(January 2016, 11 months out)
I wrote yesterday about the Site Visit we did and about selecting our venues. Because we had several activities we wanted to book through Disney weddings (5 in total!) this limited our options for wedding dates. The original contract we signed was for mid-November and included the Marina (our second choice) for the Dessert party because Sago Cay Pointe was being held by another group. We booked as our fall-back while we waiting and hoped for the first weekend in November (and Sago Cay Pointe) to open up. Once that happened, our dates moved from mid-November to the first week of November. We signed our contract at the end of December, right after Christmas.
SAVE THE DATE
With that out of the way, we were able to really get started! We wanted to send out Save the Date cards right away to give folks as much time as possible to look at their calendars and start researching Disney vacations. On our Save the Date cards, we also asked our guests to “Pre-RSVP”. This served two purpose. First, it helped us get a feel for the number of rooms we needed to block with Disney. Secondly, it removed a number of folks from our full invitation list, which saved us money (because our full invitations were pricey to make and mail!)
Before the Save the Date cards were even in the mail, I had started designing the full invitations which I envisioned would be both an invitation and a planning packet. We decided to go “overboard” with our invitations because we knew that there was a large percentage of folks on our list who definitely wouldn’t be able to come to the wedding, and we wanted to share with them what we had been up to for the past ten years or so. (We’ve never been very good about sending out those yearly Christmas “this is our life” type letters that other families excel at!)
My partner and I brainstormed activities we thought would be fun with a big group, things like Beers Around Epcot and Hoop De Doo Revue. I also knew that I wanted to take the flower girls to the Bibbidy Bobbidy Boutique and the Perfectly Princess Tea Party in lieu of a more traditional gift like a necklace, and to schedule a kids' pirate adventure cruise for all the kids to do together after the wedding. My partner has 4 nieces/nephews who are the same age as our daughters, so we thought this was a great bonding opportunity for the cousins who unfortunately don't get to see each other all that often. We also reached out to friends and family that we were confident would join us, to see what types of activities they were interested in doing as a large group.
It had the potential to get very, very complicated very, very fast. We’d been on a trip with family in the past as a group of 9, and found it hard to juggle everyone’s interests and wish lists and keep everyone happy. For the wedding we would have groups over 30! We decided early that we would need to make an itinerary for ourselves and let our guests know where we would be and when--- then, leave it was up to them whether they wanted to join in, or go their own way. We were hoping that we would get different “slices” of the wedding guests at different activities so that we could spend some quality time with everyone at some point in the trip. We made it a priority to pick a variety of activities both in and out of the parks, so that guests who weren't buying theme park tickets wouldn't feel excluded.
We worked very “fast”, because we wanted to get invitations out in time for guests to RSVP well in advance of the 180-day mark, thinking that we could better sync up on getting ADRs (Advance Dining Reservations) this way. That didn’t work out exactly as we had hoped (spoiler alert: people don’t follow directions!) but I will discuss that in further detail later on.
During this same time, Disney needed us to put together our choices for our Room block. These are the rooms that are held at a discounted rate for your guests. They recommend that you choose one Deluxe, Moderate, and Value resort to fit every guest's budget. At the recommendation of our friends, we also selected a non-Disney resort which we included in our invitations for guests who were adamantly against staying on Disney property (yes, believe it or not, we have some friends/family who are skeptical about this whole Disney thing!)
DELUXE: GRAND FLORIDIAN - For our Deluxe option we chose the Grand Floridian, basically because this was where we were planning to spend a few nights and we wanted to be able to use the discount for our own stay. We didn't expect any guests to stay here.
DELUXE: YACHT CLUB - For our "Mini-Deluxe" we selected the Yacht Club / Beach Club because we love Stormalong Bay and because we felt that the boardwalk area isn't "too Disney" for our guests who weren't interested in a Disney vacation, but centrally located for our guests who were. The Yacht Club's price point is right between moderate and deluxe, so we consider it "miniDeluxe" or "moderatePlus". We hoped this would be the "main" resort where most of our guests would stay, and where we chose to book our room for our full trip (though we were staying DVC).
The Beach/Yacht club is our second favorite resort (after the Polynesian) and I believe it's one of the most overlooked resorts! Tucked behind Epcot hardly anyone seems to know about it or consider it for their vacation. It's too bad, because it's a great one! And it works well for our "Disney, but not TOO Disney" wedding goals.
MODERATE: PORT ORLEANS FQ - For our Moderate option we selected Port Orleans French Quarter. As I wrote in my last post, we'd originally been planning on PO-Riverside, but after staying there on our site visit we felt that it was too spread out of a resort for many of our guests with mobility issues. French Quarter had more rooms in proximity to the main building and the bus stop. We liked the romantic atmosphere of Port Orleans for our wedding.
VALUE: ALL STAR MOVIES - For Value options Disney Weddings only offers the All Star resorts (Art of Animation would have been our choice, but it isn't included in the wedding discount program presently.) We've never stayed at a Value resort and the online reviews are really all over the scale-- some people love them, and some absolutely hate them. The theming of the All Star Resorts (Movies, Music, and Sports) are really all the same in their level of kitsch IMO. Ultimately, we chose Movies because we read that it was the most conveniently located on the bus route.
CALCULATING ROOM BLOCK
In order to do the Disney room block, you have to tell them how many days PER NIGHT, PER RESORT you want to reserve... which is a wee bit confusing. There's also the risk of a penalty if you reserve way too many rooms, so you can't just pick a crazy number out of thin air.
Thanks to our “Pre-RSVP” request on our Save the Date cards, we had a vague idea of who was likely to come to the wedding well in advance. The way I tackled setting up the room block was to first create my own spreadsheet listing all the families we were pretty sure would be coming and guessed at which resort I thought they were likely to stay at. We also estimated a trip “tshirt size” for the guests, around some standard trip lengths we devised. The “tshirt sizes” were:
A full family vacation (7 nights)
The wedding-party (4 nights)
Wedding-only trip (2 nights)
I laid out the dates of the trip with the full family vacation being from Oct 31-Nov 8, and a wedding-only trip being Nov.3 to Nov.5 and tallied up the numbers from there. We also took into account the guests that we knew who were either Florida natives or were probably going to stay offsite so that they didn't inflate our numbers.
So, my spreadsheet looked like this:
Once I had number that I was really confident about, I padded it with the % of nights that you can be over by and not get a penalty (I believe it's something like 25 nights), and that’s how I came up with our room block reservation count. Not as good as having confirmed RSVPs in hand, but better than licking your thumb and picking a number out of thin air.
Of course, we were totally wrong. Comparing this spreadsheet with our actual resort block is laughable. Folks I thought would stay value, stayed deluxe and visa versa. Folks I thought would stay for long trips are only coming in for the wedding, and folks I thought wouldn’t come at all are staying for week-long vacations. But thanks to the law of averages, it mostly worked out.
I will say that I erred too far on the side of caution and about halfway through the booking period I needed to add more rooms. Due to the particular week of our wedding rooms are really at a premium and a lot of resorts were at capacity by the time our guests made their reservations, which means that our room block rooms were the ONLY options available to them! Fortunately, I was able to add more rooms and get everyone covered but it was close! I should have held more rooms up front and adjusted down instead of doing it the other way, but I was so preoccupied with the idea of paying for empty rooms that I didn’t fully grasp the part where you can lower the number of rooms you have around the 90-day mark through your wedding planner.
ARRANGING FOR OTHER ARRANGEMENTS
In addition to this, I reached out to a few Disney Vacation Planners and found someone who was willing to help our friends book trips who wanted to do full vacation packages. When booking through Disney weddings, guests receive a great discount on their room but are ineligible to purchase a dining plan. I thought that having a full vacation package would be important to most of our guests and, if free dining was offered, a better value than the wedding discount. I worked with a few different agents, but finally settled with Amy Thacker of Ears of Experience.
It’s important to remember that a Disney trip includes a lot beyond just the hotel room. For someone who's not very familiar with Disney it can be really overwhelming. In our guest list we had a mix of first timers and seasoned DVC members. Amy took on a lot of the burden of communicating with our guests and helping them to plan their itineraries, etc. I informed her of what our itinerary was, of what resorts were available in the room block, so that she had that information available to help our guests make the best financial and experience decision for themselves. Basically, she helped to educate the novices so that I didn’t have to. Which was great because I had about a million other things to do!
I will say that, unfortunately, free dining wasn’t ultimately offered for our wedding week, and as a result it made more sense for most of our guests to book through Disney Weddings without dining, instead of through Amy. But even though that happened, she was still super supportive and helpful through the entire experience! And, she’s local, so she was able to help with other logistical questions that came up. Disney weddings only books rooms for your guests and doesn't help he build itineraries. If you are doing a Disney wedding, I’d definitely recommend that you find a Disney travel agent to work with like Amy. (Or, just use Amy, she’s awesome! You can reach her here.)
I’d say that this was probably one of the busiest “times” of the wedding planning process for us. Once our guests found out about our Disney wedding, there were lots and lots of questions to answer and lots of decisions to make. This is the one part where having a Disney wedding became MORE complicated (and expensive!) than having a local wedding would have been because of all the optional “extracurricular activity” plans we made. But it was a good complication, and I love planning Disney trips, so I didn’t mind!
I was especially lucky that one of my good friends (and by this point MVP Bridesmaid!) had done a Disney wedding herself and so she was a treasure trove of helpful tips and information, too!