been already planning to buy a hopper.

Q: What’s the Disney Dining Plan, anyway?
A: See below!

HOW TO GET FREE DINING

Q: OK, I’m sold. Now what?
A: In 2015, the deal came out in late April, and a lot of resorts sold out immediately.

You have to be willing to stay at an eligible resort, with an arrival date within the announced deal’s eligible dates, for likely a minimum of three nights, and you likely will have to buy a minimum of two days of tickets for all in the room 3 and older.

Q: I already have a reservation just like that! Will Disney automatically convert it to the deal?
A: Disney don’t do nothin’ automatically.

If you already have a reservation, to get the deal if/when it is offered you have to try to change your reservation online–this is a new feature and does not always work–or call and change your current reservation, or make a new free dining reservation online and then call when that’s set to cancel your old reservation.

Q: Tickets? But I already bought tickets!
A: That’s a whine, not a question.

But yes, to be eligible for free dining, a new minimum 2 day Magic Your Way hopper or water parks and more ticket is typically required for each person on the reservation age 3 and up.

However, you can save your tickets for a future trip–multi-day Magic Your Way tickets which have not been activated by first use will remain valid forever. Annual Pass holders can use the un-activated extra 2 day ticket toward renewal costs when it is time to renew. Or you can just use both tickets to get 6 FastPass+ per day.

Q: Are all resorts and rooms in the deal?
A: All recent Disney World deals have excluded some resorts and room types—mostly those for which demand is high enough that no deal is needed to get heads in beds at full prices.

Recently, most commonly excluded have been Little Mermaid standard rooms at Disney’s Art of Animation Resort, All-Star Movies, the Villas at the Grand Floridian, and one or the other of the Port Orleans resorts.

Moreover, even when not excluded, it seems that a limited inventory of rooms at resorts is made available for the deal–with a particularly limited inventory of the least expensive view types. Even fewer rooms seem to have been offered for Free Dining in 2015–expect this trend to continue in 2016 as well.

It’s always best to have a backup resort and room type in mind should your desired location be excluded or sold out.

Q: When should I book?
A: As soon as you hear about the deal.

Since there are a limited number of rooms in the free dining inventory at each included resort, the sooner you book once a deal goes live, the better your chances are of getting your preferred location.

Q: My arrival date is before free dining but part of my stay is during it! Boo!
A: If you check in prior to a free dining promotion, you can do what is referred to as a “split stay.”

For example, if you check in the day before free dining begins, you can book a room only stay for the first night, and a free dining package to begin the following day.

This would require you to check out and check back in, and it is possible that you would have to switch rooms. However, Disney can link the two reservations, and they will do everything possible to avoid a room switch.

Q: When is free dining offered?
A: The most common time for free dining is September, but recently arrival dates later in the year have been eligible as well. For 2015, eligible arrival dates were

  • August 28 – October 2, 2015
  • October 25 – October 31, 2015
  • November 8 – November 19, 2015
  • December 15 – December 21, 2015

As part of its strategy for recovery from the recession, 2009 through 2011 Disney offered free dining many other months. The last couple of years, this has been wildly scaled back.

Q: When is it announced?
A: See this for the variety of recent announcement dates. It’s widely expected that free dining for September 2016 will be announced sometime between late April and mid June.

Q. I’m a proud DVC point owner! Can I get free dining?
A: Sorry—DVC rooms booked using points (either by the point owner, or for someone who is getting DVC rooms by renting points) aren’t eligible. However, DVC rooms paid for by cash are eligible.

Q: Can I upgrade from the quick service to the regular plan, or to the deluxe plan?
A: Yes, you may. Simply pay the difference between the plans and you can upgrade all you wish.

Q: Should I book in advance for free dining?
A: Don’t book now in the hope of getting free dining later.

Rather, book only if you are committed to a certain resort and set of dates, whether or not free dining emerges.

  • First, if bookings are up, Disney has no reason to offer a discount at all.
  • Second, if people book up certain resorts, they are more likely to be excluded.

Having an advance reservation has no benefit in any way over a new booking on release day. It doesn’t hurt you—but it doesn’t help.

Q: Can I have a puppy?
A: Perhaps. Our new puppy, Belle, is below.

Our New Puppy Belle

WHAT’S THE DISNEY DINING PLAN, ANYWAY?

The following is an excerpt from my and Josh’s The easy Guide to Your Walt Disney World Visit from Theme Park Press:

THE DISNEY DINING PLAN

Disney World dining is expensive. For some guests, it may even be the priciest component of the vacation, eclipsing the cost of lodging and theme park tickets. The three versions of the Disney Dining Plan (Quick Service, Regular, and Deluxe) are a way to prepay some of these dining expenses.

Years ago, when the Regular Dining Plan included appetizer and tip at sit-down restaurants, you could actually save some money by using these plans. These days it’s hard for us to recommend them:

  • The Quick Service Dining Plan is priced so high that it’s only possible to break even or come out ahead if you use the credits solely for lunch and dinner. From there, you’ll need to order only the most expensive items to eke out a potential savings of a dollar or two per day.
  • At a cost north of $60 per adult per day, the Regular Dining Plan is expensive and saving money with it requires planning only the most expensive meals.
  • The Deluxe Dining Plan comes with three quick or table service meals per day at a cost of about $115 per day per adult. Users either spend three or more hours per day eating table service meals or use their credits on faster quick service meals, in turn reducing the value of each credit.

With only a couple of exceptions, we suggest skipping the dining plans. Exceptions include:

  • If you take comfort in pre-paying some of your dining expenses as a budgeting tool (even if this means you spend more money), the Quick Service or Regular plans may make sense for you—the cash loss may be worth the budget comfort. It’s nice knowing that food is pre-paid and users are free to order whatever entrees and desserts that they like, even if those prices are higher than they’re accustomed to paying.
  • Pricing on the Regular Plan is advantageous for groups with kids under the age of ten that plan multiple one credit buffets and character meals. The cost of a child buffet at many character meals exceeds their cost of the Regular Dining Plan for that day.
  • Free dining, if available your arrival date, may save money as well. But compare savings to the room rate deals typically available at the same time. Smaller, younger groups in higher-priced rooms typically do better with the room rate deals than they would with free dining.

With or without a dining plan, the typical family eating their meals on property should budget $35–$60+ per adult per day, and between $15 and $40/day for the kids—depending on their ages and appetites.

DINING PLAN CREDITS AND WHAT THEY COVER

The Dining Plans are only available to guests staying at Disney owned and operated resorts. All guests on a single reservation (except children under three—not covered on any plan) must opt for the same Dining Plan if you elect to purchase it. There’s no such thing as having four people on a room reservation and only three people on the Deluxe Plan. And it isn’t possible for one person to purchase Deluxe, while the other chooses Regular. Everyone over the age of nine must pay the adult rate, regardless of how much they plan to eat. And kids 3–9 might be required order from the Kids’ Menu if the dining location has one.

Those on the Dining Plan receive a number of credits based on the number of nights they’re staying. The Dining Plan and credits are not connected to theme park tickets or anything else—just the number of nights on the reservation. The credits are usable from the check-in day through midnight on the checkout day. Credits can be used in any order on any of these days. On a three-night stay, a guest could conceivably use all their credits on the first day, the last day, or space them out.

  • Quick service meals generally consist of one entrée or combo meal, one dessert, and one non-alcoholic beverage. Virtually every quick service on property participates in the Dining Plan, and all quick service meals cost one credit.
  • Table service meals, including one entrée, one dessert, and one non-alcoholic beverage, cost one or two credits. Two credit meals are signature experiences at the most expensive dinner shows, buffets, and restaurants like Hoop-Dee-Doo Revue, Cinderella’s Royal Table, and California Grill. The Deluxe Dining Plan credits also include an appetizer, in addition to the entrée, dessert, and non-alcoholic beverage.
  • Snack credits can be used on many small food items. The number and variety of items eligible for snack credits were greatly expanded in the summer of 2015. Examples include candy apples, ice cream bars, pastries, and bottles of water and soda. Look for the Dining Plan symbol on any menu to see what is eligible to be paid for with a snack credit.

Also in the summer of 2015, various quick service substitutions became more easily available—although always ask first, as policies are not set in stone and can vary by restaurant. For example, in some venues a quick service credit can be used instead as three snack credits (you have to get all three snacks at the same time), and when using quick service credits in the normal fashion, various sides can be substituted for desserts, drinks, or both.

The credits don’t always cover everything you might want at a meal and no credits cover alcohol (except beer and wine at the dinner shows) or tips. Most guests have some additional dining expenses, in addition to the cost of the Dining Plan.
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March 31, 2015   86 Comments

Possible Disney World Discount News Tomorrow

Hey–the deal I was referring to here is out, see this.

Disney World Deal Rumors from yourifrstvisit.net

Word is that we may learn more about an upcoming Disney World discount as soon as tomorrow.

Come back tomorrow  to see if the rumors are true!!

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March 18, 2015   No Comments

A Moderate Disney Vacation Club at Caribbean Beach?

(For the first page of this review of Disney’s Caribbean Beach Resort, see this.)

DISNEY VACATION CLUB AT CARIBBEAN BEACH?

The Beach at Trinidad South from yourfirstvisit.net

There’s been speculation about Disney Vacation Club units at Disney’s Caribbean Beach Resort for a while, but the first rumors from people I respect came—so far as I noticed—when Jim Hill and Len Testa discussed the possibility in an August edition of the Disney Dish Podcast.

There were many curious things about this podcast and the one a couple of weeks before, including a claim that Disney had overbuilt hotels, and was using DVC conversions to take out capacity.

In fact, reported capacity utilization at the Disney domestic resorts has been steady or going up quarter over quarter for several years now, and last quarter was at a world-class 83% (the national average was around 65%) — up 5 percentage points over the same quarter prior year.

Moreover, the more recent DVC conversions have added deluxe capacity, not cut it. The most recent DVC projects have added deluxe capacity for more than 5000 people/night:

  • The combination of actions at the Animal Kingdom Lodge added net nightly capacity of more than 2500 people (taking out capacity of 300 at Jambo House by subtracting rooms and replacing them with on-average higher bay DVC spaces, and adding capacity for 2900 people at Kidani).
  • Bay Lake Tower added a net of nightly capacity for about 1700 people, taking out about 1250 people worth of space in the North Garden Wing and adding back space for 2900 or so in Bay Lake Tower.
  • The Villas at the Grand Floridian was not a conversion, but simply an addition of capacity of about 1,000 people.
  • The Polynesian conversion—if the converted longhouses are solely studios, as is expected—will also add capacity via the bungalows, on the order of a couple of hundred people.

Now it is true that all the net growth is on the DVC side, as hundreds of rooms have shifted out of the deluxe inventory from the Animal Kingdom Lodge, Contemporary Resort, and Polynesian and into the DVC inventory.

But that does not mean deluxe “capacity” has gone down. First, the DVC rooms are available to the general public as deluxe spaces for rent, and second, DVC point purchases are economic substitutes for yearly rentals of deluxe rooms. Over the long term, a bed at a DVC resort is simply a pre-paid deluxe bed.

Rather, it hints at the short term economic value of DVC sales to the Walt Disney Company. Take the Polynesian conversion. At rack rates, WDW can clear in revenue for each room at the Poly about $200,000 per year at max occupancy by treating it as a hotel room. At likely Polynesian DVC point cost and studio point charts, selling that same capacity to DVC contract buyers will generate one-time revenue of almost $1.1 million—plus even more for annual dues to cover operating and upkeep costs. This is a much better year for that room…

So I can stop there…but there’s more. The more of this capacity Disney can sell to DVC members, the more it has laid off the risk of future swings in demand for hotel rooms. DVC members have to pay their dues…but they don’t have to use their points. This is just upside for Disney, as in effect the future room charge is pre-paid through the point purchase, upkeep is paid annually, and, if points are unused, Disney can in effect double-charge for the room by putting it on the cash market any nights it is unoccupied by point holders.

Now beyond the medium term it is likely better to have a room on the balance sheet and be able to charge for it year after year than to take a one-time payment of 6 times yearly revenues for it and have it not be on the balance sheet.

But from an income statement point of view, monetizing DVC rooms works fine so long as there is a sufficient flow of DVC contracts to sell to make year to year comparisons OK. (The importance of this issue was highlighted in this month’s earnings call, where the lack of units to sell compared to last year’s sales of contracts for the Villas at the Grand Floridian was explicitly addressed.)

Testa and Hill mentioned Caribbean Beach as the possible first moderate DVC property. This is a very interesting concept, especially if moderate DVC points are in a new/different/lower class, and as a result hard to use for deluxe DVC spaces (as otherwise current point holders would complain about new competition for deluxe DVC spaces without new deluxe capacity).

The specific area they discussed for a Caribbean Beach DVC spot was near Buena Vista Boulevard—e.g. they noted the possibility of a new seven story tower with views of IllumiNations, and perhaps even boat service to Epcot and on to Disney’s Hollywood Studios.

Map Disney's Caribbean Beach Resort

A look at the map shows that this is certainly possible, perhaps in the wetlands between Aruba and Barbados, or perhaps even by tearing down the Customs House, replacing its function in new space near Old Port Royale, and building there.

Trinidad South View Disney's Caribbean Beach from yourfirstvisit.net

But I’m more intrigued by Moderate DVC in the blank piece of property across Barefoot Bay from the pirate rooms at Trinidad South (shown above).

But what? Build paired, connecting Moderate DVC Pirate Studios, with a king bed and full kitchen studio on one side of the connecting door, and a queen/sofa/murphy bed studio on the other side.

Made Up Concept Floor Plan for DVC at Caribbean Beach from yourfirstvisit.net

See the concept image. Inspired on one side by half of a Music family suite, and on the other side by a Villas at the Wilderness Lodge studio, this is not precisely to scale (there’s more floor space than it indicates) and, more to the point, is entirely made up, but it communicates my idea adequately.

These rooms could be rented separately (though there might be occupancy issues with the king/kitchen side), or be rented as a connected pair.

The connected pair, with a king, capacity for seven, two baths, and a full (though tiny) kitchen, would be clearly better than a family suite at the values, but also much smaller and more cramped than a eight or nine person Two Bedroom Villa at a current DVC deluxe resort–Villas that have at least 50% more floor space.

This puts a connecting pair in the right straddling niche for a Moderate DVC space…

Now, let’s be clear: With this floor plan, I am not reporting a rumor. I’ve simply made it up as an example of what’s possible in a Moderate DVC space using the current footprints of Pirate rooms…

Disney could start with such a building across from Trinidad South, and if demand justified, build multi-story towers with similar spaces on the undeveloped area across Barefoot Bay. With taller buildings and elevators, there’s easily room there for a thousand studios there…

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November 18, 2014   18 Comments

Cinderella’s Royal Table Closed for Refurb in Early 2015

One of my best sources let me know this morning that Cinderella’s Royal Table will be closed for rehab from January 5 through March 6, 2015.

The best alternative, if you are going to Epcot, is Akershus, with buckets of princesses–but usually not Cinderella (and thanks, KE, for reminding me to note this). Next best, or the best option if Epcot is not in your plans, is dinner at 1900 Park Fare at the Grand Floridian with Cinderella and her family.

Another option–and thanks, Jacob!!–is the princess breakfast and brunch at Citricos at the Grand Floridian, added temporarily while Cinderella’s Royal Table is down.

I’ll post more as I learn more!

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June 24, 2014   30 Comments