Travel Tuesday: The Cost of Magic

blog 8.13.13

I’ve had a couple of conversations recently about the importance of staying “on property” at a Disney Parks resort. ¬†For those not in the know, Disney owns and operates a ton of their own hotels at their resorts in the U.S.: three in California and, like, 45 or something down in Walt Disney World. ¬†The phrase “on property” means you’re staying at one of these hotels and not, say, the Best Western in Downtown Disney or the Holiday Inn in Kissimmee.

There are several tangible benefits to staying “on property,” including the very significant¬†free transportation to and from the Orlando International Airport¬†and¬†Extra Magic Hours (where on-property guests have access to the Disney parks a few extra hours longer than off-property guests). ¬†The Mighty Men of Mouse podcast did a good job at boiling some of these costs down by the hour in one of their most recent episodes, demonstrating how much money you’re saving/losing with these features.

Disney resorts’ theming is also tangible (most off-site resorts are not going to have an extensive Pacific Northwest theme, for example), though not quite as quantifiable.

Now, before I continue, I want to preface by saying that this is my opinion, based on my own biases, budgets, and preferences. Lord knows I spend money on extravagance in different ways, so believe me, this is all about how I perceive the value of Disney resorts.

A lot of people prefer Disney resorts over off-site because of the above, quantifiable factors. ¬†Many people (just read TripAdvisor reviews) also believe that on-site, particularly Moderate- and Deluxe-tier Disney hotels, offer a level of service and dedication to theme that creates an enveloping sense of magic (not so quantifiable). ¬†And that’s great! ¬†Who wouldn’t want an experience, particularly with a company built on pixie dust, to feel magical?

But how much is that magic worth to you?¬† I personally struggle to justify spending $200+ a night for something as immeasurable as “magic.”

Full disclosure: the only time I’ve even stayed on Disney property was at the Boardwalk Inn, a wonderfully themed hotel and one of Disney’s deluxe resorts. ¬†We were able to stay there because of a very reasonable conference rate. ¬†Without that, we could never have afforded to spend the $450+/night a Standard View room goes for. ¬†The lobby was great, the music, the smells, the surrounding boardwalk area. ¬†Fantastic, don’t get me wrong. ¬†But, in my opinion, the room and the bathroom were small (and Lance and I are not big people). ¬†And, I’m just gonna lay this out there: regardless of how thematically appropriate it is, I want a standing (not tub) shower in a $450+ hotel room.

Effectively, Lance and I are shut out of the deluxe resorts for budget reasons. ¬†Even if we could afford $400+ night hotel rooms, I couldn’t justify the expense to myself. It’s not worth it to me.

Even the Moderates (your Port Orleans, your Coronado Springs and such) are often over $200 a night (and might drop down to around $150 with a discount at the right time of year), and these are for hotels that have exterior entrance to the rooms. ¬†Yes, these are basically well-themed motels. ¬†Granted, they have food courts and gift shops and many of the services you’d expect of a hotel, but if I can’t access my hotel room from an interior hallway, then it’s still a motel (this all goes for the Values as well, which are usually very reasonably priced at about $85-125 a night, but with a balanced dip in amenities/services). ¬†You can put lipstick on a pig…

Part of what I struggle with regarding Disney hotels is knowing that I can get more of what I’m looking for at off-site hotels for the same rate or cheaper. ¬†And¬†if I can’t get it for cheaper elsewhere, I can usually play the points/best rate guarantee games with chains like Hilton or Sheraton and get similar accommodations off-site for a much cheaper price. ¬†For example, if I were to book for this upcoming Saturday, Port Orleans–Riverside, a Disney Moderate hotel, would be $190 before tax. ¬†The Doubletree Lake Buena Vista, with the same TripAdvisor score, is $96 before tax (and if you use Priceline or Hotwire, you can get a rental car in Orlando for less than $50 a day). ¬†And with Hilton, Hyatt, Sheraton, Holiday Inn, and more, I could save a significant amount more via their loyalty points programs. ¬†(And thankfully, I can redeem Sheraton’s Starwood Points for stays at the Swan or Dolphin hotels located on Disney property.)

Probably the only way to “play the game” to really get bang for your buck at Disney itself is by renting Disney Vacation Club points from a DVC member, meaning you can stay at the villas at some of the Disney Deluxe resorts for a great savings compared to the rack rates (say, $125 for an Animal Kingdom value room versus $200+). ¬†You can rent points through more established companies (usually at a higher price per point) or, if you know a DVC member, you might be able to negotiate a lower price. ¬†We’re looking into renting DVC points, even through a broker website, for a one-night stay on the tail-end of our Disney cruise next year, but the process is a little messy and it seems like you give up a lot of flexibility as a renter.

This all basically comes down to: how much am I willing to spend for that “magical” component, that Disney Difference? ¬†Each person has to answer that question for themselves. ¬†I’m not arguing for Disney to lower their prices–they’re a business, after all, and they can charge as much as they think the public is willing to spend (they aren’t gouging you if you agree to spend that amount, regardless of what my cartoon above suggests), but for me, as a Disney fan, the extra hours in the parks, the transportation, the theming, is not worth the extra hundreds of dollars per night. ¬†The magic of their hotels is not a make-or-break for me in visiting the parks.

So, that’s me. ¬†What about you? ¬†Am I crazy? ¬†If I really want the magic, should I just suck it up and stay at the Disney Value resorts I am willing to pay for, regardless of amenity disparity between those and off-site hotels for the same price? ¬†Am I really saving any money after rental car costs? ¬†Am I undervaluing immersive magic just for a standing shower? (This might be true.) ¬†Obviously, Disney fans are passionate and I’m sure there are a lot of opinions about the value of the Disney resorts.

If you’ve got thoughts, please share in the comments!

[Tip of the hat to Estelle from This Happy Place Blog for sharing her thoughts on this topic and post.]

Meanwhile…

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Thoroughly enjoying brunch at Boma in Disney’s Animal Kingdom Lodge.

So I’ve been lazy. ¬†Definitely not busy. ¬†Just pretty lazy.

Do you ever get writer’s block, that kind of motivational constipation, a case so bad that it just seems to shut off all “creative” (a liberal use of the term) valves in your brain? ¬†I’ve had no gumption to do anything blog or doodle-related in several weeks now, and¬†I’m gonna chalk this up to a few things:

  • Back into the city: though we’ve had our fair share of drama recently (including an impending major dental procedure), for the most part, Lance and I have been much more content, happier in the last few months since we escaped the suburbs. ¬†Without that tortured soul, I haven’t been able to snark enough about anything in particular.
  • My un-commute: Now that we live in the city again, and I can see my office building from our apartment, I don’t have to spend two hours commuting to work every day, a chunk of time which allowed me to come up with post ideas. ¬†Now, my walk to work is so gosh-darn pleasant that I don’t think about much of anything!
  • Up in the air: As I’ve alluded to on here many times, I obsess about traveling, and have not-so-recently been piecing together a potential trip idea to Disneyland in California. ¬†I would (and still do) check Kayak and Room77 several times a day to see if airfare and hotel rates went down, hyperventilating when prices would spike. ¬†Thankfully, now that our travel itinerary has solidified a bit (which I’ll get into in a later post), I should avoid any “are we or we not going to Disneyland???” panic attacks.

All that being said, I’ve begun dipping my toes again into the world o’ blogging, this time for my pal, kellybakes. ¬†Kelly’s currently galavanting around Walt Disney World, so I put together a list of the top 5 Disney food items you shouldn’t miss–especially someone like Kelly, who hasn’t been to Disney World in over 20 years. ¬†Go on and take a gander at my guest post on her blog, and poke around beyond that for some great recipes and beeeeautiful food photos.

And, I PROMISE, I actually have some brand spankin’ new posts (to go along with this brand spankin’ new look!) on the horizon.

I’ll see you back here tomorrow!

Sunday Philly Funday: Food Truck Street

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A quick Sunday post to satiate all you folks who gave up deliciousness for Lent:

Though this might be a trend nationwide/in Philly that already reached its saturation point (thanks a lot for the overexposure, Tyler Florence), I do love me a good food truck.

I stayed away from them for a long time; in my parents’ time, food trucks were dubbed “roach coaches” and only people who needed to lose a lot of weight via food poisoning to fit into their wedding dress ever dared to eat from one.

Some socio-foodologist could probably trace the history of gourmet food trucks better than I can, but it’s my understanding that the trend started in Los Angeles with the Kogi BBQ truck, which tweeted out its location every day; the thrill of the hunt, probably as much as the food itself, created a massive following.

The first time I became aware of gourmet food trucks in Philly was with the Buttercream Philadelphia truck, owned and operated by “the Cupcake Lady,” Kate Carrara. Kate was right on the crest of the cupcake wave, and was almost single-handedly responsible for bringing the craze to Philly.

Probably about two years ago now, more and more gourmet trucks began popping up: Vernalicious, Chewy’s, Pitruco (with a brick oven in the back of the truck!), Guapos Tacos (by Iron Chef Jorge Garces, now more or less defunct), Foo Truck, Say Cheese, among dozens of others (some great, some not).

Thankfully, there’s a great line-up of trucks just down the street from where I work at the intersection of 33rd and Arch Streets here in Philadelphia. ¬†Spot Burger makes what might be the best bang-for-your-buck burger I’ve ever had. ¬†Mac Mart is one of the newest of the bunch, but serves some deliciously satisfying spins on classic mac n’ cheese.

And, of course, my favorite has to be Rival Bros. Besides the super-dreaminess of its owners/operators [Get ahold of yourself, Jeff!], they make what is by far the best latte I’ve ever had…and their hand-drip ain’t too bad either.

This crop of food trucks is great because you’re getting some really high-quality goods at solid–though not dirt-cheap–prices. ¬†However, if you consider the food to be of the same quality (or better) than that of a sit-down restaurant, you’re saving money and time.

If the rumors of a food truck area in the new Disney Springs section of the Walt Disney World Resort turn out to be true, they could do a lot worse than emulating these guys.

 

25X: Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party

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After a delicious breakfast at Boma: Flavors of Africa (you’ll have to check out our pics on Facebook for that one) and our Walt Disney World Resort holiday decorations tour, we headed to the Magic Kingdom for Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party.

Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party is one of Disney World’s two annual hard-ticketed events, where you pay separately (read: more) for admission since it’s not included in the regular park ticket price. ¬†The party officially starts at 7:00PM, though party-goers can start entering the park at 4:00PM. ¬†Seven hours in the Magic Kingdom with WAAAY reduced lines and special events, all for about 60% of what a regular park ticket costs? And being able to visit the park while it’s not oppressively hot? ¬†SOLD! (more…)

25X: Disney Decks the Halls

No matter how many “Oh, we had some airline vouchers to use up before the end of the year” excuses we try to employ, just know this: we’re crazy (also, I’m writing this with less than four hours of sleep under my belt, so Duffy the Disney Bear with me here). ¬†Yes, we did have Southwest Airlines vouchers which were going to expire in the next six months, and yes, we got our hotel room for basically nothing, but when all’s said and done: I really just wanted to see Walt Disney World decked out for the holidays. ¬†So we flew down Saturday morning and only returned just a few hours ago.

Tomorrow, we’ll talk about Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party at the Magic Kingdom, which was the main reason we went down to Orlando; today, we’re going to discuss Christmas decorations.

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One of the handful of trees in the Downtown Disney shopping district.

Christmas, to me, is about going big or going home. ¬†If you’re not going to bring your A-game with your gifts, your cookies, or your decorations, then get the eff out. ¬†The holidays are not about being subtle or understated, they’re about big blow-up Charlie Brown snow globes in your front yard and department stores gussied up in red like $10 hookers.

My dad makes fun of my mom for “throwing up Christmas” all over their house for a month each year, with light-up village displays and nativity scenes and wreaths and garland everywhere, but I love it: Christmas, to me, is taking the season and wrapping yourself up in it. (more…)

Bright Lights, Big Mickey

It’s a Disney-rific week here at LEG+JCB, underscored by the fact that I’ve purchased four Disney-related books over the past few days (Designing Disney, The Art of Walt Disney,¬†Since the World Began, and a pre-order for¬†Poster Art of the Disney Parks).

Thanks much to the always awesome Mouse on the Mind for extending an invitation to me to write about what I love about Disney after dark (oooh, saucy!…or, not really.) ¬†I love exercises like these (especially when documenting vacations), because it forces you to take all of these disparate thoughts and experiences and really distill them into a (semi-?) coherent narrative, especially around an element that you wouldn’t normally consciously consider, drawing forward certain elements which may have otherwise been left in the back of your brain to get all dusty and cobwebby.

I love the Magic Kingdom at night because, unlike the rest of the parks at Walt Disney World, it really embraces being open later, and the lighting really sets the stage for your experience. ¬†The colors on display are so over-the-top, it feels like you’re walking through one of those trippy dream sequences from the ’60s and ’70s animated classics, like the Heffalump and Woozle scene from¬†The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh.

It’s a little like Las Vegas in a way, but without the migrant workers trying to hand you trading cards of naked women.

Click here to read my thoughts on the Magic Kingdom at night!

Walt Disney World 2012 Day Three Trip Report

Click here for our Day One coverage….

and here for our Day Two coverage.

Now, onto Day Three!

Day 3: Alright, confession time. ¬†This was the day in our trip where I didn’t really know what to expect. ¬†Here was the itinerary I sorta laid out:

8:00am-9:00am: Take advantage of Hollywood Studios’ Extra Magic Hours to finally experience Toy Story Midway Mania

9:00am-1:00pm: Animal Kingdom

1:15-2:30pm: Lunch at Sanaa, in the Animal Kingdom Lodge Kidani Village

3:00pm-6:00pm: Blizzard Beach

See, I’d only been to Animal Kingdom once before, back in 2004, and was massively underwhelmed. ¬†As its newest park, it’s also the resort’s most spartan in terms of attractions (the addition of Avatarland will help address that, though, as I’m sure many Disney-philes feel, I’m kinda sad Disney didn’t reach into its own catalog and pull out stuff from¬†The Lion King or something like that instead. Maybe that’s too obvious…) Granted, I should note that, the one day I visited some eight years ago, it was also pouring down rain, it was pre-Expedition: Everest, and I was with my freshman year roommate, so things like Camp Minnie-Mickey didn’t really appeal to us.

I wanted to give Animal Kingdom another shot, though, since I know there’s a small but ardent fan base for the park. ¬†Did I just miss something the first time around? The schedule was tight, but I thought we could do most of the major Animal Kingdom attractions in about 4 hours.

Well, as it turns out, after staying in the Magic Kingdom the night before until 2:00am and not getting back to the hotel until 3:00, we were bushed, and I couldn’t get myself to wake up at 7:00am to get my butt over to Hollywood Studios for the Toy Story ride. ¬†We were working on a combined 9 hours of sleep over the past two nights and I just had to sleep in…until 8:00am.

Was I ever going to get to ride Toy Story Midway Mania??

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