Posts Tagged ‘Resorts’

The Basics: Selecting the Right Walt Disney World Hotel Category

by on February 24, 2016

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

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.

Walt Disney World Swan

The Walt Disney World Swan: Very close to Epcot and Disney’s Hollywood Studios, but technically a Starwood hotel.

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Holiday decorations at Trader Sam’s Grog Grotto

by on December 7, 2015

When Trader Sam’s Grog Grotto was announced one of my items on my wish list was that this location would get into the tropical holiday spirit in the same manner as the original Trader Sam’s Enchanted Tiki Bar. I am pleased to say that holiday decorations at Trader Sam’s Grog Grotto are now up and ready for all to enjoy. Here’s some highlights of the decor and special effects.

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The holiday spirit is contained within the Grog Grotto itself; the lovely outdoor Tiki Terrace does not have any decorations and remains a tranquil oasis. The live musicians may occasionally throw in some Hawaiian holiday music every so often, however, making for a nice evening. Once inside you will find strings of glowing Christmas lights and other festive decor. It is a bit mish mosh and tacky, but it fits the silly yet somehow authentic vibe of the Grog Grotto.

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Seth Kubersky’s Best Week Ever August 13, 2015: Animal Kingdom Area Hotels

by on August 13, 2015

After last week’s adventure to Disney’s Animal Kingdom, we’re back with another beastly Best Week Ever that delves into your dwelling options in the neighborhood of Walt Disney World’s newest theme park. Let’s take a trip to the Animal Kingdom area hotels, starting with WDW’s weakest resorts and working our way up to some of its very best!

 

Disney’s All Star Resorts

Let’s begin at the bottom, and I’ll do my “best week ever” best to be as polite as possible: I’m not a big fan of the three value-priced All Star Resorts.

 

It’s been a long while since I’ve stayed overnight in one, but I remember them being large, loud, and largely lacking in the Disney magic of the more expensive on-site hotels.

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Where To Get Work Done At Walt Disney World

by on June 1, 2015

Photo - Erin Foster

Business Center at the Contemporary

As much as we’d like a trip to Walt Disney World to be all play, sometimes the career gets in the way. After begrudgingly pulling out your laptop or tablet, you realize the last place you want to be is cooped up in your hotel room. Where else can you go to concentrate and get some work done?

Whether it be answering email or working remotely, here are some places to set up your make-shift office and get down to business (“to defeat…the Huns.” Name that film!).

The Supplies

If you know you’re going to be working throughout your trip, here are a few extras to consider bringing along for a more comfortable experience:

  • A mouse for your laptop
  • A stylus for your tablet/iPad
  • A keyboard for your tablet
  • Chargers for your devices
  • A power strip
  • Headphones
  • Paper and pen (if you don’t have technology handy)

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Extra Hotel Fees and Costs You Need to Budget For

by on April 29, 2015

Going on vacation is such a treat. It’s a fantastic privilege that can pay off in so many ways. But if you don’t factor in all the extra costs and budget appropriately your vacation can go from being refreshing and rejuvenating to frustrating and stressful. I’m a hotelier at heart and I am continually surprised, and saddened, whenever I come across guests who did not anticipate different hotel fees and other extra costs that can pop up when staying at a hotel. So to help you plan and budget, let’s talk about the most common costs.

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Disney’s Grand Floridian Resort – it may not have a lot of hotel fees, but it carries some of the highest room rates in Orlando. Photo source: Disneyworld.com

 

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Mama Della’s: The Best Full-Service Restaurant at Universal Orlando

by on March 9, 2015

There are so many different classifications one can sort a theme park restaurant into – best themed, best ambiance, best location, best food, best price. But what of the best overall venue, the one that most successfully manages to not only balance all of these different considerations, but to also be more than just the sum of its parts? That would surely be a difficult feat to pull off, and the eatery would probably be jam-packed full of people day in and day out.

Mama Della's Ristorante

Image © Universal

With Universal Orlando Resort’s best all-around full-service restaurant, Mama Della’s Ristorante, this is most certainly not the case. Maybe it’s because it’s located at Portofino Bay Hotel, which is tucked away in the corner of the resort. Maybe it’s because it’s overshadowed by a (growing) number of other eateries at the theme parks, from Harry Potter’s wondrous digs to the tasty fast food offerings of Springfield, USA. Maybe it’s just because it’s not Mythos, which has long been considered the best theme park restaurant in the world.

Whatever the reason, Mama Della’s is typically devoid of the long lines and online buzz that is associated with much of the rest of Universal’s lineup, making it a superlative dining experience in nearly every sense – terrific food, atmospherics, and wait times.

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Things to Do at Disney World outside the Parks

by on November 21, 2014

It can be easy sometimes to forget just how much there is to do outside of Disney World’s four theme parks and two water parks. With so much contained within the parks, it might not even cross some guests’ minds that you could actually spend a whole Disney World vacation without ever going to the parks. Although I personally wouldn’t suggest skipping the parks entirely, you could do it and still have a great vacation. Maybe it’s the last day of your vacation or maybe you just want to explore the property a little to see what else Disney has to offer. With that in mind, here are just a few of the many things to see and do without ever having to pay for a park admission ticket.

Disney World Fantasia Gardens Mini Golf

Golf

Disney World wouldn’t be much of a resort destination without golf. With three courses (four if you include the onsite Four Seasons course) and one nine-hole walking course, there’s a wide variety of play options for fans of the sport. Even if you think you’re terrible at golf or you’ve never tried before, this is a good place to start. Resort courses are notoriously less punishing than most courses (people don’t need a stroke on vacation) and even if you do play horribly, at least you’re still in Disney so you can’t be that upset. If the full-fledged sport still seems like too much of an undertaking, Disney also offers two thematically different mini golf courses. Fantasia Gardens (located near the Boardwalk) is themed after its namesake film and even features a more traditional putting green course for those who want to just work on their short game. Winter Summerland Miniature Golf is located at Blizzard Beach and has two courses themed after winter and summer. For those concerned about having to purchase a water park ticket to play here, no need to worry. The mini golf course may be located at Blizzard Beach but it’s actually outside of the Blizzard Beach entrance.

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Best Disney World Hotel for a Bar Tour

by on June 18, 2014

Disney World Hotel bar tour

View from the Polynesian’s Barefoot Bar (when it’s not under construction)

I know most folks traveling to Walt Disney World are not thinking primarily about going on a bar crawl. I also know that many legal adults could use a drink when they get back from a day at the theme parks. So here’s the scenario: You are done touring the parks for the day and are looking for a place for a nightcap or two. Maybe the kids are with relatives, maybe there are no kids on this trip…either way, you only have a few hours because you don’t want to be out too late. After all, you know making park opening, or rope drop, is super-important when touring the parks.

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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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What’s Not in My Disney World Hotel Room?

by on December 22, 2013

A while back, I wrote about all the useful things you’ll find in your Walt Disney World hotel room. After a recent spate of non-Disney and semi-Disney travel (sacrilege, I know), I’ve realized that there are also a number of things that many travelers might expect to see in their Disney hotel rooms, but won’t be found there. Please be aware that some of the items on this list can be found at a select few WDW hotels, but not all of them. Be sure to consult with your own resort directly if you have concerns.

You'll find a refrigerator in your Disney hotel room, but there's no mini bar.

You’ll find a refrigerator in your Disney hotel room, but there’s no mini bar.

A Magnifying Mirror

My mother pointed this out to me after she joined me for a stay at Disney’s Bay Lake Tower earlier this year. Her aging eyes had trouble doing her makeup without the magnifying mirror she was accustomed to finding in hotels. Since she mentioned this, I’ve stayed in about a dozen non-Disney hotels and sure enough mom was right, all but one of the non-Disney hotels was equipped with a magnifying mirror in the bathroom, while the vast majority of Disney hotels do not. If your eyes are on the downswing or you routinely use a magnifying mirror for personal maintenance, they you’ll want to bring your own from home.

Toothpaste

I spent part of this past summer on the Adventures by Disney excursion to China. This was an incredible experience. A small part of that was due to insanely over-the-top awesome hotels we visited (Ah, Peninsula Shanghai, I miss you so!). One of the countless details which made the hotels seamlessly efficient and luxurious was that in addition to the usual soaps and shampoos, the bathrooms were all stocked with teeny tubes of Colgate. So great, right?! While toothpaste is certainly available for purchase in the WDW gift shops, you’ll no doubt note here that toothpaste is almost never found in US hotel rooms. (You can read more about this in a Slate article that hotel geek me found fascinating.) So, if you’re an international guest expecting toothpaste to be a standard feature, you’re out of luck.

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