runDisney Registration and Race Dates for Late 2017 and 2018 Events

runDisney has posted the dates for the late 2017 and early 2018 events (full list in the runDisney image, below.) Most race dates are pretty much what you would expect (it looks like Marathon weekend is settling right into that first full weekend in January slot instead of later in the month.) There are a couple of milestones, though, including the 25th annivesary of the Walt Disney World Marathon, and the 10th Anniversary of the Princess Half-Marathon, that you might  want to consider (Maybe runDisney will give out a special medal?)

See y’all on the road!

runDisney 2017 and 2018 Events
runDisney 2017 and 2018 Events

Disney’s New 4 Park Magic Ticket is an Interesting Option for Shorter Trips

Disney has announced that it is offering a new “4 Park Magic Ticket”. This new ticket is $280 and allows entry into 1 of Disney’s 4 theme parks per day, but–unlike a standard 4 day ticket–only allows entry into each theme park once per ticket. (In other words, the 4 Park Magic ticket allows you to get into Magic Kingdom, the Studios, Epcot, and Animal Kingdom, one time, each.) You save $45 per adult ticket from the standard 4 day, non-park hopper price if you’re willing to accept this additional restriction. It’s also $10 less than a regular 3-day ticket. (All prices, pre-tax.) The ticket is good from Nov. 15, 2016 – May 26, 2017, but has blackout dates of Christmas time and Easter (i.e., Dec. 17, 2016 through Jan. 2, 2017 and April 10-21, 2017.). Other common restrictions such as “use within 14 days of first use”, etc… also apply.

The ticket seems to be marketed to more “price conscious” guest, as it specifically calls out guests in “nearby” hotels and offers packages at “Good Neighbor” (i.e., offsite) hotels.

Families that are planning to travel during this period and are planning on buying 4-day tickets to simply visit each of the 4 parks might want to give this a look. Having an extra hundred-plus dollars in ticket savings could mean the difference between fitting that extra character meal or souvenir into the budget. Also, it might be worth investigating if you were planning on buying a standard 3-day ticket. (Use that extra day to visit the Animal Kingdom at night, grab a drink at Nomad Lounge, and thank me later.) People running one of the runDisney races during the period might also want to see if it fits into their travel plans.

From an analysis perspective, this kind of ticket seems consistent with Disney’s “variable” pricing experiments over the past few years. It provides an incentive for people to visit all of Disney World’s park on vacation, even while some of those parks are under construction. Such efforts remain necessary to distribute guests across the resort. Elyssa and I have seen “mixed” late night attendance at Animal Kingdom since they’ve started the nighttime offerings (frequently it’s empty, but it was somewhat “crowded” during our last visit), and, until Rivers of Light finally debuts, I doubt that will change. Having something like this 4 Park Magic Ticket that encourages people to visit there–and the heavily under construction Studios–seems like an interesting experiment. I’m looking forward to seeing how this plays out.

The new 4 Park Magic Ticket is only $70 per day for a limited time and gives one admission to each of the four theme parks on four separate days starting tomorrow, Nov. 15, 2016-May 26, 2017.

New Rope Drop [dot] Net Feature – Everyday Carry – John’s Disney Bag

Eagle-eyed readers might have noticed a new navigation option pop up in the menu a few days ago. That was a “soft launch”, but today we’re officially launching a new feature on the site: Everyday Carry – John’s Disney Bag. People who know me are aware of the extent that I iterate over every aspect of my Disney plans, always trying to refine each and every detail. As you might expect, that refinement extends to the bag that I bring with me to the parks pretty much every day.

John's Disney Bag
John’s Disney Bag

This first version of the feature goes directly to my current bag setup. As things evolve (which has a high likelihood of happening in the upcoming months), I anticipate changing the page to more easily view (what will then be) historical versions.

Let me know on Twitter what you think (and what you bring with you to the park!)

The Easiest Way to Calculate Your Disney Timeline: Ask your iPhone

One of the things you’re frequently doing when planning your Disney World trip is calculating dates. (When is 180 days before the first day of my trip? When is 60 days before the first day of my trip?, etc…) Over the years, I’ve tried various options (TouringPlans’s Dashboard, Wolfram Alpha’s Professional Assistant App, and I even wrote my own date calculation program), but none of them were easy as I wanted the process to be. Enter, Siri.

“Hey Siri, what’s 180 days before April 20?”
“It’s Saturday, October 22, 2016.”
Siri Date Example
Siri Date Example

Boom. Done. It’s so simple. Why would I ever bother to do date calculations any other way? (I can also ask Siri to make appointment on my calendar or set a reminder for me, but that’s beyond the scope of this article.)

NOTE: Sadly, my beloved Alexa cannot handle this kind of date calculation (which bummed me out.) Also, Google’s “Ok, Google” assistant seemed to be able to handle the “in the future” calculation (e.g., “What is 60 days from now?”), but couldn’t handle the “days before” type of requests that are so common when doing Disney-related planning (e.g, “What is 60 days before April 20?”). Microsoft’s Cortana cannot do it either, but I don’t know anyone who uses her (except when playing Halo.)

News Nuggets from Around Disney World

It’s time for everyone’s favorite serving of Disney World, the Rope Drop [dot] Net News Nuggets! There isn’t a lot of particularly juicy news this time, but a few things that I would classify as “transitional” (like the closing of Sum of All Thrills or–essentially–moving all convention space to the Yacht Club.) That said, let’s get to it!

We’ll close out with a video that Disney recently posted of what it’s like to be the eagle at the tail end of the Main Street Electrical parade. Thanks for reading, and enjoy!

A Disappointing Change in runDisney Policy – No Race Deferrals, Even for Brain Surgery

Through some recent discussions on the Mickey Milers Facebook group, it has come to our attention that runDisney no long provides deferrals for any of its races. (Previously, you could pay a nominal fee to defer a race a year into the future.) Even more disheartening, this was not a change that was broadcast by runDisney or even before registration for the races took place, but, instead, was something we found out about when of our fellow Mickey Miles team members was informed of this policy change when requesting a deferral because of upcoming brain surgery. Instead of allowing him to have a deferral to a future year, runDisney decided to make a “1 time exception” to the “no refunds” policy and provide our fellow team member with a Disney Gift Card in the amount of 1/2 of the funds he paid to register for his races (minus the registration fees that Active.com charges.) That’s right, instead of allowing a runner to defer to the future because he was having brain surgery, runDisney said he could have 1/2 of his money back, in the form of Disney credit.

Policy changes like this disappoint me, greatly. When Elyssa had her brain surgery a couple of years ago, runDisney was fantastic about deferring our race registrations at no cost to the following year. Knowing that race was coming up again was a huge part of what motivated Elyssa to learn to walk, and then run, again. Getting that deferral was such a pivotal moment, that I clearly remember the night I got off the phone with runDisney, walked into Elyssa’s hospital room (crying) and said “I just got off the phone with runDisney. We’re running the race next year. You and me. Whatever it takes.” It was about 2 days later that Elyssa took her first post-surgery steps, and about 5 days later that she first jogged around the hall. To hear that runDisney has decided to not offer this same benefit to someone who is a very active participant in the runDisney community is heartbreaking. It really feels like taking some of the magic away

Elyssa and I love participating in runDisney events. We’ll be running the Star Wars: Dark Side Challenge in April of next year, and are really looking forward to it. In fact, while we are participating in it, we’ll probably love it. That said, thinking about it now, it saddens me that runDisney’s policies are standing in the way of people having the same chance to “come back” from major surgery and injuries that Elyssa did. Frankly, I would have been devastated if runDisney told me what they’re telling people now. It’s so disappointing that I hardly even know how to express it.

Under runDisney's new policy, I wouldn't have had this moment. My princess finally completing her race.
Under runDisney’s new policy, I wouldn’t have had this moment. My princess finally completing her race.

25% Off Sale in Shop Disney Parks App

The Shop Disney Parks App currently has 25% off and free ground shipping on “most orders”. This is great if one of your favorite website contributors has a birthday coming up and you haven’t gotten her anything yet.

Seriously, though, I use the Shop Disney Parks App even when I’m at Disney World. It is sometimes cheaper (and almost always easier) to have items just shipped directly to my home than have to worry about transporting them myself back from Disney World. Since the app even gives you a lot of your various discounts (AP, DVC, etc…), it’s usually worth checking out.

Shop Disney Parks Sales
Shop Disney Parks Sales

FuelRod or Not – Use Low Power Mode on your iPhone at Disney World

Since I posted my article on Disney’s new FuelRod program, other people have also weighed in with their opinions. (Josh from easyWDW seems to make many of the same points I made, so I—obviously—think he did the best job.)

All that said, however, one thing that you should be doing at Disney World, regardless of what battery pack you use (or don’t), is using Low Power Mode on your iPhone while in the parks. (Android apparently has its own Battery Saver Mode, which might have a similar impact, but, I’ve never used Android, so I can’t confirm.)

Basically, when you’re walking around Disney World, your phone is constantly trying to deal with things that suck battery (low or non-existent network connection, you checking the time or trying to refresh FastPass+ availability, etc…). Low Power Mode helps address some of this drain by doing things like reducing background app refreshes and some of the visual effects on your phone. Though I haven’t done extensive comparisons of when my phone dies while in a given Disney Park, I can report that my phone lasts significantly longer when on Low Power Mode. In fact, I’ve even managed a near full Disney day (rope drop at the Magic Kingdom, lunch at Beaches & Cream, visit to Disney Springs, then back to Magic Kingdom for Celebrate the Magic and Wishes) without running out of battery. (Obviously, your results may vary—and I wouldn’t recommend this being your standard operating procedure—but, it’s possible.)

Should you decide to give Low Power Mode a try, turning it on is pretty simple. First, go to the settings app on your iPhone. From there, select the “Battery” option from the third grouping of choices.

Setting Screen
Setting Screen

On the Battery menu, you then simply turn on Low Power Mode. That’s it.

Low Power Mode
Low Power Mode

iOS is kind of aggressive about turing “off” Low Power Mode, so if you happen to plug your phone in (to a charger or battery pack), you might want to check to make sure Low Power mode remained on. (I like to turn Low Power Mode on before I unplug my phone from a charger. That seems to help the automatic shut-offs a bit.)

Hopefully, this tip helps your battery survive a little longer while visiting Disney World. Good luck!

Tips for People Driving from (or through) North Carolina to Disney World

This might seem like a very specific topic to cover, but friend of the site Dutch Lombrowskiis driving from New England down to Florida the next couple of weeks and I planned on typing up this information for him anyway. (I have no idea if he actually wants it, but I figured I’d share anyway.)

Coming from Raleigh / Durham, we get on I-95 at Exit 81. Since that’s about 40 minutes from our house we don’t normally need to stop quite yet, but Exit 79 (Benson) does have a top flight, North Carolina BBQ stop—White Swan BBQ—if you’re interested

Here are our other key notes for the drive:

North Carolina

  • NC Exit 22 – The only Chick-Fil-A between when we get on I-95 and the end of the state. If we’re getting an “after work” start, then we usually stop here.

South Carolina

Driving through South Carolina always feels like the longest part of the drive. It’s not the prettiest part of highway, there’s not a lot of good places to stop, and it’s only 2 frakin’ lanes!!!. (And, yes, I know South of the Border exists, but, realistically, I’m not stopping there.) Thankfully, gas prices are usually pretty low. We usually find, however, that once you get into the last 30 miles of the state, it’s better to wait to Georgia.

  • SC Exit 164 – If we didn’t stop in Lumberton, NC (Exit 22), then this is usually our first stop on the drive. The exit has a Bojangles and a Zaxby’s for your fried chicken needs. (Bojangles is much, much quicker.)
  • SC Exit 160A – The only Chick-Fil-A off I-95 in SC (I know, right?). It’s this weird “drive-through only”-type establishment that we usually skip because the whole experience is a pain in the rear.
  • SC Exit 98 – There’s a Hampton Inn and a Bojangles here. The next place with decent hotels is Savannah, GA (which is 100 miles away.) Make sure you’re not too tired to go that distant.
  • SC Exit 53 – That said, there’s a Holiday Inn Express here in Walterboro that we’ve thought about trying. (It has good reviews, but we’ve also heard horror stories.) We’ve always ended up making it to Savannah, though. (Technically, there’s also a Hampton Inn, but it’s a converted, old motel with all exterior entry rooms.)

Georgia

Getting across the bridge into Georgia (and it’s 3 lane highway!!) always feels like such a relief. There’s a ton of different exits in Savannah that have hotels, so I won’t go over all of them here. Just know that, if you make it to Savannah, you’re almost always going to be fine finding a place to stay.

  • GA Exit 104 – If you made it through South Carolina and want to reward yourself with a Frozen Lemonade, here’s your first Chik-Fil-A.
  • GA Exit 38 – This is kind of “stretch” goal if we leave in the evening after work (For example, if we know Carolina is playing Duke in basketball at a 9pm tip-off and we’re going to be up late anyway.) There’s a Hampton Inn here that’s right off the highway.
  • GA Exit 3 – Here’s another Chick-Fil-A. (Though we normally wait until we get to Florida to stop.)

Florida

Florida! You’ve made it! (Well, almost.) I’m not going to talk about hotel options in Florida, since (if you’re like me) you’ll probably want to just get to Orlando now. If you really can’t go any farther, than St. Augustine has a variety of options.

  • FL Exit 363: One of our primary Chick-Fil-A stops. It’s a little off the highway, but your GPS should explain the funky traffic pattern to you. This exit also has a Blaze Pizza if you want to try that before it opens at Disney Springs.
  • FL Exit 344: As I said, 363 is our primary Chick-Fil-A stop. At exit 344 we’re getting a little too close to Jacksonville, and we’d rather not risk some kind of traffic occurring when we are really ready for a stop. (Sitting in traffic when you really have to go to the bathroom is the worst.)
  • FL Exit 339: Another Chick-Fil-A here, but we never stop.
  • FL Exit 268: The Chick-Fil-A opened in Fall 2016, and we’ve actually stopped on the way home from Disney.
  • FL Exit 260B: I-4! You’re really almost there! (Probably about an hour, depending on traffic.)

As you can imagine, when we’re that close to Disney World, we don’t usually stop (so, I can’t really make any I-4 recommendations.)

Those are Elyssa’s and my tips for driving from North Carolina to Disney World. If our Chick-Fil-a focused plan doesn’t work for you, check our the I-95 exit guide to try and plan a drive that works for you!

Disney’s new Fuel Rod Service Seems Like an Unnecessary Hassle

tl;dr – Plan ahead and buy a battery rod or packfrom Amazon instead of spending more time and money on Fuel Rods. Also, this article has a lot of numbers.

As has been reported on a number of different sites, Disney World has started rolling out Fuel Rod portable chargers for people to use in the parks. The basics of the system are that you pay $30 to get a Fuel Rod that comes fully charged to use with your phone. When you have used the entire battery, you can either recharge the Fuel Rod yourself, or exchange it at a kiosk to get a different, fully charged one at no cost.

On the surface it sounds like a decent system, but I wondered how convenient this whole process really is, especially when compared to the plethora of USB battery packs that are on the market.

Unfortunately, Fuel Rod doesn’t really advertise the size of their…ummm…rod? (Sorry.) The only Fuel Rod review I was able to find said that he got about 65% of an iPhone charge with one of the rods. (This is consistent with what I heard on an episode of DIS Unplugged, but it seems that they used the same review I did to come up with their number.) For those mathematically inclined, 65% of the current’s iPhone’s battery would mean a Fuel Rod would have just over 1,100 mAh of capacity (the current iPhone has a 1,1715 mAh).

To satisfy my intellectual curiosity, I also tried to calculate the size of a Fuel Rod by using the “around 8 hours of phone charge” claim reported by WDW Magic. Though Apple lists a variety of battery times for its iPhone, an estimate of 15-17 hours per day for a normal user isn’t terrible. (A normal user not at Disney World, where the combination of poor network connectivity and “need” to refresh My Disney Experience repeatedly for Fastpass+ availability means that you’re probably looking more realistically at 8-10 hours of battery life, if you’re lucky.) This would mean that a Fuel Rod would charge just over 50% of the current iPhone, and most likely have a capacity of around 850 mAh.

In order to give Fuel Rod the benefit of the doubt (which they don’t deserve for keeping their specs a secret, but, whatever), let’s assume their rods have 1,200 mAh of capacity. How does that compare to various other battery options on the market? SPOILER ALERT: Terribly.

For example, for $10, you can get this Anker battery rod that has just under 3x the capacity of a Fuel Rod and is still slightly slimmer in size. This would let you charge your phone twice without having to think about “recharging your rod”. If you want to invest the same $30 you’d spend on a FuelRod, you can purchase this Amazon Basics Battery Pack that will charge your iPhone over 9 times before it needs to be recharged. In other words, you’d need to either recharge or swap out your Fuel Rod 12 times to get the same capacity as the the Amazon Basics pack. That’s ridiculous. I’d much rather “worry” about remembering to plug in my battery pack every 2-3 days than have to find Fuel Rod kiosks 10+ times over that period.

Look, I understand that some people might not want to carry a battery pack with them when they first enter the park. But, once you buy that first Fuel Rod, you’re going to be carrying it with you anyway for the rest of the day (your Disney World visit?) so you can swap it out. You might as well just pay $10 in advance and get the Anker rod that weighs 2.7 oz to bring with you. At least then you’ll be able to charge your phone almost twice before you need to worry about your battery pack, instead of the .65 times you’d get from the $30 Fuel Rod.

Disney World has made smart phones necessary items to enjoy your park going experience, and, if you want to actually use your phone, you’re probably going to need some additional power. Though the Fuel Rod seems like an interesting idea on the service, its high cost and apparent low capacity seem like a poor option to fit almost all use cases. Think of it this way: you’re already planning things like ADRs and Fastpass+ reservations in advance of your Disney vacation, why not also plan to buy a battery rod or packin advance and save yourself a bunch of hassle?

Everyone needs a phone
Everyone needs a phone

News Nuggets from Around Disney World

It’s been a little bit since we did a full version of the News Nuggets, so it looks like we’re going to need a double order! (As an aside, Elyssa and I once thought we were hungry enough to get 2 orders of corn dog nuggets from Casey’s Corner. It did not end well.)

First, today’s big news was the release of the famous “Free Dining” offer (and related room-only discount.). Free dining is one of the most “famous” of the Disney discounts, but if you’re staying a moderate or deluxe resort, it’s almost always a better value to get the room-only discount instead.

Second, initial reviews of the first couple of “After Hours” parties at the Magic Kingdom are starting to trickle in. Attractions Magazine has some nice pictures that show (what feels like) a nearly empty park, easyWDW showed how there was virtually no wait at any of the attractions that were operating, and Dave’s brief summary on yourfirstvisit.net seems to confirm the “non-existent crowd” feel. Even TouringPlans thinks the party is worth the money. Personally, I’m tempted by it, but Elyssa and I could do a lot with $300 at Disney World, so I’m not sure we’ll end up doing it.

Third, you can now book your 4th Fastpass+ on your phone!. This should mean that a lot (most?) people no longer will need to ever visit one of the Fastpass+ kiosks (which means maybe Disney can put staffing cuts in those areas instead of on actual attractions.)

Now, on to the rest of the Nuggets!!

That’s it from this double-sized order of News Nuggets. I’ll leave you with the final performance of the Dream Along with Mickey castle show:

News Nuggets from Around Disney World

It’s Easter Weekend and and that means (among other things, obviously) lots of visitors to Disney World, and a whole bunch of new Disney World News Nuggets.

The biggest news is probably the new “extra” hours opportunities at the Magic Kingdom:

  • Disney “After Hours” Event Announced. – 3 extra hours at the Magic Kingdom with a low attendance sounds pretty awesome, but $150 per person is a lot of money for it. I’m not sure what I’ll do when I have the option to go to this. (I’m not the first / only person to say this, but it seems like the DVC Fireworks we saw a couple of weeks ago might be a good fit for this party.)
  • Disney adds “Early Morning Magic” to the Magic Kingdom – Rumors are saying that $69 gets you rides on Seven Dwarf’s Mine Train, Peter Pan and Winnie the Pooh, as well as a “breakfast buffet” at Pinocchio Village Haus for 1.5 hours before the park opens to regular guests. I was hoping this would be $50 per person, not $70.

That wasn’t all the news from the past few days, though. Here are the rest of the News Nuggets:

We’ll end this edition of the News Nuggets with this look at what has become of Disney’s River Country “Watering Hole”. I used to love River Country, and I was sad when it was closed. It’s freaky to see what it looks like now that Disney has abandoned it. Hopefully, the rumors Jim Hill talks about (building a DVC resort in that area) turn out to be true.

See you next time!

What special entertainment will be part of After Hours at the Magic Kingdom?
What special entertainment will be part of After Hours at the Magic Kingdom?

News Nuggets from Around Disney World

We talked yesterday about the changes coming to Wine & Dine Half Marathon weekend at Disney World, but what are we to do with the news of menu changes, new dessert parties, and (sadly) more price increases? Sounds like it’s time for another edition of the Rope Drop [dot] Net News Nuggets! Before we get to the majority of the Nuggets, we should need to point out one huge item:

With that out of the way, let’s get to the rest of the News Nuggets:

Though not a traditional “news nugget”, I would also like to point out that Disney plans to launch “Frozen” and “Tangled” themed wedding packages!. Yes, they’re only available in Tokyo now, but, if you ever need photography for Disney wedding (Frozen themed or not), feel free to contact Elyssa at Kivus & Camera. I bet there would be a discount for involved for getting to photograph that.

Shower Time!
Shower Time!

Big Changes for Wine & Dine Half Marathon Weekend

runDisney has officially announced the changes for Wine & Dine Half Marathon weekend and they are pretty major. Here is a summary:

  • There is now a Wine & Dine 10K on Saturday Morning;
  • There is a Lumiere’s “Two Course Challenge” that incorporates the Half Marathon and the new 10k; and
  • The Half Marathon is now a morning race with a route that does not involve the Studios (NOTE: there is still a special “after hours” party later in the evening).

These are pretty drastic changes to Wine & Dine weekend. I was expecting the 10K to be added, but I didn’t think they would move the half marathon to the morning. Personally, I’m going to lament the loss of a night race through Disney World. Also, part of the charm of Wine & Dine was running the Half Marathon and going right to the post-race party. It’s weird to run in the morning and then wait all day to go to the party. (Also, I wonder how many non-runner tickets they’ll sell to the party.)

It will be interesting to see how other runners react to these changes, but I suspect people will be a little bummed that we’re losing a night race.

UPDATE: In a blog post explaining the changes, Disney says that “with all four theme parks at Disney World soon remaining open during the nighttime hours, daytime races allow us to give race participants the best possible runDisney experience along with fantastic entertainment. Based on that explanation, I don’t think we will be seeing a nighttime race at Disney World for some time.

Wrestlemania coming to Orlando in 2017

It has been rumored for some time, but WWE has officially announced that Wrestlemania will be in Orlando on April 2, 2017.

From a fan perspective, I’m interested in seeing such a big event in a city I love to visit. As someone who writes about Disney World, I’m interested to see how something like this might impact crowd levels.

UPDATE: AM2 Magazine is also reporting that a WWE  “Hall of Fame” Restaurant is coming to Universal CityWalk. AM2 reports that the restaurant will be where NBA City used operate. (NOTE: This is the first time I’ve used a rumor from AM2, so I’m unsure how it’s reliability at this time. My excitement over Wrestlemania might be getting to me.)

 

Rumors of runDisney moving to PhotoPass for runDisney Races

Rumors of runDisney moving to PhotoPass for Race Photography

WDW Magic is reporting that runDisney is going to move to its own PhotoPass photographers for race photography (instead of current vendor, MarathonFoto). The change is rumored to go into effect for the “Dark Side” Star Wars Half Marathon weekend in mid-April. Though I haven’t seen official confirmation yet, this has been a hot rumor in parts of the runDisney community.

If this change actually comes to pass, it could be a nice upgrade for runners. Currently, MarathonFoto charges $80 to download your photos for 1 runDisney event. Meanwhile, an advance purchase (i.e., 3 days before your runDisney event) of Memory Maker (Disney’s photography product that allows for photo downloads) costs $150 (and includes all photos from your Disney World trip, not just those during the race.) As you can see, anyone running multiple events during a given race weekend will end up saving money under the PhotoPass system. (For a 2 race “challenge”, the savings would be $10. For a 4 race “challenge”, the savings would be $170.) People running a single race who don’t care about any non-race “in park” photographs might end up disappointed under this system, but at least Disney’s single photo download prices ($15 per photo) are half of MarathonFoto’s single photo download price ($30 per photo).

I’m really hoping that we get an official announcement of this change soon. It would be a welcome upgrade for Elyssa and me.

NOTE: I probably am even more excited as Annual Passholder, since I already have PhotoPass as part of my AP package.

Thoughts on Seasonal Pricing at Disney World

NOTE: This post will cover just the new Seasonal Pricing aspect of today’s price increase. Reaction to the multi-day ticket increase will be covered in a separate post.

As we (and every other Disney site on the Interwebs) reported earlier today, Disney World introduced seasonal pricing as part of its ticket price increase. The basic explanation is that the year is now broken up into Value, Regular and Peak “seasons” and 1-day tickets differ in pricing from season to season (You can read all the details here).

No matter the Season, you can always relax at Crescent Lake
No matter the Season, you can always relax at Crescent Lake

After seeing the Season pricing proposals earlier this Summer, I was pleasantly surprised with how the actual implementation of Seasonal Pricing took place. (Notice I’m not saying I’m “pleased that they implemented Seasonal Pricing”, I’m just happy with how they decided to implement if they had already decided they were going to do it.) First, Disney only applied the Seasonal Pricing to 1-day tickets. This alleviates a lot of the issues where people who had multi-day trips across the “seasons” would have been forced to buy tickets for the most expensive of the seasons in their trip. Relatedly, as was discussed on the above linked TouringPlans article and on WDW Today, the original “Seasons” had almost all weekend days listed as “Silver” or above (Disney decided to use Value, Regular and Peak for its Seasons instead of the Bronze, Silver, Gold structure it used in the survey that started all this discussion, but the concepts remain the same.) In the actual implementation, Disney generally left weekends as part of the same season as the weekdays surrounding it. Again, this could alleviate some of the “cross season” concerns when Disney implements Seasonal Pricing on multi-day tickets. (I think it’s safe to assume multi-day Season Pricing is coming within the next few years, so hopefully Disney continues to divide its “seasons” up the same way in the future.)

The actual division of the seasons was also a little interesting. I know that “Spring Break” is considered a popular time at Disney World, but I’m surprised to find it part of the new Peak Season (and, therefore, have the same price as the Summer and Christmas.) Similarly, I’m surprised to find that the 1st and 2nd weeks of December are part of the Regular Season instead of the Value Season, since they’re usually considered some of the lowest crowd times at Disney World. (Even the some of the “higher” crowd levels last year seem to suggest those weeks could have been value. Sorry, Howie.) Maybe Len Testa isn’t that far off the mark when he says that Value Season is “hurricane season” and Peak Season is “when your kids are out of school.”

In summary, I think we got (at least?) a 1 year reprieve from a full-on implementation of Seasonal Pricing for the multi-day tickets that a majority of Disney World guests purchase. We also ended up with a much more customer-friendly version of the “seasons” calendar than was originally rumored (I hope that holds true in future years.) Though I wish we weren’t moving to surge pricing at all, I’m pleasantly surprised by this particular implementation.

Initial Breakdown of the February 2016 Disney World Ticket Price Increase

As was expected, Disney World rolled out a new price increase this morning. It featured the “seasonal / tiered / surge” pricing that people had been expecting (Disney calls it “Seasonal” pricing, so I guess that’s what I’ll go with), but (thankfully?) only applied that pricing structure to 1-day tickets. Multi-day tickets will continue to have the same prices throughout every day of the year.

Here is an explanation of the new “seasonal” and multi-day pricing changes: (There will be more analysis and reaction coming in a separate post, later.)

Seasonal Pricing

Seasonal pricing is for single day tickets only and is based on a calendar that’s available when you choose to buy a single day ticket on Disney World’s website (the calendar currently only lists “seasons” through the end of 2016). It divides the entire calendar into 3 different “seasons”: Value, Regular, and Peak (and like Disney’s hotel “seasons”, they don’t align with traditional summer, spring, etc… seasons at all.)

NOTE: As you might expect, you can use a higher tiered ticket for a lower tiered day (e.g., Peak Season ticket on a Value Season day), but you can’t go the other way around.

Here is the breakdown for the Disney World price “seasons” for the rest of the year:

  • February 28 through March 3 – Value
  • March 4 through 10 – Regular
  • March 11 through April 2 – Peak
  • April 3 through May 26 – Regular
  • May 27 through July 23 – Peak
  • July 24 through August 21 – Regular
  • August 22 through September 29 – Value
  • September 30 through November 19 – Regular
  • November 20 through November 27 – Peak
  • November 28 through December 21 – Regular
  • December 22 through December 31 – Peak

Though I plan on writing about this more later, two things jump out at me: (1) I’m really glad Disney didn’t just make every weekend day part of a Regular Season or above; and (2) it’s interesting that early December (normally thought of as one of the lower crowd times) has been marked as a “Regular” season.

The pricing for the various seasons is as follows (NOTE: All prices are without tax):

Value Season

  • Magic Kingdom – $105
  • Epcot, Animal Kingdom, The Studios – $97
  • Park Hopper- $155

Regular Season

  • Magic Kingdom – $110
  • Epcot, Animal Kingdom, The Studios – $102
  • Park Hopper – $160

Peak Season

  • Magic Kingdom – $124
  • Epcot, Animal Kingdom, The Studios – $114
  • Park Hopper – $164

The Value Season 1 Park tickets are actually the same prices that those same tickets were in 2015. The Regular Season tickets get a $5 bump across the board, while Peak Season gets a whopping $19 per ticket increase over Value Season when talking about the Magic Kingdom, $17 for the other parks and $9 for a Park Hopper.

All 1-Day tickets purchased this year must be used by December 31, 2017 or they “expire.” (Thankfully, you can get the amount you paid for your “expired” tickets as a credit to use  for purchasing new tickets at the then existing prices.)

Multi-day Tickets

Multi-day tickets also got a (more standard) price increase of $5 per day. In other words:

  • 2-Day Ticket – $202 ($10 increase)
  • 3-Day Ticket – $290 ($15 increase)
  • 4-Day Ticket – $325 ($20 increase)
  • 5-Day Ticket – $340 ($25 increase)
  • 6-Day Ticket – $355 ($30 increase)
  • 7-Day Ticket – $370 ($35 increase)

The Park Hopper option went up $5 dollars as well (it’s now $55 for tickets of 1 to 3 days and $69 for tickets of 4+ days).

Summary

As I mentioned earlier, I’ll have more to say about this in a bit, but my initial reaction is that things are not as bad as I was expecting (I was convinced that the “seasons” would be more like Disney Hotels and that all weekend days and holidays were would be part of a higher priced “season.”) The $5 per day multi-day ticket increase is pretty much in line with my expectations.

I might have to work a little more to afford Peak Season pricing
I might have to work a little more to afford Peak Season pricing

More and More Rumors of Tiered / Surge Pricing Coming to Disney World this Weekend

The rumors started in the summer of last year and there have been rumblings ever since. The recent delays in ticket price updates have caused people like Len Testa to speculate that the “tiered” or “surge” pricing will be coming to Disney World soon. Now, WDW News Today is reporting that Disney World is going to implement this tiered pricing over the weekend.

If you already have a trip planned (or are seriously considering a trip) it really might be a good time to buy your Disney World tickets. You can find the best deals on tickets at the TouringPlans tickets price calculator. (Also, as a reminder, some of these 3rd party sellers will have the “old pricing” tickets in inventory for a few weeks after the increase. If you don’t buy your tickets today, you might want to at least check the 3rd party sellers listed at TouringPlans before buying them direct at the new pricing.)

Initial Thoughts from our February 2016 Trip to Disney World

The BOATHOUSE Sliders
The BOATHOUSE Sliders

Elyssa and I just got back from a recent trip to Disney World. Though we anticipate doing more in-depth posts about various parts of the trip, here are some initial thoughts:

  • The location for the new Flamingo Crossing hotels is pretty awesome. It’s too early to really review the hotels themselves (they had opened only a week before our 1 night stay there), but the concept seem promising. I wonder how different it’ll feel when there is more than just 15 people staying in them, though.
  • Breakfast at Kona is the real deal. Tonga Toast, the Big Kahuna platter, etc…are great. If there’s a day where you don’t want to be waiting at the turnstiles at rope drop, then definitely stop by. (Same goes for Whispering Canyon, where we ate breakfast twice on the trip. Skillets AND giant Mickey Waffles, baby.)
  • Speaking of “real deal” food options, both Sanaa and The BOATHOUSE are great places to have lunch. Sanaa’s bread service is always good (TIP: You can order more bread for it if you want (and we almost always do)), and the filet sliders are The BOATHOUSE are delicious (and a complete steal at only $12.)
  • Skipper Canteen was pretty good. We both really liked the theming of the place (but I would have been fine with a few more puns from our “Skipper”.) Once you get past the slightly flowery “garnishes” to the dishes, they really are serving steak, chicken, pork, and mac ‘n’ cheese with beef. My pork was fine. Elyssa enjoyed her mac ‘n’ cheese (but not as much as the mac ‘n’ cheese from the BOATHOUSE which is probably now her favorite thing in Orlando). In an interesting twist, the $1.75 “Kid’s Volcano” dessert tasted better than the $8 Kungaloosh (so we’ll probably just 4 kid’s desserts next time instead of getting “grown up” desserts.)
  • The construction around the Wilderness Lodge right now is kind of bummer. I knew to expect it, but seeing so much of the resort closed and the trees near Bay Lake being removed is a bummer. I’m sure the new DVC rooms will be nice, but I’m going to miss that little buffer between the lodge and rest of the World that the “Woods View” rooms used to have.
  • There’s a few running jokes about Elyssa’s and my visits with Tinker Bell, but the cast members who portray her are consistently some of the best we interact with. We had one who must have dropped 15 “leaf” puns in the span of 2 minutes, all while carrying on conversations with Elyssa and I about running, pixie dust, and various other things that she was “tinking” about.
Tink Mode!
Tink Mode!

I’ll end by saying that the logistics that must go on behind the scenes at a runDisney race have to be insane. So many people getting moved around, running down World Dr., through theme parks, etc… while being provided with various character meets, and other entertainment. It has to be a tremendous effort. Our local races might get choked up if we get 2,000, but Disney handles close to 20,000 really, really well.

As I said, there will be more coming from this trip (hopefully, at least 2 or 3 of the 3,000 pictures Elyssa and I took turn out to be worthy of being included in a few posts), but these are some of the major takeaways from our 5 days down there.

Oh, and one last thing: BOATRIDE CLUB, BABY!!

Boatride Club
Boatride Club

 

Registration for the runDisney Star Wars “Dark Side” Half-Marathon Temporarily Re-Opened

If you’re looking to run the Star Wars “Dark Side” Half Marathon this year, the registration has been temporarily re-opened. There’s no word on how long it will last, so I’d jump on this quickly if you want to do it. (Also,  I have to admit, this would be super-tempting if Elyssa hadn’t already booked a Kivus & Camera wedding for that weekend.)

It might be a good time to buy your Disney World Tickets

Friend of the site, Josh Gonzalez, pointed out that Universal Orlando has raised ticket prices. Since a ticket price increase was expected, and since Disney normally raises its tickets around the same time as Universal, it might be worth considering buying your tickets now for any upcoming trips. The TouringPlans Ticket Calculator is a good place to find out where to get the best prices on your Disney tickets.

Podcast to Keep an Eye On: Backside of Magic

One of the things I enjoy about working on Rope Drop [dot] Net is finding out about new and upcoming resources for Disney information. Though I’m woefully behind on updating the Disney Podcast directory with all of the most recent submissions, one recent recommendation by friend of the site Dutch Lombrowski piqued my interest: Backside of Magic. With the recent departure of the original cast from WDW Today, I have been looking for a replacement Disney podcast that fills that same informative, analytical slot in my playlist, and Dutch’s recommendation was all I needed to give Backside of Magic a shot.

Summary of the Show So Far

To date, there have been 3 actual episodes of the show (and 2 mini / placeholder-type ones.) So far the format of the show seems to be:

  1. A summary of important Disney World news;
  2. “Preposterous Ponderance”, in which one host gives the other host a “preposterous” scenario and asks for his opinion on it (James Rosemergy would be proud); and
  3. The weekly topic.

The first episode’s weekly topic covered resources the hosts, Ryan and Jeremy, use to gather their information. Though probably not earth-shattering information to seasoned Disney travelers, knowing where they get their information helps validate their authority. (Yes, they did mention reading this site. I thank them for that, but it was really Dutch’s recommendation that got me to listen, not any kind of quid pro quo as a result of a site mention.) The second episode was a discussion about certain challenges that might arise when planning a Disney vacation (e.g., how to get Fastpass+ selection for a large group with different check-in days). Again, not particularly Earth-shattering information, but it does hint at the level of detail that hosts Ryan and Jeremy may be able to reach as their show continues to develop.

It was Episode 3, however, when the guys really hit their stride. First, in the news discussion, the hosts extrapolated how Disney’s new dining reservation policy may allow guests to avoid the current “$10 per person” fee one receives when cancelling an ADR within 24 hours of a reservation by applying the same technique that people use to avoid hotel cancellation fees (i.e., extending the reservation into the future, and then cancelling that new reservation). I followed up with the guys on Twitter to get their reasoning on that strategy. Not only did they provide me with a fuller explanation, but also informed me that they tested out the strategy during a previous trip (yes, they offered the disclaimer that maybe Bongos is less strict about its cancellation policy, but seeing that they actually tested out their theory before sharing it left me a very positive impression of the care they put into the show).

The weekly topic, saving money on Disney gift card purchases, was equally enlightening. The hosts provided 4 levels of “difficulty” in getting increasing amounts of discounts on Disney gift cards, and then explained how to apply those gift cards to your upcoming vacation. Even as someone who has previously written about managing Disney gift cards, I still learned a lot from this segment. (That said, I’m still firmly in the “you can’t pay your rent with a gift card” camp, and I encourage everyone to be smart about your gift card purchases when you have other expenses, limited funds, etc…) The segment also made me excited about the tips for saving on airfare that were teased for next week’s show. If that discussion is half as a good as the gift card one, I think it will be a real winner.

Looking to the Future

After listening to 3 episodes, I’m optimistic that Backside of Magic can be a strong entry in the Disney podcast space. Ryan and Jeremy seem to have a knack for making analytical connections related to certain news items, and I’m interested to see how they continue to apply that skill as the show continues to grow. With such a young show, there is  plenty of fresh ground they have not previously covered that is ripe for their analysis.

Of course, as Tony Kornheiser tells aspiring radio hosts: “Anyone can do a Monday show. What’s your Thursday show going to be?” In other words, what are you going to do when all the major topics have been talked about. It’s too early in the life of Backside of Magic to know what they’ll do on their “Thursday” show, but if these first 3 episodes are any indication, I think they’re going to be fine.

Why is there “Summer Free Dining” at Disney World?

Why is there a “Summer Free Dining”?

For dates from the end of May through mid-August (not including the 4th of July and surrounding days), Disney is offering a special “free dining” promotion that features one free quick service meal per person per night when you buy a “non-discounted 4-night / 5-day room and theme park ticket package at a Disney Value Resort.”

First, I don’t see this as impacting “traditional” free dining (the one where you actually get some variety of the Disney Dining Plan when you book a non-discounted stay at various resorts) at all. Here are the start dates for free dining in previous years:

  • 2012 – September 30
  • 2013 – September 29
  • 2014 – August 31
  • 2015 – August 28

As you can see, for the past 4 years, Disney has started its actual “Free Dining” promotion multiple weeks after this new “Summer” promotion is scheduled to end. I would imagine that if Disney does a free dining promotion this year, it will, as it has in the last several years, start in late August, after the traditional summer crowd (and this summer dining offer) has ended. I don’t think this summer free dining offer gives any real insight into Disney’s future “Free Dining” plans.

Secondly, I think this promotion is targeted at a very specific group of people, namely: Budget conscious travelers trying to decide between staying onsite or offsite for their summer visit. What leads me down this path is the offer’s limited applicability to only Value resorts. This suggests Disney World has a very specific market in mind.

In order to better evaluate this promotion, let’s look at a 4 night–5 day stay during the Summer Offer period for a family of 4 with two 5-year old children (specifically, staying Wednesday, June 15 through Sunday, June 19th). The non-discounted rate for a standard room during that time at Pop Century is $155 per night before tax (NOTE: Art of Animation Little Mermaid standard rooms are not an option for this Summer Offer). Comparatively, the same family could stay in the brand new SpringHill Suites at Flamingo Crossing for $99 per night before tax. Even if they rent a car for $20 a day plus pay parking for $20 a day (neither of which is absolutely necessary, depending on how they travel to Disney World and what their plans are while there) they have a comparable per night cost at the SpingHill Suites (and that’s before factoring in things like free in-hotel breakfast, money you could save by buying bottles of water at an off-site location, grabbing a lunch at Chick-Fil-A on your way back to the pool instead of at Casey’s Corner, etc…). They could also save over $180 on the price of 4 day Park Hopper tickets by buying from a reputable third party.

Even if it turns out that there is only $200 in monetary savings by staying offsite, that is $200 of real money the family is saving. When you’re talking about a total trip budget of around $2,000, that’s a pretty important amount of savings. I believe Disney’s “Summer Free Dining” is an attempt to eliminate some of that price difference between onsite and offsite stays for guests in an effort to appeal to extremely budget-conscious travelers. It’s Disney’s way of saying something like “if you stay with us, we’ll pick up your lunch bill.”

I understand all the arguments about why staying onsite is the only way to vacation at Disney World. I enjoy the “Disney Bubble” and I love being able to just walk out of my room and take a BOATRIDE, BAYBAY!! over to the Magic Kingdom. I like getting the extra 30 days to make my Fastpass+ selections and taking advantage of some night-time extra magic hours. 

But, if my budget for a Disney World trip for my family were $2,000, then those things might not be as important, and saving $100 here or $100 there could mean a lot. I think this Summer Offer is Disney’s attempt to close that off-site v on-site price gap in the budget-conscious market. I’m interested to see how it works.

Who doesn't love a boatride?
Who doesn’t love a boatride?