Wednesday, January 02, 2008

WDW Trip Report - Planning

The major planning decisions to make were when to go, how long to go for and where to stay. The when to go decision was made early on and agreed to with my new boss (it also got us just past the end of JennySlash's semester). By taking off the week before Christmas, I was making myself available to provide coverage at work while the rest of the management team was off (first time I was going to work that week since 1986) so it seemed a fair trade. We initially looked at staying 4 nights, giving us 3 full days and 2 partial days, but with 4 parks and wanting to be able to relax and get some rest, we decided on 5 nights and were able to get decent rates on Delta to fly down on Saturday, December 15 and back in the evening of Thursday the 20th.

Every time we've talked about Disney since Animal Kingdom opened, we've talked about wanting to stay at the Animal Kingdom Lodge. We've also tossed around the idea of trying the Contemporary or even the Grand Floridian. But when push comes to shove, we like the ability to walk to EPCOT and to Disney Studios from the EPCOT resorts. We looked at the reduced rates for that week at the Swan and Dolphin resorts (the only two "Disney" resorts that are not owned by Disney) and I'm sure we'll eventually stay at one of them, but it really came down to the Beach Club, where we'd stayed on three previous occasions, and the Boardwalk, where we'd stayed twice before (including our first trip down, right after it had opened). The Beach Club has an awesome pool complex it shares with the Yacht Club and it is right next to the International Gateway to EPCOT, but we assumed (correctly it turned out) that it was likely to be too cool to spend a lot of time in the pools. The Boardwalk, on the other hand, isn't much farther from the EPCOT entrance and is a much shorter walk to Disney Studios, so we went for the Boardwalk, with a water view room.

There are a number of different options to get from the airport to the resorts and back. Disney has a free bus service, Mears has shuttles, cabs are of course available and then there are limousine services. From past experience, we knew that Mears can take forever (and be a bit uncomfortable) and cabs are extremely expensive. The best compromise we've found is Tiffany Town Car, which doesn't cost that much more than Mears but is worlds more comfortable. So those reservations were made early on as well. By the end of October, the only thing left to do was to make dinner reservations, which I planned to do a few days before we left.

Another bit of planning revolved around park hours. When we were at WDW ten years before, they had recently started "E-ticket Nights" at Magic Kingdom. This was something that they didn't advertise very loudly and seemed in fact to be a little present to the repeat customers that contributed to the Usenet groups and mailing lists. If you were staying at a Disney resort, about one day a week you could get a pass at your resort that you could then exchange for an armband at the Magic Kingdom which would allow you to stay an additional three hours after park closing. The rumor was that they only gave out 5,000 for any of these nights, which meant there were no lines at all for popular attractions like Space and Splash Mountains and the Haunted Mansion. As we found when we started researching this trip, they're now doing extended hours at all of the parks (with, unfortunately, much less exclusivity in the number of people that can stay), so we (I guess I should say "I", as JennySlash was almost single-mindedly involved in her grad school class at this point) mapped out a rough schedule of at least finishing up with Disney Studios on Sunday, Magic Kingdom on Monday, EPCOT on Tuesday and Animal Kingdom on Wednesday. I also laid out a rough plan for dinner reservations that included some of our favorite restaurants like the Brown Derby, Coral Reed and Flying Fish - we planned to primarily do walk-up for lunch.

As we got to the week before the trip, we started getting an idea about the weather we could expect and sure enough, it was looking unseasonably cool for the first part of the trip (even downright cold some nights) with a gradual warmup before we left. That made packing a little more difficult than some trips, with the need to bring sweatshirts and/or jackets along with jeans, shorts, etc. Finally a couple of nights before we were to leave, I called the central reservations line to make dinner plans. The first night's dinner at Marrakesh in the Morocco pavilion at EPCOT was later than we'd hoped, but would still get us out in time for the nightly fireworks. But then things started falling apart. In spite of past assurances that this was a really quiet week, I was finding that all of the places we wanted to eat were either booked solid or we'd end up eating dinner at 3:30 in the afternoon. No Brown Derby, no Coral Reef, no Tony's. I quickly grabbed a couple of reservations just so that we wouldn't go hungry and then stepped back to do a little rethinking. J pointed out that a couple of the reservations I'd made would have us spending way too much time going from park to park just to eat and made a couple of excellent suggestions for how to do things a little more relaxed, so it was back to 407-WDW-DINE for the third time until we finally got dinners squared away, with the SciFi Dine-In (a favorite lunch spot) for dinner on Sunday, the Crystal Palace on Monday (LOTs of trepidation about this one), San Angel in the Mexican Pavilion in EPCOT for Tuesday and Flying Fish on the Boardwalk on Wednesday after returning from Animal Kingdom. We also snagged a table at the Brown Derby for brunch on Sunday, the only non-dinner reservation we made. Phew!

So now all we had to do was finish packing and get to the airport.

Next: Off we go!

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