Planning Our Next Walt Disney World Trip!

Well, we agreed we were going to skip Disney this year and take our 10 year old to Universal Orlando. But things change, and when Disney’s “free dining” promotion came out in April, I couldn’t resist the temptation to just see what was available. Luckily, the dates were extended an extra 3 weeks early to Disney Chase Visa cardholders. Meaning instead of August 20th, we could book free dining starting August 2nd (this is why having the Disney Visa is a good thing, even if you don’t plan on using it often.)

After grabbing a reservation at an All-Star resort (not exciting, but fine) I continued to look around and couldn’t believe my eyes when a value studio popped up at Animal Kingdom Lodge for a few hundred more than we would be paying for our stay at All-Star, and we wouldn’t have to upgrade from the quick serve plan (stays at deluxe resorts include the standard dining plan.) We’re normally not Deluxe resort-type people. We figure our hotel just needs a clean room and a decent pool. But hey, if you twist my arm, I guess I’ll stay at a deluxe resort complete with a savanna with zebras, giraffes, and ankole cattle, one of the best pools on property and 3 of the best restaurants in all of the Walt Disney World resort. So we are doing 4 nights at AKL with free dining! We are so very excited.

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In addition, months before I booked this trip, I decided to try out renting Disney Vacation Club points to see what it was all about so I could report back about my experience. So after we check out of AKL Jambo House, we check in for one night to AKL Kidani Village, which is the DVC only part of Animal Kingdom Lodge. We will be staying in a Savanna view studio. With me so far?

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photo credit: Loren Javier via flickr

Then, while planning our week, something else happened…Disney released the dates for the 2018 Mickey’s Not So Scary Halloween Party, with the first date being the night we are scheduled to leave. And is also the day before my husband’s birthday. We happen to love the Halloween Party at the Magic Kingdom, even if we have to go in August. So, we added on a 2 night stay at Pop Century, taking advantage of the room discount promotion currently going on.

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We are looking forward to seeing the brand new Toy Story Land at Hollywood Studios. We have a Fastpass for Slinky Dog Dash and plan to “rope drop” Alien Swirling Saucers. I’m very excited to try some of the yummy-looking food at Woody’s Lunch Box, too. We will also be spending a lot of time in Animal Kingdom in Pandora, one of our favorite places!

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Our dining reservations are all set as well. We will be trying some new restaurants, like The Plaza in Magic Kingdom, Trail’s End at Fort Wilderness, and Boma at Animal Kingdom Lodge. We’ll be hitting our faves Tusker House, Garden Grill, and Be Our Guest too. We simply love free dining and can’t wait to try some new snacks on this trip.

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photo credit: Nicole Pacitti via flickr

So, those are the details of our 7 day August trip. We can’t wait to share all the fun with you! Make sure you keep up with all our adventures by subscribing to the blog.

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Brunch at California Grill; an Unforgettable Experience

We planned our last Disney vacation to get in on the free dining offer. We booked our stay at a value resort, and upgraded from the complimentary quick-service plan to the standard dining plan (DDP) for a little less than $200 for six days. With the standard plan one of our quick service meals was replaced by a table service credit. It also includes a refillable drink cup to be used at any Disney resort hotel. We really enjoy the quality and variety of the table service restaurants at Disney and prefer them to the standard “burger and fries” world of quick service restaurants.

On our last trip, also with free dining, we enjoyed dinner at California Grill at Disney’s Contemporary to celebrate my husband and my 10 year anniversary. California Grill is a signature restaurant, so if you plan on using the dining plan, each person will have to use 2 credits. I don’t spend my dining credits willy-nilly, so you better believe CG is worth it.

When we found out they were offering a Sunday brunch this year, I jumped on the website and booked a 12:30pm reservation for the 3 of us. Then checked out what the web had to say about it. The reviews were generally positive and we couldn’t wait to experience it.

 

Sunday morning, we walked from the Magic Kingdom over to the Contemporary Resort and took the escalator to the 2nd floor. We checked in and were directed to a special elevator to take us to the top of the resort. We stepped out into a lively scene with a jazz trio playing standards, bartenders busily filling champagne glasses with mimosas and people chatting and eating. The wait to be seated was made much more tolerable with a complimentary mimosa! There’s really not a bad seat in this restaurant, since the windows are huge and there’s a stunning view in every direction. Once we were seated, we were given menus, but told not to worry about ordering our entree at that point, since we had an entire self-serve buffet to enjoy first! The spread was mouth-watering. The stations included a Charcuterie station, a Greek yogurt and toppings station (fresh fruit, granola, and honey comb were on offer) as well as salads, the best deviled eggs ever, pastries, oh, and I almost forgot, sushi! Everything on display was incredibly fresh and tasty. My favorite was the aforementioned deviled eggs and a grain salad called Fregola salad. You can watch a video tour of the whole buffet, including the bloody Mary bar here

After about 10 minutes of noshing, our ever-attentive server was back to see if we were ready to order-that’s right, there’s more! You order an ala carte entree from the brunch menu. It was hard for me to decide between the pancakes (mmmm, pancakes…) and the poached lobster benedict (oh, how I suffer) so the server said it was no problem to add one pancake to my order. Todd got the steak, and little one got the chicken, which she took a bite of, then announced that she was full. The single pancake fulfilled my carb craving and left me with room to enjoy the lobster. Hubby was satisfied with the steak, although he did drip some pesky chimichurri down the front of his shirt and we all picked at the chicken and decreed it delicious, though we were all pretty darn full by this point.

After a few moments of sitting, sipping our coffee and walking outside to the fireworks viewing platform to take in the view, we were presented with dessert. Yes, it continues. Dessert was a selection of small sweets presented on a cake stand. Chocolates, madeleines (which were a tad dry and the only thing we didn’t finish) macarons, and linzer cookies. I’m thoroughly surprised we didn’t have to be wheeled out. Our dining experience took almost 2 hours, so plan this meal around a slow Sunday. You will not want to run to catch your Space Mountain Fastpass right after this meal. And don’t feel guilty about taking a long time. It’s a lot of food, and it’s an experience worth savoring.

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For $80 per adult and $48 per child (see why we like the dining plan?), you are treated like Disney royalty in a beautiful setting overlooking the Magic Kingdom. We thoroughly enjoyed this meal, and if we are on the DDP on a future visit, will definitely try to visit again. Don’t forget to hold on to your receipt so you can come back in the evening and watch Wishes from the observation platform. California Grill’s Brunch at the Top is held  Sundays from 10 am to 1 pm. Cost is $80 per adult and $48 per child. Complimentary valet parking is also available for this event. There’s a link to the full menu here.

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Should You Buy a Dining Plan?

Disney is an expensive place to eat at. Many people think purchasing a Disney Dining Plan (DDP) will save them money, and that may be true in many cases. There are many opinions on whether it is better to pay out-of-pocket (OOP) or use one of Disney’s many dining plan options.

Here’s a quick rundown of each plan and what is included. The Disney Dining Plans have several tiers with increasing prices.

  • Quick Service Plan– This plan entitles each person in your party to two counter-service meals, and one snack per night, and one refillable drink cup. If you are staying at a Disney resort for 5 nights, you will have 5 days of meals, even if you’re in the parks 6 days. Get it?
  • Standard Dining Plan– With this plan, each person will have one counter-service meal, one table-service meal (including character dining,) and a snack per night, and a refillable cup. This is the plan we get and have been really happy with it.
  • Deluxe Dining Plan– Each person gets three meals per day. That can be a counter-service or table-service, and appetizers are included. You also get two snacks, and a refillable cup.
  • The Premium Plan is the same as the Deluxe except that for signature meals that would normally take two dining credits from your bank of credits, every meal is only one.
  • The Platinum Plan basically entitles you to the first born of any Disney cast member. But seriously, if you’re getting the Platinum plan, you don’t need to worry about budgeting for Disney.

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Getting silly at Chef Mickey’s
Each meal takes a credit out of your allotment of dining credits. Now, if you are set on dining in the castle at the Magic Kingdom and get an ADR to Cinderella’s Royal Table, you should know that it will cost you two of your credits. So, you will have to skip a meal on another day or pay OOP.

There are so many fantastic signature restaurants and dinner shows (all 2 credits) on which you might want to splurge (we always do.) California Grill is a favorite of ours, and the view from the top of the Contemporary resort is worth 2 credits alone. I usually schedule a reasonably-priced meal on another day that we can easily pay out-of -pocket, like a breakfast buffet at Crystal Palace or lunch at the Plaza restaurant in the Magic Kingdom.

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Hanging with Dale at the Garden Grill at Epcot
So, back to the question of “should you or shouldn’t you?” In my opinion, if you are going to do a lot of buffets and character meals, the dining plan is probably a good idea. Let’s look at some numbers. For an adult, the standard DDP costs $63.70 per night in 2016. Dinner at Akershus in Epcot, which features all your favorite princesses is about $45-$50. The New York strip steak, Olaf cupcake and fountain drink on the menu at ABC Commissary totals almost $23. Add $4 for a Dole Whip float and you’ve spent in the area of $77.

If you’re a light eater, you might balk at the idea of all that food. If splitting meals and grabbing a hot dog for dinner is more your speed, the Dining Plan will almost certainly be too much food for you. Save the money for a few special souvenirs or upgrade your resort room. Take a moment to peruse the menus on Disney’s website to get an idea of what your family would order. You’ll quickly see if any of the Disney Dining Plans make sense for you.