If you are heading to Orlando anytime soon, you will be faced with a few decisions to make about your accommodations.
Will you be staying at a Disney Resort, or off-site at a nearby vacation home or condo?
Now that I’ve had the experience of staying at a Disney resort, I’m not sure I could ever make the decision to stay offsite, unless the time I planned to spend is Disney was absolutely minimal.
People often ask me if staying onsite at Disney is worth the often-added expense. My answer is usually yes.
There are so many perks to staying at a Disney resort (free airport shuttle, transportation, access to dining plans), and luckily there are different accommodation levels that can help you budget the right resort for you. Don’t let the prices scare you from booking–while rack rates seem to be pretty high, you can usually get a great deal–sometimes up to 30 per cent off–during spring and fall months.
Can you find the hidden Tinkerbell?
Disney resorts fall under three categories: value, moderate and deluxe.
Value resorts are made up of the smallest rooms of any Disney resort, and have limited amenities. They do, however, have a food court/quick service restaurant and pool areas for guests. It’s a great option if you plan on hitting the parks early in the morning and staying out until closing time. These resorts are typically farthest from Magic Kingdom.
Moderate resorts include enhanced amenities. This can include more dining options, upgraded pool and lounge areas and generally more recreational opportunities. Buses and boats transport guests to and from nearby resorts, Downtown Disney and the parks.
The Polynesian Resort: Home to Ohana, a volcanic pool, and the infamous Dole Whip!
Deluxe resorts offer the best amenties–a great selection of restaurants (some that offer character dining!), elaborate pool settings, a variety of shops and usually more transportation options (especially true with the Contemporary, Polynesian and Grand Floridian resort, which are on the monorail line). Deluxe resorts provide a great getaway from the parks, and offer some recreation opportunities as well. You could spend a whole day at some of these resorts without having to leave.
My three picks to try from each category?
Value–Art of Animation Moderate–Port Orleans French Quarter Deluxe–The Polynesian Resort
Heading to Walt Disney World with young children can be both exciting and exhausting. The following tips should help make your trip more enjoyable for not just the kids, but parents too!
Gazing at Cinderella Castle
1. Plan to arrive at the parks early and return to your resort around lunch for a nap and swim. If you are up for it, return to one of the parks in the evening.
2. Protect yourself from the hot Florida sun: Bring hats, sunscreen and drink lots of water to keep hydrated. Pack a small cooler with water and snacks (you are allowed to bring food and drink into the parks!) to keep your energy levels up.
3. Bring a stroller. Even a five-year-old will be thankful to ride in one–it’s a lot of walking. Make sure you have plenty of storage room for carrying purchases and more. I would suggest bringing a stroller that is comfortable to push, as cheap umbrella strollers can wreak havoc on your back.
4. Make some character dining reservations–an easy, but sometimes expensive, way to meet characters without waiting in line ups. You can make dining reservations online 180 days prior to your trip. For more information on making your reservations, check out this handy article.
5. Bring an autograph book and a pen. For about $10 you can purchase an autograph book for characters to sign. Makes a wonderful and inexpensive souvenir!
6. Use a touring plan. It will help you determine which attractions you should head to first (according to wait times), and will help you save a lot of time. This is key with small children. Check out Touring Plans or Undercover Tourist for more information.
After a long day, or in our case a morning, at the park, it’s great to find a place to unwind. Luckily, there are many options to find an afternoon diversion, likely at your resort.
Grab a bite to eat and watch your kids splash the day away. Disney is incredible at making everything fun for kids, and even a day away from the parks can be “the best day ever.” Cast members hang out poolside in the afternoons with a whole agenda of fun activities for young ones, including pool scavenger hunts and dance parties. Poolside bars offer interesting menus–I enjoyed a watermelon, feta and arugula salad one afternoon–yum!
Water works Rent a boat or catamaran to view the “World” from the water. You may find discounts on rentals if you purchase a Magic Your Way package (accomodations and tickets, with or without a Disney Dining Plan).
Unwind with a Disney flick
By night, catch a movie under the stars–by far one of my favourite ways to unwind after a long day at the parks. You can even view movie schedules of the various resort options online. I have to admit, I had the Grand Floridian’s week-long schedule printed out before we even arrived!
Lagoon with a view
If you happen to be on the Monorail line surrounding the Seven Seas Lagoon, you can catch the nightly Electrical Water Pageant. This quirky diversion is a sight to see, and as of last May, had an interesting soundtrack (think Casio keyboard meets The Little Mermaid).
What’s your favourite way to unwind after a long day at the parks?
One of the most important things to do when planning your trip to WDW…Making your dining reservations. If you are counting on enjoying character dining experiences, or meals at the better on-site restaurants at decent times, you will need to plan your reservations early.
From 180 days in, you can make your reservations online or by telephone (407-WDW-DINE) for most table-service restaurants. Luckily, you can modify and cancel your reservations so that you can create your touring plans, and ensure that your reservations fit in with your overall vacation plan. When planning our first trip back in May, and in a quest to plan a perfect trip, I probably made, edited and cancelled over 30 reservations. We ended up keeping six.
You will only need reservations for table-service restaurants, which offer a more formal dining environment. Quick-service restaurants are available too, and are great alternatives to a sit-down meal when you’re on the go.
Gasparilla Island Grill
We frequented a few quick-service restaurants during our recent stay–Gasparilla Island Grill, at the Grand Floridian Resort and Spa; Pecos Bill’s in Magic Kingdom; and the new and elaborate Be Our Guest restaurant in Magic Kingdom, which operates for lunch as a quick-service establishment (table-service by night–make your reservations early!).
Making your reservations for certain restaurants is more important than others. For example, if the Disney princesses are your kind of thing, you will want to make your Cinderella’s Royal Table reservations as soon as you have your trip confirmed. This is a “premium” character dining experience (at more than $50 per child, and even more for an adult!) that takes place within the magic of Cinderella Castle in Magic Kingdom.
Breakfast at Cindy’s
A few other tips–I would suggest making dining reservations early for restaurants located within the parks. An 8 a.m. reservation at Cindy’s means that you will most definitely be able to beat the mad rush of families lined up at the entry turnstiles, waiting for rope drop at 9 a.m.
Another note about reservations–making them online can be a time saver, but can also turn into a source of insomnia for some die-hard planners.
Character dining is great if you are heading to WDW with small children (and even enthusiasts like me!). While it can be expensive, character dining provides you with an opportunity to meet with several Disney characters at one sitting, without waiting in the hot Florida sun to greet them.
Expect to pay $20 to $50 for breakfast, or $30 to $60 for dinner. In my opinion, it was worth it. We especially enjoyed our brunch at 1900 Park Fare (located at the Grand Floridian), which allowed us to “meet” Mary Poppins and Alice (of Wonderland fame) among others.
Mary & Me
One last tip–making reservations for the night you arrive is not a good idea. I would suggest grabbing a quick bite at a table-service or quick-service restaurant at your resort so that you’re not bound by time and location. This will give you more time to enjoy the parks or the pool on your first day.
There are so many options to choose from when staying on property at WDW. A couple of my favourite restaurants included the Grand Floridian Café, Ohana at the Polynesian Resort, and Via Napoli in Epcot.
I’ll provide full reviews in future blog posts, so stay tuned!
From the moment you walk into the five-storey lobby of the Victorian era-themed Grand Floridian, you are overcome with turn-of-the-century (the one before last) elegance, and an aroma that I can’t quite put my finger on. It slightly reminds me of Rainkissed Leaves by Bath and Body Works (which, sadly, I heard is now in the process of being discontinued).
Our experience, from beginning to end was unbelievable in terms of customer service. Staff–from bell services to lobby concierge and store clerks–all personified an era long gone (in personality, and uniform).
We booked a standard room, which sleeps up to five people, plus one child under three in a crib. I’ve heard that if you’re lucky, you can be upgraded for free to rooms with theme park views, or even the luxurious club level. Our room, situated in the Boca Chica building, was a ground floor room with views of the pool and grounds. At this resort, that ain’t a bad thing.
Our room felt oversized, even with the five of us (mom, dad, two small kids and grandma) piling in. The room décor is very traditional, and some may say outdated, but I felt that it provided a cozy feeling that made me feel at home. It also stayed true to the overall Victorian nature of the grounds. If not for anything else, the beds at the resort are amazing, and I would stay here just to be able to put my head down to sleep at night!
With two pools and an Alice in Wonderland-themed splash pad, the resort is a great place to cool off on afternoons when you are taking a break from touring the parks. With a variety of eateries–including Gasparilla Island Grill, the Grand Floridian Café (a hidden gem, in my opinion), 1900 Park Fare, Narcoosees, Citricos and the prestigious Victoria and Albert’s–plus pool side quick service options, there is much variety to offer your palate. Tennis courts, boat rentals, a white sand beach, convention centre and a spa round out other amenities. Oh, and I forgot, shopping. Several stores in the main building can also help you pass the time as you navigate through the unique merchandise offered at this resort.
We often found ourselves sitting outside Gasparilla Island Grill morning and night. In the morning, we would start our day enjoying the early sun on a patio overlooking the Seven Seas Lagoon and Cinderella Castle. By night, it became the place to watch the nightly Wishes fireworks at Magic Kingdom (second to being in the park itself).
The monorail, Disney’s most exciting form of transportation, was accessible through the second floor of the main building. The length of the entire ride to Magic Kingdom was two minutes! A quick sneeze and we were at the front gates of Magic Kingdom, ready to start our day at rope drop and beat the lines.
I could go on forever about the Grand Floridian. Overall, the resort provided a level of courtesy, elegance and recreation opportunities that made for an amazing vacation.
Looking forward to provide more in-depth reviews of the Grand Floridian’s restaurants in upcoming posts!
Being a first time visitor to Walt Disney World this past May, I knew I had to pick the perfect place to stay. Not just perfect for me, but perfect for my kids, my husband and my mom, who also came along.
Originally, we had planned to stay at the newly opened Art of Animation Resort (AOA). This value resort has Disney written all over it, has great reviews, and for a relatively good price point too.
With three pools, and Little Mermaid, Lion King, Finding Nemo and Cars-themed accommodations, I knew my girls would be in love with it. But, I also knew that it would likely be a zoo–because it was new, and because it was so specifically oriented towards the under-10 demographic. I started to think…after long, hot, days at the park, would I be looking forward to a break from the crowds at this new, and busy, resort?
As I started to get more indepth in planning and researching my options, I started to think more about convenience. AOA, from my research, would be about a 20-minute bus ride to Magic Kingdom (but a much quicker bus ride to Epcot and Hollywood Studios).
I started to wonder…would it be worth the price in upgrading to a deluxe resort on the monorail line, and be able to arrive at Magic Kingdom (our main attraction) within minutes? The answer was yes. Carting a two- and four-year-old to bus stops and on half-hour bus trips midday for naps would seem to eat up quite a bit of time. Maybe older kids would fare better?
The Contemporary Resort, Polynesian Resort or Grand Floridian Resort and Spa were my options if I wanted to go the monorail route. After some careful consideration, we chose to stay at the Grand Floridian. So glad we did!
The resort has recently been the subject of intense renovations, and still has some evidence of construction as the Disney Vacation Club units are being built adjacent to the main resort. However, it proved to be a great choice for a number of reasons, including convenience, upgraded amenities and a good variety restaurants onsite (compared to just one quick-service eatery at AOA). Many reviews document the perks of this resort on TripAdvisor.
Personally, I wanted to ensure that we were close enough to the parks to be able to stay late but get back to the resort within minutes, avoiding the mass exodus at peak periods like closing time. Keeping the kids sane (and rested) was priority number one for this trip, so we chose to go this route. But I won’t lie, the extras at this resort did make you feel like a million bucks.
If you want the ultimate Disney vacation, and are staying onsite, I would recommend a deluxe resort within close distance of the park that you will be heading to the most. If you are on a budget, the value or moderate resorts provide a great place to rest your head at the end of the day, with some amenities too. In an upcoming post, I’ll list the various resorts, themes and categories to give a clearer picture on the options Disney offers regarding accommodations.
But first…I plan on sharing my full review on the Grand Floridian. Stay tuned!