Everything Walt Disney World

Parks, Food, Resorts and More

Category: Bad Vacation Mojo

Cinderella’s Royal Table is a Huge Waste of Money. Here’s Why You’ll Go Anyway

Last month, my 9-year old daughter and I had breakfast at Cinderella’s Royal Table in the Magic Kingdom. For the uninitiated, CRT, as it’s commonly known, is located in Cinderella (adding the “S” is a faux pas among Disney fans) Castle. It’s one of the most coveted reservations on Disney property. It’s also one of the most expensive and one that, quite frankly, will leave you feeling a little bit ripped off. Here’s what to expect and why you’ll go anyway.

One excited kid.

You can’t talk about CRT without first mentioning the cost. You’ll pay around $60 for breakfast for guests ages 10 and up. Kids 3 – 9 are around $35. Keep in mind these prices are a few dollars higher during busy holiday periods like Christmas. Lunch and dinner is around $74 per adult and $48 per child. Children under 3 are technically free in that they may eat off of another member of their party’s plate; of course you can also order a meal for them. Your set price includes a drink, entree and dessert. Breakfast comes with a plate of pastries–the same pastries you’ll get at breakfast all over property.  Your price includes gratuity as well.

No matter how you try to sell it to yourself, this is an expensive meal, and for an expensive meal, you expect great food, right? Well, lower your expectations, because you’re not really here for the food, you’re here for the experience. Sadly, the experience itself is somewhat lacking, but more on that later.   Kids meals are a bit skimpy for kids on the higher end of the “kids menu” age range.

My daughter ordered the standard kids’ breakfast, which came with a scoop of eggs, two slices of bacon, and a Mickey waffle. It’s not a huge amount of food, but since the characters are coming at you less than three minutes apart, your child won’t have time to eat it anyway. I ordered the spinach and eggs with steak. It was good, but it was overpowered by a large scoop of boursin cheese.  Cut that in half and it would have been much more enjoyable.

Since you’re not really here for the food, or at least you shouldn’t be, let’s get down to the real reason for your visit:  Seeing Cinderella Castle and meeting the princesses.  No matter what you’re age, if you were raised on Cinderella and Disney, going into the castle is a big deal. There are really only two ways for regular guests to go inside the castle: One is to make an appointment at Bibbity Bobbity Boutique for a princess makeover (and sorry, if you’re over 12, no makeover for you!) and the other, of course, is to have a meal in the castle. You’ll check in at the desk at the entrance and then wait a few minutes before you’re admitted into a large meet and greet area. Cinderella is there to say hello and for a photo.

After that, you’ll go upstairs to be seated. We didn’t see Cinderella this trip, but my daughter was so excited as we went up the staircase, she didn’t really care. And that’s the magic of being a kid and going into Cinderella Castle. We were seated on the edge of the circular room with a great view of the entire area.

Service is friendly and efficient, but to say that it’s also brisk is really an understatement: we received our drinks and food almost immediately. Characters came and went so quickly that we barely had time to take a few bites. This didn’t bother my daughter at all, inexplicably happy with the sparkly blue wand she received with her meal. She took a few bites and then BAM–another princes. She couldn’t have been happier. I couldn’t help but feel that we were being rushed.

As an adult, it’s difficult not to think about how much money you’re spending. The food is just okay. The character interaction is probably the worst on property. But just as I was about to stifle yet another eyeroll, my daughter looked up at me at said “Thanks mom for taking me here.” And that’s when I realized that it was worth every penny. Because they’re only little once, right?

And you can bet she carried that sparkly wand with her everywhere that day.

FYI, when you make a reservation for CRT, you’ll pay in full unless you’re on the dining plan, which uses two table-service credits. 

Why You Shouldn’t Use Disney Dining Scalpers


You’ve probably heard by now that unscrupulous businesses have found another way to make money off of Disney by “buying up” reservations at the 180 day mark and selling them to guests.  This isn’t any different than those folks who were selling their Guest Assistance Cards (GAC) last year to buyers who wished to use a disability “pass” to get front of the line access to Disney attractions, although it probably doesn’t have the visceral sting of hiring a person in a wheelchair to help you bypass long lines.  However, just like with the GACs, Disney now has egg on its face through no fault of its own and you can be assured that they’re working on a way to stop it.  So what’s going on?

First a little background. There are two different types of sites. The first site messages you when a dining reservation comes up. You’ll pay $8 or more for the privilege of logging into your own MyDisneyExperience account and then making the reservation yourself. There’s no guarantee that you’ll get the reservation; it’s more of a heads up, but you’ll pay for the notification just the same.  I personally don’t use or recommend these sites, but they aren’t technically selling a reservation, they’re just letting you know when one becomes available.

The second type of site is the real issue. This company books reservations at 180 days out using, I would assume, some type of gift cards to hold the reservation (at a penalty of $10 per head for no-shows). They then offer you two options:  1) You buy a reservation for $6 or more and then set up a “chat” with someone from the site who will then cancel and you will, the theory goes, immediately book, your desired reservation; or 2) you purchase a guaranteed reservation where you’ll pay $15 and simply go to the restaurant as “John Doe” or whatever other fake name they give you.  The company says that they use “John Doe” each time but I would imagine they are smarter than that give that it wouldn’t take cast members long to smell a scam, so I assume that they actually use some other aliases.

Since there’s no guarantee on that the first option will work since you have to get the timing just right, and frankly there’s no guarantee that reservation even exists in the first place,  it behooves you to book the more expensive option and check in under an alias. In fact, this company is telling you that their cheaper system really won’t work for more popular reservations. And guess what? Everything they’ve got is popular.

You may think that this doesn’t effect you, but let me assure you, it effects all of us. Here’s a good example: this website has 27 Be Our Guest reservations available for October. This means that, at a minimum,  27 families who searched for the most popular restaurant on Disney property 180 days prior to travel did not get that reservation. But for a price, you can purchase it.

So you’re scrambling at 180-days out to get that reservation and you can’t.  And the problem is, this is just the tip of the iceberg. At a certain point, with more revenue and a bigger website, they can book just about everything out there.  All they really need is have a small amount of capital available to hold these reservations and a courtesy hold on a room (which falls off automatically, no questions asked, if you don’t pay the deposit) that they use to get the on-site advantage of booking 180-days plus 10 (as opposed to guests who stay off site). These people are, frankly, screwing all of us over. And not just Disney guests, but locals who come to dine as well.

Even if you’re tempted to use a company like this, why would you? Can you really trust someone who makes a living so unscrupulously? Who’s to say these “non-guaranteed” reservations even exist? It’s quite easy for someone to pay for the $8 option for 1900 Park Fare, for example, go into chat with the booking agent and have them release it, and then not have it show up? Who’s to say it didn’t show up because someone else didn’t get there first? You can’t. You don’t have access to their MyDisneyExperience account and Disney Dining won’t let you verify a confirmation number unless you have all the main guest’s information–and they just booked this reservation under an alias!  And so you’re out $8 and you’re going to have to keep looking.

Here’s the thing. At some point in the very near future, Disney will figure out a way to stop this. And trust me, it will be more work for cast members and also come be at a cost to you.  And again, this isn’t Disney’s fault. But if Disney makes it mandatory that the reservation holder must show ID in order to check in, that means that you can’t run your littlest one to the bathroom while your spouse checks in for you.  And that’s just another rule that you have to follow on a vacation that’s already asking you to make dining 180-days in advance and fastpasses 60-days out!

Meanwhile, you can do your part by not helping these businesses take something from you that was intended to be free.  People have always found a way to make a buck off of the Mouse, but this time, it effects all of us in a very tangible way.

Sorry, I did not link to the main offender because I didn’t want to send them any traffic. If you’d like the link, feel free to email me.

Quick Tips: What To Do If You Get Sick At Disney World

No one sets out on vacation thinking they’ll get sick or possibly injured; unfortunately, illnesses and injuries are a part of life, even at the place where dreams come true. Luckily, Disney is well prepared for any situation. Here’s what to do if you, or someone in your family, gets sick while visiting Walt Disney World.

For minor ailments, such as headaches, blisters, upset stomach, heat exhaustion, etc., you’ll find a first-aid station at each of the major parks and two water parks (there is no first-aid station at Downtown Disney).  Specifically, you can find them at:

  • Magic Kingdom, at the end of Main Street, between Casey’s Corner and Crystal Palace;
  • Epcot, at Odyssey Center, between Future World and World Showcase;
  • Disney’s Hollywood Studios, at Guest Relations building on Hollywood Boulevard;
  • Disney’s Animal Kingdom, at Discovery Island, behind Creature Comforts (headed towards Africa);
  • Disney’s Typhoon Lagoon water park, behind Leaning Palms; and
  • Disney’s Blizzard Beach water park, between Lottawatta Lodge and Beach Haus.
The first-aid centers are staffed by licensed nurses who are extremely helpful, and their services are free. I’ve been in there many times for things like Motrin, or a band-aid, and have seen guests of all ages come in for help for everything from a skinned knee to bug bites. While there is no pharmacy inside and there are no doctors on duty, should you require prescription medications or further medical assistance, they can direct you to such services.
If your condition cannot be treated with over-the-counter medicine and you think you need to see a doctor, you can visit one of the local urgent care centers. Two of the most common are Buena Vista Urgent Care and Centra Care. 
Buena Vista Urgent Care is located near State Road 535  (the same road as the Crossroads Shopping Plaza) and offers walk-in treatment for everything from minor injuries to family medicine. There is even 24 hour emergency care available, though you do have to call ahead for that. Centra Care is located in the vicinity of Downtown Disney on South Apopka Vineland Road/State Road 535. They are open from 8 a.m. to midnight on weekdays and 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. on weekends, and treat all sorts of non-life threatening conditions, from family medicine to pediatrics. The nice thing about both of these urgent care facilities is that they offer a free shuttle to guests staying at nearby hotels and resorts. I would encourage you to call the front desk at your resort if you need an urgent care center and they will be happy to help you.
If you are unable to leave your resort, or you want more personal attention, and are willing to pay extra for it, consider a service like Doctors on Call Service, or “Docs”, who will send licensed physicians to your home, resort, hotel, or villa to treat you. You will need to call for pricing.
Should you need a hospital, the closest  is Florida Hospital Celebration Health, located  in nearby Celebration.  If it is a medical emergency, of course call 9-1-1. If the condition is not life threatening, again the front desk at your resort/hotel should be able to assist you in arranging transportation.
Hopefully you never need any of these services, but if you do, it’s good to know that they are there and ready to assist you however they can, so that you can get back to feeling better and having a good time.

The Monorail and Extra Magic Hours.

A rare sight:  An empty monorail car.

Just a heads up to those taking the monorail during Extra Magic Hours (EMH).  You’ve probably heard that Disney changed their policy regarding monorail use. From now on, monorails will run for only one hour after regular park closing and they won’t run at all during extra magic hours (EMH).  At first glance, this seemed to be a bigger issue with regard to those staying at the Magic Kingdom resorts. After all, those guests need the monorail to get back to their resort and they pay a premium for that privilege.  After experiencing the change in person, I think that transportation to and from Epcot is just as big of an issue. Here’s the problem.

We were visiting the Magic Kingdom on a night when it closed at 11:00. We decided to leave right after Wishes and head over to Epcot to ride Soarin’, because that park was open for EMH until midnight. Usually this just involves a quick ride on the monorail to the Ticket and Transportation Center (TTC), then a change to the Epcot monorail. Easy peasy.  Unfortunately, you can’t do this anymore during EMH!  And of coruse, we forgot, which made it even worse. Instead you have to take a bus, either from the Magic Kingdom or from the TTC, where you then take a bus to Epcot.  It added about 45 mintues to our trip. I think once the new system is ironed out, it won’t take as long, but for now, plan on at least an hour for this type of park hopping.

You’re probably wondering why the change? Well, it’s for safety purposes as it became more and more apparent that the trains needed more downtown every night for maintenance.  And we’re all for making the parks a safer place.

If you’re a guest planning a vacation to Disney World and you’re going to be staying on the monorail for convenience purposes, know about this change in advance. I know that a lot of guests don’t use EMH, so it’s a non-issue, but if you’re paying $500 a night to stay at the Grand Floridian and you expect to be able to use the monorail during EMH, you might want to weigh the value of what you’re losing against the cost of your room. Personally, I still think you can’t beat staying at a monorail resort even without EMH access, but that is a very personal thing.

Bad Advice Abounds.

This recent article on CNN.com, The Absolutely Indispensable Guide to Disney World,  illustrates the point that you have to be careful about where you get your Disney advice.  While there’s some good advice contained in the article, it’s this little gem that I take issue with: 

“Don’t even think about paying for parking

When you’re shelling out $82 a day for admission, tacking on another $14 for parking can feel like adding insult to injury. I’m proud to say my family hasn’t paid for a spot in years. What many out-of-towners don’t realize is that the parking lots at Disney water parks, miniature-golf courses and the Downtown Disney entertainment district are absolutely free.

From those locations, shuttle buses will take you wherever you need to go (note that some routes require transfers). Our all-time favorite spot is an unmarked overflow lot across the street from the BoardWalk Inn. Next to a Hess gas station, the lot is almost always half-empty and is a 10-minute walk to the resort.

From there, you can stroll over to Epcot, take a ferry ride to Hollywood Studios, or catch a shuttle bus anywhere else — all free of charge.”

Seriously?  Okay, none of us like paying $14 a day for parking.  You’ll get no argument from me there. But if you’re staying off-site (on-site guests and annual passholders park for free), it’s one of those costs you build into your trip.  Ignore the fact that the author’s advice is basically a gray area from a moral standpoint no matter how you look at it.  What really gets me is that this advice is simply impractical!

Let’s break it down.  Since there are no buses that go from Downtown Disney to the parks (for this very reason), you’ll need to take a bus to a resort and transfer. Because there are fewer buses running in the morning from  Downtown Disney to the resorts for practical reasons (i.e., they aren’t needed at that time), you’ll probably spend an hour between waiting for the bus and then riding to the resort.  From there, you’ll need to transfer to another bus and go to the park of your choice, adding a minimum of 20 – 30 minutes.  This is, of course, assuming there are no long lines of actual resort guests waiting ahead of you. If there are, add another 30 minutes or more to your plan.  The option of parking in the overflow lot at Boardwalk Inn only shaves a few minutes off this scenario, requires a lot of walking on a day when you’ll be walking a lot already, and carries the additional risk of your car being towed. But never mind: You saved $14.

Or did you save money?  Because we all know that time is money too and that’s particularly true when you’re talking about time in the parks.  Now, say you paid $82 for that day’s admission and there are four people in your group. That’s a total of $328 plus tax.  If the park you want to visit that day is open for 15 hours, that’s roughly $22 an hour.  But you just lost 90 minutes minimum due to your convoluted parking strategy and you’ll lose another hour or more that might as well.  And even if you manage to pull all of this off before the park opens and after it closes, therefore not technically losing any park time, the reality is, your time is still worth more than the $14 you saved. Do you really want to schlep yourself, kids, and countless bags of souvenirs around after the parks close to save a few dollars?  No, I didn’t think so.

I think what this article illustrates for me, besides the obvious fact that paying for parking is a Disney World reality, is that there’s a lot of bad Disney advice out there and as a consumer, the first thing you need to be wary of is any article (or guidebook) that declares itself “absolutely indispensable.”  In my house, we love the Unofficial Guide. It’s an invaluable Disney World guidebook (and a handy doorstopper as well), but I wouldn’t call it or any other book absolutely indispensable.  There are so many sources, from guidebooks to message boards, to your neighbors who happen to visit the World every year, that you can, and probably should, get your advice from many sources and then pick and choose what works for you.  Because only you can know what works best for your family. 

And I’m betting it’s not spending part of your vacation looking for free parking.

When Good Rooms Go Bad: Lodging a Complaint with Disney.

I trust Disney resorts. I trust that they’ll be clean, that they’ll be safe, that the staff will be friendly and efficient, and that issues that come up will be addressed quickly.  That’s been my experience.  Part of the joy of staying on property is knowing what you’re getting every time, whether you pay $58 a night or $458 a night.  But no company is perfect.  Such was the case last weekend at the Contemporary Resort.

My good friend had never stayed on Disney property before. Truth be told, until this trip she wasn’t much of a Disney parks fan.  But she was coming down for the Wine and Dine marathon and remembered wanting to stay at the Contemporary as a kid, so she decided to give it a try and booked a Magic Kingdom view for a two night stay.  The room was gorgeous. I know not everyone “gets” the theming of the resort, but I think most people can appreciate the room itself. Nice comfy beds, an incredible, big bathroom, and nice modern accents that make the room luxurious.  She lucked out and got an 11th floor room right in the middle of the tower, possibly the prettiest view of the Magic Kingdom and Seven Seas Lagoon you could ask for.

There was just one problem:  The room wasn’t clean.  There were crumbs all over the floor in the entry way. The rug was dirty and had not been vacuumed.  The windows were covered in little hand prints.  The fold out couch had a large stain on it, as did one of the lampshades.  And the built-in closets were covered in a thick white dust. Clearly, no one had bothered to dust in a couple of weeks.  At this point, this wasn’t an issue with the cleaning crew so much as one with supervisors.

Now, my room that same weekend at the All Stars was immaculate.  That’s what I expected.  And I think if you’re paying more than four times as much as I was paying, you deserve the same thing.  At this point, I just want to make one thing clear. I’m not a complainer.  I was once a Private in the Army, so I know what it’s like to work for demanding people who never thank you.  I won’t ever forget that and as a result I try to be as accommodating as possible.  This is especially true at Disney, where I try to give cast members a break.  All Disney fans know that there’s a certain type of resort guest who makes a lot of unreasonable demands; some of them pride themselves on it.  We all know that being a cast member is a really hard job and that a lot of them do it because they love the company and they enjoy bringing some magic into people’s lives. So I don’t complain, I say thank you and please even if they’re too busy to notice, and I always tip at least 20%, even at buffets.  But at a certain point, you have to say something. This was that point.

My friend called down to the front desk and a bit later was moved to another room after the manager, who was both friendly and professional, confirmed that the room was unacceptable. Even he seemed a little surprised by its condition.  Unfortunately, this room had a very obvious safety hazard that the manager noticed right away. Since there were no other rooms available with that view, she was moved back into her original room. They gave the room a quick cleaning and compensated my friend rather generously, even by Disney standards.  She didn’t let this ruin her stay and is looking forward to going back. I felt pretty bad though. I was the one who talked her into going.  This was my “happy place” and I wanted to share it with her.  It would have been nice if things had gone more smoothly.

As I said, I try not to be a complainer, but I also think it’s important to let a business know when they’re doing something wrong, especially when it’s a place you care about. This shouldn’t have happened. In fact, this almost never does happen.  As I stated above, that’s why I stay on Disney property.   That same weekend we had such great service at the California Grill from our server, Charmaine, that I sent Disney an email to let them know. I also sent in comments about my room at the All Stars. I wasn’t crazy about the theme, but every cast member I ran into there was excellent and the room could not have been more clean.

If you have an issue with your room or the service you’re receiving, by all means, let Disney know.  But don’t forget your manners. Just this last trip, I witnessed a woman using very loud, four-letter words in the lobby of the Contemporary over some room mix-up. She wasn’t helping her family or her case and I couldn’t help but really feel for cast member she was verbally abusing.   Remember that Disney is a unique company and many cast members take a lot of pride in being part of it; in my experience, they’ll bend over backwards to help you. The company holds itself to a higher standard. Because of this, most of us expect better from Disney than we do from, for example, the Marriott or Holiday Inn.  But that also works against it, because it brings out a strong sense of entitlement in some guests. So remember when you complain, be nice.  This person has a hard job.  But by all means, let your comments be known.  Good or bad, they count.

If you want to compliment a cast member or relay an issue you’ve had during your stay, email Disney at WDW.Guest.Communications@disneyworld.com.  It’s especially important to let them know about good service, as this helps deserving cast members advance within the company.

The Dirtiest Bathroom in Walt Disney World?

Has to be the one in Mickey’s Toontown Fair, the one that’s called Pete’s Garage? I’m not sure you can pin the blame on all the kids, since the one near It’s a Small World in Fantasyland is much cleaner (right next to Ariel), but there has to be some plausable explanation for the Walmart-like conditions of this bathroom. You need hip waders in the place by midday.

Pssst. Want to find a clean bathroom in any of the themeparks? Try the ones in the baby care centers. If any of your kids are under five-years old or so, no one will notice. Restaurant bathrooms, even those that are counter-service only, are generally cleaner as well, but keep in mind that most table service places won’t just let you walk in to use the bathrooms.

Just how my mind works on a day when I didn’t get any sleep the night before due to little kids waking up.

Car Rental Review: Ouch, that Hertz!

So, you’ve decided on a Disney vacation. You know that you can’t control the weather or how crowded the parks are. You can’t know if anyone will get sick or if you’ll all hate it and wish you’d gone to the beach instead. There are a 100 little things to do to get ready for what is supposed to be a relaxing vacation, but one thing should be simple: The car rental. Unfortunately, as we found out on a recent trip to Disney, it’s far from simple. This is my experience. Yours may differ.

There were three adults and three children on our trip, so I needed to rent a minivan or two smaller cars and after comparing the prices, I found that the prices were pretty comparable. Since we were staying off site and wouldn’t be able to take a bus from our resort to the parks, I needed some flexibility that would allow my best friend, husband and older child stay at the parks while I took my younger children back for naps, so I rented two smaller cars. All the major car rental companies are represented at Orlando International, in case you found yourself with a burning curiousity of such things, but there’s a catch: You see, only six car rental companies are right in the airport. These include Alamo, Avis, Budget, Dollar, L&M and National. If you read reviews on this sort of thing, and I do because I’m sort of nerdy, you’ll find that they all come in pretty equal in terms of satisfaction except L&M, which isn’t rated very high. The on-site location means that you literally grab your bags at the baggage claim, go over to the rental desk, and walk right outside to your car. This avoids the wait for a shuttle bus, loading all your stuff onto the bus, and then the, presumably short, ride to the rental car company, unloading again, and well, you get the picture. The other companies are off-site, and when I say off-site, well, pack a lunch. It could be a long ride.

Since this was a budget trip (aren’t they all?), I shopped around for a car quite a bit more than I usually do. This is probably one of the few areas you are guaranteed to save money on a Disney trip and, if you’re obsessed with planning Disney vacations, a little bit of a Disney fix. Since it appeared that on-site rentals were about 10 to 15 percent higher than off-site, we went with the off-site rental. We also found a coupon from Hertz that further reduced the price. I verified that the coupon was valid twice before we left because I needed to speak to Hertz customer service for some other issues anyway, and I was worried that I’d get to Orlando and find out the coupon wasn’t valid.

Orlando is a pretty efficient airport; you take a shuttle that’s a lot like a monorail to the baggage claim area and the car rental offices are right there, as are the rental car company shuttles. After loading all our bags and kids, which isn’t as much fun as it sounds, we went out to catch the shuttle and as luck would have it, our shuttle was right there. And we were the only only waiting for it! Yay! Hey, why weren’t there more people waiting for Hertz? Hmmm. Well, nevermind. The driver kindly helped us load our bags, even allowing us to keep our double stroller open so we didn’t have to empty its contents. We got on the bus. And proceeded to ride. And ride.

As noted above, at MCO, the car rental places that are off-site are way off-site. Like a good 15-20 minute drive on roads that are, at times, bumpy. So when you add waiting for the shuttle, loading your bags, the ride, wrestling with kids who are not strapped down and having a great time running all over the place, unloading yourself, your bouncing children, and your stuff, looking for a cart for your stuff, and then going inside to check-in, well, you’ve got about a 90 minute ordeal from the baggage claim to getting in your car. And that’s during the slower times of the year.

But who cares? We’re in Orlando! And, as we soon found, the Hertz rental place was clean and without a doubt nicer than any rental car place I’ve ever been in. And empty! What luck. It took a few minutes for the two clerks to stop having their very compelling conversation to notice me and waive me over, but no matter. And that, my friends, is when my experience in the clean but not so efficient and certainly not Disney-friendly Hertz rental office goes downhill. Because it turns out that the coupon, the one I verified not once but twice, the one that I found on a site where Hertz advertises its services, is absolutely no good and even with my USAA “discount,” I’m still going to pay over $700 for two cars, two carseats, and one GPS (for the husband’s car, since he doesn’t know Orlando very well). Maybe for a busy week this wouldn’t have been such a huge deal, but this was a four day rental during one of the slowest weeks of the year!

I attempted to whip out my lawyer negotiating skills, feebly explaining that since Hertz advertises on the website where I found the coupon and that I called twice about the coupon and had two different employees told me it was valid, I thought they should honor it regardless. When this failed, I asked to speak to the supervisor, who came out about 15 minutes later. Unfortunately, she’d heard it all before and her not-so-thinly veiled lack of caring told me pretty quickly that any negotiations with this woman were pointless. Ultimately, she refused to honor the coupon. When I politely asked her why she would rather that two cars go unused this weekend, a weekend when park attendance was at its lowest and she had a full lot of cars and no customers, she shrugged and proceeded to walk away.

Hertz really has it made in this situation, particularly given the location and the type of travellers they’re most likely dealing with: Tourists anxious to get to their desination, probably Disney or Universal Studios, with excited kids. They don’t know the area very well and their wallets are still full or they’ve already spent so much they’ve stopped caring and gone completely numb in the wallet, a feeling most Disney travellers come to recognize very quickly. Plus, they probably won’t be back to Orlando for years, if ever, so what’s the point in building a relationship by offering good customer service? The prospect of gathering up your kids, loading one’s luggage back onto the shuttle bus, going back to the airport and renting another car, which in itself is an unknown since you never know what kind of deal you’ll get at the last minute, is pretty unappealing. I’m sure most people would have paid the extra $300 or so and chalked it up to bad luck. I might have done so as well, if the Hertz manager hadn’t been so unprofessional and unfriendly.

So we went back and waited for another shuttle to take us to the airport. I was so rattled at this point that the only company I could think of was Enterprise, a company I’ve used many times, so that’s the one I called. Within minutes the very polite man on the phone got me the exact same deal that Hertz originally “offered” with the coupon: Two cars, two carseats, and one GPS for $375. Once on the shuttle I met a very nice man who gave up his seat for me who told me that he’d just finished a family vacation and that he always uses Hertz for business, but was treated so badly by them this trip (when he arrived he found out his rental would cost $175 more than he was originally quoted), that when he got back to work that Monday, he was going to cancel his Gold membership and start using another company.

Enterprise is also located off-site and the bus was packed. At this point, I was taking a crowded bus as a good sign. The Enterprise location at MCO is . . . interesting. Imagine, if you will, that the Disney Imagineers were told to design a bus station. In a third world country. It was filthy and crowded, the kind of place where my friend Kristina, upon leaving the bathroom, immediately came to warn us to stay clear. But the employees were friendly and despite the crowd, we were in our very clean cars pretty quickly.

What did I learn here? Well, never rent from an off-site rental company in Orlando, although if I had to do it, I’d rent from Enterprise. For me, my vacation time and my sanity are just too precious. When I got back I realized that with a valid coupon, I could have found a cheaper rental right at the airport. Regardless of what you choose, be aware that rental companies at MCO will tell you that they have an airport location, because they technically do, but only those six companies I mentioned above are actually right in the airport. It’s not the biggest hassle if it’s just you to ride the shuttle to the rental place, but if you have a large party or even one child with you, save your sanity and rent from the ones directly in the airport.


My name is Chris and I suffer from Disnesia, the selective ability to overlook long lines, oppressive heat, and the hissyfit my daughter threw over a balloon in front of Mickey’s Country House in favor of more pleasant vacation moments.

And no, I’m not looking for a cure.

It’s probably true that no single vacation destination has the potential, despite admirable efforts on the part of Disney itself to mitigate these problems, for more small disasters than Walt Disney World. When you think about it, it makes sense: Crowds, crying children who’ve missed their naps, stressed out parents and worn out wallets. And then there’s the heat, but not just the normal heat you’re probably used to during the summer, but heat with humidity, the kind that makes being outdoors nothing less than miserable for several months out of the year. Despite this, when most of us describe a trip to Disney, we remember the good things far more than the bad. Talk to an older couple with grown children about the trip they took when their kids were little or your neighbor who just went for the first time and you get the same response almost every time: It was magical.

Obviously, there’s one explanation for this: Disnesia. Now, I’m not saying there aren’t perfect Disney vacations. In fact, I think most Disney vacations lean more toward perfect than disasterous, regardless of crowd levels or the weather. Most of mine have been great. But my last trip in December taught me something, and that is that bad, really bad, Disney vacations do happen.

The biggest part of our problem wasn’t anyone’s fault but our own: We took our then 22-month old twins and they just weren’t ready for the abrupt change in their schedules, the most dramatic consequence being that they simply did not sleep much at all.  This meant, not surprisingly, that no one slept much at all even though we’d had the hindsight to at least rent a three-bedroom condo. Most of the problems were, in hindsight, quite comical, but when you’re “that parent” chasing a screaming toddler around the Magic Kingdom, and you’re paying a lot of money to do so, it can seem pretty miserable.

Our trip was so bad that my husband and I both vowed on our last night in Orlando that we wouldn’t be back until the twins were at least two years older. I felt fine with that. I was done, for the time being, with Disney. It was always going to be there, the economy was bad, and we owed my in-laws a trip out West. Secretly, as the words were coming out of my mouth, I was already hatching a plot for a girls only trip the next year like the Disney-obsessed woman that I am. And then the next morning as we packed up to go home, I decided I would take our older son next December as well. He’d been so patient during the trip and there were so many things he didn’t get a chance to do because my husband and I were busy wrangling the twins. I casually mentioned this to my husband, who rolled his eyes or did some other husband-like behavior that showed his disbelief and we left it at that.

It probably took all of two weeks before I decided that the whole family would all go back again in December. If you haven’t guessed, I’m the Disney trip planner in the family. I started remembering the good things that happened, how much our daughter loved running around in Ariel’s Grotto, how her twin brother, when he wasn’t pulling her hair in the stroller, enjoyed It’s a Small World. I vowed that I’d be better informed this time and rationalized that the kids would be older. And then my daughter discovered (I have no idea how this happened. Ahem.) Disney princesses and well, it’s was all over. We were going back to Disney.

I think this is what Disney does best, creating the sort of moments that somehow stick in your mind more distinctly than the bad ones, even on a trip that was just plain rotten. The good ones, well, they’re really good. Either that, or there’s something in that confetti they’re sprinkling everywhere.