Blog Feed

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).

Disney Trip Planning with Upcoming Reduced Park Hours (and no Park Hopping)

Disney Trip Planning with Upcoming Reduced Park Hours (and no Park Hopping)

A lot of people have taken a sigh of relief now that there are no fastpasses to book in advance, interpreting this as a break from Disney trips that they believe typically require a ton of stressful upfront planning. Ignoring the fact that this is silly because Fastpass booking day is totally the most exciting day leading up to any Disney trip (lol), and Fastpasses shouldn’t cause any stress since there is no obligation to use them if your plans change… Disney trips actually do require a fair amount of advance planning and creativity right now.

Additionally, in my opinion, Park Hoppers preciously removed a lot of the stress of Disney vacations with kids, because you could just suggest a change of venue if your little one got cranky or restless. There was no pressure to think of which park could entertain your whole family best for a full day, and instead you could plan a morning in one park, realizing that you could easily head over to another park after a couple hours. The fact that little kids could only ride a couple rides in each park was never a huge concern of mine until now. Now you have to plan full days in each park just so that your little ones can do 1-2 rides that they might love, and then you have to creatively fill the rest of the day without the option to visit another park.

The current park reservation system means that you need to plan in advance exactly which park you will be in every day of your trip. Disney is using this to control capacity in the parks every day while social distancing and crowd reduction is the goal. Reservations are already open through September 2021, so in theory, you should already have planned out which day you will be in each park for your trip a year from now (crazy!). The good news is that for those with resort reservations, there is a ton of availability for park reservations, so for the most part, you could change your mind and switch park reservations the day prior, or even the day of. The bad news is, there is no park hopping, so you need to stick with one park per day, despite some parks feeling like “half day parks” with small kids in particular. More bad news: park hours are about to become even more limited in September, potentially through mid November. Starting September 8th, the hours will be as follows:

Magic Kingdom – 9am – 6pm

EPCOT – 11am – 7pm

Hollywood Studios – 10am – 7pm

Animal Kingdom – 9am – 5pm

While it used to be common for AK to close at 5pm, it always used to be open at 8am, so it is a bummer for no park to be open until 9am now for parents traveling with early risers. Those early morning Extra Magic Hours are sorely missed by those with little kiddos for sure.

Without park hopping, on the days when you select EPCOT or HS for your park reservations, you are stuck without anything to do until the parks open at 10 or 11am. While this is totally fine for childless millennials or teenagers who like to sleep in (ah I truly, truly miss when that was my Disney trip style….), it really sucks for families that usually get an early start. If you saw my recent trip reports, my 3 year old wakes up at 6am in Disney saying “monorail time??” So this is where the creative advance planning becomes key. It is important that families plan their dining around the reduced park hours to maximize both their park time and non-park time.

Based on my trips to Disney in July and August after the parks reopened (but before the hours got reduced even further), I have a few suggestions for trip planning in these circumstances. Please note these suggestions are specifically geared towards those traveling with kids (sorry childless millennials, you can just relax and enjoy a pretty laid back trip of riding Flight of Passage 50 times with no line and then sleeping in the next morning…. planning complete) and families specifically planning to stay within the Disney “bubble” (in theory you could fill non-park time with ventures to other attractions nearby in Florida, but I can’t speak to that, so my suggestions are specific to staying within Disney). So here are my suggestions based on my recent visits with my toddler since the reopening:

1. Book your biggest, most exciting resort breakfasts on days when you are doing EPCOT or HS (the parks that open late in the morning). To go even further, I’d highly recommend booking Topolinos on one of your HS or EPCOT days, since it is the only character breakfast available at a resort right now, and is a quick Skyliner ride to both of those parks. If you time your reservation to be about an hour before you want to get to whichever park you are going to, you should be golden. You’ll eat, soak up a ton of time with Mickey, Minnie, Donald, and Daisy, enjoy breathtaking views of the Riviera property, and then hop on the Skyliner to whichever park you are headed to. Easy peasy. Of course there are tons of other resort breakfast options, just check the Disney dining website. There unfortunately are no other character dining breakfasts that I’m aware of right now. Hopefully this changes. If it does, load up on character breakfasts for those mornings where you have the late opening parks reserved. That way your kiddos have a fun start to the day before the park even opens. *Just a reminder that you can access transportation to breakfast reservations before normal park transportation usually becomes available. For a specific discussion of Skyliner timing, look for my post about Skyliner hours for breakfast reservations*

Topolinos adds so much Disney to the day

2. Book in-park dinners for as late as allowable. As far as I’m aware, you can book dinners right up until closing time at restaurants in the parks. Then you can relax and eat in the park past when it technically closes. This way you also avoid the crowds of people at the buses/monorails/boats right at park closing time, since you will be leaving about 45 minutes to an hour later than everyone else. I’ve seen people posting on Facebook that certain places allow reservations even later than park closing time, but I haven’t personally confirmed this. Specifically, I’ve seen multiple posts that you can get reservations at Oga’s Cantina (basically just a bar and some snacks… so don’t plan on a full meal) in HS for well after the park closes. If anyone else can confirm this, feel free to comment. Similarly if there are other locations where this is true, also please mention them in the comments, because I’m very curious!

**Note they just announced that another character dining option will be opening in mid September in HS at Hollywood and Vine. This is a perfect option to book right before the park closes. That way you could take a break mid day to rest at your resort, head back to HS in the late afternoon/evening to ride a few rides with minimal wait time, and wrap up the day with Minnie and friends.**

3. Have late dinners at resorts (not necessarily your own!) on evenings when the park you are visiting closes early (MK and AK in particular). For example, we booked dinner at Sana’a at Animal Kingdom Lodge for one evening after MK closed during our August trip. We got the fun new experience of dining while watching animals on the savannah (without using a park day on AK) and got to lengthen our day since the park closed at 7. We took a bus to AKL straight from MK. We then took a bus from AKL back to the Boardwalk (the intent was to take a bus back to HS and walk, but since it was empty, the driver drove us straight back to our resort). With all of the parks closing early, you might have to plan on taking a bus to Disney Springs after dinner and getting another bus back to your resort, if you are looking to avoid Ubers, like we typically do. Keep in mind when booking Sana’a, that it’s not really worth it after sunset if your intent is to see the animals. So either book this one after an Animal Kingdom day when it closes at 5 (kind of a redundant amount of animals for one day), or this might be one to skip on these Fall trips if you are booking late meals for after park hours, since sunset is early. Definitely try out new restaurants at new resorts though! Use it as a chance to explore new resorts ! We love Whispering Canyon at Wilderness Lodge (you can hop a quick boat ride directly from Magic Kingdom).

Dinner at Sana’a at Animal Kingdom Lodge

If you love the Skyliner or the monorail, maybe try to book a dining reservation at one of the resorts on either of those modes of transportation after you visit a park nearby! We rode the monorail loop several times and stopped at multiple resorts for quick service meals during both of our summer trips. My son considers this to be mind blowingly fun (better than any park), and the monorail runs well after MK closes. Now is a perfect time to branch out and explore new resorts. There was a rumor floating around that you couldn’t “resort hop” at all right now without dining reservations, but I can put that 100% to rest since we visited the Contemporary, the Grand Floridian, and Caribbean Beach extensively without dining reservations during our stays recently. We also were never asked about our dining reservations when we arrived at Riviera or Animal Kingdom Lodge.

4. In that same train of thought: there are a TON of restaurants in Disney Springs, which is open much later than the parks. Check the website for specific restaurant hours, but you would have a ton of options for dining late in Disney Springs, and a bus would take you directly to and from your resort. We avoided Disney Springs on our most recent trips because rumor has it that it doesn’t feel quite as safe as the rest of the Disney bubble (we also just didn’t have time… and toddlers have other priorities, like riding the monorail on an endless loop), but I’m sure it is still up to Disney’s standards. While in Disney Springs you can shop at numerous Disney and non-Disney stores as well. It could occupy lots of hours in the evening for sure.

5. Don’t plan on going to the pool mid day. With park hours so limited during the day, you should prioritize the parks during those hours and worry about the pool either in the morning (on an EPCOT DAY) or in the evening (although by all means, still prioritize a mid day nap! We were able to visit the parks in the mornings and late afternoons and still squeeze in a good nap… you don’t want an overtired toddler on your hands). A lot of families seem to be going to the pools in the evenings, and they have been moderately crowded (but still fine social distancing-wise). The evening pool time at Polynesian in July was honestly what made me feel the happiest and most “at home” on our trip. It felt like we weren’t living in a weird depressing pandemic, and life was happy and magical again. There is just something about kids’ laughter in the pool in the evening that makes a vacation feel like a real vacation. Below is a sign with the pool hours at the Boardwalk when we travelled in mid August. This is consistent with the pool hours at the Polynesian when we travelled in July. There has been no news of any changes to pool hours. Weather wise, the evening is usually awesome for the pool after the afternoon thunderstorms clear. It’ll still be plenty hot, don’t worry :). All the pools are heated above 80 degrees if you are worried though.

6. As shown in that sign above, the resorts have other offerings such as movies on the lawn. I observed this at the Boardwalk and Caribbean Beach. I believe it is happening at all the resorts. It is cute, and several families were taking advantage while we were there. People sat out on the grass and kept their distance (with masks on, but presumably taking mask breaks to snack).

There are also community halls at many of the resorts (at least at the DVC resorts) that offer games, crafts, movie rentals that you can take to your room, etc. In the past you have been able to rent bikes from the community halls too. As far as I’m aware, the community halls are fully operational right now. I didn’t see anyone riding bikes at the Boardwalk while we were there though, so it might be worth a phone call to inquire about that aspect. If anyone is curious, the Surrey Bike Rentals were closed when we visited in mid August. Demand is probably too low to justify the additional cleaning and everything.

So those are my recommendations. You get the jist. Get creative. Have fun riding the transportation with your little ones (the Skyliner is honestly a ride in itself … it is easily more fun than Its A Small World lol). Visit new resorts and new restaurants. You can fit in a lot of rides during those limited park hours with limited-to-no lines these days. You’ll get plenty done in the parks. It’s just a matter of keeping your kids entertained during the non-park hours. That’s where the dining and the pool will probably come in most handy. Regardless, don’t stress. It’s all fun. If one plan doesn’t sound good in the moment, change it and do what does sound good. In my experience, restaurants don’t actually charge a cancellation fee, although they are entitled to charge $10 per person for no-shows (we missed a reservation in July thanks to an epic toddler tantrum and we weren’t charged anything). The beauty of these trips right now is that they don’t need to be too fast paced. You can do A LOT in a little time, without really rushing like crazy. Also honestly when you are traveling with kids in Disney World, going to bed a little earlier (I’m talking maybe 10 or 11 instead of being out at the parks all night watching fireworks) isn’t the worst thing. Disney days are damn tiring. Walking 10+ miles per day in the Florida heat, with a mask on, pushing a stroller is no joke. It is not the end of the world if you are back in your room hanging out by 9pm 🤷🏼‍♀️.

Have fun ! I’m jealous of everyone with Fall trips coming up. My kiddo just started pre school so our ability to quarantine for 14 days on our return to NJ just got a lot harder. 😢

Biggest Changes in WDW right now … and whether they really decrease the magic

Biggest Changes in WDW right now … and whether they really decrease the magic

I’d say 95% of people I talk to these days make comments about how Disney is “totally not worth it without XYZ.” 9 times out of 10 people say it isn’t “worth it” without parades and fireworks. I assume when they say “worth it” they are referring to the cost of traveling to and staying at Disney. Just to play devils advocate, airfare has never been cheaper … I just booked a round trip flight for later this month for $27!! Holy moly!! $54 total for me and my son to go back again in a couple weeks! That is our entire cost because we are staying with our DVC points and have already purchased and activated annual passes (for me at least…. he still doesn’t have one because he juuuuust turned 3 and a lady at member services said “they won’t ask for a birth certificate” when I tried to order his annual pass last month 😳… so we are still figuring that situation out). Damn near anything is worth $54 at this point, especially given that we’ve spent the last several months doing absolutely nothing remotely fun or entertaining, so they could have 2 rides open in each park and it would be a 1000% improvement over our lives at home right now. I digress though…

Here are the notable changes Disney has made since reopening the parks in July subsequent to the Covid closure:

1. No parades or fireworks: this seems to be everyone’s big concern when they talk about changes at the parks. Disney has indefinitely done away with parades and fireworks since they inevitably result in massive crowds. It makes a lot of sense given the typical parade crowds that you’d be dealing with. Social distancing would be completely impossible. If Disney wants to keep everyone safe, which it appears they seriously do, there is no way to have scheduled parades or fireworks right now.

So as an alternative, they have introduced “character cavalcades” in each of the parks. These basically consist of 1-2 floats with characters and music, similar to a parade but with much less fanfare. They are unscheduled, so no crowds form (literally no crowds, see the photo above). When we were in Magic Kingdom we saw one probably every 15 minutes. There was one with Piglet, Eeyore, and Rabbit from Winnie the Pooh (no Pooh or Tigger). There was another with Tinkerbell. There was another with a bunch of princesses…. Merida, Jasmine, Tiana, Sleeping Beauty, Belle, Ariel, the Fairy Godmother, and some Princess I didn’t recognize from a TV show I think (I feel so old). Lastly, we saw Mickey and friends in a cavalcade multiple times. We also saw Mickey and co up in the train station waving at the start of the day and the end of the day (Mickey, Minnie, Donald, Daisy, and Pluto… no Goofy). In Animal Kingdom we saw boats going by the bridges with characters. We saw a boat with Mickey and friends and then another with Rafiki and Timon I believe. I’m very excited for our August trip when we head over to Hollywood Studios to see all the Pixar characters in the cavalcades. I’ve heard the Incredibles, Toy Story, and Monsters Inc characters are all there, which will be enough to blow my son’s mind. Lastly, in Epcot I believe you can see Anna and Elsa, along with other princesses.

By no means are these cavalcades up to the standards of a Disney parade or a Disney fireworks show. I live for Fantasmic. Disney fireworks are the best in the world. Unfortunately, my kiddo is terrified of them, so no real loss for us there. I also tend to avoid parades because I hate the crowds and I see them as a prime time to get on rides with less wait time, so again, I don’t view either of these temporary losses as a huge tragedy. They are quite unfortunate but they are temporary losses. I will listen to the soundtracks on my phone and that will suffice for the time being.

2. No fastpasses: as an OCD planner, I cried when they announced no more fastpasses. I was legitimately heartbroken (well… not Disney wedding cancelled heartbroken….💔) and kept telling myself that hopefully they will be back on time for our December trip. However, for the time being, I’m just happy to go to the parks at all. So we went for our little July mini trip, not knowing what to expect, but feeling completely unprepared with no fastpasses to help us plan our day… and GASP…. it was BETTER!!! I’m not saying in general life would be better without fastpasses. Hell no. But right now, with crowds at these insanely low levels, we literally walked onto every ride. The longest line we stood on was a 10 minute line for Jungle Cruise. We also waited 3 minutes for Kilimanjaro Safari (posted wait time was 25 minutes). Other than that, we walked onto every single ride and could have stayed seated to ride again, that is how empty it is. There is absolutely no need for fastpasses right now. The loss of fastpasses will be a huge loss once crowds increase, but right now, the standby lines are all SIGNIFICANTLY shorter than any fastpass line I’ve ever experienced.

This was the posted wait time for Peter Pan when we were able to walk right on with absolutely no wait.

3. No character meet and greets: Again, this one hit me hard. With a two year old, our park experience has shifted from riding all the big ticket rides to hunting down characters for meet and greets anywhere and everywhere. We spend our days meeting dozens of characters and riding only a handful of rides typically (oh to be a childless millennial…). Fortunately, we can improvise for the time being and piece together enough character time to satisfy our kiddo completely. There are actually a ton of characters out that you don’t necessarily always get to see. I already listed all of the cavalcades up above in the parade section, but I will report back in a couple weeks for a concrete list of which Pixar characters are able to be seen in Hollywood Studios currently. We are really excited for that. I don’t think my son will necessarily notice that he doesn’t get to shake their hand or hug them, because he will be so thrilled to see them in person. Plus, there are absolutely no crowds for these cavalcades, so you get good photos with the characters and it feels like you are up close and personal with them. On top of the cavalcades, we saw Mickey and friends waving at the train station multiple times and made sure to get breakfast at Topolinos, which was AWESOME. It definitely was enough to carry us over until things get back to normal. We miss the hugs and the high fives, but my son still came home and was ranting and raving that “Mickey waved at me!” and “Mickey made me waffles!!”

4. Limited character dining options: Limited is an understatement right now. Typically there are DOZENS of character dining options available for any given meal. You can normally eat with any character your heart desires. Our favorites are Chef Mickeys and Cape May Cafe, but we were eager to try Ohana this trip since we have a new Lilo and Stitch fan in the house. There are also typically many options where you can dine with princesses at the resorts and in the parks, which I imagine is a must for all the princess fanatics out there (our son loves Anna and Elsa, but is quite nervous around them, HA). All of these are not operating as character dining currently. As far as I am aware, the only two character dining options currently are Topolinos (at Riviera Resort with Mickey, Minnie, Donald, and Daisy) and the Garden Grill in Epcot (Chip and Dale, Pluto, and Mickey typically). We went to Topolinos in July and absolutely loved it. You can see my whole review in Part 3 of the Magical Return spiel a couple posts ago. It is a must do for us from now on. Right now it is not normal character dining where each character visits each table for photos and autographs, but instead they each do a lap around the room and pose at various spots near each table. They do interact with you to some degree. Donald acted offended that we had a Mickey stuffed animal for example. We plan to go to the Garden Grill in a couple weeks and will report back. We went last fall and loved it, so we will be able to compare the new and old experiences. Key takeaway here: if character dining is important to you, jump on reservations at one of these two locations. I believe the Beast has also been spotted walking through Be Our Guest on occasion as well FYI.

5. No park hopping : of the items listed here, this is the one that I think people should consider a potential deal breaker if this is their one big trip of the year. I personally could never comprehend paying for a park pass without the park hopper feature, and I cannot remember the last day I spent in Disney without visiting 2+ parks. Part of the main appeal of staying in the Boardwalk area is the quick access to Epcot for a bite to eat or a quick ride in between other plans. We also typically walk through Epcot to ride the monorail to MK. My strategy with a little kid is also to go to one park first thing in the morning, take an afternoon nap, and then head to another park for an evening of less hot fun and dinner in another park. Obviously none of these things can happen currently. You can only pick one park per day, and you need to pick them in advance. This is a huge downer. For me, it isn’t necessarily making me not go on my trips, but it is changing where I plan to stay and how I plan our trips entirely. We stayed at the Polynesian in July instead of the Boardwalk because the close proximity to multiple parks wasn’t a major priority (granted HS and Epcot also weren’t even open yet on the dates we visited, so that made the decision easy). Using a park hopper typically is the best way to truly get your money’s worth and maximize your time in Disney. You can go absolutely anywhere you heart desires at any time, with no limitations. If you have a free hour, you can head to the closest park and do whatever you can. The lack of ability to do this really takes away your ability to fully maximize your time on your trip, so if you like flexibility and maximizing your park time, now is not the time to travel to Disney unfortunately (this goes hand in hand with park hours being reduced and extra magic hours being removed as well).

6. Park reservation system: At this point, everyone has presumably heard that in order to manage park capacity, Disney has implemented a park reservation system. So on top of having a park pass (annual pass, regular park ticket, whatever), you need to go onto mydisneyexperience and make a park reservation for your designated days. The good news is, this has been a complete non issue as far as parks reaching capacity. There are a small handful of days that reached capacity for annual Passholders at Hollywood Studios, but otherwise all days are showing availability for all parks. There is separate “inventory” for annual Passholders, resort guests, and neither of the above (people with park tickets but no resort stay), and only annual Passholders have been having issues with capacity apparently, and that is only at Hollywood Studios in the month of August so far. So availability is not a concern. I was quite distraught at the thought of anticipating what parks I planned to be in every day of our December trip already, but at this point, it looks like we will have the flexibility to revise our park days during our trip if needed. Also to answer a common question: you are allowed to enter, leave, and return to the park during the day if you have a reservation. We left MK, took a nap, and came back later. No issues. The huge downside right now, as noted above, is that you can only have a reservation in one park each day. I pray this is adjusted by our trip in December, in effect allowing the return of park hopping, but for now, one park per day.

7. No dining plans: When Disney announced their reopening, they added a lot of disclaimers. Not all of the restaurants are open. There is practically no character dining. The restaurants that are open have limited menus (some are very limited). As a result, Disney is not offering dining plans right now. My best guess is that this is to avoid people paying full price for the dining plan and then complaining that they didn’t get their money’s worth due to such limited offerings. This isn’t an issue for us because we never get the dining plan. It just doesn’t suit our eating style. I’m an all day snacker. One day I’ll make a post analyzing the pros and cons of the dining plan, but i think there have been countless analyses that have shown tables in wonderland works out to save you more money if you qualify to get that discount. Regardless, you still have the ease of using your magic band to pay for food, there just aren’t prepaid food credits loaded onto your account unfortunately. Obviously this is a bummer for people who love the free dining promotions Disney runs sometimes (although I’ve always thought they were somewhat foolish because it was always free dining with a full priced room, whereas for the rest of the year you can get a discounted room…. so it basically nets out to be the same ….). This also means no free refillable mugs included with dining plans. You can still buy the refillable mugs at the resorts, but they won’t actually let you refill them anywhere. You show them to a cast member and they give you a free drink in a paper cup. This is for sanitary reasons. No one is allowed to touch the drink machines except cast members for the time being.

8. Temperature screenings: this is an absolute non issue. It’s debatable what value it adds, given that people can be asymptomatic carriers, but it is a common screening practice that offers comfort to people, so I respect that Disney is doing it. Fortunately it causes no delay whatsoever at this point. During our recent trip we never experienced a line at any screening. They have tents set up at park entrances and the TTC, as well as at the monorail resorts, similar to security screenings. There were no bottlenecks whatsoever. I personally didn’t see anyone get a temperature that caused them to not be allowed to enter, but I’ve heard that if that happens, they ask you to step aside and they recheck you a few minutes later. Again, we experienced no issues and no delays whatsoever.

9. Mask wearing: this is a big one. This is a pervasive part of your every day experience. If you hate wearing masks, this should be a deciding factor for you, because you have to wear a “face covering” at all times on Disney property, indoors and outdoors. You are only allowed to not wear a mask in your hotel room, at the pool, while dining (stationary, not walking around the parks eating or drinking), or in designated mask free relaxation zones in each park). That being said, we are from NJ where masks have been mandatory indoors for many months now, but we are in the habit of taking them off outdoors, and we survived ok during the July heat on our Disney trip. I wore mine at all times as required, except in empty monorail cars, completely deserted walkways at the resort, etc, but my almost 3 year old probably wore his about 50% of the time. I thought that was a huge success. Cast members seemed to agree because he didn’t get any comments, outside of one cast member at the TTC temperature screening reminding him to put it on when he was done with his sippy cup. For the most part, when he was in his stroller and we were outdoors, he wasn’t wearing his mask, and no cast members had any issues. I think they aren’t going to focus on toddlers in strollers if you are maintaining appropriate distancing. That was my experience. Again, he did his best. He always wore it indoors and when we were on line near people. Just for more background, he was one week away from turning 3 and he is 39” tall. He’s a big guy.

I tested the no neck gaiter policy and was told almost immediately that I needed to wear a normal mask FYI, so that is definitely being enforced. I went with disposable masks 95% of the time because they were the most breathable in the heat and I could just throw them away after sweating through them. I did make a post about the Disney masks though, and we officially have about 20 of them, so feel free to look at that other post if you have questions about sizing or anything.

10. Not all resorts open: Disney is reopening the WDW resorts on a staggered basis after closing them all for an extended time period for the first time ever. Since there are such severe capacity restriction in the parks, and even less demand than expected right now, there is no need for every resort to be open fully unfortunately. The first resorts to reopen in June were all of the DVC resorts (except Jambo House) so as to quickly get some DVC points back to use and try to mitigate a huge inventory problem in the future with a flood of points in the system due to expiration extensions and whatnot. They’ve subsequently opened a few non DVC resorts so that the list below reflects all resorts currently open.

Additionally, they’ve released the following timeline for opening additional resorts. There are still a few resorts with no reopening dates sadly. They must be waiting to reassess whether attendance picks up over the next couple months. The virus has been so unpredictable that they unfortunately have to keep taking a wait and see approach with some of these things.

This is a huge disappointment for people with reservations at resorts that aren’t open for the dates they had reserved. I had a trip planned in March when everything closed, so I get it, it’s sucks. At least there are a ton of other options though. Hopefully you’ll be offered a comparable resort to switch to if your resort isn’t open, or you’ll be allowed to cancel entirely and rebook by renting cheap DVC points (seriously they have never been so cheap). Thankfully all of the most amazing resorts are open in some capacity (I’m a big fan of the deluxe resorts, plus they made sure to throw in a value and a moderate as options), so everyone should have an option that suits their needs and has availability. Availability should not be a problem for the near future ….

11. No water parks open: at this point, I’m just taking what I can get. A month ago, all of Disney World was closed. I’m elated that all 4 parks are open, along with all the DVC resorts and a handful of regular resorts. The water parks are an after thought at this point. I don’t really understand why they are closed, given that the pools are open, as well as Universal’s water park, but maybe since mask wearing isn’t possible in pools, it is too much of a risk to open a water park right now. It might also just be a cost cutting measure. They are barely making a profit from the parks as-is, so maybe they don’t think opening the water parks would be worth the expense right now. Typhoon Lagoon is my favorite WDW park by the way, so this is a huge bummer…. but all of 2020 is a huge bummer. This isn’t a deal breaker for me… just a disappointment. We rarely get to go to the water parks during our November trips anyway due to the weather being chillier so I’m used to missing out on these.

12. Mobile ordering required for quick service meals: at this point in society you basically have to embrace technology and get on board with mobile ordering. If you were holding out for some reason, I think coronavirus is kind of laughing in your face right now. I’ve commented at home that mobile ordering is no longer the best kept secret at places like Starbucks and Panera. Everyone has come to embrace these things and they will be more prevalent in the future as people have realized how awesome mobile ordering really is. I swore by mobile ordering for quick service meals at Disney before this, so no complaints here. The only real change for me is that they don’t let you into the restaurant to find a table or sit down until you can show that your order is ready on your phone. This keeps people from clogging up the tables and making it more crowded than necessary, which is great. I love process improvements and I think mobile ordering is super efficient when you have a hangry toddler. I highly recommend it to anyone who has been resisting it, whether you travel now or when it goes back to being optional.

13. Miscellaneous safety measures on property: None of these should really impact anyone’s decision to visit Disney, but I thought I should at least mention these other changes Disney has made which help make the parks feel so safe. I’ll include photos of things I remembered to take pictures of while I was there. Items not photographed include: hand sanitizers EVERYWHERE and dividers on the monorails.

These social distancing lines are EVERYWHERE
When it is not practical to load groups with spacing between parties, rides have dividers installed, like here on Kilimanjaro Safari
Ride vehicles are sprayed down/sanitized regularly
The buses have dividers between parties. They are also “aired out” for four minutes every time they arrive at a park to pick people up.

My First Disney Post

A Kick in the Teeth

You may not realize it when it happens, but a kick in the teeth may be the best thing in the world for you.

— Walt Disney.

This is the first post on my new blog. As our non-wedding date quickly approaches, I should hopefully be motivated to post a lot of content here as a distraction from all the last minute wedding planning I should be doing instead. At least we head home to WDW in under 3 weeks! Subscribe below to get notified when I post new updates.

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 🙂

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 !