Are the crowd level patterns at Walt Disney World completely changing?

It is no secret that crowd levels and patterns have changed since Walt Disney World changed their ticketing prices to coincide with busy times, and with blackout dates on annual passes. But how much has this changed, and have they changed so much that if you base your time of travel around how crowded it is there, do you now change the usual times you go?

We all know the usual slow times at WDW, January through most of February, usually a couple weeks after Easter until Memorial Day,  the last 2 weeks of August really until Jersey Week in early November, and the week after Thanksgiving until the week of Christmas.  But there are also days where certain parks are busier than others. In my experiences, Saturday and Monday are very crowded days at the Magic Kingdom, and Tuesday and Friday have been incredibly slow on a normal week. Websites like Undercover Tourist have crowd calendars that can give you a prediction of how crowd levels should be on a certain day. But, in the last year or 2, I have seen a slight change. The days that have used to be slower are now more crowded. Usually Tuesday’s were a very slow day, now not so much. Are the crowd levels changing to the point you change your game plan on which park to go to on which day? That is to be seen.

Some times of the year now when it has been less crowded, the parks and resorts seem more crowded, and some times during the year when it is very crowded now seem a little less crowded. This seems to coincide with the fact that attendance is down at Walt Disney World, and it seems less people are walking through the 4 theme parks there for one reason or another. I have heard reports that after The initial crowd surge with Avatarland the entire summer has been much slower than normal at Walt Disney World. This most likely has to do with black out dates and the higher ticket prices for this timeframe. You start to think,”Disney has to start doing something to combat this, either lower prices, better deals or do away with blackouts”. Problem with that line of thinking is the fact that Parks and Resorts revenue keeps going up, so crowds may be lower, but the people going are spending more. Also add in with this is the slightly lower labor costs associated with lower crowd volume.  This makes me believe that you won’t be seeing any crazy changes anytime soon with price structuring or lowering of any prices.

Now with all this, would it make you more inclined to visit during the summer if you previously tried to avoid that season, or would you not go during a season that you normally would because it is becoming more crowded? That is for you to decide, I would still continue with your same line of thinking of times of the year to visit. But keep an eye on things, crowd patterns are changing, not saying it’s for good or bad, but they are changing.  Question is will you change with them?

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How does the new Parking fees effect your Walt Disney World budget

I’m sure you have realized by now that Walt Disney World will be charging their guests to park while staying at their resorts. If you are staying at a value resort you will be paying $13 a night to park at your resort, you will be paying $19 for a moderate Resort and $24 for the deluxe resorts. If staying for a week this could add up and eat up some of the money in your budget. I am going to look at how this can effect something things for the average customer and look at some of the thinking behind having these parking fees.

Now a large majority of the guests staying at Walt Disney World Resort do not bring a car to the resort. A large majority fly into Orlando International Airport, use the very convenient Magical Express to drive them to their resort they are staying at. This is a very good perk of staying on Disney Property. Disney also has an extensive transportation system whether it be by bus, boat or monorail, which makes he need for a car on property minimal if actually no need at all. But I do realize there is also a number of families that drive to DisneyWorld. My family used to drive from New Jersey every year, and this added expense can put a hurt of people. We all know he price of staying on property, it isn’t cheap, and now paying $91 to  $168 dollars to park for a 7 night stay just adds to it.

If you were driving and you have a family of four, would that increase in price be enough to make you look at flying more seriously? Probably not, I’d think the recent increase in the price of gas would be more of an issue. If you are a family who is going for the first time and driving or a family who goes once every now and then, is this additional expense going to stop you from visiting? Probably not, it may annoy you and inconvenience you, but in the grand scheme of it it’s a very small cost compared to the price of the resort accommodations, tickets, dining plan, etc. Lets say you stay at a moderate, $200 for a week plus tickets and Dining, $133 seems minute. But to some it may be a big deal. I’ve seen on message boards and social media the outrage of some on this issue. For me, I own DVC and for the most part most of my stays are booked through that, so paying for parking if I ever have a car won’t be an issue as of now for me since if staying at a DVC resort using points I will not be charged. But if I were charged and found having a car was a necessity I would have to find a way to save the parking fees in other ways. It may be one nights going to a quick service for dinner instead of going to a table service, or making lunch in our room rather than going out for lunch. There are many small ways to save big that you wouldn’t think would save you much. Granted some may say it won’t change what we spend and some may say they won’t change a thing. It’s all up to each individual, people will see things differently and to each their own.

Finally, in all honesty  if you fly into MCO  there really is little to no need for a rental car, and I will assume that any of those who do rent a car will think twice about doing so from now on. I used to rent a car mainly because we have been visiting that area for so long we know many good restaurants off site that we love to eat at. Also my mom, sister and the Wife like to go to some of the outlets around the area and do some shopping. But in recent years I’ve found that it’s more of a burden to have the car, especially with Uber and Lyft becoming so popular. For my trip in August, if I can find a great deal on a rental car I may book one, but I won’t be heartbroken if I don’t find one and end up not renting a car.

My next post will look at the ramifications of the parking fees and psychology on them from a Disney viewpoint.

The biggest scam in travel… Resort fees

Nothing gets me more upset, gets me so animated while talking about travel than Resort fees. Resort fees are a hotel’s way of adding charges to a room to up the price per night. Plain and simple you get no added benefit from a resort fee or added “free perk” that is associated with the resort fee. It is a scam and just a way for them to issue a cheaper per night advertised rate to suck you in.

It seems most hotels are adding in a scam resort fee to their rates, problem is they don’t charge you when you book the room, they wait till you get there to tell you about the fine print of a $25 per night resort fee.

You are probably asking yourself, ” what exactly is included in the extra fee, what am I paying for?” Well taking a look at a popular Las Vegas casino on the strip, which is where Resort fees are out of control, the added cost gets you, ” fitness center access for 2 each day, free local phone calls, and daily wired internet access for one device.” Ok if you are in Vegas and you are using their fitness center each day, you aren’t doing Vegas right. Who uses the phones at the hotel anymore? I don’t think I’ve met a person in the last few years who does not carry a cell phone. As for that wifi, that’s why I have a data plan. You get all that for things you will never use for a paltry $32 a day extra fee. If you are there 7 days that is an extra $224 added on to your room price. In a lot of cases in a place like Vegas, that’s more or almost as much as a week stay. A lot of times I get comp rooms, which is a lie because I would still have to pay the $30 or whatever the price is for their resort fee. You want to stay at a casino with no resort fee? Well it’s pretty tough since only 5 don’t have one and they are no where near the strip.

Resort fees are not just in Vegas too, most hotel chains, most upscale hotels are implementing this scam. They try to keep it from at booking,  but rest assured you will be charged extra for the phones or the gym or the wifi all which you probably will never use.

I am waiting for the day where Walt Disney World starts adding a resort fee, or a cruise line will start adding a cabin fee of some sort. I do not think that is in the near future, but if you look at how much these resorts make on added resort fees you just never know.

Now what you can do while on your stay is ask to see a manager at the desk. Complain about these fees and the fact you never use the phone or never use the wifi or gym.  I know some don’t like doing this but in a lot of cases it may save you some extra money. I have had the resort fee taken off a lot of times, it’s a scam and just an addition to the room rate, nothing more. There is legislation across the country to regulate how hotels advertise their room rates and added fees, so hopefully these resort fees will be gone and more rights for the traveler will be brought up.

My Review of Akershus Breakfast in Epcot

I’ve had people tell me for a while that one of their favorite breakfast meals in Walt Disney World is The Princess breakfast experience at Akershus in Norway at Epcot’s World Showcase. I have never been to Akershus, and with having a 4, almost 5 year old daughter who just loves the Disney princesses I figured now was a good time to try it.

I had an 8:10am reservation, there were EMH starting at 8am for Epcot that morning. Normally at the Magic Kingdom if you have an early morning breakfast reservation they would let you in early to get to your reservation. That was one of the added perks of waking up super early for Crystal Palace until they started letting everyone into Main Street early. At Epcot, they did not let us in early to get to our reservation. Now I’m pretty sure the first reservations were for 8:05, so those people were not allowed in either. My question is, why offer these early ADR’s if you can’t get in the park to get to them? Maybe it was something with EMH’s, or maybe just a one time thing where there was a miscommunication? I am not sure all I know no one was allowed in as we were told “there is no authorization for breakfast reservations to be let in early.”

As we were let in( by the entrance in the UK Pavilion) we had to walk around through Canada, to Mexico and then to Norway and finally arriving at Akershus. Now the problem with being let in all at the same time, is that you had everyone with an 8:05 reservation probably until 8:25 showed up at the same time so there was a very long wait to get in. You also had people who were waiting a while being bypassed by people who had been here a short time making some people very angry. I’d assume it was due to people with earlier ADR’s getting there later. So our 8:10 reservation turned into an 8:45.

Ok so we finally get called and you have to wait in line to have a picture taken with Belle. Me personally had no interest as I just wanted to get in and eat. But, my daughter was excited as a Belle is her favorite princess. It didn’t take too long to get to her. I was very surprised as the cast member who was Belle seemed to be a young teenage girl. She looked no older than 16-17 years old. She as great with my daughter, I was just surprised she seemed so young.

Finally we were seated. Now for your meal, your are brought out a plate served family style consisting of four items, scrambled eggs, a potato casserole, and sausage and bacon. You then have a buffet area with pastries, fresh fruit, and other items such as Norwegian smoked salmon and other local breakfast items. I was pretty disappointed in the breakfast food quality as a whole. The scrambled eggs were bland and just poor quality. The sausage and bacon were ok, but how can you really screw up that? The potato casserole was very good, probably the best item I had. The buffet area had very good fresh fruit, small little munchkin like donut holes, and some good cinnamon rolls which my son and myself inhaled. The other items on the buffet I had no interest it, wasn’t my normal breakfast items, and really just didn’t look appealing.

The princesses came around to each table. You had Snow White, Aerial, sleeping Beauty, Rapunzel come around. My daughter loved it and soaked it all up, my son could care less and refused to take pictures.

So the experience was worth it just for my daughter seeing her so happy and I’m her glory, but I wouldn’t do it again especially for the price tag. Now I guess we were still in the spring break prices, so for an adult it was $45 each, and it was $28 for each of the kids. That pricing is a little ridiculous and really not worth it. It was good to experience it once especially if you have a young daughter who is infatuated with the princesses like my daughter is. But we will not be coming back to Akershus. The food was just average, and we can take pictures with the other princesses other times they are out.

My review of O’hana dinner at the Polynesian

Easily one of my favorite restaurants in all of Walt Disney World is O’hana’s locates in the Polynesian Resort. For years I never wanted to eat here, not sure why that was really but my sister finally talked me into trying this out a few years ago and it is one of my must do restaurants every trip.

O’hana means family, and they treat you like it here, the waiter even calls you “cousin”, well because there you are family. You start off with an Asain slaw served family style. Now it’s been a little while since I’ve been here but it used to be served as a salad which was much better than the slaw. There wasn’t much flavor to the slaw and it was very mediocre, but I didn’t come here for the salad.

Next up is a platter of sweet and sour noodles, coriander chicken wings and pot stickers. They give you 2 separate sauces for dipping, both are very good. The chicken wings are amazing, the sauce on them is phenomenal. The noodles are very good, light sweet flavor on them. The potsticker are lightly fried and dipped in the sweeter of the 2 sauces(my preference) is the way to go.. this is all served family style, and don’t get nervous, O’hana is all you care to enjoy, so if you need more of anything just ask. We went with wings and potstickers, they were so good.

As you are munching on those 3 you have a server come around with three separate grilled items, steak, chicken and shrimp… I am not a big steak fan but the steak is nicely marinated, as are the other 2 meats. The chicken is my favorite, the grilled flavor to it along with the marinade is fantastic. The shrimp would be a lot better if the shell weren’t still on them, but it’s just a little bit of work to get the shell off. Again they will come around again if you want more, but by now you should be getting stuffed.

A good touch is a plate of hot wet towels to clean off your hands from the stickiness of the wings and potstickers, it’s surprisingly comforting.

After all this, you better make some room for the banana pudding dessert with a caramale sauce reduction. I am not a dessert person, I rarely eat dessert so I leave no room for dessert, but my wife, sisters all tell he pudding is the best dessert in Disney… they leave room just for this.

There is a performer playing Island music for entertainment and there are coconut races for the kids during dinner keeping them entertained, also if you have little picky eaters who don’t care for what is offered, they have a kids menu with chicken fingers, Mac and cheese and a few other items that are more kid friendly.

Add all this up plus there is a pretty spectacular view of Cinderella’s Castle makes this my favorite spot to eat at in any park or resort there in Walt Disney World. If you want to eat here, you better make your ADR’s early, reservations go quick here for dinner and are hard to come by. So make sure it’s on your plans and book right at your 180 day mark to make sure you get a reservation for this great restaurant.

 

 

Is a Disney Cruise worth the cost?

Disney Cruise Line is one of in not THE highest rated cruise lines out there. People seem to rave about any one of the Disney Cruise Line ships that they have been on. I hear great things about their own island, Castaway Cay. I hear great things about the food, hear great things about the entertainment, and I hear how great they are for families. But is a Disney Cruise worth the price tag? My answer is 100% no!

Now I realize people will disagree with me. Disney lovers are a very loyal bunch, and vociferous about their loyalty. But I am talking all about value and you do not get that with a Disney Cruise. Actually the per person rates on a Disney Cruise is astronomical.

I am a huge Disney fan, have been to Disney World more times than I can count. But, I’ve also have been a Disney Vacation Planner and I have searched for Quotes for Disney cruises and the prices are insane. I actually felt bad booking them for clients.

Let’s look at it like this, I searched a Disney cruise out of New York City. Now I will tell you this, cruises out of NYC are just more expensive then those out of Florida, just the way it is. But the price per person  was $1900, and that was with a discount. Putting in for a inside cabin for a family of 4 and I am paying $5000+ for a 7 day cruise. In contrast I have myself booked on Royal Caribbean’s Anthem of the Seas in October, have a balcony room and I paid $1900 for my family of 4! You see the slight discrepancy there in price? I do not care how much you love Disney or their cruises, but the Disney Wonder nor the Fantasy, or any other ship they come out with will be over $3000 better than a RCL ship, or any other top cruise line for that matter.

Now if you look at prices for Disney Cruises for 3,4,5,7 day cruises you will be shocked. A 3 day cruise is just as expensive as a 7 day cruise on another cruise line, and in some cases more. A 7 day cruise on a DCL ship will be more than twice as expensive than a 7 day cruise on RCL, Princess and Celebrity. So you can go on 1 Disney cruise vacation, or for the same price go on the Celebrity Equinox twice, or the Princess Regal Princess, or the RCL Oasis of the seas 2 times. Cost wise and value wise it is a no brainer, the cost of a Disney Cruise just is not worth it.

One thing no one can touch Disney on is how they cater to families and children. They have it down to an art form and they are the best in the business. But, more and more all the cruise lines are gearing things more and more to families and children. They want to make you more comfortable as a family on board. So, the disparity is not as great as it once was, but no one will match Disney in this area, but this disparity still doesn’t come close to making a Disney Cruise worth the added money.

I always say in regards to cruises, you get what you pay for. If you book a cheap cruise odds are the experience will not be what you are expecting. But with Disney Cruises there is no way you get what you pay for. The cruising experience, the ships and amenities are no better than a RCL, Celebrity or Princess cruise, add in double the price and you really shouldn’t even have to think twice about whether the price tag of a Disney cruise is worth it all.

 

Top Buffets or family style restaurants at Walt Disney World for food quality

One of the things I look forward to the most on my Walt Disney World Vacation is the dining and the dining experiences. Admittedly not every Restaurant at Walt Disney World has the best tasting or quality food. Some have very good quality, and some you are just paying for the atmosphere and experience more so than the average quality food. In this post I am going to look at what I believe are the top 5 TABLE SERVICE buffet style or family style restaurants on property in terms of food quality. If you do not know what a table service is. It is a sit down Restaurant that is worth 1 table service credit if you were on the DDP.  Now this is just my opinion, and you may have different tastes than me, but if you disagree or agree, let me know and leave a comment or tell me on twitter @vacaasistant.

5. Whispering Canyon- I love BBQ, just love it, and Whispering Canyon does a pretty good job at it. They have a pretty good a la carte to choose from for breakfast, lunch or dinner. For lunch and dinner the smoked pulled pork sandwich and the St. Louis style ribs are very good and the Bison Burger was good also. But for lunch and dinner, what I usually get when I am with a group is the all you care to enjoy skillet. For lunch and dinner you get the pulled pork, ribs, roasted chicken with sides like Mashed Yukon Potatoes, corn on the Cobb and baked Beans, all served family style. With dinner you will be served a mixed green salad and corn bread. But best item on the skillet is the western style sausage, this is absolutely amazing and one of my favorite items at any Disney restaurant. Add all this in with the very unique atmosphere and this is a special restaurant, just wait until you need ketchup.

4. Boma(dinner)- This all you care to enjoy buffet located in the Animal Kingdom Lodge is a real hidden gem. Animal Kingdom Lodge is a little out of the way so some don’t bother trying this place out. Well, get on a shuttle or get in your car and head over to Boma.

Like I said I am a real big fan of BBQ, and Boma had very good BBQ ribs and chicken. The thing that really makes these items is the BBQ sauce they have at Boma. I’m not sure if it’s cinnamon or coriander or whatever it is in the sauce, but it was very good and nothing like I have tasted before.

Another unique quality about Boma is the vast array of salads and soups offered. These give you very unique mixture of flavors that you don’t see offered in regular restaurants.

There are other meats and vegetables offered on the buffet which are cooked and seasoned in conjunction with the flavors of Africa. This buffet will truly be a unique experience for your taste buds.

3. Cape May Cafe(Dinner)- Cape May Cafe is located in my home DVC Resort the Beach Club. Themed after a New England/Cape Cod style clam bake, this buffet is a must do for all seafood lovers. Now, I am not the biggest seafood lover out there, but one thing I do love is crab legs, and you can find steamed crab legs every night. You can also find peel and eat shrimp, mussels, clams, and fried shrimp. Also you have steamed vegetables, mashed potatoes, corn on the cob, fresh rolls and cornbread, a meat carving station, assorted pastas and salads and fresh fruit. Only on Wednesdays and Saturdays does the buffet have as a choice BBQ pork ribs which are good but not great, but many people I know seem to love them.

The buffet for me is worth it just with the crab legs,  but then add some of the other items and it’s well worth it. You just have to realize that with a buffet marketed around seafood you will have to pay a little bit higher than average price but it is not too expensive if you go by Disney standards. This is definitely someplace where I have to eat at each trip.

2. Crystal Palace(breakfast)- By far my favorite location for breakfast is Crystal Palace. The food is just absolutely great. Now if you go for dinner or lunch, the food is probably below average, but breakfast is amazing.

The Star of the buffet is the Pooh French Toast. This French toast needs no syrup whatsoever, and the best way I can describe it is that it is like eating a zeppole, it is amazingly good. Of course that’s not the only reason, you can find yogurt, fruit, lox, pastries, breakfast cereals and of course the usual things like sausage, bacon, eggs,  regular French toast, Mickey waffles, and my favorite, biscuits and sausage gravy. Also there is an omelet station where you can have eggs made any way you desire or have the chef whip up an omelet of your choosing.

This is another must do for my family each trip, it is 100% worth it just for the food, which seems to be getting better each time I go as other places seem to be getting lower in quality and higher in price(cough cough, Chef Mickey’s, cough cough).

1. O’hana(Dinner)- My top spot goes to this restaurant located inside the great ceremonial house inside the Polynesian Resort. My only issue with O’hana’s is the fact I wouldn’t go eat here for years. I figured I wouldn’t like the food so I never tried it. I decided a few years ago at the urging of my sister to try O’hana’s, and now it is by far my favorite table service location at WDW.

You start off with a salad with a mango dressing served family style, then the real fun begins. Your server then brings out a platter of Asian style sweet and sour noodles, pot stickers and chicken wings. Don’t worry when you finish all this you can ask for more. As you are choking down on these specialties, servers will be coming around with metal skewers filled with marinated shrimp, chicken and beef. I am not a big steak person but I even liked the beef. The  and shrimp were out of this world. They will be walking around waiting to fill your plate up again so bring your appetite.

After all this make sure you still save some room for dessert. Many people have told me the bread pudding with bananas and caramel sauce is the best dessert on property. Cannot disagree with them. Your server brings out the pudding and then drenches it with the caramel sauce right before your eyes. It looks as good as it tastes.

O’hana takes the cake as the top table service restaurant on Disney property. Again, if you disagree or feel I missed your favorite, let me know in the comments or check me out on twitter @vacaassistant