Resorts

SATURDAY SIX: The Six Best Bars and Lounges at the WDW Resorts

by on April 9, 2016

This week’s SATURDAY SIX looks at the Six Best Bars and Lounges at the WDW Resorts. When we here at the SATURDAY SIX headquarters set out to do an article on the best bars and lounges at Walt Disney World, we didn’t want you – Dear Reader – to just take our word for it. So we conducted our patented top secret, double blind, exhaustively comprehensive scientific poll by reaching out to some of the biggest names in the blogging industry. A veritable theme park Who’s Who responded, and today we are here with the results.

BUT THAT’S NOT ALL!  For this article we contacted a bonafide theme park drinking expert in Drunk@Disney to give his thoughts on each bar and lounge. You will find Drunky’s thoughts at the end of each write-up. You will also hear from Rhiannon, Drunky’s better half and co-author on an upcoming book about drinking at WDW. So sit back, stir that swizzle stick, and let’s begin our countdown starting with…

# 6 – Territory Lounge (Wilderness Lodge)

Inspired by the national park lodges of the early 20th century, Wilderness Lodge is the type of resort that is distinctly Disney. Designed by Peter Dominick, who was also behind Animal Kingdom Lodge and the Grand Californian, Wilderness Lodge has a certain warmth and coziness to it that you just can’t find in than any other hotel in Orlando. It also happens to contain three underrated gems in the area of WDW dining: Whispering Canyon Cafe, Artist Point, and Territory Lounge.

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Northwest Exposure. Vodka, Kahlua, half and half, Amaretto, splash of Coke. (photo by Brandon Glover)

With a good amount of seating and an appetizer/dessert menu filled with unique options, Territory Lounge is going to be a spot you will fall in love with. There is even a fireplace to sit by! At SATURDAY SIX HQ two things go over like gangbusters when it comes to bars and lounges, themed napkins and swizzle sticks, so you can imagine our heart was a flutter seeing the Wilderness Lodge swizzle.

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How bout that swizzle stick?!!!  It makes even a Vodka cranberry look magical. (photo by Brandon Glover)

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Oregon Pinot Gris Fondue. (photo by Brandon Glover)

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Ample Hills Creamery Opening at Disney’s BoardWalk Inn

by on April 8, 2016

Disney's BoardWalk

©Rikki Niblett

A brand new ice cream parlor will be opening soon at Disney’s BoardWalk Inn. Ample Hills Creamery, a Brooklyn-based company will be opening a location at the Walt Disney World Resort. The ice cream parlor will feature creative menu offerings, as well as a one-of-a-kind flavor for the resort.

While strolling by the shop, Guests will be able to peek into the promenade-facing kitchen windows, where ice cream and mix-ins will be showcased the old-fashioned way. Unique flavors will include Malty Salty Pretzel Punch, Coffee Toffee Coffee, Cotton Candy and Ooey Gooey Butter Cake.

The Ample Hills Creamery will open some time this spring. I’ll make sure to share more details on the blog as I learn them.

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The Basics: Selecting the right Walt Disney World Moderate hotel

by on April 4, 2016

This is a continuation of our Back to Basics Series. Scroll to the bottom to see our other Basics posts.

 

As we continue our Back to Basics series, it’s time to take a look at one of the most beloved Walt Disney World hotel categories: the Moderates. In previous Basics posts we first discussed how to select the right Walt Disney World category, and later dug into how to select the right Walt Disney World Value hotel. The Moderate category hotels are a great blend of quality theming, beautiful atmosphere, a strong selection of amenities and features, all without the higher price tag found at the Deluxe resorts. They are some elements at the Moderate resorts that are also found at the Value resorts, but you can definitely see these are a step up from the Value category.

Caribbean Beach grounds

Caribbean Beach grounds – photo by Brian McNichols

It’s important to remember there really is no right or wrong choice, but rather a matter of deciding what hotel fits your specific needs the best. There are four hotels in the Moderate level.  For each hotel we’ll discuss as many features and elements as possible. I’ve included information for each of the hotels with the following categories:

  • Room features
  • Resort layout
  • Food and beverage
  • Transportation
  • Pool
  • Recreation / Activities
  • Additional information

Disney’s Caribbean Beach Resort

First came the Deluxe resorts. Then in the 90’s, the Disney Decade, the first Moderate resort came unto the scene: Disney’s Caribbean Beach Resort, which was a prototype of sorts. Disney had never built a resort that was scaled back in order to provide a more affordable price tag, yet it couldn’t just be a hotel, it needed to be a resort. Caribbean Beach ushered in a new resort experience for Walt Disney World, and while it does have its flaws, there is lots of beautiful scenery and enjoyable amenities.

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Frequently Asked Questions About Disney World Pools

by on April 1, 2016

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Stormalong Bay at the Yacht and Beach Club

While the theme park attractions may be the reason that people come to Walt Disney World, often the reason they stay at Walt Disney World is the hotel pool. All of the Disney World hotels have at least one, if not several, pools on site, many of which have elaborate themeing, kiddie play zones, or other enticements that can make a day at the resort just as fun as a day at the parks. Here’s what you need to know about the Disney hotels pools to make the best choices for your family.

What’s the overall pool situation like at the Disney World resorts?

While all Disney hotels have pools, there is a great deal of variation between the resorts in the size, atmosphere, and amenities of the pools at each location. The pools range from basic water-in-the-ground (albeit with colorful themed elements) at the All Star Resorts, to a de facto mini water park, with multiple slides, sandy play areas, and a lazy river at the Yacht & Beach Clubs.

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SATURDAY SIX: Six Reasons We Love Universal’s ROYAL PACIFIC RESORT

by on March 26, 2016

This week’s SATURDAY SIX takes a look at Six Reasons We Love Universal’s Royal Pacific Resort. Currently the Universal Orlando Resort has four on-site hotels, with a fifth (Sapphire Falls) opening later this summer. Disney has three classifications for their resorts: Value (including Pop Century), Moderate (Port Orleans Riverside), and Deluxe (Contemporary). Universal also has three levels: Premier (including Portofino Bay), Prime Value (Cabana Bay Beach Resort), and Preferred, which is where the Royal Pacific Resort resides.

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Loews Royal Pacific Resort. (photo by Mike Sperduto)

While Disney runs its on-site resorts, Universal partners with a luxury hospitality company in Loews Hotels. One of the benefits of being run by a third party, is that Lowes has a loyalty program with YouFirst. Many of us have been on Disney vacations dozens (if not hundreds) of times, and unfortunately it doesn’t matter if it’s your first time at Art of Animation or your 50th, what you get is what you get. At Universal you start accruing benefits upon your 2nd stay and can earn privileges such as free room upgrades, late checkout, and even a $100 credit.

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Royal Pacific’s courtyard. (photo by Brandon Glover)

While I understand the arguments of staying off-site, for my family, staying on-site is one of our favorite parts of a theme park vacation, especially at Universal. Today we’re going to look at what I believe is the best on-site hotel in Orlando. So sit back, grab an ice cold Jake’s Red Lager, and let’s begin counting down the top six reasons we love Universal’s Royal Pacific Resort starting with…

# 6 – Pool and Beach Areas

The pool at the Royal Pacific Resort is massive. While it is the only resort at Universal without a slide, it does feature the gigantic Royal Bali Sea interactive water play area connected to the pool. This play area is themed to a ship, features water cannons, and seemingly dumps about a million gallons of water on the people playing around it. When I was a kid all the pools were the same shape: a rectangle. If pools and play areas existed like this, I’m not even sure my parents would have been able to drag me away to go to the theme parks.

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One of the small islands found inside the Royal Pacific Resort.

For adults, there is plenty of seating, a white sand beach, zero entry, cabanas, two hot tubs, an ice-cream place, and the Bula Bar & Grille. The pool area offers towels, magazines and newspapers to read while laying out in the sun, and games such as ping pong. While there is plenty of covered seating at the Bula Bar, servers will come out to the pool area to deliver drinks and food. Our recommendation: Shipwrecked Loaded Nachos (but you can’t go wrong with the burgers either.)

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Royal Bali Sea water feature.

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Shipwrecked Loaded Nachos, pound for pound the best food offered pool side in Orlando. (photo by Brandon Glover)

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The Basics: Disney World Resort Discounts

by on March 23, 2016

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Remember the 90s? Pop Century Resort does…sort of

This is a continuation of our Back to Basics Series. Scroll to the bottom to see our other Basics posts.

 

Okay, here’s the situation: You’re looking at your hotel options for a week’s vacation in Disney World (and if you’re now singing Parents Just Don’t Understand, congratulations, you’re as old as I am).

Seriously though, there are a lot of Disney resort options and there is also a wide range of prices associated with those hotels. Luckily, there is almost always some sort of discount available on Disney resorts if you know how to find them and are alert when they are released. What follows is an overview of what discounts are often available and how to book them.

What Are Resort Discounts?

Put simply, Disney often makes many of their on-site hotel rooms available for an amount cheaper than the full rate. There are often two main types of discounts for any given season: Standard room-only discounts and discounts specifically for Annual Passholders. These discounts generally range from 15-35% depending on the type of resort and type of discount.

What Types of Discounts Are There?

Let’s look at what’s available right now for non-Florida residents: March 23, 2016. There are currently two discounts open to the general public and two discounts for guests with a Disney World Annual Pass. They are:

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Why Pop Century is the Only Value Resort For Me

by on March 22, 2016

612px-Disney's_Pop_CenturyWhen planning a Walt 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 play a considerable role in the decision-making process. This is why Disney has conveniently grouped the Disney World 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 already covered my Why Port Orleans Riverside is the Only Moderate Resort for Me and Why Wilderness Lodge is the Only Deluxe For Me; but for today’s post, I’m focusing on one of Walt Disney World’s budget-friendly resort options in Why Pop Century is the Only Value Resort for Me!

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

The Disney World Value Resorts have bright and colorful theming and are geared towards families whose vacation budget isn’t quite as flexible. Disney World’s Value Resorts consist of the Pop Century Resort, All-Star Music Resort, All-Star Movies Resort, All-Star Sports Resort, and the Art of Animation Resort.

Now when I want a Disney World fix with the least damage on my bank account, I have to say that Pop Century is the only Value Resort for me.

SS_PopCentury_BigWheelHere’s why…

Generational Appeal

Walt Disney’s motivation for Disneyland was a place where he could have fun with his daughters, and the Pop Century Resort stays true to that original vision in that it offers a theme geared towards both kids and adults. Each section of the Pop Century Resort is themed after a particular decade ranging from the 1950s to the 1990s. Each section, or wing, is decorated with huge, colorful icons and catchphrases from their respective decades, such as giant 8-track tapes, Big Wheels, bowling pins, and foosball. The lobby is also filled with shadowboxes of memorabilia from days gone by. I always stop and check out the boxes from the ‘80s and ‘90s to revisit some favorite old toys and mementos from my childhood, and I love hearing music from the different decades when waiting for the buses. Naturally, all this nostalgia is fun for adults; but for kids, Disney wisely included some larger than life Disney Characters alongside the pop culture icons based on what decade their films debuted. In this way, everyone in the family is familiar with and relates to the fun resort décor!

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The SATURDAY SIX News Desk: A Look at Recent Stories From Disney, Universal, and SeaWorld

by on March 19, 2016

This week’s SATURDAY SIX is undoubtedly a special one as we once again dust off the blue blazer and step behind the SATURDAY SIX News Desk. It has been a whirlwind of theme park related news lately. Our long national nightmare is over as purple MagicBands are available for your WDW resort stay, Disney started a new subscription service themed to the Haunted Mansion for the low low price of just $200 (oh, and it has already sold out), the Orlando Eye did its first baby reveal, and a worker at Art of Animation was caught on video using a dirty mop to clean a table. That was just the tip of the iceberg.

So – as usual – we took a page out of our old college playbook, chugged down a case of 5 Hour Energy, and pulled an all-nighter, cramming as much information as we could into our tiny brains so that we could report back to you, Dear Reader, with all the relevant facts (and before we forget it all tomorrow). So sit back, know that you are getting all the news that’s fit to print (and plenty more that’s not), and let’s begin our countdown starting with…

# 6 – That sound you hear? KONG IS COMING.

As Donald Trump would say, it was a yuge week of King Kong news over at the Universal Orlando Resort. As theme park merchandise fanatics, we loved that a whole bunch of new merch arrived for the upcoming Skull Island: Reign of Kong attraction. Then, Universal dropped a bombshell with their reveal of the incredible ride vehicles along with a couple other tasty tidbits: This would be Universal’s first trackless ride system, and the vehicles would be “driven” by one of five characters. While Universal hasn’t released an official opening of the attraction yet, we have a sneaking suspicion we may hear something around the time the Syfy show Face Off features an entire episode (the season finale no less) dedicated to creating characters for the attraction. Stay tuned Wednesday, March 30th at 9PM EST on Syfy.

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Universal’s Kong is almost here, but Disney has Avatar and Star Wars in the near future…. (photo by Matt Cleary)

# 5 – SeaWorld Admits to Ordering Employees to Spy on Animal Rights Groups

Readers of the SATURDAY SIX may remember one of  last year’s annual Turkeys of the Year awards went to a SeaWorld employee who was caught spying on the animal rights group PeTA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals). At the time, SeaWorld management was shocked, SHOCKED at this behavior and put out the story that the employee had gone rogue. Fast forward to this month and during another disastrous investor’s conference, SeaWorld CEO Joel Manby admitted that employees did go undercover in animal rights groups and, more importantly, did so per order of the company.

Believe it or not this was the most “wow” SeaWorld story of the week until the atomic bomb the company dropped Thursday morning announcing they were ending the breeding of Killer Whales and will also be ending all the theatrical shows featuring orcas (to be replaced by exhibits).

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Disguised as famous YouTube personality Tim Tracker, Shamu himself was able to go completely unnoticed within the PeTA ranks. (photo by Michael Sheehy)

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Tips on Tipping at Walt Disney World: Transportation, Restaurants, Hotels, and More

by on March 4, 2016

IMG_9618-1-300x200-300x200A frequent area of confusion for Disney guests is the topic of tipping. International guests may be unfamiliar with American tipping in general. There are some Disney travel situations where guests tip differently than at other travel destinations. And some folks are just plain miffed that they have to tip at all. Nonetheless, gratuities are a part of life when you travel in the United States.

To answer all your Disney World tipping questions in one place, here’s an overview of all the situations where you have to tip, and where you don’t have to tip, on your Disney vacation.

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Disney table service restaurants provide information about tipping.

Disney table service restaurants provide information about tipping.

SITUATIONS WHERE YOU NEED TO LEAVE A TIP

  • Luggage Handling: At the airport, at your hotel, and throughout your trip, you should tip anyone who handles your luggage for you in your presence. The rule of thumb is that you tip about a dollar per bag, or two dollars if the bag is extra heavy. Round up, and don’t ask the porter or valet for change. If you’re claiming your bags yourself at the airport carousel and taking them to a cab, rental car agency, limo service, or Magical Express bus on you own, then you won’t need to tip anyone while you’re in the airport. If you use a porter to assist you with moving your bags from the luggage carousel to ground transportation, then you tip the porter. If you’re at a Disney hotel and using their Resort Airline Check-In service, tip the luggage handler their just as you would a porter at the airport. If hotel bellman assists with bringing your bags to/from your room, tip a dollar or two per bag. If a hotel bellman also provides you with a resort tour or other help, tip a bit extra. If you’re looking to economize, you can avoid a lot of tipping if you transport your bags yourself. This may not be feasible for guests with medical challenges, copious amounts of luggage, more small children than adults, or owners of non-wheeled luggage. However, if you’re able-bodied and each member of your party can handle their own rolling bag, then by all means deal with your own luggage and circumvent the tip stream. This is an easy way to save cash.
  • Transportation, Magical Express Drivers: You’ll see a sign at the front of the bus telling you that driver will accept tips. If you’re just hopping off and on the bus, you shouldn’t feel obligated. However, if the driver is helping your store luggage under the bus, go by the dollar per bag rule. If you’ve used the yellow Magical Express luggage tags and had Disney take your bags directly to the hotel for you, then you won’t see the person who’s doing your luggage transport. In this situation, you’re off the hook for tipping.
  • Transportation, Limo or Town Car Drivers: Depending on the agency you’re using, the tip may be included in the price. Be sure to ask this when you set up your booking. In general, plan to tip about 15% of the fare. If the driver has done something extraordinary for you, such as making an extra stop or assisting with car seats or colossal amounts of luggage, tip more.

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California Grill: A Review of Brunch At The Top

by on February 29, 2016

Recently, California Grill at the Contemporary Resort added “Brunch at the Top” to the restaurant’s signature dining slate, offered every Sunday from 10:00 AM to 1:00 PM. I booked a Dining Reservation for this meal on a whim one recent weekend to see if it was really worth the $80 price ($48 for kids ages 3-11, Tables in Wonderland discount accepted).

“Brunch At The Top” offers stunning daytime views of the restaurant and Walt Disney World Resort.

Right off the bat, there was an upscale note to the experience — when I mentioned my brunch reservation to the security guard at the resort’s gate, he told me that my meal included complimentary valet service (not something I’d normally use, but if you’re going for a fancy meal and it’s included, why not go all the way?). A valet escorted me to the check-in area just outside the main entrance of the resort, where a California Grill Cast Member cheerfully checked me in, took my phone number to notify me when my table was available, and led me to the escalators just inside the main entrance. As soon as I stepped off the escalator, I was greeted by both a text message that my table was ready and another Cast Member from California Grill, who whisked me off to the restaurant’s private elevator.

I was welcomed by name once I stepped inside the restaurant, handed a beautiful cocktail, and immediately shown to my table. As we walked to my table, we passed a live band playing smooth jazz (in what’s usually the restaurant’s lounge area during dinner) and the appetizer buffet (set atop the restaurant’s bar and sushi counter). The entire restaurant glowed with early-afternoon sunlight, bright and welcoming – a different sight than the one you get with a late-night dinner and fireworks viewing here. Start to finish, my arrival experience was probably the smoothest and fastest I’ve encountered at any Walt Disney World restaurant, save maybe Victoria & Albert’s, but it’s certainly close; this definitely impressed me already, even before I’d had a bite of food. 

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