« January 2013 | Main | March 2013 »

February 2013 Archives

February 4, 2013

It’s Over My Head - Part One - Magic Kingdom

Jack Spence Masthead


Last year, I wrote an article called "Pounding the Pavement" in which I looked at the ground we walk on in the four WDW theme parks. Today I will be discussing the areas found above our heads: the ceilings of the many shops, restaurants, and attractions found in the parks.

As I mentioned in "Pounding the Pavement," most people never give a second thought to the ground they walk on. The same is true for the ceilings and the details above us. We rarely look up and say, "Wow!" But as with everything in a Disney park, details can be found above our heads just as easily as anyplace else. But it wasn't always this way.

In the early years of the Magic Kingdom, many of the buildings lining Main Street had simple, mass produced "Armstrong-type" ceilings. And in some instances, this is still the case. Take for example the Confectionery. Even today, it lacks imagination. If you look closely at the ceiling, you can see it's nothing more than a grid of metal strips holding up marginally decorated tiles. Notice too, the air-conditioning vents. No building of the 1890's ever had a ceiling that looked like this, let alone air conditioning vents.


Confectionery

Confectionery Ceiling


I know you're saying to yourself, "It's 2013. Air-conditioning is a fact of life today, even if it wasn't around in the 1890's. What can Disney do about this incongruity?"

Disney has already addressed this incompatibility of eras in a number of imaginative ways. One of the most common is "hiding" the air-conditioning vents in beams as seen in the next picture. Sure, if you look at the beams, the vents are obvious. But this method is far more palatable than vents that look like they were manufactured in the 1970's.


Air Conditioning Duct


Of course lighting also becomes an issue. Gas lamps of the 1890's simply would not provide enough illumination for a modern shop. We must accept out of necessity canned lights in ceilings.

Although the ceiling in the Confectionery could use a total makeover, we must give Disney some credit. They have tried to add some humor and detail to this overhead area by building a conveyor system that transports buckets of candy around the store.


Candy Conveyor

Candy Conveyor


Our next stop is the train station portico. Here, molding has been used quite effectively to turn an otherwise flat surface into a work of art (and also conceal a couple of speakers).


Train Station

Train Station Portico


Just inside Town Square Theater (formally Exposition Hall) we find an elaborately decked-out dome and chandelier.


Town Square Theater

Town Square Theater


In a recent article I wrote about the Emporium, I discussed the various ceilings found in this shopping arcade.


Emporium

Emporium

Emporium


At the Main Street Cinema, a multitude of light bulbs add interest to this multi-level ceiling.


Main Street Cinema

Main Street Cinema


The ceiling inside the Crystal Palace is charming and elegant. It really is a pleasure to dine with the characters beneath such beauty.


Crystal Palace

Crystal Palace

Crystal Palace


As we know, more often than not, when you leave an attraction, you exit through a shop. Such is the case with Stitch's Great Escape. When leaving this extraterrestrial event, guests find themselves in Merchant of Venus. For the most part, the ceiling is made up of simple tiles. But if you look closely, you'll see Stitch's footprints scattered about. And in another section of the shop we see Stitch himself, poking his head through the tiles.


Merchant of Venus

Merchant of Venus

Merchant of Venus


Nearby at the Sun Care Center, it's not the ceiling that impresses, but the space-aged light fixture that resembles orbiting planets.


Sun Care Center

Sun Care Center


Riding the People Mover is one of my favorite pastimes at the Magic Kingdom. And traveling through Space Mountain is always interesting. But be sure to ride facing forward. If you ride facing backwards, you'll miss seeing the space crew attending to their craft.


Space Mountain

Space Mountain


While riding Space Mountain, stars, spacecraft, and asteroids can be seen darting overhead. However, many people miss these effects as they ride this coaster with their eyes closed. This effect is also difficult to photograph since cast members ask you to put your camera away while riding.

Over in Liberty Square we find a wonderful domed ceiling just inside Hall of Presidents.


Hall of Presidents

Hall of Presidents


At the Haunted Mansion we find perhaps the spookiest of all ceilings. When we first enter the stretch room, the ceiling is adorned with simple molding. But when thunder crashes and the lights go dark, the ceiling disappears to reveal a man hanging from a noose. Because lighting is dim in this room, and flash photography forbidden, I have no pictures to share with you here.

Columbia Harbor House has a number of nautically themed ceilings. Several of these resemble the underside of the main deck of a sailing ship.


Columbia Harbor House

Columbia Harbor House

Columbia Harbor House


On Frontierland's Splash Mountain, we find the space above our heads is either covered with leaf-laden branches or cave rock.


Splash Mountain

Splash Mountain


The open-air queue area for Pirates of the Caribbean features heavy timbers running along the ceiling. Timbers like these were necessary when constructing a massive fortresse as portrayed here.


Pirates of the Caribbean

Pirates of the Caribbean


The walkway between Liberty Square and Adventureland incorporates a beautifully detailed ceiling into the design. Next time you're waiting for a friend to finish up in the restrooms located off of this corridor, take a gander at what lies above your head. Notice again how Disney has incorporated vents and other utilitarian features into the design.


Adventureland - Frontierland Breezeway

Adventureland - Frontierland Breezeway

Adventureland - Frontierland Breezeway


Walt Disney World is all abuzz with the opening of the Be Our Guest Restaurant located in the New Fantasyland. This elegant eatery features one of the most elaborate of all the Magic Kingdom ceilings. Diners really do feel as if they have been magically transported to Beast's Castle and maybe into the movie itself.


Be Our Guest Restaurant

Be Our Guest Restaurant


Speaking of castles, Cinderella has a pretty nice one herself. And the ceiling in the banquet hall demands attention.


Cinderella Castle

Cinderella Castle


At Big Top Souvenirs in Storybook Circus, we find the canvas of the big top overhead. Besides the colorful striped fabric, a good observer will discover a tightrope, trapeze, and other circus paraphernalia.


Big Top Souvenirs

Big Top Souvenirs


That's it for today. Check back tomorrow when I'll be discussing the overhead delights of Disney's Hollywood Studios.


February 5, 2013

It’s Over My Head - Part Two - Disney's Hollywood Studios

Jack Spence Masthead


Yesterday I discussed the various ceilings found within the Magic Kingdom. Today I'll be discussing the area above our head at Disney's Hollywood Studios.

Art Deco dominates the architecture of Hollywood Boulevard and the ceilings reflect this. Take a look at those found on the west side of the street.


Hollywood Blvd

Hollywood Blvd Ceiling

Hollywood Blvd Ceiling

Hollywood Blvd Ceiling

Hollywood Blvd Ceiling


On the right side of Hollywood Boulevard, it's not so much the ceilings that amaze, but what lies at their edges. You see, a theme is repeated in the various shops along this thoroughfare if you take the time to notice.

It begins in Mickey's of Hollywood. As you enter this shop, you see Steamboat Willie at the wheel of his side-wheeler. Circling the ceiling we find two-dimensional representations of some of the other characters that starred in this classic.


Mickey's of Hollywood

Steamboat Willie

Steamboat Willie

Steamboat Willie

Steamboat Willie


Next door at Disney & Co. Fashion Extra we discover Mickey standing on a tambourine while conducting the "William Tell Overture." Overhead we find his intrepid orchestra just before the fierce storm descends upon them.


Disney & Co. Fashion Extra

The Band Concert

The Band Concert

The Band Concert

The Band Concert

The Band Concert


And finally, at Keystone Clothiers we find Mickey in his most famous role, "The Sorcerer's Apprentice." As you might guess, magical brooms line the ceiling here.


Keystone Clothiers

The Sorcerer's Apprentice

The Sorcerer's Apprentice

The Sorcerer's Apprentice


At Sunset Boulevard's Planet Hollywood shop we find filmstrips decorating the space above our heads.


Planet Hollywood Shop

Film Strip


Down the block at Mouse House the ceilings are painted with intriguing designs.


Mouse House

Mouse House Ceiling

Mouse House Ceiling


Inside the Carthay Circle Theater is perhaps the most beautiful of the Studio's ceilings.


Carthay Circle Theater

Carthay Circle Theater Ceiling


However, the lobby of the Tower of Terror offers some good competition.


Tower of Terror

Tower of Terror Lobby


Playfulness reigns on Pixar Avenue. The game of Battleship can be found above this outdoor shop. And inside Toy Story Mania, board games like checkers, Shoots & Ladders, and Scrabble decorate the ceiling. And above the loading area is a structure of Tinker Toys.


Pixar Ave Shop

Battleship

Toy Story Mania

Toy Story Mania Ceiling

Toy Story Mania Ceiling

Toy Story Mania Ceiling

Toy Story Mania Ceiling


In an Acme warehouse right out of "Who Framed Roger Rabbit" you'll discover a cartoonish collection of props hanging from the rafters -- for instance, a ton of bricks, an elephant, and giant magnets.


Acme Warehouse

Acme Warehouse

Acme Warehouse


Pizza Planet is housed within the Metropolitan Department of Water & Power - a very utilitarian structure. Because of this, there is no real ceiling, but only overhead duct work. But to lighten the mood, a few 3-eyed spacemen can be seen floating around overhead.


Pizza Planet

Pizza Planet

Pizza Planet


Hanging from the rafters inside MuppetVision 3D are a great many bits of lunacy. You might even spy a net full of Jell-O (Annette Funicello).


MuppetVision 3D

MuppetVision 3D

MuppetVision 3D

MuppetVision 3D

MuppetVision 3D


The ceiling inside Fifties Prime Time Café is invisible - sort of. In an effort to make the various eating areas of this restaurant look more like a soundstage, the walls are only 8 feet tall. However, the actual ceiling extends several feet higher. To hide this, the ceiling is painted black. Notice how the kitchen lamp extends from this upper ceiling, yet looks perfectly natural.


Fifties Prime Time Café

Fifties Prime Time Café

Fifties Prime Time Café


That's if for today. Check back next week when I'll be discussing what can be found above our heads in Epcot and the Animal Kingdom.



February 11, 2013

It’s Over My Head - Part Three - Epcot

Jack Spence Masthead


Last week I began a discussion about the many wonderful details that can be found above our heads at the Disney parks. I talked about both the Magic Kingdom and Disney's Hollywood Studios. Today I will continue my story with the ceilings and up-high details of Epcot.

Not all ceilings are beautiful or even tolerable. Some are downright ugly. Take for instance this ceiling found in the Image Works section of the Imagination Pavilion.


Imagination Pavilion

Ugly Ceiling


To be fair, I did use a flash when taking this picture. I wanted to graphically illustrate just how awful some Disney ceilings are. But what makes this "exposed" type of ceiling tolerable is that they are painted completely in black and in most cases, not noticed by the guests. They are like the stagehands in a kabuki performance. Since they are clothed entirely in black, the audience is able to pretend they are not there. The same is true with a black ceiling. It's easy to ignore.

To see some interesting ceilings, let's start with Spaceship Earth. Although most of the ceilings I'll be discussing today are easily missed, this one is used to great advantage and is nearly impossible to disregard. I'm talking about the top of the geosphere which is used as a giant projection screen. When guests reach the apex of this ride, they are treated with a view of their home planet as seen from space. (The second photo is simulated as I have never been able to capture a decent picture of this stunning finale.)


Spaceship Earth

Space Finale


Now let's move to "The Seas with Nemo and Friends."


The Seas with Nemo and Friends


The queue for the clamshell ride is dark - very dark. During a portion of the queue, you're supposed to be underwater, beneath a pier. If you look up, you can see a small motorboat moored overhead. (Note, I took this picture with a flash so you could see the boat. I was all alone in the queue at that time so my flash did not disturb anyone.)


Overhead Rowboat


Before Nemo took over this pavilion, hydrolators transported guests beneath the sea and deposited them in Sea Base Alpha, an underwater research facility. The ceiling in this massive room looks like it could be the top section of a structure designed to hold back the ocean.


Seabase Alpha

Seabase Alpha


The ceiling in The Land Pavilion is more obvious than most. That's because we enter on the second floor and view the intended decorations at eye level before descending to the first floor.


Land Pavilion


This next picture was taken shortly after Epcot opened. Notice the colorful mural on the back wall/ceiling. Years later, the mural was painted over and ribbons now grace this area.


Land Pavilion

Land Pavilion


In the southwest section of Innoventions, giant skylights illuminate a corridor. And at nearby Club Cool, banners and bangles distract our attention from the utilitarian black ceiling.


Innoventions Skylight

Club Cool


Let's take a walk over to the countries of World Showcase. The Mexico Pavilion has perhaps the most boring of the eleven nation's ceilings, yet it is the most appropriate. Inside the pyramid, guests find themselves in a plaza cloaked in perpetual nighttime. To achieve this effect, the ceiling here is flat and painted black. Overhead lanterns and accent lighting keep your eyes from dilating and seeing anything other than inky black.


Mexico Pavilion

Mexico Pavilion Sky

Mexico Pavilion Sky


Although the Mexico Pavilion has one of the most boring ceilings, it also has one of the most imaginative. With the use of fiber optics, fireworks are recreated over modern-day Mexico City as you ride "Gran Fiesta Tour Starring The Three Caballeros."


Mexico Pavilion Fireworks


Most of the ceilings in the Norway Pavilion feature simple timbered construction. But one shop adds a beautiful hand-painted design to the crossbeams.


Norway Pavilion

Norway Pavilion Ceiling

Norway Pavilion Ceiling


The China Pavilion is full of interesting ceilings. In the Nine Dragons Restaurant you'll find ancient designs comingling with modern motifs.


China Pavilion

Nine Dragons Ceiling

Nine Dragons Ceiling


The House of Good Fortune features several ceilings of note.


House of Good Fortune Ceiling

House of Good Fortune Ceiling

House of Good Fortune Ceiling


But perhaps the most celebrated China Pavilion ceiling can be found in its half-scale reproduction of the Hall of Prayer for Good Harvests. This work of art amazes even the most blasé of guests.


Hall of Prayer for Good Harvests Ceiling


"African" Outpost offers very little in the way of ceilings. But the one found inside Village Traders provides an interesting view of the underside of a thatched roof.


Village Traders

Village Traders Ceiling


The Germany Pavilion offers a nice collection of ceilings. Here are just two of the many overhead delights.


Germany Pavilion

Germany Pavilion Ceiling

Germany Pavilion Ceiling


The shops and restaurants of the Italy Pavilion sport a nice assortment of ceilings. I especially like the intimacy provided by the brick canopy found in the new Tutto Gusto Wine Cellar.


Italy Pavilion

Italy Pavilion Ceiling

Italy Pavilion Ceiling

Italy Pavilion Ceiling


The most famous of all World Showcase ceilings can be found in the American Adventure. This breathtaking dome provides the perfect acoustics for the Voices of Liberty.


American Adventure

American Adventure Dome

Voices of Liberty


At the Japan Pavilion we see both old and new. At Katsura Grill we have the ancient construction of a thatched roof. Over at Mitsukoshi department store we find modern designs based on ageless traditions.


Japan Pavilion

Japan Pavilion Ceiling

Japan Pavilion Ceiling


The Morocco Pavilion has a diverse collection of ceilings. Every building offers a unique overhead experience.


Morocco Pavilion

Morocco Pavilion Ceiling

Morocco Pavilion Ceiling

Morocco Pavilion Ceiling


In Marketplace in the Medina, the Imagineers have played a trick on the guests. In what seems to be an open-air bazaar, a close observer will notice that the area is actually enclosed to protect them and merchandise from the elements. Take a look at this ceiling. Rafters, logs, and twigs hide the skylight above. The effect is very convincing.


Marketplace in the Medina


In Chef's de France Restaurant located in the France Pavilion, a collection of paintings can be found perched overhead.


France Pavilion

Chef's de France Restaurant

Chef's de France Restaurant


Guests exiting the Impressions de France film find themselves in a covered marketplace inspired by the famous Les Halles. This iron and glass structure was designed to protect merchants and shoppers from the elements.


Les Halles


Overhead in the Plume et Palette is a stunning Art Nouveau stained glass ceiling.


Plume et Palette


I don't like to promote one World Showcase nation over another. They are all wonderful in their own right. But when it comes to ceilings, I would have to give the prize to the United Kingdom Pavilion. This corner of Epcot has a most diverse and interesting collection of architectural art.


United Kingdom Pavilion

United Kingdom Pavilion Ceiling

United Kingdom Pavilion Ceiling

United Kingdom Pavilion Ceiling

United Kingdom Pavilion Ceiling

United Kingdom Pavilion Ceiling

United Kingdom Pavilion Ceiling


Last, but not least is the Canada Pavilion. As you would expect, the ceilings in the rustic buildings found here sport a roughhewn look. Logs and timbers are the building material du jour.


Canada Pavilion

Canada Pavilion Ceiling

Canada Pavilion Ceiling


In the Maple Leaf Mine, mighty timbers hold back massive boulders.


Maple Leaf Mine


In the Le Cellier Restaurant we find more wooden beams. But this time, they take on a more refined look.


Le Cellier Restaurant


That's it for the ceilings of Epcot. Check back tomorrow for the ceilings of the Animal Kingdom.



February 12, 2013

It’s Over My Head - Part Four - Disney's Animal Kingdom

Jack Spence Masthead


Yesterday I discussed the ceilings and other details found above our heads at the Magic Kingdom. Today I'll finish this series with the Animal Kingdom.

The first ceilings of any note guests encounter here can be found inside Island Mercantile.


Island Mercantile


Within this collection of shops the Imagineers used their sense of humor to great applause. First we find stylized elephants holding up rafters. Then there are the insects with propellers. Other animals have been morphed into hand tools. And finally a map of the world is created out of various creatures.


Island Mercantile

Island Mercantile

Island Mercantile

Island Mercantile

Island Mercantile

Island Mercantile

Island Mercantile

Island Mercantile

Island Mercantile


Down the road at Pizzafari we find an abundance of creatures crawling along the ceilings.


Pizzafari

Pizzafari

Pizzafari

Pizzafari

Pizzafari

Pizzafari


At Creature Comforts, the dome and center light fixture are especially intriguing.


Creature Comforts

Creature Comforts


At Tusker House in Africa, the market place is shaded by cloth woven by the town folk of Harambe. The main eating area features a skylight ceiling with African art adorning the upper walls.


Tusker House

Tusker House

Tusker House


At the adjacent Dawa Bar, the town folk have used long thin logs to support the mud structure that provides shade to weary travelers.


Dawa Bar

Dawa Bar


Across the street, Ziwani Traders sports a corrugated aluminum roof. Beneath its rafters, merchants stock camping gear and other provisions needed for a two-week safari.


Ziwani Traders

Ziwani Traders

Ziwani Traders


As guests leave Africa and enter Asia, they discover the Yak & Yeti Restaurant.


Yak & Yeti Restaurant


As first impressions are important, the lobby ceiling of this local establishment features intricately carved tiles and support beams. But further into the building, more humble materials like straw and bamboo are used overhead.


Yak & Yeti Ceiling

Yak & Yeti Ceiling

Yak & Yeti Ceiling


Take a look up as you enter the Maharaja Jungle Trek. The ceiling here is covered in old newspapers, and excellent insulator against cold.


Maharaja Jungle Trek

Newspapers


As you enter the bat enclosure further along the trail, scary-looking bat kites stare down from above.


Bat House

Bat Kite


One of my favorite ceilings in the Maharaja Jungle Trek is one that isn't there. As you enter the temple section of the walk, look up at the ruins. You can see that a dome once covered this area, but the ravages of time have brought the stones down.


Decaying Temple

Decaying Temple


The queue for Kali River Rapids offers numerous overhead delights. But the most beautiful of these is the Painted Pavilion which depicts a number of the Jataka Tales. These are the stories that tell of the previous lives of the Buddha, in both human and animal form.


Kali River Rapids

Painted Pavilion

Painted Pavilion


Over at Expedition: Everest, the queue meanders through an office, temple, shop, and museum. Along this path guests can see many overhead details such as photographs, wood carvings, bells, supplies, and strands of light bulbs.


Expedition: Everest

Expedition: Everest

Expedition: Everest

Expedition: Everest

Expedition: Everest

Expedition: Everest


One of the landmarks of Dinoland U.S.A. is a large, yellow, cartoonish dinosaur.


Yellow Dinosaur


Now I know that reptiles (and dinosaurs) don't have nipples. But I have to wonder, what were the Imagineers thinking when they placed the canned lights on this creature's belly.


Dinosaur Lights


The rafters of Chester & Hester's souvenir shop have more junk suspended from above than any other shop at WDW. Dinosaurs in every shape, size, and color can be found here. In addition, a model train travels a figure eight as it weaves its way round the jumble.


Chester & Hester's

Chester & Hester's

Chester & Hester's


Out on the porch of this shop, signs in the spirit of Burma-Shave can be found suspended from the eaves. In case you can't read the message, it says:

When in Florida
Be sure to
Visit
Epcot


Chester & Hester's


Guests entering the Dino Institute are greeted by the skeletal remains of a prehistoric beast staring down from above.


Dino Institute

Dino Institute


But if you look beyond this frightening fellow, you see the path a mighty comet traveled as it zeroed in on earth 65 million years ago.


Dino Institute


Time travel is a delicate business and requires untold amounts of electronics and other high-tech gizmos. As guests ready themselves to board Time Rovers, they are surrounded by overhead conduit and cables which can be seen traveling in every direction.


Electronics and other high-tech gizmos


But there are three conduits of special interest. They are colored red, yellow, and white. Stenciled on them are the chemical formulas for catsup, mustard, and mayonnaise. This detail is a hold-over from the days when McDonalds sponsored this attraction.


Catsup, Mustard, and Mayonnaise


As you exit the Animal Kingdom, be sure to walk through Rainforest Café. Here, the ceiling is covered in a dense jungle growth.


Rainforest Café

Rainforest Café


Of course, the best ceiling of all was not created by man, but can be found in nature.


Nature's Ceiling


Remember, details are everywhere. You just have to take the time to find them. Look up.



February 18, 2013

Saratoga Springs - Lake Buena Vista and the Disney Institute - Part One

Jack Spence Masthead


Saratoga Springs Logo


Disney's Saratoga Springs Resort & Spa (from here on simply to be known as Saratoga Springs) is a sprawling Disney Vacation Club resort located on the east side of the Walt Disney World property. It offers 1,260 studio, 1, 2, and 3 bedroom units along with treehouse villas. Facilities include several dining opportunities, five swimming pools, tennis and basketball courts, a spa, and shopping. It opened on May 17, 2004. But before I discuss this resort in detail, I must go back in time and provide you with a history of the acreage that this resort now sits on. As with so many things at Disney, there is a story behind the story.

We all know about Walt's dream of Epcot - a planned community where real families would live and work in a quasi-utopian city. We also know how this idea was put on hold following Walt's death in 1966 as most of his team did not believe in the project. But oddly enough, Walt's successors didn't abandon the idea completely. Although they weren't keen on building a massive modern city, they liked the idea of real families living on their newly acquired land.

In 1972, the Buena Vista Land Company was formed. This arm of the Disney Corporation would be responsible for the planning and development of the acreage surrounding the Vacation Kingdom.

One of their early projects called for the construction of Lake Buena Vista, a 1,200 acre community to be located adjacent to Motor Inn Plaza (now Hotel Plaza Blvd). This project would feature an 18-hole Joe Lee-designed golf course, a shopping village, and dwellings consisting of townhouses, single family homes, and cluster homes. The plans called for these residences to be leased and sold to businesses as corporate retreats and to individuals as second-home vacation properties.


Lake Buena Vista Villas

Lake Buena Vista Villas


Here is a picture of the single family homes under construction. Only four of these were completed during Phase One as they were intended to be model homes from which individuals and corporations could select the type of retreat they would like to have constructed in Phase Two.


Single Family Homes


The Buena Vista Land Company also planned on building 900 apartments. These were intended primarily for the cast members working at the nearby Vacation Kingdom.

When the Lake Buena Vista Shopping Village (now Downtown Disney Marketplace) opened on March 22, 1975 it featured 32 shops and restaurants. Here are two pictures of this venue, the first under construction and the second shortly after completion.


Lake Buena Vista Shopping Village

Lake Buena Vista Shopping Village


At the end of Phase One, 133 townhomes and 60 treehouse villas had been built. Construction on the apartments and additional single family homes was never begun as change was in the wind.

At some point during construction, the corporate lawyers pointed out that land owners of Lake Buena Vista would be entitled to voting rights in regards to WDW projects and construction. Of course, this could not be allowed to happen. So it was decided to abandon the "sales" idea and instead, include these units as another lodging option for WDW vacationers. So for many years, not only could guests rent a room at the Contemporary, Polynesian, and Golf Resort, they could also rent a townhome or single family home at Lake Buena Vista. And since their original design called for permanent residency, these accommodations featured full kitchens - much in the way DVC units do today.

Disney often says that no good idea ever goes unused. To that end, the idea of actually purchasing a home at WDW did not die with Lake Buena Vista, but was resurrected with Celebration and Golden Oak. But unlike Lake Buena Vista, these two communities were de-annexed from WDW to prevent the residents from having voting rights.

Michael Eisner became CEO of the Walt Disney Company in 1984. Part of his charter was to develop the Florida property beyond the Magic Kingdom, Epcot, and the hotels clustered at the north end of property.

The following year, Eisner and his family visited Chautauqua Institution in southwestern New York. Each summer, this vacation destination offers guests the opportunity to attend lectures, see various theatrical performances, enjoy recreational activities, and attend classes designed to entertain and educate. Eisner was taken with this concept and knew something similar would be a perfect addition to WDW. In addition, an "Institute" in Florida would be available to guests on a year-round basis, not just during the summer months as with the Chautauqua Institution.


Disney Institute Logo

Disney Institute Concept Drawing


Eisner had a lot on his plate in the early years of his tenure as CEO and his idea for a Disney Institute took a backseat to other projects. Actual construction didn't begin on the Institute until 1995. In order to cut costs, it was decided to build the Institute adjacent to the existing villas and use these accommodations for guests partaking in this new Disney experience. In this next picture, you can see the existing townhouses in the foreground and the Institute in the background.


Disney Institute


The Institute's new structures were designed by Tom Beedy and given the look of a small, New England town. Initial construction began with the expansion of the existing Buena Vista Golf Club. This building grew to three times its original size and featured the Welcome and Check-in Center, a shop named "Dabbler," a relaxation area called "The Gathering Place Lounge," and a full-service restaurant to be known as "Seasons." Other buildings being added to the "town" included a health club and spa, a 225-seat performing arts center, a 400-seat movie theater, a 1,150-seat amphitheater, and 28 state-of-the-art program studios (classrooms). Additionally, a closed-circuit TV station (DITV) and a radio station (WALT) were added to the mix.


Disney Institute

Disney Institute

Disney Institute

Disney Institute

Disney Institute

Disney Institute


Some changes and upgrades to the Lake Buena Vista accommodations were made, but most of these were cosmetic or simply name changes. For instance, Club Lake became Willow Lake to reflect its willow-dotted shoreline and give the area a more "country" feel.

Months before the official opening of the Disney Institute on February 9, 1996, the marketing department heralded this new experience in every Disney publication and advertisement. They wanted the public to know that WDW was not just about passive rides and attractions, but about learning and growing in a fun and entertaining way.

When the Institute first opened, a three-night minimum stay was required if you wanted to lodge in one of the Lake Buena Vista accommodations. However, staying here was not a requirement if you wished to partake in one of the programs offered. Guests staying elsewhere were still eligible to sign up for classes.

Originally offered were a number of programs under the following headings:

Animation
Culinary
Gardening
Photography
Television & Radio
Youth

Additionally, Disney lined up high-profiled celebrities and topic-authorities to present lectures on a wide variety of subjects. And the movie theater presented first-run films along with classic Disney animation.

The reviews from the early visitors were generally very positive. However, most of the public wasn't interested in the Disney Institute. Within just a few months of operation, the classes offered were scaled back or consolidated. And within the first couple of years of operation, it became obvious that guests visiting WDW wanted to experience rides and attractions, not be "educated."

Although Seasons was a fine addition to the Disney roster of eateries, it couldn't compete with nearby Downtown Disney and other, more themed restaurants found around property. It was one of the first endeavors of this project to close.

The massive Disney marketing department continued to promote the Disney Institute, but it was a lost cause. As fewer and fewer guests signed up for classes, less and less was offered. And the slowdown in tourism after the 9/11 attacks didn't help. The Disney Institute closed its doors in 2002.

Interestingly, the Disney Institute still exists today, not as a guest enrichment package, but rather a corporate development program. Disney uses their own success in the business world as a model for other companies to emulate. Their goal is to use time-tested practices, sound methodologies, and real life business lessons that can facilitate corporate culture change in other organizations.


New Disney Institute Logo


With the closure of the Disney Institute, the company was faced with a new problem, what to do with the aging Villa accommodations and how to repurpose basically "new" construction.

The Disney Vacation Club (DVC) had already proven itself as a popular commodity with guests and a good money-maker for Disney. So it was decided to transform the Institute property into the seventh membership resort. To that end, all of the townhomes and other buildings originally built as part of the Lake Buena Vista project would be razed (with the exception of the Treehouse Villas). In their place, new accommodations would be constructed and given a horse racing theme of Saratoga Springs, New York to tie it in with the remaining structures. The new resort would be built in phases with the first opening on May 17, 2004.

That's it for today. Check back tomorrow when I'll discuss the amenities of this "equine" resort.



February 19, 2013

Saratoga Springs - Part Two

Jack Spence Masthead


Yesterday, I discussed the history of the land Saratoga Springs now occupies. Today, I will examine the resort itself and all that it offers.

To begin with, Saratoga Springs is a Disney Vacation Club (DVC) resort. In other words, it is a "timeshare" property. However, Disney hates the word "timeshare" and you will never hear it used in any official promotion or advertisement. For more information about DVC membership, click here.


If you're interested in staying at Disney's Saratoga Springs after reading my article, and you're not a DVC member, don't despair. Florida law requires that all timeshare properties set aside some rooms for non-members. And besides that, Disney is more than happy to rent you a DVC room when they can. Note, 3-bedroom units are not available to non-members.

Saratoga Springs has two distinct sections. First, there is the primary resort which was inspired by an 1890's community found in upstate New York. The other section is located adjacent to the "main" property and features the unique Treehouse Villas. This article will discuss the primary section of the resort. To learn more about the Treehouse Villas, check out an article I wrote in 2009 by clicking here.

Saratoga Springs has two roadway entrances available to the public. The main access is located off of Disney Vacation Club Way and is well marked with signage. The secondary entry is found off of Buena Vista Drive and has no signs and is easily missed. Depending on where I'm coming from and where I'm going, I will use either. The first picture is of the main entry. The following picture is of the secondary entrance.


Main Entrance

Secondary Entrance


After checking in with the security guard at the main entrance, guests drive along Broadway, a lovely tree-studded, two-lane road. Willow Lake can be seen on the left side of the street and the Lake Buena Vista Golf Course can be seen on the right. Many of the guest accommodations are visible in the distance.


Broadway

Broadway


Soon, guests reach the "town" section of the property where they will find most of the resort's services and check-in area.


Saratoga Springs


Like all Disney resorts, guests arriving at Saratoga Springs pull up beneath an attractive portico. A 30 minute "check-in" parking lot is located nearby.


Portico


The horserace theme of Saratoga Springs becomes obvious shortly after arrival. Just past the portico is Winner's Circle. Here we find a bronze statue of a thoroughbred and his mount. A victory blanket of roses is draped across the steed's back. A keen eye will notice that the old DVC logo has been cleverly embedded into the floral design.


Winner's Circle

Winner's Circle


Next to the Winner's Circle is Performance Hall. During the heyday of the Disney Institute, this building played host to a multitude of cultural acts. Today, it is used as an Epcot rehearsal site and not open to the public.


Performance Hall

Performance Hall


In this same vicinity is Carriage House. This is the spot where guests check-in and take advantage of concierge services. This beautiful room is octagonal in shape and features a massive loft area. Paintings of Saratoga Springs landmarks adorn the walls. An appropriately clad greeter is on hand to offer assistance when needed.


Carriage House Check-In

Carriage House Check-In

Carriage House Check-In

Carriage House Check-In

Carriage House Check-In


Off of the main lobby is an alcove intended for children. This spot offers the little ones something to do while mom and dad check in. Miniature chairs sit before a TV playing Disney cartoons.


Carriage House Children's Area


In this same room are pictures of seven famous Disney horses. These include Buck from "Home on the Range," Bullseye from "Toy Story 2," the Prince's horse from "Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs," Prince Charming's horse from "Cinderella," Khan from "Mulan," Sampson from "Sleeping Beauty, and Philippe from "Beauty and the Beast."


Disney Horses


Beyond the lobby is a lovely lounge. This spot serves no purpose other than to offer a pleasant place to relax and enjoy a comfortable atmosphere. A DVC sales associate can also be found in this room and is available to answer all of your questions regarding membership and properties. If you are curious about what membership offers, be sure to ask. And don't worry. You will not be given the "hard sell."


Lounge

Lounge


During the years of the Disney Institute, a shop called Dabbler was located off of this lounge. But when this area was remodeled for Saratoga Springs, the shop was closed to make room for other necessities. But instead of creating another standalone store someplace else, the Imagineers came up with a new idea - create a combination shop and counter-service restaurant. The end result is Artist's Palette (not to be confused with Artist's Point located at Wilderness Lodge).

Artist's Palette is a large, brightly lit venue that I divide into four sections. The north area offers your typical Disney souvenirs. The south area sells food and drinks that can be taken back to your room for preparation and consumption. The west wall features the counter-service restaurant ordering and pick-up station. And finally, the east wall houses a bank of registers where guests can pay for everything.


Artist's Palette

Artist's Palette

Artist's Palette

Artist's Palette


This section of Artist's Palette occupies the space of the former Season's restaurant.

A dining area is located across a hallway and offers ample seating. The chandeliers are especially fun. And for the budding artist in your group, easels are available for them to create a masterpiece.


Artist's Palette Dining Room

Artist's Palette Dining Room

Artist's Palette Dining Room


I like the food served at Artist's Palette. Although the breakfast offerings are mostly standard fare, the lunch/dinner menu is upscale for a counter-service restaurant. It's obvious that the chefs are trying to use their culinary training when creating the selections. Many of the dishes offered here are cooked to order to ensure quality and freshness.

Guests ordering their food "to go" will be given a pager and food receipt so they may return to the pick-up counter when everything is ready. Guests eating in the nearby dining room will be given a number (and food receipt) to place on their table. When the food has finished cooking, a cast member will deliver the meal. While waiting, you can browse the shop and then take your receipt to the register and pay for everything in advance. This ensures that once the food is ready, you can start eating immediately. I much prefer this method to the restaurants at the budget and moderate resorts where you must wait in line to pay while your food gets cold.


Table Number


To see the current breakfast menu, click here.
To see the current lunch/dinner menu, click here.

Exiting Artist's Palette through the south doorway brings guests into a long hallway. This corridor is lined with framed jockey jerseys. One is of special interest.


Hallway

Mickey Mouse Jersey


At the other end of this hallway is a lovely lounge. Tables, couches, and overstuffed chairs are available for conversation and relaxation. A pool table is on hand and the TV is usually tuned to ESPN. A walk-up bar serves soft and hard drinks starting at 4pm.


Pool Table

Lounge

Lounge


The Turf Club Bar & Grill is located just off of this lounge and offers understated sophistication. Although I've never been to a private racetrack club/restaurant, I somehow imagine this is what it would be like.


Turf Club Bar & Grill


The walls of this establishment are made up of dark woods with tan accents. The carpet is a rich green with gold designs. The tables and chairs have a clean look and also feature dark woods. The lighting is simple and keeps the mood dark - which is perfect. A wall of windows runs along one side of the restaurant and allows filtered sunlight to bathe the dining room. Several shadow boxes hang on the wall displaying racing gear.


Turf Club Bar & Grill

Turf Club Bar & Grill

Turf Club Bar & Grill


Adjacent to the indoor dining room is a covered porch with additional tables for outside dining. While eating here you can see the Sassagoula River in the distance and the water taxis ferrying guests to Downtown Disney, Old Key West, and Port Orleans. When the weather is pleasant, this is a wonderful spot to enjoy a meal.


Turf Club Bar & Grill

Turf Club Bar & Grill


I like the Turf Club. I have eaten here on many occasions and have always been pleased with my food and service. I also have a regular waiter, Max. If you choose to dine here, you might want to request him. He'll take good care of you.

For many years, the Turf Club was open for lunch as well as dinner. However, due to a sparse afternoon attendance, the midday meal was discontinued here late last year. Sigh. Dinner is served from 5pm to 10pm and reservations are recommended.

Down the steps from the Turf Club is the Lake Buena Vista Golf Club. This is the check-in spot for this challenging Disney course. Plenty of parking is located nearby.


Lake Buena Vista Golf Club

Lake Buena Vista Golf Club

Lake Buena Vista Golf Club


The 18-hole Lake Buena Vista course is rated 4 stars by Golf Digest. It is also certified by Audubon International as a Cooperative Wildlife Sanctuary. As I mentioned yesterday, the course was conceived by Joe Lee. In his design, he created elevated bunkered greens that put a premium on accurate approach shots.


Lake Buena Vista Golf Course


Just a few steps beyond the golf club you'll find the boat dock for transportation to Downtown Disney and the Treehouse Villas. Water taxis run every 20 minutes from 10am to 11pm. Space is limited on these boats to 34 guests, so if you're thinking of only using them as a sightseeing experience, you might be forced to disembark and wait for the next launch if lines are long at Downtown Disney.


Boat Dock


The largest of the four Saratoga Springs swimming pools is located across and down a flight of stairs from The Carriage House. High Rock Spring pool offers a water slide, a splash and play area with Donald Duck, two hot tubs, lockers & change area, and plenty of tables, chairs, and lounges. Life guards are on duty during "slide operating hours." These hours vary depending on the season.


High Rock Spring Pool

High Rock Spring Pool

High Rock Spring Pool

High Rock Spring Pool


I will discuss the other three pools in tomorrow's article.

Also near the High Rock Spring pool is On the Rocks. This is the local watering hole where cool and refreshing drinks can be ordered. Food is not served here as the Artist's Palette is located conveniently nearby.


On the Rocks


Just to the south of the pool is Win, Place, or Show Arcade. As at every Disney resort, this is the place to send your kids when you need some down time and they're still bursting with energy.


Win, Place, or Show Arcade

Win, Place, or Show Arcade


Also near the pool is The Spa. Inspired by the Adirondack's celebrated mineral springs, this spa offers a full array of services. Some of these include facials, body massages, body wraps, and aromatherapy. Also available in the Health Club is state-of-the-art exercise equipment for those of you wishing to stay in shape while on vacation.

The Spa was closed for refurbishment during my most recent stay at Saratoga Springs. Because of this, I have no interior pictures to share with you. For more information about The Spa, click here.


The Spa

The Spa


As I mentioned earlier, Broadway runs through the middle of the "town" of the Saratoga Springs Resort. In town you'll find several places of interest. One of these is The Springs Bus Stop for transportation to other spots at WDW.


Broadway

The Springs Bus Stop


Across the street from the bus stop is a laundry facility and Community Hall.


Laundry Facility and Community Hall


One, two, and three bedroom units at Saratoga Springs have washers and dryers within the room. However, studio units do not. Laundry facilities for these folks are located at all of the pools.


Laundry

Laundry

Laundry


All DVC resorts have a "Community Hall." This is the spot for fun and games. Although primarily intended for children, the entire family can enjoy activities here. Be sure to stop by and check the Activity Schedule to see what's happening during your stay.


Community Hall

Community Hall

Community Hall


Next to Community Hall is Horsing Around Rentals. This is the location to rent sports equipment and surreys. DVDs are also available here and are loaned free of charge to DVC members.

The basketball, tennis, and shuffleboard courts are all located at the far south end of the Carriage House complex.


Horsing Around Rentals

Basketball

Tennis

Shuffleboard


A movie theater was part of the Disney Institute's offerings. I believe this building continued to operate in this capacity when Saratoga Springs first opened. But today, this structure is used to house mockups of DVC rooms to show prospective members.


Movie Theater


Speaking of prospective DVC members"

I'm sure you've notice, wherever you go at WDW, a DVC kiosk can be found. For most folks, talking to one of the cast members stationed at one of these locations is their first step toward membership. This next picture was taken of a Membership Information Center at Disney's Hollywood Studios.


Membership Information Center at Disney's Hollywood Studios.


The cast members at these remote sales centers provide guests with the basics of DVC membership. If this initial information piques their interest, arrangements are made to transport them to Saratoga Springs where a more formal and in-depth presentation can be made. Part of this presentation includes mockups of typical DVC rooms.

Here are a few pictures of the Saratoga Springs DVC reception area.


Saratoga Springs DVC Reception Area

Saratoga Springs DVC Reception Area

Saratoga Springs DVC Reception Area

Saratoga Springs DVC Reception Area

Saratoga Springs DVC Reception Area


That's it for today. Check back tomorrow when I'll be discussing the various sections of Saratoga Springs, the other pools, and the rooms.



February 20, 2013

Saratoga Springs - Part Three

Jack Spence Masthead


Yesterday I covered the various services and amenities offered at Saratoga Springs. Today I will be discussing the different sections of the resort, the pools, and the rooms. As I mentioned yesterday, I will not be discussing the Treehouse Villas in this article. To learn more about these unique rooms, check out an article I wrote in 2009 by clicking here.

Saratoga Springs is divided into five sections: The Springs, The Paddock, Congress Park, The Carousel, and The Grandstand. Each section is marked by a sculpture on building sides and signs posted along the roadway.


Saratoga Springs Exterior

Saratoga Springs Exterior

Saratoga Springs Exterior

Saratoga Springs Exterior


Each area of the resort also has its own bus stop. Don't automatically assume that your designated bus stop is the closest to your room. In some cases, it's not.

The buses begin operation as early as one hour before a park's opening and continue operation until one hour after a park's closing. Buses to Downtown Disney run from 8:45am to 2am. The buses make pick-up and drop-offs every 20-30 minutes depending on traffic and other conditions.


Bus Stop

Bus Stop


In years past, the same bus that serviced the five sections of Saratoga Springs proper also picked up guests at the Treehouse Villas' two bus stops. This made for a very long pick-up and drop-off experience. Today, the Treehouse Villas have an "internal" bus system that transports guests to The Springs bus stop where they must transfer for transportation to the theme parks. The Treehouse Villa bus runs from 6am to 2am.

Now let's take a look at the five lodging sections of the resort. Although each building has a myriad of details and architectural aspects, the basic styling is the same from building to building. The motif is copied after that of Saratoga Springs, New York during the late 19th century.


Saratoga Springs Exterior

Saratoga Springs Exterior

Saratoga Springs Exterior

Saratoga Springs Exterior


The grounds surrounding the buildings are beautifully landscaped and dotted with ornamentation.


Saratoga Springs Exterior

Saratoga Springs Exterior

Saratoga Springs Exterior

Saratoga Springs Exterior

Saratoga Springs Exterior

Saratoga Springs Exterior

Saratoga Springs Exterior


A simple but charming bridge crosses Willow Lake. Not only does this create a shortcut between The Paddock and The Carriage House, it also offers some beautiful views of the resort.


Willow Lake and View

Willow Lake and View

Willow Lake and View

Willow Lake and View


The Paddock, Congress Park, and The Grandstand each have their own swimming pool. The Springs uses the High Rock Spring pool mentioned earlier. The Carousel section does not have a pool, but has the most creative barbeque area of the resort.

When approaching The Carousel barbeque area, guests first encounter a lovely fountain. Beyond the fountain is a carousel shaped gazebo.


Fountain

Carousel Barbeque Area


As you near the gazebo, you find four carousel horses poised on the perimeter of the structure. In the center of the gazebo are several picnic tables. A grill is located off to the side.


Carousel Barbeque Area

Carousel Barbeque Area

Carousel Barbeque Area


This is a wonderful spot for an alfresco meal. The ambiance is charming and the surroundings can add "flavor" to the simplest of meals.

To stop children from climbing on - and falling off of the horses, clear Plexiglas has been added to the steed's backs. If you look closely at the next picture, you can see what I'm talking about.


Safety Horse


If you're staying in The Carousel section of the resort and want to take a dip, it's only a short walk over to The Paddock pool.

The Paddock pool is of decent size and offers zero-entry access. The pool also features a waterslide that originates from within an old wooden water tower. A hot tub is also on hand.


The Paddock Pool & Slide

The Paddock Pool & Slide

The Paddock Pool & Slide

The Paddock Hot Tub


A relatively new feature seen at Disney pools is a device that lowers and lifts guests with mobility issues in and out of the pools and hot tubs. This is a wonderful addition and long overdue.


Pool Chair Lift


The Paddock pool also has a children's play area that features a water slide, water tube, and a number of water jets. Overhead is a large barrel that occasionally dumps several gallons of liquid-delight onto the youngsters below.


The Paddock Splash and Play

The Paddock Splash and Play

The Paddock Splash and Play


In the mood for breakfast, lunch, or a relaxing beverage? The Paddock Grill located poolside can fill all of these needs.


The Paddock Grill


Now let's move to The Grandstand section of Saratoga Springs. Within moments of arriving at this pool area, you'll notice that red and white make up the color palette here.


The Grandstand Pool

The Grandstand Pool

The Grandstand Pool

The Grandstand Pool


Although The Grandstand pool doesn't have a water slide, it does offer an imaginative splash and play area. Here, the racehorse theme is in full force. To begin with, a starting gate sprays water on those beneath. A short distance away, the thoroughbreds have begun the race and they too are spouting water. More fountains can be found on the soft-surface ground covering.


The Grandstand Splash & Play Area

The Grandstand Splash & Play Area

The Grandstand Splash & Play Area

The Grandstand Splash & Play Area

The Grandstand Splash & Play Area


The Backstretch Bar offers libations and soft serve ice cream. The hours vary here, but service usually begins around noon each day. When visiting this spot, be sure to check out some of the details.


Backstretch Bar

Backstretch Bar  Details


The last pool of the resort is located in the Congress Park section. Of the four, this is probably the most adult in nature. The color scheme is subdued and there is no splash and play area for the children. However, the spouting frogs do add a touch of whimsy. The Congress Park pool also does not have a bar or refreshment stand.


Congress Park Pool

Congress Park Pool

Congress Park Pool

Congress Park Pool


But for those of you with children, a play area is located nearby as is the picnic area.


Congress Park Play Area

Congress Park Picnic Area


All three of these pools offer laundry facilities and restrooms. Towels are also on hand so there is no need to bring them from your room.


Towels, Laundry, Restrooms


Pictures are wonderful. But sometimes a movie can tell the story better. I have created a twelve minute video that recounts the journey I have written about here.



This final section of the article will briefly discuss a studio and one bedroom Saratoga Springs unit. I use the word "unit" rather than "room" because these accommodations are much more than a room.

Although there might be subtle differences between studio units, most are laid out pretty much the same. First there is the vanity area that includes a single sink nestled in a granite countertop. This well lit room features a large mirror, a hairdryer, and an assorted collection of toiletries.


Vanity


To one side of this vanity area is a mirrored door. Behind this door are a toilet and a tub/shower.


Mirrored Door

Tub & Shower

Toilet & Shower


To the other side of the vanity is a closet. In it you'll find a wall safe, vacuum, iron and board, crib, and additional blankets and pillows.


Closet

Closet


Opposite the vanity is a kitchenette. This spot is perfect for making coffee, cooking a frozen dinner, or reheating last night's pizza. But it is entirely inadequate for cooking a "real" meal.


Kitchenette


The kitchenette comes with a small sink, a small refrigerator, a microwave oven, a toaster, and a coffee maker. The plates are paper and the eating utensils are plastic.


Kitchenette


On one wall of the main room you'll find a queen bed, nightstand, and convertible sofa. On the opposite wall are a table & chairs and a dresser/TV cabinet.


Studio Unit

Studio Unit

Studio Unit


The drawer space is adequate, but not outstanding. All rooms come with a DVD player (not Blu-ray).


Chest of Drawers & TV Stand


Studio units are advertised as able to sleep four - and they can. However, when using the convertible sofa, the room will be crowded.


Convertible Sofa


All rooms will have either a patio or balcony. I found this patio especially cozy and I savored my time sitting here one evening.


Patio


To see a short film of a studio unit, check out the video below.

Now let's move onto the one bedroom units. When entering these accommodations, guests find themselves in a small entry. This room has a table which is perfect for storing the contents of your pockets. A mirror hangs on the wall for last minute checks before leaving the room.


One Bedroom Entry


Unlike the studio accommodations, one, two, and three bedroom units have full kitchens. These are nicely arranged and feature a decent sized sink, a dishwasher, a microwave, a cooktop and oven, a coffee maker, a toaster, and a reasonably sized refrigerator. The countertops are granite.


One Bedroom Kitchen

One Bedroom Kitchen

One Bedroom Kitchen

One Bedroom Kitchen

One Bedroom Kitchen

One Bedroom Kitchen


These kitchens contain everything you need to prepare a full meal (except food). Behind cabinet doors you'll find pots, pans, bowls, baking dishes, a pitcher, a strainer, and a complete set of cooking utensils. In addition, the plates are ceramic and the flatware is metal.


One Bedroom Kitchen

One Bedroom Kitchen

One Bedroom Kitchen


Mealtime can be enjoyed at a nearby table and at an adjacent breakfast bar.


Dining Table

Breakfast Bar


The living room features a convertible sofa, end table, a chair, a combination coffee table/storage bin, and a combination chest of drawers and TV cabinet.


One Bedroom Living Room

One Bedroom Living Room

One Bedroom Living Room


The horseracing theme of Saratoga Springs is continued in the rooms. Pictures, curtains, and pillows all display this equine subject matter.


Horseracing Theme

Horseracing Theme

Horseracing Theme

Horseracing Theme


A patio or balcony is located off of the living room. Some of the views can be quite nice.


Balcony

Balcony

Balcony View


Near the dining table you'll find a washer and dryer behind louvered doors. With the ever increasing costs the airlines are charging for baggage, these puppies can save you some money. Pack less and do a few loads of laundry during your stay.


Washer and Dryer


The bathroom in one bedroom units has been divided into two sections. This design was devised to help families overlap morning ablutions when everyone is getting ready at the same time.

The first "half" of the bathroom features a pedestal sink and a large, but oddly-shaped shower.


Vanity and Shower


Off of this room is a large water closet. The exhaust fan in here automatically turns on when entering and runs for several minutes after the room is vacated.


Water Closet

Water Closet


The second half of the bathroom contains a large vanity area with a single sink and plenty of counter space.


Vanity and Sink

Vanity and Sink


Next to the sink is a large whirlpool-jet bathtub. Louvered doors can be opened between the vanity area and the bedroom.


Bathtub


Behind a door sporting a full-length mirror is a large closet. Just like with the studio units, this closet contains a wall safe, vacuum, iron and board, crib, and additional blankets and pillows.


Closet

Closet

Closet


The bedroom is furnished with a queen-sized bed, a nightstand, desk, cushioned bench/storage unit, overstuffed chair, floor lamp, and a combination chest of drawers/TV cabinet.


Bedroom

Bedroom

Bedroom

Bedroom


Disney always welcomes DVC members with the phrase, "Welcome home." "Home" describes a one-bedroom unit nicely. The room is comfortable and welcoming. It's definitely nice to have something to sit on other than a bed when returning after a long day at the parks. In addition, the kitchen is well appointed and makes grabbing a snack easy.

To see a short video of the one bedroom unit, check out the video below.


Now for the downside of Saratoga Springs"

I can unofficially tell you that Saratoga Springs is the least popular of the Disney World Vacation Club properties. It's usually the last to reach capacity during busy times and rooms are almost always available here.

Much of this has to do with the resort's size. It's just too big. A walk from most rooms to The Carriage House is a major trek. When I stayed here, I opted to drive rather than walk. And even at that, the parking lot that services The Carriage House really isn't all that convenient.

Disney suggests using the resort buses when traveling between your room and The Carriage House. They even provide you with instructions on this topic in the handout you're given at check-in. But come on, who really wants to take a bus just to hop over to Artist Palette for a quick snack? Not to mention, the bus stop for The Carriage House is The Springs. From here guests must cross a street, walk through the pool area, and up a flight of stairs to get to the resort's restaurants and shop.

This "distance issue" isn't something Disney can fix. It's just the way things are.

Other than that, I like Saratoga Springs. I think Disney did a wonderful job of transforming this acreage from the Lake Buena Vista Villas, to the Disney Institute, and finally to a full-fledged resort. Saratoga Springs is lovely to look at and I enjoy the ambiance of the grounds and pools.

For you non-DVC members wondering what it might be like to have a full kitchen while vacationing at WDW, Saratoga Springs might be a good place to start as reservations are often available here. As long as you know in advance that transportation within the resort can be arduous, you'll be mentally prepared to deal with it. A good time can definitely be had here!



February 25, 2013

A Carriage Ride through Fort Wilderness

Jack Spence Masthead


Before I start today's article, I would like to fill you in on some things that are happening in my personal life.

Don't worry. I'm not leaving AllEars.

However"

I have decided to downsize from a rather large home to something much more manageable. I have had my house on the market for a short while and it will close escrow next week. I am currently in the process of packing for a move into an apartment while I have a new home built five minutes from Disney World's back door.

After today's blog, I will be running repeats for several weeks until I get settled into my temporary quarters. Once that first move is complete, I will have plenty of time to devote to AllEars and new articles. When my new house is finished in August, I plan on taking two months off from AllEars so I can move in and get settled. Once again, I will post reruns during my absence.

I am extremely excited about this move - and I'm extremely stressed out. LOL. But I'm certain that once the dust settles, life will be even better than before. And I'm going to love living so close to Disney.

By the way, you can clearly see the Magic Kingdom fireworks from my new neighborhood.

I'd also like to share an interesting story with you"

I started working at Disneyland in 1971. Over the next several years, I worked my way up to "lead" of the Blue Bayou Restaurant. During this time, I got to know a lot of cast members in New Orleans Square. One of these was a guy named Bob who worked at the nearby Café Orleans.

In 1977, I was asked to transfer to the Club 33 as lead/ maître d'hôtel.

At the same time, Bob was promoted from busboy at Café Orleans to lead at the Blue Bayou. In other words, he was backfilling behind me.

After I left Disneyland in 1980, I lost track of Bob.

Fast-forward to 2013. Bob is buying my house.

It's a small world after all.

Now, on to today's article



I know it is hard to believe for some of you, but I haven't experience EVERYTHING at Walt Disney World. I've done a lot, but not everything. One of the activities that has been on my bucket list for a long time, but I keep putting off, has been a carriage ride through Fort Wilderness. Every time I visit the Settlement for dinner at Trails End or the Hoop-Dee-Doo Musical Review, I see the horse and buggy parked nearby, beckoning me. Well, I finally decided to stop putting it off and go for it.


Horse and Carriage


A carriage ride is offered at a flat fee of $45 no matter how many people ride. The capacity is four adults or two adults and three small children. The first ride leaves the Settlement at 5:30pm. The ride's duration is approximately 25 minutes.


Price Guide


Advance reservations can be made by calling 407-WDW-PLAY. Same day reservations can be made by calling 407- 824-2832. When making a reservation, $45 will be placed on your credit card. However, it will not be charged to your card unless you are a no-show.

Walk-ups are also available if no one has booked the carriage in advance. Note, the only form of payment accepted is cash or a Disney room charge. Even if you've secured the reservation with a credit card, you still will be required to pay cash or use a room charge at the end of your ride.

I was surprised when I crawled into the carriage to find a sign that not only discourages tipping the driver, but actually forbids it completely.


No Tipping


My hostess for the evening was Laurie Lynn. She is the primary driver of the carriages and transports guests around the campground five nights a week. So chances are good if you book a tour, this congenial cast member will be your guide. Laurie Lynn has been tending the reins here for 13 years.


Laurie Lynn and Tom


Before beginning our journey, Laurie Lynn made sure our horse Tom got a good drink of water.


Thirsty Horse


The carriage is quite handsome. Painted maroon, this vehicle features two tan leather seats for guests. One seat faces forward, the other backward. Brass carriage lamps adorn the sides of the carriage. A leather canopy shades the riders.


Carriage

Jack in Carriage


My journey began across from Crockett's Tavern. As I passed beside this wilderness watering hole, the folks sitting on the porch all took notice.


Crockett's Tavern

Crockett's Tavern


As we continued riding through the Settlement, guests continued to gawk and stare as we drove by.


Gawkers


After leaving the Trading Post, we turned left and headed into the woods. Nature was all around us. The only sounds we could hear was the clip clop of the horse's hooves and the occasional bird chip. I felt miles away from everything.


Riding in Nature

Riding in Nature

Riding in Nature

Riding in Nature

Riding in Nature


Laurie Lynn warned me that we might encounter some wildlife. And sure enough, we spotted deer grazing across a canal.


Grazing Deer

Grazing Deer


After about 15 minutes of riding through nature, we turned into one of the camping loops. Once again, heads turned as we drove by. In addition, ol' Tom piqued the curiosity of more than one campsite dog.


Riding in the Camping Loop

Riding in the Camping Loop

Dogs

Dogs


Eventually, we turned onto the main road running through the campground for our return to the Settlement. As we plodded along, it felt a little intimidating when a bus passed us going the other way.


Return Home

Passing Bus


Laurie Lynn told me that the route she takes changes from ride to ride. Much of it depends on her mood, the weather, and the guests.

I enjoyed the carriage ride - and I'd do it again. For most folk, this isn't something they can do back home so it's nice to take advantage of the opportunity when you can.

I purposely booked my ride for 5:30 as I wanted it to be light out while touring. But the carriage ride takes place after nightfall for a more romantic experience.

Disney also offers a 45 minute wagon ride through the campground. The price is $8 for adults and $5 for children. The price is cheaper because you ride with a group of people rather than enjoying your own, private carriage. I have yet to experience a wagon ride, but after my positive experience with the carriage, I might be tempted to do so.

I have created a three and a half minute video of my experience. I hope you enjoy the ride.




Return to Blog Central

About February 2013

This page contains all entries posted to The “World” According to Jack in February 2013. They are listed from oldest to newest.

January 2013 is the previous archive.

March 2013 is the next archive.

Many more can be found on the main index page or by looking through the archives.