Everything Walt Disney World

Parks, Food, Resorts and More

How the Disney World Price Increase Affects You.

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Now that Disney has raised their ticket prices, you may be wondering how those of you already holding tickets, whether separately or as part of a package,  are affected.  Here’s everything you need to know:

  • Tickets attached to a package CURRENTLY booked will not change EXCEPT if you add a discount later. This means that if you’re booked now and you get free dining in the fall, you will pay the new ticket prices.  Most people don’t even notice because they get such a great discount, but price increases can be as high as $25 per ticket. That’s an extra $100 for the average family.
  • Tickets purchased prior to the increase are equal to the new ticket price. In other words, if you bought a ticket for $320 one day and the next day the ticket price goes up to $350, your ticket is worth $350, the value of the day you use it. This is true even if you use it ten years from now.
  • Annual passes purchased prior to the increase and kept as vouchers will be assessed at the value when you activate the pass, not the lower rate.

Even after ticket prices go up, some wholesale sites (there are only a few that are authorized by Disney to sell tickets, so be careful) will continue to honor the old prices for a few days.

How to Save an Extra5% on Every Disney Vacation.

DisneyGiftCardI get so many questions from clients about this, I decided to write a quick post to give you all the details.  Its easy to save an extra 5% on your next Disney vacation, whether it’s Disney World, Disneyland, or Disney Cruise Lines.  Here’s what you do:

Sign up for a Target Red Card. This is basically a debit card that’s attached to your financial institution and if you shop at Target already (and honestly, do you know someone in North America who doesn’t?), you should have one. Why? Because you’ll save 5% on just about everything you buy in the store. And that includes Disney gift cards.  I tell my clients to buy one every time they go to Target and just stash them away and make payments when they’re ready.  Five percent off of a $3500 trip is a nice big of cash back to you.

When you get the card,  you’ll see 12 numbers on the back. There are an additional 4 that are hidden; you’ll need to scratch those off.  Then just call it in or have your agent do it. If you have a large number of cards, this can be time-consuming, but the payoff is worth it and if you have a travel agent, trust me: She’d rather have you pay this way than not go, so don’t feel bad about emailing her 55 cards on a Sunday night.  Then,  just make sure you keep the card until after you’ve traveled. The reason for this  is that if you cancel, Disney will refund the money to those specific cards and if you don’t have the cards, things can get a little thorny (and yes, if you lost the cards and need the money back, the Mouse can work around this, but it’s complicated).

As an aside, there are online companies that sell gift cards at a slightly reduced rate and I have had clients use them successfully–I’ve also had them not work. My advice, stick to big, well-known companies like Target. Some discount stores like Best Buy also have occasionally discounts, but overall, Target is the best one I’ve seen.

These gift cards are not just good for paying for your vacation packages or rooms; you can also use them to pay for just about everything on property, including meals at most restaurants. It’s so easy, I don’t know why everyone doesn’t do it!  So the next time you’re in Target, throw one in the cart and start saving money.

What to Expect during Gay Days at Walt Disney World

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Gay Days at Disney World is the subject of some debate, so much so that I’ve written and re-written this post several times over the years and never published it.  In my job, it can be difficult to broach the subject. Do you tell a client that there will be same sex couples and run the risk that they’ll freak out and not go?  Do you bring up the subject and chance that they’ll think you’re a bigot because you even bothered to talk about it at all?  What if you avoid it altogether and a client comes back and trashes you all over the internet because you failed to “warn” them about something they felt strongly against?  It’s a fine line, one that my co-workers and I often lament not really knowing how to straddle.

Of course, Disney straddles the issue as well. The event, the first Saturday in June (plus Thursday, Friday and Sunday) is an unofficial event by Disney standards. Cast members might welcome guests, who often wear red shirts in solidarity, to “family days” but no one at Disney calls it “gay days.”  Still, in the last few years, rainbow colored pins, buttons and other souvenirs have been popping up during the event–and let’s not forget the cookies and cupcakes.  Disney is one of the most gay-friendly companies in the United States right up to the top management, but they’re also a company that caters to families off all political and religious persuasions. Making everyone happy is no easy task.

I went to Gay Days last June with a group of guys and a couple of women.   As you might imagine, it was your stereotypical Will and Grace situation (frankly, I liked Karen better), many times over. But that’s where the stereotypes ended. Some of the guys in our group were long-term couples, buttoned up with important jobs, grateful to be able to let loose for the weekend.  Some were older, some were young.  There was even a conservative republican in the bunch!  And I saw these groups repeated many times all over the parks.  I also saw lesbian moms with kids, looking like moms everywhere with their yoga pants and Starbucks cups, pushing huge strollers, the only difference being there were two moms instead of a mom and dad. And I saw two-dad families too, although they were usually better dressed than your typical dads, to be honest. What I’m saying is, I saw a lot of nice people and families.

At a certain point, I said to a friend of mine “You know, this was not what I expected.”  I’ve literally seen worse things standing in line for It’s a Small World (darn teenagers!) or in the middle of Main Street during Christmas week while a man cursed loudly into his phone.  But I had heard the stories, and it was confirmed that yes, off property at hotels that are part of the event, things get a little wild. And you know what? I would expect that with groups of 20-somethings anywhere, gay or straight. It’s why I would never vacation in Panama City during spring break or well, ever.  But on Disney property, things looked pretty much like they always do but with more manageable crowds. I told my friend this and he deadpanned “You’re sworn to secrecy. Let people think it’s like a gay pride parade in the 70s. Keeps the crowds down.”

So what should you expect? Well, a lot of the above. Disney resorts are, as you might expect, not where a lot of parties take place. If you stay off property and want to avoid parties, don’t go to a hotel that’s booking Gay Days Packages.  Trust me, you won’t accidentally book one of those.  Every year, the gay day’s schedule is as follows:

  • Thursday:  Animal Kingdom
  • Friday: Hollywood Studios (coincides nicely with Star Wars Weekend)
  • Saturday: Magic Kingdom (this is the big event and the one with the highest crowds)
  • Sunday: Epcot (expect groups “drinking around the world” much like during Food & Wine)

Crowds are probably at their worst on Saturday in the Magic Kingdom since that’s the day when most attendees will visit the parks.  Having said that, that Saturday was the only time I’ve ever waited less than 30 minutes for Seven Dwarfs Mine Train,  which I rode several times, since it opened.  In fact, it was the absolute most relaxing time I have ever spent in the Magic Kingdom. One caveat:  I found that dining reservations were more difficult to get and I’m guessing that it’s due to the fact that there’s a higher number of single people eating at the better restaurants. This is just anecdotal, of course.

Since these aren’t official events, you won’t find an actual schedule of activities, but there are lots of unofficial events that you can join like sing-a-longs at Country Bears Jamboree (sounds pretty wild, right?) and meet ups for drinking around the world at Epcot.  If you want to take part in some group events, you can find folks on Disney message boards who would be happy to add you to their group.

Ultimately, I’m finding most of my clients don’t care about Gay Days and are happy to hear that they can expect lower crowds.  The ones that do care?  I’ve had a couple. One family I sent anyway and they came back with nothing but good things to say about their trip.  But I’ve also moved families who were not comfortable visiting during that time.  And that’s okay. Because here’s the thing:  You don’t have to want to go to Disney World during Gay Days. Your feelings are your feelings, as are your beliefs, and it’s not for me to judge or to try to change your mind: At some point, I sunk into the comfortable realization that I can like someone, even love someone, and they can be very different from me.

Bottom line, go, don’t go. Do what makes you feel most comfortable. Know that the parks are generally going to look like they do every day of the year. Enjoy the lower crowds. Avoid the off site hotels catering to groups if that’s not your thing.  And have a magical day.

Can You Survive Disney during Christmas Week?

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Do you even want to?  Christmas week is the busiest week of the year, with parks often closing to capacity several times between Christmas Eve and New Year’s Day.  Added to that, prices are at their highest and the weather is often chilly, so you can’t even take a pool day.  Having just spent Christmas week in Disney, I can personally attest to the extraordinary lines and the abundance of flaring tempers, from the mom yelling at her kids in line for the bus, to the man standing in the middle of Main Street screaming obscenities into his phone.  The reason is simple: people spend a great deal of money to visit and they have images in their heads that don’t necessarily line up with reality.  When that happens, it’s not pretty. So why do people do it?

Well, because quite often, the good outweighs the bad.  My children saw the Christmas parade several times while we were there, the parks are gorgeous, and despite a few blips, the overall experience was festive and fun. It was just really crowded!  And if you know that going in and you adjust your expectations, you’ll probably do okay.

I spoke to many guests while I was there and the one thing that seemed to make a difference was planning.  Of course, you already knew that. But the guests who went in knowing that it was going to be crowded–believe it or not, I met people who were surprised that anyone would want to spend Christmas at Disney World–and made their dining reservations and fastpass+ choices at the appropriate dates had the most positive experience.  I’m not a huge fan of  overplanning, but I think during busier times, it’s an absolute must.

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We made an impromptu trip, possibly the worst possible thing you can do during Christmas week, but we knew what to expect and I warned my kids repeatedly that the parks would be different this week.  And by different, I mean packed.  Fortunately, we got pretty decent dining reservations, even two weeks out, thanks to cancellations by others. Our fastpasses weren’t ideal, but we resolved to wait for the attractions we couldn’t get and worked out a system where some in our group used our fastpasses while I held our place in Seven Dwarfs Mine Train,  for example. With the younger kids, I did things we normally don’t do, like KidCot in Epcot or Country Bear Jamboree (which we all love anyway).

I love seeing guests with “first visit” buttons in the parks, but this time of year, I just felt worried for them: Would they come back? Would they hate it? I think one of the things that saved us was knowing the parks.  For example, we had a dining reservation on New Year’s Eve morning at the Grand Floridian and we were lollygagging (it’s a vacation anyway) when a friend texted me to let me know that traffic on World Drive was backed up past the Downtown Disney exit. I panicked for a moment because I realized that the 45 minutes I would normally allot to drive over there wasn’t going to work, but then I remembered the back roads, raced to the car, and got there in all of 20 minutes. Thank goodness for all the times I’d been lost on property–I was actually learning something!

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Things like this saved us, but that’s not the case for many people. If you’re a first-timer or it’s been a while since you’re last visit, put in the time, research-wise.  Get a copy of The Unofficial Guide and use it for more than a door stopper–actually read it! Go on Disney sites and blogs, chat with those who’ve been there.  Put in the time and you’ll be breezing through the parks. Okay, maybe that’s an overstatement. But trust me, your research hours will pay off. You don’t have to be a slave to your spreadsheet. That’s a recipe for a disaster, but have a general plan for each day and a good idea of what the parks look like, where things are, and how to get around property.

Here are a few final suggestions:

  • Throw out your usual expectations.  You won’t ride everything and you certainly won’t walk on any attractions, although if you do (and it’s probably going to be Carousel of Progress) that’s just a bonus.
  • Plan as far in advance as you can. I found having table-service dining reservations took a lot of the stress out of feeding the kids, for example, because I didn’t have to deal with the crowds at quick-service locations.
  • If you get that rare sunny day where you can swim, take it.  I found the resorts to be downright peaceful, especially after being in the parks.
  • Speaking of the resorts, you may spend more time at your resort this trip simply because it’s a respite away from the crowds. Choose your resort–and the amenities you want–with the idea in mind that you may want more from your resort on this trip than you usually do.

Everyone warned me about going this week, but I had always wanted to try it.  And while I would personally advise my clients to first consider other times of the year–even summer–I would also do it again. I hope if you do, you feel the same way after your trip.

New Disney Discounts for Winter and Spring 2015!

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Call it a post-Christmas surprise:  Disney just announced two great offers for late winter through springtime travel. Here are the details:

Save up to 30%* on rooms at select Walt Disney World® Resort hotels when they book between Dec. 29, 2014 and Feb. 16, 2015 for stays most nights March 2-June 15, 2015.

Or, they can save up to 25%* on rooms at select Walt Disney World Resort hotels when they book between Feb. 17-March 28, 2015 for stays most nights March 2-June 15, 2015.

Great rates are also available for stays most nights Feb. 22-March 1, 2015.

Receive 1 more ticket day FREE when they upgrade to a room and ticket package with a minimum 4-dayMagic Your Way Ticket.

Booking Window:
Dec. 29, 2014 – Feb. 16, 2015
Feb. 17-March 28, 2015

Travel Window:
Feb. 22-June 15, 2015

Thinking about a trip? You’ll pay a refundable $200 deposit with the rest due 45-days prior to travel.  As a special bonus, all packages* booked under this offer with me will receive a $50 gift card. Referrals from you that book and travel will receive a $25 gift card. Email me at ChrisW@PixieVacations.com or call me at 919-889-5281 for more help in planning your next Disney vacation.

*For the purposes of this gift card offer, a package is defined as having a 3-day or more park ticket. 

How to Save Money on Disney Cruises.

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It’s notoriously difficult to get a discounted cabin on Disney Cruise Line (DCL). In fact, unless you’re active or retired military or you get one of those rare “kids free” discounts, you’re probably stuck paying full price for your cruise.  Fortunately, it’s worth it.  There’s a reason why DCL wins just about every travel industry award out there: The best food, kids’ activities, and amazing ships.  They’ve even got their own private island with immaculate beaches.  But do you have to pay full price?

In a word, yes.  But there are a few tricks that you might want to try first:

1)  Book early.

Since DCL deposits are easily refunded up until final payment, booking early before fares to up makes the most sense.  As cabin categories fill, Disney raises the prices in those categories. This can happen just days after rates are released, particularly with inside cabins as their lower price makes these categories very attractive.

Keep in mind that if you book a concierge-level room, you may move your deposit but it is not refundable.

2) Hurricanes? What hurricanes?

Hurricane season peaks in September and technically goes into the fall, when fares are also at their lowest.  You’ll find lower fares in January as well.

3)  Travel when the kids are out of school.

Just like at Walt Disney World and Disneyland, prices go up during school vacations, peaking during Thanksgiving, Easter week, and Christmas. If you absolutely must travel when your kids are out of school (and if your kids are older, you probably do), then try to book early or late summer. You’ll still get fantastic weather but the prices will be noticeably lower than mid-summer.

4)  Book late.

If you’re willing to gamble on not going at all, book your cruise late.  Once final payments are due at 75-days prior to travel, Disney releases a number of discounted rooms. These are usually guaranteed veranda rooms, although the location will not be available when you book. Quite often, the price is lower than an inside cabin.

This is a pretty tricky move, since you may never see these room rates pop up at all. It requires a lot of monitoring and the ability to book immediately (they go fast, as you’re not the only one watching) and pay in full.  You’ll find more of these discounted rooms on off season cruises, so look in the fall and winter when the kids are in school.

5)  Get on onboard credit.

An experienced travel agent can enhance your trip and provide you with insight that you might not otherwise have, whether it’s something as simple as dining choices or what to wear, or a more complicated question about shore excursions. However, because it’s so much easier to plan a cruise, many travel agents “give back” to their clients in the form of onboard credits.

I don’t think you should book a trip based on what type of credit he or she is willing to give you, because regardless of the level of experience you have with cruising, you want to speak to a live person who knows DCL.  In fact, before you book, make sure that your substantial onboard credit doesn’t come at the expense of actually ever speaking to your agent should problems arise. You want to work with someone you’re comfortable with.  The good news is that onboard credits are so common at this point, you shouldn’t have difficulty finding them.

I am a huge Walt Disney World fan. I absolutely love the parks. And because I love them so much, I didn’t think I would ever want to cruise. My first cruise was actually courtesy of my agency and I didn’t really even want to go!  I’m so glad now that I did because it’s opened up an entirely new experience for me. I hope you try a Disney cruise and love it just as much.

Booking a cruise in the future? Please call  me at 919-889-5281 or email at ChrisW@PixieVacations.com for a free quote and more information on my onboard credits.  You can also get more information by filling out the booking form on the right hand side of the blog. Thanks!

Holiday Magic at Disney Resorts During the Holidays.

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Disney parks are gorgeous during the holidays, but don’t forget the resorts: They’re filled with holiday magic, each decorated with its own theme.  Do you have a personal favorite? I love the kitschy tree at Art of Animation.

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Here’s a closeup of the fun details.

 

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You’ll find a similar take on mid-century American modern at The Contemporary Resort , where Mary Blair’s mosaic artwork in the Concourse and It’s a Small World meet in a yearly gingerbread display. This year’s theme is “Frozen.”

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You can also buy “Frozen” treats.

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Boardwalk Resort is one of my favorite at Christmas.  This gorgeous staircase isn’t even in the main lobby, but they decked it out anyway.

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And then there’s this year’s gingerbread display.

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And cute Boardwalk-themed ornaments.

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Beach Club has its own gingerbread carousel display as well. It smells incredible!

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Not surprisingly, the most over the top Christmas decorations are at Disney’s flagship resort, the Grand Floridian, with its massive lobby. Here’s what the second floor looks like, right as you get off the monorail. A pretty impressive welcome!

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And the view from above.

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And then one up close.

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All the Grand’s trees are decorated with beautiful Victorian-style ornaments.

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Even the shops look extra festive.

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You’ll see gorgeous garlands on the upper levels.

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Of course, the real star of the Grand Floridian’s display is the life-sized gingerbread house.

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And a closer view from another angle.

 

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Here’s a close up of the edible decorations.

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If you’re visiting Disney World during the holidays, why not devote a non-park day to resort hopping?  You can tour your favorites, have lunch, and shop. It’s a relaxing way to beat the crowds and see a part of Disney you might normally miss.

Momento Mori; New Shop in the Magic Kingdom Meets all Your Haunted Mansion Needs

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Disney knows that fans love the Haunted Mansion; it’s one of the most beloved attractions in all the parks.  They also love Haunted Mansion merchandise. In fact, it’s often impossible to find it, it’s so popular. Well, now you can shop to your heart’s content at Momento Mori, located in the old Yankee Trader location right next to the Haunted Mansion. It’s full of great finds you didn’t know you needed.

Got a hankering for a tombstone themed Rice Krispy Treat? It’s here.

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And while you’re at it, why not serve it on this cute little dessert plate? It’s not dishwasher safe, so you’ll have to be really committed to using it. But you’re committed, right? Right? I thought so. Everyone loves the Haunted Mansion.

Since you’re spending the night in, just you and your toothsome tombstone treat, why not get comfy? There are all sorts of t-shirts available as well.

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You can also just gaze lovingly at your fabulous Haunted Mansion art.

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But don’t spend the night all alone. Call a friend. Oh, what’s that? It’s just your new Haunted Mansion iPhone case.

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Yeah, I bought one of those.

This new shop is full of tons of merchandise, everything from mugs to magnets to expensive Haunted Mansion prints. You can also take a super scary picture of yourself that morphs into a ghost. For under $40, the effects are impressive–although a little too scary for my tastes.

Next time you’re in the Magic Kingdom, stop by. It’s already a huge hit–in fact, you have to wait in line to get in and you won’t even find Anna and Elsa once you’re in there! I promise it’s worth the wait though.

The King Cupcake: Banana, Bacon and Peanut Better at Pop Century.

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You’ve probably heard about Elvis Presley’s love of junk food, but did you know about his favorite sandwich? It was called “Fools Gold” and it contained extra crispy bacon, peanut butter, and bananas, all piled high on white bread and grilled in copious amounts of delicious butter.  Well, someone at Disney’s Pop Century Resort decided to pay homage to The King by putting those ingredients together in cupcake form. Did they succeed? Well, sort of.

First, let’s talk about the base, which is a chocolate cupcake. Pretty typical taste-wise. It’s very moist, which is an added bonus. A lot of commercially made cupcakes aren’t.  Next, you’ll find a banana mousse filling, the highlight of this dessert. And then there’s the topping, a bland tasting peanut putter frosting topped with candied bacon

Oh, bacon you say? Yes, bacon. Sadly, the bacon doesn’t really make up for the bland peanut butter frosting, although it did add a nice salty crunch. Overall, what I liked most about this cupcake was the banana filling, but there wasn’t nearly enough of it.

I think food is an important part of your visit. I love how Disney servers are some of the best I’ve encountered and I love that Disney has really tried to make their food stand out over the past decade. At this point, Disney isn’t serving good “theme park food.” They’re serving food that’s good anywhere.   And for some of my clients, using their dollar (or dining credit) wisely is an important part of their trip budget, so if I can’t wholeheartedly recommend it, I don’t. This cupcake sort of falls into that gray category: Interesting to try, kind of kitschy fun, but not really worth the money. Unless you’re blowing dessert credits as part of a quick-service meal, I’d probably skip it. There are too many places to spend your hard-earned money on better food.

Final thoughts? I’d give it a solid 5 out of 10.  Not great, not awful. Just sort of in the middle.

 

Making Dining Reservations Closer to Travel? Is Your Vacation Ruined?

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Okay, I’m kidding about ruining your vacation, but  a lot of visitors think that unless you make your ADRs (advanced dining reservations in Disney parlance) 180 days out, your trip is forever ruined. I’d like your thoughts.

So here’s a question for you:  When do you make your dining reservations? While most of my clients schedule their trips far in advance, I tend to travel more short notice (for Disney at least), about two months out.  I just put together a quick trip for my family for Thanksgiving and of course, there was nothing available.  Well, at first. Then, a strange thing happened:  Dining reservations were popping up all over the place.  Hard to get reservations like California Grill and Citricos.

This got me thinking about when you really need to make these reservations. Of course, Be Our Guest is still a nightmare to get, even at the 180-day mark.  Same with Le Cellier and certain character meals, like Chef Mickey’s and Cinderella’s Royal Table.  But what about regular dining destinations?  I’m getting just about everything I want a month out. Could it be–cue sinister music–that Disney staggers some of these reservations so that more become available closer to travel?  Or perhaps they  only do this for busy weeks like Thanksgiving?  It makes sense that Disney would want to keep everyone happy, regardless of when they book.  For example, they extend Fastpass+ reservations to offsite guests at the 30 day mark and we know those fastpasses are staggered, so why wouldn’t they do that with dining?

Tell me about how m you travel and how you make your reservations. Are you up–or is your travel agent up–early at 180-days out pecking away at your top choices or do you wing it?  Even though I do this for a living, I’m always up for hearing how you go about things too and what tips you have for getting what you want.  You can tell me in the comments here or on Facebook.

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