Sunday, October 06, 2013

Update - Orlando 2013

I started a new post rather than editing my original Orlando 2013 post because a LOT has happened in a short period of time.  We're less than 3 weeks away from our trip and I'm still making major changes to our schedule.

At first, I went ahead and booked a rental car for Seth to pick up when he was at the airport dropping the kids off for their flight.  He has to ride the Magical Express with them because they aren't "old enough" (ages 14 and 16) to ride by themselves (even though they will be flying alone and my 16 year old will be driving them the 1 1/2 hours home from the OKC airport).  I'm staying behind that Sunday because I have a district breakfast meeting at 7 am.  I had booked a rental car through EZ car rental via Travelocity.  I still had not found us a place to stay on Sunday and Monday after we check out of Saratoga Springs even after checking online and giving DVC a call - there are no studios available - probably due to the food and wine festival.

Earlier this last week, I opened a large thin envelope addressed to me from Disney.  I'm sooooo glad I did because it contained this:

I remember vaguely reading about a new band system at WDW but hadn't been keeping up on the latest news.  This was going to be really cool - getting to "test" out a new innovation at WDW.  I did stop while registering to read up a little bit on My Magic +, Fastpass + , and the new Magic Bands on the DIS blog.  I was considering having our bands personalized with clever nicknames but after reading about the system and bands (including the way the CMs can now greet you by name), I decided to just have our names put on them.

There are several really cool things about MyMagic+.  I can now log in to My Disney Experience and see my entire trip listed on the same page including where we are staying, dining reservations we've made, special events we have reserved (EPCOT food and wine festival), and fastpasses that I have reserved online.  Yes, that's park fastpasses that I reserved using Fastpass+.  Here's what the screen looks like:

For the compulsive planner like me - I LOVE seeing all my plans on one page which is why I blog about our trips - not because I really think a ton of people read this but because I have a place to put all my experiences and ideas together on the same page..  FINALLY - DVC, parks, dining, resorts (non-DVC), AND special events are all united together.  Now if only they would add somewhere for guests to put notes in.

The only problem I see, though, is that our special EPCOT Food and Wine Festival events aren't correctly listed in the iPhone app.  At 10 am, we are scheduled for Kitchen Memories - the app just lists the location (Festival Center) and calls it "breakfast".  At 7:45 pm, we are scheduled for the 3D Dessert Extravaganza - which the app just lists the location (World Showcase) and calls it "dinner".

A word about Fastpass+ - you are limited to 3 fastpasses at one park per day.  You can't access Fastpass+ unless you have already purchased park passes.  When I got our Fastpasses, it had me enter the code from the back of each of our fastpasses (which I had bought via the AAP at conference rates), assign cards to each member of our party, and then allowed me access to Fastpass+.  I assume you can't pick up fastpasses from the park when you arrive if you already hold ones from Fastpass+.  When you choose the attractions you want, the system gives you groups of times to choose from - usually starting off earlier in the day and then the other groups have times from later in the day.  In the end, from what I can tell, it doesn't really matter which group you choose.  I downloaded the My Disney Experience app onto my iphone and was able to change my fastpasses to the times that worked better for us.  From what I've read, you can also use the app in the park and change fastpass times on-the-fly but with so many people at the parks, cell signal might not be great.

I didn't run into any issues getting the times that I wanted.  Since the AAP has its Orlando Experience night at Hollywood Studios on Saturday night, and all of the attractions will be open, I'm going to change our Fastpasses for that day to Magic Kingdom instead.

Literally 2 days later (less than 48 hours) - our Magic Bands arrived in the mail.  That was CRAZY fast.

I had an epiphany while lamenting to Seth that we still didn't have someplace to stay on Sunday and Monday evenings.  I have 29 points in holding which must be used by March 2014 - the perfect number of points to get a DVC studio for 2 nights but there just weren't any available.  I was waitlisted for Bay Lake Towers but nothing opened up.  Seth suggested using our DVC points to "buy" regular resort rooms.  He was right that we could do that but it really wasn't going to be worth our while to - and we definitely didn't have enough points to do that.  So I did something that I haven't done in almost a decade.....I actually paid cash for 2 nights at the Grand Floridian.  We have reservations for dinner at Victoria and Albert's on Sunday evening after the kids head home so we didn't want to have to wander far to get home.  I had forgotten how expensive it is to stay in a regular resort room:  $574 per night.  Ouch, but it's going to be so worth it.

Since we were going to stay on property, I cancelled the rental car.  After I booked the Grand Floridian and made arrangements for Magical Express to take us to the aiport on Tuesday, I realized that I had stranded Seth at the airport after dropping the kids off on Sunday.  After several calls back and forth between DVC, Magical Express, and the regular Disney line - it was finally decided that it would be ok for Seth to approach a CM at the Magical Express desk in the airport and just explain to him WHY he needed a ride back to Saratoga Springs.  Once he gets back on Sunday, he'll check us out and use the bell desk to get our stuff to the Grand Floridian.  Hopefully, I'll make it back from my breakfast meeting before he checks out (11 am).

One last detail that I hadn't addressed yet was dinner on Monday night before we return home on Tuesday.  I knew that the California Grill had been completely renovated and was going to re-open this month but when I tried to book for dinner on Monday night, it was all full.  We could have taken our chances at the new California Grill Lounge (they don't take reservations - it's first-come, first-served) but then I read about the Omakase Experience at CA.

Shrimp sushi roll and a martini, menu items at California Grill at Disney’s Contemporary Resort

Omakase Experience

Pamper your senses at a private sushi encounter, delicately prepared in Japanese tradition.
At the Omakase Experience, which literally translates to “I’ll leave it to you,” you can indulge your palate in a tasting menu that stylishly serves up the freshest and most seasonal selections for a tour of Japan’s finest.
Over the duration of 12 to 14 pre-set courses, relish in the rich textures and unforgettable tastes of this unique experience as it progresses from lighter dishes into richer fare.
Enjoy the tantalizing sensations as you and up to 8 Guests savor an exquisite range of fresh-caught cuisine, which may include such offerings as uni, oysters, octopus, crab, lobster, sweet shrimp and squid.
Please note: the Omakase Experience takes place at 8:00 PM daily, and is held exclusively at the sushi counter. Reservations are required and must be made at least 48 hours in advance. Full payment is due at the time of booking. Due to the pre-set nature of this culinary experience, the Omakase Experience is unable to accommodate Guests with fish or shellfish allergies, Guests who do not eat rice or vinegar, and Guests who are vegetarian or gluten-free; please do not book a reservation if you have one of these dietary restrictions.

I called up Disney dining and, as luck would have it, we snagged a reservation for 2 at $175 per person.  The Omakase Experience description reminds me of the dinner we had at Bar Charlie in the Palazzo Las Vegas on my 40th birthday.  15 courses - all sushi - with beverage pairing.  It was one of the most memorable dinners we have ever had - all 5 hours of it.  As a bonus, we'll be there during the Wishes Fireworks display which we will be able to watch from their observation deck. 

I did check (again) with the CM about the signature dinner at V&As on Sunday evening - the one reservation that has been elusive for me - there were still no available spots.  *SNIFF*.  We have 9 pm dinner reservations at V&A that same night as a backup plan. 

So, here's what our plans look like right now:
Thursday, October 24th - OKC/Orlando/SSRS/DTD
7:04 am - 8:25 am:  United flight 337, OKC to Houston
12:22 pm - 3:45 pm:  United flight 1690, Houston to Orlando

Check in at Saratoga Springs

6:30 pm:  Dinner, Fulton's Crab House (*10% DVC discount), DTD
Friday, October 25th - EPCOT

10 am - 12 pm:  EPCOT food and wine festival event - Kitchen Memories featuring Bryan Voltaggio, VOLT restaurant, Festival Center
12 - 1 pm:  FASTPASS+ - Test Track
1 - 2 pm:  FASTPASS+ - Soarin'
2 - 3 pm:  FASTPASS+ - Spaceship Earth
I figured we could wander around the World Showcase trying the booths in the afternoon for dinner.
7:45 - 9:30 pm:  3D Dessert Extravaganza, World Showcase, VIP Sweet Seats (private table, early entry, specialty dessert, specialty beverage)

Saturday, October 26th - MK, HS

10:30 am - 12:10 pm:  AAP NCE opening session, Orange County Convention Center

9:35 - 10:35 am:  FASTPASS+ - Big Thunder Mountain Railroad
10:50 - 11:50 am:  FASTPASS+ - Pirates of the Caribbean
11:45 am:  Lunch, Liberty Tree Tavern, Liberty Square
12:25 - 1:25 pm:  FASTPASS+ - Haunted Mansion

5:05 pm:  Dinner, Brown Derby, Hollywood Studios (*10% DVC discount)

7:15 - 11 pm:  AAP NCE Orlando Experience, Hollywood Studios

Sunday, October 27th - EPCOT/GF

7 am :  AAP NCE district breakfast

8:20 - 9:51 am:  United 1693, Orlando to Houston
11:19 am - 12:45 pm:  United 5278 (terminal B), Houston to OKC

11 am:  Check out SSRS - move to GF


4 pm:  Check in Grand Floridian

9 pm:  Dinner, Victoria & Alberts

Monday, October 28th - MK

9:40 - 10:40 FASTPASS+, Haunted Mansion
11:35 - 12:35 pm FASTPASS+, Space Mountain

1:35 - 2:35 pm FASTPASS+, Big Thunder Mountain Railroad

8 pm - Omakase Experience, California Grill
9 pm - Wishes Fireworks

Tuesday, October 29th, - Orlando, OKC

11:53 am - 1:21 pm  United 1261 Orlando to Houston
2:27 - 3:51 pm United 3343 Houston to OKC