Our dining reservations could not be made at 6 months out. At the time, they could only be made three months out. So shortly after A.'s birthday party, I made some. I hadn't done any calculations based on park opening times and breakfast, and was thinking breakfast at Chef Mickey's, like breakfast at Goofy's Kitchen, would be good. I couldn't get breakfast every day, thank goddess; in the event, I canceled the breakfasts. I also couldn't get reservations every day at Chef Mickey's, no matter what time I took -- the dinners I got were earlier than I wanted, also a good thing. So the fifth table service I got a reservation for was at the Plaza in the park, since I figured we'd still be in the park at elevenish. Silly. We left around then almost every day.
I did character dining solely because we'd been introduced to the idea at Disneyland when T. was a year and a half. Some people we were traveling with loved character dining. I'd never heard of it, and when I did hear about it, I thought it was a little loony. But this time around, I was sure A. would love it, and I was hoping the characters would provide some entertainment to keep T. around while R. and I ate.
When we do this again, we'll get more early dinners at Chef Mickey's, and I'll seriously think about some other character dining as well, probably at the Polynesian, possibly at the Chrystal Palace in the park, or Liberty Tavern for an early lunch.
I really wanted a place with a kitchen. The price differential between on property and off property is phenomenal. However, everyone online said the commute time to get into the park staying off property was over an hour, and even on property, an hour if it involved anything other than a monorail. The Contemporary thus seemed like a huge win in a couple ways: it got me a kitchen, it got me a fast transit to the park, and it was an even faster walk to the park. I also figured that if we limited our dining/visits to other resort hotels to monorail hotels, we would never have to get in a car and deal with strapping kids into car seats. These turned out to be hugely wonderful ideas and I would solidly encourage other people to think about them. Of course, there is a cost problem.
Because we had a kitchen, we needed a way to get groceries. The Contemporary's market is very limited (no yogurt, among other things). I figured that driving to a DVC market (say the one at Old Key West) wouldn't get me much more (this is probably not actually true) and would take as long as going to a regular grocery store. This is _definitely_ not true. Disney and the other parks in the area create massive congestion, turning a drive of a few miles into a 45 minute outing each way. It was nightmarish, and we lack the local knowledge to know how to avoid the bottlenecks (if, indeed, they were avoidable). The grocery run was done on Boxing Day evening after the kids were asleep; I spent the time stuck in traffic on the phone to my cousins, which was very nice. But the Thai Thani run that included a side trip to a drugstore for more diapers for T. turned into a nightmare for poor R.
Despite absolutely loving BLT, I still don't know that I want to buy into DVC. We did decide a couple things we are going to change. First, late December in Florida is kind of on the cool side for swimming; we'd like to go a monthish earlier or later so we got more days at 70 degrees and fewer in the low 60s for peak temperature. Second, Christmas week is nuts, altho at least this Christmas was a lot less nuts than I had been anticipating. The extra hour in the morning, while painfully early, was basically quiet and largely line-free for doing rides. Third, R. would like a two bedroom suite, and if we got during January or other extremely off season weeks of other months, the cost of the two bedroom is about the same as a one bedroom during high peak season. Finally, we don't need four days in the Magic Kingdom, three would be enough.
One of the reasons for not being sure about DVC is I don't know I really would want to stay at BLT indefinitely. I had been figuring we'd be doing MK only for years to come. However, T. does love the bigger rides; the limit is his height, and he will grow. I could easily see him wanting to do rides in bigger parks (and at Universal Studios) in a small number of years. It's hard to commit to DVC at BLT with that coming up so fast.