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Category: Disney Resorts (page 1 of 5)

Holiday Magic at Disney Resorts During the Holidays.

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Disney parks are gorgeous during the holidays, but don’t forget the resorts: They’re filled with holiday magic, each decorated with its own theme.  Do you have a personal favorite? I love the kitschy tree at Art of Animation.

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Here’s a closeup of the fun details.

Continue reading

Villas at the Grand Floridian.

The newest in property in the Disney Vacation Club (DVC) collection opened at the Grand Floridian last fall and it’s been at almost full capacity since.  While DVC owners have priority when booking rooms, you can stay here on a cash basis as well if you book well in advance. Since it’s a new property, you won’t find any discounts yet, but you will enjoy the most luxurious accommodations Disney has to offer, just a short walk from the Magic Kingdom monorail and one away stop from that beloved park.

Most DVC properties are attached to a deluxe resort and in this case, it’s the Grand Floridian, Disney’s flagship resort. It’s about a five minute walk from the DVC lobby to the pool and about five more minutes to the Grand Floridian lobby. As a guest, you’ll enjoy the Grand’s pools as well as the resort’s other amenities.

This DVC property has deluxe studios and one, two and three-bedroom villas. Both the studios and the one-bedroom villas sleep five. The two-bedroom villas sleep nine and the three-bedroom villas sleep twelve. You’ll find full kitchens and a washer/dryer set up in the one, two and three- bedroom units.

The kitchens are small, as you might expect, but they have gorgeous cabinets and stainless steel appliances.  I really appreciated the marble counter tops and attention to detail in the backsplash.

The rooms also have a mixture of carpet, wood flooring, and ceramic tile that make it feel more like a comfortable, well-appointed home than a vacation rental.

The bathrooms are gorgeous, with soothing colors, subway tile, and deep tubs. This one comes with air jets.

Disney has learned a lot about what guests want since they started building their own hotels in 1971, and one thing guests want? Lot of storage space.  These little ottomans open up to hide toys or whatever else you may want to secret away when not in use.

These clever twin-sized beds fold out from underneath the television in the living room.

The bathrooms have a nice amount of storage space as well, with roomy counter tops  (I’m looking at you, Bay Lake Tower). 

And that image in the mirror? It’s a television, so you can watch from the bathtub. The studios have a comfy couch that folds out into a double bed.

I’ll admit it, I’ve tried but I can’t find any downsides to this resort other than the price. The location is prime, it looks gorgeous, and the cast members are the same excellent cast members you’ll find anywhere on property.  If you love the Grand Floridian, you owe it to yourself to book a stay at the villas. Yes, it’s pricey. But the accommodations are bucket-list level and worth the cost, if only once.

Disney Resorts for Larger Families.

You can stretch out at Disney’s gorgeous Bay Lake Tower
but you’ll pay a lot for it. Here are some more economical
options for larger families.

In the real world, a family of five isn’t a “large” family, but by Disney World standards, it is.  It’s true that some Disney resort rooms sleep five people, but the cold hard fact is that they don’t all do it comfortably.  This means that if you’re a larger family, you may find yourself tempted to stay off site. After all, you can get a two-bedroom condo or even a gorgeous rental home for a reasonable price.  But if you’re like me, you love the benefits of staying on site:  Transportation, extra magic hours, package delivery services, the dining plan, and being in the “Disney bubble.”  Frankly, it’s going to take a lot of get this family of five to stay off site.

So what works for larger families?  Let’s look based on the different levels of resorts:

The Value Resorts:

It’s no secret that I’m a huge fan of the value resorts, where you’ll get the same service and benefits as someone staying in a deluxe resort for a fraction of the price.  Unfortunately, standard value rooms only hold four guests (excluding the first child under age three, who does not count towards your occupancy), so booking a single value resort room is out of the question for larger families.  

Water splash area at
Disney’s Art of Animation Resort.

A great solution is to book two connecting value rooms. Combined these will average around $200-300 a night, depending on the time of year.  The advantage here is not only space, but  that you’ll have a place where the adults can relax at night after the kids go to bed, always a plus. Make sure you request connecting rooms when you book.  These are never guaranteed, but since the values have a high percentage of rooms that connect, your request will most likely be met.

Disney’s Pop Century Resort
has kid-friendly icons.

Another solution for larger families is to stay at a family value suite at All Star Music or at the recently opened Art of Animation resort. These suites sleep six and have two bathrooms, a queen-sized bed in the “master” bedroom, two televisions, a fold-out couch, a table that converts into a bed, a refrigerator, and microwave.  The only downside is the price which can top $400 a night during peak season.  Another caveat: Due to their popularity, it can be harder to find discounted value suites.  If getting a discount is important to you, book a suite but plan on switching to two value rooms (which almost always have a discount available except during peak season) later if a discount doesn’t materialize.

Moderates:

Port Orleans-Riverside, known affectionately by Disney fans as POR, is the only moderate resort room that sleeps five people in its standard rooms. There’s a catch however:  The Murphy-style fold out beds are small and better suited for children under ten years of age. 

Port Orleans-Riverside

An alternative to a single room is to stay in the cabins at Fort Wilderness. These cabins sleep six and include a bedroom, living area with Murphy bed, a full kitchen, and one bath.  You’ll also get a large deck and a place to grill outside. For more information on the Ft. Wilderness cabins, please see this article.

Deluxe Resorts:

Most Disney deluxe resorts sleep five, excluding Animal Kingdom Lodge and the Wilderness Lodge, which both sleep four in a standard room.  At approximately 400 square feet, these rooms are roomier, with two queen-sized beds and a fold-out couch, but it’s important not to lose sight of one thing: Everyone will still be sleeping in the same room. So if privacy (to say nothing of having an extra bathroom) is important to you, the extra 100 or so square feet you gain over a moderate resort room really isn’t going to make that big of a difference in your comfort level. Consider two connecting value or moderate rooms, a value suite or, if money isn’t an issue, a Disney Vacation Club villa instead.

Disney’s Contemporary Resort features two
queen-size beds and a daybed.



Disney Vacation Club  Villas:

One solution for larger families is to book at a DVC resort. You can do this through Disney or by renting points through a private owner.  Generally, you’ll find that renting points from a DVC owner is cheaper, but there are steep cancellation penalties (you risk forfeiting everything) and the entire transaction requires a lot of trust since you’re dealing with an individual owner rather than directly with Disney. You can read more about renting points here

Disney’s Boardwalk Inn and Villas.

DVC resorts are basically one, two and three-bedroom condos with full kitchens and living/dining areas on Disney property. They’re often attached to deluxe resorts, although some, such as Saratoga Springs, are solely DVC properties.  The theming is excellent and the amenities are some of the best on property, but they’re also some of the most expensive rooms available at Walt Disney World.

If you plan on booking one of these villas through Disney, you should be aware that not all resorts will be discounted when promotions are announced, so be flexible if getting a discount is important to you. I’ve found that Saratoga Springs, Old Key West, and Animal Kingdom Lodge have the most rooms available under discounted promotions. Finally, it’s fairly rare that three-bedroom units (also known as grand villas) are discounted. Sometimes it’s easier and more economical to get two two-bedroom units.

As you can see, there are plenty of options available on property that will accommodate larger families. Personally, I prefer the option of two value rooms. It gives you plenty of space and you won’t pay more than you would for one moderate room.  Just make sure before you make a decision you look at all the options and price out different scenarios, keeping in mind that not all discounts are created equally. In the end, a little extra time and paperwork can save you a lot of money and put you and your family into the most comfortable and appropriate resort for you.

Picking a Disney Resort that Fits Your Budget.

Yacht and Beach Club Pool.
Copyright Disney.

It’s easy to get caught up in the hype when it comes to picking a Disney resort, especially if you’re planning far in advance and you spend time on Disney message boards.  There’s a lot of information out there, but at some point it all comes down to your wallet: What can you afford?  Here are five tips for staying within your budget while

1. Pick the resort you can afford right now, no matter what happens.

Here’s why this is so important:  Disney value and moderate resorts fill up faster than deluxe resorts, so they’re harder to get closer to travel. This is particularly true for certain discounted rooms, such as those under free dining.  If you feel that a value most fits your budget, go for it even though you have months to save for that deluxe room.  Chances are good that if you have the extra money a couple of months prior to your trip, you can easily switch to a more expensive room, even keeping your discount in the process.

Disney’s Grand Floridian Resort and Spa.

2. If you’re worried about cost, you’re probably spending too much. 

Everyone feels a little bad spending money on a hotel room. After all, it’s just a place where you rest when you’re not having fun. That’s normal. But if you’re starting to feel really uncomfortable with the cost, you’re spending too much.

You’re probably thinking to yourself “Chris, why do you sound so cranky about this issue?”  Okay, maybe you didn’t think that at all, but let me explain anyway.  In my experience, the clients who are the most likely to cancel are those who book deluxe resorts.  I’ve often wondered if those clients would have gone to Disney World if they’d had a less daunting $2200 price tag facing them at the 3-month mark than a trip that costs $5800.  It seems to me that the worry over cost takes a lot of fun out of the planning experience and leads some guests to just cancel entirely.

3.  If you get in over your head, let your travel agent or Disney know as soon as possible. 

This can save your deposit or, as noted above, make it easier to find an alternative resort, but just as importantly it can also help you avoid Disney’s $50 change fee.  What, you haven’t heard about that?  Well, whenever you lower the amount of your package 45-days or less prior to travel, Disney can charge you a $50 change fee, so try to make any changes to your resort reservation prior to that time.

Disney’s Pop Century Resort.
Copyright Disney.

4. Don’t believe the hype.

The right resort for you is the one you can afford. It’s that simple. Yes, staying at a deluxe is amazing and often times, it’s more convenient as far as location to the parks is concerned. But if you’re so worried about cost that you can’t relax, what kind of vacation is that?

5.  All Disney resorts are clean and offer the same level of service.

I think this is actually one of the biggest fears guests have about staying at the values.  If this is your concern, put those worries away:  I’ve never noticed a difference between the different resort levels.  In fact, I secretly think cast members at the values try a little harder.

Bottom line, pick what you can afford and avoid all the hype. Planning should be about the fun anticipation of your trip, not worrying about the cost. If your circumstances allow it later, by all means, upgrade if that’s what you want. But you’re going to be a lot happier and a lot more likely to travel if you stay within your budget in the first place.

Quick Bites: Grand Floridian Burger

Why hello there, gorgeous.

The Grand Floridian Burger, which is found on the lunch menu at the excellent Grand Floridian Cafe, is an Angus chuck burger topped with buttered poached lobster, red onion marmalade, crispy prosciutto, and arugula served on a soft and warm Brioche bun with a side of chips, all for $19.49.  No, that’s not a typo. It’s a $20 hamburger. Is it worth it? In a word – yes. In another word -yum! 

The Angus burger was cooked to perfection, meaty and juicy, while the lobster meat was fresh, succulent and tender.  I was pleased to see that the Grand Floridian chef did not skim on the amount of lobster, either – I’d guess there was an entire lobster’s tail worth covering the hamburger. The red onion marmalade added just the right amount of sweetness without overpowering the flavors of the hamburger and lobster, while the arugula added a nice crunch. To be honest, I didn’t even taste the prosciutto, but that’s because I was enjoying the rest of the flavors too much.  For their part, the chips appear to be homemade, or at least cooked on site; these are not store bought potato chips thrown on a plate, and have a crispiness and perfect crunch, with just the right amount of salt. 

This may be the perfect burger.

The meal is served with a side of mango ketchup, which by itself is very pleasing to the palate, but is too sweet when tried with the burger. It would benefit, I think, from perhaps some hot peppers or something to give it a little heat or bite at the end. Luckily, I only tried it on a small portion of this delicious burger, and you should do the same.  The multitude of flavors stand on their own, and to add any condiment would be a crime.

Although the price is steep, if you can get past that, I promise you won’t be disappointed. Besides, you’re on vacation. It’s okay to treat yourself every once and awhile.

Grand Floridian Easter Egg Display

Can’t think of a better place to celebrate spring!
A very happy Easter/Passover weekend to our readers who may be celebrating. I had the opportunity yesterday to head over to the Grand Floridian and check out their amazing Easter egg display.
Just a few of the eggs on display.
For the past 15 years, the Disney bakery team has been hand decorating the Easter eggs for display throughout Disney restaurants, but this is the first year that it was decided the eggs would all be displayed in one place for all guests to enjoy. 
Amazing detail is found on the front….
and the back of each egg.
The eggs measure between 16-20 inches and weighs in at a whopping 9-12 pounds. And yes, they are all completely edible, made up of such things as fondant, cocoa butter, and royal icing. The hand painted bunnies next to the eggs are also edible, sculpted from cocoa butter. It took the team of 19 bakers three weeks to design each of the eggs, which reflect both original art and tributes to famous paintings.
It’s hard to believe that’s painted on an egg.
The display is only up for the Easter season and will be taken down after April 9, 2012 this year. Not to worry if you miss it this year though -this year marks the “First Annual” display, meaning it will return in following years.


It’s hard to choose a favorite, but I think this is mine.

Interested in seeing my entire album of Easter egg photos? You can find them on my Facebook page, here.

Disney Resorts: The Moderates.

Disney’s Coronado Springs Resort.

Disney moderate resorts bridge the gap between Disney value and deluxe resorts, providing more elaborate theming, pools with slides, and slightly larger rooms. For guests who want more “grown up” theming than the values provide, the beautiful landscaping of Disney’s moderate resorts provides a little luxury at the end of the day.  Theming aside, there are some real tangible differences that separate Disney moderate resorts for the rest:

How moderate resorts differ from value resorts:

  • Pools:  Moderate resorts have slides and more elaborate theming.
  • Moderates have a sit-down restaurant, whereas Disney values have food courts. 
  • Moderates have covered bus stops, which is a big deal 9 months out of the year.
  • Moderate rooms are about only 50 square feet larger than value rooms.
  • You can upgrade to a room with a king-size bed at most moderate resorts; it’s only a request at a value and it’s unlikely it will be honored since only a handful are available.
  • You are less likely to encounter large tour groups at the moderates.
  • The biggie: Disney moderate resorts have two queen-sized beds (except for Caribbean Beach) while the values have two double-beds.
  • Standard Disney value rooms sleep 4, as do most moderates. The exception is Port Orleans-Riverside, which sleeps 5, and the Ft. Wilderness cabins, which sleep 6.

How moderate resorts differ from deluxe resorts:

  • Disney deluxe resorts are the most well-themed of all the Disney resorts with incredible attention to detail.
  • Deluxe resorts have world-class pools, beautiful landscaping and tastefully decorated rooms that appeal to adult guests.
  • Some of the best restaurants on property are at the deluxe resorts.
  • Deluxe rooms are approximately 50 – 60 square feet larger than moderate rooms.
  • Several deluxe resorts are within walking distance to the parks. Others are a short monorail or boat ride away.
  • Most Disney deluxe resort rooms sleep 5 people.

Ceiling in the lobby at Coronado Springs.

I have mixed feelings about the moderate resorts. On the one hand, there’s no question that I prefer the theming to that of the values, however, I’m not sure the mostly aesthetic differences make up for the higher price. It’s not that I don’t like the moderates–I do.  It’s just think that the values do such a great job of doing what they do that it’s hard for me to justify paying more for a moderate room. 

Port Orleans-Riverside.

The moderates definitely have a different “feel” than the values and that can add to your vacation, especially if you’re the type of guest who spends a time at the resort. The walk around the lake at Coronado Springs is beautiful, especially in early morning.  The boat ride to Downtown Disney from Port Orleans is relaxing and fun.   Moderate lobbies are some of the prettiest on site.  The amenities are better, the bedding feels more luxurious, and I definitely notice the extra space and better storage at the values. Still, I’m not sure that any of this makes up for the fact that a moderate resort can cost up to 40% more than a value.

When I talk to people who are vacillating between a moderate and a deluxe resort, I often suggest they base their decision on two things:  The size of the beds and the theming. The bed issue is a simple one. If you’re tall, you might be more comfortable in a queen-sized bed, especially if you’re sharing.  This seems to be a major deciding factor for guests.  The other issue is a little harder to pin down because it’s difficult to justify paying  more for a room based solely on how it looks.  Ask yourself how much time you’ll actually spend at the resort.  If you’re planning on taking advantage of the amenities, then consider a moderate, but if you’re a commando-style guest who spends most of your time in the parks, a value resort may be the best choice for you.

Quick Bites: Roasted Chicken Breast at Citricos

As wonderful to eat as it is to look at. 






   




Located within Disney’s Grand Floridian Resort you’ll find Citricos, a signature restaurant featuring the cuisine of Southern Europe. 

As this is a favorite dining destination for my wife and I, I’ve had the opportunity to try a variety of dishes, such as the roasted chicken breast ($29.00).

This dish consists of a free-range chicken served with saffron and green pea risotto, mojo picon and garnished with micro cilantro. There are a number of ways to ruin chicken, but I am happy to say that this was expertly prepared. The skin was left on during roasting, which preserved the moisture, leaving the meat juicy and succulent (there’s nothing worse than a dried out piece of chicken); it also gave the skin a hint of crispiness. 

The mojo picon (a type of garlic sauce cooked with paprica, cumin seed and dried chilies) lent a hint of spice to the dish without being overpowering, while the saffron and green pea risotto complimented the chicken perfectly, the peas adding a subtle, summer flavor. 


Like everything served here, the presentation was elegant, even if the course itself was simple. The contrast of color on the plate and the simple garnish for an added touch left no doubt that I was eating somewhere special. 

Citricos is two table service credits on the Disney Dining Plan; they also gladly accept the Tables in Wonderland card. Advanced dining reservations are strongly recommended.

Authors note: The menu changes frequently at Citricos, typically with each season, so some dishes may not be available year round.

Resort News: Changes to Walt Disney World Resorts Television Lineup

I think every resort television on property should look like this one. 


Great news for anyone who enjoys going back to their on-site resort after some fun at the parks but has always been disappointed by the limited number of television stations available. The cable television selection on property is about to be upgraded in a big way. Taking place in a staggered rollout beginning March 13, 2012, and expected to be completed by May 8, 2012, the new television lineup will feature channels including Fox News, Bravo, AMC, TBS, TNT, Travel Channel, Discovery, HGTV, TLC, History Channel, Food Network, TV Land, SyFy and National Geographic.

The rollout schedule is as follows:

March 13: Disney’s Port Orleans Resorts
March 15: Disney’s Old Key West Resort
March 20: Disney’s Caribbean Beach Resort
March 22: Disney’s Pop Century Resort
April 3:    Disney’s Saratoga Springs Resort & Spa
April 5:    Disney’s Coronado Springs Resort
April 10:  Disney’s All-Star Resorts
April 12:  Disney’s Animal Kingdom Lodge
April 17:  Disney’s Yacht and Beach Club Resorts
April 19:  Disney’s BoardWalk Inn
April 24:  Disney’s Contemporary Resort
April 26:  Disney’s Polynesian Resort
May 1:    Disney’s Grand Floridian Resort & Spa
May 3:    Disney’s Wilderness Lodge Resort
May 8:    Disney’s Fort Wilderness Resort & Campground
I know I shouldn’t be so excited about this, but I’m a television junkie, and we do spend a fair amount of time just relaxing in the room. Up until now, I’ve gotten so bored with the selection, I’ve even gone so far as to watch the sales presentations for Disney Vacation Club and Adventures by Disney in other languages.  Plus, I think this is one thing that a lot of off-site properties had that Disney resorts didn’t, so it’s good to see Disney taking steps to fix that. 

How about you? Do you watch television while at Disney World, or are you only in the room to shower and  sleep?


Disney’s Childrens Activity Centers: The Sandcastle Club at Yacht and Beach Club.

The kids clubs at Walt Disney World are a great way to give yourself a little bit of grown up time during a busy vacation. Maybe you want a quiet dinner at a more upscale restaurant or just want to go on some rides the kids are too young for?  Whatever the reason, Disney’s kids’ clubs are a great way to carve out a little bit of time for  yourself. 

We’ve used the Neverland Club before and it was a huge hit, but in December we were staying at Boardwalk and planning on eating at Yacht Club, so we wanted something a little closer, so chose the Sandcastle Club in the Yacht and Beach Club Resort. Beach Club was a quick fifteen minute walk (or you can take one of the Friend Ships) from our resort. To get to the Sandcastle Club, just go into the main lobby of Beach Club and go down the long hallway to your right; it’s on your right, just past the shops.

Children ages three to twelve are welcome in the clubs (the sign above is an older sign).  Operating hours are 4:30 to midnight. You’ll need to pay for a two-hour minimum stay, but you can pick your child up earlier if you wish. You do not need to be a guest of the resort or even a guest of Disney World property to use the clubs. There is an $11.50 per hour fee per child which includes dinner if the child will be staying during that time period.  Unfortunately, there is no discount for multiple children.
We dropped our children off and they immediately started playing with all the games and toys. There’s a big main room with tables, games, and activity centers. There’s also a small room off to the side (well within view of the main desk) set up like a small house.  The kids were able to choose their meals from a list containing kid-friendly food: pizza, macaroni and cheese, nuggets. They always enjoy picking items from their own “menu” and always report back that they enjoyed the food. After they ordered their meal, they went off to play and we headed over to Yachtsman Steakhouse.
Besides games and toys, cast members conduct organized activities such as arts and crafts:  Our daughter presented us with several sparkly drawings when we picked her up.  Cast members are trained to make sure that all children are included in the fun and games and that no one feels left out. If you have a shy child or a child with special needs, make sure you inform the cast members when you drop your son or daughter off. The rooms are clean, the equipment is new, and the staff is friendly. I’m a worrier by nature, but I felt comfortable leaving the kids there.
To me, the only downside  is the cost. With three kids, I paid $34.50 an hour. Times that by 2.5 hours and for that amount, I could have hired a babysitting service like Kids Nite Out for four hours. A sitter service would have come to the resort room and when I got back (if history is any indication) they would have been snug in their beds asleep. But with the kids clubs, I have the satisfaction of knowing that they’re being entertained without watching television, that there are multiple adults watching them, and they’re being given dinner.  So, it’s definitely a trade off between cost and peace of mind. I still like using a sitter service and will continue to do so, but now that my kids are older and can stay out a little later, the kids clubs are a treat. 
Our kids love going to the kids clubs and they always ask if they’re going each trip. They get to play with new toys, eat fun food, and meet other kids, but they also get a break from the hubbub of the parks. Yes, we’re all there for a family vacation and the parks are our focus, but it’s nice for the kids to get a break from the parks one night and enjoy the more quiet atmosphere.   And let’s not forget, parents deserve a quiet date night once in a while.
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