Monday, April 21, 2014

Disney Tips

We are going to Florida in a few weeks on vacation.  We rented a condo, and are going to hit up Disney and Universal.  T and I are excited to see Harry Potter; the rest is for the kids.  I am SO looking forward to this vacation.  The only thing that has been a bit confusing is that big changes have been going on at Disney.

Disney has revamped its ticketing and Fastpass system.  Notably, if you have a fancy "Magic Band" (a waterproof rubber bracelet with RFID technology embedded) you can make Fastpass reservations 30-60 days in advance of your trip.  Remember when you used to grab a "Fastpass" ticket AT Disneyworld so you didn't have to stand in line for your favorite rides?  Yeah, that program is no longer.  Now, you can plan in advance and book your tickets on line, or stand in line in the park on the day of your visit to book your Faspasses (now called "Fastpass+).   Resort guests can book 60 days out; others can book 30 days out under certain circumstances.  You can't just grab them in the parks at the little machines any longer, because those machines have been shut down.

Now, I love the idea of Fastpass.  I don't want to stand in lines on the most popular rides with two little kids.   But, there is exactly NO chance that I will be standing in line at a freaking kiosk to book fast passes during my Disney vacation.  NO CHANCE.  Not with my two special little snowflakes.  That's just not happening.  Ride lines are one thing, but KIOSK lines?!  Forget it!  But up until recently, the only way to book Fastpasses in advance was to stay at a Disney resort.  They are sending the Magic Bands (which also work as your park ticket, door key, and even as form of payment) to resort guests and annual pass holders for free.  Annual passes don't make sense for our party, as this will likely be our only trip this year.  A Disney resort is also on my "no way!" list.  I have stayed at Disney resorts in the past, and I like them, but I think the cost has gotten way out of control.  A "moderate" resort in now almost $200 a night in price, and the "cheap" rooms start around $85 a night even if you hit a sale.  For those kinds of prices, I can rent a condo, a house with a private pool, rent timeshare points at a resort with tons of amenities, etc.  Heck, I can do all of the above and spend LESS than at a Disney resort.

Just a few weeks ago, however, Disney started selling its Magic Bands to anyone interested in visiting a park.  They cost around $15 each.  This sounded like a perfect option to me--we get the cool bands, we plan in advance, we don't stand in kiosk lines. . .I mean, crappy to have to plan Fastpasses waaaaay in advance of our visit, but that's the least of all evils presented by Disney's new structure, in my opinion.  Now, parking at the Disney parks is a whopping $18 a day these days, and I also needed 5 Magic Bands.  Very quickly, I realized that a "cheap" Disney room for one night would give me the bands for free, and two days of Disney parking for free, AND access to onsite amenities, like the pools, Early and Late Magic Hours, etc.  There's just one problem:  most Disney rooms won't let you book more than 4 people without incurring an additional charge, and I needed 5 Magic Bands.

Solution?  I booked a tent only site at Ft. Wilderness Campground.  They allow up to TEN guests to stay in a single tent site.  They sent us the 5 Magic Bands for free.  We get free parking for 2 days.  We're going to hang out and do the Chip and Dale sing-a-long campfire for the night we are supposed to be staying there.  (We have paid for the campsite, but we are not actually staying there.  We are staying in a plush two bedroom condo with full kitchen, a washer and dryer, and a ceiling.)  We get Early Morning access privileges for our day at the Magic Kingdom.  The total cost?  About $75.00.  Yes, it's a lot of money, but given the alternative of standing in line to make Fastpass reservations, or simply standing in line at rides. . .time is money, and it's money well spent, in my book.

Because of this strategy, we've also been able to get Fastpasses to the previously impossible-to-get-into Anna and Elsa meet and greet at the Magic Kingdom.  They just moved this event over to Fantasyland from the Norway pavilion in Epcot.  Before, Fastpass was not an option, and the line averaged 4-5 hours of waiting time a day (again, no thanks!).  As of two days ago, Fastpass is now an option.  There was just one problem:  for the last two months, it has been impossible to score a Fastpass for this event.  I know, because my daughters are obsessed with Frozen, and I've been stalking the Disney website multiple times a day for weeks on end.  I was able to get two single passes, for two separate days, which wasn't going to get our party in the door of the meet and greet!  I called Disney, but the phone rep's weren't able to help.  But today, miraculously, Disney appears to have released a boatload of new Fastpasses to this event, because I found plenty for all different dates.  I was able to book them for our entire party for the date and time I wanted.

So if you have a Disney vacation planned, and want to see Anna and Elsa, there's hope!  Disney sure does make things complicated.  On the other hand, I have to sort of admire the evil genius behind this new structure, and what Disney will be able to do with all of the information they now have regarding park guests.  Scary, but brilliant.


Jess @ said...

This is one of the things I dread about planning our disney trip. We're not going for another 5 years or so, but I am so not looking forward to dealing with all of the ins and outs of booking.

Glad you guys figured out what was going to work for you and that you're getting to see Anna and Elsa :-)

Heather Wilson said...

Have fun in Disney! We need to plan a Disney trip soon. The boys are turning 5 the end of this month, so the next year or two is the perfect time to go.