Advanced Dining Reservation Update

For those who were following my post linked below and had similar issues with challenging advanced dining reservations, particularly at character dining restaurants, I have an update now that our trip has arrived.

Disney dining frustrations

Similar to many others, we were able to suddenly get all the remaining reservations we were looking for on a certain random day a few weeks ago. It was then announced that there was a glitch in the dining reservation system and these reservations would be cancelled. This was pretty infuriating because Disney ended up cancelling some reservations that weren’t entirely new bookings, but just time modifications, so I got screwed out of four reservations, which really sucked. However, they did send $25 gift cards for each cancelled reservation, so we got $100 in Disney gift cards as a result. I figured this was like free money since I assumed we’d eventually get the reservations back, with some (aka a lot of) effort. However, after that day, there was literally no availability ever at any of the restaurants we were watching during our travel dates. At this point I was worried that they had too many reservations booked and so when normal cancellations happened, they weren’t being released like usual.

Fortunately, in the past 3 days leading up to our trip, we were able to grab 3 of the 4 cancelled reservations at Hollywood and Vine and Topolinos. So if you are stalking those restaurants, maybe give it a rest and check back in immediately prior to your trip. Breakfasts at Topolinos opened up on two separate days of our trip when I checked yesterday (4 days and 6 days prior to the dining dates respectively) and lunch opened up at Hollywood and Vine 2 days prior to the dining date (tomorrow! Yay! My son is so excited to see Goofy!)

I’m curious to give the walk up waitlist a try at some of these restaurants where it is so frustrating trying to get advanced reservations.

Height Restrictions

Height Restrictions

As someone who previously travelled to Disney World every year without a care in the world or the slightest restriction on what rides I could ride, I now find myself with numerous restrictions to consider as mother of a toddler in Disney World who always seems to think I might need to be aware of the pregnancy restrictions on our next trip (spoiler alert: I never do, womp womp). Anywho, the organization of the height restrictions is kind of bizarre on the Disney website, so I thought I’d throw them all together on here. This can also help us look at which parks have the most to offer for families with kids that fall below the height restrictions. So here we go, by park:

Magic Kingdom:

RideHeight Required to Ride
Tomorrowland Speedway32 inches (48” to drive)
Barnstormer35 inches
Seven Dwarfs Mine Train38 inches
Big Thunder Mountain RR40 inches
Splash Mountain40 inches
Space Mountain44 inches
Lots of rides become available for a tall 3 year old (my son hit 40″ when he turned 3), but probably aren’t actually a great choice for too many timid 3 year olds. My son is still afraid of the Barnstormer, so no chance he could handle Splash Mountain of BTMRR. I’d try Seven Dwarfs Mine Train well before those, since it is so smooth and short. If you have a braver 3 year old, more power to you, you can go on almost all the “big kid rides” at this point!

While Magic Kingdom has 6 rides with height requirements, it also has the most rides WITHOUT height requirements, by an absolute landslide. The Disney website officially lists 28 attractions in Magic Kingdom that are available to guests of “any height,” although this does include things like the “Casey Jr. Splash N Soak Station” which is just a splash playground area, and hardly a real attraction, but regardless, there are upwards of 25 attractions for little ones, which can fill days upon days with endless fun. There is never a risk of not being able to “fill a day” at Magic Kingdom, regardless of who you bring. Right now my 3 year old is partial to Its a Small World, Dumbo, the Speedway (as shown above, the height requirement is very low for a passenger), Buzz Lightyear’s Space Ranger Spin. Aladdin’s Magic Carpets, the Jungle Cruise, the Peoplemover, and the Carousel. He is neutral towards Ariel’s Under the Sea adventure, the Carousel of Progress, and Winnie the Pooh.

Rides that have no height requirement but our toddler is NOT a fan of, from a frightening/too dark perspective are: Peter Pan (weird right….there is some thunder in this and my son is not a fan) and Pirates of the Caribbean. We have not tried Haunted Mansion yet, and I don’t think we will in the near future. I’ve never been on the Astro Orbiter, but I wonder how he would do with it being up so high….he does love rocket ships….maybe worth considering on our next trip.

A major loss right now is the closure of the Railroad while they are constructing Tron. They closed the Railroad back at the end of 2018 for a “2 year closure,” but there has been no announcement of a reopening date, and I’m sure Covid has extended the closure. When it reopens, definitely give it a ride. It is a must for choochoo lovers.

Epcot

RideHeight Required to Ride
Mission Space40 inches
Test Track40 inches
Soarin40 inches
All 3 rides in Epcot with height restrictions open up when you hit 40″. So technically my kiddo can ride everything in Epcot. I thought this was awesome until we tried Soarin and he acted like I submitted him to actual physical torture….so we didn’t even attempt Test Track. It all comes down to maturity level I guess.

Only 3 rides with height restrictions in Epcot! That must mean it is a great park to take little kids to right?! Not necessarily. The Disney website officially lists 13 attractions in Epcot that are available to people of “any height,” but that pretty generously includes all of the shows throughout the World Showcase (which very few small kids would be eager to sit through). When you take those out, it leaves you with these options for little kids: Frozen Ever After, the Three Caballeros (a boat ride in Mexico), Living with the Land, The Seas with Nemo, Turtle Talk with Crush (closed during Covid), Imagination, and Spaceship Earth. That’s really not too shabby. Thats a good handful of rides, plus maybe you could throw in one of the shows in the World Showcase, plus if you go during Covid you can catch one of the Character Cavalcades through the World Showcase, then grab a quick service lunch, or a nice table service meal in one of the countries, and that’s a decent chunk of a day. It is rarely a full day in Epcot with a little kid though. This is why we always utilize park hopper passes. We can enjoy Epcot for a good chunk of time, but we don’t want to force it into being a full day.

FYI: My son was tall enough to meet the height requirements for the 3 rides shortly after he turned 3, but he was not at all ready for these rides. First of all, I’m 68 inches tall and I’ll never be ready for Mission Space (motion sickness, lol). I thought Soarin would be a safe idea because I have never considered it remotely scary or thrilling in the slightest. It is just a peaceful, beautiful plane ride, right? Boy oh boy, you don’t notice those startling transitions between scenes until you have a petrified toddler sitting next to you clinging on for dear life. Every single transition (ie the whale jumping) absolutely terrified him. He was scared BEYOND crying. He couldn’t even cry until we had safely landed. The fireworks at the end were the absolute clincher. If you have a child who is scared of fireworks, DO NOT DO SOARIN. It was his worst nightmare. Think about it, you actually fly up INTO the fireworks. Yikes. Major mom fail. He wouldn’t trust my ride recommendations for days after that. So it is all about knowing your kids, on top of meeting the height requirements.

Hollywood Studios

RideHeight Required to Ride
Alien Swirling Saucers32 inches
Millenium Falcon: Smuggler’s Run38 inches
Slinky Dog Dash38 inches
Rise of the Resistance40 inches
Tower of Terror40 inches
Star Tours40 inches
Rockin Roller Coaster48 inches
Hollywood Studios has by far the highest ratio of height requirement rides to total rides out of all the parks. There are next to no rides in the park WITHOUT a height requirement. Only 2 rides don’t have height requirements currently: Toy Story Mania and Mickey and Minnie’s Runaway Railway.

Hollywood Studios is quite a conundrum at this point. Sometimes it seems like it has next to nothing to offer for little kids, but at other times Disney really tries its best to make sure there are plenty of non-ride offerings for little ones since it is such an awesome park for adults. Before Covid, the best things for kids in HS were the character meet and greets and the shows. You could meet Olaf, Mickey and Minnie, Star Wars characters, Pluto, Disney Jr characters, Mikey and Sulley, and all the Toy Story guys. During Covid, unfortunately there are no character meet and greets, but HS does offer what I consider the best Character Cavalcades for toddlers. They have the standard Mickey and friends cavalcade, along with a Disney Jr cavalcade, but the absolute best is the Pixar cavalcade. We got to see the Incredibles, Sulley, Woody, Jessie, Buzz, and the Army Men, as well as Edna Mode. It was basically everyone my son worships. I have a post back in August that talks about the timing of the cavalcade and the best spots to hang out to see it (since we missed it entirely the first day and were pretty pissed).

Back to the attractions though: HS is primarily an awesome park for adults, that is really all there is to it. People go to HS to ride Rise of the Resistance. Technically my son is tall enough for Rise of the Resistance, but there is no way I will take him on it without trying it once alone first, so I am pretty stuck. I have heard that some 3 year olds have ridden it and done fine, but other parents say that even just the theming spooks their kids. We haven’t tried Smugglers Run with my son yet, since I get motion sickness and it hasn’t been worth the trouble at this point, but I’d be interested to hear if anyone has toddlers who have enjoyed it. I have seen my fair share of 3-4 year olds ride Slinky Dog, but my son is quite scared of how fast it goes. We will try to get him on it on an upcoming trip, because I think if he overcomes his initial fear, he will love it, but for now, we aren’t forcing it.

So basically our day in HS with a 3 year old consists of: Toy Story Mania repeatedly (short lines during Covid help with this), the Muppets, watching Character Cavalcades, Lightning McQueens Racing Academy (actually a super cute little show that got my son into the Cars movies), and Mickey and Minnie Runaway Railway. Disclaimer, MMRR actually did scare my son. He is pretty scared of everything, as you can gather at this point. It is pretty loud and again, there are fireworks at the end. He has said that he will ride it on our next trip (unlike Soarin), but in the moment he was pretty scared. He loves trains, so I think he really WANTS to like it, but it startled him a bit. You could also throw in the Alien Swirling Saucers if you are good with spinning. Wait! How could I forget….the Frozen show is back!! So that is a must-do for us. When the rest of the shows return, Indiana Jones could potentially be fun (I say potentially, because I’m just thinking about how loud it gets), as well as Beauty and the Beast, depending on your child’s tastes. Overall, it is pretty similar to Epcot with regards to being a fun chunk of time, but maybe not a full day with a little one. If you don’t have a park hopper, it can be fun to go to the park, take a break back at the hotel, and then head back to the park for the evening.

Animal Kingdom

RideHeight Required to Ride
Kali River Rapids38 inches
Dinosaur40 inches
Flight of Passage44 inches
Expedition Everest44 inches
The most important ride in Animal Kingdom will always be Kilimanjaro Safari, and it is available to people of any height.

For some reason, there is a lot of anti-Animal Kingdom sentiment amongst moms planning trips on social media. Everyone always writes off Animal Kingdom as having the least to offer for little ones. I feel very differently. Animal Kingdom is the park that we visit second most frequently, after Magic Kingdom, with our small son, as long as we have a park hopper. We don’t often spend more than a few hours in the park at a time, but we do return many times on each trip. Maybe it is because we don’t really visit zoos too frequently at home, but there is so much for us to see and do that blows our son’s mind in AK.

Available to little ones: Kilimanjaro Safari (THE ride of the park, fun and mind blowing for all ages), the Train to Conservation Station (the only train in WDW with the MK railroad closed – great for train lovers), Affection Section (petting zoo after the train ride), TriceraTop Spin (“dinosaur dumbo” as my son calls it), Navi River (boat ride in Pandora), Its Tough to be a Bug (traumatizing 3D show about bugs that I’m too scared to revisit after seeing it as a child), and then all of the walking trails/animal viewing areas! It is like a zoo on steroids, minus the animal cruelty. We never see everything there is to see in one visit because there is just way too much, and it is always somehow way hotter in Animal Kingdom, and exhausting. I really want to get my son on Kali River Rapids next time. It should be manageable for a 3 year old (even one who is scared of everything). Dinosaur on the other hand….Absolutely terrifying to all ages, so no way will I subject my son to that, no matter how tall he gets (ha).

My genuine terror is only rivaled by the giddy joy of the lady in the back. Dinosaur is a no go for little ones, and I stand by that.

Water Parks: I won’t get into all of the details of the height requirements for the rides in Blizzard Beach and Typhoon Lagoon, but after reviewing them, Disney is really conservative in their water park height requirements. Many of the slides have requirements of 48 or 60 inches, which makes sense, given the nature of water rides and the fact that kids will be riding alone into pools. Typhoon Lagoon is my favorite park in WDW, but it isn’t exactly the first place I would rush to bring my toddler unfortunately, given that he can’t swim. He would enjoy splashing around in the shallow parts of the water, but that is why we will stay at Beach Club and enjoy the awesome pool there.

Just a reminder about rides with height requirements: Disney offers something called Rider Swap (also referred to as Rider Switch, Child Swap, etc). I have a separate post about my experiences with Rider Swap, that I will try to link to below. It somehow tends to cause heated debates among people when the element of using Fastpasses gets involved, but the jist is that one parent can wait in line, or use a Fastpass, and then the other parent is given a return window to come back and ride without waiting in the standby line. Each parent has to ride alone, but it is a good way for parents to get to experience attractions that their small children can’t go on.

Rider Swap Experiences

Another Pixie Dust Upgrade

Just checked in with someone renting our DVC points to stay at Boulder Ridge for the past few days, and they were upgraded from a studio to a one bedroom! Lucky ducks. For those of you not following my much less fortunate life, I’ve never been upgraded since my family joined DVC in 1996. I went twice this summer since the resorts reopened and figured this might be the time we finally got an upgrade (not that it really matters or is owed to us or anything, it just would be a fun surprise), but no such luck. Then in September I had a renter upgraded from a Beach Club studio to a TWO BEDROOM, which is bonkers, and now from a studio to a one bedroom. Being upgraded from a studio to anything is awesome since it gives you a full kitchen and laundry area. You are at least getting twice the value of what you paid for.

Glad someone is getting some joy at the moment 🙂

How to be a DVC Member and get your annual dues paid for you…

Catchy title, eh? I originally planned to call this “My genius ploy to subsidize my DVC maintenance fees (insert evil villain laugh)” but I didn’t think people would be too amused by my nerdy accountant talk paired with Disney humor.

So my original intent with this blog was to have a place to post about my detailed knowledge of some of the more intricate ins and outs of the administrative side of owning DVC points. It has evolved into me posting lots of trip reports and Disney World travel tips and whatnot, because I just can’t help myself or get myself to shut up about Disney World most of the time (where have I heard that before ….???), but I’m going to also start posting some of my more DVC specific insights from time to time as well.

I’m by no means the most experienced DVCer (there are people out there who absolutely churn out rental reservations for a living, I’m sure of it, despite that being technically against the rules in high volumes), but in my limited experience, I’ve realized that I dare say I seem to have a unique knack for understanding all of DVC’s nuances. Just to give myself some credibility here before people wonder why they should take any serious financial tips from a crazy Disney obsessed stay at home mom (hey…. stop hating), I do have degrees in both Finance and Accounting, graduated top of my class for both degrees, have my CPA license in two states (and my CMA if anyone cares about that credential … spoiler…no one does), etc. It just so happens I am choosing to channel my nerdy finance brain towards Disney related topics at the moment while I’m cooped up in the basement playing choochoo trains with a toddler for months on end. However… let’s never speak of these mundane “credentials” again, as they shouldn’t be relevant towards my validity as a person voicing opinions/giving unsolicited advice about Disney, but I thought maybe when it comes to discussing people’s finances, they might want to know a little more about the lady left at the Orlando altar. As far as DVC credentials go…. I grew up the child of a DVC family (see the about me section) and in recent years I’ve been handling the renting of my mom’s Boardwalk points, after she spent years renting them on David’s, as well as handling the booking of our own family trips with her points. I also purchased a resale contract at Bay Lake Tower last year and have been renting those points out to people as well. So I book maybe a 5-8 stays per year when you count our own and our rentals. That is a lot of experience with the booking process, the rental process, calling Member Services, handling point transfers, getting waitlists to come through, etc, so I am very well versed in these topics at this point. For our “wedding trip” alone I had to book over a dozen DVC rooms with our own points, as well as points rented from other members (so I’ve been on both sides of rental transactions) and had to make constant changes and wait for tons of waitlists to come through (granted 90% of them ended up being cancelled in the end…. but the booking process was fun while it lasted). Regardless, take everything I say with a grain of salt. I’m pretty risk tolerant and take some leaps of faith with my DVC decision making, and it isn’t for everyone.

On to the genius plot…

All DVC members purchase X number of points with the understanding that they can either use them to book their own vacations or rent them to recoup some of their investment/pay for their annual dues each year. I personally 100% signed up for DVC with the intention of going to Disney as much as humanly possible, so the idea of renting my points to pay for my dues every other year is not remotely appealing to me.

What if you could use all of your points to travel to Disney each year, but magically acquire some additional points to rent on top of your normal points ? This is where point transfers come in. DVC is fully aware that there is potential for point transfers to be a big opening for people to work the system, so they have put in place a ton of restrictions around transferring points unfortunately. Even so, with proper planning, there’s enough room to work with.

So let’s talk in actual numbers and contracts, to keep this easier to follow. Let’s say I own 300 points at the Boardwalk. We purchased these points back in the 90s, direct from Disney, paid in full, yada yada. All good there. These are clearly our points. So we can use these 300 points to travel every year. Awesome. However, we do still have to pay annual dues for these 300 points. Right now the annual rate per point at the Boardwalk for maintenance fees puts us just over $2000 annually for the 300 points total. That’s a lot of money. That basically could pay for a vacation someplace ! I thought the point of DVC was to pay a lot of money up front and then never have to pay for a hotel room again?! Grrrr. These maintenance fees really kind of ruin that whole appeal, don’t they? So, I am determined to reduce some of that hit.

Each year, DVC members are allowed one point transfer in or out of their membership. That is one transfer per USE YEAR. It gets a bit complicated because different contracts have different use year months, but basically just always pay attention to the actual YEAR, and that is all that matters. For example, in 2019 I received a transfer of 100 Copper Creek points with a November 2019 use year. I was then able to get a transfer of points for any 2020 use year, it didn’t need to be November or later. It also didn’t matter that they were transferred into my June use year. All that matters is the YEAR, not the month. It also doesn’t matter what month you use them in (or what month the reservation booked with them falls in) or if you choose to bank them to the next use year after they are transferred. All that matters is that you can get one transfer of 2019 points, one transfer of 2020 points, one transfer of 2021 points, etc. After they are received, you are free to use them or bank them as you wish.

So, each year, let’s say I book our annual family trip for November or December, using maybe 250 Boardwalk points at the 11 month window. Easy peasy, no issues there. Then, as time passes, and November approaches, I keep an eye out for people looking to get rid of “distressed” points expiring some time around November or January (or later…. just as long as they consider them distressed so they are renting them for relatively cheap). When people consider points to be distressed, they rent them for well below the normal market rate. Typically people are willing to do large point transfers for a little cheaper than the market rate to begin with, so even if you don’t find distressed points, you can typically find someone willing to transfer 300 points for $15 per point when the current market rate is $19-$20 per point, because a point transfer is so easy for everyone involved. If the points are in fact distressed, you want to get a transfer of just enough points to cover your upcoming stay (ie the 250 points for our previously booked November trip). If they aren’t distressed, or expiring soon, you want to get a transfer of as many points as you can afford, if you find a decent deal.

Once you have received the transfer of points, and paid the other DVC member directly, those points are now on your membership. They are still a separate contract and retain their original use year and home resort, but they are all yours to use as you please. DVC has even recently upgraded their systems so that these transferred in points can easily be used to book stays online, whereas you previously needed to call Member Services whenever booking a stay using transferred in points. So now that you have these cheaper, less desirable for whatever reason, points on your membership, you can begin the process of reallocating them to an existing reservation. The first time I did this, I simply called member services and they happily reallocated the transferred in points to an upcoming stay. This means they swapped out our Boardwalk points that were used to book the reservation, and used the transferred in points instead, freeing up all of our Boardwalk points to use for future stays or to rent to others at a premium price significantly higher than the $12 per point I had paid for the transferred in points.

Subsequently I have learned that Member Services will not reallocate points to a stay with a different home resort if you originally booked the stay during your home resort booking window. So basically, if I were to book a stay at the Boardwalk using Boardwalk points 7-11 months prior to travel, and then I got a transfer of cheap Saratoga Springs points (people tend to rent SS points for cheaper!), Member Services will not simply swap out the Boardwalk points for the SS points. Instead, you have to actually cancel and rebook the room using the SS points. This has a huge amount of risk involved since these rooms typically aren’t available at the 7 month window and there are often waitlists already outstanding for them. However, I have had no problems when cancelling and rebooking one night at a time super quickly, or actually creating a waitlist for the one night before I cancel the room I have booked already, then calling and seeing if my waitlist matched right after I cancel. Either way, I typically do this process on the phone with Member Services just in case I deal with any website slowness or anything, I want to have a back up person checking availability quickly at the same time as I’m cancelling my nights one at a time. If you got a transfer of non-distressed points and you are over 7 months out from your travel, you would do this as soon as the 7 month booking window opens, assuming the transferred in points have a different home resort. If you got distressed points, you would do this ASAP. If your travel is within a month, then there probably aren’t many waitlists for your nights since most waitlists expire 30 days prior to travel, so at least you have that going for you.

Once you have rebooked each night using the transferred in points, Member Services will merge the reservations into one reservation for you, which takes about ten minutes on the phone usually, then bada bing, bada boom, you are set with your prior trip just like it was before, but now it is booked using the transferred in points (which makes absolutely no difference on your reservation), and all of your original points are freed up to rent to people at a higher rate.

In this scenario, let’s say I received a transfer of 250 distressed Saratoga Springs points for $12 per point and applied all of them to my existing Boardwalk reservation. This would allow me to turn around and rent my popular Boardwalk points for $19-$20 per point (which pre-Covid times, typically took me about half a day to rent Boardwalk points at $19 per point…. now it requires a little bit more effort…but things will get back to normal eventually). These Boardwalk points wouldn’t be near expiring, because as I mentioned, my trip was in November and I have a June use year, so we are looking at at least 6 months of booking plus another year if banked. So with this 250 point transaction I would make conservatively $1750 (250 points x $7), which gets me pretty close to paying those $2000 in dues for our total 300 Boardwalk points. This is why I say to get as big of a transfer as possible. The more points that you get and allocate to existing reservations, the more points you free up to rent to people at a premium.

As I’m writing this, I’m thinking people will say this sounds like a scam or screwing over the person you receive the transferred points from, but I beg to differ. The person who transferred the “cheap” Saratoga Springs points in this hypothetical scenario got rid of points at the rate that the market set for them. They set and/or agreed to that price based on their need to get rid of those points quickly or potentially questionable planning by allowing the points to get distressed. It’s a win for them because if they can’t get rid of distressed points, they will simply expire unused. Instead they got $3000 for those 250 points in this scenario. Then I’m being compensated for assuming the risk and making the effort to reallocate those points to my existing reservations. I’ve spent endless mornings on the phone with Member Services promptly are 9am cancelling and rebooking rooms, or waiting anxiously for waitlists to come through after a cancelled room doesn’t pop back up as available. This “genius ploy” of mine actually requires a huge amount of strategizing and effort in situations when the original reservation was booked during the home resort booking window (reminder: if the original reservation was booked within 7 months of travel, no cancelling is required, member services will literally hit a button and reallocate the transferred in points to the reservation).

So there it is, my best attempt at explaining how to have your cake and eat it too, or in this case: stay in Disney on your points and rent them to pay your dues too. This is obviously a super quick and dirty rundown of how to do this, and my hope is that I can expand upon this in much more detailed future blog posts and/or maybe an eBook if I start getting real crazy (whoa boy).

McDonalds Toys

Well, this is pathetic, but this is what the Disney excitement in our lives has come to at this point in 2020….

My son was crying his eyes out when we got to McDonald’s for lunch today because I apparently stretched our adventures a little too long this morning and he was experiencing some serious hanger. The cashier took pity on us and gave us three toys in his happy meal! Woot woot. I had been looking forward to getting one of the new Disney ride toys. Apparently there are 10 Mickey and Minnies Runaway Railway toys that they are giving out for the next month or so. We got Minnie, Mickey, and Goofy.

Let’s hope this gets my son more enthusiastic about riding MMRR on our next trip, since it didn’t go so well last time, which you can read about in our August trip report 😂.

FYI they all connect to make a little train.

PS. No shame in our McDonalds game. Come at me fast-food-free moms. 🤷🏼‍♀️

Promising Changes to NY travel quarantine rules

Finally some semi decent news in a week of non stop crappiness about COVID and Disney cast member layoffs (heartbroken about all the performers who were laid off, still refusing to accept that as a permanent move). Governor Cuomo in New York has tweaked his mandatory 14 day quarantine for New Yorkers returning from certain (almost all) states to allow for negative tests as an alternative. The new rules are very explicit with regards to the timing of the negative tests, so I have to assume they are based on a decent amount of research/science, especially since it took so long for him to make this change. See below for a link to the new New York travel quarantine/testing options.

https://www.governor.ny.gov/news/governor-cuomo-announces-new-guidelines-allowing-out-state-travelers-test-out-mandatory-14-day

The reason this is good news for me is that I live in New Jersey, where Governor Murphy ALWAYS copies every policy move Cuomo makes with regards to Covid, with a lag of a couple days. So I imagine in the next week we will get a similar update here in NJ about a similar option to get a negative test as an alternative to our voluntary 14 day self quarantine. This would be awesome because as things stand currently, my little kiddo would have to miss the full month of December from school due to our Disney trip the first week of the month.

For those who aren’t aware, Disney opened a (I believe free) testing site on property, available to the public. So if you are required to get a negative test before returning home, that is the easiest option for sure.

This does beg the question however…. if you get a positive test…. are you stranded in Disney world ? 🤔🤔🤔

Pixie Dust – Room Upgrade at Beach Club Villas

For anyone who took the time to peruse my trip reports from July and August, you will recall that contrary to my best hopes (and efforts), we received no pixie dust or upgrades on our trips. Granted our July trip was to a studio at the Polynesian, so that would have meant we were upgraded to a Bungalow, but I had high hopes for an upgrade in August when we were staying in a Boardwalk studio for my birthday (which I made sure to mention every time I called in). Alas, no upgrades were in the cards, which is consistent with all of our DVC stays for the past 24 years, so it is no huge shock.

What IS an awesome shock though, is that the guests who rented our points to stay at Beach Club in September got upgraded from a Studio to a TWO BEDROOM VILLA!!! That is no joke of an upgrade. It was a (very nice) family of four, with two little girls, staying in a studio. That means no real kitchen, living area, laundry, separate sleeping area for the kids, etc. Instead, they got a massive two bedroom with multiple bathroom areas, laundry room, full kitchen, living room, king size bed for the parents, a separate queen size bed for each daughter, etc. What an amazing surprise for them. When I was messaging with them that day, they were worried because their room wasn’t ready and it was after 4pm. I told them that unfortunately this is a common complaint with DVC. Technically DVC says check in time STARTS at 4pm, but can be later. I personally have had a good streak of rooms being ready at noon or earlier, but these poor folks were waiting and waiting, and I felt terrible…..until they sent me a screenshot showing they finally got a room assignment and it was a TWO BEDROOM!! I figure this was half an apology for the late check in, and half an availability issue with studios potentially. Who knows. Either way, it was awesome. I’ve seen a handful of posts about upgrades at Beach Club Villas this summer. So maybe it will be in the cards for some readers on their next trip 🙂

Things to Mention Up Front When Renting DVC Points (and Sample Rental Agreements)

I have been renting out DVC points for a couple years now and thus far have not bought into the need for having a formal rental agreement/contract between myself and the people renting the points. To me, these transactions have an inherent level of risk (particularly for the renter) and require a certain level of trust. Part of the appeal of working directly with a DVC member (as opposed to a rental site) is the personal attention/interaction that you get. Typically I speak to the people on the phone, become Facebook friends, etc. to make them feel comfortable and that they can trust me during our transaction. I don’t want to turn it into a cold, formal process full of distrust, which is the vibe a rental agreement gives me. The main protection offered to the person renting the points, is the ability to seek references across social media and potentially post a “bad review” of a person with whom they have a bad experience. The public shame of a bad review in a DVC rental group would basically make it next to impossible to continue renting points going forward, so that hopefully weeds out any potential fraudsters (there’s my CPA lingo coming back to show off my coolness).

That being said, I am starting to get a bit frustrated with some people this year unfortunately. This year has been full of the most extenuating circumstances that any year could ever throw at the travel industry, so I absolutely support the concept of being flexible and working with people to reschedule trips. I am appalled at the idea of DVC members screwing over people who rented points for trips and need/want to cancel due to health/safety concerns or because of quarantine requirements, or whatever their reasons may be not to travel this year. As long as your points aren’t imminently expiring, which should hopefully be the case for anyone dealing with a COVID related cancellation (ie if someone cancelled a trip in July, the earliest those points could realistically be expiring is 11/30, based on DVC’s extension of point expirations this year), you should be able to rerent the points to the best of your ability and recoup as much of the money as possible. In that situation, maybe the renter would be stuck paying the difference in the price they were paying you, vs what you were able to get in the new lower price market currently out there for those 11/30 expiring points, but you should still be able to offer a significant refund. One renter I was working with had to reschedule her quick getaway 4 times and ultimately cancelled because her entire family contracted Covid this summer. That really sucks. I have no interest in making their lives any more unpleasant than they already are. She was a lovely person to work with and helped me find a person to rerent the reservation to. Easy peasy, no problem, glad to work with a person like that! However, what is absolute BS to me, is renters trying to cancel reservations BECAUSE there are cheaper points out there currently, thinking they can cancel the rooms they’ve already booked at the previously normal price per point, and rebook with someone else at the new cheaper price per point. This is not how life typically works. Prices fluctuate all the time on travel related expenses, and you often feel like you just missed a deal, or just bought your plane tickets too early, etc. I’ve had two people cancel trips with little notice at this point, not because they are uncomfortable traveling due to COVID, but because they think they can find better prices out there now. First of all, good luck finding a DVC member as accommodating as I am with changing dates and resorts all the time, utilizing wait lists, etc. Second of all, good luck getting these rooms booked again this close to your travel dates after I cancel your reservation… and third of all…. cmon, why did you wait until so late in the game to screw me over like this? Now I’m stuck trying to rent points in a crazy panicked rental market where no one knows whether they want to travel in the upcoming year and members are panicking and unloading points at foolishly low prices (if you are renting – you should totally jump on those prices before a lot of points expire on 11/30). So now my awesome points that I could previously easily rent within a day for $19 per point are sitting around idle with no one interested because there are lots of points available right now for $10-$14 per point, which I’m not willing to rent mine for, since they are not “distressed.” You don’t want to be stuck in a situation where these people are expecting an immediate refund of the money they’ve previously paid, when you don’t have the ability to get that money back from another renter any time soon.

So anyway, I don’t mind cancelling these reservations and rerenting the points, since I have the patience to wait for another good rental situation to come along at the right price, but these cancellations got me thinking about what things should always be communicated to renters up front, even without a formal written contract.

These are the things that I always make sure I say to people renting my DVC points (in writing – even if just in a text message/email/Facebook message) at the beginning of the transaction.

  1. Price per point – this is a no brainer, and everyone’s first discussion point, besides dates/resort
  2. Payment terms – the norm seems to be to pay in full, up front these days, but people do occasionally ask for other payment arrangements, such as 50% up front, and 50% a couple months prior to travel, which I find understandable. It is important to get it documented somewhere in writing so you can go back to it and reference it in case you or they forget later on. Just for reference, in situations where payment is required in full “up front”…. I book the reservation in the renter’s name, send them a screenshot with all of the information including the reservation number, allowing them to link it to Mydisneyexperience.com, and then they send me the full payment. That way they see that it is a real reservation and there is minimal risk of me screwing them over at that point, so they are comfortable sending payment.
  3. Payment method – I personally am comfortable with Venmo, Paypal, Zelle, etc, but you should spell out your preferred method and timing (ie do you expect payment before or after you send a screenshot of the reservation information), as well as any necessary contact information. If using Paypal, remember to specify whether you prefer to use Friends and Family or Goods and Services (fee).
  4. Refund terms – This is where I historically have said something along the lines of “If you need to cancel for any reason, as long as you let me know more than 30 days prior to your trip (that’s when things get messy with DVC putting my points into a holding account), I should be able to refund you fully, just as soon as I rerent the points to someone else, which usually only takes a day or two, and I’ve never had a problem.” I’ve never been more glad to have included this little disclaimer than this year, since I could have never expected Coronavirus to make re-renting actually slightly challenging. You could even go so far as to clarify that you need to be able to re-rent the points at the same rate, or if you re-rent them at a lower rate, the original renter will be responsible for the difference. There are all sorts of things to consider here. It is a matter of judgment, but should definitely be spelled out up front and in writing. I’ve never gotten too technical with it because I’ve had such an easy time rerenting points if someone cancels, so I’ve never been concerned about the canceller needing to pay the difference in price. Now that I’ve seen how the market can swing, it is definitely something to consider.
    • This is where my one renter had an issue on one of my cancellations recently. When she asked to cancel (without reaching out, by the way…she only cancelled when I reached out to confirm everything was still on track and check in about why she hadn’t sent in one of her payments), I said ok I’ll refund you your initial deposit, but I just have to rerent the points first. She responded saying she was surprised I needed to rerent the points before refunding her. So I sent her a screenshot of where I had said that originally, and that cleared that up. So even just mentioning things like this informally in a message at the outset of the transaction helps later on down the road if complications arise.
  5. Extent to which you are willing to change dates/resorts – This has come up a lot recently too. People are asking me to move dates around and switch resorts at the last minute, and seem completely unfamiliar with how limited DVC availability is. I am happy to check availability for people, but I just want to make sure people have realistic expectations up front. Also, people need to understand that I try to rent or use every available point each use year, so if you wait until a month prior to your travel date to ask me to change dates, and your new dates require additional points, I probably won’t have the additional points to cover the difference. If that results in you needing to cancel and book with someone else, that is kind of unfair/crappy to me. So it is important to lay out those expectations up front. (Although don’t panic – worst case scenario – you could pay for one time use points through DVC and charge the renter for them)
  6. Any other DVC nuances – You should probably always make sure that renters know little DVC nuances like that housekeeping isn’t daily for DVC rooms, how to set up the Magical Express, how to book Dining plans (through the DVC member), etc, just so a disgruntled renter doesn’t come back unhappy saying they were duped and expected something besides what they ended up experiencing (although I haven’t encountered anyone unhappy with the DVC experience, but there is a first time for everything). This would be where you should also mention who is responsible should the person staying in the room cause any damage or anything like that as well.

Based on all of these things that should always be communicated upfront, I am starting to understand the appeal of formal written rental agreements for these transactions. You can just pop the specifics of your transaction into a template and bada bing, bada boom, everything has been communicated, and you’ve covered your butt. I’ve included some sample templates I’ve found on social media over the past year and tweaked a bit to make the most sense to me (please note I’m not taking credit for these). That’s the beauty of this DVC rental community, everyone wants to help each other. I’m no lawyer, so I don’t know how legally binding these documents are, but they certainly make you feel a lot safer on both sides of the agreement. As the Member renting points, having a contract removes any sense of guilt if someone comes requesting things that the contract explicitly outlined wouldn’t be able to be accommodated (I am a person who feels obligated to help people out in any way that they ask, even if it really goes beyond what should reasonably be expected in these transactions). I also have a tendency to assume that everyone in this community understands the nuances of DVC points and will realize when certain requests are outrageous (like asking to switch to a different resort a few weeks prior to travel), when in reality, first time renters might have no idea how challenging the availability is at these resorts, so spelling out what is feasible up front creates a fairer (more fair?) arrangement for all parties, where expectations can be managed. As the person renting points, it is a way to read through all of the information and feel a sense of security that you know exactly what you are getting yourself into, and you are working with someone legitimate. While it might feel like overkill, it really does seem like a win-win at this point.

Sample Rental Agreement Templates (Tweaked from templates I found on Social Media – not originally written by me, nor do I know how legally binding they are). Some awesome people posted these publicly on the rental groups on Facebook. I tried to give credit within the documents, but if I missed anyone, please don’t hesitate to reach out. If anyone else has an awesome template, please feel free to send it my way!

In particular, I lean towards the first two. The first one is a little more condensed than the second, and still touches on everything I consider essential, but the second one is truly comprehensive, as the name says. They are all worth perusing.

Disney dining frustrations

Update 11/3: This morning I was able to easily book any remaining days I was looking for at Topolinos and Hollywood and Vine during my December stay. Any meals that were unavailable yesterday opened up today. It’s worth giving it a look today!

Update 10/14: a bunch of availability has opened up at Hollywood & Vine between 12/7-12/11 if anyone else is looking ! Have at it !

This is my first time being truly frustrated booking Disney dining reservations. After years of booking our reservations 180 days out and nabbing every hard-to-get reservation we wanted, plus two Covid era trips in the books now with multiple character dining reservations, I can now say I have completely failed at getting the character dining we wanted for our December trip.

Booking dining is increasingly challenging as crowds continue to increase, but capacity remains limited inside restaurants (which I appreciate), and numerous restaurants remain closed. What frustrates me is that there are still only 3 character dining options, so they get grabbed super quickly by everyone with kids. Topolinos continues to be the only character breakfast (although Chef Mickeys is bringing back characters on December 16th, 5 days after we leave Disney, which breaks my heart because I was very optimistic more character dining options would open by our travel dates and this announcement really stomped out my optimism). Garden Grill and Hollywood & Vine are the only two character dining options for lunch and dinner (although the Beast makes small appearances at Be Our Guest, but that isn’t worth the price tag and fancy food for our simple tastes, and I’ve heard mixed reports on whether Cinderella makes consistent appearances at her Royal Table currently… so I don’t count those 2 as true Character Dining experiences, but you may).

With the limited options available, I was hoping to get two breakfasts at Topolinos, one lunch at Garden Grill, and two dinners at Hollywood & Vine during our 8 night stay in December. I was able to get a dinner at Garden Grill on our first day, and breakfast at Topolinos on our very last day, but that is it. Absolutely no Hollywood & Vine availability for the whole week (for a party of 3!). Considering these meals are the only guaranteed character interactions during the whole trip, this is oddly heart breaking for me right now (lol, this is an emotional year). My kiddo is really counting on seeing “Santa Goofy” at Hollywood & Vine, and I feel like a massive failure.

Here’s where I got semi “screwed over” by the perfect storm of coronavirus changes.

First, everyone should know by now that dining reservations can be made 60 days prior to travel now, instead of 180 days. Fine, that shouldn’t really matter. A-ok in my book.

However, we are doing a split-stay with our first three nights at Bay Lake Tower and our last five nights at Beach Club. Normally, DVC Member Services is kind enough to link these reservations in a manner so that you can book all of your dining as though this is one reservation (ie at 60 days out from the first nights in Bay Lake, we should have been able to book the full week of dining). However, there is a new policy in place for Member Services to not perform this reservation linking due to “reduced capacity” aka staffing issues and high call volume. That’s a bunch of BS. The cast member I spoke to said that she knew how to do it, but was not allowed to. That is infuriating. She wasted more time talking to me in my frustration than it would have taken to just link the reservation! This doesn’t reduce call volume, since everyone will still call in expecting the same service they’ve gotten in the past, just to be disappointed. Completely frustrating covid-related policy change by DVC.

So as a result, I was only able to book four days of dining on our first booking day, then I had to wait another four days to try to book for the rest of our stay. By then, I was booking as though we were checking in on a Sunday at Beach Club, meaning everyone checking in on Saturday was able to book dining for their whole week the day prior to us.

Given that there are only two true character lunch and dinner options, with only one being in the super busy Hollywood Studios, this explains why Hollywood & Vine was unavailable for our whole stay when I logged in at 6am. Totally crappy.

My advice for people in our situation: 1. Don’t do split stays and 2. Don’t be too discouraged at this point, we all know a ton of people will be cancelling trips in upcoming weeks, just like they have over the prior months, as covid continues to wreak havoc on everyone’s travel plans. Plus in the days immediately prior to travel, dining opens up more than ever. People change dining plans last minute as they mess around with their plans while they are in Disney, so even if you arrive in Disney without the reservations you hoped for, don’t give up checking the app!

SIGNIFICANT UPDATE: After calling into Disney Dining this morning to have them check the whole week for any availability at Hollywood & Vine, the very helpful cast member informed me that for some reason Garden Grill and Hollywood & Vine are actually completely “blocked out” for most dates of our stay, so they are expecting new availability to be released imminently, but they have no idea when. She confirmed that the reservations are not all booked (actually barely any are booked she said), but for some reason Disney has blocked the reservations at those restaurants while they figure something out (who knows what they are up to at any given moment with all the moving pieces they are dealing with). She said to keep checking, because she expects when the availability is released, the reservations will go quickly (for the reasons explained above). So there is hope!

Potential big change for DVC online booking capabilities regarding Transferred in Points !

I just happened to call Member Services today to check in on whether we have any transferred in points available on one of our memberships, since you can’t see transferred in points online on your dashboard and typically need to call Member Services to get information about them. You normally can view reservations already booked with transferred in points on your dashboard, and you can cancel them, but for any other modifications or bookings with transferred in points, you always need to call and manage the points over the phone.

Well in BIG NEWS, member services apparently was notified TODAY, that members should be able to make bookings with transferred in points ONLINE effective TODAY. I have yet to confirm this, but will test it out later this afternoon. When I logged in today, my dashboard was showing a funky use year that was not accurate for my contract, but instead reflected the use year of some of my transferred in points, so they definitely are making some changes online to the dashboard visibility of transferred in points.

This is huge news for people with transferred in points because previously, if you were dealing with transferred in points, and a hard-to-get room became available briefly, you were at a huge disadvantage because you needed to call in to Member Services to try to book it, and during that time, it often could get snatched up by someone using the online booking tool. Major game changer if this change is really in place like Member Services was told today !