Welcome to the Williams Family Blog!

Now that you have found us, we invite you to return often for more adventures!


Opening Magic Kingdom

Opening Magic Kingdom

Friday, February 27, 2015

We Cancelled Walt Disney World




I almost whispered the words over the phone to our travel agent as they were difficult to say, “Cancel our Walt Disney World trip.”  The response was one of surprise followed by curiosity.

Our December 2015 plans had originally included a 7-night sailing on the Disney Fantasy over New Year’s and a few days at the Walt Disney World Resort prior to sailing.  Then, the school calendar was released.  The calendar has students at school and staff at work on Wednesday, December 23.  Even with an early dismissal time that day there were no flights until the next morning.

We had to make a decision.  I called our travel agent on Tuesday.  Even then we knew our park time would be limited leaving on December 24.  I still wasn’t feeling comfortable with the plans.

Then, Wednesday night, after watching Survivor, I posed the question to the husband.  “What if we flew on December 25, spent the night in the Hyatt, and got on an early bus to the port the next day?”  He pondered a bit, looked at me for any signs of disappointment, and then whole-heartily agreed.

I called our travel agent yesterday and whispered the fateful words—to cancel our Walt Disney World trip.  While all of us are disappointed, I explained that it wasn’t like we weren’t ever going to go there again.  That brought a chuckle.  And, we decided to not actually cancel the reservation. . . yet.  There are plans in the works for a visit later in 2016.  So, when reservations become available, we’re going to move the reservation and the deposit. 

Another good thing that came out of the phone call was that we now have airfare for December 25!  We got flights at a great time and somewhat of a great rate.  Our travel agent wondered out-loud about why Christmas this year wasn’t the best day to travel in terms of flight prices as usually flying that day gets one a lower fare.  I explained that it was because it was a Friday.  That explained it!

So now, we have airfare for two vacations and a reason to plan another trip to Walt Disney World in 2016! 

Monday, February 23, 2015

What Am I Most Looking Forward To. . . A Top 10 List

The other day, the boy tipped his hand and indicated that out of all of our upcoming trips, he is most looking forward to Legoland.  That got me thinking. . . What am I most looking forward to?

Being the planner, this question is a hard one for me.  My role is to find out what the rest of my traveling party wants and plan accordingly, throwing in a few surprises here and there—like last summer when the husband and the boy had no idea about the FROZEN Summer Fun at Disney’s Hollywood Studios.  I didn’t tell them and instead, snuck in visits to what were some of our favorite parts of our vacation.

Okay, back to the question.  To answer requires a top 10.  Here are the top 10 things (in no particular order) I am looking forward to from all of our vacations happening this year including Disneyland, Legoland, Walt Disney World, and a 7-night cruise on the Disney Fantasy:

1.         A non-stop, direct flight to L.A.  No connections, no traversing an airport to find the gate for the connecting flight.  Even after studying airport maps on the back pages of the airline magazines in the pocket in front of me, I still do not like the disorienting feeling of emerging from the jetway and figuring out which way to turn to find flights displayed on the screen, the nearest bathroom, and which way to go to get to the next gate.  (I have found following the people in front of me and asking airline staff has been helpful.)

2.         The parks being a hop, skip, and jump from our resorts at Disneyland.  I know it is really more than that, but comparing to the proximity of resorts to the them parks at Walt Disney World, I know it will seem that way.

3.         Being at Disneyland for its 60th Anniversary Celebration.  We didn’t know this when we originally planned our trip, so all the special activities are a bonus!

4.         Walt Disney World decorated for the holidays.  I am especially missing the Osborne Family Spectacle of Dancing Lights.  If I can get into the middle of millions of dancing lights, hear the music, and get some photos taken, our trip will be worth it.  Get me to the dancing lights!

5.         Castaway Cay!

6.         The Legoland Hotel—the amenities, entertainment, bunk bed set up, and free breakfast are a big draw.

7.         Legoland Water park.  I find myself looking more forward to the water park than the theme park.  We’ll see which one I like more. . .

8.         Photos!  Of all of it!

9.         Hearing “Welcome aboard, the Williams Family!”  I never get tired of hearing that!

10.       Spending time with my family—fellow adventurers—and making more memories.

Guess I could add an 11th and that is being able to take family vacations to Disneyland, Legoland, Walt Disney World, and a Disney Cruise all in one year!

Sunday, February 22, 2015

Legoland Coming Out Ahead of Disneyland in the Anticipation Scale

The boy and I were out and about yesterday running errands—haircut and a bit of shopping.  While at Wal-Mart, I was buying plumbers tape, the boy was browsing the Lego aisle.  He had some Valentine money and his allowance.  He spotted a building set that had 5 mini-figures and two builds for $15.  It fit in his budget and yet he still was having a hard time committing to the purchase.  (It is very hard for him to spend his own money!)  I told him that with 5 mini-figures in the set, it was a good deal as mini-figures can be quite costly.  After some deliberation, he decided.  (I love it that these decisions are difficult for him!) 

When taking the box to the check-outs he then pondered aloud if the mini-figures in this set would be some he could trade.  Trade?  Yep, trade! 

At Legoland the employees will trade mini-figures.  Think pin trading with Cast Members at Disney, but with Lego mini-figures instead.  Ah, we’ve traded pins, we’ve traded Vinylmation, and now we want to trade mini-figures.  Got it.

Our walking conversation continued.  When we stay at the Legoland Hotel, there will be a bucket of Legos in our room.  He said he knew that and was planning on building something.  And, we talked about building our own raft at the Legoland Waterpark. 

I asked if he was more excited for Disneyland or Legoland this summer.  He said both, but Legoland a little bit more.  I understand.

Since our errands were done by lunchtime, the afternoon was dedicated to building  the new set of Legos.  At least until it was time for indoor soccer.

Saturday, February 21, 2015

We Have Airline Tickets To Get Us Home From Our December 2015 Disney Cruise


We have airfare for one half of our December 2015 Disney Cruise Line vacation—the return flight! 

When I told some folks, they thought I was nuts/crazy.  “What about getting there?”  “How can you do that?”  “That would drive me insane!”  And, my favorite, “Can you do that?”

Oh, yes, you can do that!  And, by “that” I mean not purchase round trip airfare.  It’s not the first time that we have only purchased one leg of airfare for a trip and there is definitely some thinking behind it. . .

Our cruise is over New Year’s and is 7-night itinerary.  We disembark on Saturday, January 2, 2016—after spending New Year’s Day on Castaway Cay!  And, given that we have to be at work and school on Monday, January 4, 2016, our window in which to get home starts at noon on January 2 as the cruise line suggests not booking flights any earlier than noon on disembarkation day.  The price for those flights, if they existed at all, was incredible—we’re talking $400-$700 per ticket one-way.  Alas, I found a very reasonable one-way flight for the next morning.  Yep, it is an early flight 6:00 am and yes, it has a connection with a short layover (50 minutes) and the price was right—especially after watching it fluctuate for a few days.  So, yesterday, I jumped.  I called our travel agent and within minutes, we had our seats. 

Was our travel agent worried about us getting there?  Nope.  She knows it will happen, especially since we aren’t sure yet when we can leave in December as work and school schedules have yet to be set. 

Another decision we made was to stay at the Hyatt at Orlando International Airport after we disembark the ship as we don’t fly until the next morning.  We could have picked a Disney Resort Hotel.  The trade off was ease and a bit of sleep.  If we stayed at a Disney Resort the Magical Express would be picking us up at 3:00 am for a 6:00 am flight.  Staying at the Hyatt means we can have a bit more leisurely pace in the wee hours of the morning and check-in for our flight literally downstairs say at 4:30 am.  I’ve got another ace up my sleeve in case of inclement weather by being at the airport the day prior to our flights home, too.  (I don’t want to jinx it and at the same time, if travel advisories are issued we may be able to get on flights sooner—rather than later.)

Buying airfare is like playing Russian Roulette. . . at least it feels that way.  I set the price alerts on Kayak to get notifications, I watch the prices for various days, and even various airports.  Most of the time, we do okay—as of today, that same flight is now $51 higher per ticket.  Whew!  Now, I’m going to stop looking at those prices and keep an eye out for flights TO Orlando!


Monday, February 9, 2015

We Booked Walt Disney World for December and Locked In Park Tickets Before Price Increase


I love it when our travel agent calls or sends an email.  It gives me comfort knowing that she is thinking of us and our upcoming trip(s).  That was indeed the case when there was an email in my inbox asking if I was ready to book flights for our December cruise.  My response to the email was that the Kayak alerts were set for daily notification but that since we weren’t exactly sure when we could fly to Orlando, I wasn’t ready to book yet.  I, was, however, ready to do something else.

Rumor on the internet was that ticket prices for Walt Disney World would be increasing sometime in February.  If we wanted to have some park time before our cruise, I wanted to lock in the best part ticket price.  I asked if we made a reservation and paid the deposit, and then later changed the reservation, would the ticket prices change. 

Our travel agent inquired and found out that as long as we don’t change the dining plan even if we changed other parts of our package—including number of nights—then we would get the lower ticket price. 

So, we made a reservation.  I know it’s easier to shave days from a reservation than add, so we made a week-long reservation including tickets and dining plan.  We are officially booked for December!

Now, these plans are not in concrete yet, at least not until we make flight arrangements.  And at the same time, getting some park time in during the holidays is something all of us would enjoy.

Sunday, February 8, 2015

Day 6 Without A Dishwasher

It’s day 6 without a dishwasher at our house.  Last Monday, the dishwasher made funny sounds and stopped working--coincidentally, just after the husband had inquired about getting a new silverware basket for it on Sunday.  I called the repairman on Tuesday; he came to check it out on Wednesday.  Results:  control panel broken and could be fixed for half the price of a new dishwasher.  We decided on replacing our 14 year old dishwasher with a new one.  Caveat:  In order to get the color that would match our current appliances, the dishwasher would have to be ordered and then we wait for delivery and install.  Estimated time of getting a new dishwasher is Friday—5 days away. 

If I had been okay with a color that did not match the rest of the appliances in the kitchen, we would have had a new dishwasher last Thursday.  When I told our repairman that I wanted the matching color, he originally told me that the color wasn’t made anymore and that it was out of style.  I told him to wait two years and it would be back in style.  Alas, after doing some searching, the color was found!

One might say that a dishwasher is a “nice to have” not a “need to have.”  While I agree in premise, I disagree in reality.  The childhood home I spent most of my time living in had a dishwasher.  In college, I lived at home for two years—with dishwasher, in the dorms for 2 years—no need for a dishwasher, and rented a room in a house for 1 semester where there was a dishwasher.  My first apartment after college had a dishwasher.  I lived there for nine years.  When I moved to another city I chose my next apartment by looking at a blue print as it wasn’t built yet.  The floor plan was faxed to me and included a dishwasher.  When I contacted the builders they said that hadn’t planned to include a dishwasher.  By the time we got off the phone, a dishwasher was going to be installed in my unit and all units thereafter.  I lived there for 3 years until we bought our current home in 2001.  When we bought it, there was no dishwasher.  Before we moved in, a dishwasher had been installed in the kitchen.  I can live without many other appliances—blenders, toaster ovens, curling irons, but a dishwasher is on my “must have” list.  And as for the husband, his childhood and adult homes did not include a dishwasher until we bought our home and had one installed.  He has since come to agree with me. . . at least I hope!

So, here we are half-way through our “no dishwasher” situation. 

At one point I was wishing there were dishwasher mats similar to laundry mats.  Bring in your dirty dishes, run them through the dishwasher and leave with clean dishes.  The people I shared this with did not see any usefulness or practicality in my idea. 

We, and when I say we, I mean the husband, has done some dishwashing.  Pots, pans, spatulas.  All other dirty dishes are being put in boxes and stored in the garage for washing later.  (We have done this before when our dishwasher went out over Christmas and we were hosting and cooking.)

The husband’s first worry was silverware, especially forks.  I referred to the Ziploc baggies of extra silverware in the basement.  Since we didn’t marry until we were in our mid-thirties, we had both collected a few silverware sets in our time.  Now that we are using some of the previously banned to the basement pieces because there wasn’t room in the silverware drawer, I cautioned the husband that I am falling back in like with some of them.  He groaned and asked, “The yellow ones?”  Yep!  We have yellow silverware, and yellow/white checked silverware—so pretty!

The paper plates and Styrofoam bowls that were stored in the cupboard for emergency use are also being used along with some Styrofoam and paper cups. 

One might also think that we would go out to eat more often as that, too, would save on dish use.  Yeah, but that would also cost more money.  I reached into my purse and pulled out two $5 McDonald’s Arch gift cards that I had earned for free on MyCokeRewards and the husband did bring home McDonald’s for he and the boy one evening.  He even had some gift card credits left over!  And, I did bring home a bucket of chicken from the grocery store the other night as I was doing the grocery shopping anyway, there was great deal on the chicken and I had coupons to lower the price and give us free potato salad.

We’ll make it through the next few days just fine.  I am excited for our new dishwasher to be installed and have plenty of dishwasher soap stockpiled for many loads.  Oh, to be grateful for new appliances!
 

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

There's No Dining Plan at Disneyland!

There’s no dining plan at Disneyland—well sort of.  When we made our first trip to Walt Disney World in 2006, one of the things that drew us was the Disney Dining Plan.  I have this thing about having meals paid for ahead of time and not worrying about budgeting for meals so the Disney Dining Plan fit the bill.  Twelve trips later, we’ve added the basic dining plan to our Disney vacation each time.  We even tried to not have/use the dining plan once and ended up adding it to our vacation less than a month before we left. 

So, with Disneyland having no dining plan that is similar to Walt Disney World’s options of Quick Service, Basic, or Deluxe, what are we going to do?  We are going to take advantage of the pre-pay option for character dining at Disneyland.

When making Disneyland reservations either on-line, by phone, or through a travel agent guests can select to “add character dining.”  This option allows guest to pre-purchase vouchers for enjoying character dining at Disneyland.  This option is available for guests staying on-site or at good neighbor resort hotels. 

Character dining is divided in to a regular category “Character Dining” and “Premium Character Dining.”  The differences are the restaurants available to the different level of  voucher and the cost.

There are five different character dining experiences at Disneyland—three in each of the on-site resort hotels and two in the parks—one each at Disneyland and California Adventure. 

When we first made our Disneyland reservation, I added two sets of vouchers in each of the categories.  As of yesterday, that changed, and we added another voucher for the regular “Character Dining” so that we can dine at all five of the character dining locations!  Oh, the things I do. . .

Is this going to save me money in the long run?  YES!  The vouchers include gratuity and tax for the meal.  And, with Disneyland having a hefty resort fee as a part of taxes, pre-paying saves us money.  While the Plaza Inn—Breakfast with Minnie & Friends in Disneyland is slated as the most economical character meal, the cost of the meals averaged out among the restaurants will again yield savings.  Most importantly, I will have peace of mind that these meals are already paid for!

As for gaining that same piece of mind with our other meals and saving money?  Well, each time we purchase a Disney gift card at Target we save 5% using our Red Card.  The husband already designated those to pay for meals. 

Monday, February 2, 2015

Disneyland Planning: "Extra Magic Hours" vs. "Magic Morning"

Talk about a steep learning curve. . .  Last night I put pencil to paper, actually cursor to excel spread sheet, to map out which park on which days and what restaurants on what days for our summer 2015 Disneyland vacation.  I’m experiencing a few bumps, but we’ll get there!

Park hours and calendars for Walt Disney World are released about 6 ½ months out.  While the park hours typically expand to accommodate fluctuations in guest population, assignment of “extra magic hours” typically does not change once the park calendars are released.  At Disneyland, the park calendar is available for two months (or less!).  Being that yesterday was February 1, I could see the months of February and March.  The good news is that “extra magic hours” which are only for the mornings, are always on the same days for the two parks—Disneyland’s extra magic hours are Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays, while Disney’s California Adventure are Mondays, Wednesdays, Fridays, and Sundays.  I can work with that information for planning purposes regardless of what time the park opens/closes.

But then, I bumped into “Magic Morning” and it was listed only for Disneyland, not California Adventure, and it was on the same days as “extra magic hours”.  At this point I was confused.  The tickets we purchased had “Magic Morning” listed as a benefit but what was the difference between “Magic Morning” and “extra magic hours” which were also in the morning?

I consulted the PassPorter message forums.  After posing my question in the Disneyland/Southern California portion of the boards, I got a speedy and coherent reply.  Thanks, PassPorter!

Magic Mornings are for guests with a 3+ day ticket, are only for Disneyland, and can only be used once per ticket.  This is for guests who are staying at “good neighbor” hotels, or off property.  And, yes, they are the same mornings as the “extra magic hours.”

Extra Magic Hours are for guest staying on-site at one of the three Disneyland resort hotels:  Grand Californian, Disneyland Hotel, or Paradise Pier.  The “extra magic hours” include both parks, on different mornings, of course, and offer an unlimited access to “extra magic hours” as compared to the one-time benefit for Magic Mornings.

Got it!  Since we are staying on-site, first at the Disneyland Hotel and next at Paradise Pier, we can take advantage of “extra magic hours” on all the days of our stay at the designated park. 

Still learning!  But it does make sense why some guests are confused or may not take advantage of all that is offered.