Resorts

In the Parks with Morgan – Respite at the Tri-Circle-D Ranch

by on April 21, 2014

DSC_0107While I will always be a huge fan of the parks, there are times that even I need a break from the crowds and the noise (the 5th of July and January 2 come to mind). There are several places on property that I’ve found that get me back to zen, and I thought I’d share one of my favorites. Just past Pioneer Hall (that place where they do the Hoop De Doo Musical Revue) at Fort Wilderness (not the Wilderness Lodge) there’s a series of barns and paddocks that make up the Tri-Circle-D Ranch. The ranch is home to the horses of Walt Disney World including the Main Street Trolley horses, all the horses that pull the various carriages and wagons around property, and even the Cinderella Carriage ponies. And, in a happy turn of events, you can visit these gorgeous animals free of charge daily from 8 a.m. to around dusk. The ranch officially closes at 3:30 p.m., but there are often ranch hands in the open barns until well after that caring for the animals.

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2014 Grand Floridian Easter Eggs

by on April 18, 2014

One of the things I love most about writing for Touring Plans is that it encourages me to go out and see things I would have skipped in the past. If you can believe it this is the third annual Easter Egg display at the Grand Floridian, but the first year I’ve stopped by for a visit. I have each and every one of you to thank, because the display is incredible! I couldn’t think of a better way to wish everyone a happy Easter and to share some photos! First the lovely Briar Rose:

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And on the reverse side of the princess is her Prince Phillip. Can you believe each of these eggs is between 16 – 20 inches tall and weighs over 9 pounds even though they are hollow? Also, in frame you can see a non-Disney themed egg. There are eighteen eggs on display this year so I couldn’t feature all of them. Though I focused on the Disney eggs there are others that are more traditional or themed after famous works of art. They are all exquisite!

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Universal’s Cabana Bay Transportation Guide

by on April 16, 2014

Cabana Bay transportation guide

When you get tired of relaxing by Cabana Bay’s pool, use this transportation guide to get to Universal’s theme parks (photos by Seth Kubersky).

Cabana Bay Beach Resort, the newest Loews-operated on-site hotel at Universal Orlando, only opened at the end of March, but if you’ve been following our coverage – from my mega-sized photo gallery from opening day to Derek Burgan’s Saturday Six devoted to the property – you may feel like you’ve already stayed there. One aspect of Universal’s first moderately priced hotel that many readers have asked for more information about is the transportation options available to guests of Cabana Bay. As you may have heard, Cabana Bay does NOT offer water taxi service like Universal’s original 3 luxury properties. So I spent a recent sunny afternoon testing various methods of getting from the hotel to the parks (and vice versa), in order to bring you this comprehensive Cabana Bay transportation guide.

Parking at Cabana Bay

Cabana Bay doesn’t offer valet parking, but that deficit is offset by a $10 daily self-parking rate for hotel guests, which is significantly cheaper than parking at the other Universal hotels. Parking lots ring the hotel, so you can park right alongside your room. Unfortunately, high parking rates for non-guests ($8 for 5 to 30 minutes, $20 for 30 minutes to 24 hours) make it expensive for locals to drop in and knock down some pins at the Galaxy bowling alley.

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Fireworks & Fun at Fort Wilderness Campground

by on April 11, 2014

IMG_1752I recently got an SOS call from a friend visiting Walt Disney World from out of state. He’d had it with the crazy spring break crowds but he’d promised his kids a fun night and a view of the fireworks. Without hesitation I knew it was time to let him in on one of the best kept secrets on all of Disney property. I told him to walk out of the Magic Kingdom and hop the boat to Fort Wilderness Campground. No, I wasn’t suggesting that he go camping! But I did think his kids would enjoy all the fun (and affordable) recreation options. Not to mention the empty front row viewing for the fireworks! So now I’ll let you in on the same tips I gave him just in case you find yourself in a pinch.

The most important topic to cover at the Campground is transportation. It can be a little daunting at first glance, but it’s actually really simple! The campground has its own internal bus system to take you to various sites. So if you bus in from anywhere on property you’ll end up at their internal bus stop and have to catch another bus to get to the activities. At this bus stop there’s a map with color coded routes. I’ve included the color information below, but it’s always good to double check it as things change. If you take a boat from the Magic Kingdom, it will drop you off at The Settlement, which happens to be where you can find most of the fun.

The Settlement (Route Yellow and Purple at the time of writing) will likely be your main destination when visiting the campgrounds. You can find all the activities listed below there and even more listed here. It’s important to bring cash or your Disney World Resort room key for charging as credit and debit cards are widely not accepted here. Also, more than any other place at Disney schedules seem to change at the Wilderness Campground frequently. If there is any experience you have your heart set on, it’s best to call in advance to verify times and availability. That’s enough business – let’s get to the fun!

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SATURDAY SIX: Six Surprises of Universal’s Cabana Bay Beach Resort

by on April 5, 2014

SS_dayThis week’s SATURDAY SIX covers Six Surprises of Universal’s Cabana Bay Beach Resort. When Universal broke ground in January of 2013 for its first ever value resort, not too much was known about what guests would get. There were pieces of concept art, but in the theme park world those have to be taken with a grain of salt as they can often be more of an artistic interpretation than reality. For example, I’m relatively confident the Disney Springs we end up getting won’t exactly look like the one we were promised. However, at a fan meet for the Unofficial Universal Orlando Podcast last year I was in the audience for a presentation by Russ Dagon, the project director for Cabana Bay. Russ talked about the new things Cabana Bay would be bringing to the Universal family of hotels (including a lower price point and the first ever family suites) but stressed that the concept art we were looking at was pretty much photo realistic. Turns out he was right. Everything in the concept art was there when I walked into Cabana Bay on its grand opening (Monday, March 31, 2014): the outrageously large lobby area, the gigantic representation of an old style diving platform (which houses a water slide in the pool area), and even the ’50s and ’60s era cars outside the front of the resort for photo ops. After walking around Cabana Bay, it became apparent there were a lot of things this resort brought with it that we weren’t told about ahead of time. Today we present six of these surprises…

# 6 – Sonic Fill

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Walt Disney World took a lot of criticism last year when it replaced its old refillable mug program with Rapid Fill. Using an RFID chip inside the mug (or paper cup), Rapid Fill only dispenses soda on days that guests have paid for. Universal hotels have never had a refillable mug program, so it was definitely a surprise to see the debut of Sonic Fill at Cabana Bay. Sonic Fill works exactly like Rapid Fill: you pay for the amount of time you want (from $8.99 for one day up to $17.99 for length of stay), and you can use the mug to fill up at any drink station in Bayliner Diner. The great surprise is that not only does Cabana Bay have the regular Coke soda stations we are used to seeing at Disney resorts, but it has 8 Coke Freestyle machines in the Bayliner Diner and 2 more upstairs at Galaxy Bowl. These Coke Freestyle machines can be used with Sonic Fill and promise over 100 drink choices.

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Photo Gallery: First look at Universal Orlando’s Cabana Bay Beach Resort

by on April 1, 2014

Welcome to 1962! The first phase of Cabana Bay Beach Resort opened on March 31, and we are bringing you a photographic peek at Universal Orlando Resort’s first moderately priced hotel. As you can see, the new resort is inspired by the mid-century modern motor lodges from Wildwood, New Jersey, to Miami Beach, which once defined the American family vacation. We’ll be back in the near future with a fully detailed review of the resort, but for now enjoy this pictorial guide to the newly launched property.

Cabana Bay Beach Resort Exterior

 

Universal Cabana Bay Beach Resort photos

Photos by Seth Kubersky

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Photo Update: Universal Orlando’s Cabana Bay Beach Resort Garden Bridge Construction

by on March 14, 2014

Universal's Cabana Bay Beach Resort Garden Bridge is under construction (photos by Seth Kubersky)

Universal’s Cabana Bay Beach Resort Garden Bridge is under construction (photos by Seth Kubersky)

Last month, I brought you pre-construction photos of the pedestrian path that guests of the Cabana Bay Beach Resort will use to walk from Universal Orlando‘s newest hotel to CityWalk and the theme parks. Since then, I’ve received exciting new details on designs for the Cabana Bay Beach Resort Garden Walk, which will eventually supercede the existing sidewalks in the area.

The walking path on the north (westbound) side of Hollywood Way will have to serve temporarily for guests unwilling to take the provided shuttles buses during the hotel’s initial opening phase. The walk, which I documented in a video, is entirely navigable at this time with the exception of a crosswalk and traffic signal at the final intersection, which could be easily added before Cabana Bay’s first guests arrive at the end of March.

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Run the World: Art of Animation and Pop Century Jogging Trails

by on March 9, 2014

Whether you’re in town for a runDisney race, for business travel, or a family vacation, you can always be sure to find a great place to log some miles when you’re visiting the Walt Disney World Resort. There are plenty of places on property, from the rugged beauty of the Fort Wilderness Trails, to the bridges and bayous of Port Orleans, and many, many more.

While it may not be the first place that guests think of when it comes to picturesque running routes, the Art of Animation and Pop Century properties are actually an excellent option for a jaunt – not only are there wide walkways and “larger than life” statues, but the sparkling Hourglass Lake and “Generation Gap” bridge make for a fun change of scenery.

Both Art of Animation and Pop Century resorts are laid out in a cluster formation, so using the Pop Century jogging map as a guide, 1-mile routes are easily crafted from a variety of starting points. Adding in connecting sidewalks, and varying paths between buildings, extra mileage on either side of Hourglass Lake can create longer runs, and crossing over the Generation Gap bridge and “mirroring” paths, mileage is easily doubled, tripled or quadrupled, depending on mileage desired.

At both Art of Animation and Pop Century, water fountains and restrooms are easily accessible in the resort lobbies, and if you’re staying at either of these resorts, towels can be picked up by the themed swimming pools after your running workout.

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SATURDAY SIX: Six “Secrets” of Disney’s Art of Animation Resort

by on March 8, 2014

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Animation Hall’s Chandelier

This week’s SATURDAY SIX covers Six “Secrets” of Disney’s Art of Animation Resort. Originally conceived to be the second half of Disney’s Pop Century Resort, Art of Animation opened in May of 2012 and was centered around four of Disney’s most popular animated movies: The Little Mermaid, The Lion King, Finding Nemo, and Cars. Labeled a value resort but containing theming that even Disney’s deluxe hotels have a hard time competing with, “AoA” brought with it a completely new experience for guests from check-in to dining to everything else. This is my favorite Disney hotel, and I have stayed in all four wings. The staff of the Saturday Six has put together six “secrets” of the resort that you should check out on your next stay…

# 6 – Signed Sketches on Animation Hall’s Chandelier

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A Cars sketch by the director of Cars, John Lasseter

 

Your Art of Animation experience begins in Animation Hall. This is the main check in lobby and also connects to the Ink & Paint Shop (the resort’s gift shop), Pixel Play Arcade, and Landscape of Flavors (the food court). At the end of the lobby and in front of the Ink & Paint Shop is an amazing structure that looks like it is exploding with drawings. If you look closely, four of these drawings have a little something special – signatures. There is a Cars sketch by John Lasseter, a drawing of the turtle Crush by Finding Nemo director Andrew Stanton, a picture of Ariel and Prince Eric signed by Little Mermaid co-directors John Musker and Ron Clements, and a drawing of Ariel, herself, that is signed by her voice actor, Jodie Benson.

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A Few Newsworthy Notes and Happenings at Walt Disney World

by on March 5, 2014

Today, I’m bringing you a list of a few newsworthy pieces of information of things that are taking place at Walt Disney World that I wanted you all to be aware of.  Some of them are upcoming refurbishments, as well as a few other bits of information.

First, let’s look at some upcoming refurbishments that are on the calendars.

  • I’ve mentioned before that Disney’s Polynesian Resort is slated to begin a massive refurb in the Great Ceremonial House, and one of those refurbishments includes the quick service restaurant Capt. Cook’s. (A favorite of mine…they not only serve my favorite entree, the adult grilled cheese, but also Tonga Toast AND they have a Dole Whip machine!) The start of this refurbishment was previously unknown, but now it looks like it will begin on March 28 and will last until sometime in June. A replacement dining option will be available for guests during the refurbishment.

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