Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Car Rentals

Russ was not pleased with the rental company's definition of "full size"

Dutch has frequently praised the us Priceline's name your own price feature for car rentals at MCO (Orlando International Airport) in the past, but I was always a bit hesitant of getting locked in to a price (since you are immediately charged the full rental price), locked in to a company that may provide poor service, or locked in to a specific car that I may hate for nine days. 

For those unfamiliar with the process, it is really quite simple.  You select the car type you want, select a price per day you would like to pay (without taxes, fees, etc.) and Priceline does the rest.  You are told that your rental will be with one of five/six companies and that if your bid is accepted you will be billed for the full price of the rental.  If your bid is rejected, you are given the opportunity to give it another shot with a different car/price combination.  I was really happy that all of the potential rental car providers were well established "national" brands with counters in the terminal. 

I needed to put my mind at ease before I tried a Priceline bid.  So,  I booked directly with a company that would allow me to have a reservation without charging my credit card.  This was for a mid size rental at MCO for 9 days in mid-April. While I loved the flexibility, the price was really not what I had hoped. 

So I went on Priceline, had a "minimum acceptable savings" in mind (in my case it was $150) and went to work.  My first bids were borderline ridiculous-$10/day for a full size.  As such they were rejected.  After trying a number of other price/car combinations, my bid was accepted and I had saved my $150.  It worked like a charm. 

For me, having the placeholder car reservation was the backup I needed to be aggressive, and not worry about getting locked out of a rental entirely, or actually having to pay more if my bids were continually rejected. 

My advice; book a placeholder reservation as early as possible (as soon as your travel dates are locked in).  This way you can give yourself more time to aggressively bid for a vehicle.  The more comfortable you are with the price you are guaranteed to get, the better your results are likely to be.  If I had more time, I probably would have kept my bids low for a while longer and faired even better at this entertaining game of chicken.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Disney World Family Video

In the spirit of WDW Today's 1000th episode, I decided to post the above.  This video hammers home what makes that park in a swamp so wonderful.  My favorite moment is when the daughter in the video finally gets to meet Snow White.

Here's where I toot our (MMOM's) own horn.  In surveying the other podcasts and blogs out there, I'm proud of how positive our show is.  While we're honest, we rarely gripe just because that's what the cool kids do.  If we didn't like WDW, we'd probably be talking about football or bad action movies.  Since we do love it, we talk about it while mixing in references to football and bad action movies.

Monday, February 27, 2012

WDW Changes to FastPass

Calm Before the Storm...

Disney will be changing their FastPass policy starting in early March. 

To demonstrate what exactly is changing, let's start with the assumption that you obtained a FastPass for Toy Story Midway Mania with a return time of 11:00 AM-12:00 PM.

The front end of a FastPass window has always been actively enforced by the cast members.  If you tried to use your FastPass at 10:55 AM you were asked to wait. This will in essence remain the same under the new rules.

However, the back end of the window has always pretty much followed "come when you please"policy.   If you returned  at 7 PM, you were virtually guaranteed entry even though your allotted window has past.  This will no longer be the case. 

Under the new rules, Disney will only allow you to arrive up to 15 minutes after your FastPass window.  So, if you showed up to Toy Story as 12:30 PM, you may be turned away.  Obviously, there are many factors that could make someone late, including getting delayed from an ADR that was fulfilled late, another ride breaking down, or even simply not knowing how long it takes to get from point A to point B.  The implications are also abound for those obsessive planners (like myself) who use the current system to improve their park experience. 

So why is this being done?  The best guess is that this is all a primer for  the "Next Generation" xpass system that will allow you to book your attraction ride times at home prior to your trip. 

To me, the lack of enforcement of the back end of the FastPass window created a great chance to use planning and strategy to maximize your fun and minimize your waiting in the parks. In essence, you were planning now to gain spontaneity later. One of my better park touring experiences came when I was able to hoard a few fast passes during a morning at DHS. I got on all the major attractions and breezed through my touring plan by around 1 PM. Throughout the day, I not only rode but nabbed FastPasses for Toy Story Midway Mania, Rock N' Roller Coaster and Tower of Terror.

I had a seven hour period in the middle of the day for swimming, lunch, napping, and dinner (really whatever I wanted to do) and then returned to take in my favorite attractions prior to the park closing.  This was obviously only possible because I got on all the rides well past my designated FastPass window when I returned later that evening.

Potentially losing this flexibility will really change the way I budget my time in the parks.

Dutch, Kip and Russ have a lot of additional  thoughts about the changes and the death of any spontaneity at Disney. Download Episode 40 on Thursday on ITunes to hear what we think, and let us know your thoughts by e-mailing or commenting below.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Keep the Diamond

This week we talked about AAA's Diamond Ratings for hotels.  For anyone that wants to read the Diamond Rating guidelines, or follow along with our show at home, the guidelines can be found here.

The World is home to home to ten 4-diamond lodgings: Animal Kingdom Lodge, Animal Kingdom Villas, Beach Club, Boardwalk Inn, Contemporary, Grand Floridian, Polynesian, Yacht Club, Swan, and Dolphin; but no 5-diamond's.  

We raised the question of what would it take to make the Grand Floridian (for example) into a 5-diamond property.  I think the better question is, why would Disney want to?

With rack rates consistently north of $500 per night, GF is already charging about what you would expect to pay for a 5-diamond resort (and even higher than some).  Sure, upgraded decor and some extra staff might get the Grand Floridian that coveted fifth diamond.  But is there any way for Disney to recoup the outlay?  There simply isn't anything to be gained.

Episode 39 -- Diamond Cutters

This week the boys follow up on discussion of what goes into AAA's Hotel Diamond Ratings.  The RCS rolls on with Whispering Canyon Cafe taking on the Crystal Palace.

Download Episode 39

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

DVC at the Grand Floridian

The Proposed DVC at the Grand Floridian

Disney is currently building a new Disney Vacation Club (DVC) at the Grand Floridian. It is scheduled to open in late 2013.  The new area, adjacent to the Wedding Pavilion, will be for the exclusive use of DVC guests.  The new buildings will add nearly 150 rooms/suites to the property. 

While the overall value of buying a DVC, or even what you think of the DVC concept in general, is certainly a debate worth having, I have some real issues with the fact that the Grand Floridian in particular is the newest addition to the DVC lineup.  Before I start here are a  few points I will concede:

1.  DVC is a VERY profitable business unit for Disney.  Between the consistent cash flow from monthly payments, the high purchase prices of the units and the financing charges, it would be hard to convince Disney, or any aggressive business executive, to halt the building of more DVCs across Disney World property.  The demand is there; the supply is not; and people are willing to spend big for their slice of "owning" Disney.   

2.  I have no doubts that the DVC will look and feel as if it has "always been there."  Disney has become quite apt at making these new buildings blend in with the rest of the resort.  In my opinion, the Bay Lake Towers at the Contemporary is a notable exception to the rule, but I believe Disney will be able to pull it off with their Grand Floridian construction. 

3.  The concept of adding an "ownership component" to a high end hotel is not new.  It is executed in some fashion in every major cities across the U.S. 

Still, there is something disheartening about the message adding the DVC sends to fans of the Grand Floridian.  Despite being  Walt Disney World's flagship resort, charging $440 average per night rack rates, and seemingly never hurting for guests, the Grand Floridian still will fall victim to the tradition-be-dammed profit maximization mentality.  I believe the Grand Floridian is a thriving business by itself, perfect the way it is.

Sometimes when the imagineers are locked in, they get it right the first time. The parks are unfortunately scattered with examples of "tinkering" gone wrong.  People lament attractions lost, original shows performances changed beyond recognition and delicious food items that were seemingly loved by all are simply discarded.  Why? Because sometimes change is bad.

Why is it so hard to believe that when they built the Grand Floridian, they got it right the first time? Disney should spend some money in upgrading existing facilities and returning Disney's resort to its original glory. 

Sure the service has slipped in the past ten years, but adding 150 DVC units won't help in any way.  MMOM founder Dutch has noted on numerous occasions how disappointed he was at the quality of a DVC room vs. a regular room at the Beach Club.  DVC buildings get ignored because they are already sold, and people will still come because they feel like they have to.  Sorry, this blatant disregard for prior standards works at some resorts, but not at one often lauded as a "once in a lifetime experience." 

Finally, if you have listened to any of our shows, theming is clearly a big thing with me. You want to feel transformed back 100 years and take in the Victorian splendor and style that the Grand Floridian exudes.  The staff, the grounds, the music...everything.. is themed to take a guest on a journey.  So I ask, where is the Victorian splendor in timeshares?  Blending in to the background architecturally speaking is one thing, but being a constant reminder that you are in fact in the real world, where time shares mean money and money is what Disney World is about is quite another. 

I guess I just have to be thankful that there isn't enough room to build a DVC at the Yacht Club.  What are your thoughts on the DVC at Grand Floridian? Let me know in the comments below. 

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Episode 35 -- Might Men of Money Management

This week the boys discuss the best way to plan for the big money required for the World and ways to reduce the sting.

Download Episode 35

Episode 34 -- Gotta get down on Friday

Russ is back up with a Friday Night's Alright and more RCS!

Download Episode 34 

Episode 33 -- Do the right thing.....or not.

A recent episode of WDW Today leads the boys in a discussion of ethical qunadries faced by travelers to the World.

Download Episode 33

Episode 32 -- Star Wars Weekend

Uh oh.  Kip is going to be around for Star Wars Weekend and we prep him on what to expect.  The RCS also comes down the valiant Mounted Police riding on the Wehrmacht.  Chaos ensues in this episode of Mighty Men of Mouse.

Download Episode 32

Episode 31 -- Downtown Disney and Fort Wilderness

This week features discussion of restaurants from the Downtown Disney/Resort bracket.  The team also discusses the (lack of) pros and cons of camping at Fort Wilderness.

Download Episode 31.

Episode 30 -- Off site? Out of sight!

The Boys talk some off-site options for resting their macho heads.

 Download Episode 30

Episode 29 -- The Monorail is my DD

Sal brings an idea to the table for Friday Night's Alright plus more RCS!

Downloand Episode 29.

Episode 28 -- Trip Update and a Salute to Kona Cafe

In this shortened episode, Kip shares a few updates on his trip planning.  Kona Cafe also takes on California Grill in the Magic Kingdom RCS.

Download Episode 28