by Stacey Lantz
on July 24, 2012
Non-Disney loving people that I know are always asking me the same tired question… “You’re going to Disney World… again?” Yeah, I am. I always am and I always will be going again. The follow-up questions seem to be pretty consistant too. “Don’t you ever get sick of it? Haven’t you done everything there is to do?
Obviously, those of us that know the parks well are aware that it’s virtually impossible to do every single thing at Disney World. The resort is always changing and evolving. New things are getting added all the time. Traveling with new people and at different times of the year makes each and every trip to Disney World unique and interesting. A while ago, I decided that I needed a way to ensure that I was experiencing something new every trip. That’s when I started my bucket list.
In case you don’t know, a bucket list is a list of things you want to do before you “kick the bucket.” Throughout the past couple of years I’ve actually gotten to cross off many things from my list. I finally rode the teacups (which I survived) and eventually I sat through Country Bear Jamboree. Staying at the Polynesian Resort was always a dream of mine since childhood and back in 2010 I crossed that off of my list.
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by Tammy Whiting
on July 20, 2012
Having spent more time in Disney parks and more time staying in Disney hotels then any non-Disney employed person really has the right to, I thought I’d list my favorite Disney theme park resorts in order. The Unofficial Guide does a wonderful job of comparing hotels by value, room size, and many other considerations. My list doesn’t take value or any scientific factors into account at all! This is simply the list of the 10 hotels that I most enjoy staying in when visiting a Disney park.
In some cases, only certain room types or views merit making the list. Paradise Pier, for example, made the list, but only a theme park view room. I wouldn’t put the standard rooms in my top 10 at all. Some other hotels didn’t make the list that I’m sure some of you will find questionable. I can hear it now, “What! The Grand Floridian Resort is Disney’s flagship resort on the East Coast!! How can it not be in the top 10?” The Grand Floridian, while beautiful and in a great location, is just too stuffy for me! I feel underdressed in shorts! Even in my own room!
So here it is. The 10 hotels that made MY list of best Disney park hotels.
1. Disney’s Grand Californian Hotel and Spa – I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. The Grand Californian at Disneyland Resort is my favorite resort on either coast. I’ve stayed in both the villas and the hotel section and fell in love with both. It’s an absolutely stunning hotel. The lobby takes your breath away and the rooms don’t disappoint. The proximity to the parks and Downtown Disney District is unsurpassed by any Disney hotel on either coast. I have stayed in rooms with views of all types and wouldn’t turn my nose up at any of them. One of my favorite views actually isn’t even the theme park view which costs the most. For me it’s the Downtown Disney view. I absolutely love standing on my balcony and watching the people go by underneath. You can see the fireworks from several of those rooms and hear the live music below. I love it! I’m staying at the Grand Californian again in about 4 weeks, and I am counting the minutes!! Tip: Take time to go to an animation class in Hearthstone Lounge—it’s free and just a short walk from the parks.
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by Ryan Kilpatrick
on July 16, 2012
Yes, it’s true, there have been times where it feels like I’ve spent more time in Disney’s Pop Century Resort than in my own home. As a father with two children, it’s difficult to take trips to Walt Disney World and splurge on hotels, because most of our time is spent in the parks, and hotels are used for sleeping. With two younger kids who are still willing to share a bed most of the time, the value of a Disney Value Resort is too much to pass up. So, on most of our trips, I find myself choosing which building at Pop Century to stay at, rather than which resort I’ll be picking.
But why Pop Century, you might ask? Aren’t the All-Star Resorts also Value Resorts? It’s true, they are. But as far as amenities and ease of access to the parks goes, Pop Century has them beat. Small touches, like the food court, shelves above the sinks, little indentions in the sink to put your soap – they all add up to make Pop a shade better than the All-Stars. For just $5-10 more per night, I’m able to enjoy myself at Pop Century and really immerse myself in the vacation. It fits like an old shoe now. Here’s what I really enjoy about Pop:
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by Rikki Niblett
on July 10, 2012
It has come to our attention that Disney’s Grand Floridian Resort is in the process of having a major overhaul. With DVC on its way, it would appear that Disney has decided to upgrade other areas at the resort, as well.
Currently, Disney is refurbishing Mizner’s Lounge (until July 14), Narcoosee’s (until July 22), and Beach Pool Bar (until August 24).
Upcoming refurbishments at the resort include:
- Citricos (July 23 – August 4)
- Gasparilla Grill and Games (August 24 – December)
- The Courtyard Pool (August 24 – November), which will be converted into a zero entry pool
- Sandy Cove shop (August 21 – December)
As a reminder, Disney’s Grand Floridian Spa has been closed and will remain so until mid-2013.
It looks like there are a lot of great changes coming down the pipeline at The Grand Floridian Resort!
by Brian McNichols
on July 3, 2012
I may be a weirdo (please don’t answer that), but there are few things in life that bring me more peace and tranquility than taking a nice quiet walk around a Disney resort in the early morning hours. I must admit that even with my natural curiosity and insane willingness to take long walks prior to spending an entire day in a theme park, I feel that I have never fully explored the Coronado Springs Resort.
Coronado Springs is a very pretty moderate level resort, and it is huge. In addition to its large size, its layout makes fully exploring the resort a long process. Much like the Caribbean Beach Resort, Coronado Springs is a multi-building complex set around what is either a small lake or a large pond (I can’t decide). Unlike Caribbean Beach however, Coronado Springs does not have a bridge connecting two sides of the complex, meaning that you must walk the entire circumference of the lake (about 1.1 miles, very similar to a lap around World Showcase lagoon in Epcot). Sure, you can take one of the internal shuttles but that’s not exploring!
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by Stacey Lantz
on June 26, 2012
After a recent stay at Disney’s All-Star Sports Resort, I figured I’d fill you all in on how my stay was. If you’re not aware, All-Star Sports is a value resort and is a part of a larger “chain” of value resorts. The others being All-Star Movies and All-Star Music Resorts. Prices are generally the lowest for these resorts, and many discounts often apply the most to All-Star Sports since it doesn’t usually fill up as quickly as the other value hotels on property.
With such a strong “masculine” theme to the resort, many families don’t find the theming suitable for their entire group. As you might guess, each section of the resort is broken down into a specific sport such as football, baseball, basketball, tennis, and surfing. The “Surf’s Up” section is preferred and will cost you a bit more because of the close proximity to the main pool and Stadium Hall, the main building with the check-in/concierge desk, food court, and gift shop.
Having stayed at All-Star Sports previously, I knew to request a building that would suit my needs since the layout is very large and very confusing. Honestly, I’ve gotten confused walking around there before but never had a problem at Pop Century for some reason. I put in my request for the Touchdown! section so I’d be close to the busses and lobby. While I thought the proximity was nice, there were other issues with that section that I’ll touch on later.
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by Erin Foster
on June 20, 2012
When you’re in a hotel room, you want to have all the comforts of home, only better. One of those home comforts is the towels in your room. Are they better or worse than the ones you’re used to? Are there enough of them? For those burning questions and more, here’s everything you ever wanted to know about towels at Walt Disney World.
In-room towels at the Pop Century
What kind of towels can I expect to find in my WDW hotel room?
At check in, every Walt Disney World resort hotel room is stocked with a bath towel, a hand towel, and a wash cloth for the maximum number of guests allowed to stay in that room. For example, a standard guest room at the Beach Club can sleep up to five guests, so the room will be stocked with five towels, five hand towels, and five wash cloths. This is true even if only one or two people are checking into room that could theoretically sleep five.
What is the quality of the towels like?
In my opinion, they’re fine, but not fabulous. If you’re used to 6-foot-long, uber-plush bath sheets, you may be disappointed, but most folks will find the towels to be perfect serviceable.
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by Erin Foster
on June 7, 2012
Earlier in the week the lovely and talented Scarlett Litton shared her thoughts on staying at Disney’s new Art of Animation resort with children. I’m here to fill you in on all the pesky, facty, grown-upy stuff that she didn’t cover.
Art of Animation resort map. Click to enlarge.
While Disney classifies the Art of Animation as a value-level resort, since most of the resort is suites, the rooms themselves have more in common with the deluxe one bedroom villas or the moderate Fort Wilderness cabins than they do with a regular All Star or Pop Century value room.
As with all WDW hotel rooms, the price at Art of Animation (AoA) varies seasonally, and discounts may apply. My suite, which is the standard room type, on June 2, 2012 was priced at $375. When I’ve told people this, they’ve gasped, “For a value room?” But let’s compare this to a Fort Wilderness cabin that was priced on the same day at a very similar $360 per night. Both the AoA suite and the FW cabins sleep six. The AoA suites are approximately 565 square feet, the FW cabins are approximately 500 square feet. The AoA suites have two full bathrooms, the FW cabins have one. The AoA suites have a kitchenette, the FW cabins have a full kitchen. The cabins have outdoor space, the suites do not. There is an elaborately themed pool at AoA, but a beach area at FW. Depending on your needs, there are pros and cons to each, but they do have a lot in common. And think about both these in comparison to a one bedroom villa at the Boardwalk, also with similar room amenities, for $565 a night, and the AoA suites are looking pretty good.
I stayed in the Mr. Ray building.
Of course, with any Disney room pricing, your milage may vary. Promotions, pin codes, or other discounts could materialize, making a stay at AoA more or less appealing depending on the circumstances.
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by Scarlett Litton
on June 5, 2012
The Internet has been buzzing with articles, pictures, and videos of Walt Disney World’s newest resort, Art of Animation. Media and Cast Member tours of the resort began a month ago, but the resort did not open for guest stays until May 31, 2012. I stayed there opening night because even though I had seen all of the coverage, I wanted to know, as a mother of 2 toddlers, what it would be like to actually stay there with my family.
My family consists of me and my boyfriend, both in our mid-20′s, and my two sons aged 3 and 21 months. We arrived at the resort a little after noon on opening day to check in. It wasn’t too crowded–mostly families checking in and a few stragglers from the morning’s media event. Right away, my boys (and I) were blown away by the amazing art work in the lobby. There was so much color! And there were so many of their favorite characters! We spent quite a while just wandering around the lobby and letting the kids take everything in. We even ended up at a station where kids can watch an actual artist drawing, and it is shown on a television screen. My boys loved sitting there and seeing Disney characters come to life. They would get so excited once they recognized who was being drawn. It was so much fun for them.
Once they had their fill of the lobby, we headed over to check in. The Cast Members could not have been any friendlier! We were greeted very warmly, and then were led to our check in station where we were introduced to our “Concept Artist” who would help “sketch us in” (instead of “check” us in…see what they did there?). Sure, some of the theme-based language may be cheesy and over-the-top, but we thought it was fun. In keeping with the theme, our Concept Artist gave us directions to our room that included, “stay to the left side of the EAC (East Australian Current).” She then wished us a happy “Animation Vacation,” and we were all set.
As we were walking away from the desk, a different Cast Member stopped us and said he had a gift for the kids from Nemo. He went into the back room and returned shortly with two Finding Nemo balloons for the boys. It wasn’t anything huge, but it was a special touch, and the kind of magic many have come to associate with Disney World.
We headed to our room, which was the very last one at the end of the hall in our building. However, unlike Animal Kingdom Lodge or the BoardWalk Inn, this did not mean 20 minutes of walking. It only took about 5 minutes to get from the lobby to our room (and that includes 2 slow moving toddlers).
I knew the rooms were very colorful and had lots of detail. They are even what some would call “tacky.” What I didn’t know was how into the decor my kids would be. They had a great time wandering around the room and checking everything out. They were thrilled to see sharks on the shower curtains, Nemo characters painted onto drawers…even the brightly colored lights and end tables were exciting to them. I’m sure that seems silly, but what was important to me was the fact that they just enjoyed being in the room. We have stayed at many Disney World resorts (value, moderate, deluxe, and off-site), and I have never seen them react this way to a room. For our entire overnight stay, we never even opened the backpack that contained the toys they brought from home. That was the first time that had ever happened on a trip. Usually, they are “over” the novelty of a hotel room after about 20 minutes, but not this time. It also helped that this was a family suite and there was more space for them to run around.
After settling into the room, we all got changed and headed out to enjoy some pool time. Even though I knew that the pool looked awesome, I was apprehensive. With 2 toddlers, time at the pool is never relaxing. Pool time with young children generally means sitting on the steps while they try to jump off, and you have to make sure they don’t drown or get sunburned or run off and fall in the deep end. For me, pool time means stress more than fun.
However, I was pleasantly surprised. First, the Big Blue Pool area has a play area called the Schoolyard Sprayground that is built specifically for young kids. There is cushy ground with fountains that squirt up, and it is surrounded by Nemo’s friends, who also spray water. This is where we started out. It wasn’t crowded at all, so my boyfriend and I sat in lounge chairs and let the kids explore the water area. They were able to run around and splash, and we could easily see them from our seats, so everyone was comfortable and having a good time. Other kids would come in and out and play with them, too. And sometimes we would get up and run around with them in the water to cool off. All in all, the Sprayground was a huge hit.
After a bit we all decided to go check out the main pool. Since it is a walk in pool, and there are no stairs, the boys were able to easily enter the pool without too much help. We were right there with them, of course, but it was easier for them than the usual stairs. The pool is fairly shallow, so the boys could go in pretty far and still stand up, despite barely being 3 feet tall. Again, unlike a regular pool, they were able to roam freely in this very shallow area, instead of sitting on the steps, so they had a much better time. We all played and splashed together. They even had giant jellyfish that dripped waterfalls that we could sit under and get soaked. It was so much fun!
This pool area is truly set up with young children in mind. There was so much for them to do, they were able to enter the pool up to any level they felt comfortable, and they had more freedom – while still staying safe – than they have at other pools. This was by far my best pool experience ever with my children. When it was time to go back to the room for naps, I wanted to stay at the pool just as much as the kids did.
However, I knew that without naps, the evening would be a disaster, and we were all worn out after 3 hours of playing, so we headed back to the room. This is when the “family suite” set up came in handy. Normally, when we are in a hotel and the kids need a nap, we put them down and then try to work or read or watch TV as quietly as possible and do everything in our power to not wake them up. This time, we put my 3-year-old in the bed in the bedroom, put the pack-n-play in there was well, and closed the door. The boys slept in the bedroom while we lounged in the living room area. We sat at the dining room table and worked for a while until I decided I wanted to rest too. Even though my son was in my bed, it was no problem. I just went over and pulled out the pull out sofa bed, put on the tv, and napped there. So, the kids rested in the bedroom, I was on the pull-out couch, and my boyfriend was at his computer at the dining room table. We were all comfortable, no one was disturbing anyone else, and no one had to compromise. It was wonderful! Even though there were only 4 of us, and we could easily fit into a regular hotel room, this set up made everything so much more convenient.
Once everyone was awake, we headed to the food court, Landscapes of Flavors, for dinner. Although it was just a typical food court, we felt the food was higher quality than at many of the other food courts on property. There was a wide variety of food choices, even for those with dietary restrictions, and this food court is the first of any on Disney property to sell the vegan, gluten-free, soy-free, dairy-free, kosher (and still delicious) desserts from BabyCakes NYC. The only other notable difference is that this food court uses real plates and flatware instead of paper and plastic, which is nice, except that bussing your own table can be a bit more of a hassle, especially with little ones.
After dinner we headed to Magic Kingdom via bus to take one final ride on Snow White’s Scary Adventure. There was a very short wait for the bus, and the trip only took about 15 minutes. The resort has its own dedicated buses and does not share with Pop Century. That being said, when we left Magic Kingdom, there was almost no line for Art of Animation, but a HUGE line for Pop Century, so there were many Pop guests who rode on our bus and then walked across the bridge to get to their own resort.
Overall, we had a fantastic stay. There were just a couple of issues. For one, there is pretty much no cell phone service in any of the buildings. Luckily, the hotel has Wi-Fi, so the Internet will work, but I couldn’t make any phone calls or receive text messages in my room or the hallways. I spoke to a manager who said that this is a known issue and that they are trying to correct it.
The other problem was the temperature of our room. It was FREEZING! I turned the thermostat up as high as 82 and still never stopped shivering. Even wearing warm pajamas, I had a tough time sleeping. Luckily, the kids had very warm clothes and were worn out from the busy day, so they slept fine.
Those things would not be enough to prevent me from returning to stay at Art of Animation. Of all of the places I have ever stayed with my children, this was by far the most pleasant. Would this be my first choice for a romantic, adults-only weekend? Absolutely not. But, for a family with young kids, this resort is ideal.
Have you stayed at Art of Animation? What did you think? Are you planning to stay there? Let us know with a comment.
by Tammy Whiting
on May 18, 2012
It’s always been a little difficult for big families to vacation with Disney without spending a lot of money. At Walt Disney World, only one of the four current value resorts have some rooms that allow more than four people (plus a child under 3), and those rooms cost more than twice what a standard room does. Three of the five moderate resorts don’t have any rooms that sleep more than four (plus a child under three). On the Disney Cruise Line, the classic cruise ships, the Disney Magic and Disney Wonder, don’t have any inside or oceanview staterooms that sleep more than four. A family of five has to pay a good deal more for a larger verandah stateroom or get two staterooms in the less expensive categories.
At Disneyland, however, there are a lot of good options for larger families. First, all three of the Disneyland Resort hotels have standard rooms that will sleep five. If you are interested in staying on property, check out the blogs I’ve written on Disney’s Paradise Pier Hotel, the Disneyland Hotel, and Disney’s Grand Californian Hotel and Spa. Second, as I’ve said in a previous blog, there are many excellent offsite resorts at Disneyland as well. They are known as the Good Neighbor Hotels, and I’ll concentrate on these offsite options in this blog.
Because they are so awesomely close to Disneyland, I’ll stick to Harbor Boulevard(or just off Harbor) hotels for this list. I’m going to sort these by distance to the parks with number 1 being the closest. Some of the hotels are a little too far to walk so they either run their own shuttles or they participate in ART, otherwise known as the Anaheim Resort Transportation system, which provides transportation back and forth to Disneyland for just a few dollars a person. I also avoided hotels where you had to take a significant upgrade in price to get to a room that allows more than four guests.
Now some hotels are a little sneaky when they say a room accommodates five guests. You have to take that literally. They don’t have beds for five people, but they will allow five people. Your options are normally to pay a small additional fee for a rollaway bed, put an extra person in one of the beds, or put someone on the floor with extra pillows and blankets. I know some people would rather do that then pay more for a bigger room, so I included some of these hotels in the list. You’ll notice that at times I say a room will “allow” five people, and sometimes I say it will “sleep” five people. Take that literally.
1. Best Western Plus Park Place Inn and Mini-Suites – The Best Western Plus Park Place Inn is about as close as you can get to the walkway to Disneyland. Cross Harbor Blvd and you are there. We’ve stayed here before and it’s nothing to write home about, but if you’re looking for a place to sleep and not spend a lot of money, here you go. A continental breakfast is included, and they’ve recently improved the food selection. Rooms with queen beds and a sofa bed sleep up to five and mini-suites sleep up to six. All the rooms have refrigerators, microwaves and free Wi-Fi.
2. Anaheim Fairfield Inn by Marriott – The Anaheim Fairfield Inn is a nice hotel! I was struck by how similar the rooms were to Paradise Pier. They used the same colors to decorate. There is also a Mickey head on one of the roofs. That was a nice surprise! The maximum number of guests is five. There are two queen beds in a 228 square foot room that allows up to 5 guests. You can even pay a little more for a mildly themed Disney room. The Fairfield Inn is an easy walk from the Disneyland entrance. McDonalds and a Mimi’s restaurant are close by, and there’s a Pizza Hut and Seattle’s Best Coffee inside the hotel! Wi-Fi is free here as well and there are refrigerators in the room.
3. Howard Johnson Hotel – The Howard Johnson is a favorite for many people, including myself. The water play area is amazing. It’s pirate themed with water canons, slides and pirate ships. If you’re looking for one of the best pool features off property, this is it. Wi-Fi is free and the rooms have refrigerators and queen beds. The Howard Johnson is a little bit longer walk than some of the other Harbor hotels, but it’s not bad. The standard rooms allow up to five and some of the rooms face Disneyland. You can see the fireworks from some of the rooms! If you have an Entertainment Book, you can sometimes score an amazing rate here.
4. Candy Cane Inn – The Candy Cane Inn is another guest favorite. The rooms have queen beds and the rooms that allow up to five are only a few dollars more. There’s a complimentary continental breakfast, a refrigerator in the rooms, free Wi-Fi and a dedicated shuttle to the parks. While it’s not a bad walk in the mornings when your feet are fresh and ready, at the end of the day when those puppies are screaming, you’ll love seeing that shuttle waiting for you. You may want to consider a premium room at the Candy Cane Inn. For not that much more you get amenities such as movie rentals, complimentary breakfast room service, bath robes and a microwave.
5. Doubletree Guest Suites – I’ll admit it, I’m a big fan of Hilton properties. Whenever we are driving across the country, I search for Hilton first because I know what I’m going to get. The Doubletree Suites in Anaheim is no exception. The rooms are clean, spacious, and tastefully decorated. The suites sleep up to six people with two queens, a sofa bed, and a separate living area with a refrigerator and microwave. In one of their restaurants, Agio Ristorante, kids under 12 eat free with a paying adult. The Doubletree is a bit far to walk so it participates in ART. Wi-Fi is free at the Doubletree!
6. Anaheim Marriott Hotel – I thoroughly enjoyed my stay at the Anaheim Marriott. It’s a little too far to walk to the parks, but it participates in ART. The rooms allow up to five and the rooms have two double beds. I thought the pool was excellent. It’s kind of an indoor/outdoor pool with part of it being covered and part of it in the sun. It’s in a courtyard in the middle of the hotel in a very lush setting. While the refrigerators are free, internet in the rooms cost extra.
7. Embassy Suites Anaheim South – If you’ve ever stayed at an Embassy Suites before, you know what to expect. An awesome hot breakfast, that’s what!! Oh yes, and big standard rooms that sleep up to six people. You can put the kids on the pull out sofa, or put the grown ups on the pull out sofa while the kids take over the other room with two queen beds. No going to bed when the kids do! Excellent! The rooms have refrigerators and microwave ovens, but Wi-Fi costs extra. Embassy Suites has it’s own shuttle system for a small fee similar to ART.
8. Residence Inn Anaheim Resort Area – The Residence Inn is another all-suite hotel. Wi-Fi is free, there’s a fully equipped kitchen, and you can get two queen beds and a sofa bed. There’s a hot breakfast buffet every morning and an Evening Manager’s reception. The Evening Manager’s reception is a complimentary dinner! That’s right, dinner! It’s a light dinner, and there aren’t that many choices, but how many other places can you get a free dinner (other than the Homewood Suites—see below)? That can save a large family a pretty penny! There are also some kid’s suites with a separate room with bunk beds. They also participate in ART.
Blue Dots = Good Neighbor Hotels
9. Homewood Suites by Hilton– Homewood Suites, is another Hilton property. The rooms are suites with two queen beds, and a sofa bed, and they sleep up to six people. There are also fully equipped kitchens and free Wi-Fi. So you could make your own breakfast, but why would you want to when the hotel will make you breakfast every morning? It’s not cooked to order like Embassy Suites, but there are some hot options as well as an excellent continental spread. Another bonus is the Welcome Home reception which happens Monday through Thursday nights and is similar to the reception at the Residence Inn. Free dinner! And for transportation, Homewood Suites has its own shuttle system that it shares with the Marriott Suites. There’s a small fee.
10. Anaheim Marriott Suites – The Anaheim Marriott Suites is the farthest hotel from Disneyland on my list, but it’s really not far. It’s only about a mile down the road. The family suites accommodate up to 6 people with two double beds and a sofa bed in a 420 square foot room. There are refrigerators, but internet costs extra. The hotel is very pretty inside and the guest rooms are very tastefully decorated. They share a shuttle with Homewood Suites.
So what do you think? Do you have any favorite hotels for big families at Disneyland that I missed? Or, do you have secrets for housing a larger family that I haven’t even thought of?