Saturday, 21 November 2015

Crazy catch up part deux

This, my friends, is Cinderella's castle at Walt Disney World being transformed into an ice palace by Elsa.  As I am on call for Christmas this year we had decided last year to spend two weeks in WDW as a family instead of having a big Christmas.  Everyone had a year to save for the trip, which would have worked out much better had the Canadian dollar not tanked during 2015.  It was almost par when our original plan was made, and something like 0.72 when we were paying for everything.  Bad enough that we had to reduce the length of our stay at the last minute, from two weeks to 8 days.  I have planned trips to WDW before and always use this great specialist travel agency,  It doesn't cost extra and really helps with the massive organization required for something of this scale.  Difficult as the planning can be, WDW makes it all so easy once you get there that it's pretty easy to forget not only how hard it was to pull together, and how much it costs, but real life in general.

I plan a lot of trips, and I think this is the first time I have had a major screw up.  The planning stage was fraught with small disasters along the way, including two of our children (Jimm's daughter Jordan and son Cory) and their spouses not being able to come, and some valued friends also having to bow out.  The weak dollar meant everyone who was going paid more.  There was a scare involving my oldest son, Riley, whose girlfriend Christa had a terrible time getting the time off from work and they were not going to make it....but she managed, although she had to come a day later than the rest of us.  Airfare was going up and up and up and I was despairing of ever getting tickets we could afford.  Phone calls to airlines asking for group rates resulted in price offers of $800 US from Vancouver to Orlando.  Then suddenly one of my price watching apps gave me a price of under $450 with Westjet, on the days we needed.  I called everyone, got the credit card with the highest limit (Riley's) and started booking flights.  It's complicated, because Alice was paying on her own card, you can only book 6 flights at once although we were 10, and I wanted to use my Westjet credit card $99 companion flight for Jimm.  Turns out I had to call in for that, so I left a message for a call back.  Meantime I'm frantically booking on line for Alice, then Madeline, then the group of 6, Riley and Christa, Jen and Jeff, and the two youngest Trav and Ken.  I am booking the 6 when Westjet calls and I can't stop because I might lose the seats.  Everything gets done.  A day later Jen texts me.  "Mom, why are our flights returning 2 days after we get there?"  I say - they aren't - it's the NEXT Sunday.  Nope.  I hit the wrong week on the drop down calendar.  I'm frantic.  Call Westjet, the lovely woman says - no problem, you are still within 24 hours, I will change the flights no charge.  That will be $3000 please.  WTF?  Yes, the price changed that much in less than 24 hours, so that the return flight that was $267 was now $800.  She was sorry, nothing she could do.  I was sick.  I actually cried on the phone.  She was very kind and refunded the original cost of the return flight to Riley's credit card, instead of to a "travel bank", but that was all she could do.  So...we had 6 people with no return flight.

2 insanity inducing days later I found them United flights for about the same price, but leaving at 0600 on the 16th.  So now they needed a hotel room for part of a night, and transportation to the airport because they could not use WDW's "Magical Express" bus after the checkout day, and in addition our cheap arrival flights were for the day before our check in, arriving about midnight eastern time, so we needed to stay in the airport Hilton that night.  Ugh.  Found them a Holiday Inn near Downtown Disney (now Disney Springs) and reserved a van from a limo service for 0345 a.m. because they had to be at the airport 2 hours before their flight.  Amazingly, no one hates me, they were all very gracious and praised my efforts at putting the trip together, even though this error cost them all money.

Then, after Riley had paid their tickets, Christa could not get the time off work to leave Thursday.  He had to buy her another flight, leaving after she finished work, so she flew overnight and arrived the Friday after we had checked in to our WDW hotel.  I think this cost him another $400 or more.

Anyway, the room, park tickets, and all the meals were pre-paid (we opt for the Disney Dining) you don't really save money unless you are 1)a large group of foodies like us 2) go during the free Disney Dining periods (usually September) or 3) are some kind of competitive eater in training.  But it is convenient to pay it ahead of time and not worry about meal costs while you are there.  You get meal credits, 1 quick serve meal, 1 snack, and 1 sit-down meal per day of your stay.  It doesn't sound like a lot, but each meal includes a non-alcoholic drink and a dessert (except breakfast) and the portions are huge.  The snacks include things we would call a meal, like a bagel with cream cheese.  And what we didn't do was look at our credits so we presumed we only had them for the days of our stay - we checked in on the 6th of November and checked out on the 15th.  You have to make restaurant reservations 120 days in advance or you will get nothing (that's another long story) and the "Signature" restaurants take 2 credits per meal.  We love the chance to eat really amazing, award winning food so we had booked 2 signature restaurants.  That means out of 9 nights we had used 4 meals, which we thought meant 2 nights we would have to eat elsewhere and pay for meals.  NP.  We had dinner at Disney Springs in the House of Blues on the Wednesday, our no-park recovery day.  Then on our last night together we ate at Raglan Road Pub, an Irish pub in Disney Springs.  On the next day while checking out we found that we all had sit-down meal service credits left, in Jimm's case 2 as he missed one meal due to getting a cold.  We hadn't actually looked at how many we started with, and it was one more day than we thought.  I think I forgot we didn't use a credit on our arrival day. So the later-flying kids used what they could the night after Jimm & I left with Alice and Maddie, and they still had a ton of credits left, so they were frantically converting them to snack credits and buying candy to take home instead of letting them go to waste.  Lesson - if you do this, keep track of your meal credits and make sure you look at your initial statement that tells you how many you start with.  Every time you "pay" for a meal you get a receipt that tells you what you have left, but only of the type of credit you use, if you you use a quick service it only says how many quick service left.  And each room had different numbers of credits and so on, so it got confusing.  As a result we paid for at least one meal we didn't need to.

We still managed to spend a good deal of money on alcohol and there is an automatic 18% gratuity added for large parties so you definitely still spend the dollars. Lots of them.  And it's easy to do, you get given a customizable "magic band", a bracelet that is your room key, park ticket, and yes, handy link to your credit card to pay for all those drinks and shopping.  You never need to touch money.  Very dangerous but handy.  You can also use the bracelet to download links to park photos taken on rides and so on, I will post some of those when I can afford to buy them!  More Disney to follow.
The "kids" from left Ken, Jen, Alice, Jeff, Maddie, Travers, Riley, Christa

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