Five Reasonable Splurges at Disney World

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Most often a Walt Disney World vacation itself is the splurge. A break in one’s reality to spend time in a place where everything is as it should be for a fee. Often a significant fee. Despite the built in cost to a Walt Disney World vacation, at times it is nice to enhance your trip by spending a little bit extra. And, while I have sadly come to the realization that I will never be able to utilize Disney’s VIP Tour Services ($315 to $500 per hour—Ouch!), there are a few worthwhile and reasonable splurges that even a lowly blogger like myself can afford. Here are five:

Disney's Beach Club Resort
The Beach Club Resort – Copyright Disney

Upgrade Your Hotel – Staying on Walt Disney World property is always part of the fun, regardless of where you choose to lay your head at night. However, for some folks, that’s all the resort hotel is: a place to wearily return for some shut eye before rising early the next morning to race back to the theme parks. Obviously, in that case, it may be sensible to stay in one of the Value Resorts. But if some time at your resort is a large part of your vacation then a resort upgrade is definitely worth the splurge. With each upgrade you will gain a larger room, a better themed pool, and more dining options. You will also start to get away from the cartoonish feeling that some of the Value Resorts provide. Statues of Disney characters are not generally found in the Moderate and Deluxe resorts as they are in the Value Resorts, and the décor will feel more adult, which can be good for an adults only trip, or a trip with older children. Splurging all the way to a Deluxe Resort will also mean a prime location somewhere on Walt Disney World property, which alone can be worth it (think Beach Club during Food and Wine).

Say you were interested in a jump from an All-Star Resort to one of the Moderate Resorts. A stay in early September 2014 (one of the cheapest times), paying standard, non-discounted room rates, would run around $92.00 per night for the All-Star, while the Moderate Resorts would cost around $170.00 per night. Walt Disney World will typically offer some type of room discount during this time, so the overall nightly cost for both resorts very well may end up being lower, but the price differential between the two should still be around the same. If paying an extra $78.00 per night is still a bit too steep, consider upgrading to the Art of Animation Resort. While still technically a Value Resort, Art of Animation will provide you with nearly everything a Moderate Resort will, with the exception of the larger room (provided you are staying in a standard room and not a suite) and a sit-down restaurant. A stay at Art of Animation during the same time frame is around $115.00 per night.

Looking to upgrade from a Moderate Resort to a Deluxe? While the prices of the Deluxe Resorts can vary wildly based on resort, a stay at the Yacht Club during early September would be around $356 per night (again, there are typically discounts to bring this down). Sure, tacking on $186.00 per night can be a bit too much at times, especially if you will be enjoying an extended stay. So, perhaps you could consider a split stay. Stay at a Moderate, or even a Value for the bulk of your trip, then head over to a Deluxe Resort for a night or two. I would recommend with this, however, to stay in the Deluxe Resort at the end of your trip. Trust me, it would be awfully difficult to go from the amenities of a Deluxe Resort to anything else.

Mickey's Once Upon a Christmas Time Parade
Mickey, Minnie, and Duffy during Mickey’s Once Upon a Christmas Time Parade

Purchase Party Tickets – If you are planning a trip to Walt Disney World during a holiday season, seriously consider splurging on either Mickey’s Not-So-Scary Halloween Party or Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party. Both have excellent parades and fireworks shows, unique character meet and greets, and even freebees (candy at Halloween, cookies and hot cocoa or juice at Christmas). You will also get the added luxury of diminished crowds, as there is a limit to the number of tickets sold. Tickets for the 2014 Halloween Party start at $62.00 per adult, $57.00 per child over 3 (Passholder and Vacation Club discounts are available), however, prices do increase if purchasing on the day of the party, or for parties closer to Halloween. Tickets for the 2014 Christmas Party start at $67.00 for adults, $62.00 for children, with the same discounts and caveats as the Halloween Party applying. Tip: Instead of making this a splurge, why not make it a way to save money? Consider making this your only park admission during your trip. You can gain access to Magic Kingdom on the day of the party at 4:00 PM using just your party ticket. Historically, capacity at Magic Kingdom during the day on a party night is very low, and once 7:00 PM hits, only guests with party tickets are allowed to stay. This gives you 8 hours in Magic Kingdom at diminished capacity and—by purchasing only a party ticket instead of a 1 day Magic Kingdom pass—it will save you around $37.00 per adult, $36.00 per child for the Halloween Party, $32.00 per adult and $31.00 per child for the Christmas party. That’s a savings of $146.00 for a family of four. Of course, these saving could be used toward a resort upgrade (see how it all ties in?). For ideas of what to do while outside of the theme parks, check out my previous post on that very subject.

Try A Signature Restaurant – Dining at Walt Disney World has become so much more than burgers on the go and sit down meals with characters. Scattered around Walt Disney World are what Disney calls their “Signature Restaurants” (restaurants considered signature will be listed as such on the Walt Disney World website and can be searched by selecting “signature” in the filter). Each restaurant will vary based on cuisine and style, so you will be able to find most anything you like. As I’m sure you may have guessed, signature dining can be quite expensive, though not every restaurant is on a Victoria and Albert’s price level. If you are on the dining plan, these meals can be 2 credits, and you will still be responsible for the tip, which can still be substantial. The food, however, is worth it. We dined at Narcoossee’s in the Grand Floridian Resort for our anniversary recently and enjoyed the butter poached lobster tail, which was possibly the best lobster I have ever had. The ambiance was also perfect for celebrating our anniversary. However, while it is nice to enjoy a great meal in an adult atmosphere, the stigma of the meal price can loom large. So, I will typically justify this splurge by using this example: A family of four can dine at The Crystal Palace (another splurge that families opt for) for roughly $122.00, plus tip. With that meal you will get to meet Winnie-the-Pooh and his friends and enjoy a good all-you-care-to-enjoy meal. The issue—for me at least—is that my children never eat what I would consider $20.00 worth of food (the cost for a child’s dinner). Now, let’s compare a meal at Narcoossee’s. A kid’s meal cheeseburger with tater tots, veggies, and a drink will run around $7.00. Even if you have an older child (under 10) who is more adventurous, a kid’s flat iron steak with roasted potatoes, veggies and a drink will run around $13.00. For adults, there is a wide array of steaks and seafood, but for the sake of this example, let’s go middle of the pack and say our parents are going with the grilled filet mignon with mashed potatoes, haricot verts and herbed cabernet-oxtail reduction (which is delicious, by the way). The cost of this meal is around $45.00 (apiece, of course). This would bring our meal total to a maximum of around the same $122.00 (adding in drink costs as well), plus tip. TIP: It is understandable that the kids may not be in favor of giving up a chance to meet characters with their meal, but a good way to make it up to them—if dining at Narcoossee’s or California Grill—would be to book a dinner reservation for roughly 45 to 60 minutes prior to the start of the Wishes Nighttime Fireworks Spectacular. The lights will dim just as Wishes begins and the show music will be piped in, giving your kids the full experience as they watch the fireworks display from the comfort of their seats or a viewing area nearby. As an added bonus, they will also see the Electrical Water Pageant float by just prior to Wishes. Also, if you plan to dine out a lot during your stay at Walt Disney World, I strongly recommend purchasing the Tables in Wonderland card, if you are able. It saved us over $40.00 at Narcoossee’s on our anniversary dinner!

Attend La Nouba by Cirque du Soleil – Generally speaking, I am not a fan of attending shows while at Walt Disney World. Time is precious there, and I just don’t like committing extended periods of my trip to one specific thing. That being said, attending La Nouba is one thing I can get on board with. For one, I enjoy spending time at Downtown Disney and am looking forward to seeing what Disney Springs will bring when it is complete. When my wife and I go to Walt Disney World without the kids, spending an evening having dinner, some drinks, and strolling around Downtown Disney is a fun, stress-free way to wind down our trip. Taking in La Nouba just sort of fits right in to that. The biggest problem we had with pulling the trigger on La Nouba, at least initially, was justifying the cost on simply a show. But, as the years went by and we became desensitized to the cost of doing business at Walt Disney World, it seemed like less of an unattainable endeavor. The show, itself, is both unique to Walt Disney World and unique in Walt Disney World. La Nouba can’t be found anywhere else, and it provides you with some mesmerizing, edge of your seat entertainment that isn’t character heavy. Tickets run from $52.19 to $159.75 for adults, and $52.19 to $133.13 for children, depending on where you choose to sit.

Main Steet U.S.A. during Christmas time.
Main Street U.S.A. all dressed for Christmas.

Go During Christmas – This splurge is a bit different as you have to plan your trip around it, not add it to an existing trip, but to me there is nothing better than Walt Disney World at Christmas time. From the Resort Hotels decorated in spectacular fashion, to Main Street, U.S.A., to the characters in their Christmas best, it is a fun time to be there. And if you did take my advice and splurged on a ticket to Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party, walking down Main Street sipping a hot chocolate at the end of the evening while “snow” steadily streams from the sky will make for a very lasting memory. TIP: The first two weeks of December are great times to go. Christmas decorations will be up in their entirety, crowds will be lighter, and hotel costs will be less. For example, a non-discounted, week day rate at All-Star Sports for December 1, 2014 through December 11, 2014 is $98.00 per night, but starting December 12, 2014 the cost begins to spike, going from $165.00 per night until it reaches its peak of $176.00 per night on Christmas Day.

 

Like most things in life, the more money you spend at Walt Disney World, the more you will receive in return. You will certainly never run out of options for enhancing your vacation, that is for certain. While some can justify the cost of the other, more expensive splurges, these are five that most people can decide on without breaking the bank, yet will still provide vast enhancements to any trip.

John Scanlan

Lover of camping, Walt Disney World, and craft beer. I also love to write. One day I put it all together and started www.fortwildernessblog.weebly.com. Sometimes, when I'm feeling exceptionally saucy, I write cime novels. For proof, check out my personal website, www.johnfscanlan.weebly.com. You can also find me on Twitter at @ftwildernessguy.

31 thoughts on “Five Reasonable Splurges at Disney World

  • September 3, 2014 at 6:44 am
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    Sorry, my commando touring personality makes thes things hard for me to overlook.
    When dining at Crystal Palace you get to hang out with “Whinnie the Pooh”?

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    • September 3, 2014 at 7:26 am
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      Hi Wheelie.
      Yes, Crystal Palace is a popular character meal with Winnie-the-Pooh, Tigger, Eeyore, and Piglet. If you click on the link above you can learn more about the menu, etc. Thanks for your comment!

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  • September 3, 2014 at 8:27 am
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    Christmas decorations around Disney are absolutely amazing. It is a wonderful time to go and an entirely different experience, IMO. We had been going every December. We switched up to mixing in Food & Wine Fest in early November. While I loved F & W, it just was not the same without all the Holiday cheer.

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    • September 3, 2014 at 9:52 am
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      Hi Hank(love the Simpsons reference, by the way). I agree totally, Christmas is my favorite time of year to visit. I love spending a day just going from resort to resort, taking in the decorations and feel of each. We are also campers, and there is no better time to be at Fort Wilderness than December. Thanks for your comment.

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  • September 3, 2014 at 8:42 am
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    We typically had stayed at Riverside, and the first time we booked a hotel “upgrade”, it was for a standard room at the Wilderness Lodge. The price differential between it and the moderates isn’t nearly as high as it is with other Deluxes.

    One warning though: it’s easy to get hooked on the Deluxes, so you might not be splurging “just this one time”.

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    • September 3, 2014 at 9:40 am
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      Agree about getting hooked on Deluxes. I stayed at one (Yacht Club) for my 30th Birthday trip, and ever since, have been lamenting about not being able to afford another Deluxe stay. I want to stay at another one so bad.

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      • September 3, 2014 at 9:59 am
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        I haven’t stayed at the Yacht Club yet, but we LOVE the Beach Club and the Boardwalk area in general. I hope you get back soon!

    • September 3, 2014 at 9:56 am
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      Hi smallworld. We love Wilderness Lodge and, as you pointed out, it is on the lower price end of the deluxes, which makes it even better. Another one that is on the lower price end that I like is Saratoga Springs. I know not everyone cares for this resort, so this may be just my personal preference, but I think when Disney Springs is completed it will be even better(of course, the price will probably increase as well). Thanks for your comment.

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      • September 3, 2014 at 8:27 pm
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        I enjoy Saratoga when traveling solo, but I can’t imagine staying there with the whole family unless we rent a car, which we generally don’t. I suspect a lot of its second-rate reputation comes from the fact that it is one of only 2 non-deluxe DVC resorts, and because it is so large it’s the one we members usually have to use when we don’t book far enough out.

      • September 3, 2014 at 9:31 pm
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        Hi Tim. I know a lot of people have an issue with how spread out Saratoga is, and I have to agree, it is rather sprawling. I think I liked it so much because it reminds me a lot of where I grew up in Western NY, and because I have always liked the Downtown Disney area and being so close makes it a lot easier to go, even for just a short time. I’m glad you enjoy it as well.

  • September 3, 2014 at 9:21 am
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    We stayed at the Value resorts for our first trip, but once we switched to Moderate we’ve never gone back. The typical All Star Resorts can get VERY loud. On our first visit there were a load of soccer teams there and at 10:30 at night they were all outside cheering. It felt like we were in a stadium. We even had to call and complain. 🙁 We splurged on the Poly one year and that was absolutely worth it. Having access to the MK monorail was awesome. Plus, we could walk over to the TTC to catch the Epcot monorail. Last year we stayed at Port Orleans and it only cost us about $140 a night with the discount. Definitely worth it!

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    • September 3, 2014 at 10:04 am
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      Hi Neula. Though I don’t really mind the All-Star resorts, we have had issues in the past with Cheerleading groups, etc., so I know exactly what you mean. I’ve never stayed at the Poly, though I’ve been there so much I consider it my favorite resort. I am desparate to stay there, though once the construction is finished I am nervous about how much it will cost.

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  • September 3, 2014 at 10:42 am
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    I’m with you on doing a nice meal. We generally eat counter service, but we always try to do one or two nice restaurants to mix it up. We’re also trying a character meal for the first time ever with our kids in January. For me, upgrading the hotel is choosing a large off-site condo, but I know the focus here is usually on staying on site.

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    • September 3, 2014 at 12:39 pm
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      Hi Dan. Initially, we stuck to food courts and quick service, but over the years we have become spoiled and love trying new sit down restaurants for dinner at least once a visit. I think it really adds something to each trip. I understand your choice in an off-site condo, and we have considered it many times, but in the end–for us–staying in a Disney Resort is as much a part of the trip as going to the parks. Thanks for your comment.

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  • September 3, 2014 at 12:18 pm
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    For us, we’ve found the standard view rooms at Animal Kingdom Lodge to be a great value splurge – it’s a gorgeous property, the pool is nice, the food is wonderful at all price levels, and the animals are a bonus on an after-dinner stroll. The only drawback is that the ‘standard view’ is the parking lot/bus stop. Eh, we’re only in our room to sleep anyway…

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    • September 3, 2014 at 12:42 pm
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      Hi Scott. I agree, the Animal Kingdom Lodge is a great value. It’s one of those lower priced deluxe resorts, but the resort itself can be a great source of entertainment. Thanks!

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  • September 3, 2014 at 1:00 pm
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    One of the things we have opted to splurge on is the Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutique and the Pirates League for our kids. They don’t know they are going, and my husband and I plan to surprise them while at Magic Kingdom.

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    • September 3, 2014 at 1:32 pm
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      Hi Laura. Those are another two great options. We haven’t done the pirates league yet as my son is only a year old, but we leave for our next Disney trip tomorrow and will be taking my girls to the Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutique for the first time while we are there. I will be doing a review of it in the upcoming weeks as well.

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  • September 3, 2014 at 1:36 pm
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    We went for the Halloween party in 2013 thinking there would be less people in the park and even picked a day that was suppose to be one of the less pack days for the Halloween party but alas that days event was sold out and Magic Kingdom was probably the most packed I had seen it. I am assuming this is because they over sell admision tickets putting more people in the park then there probably would be. It was awesome and would love to go for the Halloween party but just not sure those crowds are worthing doing it again.

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    • September 3, 2014 at 4:25 pm
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      Hi Fred. Sorry to hear things didn’t work out for you. We have had great experiences attending the parties, and Magic Kingdom prior to their start. I will admit, however, that we typically attend each early in the holiday season (late September, early October for Halloween and around December 10th for Christmas). We are also fortunate enough to be able to choose a weekday or Sunday night party, which I’m sure helps. Thanks for your comment.

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  • September 3, 2014 at 3:28 pm
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    We splurged on a date night on our last trip. We were staying at the Beach Club and booked dinner for my husband and me at Il Molino at the Swan, and took the kids to the child are center at the resort. The kids had a blast, we had a great meal and a nice stroll around the boardwalk (with coffee and dessert from the Boardwalk Bakery, yum!), and best of all, we had a much needed break from all the “togetherness”. (After 5 days of being smushed together on planes, busses, ride cars, and resort rooms we all enjoyed some space.)

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    • September 3, 2014 at 4:28 pm
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      Hi Melissa. I love the Boardwalk area, and it sounds like you had a great evening there. I think dinner at a nice restaurant–with or without the kids–can be a great way to get a little break from all the “Disney” stuff and really recharge your batteries. Thanks!

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  • September 3, 2014 at 10:08 pm
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    We have stayed at Deluxe, value, and off property, so this trip we are trying the moderates. We have reservations for Port Orleans French Quarter in one of their few Standard King Rooms. Hoping we can get one of the Building One rooms closer to the Sassagoula, and I can’t wait to run that path from Port Orleans to Riverside. The upgrade from the value to moderate during the week we are going was under a 100 dollars a night.

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    • September 4, 2014 at 4:47 pm
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      In years past we used to buy the seasonal weekday passes and loved having that opportunity. It saved a lot of money, both on the passes and on hotel stays. Now with my daughters in school it is harder for us to go during the week, but I agree, if possible that is another great way to save money. Thanks for your comment.

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  • September 4, 2014 at 2:56 pm
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    One way to splurge at a reduced price is to go during a free dining period (early October is great for this), stay at a Moderate, and upgrade your free DDP to a DxDP. The signature restaurants become a much better value at 2 credits when they include appetizers, and by going in October, those spare snack credits are valuable for the Food & Wine festival. This is probably better for groups without young children that are more willing to take the time for nice signature restaurant meals.

    Other good event-based splurges are the special events that go with Flower & Garden in the Spring and Food & Wine in the Fall.

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    • September 4, 2014 at 4:50 pm
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      Hi Brian. Those are great splurges as well. I don’t have a lot of experience with the Dining Plan, though we did consider the splurge of upgrading our resort to a moderate so we could get it this fall. Thanks for those great suggestions!

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  • September 4, 2014 at 6:32 pm
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    Thank you, John. I most enjoyed the positive, reasonable tone of this post. And lots of great ideas in the comments, too!

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    • September 4, 2014 at 7:35 pm
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      Thanks so much. I’m really glad you enjoyed it, and I agree, a lot more great tips and ideas came from the comments.

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  • September 8, 2014 at 12:46 pm
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    Something that might ease the pain of upgrading on resorts is to look into renting points from DVC members. As a member, I don’t rent my points on any website but I have given family and friends amazing deals 🙂

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    • September 8, 2014 at 3:03 pm
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      Hi Michelle. I agree, renting DVC points can save BIG bucks. We have done it on two occasions, both times using the DVC Rental Store, and both times things went as smoothly as could be. The only issue with that can be getting availability at a resort you really want. Each time we were only able to get Saratoga Springs, which I actually really like so it was no big deal. Though, I’m sure if you could rent points and schedule your trip 11 months out you’d be in decent shape availability-wise. Thanks for the suggestion!

      Reply

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