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

Monday, June 29, 2015

Are There Coupons For Disneyland?

“Are there coupons for Disneyland?” was the question that came after inquiring about our summer vacation plans.  An innocent question given my penchant for saving money.  The short answer:  “No.”  The longer answer—there are many ways we have already saved money on our vacation.

AAA--Being a member allowed us to get a great price for our Disneyland package along with perks.  We also earned AAA Explore More Rewards for using AAA’s service to book our trip.

AAA also allows for additional savings while at Legoland, similar to the 10% savings on food and merchandise at Universal Resorts.

Speaking of Legoland, we got a great price—and great savings-- on the resort hotel by purchasing our stay in advance.  Because we are staying at the Legoland Resort, we get early access to the parks and free breakfast at Bricks, the buffet restaurant at the resort.  And, by purchasing our Legoland Park tickets on-line we were able to snag a buy one day get one day free deal.  We are also have a Lego VIP card which will allow for us to earn points on any Lego purchases and then redeem those points for free merchandise.

Food can be a big expense during a vacation.  We are saving money buy purchasing character dining vouchers as a part of our vacation package (and earning rewards).  These vouchers include tip and gratuity which is big savings.  Our Disney Rewards Visa also allows us to have 10% savings at select Disneyland dining locations.  We also used our Target Red Debit Card to purchase Disney Gift Cards.  A $50 Disney Gift Card costs $47.50 when I use our Target Red Card.  We’ve been stocking up on Disney Gift Cards since January—2 per month—and will be using those to pay for out of pocket meals.  We’ll also have $25 towards a meal at Rainforest CafĂ© due to Landry’s Select Club annual gift to members.

Because I pre-ordered Disney Photopass +  product, I saved $30 over purchasing the product once we arrived at the Disneyland Resort.  Click here to read more.

By making purchases ahead of time, I also saved money on trading pins--click here to read more, and Lego minifugres for trading--click here to read more.
The Disney Rewards Visa also allows us to earn reward points that can be spent on Disney products or services.  We also got a 20% discount on the Walt in Walt’s Footsteps Tour that we booked for our Disneyland vacation. 

While we used the Visa to pay off our trip and if we hadn’t then paid the balance in full, zero percent interest for 6 months would have been ours for using the Visa to pay for a Disney vacation.  But we earned reward points for the entire amount!  So, yes, we booked the vacation through AAA and earned Explore More Rewards, then paid using our Disney Rewards Visa and earned rewards!  Loyalty does pay!

A Disney vacation can be an investment in both time and money.  We’ve found the investment to be worth it.  And, we have found that savings can be had!

Saturday, June 27, 2015

Planning: A Comparison of Disneyland and Walt Disney World

When others learn that we are headed to Disneyland this summer and then realize that it is different than Walt Disney World, we inevitable get 1 of 3 comments:
  • It’s smaller at Disneyland right?
  • Won’t it be the same?
  • Can’t wait to hear about how differences.

The third comment is my favorite, as I am already making comparisons to Walt Disney World and we haven’t even left the state!

As Walt Disney World dare I say “veterans” with twelve trips under our belts, planning a Disneyland trip has been a very different experience.  My comparisons range from ease to cost.

This category contains both flights to get to the happiest place on earth, and transportation to/from the Disneyland Parks.   As far as flights go, this part was easy and relatively cost effective.  We were able to get direct flights and good times and for a good price on the days we wanted to travel. 

Transportation to/from the Disneyland Resort was a different story.  Disneyland does offer transportation via bus for a fee, although children travel free with paid adults.  At Walt Disney World, Disney’s Magical Express operates 24/7.  The Disneyland transfers do run daily, but not all day.  The timing of our return flight required an early trip to the airport outside of the Disneyland transfer operating hours.  And since the fee for the Disneyland transfers are round trip, it did not make sense for us to use them for one-way, but pay for round trip.  We sought out different transportation through a private company.  So cost-wise, Disneyland is more expensive when it comes to transportation to/from the airport and it takes more work to make your arrangements.

Yeah, we’re not the typical travelers as we like to make dining reservations and feel that dining is just as much a part of the experience as attractions or resorts.  We are the ones who make Advanced Dining Reservations for Walt Disney World 180 days prior to our trip.  At Disneyland, dining reservations can also be made prior to one’s trip, but at 60 days.  And, while at Walt Disney World, dining reservations can be made for your entire stay at 180 days prior to your first day, at Disneyland, reservations can be made 60 days ahead of EACH DAY!  So, guests have to get on-line or call 60 days ahead of every day you want to make a reservation.  A credit card hold is the same at both and guests do get a confirmation number, and dining/show packages are available at both Disneyland and Walt Disney World, such as a Fantasmic Dining Package that includes reserved viewing for Fantasmic.  Then, there’s the Dining Plan.  Guests staying at the Walt Disney World Resort have the option of adding a Dining Plan—there are 3 different versions—to their package.  At Disneyland, guest can pre-purchase character dining vouchers.  Walt Disney World comes out ahead in this category for ease and options.

Park Tickets
Guests at the Walt Disney Resort have the option of park tickets ranging from 1 day to 10 days.  Other options can be added to park tickets such as park hopper, water parks and more fun, even the Dining Plan can be added to the park tickets.  If you are staying at a Walt Disney World Resort, your park ticket is also your room key and room charging privileges can be added to the ticket and most importantly, all of that information is linked to a guest or traveling party’s MagicBands, including Photopass.

At Disneyland guests have the option of selection 1 day to 5 day tickets and can add a park hopper option.  If staying at a Disneyland Resort, an additional room key will be provided and that may allow for room charges—we don’t know that as of yet.  And, we already have our park tickets!

Walt Disney World’s implementation of the MagicBand has made all of this very easy!

 Both Walt Disney World and Disneyland offer guests an opportunity to pre-order and pre-pay for their Photopass products.  At Walt Disney World, it's Memory Maker and if making your resort reservation on-line or with a travel professional, guests have the option of adding Memory Maker to their reservation.  Disneyland offers Photopass + and their website alludes to the product, provides a link to the Photopass website, but is difficult to find as it is under the "HELP" section of the Photopass website.  I understand why--as the Photopass website is for both parks and folks could get confused and order Photopass+ for Walt Disney World, although that product isn't available there any more.  

So far, in terms of planning, Walt Disney World is an easier trip to plan.  One phone call or login can do it all—resort stay, park tickets, dining, transportation to/from the airport, even airline reservations if you want.  Guests may feel like planning a Walt Disney World vacation is harder due to the need/want to make FastPass+  selections and Dining Reservations prior to arrival.  Some guests may want to just show up for their vacation and not do anything prior.  This strategy will work at Walt Disney World, but would work better at Disneyland. 

As I read through this, it sounds like we are disappointed with Disneyland.  We definitely are not and are quite excited about our upcoming trip.  It is just that I learned how different it is to plan a Disneyland trip compared to Walt Disney World.  It would have been difficult for me NOT to compare. 

Maybe the work/ease equation will balance out when we arrive at the Disneyland Resort—less walking, no other transportation needed, smaller parks, etc.  We’ll see. . .

Friday, June 26, 2015

Disney Has Pin Trading--Legoland Has Minifigure Trading

When planning our visit to the Legoland California Resort, we discovered that trading Lego minifigures is part of the fun.  Bringing a Lego minifigure to trade is listed as the number one tip of the 5 top tips for enjoying your visit to Legoland.

Having traded pins at Walt Disney World and on the Disney ships, the boy wanted to get into the minifigure trading action.  Enter mom and Amazon.

The other day I saw sets of 20 minifigures on Amazon for less than $7.  This was such a great deal, I ordered two sets.  And, got them for FREE using my Swagbucks Amazon gift cards (click here to get started earning with Swagbucks). 

While the price was certainly right, the shipping may have been an issue.  An order placed on June 9 had a delivery date of July 22—which would have been after we returned from our vacation.  Not wanting to disappoint the boy, he had no idea the minifigures had been ordered.  To my delight and the boy’s, the package arrived yesterday. 

He set to work building minifigures and has a pencil case designated for the ones he is taking to trade. 

Thursday, June 25, 2015

We Got $100 Towards Our December Disney Cruise!

Previously, I had written about AAA's Explore More Rewards--click here to read the post.  The idea is that as you book qualifying travel with AAA and make referrals who book qualifying AAA travel you can earn points.  When the points reach 10,000 clients can redeem the points for a $100 voucher.  The voucher can be used for cash or put towards your next qualifying AAA travel.

We have reached the point limit for $100 vouchers twice!  Once was last spring, as it took a while for the points to catch up with us, since the program didn't start until mid-2012.

This time, we actually surpassed the 10,000 point mark and hit over 17,000 points.  I "cashed out" 10,000 points for a $100 voucher that our travel agent is applying towards our December Disney cruise.  And, we have over 7,000 reward points left over. . . so we'll hit the 10,000 mark again after our cruise!

AAA's Explore More Rewards cannot be found on AAA's website.  Clients can learn about it through their AAA travel agent.  I also learned that the points are good for 3-years.  A third party handles the rewards program for AAA so communication with that company can be frustrating.  It took 2 phone calls and several e-mails to get our point total straightened out and redeem the points for the voucher, but it was $100!  I know some folks wouldn't got to the trouble.

As my travel agent puts it, she is hesitant to tell people about it as not everyone will benefit and the program can be a hassle.  But, she knows for us, AAA Explore More Rewards will pay off!

If you and your family either are frequent adventurers or considering becoming frequent adventurers, find a reward program that works for you.  Typically, loyalty pays.

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

I Added A Bag

These rolling carry-on bags will not be going with us!

With many flier miles under our belts, we’re used to taking the following luggage:
--one checked piece of luggage for each of us
--one rolling carry-on bag for each of us
--and one person item—tote, backpack, etc.

When we booked our flights in December for our July trip on a discount carrier, in addition to paying extra for seat selection, it was beneficial at the time to also pay for luggage.  And, while most airlines charge guests for checked luggage, this airline charges for both checked luggage and carry-on luggage other than the one personal item/bag per guest.

Paying $25 for checked luggage is considered a reasonable amount—similar to most other airlines (except Southwest which does not charge for luggage), but to pay $18 one-way for a rolling carry-on bag blew my mind!  And, there was a weight limit of 25 pound for the bag along with dimension limitations.  No thank you.  I reframed this as not having to tote luggage around the airport as all of our luggage would be checked!

At the time we booked our flights, I opted out of the carry-on bag and pre-paid the $25 per bag per leg of trip luggage fee for checked bags for a total of $150.  The website indicated that there was a discount for paying the luggage fees prior to arriving at the airport AND there was an additional discount for paying with a debit card.  This particular airline also has a 40 pound limit on checked bags while other airlines have a 50 pound limit.  The lower weight limit made me nervous.

The other day, I logged into our flight reservation and added an additional checked bag.  My choice was $36 round trip for a 25 pound carry-on rolling bag or $50 round trip for a 40 pound checked bag.  Knowing that we would most likely be bringing home some Legos, I opted for the bigger bag.  We’ll pack food and snacks and then have room for the trip home.

 I was also surprised that what was considered a “2nd bag” was still the same price as the first checked bag as typically airlines charge more for the “2nd bag.”

I still like the idea of not having to keep track of the rolling bags while at the airports!

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

NOW He Wants To Add Coffee?!?

Do you see the Mountain Dew?

The husband informed me the other day that he wants to make coffee in our Disneyland hotel rooms prior to going to the parks.  Why?  Here’s the back story. . .

Mother’s Day week-end I drank my last soda and had my last caffeine.  Reasons being health benefits and the fact that we were out of Diet Coke (my soda of choice) and I didn’t want to buy any more.  Made for a great time to give it up.  I don’t like milk and juices have too much sugar so other than a Powerade Zero once in a while, I’m drinking water or other sugar-free drinks made with water.

Then, on June 1, the husband had his last soda—Mountain Dew was his soda of choice.  A random blood glucose test revealed that his blood sugar was too high, so he said good-bye to Mountain Dew.  But not to caffeine.  He makes tea at home and gets coffees when we are out and about. 

He suggested that we get a coffee maker at home.  Okay, but I know nothing about making coffee so I suggested right back to him that he do some research and find out what type of coffee maker would be best.

His comeback a few hours later was that there would be a coffee maker in our Disneyland hotel rooms.  Yep.  He got excited about the possibility of making coffee in the mornings to drink before heading to the parks.  In an attempt to dampen his excitement, I threw out other barriers—there would be no creamer.  “We can pick some up on our way to the hotel,” was his reply.  Hmmm. . . he had done some thinking about this.  I had to bring out the big guns. 

“It already takes you longer to get ready to go to the parks in the morning than the rest of us, so will making coffee slow you down or speed you up?”  Ah ha.  He was stumped and heartily agreed.  The experiment will commence.  I just have this feeling that somehow I will be involved in making coffee in the mornings.  Arg!

Monday, June 22, 2015

Capturing Photos During Our Summer 2015 Disneyland/Legoland Vacation

Souvenirs?  Maybe.  Photos?  Always! 

For us, it’s all about the photos, especially during a vacation.  And, our upcoming Disneyland/Legoland Summer 2015 vacation is no different.  It’s all about the photos. 

While traveling to Walt Disney World, we have taken advantage of various renditions of Photopass—purchasing (usually pre-purchasing) a CD of all of our Photopass photos, then Photopass + which included ride and dining photos along with all in-park photos taken by Photopass photographers, and then, the most recent version—Memory Maker, which now includes ride videos in addition to ride photos!

At Disneyland, guests can pre-purchase the Photopass photo CD or purchase it after their vacation, but Photopass + is also available for pre-purchase!

Since planning a Disneyland vacation is new for us, I wasn’t sure which Photopass options were available at their parks.  Playing around on the Disneyland website, I notice links to Photopass when looking at various dining options.  Hmmm. . . that led me to believe that Photopass+ was available.  And, I found it once on the Photopass website, but could not get it show up in my “cart.”

Finally, I had to call Photopass.  They helped me find the Photopass + product for Disneyland under the “HELP” section of their website.  I’m guessing that this is so guests traveling to Walt Disney World don’t get confused as the product is no longer available for Walt Disney World.  I was able to pre-purchase Photopass + for Disneyland for $69.95 and had to guarantee that we were more than 14 days from our Disneyland vacation.  If I waited until I arrived at Disneyland, the price would have been $99.95.

Why at least 14 days ahead of my vacation?  When pre-ordering Photopass +, a voucher is mailed that is then taken to a Photopass location in either park to redeem for a special Photopass+ card that is “active” for two weeks.  Showing this special card allows for ride photos and dining photos to be added to our Photopass account.  Another voucher for a free Photopass CD is inside the case and I will use that when I get home.

So, what’s included in Photopass + for Disneyland?  All of our Photopass photos taken by Photopass photographers in both Disneyland Park and Disney California Adventure Park, attraction photos at California Screamin’, Space Mountain, Splash Mountain, Radiator Springs Racers, and The Twilight Zone Tower of Terror, and dining photos at Goofy’s Kitchen, Ariel’s Grotto, Disney’s PCH Grill, and Plaza Inn.  By the way, we will be dining at all of those locations.

Historically, any type of pre-ordering or pre-purchasing of a Photopass product, including Memory Maker, has been an outstanding deal for us.  Given that Photopass + allows for two weeks of photos will give us plenty of time to capture our memories in both parks.

But what about Legoland?  I was very curious to see if there was a photo product at Legoland.  (Last summer we discovered PhotoConnect at Universal parks.)  The website gave no indication so I made a phone call.  After being transferred three times, I was able to talk to someone at Kodak that told me that there are in park photo purchase options that can only be made at the Legoland park and include both digital and print options.  The price varies as there are “specials of the day” but typically an all digital package is around $45.  I then asked about multiple day options and was told that for an additional $20 another day can be added to the digital package.  I’m ready to investigate further and have this on our list the first day we are at Legoland.

Why photos?  For us, photos capture memories and never go out of style.  I’ve seen people agonize over photo purchases (as when traveling with Disney the prices can be alarming) but not agonize over purchasing some other type of souvenir.  Have you ever seen photos in a garage sale?  Nope.  We don’t ever outgrow photos.

Sunday, June 21, 2015

Summer 2015 Disneyland Character Meet and Greet Plans

Anticipation for our upcoming Summer 2015 Williams Family Vacation continues to grow.  The husband has put his fingers on the character happenings at Disneyland and has already put together his wish list!

Oswald the Lucky Rabbit is advertised as greeting guest at Disney California Adventure.  This would be a new to us character and the husband is destined to make this meet and greet.

Both the husband and the boy have designs on introducing themselves to Captain American, greeting guests in Disneyland, and Thor, the Mighty Avenger.

I’ve got my eye out for an Olaf meet and greet at Disney California Adventure.  His friends, Anna and Elsa, are there too.  Interestingly, all FROZEN activities—character meet and greets, or the First Time In Forever FROZEN Sing-a-long—require FastPass (which is still the paper system).

Any other characters will be icing on an already sweet vacation cake.  Although the husband has  stated that if the Big Bad Wolf is anywhere near, we’re going to “DEFCON 10” as he puts it and stopping all plans in their tracks.  He has his priorities.
Getting character autographs on a pillow case during our Summer 2014 Walt Disney World vacation
Speaking of character meetings, we have a new white pillow-case ready to capture character autographs using fabric markers just for the occasion. (Wal-Mart had a package of 2 micro-fiber pillow cases for less than $5.)

P.S.  There are also character meet and greets at Legoland, including Character Dining!

Friday, June 19, 2015

Our Disneyland Documents Arrived!

A large envelope was waiting for us outside the front door.  I knew it was coming but that did not diminish the joyous feeling of opening the package and perusing the contents--our Disneyland documents.

The luggage tags--6 of them--were very noticeable.  High quality American Tourister luggage tags much different than the thin plastic tags from Walt Disney World.

The top portion of the Disneyland themed envelope contained a special pouch.  The velcro closure was securing our park tickets and dining vouchers that were bundled using a rubber band.  Yes, park tickets!

Disneyland offers a variety of park tickets--number of days, park hopper, etc.  But the maximum number of days available on a ticket is 5 days.  Each of us has two different tickets--a 3-day ticket and a 4-day ticket.  I have used a sharpie marker and written our names on the back of our respective tickets.

The dining vouchers are for character dining.  Disneyland offers vouchers for regular character dining that is offered in 3 locations--Minnie and Friends Breakfast at the Plaza Inn at the Disneyland Park, Surf's Up! Breakfast with Mickey and Friends at Disney's PCH Grill in the Paradise Pier Hotel, and Chip 'n' Dale's Critter Breakfast at Storytellers Cafe at the Grand Californian Hotel.  Vouchers for Premium character dining are also available and can be used at 2 locations--Goofy's Kitchen for breakfast or dinner at the Disneyland Hotel and Ariel's Disney Princess Celebration for breakfast or lunch at Ariel's Grotto in Disney California Adventure Park.

We will be dining in all of the above locations.  Having the vouchers allowed for us to have these meals pre-paid (as there is no dining plan at Disneyland) and to save money as the vouchers also include tax and gratuity.

My only concern is that we have to keep track of all the tickets, the dining vouchers, and once we check in at our resort hotel, room keys.  I'm missing MagicBands that are used at Walt Disney World and use radio frequency technology to "hold" all guests' park ticket information, operate as a room key, and keep track of dining entitlements.  Put on the MagicBand and go.  At Disneyland, we'll have to make sure we have everything we need prior to going to the parks.

The lower portion of the envelope contained information about checking in at Disneyland Resort Hotel and a special coupon booklet.  One of the coupons is for a free lanyard and pin for each person in our traveling party.  This coupon made the husband very happy!

The trip is getting closer!

No More Extra Magic Hours for Walt Disney World?

Taking advantage of morning Extra Magic Hours during the hot summer months

Earlier this week speculation on the World Wide Web was that the most magical place on earth, Walt Disney World, was going to diminish in its magical-ness with the elimination of Extra Magic Hours.

For non-Disney veterans or anyone needing a refresher, Extra Magic Hours are when determined park or parks are open only to guests staying at Disney Resorts, commonly referred to as “on property” or at resorts that have a relationship with Disney and also offer their guests the perks of Extra Magic Hours.  The Extra Magic Hours, also known as EMH, were typically offered either in the morning, an hour before regular park opening, or in the evening, after the park closed to non-resort guests.

What started this speculation of EMH being eliminated was that tentative park hours were released to travel agents, as 2016 packages become available on June 22, and those park hours did not include EMH as they had in the past.  Also, a Downtown Disney hotel, which offers EMH as a perk to its guests, issued a statement that the perk of EMH was through December 31, 2015.  Both of these clues lead to the conclusion that EMH will no longer be offered at Walt Disney World Parks. 

When I shared this speculation with the husband, he asked the question that I would typically ask. . . why would Disney do this?  My answer is multi-fold.

Historically, the offerings of EMH have diminished over time.  First, the water parks no longer offered EMH, then the EMH after parks closed was reduced from 3 hours to 2 hours, and the rides/shows/attractions available during EMH have been scaled back.  For example, morning EMH in the Magic Kingdom offered guests access to Tomorrowland and Fantasyland, but not the rest of the park.  So, this trend of EMH being less of a perk to on property guests has been slowly implemented over the last few years.

And, now, we have full implementation of FastPass+ which allows guests to select their priority attractions prior to stepping foot into the parks.  One of the reasons behind the implementation of FastPass+ was to regulate crowds—diminish wait times and disperse guests throughout the park throughout the day.  With the advent of FastPass+, rushing to the park to get Legacy FastPass tickets is no longer important.  Guests can select the touring style that fits them—want to sleep late and still get the headline attractions?  No problem as that is how you can select and organize your FastPass+ selections.  FastPass+ also makes EMH less important as I can do/see/get what I want when I want it using my FastPass+ selections.

While guest satisfaction is important to Disney, so is the bottom line.  Eliminating EMH will certainly take less of a bite out of the payroll budget.  But, how will guests paying a pretty penny to stay on property take no longer having EMH as a perk?

The Disney advertising and marketing team needs to step in and handle this one.  Already guests staying on property have the perk of making their FastPass+ selections 60 days prior to their vacation arrival day, while off property guests can make their selections at 30 days.  This perk needs to receive more airtime!

I would also suggest, as if Disney is asking me, that the number of pre-trip FastPass+ selections be increased from 3 to say 5 and add in the option of making selections at more than one park on the same day so that the Park Hopper Option becomes more desirable. 

And, there may be other on property guest perks in the works that we just haven’t heard about yet!

Disney does a great job of varying park hours based on demand.  During peak travel and holidays, guests see expanded park hours, which also help disperse crowds.  With the elimination of EMH, we may see more expanded park hours.

The elimination of EMH is speculative at this point.  This Walt Disney World veteran has taken advantage of morning EMH hours, especially during the hot summer months.  So, how would the no more EMH change my families touring?  Depending on the time of year, we may spend more time in the pool or at a water park and then come to a park with FastPass+ selections ready!

Hmmm. . . The Disney machine may be listening.  I just got an email from Disney with the following highlighted:

Disney FastPass+
When you choose to stay with us at a select
 Walt Disney World Resort hotel, you get first access to reserve some of your favorite attractions and shows up to 60 days before you arrive!
(Valid Theme Park admission and online registration required. Disney FastPass+ attractions and entertainment experiences, the number of selections you can make and available arrival windows are limited.)