Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Picking a Place to Stay at Disney World (Part Two of a Four Part Series)

So what exactly did we plan for Disney World? The first thing we did was make room reservations at a Disney resort.  Why "on site"? The big thing was getting an early jump on picking FastPasses, as we realized that some rides (such as Frozen and Seven Dwarfs Mine Train) might not be available to visitors not staying at Disney.  Would it cost more?  Yes, but we also figured it was part of the cost of doing Disney; either do it right or don't bother.

Picking where to stay at Disney World can be a mind-blowing exercise, as Disney has over 30,000 rooms at over 25 different resorts.  Which one to pick?  This seemed daunting until I realized what question I needed to ask:  how many beds are in each room?  That's not intuitively easy to figure out, because Disney rates their rooms by number of people, not number of beds. Once I figured out which resorts had rooms with three beds, the list was cut down to just eight...which made this a much simpler exercise of figuring out where to stay.  Disney rates their resorts into three categories:  value, moderate and deluxe.  No moderates met the cut, so it was either deluxe or value.

The instinct for most would be to go "value", but I didn't assume anything - even if it were "just a place to sleep."  And I'm glad I didn't assume, because research surprised me.  For example, while Disney does provide complementary transportation throughout their World, some places have multiple, better options.  One factor I did consider was "theming," but not in the manner that the Disney fanatics consider it. Some resorts, especially at the value end, go full-on with turning your room into a cartoon. While the kids might love it, I was sure that after a week, I'd be going insane from looking at the Little Mermaid or Mater first thing in the morning.  While some people love and dream of that over-the-top approach, that wasn't me.

As I researched my options, I learned that many of my options were actually Disney Vacation Club properties, which are timeshare properties owned by Disney. What I found curious was that one site discouraged first time visitors from considering a DVC property, but the more I looked at my Disney options, the more I realized that DVC was precisely what I wanted.

While DVC properties can be rented directly from Disney, DVC owners have first shot at the rooms. That doesn't mean that only DVC owners can get a reservation, though. Two services, David's Vacation Club Rentals and the DVC Rental Store serve as intermediaries to allow DVC owners to rent out their points. I did the math, and quickly realized that I could stay at a "deluxe" property at a cost not much more than some of the "value" accomodations.

Our actual view from Bay Lake Tower., with
Space Mountain on the right and Cinderella's Castle
in the distance on the left.
At that point, the choice was crystal clear:  we were going with a one-bedroom condo at Bay Lake Tower as our first choice.  Bay Lake Tower is noteworthy for being the closest accomodations to the Magic Kingdom, which is the park most people think of when they think Disney World.  (Cinderella's Castle, Space Mountain and Splash Mountain, for example.)  That means that rather than waiting for a bus, we could walk over to the Magic Kingdom in just five minutes.  We also got a washer and dryer in the room (meaning we didn't need to lug as much clothes along or waste time in laundromats) as well as a kitchen for dining in.  We put in our bid with David's in May, and within a few days, they found the points and got us a reservation for Bay Lake Tower for March.  We couldn't even book a room to Disney World through Disney at that time; they didn't open up 2017 reservations until late June 2016.  (I then checked the rates, and sure enough, I realized the DVC option made even more sense for us.)

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Going to Disney World? Start Planning. Then Plan Some More. Keep On Planning.

About a year ago, my wife told me some news that I had been dreading for years: "It's time to take the kids to Disney World."

Disney and Mickey Mouse have never been my thing. I grew up in the era before cable TV, back in the day when the only kids TV was what was on the three local stations or PBS. And in those days, it was all Bugs Bunny and the Road Runner.  The only time the Mouse showed up on my parent's 25" console TV were Sunday evenings for the "Wonderful World of Disney", which we almost never watched because it came on during Sunday dinner.

Now Disney has their own cable channel and if you have kids, it's almost impossible to NOT see it. It's the exact opposite situation now; it's almost impossible to find a Bugs Bunny cartoon anymore.  So I knew this trip was coming; the only question was when.  We had discussed it briefly a few years back, but my wife figured that the kids needed to be a little older when we did it.  So we waited.

I'm usually the vacation planner, so I dove in head first to see what we needed to do.  The first thing I realized was that a Disney World vacation is unlike just about any other vacation you might try to plan. There are dozens of web sites and books full of advice.  Scratch that: not just advice.  Plans.  Specific plans on how to attack each aspect of the trip, and how you need to make reservations for certain things six months ahead of time, others 60 days, and yet other things seven to eleven months in advance. Even specific itineraries.

And it's not like Disney World is just an amusement park; it's actually four parks surrounded by 30,000+ Disney owned hotel rooms in an area that probably couldn't fit between Westroads and Oak View Mall in Omaha.  So I started reading.  And reading.  And reading.  One web site says this, another says another.

It didn't help that Disney World fans speak their own language.  In fact, I found an entire subculture of America that I never knew existed:  Disney Fans.  (Think "Star Wars Geeks wearing ears".)  They even have their own language, as they communicate almost exclusively through abbreviations.  For example, this is a perfectly valid sentence to Disney Fanatics: "What time do we need to get ADR for pre-RD breakfast at BOG, and what time would we need to leave POFQ?"  (Got that?  Good!)

So I dug in and started reading.  And reading.  And reading.  Then started planning.  And planning.  Made room reservations nine months in advance.  Flights six months in advance.  And yes, dining reservations six months in advance, getting up at 5 am the morning to booking things.  Yes, that's right.  Restaurant reservations open 180 days ahead of time, and some, such as Cinderella's Royal Table quickly sell out. So I'm done, right?

Wrong. Now it was time to set up daily schedules: what attractions and in what order.  Continually checking the Disney site for updates to schedules.  In fact, I rescheduled several of my reservations as plans evolved. Some of the restaurants had dining packages for shows that we wanted to see, but reservations for those weren't available when the six month window opened.  So it was a continually evolving process.  I even added a dining package at another restaurant when a new show, Rivers of Light, opened a month before our trip.  Of course, that meant more changes to our schedule.

60 days before our trip, I was still moving stuff around, but it was time to start booking the FastPasses, which are reservations where you get to bump some of the line at an attraction.  So now I'm taking guesses as to what we want to see and when we want to do it, so once again, I'm up early to beging making those reservations.  You get three of these each day, and some of the more popular rides fill up quickly.

But here's the rub: since we have never been to Disney World, we really don't know what we want to do. Sure, there are plenty of books and videos for each ride out there...but what's the point of watching every ride online before you go? So by this time, I just took my best guesses as to what we wanted to do, and just started working with it.

So how did the trip turn out?  Well, that'll be in part two.  And what are my lessons that I learned?  That's part three.

Wednesday, April 05, 2017

Is UNO Giving Up on Hockey? And if so, should I?

My worst fear has just came true. The candidate I felt was woefully unqualified to be named head coach of UNO hockey was just named head coach.
Sorry. Mike Gabinet has 1 year of NCAA coaching experience and just three years experience as a paid coach; the other two at a small school in Canada.  That hardly qualifies him to be a head coach in the premier college hockey conference.

Yes, it's "nice" that an alum gets to take over a program and that the players like him, but if UNO is serious about competing in the NCHC and nationally, UNO needed to hire a coach who's been prepared to coach at this level. Mike Gabinet is not that coach.

Over the last year, UNO has made a habit of replacing experienced coaches and promoting up lesser paid assistants in all of their sports.  The baseball team is the biggest example of that, where Evan Porter's squad is struggling mightily at 6-21. The rumors are that UNO's financial issues have forced the issue, a situation created by the deficits at Baxter Arena.

When Dean Blais stepped down, Trev Alberts made it a point to say that finances weren't going to be a factor.

Sure looks like they were, in the end.  Which raises the question... if UNO isn't going to be serious about Maverick Hockey, should I?

I don't have to answer that question today.  But at some point, my season ticket invoice is going to come in. Do I want to invest my money in season tickets when UNO doesn't seem to be interested in being competitive in college hockey?

That's a really tough question to ask, and it's an even tougher question to answer.  I like UNO hockey. I want it to succeed.  But it's hard to have any faith in the program right now.  This decision is really tough to swallow.