Resorts

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

by on March 8, 2014

AOA_Chandelier

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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Get to Know the Safe in Your Disney World Hotel Room

by on February 27, 2014

It’s a near inevitability that a traveler today will be toting a Dumbo-sized lot of expensive equipment. My own family of five (two adults and three teens) typically visits Walt Disney World with 5 iPhones, two computers, an iPad, a Digital Single Lens Reflex camera with several lenses, and two or three pocket digital cameras, plus wallets filled with cash, credit cards and the like. That’s a lot of expensive stuff to leave in a hotel room. One way many guests deal with this is by storing some of their gear in their hotel room safe.

Pedestal style safe at Bay Lake Towers. One foot rule on top gives a sense of the external dimensions. The inside is smaller.

Pedestal style safe at Bay Lake Towers.

There’s a safe in my hotel room?

Yes, there is a safe in every Walt Disney World hotel room.

Is there a charge for this?

No, it’s included in the cost of your room.

Where will I find the safe?

There is considerable variation in this from resort to resort or even between different room configurations at the same resort. However, the vast majority of Disney World hotel safes will be either in or next to a closet, usually built into the wall. Some safes in deluxe resort rooms or in 1, 2, and 3 bedroom Disney Vacation Club Villas will be on a sturdy post inside the closet.

How do I access the safe?

Some of the safes have key access and some have combination access. The combination safes have printed instructions on the front of the door. Typically you select your own four-digit code and then use that code to access your belongings. Key lock safes will have the key inserted into the lock upon your arrival. To secure your gear, simply use the key and take it with you.

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Disney’s Polynesian Resort Scheduled Refurbishments

by on February 11, 2014

©Disney

©Disney

It was announced last September that Disney Vacation Club would be heading to Disney’s Polynesian Resort. Because of this addition, the hotel is refurbishing some areas for future enjoyment. There are a couple of new items that have been added to the list, in addition to a few that are currently ongoing. So you can be prepared if you are planning on staying at the Polynesian during your vacation this year, here are the rehabs are taking place .

  • The eastern portion of the Polynesian Beach and Sunset Point have been closed since September 9, 2013, and will be unavailable for the foreseeable future.
  • The Never Land Club (Children’s Activity Center) has been closed since January 28 and will remain closed until April 27.
  • The lobby of the Great Ceremonial House will see refurbishment work from March 1 until sometime in December 2014.
  • Captain Cook’s (Quick Service dining location) will close sometime in March and will reopen sometime in June. A replacement dining option will be available.

I’ll be sure to keep you posted on additional refurbishment details!

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Should You Stay Off Property At Disney World?

by on February 2, 2014

Where to stay during your Disney World vacation is a long debated topic with no right or wrong answer. Before moving here I was a 100% Disney purist, horrified at even the thought of stepping foot off Disney property. But after moving to Orlando and working in the travel industry I realized there are some excellent options if you are brave enough to venture off property. Today I’m outlining some things to think about before choosing to stay off property on your next trip.

Beware “scheduled” transportation: Many properties in Kissimmee and throughout Lake Buena Vista offer what they call scheduled shuttles to the parks. What they don’t tell you is that this is often a single shuttle in the morning and evening to each park, meaning that you likely will have to arrive late or leave early to make this one shuttle. The shuttle is also commonly shared with other hotels and crammed, packed full. Be sure that you understand the shuttle service offered prior to booking if you’ll need transportation to the parks.

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Believe me – you don’t want to walk from here!

You cannot walk: I know this seems pretty obvious but I can tell you from working in hotels that it’s common for guests to think they can just walk to Disney from offsite hotels. This is because hotels advertise their distance to “Disney’s Maingate”. By definition a maingate is the arch that you drive under to enter Disney property… which can be miles from an actual Disney park! There is not a single non-Disney hotel where you can walk to a park.

Renting a car: Personally, I can’t imagine staying off property without renting a car (or using your personal car if you’re driving to get here). The shuttles offered by offsite hotels have never worked for me and I need the freedom to come and go as I please. The cost of renting this car should be weighed with the cost of an onsite room at Disney. Also, remember that if you don’t have an annual pass you will have to pay for parking when staying off Disney property. That really adds up at a minimum of $15 a day!

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Ranking the Disney World Hotels

by on January 15, 2014

Art of Animation Resort.

Art of Animation Resort

As a former Cast Member, current Annual Passholder, Disney Vacation Club Member, and frequent visitor to the Walt Disney World Resort, there are questions that I am routinely asked:

You see, among the almost-30 on-site resort choices, to countless off-property hotels, vacation villas, and other accommodation opportunities, guests have a plethora of considerations when it comes to choosing the right Disney World hotel. In an effort to simplify it all, however, I’ve corralled the on-property choices and pitted them against each other, in a play-off style, using content provided by the Touring Plans site and personal experience. Although I personally believe it all boils down to a matter of preference, this ranking should provide a basic foundation in comparison building.

Screen Shot 2014-01-07 at 12.02.21 PM

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Top 10 Splurge Items at Disney World

by on December 9, 2013

Here at Touring Plans, we’re all about finding ways to save money during Disney vacations. But we also know that once in a while it’s time to throw caution to the wind and splurge on something spectacular enough to turn the vacation into a celebration. Here are ten of our favorite ways to indulge at Walt Disney World. Bucket list anyone?

While you're indulging at V&A's, why not splurge a little more with the caviar add-on?

While you’re indulging at V&A’s, why not splurge a little more with the caviar add-on?

1. Victoria & Albert’s. We’ve said it before and we’ll say it again, a meal at V&A’s is simply one of the best dining experiences you’ll have any time, any where. And if the best meal in town isn’t enough for you, then you can bump it up a notch by trying the even more indulgent Chef’s Table or Queen Victoria room. Price: At least $150 per person, more if you’re including cocktails or wine, and more if you’re in one of the specialty rooms.

2. Backstage Magic Tour. This 7-hour tour takes you to backstage areas at all four WDW theme parks plus some centralized behind-the-scenes areas, and you’ll get a stick-to-your-ribs lunch at the Whispering Canyon Cafe to keep you fuelled up during your big adventure. For the Disney geek, this is the ultimate in education. Price: About $250 per person. Discounts may be available for DVC owners, annual pass holders or other special categories of guests. Be sure to ask.

3. VIP Tour Guide. Guests who want their hand held during every step of their Disney experience can hire a VIP tour guide to escort them through the parks. They’ll pick you up at your resort and take you exactly where you want to go at Walt Disney World. They’ll get you special viewing areas at parades and some shows, and they’ll use their detailed park knowledge to speed you through touring. Price: Prices vary, starting at $315 per hour for a group of up to 10 people. Six hour minimum.

All the Disney Dooney's are luxury items, but the large weekender is the top of the line.

All the Disney Dooney’s are luxury items, but the large weekender is the top of the line.

4. Grand Suite at the Grand Floridian. Concierge service in the poshest room at the poshest resort. Need I say more? Price: Prices start at about $2,400 per night in the off season, up to about $3,300 per night during the Christmas holiday season. You could pretend to rationalize this by thinking about this on a cost-per-person basis, but in my fantasy world, I’m staying there all by myself.

5. Disney themed Dooney & Bourke Weekender bag. Disney print Dooney & Bourke bags have been all the rage for several years now. I’ve outed several closet Disney geeks in my hometown when I spied them carrying the common Disney Dooney wristlet or crossbody bags. But the holy grail of this genre is the giant weekender tote, which is big enough to double as luggage. Price: $360.

6. Fireworks cruise on the Grand I. The Grand I is a 52-foot yacht which sails the waters of Bay Lake and Seven Seas Lagoon. The epitome of style is to book the Grand to view the Wishes fireworks presentation at the Magic Kingdom. The show’s audio is piped to speakers on the boat. Price: $450 per hour, plus more for food and beverage.

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Disney’s All-Star Resorts To Test Only Providing MagicBands to Guests

by on December 3, 2013

©Disney

©Disney

The first test recently rolled out at Disney’s Pop Century Resort, but now Disney is ready to start a new version of this testing at all three of Disney’s All-Star Resorts. As part of the MyMagic+ assessment, upon check in at one of these three resorts, guests will be issued only a MagicBand for use throughout their stay at the Walt Disney World Resort.

The schedule for roll out is as follows:

Any guest checking in on or after these dates will be issued only a MagicBand and not a separate Key To The World card/room key.

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Comparing and Contrasting WDW Moderate Resorts

by on November 29, 2013

CSR2

Coronado Springs

In many ways I consider myself a lucky man. One of those ways, albeit a minor one, is that I have had the opportunity to stay in all four of Walt Disney World’s Moderate level resorts within the past 18 months or so. The first thing you may notice is that I said four, even though Disney technically lists five: Caribbean Beach, Coronado Springs, Port Orleans – French Quarter, Port Orleans – Riverside, and the Cabins at Fort Wilderness. I am omitting the Cabins from this comparison for a few reasons: Firstly, the Cabins are quite a bit different than the other moderates as they are larger, capable of housing more people, and more expensive. Secondly, and more importantly, I have never stayed in one, so a writing of my personal experiences would be very, very short.

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Run the World: Port Orleans Riverside and French Quarter

by on November 25, 2013

I had the recent pleasure of enjoying a short ‘racecation’ during the 2013 Wine & Dine Half Marathon Weekend at Port Orleans French Quarter, one of Walt Disney World’s moderate resorts. It was a fantastic stay – I enjoyed everything, from the beignets at the bakery to the easy bus transportation, but what stood out to me as a definite winner were the running paths!

PortOrleansJog

I had only stayed at Port Orleans once before – and this was long before my running days, so although I had my handy map (and was given a physical copy at check-in). I was just a little hesitant, as I have a tendency to get lost. My fears were cast aside rather quickly, however, as I set out on a pre-run walk around property to capture images of landmarks and waypoints to guide my run the following morning.

Let’s get running!

The best part about this run is that you don’t need to find an exact location to begin your run or jog – you can set off from wherever you are. In my case, I was staying in Building 3 of the French Quarter, and so meandered east to the river-side “Carriage Path” to begin.

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“Streets” are marked.

On the French Quarter side of the resort, the walkways between buildings and attractions (such as the pool and laundry facilities) are clearly marked in gridded corridors, as if you are actually in a small city, making it very easy to navigate. This set-up allows for easy “add-ons” to your mileage in even, small lines and boxes…and another bonus? The area is almost completely shaded by lovely trees and complemented by quiet fountains and sitting areas. I found it to be very peaceful – both in my afternoon walk and my late morning run.

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