Resorts

Testing Budget Hotels Near Walt Disney World

by on February 5, 2016

We’re often asked to recommend an inexpensive hotel room for one night near Walt Disney World. If your family is staying at at Disney resort for most of your visit, for example, and you need a place to crash on your arrival night before their vacation begins, you may not want to spent hundreds of dollars on a Disney hotel for just a few hours of sleep. Or if you’ve just finished your Disney vacation and need a bed for the night before your early-morning flight, you could save a lot of money by moving to a budget hotel.

Finding cheap, clean, safe hotel rooms is part of the basic research we do for the Unofficial Guide to Walt Disney World. There’s even a section titled “Top 30 Hotel Deals” that takes price, amenities, and location into account. It’s one of my favorite research projects, and I’ve stayed at more than 100 Disney-area hotels over the years. Only once did I wake up covered in bugs.

My “Holy Grail” of hotels is one that’s $50 or less per night (with tax), clean, safe, and where everything in the room works. From what I’ve seen over the past week, though, that room might not exist. Here’s a summary of the 6 hotels I checked over the past 5 nights, along with their pros and cons.

Laurel says: I’ll be adding my own asides in this article. You should read them in your head in the voice of your significant other. For perspective, I was perfectly happy with a room I stayed in in New York City once where the sink was IN the shower. 

Hotel #1: Motel 6 at 5909 American Way, just off International Drive

Pros: Very clean. Great layout. Best night’s sleep I had the entire trip. $49.49 with taxes. Feels safe.

Cons: Sink and toilet didn’t drain properly. Wi-fi didn’t work. Low water pressure in shower.

I’ve wanted to stay at this Motel 6 for a long time (“Dream big, Len”, I know). It was one of the first to introduce a new room design across Motel 6’s properties, with triangular bathrooms, hardwood floors, and vertical storage cubbies. Plus it’s really close to Universal Orlando.  I was ready to like this hotel.

Then I saw this sign at the check-in desk:hotels-motel6-1

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The Magic, The Memories, and Merch! January 2016 Photo Report of the Disney Outlet Store

by on January 31, 2016

MMM positiveWelcome to the latest edition of The Magic, The Memories, and Merch! the longest running monthly look at the Disney Outlet Stores in Orlando. The new year has started off exactly where the old one left us: with Walt Disney World closing attractions. It has been a pretty cool month though, including a cool Star Wars runDisney race out in California (and Star Wars fans owe it to themselves to watch a great parody of Undercover Boss featuring Kylo Ren). Erin Foster took us inside Vanellope’s on the Disney Dream, and for those who don’t know, this is a complete Wreck-It-Ralph themed sweet shop (pinch us, we’re dreaming). And Guy Selga introduced us to Four Glorious New Ways to Kill Time at Disneyland, including the am I dreaming this, or is this real Jungle Cruise Skipper School. 2016 is shaping up to be an incredible year.

Now while all of you were off taking your kids to see Donald Trump, Outlet Intern Julia Mascardo and I were hard at work to bring you the quality Outlet coverage you expect deserve!

Enough jibber jabber! Who is ready to hit the Outlets? Remember that clicking on any picture will open a full size version of it (don’t say we didn’t warn you).

The first item this month made my heart grow three sizes (after double checking, that enlargement of the heart was actually due to eating the Pop-Tart Sandwich at Pop Century). Behold the Luigi’s Flying Tires hat! Anyone who has visited the Disney Dump has seen the remnants of this attraction, which opened with the debut of Cars Land in the summer of 2012 and was already closed by the ending of February 2015. Believe it or not, despite only being open for only 976 days, Luigi’s doesn’t even rank in the Top Five of Short Lived Disney Attractions. Originally $24.95, this baby could be sitting on your head for just $6.99. VIVA LA DISNEY OUTLETS!

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After seeing this, I know how Indiana Jones felt seeing the Fertility Idol.  (photo by Julia Mascardo)

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Tsum Tsums returned this month! However it was mostly the ones we have seen in the past (including all seven of the dwarfs), but one that was new was this crying duck. I had literally no idea who this was, but found out it was the Ugly Duckling from a quick scene in Lilo & Stitch. That’s what we call a deep dive, and I love it. I actually dropped Loot Crate this month and started up the Disney Tsum Tsum Monthly Subscription Program, so starting in February I too will annoy you with unboxing videos (although my last one didn’t go so well).

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Ugly Duckling Tsum.

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Ugly Duckling sequence from Lilo & Stitch.

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Why Wilderness Lodge is the Only Deluxe Resort For Me

by on January 25, 2016

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Behold the glory that is Disney’s Wilderness Lodge Resort!

When planning a Disney World Vacation there are a number of decisions to make ranging from which FastPass+ reservations to book, what ticket option is best for you and your group, and even how to get there. But one of the most important, if you’re staying on property, is which Walt Disney World Resort to choose as your home away from home during your stay!

Now as you may have guessed, the size of your budget will help with the decision-making process. This is why Disney has conveniently grouped the Disney Resorts into three different categories based on price with Deluxe Resorts being the most expensive, Value Resorts being the least, and Moderate Resorts falling somewhere in the middle. I’ve covered my Why Port Orleans Riverside is the Only Moderate Resort for Me in the past for when I have to keep to a budget; but for today’s post, I’m totally tossing the budget out the window and splurging with Why Wilderness Lodge is the Only Deluxe Resort for Me!

But first, a little more info about the Disney World Deluxes!

The Disney World Deluxe Resorts offer the most benefits and the best theming and consist of Animal Kingdom Lodge, the Yacht and Beach Club, the Boardwalk Inn, the Contemporary Resort, the Grand Floridian Resort and Spa, the Polynesian Village, and Wilderness Lodge. All of the Deluxe Resorts now offer Disney Vacation Club Villas, where non-Disney Vacation Club guests can also stay if there’s availability. Disney’s Saratoga Springs Resort and Spa and Disney’s Old Key West Resort are Deluxe Villa Resorts only; but again, non-members can book stays here too.

So with all of these resort options, how could I possibly choose? Believe me, it was difficult and my choice can vary depending on when and why I’m visiting; but if I had to just one Deluxe Resort, it would have to be Disney’s Wilderness Lodge Resort!

Here’s why…

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SATURDAY SIX: The Top Six Vegan & Vegetarian Friendly Restaurants in Walt Disney World

by on January 16, 2016

This week’s  SATURDAY SIX takes a look at the Top Six Vegan & Vegetarian Friendly Restaurants at WDW. When readers come to the SATURDAY SIX for food they are generally looking for the most unhealthy (Pop-Tart Sandwich), most outrageous (Beaches & Cream’s Kitchen Sink sundae), or most likely to have been created out of a fever dream (Animal Kingdom poop snacks). But there’s actually another side to theme park dining: a healthy side. Today we are going to look the top six vegan & vegetarian friendly restaurants at WDW. Some people choose to eat vegan because of dietary restriction or allergies, some due to animal welfare concerns, and others for their health, but whatever the reason Walt Disney World is a great place to accommodate their needs. Today we reached out to an expert in this area, Emily Woesthoff, former general manager of Erin Mckenna’s Bakery NYC in Disney Springs (a vegan bakery). Emily is a lifelong Disney fan and just celebrated her 11th year of losing her mind eating vegan. There is no better person to guide us on this journey, so take it away Emily!

If I was given the good fortune to have a limitless supply of cash, and the superpower to make an ADR wherever I please, the following six-ish restaurants would be my go-to table service locations for vegan dining at Walt Disney World! While I haven’t yet managed to eat at every restaurant on property, I’ve dined at quite a few. The list below features my favorites, please keep in mind they are in no particular order. 

6 – ‘Ohana (Polynesian Village Resort)

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‘Ohana.

Yup. The infamous meat-fest that is ‘Ohana made the list. Crazy, right? I waited a really long time to eat here for a few reasons. First, all anyone ever talks about when they mention ‘Ohana is that it’s very meat-heavy. I had only assumed that they basically sat you in front of a roasted pig with an apple in his mouth and said, “have at it!” Second, I’m not a huge fan of the stuff-your-face-as-much-as-you-can-we-are-not-going-to-stop-bringing-you-food restaurants. It’s just too much pressure! And finally, I had accidentally been reading the restaurant’s name as O’Hana for quite a number of years, and I just didn’t think Polynesian-Irish fusion food would work. 

Much to my surprise, the vegan options at ‘Ohana are outstanding! The same lettuce wraps that meat-eaters rave about can be made vegan! There was also a considerable portion of stir fried noodles, vegetables, and tofu from which to choose, along with a starter of crispy pita chips and hummus, too! Vegan ice cream was available for dessert, if one can manage to save room for dessert at ‘Ohana. There’s also a bit of during meal entertainment, which definitely enhanced the experience. Since this restaurant is “all you care to enjoy,” the price can be a little steep. I recommend coming here with a big appetite!

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Vegan dessert at ‘Ohana.

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Trivia Tuesday: Why Stay at a Walt Disney World VALUE Resort Hotel? + Video

by on January 12, 2016

Photo - TouringPlans.comWelcome back to Trivia Tuesday!

Today, I’m going to discuss the pros of staying at a Walt Disney World VALUE Resort Hotel.

Like our posts? Check us out on Facebook and YouTube for more!

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Wilderness Lodge Construction Update

by on January 6, 2016

Within the past week, I stayed in two different rooms in the Wilderness Lodge Villas at Walt Disney World. Prior to the stay, we received intense warnings and apologies from Disney that our enjoyment of the resort would be extremely disrupted (three different personal phone calls and two letters). While there is indeed lots of construction going on, I found things to be contained and well managed. We had been promised that all construction noise would happen between 9:00 a.m. and 7:00 p.m., which was adhered to quite carefully. I even watched while a tractor driver was scolded at 8:45 a.m. to turn off his engine for 15 more minutes.

If I had been a first time visitor to the Lodge, I might have been disappointed, but as a frequent guest and Wilderness Lodge DVC owner, I was fascinated with the process.

As a point of reference, here is the Google Maps earth view of the area prior to the construction. The blue at the center was the Villas pool. The small green rectangle near the beach at top right is the bike and boat rental building.

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Here’s what that area looks like now from a 5th floor Villas room. The trees and Villas pool are completely gone. The only structure remaining is the green-roofed bike and boat barn.

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Trivia Tuesday: Why Stay at a Walt Disney World Resort Hotel? + Video

by on January 5, 2016

Copyright 2010 Claire NatI can’t wait to delve in to this week’s Trivia Tuesday topic!

Why should you stay at a Walt Disney World Resort hotel?

Have any ideas for future Trivia Tuesday’s? Write ’em down in the comments!

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25 Drinks of Christmas – Day Twenty Five: Nautilus at Trader Sam’s Grog Grotto

by on December 25, 2015

We’re back with everyone’s favorite theme park advent calendar: a daily countdown of our favorite drinks at Walt Disney World, Universal Orlando, and SeaWorld building anticipation to the Big Day. 

Criteria: Drinks can be alcoholic or nonalcoholic. Drinks can come from any venue on property. Bonus points awarded for atmosphere where the drink is served. Any drink with glow cubes is immediately disqualified. Ready? Let’s go!

DAY TWENTY FIVE: Nautilus at Trader Sam’s Grog Grotto (Disney’s Polynesian Village Resort)

Dive! Dive! Dive!

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The Nautilus at Trader Sam’s Grog Grotto. (photo by Brandon Glover)

No, you are not suffering from deja vu. Yes, we have made several trips to Trader Sam’s Grog Grotto during our countdown. We started off with a bang when we had a Polynesian Pearl pulled out of the shell. Then we battened down the hatches for a Tropical Dark & Stormy. We couldn’t leave out the HippopotoMai-Tai, could we? We saved the best for last though as the #1 drink on our countdown this year is the legendary NAUTILUS.

Served in an amazing souvenir bowl with the form of the Nautilus from Disney’s 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, this is one drink meant to be shared, as you could possibly be seeing a giant squid in Seven Seas Lagoon if you tried to go it alone. The entire room transforms when a Nautilus is ordered and even the servers get in on the fun. Lighting effects make the room appear as if you are going under water, audio plays orders from the Nautilus captain, and there are several  physical effects happening across the Grotto (keep your head on a swivel).  The Nautilus is an E-Ticket drink in an E-Ticket bar and it is hands-down our favorite drink of Christmas 2015.

Ingredients: Barbancourt Pango Rhum, Appleton Estate Reserve Rum, Combier Creme de Peche de Vigne Liqueur, Tropical Juices, and Falernum. Served in a souvenir Nautilus.

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Everyone’s happy when a Nautilus is on its way! (photo by Brandon Glover)

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The Nautilus souvenir bowl can be used in many ways. (photo by George Booras)

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25 Drinks of Christmas – Day Twenty Three: Backscratcher at Tambu Lounge

by on December 23, 2015

We’re back with everyone’s favorite theme park advent calendar: a daily countdown of our favorite drinks at Walt Disney World, Universal Orlando, and SeaWorld building anticipation to the Big Day. 

Criteria: Drinks can be alcoholic or nonalcoholic. Drinks can come from any venue on property. Bonus points awarded for atmosphere where the drink is served. Any drink with glow cubes is immediately disqualified. Ready? Let’s go!

DAY TWENTY THREE: Backscratcher at Tambu Lounge (Disney’s Polynesian Village Resort) 

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Backscratcher at Tambu Lounge. (photo by Brandon Glover)

The Backscratcher at Tambu Lounge is a 25 Drinks of Christmas entry that is literally a year in the making. When we decided to make this virtual advent calendar last year, the first two drinks we immediately knew would make the list were Tambu’s Lapu Lapu and Backscratcher. Unfortunately, every single time we went to the bar, they were out of the drink’s signature bamboo backscratchers.

So our New Year’s Resolution for 2015 was a simple one: to get a Backscratcher at the Tambu Lounge with a backscratcher in it, and guess what? Mission accomplished. One of the most iconic cocktails on Disney property, the Backscratcher is strong but not overwhelmingly sweet. Because a reservation at the nearby ‘Ohana is almost as hard to get as a night in the Cinderella Castle Suite, we recommend a Backscratcher at Tambu, an order of the honey-coriander chicken wings, and of course bread pudding for dessert.

Ingredients: Bacardi Superior Rum, Myers’s Original Dark Rum, and Passion Fruit Juice topped with Jack Daniel’s Tennessee Whiskey and a Bamboo Backscratcher.

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Backscratcher. (photo by Brandon Glover)

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25 Drinks of Christmas – Day Twenty One: HippopotoMai-tai at Trader Sam’s Grog Grotto

by on December 21, 2015

We’re back with everyone’s favorite theme park advent calendar: a daily countdown of our favorite drinks at Walt Disney World, Universal Orlando, and SeaWorld building anticipation to the Big Day. 

Criteria: Drinks can be alcoholic or nonalcoholic. Drinks can come from any venue on property. Bonus points awarded for atmosphere where the drink is served. Any drink with glow cubes is immediately disqualified. Ready? Let’s go!

DAY TWENTY ONE: HippopotoMai-tai at Trader Sam’s Grog Grotto

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HippopotoMai-tai at Trader Sam’s Grog Grotto. (photo by Brandon Glover)

It’s coming down to the final stretch and we’re heading back into Trader Sam’s Grog Grotto, which has been decorated for the holidays. We’ve been to the Grotto previously on our countdown looking at the Polynesian Pearl and the Dark & Tropical Stormy, but this E-Ticket bar is loaded with incredible drinks. Today’s entrant has both a great name and an even better souvenir mug. Allow us to introduce the HippopotoMai-Tai. Now we’ve all had mai tais (including one of our absolute favorites over at Emeril’s Tchoup Chop), but Grog Grotto’s version not only hits the Drink Trifecta (strong drinks, great flavor, wonderful souvenir mug) but the ultra rare Drink Quadruple with an awesome name. The HippopotoMai-Tai is served in a glass tiki with the Grog Grotto’s name emblazoned on the back, a perfect souvenir (or stocking stuffer!)

Ingredients: Coruba Dark Rum, Bacardi Superior Rum, Bols Orange Curacao, Orgeat ( Almond), Organic Agave Nectar, and fresh Lime Juice. 

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The HippopotoMai-Tai glass (front).

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The HippopotoMai-Tai glass (back).

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