By the co-author of The easy Guide to Your Walt Disney World Visit 2019, the best-reviewed Disney World guidebook series ever.

Available on Amazon here.





Category — zzzz. Rumor-mongering

Free Dining Early Next Week…or Not?

“We’ve announced that already, right?”

–Bob Iger, Morgan Stanley Technology, Media and Telecom Conference, 2/26/18

Free Dining may drop as early as Monday April 23, later that week, or as late as Monday April 30. The earlier dates (that is, the 23rd or 24th) are widely believed to be the most likely.

Update 4/23: No free dining today. Many rumors that it will come out tomorrow! Rumors also that the first eligible check in date for the general public will be 8/20.

The rumor I posted about last week had it coming out April 27. The source of that rumor—a post from a Brazilian travel agent—has been taken down.

There’s a couple of ways you can check to see if it’s out and what the details are.

However, I can think of one reason why Free Dining might come out later than the common view of April 23 or 24th. Recall that when Disney raised ticket prices in February, it noted that “later this year” it would be shifting multi-day tickets to seasonal pricing—in effect, a ticket price increase, at least for certain dates.

I’ve thought since that announcement that one of the most sensible times for Disney to move to seasonal multi-day ticket prices would be after the Toy Story Land mania started, but before Free Dining was announced. That way, the new ticket prices would be in effect for many free dining packages.

Well, with the announcement of FastPass+ tiers at Toy Story Land earlier this week , I think we are in that period. So I would not be surprised to see the new set of multi-day ticket prices come out on Sunday April 22 or early next week, and Free Dining to come out in turn a few days after that—so that folks have some time to calibrate their free dining plans in the context of the new ticket prices.

I am posting this as speculation—it’s based neither on a rumor nor a leak. The Walt Disney Company has been—with one exception—pretty tight-lipped about its timing plans for the new ticket pricing other than “later this year.”

The exception was a comment by Bob Iger in late February at the Morgan Stanley Technology, Media and Telecom Conference that “we have talked about putting into place flex pricing on the multi-day pass, and that’s coming sometime towards the end of the year.”

The bald words make an introduction of multi-day pricing in April perhaps look unlikely, but there were a couple of times during this conference when Iger seemed not fully in command of his memory (see the quote at the head of this page). So it is at least conceivable to me that he misspoke…or that seasonal multi-day ticket pricing would go into effect for visits after, say, August 31, still “towards the end of the year,” but announced in April…

If something else happens, which I suppose is likely, you can complain to me in person on April 28 at Epcot.

*Note by the way that you can no longer link to this site from Disboards, because an inadvertent, but totally real and totally my fault, violation of its terms of service has led to my site being censored on it until the Second Coming. And don’t try to get around the filters, or the entire thread you are posting on might be removed—there’s a reason why the free dining thread there is now on its third iteration…

You can still refer to “Dave Shute’s site” with no link.

However, I’ve not yet been banned from Josh’s forum, so there’s that…

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April 19, 2018   2 Comments

2018 Disney World Free Dining Rumor

2018 FREE DINING RUMOR FOR DISNEY WORLD

Update 4/23: No free dining today. Many rumors that it will come out tomorrow! Rumors also that the first eligible check in date for the general public will be 8/20.

Update 4/19: The most common rumor now is that 2018 free dining will become available April 23 or 24.

One of my buddies was kind enough to translate a post from a South American travel agent today for me about Disney World free dining.

While all the specifics largely match what I’d expect except the early August start, treat this more as a rumor than as a leak until other confirmatory (or not!) material comes out.

Free Dining Booking dates: 4/27/18 to 7/7/18 (other rumors suggest it will start April 23 or 24)

Free Dining Eligible arrival dates:

  • 8/2 to 9/29/18 (8/2 seems awfully early to me, and may be for just the Brazilian market; other rumors suggest a start much later in August)
  • 11/24 to 11/27/18
  • 12/7 to 12/23/18

Value and Moderate Resorts Eligible for Free Quick Service Dining Plans:

  • Disney’s All-Star Movies Resort
  • Disney’s All-Star Music Resort
  • Disney’s All-Star Sports Resort
  • Disney’s Pop Century Resort
  • Disney’s Caribbean Beach Resort
  • Disney’s Coronado Springs Resort
  • The Cabins at Disney’s Fort Wilderness Resort

Deluxe and DVC Resorts Eligible for Free Regular Dining Plans:

  • Disney’s Animal Kingdom Lodge
  • Disney’s Beach Club Resort
  • Disney’s BoardWalk Inn
  • Disney’s Grand Floridian Resort & Spa
  • Disney’s Yacht Club Resort
  • Disney’s Animal Kingdom Villas Jambo House
  • Disney’s Animal Kingdom Villas Kidani Village
  • Disney’s Beach Club Villas
  • Disney’s BoardWalk Villas
  • Disney’s Old Key West Resort
  • Disney’s Polynesian Villas & Bungalows (Studios)
  • Disney’s Saratoga Springs Resort & Spa

Tickets must Park Hopper or Park Hopper Plus.

For more on Free Dining, see this.

If you book your vacation through my travel agent partner Kelly, she will automatically get it moved into Free Dining* if you end up being eligible and rooms are available ! Contact her via the form on this page.

*and if it’s the best deal for you–others might save you more!

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April 11, 2018   27 Comments

Thoughts on The Possibility of More Hotels Getting 60 Day Access to FastPass+

“And of course, we’ve got … a number of other plans as it relates to our hotel business.”
–Bob Iger on Disney’s Q2 earnings call

Note 12/18: this is real.

A couple of weeks ago, Tom Corless at WDW News Today reported that he expected the ability to book FastPass+ at 60 days to be extended to “every hotel in the Disney Springs Resort Area on Hotel Plaza Boulevard” and that “there should also be additional Good Neighbor Hotels on the list when announced by Disney.”

I’ve not written much before about this rumor, but if it is true, there’s a chance it will be announced before or as part of tomorrow’s Q4 and FY2017 earnings call, so I thought I’d put in a bit of context and speculation about impact in advance of that.

WHY DOES FASTPASS+ AT 60 DAYS MATTER

Disney’s FastPass+ system, fully implemented in 2014, allows you to avoid waits by pre-booking what are essentially appointments at up to three rides per day. So far, anyone with a ticket could begin booking their FastPass+ 30 days before use, and those staying in a Disney-owned hotel or the Swan or Dolphin could begin booking 60 days ahead.

While there’s actually been pretty good availability for most rides at 30 days ahead, those with 60 day rights have a much better chance of getting a FastPass+ for the hottest rides (currently Flight of Passage and Seven Dwarfs Mine Train) and generally have more flexibility in booking their FastPass+ on the days and times that best suit their other Disney World plans.

WHO CURRENTLY GETS FASTPASS+ AT 60 DAYS

There are on the order of 25,400 bookable Disney World owned rooms and another ~2,260 rooms at the Swan and Dolphin, so currently around 27,660 rooms are bookable with the opportunity to get FastPass+ at 60 days. (Shameless plug—for my reviews of all of these, see this.)

HOW MUCH MIGHT ACCESS TO 60 DAY FASTPASS+ EXPAND

There’s three groups of potential additional rooms worth noting:

  • Those in the Disney Springs Resort Area, which Tom says should “all” get 60 days FastPass+: seven hotels with around 3,700 rooms.
  • The WDW Good Neighbor hotels, which are scattered all over the place to the south and west of the Convention Center, but are largely concentrated in the Palm Parkway and US 192 areas (although you’ll also find them near the Convention Center, in Flamingo Crossing and on Chelonia Parkway, just to the east of Pop Century): 52 hotels with around 17,000* rooms.
  • Shades of Green and the Four Seasons, both nearer the core of Disney World than any Disney Springs or Good Neighbor hotel (except maybe for those on Chelonia Parkway), but not part of either of the above two groups. Two hotels with about a thousand rooms between them.

WHAT MIGHT THIS MEAN FOR THOSE BOOKING A HOTEL

If this happens, its impact is profoundly shaped by how many Good Neighbor rooms gain access to FastPass+ at 60 days—and where they are located.

If only the Disney Springs Resort Area hotels and one or the other of Shades and Four Seasons gets 60 day access, then I don’t expect much impact, as the number of eligible rooms would go up only 15% and lower occupancy at the Disney Springs hotels (compared to the Disney owned hotels) would reduce the impact even more.

If these hotels plus all the Good Neighbor hotels get access, then a total of around 21,000 rooms would be added to the FastPass+ at 60 days pool. Correcting this for lower occupancy, and also for the fact that many of the guests of these hotels are in them for reasons other than Disney World (conventions, Universal), the effective total increase is likely on the order of 10,000 rooms, or about a 36% increase. This would make the hottest rides even harder to book, even at 60 days, and would pull more capacity out of the FastPass+ system for those who can only book at thirty days.

But, if this happens, I don’t expect all the Good Neighbor hotels to be in it—as I would expect Disney to be charging them for it, and not all of them would find the extra cost to make business sense.

At least until Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge opens…

WHY ON EARTH MIGHT DISNEY WORLD DO THIS

I can think of two reasons why Disney might do this, and of course some reasons why it might not.

At the basic level, for the Disney Springs Resort Area hotels, helping them become more attractive would be good for the dining and shopping venues at Disney Springs, into which a lot of capital has been poured over the past few years

Expanding beyond the Disney Springs Resort Area hotels into some or all of the Good Neighbor Hotels (and/or Shades and Four Seasons), if done for a fee charged them by Disney, is a way for Disney to additionally monetize what Disney is likely to view as extremely high incremental hotel stays related to its 2018 Toy Story, 2019 Star Wars and other later Disney World expansions.

Disney World does not have enough capacity in its own hotels (which average nearly 90% occupancy) to serve these incremental guests, and while a couple of additions/expansions are planned/underway, these will also not be sufficient nor even all that timely.

Even more Disney hotels are possible—likely, even—but not in any reasonable timeframe. Moreover, new hotels absorb capital and impose operating risks, which are avoided by monetizing someone else’s capital and operations (this is essentially the logic of DVC, except that Disney fronts the capital which is then bought down by DVC owners).

So expanding access to FastPass+ at 60 days, but charging hotels offering it for the privilege of doing so, would add essentially costless and riskless revenue, which by my back-of-the envelope calculations could easily drop another $100 million a year to Disney World’s bottom line.

WHY IT MIGHT NOT DO THIS

But of course it would not really be costless or riskless, as it would be removing some of the value of the 60 day window at the hotels that currently offer it, diminishing the reason to stay at one of these hotels instead of one of the (typically much less expensive) other hotels newly added to the 60 day FastPass+ window. The fixed cost economics of hotels are such that Disney would lose much more income from a hotel guest who does not stay in one of its own hotels than it could possibly gain from a fee paid by the off-site hotel that that this guest actually stays in.

But recall that the distinctive 60 day window is a perk that’s less than five years old. There are many other good reasons to pay the premium (which can be very high, especially at the moderates and deluxes) to stay in a Disney World hotel besides the 60 day FastPass+ access—I recommended the Disney hotels to first-timers even in the old days when all guests were treated equally in the parks, except for Extra Magic Hours.

And speaking of Extra Magic Hours… The example of Animal Kingdom this summer, when Pandora was open an extra 14 hours a week to Disney World (and Shades of Green and Swan and Dolphin) hotel guests, can be replicated (and expanded, to e.g. 21 or 28 hours) at Hollywood Studios for Toy Story and Star Wars. Differential perks can be added and expanded, so that the Disney-owned hotels can continue to command their premium pricing, which we all complain about on the way to filling them.

 

*I could not find the size of three of these 52 hotels, so used the average of the other 49 for them; a point of moderate confusion is that these are two different groups—that is, the Disney Springs Resort Area hotels are not WDW Good Neighbor hotels…

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November 8, 2017   1 Comment

Free Dining Deal Expected to Open Tomorrow; Quick Service for Moderates

Update: the 2017 deal is out, see this for details.

The Disney World deal Free Dining is back this year–with one major change. Guests booking a moderate resort stay will now only be receiving for free the Quick Service Dining Plan, rather than the “regular” Disney Dining Plan which includes table service meals that they have received in past versions of this deal.

Values and deluxes will get the same deal as in recent years–quick service at the values, and the regular plan at the deluxes.

In order to get the deal, guests must book a minimum 3-night-stay with 2 days of Park Hopper or Park Hopper+ tickets.

Booking for the package will open tomorrow, Monday, April 24th, 2017. Available arrival dates will be between August 21st* and September 30th, 2017, as well as select dates between November 14th through December 23rd.

Rumor has it that the November and December eligible arrival dates will be 11/14-11/20, 11/25-11/27, and 12/8-12/23.

To get a travel agent to make over your reservation, contact Kelly at 980-429-4499 or kellyb@destinationsinflorida.com.

*Beginning August 13th for Disney Visa Cardholders, and Canadian guests.

The 2017 easy Guide

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April 23, 2017   2 Comments

Caribbean Beach Refurb Causes Some Qualms

(Note: the $75/night gift card offer is over for new bookings.)

Disney’s Caribbean Beach Resort will be going into a major refurb beginning around May 1. The scope of the refurb has led some to suggest avoiding the resort or changing your reservations if you are staying there.

(Coronado Springs is also seeing a less extensive but still major refurb, so Port Orleans Riverside and French Quarter are filling up fast. Kelly can help you get a room in one of these–she’s the designated Destinations In Florida travel agent for yourfirstvisit.net, and is at Kellyb@destinationsinflorida.com.)

However, Disney will be providing guests booked there May 1 and later a $75 gift card, per night, as a compensation for the awkwardness.

At least until Columbus Day, which is as far as I want to speculate, this is a discount of 27-35% off the rates of a standard room. Some will find this an entirely adequate payment for the awkwardness.

My advice?

  • If you have any qualms, change your resort. The potential for you to second-guess yourself is too high.
  • If you are one of the seven people worldwide who chose Caribbean Beach specifically for Shutters or the food court, change your resort.
  • If you never felt strongly about staying at Caribbean Beach anyway, change your resort.
  • If you picked Caribbean Beach for its tranquility, consider how construction noise might affect that.
  • If you picked it for the kid appeal/the beaches/the pool/the colors, for most I think the $75 per night gift card will be sufficient compensation for you to stay—but avoid Barbados and perhaps Martinique (for reasons I’ll get into below).

THE REFURB AT CARIBBEAN BEACH

The refurb seems to have two parts.

One is a shut-down of the food court, table service restaurant Shutters, gift shop Calypso Trading Post, and pool-side bar Banana Cabana.

These will be somewhat replaced by a new breakfast buffet and menu of dinner offerings from new (presumably temporary) facilities in “Centertown,” which is the broad area that includes the pool and former dining and shopping areas. My guess is that these will be centered on the old bar Banana Cabana, since it has power, water, etc. Also available will be some new grab and go locations in Aruba, Jamaica and Martinique, and, I suspect, a food truck in Trinidad South.

Here’s Disney’s words about this:

Closure for refurb of food areas is pretty routine at Disney World—Port Orleans French Quarter just went through this, and there was not much panic. This, however, is a more extensive closure, including the bar and gift shop as well.

Frankly, I expect the (temporary) supplemental replacements to be largely adequate—even after the closures, there will likely still be more counter service available at Caribbean Beach than in all of the BoardWalk Inn, Beach Club and Yacht Club combined (at least until the new counter service-ish area opens in the Yacht Club gift shop).

But we won’t know for sure until the supplemental options open. I have a stay booked here in early June—gonna catch me some Pandora, and the new fireworks show at the Magic Kingdom—and will report on specifics then.

The second thing that seems to be going on is construction, possibly even demolition, in the Barbados and Martinique areas.

Katherine Schutte (part of the German branch of my otherwise English family, I guess) posted in her Magical Castle Facebook Group on 2/27 that
“a new notice issued today indicates that buildings within Martinique and Barbados areas of the resort will be closed since they will be disrupted by the construction.”

It’s been widely speculated that a new Disney Vacation Club building will be going into the footprint of Barbados and perhaps some of Martinique—and, it is to be hoped, the Custom House check-in area as well.

And Disney has already communicated that “Disney’s Caribbean Beach Resort will be reimagined with new additions to the resort’s current marketplace, Centertown, including new waterfront dining and retail shopping areas. This centralized location will offer the resort’s guests more convenient access to services, amenities and dining.”

As I’d noted here, my guess and hope is that as part of this project, the current building housing dining and retail will be converted (or demolished and rebuilt) as the check-in area for Caribbean Beach.

This, when combined with the to-be-hoped for demolition of Barbados and perhaps the northern (non-preferred) part of Martinique, will much reduce the complexity and number of bus stops at Caribbean Beach, diminishing what has always been its biggest negative. (Especially if the current bus stops at Trinidad North and the perhaps truncated Martinique are replaced with just one at New Old Port Royale.)

If so, then the sequence of events could be something like this:

  1. Install temporary alternative dining and close Old Port Royale
  2. Build new waterfront dining and retail and convert/rebuild Old Port Royale as the new check-in area
  3. Open the new dining/retail/check in facilities
  4. Demolish the current check in facilities at the Customs House, Barbados, and perhaps some of Martinique
  5. Build a DVC facility on the footprint freed by step 4 (this could begin even before the Customs House comes down—if it is even coming down. Bay Lake Tower is about 400 feet across, and the longest extent at Barbados is almost three times longer—there’s a lot of land at that end of the resort…)

If my guesses are true, then there will be a lot of construction noise around Barbados and Martinique in particular, so for sure I would avoid rooms there…even the preferred rooms in Martinique, because of the Centertown construction noise.

The 2017 easy Guide

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March 4, 2017   28 Comments

Disney World Refurb News, Speculation, and Updates

DISNEY WORLD REFURB NEWS

“We also have other kinds of expansion opportunities, like hotels… where not only do we have the property but we’ve seen such high occupancy rates in Orlando … that we believe that it would be smart for us to build more hotels out.” Bob Iger, Q4 2016 Earnings Call.

Disney World made some announcements last week about its Coronado Springs and Caribbean Beach resorts.

These, coupled with some other Caribbean Beach rumors, and continuing interest in the Wilderness Lodge refurb, made me think it’s time for a brief refurb update.

MAJOR CONSTRUCTION AT CORONADO SPRINGS

Disney announced an expansion at Coronado Springs that will add rooms, dining, and fireworks views

“The expansion at Disney’s Coronado Springs Resort will include a new 15-story tower that will add 500 rooms, featuring suites and concierge level services. The resort will also refurbish its current resort rooms and transform its landscape with floating gardens and an island oasis that connects the resort through a series of bridges.”

“The new tower overlooking Lago Dorado, the resort’s centerpiece lake, will allow guests to experience something truly unique, rooftop dining with panoramic views of popular nighttime fireworks from nearby Disney theme parks.”

The new building will be in the area that until recently was Cabana 9b—the “business class” part of Coronado Springs (Coronado Springs is the only convention resort among the moderates, and so has always had more amenities than the other moderates).

Buzz, author of an unofficial Coronado Springs website, has also predicted that the Coronado Springs lobby will shift to the new building. My guess is that the new building will likely gain a bus stop as well.

Demolition work has already started—this shot is from my visit in early March.

Between demolition and construction noise, my previously-recommended best buildings at Coronado Springs, 9a and 8b, are probably no longer the best choices. 8a will be the best choice until the construction noise settles down.

The new rooms and amenities in a compact footprint will make Coronado Springs more attractive to the convention market. I expect the “regular” new rooms to be priced with at least the 40-50% premium over standard view Coronado Springs rooms that 9B business class rooms used to show.

Also over the next year or two the rest of the Coronado Springs rooms in the Casitas, Ranchos and Cabanas areas will see a refurb, which began in January. Refurbed rooms in the current buildings will have a simpler, cleaner look, and have the two sinks common at the other moderates rather than the one sink found in the current CSR rooms. Concept photos for this refurb are here.

This room refurb will happen building by building and will not be disruptive the way the new tower will be.

CARIBBEAN BEACH PATHWAY UNCLEAR

The same Disney announcement had this to say about Caribbean Beach:

“Also during this exciting time, Disney’s Caribbean Beach Resort will be reimagined with new additions to the resort’s current marketplace, Centertown, including new waterfront dining and retail shopping areas. This centralized location will offer the resort’s guests more convenient access to services, amenities and dining.”

This announcement comes on top of recent rumors, based on permits, that

  • The Caribbean Beach resort footprint will also see a new higher-rise tower, in the current Barbados area
  • That this new tower might be a new Disney Vacation property
  • And that a new gondola system might be built that would interconnect Epcot, Hollywood Studios, and Caribbean Beach (and for all I know, Coronado Springs, although the permit rumors have not included that last point).

Focusing for the moment on what Disney said, note its last sentence: “This centralized location will offer the resort’s guests more convenient access to services, amenities and dining.” (Emphasis added.)

If you know Caribbean Beach, you already know that all services here are already “centralized” except the check-in building, the Custom House.

So is that what is going on here? Dining and retail are being moved to the waterfront to create a footprint so that the spaces where they currently are can be turned over to a check in area? If so, then that would get rid of one of the major issues with Caribbean Beach right now—the distance of the check in area from every other part of Caribbean Beach.

On the other rumors I am more agnostic.

  • Certainly the old Barbados footprint and, if I am right, the Custom House footprint could be carved off into a new DVC property—especially if the gondola rumor is real (although speculation that the gondolas will also run to Pop and AofA suggests no necessary tie to exclusive DVC amenities).
  • However, much of the DVC-here speculation came from no one being able to imagine that CB would get a tower. Now that Coronado Springs is getting a tower, I think a little more skepticism is in order here.

Interestingly, the clearest evidence of DVC on part of the old Caribbean Beach footprint would be Disney not talking about it, as there are regulations that apply to premature marketing of timeshares that don’t apply to straight hotel rooms. So if unexplained accommodations buildings start emerging, perhaps the less we hear the more we will know.

Regardless, expect construction and noise along the waterfront in Old Port Royale, which likely will make the rooms in the nearer part of Martinique and Trinidad North a little less comfortable to stay in, because of noise.

For more on the Caribbean Beach refurb, see this.

WILDERNESS LODGE REFURB UPDATE

The Wilderness Lodge refurb that’s been going on for a while now is coming to a close. Booking the new rooms here begins in March for visits beginning July 17.

The new counter service, between the pool and beach, Geyser Point, is open—I’ll check it out in my March visit

Strong progress is being made on the replacement of the second pool by the current Villas—in this shot from my late January visit, you can see its concrete form is done:

It’s hard to tell how much progress is being made in the rooms that are being converted to DVC villas and studios.

Update 3/6: This Wilderness Lodge refurb should be complete by mid-July.

It looks to me—and I have no inside knowledge here, but am rather guessing based on the pace of change—that the amenities could all be done by the summer, but I have no idea when the new rooms will be available, in what order they will open, or when the construction walls in the upper reaches of the lobby will come down. For most of this, though, mid-2017 is probably a better bet than the end of 2017. 

SOME OTHER REFURB NOTES

Pop Century  kicked off is expected to kick off a room refurb in March 6.

The current two full bed rooms will be replaced with rooms with one queen and one full murphy bed that is a table when not deployed, similar to the ones in the suites at Art of Animation (above).

The Yacht Club room refurb is complete on the 5th floor, and in progress on the 4th floor. It should be done by the end of the year.

The room refurb at the Dolphin is on hiatus until the summer, I was told, when refurbs will kick off in the east (closer to Epcot) side.

I stayed in a refurbed room here in my January visit, and will do a full report soon. The main difference is the simplified bath, above.

The Kidani Village refurb is complete.

I’d stayed in a refurbed Studio in 2016, and stayed in a refurbed One Bedroom in January. A full report will come out soon, but changes are minor.

The 2017 easy Guide

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February 19, 2017   19 Comments