Saturday, December 4, 2010


Travel dates: June 19-26, 2010
Travel method: We’re all traveling from Portland, Oregon. Mom and Dad are driving while the rest of us are flying.
Hotel: Howard Johnson Plaza Hotel and Anaheim Plaza Hotel
Accommodations: 2 standard rooms at HoJo’s; 3 connecting rooms at Anaheim Plaza
Ages Represented in Group: 74, 73, 52, 49, 30, 23, 18

Cast: Patty (me, 52), Jason (son, 30), Dad (turning 74 on this trip), Mom (73), Sandy (sister, 49), Matt (nephew, 23), Samantha (niece, 18)

Experience Represented in Group: Dad, Mom, Jason, Sandy and I have been many times when we lived in Southern California. But in the twenty years since moving to Portland I’ve been nine times, Jason ten times, Dad and Mom seven times, Matt two times and Samantha three times. This is Sandy’s first trip since moving to Portland twenty years ago.

Background:This trip is really for my sister Sandy. She hasn’t been able to join us on any of our three prior family trips because she’s been working two jobs and going to school full time. After six years of hard work, she graduated last August with her Master’s in Teaching. We’ll be celebrating her graduation, Samantha’s high school graduation, Matthew earning his AA degree, Father’s Day, and Dad’s and Jason’s birthdays.


Since we knew we had this trip coming up, Jason and I upgraded our Give a Day, Get a Disney Day vouchers to deluxe annual passes when we were here for our February trip. Mom and Dad made a quick trip down to Southern California in May for their high school reunion and purchased deluxe annual passes at that time. The others in our group have 5-day Park Hoppers. Since we’ll be there six full days, most likely we’ll all do the parks on Sunday through Thursday. On Friday, those with five day tickets can use the day to relax at the hotel or visit relatives that live in the area.

Since my parents are picking up the tab for most of the trip, Mom booked us four rooms at the Anaheim Plaza hotel. Mom loves this hotel because the rooms are large and you can get multiple connecting rooms so you can open the connecting doors between all of the rooms and just flow from room to room (which may or may not be a plus for some people). We’ve stayed here several times and it’s a perfectly fine establishment, but for me and Jason, our first choice of hotel is always HoJo’s. We love it there for so many reasons, the pillow top beds, the free high speed internet, the in-room safe, the Keurig coffeemakers, the interior corridors, the friendly staff, the ample free parking, and the beautiful grounds, just to name a few. But even with the AP rate, it was still more money than the Anaheim Plaza. If HoJo’s ends up offering the $69 Entertainment rate, Mom is agreeable to us switching hotels.

The end of February Jason mentioned to me that he was thinking of paying for his own room rather than share with his cousin Matt. He isn’t used to sharing a room and felt it was worth the money to have the privacy. But if he was going to pay for his own room, then he wanted to stay at HoJo’s. On a whim I called the manager at HoJo’s and asked if he would be willing to match Anaheim Plaza’s rate. He was super nice and was very willing to do that. They were sold out of the deluxe rooms, which we usually get, but we were able to get standard rooms. I called Dad and Mom with the good news. Dad was very happy to make the switch, but Mom was less than enthusiastic. She somewhat reluctantly agreed to the switch but said she was keeping her Anaheim Plaza reservation for awhile just in case.

Around this time I decided to pay for my own room, rather than let my parents pay. I’m used to paying my own way on vacation and I feel like it gives me more freedom to do what I want. When someone pays your way, they kind of have a say in what you do, whether it’s actually verbalized or not.

Dad and Mom are both retired, so they’ll drive down in their minivan a few days earlier and then slowly make their way back up to Portland afterwards, with some stops along the way to visit friends and relatives. The rest of us will fly down and back. Jason and I had planned to use some Alaska Airlines miles for our tickets, but by the time we all came to a consensus on dates, the number of miles for a round trip ticket had increased from 25,000 to 40,000. We just weren’t willing to use that many miles. So instead, we used a $50 companion fare coupon that came with our Alaska Visa. We found $89 fares each way flying into Long Beach Airport.

Even after I book airline tickets, I still like to check fares periodically just to see what’s out there. It was mid-February when I noticed that our fight no longer showed up on the schedule. I checked our online reservation and it still showed that it was booked. Usually, if Alaska makes a schedule change I see an error message directing me to call in to customer service. I did a Google search and discovered on some forum that Alaska was discontinuing direct service from Portland to Long Beach. Sure enough, a few days later this change was officially announced by Alaska in their email newsletter.

I’ve always been very happy with the customer service provided with Alaska Airlines, so I wasn’t too worried when I called in to find out what would be happening to our flights. The customer service rep confirmed that our flight was cancelled and said that Alaska still offers service to Long Beach, just not direct service. I knew from checking online that it meant our flight would take us from Portland up to Seattle and then back down to Long Beach. This greatly increases our flight time and involves a plane change, neither of which I was happy about. Just for the heck of it, I asked if we would be able to switch our flight to Orange County airport instead, without an additional increase to our fare. She put me on hold for a long time while she checked with her supervisor. When she returned, it was with the good news that we would be able to fly into Orange County as long as we chose a flight in the same fare class. We were able to get a late afternoon flight into Orange County and a mid-morning flight back to Portland. I was very happy with that, as we love flying into Orange County. At the time we booked our flights, fares were considerably more money to Orange County than to Long Beach.

To save on baggage fees, we’ll send our luggage down with my parents. If there’s anything we can’t do without for the few days while they are on the road, we can pack it in a carry on bag. I’m really looking forward to avoiding the hassle of checking our bags and then waiting to pick them up at baggage claim. It was also be nice not to worry about the possibility of lost luggage.

I decided to rent a car. Even though my parents have a seven passenger van, I felt that it would be nice to have two vehicles so that we have some freedom in coming and going as we pleased. Checking rental rates, I discovered that picking the car up at the airport was much more expensive then picking it up at the Alamo office at Downtown Disney. I then discovered that there was no difference in the rate if I dropped it off at the airport instead of Downtown Disney. Dad had planned to shuttle us from and to the airport so this saved him the trouble of dropping us off at the end of our trip. I was able to book an economy car for seven days for $98, as opposed to over $200 if I picked it up at the airport.

Even though I had the rental car booked, I am always on the lookout for a lower rate, and will check out any discount code that I find. It was while I was checking out a new code that I kept getting an error saying that the Downtown Disney Alamo office wasn’t open at the pick up time I selected even though I was entering in the same 6:30pm pickup time that was on our current reservation. Checking further I discovered that the hours for this rental office changed so that they now closed at 5:00pm. Since our flight didn’t arrive until after that, there was no way we would be able to pick up the car that first day.

I called Alamo and explained the problem to them, that by changing the hours of the rental car office we were unable to pick up our car. Again, just for the heck of it, I asked if I could change my reservation and pick up the car at the airport without a change in the rate. She asked me to email her my original confirmation that showed that the DTD office closing at 7:00pm. I was put on hold for a long time, while she checked with her supervisor. When she came back to the phone, it was with the good news that we could pick up the car at the airport and keep our low rate. Because taxes and fees are higher the airport, it increased the total of the rental to $113, just $15 more than our original rate.

So in the interest of saving money we started out staying at the Anaheim Plaza Hotel, flying into Long Beach Airport and picking up our rental car at Downtown Disney, perfectly fine options, but not our first choice. Now, a couple of months later, we were able to move to Howard Johnson’s, fly into Orange County Airport, and pick up our car right at the airport with no additional increase in cost. Things definitely worked out for us this time.

Hotel Update 1
In mid-May before Mom and Dad headed down to Los Angeles for their 55th high school reunion. Mom called to ask if I’d check online for hotel rates at Anaheim Plaza Hotel since they plan to hop down to Anaheim for a few days at Disneyland after the reunion. After checking her dates, I plugged in the dates for our June trip and discovered that room rates had dropped by $20 a night. Multiply that by seven nights for three rooms and that adds up to just under a $500 savings. So she decided to move her and Dad and my sister and her two kids back to Anaheim Plaza. Jason and I elected to stay at Howards Johnson’s for all the reasons I outlined above in the Accommodations section. We’ve found that we really don’t hang around as a group once we return to the hotel so it really doesn’t matter if we’re all staying at the same hotel.

We’ll do our usual Carnation Café for breakfast a couple of mornings. Jason, Dad and I no longer feel it’s worth the money for the Blue Bayou, but we really want my sister Sandy to have the experience of eating there, so just Mom, Dad and Sandy will eat there. Jason and I will do Café Orleans on Friday so we can get our Monte Cristo fix. We’ll all do the Big Thunder Celebration Backyard BBQ. The rest of the time we’ll either just snack or eat at one of the counter services restaurants.

Jason, Sandy and I plan to do the Fantasmic Premium Viewing Package. My plan was to call 30 days out from our first park day and try to get the first seating at 9:00pm so we can stay to watch the fireworks. If I was unsuccessful, then I planned to try again each of the following days. Promptly at 7:59am I started dialing and continued until 8:01am when I was put on hold for the next available CM. After a 10 minute wait, I was connected to a CM and was able to get the 9:00pm show. Hooray!

Dad, Sandy and Samantha want to do the Segway tour at DCA. I booked this for them on Tuesday, June 22, when we all plan to be at DCA anyway. We’ll all plan to meet somewhere after the tour.

During the last week of May, Disney announced a World of Color preferred dining package, which gives you dinner at either Ariel’s Grotto or Wine Country Trattoria and then access to a preferred viewing area. Details were sketchy and sometimes conflicting but since we didn’t have to pay upfront, we booked Ariel’s Grotto for Thursday, June 24. I was hoping for a preferred seating area, rather than a viewing area, since I really can’t stand for long periods of time. It sounds like even with the package you aren’t guaranteed a spot, which sounds really bizarre to me. We’ll wait to see reports from people that do this in the weeks before our trip. If it looks like it’s not worth it, then we’ll cancel our reservation.

I’ve used RideMax several times in the past and it’s been a lifesaver, especially during the busier times of the years. I’ll probably pick a land or area each day and create a touring plan for the morning hours so that by the end of the week we’ll have experienced everything that we want to at least once. The afternoon and evenings will be relatively unscheduled so people can do as they wish. I created pocket-sized itineraries that are the size of a FassPass for each day that include the touring plan for the morning, any priority seatings that we have, parade and fireworks times, and park hours for the day. We’ll carry these itineraries in clear plastic badge holders on lanyards along with our park tickets and FastPasses.

Hotel Update 2
Two days before our trip, HoJo’s updated their website with new dates for when the 50% discounted rate is available. By the time I noticed it, In-House Reservations was closed for the day. On Friday morning I was on the phone at 9:00am to see if we would be able to apply the $59 rate to any of the dates on our reservation. I was so happy when she said that three of our seven nights were eligible. This will save us Jason and I each $96 over the course of the week and bring our average daily rate to $75, just $7 more than what the rest of the family is paying down the street. It really pays to keep watching for deals.

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