As a parent, every time Disney Junior rolls out a new show, I have a sense of dread. Some end up being wonderful shows (Sofia the First, Doc McStuffins) and some grate on my nerves (Goldie and Bear, Kate and Mim Mim). Then there are some that I think I am more excited about than my daughter. One of the latter is the new show The Lion Guard. For those who aren’t familiar, Kion–who is basically Simba’s son–has been tapped to become leader of a special forces group with four of his friends called The Lion Guard. After watching the show and purchasing the soundtrack for morning drives to school, I was pretty certain this show was going to be a hit. Disney also went with a bit of marketing push, and in addition to merchandise popping up in stores across property, Animal Kingdom also is offering The Lion Guard Adventure. Sounds like a great Saturday outing…
This is a continuation of our Back to Basics Series. Scroll to the bottom to find links to our other Basics posts.
One of the most exciting and often nerve wracking parts of planning a vacation is selecting a hotel. Some people view a hotel as simply the place where you sleep and shower, and nothing more. Others, like me, see the hotel as home base and a destination unto itself. I’ve even planned entire vacations around the hotel more so than the local area and attractions (but then again I work in the hotel industry and am a self-proclaimed hotel nerd).
If the weather is bad or if somebody gets sick, this is where you’ll spend much of your vacation time. At the end of a full day touring the parks this is where you can rest, or depending on which location you choose, you can come back in the middle of the day to relax. The amount of options in all of Central Florida can be astounding, after all there are over 400 hotels in the Orlando / Orange County area.
Old Key West Resort room
Let’s assume for the purposes of this post that you’ve decided you really want to stay on Walt Disney World property. You still have to sort through over 20 hotels in order to select your hotel. The main focus of this guide is to help you decide between Walt Disney World resort hotel categories. I will include some of the pros and cons of each category, as well as a general overview of the features of each category. This includes location, transportation, food and beverage, and amenities. In follow up posts, we will dig into the specifics of these features for each resort in particular.
Disney Springs Resort Area Hotels, Swan and Dolphin, and Bonnet Creek
If you’re looking for close proximity at lower cost, then the hotels near Disney Springs on Hotel Plaza Boulevard, as well as the hotels of Bonnet Creek, offer easy transportation. If you want the extra perks such as Disney transportation and Extra Magic Hours, however, you’ll need either a Disney-owned hotel or the Starwood Walt Disney World Swan and Dolphin, which offer these benefits with slightly lower room rates. The MagicBand (as a room key and ticket) and Disney’s Magical Express are exclusive features for Disney owned and operated. For some folks this is a major plus, while for others it is not worth the extra money that a Disney owned property can cost.
The Walt Disney World Swan: Very close to Epcot and Disney’s Hollywood Studios, but technically a Starwood hotel.
Like with Old Key West, the sprawling size of Caribbean Beach does come with some downsides. There are many rooms quite far away from the check-in area (The Custom House) and several of the resort’s amenities located at Old Port Royale. Everything is walkable, and there is both an internal bus system and water transportation for those who don’t want to hoof it. The TouringPlans Hotel Room Request can also help make getting a room closer to Old Port Royale easier, which is something to consider. The Custom House is the only check-in area at WDW that is completely separated from anything else at the resort, so you may want to consider on-line check in (although they do have free swords and star wands for kids at the front desk).
Map of Disney’s Caribbean Beach.
All that said, the size of Caribbean Beach is also a positive, as it is a wonderful place at WDW to spend time at outside of the parks because there is so many amenities and is an absolutely gorgeous place to relax in. So sit back, rest your sea legs ye scurvy bilge rat, and let’s begin counting down our top six reasons we love Caribbean Beach starting with…
# 6 – Fuentes del Morro Pool
If you are anything like our family, a resort’s main pool can have a major impact on where you stay. Right now pools with a slide are the biggest determining factor on where we stay, and the Caribbean Beach pool has a great slide and then some. Based around the 400 year old El Morro Fort in San Juan, Carribean Beach’s Fuentes del Morro pool looks incredible. The theme of a Spanish fort is complete with cannons, two water slides (one over 100 feet long), and has a zero depth entry. This area includes two hot tubs around the main pool, a fantastic kid’s play area that is a giant pirate ship, and the Banana Cabana bar for adults to get their fill of rum.
There are also six leisure pools located across property (near each of the main guest buildings).
Fuentes del Morror pool.
Shiver me timbers! Thar be water cannons in this pool.
The main water slide at the Fuentes del Morro pool.
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.
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.
Welcome 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 realJungle CruiseSkipper School. 2016 is shaping up to be an incredible year.
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!
After seeing this, I know how Indiana Jones felt seeing the Fertility Idol. (photo by Julia Mascardo)
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).
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!
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)
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!
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.
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.