Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Guess Where We're Going??

Yup, Disneyland.

For two years I have talked about it, researched it, and cross examined every returning Disney friend about where to stay and what time of year to go. Quite when I wasn't expecting it, in a single day, we managed to book it. Of course, it wasn't simple.

Some years ago, when J Boy was still in diapers (which really only narrows things down to a 4 year window), a friend told me to go to Disney the first week of December. "No one goes then, and it's decorated for Christmas".

Since I inherited my father's distaste for lineups which I generously passed onto my son, going to Disney at a less busy time is mandatory. So for years Husband and I have mused over just which December to go to the D-Land.

We pondered the possibility (for about 10 seconds) of going when J was in kindergarten, but S was only 3 and to put it mildly, not a good walker and not a fan of the stroller, and I thought Husband's spine might compress a couple inches from having S on his shoulders for 3 days. The next year J was having a bit of a tough year behaviour wise and it was hard to imagine paying all the money to go to Disney only to be confronted with meltdowns over the wrong colour of the ferris wheel car or because Mickey shook everyone else's hand but not his. So we settled on going when the J Boy was in grade 2 or 3.

In my own mind, I wanted to go when J was in grade 2 as I didn't want to miss the Princess window with the Girlie Goo. I wanted her to experience the magic of meeting the princesses when she actually believes she is one. We might have actually gone last December, J's grade 2 year, only the "Kids Fly Free" promotion by Alaska Airlines was offered 9 months last year and that didn't include December. I tried to make it happen briefly in January, but we couldn't find a week to make it work.

So the other night, with my passport well on it's way to the bureaucracy, I turned my mind to Disney. I proclaimed to Husband on Monday night "We must go to Disney the next school year. And when it's not busy. So that means from September to February".

I went to so far as to get the name of a travel agent from my sis-in-law, who was just there in May. I'm nothing if not gung ho when I've set my mind to something.

While the December trip still is our preferred timing, that plan had 2 wrinkles. The kids' school has a biannual Christmas programme and this December would be it. They entirely shut down the academics for a couple weeks and focus on making costumes, singing songs and practising whether to exit stage left or stage right. If we went in December, the kids would miss out on half the hoopla. While it wouldn't bother me much, it might bother them. Secondly, if they didn't offer the "Kids Fly Free" in December, it might actually cost us a lot more to go then.

On my way to work on Tuesday, I saw the daily advert in the paper for Disneyland. When I got to work I called a "Disney Specialist" with the question of whether the Kids Fly Free would be offered in December. No, so the December dream died a quiet death at the prospect of paying an additional $500.

So that meant we would have to go before the Kids Fly Free ended (end of September) or when it hopefully would start up again (January). Well, at least things were narrowing down. I was wondering whether I had the stamina to get organized enough to book a trip in September when the Disney Specialist remarked "today is the last day to book the Kids Fly Free for September". It was like a challenge that I could not pass up. I quickly convinced myself September is the perfect time to go.

I had previously scouted the calender and realized that we had only one week that we could go since I didn't want to take the kids out of school the first 2 weeks and I won't do Disney on a weekend. We also had to work around Husband's work trip to Montreal in late September.

So I had it narrowed down to leaving on September 20 and returning on September 24 (having previously decided 4 nights and 3 full days at Disney is the perfect length). I asked the travel agent to look into hotels in my preferred location and get back to me with some quotes.

I tried to get a hold of Husband to tell him the great news but he was unavailable. He has 2 students about to defend their PhD dissertations, so he is a little busy with that. I sent him an email with the subject "CALL ME AS SOON AS YOU ARE FREE!!!!!", which he did an agonizing 60 minutes later.

I put the time to good use and searched for vacations online with Alaska Airlines. The prices were indeed pretty good and what we were expecting to pay. I then started checking reviews on the few hotels I didn't know about and tried to figure out the one that balanced cost, location and reasonable accommodation.

When Husband called he told me he would leave for Montreal on the 24th. So we had to weigh the options of (a) keeping the original dates but traveling home on the morning of the 24th (getting kids up early) so Husband could jump on another plane or (b) moving it up a day and having a Sunday at Disney as one of our days. So much for "I won't do Disney on a weekend".

We settled on (b) and I called the travel agent back to tell her about the change of dates. She gave me the quotes for 2 hotels in my preferred location. It was $600 more than on Alaska Air's website. She asked me to email her the search results and she would look into it.

I researched hotels further and finally settled on one, in consultation with Husband. They had a 4th night free promotion, which brought down the cost. It did not include breakfast but did have a hot tub and pool and it was ranked 13 out of 102 Anaheim hotels on Trip Advisor.

I emailed the travel agent the final time, telling her of the simplified plans. I went so far at to tell her the exact flights we wanted and the price we could get online. Then I waited.

And waited.

And waited.

I finally called to make sure she was receiving my emails only to find that she was dealing with an emergency for a client who has missed his flight. So I wait some more.

And waited.

And waited.

She finally returned my call and confirmed that she had received my emails and would look into the particulars. A couple hours later she phoned me on my commute home to say she couldn't match that price and I should go ahead and book it online.

I impatiently tapped my knee the remainder of my commute (subway, train, bus), wanting to get this deal done -- remember it's the last day. I worried that the flights or hotels would not be available by the time I got home.

But they were. After I heard about the days' exploits at bike camp, and got the kids' dinner in the toaster oven, I settled in to try to get the trip booked. I found all the pieces of the trip and proceeded to checkout.

I was way-layed when they wanted Passport, birth dates and middle names of all traveling so the US government can ascertain we do not have any nefarious purposes in traveling to California. I of course do not have the particulars of my passport. After several error messages I finally realized it was not accepting Husband's middle name and so finally I got to the final pay-your-money screen.

J has tae kwan do coming up and I wanted to get this done before then. I also wanted, for some strange reason, for Husband to be here when I actually clicked on "Book This Trip" button. He finally arrived and I clicked, awaiting the confirmation code. But none appeared. Instead I got an error message "We cannot contact one of the sources. Please try again later.".

The 1-800 number is only attended until 5:30, long since past. I click again. And again.

Husband took J to tae kwan do, and S went along for the ride. I pulled out the "Unofficial Guide to Disneyland" and start reading about rides, restaurants and parades. I clicked about every 10 seconds. At some point the error message changed to "We are having technical difficulties."

So I just kept clicking figuring that eventually some IT geek up in Alaska would get a page and sort out this mess. It was kind of quiet and peaceful so I didn't mind.

I was telling myself that I would not freak out if we couldn't book the trip. It would just be a sign and we could go in January. Not that I wouldn't be disappointed, but I would keep my composure.

My clicking was interrupted by the phone. The call display said "out of area" which usually means our bank trying to sell us life insurance or get us to take their credit card, which we have with a different bank due to optimal cash back. I usually hang up on them or ask to speak to a supervisor to get off their #^$&**% list.

I answered and a business like voice asked to speak with Husband. I said he is not available and asked for a message. It's the credit card company. WHAT?!?!?! Now they want to sell us life insurance too??

No. They are calling about unusual activity on the credit card. Have we used it today? I explained I'm trying to book a trip online with Alaska Air. He asked about buying gas. I said that Husband was out but he may well have been buying gas.

He said the credit card was suspended due to "multiple access attempts". Yeah, that would be me and my clicking finger. He said he'd reset it. Not to worry.

I fully expected that the trip will now be booked, but another 45 minutes of clicking to no avail. When Husband returned he tells me he tried to buy gas (where there was a big lineup as new tax to take effect the following day) and the Mastercard didn't work. Oops. (Fortunately, we have a Visa for just this eventuality).

Husband fired up his laptop and I tried to purchase trip from a different IP address, to no avail. I am planning to keep this up until bedtime but I decided to take a short break. Then Husband suggested trying using the Visa.

It worked. Disneyland here we come. September 19th.

While I was earlier feeling badly that we did not get the princess to Disneyland last year, that has vaporized.

The princess will be partying with the Disney princesses ON HER BIRTHDAY.

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