Saving Money

SATURDAY SIX: Six Reasons We Love Disney’s OLD KEY WEST Resort

by on July 18, 2015

This week’s SATURDAY SIX takes a look at Six Reasons We Love Disney’s Old Key West Resort. One of Walt Disney World’s biggest strengths against all of its competitors is the wide variety of unique resorts it has on property to offer guests. We’ve covered several here on the SATURDAY SIX including Value Resorts such as Art of Animation and Pop Century, Moderate Resorts with Port Orleans French Quarter and Riverside, and Deluxe Resorts including the Contemporary. While our reviews on both Animal Kingdom Lodge and BoardWalk Inn & Villas included a Disney Vacation Club component, today we are going to take a look at our first DVC exclusive resort with Old Key West.

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In fact, Old Key West was the very first Disney Vacation Club resort built at WDW. Originally named Disney’s Vacation Club Resort in 1991, it wasn’t until 1996 when the name was changed to Old Key West. With its pastel colored buildings and lush vegetation throughout, the resort definitely stands out from the other hotels on property. When Walt Disney said “Here in Florida, we have something special we never enjoyed at Disneyland…the blessing of size” he may have been foreshadowing Old Key West, as the resort itself is massive.

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Welcome to Conch Flats, the mythical town of Disney’s Old Key West Resort.

 

With the sprawling size comes some downsides, including many rooms being quite far away from the check-in area and several of the resort’s amenities. There is an internal bus system, and the grounds are gorgeous to walk across, but it may be a shock to guests who have not stayed at such a large resort. Thankfully the TouringPlans Hotel Room Request will help make getting a room closer to front easier, but it is still something to consider. That said, the size of Old Key West is also a positive, as it is one of the best places at WDW to spend time at outside of the parks because there is so much to do. So sit back, grab a plate of conch fritters and an ice cold margarita and let’s begin counting down our top six reasons we love OKW starting with…

# 6 – The Sandcastle Pool Area

Anyone who travels with their family on vacation knows how important pools are when it comes to selecting a resort. For our family, pools with slides now rank above any E-Ticket attraction or dining experience at WDW. Old Key West has a total of 4 pools spread out across property, but the Sandcastle Pool located by the front of the resort is where you want to be. In this area you’ll find the main pool along with its incredible 125 foot waterslide and a plethora of  nearby activities. There are several play areas for the younger set, a whirlpool spa, a sandy beach, and even a themed sauna!

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The Sandcastle Pool at Disney’s Old Key West Resort.

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Theming around the Sandcastle Pool.

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The Magic, The Memories, and Merch! June 2015 Photo Report of the Disney Outlet Store

by on June 30, 2015

MMM positiveWe have reached the end of June and the non-stop amount of theme park new continues. Most importantly, our prayers were answered and Disney World banned the use of selfie sticks at any of its four theme parks, two water parks, and DisneyQuest. Over at Animal Kingdom, snacks shaped in the form of animal poop became an instant success last week, generating more viral attention for Disney than I have seen in years, yet they have already been taken off the market. Meanwhile at Disney’s Hollywood Studios, Frozen Summer Fun began its summer run, but with the good comes the bad, as it was also announced that The Magic of Disney Animation would be joining the Studio Backlot Tour, the Legend of Capt Jack Sparrow, Sounds Dangerous, American Idol Experience, and the Sorcerer’s Hat in the great big theme park in the sky. Universal, already in the middle of building an E-Ticket attraction (Skull Island: The Reign of Kong), a new hotel (Sapphire Falls) and a water park (Volcano Bay) also just committed to what looks like a MAJOR renovation of the Incredible Hulk Coaster and the removal of what is expected to be Twister: Ride It Out for a rumored attraction based on the Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon. Don’t the theme parks know it’s summer and they are supposed to be resting on their laurels while the theme parks are packed?!

Enough jibber jabber! Who is ready to hit the Outlets? Remember that clicking on any picture will open a full size version of it (don’t say we didn’t warn you).

This trip started off with a surreal experience at the Disney Character Warehouse on I-Drive (close to Universal) because everything in the store was 50% off the already discounted prices. A lot of stuff that was normally in the store was gone though, such as Tsum Tsums, most of the pins, all the plush, etc. Later in our journey I’ll explain why this once-in-a-lifetime sale was happening. However, to show the type of deal that this was, that next level bananas Mama Melrose sign had been brought down to “just” $30 after all the discounts were applied. I was tempted to buy it, if only as a gag gift for Len Testa, but somehow held back.

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I promised to all that I will personally buy the BoardWalk Pizza Window sign if it is ever for sale. Because that will mean the place has finally been closed and I’ll be in euphoria.

It’s long been known that WDW Today’s own Matt Hochberg is terrified of the Dinosaur attraction at DHS, and you can imagine why if his parents ever got him this photo frame as a kid. I actually wish Universal’s Halloween Horror Nights merch was this scary. Originally $14.95, this was marked down to $7.99 (and keep in mind that would be $4 after the final discount.)

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Mesmerizing.

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Update: 10 Things to Know About Disney’s Armed Forces Salute

by on June 29, 2015

If you didn’t hear the good news, Disney has extended the Armed Forces Salute to cover the rest of 2015! Yay, Disney! Again! I have covered the Armed Forces Salute in a previous blog post, and this is an update of that post with the latest changes. Let me once again begin this blog post with a heartfelt thank you from me to Disney on behalf of our military personnel and their families. I’ve been a military spouse for 26 years now (and a military brat before that), and I understand the personal sacrifices that are made each and every day by Service members and their families. It’s awesome that Disney recognizes it in some way as well.

Disney has sold slightly discounted (in the neighborhood of 5% off) tickets for the Armed Forces at military bases for many years. The last several years there has been a substantial additional discount on certain tickets for military, but with more restrictions (and much bigger savings). Once called the Armed Forces Salute, the last couple of years Disney hasn’t really made a point of calling it anything other than a military discount. To distinguish between the ever present slightly discounted tickets and the steeply discounted tickets I’ll refer to it as the Armed Forces Salute.

The Armed Forces Salute can be a bit confusing. To be fair, the military has lots of categories of military personnel (active duty, Reserve, National Guard, retired, separated, Allied military assigned to the US, etc…), so it’s no surprise there are lots of nuances to Disney’s Armed Forces Salute.

Fantasyland Wide 2 009 1. Eligibility – Eligibility has changed over the years and actually seems clearer now.  Any active duty or retired Service member, National Guardsman, Reservist, or Coast Guard is eligible. Foreign military assigned to US military bases (with a US ID card) in the United States are eligible, as are 100% disabled veterans with an ID card that says “DAV/PRIM” and Medal of Honor recipients. If the eligible member is not present, their spouse is eligible. That’s it, though. No matter how deserving some other groups are (and there are many deserving groups), Disney did not choose to include those groups within this specific promotion. But, even within these rules there are complicated situations, so call Disney (or ask in the comments section below) if you still have questions.

2. Promotion Dates – The current Armed Forces Salute was scheduled to end on October 3, 2015 but Disney has now extended this promotion to end in December of 2015. The room discount will end December 23, 2015 and the tickets must be used by December 20, 2015. The Disney World tickets must be purchased by December 17, 2015 and Disneyland tickets by December 18, 2015.

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Extra Hotel Fees and Costs You Need to Budget For

by on April 29, 2015

Going on vacation is such a treat. It’s a fantastic privilege that can pay off in so many ways. But if you don’t factor in all the extra costs and budget appropriately your vacation can go from being refreshing and rejuvenating to frustrating and stressful. I’m a hotelier at heart and I am continually surprised, and saddened, whenever I come across guests who did not anticipate different hotel fees and other extra costs that can pop up when staying at a hotel. So to help you plan and budget, let’s talk about the most common costs.

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Disney’s Grand Floridian Resort – it may not have a lot of hotel fees, but it carries some of the highest room rates in Orlando. Photo source: Disneyworld.com

 

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The Magic, The Memories, and Junk! April 1st Photo Report of a Non-Disney Owned Outlet Store

by on April 1, 2015

MMM_JunkWait a minute… didn’t we just do this yesterday? No, Dear Reader, you are not having a case of Deja Vu. We are back for a brand new Outlet Report, except today we are going to travel outside of the two Orlando Premium Outlets that contain the official Disney Character Warehouse stores, and venture into one of the many Disney stores located off property. We’ve all seen them, because they are everywhere. International Drive… State Road 535… 192… if it’s a main road in the theme park corridor of Orlando, there are going to be these knock off shops. Almost all promise cheap t-shirts and Florida souvenirs, and its surprising just how much of the exact same merchandise is in many of the various stores. While I would strenuously recommend you stay away from any place offering you “free” or cheap theme park tickets, heading into these souvenir stores can be fun because you can find items you’d never see on Disney property.

We narrowed down the list of options and chose to spotlight Theme Park Outlet, mostly because we love the name. It is located in the Lake Buena Vista Factory Stores off State Road 535 (the exact location will be at the end of the article).

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The Magic, The Memories, and Merch! March 2015 Photo Report of the Disney Outlet Store

by on March 31, 2015

MMM positiveThough the March Hare is about to leave us on the last day of this very month, you need not worry because the April Fool has arrived a day early and is here with a brand spanking new Outlet Report. So take a break from hunting for Easter Eggs at Epcot, put aside your souvenir mugs from the soft opening of Trader Sam’s Grog Grotto, hold off on booking that breakfast reservation for Be Our Guest, and be sure to pick your jaw up off the ground because it’s still there from finding out the Magic Kingdom opened up Aunt Polly’s on Tom Sawyer Island earlier this week. 

Prepare yourself for a trip to not just one, but BOTH Disney Outlet Stores in Orlando (physical addresses for both are located at the end of every edition of MM&M.) That’s right Dear Reader, I did the impossible and braved the I-4 traffic and horrendous parking situations at both outlets, for YOU.

Enough jibber jabber! Who is ready to hit the Outlets? Remember that clicking on any picture will open a full size version of it (don’t say we didn’t warn you).

Our first stop is the Disney Outlet closer to Universal at the end of I-Drive and was surprised to see the first ever Tsum Tsums show up. I’ve seen them before at Once Upon a Toy in Downtown Disney, but never felt compelled to buy one at $6 a pop. That said, unlike Vinylmation, I can definitely see the cuteness factor and why people would want to collect them. The only Tsum Tsums available were the seven dwarfs and only the ones pictured below. Of course I bought them all.

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Your Disney Trip Planning Timeline

by on February 10, 2015

TouringPlans logoIf you’re planning a trip to Disney World and reading this blog, you’ll have already seen multiple references to certain milestone dates for your vacation: You can make most restaurant reservations 180 days in advance of your arrival, for example. And that got us talking about what a comprehensive Disney trip planning timeline would look like.

Sure, we’ve tackled trip planning subjects before, including Erin Foster’s  and Evan Levy’s excellent Trip Planning 101 series. But we’ve never tried to fit an entire timeline into one page…until now.

Let us know in the comments if we’ve missed anything.

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What You Get at Disney World for $500, $1,000, $1,500, and $2,000

by on January 21, 2015

Abuela Testa's gaspacho soup mix is an excellent money-saver

Abuela Testa’s gaspacho soup mix is an excellent money-saver

For the next edition of the Unofficial Guide, we interviewed dozens of families planning their first Disney trip, and Disney-specialist travel agents who talk to Orlando-bound families every day. Almost all of them said the cost of a Disney vacation was the biggest surprise, and more important to them than when to travel, where to stay, or how to beat the lines.

All money questions involve trade-offs, of course, and only you know what you’re willing to do to save a buck. For every person who thinks a $65 per day food allowance is malnourishment, there’s another who says they can feed a family of 5 on $10 and some budget gazpacho made with leftover Taco Bell sauce and hot water.

To give you a realistic idea of how much to budget, we’ve created the following set of charts showing the kind of Disney World vacation your family can get for $500, $1,000, $1,500, and $2,000. Each column represents a different family demographic, and each row represents a different budget amount. Our starting assumptions are at the bottom of the page.

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Memory Maker FAQs

by on January 21, 2015

PhotoPass Memory Maker ©Disney

The Memory Maker gets you digital copies of all of your PhotoPass photos. Photo ©Disney

Disclaimer: While I am a Cast Member, the following is based on my own experience and does not necessarily reflect the policies of the Walt Disney Company.

Philosophers of the age ask: If there are no pictures, did it really happen? Photos are an integral part of preserving your Disney moments and sharing the memories with family and friends. To that end, Disney offers the Memory Maker for purchase. The Memory Maker is a way to get digital copies of all of the PhotoPass photos and videos from your Walt Disney World vacation. Like any major Disney purchase, you should look at the pros and cons before you decide to drop the cash. I recently had the opportunity to use a Memory Maker as a Guest and participated in the One-day Memory Maker pilot program as a Cast Member. Here are the questions I heard from Guests—and had myself—about the Memory Maker.

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The Walt Disney World Road Trip: Tips, Tricks and What Not to Do

by on January 14, 2015

Photo - Michael Dahlgren

Recently, my family decided to make a last minute trip to Disney World the week of New Year’s. Before everyone faints at the heresy of going during the busiest week of the year, my brother’s school was playing in a bowl game in Tampa, so my family decided to kill two birds with one stone. Quickly putting aside the loud warnings in the back of my head about the massive crowds, I couldn’t turn down a pseudo surprise Disney trip. The resort reservation was all set (we would be staying at a Finding Nemo Suite in Disney’s Art of Animation Resort), and I already had my annual pass, but the flight fares were absolutely insane from Baltimore, which is the closest airport to me. Being a more intelligent person than I, my girlfriend suggested a simple alternative. Why don’t we just drive down? So we did. I hope everyone who is considering the possibility of driving instead of flying finds this useful.

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