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August 19, 2013

Lawn Mower Tree - Fort Wilderness

Jack Spence is on a leave of absence until 2014. This is a reprint of a blog he wrote several years ago. This blog originally ran in 2007 and was accurate at the time of publication.

For those of you not familiar with the "Lawnmower Tree" it's an interesting oddity located at the Fort Wilderness Campground. It seems that years before Walt Disney World opened, someone leaned an old, push-style lawnmower against a tree and left it there. Over the years, the tree slowly grew around it. When the campground was being developed, the Disney Imagineers noticed this lawnmower half encased in a tree, thought it was interesting, and eventually put up a small sign to highlight this curiosity.

Lawn mowertree at Fort Wilderness


I've been visiting Walt Disney World since 1972 and on each visit have watched the slow disappearance of the lawnmower as the bark continues to in case it. Currently, only a very small part of the blades are still visible at the base of the tree. But I have sad news" For reason I do not know, most of the upper half of the tree has been cut off. Now, only about twelve feet of the trunk remains. Since the tree is now dead, the lawnmower's slow disappearance has been halted.

September 17, 2012

Art of Animation – Little Mermaid Section

Jack Spence Masthead

Once again I visited the Art of Animation Resort, this time for the grand opening of the final phase of this Disney property, The Little Mermaid section. I toured the grounds and stayed in a standard room during my visit. Let's start with the room.

To begin with, the Little Mermaid section of the Art of Animation Resort contains rooms of the same type and configuration as the other value resorts like the Pop Century and the All Stars. These are NOT suites as found in the Finding Nemo, Cars, and Lion King sections of the resort. To read a brief history of how these three wings of the resort came into being, check out an earlier article of mine by clicking here.

The Little Mermaid rooms open up onto an outside balcony. This balcony is decorated with a number of colorful fish found in the movie.


Little Mermaid Balcony

Balcony Fish

Balcony Fish

Balcony Fish

Balcony Fish

Little Mermaid Balcony


The three buildings that make up the Little Mermaid section of the resort are each four stories high. Ice and drink vending machines can be found on each floor near the elevators.

The guest rooms feature two double beds covered in turquoise bedspreads with several sea flowers as accents. The edge of the bedspread displays a design of coral. Each bed has two reasonably sized pillows.


Double Beds

Double Beds

Bedspreads


The headboards look like giant clamshells and feature small bubbles floating upwards. The light above each bed is a giant bubble and is surrounded by curious seahorses. Convenient light switches are located above the nightstand.


Headboard

Bubble Light


Between the headboards we find Sebastian and Flounder giving a fin-claw-high-five.


Sebastian and Flounder


On the nightstand are a telephone and a clock-radio. A single drawer contains a phone book and a Gideon Bible.


Nightstand


On the sidewall we find a portrait of Eric captaining his ship with his trusty companion Max.


Prince Eric Portrait


The carpet continues the "under the sea" theme with a sandy look and various seashells, starfish, and sand dollars.


Sea Floor Carpet


The window has both sheers and blackout curtains. The curtains feature a seascape minus any Little Mermaid characters.


Window Covering

Window Covering


Each room has its own air conditioner which is nicely concealed behind a wall. The electronic thermostat is motion sensitive to help reduce energy use.


Air Conditioning

Thermostat


The room has a small table and two plastic "clam" chairs. An electrical outlet is conveniently located on the wall behind the table for laptop use. Embedded into the table's surface is the sheet music for "Under the Sea."


Table and Chairs

Table and Chairs

Sheet Music


Above the table is a brightly colored "fish" lamp/mirror. The switch for this fixture can be found next to the door.


Lamp - Mirror


The chest contains three drawers and a refrigerator. A "hidden" compartment houses electronic hookups for audio-visual connections to the flat-screen TV. There is NO coffee maker in the room.


Chest of Drawers

Chest of Drawers

Chest of Drawers

Chest of Drawers

Chest of Drawers

Chest of Drawers


On the wall next to the chest is an octopus coatrack.


Coatrack


The bedroom is separated from the vanity area by a somewhat light-resistant curtain. It displays a scene right out of the "Under the Sea" section of the movie.


Vanity Curtain


The vanity only has one sink. The countertop is made out of a material that looks like the sandy sea floor. It's a wonderful accent that really adds to the personality of this room. In addition, Disney has added a handy cubbyhole beneath the sink for the storage of odds and ends. The mirror is framed in a sea coral design. A hairdryer hangs on the side wall.


Vanity Sink

Vanity Sink

Mirror

Hair Dryer


Next to the sink is the open closet. Besides hanging space and a shelf you'll find a luggage rack, iron and board, and an electronic safe.


Open Closet

Safe


The water closet is small, but efficient. A motion sensor detects movement and activates the exhaust fan whenever someone enters. The Little Mermaid shower curtain is especially appealing. If you must have one for your own home, it is for sale at the Ink & Paint Shop located in Animation Hall. The bath is stocked with four, adequate towels. If you're looking for fluffy, you'll have to book a deluxe property.


Toilet

Shower Curtain


For me, one of the highlights of the Little Mermaid room is the tile work behind the tub/shower. Here, you bathe in Ariel's grotto which is chalked full of bric-à-brac. It's stunning and my picture does not do it justice.


Shower Tile


Obviously, this room can't compare to the value suites found in the Finding Nemo, Cars, and Lion King Sections of the resort. But how does it stack up against the rooms at the Pop Century and All Stars? Quite well. The theming in the Little Mermaid rooms is far more pronounced than at its sister resorts. Enough so that I would definitely lean toward this resort if I was searching for a standard, value room. Don't get me wrong, I like all of the value resorts. But these new rooms get the edge in my book.

That's it for the Little Mermaid room. To see a three minute movie of this newest addition to Disney's lineup of sleeping quarters, check out my video below.

Now let's take a look at the exterior of this newest addition to the Art of Animation.

First, let me say, the Little Mermaid section of the resort is the furthest away from Animation Hall which houses the shop, restaurant, check-in area, and bus stop. If you have a mobility issue, you might want to think twice before booking a room here. Most people will be okay with the walk, but not everyone.

The end staircases of the various wings are hidden behind multiple layers of giant, colorful coral. The effect works quite nicely.


Coral Stair Coverings


You enter the Little Mermaid section along a winding path that is lined and illuminated by ships lanterns. At the moment, the foliage is a little thin, but give it time. In six months it will feel like the ocean floor.


Pathway into the Little Mermaid Section

Lamp


To give you an idea of how detail oriented Disney can be, some of the flower beds use crushed seashells as ground cover.


Seashell Ground Covering


Along this pathway we find a number of Ariel's treasures including a fork (dinglehopper), pipe (snarfblat), treasure chest, and stein.


Fork

Pipe

Treasure Chest

Stein


At the end of the pathway we discover the statue of Prince Eric that fell overboard during the storm at sea.


Prince Eric Statue

Prince Eric Statue


I will take this moment to chide Disney just a little. Flanking every one of Ariel's treasures are at least two signs warning us not to climb on the structures. Really? Has Disney forgotten their audience? They have placed pieces of art that are absolutely irresistible to children along a pathway and expect the kids not to climb on them.

I really don't know what the answer is. Should they put a fence around these pieces like they did the Casey Jr. engine in Storybook Circus? Or are these signs just Disney's way of getting out of any legal entanglements should someone's child hurt themselves while climbing into the treasure chest to see what can be discovered.

Bottom line, I understand the reasoning for the signs. But for me, it takes away a little of the magic.


No Climbing Sign


Okay, back to the resort"

Each of the three buildings of the Little Mermaid section is anchored by a giant character from the movie. We have King Triton, Ursula, and Ariel & Flounder.

On the building to the left as we enter this area we discover King Triton and his trumpeting entourage.


King Trident

King Trident

Trumpeting Entourage


Facing Triton across the courtyard is his sister and nemesis, Ursula with her companions in evil, Flotsam and Jetsam.


Ursula

Ursula

Flotsam

Jetsam


On the furthest building we find everyone is swimming to greet their friend Ariel and her best buddy Flounder.


Swimming to Ariel

Ariel

Ariel

Ariel

Flounder


In the center of the three buildings we encounter Sebastian in all his glory.


Sebastian

Sebastian

Sebastian


The Flippin' Fins Pool is large and offers a number of lounge chairs and tables for enjoying the outdoors. However, this pool lacks the imaginative theming of the Big Blue Pool located at the Finding Nemo section and the Cozy Cone Pool found in the Cars section. Don't get me wrong. The Flippin' Fins Pool offers everything you need for a good time. But in my opinion, it isn't anything that will knock your socks off. Disney has raised the bar to a new level and now they must compete with themselves. The Flippin' Fins pool is great, but kids will have more fun at the Big Blue Pool and adults will enjoy the cabanas found at the Cozy Cone Pool.


Flippin' Fins Pool

Flippin' Fins Pool

Flippin' Fins Pool

Flippin' Fins Pool


In the pool area are restrooms and a laundromat.


Laundromat

Laundromat


To see a three minute movie of the Little Mermaid exterior grounds, check out my video below.



That's it for my four-part review of the new Art of Animation resort. Overall, I really think Disney has done an outstanding job. People come to Walt Disney World to be immersed in the magic and this spot does it in spades. Even if the Grand Floridian is more to your liking, you should definitely stop by the Art of Animation on your next trip for a look around. You'll be glad you did.



September 11, 2012

BoardWalk Promenade - Part 2 of 2

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Yesterday I discussed Sea Breeze Point to Seashore Sweets along the BoardWalk. Today I will continue my journey along this promenade of yesterday and today.

I am often asked to name my favorite Walt Disney World restaurant. I usually respond with, "What category of restaurant? Counter service?" Of course I know full well people are asking me about "signature" restaurants. My answer is this: Not counting Victoria & Albert's (which is in a class all by itself), it's a tie between Citricos at the Grand Floridian and Flying Fish Cafe at the BoardWalk.


Flying Fish Cafe


The Flying Fish Café is located on the "corner" of the BoardWalk with Seashore Treats on one side and Belle Vue Lounge on the other (sort of). Coney Island was the inspiration for this eatery and its décor is a fusion of nostalgia and contemporary. Here, stylized roller coasters dominate the walls complete with blue light bulbs that line the railing. Even the half-wall partitions curve up and down as to suggest the hills and falls of the famous roller coasters of the era. On the back wall is a large floor-to-ceiling back-lit Ferris Wheel. Large overhead murals depict the Steeplechase and other assorted carnival rides. Even the chandeliers are worth your attention. Pairs of fish are perched under parachutes as to suggest yet another Coney Island attraction. Pay close attention to the beautifully cloud-painted ceiling. If you look carefully, the stars change colors every several minutes.


Flying Fish Cafe Ferris Wheel

Flying Fish Cafe Steeplechase

Flying Fish Cafe Fish Lamps


One side of the restaurant has large windows that overlook a charming courtyard. The other side features a show kitchen with ample seating along a beautifully tiled bar.


Flying Fish Cafe Window

Flying Fish Cafe Bar


The tables are spaced nicely, allowing for plenty of room between parties. In the back of the restaurant is a small alcove. The tables located here afford a more intimate atmosphere. However, I prefer the ambiance of the main dining room to the alcove as I enjoy the "sky" with its ever-changing "stars" and the Ferris Wheel.


Flying Fish Cafe Main Dining Room

Flying Fish Cafe Alcove


The Flying Fish Café does not have a lounge. If you would enjoy a cocktail before or after dinner, think about the Belle Vue Lounge located nearby.

As you might expect by the name of the restaurant, the Flying Fish Café specializes in seafood. The freshest selections are bought each morning so the menu is in a constant state of flux. But don't let this put you off if you're not a connoisseur of scaly and shelled creatures. The best New York Strip Steak I've ever eaten is served here. Yachtsman Steakhouse can't hold a candle to the flavor, and tenderness of the Flying Fish Café's preparation of this fine piece of meat.

Of course, the service is always excellent.

The Flying Fish Café gets its name from one of the cars found on a Coney Island roller coaster of yesteryear.


Flying Fish Cafe Mural


Being a signature restaurant, there is a dress code.

Men: Khakis, slacks, jeans, dress shorts, collared shirts. Sport coats are optional.

Ladies: Capris, skirts, dresses, jeans, dress shorts.

The Flying Fish Café is open for dinner only - 5:30pm to 10pm. Reservations are an absolute must. To see the complete menu, click here.

Back out on the water side of the promenade we find another free-standing food facility, BoardWalk To Go. This stand offers a nice selection of "on-the-go" foods. Corn dogs, onion rings, nachos, meatball sandwiches, and fried ravioli are just a few of the offerings. If you're in the mood for "cholesterol laden junk food that should only be eaten once a year while on vacation," this is the spot! To see the complete menu, click here.


BoardWalk To Go


Nearby are two street-party favorites, BoardWalk Caricatures and BoardWalk Hairwraps. At these two locations you can add a little pizazz to your tresses then be immortalized for posterity. Prices are posted on nearby signs.


BoardWalk Caricatures

BoardWalk Hairwraps


When the Boardwalk in Atlantic City officially became a street in 1886, all vehicles were banned from this thoroughfare. Sensing and opportunity, a local hardware merchant began to rent wheelchairs to those who preferred to sightsee while seated. The idea was a success and soon the chairs were redesigned to hold two and look a little less institutional. However, the herringbone design of the Boardwalk created quite a bumpy ride for the ladies. To alleviate this, sections of the herringbone planking were laid lengthwise to provide a smoother ride.


Wheeled Chairs

Redesigned Harringbone Boardwalk


Now Disney's BoardWalk never had rolling chairs, but they do have the next best thing, surreys. Many of the Disney resorts now offer surreys for rent, but it all started here at the BoardWalk. These single and double-seat vehicles are a family favorite and never fail to bring a smile to both riders and pedestrians.


Surrey

Surrey

Surrey


Rented by the half hour, a trip in one of these cute little contraptions takes riders on a one mile trip around Crescent Lake. Most of the route is level, but there are a couple of hills to contend with along the way. Remember, the power for these surreys is provided by YOU pedaling. There are no motors involved.

A quadracycle is a four-wheeled human-powered land vehicle. It first came onto the scene in 1853 at the Exhibition of the Industry of All Nations World's Fair held in New York City. Its intention was to offer a stable alternative to the bicycle. However, as improvements to the bicycle were made, the popularity of the quadracycle diminished.


Quadracycle


In the late 20th century, quadracycles were redesigned with bench seats, canopy tops, and rack-and-pinion steering. They were renamed "surreys" due to their likeness to horse-drawn wagons sporting the same name.

Across from the Surrey Bike Rentals is Promenade Pier. This is where you catch a Friendship Boat to Epcot or Disney's Hollywood Studios. Other stops include the Yacht & Beach Club and the Swan & Dolphin. It takes approximately 30 minutes to travel all the way from Epcot to the Studio.


Promenade Pier

Promenade Pier


As I mentioned in an earlier article, there are pedestrian walkways to all of these locations. The walk from the BoardWalk to Epcot is reasonable and most people should be able to manage it just fine. However, the walk to Disney's Hollywood Studios is somewhat long and you should think twice before embarking on this "hike" on very hot days or when rain is threatening.

Along the fence of the BoardWalk Promenade are several coin-operated binoculars. These offer a few moments of fun as you "spy" on others around Crescent Lake.


Binoculars


Although not officially on the BoardWalk, Wyland Galleries offers a wonderful chance to browse and purchase some really fine pieces of art.


Wyland Galleries


While the environmentally inspired works of Robert Wyland are showcased here, the gallery also features pieces by other renowned artists. The collection is varied and includes original paintings, giclees, sculptures, and jewelry. In addition, a large selection of art featuring Disney characters is also available.


Wyland Galleries

Wyland Galleries


The prices in this gallery are not for the faint of heart. To give you an example, this hand-painted bronze Sorcerer Mickey by Bill Toma runs $10,000.


Mickey by Bill Toma


I encourage you to stop by Wyland Galleries even if this shop is out of your price range. Think of it as a museum where you can be inspired by magnificent works of art.

The main shopping opportunity on the BoardWalk is contained in three, connected shops. These are Screen Door General Store, Character Carnival, and Thimbles & Threads.


BoardWalk Shops

At first glance you might think the merchandise in these three shops is randomly displayed. However, the names of these emporiums provide an accurate description of what is offered inside.

Screen Door General Store is the spot for those staying in the Villas section of the resort and wishing to purchase food and drink to take back to their kitchens. A decent selection of wine is offered for those wishing a relaxing evening in their room. This store also sells Disney branded kitchen items, mugs, and glassware.


Screen Door General Store

Screen Door General Store

Screen Door General Store


Character Carnival is the spot for kids. Toys, plushes, Vinylmation, and character costumes are just a few of the items to be found in this section of the shop.


Character Carnival

Character Carnival


As the name implies, Thimbles & Threads is the spot for adult clothing, hats, and watches.


Thimbles & Threads

Thimbles & Threads


Another free-standing food location can be found across from the shops. Funnel Cake Cart offers funnel cakes (duh), fried ice cream, pretzels, and cotton candy.


Funnel Cake Cart


Near the Funnel Cake Cart is Midway Games and More. This mini-midway offers "skilled" players an opportunity to win a non-Disney plush.


Midway Games and More


Watergun Fun is the only game of the four offered where a prize will be awarded every time a match ensues. This is because you compete against others and a winner is announced with every play. In this game, contestants point their water pistols at small openings causing their jalopy to race towards the finish line.


Watergun Fun


Hoop Toss allows the shooter three or seven shots to make a basket. I will warn you, the hoop is smaller than regulation size. However, the hoop is round, not oval, as are used in some less than reputable fairs.


Hoop Toss


At Kewpie Doll Knock Down, athletes test their throwing arm by tossing a softball at cute little kewpie dolls who never did anyone any harm.


Kewpie Doll Knock Down


And finally, we have Lob-A-Lobster. This challenge has guests place a rubber lobster on a catapult. Then using a mallet, they hurl the crustacean into one of six rotating pots.


Lob-A-Lobster


Midway games like these were a common sight at Coney Island in the heyday of amusement parks. How many were reputable and how many were subject to closer examination is subject to debate. At Disney's Midway Games and More, all of the diversions are winnable. All it takes is a combination of luck and skill. Midway Games and More opens in the late afternoon.

Big River Grille & Brewing Works offers up-scale pub-style fare. Sandwiches, pasta, salads, appetizers and desserts are all just waiting to tempt you. But the real draw of this restaurant is the micro-brewery located on the premises. The floor-to-ceiling glass walls provide a glimpse into the beer-making process. And the servers will be more than happy to discuss the various brews and make suggestions.


Big River Grille & Brewing Works

Big River Grille & Brewing Works

Big River Grille & Brewing Works


The Big River Grille & Brewing Works has a "sit down" bar and two small interior dining rooms. This is more than adequate for the lunch trade. At night, this restaurant really comes alive and crowds spill over into the many tables found along the BoardWalk. This spot does not take reservations so plan accordingly.


Big River Grille & Brewing Works

Big River Grille & Brewing Works

Big River Grille & Brewing Works


Disney has placed DVC kiosks in all of their parks and resorts. They want to make it as easy as possible to learn about this product and entice you to buy a "piece of the magic." Unfortunately, if you want to see a model unit, you must make arrangements to be transported to Saratoga Springs.

The BoardWalk Villas have been sold out for some time. However, Disney has kept a one bedroom unit open here for guests to examine with no inconvenient trips to another location. So if you're curious to see a "typical" DVC unit, stop by. The salesperson will not pressure you and will be more than happy to answer all of your questions.


BoardWalk DVC Sales Office

BoardWalk DVC Sales Office


Jellyrolls opens each evening at 7pm. This nightclub features "dueling pianos." Beginning at 8pm, two very talented musicians take the stage and entertain the audience with a wide array of styles and selections. You'll be amazed at the number of songs these maestros know. They take requests and the crowd will often try to stump these extremely well-versed pianists. At 9pm, a second crew takes the stage and continues to entertain for the next hour. They switch back and forth each hour until 2pm so there is never a dull moment.

Jellyrolls does have a cover charge of $12 and patrons must be 21 to enter. ID's will be required if you don't look your age. For the most part, this place really doesn't start to jump until after the Epcot fireworks and the crowds begin to meander over this way.

Jellyrolls strictly prohibits any photography, videotaping, or sound recordings - even when closed. I was given special permission to take the following indoor pictures.


Jellyrolls

Jellyrolls

Jellyrolls

Jellyrolls


Jellyrolls was named after Ferdinand Joseph LaMothe, also known as Jelly Roll Morton. Jelly Roll was a pianist, bandleader, and composer. He is also credited with the invention of jazz music in 1902.


Jelly Roll Morton


Our last stop along the BoardWalk is Atlantic Dance. This spot was designed to resemble the great art deco dance palaces of the 1930's. However, you won't find many guests doing the foxtrot, jitterbug, or the waltz at this spot. Atlantic Dance features state-of-the-art sound and lighting and has a DJ playing the hits of today.


Atlantic Dance

Atlantic Dance


The interior of Atlantic Dance is impressive. A large dance floor is surrounded by multiple tables and three bars. A grand staircase leads to a balcony and more seating. A giant monitor displays music videos. There is also a full stage available for special events. The ceiling is studded with "stars" that shine down on the dancers below and roving colored spot lights sweep the walls and floor.


Atlantic Dance

Atlantic Dance

Atlantic Dance

Atlantic Dance

Atlantic Dance


Atlantic Dance opens each night at 9pm, but unlike Jellyrolls, it does not have a cover charge or a minimum drink purchase. However, you must be at least 21 to enter. If all you want to do is listen to music and dance, it can be enjoyed here for free.

Atlantic Dance crowds are also subject to the Epcot closing times. Guests don't begin to arrive in mass until after the fireworks.

Each evening, the BoardWalk also plays host to an array of entertainers who perform impromptu shows all along the promenade. Jugglers, magicians, and musicians are all on hand and crowds surround them in anticipation of an enjoyable moment.


BoardWalk Entertainers

BoardWalk Entertainers


Although the Epcot fireworks can be seen from the BoardWalk, the view is someone obstructed. I think the best spot for viewing this nightly spectacular is over at the Yacht Club Marina.


Epcot Fireworks


The Epcot Resorts produce a guide map highlighting all of the activities found at the BoardWalk, Yacht & Beach Club, and the Swan and Dolphin. If you are not given one of these information guides when checking in to one of these hotels, be sure to ask. It contains a fantastic amount of information condensed into a trifold brochure.


Epcot Resorts Brochure

Epcot Resorts Brochure


This completes my five-part tour of the BoardWalk Inn & Villas and the BoardWalk Promenade. I hope you've enjoyed this journey to a resort that is steeped in history if you take the time to soak in the details. To see a movie of the BoardWalk Promenade, check out my video below.



On past resort reviews, I'm occasionally reminded by readers that I forgot to mention "this" or "that." I can assure you, I have left out many facts and facilities offered at this wonderful resort. Many of the venues I discussed would require an entire blog to do them justice. What I've tried to do here is point out the highlights of the BoardWalk and give you some insight as to what the Imagineers and architect Robert A.M Stern were trying to impart on those visiting here.

Those of you who have read my column for any length of time know that the Contemporary is my favorite Walt Disney World resort. And although I also like the Polynesian and the Grand Floridian with their convenient monorail access, I would have to choose the BoardWalk as my second favorite hotel. No other spot on property offers so many diversions, dining possibilities, drinking options, and entertainment opportunities as can be found here. Couple this with the easy access to Epcot and Disney's Hollywood Studios and it becomes difficult to think about staying anyplace else. The BoardWalk even makes me second guess the Contemporary's first place standing - almost.


September 10, 2012

BoardWalk Promenade - Part 1 of 2

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BoardWalk Postcard


Last week I discussed the BoardWalk Inn & Villas. Today I'm going to describe all of the wonderful and exciting shops and restaurants along the BoardWalk Promenade. As I mentioned in my previous article, the concept for a "boardwalk" was born in Atlantic City, New Jersey in 1870 as a way to keep sand out of the establishments that lined the beach.


Directions to the BoardWalk


The buildings along the BoardWalk Promenade (from here on, simply to be known as the BoardWalk) resemble those found at the great amusement centers of Atlantic City and Coney Island. It was the intent of architect Robert A.M Stern to create a seaside resort that appeared to grow over time during the decades of the 1920s and 1930s. As each new establishment was added, the popularity of the overall venue grew. At the real Atlantic City and Coney Island, the offerings could be rowdy to lavish and everything in between. But at the Disney version, we only find a wholesome collection of restaurants, shops, and games.


The BoardWalk from Across Crescent Lake

The BoardWalk from Across Crescent Lake


The Disney BoardWalk is 35 feet wide and 1,300 feet long. It is laid out in a herringbone pattern and used 300,000 screws to secure the boards in place. The wood is treated to be resistant to decay and acids and features good weathering characteristics. The retail and entertainment area of the BoardWalk contains more than 9,000 square feet of space.


BoardWalk Planks


For continuity, I will begin my tour of the BoardWalk on the east side of the Promenade - the side closest to Epcot -- and work my way to the west. I'll begin with a structure that technically isn't a part of the BoardWalk, Sea Breeze Point Pavilion.


Sea Breeze Point Pavilion

Sea Breeze Point Pavilion

Sea Breeze Point Pavilion

Sea Breeze Point Pavilion

Sea Breeze Point Pavilion


Sea Breeze Point Pavilion is a gazebo/arbor that sits on the shores of Crescent Lake. It can be rented by any group for any function, but more often than not, it is reserved for weddings and wedding-associated events. Much of this has to do with its fantastic and romantic location. The views of the resorts lining Crescent Lake create a magical backdrop and the Friendship boats sailing by add a touch of international flair. When an event is not taking place at the Pavilion, this spot provides a nice, shady respite on your walk back from Epcot in the afternoon.

"Perfect Experiences" at Sea Breeze Point can be arranged through Disney's Event Planning. For more information as to what Disney experts can orchestrate, click here.

The first building actually on the BoardWalk is ESPN Club.


ESPN Club

ESPN Club


I like this restaurant, even though I know absolutely nothing about sports. The reason? The menu. This spot offers good ol' American favorites like hot dogs, hamburgers, sandwiches, and wings. In addition, the menu is large. Compared to the Turf Club lunch menu at Saratoga Springs which only offers 8 entrees and Kona Café at the Polynesian which offers 12 lunch options, the ESPN Club presents 18 meals. And many of their appetizers are large enough to be considered an entree. I appreciate the larger selection.

When arriving, a host or hostess will greet you and give you a "team" name. For instance, when I ate here last month with friends, we were Team Spence. Once at our table, our server introduced himself as Coach Anthony.

The ESPN Club has two sections. You enter into "Sidelines." This area features the main bar and has a number of tables and booths located nearby.


ESPN Club Sidelines


The second section of the restaurant is called "ESPN Central" and is themed to resemble a sports arena with tables on several levels. This area is also "broadcast ready" and will occasionally feature live feeds for television and radio.


ESPN Club Central


Being a sports bar, the ESPN Club broadcasts sporting events. In fact, there are 108 TV monitors linked to 25 satellite feeds. There are even monitors in the restrooms so you'll never miss a moment of the World Series or Super Bowl.

Since I'm not interested in sports, I especially like the tables that line the windows. This allows me fantastic opportunities to people watch along the Promenade.


ESPN Club Window Tables

ESPN Club is open for lunch and dinner. Reservations are not accepted. This is rarely a problem at lunch unless there is a big game being played. To see the complete menu, click here.


Next to the ESPN Club is "The Yard at ESPN Club." This combination shop and arcade sells sports related Disney and ESPN merchandise. There are also a number of sports related video games to test your hand-eye coordination.


The Yard at ESPN Club

The Yard at ESPN Club

The Yard at ESPN Club


Across from the ESPN Club is Novelty Photos. This free-standing booth allows individuals or couples the opportunity to take four silly or romantic photos in quick succession. The pictures are instantly developed and two strips of four photos are provided.


Novelty Photos

Novelty Photos

Novelty Photos


The first known working photographic machine was exhibited at the 1889 World's Fair in Paris. The first "modern" concept of a photo booth appeared on New York's Broadway in 1925. For 25¢, patrons would receive 8 photos. Despite the fact that the pictures took ten minutes to develop, the machine was an instant success and within six months over 280,000 people had used this new marvel.

Next to ESPN Yard is BoardWalk Bakery. This is as close to a counter-service restaurant as you'll find at the BoardWalk. Although extremely small, this establishment is quite popular so be prepared for a line at peak times. In the morning, breakfast sandwiches, pastries, cereals, and fruit are available. At lunch and dinner, a nice selection of meat and vegetable sandwiches are offered. And being a bakery, dessert type items are served all day long. Behind the counter you can see the large kitchen where many of the items are baked fresh each day.

To see the complete menu, click here.


BoardWalk Bakery

BoardWalk Bakery

BoardWalk Bakery

BoardWalk Bakery


The proprietor of BoardWalk Bakery is Hue G. Krozont. Mr. Krozont is known for his invention of the Pie Stretcher in 1923. He ran a small café known as Krozont's Kitchen in Philadelphia and was famous for his homemade apple pies. Always looking for a way to increase his profits, he came up with a device that would "stretch" a fully baked pie to 1/3 again its original size, thus enabling him to serve two additional slices at no additional cost. Krozont patented his machine the following year and later sold all rights to his invention to Medville College. With his windfall, Krozont unloaded his café and move to Miami. Unfortunately, he fell victim to the Florida Land Boom and lost all of his money. He died penniless.


Hue G. Krozont


Now I hope you all realize, the above paragraph is a complete work of fiction. Hue G. Krazont is a play on words. When read as the Imagineers intended, it would be "Huge Croissant."

However, I tell the story of a pie stretcher for a reason"

When I started working at the Blue Bayou Restaurant at Disneyland at age 18, my title was Miscellaneous Kitchen Helper. My sole job was to transfer food, pans, and other kitchen utensils from the Main Kitchen located in the basement of New Orleans Square to the Blue Bayou Restaurant found on the first floor. All day long, the cooks at the Blue Bayou would instruct me to go downstairs to the Main Kitchen and pick up some needed item.

On my second day on the job, I was instructed to go to the Main Kitchen and retrieve a pie stretcher. Of course, there is no such thing. But not knowing this, I dutifully went downstairs and asked one of the chefs. He told me he didn't have it, but check with Joe. Of course Joe didn't have it either and suggested I check with Al. After about ten minutes and ten chefs, it finally dawned on me that a practical joke was being played on me and everyone was in on the gag. This prank was an initiation right of the Blue Bayou and in the years that followed I myself sent many a new, young, naive cast member on a hunt for a pie stretcher (and a few items not suitable for print here).

Our next stop on the BoardWalk is the Pizza Window. Here you can order cheese, pepperoni, and veggie pizza by the slice or by the pie. Extra toppings like mushrooms, sausage, onions, and black olives are also available for an additional charge. Soft drinks and sangria help wash it all down. A single slice of pizza is decent sized and is adequate for a light meal.

This is strictly a "walk-up" establishment. No table service is available, but there are a number of tables nearby for al fresco dining.


Pizza Window

Pizza Window


Across from BoardWalk Bakery on the water side of the promenade is BoardWalk Joe's. From 7:30am to 11am this kiosk offers Danishes, muffins, and egg croissant sandwiches. In the late afternoon and evening this spot sells six varieties of margaritas, draft beer, wine, Coke products, chips & nacho cheese, soft pretzels, and a few other goodies. BoardWalk Joe's is closed during mid-day. To see the complete menu, click here.


BoardWalk Joe's


In the early years of the BoardWalk, a restaurant known as Spoodles was one of the promenade's favorite eateries. Opening on July 1, 1996, this restaurant offered a Mediterranean menu that was dubbed "Cuisine of the Sun." Selections included regional specialties from Spain, Greece, Italy, and Northern Africa.


Spoodles


On August 15, 2009, Kouzzina replaced Spoodles. Owned and operated by Disney, this Cat Cora restaurant features Mediterranean cuisine that highlights her Greek roots and Mississippi upbringing. Chef Cora's philosophy is to create simple yet sensational meals. "Kouzzina" is Greek for "kitchen"

Kouzzina was remodeled slightly from the days of Spoodles, but much of the original atmosphere still remains. An open kitchen with its wood-burning grill and oak-fired ovens still entertains and enchants guests. Dark wood flooring and furniture combine with light tan walls to create a cozy and inviting environment.

I have eaten here a number of times and have always been pleased. I even like Cat's Brussels sprouts, a vegetable I normally avoid at all costs. Kouzzina is open for breakfast and dinner. Reservations are suggested.

I was fortunate enough to be invited to the grand opening press event in 2009. Although the menu has changed somewhat since then, my review still speaks to the tastes and charms Cat brings to this establishment. To see my article, click here. To see the complete breakfast menu, click here. To see the complete dinner menu, click here.


Kouzzina

Kouzzina

Kouzzina

Kouzzina

Kouzzina


After receiving her Bachelor of Science degree in Exercise Physiology and Biology at the University of Southern Mississippi, Cat Cora followed the advice of her famous mentor Julia Child and enrolled at the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, New York. After graduation, she continued her education in Europe apprenticing with two of France's three-star Michelin chefs, George Blanc of Vonnas and Roger Verge. (Roger Vergé is one of the founding chefs of the Les Chefs de France restaurant at Epcot.) Cat accomplishments and awards continued to mount, but perhaps her most famous achievement was being the first and only female Iron Chef on the Food Network's hit show "Iron Chef America." Cat began working with Disney in 2008 by creating a Disney Video-on-Demand series to showcase ways to help families develop more healthy eating habits.

Next to Kouzzina is Seashore Sweets'. This combination ice cream fountain and candy store is the perfect spot to satisfy your sweet tooth. The stores motto: "Confections served with Affection."


Seashore Sweets'

Seashore Sweets'

Seashore Sweets'


One of the store's signature products is salt water taffy, an Atlantic City institution for years. But this wasn't always the case. Although plain ol' taffy had been a staple along the Boardwalk for many years, "salt" was not a part of the tradition. This came about quite by accident. In August of 1883, a large storm hit the Atlantic Seaboard and flooded the Boardwalk candy store of David Bradley. As a result, his entire stock of taffy was soaked with salty ocean water. As the story goes, a young girl entered the store the following day and requested taffy. As a joke Bradley said, "Sure. We have some salt water taffy." Not understanding the sarcasm, the girl bought a bag full and left the store happy and did not return with any complaints. The rest is history.


Salt Water Taffy


Besides salt water taffy, Seashore Sweets' also honors another Atlantic City institution, the Miss America Pageant.

Traditionally, the "summer season" ended on the Boardwalk with Labor Day weekend at which time vacationers went home. In an effort to entice people to stay a little longer, Mayor Edward L. Bader and local leaders suggested holding a two-day publicity extravaganza to extend the season for a few more days. So on September 6, 1921 a beauty contest to be called the "Atlantic City Pageant" was held. That first year there were only eight participants. The girls were judged in a number of events, including the Rolling Chair Parade and the Bathers' Revue (a swimsuit competition). After two days of good natured rivalry, the judges selected sixteen year old Margaret Gorman from Washington D.C. to be the first winner of the pageant.


Margaret Gorman


When the event was over, the city leaders and local businessmen could see that the event was a success. Tourists had stayed in Atlantic City past Labor Day and continued to spend money. It was then decided to make this an annual event.

The following year, the pageant name was changed to "Miss America" and fifty-eight contestants participated. In addition, brass bands and orchestras were added to the festivities. Among the distinguished panel of judges in 1922 was famed artist Norman Rockwell. The pageant continued to grow and flourish over the years and became an American tradition.

Next time you're in Seashore Sweets', look around. Lining the ceiling are pictures of all the Miss America winners. In addition, an actual robe, crown, scepter, and trophy used in a ceremony are on display.


Miss America Winners

Miss America Robe and Crown


That's it for Part One of the BoardWalk Promenade. Check back tomorrow for Part Two.


September 5, 2012

BoardWalk Inn & Villas - Part 3 of 3

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Welcome back. In Part One of this article I discussed the lobby of the BoardWalk Inn & Villas. In Part Two I talked about the Belle Vue Lounge, the Innkeepers Lounge, a Standard Guest Room and a Garden Suite. Today I will finish my description of this deluxe resort.

Now it's time to move over to the Villas section of the resort. I used to have problems remembering which side of the resort was the "Inn" and which side was the "Villas." Then it occurred to me, architect Robert A.M Stern cleverly "color coded" the sections to make it easier to distinguish between the two. The exterior of the Inn is painted in shades of white with blue accents. The Villas are covered in shades of yellow and coral.


BoardWalk Villas Exterior

BoardWalk Villas Exterior

BoardWalk Villas Exterior


Before I discuss the 383 DVC rooms found in this section of the resort, I want to talk about the amenities located here. Note, all facilities at the BoardWalk Inn & Villas are open to all guests, regardless of which side of the resort they are staying at. The exception being, you must be lodging in a Club Level room in order to experience the Innkeeper's Club.

As with so many Disney resorts, the main swimming pool is often the center of daytime activity, and the BoardWalk is no exception. At Luna Park, guests will find an enormous (190,000 gallons) free-form pool. The name "Luna Park" comes from an early amusement park found on Coney Island (1903 to 1944). More on this later.

Luna Park is designed to resemble a carnival/circus. This theme is highlighted by signs advertising the shows and spectacles to be enjoyed here.


Luna Park Signs

Luna Park Signs

Luna Park Signs

Luna Park Signs


The "trained" elephants can be seen at several spots around the pool. One even provides a shower for those swimming in her proximity.


Luna Park Elephants

Luna Park Elephants


Leaping Horse Libations resembles a carousel and serves hard and soft drinks plus a limited selection of snacks. After a few trips here, you might actually begin to see the pygmy horses the billboard advertises.


Leaping Horse Libations

Leaping Horse Libations


The highlight of Luna Park is Keister Coaster. This 200-foot water slide resembles an old-time wooden roller coaster. Anyone with coulrophobia might want to skip this attraction. The splashdown takes riders through a giant clown head.

For those of you who don't know, "keister" is slang for a person's rear end. So Keister Coaster is a fitting name for this slide as you ride it on your keister.


Keister Coaster

Keister Coaster


Here are few more pictures of the pool area, the kiddie pool, and Crazy Horse Playground.


Luna Park

Luna Park

Luna Park

Crazy Horse Playground


There were many early amusement park names that the Imagineers could have used to identify their elaborate swimming pool, but Luna Park was selected for a reason. In 1901, Frederic Thompson and Elmer "Skip" Dundy created a ride called "A Trip to the Moon." This attraction premiered at the Pan-American Exposition in Buffalo, NY. The attraction was so successful, the pair later updated it and moved it to their new Coney Island location to be called Luna Park. Luna is the Latin word for moon.

For 50¢ ($14.00 in 2012 dollars), guests could take a make-believe trip to the moon. Their vehicle would not be a rocket, but rather a gondola-like craft with wings. Guests boarded Luna from a train station-like platform. At takeoff, the wings began to flap and the craft began to undulate and rise slightly. Once "airborne," the vehicle "flew" over representations of Coney Island and Manhattan, offering panoramic views of both areas before ascending into the clouds. All of this was done with the use of a cyclorama, a theater-like building where the viewer is positioned in the center of a large room and a panoramic landscape circles the audience. Once reaching the moon, guests disembarked and walked around a papier-mâché lunar surface. Along the way, they interacted with costumed moon characters called Selenites.


A Trip to the Moon


Their walking journey continued through stalactite caverns and across a chasm via a spidery bridge. Reaching an underground city they encountered illuminated plants, trees, and otherworldly growth. Eventually guests would meet the "Man in the Moon," a giant seated upon a magnificent throne. In this same room was a fabulous "electric" fountain that displayed all the colors of the rainbow as it cascaded and pulsated.

As guests prepared to leave the attraction, moon maidens passed out pieces of cheese from their lunar homeland. Many people at the time believed that the moon was made out of green cheese. Guests exited the ride via a Mooncalf's mouth.

This attraction was a quantum leap over any other amusement park ride of its day. It would be comparable to the revolutionary effect "Pirates of the Caribbean" had on Disneyland.

Another attraction at Luna Park was "20,000 Leagues Under The Sea." Here, guests boarded a "submarine" and peered through portholes. While on their voyage, they saw a number of bizarre sea creatures, coral reefs, sunken ships, and mermaids. Eventually they reached the North Pole. Again, all of this was achieved with the use of a cyclorama.


20,000 Leagues Under The Sea


After reaching the arctic, guests disembarked the sub and entered a frozen environment of ocean and icebergs. Actually, it was a large, refrigerated warehouse with an enormous pool of water and floating ice. There were even real polar bears and seals to add to the authenticity. In addition, a tribe of Inuit inhabited this space, complete with igloos and dogsleds.

Walt Disney was a genius; there is certainly no doubt about this. But perhaps some of his inspiration came from attractions long before his time.

In 1955, Walt opened his own version of "A Trip to the Moon" and called it "Rocket to the Moon." However, Walt's version relied more on science and less on fantasy. After blast off, guests would view Anaheim and Southern California retreating in the distance on the cabin's lower view screen. Soon, the ship passed through the clouds and into outer space on its way to the moon. However, Walt's version only flew around the lunar surface and never actually landed.


Rocket to the Moon

Rocket to the Moon


Walt also opened the "Submarine Voyage" at Disneyland in 1959. Although more convincingly executed, this ride employed many of the same ideas as its 1903 predecessor, including a trip to the North Pole.


Submarine Voyage


Both Frederic Thompson and Elmer Dundy are honored at the BoardWalk. Mr. Thompson is the proprietor of Thimbles & Threads found on the BoardWalk Promenade and the shop off of the resort's main lobby is called Dundy's Sundries.


Thimbles & Threads

Dundy's Sundries


The BoardWalk also offers a video arcade and gym. Both are located near Luna Park.

Side Show Games Arcade offers a nice selection of stand-up and sit-down games including old favorites and some state-of-the-art skill-testers.


Side Show Games Arcade

Side Show Games Arcade


Muscles & Bustles Health Club offers the latest in cardiovascular and weight-training equipment. Also available here is a steam room and sauna. Massage therapy can be arranged for an additional fee.


Muscles & Bustles Health Club

Muscles & Bustles Health Club

Muscles & Bustles Health Club


The BoardWalk has two lighted tennis courts which are open from 7am to 10pm. These courts are located at the far end of the resort just off of the pathway that leads to Disney's Hollywood Studios. The courts are intended for BoardWalk guests only. Reservations can be made at Community Hall and rental equipment is available.


Tennis Courts


The Ferris W. Eahlers Community Hall is located near the Villas' quiet pool. This facility is a great spot for tweens and teenagers - and adults too. Ping pong, air hockey, and foosball are just waiting to challenge the generations. DVDs, electronic games, and an abundance of toys will keep the younger set entertained for hours. Community Hall is also the spot to rent bikes and movies and secure tennis equipment.


Ferris W. Eahlers Community Hall

Ferris W. Eahlers Community Hall

Ferris W. Eahlers Community Hall

Ferris W. Eahlers Community Hall

Ferris W. Eahlers Community Hall


Community Hall sits next to the BoardWalk Villas "quiet" swimming pool. Like its counterpart at the BoardWalk Inn, this pool area is intended for leisurely swims, sunning, reading, and unobtrusive conversations. However, due to its proximity to Community Hall, children will be more prevalent here than at the BoardWalk Inn pool. Note, this pool does not have a lifeguard.


Villa's Quiet Pool

Villa's Quiet Pool

Villa's Quiet Pool

Villa's Quiet Pool


If you're in the mood for a little barbeque flavor, a charcoal grill and picnic table is located adjacent to the pool. You must bring your own charcoal as the resort does not stock this item.


Villas BBQ


As I mentioned earlier, the BoardWalk Villas house DVC units and members use "points" to secure lodging here. However, non-members can also rent these rooms for cash depending on availability and other factors. Rooms here come in four configurations, studio, one, two, and three bedroom units. Room sizes break down as follows:

Studio - 359 square feet
One Bedroom Unit - 712 square feet
Two Bedroom Unit - 1,071 square feet.
Three Bedroom Unit (Grand Villa) - 2,142 square feet

Today I'll be touring a Studio Unit.

A small entry greets guests as they enter a Studio Unit. On the wall is a mirror and shelf just large enough to hold a wallet, admission tickets, and room keys.


Studio Unit Entry


Unlike the one, two, and three bedroom units which have full kitchens capable of cooking complete meals, the Studio Unit features a kitchenette. The kitchenette is not meant for cooking a banquet, but rather warming precooked foods in the microwave and toasting bread and bagels in the toaster. A coffee maker is also provided and there is a small refrigerator with a tiny freezer. About the only thing this freezer is capable of holding is a couple of ice cube trays. Although the goblets and mugs are made out of glass and stoneware, the plates are paper. In DVC units with full kitchens, the dishes are stoneware.


Studio Unit Kitchenette

Studio Unit Kitchenette

Studio Unit Kitchenette

Studio Unit Kitchenette


Opposite the kitchenette is the vanity area of the bathroom. A large, well lit mirror hangs above a single sink. Ample storage is provided below the sink with drawers and cupboards. This is also where you'll find the hair dryer.


Studio Unit Vanity

Studio Unit Vanity


Like all Disney resort properties, the Villas provide H2O+ toiletries. Standard aminities include shampoo, conditioner, body scrub, and bars of soap. Thankfully, the soap is now packaged in an easy-to-open plastic bag. The old package was impossible to open without the aid of a knife or your teeth.


H2O+ Products


Off of the vanity is the toilet and tub/shower. The shower head is adjustable, but in an effort to conserve water, the spray is adequate only - which is probably the correct move on Disney's part. The towels are fluffy and thick.


Studio Unit Toilet Shower/Tub


On the other side of the vanity is a closet. Here you'll find additional bedding, a vacuum, a collapsible crib, a luggage rack, and a small safe.


Studio Unit Closet

Studio Unit Closet


The main room is painted in pastel pink and yellow and features a queen sized bed. The mattress is quite comfortable, but I feel that the three pillows are a little small. And why only three? Who gets two and who only gets one? The bedspread features a rose design with no hidden Disney characters.


Studio Unit Queen Bed


On the wall next to the bed is an oddly placed mirror. Its inconvenient location and poor lighting does not lend itself to practical use. And the double light over the bed is placed so high that it does not facilitate reading in bed by only one individual without disturbing the other. In addition, the light switch is placed too high to be easily reached while lying in bed.


Mirror and Lights


Next to the bed is a nightstand. Here you'll find a telephone, a clock/radio with an iPod docking station, and the TV remote control.


Studio Unit Night Stand


On the other side of the nightstand is a convertible sofa upholstered in a mint green material. Instructions on how to open the bed are left on the couch in plain sight. This is the next generation of convertible sofa and does not open in the conventional manner. If you're not familiar with this type of bed, the instructions are invaluable.

A strap can be found behind the back cushion. Without removing any cushions, all one must do is pull this strap and the bed opens right up. For the most part, anyone with average strength can operate this bed.


Studio Unit Convertable Sofa

Studio Unit Convertable Sofa

Studio Unit Convertable Sofa


Opposite the queen bed is another sofa, of sorts. Although it looks like it could be used as a child's bed, that is not Disney's intent. Studio Units sleep a maximum of four plus a child under three in a crib.


Studio Unit Couch


Next to this sofa is a chest with three large drawers. If you look closely, you'll find Mickey on each drawer. A DVD player can be found on the shelf and a flat screen TV sits atop the chest. There are no audio/visual hookups enabling you to watch your day's videos.


Studio Unit Chest of Drawers

Studio Unit Chest of Drawers


On the other side of the chest of drawers are a table and two chairs. When I pulled out my laptop, I discovered there was no electrical outlet near the table. It was on the other side of the chest. So I had to run my wires up and over. On the plus side, free WiFi is now standard at the BoardWalk Resort.


Studio Unit Table and Chairs


The next two pictures show an overall placement of the furniture.


Studio Unit

Studio Unit


All DVC units have a patio or balcony. The size can vary depending on the exterior of the building. Each unit will have two chairs and a small table.


Studio Unit Balcony


To see an overview of a Studio Unit, check out the video below.



I like the Studio Units if only two people are using the room. It seemed large and felt like a mini-suite. But personally, if I were part of a party of three or four and didn't care about the kitchenette, I would opt for a standard room in the BoardWalk Inn portion of the resort. I'm not a big fan of opening and closing a convertible sofa each night and I like the décor at the Inn better. The rooms at the Inn have a richer, more luxurious atmosphere.

The walk from your room to the elevators can be significant on either side of the resort. If this is an issue to you, be sure to request a room close to the elevators when making your reservation and again when checking in.

The bus stop for the BoardWalk Inn & Villas is located near the front of the resort. Once again, this can be a long walk depending on where your room is located. The buses transport guests to the Magic Kingdom, Animal Kingdom, water parks, and Downtown Disney. For transportation to Epcot and Hollywood Studios, you can either walk or take one of the Friendship Boats docking on the BoardWalk Promenade. Note, the walk to Hollywood Studios is somewhat long and on hot days, you might want to think twice before making this journey.


Bus Stop

Boat Dock


To see an overview of the BoardWalk Inn & Villas Resort, check out the video below. It runs just shy of nine minutes.



That's it for the BoardWalk Inn & Villas. Check back next week when I'll discuss the BoardWalk Promenade.



September 4, 2012

BoardWalk Inn & Villas - Part 2 of 3

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Welcome back. Yesterday I discussed the lobby of the BoardWalk Inn & Villas. Today I'll continue my description of this deluxe resort.

One of the most charming spots at the BoardWalk Inn & Villas is the Belle Vue Lounge. Tucked away in a corner of the resort, this "1930's parlor" is the perfect spot to escape into a bygone era. Overstuffed chairs, wicker sofas, and a collection of small tables and chairs provide wonderful possibilities for relaxation and conversation. The walls are lined with books and shelves contain a number of board games for guest use, including Monopoly. Potted plants and fresh flower bouquets complete the experience.


Belle Vue Lounge

Belle Vue Lounge

Belle Vue Lounge

Belle Vue Lounge

Belle Vue Lounge


The Belle Vue Lounge also has some interesting oddities from years ago. One of these is a Magic Lantern. This early projection device originated in Europe in the 17th century and was often used by magicians and charlatans to amaze and scare a naïve public. The Magic Lantern came to America sometime in the late 19th century where it continued to be used by magicians. But it also took on a more legitimate use as this was the humble beginnings of the film industry. Enterprising entrepreneurs would charge admission to present a "slide" show to an astonished audience.


Magic Lantern


In the morning, a continental breakfast is offered at the Belle Vue Lounge from 6:30am to 11am. Selections include pastries, fruit, cereals, and beverages. From 5pm to 12 midnight, a bartender is on hand to serve you your favorite libation.

You will also notice a number of old-time radios positioned around the room. If you listen closely, you might just hear a broadcast of long ago.


Old Time Radio


Monopoly is actually a very fitting pastime to be enjoyed while having a beverage at the Belle Vue Lounge. During the Great Depression, Charles Darrow created a new board game. It dealt with the buying, selling, and development of property. As Darrow had vacationed in Atlantic City prior to the stock market crash, he felt that the city's glamor and larger-than-life reputation would add a touch of sophistication to his game. Thus, all of the properties were named after actual streets in this well-known city. Of course the most sought after and expensive title would be that of Boardwalk.


Deed to Boardwalk


Darrow presented his creation to Parker Brothers, one of the largest manufacturers of games in the country. Parker Brothers turned the game down due to its complex rules and perceived design flaws. Undaunted, Darrow and a friend hand-produced 5,000 sets of Monopoly for the 1934 Christmas season and sold them at a Philadelphia department store. The game was an instant success and Darrow could not keep up with demand. He revisited Parker Brothers and this time the company took notice and bought the game. One year later in 1935, Parker Brothers was producing 20,000 games per week.

It's interesting to note, early Monopoly sets were not the square boards we're familiar with today, but rather painted oilcloth cut into a circle with the familiar properties lining the edge.


Original Monopoly Game


Although not available to play, there are several other vintage board games lining the shelves of the Belle Vue Lounge. Two of these are, "Go to the Head of the Class" and "Eddie Cantor's Tell it to the Judge." Next time you're in this room, take a look at these diversions of another era. It's interesting to see how children and their parents were entertained before the electronic age.


Eddie Cantor's Tell it to the Judge

Go to the Head of the Class


Just past the Belle Vue Lounge are the elevators that take you to the 371 rooms of the "Inn" portion of the resort. The following description will be of a standard room.

Just inside the door is a small niche. Within this niche is a chest that contains three drawers and a small refrigerator just big enough to hold a few bottles of water and a collection of snacks.

On top of the chest is a coffee maker, a limited supply of coffee and tea, and cups.


Chest in Niche

Coffee Machine


Next to the niche is a large closet. In it you'll find hangers, an iron and ironing board, a collapsible crib, and a safe just large enough for items such as watches, keys, and wallets. Robes are offered in club level rooms and suites.


Closet

Closet

Closet


Directly opposite the closet is the vanity area. Here you'll find a spacious counter, two sinks, two oval mirrors, a secondary shelf, and a makeup mirror. The hair dryer can be found on a shelf beneath the sinks. H2O+ shampoo, conditioner, and body wash is also available. This area is brightly lit so you'll have plenty of light for those morning beauty activities that might require extra attention.


Bathroom Vanity

Bathroom Vanity


In a separate room are the toilet and the tub/shower. Being a deluxe resort, you will find the towels thick and fluffy.


Toilet Tub/Shower


The main room has two queen-sized beds. In keeping with the current deluxe hotel trend, there are no bedspreads, but rather a third sheet on the top of the bed with a decorative throw. A small "BoardWalk" pillow completes the design.


Queen-Sized Beds

Queen-Sized Beds

BoardWalk Pillow


In-between the two beds is a nightstand. Here you'll find a telephone and an alarm clock/radio with an iPod docking station.


Nightstand


On the opposite wall is a daybed.


Daybed


Disney has completed their conversion from tube-style TV to flat-screen at all of their resorts. The chest that houses the BoardWalk TVs is quite attractive and has plenty of storage space. Besides six decent sized drawers, there is shelving on both sides of the piece and cubby holes in the front. Audio/visual connections are also conveniently located so you can plug your video camera into the TV and watch the "dailies."


Chest of Drawers

Chest of Drawers


Next to the chest is a desk with a nesting table for laptop use. Free WiFi is now available so there is no longer a need for cable connection. On the desk sits a cute Minnie Mouse lamp. A mirror hangs above.


Nesting Desk

Minnie Mouse Lamp


All of the rooms at the BoardWalk Inn have either a balcony or patio. These will vary in shape and design depending on your room location. None of these are very large and can only accommodate two chairs and a small table.


Balconies

Balconies

Balconies

Balconies

Balconies


To see an overview of a BoardWalk Inn standard room, check out the video below.



Some of the standard rooms overlook the BoardWalk Promenade and courtyard. Others, the resort entrance. But many rooms have views of a beautifully manicured Rose Courtyard. This garden area is peaceful and serene and one of the most tranquil spots in all of Walt Disney World. A grand staircase leads from the lobby area to the lush lawns and walkways.


Rose Courtyard

Rose Courtyard

Rose Courtyard

Rose Courtyard

Rose Courtyard


This respite from the World is also where you'll find the "quiet" pool. Although children are certainly welcome, the intent is that this pool area is for leisurely swims, sunning, reading, and unobtrusive conversations. Note, there is no lifeguard on duty at this pool.


Boardwalk In Quiet Pool

Boardwalk In Quiet Pool


Also found in this area of the resort is a feature unique to all of Walt Disney World. Called the Garden Suites, these 14 rooms do not open onto a central hallway, but instead are accessed via the Rose Courtyard. Although perfect for honeymooners, these rooms can sleep four.


Garden Suites

Garden Suites


Every suite has its own, uniquely landscaped yard surrounded by a white picket fence. Guests enter their private garden through an arbor, each with its own distinctive gate. A small mailbox sits to the side.


Garden Suites

Garden Suites

Garden Suites

Garden Suites


Entering the suite we find a small living room with a sectional sofa. The sofa can be opened out into a double bed. To the side of the room is a console and TV. In a corner is a desk and nesting table.

I felt the placement of the TV did not facilitate easy viewing for most persons on the couch.


Garden Suite Sofa & TV

Garden Suite Sofa & TV

Garden Suite Nesting Desk


Off of the living room are a kitchenette and a closet. The kitchenette contains a mini-refrigerator, microwave oven, coffee maker, and sink. The closet is a reasonable size, but it only has one door. This makes accessing the back portion of this storage space somewhat difficult. A powder room (toilet and sink) can be found off of the kitchenette. There is no shower or tub on the first floor so if four people are using this room, they must bathe upstairs.


Garden Suite Kitchenette

Garden Suite Downstairs Closet

Garden Suite Powder Room


The bedroom is located upstairs in the loft. Since this is an "open" layout, there is no real privacy between the upstairs and downstairs.


Garden Suite Stairway

Garden Suite Balcony


On the second floor you'll find another closet, queen-sized bed, nightstand, small chair, and a chest of drawers and TV. Once again, I noticed that the placement of the TV makes viewing from the bed somewhat difficult. The loft looks out toward small windows.


Garden Suite Upstairs Closet

Garden Suite Queen Bed

Garden Suite Chest of Drawers and TV

Garden Suite Upstairs Window


Off of the bedroom is a second bathroom. Here you'll find a marble-topped counter with two sinks and two oval mirrors. Next to the vanity is a large, whirlpool tub surrounded by large mirrors. If you don't like looking at your own naked body, don't bathe here. LOL. But if this isn't a problem, then you're in for a nice relaxing soak.


Garden Suite Upstairs Bathroom

Garden Suite Upstairs Vanity

Garden Suite Bathtub


In a separate room you'll find a toilet and a shower big enough for two.


Garden Suite Upstairs Toilet and Shower


The Garden Suites are charming and perfect for couples in love - and as I said earlier, unique to the BoardWalk Inn. To see an overview of one of these rooms, check out the video below.



As with all Disney deluxe resorts, the BoardWalk Inn offers Club Level rooms and amenities for those willing to spend a little extra. Located on the fourth floor, guests with these privileges have a dedicated concierge staff that will help them make their vacation whatever they want it to be. From restaurant reservations, personal tours, and suggestions you have never even imagined, these well-informed hosts and hostesses are there to make you happy.


Innkeepers Club Concierge


Also available is a special lounge called the Innkeeper's Club. This is a wonderful spot to escape and be pampered. Elegant furniture, fresh flowers, and an attentive staff are on hand to spoil you. The Innkeeper's Club offers a large TV and a collection of Disney classics on DVD.


Innkeeper's Club Lounge

Innkeeper's Club Lounge

Innkeeper's Club Lounge

Innkeeper's Club Lounge

Innkeeper's Club Lounge


The doors to the lounge open at 6:30am each morning.

Coffee, Tea, Water & Juices - 6:30am to 10:30am

Continental Breakfast - 7:00am to 10:30am

Four Cold Cereals, Hot Oatmeal, Fresh Pastries, Fresh Fruit, Yogurt, and hard-boiled eggs. Skim Milk, 2% Milk, Chocolate Milk, Orange Juice, Water and V-8.

Refreshments - 11:30am to 4:00pm
Fresh made potato chips, fresh baked cookies, various snacks & candies, lemonade, iced tea, water & soda.

Wine & Cheese - 5:00pm to 7:00pm

Two hot appetizers, 3 cheeses, 2 cold salads, vegetable platter, pita bread, crackers, four bottled beers and three wines. Water and soda also available.

Cordials & Desserts - 8:00pm to 10:00pm

Various fresh pastries from the BoardWalk Bakery, four cordial alcohols.

IllumiNations can be viewed from the Lounge balcony although only the fireworks portion can be seen above the trees.

Important Note: the doors remain open all day long from 6:30am to 10:00pm, but services end promptly so the staff can clean up and turn over for the next service offering.


Innkeeper's Club Lounge Refreshments

Innkeeper's Club Lounge Refreshments

Innkeeper's Club Lounge Refreshments

Innkeeper's Club Lounge Refreshments

Innkeeper's Club Lounge Refreshments

Innkeeper's Club Lounge Refreshments


To see an overview of the Innkeeper's Club, check out the video below.



That's it for Part Two of the BoardWalk Inn & Villas. Check back tomorrow for Part Three.



September 3, 2012

BoardWalk Inn & Villas - Part 1 of 3

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Advance To Boardwalk


The concept for a boardwalk was born in Atlantic City, New Jersey in 1870. This resort town had already established itself as a vacation mecca. Beautiful hotels, elegant restaurants, and the Atlantic Ocean beckoned the well-to-do and the middle class to spend a few days or a few weeks in luxury during the summer months. However, the close proximity to the beach caused a problem for businesses. Sand. People tracked it everywhere. It could be found in hotel and restaurant lobbies, in railroads, in guest rooms, shops -- everywhere. A solution was needed. The answer came from train conductor Alexander Boardman and hotel owner Jacob Keim. They proposed building a pedestrian walkway out of wood with openings between the slats large enough to allow the sand to fall between. So great was the problem that the city managers agreed to spend half of the town's yearly tax revenue ($5,000) to build an eight-foot wide wooden walkway that would stretch one mile and be elevated one foot above the sand. The Boardwalk officially opened on June 26, 1870.


Atlantic City Boardwalk


The Boardwalk was a success and in the years to come, was widened and extended several times. In the early years, the Boardwalk was disassembled after the summer season and stored to protect it from the elements. Today, the Atlantic City Boardwalk is 60 feet wide and runs 6 miles. The planks of wood are arranged in a herringbone pattern and are laid on a substructure of concrete and steel. "Boardwalk" is the official street name for this thoroughfare and thus is always capitalized when referring to the street in Atlantic City.

The Atlantic City Boardwalk was the inspiration for Disney's BoardWalk Inn & Villas, a deluxe property. Designed by architect Robert A.M Stern, this resort would be located on the south shore of Crescent Lake and complement the Yacht & Beach Club Resorts, also designed by Stern.

The BoardWalk Inn & Villas would also mark the second Disney Vacation Club Property (DVC) after Old Key West. The resort would be divided in half with standard rooms being located in the "Inn" portion of the resort and DVC units in the "Villas" section. The resort officially opened on July 1, 1996.

Just like Atlantic City in days of old, Disney's version of this getaway-by-the-sea would feature a hotel, restaurants, shops, nightclubs, and games. The only thing missing is the sandy beach.

This week I will discuss the hotel portion of the resort and the amenities offered. Next week I will cover the BoardWalk Promenade. Note, when discussing the resort, Disney will either split the word in two "Board Walk" or write it as one word while capitalizing the W in "BoardWalk."

The BoardWalk is located on Epcot Resorts Blvd. As with all Disney resorts, you must check in with a guard before entering the property. Self-parking is a fair distance from the lobby so you might want to consider driving up to the porte-cochère and letting Bell Services handle your luggage when you first arrive. Valet parking is currently $12 per day plus tip.


BoardWalk Entrance

Guard Shack

BoardWalk Hotel Entrance

Porte-cochère


From the porte-cochère you pass through doorways adorned with signs welcoming you to the BoardWalk Inn & Villas. When entering the lobby anteroom, you will come face-to-face with a miniature carrousel.


BoardWalk Hotel Doors

Illions Carrousel

Illions Carrousel

Illions Carrousel


This hand-crafted carrousel was built by M.C. Illions sometime in the 1920's. Illions was a designer and manufacturer of full-sized merry-go-rounds and built this scale model as a sales tool to demonstrate his workmanship to prospective buyers. It was never his intent to have it publicly displayed. The carrousel features 44 individually carved and painted 4-inch-tall horses. No two are identical. When activated, these horses move up and down, just like their full-scaled brothers.

The carrousel was purchased by the Walt Disney Company in 1995 to be displayed at the BoardWalk. Over a period of one year, Imagineers restored decayed wood, worn mechanisms, and other items in disrepair. Another team researched the original color schemes and decorations used in Illions' full-scale merry-go-rounds and applied them to this model. Along the way, a few hidden Mickeys were added. Finishing touches included replating brass, applying gold leaf, crafting miniature leather stirrup straps, and replacing the tiny pearl-headed pins that serve as make-believe light bulbs. The Imagineers even scaled the speed of the carousel to match that of the King Arthur Carousel located at Disneyland in California.

After admiring Illions' carrousel, glance upwards. Here you'll discover the Hippocampus Electrolier Chandelier. This magnificent work of art features animals that might be found on one of Illions' creations. In classical mythology, a hippocampus is a sea horse with two forefeet, and a body ending in the tail of a dolphin or fish. In-between the hippocampus are cherubs holding light fixtures. An "electrolier" is a chandelier designed for electric lamps rather than gas or candle.

The Hippocampus Electrolier Chandelier weighs 3,000 pounds and is finished entirely in 22-karat gold leaf, hand-cut Austrian crystal, and custom-blown glass.


Hippocampus Electrolier Chandelier

Hippocampus Electrolier Chandelier

Hippocampus Electrolier Chandelier


The main lobby is bright and spacious. Overstuffed furniture and potted plants sit next to large windows and create a comfortable sitting area. Along the opposite wall are the check-in desks.


BoardWalk Lobby

BoardWalk Lobby


Above the check-in desks is an interesting detail. Within three elaborate gold frames we find depictions of pastoral settings. We also discover the castles of Disneyland, Disneyland Paris, and Tokyo Disneyland.


Disney Castles

Disney Castles

Disney Castles

Disney Castles


The lobby houses other interesting details. Take for instance this reproduction of Lucy the Elephant that is located south of Atlantic City perched high above the fireplace.


Lucy Elephant

Lucy Elephant


Lucy is six stories high, built out of wood and tin sheeting, and was an example of novelty architecture. Built in 1881 by James Lafferty, this structure was a sales gimmick to promote real estate and attract tourism.


Colossal Elephant Picture


It is interesting to note, Disney has a plaque near their reproduction claiming this is the Colossus Elephant of Coney Island. However, their information is incorrect.

Sitting below the Lucy Elephant and to each side of the fireplace are perhaps the scariest two chairs you'll ever see. (They scare me, anyway.)


Nanny Chairs

Nanny Chairs


These "nanny chairs" were originally found on 19th century European carrousels. They were intended for adults to rest upon while their children rode the moving animals. These reproductions were cast from circa 1889 originals, hand painted and highlighted with gold leaf.

In this same area is another miniature reproduction, the Flip-Flap Railway which was located in Luna Park. Designed by Lina Beecher and built in 1898, this early coaster featured a 25-foot loop and was the world's first "upside down loop-the-loop roller coaster." The circular design of the loop (rather than teardrop used today) created a tremendous amount of g-force and caused its riders discomfort and neck problems. The coaster closed soon after opening.


Flip-Flap Railway

Flip-Flap Railway Picture


The founder of Coney Island Boardwalk's Steeplechase Park once said: "Paradox: a successful ride must look extremely dangerous yet convincing that the ride is completely safe." This axiom still holds true today.

Outside of the lobby we find a wonderful covered porch. Furnished with wicker chairs, this is the perfect spot to take a load off and relax in the afternoon and evening. It is here that you discover the lobby is actually on the second floor and this porch/balcony overlooks a beautifully manicured lawn below.


BoardWalk Balcony

BoardWalk Balcony

BoardWalk Balcony


I especially like the "kissing bench." This chair design makes face-to-face conversation easy and facilitates a quick smooch every now and then.


Kissing Bench


Adjacent to the lobby is Dundy's Sundries. This shop sells BoardWalk logo merchandise, souvenirs, sundries, books, and other gift-type items. For those staying in a DVC room and looking for food items, check out Screen Door General Store located on the BoardWalk Promenade. Dundy's Sundries is open daily from 7am to 11pm.

By the way, if you want to know who Dundy is, you'll have to read Part Three of this article. Trust me. It's an interesting story.


Dundy's Sundries

Dundy's Sundries


Leaving the lobby and walking toward the "Inn" section of the resort, we come to a long narrow hallway with windows on both sides. Located in this hallway is a Clamshell Mutascope. This early motion picture device was patented by Herman Casler on November 21, 1894 and soon became a staple in penny arcades around the country. The machine contained a wheel of still photographs that the patron would rotate with a hand crank, giving the illusion of movement.


Mutoscope


At one time, there were several mutascopes lining this hallway, but alas, there is now just one.


Mutoscopes


Further on we find another machine of this bygone era. Here, patrons could benefit from the "healthy" effects of electricity. By grasping the handles and twisting them inward, a person would receive a charge. The further the handles were rotated, the more electricity was transferred to the body. The claim was that this would give a person a "nerve and muscle" massage.

Machines like these and many others used to be located at the now long-gone Penny Arcade on Main Street at the Magic Kingdom. This once novel facility is missed by many old-timers of Disney World.


Electric Wonder


Across from the Clamshell Mutascope are two striking paintings and credenzas. If you study the credenzas carefully, you will notice additional paintings depicting early amusement park rides.


Credenza and Amusement Park Rides

Credenza and Amusement Park Rides

Credenza and Amusement Park Rides

Credenza and Amusement Park Rides

Credenza and Amusement Park Rides


Also in this area are a number of lithographs and illustrations. These next two pastels depict how turn-of-the-century attractions allowed a repressed society to loosen their inhibitions and enjoy a few moments of gaiety.


Lithographs

Lithographs


Another common theme seen throughout the resort is framed picture postcards from the turn of the previous century. After the American Civil War, a number of expositions were held in the U.S. to help promote commerce and trade. In 1873, the Interstate Industrial Exposition was held in Chicago. To help market the event, a "picture" postcard was created so attendees could send quick notes back home - and advertise the exposition. However, these early cards garnered very little attention. It wasn't until an image of the Eiffel Tower was printed on a souvenir card for the Paris Exposition of 1889 that the world took notice and postcards grew to be a phenomenon.


Framed Postcards


Up until the information age, a multitude of postcards were sold at the Disney Parks. Each and every attraction had at least one of these beautifully photographed picture cards - sometimes two or three. Many guests bought them simply as collector pieces. But alas, the ability to send email, instant messages, and electronic photographs greatly cut into the sales of these picturesque pieces of cardboard and demand for them dropped dramatically. Today, only a handful of postcards are sold in the parks and most of these feature Disney characters rather than a specific location.

That's it for Part One of the BoardWalk Inn & Villas. Check back tomorrow for Part Two.



August 27, 2012

Port Orleans Riverside - Room Refurbishments

Jack Spence Masthead


Over the last several months, all of the rooms at Port Orleans Riverside have been refurbished and slightly redecorated. Last week I spend a couple of days here so I could film and photograph the new Alligator Bayou and Mansion rooms. While I was there, I was also given access to a Mansion Accessible room which I will also cover today. The new Royal rooms were discussed in another blog so these will not be discussed at this time.

This blog is strictly about the new room designs. If you'd like to know more about the resort and its amenities, check out the article I wrote two years ago by clicking here.

The Alligator Bayou rooms are located in 16 two-story lodge buildings. They are nestled in groves of pine and oak trees which create the feeling of backwoods wilderness. The exterior of the lodges have not changed with the refurbishment.


Alligator Bayou Lodge Exterior


Inside the room, we'll look first at the two queen beds. The headboards have not been altered from the previous design. They appear to be made out of small logs and branches. However, the bedspreads have been updated. They now sport scenes from around the resort.


Two Queen Bed

Bedspread


The decorative pillow features Louis from the Disney animated film, "The Princess and the Frog."


Louis Pillow


Two lantern-styled lamps can be found above the beds. Each is operated by a separate switch located over the nightstand.


Lantern Lighting

Lantern Lighting


The nightstand resembles a shipping crate that might have traveled along the Mississippi in another era. On it are a telephone and clock radio.


Nightstand


The picture on the side wall is that of the Blue Bayou Restaurant at Disneyland. It was painted by Disney Legend Herb Ryman.


Blue Bayou Picture


All rooms have at least one, large window. Corner rooms have two. Besides blackout curtains, Venetian blinds allow guests to adjust the amount of outside light that enters the room.


Window


Beneath the window is a reasonably disguised air conditioner. In the past, the controls were on the unit itself. Now, a wall-mounted thermostat operates the device. This is a nice improvement.


Air Conditioning

Thermostat


Like the headboard, the room's table appears to be made out of logs and branches. The chairs have slat backs and are painted dark brown. The carpet continues this wood theme and looks like peg-and-groove construction.


Table & Chairs

Carpet


The biggest change to the Alligator Bayou room comes in the way a fifth person is accommodated here. In the past, inconvenient trundle beds were located under one of the primary beds. These have been done away with and replaced by an easy-to-use foldout bed. Resembling more shipping crates, this single bed opens and closes with ease. When the bed is open, we see Louis again, dreaming an alligator dream.


Fold-down Bed

Fold-down Bed

Fold-down Bed


FYI: This bed is intended for children and young teenagers. An adult would be a little tight on space.

When not in use as a bed, this structure offers bench seating. Beneath the bench are three drawers. On one of the drawers we see a stenciled silhouette of a steamboat. The lettering says Willie Inc. Est. 1928. This is in reference to Mickey Mouse's debut in the animated short "Steamboat Willie."


Bench Seating

Willie Inc


On top of the "crates" is a shelf, perfect for the storing of wallets, jewelry, room cards, and park tickets. You'll also find convenient audio-visual outlets for connecting your video camera to the TV.


Shelf

Audio/Visual Connections


Next to the foldout bed is a cupboard that houses a small refrigerator and two shelves. On top of this cabinet is the coffee maker and ice bucket. The hammered tin door is especially appealing with its scene of water lilies and cattails.


Cabinet and Shelves

Refrigerator

Coffee Maker

Tin Door


Above this cupboard is a coat-rack adorned with Mickey. However, the close proximity to the coffee maker below makes this coat-rack almost useless except for very small items.


Mickey Coat-rack


All of the walls have been given a texture treatment. I don't know if this is wallpaper or plaster, but either way, it adds a nice, rustic touch. Rough-hewn wood planks circle the ceiling.


Textured Walls

Ceiling Molding


The vanity area of the bathroom is separated from the bedroom by a curtain.


Vanity Curtain


The old bathroom design featured two pedestal sinks. This was attractive, but offered very little counter space. These have been replaced by a vanity unit with two sinks. Beneath the counter are shelves and a decorative washboard. The two mirrors are framed with "branches" that match the headboard and table. The number 92 on the washboard represents the year the resort opened. The hairdryer on the wall has a small light on the bottom of the unit. This makes a perfect nightlight.


Bathroom Vanity

Washboard


Next to the sink is an open closet. There is plenty of space here to hang your clothes. Also in this area are extra bedding, an iron, ironing board, and key-locking safe.


Open Closet


The toilet and tub/shower are located in a separate room. The shower walls are covered in a material that resembles wood planks. The shower curtain features a non-Disney design of fish.


Shower

Towels

Shower Curtain


I liked this new design of the Alligator Bayou room very much. It was rustic, but didn't reek "outdoors." It still retains some sophistication. I was comfortable here and suspect most others would be too. If you have five people, or a son and daughter that require separate beds, I would highly recommend one of these units.

To see a three minute film of an Alligator Bayou room, check out my video below.



Whereas the Alligator Bayou section of the resort offers backwoods charm, the Mansion section of Port Orleans suggests stately elegance. Four massive buildings, each with a different Southern Plantation design, house the rooms here.


Mansion Building


The two queen-sized beds are draped in a non-Disney blue bedspread. A dust ruffle covers the lower mattress.


Two Queen Beds

Bedspread


Each headboard features a beautiful painting inspired by real places at Port Orleans Riverside.


Headboards

Headboard Scene

Corresponding Resort Scene

Headboard Scene

Corresponding Resort Scene


Above each bed is a simple, but elegant light fixture. Once again, they are operated by switches above the nightstand.


Bed Lighting


The nightstand is of an unassuming design which features a shelf and a drawer. A phone and a clock radio sit on top.


Nightstand

Nightstand


The window is draped in a rich fabric of elegant design. Venetian blinds add additional lighting options.


Window Treatment


A round table and two chairs offer a nice spot to set up your laptop. I was especially impressed with the chair coverings. Additional fabric hangs below the seat cushions. In the scheme of things, this extra material is completely unnecessary, but adds a stylish touch worthy of the Grand Floridian.


Table and Chairs

Chair


The chest has three drawers and a cabinet that houses a mini-refrigerator. The flat-screen TV and coffee maker sit on top.


Chest of Drawers

Chest of Drawers


I must use this opportunity to complain. I see this time and time again in EVERY Disney resort. It is a minor inconvenience, but it annoys me.

Many small refrigerators have reversible doors. Why is it that Disney doesn't match the way the refrigerator door opens with the way the cabinet door opens? When one door opens to the left and the other to the right, it makes accessing the unit difficult. They should both open in the same direction.


Refrigerator Door


Next to the chest is a cushioned bench. Above this is a Mickey coat rack. The arrangement here works better than at the Alligator Bayou rooms as there is space beneath the coat-rack, allowing you to hang longer pieces of apparel.


Bench & Coat-rack


The picture on the wall is of Disneyland's Mark Twain riverboat.


Painting of Mark Twain


Like the Alligator Bayou rooms, the controls for the air conditioner have been moved to a wall unit.


Air Conditioning


The bathroom vanity is located behind a hand-drawn curtain.


Vanity Curtains


The vanity has a large counter-top with two sinks. Above this is a shelf and two mirrors and the room has more than adequate lighting. A hairdryer hangs on the wall.


Vanity-Sinks

Vanity-Sinks


The open closet has plenty of hanging space, an iron, ironing board, and a small safe. I have the same complaint with the safe as I do with the refrigerators. Why can't the safe door open toward the wall? By opening away from the wall, it becomes more cumbersome to use.


Open Closet

Safe


The toilet and tub/shower is located in a separate room. The shower walls are covered in a plastic material that hints at tile work.


Tub Shower

Tub Shower


I like the Mansion Rooms. They are nice. Very nice. But I didn't feel that the theming was anything out of the ordinary. Remove the picture of the Mark Twain and a few other Disney references, and I could be in any nice motor lodge around the country. On the other hand, the Alligator Bayou rooms are loaded with character. You will not find rooms like these at your local motel. Disney has taken the decorating of their rooms to a new level. The Alligator Bayou rooms are a good example of this. The Mansion rooms are nice, but nothing to write home about.

To be fair, I'm not sure what Disney could do to "plus" the Mansion rooms any more than they already have. But when you stay in an Alligator Bayou room one night and a Mansion room the next, the differences become more obvious.

To see a two and a half minute movie of a Mansion room, check out my video below.



While on my most recent trip, I also visited an Accessible Mansion room. Since the overall décor is identical to a standard Mansion room, I will only highlight what has been changed to make this room "accessible."

You may have noticed, at all of the moderate resorts, the doors are placed within an alcove. (First picture.) In order to give the Accessible rooms a little more square footage, these alcoves have been eliminated. (Second picture.)


Standard Door

Accessible Door


The doors of Accessible rooms have two peepholes -- one at a standard height and a second at a level convenient for someone sitting in a wheelchair.


Door Peephole


The beds are several inches lower than in standard rooms for easier access.


Lower Beds


The switch plate above the nightstand also has an electrical outlet so you don't have to go searching for it along the baseboard.


Electric Outlet


Between the beds and the room door is a full-length mirror.


Full Length Mirror


Standard rooms have a round table. Accessible rooms have a square table designed for those using a wheelchair.


Square Table


In making the bathroom larger and more convenient, the closet in the vanity was eliminated. In its place, a large wardrobe was placed in the bedroom area. In it are shelving, hanging space, the iron, and ironing board.


Wardrobe Cabinet

Wardrobe Cabinet


Unlike standard rooms that use a curtain to separate the vanity area from the bedroom, Accessible rooms use a solid, pocket door.


Pocket Door


The bathroom has been radically redesigned from the Standard room. First, it's one large room rather than two. This allows the toilet area more space. Handrails have also been added for support.


Toilet


There is only one sink with no cabinetry below. This frees up this lower space for those riding in a wheelchair. To make up for the lack of counter space, additional shelving has been added nearby.


Sink

Additional Shelves


The shower is designed to be "rolled" into. Dual height controls and a shower head on a flexible hose provide easy access. A fold-down chair is attached to the wall.


Roll-in Shower

Shower Controls

Shower Seat


To see a two and a half minute movie of an Accessible Mansion room, check out my video below.



That's it for my coverage of the new room decors at Port Orleans Riverside. This is a great resort and I highly recommend giving it a try sometime.



August 12, 2012

Lion King Suite - Art of Animation Resort

Jack Spence Masthead


Hey everyone!

Being the ever vigilant Disney reporter that I am, I was at the Art of Animation Resort on opening day of the Lion King section (August 10th). I wanted to share with you some pictures of the grounds and room and share my thoughts with you. Let's start with the exterior.

The two Lion King buildings are located to the north of the Finding Nemo section of the resort. When exiting Animation Hall toward The Big Blue Pool, you would turn left. The first thing you notice as you approach this area are the two rock monoliths that "hide" the staircases on the ends of the building.


Rocks Hidding Stairs


As the walkway approaches the opening between the two buildings, we see Rafiki welcoming us to his world. This is the first of many photo opportunities guests will encounter here.


Rafiki


Also from this spot, we can begin to see the wonderful graphics painted on the buildings. Elephants, giraffes, and giant acacia trees punctuate the make-believe landscape. Clouds top the building's fourth floor.


Building Graphics

Building Graphics


As we enter this African environment, we meet Mufasa surveying his kingdom atop Pride Rock.


Mufasa on Pride Rock

Mufasa on Pride Rock


Our pathway continues through the grasslands of the Serengeti. Unlike the Finding Nemo section of the resort that is busy with multiple schools of fish and the Cars section which is studded with several automobiles and "Burma Shave" signage, the Lion King section is more subdued and has the feel of nature about it. This area is far less "cluttered" which is appropriate for the theme.


Grasslands

Grasslands


In the center of the Lion King Section is perhaps the most impressive of all the iconic pieces of character art. Here we find Timon, Pumbaa, and young Simba crossing a fallen log. You can't help but start humming Hakuna Matata.


Hakuna Matata

Hakuna Matata


Simba

Pumbaa

Timon


After walking through more grassland, we come to the Elephant Graveyard and children's play area. This area is impressive with the skeleton of an elephant and Shenzi, Banzai, and Ed looking down on us. Through the elephant's rib bones is a small cave.


Elephant Graveyard

Elephant Graveyard

Banzai

Shenzi

Ed


I have to be honest with you; I was disappointed with this area. In acknowledging that the Lion King section of the resort does not have a pool, Disney touts that it DOES have a children's playground. But what is it that the children are supposed to play on? There is no slide. No swings. No jungle gym. And all over the grounds are signs that say, "No Climbing Please." With the exception of a VERY small cave, there is absolutely nothing for children to do here. Yes, this area is visually very pleasing. In fact, it's fantastic in that respect. But it would take a mighty big imagination to call this a playground.


No Climbing

No Climbing


Moving on we find Scar keeping a watchful eye on the Elephant Graveyard and the hyenas.


Scar

Scar


Anchoring the far end of the resort is Zazu.


Zazu


On the back side of the buildings are black & white sketches of various Lion King characters, demonstrating the "movement" of animation. There are also several signs with interesting bits of trivia regarding the movie and the resort.


Back of the Buildings

Trivia Signs


Because the Lion King section of the resort lacks a pool, this area is more subdued and quieter than the Cars and Finding Nemo sections. This can be a major plus for many people. And for those of you who do want to cool off with a refreshing dip, the Big Blue Pool and the Flippin' Fins Pool (not open yet) are close at hand.

To see a three minute movie of the Lion King section, check out my video below.



Now let's take a look inside the Lion King buildings. The guest rooms in this section are all one-bedroom suites that open onto an interior hallway. On each floor, a different painting greets guests as they enter and exit the elevators.


Lobby Artwork

Lobby Artwork

Lobby Artwork

Lobby Artwork


The hallway carpeting is full of foliage and various animal footprints.


Hallway Carpeting


When entering a suite, you're in the dining room. A special "Murphy" bed/table makes up the bulk of the furniture in this room. One person can easily open and close this bed as it has counterweights. Two end tables flank the bed. A sleeping Simba is revealed when the bed is open.


Convertable Table/Bed

Convertable Table/Bed

Nightstand

Sleeping Simba


The dining chairs look like leaves and are stackable. This is a nice space-saving feature.


Leaf Chairs

Leaf Chairs


When the bed is put away, the graphics are cute. It seems that five birds have just landed on the branches of a tree and the nearby insects are running for their lives. More hungry birds can be seen on a nearby picture. I suppose these are appropriate graphics for the dining room - birds looking for a meal.


Table Graphics

Hungry Birds


The living room has a convertible sofa, two coffee tables, a lamp, chair, chest of drawers, and an open closet. Also in the living room is a kitchenette that features a sink, microwave, mini-refrigerator, coffee maker, plastic cups & cutlery and paper plates & bowls.


Living Room

Living Room


Let's take these features one-by-one. The kitchenette is not intended for the cooking of full meals. It is to function as a place where you can reheat last night's pizza, keep sodas cold, and get a drink of water.

The base of the unit is designed to look like wood, perhaps a tree trunk. The upper portion represents foliage. You will see this theme repeated again and again.


Kitchenette

Kitchenette


The convertible sofa is upholstered in an orange, textured material. Behind the sofa are five, very cute giraffes. Like the fold-down bed in the dining room, this convertible sofa can easily be opened by a person with moderate strength.


Convertable Sofa

Convertable Sofa

Giraffes


A word of warning to anyone who sleeps in this room. The bed is in close proximity to both the air conditioner and the refrigerator. Both of these appliances cycle on and off continually. If you're a heavy sleeper, this isn't a problem. But if you're a light sleeper, beware.

The lamp-table next to the sofa features three "blossom" lights. A close observer will notice vines creeping up the structure.


Lamp


The two coffee tables resemble logs. On the top of the logs, the "rings" are actually the lyrics for "I Just Can't Wait to be King" and "Hakuna Matata."


Coffee Tables

Coffee Tables


I laughed out loud when I saw the chair. It resembles the "grub" that Pumbaa eats. This chair isn't particularly comfortable to sit in, but it is cute - and it tastes like chicken.


Grub Chair


The chest has two large and two small drawers. A hidden compartment contains audio/visual connections. A flat screen TV sits on top. Next to the chest is an open closet with additional storage in a lower cabinet.


Chest of Drawers

Audio/Visual Connections

Open Closet


Something I was happy to see on this trip was a small sign informing us that the TV channel lineup can be found on channel 17. No more searching randomly for something to watch.


Channel Lineup


The carpet is also very cute. More foliage, bugs, and a few hidden Mickeys can be seen. And after some deliberation, I finally determined that the ceiling lights were supposed to represent clouds.


Carpet

Ceiling Light


The "guest" bath is divided into two rooms. You enter a vanity area that contains one sink. The mirror is framed with leaves and a few bugs. A hair dryer can be found attached to the wall.


Guest Bath

Frame Bugs


Off of the vanity are the toilet and a tub/shower. The tile in the shower is especially impressive. The Pumbaa and Timon shower curtain is for sale at the Ink & Paint Shop located in Animation Hall. There is a full length mirror on the bathroom door.


Guest Bath

Guest Bath

Guest Bath

Full Length Mirror


The bedroom features a queen-size bed, two nightstands, a chest of drawers and TV (identical to the living room version) and another open closet. If you look closely, you will notice that the bedspread completes the headboard design.


Bedroom

Bedroom

Headboard

Lamp

Chest of Drawers

Chest of Drawers


In the open closet you'll find an iron, ironing board, and an electronic safe. I hope in the future, Disney converts all of their in-room safes to these more modern strong boxes. I recently stayed at the Boardwalk were they still require a key.


Open Closet


A second bath is located off of the bedroom. The one-room facility features a single sink, toilet, and walk-in shower.


Bedroom Bath


To see a five minute movie of the Lion King suite, check out the video below.


I like the Lion King suite. It's relaxed and fun. I think the Cars suite is slightly better themed, but there is a comfort level about the Lion King room that works for me. I think any family would enjoy returning to this suite after a busy day in the parks.

To see my article about the overall Art of Animation resort and the Finding Nemo and Car rooms, click here.

That's it for this blog. Stay tuned for the final phase of this resort with the opening of The Little Mermaid section.



July 31, 2012

Animal Kingdom Lodge – Jambo House - Part Two

Jack Spence Masthead


Yesterday I ended my blog with a brief description of Jiko, the Animal Kingdom Lodge's signature restaurant. Today I'll continue my tour of the grounds and amenities of the resort and discuss the attributes of a standard guest room.

The watering hole next to Jiko meanders through the jungle and eventually joins Uzima Pool. Uzima means "clear water" in Swahili. This expansive pool covers 11,000 square feet and has a 67-foot long waterslide. Uzima Pool also features zero entry access. This sloping entrance allows those riding in specially designed wheelchairs to roll directly into the pool. This is also the perfect spot for toddlers to splash and play in shallow water. Remember, diaper-aged children are required to wear swim diapers or rubber pants whenever using any Disney pool.


Uzima Pool

Uzima Pool


Next to the pool is Uzima Springs Watering Hole. This is the spot to order your favorite liquid concoction or try a specialty African libation. Numerous tables, chairs, and lounges are nearby for relaxing in the shade or sun.


Uzima Springs Watering Hole

Uzima Springs Watering Hole

Uzima Springs Watering Hole


Also near the pool is the Hakuna Matata Playground. Parents should have "no worries" when their little ones climb and swing on this modern-day jungle gym. The ground covering is soft and bouncy and will absorb most of the "ouch" when young'uns fall down.


Hakuna Matata Playground


Another savanna overlook can be found next to the playground. Flamingos are a common sight here, but other animals are often seen in the area as well.


Savanna Overlook

Savanna Overlook

Flamingos


When everyone gets tired of fun in the sun, the kids can head over to Pumbaa's Fun & Games Arcade and the adults can work off that meal enjoyed at Boma at Zahanati Massage & Fitness Center.


Pumbaa's Fun & Games Arcade

Pumbaa's Fun & Games Arcade

Zahanati Massage & Fitness Center

Zahanati Massage & Fitness Center


Besides Boma and Jiko, the Animal Kingdom Lodge also features a counter service eatery called The Mara. Open from 6am to 11:30 pm, this location offers grab-and-go snacks and cooked-to-order meals. For me, The Mara is perfect for breakfast as this meal is difficult to find within the theme parks unless you're attending a character breakfast. However, many others know this and The Mara can become very busy starting around 8am.

The name "Mara" comes from the Mara River and the Masai Mara National Reserve located in south-western Kenya. The clever mural that lines the walls of the dining room represents this Serengeti ecosystem.

To see the current menu for The Mara, click here. The Mara seats 186 guests.


The Mara

The Mara

The Mara

The Mara

The Mara

The Mara


To see an overview of the Animal Kingdom Lodge, click on the video below.



As with all of the deluxe resorts, the Animal Kingdom Lodge has a special lounge dedicated to those staying in suites or who are willing to pay extra to partake in the services offered at this lounge. Here, this retreat is called Kilimanjaro Club and it is located on the sixth floor of the resort, overlooking the lobby.


Kilimanjaro Club

Kilimanjaro Club


The Kilimanjaro Club offers dedicated concierge services. These cast members will help you plan your vacation as well as make dining, show, and tour reservations. In addition, Kilimanjaro Club Level guests can book a special safari adventure not available to other guests.

The Sunrise Safari lasts approximately two hours and takes guests on a 45 minute tour of the Animal Kingdom's African ecosystem. Along the way, a guide will be on hand to answer questions and provide information not usually disseminated on the regular Kilimanjaro Safaris. Afterwards, a lavish buffet breakfast is presented at Pizzafari. This tour is booked at the Club Level Concierge Desk and is subject to availability.

For those of you not staying in a Club Level room, don't despair. Disney offers another program exclusive to Animal Kingdom Lodge guest only. The Wanyama Safari offers guests a three hour adventure where they will ride in trucks through the various savannas of the Animal Kingdom Lodge. They will also have the opportunity to interact with Animal Program Team members and learn about the various creatures of the Lodge and the attention and care Disney gives them. The adventure concludes with a multi-course dinner at Jiko. This tour is booked at the Main Lobby Concierge Desk and is subject to availability.

This next picture is of the Club Level Concierge Desks.


Club Level Concierge Desks


The Kilimanjaro Club also offers a continental breakfast each morning, cookies, sodas, and other treats in the afternoon, and hot & cold appetizers and wine in the evening. Check with the concierge for times.


Kilimanjaro Club

Kilimanjaro Club


To see a short video of the Kilimanjaro Club, click on the picture below.



Eighty percent of the rooms at the Animal Kingdom Lodge look out onto one of the resort's four savannas. Those that don't have views of a savanna look over the pool area or parking lot. Room rates are appropriately set. To see current prices, click here.

The resort's basic shape was inspired by a traditional African "kraal" (or corral). This centuries old village design created a circular wall of protection for its inhabitants and animals. This defensive layout can easily be seen on the resort map below.


AKL Map


The resort has four wings, or trails. They are named Ostrich, Giraffe, Zebra, and Kudu. In order to maximize savanna views, the Zebra and Kudu Trails are especially long. If you have mobility issues, be sure to let the cast member know when making your reservation and again when you check in.

Standard rooms are located on floors 1through 4 and measure 344 square feet. Deluxe rooms and converted DVC rooms can be found on floors 5 and 6. I recently stayed in a standard room and will be describing its attributes to you now.

Since the Animal Kingdom Lodge is a deluxe resort, all rooms open onto an inside corridor. Many people prefer this arrangement as it affords more privacy and cuts down on noise.


Trail Corridor


Entering the room brings you into a short hallway. Off of this are a closet, the bathroom, and a door to the adjoining room (should you request connecting rooms.)


Room Hallway


The closet is decent sized. Inside are a luggage rack, a fold-up crib, extra bedding, an iron, and a wall safe big enough to hold a laptop computer. Robes are provided in Club Level rooms.


AKL Room Closet

AKL Room Closet

AKL Room Closet


The sink area of the bathroom is large and well lit. The marble countertop cradles two basins with pewter faucets. A large mirror is framed in dark wood and a hairdryer hangs on a side wall. The wallpaper in this room is especially fun as it displays a stylized colonial African map with steam trains, propeller driven airplanes, and a collection of animals.


AKL Bathroom

AKL Bathroom

AKL Wallpaper


Guests staying at the Animal Kingdom Lodge are treated to H20+ products such as shampoo and conditioner. An enhanced selection of toiletries is provided to Club Level Room guests. Some of these might include: Collagen Conditioner, Revitalizing Shampoo, Body Wash, Hydrating Body Butter, Foot Rub, and a dental package.


H20+ Products

H20+ Products


The toilet and shower/bath is located in an adjacent room. The wall behind the shower features large, earth-tone colored tiles with one row displaying vividly colored African designs. The shower curtain continues the African theme with tribal patterns and animals. The towels are fluffy and absorbent.


AKL Tub-Shower-Toilet

AKL Tub-Shower-Toilet


The bedroom is large and includes two queen sized beds. The wall color is tan and dark woods make up the bulk of the furniture. Much of this furniture was handmade in Zimbabwe. The carpet hints at an animal pattern.


AKL Bedroom


The beds are comfortable and covered in a brightly colored spread African textile designs. The headboard is intricately carved and inspired by African butterfly masks. The sheer material draped above the headboard symbolizes the mosquito netting so necessary when sleeping outside while on safari. Between the beds is a nightstand with a phone and clock-iPod docking station.


AKL Bed

AKL Headboard

AKL Night Stand


On the wall opposite the beds are the other furnishings of the room. A small chest houses a mini-refrigerator and on top is the coffee maker and ice bucket. Although I don't drink coffee and never used this appliance, I felt its position was a little low for convenient use.


AKL Furniture

AKL Coffee Maker

AKL mini-refrigerator


The flat-screen TV is contained in a handsome chest of drawers. A DVD player and audio/visual connections are located on the open shelf below. If you bring your own cables, you can playback each day's videos on the TV.


AKL Chest of Drawers and TV


A table, two chairs, pole lamp, and mirror are positioned in the corner of the room. Free WiFi is now standard at Disney World resorts and this table doubles nicely as a desk.


AKL Table and Chairs


To see a short video of a Standard Room, click on the picture below.



Of course, the real reason to stay at the Animal Kingdom Lodge is to view the animals. All rooms have a long, narrow balcony with a table and two chairs. Please note, the savannas are under constant camera surveillance. It is possible for these cameras to inadvertently see into your room. To insure privacy, keep your drapes drawn during times of undress.


AKL Balcony

AKL Balcony

AKL Balcony


Here are a couple of pictures taken from my balcony.


AKL Balcony View

AKL Balcony View

AKL Balcony View

AKL Balcony View

AKL Balcony View


At night, the savannas are bathed in a soft glow that resembles moonlight. Since I often have trouble sleeping, I've been known to step out onto my balcony at two in the morning. Sure enough, I can often see animals sleeping just below me in the peaceful surroundings. This is truly a magical moment.

Disney realizes that guests want to be able to see the animals every time they step out onto their balcony. But this just isn't possible for a number of reasons. After a lot of consideration, it was decided that in the morning, most people are hurriedly getting ready for a day in the parks. They are showering, dressing, and thinking about breakfast. Animals are not the first thing on their minds at this time of day. So it is in the morning that the animals will be most scarce.

Each day at 6am, the animals are encouraged to return to an enclosed area backstage for general care and treatment. And while the vets and other experts are tending to the animals, the horticulturists and groundskeepers use this time to maintain the savannas. By noon, all of the animals are returned to the grounds and will remain available for viewing until 6am the next day. However, the animals are allowed to roam freely and can wander wherever they want within a savanna. Disney employs "tricks" (like placing food all around the savannas) to entice the creatures to venture near your room, but this doesn't always work.

The Animal Kingdom Lodge has its own set of animals. They are not shared with the Animal Kingdom theme park. On occasion, a particular animal might be moved from one location to another, but overall, they call either the Lodge or the Park home.

The Animal Kingdom Lodge (Jambo House & Kidani Village) has four savannas, Uzima, Arusha, Sunset, and Pembe. Each is approximately 10 acres in size. These savannas are a representation of the plains used by migrating herds of the reserves in Zululand. Disney does not specify which animals will be appearing in a given savanna as their location changes frequently. This is done to accommodate the needs of the animals and the vets and to keep the savannas ever changing for the benefit of resort guests.

Here is a list of animals that might be seen while staying at the Animal Kingdom Lodge:

Abyssinian Ground Hornbill
African Spoonbill
Ankole-Watusi Cattle
Blue Crane
Blue Wildebeest
Common Eland
Common Shelduck
East African Crowned Crane
Egyptian Goose
Giraffe
Grant's Zebra
Greater Flamingo
Greater Kudu
Hartmann's Mountain Zebra
Helmeted Guineafowl
Impala
Marabou Stork
Nyala
Okapi (Pembe Savannah only)
Ostrich
Pink-Backed Pelican
Radiated Tortoise (Found outside of the Sanaa guest waiting area located at Kidani Village)
Red River Hog
Roan Antelope
Sable Antelope
Thomson's Gazelle
Vulture
Vulturine Guineafowl
Waterbuck

Is the Animal Kingdom Lodge right for you?

That depends. If you LOVE animals and are willing to spend the extra money to live among them for a couple of days, then by all means, book a room here. Even the rooms that overlook the parking lot and pool have easy access to several animal overlooks so the creatures are never far away.

But if the Kilimanjaro Safaris attraction at the Animal Kingdom fulfills your animal needs, then there might be better choices when it comes to a deluxe resort at Disney. The most common complaint I hear about the Animal Kingdom Lodge is that it is so far away from everything. If you don't have a car, you must take a bus everywhere you go. All of the other deluxe resorts offer monorail or boat transportation to at least one park - a far more "romantic" way to travel.

Last month, I wrote an article about Golden Oak, the new community being built at Walt Disney World. For that press event, Disney provided me with free lodging at the Animal Kingdom Lodge. I used this opportunity to my advantage and gathered information for this blog while staying there. Disney's generosity did not influence my story and my opinions are my own.

I like the Animal Kingdom Lodge. Whenever I have out-of-town guests visiting, I make sure to book a meal at Boma so they can experience this excellent buffet, see the splendid architecture, and gaze upon the magnificent animals. This is truly a unique resort and it's full of Disney magic.



July 30, 2012

Animal Kingdom Lodge – Jambo House - Part One

Jack Spence Masthead


Animal Kingdom Lodge Sign


The Animal Kingdom Lodge presented the Imagineers with a challenge. You don't come across too many massive six story buildings out on the Serengeti. So how do you disguise an enormous hotel to look like an authentic, intimate structure that you might actually find someplace in East Africa? The answer to this problem was twofold.

First, you use landscaping to camouflage and conceal. Trees and shrubbery hide most of the building's outward appearance as you approach the hotel. From the moment you pass the guard shack, you are surrounded by a lush, tropical forest. Your view is completely shrouded in greenery. Even as you near the hotel, if you use self-parking, you will not see the Animal Kingdom Lodge until the Imagineers deem it appropriate. You must first exit your vehicle and take a winding set of stairs through additional jungle before you see your vacation home. In fact, more than 170,000 shrubs and trees have been planted along this route to help set the mood.


Entering the Animal Kingdom Lodge

Entering the Animal Kingdom Lodge

Entering the Animal Kingdom Lodge

Entering the Animal Kingdom Lodge

Entering the Animal Kingdom Lodge


If you plan on letting Bell Services take care of your luggage and drive to the resort's porte-cochère and drop-off area, you only see a fraction of the actual building. And what you do see is deceiving. The Animal Kingdom Lodge is a six story building. However, the Imagineers placed the lobby and the main entrance on the third floor. The first and second floors are below ground level on the front side of the building. In addition, the sixth floor, when viewed from the front, resembles a thatched roof. Both of these factors greatly hide the massiveness of the structure.


Animal Kingdom Lodge Main Entrance

Animal Kingdom Lodge Main Entrance


A small hint of the details to come can be seen on the resort's driveway. "Fire Lane" and "No Parking" signs are painted on the pavement in a freehand, African style.


Fire Lane


The colors of the Animal Kingdom Lodge are that of the earth. Reddish browns, tans, and ochre walls resemble mud that has baked in the sun to create bricks and stucco. Along the pathway that leads to the resort's bus stop, simple African reliefs adorn the walls.


Walkway to the Bus Stop

African Reliefs

Animal Kingdom Bus Stop


Before I go any further, I should probably mention that the Animal Kingdom Lodge is actually two resorts in one. Opening on April 16, 2001, the first phase of this resort's existence featured standard rooms and suites open to all guests. On May 1, 2009, a second resort opened nearby that would offer Disney Vacation Club (DVC) studio units, and 1, 2, and 3 bedroom apartment-like homes. With this addition, the respective resorts were given the additional names Jambo House (this blog) and Kidani Village to differentiate between them. Jambo means "hello" in Swahili.


Jambo House Sign

Kidani Village Sign


Although there is a pathway connecting Jambo House and Kidani Village, it is about a half mile long and much of it runs through the parking lots. In my opinion, it's worth avoiding. At one time, a complicated method of using theme park buses offered transportation between the two. Now, a dedicated shuttle van runs between the resorts from 8am to 10pm. This greatly simplifies the trip.

The Animal Kingdom Lodge was designed by architect Peter Dominick. You might recognize his style as he is also responsible for the designs of Disney's Wilderness Lodge and Disney's Grand Californian. Vast, open lobbies, surrounded by balconies, create a stunning and impressive first impression.


AKL Lobby

AKL Lobby

AKL Lobby


The massive chandeliers are designed to look like Maasai shields. Used not only as a defensive weapon by the people of Kenya, these shields are also used to express art and culture. Usually made of buffalo hide, these shields traditionally are painted with only three colors. Black identifies lineage and the red and white denotes the age and geographic location of the owner. The geometric patterns painted on the shields also have special meaning: the ones marked with circles signify the Kisongo province of Kenya, the squares denote the Loita province, and the triangles are used by Ol bruggo province.


African Chandelier


The Animal Kingdom Lodge houses the second largest hotel collection of artwork in the world. Many of these pieces can be seen in the lobby, scattered among the seating areas.


African Art

African Art

African Art


The lobby flooring is made of teak, a tropical hardwood native to Asia but now cultivated in Africa. Embedded in the wood planks are more works of art. Five bronze medallions, designed by West African artist and storyteller, Baba Wague' Diakite', depict man and animals and their relation to the earth. The first and largest medallion measures eight feet in diameter. The others measure four feet across.


Bronze Floor Art


I really don't know anything about this next piece of art, but every time I see it I think of "The Lion King" film where Simba and Nala are raised higher and higher into the air by the various African animals.


African Art

Scene from the Lion King


One of the most impressive lobby works of art is the Ijele mask. This 16 foot high, 240 pound mask is worn on the head of one man and the success of his ceremonial dance brings good luck and prestige to the entire community. This example was the first of its kind ever to leave Nigeria. The entire story of the Ijele mask is told via signboards surrounding the piece.


Ijele Mask


The lobby balconies are adorned with tusk-like braces and antelope railings. At the top of each of the supportive columns which surround the room are Grand Bedu mask which stare down onto the guests below. Bedu masks are found throughout the Bondoukou region of the Ivory Coast. They are associated with New Year's festivities and symbolize the transfer of one year to the next.


Tusk Support

Antelope Railing

Grand Bedu mask

Grand Bedu mask


A firepit provides a tribe with a means of cooking and staying warm. But it also offers a pleasant venue for community storytelling. In the Animal Kingdom Lodge lobby, Ogun's Firepit offers guests its own version of this tribal setting. This is a wonderful spot to plan your day in the morning or recollect about your adventures in the evening. Ogun is an African god who presides over iron working, hunting, politics and war.


Ogun's Firepit

Ogun's Firepit


An updated version of the firepit is available for children as they wait for their parents to check-in. Hand-carved wooden stools from the Ivory Coast surround a 21st century, electronic "firepit."


Children's TV


One of the most striking features of the Animal Kingdom Lodge lobby is the fifth floor suspension bridge. This elevated platform provides wonderful views of the Arusha Savanna and the animals that roam just beyond the floor-to-ceiling, vine-covered windows. A note of caution to those of you with acrophobia, you might want to skip this bridge.


Bridge

Bridge

Bridge

Window


In the afternoon, African cast members are on hand in the lobby with additional treasures. Jewelry, wood carvings, flags, skulls, and more are on display and these folk love nothing more than talking about their homeland and sharing bits of trivia with guests. Stop by and pick these cast member's brains. You'll be glad you did.


African Cast Member and Artifacts


The lobby furnishings were also chosen with great care. Each of the six seating areas has two shelter sofas and two to four overstuffed chairs upholstered in the muted colors of the savanna. The coffee and end tables are constructed of alder wood and mahogany, their tops covered in lapis, stone and metal. A number of torchères circle the room. These artistic, nine-foot tall lamps resemble bundled branches and their flickering light adds a bit of rustic charm to the lobby.


AKL Lobby

AKL Lobby


The front desk is also quite beautiful and artistically designed. A low ceiling of twigs provides a more intimate feeling than the grand lobby. The back wall is draped with African inspired quilts.


Front Desk


Next to the front desk is Sunset Overlook. When the main lobby gets a bit too hectic and noisy, slip into this mental oasis. Designed to resemble an explorer's retreat, this spot offers comfortable couches, chairs, and more African artwork. This is the perfect spot for a quiet and relaxed conversation. When you visit, be sure to spend some time examining the photographs and artifacts. A nearby balcony offers views of the Sunset Savanna.


Sunset Overlook

Sunset Overlook

Sunset Overlook

Sunset Overlook


On the other side of the lobby is Zawadi Marketplace. Open from 7:30am to 11pm, this is the spot to pick up Disney souvenirs and a limited selection of food stuffs to take back to your room.

Zawadi Marketplace is also one of my favorite Disney hotel shops. The reason? Because this shop sells more than just Disney souvenirs and a limited selection of food stuffs to take back to your room. A fantastic collection of African art, jewelry, and clothing is also offered here. Now I'm not really a fan of African art, jewelry, and clothing, but it's refreshing to have something other than Mickey and princess merchandise to browse through.

Be sure to notice the lion sculpture found behind one of the counters.


Zawadi Marketplace

Zawadi Marketplace

Zawadi Marketplace

Zawadi Marketplace


At the back of the Animal Kingdom Lodge lobby are two staircases that take guests to the Arusha Rock Savanna Overlook. Here at ground level, you can wander through an outcropping of boulders and discover a number of viewing spots ideal for animal encounters. Knowledgeable cast members are often on hand to answer questions about the creatures who call this savanna home. Arusha Rock was named for the volcanic landscape between Mount Kilimanjaro and Mount Meru.


Stairway to Arusha Rock Savanna Overlook

AKL Exterior

Arusha Rock Savanna Overlook

Arusha Rock Savanna Overlook

Arusha Rock Savanna Overlook


The Arusha Rock Firepit can also be found in this outdoor area. Lit each evening around dusk, this is another wonderful spot to relax and unwind. In addition, storytellers can be found here with folktales of their homelands.


Arusha Rock Firepit


On each side of the lobby are patios that offer shaded overlooks that peer onto the Arusha Savanna and firepit.


Patio Exterior View

Patio Overlook


To give you some idea of the lengths that the Imagineers went to in an effort to create a place where both humans and their animal neighbors would feel at home, let me provide you with a few facts:

" The various savannas of the Animal Kingdom Lodge contain 130 Sand Live Oak trees
" More than 35,000 shrubs and bushes were planted in the savannas
" There are 165 varieties of shrubs and bushes
" Most of the plants came from California, Arizona, and Africa
" A number of plants were grown from seeds brought over from Africa
" Greenery was transplanted from the Caribbean and Pop Century Resorts as well as the Animal Kingdom theme park
" Approximately 24 miles of irrigation pipe was installed
" Approximately 60,000 square feet of artificial rockwork was created

Back in the main building, Victoria Falls is the place to have an evening cocktail. Open from 4pm to midnight, this watering hole is located on the second floor off of the lobby and overlooks Boma - Flavors of Africa. This spot can be reached via stairs from the first and third floors. For those of you in wheelchairs and ECV's, a ramp is available from the third to the second floor. In addition, a hallway leading from the elevator's second floor stop leads to this location.


Victoria Falls

Victoria Falls

Victoria Falls


Many people, myself included, believe that Boma - Flavors of Africa (known simply as Boma to most) is the best buffet to be found at Walt Disney World. Located on the first floor of the resort, this establishment serves a wide range of African cuisines at dinner. From all corners of the continent, the chefs have brought together a multitude of flavors, but nothing so exotic as to intimidate the picky eater. The carved meats are sumptuous. And I've heard several vegetarians say that no place else on property offers them so many choices. Breakfast presents a more traditional, American meal.

The word "boma" refers to a rural African settlement surrounded by a fence made of sticks and mud. It would often act as a fort and within its boundaries were huts for its human residents and other areas allocated for livestock. At Disney's Boma, stick fencing can be seen throughout the restaurant as it separates the various dining areas from one another. Beneath the "huts," guests are offered the tribal selections of the day. A show kitchen and rotisserie fueled by a wood-burning grill add to the atmosphere.

If I had to find something negative to say about Boma it would be that it is crowded and noisy due to its popularity. Also, the wooden chairs are a little hard on the behind. But other than that, I love this place. The positives of Boma far outweigh these minor annoyances.

The restaurant is open for breakfast from 7:30am to 11am. Dinner is offered from 4:30pm to 9:30pm. Although it might be possible to snag a walk-up reservation, you are highly advised to book a table here months in advance. Boma can seat 270 guests. To see current selections and prices, click here.


Boma Restaurant

Boma Restaurant

Boma Restaurant

Boma Restaurant

Boma Restaurant

Boma Restaurant


Next door to Boma is Jiko - The Cooking Place (known simply as Jiko to most). This signature restaurant is comparable in caliber to The Flying Fish at The Boardwalk and Citricos at The Grand Floridian. Jiko means "cooking place" in Swahili, thus the restaurant's subtitle "The Cooking Place".

Jiko serves modern African cuisine infused with flavors of India and the Mediterranean. Two, large wood burning ovens sit in the middle of the restaurant. This prominent location allows guests to witness flatbreads and other menu items be prepared first hand. The restaurant boasts an "all South African" wine list, one of the largest in North America. In addition, all of the servers at Jiko have completed at least their Level I Certification from the Court of Master Sommeliers.

When entering Jiko, a bar can be seen to the right. This is the spot to relax if you arrive before your reservation time. Next to the bar is an imaginative floor to ceiling wine rack. Behind this wall of wine is the private Cape Town Wine Room which can be reserved for special events and parties. The Cape Town Wine Room can seat up to forty guests.


Jiko Bar

Cape Town Wine Room


The restaurant's décor is simple and clean and uses a warm color pallet. The support columns are adorned with rings which symbolize those worn around women's necks in some African tribes. The sweeping back wall represents the sky and changes colors during the evening. This color transformation represents the passage of time, sunrise to sunset, and completes this display three times each night. Stylized bird sculptures help set the mood of the Serengeti and can conjure up images of The Lion King movie's opening scenes.


Jiko Dining Room

Jiko Dining Room

Jiko Dining Room


A number of tables sit next to oversized windows which look onto a pool of water which represents an African watering hole.


Jiko Dining Room

Watering Hole


In an effort to maintain some sort of decorum, Jiko does have a dress code. Resort casual is the requested attire. Not allowed are: Tank tops, swimwear, hats for gentleman, cut offs or torn clothing. T-shirts are now permitted however offensive language or graphics are not acceptable.

Jiko is a popular establishment and reservations are highly recommended. These can be arranged by calling 407-WDW-DINE. To see current menu and prices, click here. Jiko can seat 235 guests.

That's it for Part One. Check back tomorrow for Part Two.



May 15, 2012

Grand Floridian Resort & Spa - Part Two

Jack Spence Masthead


Thanks for checking back for Part Two of my review of the Grand Floridian Resort and Spa. Let's get started.

The Grand Floridian has two swimming pools. The Courtyard Pool is the larger of the two (at 300,000 gallons) and is the more relaxed and dignified of the two. It is flanked by the Main Building and three of the lodge buildings. The Courtyard Pool is open 24 hours, however, it is NOT manned by lifeguards at any time.


Courtyard Pool

Courtyard Pool

Courtyard Pool


Courtyard Pool Bar sits adjacent to the pool. Besides the usual selection of Coke products and alcoholic beverages, this spot also serves turkey, ham & cheese, and PB&J sandwiches. Nearby tables offer a wonderful environment to sit and enjoy an alfresco lunch.


Courtyard Pool Bar

Courtyard Pool Bar


Near the pool is a lovely fountain. This water feature offers great photo opportunities.


Fountain

Fountain


The newer, Beach Pool can be found south of the resort on the shores of Seven Seas Lagoon and is the better place for energetic kids. An in-ground fountain, waterfall, and water slide add a lot of excitement that the Courtyard Pool lacks. In addition, the Beach Pool also offers zero access entry for toddlers and those in wheelchairs. Unlike the Courtyard Pool, the Beach Pool is manned by lifeguards during most of the day. However, this pool is not open 24 hours. Check with the concierge desk for current times.


Beach Pool

Beach Pool

Children's Play Area


Drinks and sandwiches are available at the nearby Beach Pool Bar. Private cabanas can be rented through the hotel's concierge desk. Besides having upgraded lounge chairs, the cabanas offer televisions, refrigerators, and a host of other amenities. This is truly the way to pamper yourself.


Beach Pool Bar

Cabana


The white sandy beach that surrounds the Grand Floridian is the perfect place to relax in the sun and watch the Magic Kingdom ferry boats sail by in the distance. Covered lounge chairs dot the beach and add a touch of class found nowhere else on property. Please be aware, there is no swimming in any of the Disney lakes and canals. This is also the spot to watch the Electric Water Pageant presented each night at 9:15.


Grand Floridian Beach

Grand Floridian Beach

Grand Floridian Beach


It's interesting to note, the sugary sand of the Grand Floridian beach was found beneath the muck that was once a swamp before Disney cleared this area to create Seven Seas Lagoon.

As you may or may not know, Disney is currently building a new Disney Vacation Club (DVC) just south of the Grand Floridian that will feature the same style and architecture as its nearby neighbor. The resort is schedule to open in late 2013.


Grand Floridian DVC Concept Art

Grand Floridian DVC Concept Art

Grand Floridian DVC Under Construction

Grand Floridian DVC Under Construction

Grand Floridian DVC Under Construction


Because of this construction, the Grand Floridian Spa is temporarily closed and will not reopen until sometime later next year. However, the Grand Floridian Health Club remains open and offers state-of-the-art cardiovascular and weight-training machines 24 hours a day.


Health Club

Health Club

Health Club

Health Club


Toward the north end of the Grand Floridian, located next to the Conch Key and Sugar Loaf Key lodge buildings, is the Captain's Shipyard. This is the spot to rent a pontoon boat for a leisurely afternoon on the water or a mini-speed boat for zippy trip over the waves. Fishing excursions can also be arranged and leave from this spot

For a truly distinctive Walt Disney World experience, consider chartering the Grand 1 yacht birthed at the Captain's Shipyard. This craft is 52 feet in length and can accommodate 18 people (17 if a butler is in service). This is a wonderful way to enjoy an elegant night out on the water and watch the Magic Kingdom fireworks. Of course, when cruising aboard the Grand 1, you would want more than just a boat ride, so Disney has created a number of packages that include all sorts of wonderful hors d'oeuvres and beverages to tempt your appetite. For more information as to what is available, click here.


Captain's Shipyard

Captain's Shipyard


There are a number of restaurants at the Grand Floridian, each worthy of a full review. However, due to a lack of time and space, I'm just going to briefly mention them here.

I'm often asked, "What's your favorite Disney World Restaurant?" My answer always begins as follows, "If you don't count Victoria & Albert's, it's""

But if you do count Victoria & Albert's, then this is hands down the finest restaurant at Walt Disney World - and probably all of Central Florida.

Victoria & Albert's, or Vicky & Al's as we regulars like to call it (just kidding), has won the prestigious AAA Five Diamond Award for the last eleven years. At this Grand Floridian restaurant, guests enjoy a two to three hour culinary experience within an elegant dining room. As your butlers tend to your every need, a harpist serenades in the background. Imported crystal, fine china, personalized menus, long-stem roses for the ladies, and a host of other elegant touches make an evening here an experience to remember for years to come.

Located on the second floor of the Grand Floridian, Victoria & Albert's offers a prix fixe menu that includes six courses of sumptuous food served at a luxuriously slow pace. Nothing is left to chance and the service is flawless. Chef Scott Hunnel selects seasonal foods from around the world and the menu changes from day to day. After your meal, you can select a brandy or cognac from the well-stocked cordial cart.

Beginning on June 1, 2012, the price will be $135.00 per guest with wine pairings adding another $65.00 per guest. (Pricing does not include tax and gratuity.)

Dinner jackets are required for gentlemen (tie optional) and dresses or pants ensembles are recommended for ladies. Valet Parking is available at no additional cost. Children under the age of 10 will not be served.

Victoria & Albert's is a fantastic restaurant. If you have a special birthday or anniversary coming up, think seriously about splurging and giving this restaurant a try. You will not be disappointed. Reservations are an absolute must.


Victoria & Albert's

Victoria & Albert's

Victoria & Albert's

Victoria & Albert's


I'm often asked, "What's your favorite Disney World Restaurant?" My answer always begins as follows, "If you don't count Victoria & Albert's, it's""

Well, if you don't count Victoria & Albert's, I have two favorite restaurants at WDW, and one of them is at the Grand Floridian. In fact, it's located right next door to Victoria & Albert's - Citricos.

The Citricos dining room is elegant, yet playful. There is something fun about this spot, yet it reeks of old-world sophistication. The tables and chairs are traditionally styled, yet the surroundings are whimsical. It all combines wonderfully and I feel very comfortable here.


Citricos

Citricos

Citricos


When Citricos first opened, the menu was to be Mediterranean inspired with all dishes containing some sort of citrus flavoring - thus the name Citricos. But today, this citrus "gimmick" has been down played and now the restaurant focuses on American dishes inspired by the cuisines of Provençe, Tuscany and the Spanish Riviera. Oak-grilled steaks, pastas, seafood, and their signature braised veal shank are just a few of the delights to tempt you - all prepared in an open show kitchen. To see the current menu, click here.


Citricos Kitchen

Citricos Kitchen


Citricos is considered a "Signature" restaurant on the Disney Dining Plan and requires two credits. This restaurant is open for dinner only. The dress code is Resort Casual. Not allowed in the restaurant are tank tops, swimwear, hats for gentleman, cut offs, or torn clothing. Reservations are highly recommended. In addition, Citricos has a one-day cancellation policy. When booking, guests must provide a credit card to hold the reservation. If the guest cancels within one day of the reservation or if the dining party is a no show, a fee of $10 per person will be charged to the credit card used at the time of booking.

Narcoossee's is the other "Signature" restaurant at the Grand Floridian and all of the above Citricos caveats apply here as well.

Narcoossee's is the only Grand Floridian restaurant not located in the Main Building of the resort. It can be found on the water's edge of Seven Seas Lagoon near the boat dock.


Narcoossee's


Narcoossee's has a subtle nautical/New England theme. Dark wood flooring, white paneled walls, shutters, and seating that resemble cruise ship deck chairs combine to create a casual environment.


Narcoossee's

Narcoossee's

Narcoossee's


Narcoossee's is a seafood restaurant and offers such specialties as seared-grilled scallops, crab-crusted halibut, grilled wild king salmon, and steamed whole Maine lobster. However, beef, chicken, and vegetable dishes are also available so everyone should be able to find something to their liking. To see the current menu, click here.


Window tables at Narcoossee's offer wonderful views of Seven Seas Lagoon, Cinderella Castle, and the nightly Magic Kingdom fireworks. But be warned, guests not seated at a window table will venture out onto the verandah shortly before the fireworks begin and obstruct the view of those sitting next to a window.

You might be interested to learn, Narcoossee's has a small stage located above the bar. When the restaurant first opened, combo groups would entertain guests from this perched area. However, there are no "soft" surfaces at Narcoossee's and the music was overpowering. Eventually, the live entertainment was discontinued.


Narcoossee's Bandstand


I have eaten at Narcoossee's a number of times. I have always been pleased with my food and service. However, I still find this eatery a little too noisy for my taste. When I'm paying Narcoossee's prices, I prefer a quieter atmosphere.

The Grand Floridian Café is located on the first floor of the Main Building and is open for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. This charming spot offers a more casual atmosphere than Citricos or Narcoossee's, yet it still radiates elegance and charm. Fresh roses adorn each table and massive, lace curtained windows look out onto the manicured gardens. Flowered wallpaper, marble table tops, and delicate cushioned chairs complete the mood.

The Grand Floridian Café offers American favorites at all three meals. I especially like the Grand Sandwich (open-faced hot turkey, ham, bacon and tomato, with a rich Boursin cheese sauce and Fried onion straws) served at lunch. It's loaded with calories and loaded with taste.


Grand Sandwich


Reservations are suggested, but often not necessary. To see all of the Grand Floridian Café menus, click here.


Grand Floridian Café

Grand Floridian Café

Grand Floridian Café


Character dining is also available at the Grand Floridian. 1900 Park Fare serves a Supercalifragilistic Buffet Breakfast from 8am to 11am where Mary Poppins, Alice in Wonderland, the Mad Hatter, and other Wonderland friends stop by your table to say hello and pose for pictures. From 4:30pm to 8:30pm Cinderella's Happily Ever After Dinner offers a fairy tale-inspired evening meal. Cinderella, Prince Charming, and their storybook friends stroll through the restaurant and chat with guest. All meals are served buffet style.


1900 Park Fare

1900 Park Fare

1900 Park Fare


Dominating the upper portion of the restaurant is Big Bertha. This organ was built over a hundred years ago in Paris by Gavoli & Co. and used from 1909 to 1955 in Ramona Park, an amusement park in Grand Rapids, MI. The instruments include pipes, drums, bells, cymbals, castanets, and a xylophone played by a piano-roll score. Periodically during your meal, a short concert is played to the delight of children and adults.


Big Bertha


The 1900 Park Fare Character Meals are intended for children or for those adults who love characters and never miss an opportunity to interact with them. The atmosphere here is festive (or maybe chaotic would be a more appropriate word. LOL). The energy level is high and so is the noise level. A great time can be had here, but you need to be aware that this restaurant does not offer an intimate experience. It offers "fun" in abundance! This being a Character Meal, reservations are absolutely mandatory! A one-day cancellation policy is in effect here.

Gasparilla Grill & Games is a 24 hour, counter service restaurant that offers freshly made sandwiches, burgers, wraps, salads, and pizzas. Also available are a large selection of beverages, sweets, fruits, and other snacks. Gasparilla is located near the Captain's Shipyard. Indoor and outdoor seating is available. Also, a number of arcade games are at hand for the young ones.


Gasparilla Grill

Gasparilla Grill


Mizner's Lounge is located on the second floor of the lobby, just behind the bandstand. This spot is open from 4:30pm to midnight and offers light snacks, a full bar, and vintage ports and brandies. In the evening, this lounge is dark and cozy and allows for intimate conversations. The Grand Floridian Society Orchestra adds to the mood with their ragtime and big band melodies.


Mizner's Lounge

Mizner's Lounge


The Garden View Lounge plays host to two tea services. From 10:30am to noon, "My Disney Girl's Perfectly Princess Tea Party" is held for the enjoyment of young ladies ages 3 to 11. At this event, a character named Rose Petal plays host and entertains with stories and songs. The girls are made to feel like princesses and are presented with an 18-inch My Disney Girl doll dressed in a matching Princess Aurora gown with accessories, her own ribbon tiara, princess link bracelet, fresh rose, special princess scrapbook page, and a "Best Friend" certificate. The price is $250 for one child and one adult. Additional children run $165 each. Reservations are mandatory.

From 2pm to 5pm, guests can engage in an age-old tradition and partake in a traditional English-style tea. As you might expect, a large selection of tea is available and served "very properly." A number of other menu options are on hand to accompany your tea like finger sandwiches, scones, jam tarts, strawberries and cream, pastries, and an array of English cheeses. I know that many of you might be put off by the "formality" of this event, but I can assure you, Disney always does everything possible to make their guests comfortable in every situation and this dining experience is no exception.


Garden View Lounge

Garden View Lounge


Believe me when I say, I've only scratched the surface when talking about the Grand Floridian Resort & Spa. I can think of a dozen other items of interest that I didn't mention, but there simply isn't room in my blog to do this resort justice.

The Grand Floridian is the most expensive resort at Walt Disney World. Is it worth it? Maybe. That depends on your taste and especially your budget. I'm certainly glad I've experienced this resort several times. It was nice to spend a few days in the lap of luxury. But I can't say I'd want the Grand Floridian as a steady diet. Often when I've been on an extended cruise, eating rich food every night, I can't wait to get off of the ship and have a meal at Burger King. That's not to say I didn't enjoy everything about the cruise, but I like variety as well. Disney World has a lot of great and unique places to stay. For me, I enjoy the All Stars, the Grand Floridian, and everything in-between.

For more information about the Grand Floridian Resort & Spa, check out the AllEars Fact Sheet by clicking here.

As always, I have created a video of the Grand Floridian Resort. Enjoy.




May 14, 2012

Grand Floridian Resort & Spa - Part One

Jack Spence Masthead


Have you ever wondered why the body of water in front of the Magic Kingdom is called the Seven Seas Lagoon?

When Walt Disney World opened in 1971 the Imagineers had a five-year plan that called for additional hotels to be built along the shores of the lake and lagoon. These included the Persian, Venetian, and Thai/Asian resorts. When added to the existing Polynesian Resort, these hotels would give the area an international flavor; thus, the name Seven Seas Lagoon was born. But for a number of reasons, these other resorts never materialized. For many years you could see a square piece of land jutting out into the water that was earmarked for the Thai/Asian Resort.


Seven Seas Lagoon


A third Disney hotel, the Golf Resort (now the Shades of Green) opened in 1973. But other than that, Disney failed to build any new resorts during the first decade of operation.

In the early 80's, Disney fought off several hostile takeovers. To the company's rescue came the Bass Brothers of Texas and Roy E. Disney (son of founder Roy O. Disney), and in 1984 they hired Michael Eisner and Frank Wells to turn the corporation around. One of the many directives the new executives were given was to develop the vast, unused acreage of Disney World.

Any casual observer could see that other companies were cashing in on Disney World's success by building their own hotels and motels at the Mouse's doorstep. During this same time, Disney's three existing hotels were running at near capacity year-round. It didn't take a rocket scientist to see that one of the first things that should be done was to build more Disney owned and operated resorts on their property.

Since the original five-year plan called for three more resorts to be built on the Seven Seas Lagoon and Bay Lake, this was the logical place to start construction. However, Epcot had opened in 1982 and featured an International playground called World Showcase. This pretty much ruined the idea of building "international" hotels anywhere else on property. Disney didn't want their guests to experience the same sights and sounds in two separate areas, so a different concept needed to be developed. To help this new direction take shape, the architectural firm of Wimberly, Allison, Tong, & Goo (WATG) of Newport Beach, CA was hired and told to come up with a "deluxe" hotel that could be considered the "flagship" resort of Walt Disney World. For inspiration, the design team visited the Bellevue Biltmore in Clearwater, FL, the Grand Hotel on Mackinac Island, MI, and the Hotel Del Coronado in San Diego, CA. In the end, a luxurious Victorian era hotel grew on the west shore of the Seven Seas Lagoon and has been wowing guests since its opening on July 1, 1988. Here are some construction photos I snapped in1986.


Grand Floridian Under Consturction

Grand Floridian Under Consturction

Grand Floridian Under Consturction


This aerial shot shows how the original square plot of land was modified slightly for the Grand Floridian.


Aerial Shot of the Grand Floridian


This next picture is of the Hotel Del Coronado in San Diego. The similarities are striking.


Hotel Del Coronado


Guests arrive at the Grand Floridian via Floridian Way. Beneath the porte-cochère guests are greeted by bell services personnel who will help them with their luggage and direct them to the lobby. Also in this area are a lovely carriage and a 1929 Cadillac that can be rented for weddings and other special occasions. Behind the Cadillac in a secluded courtyard is a topiary of Mary Poppins. This is an uncrowded spot that allows for great photos.


Grand Floridian Entrance

Grand Floridian Entrance

Bell Services

Carriage

1929 Cadillac

Mary Poppins


The check-in desk is located just inside the main doors and to the right. The concierge desk is located to the left.


Main Doors

Check-In Desk


When entering the hotel's five-story lobby for the first time, most guests look up in awe. The delicate balustrades, the stained glass ceiling insets, the massive chandeliers, the ornate furniture, and the abundant artwork combine beautifully and make you long for a bygone era when women wore bustles and men donned top hats. But then you come to your senses and realize that you can still enjoy this lush atmosphere in your shorts and sandals as the Grand Floridian may be elegant, but it allows for 21st century theme park casualness.


Lobby

Lobby


The recently added marble floors greet guests with the resorts "GF" logo and a few Disney characters.


Grand Floridian Logo in Marble

Mickey Mouse in Marble


After the initial astonishment wears off, you start to notice the many details that make this hotel special. Located on the ground floor of the lobby is a large Chinese-styled aviary that was crafted in Spain. For many years, this birdcage housed a pair of lovebirds, but alas, today it sits empty. On the other side of the room is an equally elegant "cage" elevator that transports guests between the first and second floors. And beyond the elevator is a sweeping staircase worthy of Tara from "Gone with the Wind." Often, bridal parties can be seen on these steps, posing for elegant photos. Be sure to notice Cinderella's coach woven into the carpet.


Birdcage

Cage Elevator

Grand Staircase

Cinderella Carpet


The majority of the lobby's ground floor is comprised of numerous seating areas where you can relax and soak in the atmosphere. In the center of it all is a concert grand piano where a musician plays melodies suitable to the surroundings. Requests are also honored. As evening approaches, a ragtime/jazz band called the Grand Floridian Society Orchestra joins in and plays alternate sets with the piano player.


Lobby

Lobby

Piano

Grand Floridian Society Orchestra


The Grand Floridian uses more flowers than any other resort at Walt Disney World. Lush bouquets are everywhere.


Flowers

Flowers


The Grand Floridian is the only Disney resort to have dedicated men's and women's clothing stores. Summer Lace, located on the first floor, features designer fashions for the ladies, along with perfumes, jewelry, swimwear, and Grand Floridian logo items. Commander Porter's, located directly above on the second floor, offers men's designer clothing such as Tommy Bahama and Ralph Lauren Polo. Men's fragrances, golf apparel, and gift items are also available here. Both shops are open daily from 9am to 10pm.


Summer Lace

Summer Lace

Commander Porter's

Commander Porter's


Sandy Cove Gift and Sundry Shop offers a large array of Grand Floridian logo merchandise. And if you enjoyed the music heard in the lobby, CD's of the pianist and ragtime band can be purchased at this location. Also sold here are drinks, snack items, postcards, stamps, wedding items, and a limited selection of reading materials. This shop is open daily from 8am to 10pm.


Sandy Cove Gift and Sundry Shop

Sandy Cove Gift and Sundry Shop


On the second floor of the lobby you will find M. Mouse Mercantile. Disney souvenir items including children's apparel, toys, books, pins, and watches can be purchased here. This shop is open from 8am to 10pm.


M. Mouse Mercantile

M. Mouse Mercantile


Also on the second floor is Basin White. Decorated to look like a giant, old-time bathroom, at this shop you can stock up on a wide variety of bath salts, soaps, and shampoos. Although operated by the same folks who run the Basin shop at Downtown Disney, it is my understanding that the merchandise sold here is slightly different and of a higher caliber than its more pedestrian cousin. The hours of operation are from 10am to 10pm.


Basin White

Basin White


Next door to Basin White is Ivy Trellis Salon. Men, women, and children are welcome here. Services range from a simple haircut to a complete styling. Manicures and pedicures are also available. Appointments are recommended and the shop is open from 9am to 6pm.


Ivy Trellis Salon

Ivy Trellis Salon


All of the rooms in the Main Building of the Grand Floridian are Club Level accommodations as are those in the Sugar Loaf Key lodge building. Guests staying in one of these rooms are given a gold room card-key that grants them access to the upper floors of the Main Building and entrance into the Sugar Loaf Key lodge building. All guest use Club Level elevators in the Main Building for access to the first and second floors, but only guests with Club Level privileges may access the third through fifth floors.


Club Level Elevator

Gold Room Key

Main Building

Sugar Loaf Key

Sugar Loaf Key


The Main Building contains both suites and standard rooms. I've never stayed in one of the suites at the Grand Floridian, so I can't tell you much about them. But I have stayed in a standard Club Level room twice. Actually, the Club Level rooms are roughly the same size and configuration as the rooms located in the lodge buildings. I'll discuss this in more detail later. But it's not the rooms that make the Club Level special. It's the extra amenities and services guests receive on these floors.

One of the first perks of Club Level is a dedicated concierge staff. Only seasoned cast members with extensive knowledge of Disney World man these posts. And they're here to help make your vacation whatever you want it to be. From restaurant reservations, personal tours, and suggestions you have never even imagined, these well-informed hosts and hostesses are there to make you happy.

Need private tennis lessons? They can arrange it. Want to rent a cabana at the beach pool? They can arrange it. Want an elegant picnic lunch to take out on a pontoon boat? A lavish cocktail party for 40? An intimate dinner for two on your balcony? They can arrange it. If you've got the bucks, they can arrange it.

For those of you who must work while on vacation, these trained cast members can also help you fax documents and conduct other business functions. And because these individuals are serving a much smaller number of guests than the staff assigned to the rest of the resort, they often have more time to spend with you. In the Main Building, the Club Level concierge staff is located on the third floor. In Sugar Loaf Key they can be found on the first floor.


Main Building Concierge

Sugar Loaf Key Concierge


The other great perk of Club Level is the "free" food and drink offered throughout most of the day. Coffee and juice service begins each morning at 6:30. From 7am to 10:30am, a wonderful continental breakfast, called Grand Beginnings, is available. Served is fresh fruit, a large selection of breads and pastries, hot and cold cereals, and cheese & cold cuts.


Grand Beginnings

Grand Beginnings

Grand Beginnings

Grand Beginnings

Grand Beginnings

Grand Beginnings


From 11:30am to 3:30pm, cookies and cold beverages are available. Afternoon Tea is served from 2:30pm to 4pm.


Soft Drinks

Cookies


Twilight Refreshments are served from 5pm to 7pm. This selection of appetizers is amazing and offers enough variety and quantity that you can make a meal out of what is served. An assortment of cheeses & crackers, raw vegetables & dipping sauce, canapés, and hot hors d'oeuvres are displayed beautifully and make resistance impossible.


Twilight Refreshments

Twilight Refreshments

Twilight Refreshments

Twilight Refreshments


From 8pm to 10pm, Cordials and Desserts are served. The sweets include everything from cupcakes to chocolate covered strawberries with miniature tarts and cream puffs thrown in for good measure. And the cordials are first rate with Drambuie, Courvoisier, and Grand Marnier just to name a few. Beer and wine are also available.


Cordials and Desserts

Cordials and Desserts

Cordials and Desserts

Cordials and Desserts

Cordials and Desserts


In the Main Building, the Club Level lounge is known as Royal Palms Club and can be found on the fourth floor. Many tables are situated next to windows and offer great views of the monorail or the manicured grounds. This is a wonderful area to sit and relax and converse with friends. There is a sense of wellbeing here. The cares of the outside world seem to melt away when you're sipping Kahlua & Cream, while being attended to by an ever so attentive staff.


Royal Palms Club

Royal Palms Club

Royal Palms Club

Royal Palms Club

Royal Palms Club


At Sugar Loaf Key the Club Level lounge is called Sugar Loaf Concierge. Here, about ten tables have been tightly arranged in the lobby area of this building. The serving counter is located nearby. Although Sugar Loaf Concierge offers the same selection of food and drink as Royal Palms Club, it lacks greatly in charm and sophistication. The tables are spaced too close together and the area is dark. This room feels like an afterthought with no real design or direction. Disney needs to rethink Sugar Loaf Concierge and come up with a larger, brighter, and more convivial facility.


Sugar Loaf Concierge

Sugar Loaf Concierge


To see a video of the Club Level amenities, click on the picture below.



Another advantage of staying on a Club Level floor of the Main Building is the convenience offered. It's only an elevator ride away to the monorail, bus stop, shops, and all but one of the resort's restaurants. On rainy, hot, or cold days, this is a big plus.

The monorail station is located on the second floor above the porte-cochère (near M. Mouse Mercantile). This is your mode of transportation to the Magic Kingdom, the Contemporary, Epcot (transferring at the Transportation and Ticket Center), and the Polynesian. Hours of operation are posted nearby. The bus station is located on the first floor, just to the right of the porte-cochère as you exit the building. Buses take you to Downtown Disney, Disney's Hollywood Studios, Disney's Animal Kingdom, and the water parks.


Monorial

Monorail

Bus Stop


The Grand Floridian has one other transportation option, a boat that sails between the Grand Floridian, the Polynesian, and the Magic Kingdom. The dock is located at the north-east end of the resort, just past Narcoossee's Restaurant. These cute little vessels are not meant for speed and efficiency, but rather as a wonderful way to enjoy a leisurely excursion across Seven Seas Lagoon. A trip from the Grand Floridian will make a stop at the Polynesian before continuing on to the Magic Kingdom. If you're in a hurry to get to the Magic Kingdom, these boats are not your best option. Opt for the monorail instead. But if you're in the mood to slow down and smell the roses, or in this case, the lake air, then by all means, board one of these charming boats, sit back and relax.


Boat

Boat


People often ask me if they need a car when visiting Walt Disney World. I always say "No, you don't need a car. Walt Disney World transportation is reasonably efficient." However, a car can make things easier, as you won't be dependent on the buses and boats that usually only arrive at a given station or dock every 10-20 minutes.

Before I continue, I want to say that the Disney buses are very clean, maintained extremely well, and are driven by exceptionally courteous and knowledgeable cast members. These drivers have to be ready to answer an array of unbelievable questions - time and time again - all day long. But keep in mind, the buses at WDW are "mass" transit, not "rapid" transit. If you want to get someplace fast, the bus isn't necessarily your best bet. This is especially true if you plan on eating dinner at another resort -- there are no direct buses from one hotel to another. You must catch a bus to one of the parks (or the monorail to the Magic Kingdom) and then transfer to a different bus. In these cases, driving your own car is probably the better option.

However"

The Grand Floridian was designed for guests to valet park. This costs $12 per day plus gratuity each time you leave and return. This can add up. Free, self-parking is available at the Grand Floridian, but it's inconveniently located across the street from the resort in a less than attractive lot.

I suppose if you can afford to stay at the Grand Floridian, you can afford to valet park every day. But for those families who have saved their pennies for years and staying at the Grand Floridian as a once-in-a-lifetime event, then parking costs must be considered.

The majority of the rooms and several suites can be found in the five lodge buildings. Each is named after an island in the Florida Keys and includes Sago Cay, Sugar Loaf Key, Conch Key, Boca Chica, and Big Pine Key. Guests enter these buildings through nicely appointed lobbies where you'll find more fresh flowers.


Lodge Building Entrance

Lodge Building Lobby

Lodge Building Lobby


Standard rooms are approximately 448 square feet and sleep five. Dormer rooms (those located on the top floors) are slightly smaller and sleep four as they do not have a daybed. In addition, the balconies on the dormer rooms are significantly smaller than those on the standard rooms. However, I feel that the vaulted ceilings in the dormer rooms add a lot of charm and are worthy of consideration if you can do without the daybed.


Balconies

Dormer Room Balcony


Guests enter the rooms via a small hallway. On one side is a spacious closet. Club Level rooms have mirrored doors. Inside the closet you'll find a large safe that locks and unlocks with a four digit code. Also in the closet are two Grand Floridian robes. If you find you're taken with these, plusher copies can be purchased for $100 at the Sandy Cove Gift and Sundry shop. An iron and board, luggage racks, and the hairdryer can also be found in the closet.


Mirrored Closet Doors

Open Closet

Safe


Opposite the closet is the spacious bathroom. A large marble counter affords plenty of space for your toiletries and two sinks allow a family to get ready for their day all the quicker. H2O+ products are provided and two large bars of soap are a welcome relief from the slivers so often used in other establishments. These products can also be purchased at the Sandy Cove Gift and Sundry shop. The towels at the Grand Floridian are the thickest and fluffiest found at Walt Disney World. And I especially like the hamper where you can toss the used towels rather than leaving them on the floor or over a hook.


Bathroom Sinks

H2O+ Products

Towels

Hamper


In the standard rooms, the toilet and tub/shower are located in a separate room. In the Club Level rooms, the tub/shower is slightly bigger and along with the toilet is located in the same room as the sinks. The shower head has three settings, soft spray, hard spray, and pulsate. Also, the shower curtain rod bends outward at the top so you have more room when standing in the tub. In addition, all bathrooms come with a telephone for those calls you simply must take at inconvenient times.


Shower Tub

Shower Tub


Another perk of the Club Level room is the Keurig coffee maker. This is perfect for those of you who aren't fans of Nescafe which is served almost everywhere else on property.


Keurig Coffee Maker


The wallpaper in the bathroom is especially fun. The Super Six make a visit in topiary form.


Wallpaper


The sleeping area is bright and airy and has a Victorian elegance. Yet the design is not so heavy-handed and frilly as to make you feel like you're visiting an aging dowager who would smack your hand if you dared touch any of her bric-a-brac. The wallpaper has a delicate pattern, but it's subtle. The carpet uses colors of gold and green and displays a leaf pattern. The furniture is stained in mid-tones that are neither light nor dark. Disney did a wonderful job of combining the charm of a bygone era with the 21st century.

Most rooms have two queen-sized beds; however, rooms with one king are also available. A "king" room needs to be requested when making your reservations. As I mentioned earlier, a daybed is also part of the furnishings unless you're staying in a dormer room. Once again, if you need a daybed, request a non-dormer room when making your reservation.


Two Queen Beds

Two Queen Beds


The beds are VERY comfortable - and they're also for sale. If you'd like to purchase one, check out this website for more information.

www.disneyresortcollection.com

A trend I see spreading among deluxe resorts is the use of a third sheet. This sheet is used to cover the top of the blankets. Once the bedspread has been turned down (a nightly service provided at the GF - complete with chocolates) this third sheet covers the bedding. You never need touch blankets that have been used by a hundred other people before you. I like this A LOT!

Opposite the beds are a chest of drawers and a desk. The desk is especially nice as it "nests" and allows for easy laptop use. Free WiFi is now available throughout the Grand Floridian. Above the desk is a wonderful picture that requires close examination to find all of the Disney references. Sitting on the desk is the most elegant Mickey Mouse lamp you'll ever see. Donning a top hat, Mickey's head sits atop a faux marble column. A white shade tops it off. If you want one of these marvels for your own home (I know I did), they can be purchased by visiting the webpage I mentioned earlier.


TV and Desk

Desk

Picture

Mickey Mouse Lamp


Once flat screen TVs hit the market, they took over like wildfire. And just like the rest of the resorts at Walt Disney World, the Grand Floridian now offers these modern wonders. Below the TV are four drawers and a small refrigerator.


TV

Chest and Refrigerator


A number of views are available when booking a room at the Grand Floridian. Some look out at Seven Seas Lagoon with views of either the Polynesian or the Magic Kingdom. Others look into the resort's marina, while some view the manicured grounds and pool.

The first picture below was taken in 1989, one year after the Grand Floridian opened. I had requested a Magic Kingdom view from the Main Building. If you look closely, you can almost make out Cinderella Castle in the distance -- however, I could see the fireworks from my balcony with no problem. The next three pictures were taken on my most recent visit where I had a view of Seven Seas Lagoon and the Polynesian Resort.


View of the Magic Kingdom

View of the Wedding Pavilion

View of the Polynesian

View at Night


I like the rooms at the Grand Floridian. As I mentioned before, they are elegant without being stuffy. I doubt that anyone would be put off by these comfortable accommodations.

To see a video of a Club Level Dormer Room, click on the picture below.



To see a video of a Standard Dormer Room, click on the picture below.



That's it for today. Check back tomorrow for Part Two.



March 20, 2012

Fort Wilderness Resort & Campground - Part Two

Jack Spence Masthead


Yesterday I discussed the various campsites and cabins at Fort Wilderness and the transportation options. Today I'm going to talk about the many opportunities for adventure found at the campground.

Most people who visit Walt Disney World focus their attention on visiting the theme parks. But when you stay at Fort Wilderness, you have a slightly different attitude. Yes, the parks are terrific and cannot be ignored. But the campground offers a host of low-tech activities that also command your attention. Let's start at The Outpost.

For those of you with a hankerin' to ride a horse, head over to Trail Blaze Corral (Tri-Circle-D Ranch - The Outpost). Offered several times a day, these rides last about 45 minutes and offer a leisurely walk through the pine forests of Fort Wilderness. All tours have two guides, one who leads the way and another to bring up the rear. If you're an experienced rider, you'll probably be bored with this tour. But if you're a city-slicker with limited opportunities to be around horses, then this adventure will be right up your alley. Riders must be at least 9 years old and 48 inches tall and can weigh no more than 250 pounds. To make advanced reservations, call (407) WDW-PLAY (939-7528). Reservations can be made up to 30 days in advance. To make same-day reservations, call 407-824-2832 or touch 57 on your in-room phone.


Tri-Circle-D Rance -- The Outpost

Horseback Riding


The Meadow offers the widest array of activities for outdoor fun. But before we start with the goings-on, let's take a look at the Meadow Trading Post. This spot sells the usual collection of Disney souvenirs, but there are also a few Fort Wilderness exclusive pieces that cannot be found outside the campground. In addition, the store sells a reasonable selection of food stuffs to help accent the groceries you brought with you. Free WIFI is also available in and around this shop. Removable propane tanks can also be refilled here. Packages being delivered from the parks will be dropped off at the Meadow Trading Post for you to pick up at a later time. The Meadow Trading Post is open from 8am to 10pm.


The Meadow Trading Post

The Meadow Trading Post

The Meadow Trading Post


As you might imagine, bicycles can be rented at the Bike Barn. However, other equipment can also be obtained here. Canoes, kayaks, rods & reels (and bait), shuffleboard equipment, tennis rackets, and other sports paraphernalia are available from 9am to 7pm. Note, fishing is on a "catch and release" basis.


The Bike Barn

Fishing

Volleyball

Biking

Shuffleboard


Paddling the waterways of Fort Wilderness is the perfect way to while away an hour. One of the canals makes a circle in and about the campsites and unspoiled woods. It takes about 30-45 minutes to complete the journey and along the way you'll see a varied assortment of wildlife. You might also recognize one of the bridges that the old Fort Wilderness Railroad once traversed.


Canoeing

Fort Wilderness Railroad Bridge

Water Fowl

Water Fowl


Wilderness Back Trail Adventure offers guests a chance to experience a Segway X2 Personal Transporter. This is an off-road tour that winds its way around the campground with a side trip to the Wilderness Lodge and back. The event lasts two hours including training. For reservations call 407-939-8687. Groups meet at the Bike Barn.


Segways


Every Thursday, Friday, and Saturday, Disney offers the Fort Wilderness Archery Experience. At this activity, instructors conduct a short training session, teaching guests how to hold and fire a compound bow and arrow. When target practice begins, the trainers will offer tips and techniques on how to better hit that coveted bull's-eye. The session lasts one and a half hours.


Archery


Near the Bike Barn is Meadow Swimmin' Pool. Open 7am to 12 midnight, this pool is the perfect spot to cool down with a dip during the hot Florida summer. Numerous lounge chairs are available for you to sunbathe (don't forget your sunscreen) as are tables for games and conversation. Lifeguard hours vary. Check the posted sign for current times.


Meadow Swimmin' Pool

Meadow Swimmin' Pool


In an effort to pay homage to past Fort Wilderness attractions, the Imagineers designed the water slide at Meadow Swimmin' Pool with something special. The large barrel that anchors the slide used to welcome guests arriving at River Country. In addition, the Imagineers have repainted the barrel to sport the logo from the old Fort Wilderness Railroad.


Meadow Swimmin' Pool Slide

River Country Entrance

Fort Wilderness Railroad Logo


One of the best kiddie pools at Walt Disney World can be found at the Meadow Swimmin' Pool. Two slides, water spouts, geysers, cascading buckets, and more entertain those too young to venture into deeper waters.


Meadow Swimmin' Pool Kiddie Pool


Hungry? Meadow Snack Bar offers hotdogs, flatbreads, salads, and sandwiches. Soft drinks, beer, and a limited selection of cocktails will help quench your thirst. A number of picnic tables are nearby. This spot is open for lunch only.


Meadow Snack Bar


Next to the snack bar is Daniel Boone's Wilderness Arcade. Open daily from 7:30am to 10pm, this is the spot to put your hand/eye coordination to the test with electronic wizardry.


Daniel Boone's Wilderness Arcade

Daniel Boone's Wilderness Arcade


Also in The Meadow area is Chip & Dale's Campfire Sing-A-Long. This is a Fort Wilderness tradition and a must-attend for families with little ones.


Chip & Dale's Campfire Sing-A-Long


Each evening around dusk, a campfire is started. At the nearby chuck wagon, marshmallows and hotdogs can be purchased for roasting over the open fire. Even S'mores kits are for sale. It's a hoot to watch the young'uns attempt to roast their marshmallows without setting them ablaze.


Chuck Wagon

Chuck Wagon

Campfire


As the evening's guests begin to settle in, a singing cowboy, joined by Chip & Dale, take the stage and encourage the audience to join them in song. Old standards like "Home on the Range" and "She'll be Comin' Round the Mountain" are the songs du jour. These are melodies that everyone knows the words and can easily join in. Even the "Hokey Pokey" is performed with participants putting their left leg in and their left leg out. There is nothing sophisticated about this sing-a-long.


Singing Cowboy and Chip & Dale


When the melodies come to an end, the movie begins. Each evening, a different Disney classic film is shown under the stars. Check the campground information guides for times and movies.

I do need to warn you, the log benches leave a lot to be desired when it comes to comfort. The evening I attended, one seasoned couple brought their own folding chairs.


Movie Screen


The Meadow is a great recreational area. I've tried to discuss most of the activities, but I know I've forgotten a few. In my opinion, The Meadow is the heart of Fort Wilderness.

Now let's move north to The Settlement. The Settlement lies on the banks of Bay Lake and this is where guests can catch boats to Wilderness Lodge, the Contemporary Resort, and the Magic Kingdom.


Boat to Wilderness Lodge and Contemporary Resort

Boat to the Magic Kingdom

Boat Direction Sign


Near the boat dock is the Fort Marina Recreation and Boat Rentals. Here you can rent one of the speedy Sea Racers or a more leisurely pontoon boat. This is also the spot where you can arrange for a two hour fishing trip out on Bay Lake. An experienced guide and fishing equipment are included in the package so all you have to do is sit back and enjoy the experience.


Marina Recreation and Boat Rentals

Sea Racers

Poontoon Boats


On the white sandy beach are dozens of lounge chairs, tetherball poles, and volleyball nets. This is a great spot to relax in the shade of the nearby trees or bask in the sun. Note, swimming is not allowed in Bay Lake.


Sandy Beach and Volleyball

Tetherball


A short walk from the beach is a Fort Wilderness oddity, the Lawnmower Tree. Discovered here when Disney bought the property is an old push-style lawn mower that was left leaning against a tree. As the years passed, the tree began to grow around the equipment. In the early years of Fort Wilderness, the lawnmower was easy to see. But as time marched on, more and more of the metal was obscured by the growing tree. A few years ago, Disney cut most of the tree down. I don't know if this was because the tree was diseased or if this was an effort to stop the eventual total consumption of the lawnmower. But the remains of the tree and lawnmower are still on view today.


Lawnmower Tree

Lawnmower Tree


Near the Lawnmower Tree is the Settlement Trading Post. Like its sister store located at The Meadow, this spot sells Disney souvenirs, Fort Wilderness exclusive merchandise, and groceries.


Settlement Trading Post


I have never attended Mickey's Backyard BBQ Dinner Show, so I cannot offer any firsthand information, but here's what Disney says:

Mickey's Backyard BBQ Dinner Show is an all-you-care-to-eat Disney Character dance party with live entertainment. Frolic with Mickey, Minnie and Friends at this neighborly outdoor picnic in the middle of the covered, open-air Pavilion at Fort Wilderness. With foot-stomping music from a country-western band, line dancing, rope tricks and kid-friendly fun, you won't sit still for a second. Little ones can even dance a jig with their favorite Disney Characters on the dance floor! Enjoy a delectable buffet featuring all your beloved country vittles: barbeque smoked ribs, smoked chicken, hamburgers, hotdogs with all the trimmings, corn on the cob, watermelon and more. It's a mouth-watering, knee-slapping good time!


Mickey's Backyard BBQ

Mickey's Backyard BBQ

Mickey's Backyard BBQ


Pioneer Hall offers three treats: Hoop-Dee-Doo Musical Review, Trail's End/Crockett's Tavern, and Rocking Chairs.


Pioneer Hall


Let's start with the Hoop-Dee-Doo Musical Review. For me, this is one of the best experiences to be had at Walt Disney World. I absolutely love this show. Every time I see it, tears run down my cheeks I laugh so hard at the corny jokes. This show offers something for everyone. However, since I've written an entire blog on this subject, I'm not going to go into detail here. To read my complete review, click here.

I do want to mention, the title song, "Hoop-Dee-Doo Polka" has been replaced by a new number. From what I understand, Disney did not have the rights to use the song and a replacement was needed.


Hoop-Dee-Doo Musical Review

Hoop-Dee-Doo Musical Review

Hoop-Dee-Doo Musical Review


Trail's End offers a buffet breakfast and dinner and menu-service at lunch. At one time, lunch was also a buffet, but this eatery is so sparsely attended mid-day that Disney found it financially impractical to maintain the buffet at this time.

I like Trail's End, especially at dinner. The buffet offers a decent salad bar including peel-your-own shrimp. For entrees there are fried chicken, BBQ ribs, pulled pork, a nightly carving item, fish, several vegetables, potatoes, and great chili. Dessert includes soft-serve ice cream, cobbler, cake, cookies, and pecan pie.

There is nothing fancy about Trail's End. The surroundings are rustic and the food uncomplicated. But everything tastes great and the service is friendly. I highly recommend this spot for your evening meal.


Trail's End

Trail's End

Trail's End


I saved the best for last - rocking chairs. Lining the porch of Pioneer Hall is a number of rocking chairs. For me, sitting here and enjoying the atmosphere is a fantastic experience. Once, I literally sat here for over an hour with my brother and sister-in-law who were vacationing from California. This was the perfect spot to reconnect after a long time between visits. Crockett's Tavern offers nearby window service in the afternoon/evening so a refreshing beverage is also close at hand while rocking away the hours.


Rocking Chairs

Crockett's Tavern


In the evening, 45 minute Wagon Rides are offered which take you on a leisurely jaunt through Fort Wilderness. And if you're in the mood for something a little more romantic, private Carriage Rides are also available.


Wagon Rides

Private Carriage Rides


Have you ever wondered where the horses that pull the trolleys on Main Street go when their shift is over? Well, they live at Tri-Circle-D Farm & Ranch (The Settlement). By the way, have you noticed the "tri-circle" creates Mickey Mouse?


Tri-Circle-D Farm & Ranch


A large barn, which is open to guests, can be visited during the day and you can have a peek at the living conditions these four-legged cast members are provided.


Barn

Stables

Horse

Horse Name Tag


Outside the barn you'll often find the white Shetland ponies that are used to pull Cinderella's glass coach for weddings and parades. The ponies are also available for rides for the younger set. Children must be at least 2 years old, weigh less than 80 pounds, be under 48" and led by an adult around the small course.


Shetland Pony

Pony Rides


Also at the ranch is a real blacksmith. This is one of the rarer cast member designations. If you time your visit right, you can see him shoeing a horse or fixing a wagon wheel.


Blacksmith


I said earlier that I'm a champagne and caviar type of guy. Yet, I still love Fort Wilderness Campground. This is a wonderful spot that seems miles away from the hectic theme parks. I love to walk the sidewalks and trails here and inhale the rich scent of pine. This area clears the cobwebs out of my brain.

I have tried to touch on the highlights of this wonderful resort, but there is no way I could adequately describe all the activities there are to enjoy here. And remember, with the exception of the swimming pools, the rest of these offerings are open to everyone. Just because you're staying at the Grand Floridian doesn't mean you can't come over to Fort Wilderness for some archery or bike riding or a meal at Trail's End. So on your next trip to WDW, take the time and spend an afternoon poking around this wonderful retreat. You'll be glad you did.

For a more detailed look at Fort Wilderness, check out the AllEars Fact Sheet.


As always, I have created a video highlighting the various activities found at Fort Wilderness Campground. Enjoy.




March 19, 2012

Fort Wilderness Resort & Campground - Part 1

Jack Spence Masthead


Fort Wilderness Logo


I have written several blogs touching on the various activities found at the Fort Wilderness Resort & Campground, but two recent events have prompted me to revisit this resort in-depth. First, I stayed in one of the cabins for the first time. And second, while I was there, I created a comprehensive video of this sprawling campground. So here goes, a look at one of the best loved spots at Walt Disney World that has perhaps the most loyal following of any resort.

One of the first things I notice whenever I visit Fort Wilderness is that the other guests staying here are extremely outgoing. Everywhere I wander, people say "hello" to me when I pass them on a sidewalk or while I'm browsing at one of the two trading posts. There is just something about this place that makes people friendlier. I'm normally a "keep to myself" kinda guy, but this sociable attitude is infectious and in no time at all, I'm initiating the greetings. If you've visited here before, you know what I'm talking about. If you haven't ventured to this portion of Walt Disney World yet, you're in for a treat.

Fort Wilderness officially opened on November 19, 1971. It has grown over the years and currently covers over 700 acres with 409 Wilderness Cabins and 784 campsites designed to accommodate tents and recreational vehicles. The name "Fort Wilderness" came from the fort found on Tom Sawyer Island located at Disneyland.

Fort Wilderness has three distinct areas, The Outpost, The Meadow, and The Settlement. Campers arrive at The Outpost via Vista Boulevard. Like all Disney resorts, a large sign welcomes guests to the property. Those driving RVs proceed to a special "drive-thru" check-in counter. Visitors staying in a cabin should park their vehicle and check-in at the Reception Outpost. Guests staying in tents may use either check-in spot. The Reception Outpost was constructed out of pine logs imported from Montana.


Fort Wilderness Sign

RV Check-In

Cabin Check-In


After finishing the required paperwork, the receptionist will give you a map and driving directions to your campsite or cabin.

There is limited automobile parking at The Outpost and none at The Meadow and The Settlement. Guests who wish to take advantage of the various activities available at Fort Wilderness should walk, bicycle, use the internal bus system, or use an electric cart. Electric carts can be rented at Reception Outpost and cart and bicycle parking is available at all three areas of the campground. If you do rent an electric cart or bring your own, be sure to read the "Rules & Regulations" guide given to all guests at check-in. Electric carts can be reserved in advance by calling 407-824-2742. Drivers must be at least 16 years old with a valid driver's license.


FW Map

Walking at FW

Bicycling at FW

Buses at FW

Electric Cart


If you don't have a bike or electric cart, you will probably be using the internal bus system within the campground. Three routes navigate the 700 acres and take guests to the various loops, The Outpost, The Meadow and The Settlement. The routes are designated by color -- Orange, Yellow, and Purple. All bus stops have maps with easy-to-read indicators. Like all Disney buses, the ones at the campground are clean and reasonably efficient. However, some people dislike the fact that in order to go to any theme park or Downtown Disney, you must first take a campground bus then transfer to another bus or boat. This can easily add 15 to 20 minutes to your journey.


Buses at FW

Buses at FW

FW Bus Stop


The designers of the campground did their very best to disturb as few trees as possible when creating Fort Wilderness. This area is a surprise to most first-time visitors. They have no idea that such a peaceful spot exists on property. Groves of pine and cypress surround the campsites and roadways. Combine this with numerous canals and grassy knolls and you have the perfect spot to pitch a tent or park your RV. Fort Wilderness Campground consistently receives AAA's Level 3 rating (their top) and Trailer Life Magazine awarded this property with a 10/10/10 rating, the highest possible.

The campground is divided into 28 loops. Some of these loops are designated for cabins, some for RVs, and some for campers and tents. Most sites are separated from one another with a barrier of bushes and trees, adding a secluded nature to the area.

The loops for RVs have concrete pads ranging in size from 25 feet to 60 feet deep and widths of up to 25 feet. Those intended for tents have a concrete pad for your car and a sandy patch in which to set up camp. All sites have electricity (120/220 volts), city water, charcoal grill, picnic table, and cable TV hookup. All but 90 sites offer full sewer hook-ups. The ones that don't are intended for tent campers. Check-in time for campsites is 1pm and check-out at 11am.


RV Loop

RV Parking

RV Parking

Tent Campsite

Tent Campsite


There are a number of comfort stations located around the campground. These are clean facilities that offer toilets, showers, laundry facilities, ice, and campground information. I was especially impressed with the showers. Each shower is individual with its own, private dressing room. Unfortunately, I could not get an adequate picture of the shower and dressing room to share with you here.


Comfort Station

Comfort Station

Laundry Room

Campground Information

Ice Machine


The campers at Fort Wilderness love to decorate their campsites. Christmastime is especially festive with strings of multicolored lights and holiday adornments. However, Christmas isn't the only time campers pull out all the stops. Take a look.


Campsite Decorations

Campsite Decorations

Campsite Decorations

Campsite Decorations

Campsite Decorations


Pets are welcome at several of the loops at Fort Wilderness. When making your reservations, make sure to let the cast member know you will be bringing your animal family with you. While enjoying the campground, pets must remain on a leash. However, Waggin' Trails Dog Park offers a wonderful, fenced-in grassy field where you can let Rover run free with other vacationing K9s. The dog park is located next to the playground at loop 300. A number of signs point the way so you can easily find this doggie retreat from anywhere within the campground.


Sign to Dog Park

Dog Park Rules

Waggin' Trails Dog Park


For those of you who like the idea of spending some time communing with nature, but have neither an RV, camper, or tent, Disney offers the Wilderness Cabins. Introduced in 1997, these "cabins" are actually modular homes that have been given a rustic feel both inside and out. The exterior of the cabins is covered in real timbers. A deck, complete with picnic table, is accessible from both the living room and bedroom. A charcoal grill is just a few feet away. Note, there is only room for one car.


Wilderness Cabin

Cabin Porch

Grill


An extensive use of wood is applied to the interior of the cabins. Combine this with country furniture, "lantern" style lighting, and Native American rugs and bedspreads, and you've got yourself a real rustic retreat.

The cabins measure a little over 500 square feet and can sleep six, four in the bedroom (one double bed and twin bunk beds) and two on the Murphy bed in the living room.

The living room has a loveseat (that will comfortably seat two adults), a coffee table/ottoman, and a children's table and two small chairs.

The dining area features an oval table with a bench seat and three full-sized chairs.

The kitchen has a stove/oven, microwave, full-sized refrigerator, dishwasher, and a double sink. The kitchen is fully stocked with cooking utensils, pots and pans, dishes, and flatware.

The bathroom has a combination shower/tub, a sink, and toilet.

In the two closets are a vacuum cleaner, iron and board, collapsible crib, safe, stepladder, and broom.

There are two TVs, one in the living room (with DVD player) and one in the bedroom.

High-speed internet connections are available for a fee. WIFI is not available in the cabins. I do not know if Disney plans to add it in the future.


Cabin Floorplan


Pictures of the Living Room:


Cabin Living Room

Cabin Living Room

Cabin Living Room

Cabin Living Room

Cabin Living Room


Pictures of the Dining Area:


Cabin Dining Room

Cabin Dining Room

Cabin Dining Room

Cabin Dining Room


Pictures of the Kitchen:


Cabin Kitchen

Cabin Kitchen

Cabin Kitchen

Cabin Kitchen

Cabin Kitchen


Pictures of the Bathroom:


Cabin Bathroom

Cabin Bathroom

Cabin Bathroom


Pictures of the Bedroom:


Cabin Bedroom

in Bedroom

in Bedroom


Things I like about the Wilderness Cabins:

The cabins are located at Fort Wilderness. This is fantastic! If you're not a camper, but still want to experience the rustic appeal of this wonderful portion of Walt Disney World, the cabins are the way to go.

The kitchens and bathrooms have recently been refurbished.

The kitchens are well appointed. Just about anything you'd need to prepare a meal is here.

The Murphy bed is far easier to open and close than the convertible sofas found elsewhere on property. Since the beds use cables to counterbalance their movement, even a person with limited strength can effortlessly operate them.

What I don't like about the Wilderness Cabins:

The cabins are advertised as "sleeps six." I would not like to put this to the test. In the bedroom, the double bed is pushed up against the wall. If the inner sleeper needs to get up in the middle of the night, they must disturb their companion. The same is true of the Murphy bed. One side of the bed is a mere six inches from the couch when open. It is impossible to enter or exit the bed from this side.

The bathroom only has one sink. If six people were really using this cabin, two basins would be most useful.

The living room only has seating for two adults. Others must sit on the less than comfortable dining table chairs to watch TV.

Although the kitchen and bathroom have been recently refurbished, the rest of the cabin has a dingy feel about it. I realize it's supposed to feel rustic, but the rooms at the Wilderness Lodge accomplish this with a cleaner feel.

I'm hoping this last complaint is just a misfortunate oversight rather than being indicative of the overall housekeeping provided at the cabins. During my stay, I found a number of items that should have been attended to before I arrived.

A can of beer was left in the refrigerator.
Empty bags were found in a kitchen cabinet.
The top of the refrigerator was very dusty.
A dead and dried lizard was found lying in the middle of a counter.

Would I stay at the Wilderness Cabins again?

Probably not. If I want the "home-away-from-home" feel a separate bedroom and kitchen provide, I would rent one of the DVCs found at other resorts around property. However, I'm a champagne and caviar type of guy. I've never really been into camping. I'm sure others love these rustic cabins and can't imagine staying anyplace else.

I have created of video of the Fort Wilderness Cabins. This should give you a good idea of what they offer.



That's it for Part One. Check back tomorrow when I discuss the many activities that can be found at Fort Wilderness.



November 30, 2011

Beach Club Villas - Disney Vacation Club

Today I'm going to discuss Disney's Beach Club Villas. This resort is considered part of the Yacht & Beach Club property and was the fourth Disney Vacation Club (DVC) to open (July 1, 2002) at Walt Disney World. Like the Yacht & Beach Club, this addition was designed by Robert A.M. Stern of New York. There are 282 guest rooms divided into three categories: Studio units which sleep 4, One Bedroom units which sleep 4, and Two Bedroom units which can sleep 8.


Beach Club Villas Logo


Florida law requires that all time share properties set aside a small percentage of their rooms for "non-owners." This means that non-DVC members can rent rooms here. In addition, if the Villas have not been booked to capacity by members, Disney will open up additional rooms for non-members to rent.

There are no regularly manned desks at the Villas. Guests staying here use the check-in and concierge desks located at the Beach Club.

The Villas are just a short walk from the Beach Club. Guests cross a lovely courtyard and are greeted by Ariel near the main entrance.


Courtyard and Main Entrance

Ariel


Just inside the main entrance is a lobby of sorts. Off of this lobby are hallways leading to guest rooms, The Breezeway, and The Drawing Room.


Lobby


The Drawing Room is a quiet getaway and features several sitting areas and a television. Watercolor paintings, a Victorian dollhouse, and comfortable furnishings make this the perfect spot to curl up with a good book and escape. Note, the television is only turned on if someone wants to watch it, so chances are good you can find peace and quiet here.


The Drawing Room

The Drawing Room

The Drawing Room

The Drawing Room


The Breezeway connects the lobby with the pool area. This three story room is bright and sunny and has two seating areas for relaxing and conversation. However, since this is a thoroughfare between the lobby and the pool, this area isn't nearly as sedate as The Drawing Room.

The Breezeway features a number of shelves that are chock-full of seashells, oars, compasses, weathervanes, and other seashore paraphernalia. The large oil painting featuring Mickey as a hot-air balloon floating above the Villas is especially intriguing.


The Breezeway

The Breezeway

The Breezeway

The Breezeway


The Dunes Cove Pool could be compared to the Admiral Pool at the Yacht Club and the Tidal Pool at the Beach Club. It provides a refreshing retreat with plenty of lounge chairs and tables, yet its overall ambiance is peaceful. Guests staying at the Villas are entitled to use Stormalong Bay.


Dunes Cove Pool

Dunes Cove Hot Tub


Near the pool is a picnic table and BBQ grill for alfresco meals. The surrounding area has been sown with plants reminiscent of dune grass to help facilitate the seashore atmosphere.


Dunes Walkway

Picnic Table

BBQ

Dunes


On my latest visit to the Villas I stayed in a Studio room. In many ways, a Studio room is laid out similarly to a standard hotel room. When entering the room you pass the bath and closet area to reach the sleeping area. What sets a Studio apart from a standard hotel room is the kitchenette. The kitchenettes here feature a small refrigerator, small sink, coffee maker, toaster, microwave, flatware, glasses and cups, and paper plates.


Kitchenette

Kitchenette

Kitchenette

Kitchenette

Kitchenette


The one and two bedroom units at the Villas feature complete kitchens with a full-sized refrigerator, dishwasher, stove, and oven. Unlike the Studio kitchenettes, these full-sized kitchens provide you with the ability to cook elaborate meals and come complete with pots and pans, utensils, and everything else you might need.

The Studio vanity has one sink and plenty of counter space. A hairdryer can be found attached to the wall. Standard amenities like soap, shampoo, and conditioner are provided.


Vanity and Sink

Vanity and Sink


The toilet and shower are in a separate room and the space is more than adequate.


Toilet and Shower


Off of the vanity area is a closet containing a wall safe big enough for a laptop, collapsible baby crib, iron and board, luggage rack, and vacuum. Housekeeping service is only offered twice a week when staying in a Villa room on membership points. You are expected to reuse your towels and clean up after yourself. Daily housekeeping service can be obtained for an additional fee. If renting the room at the Villas, daily housekeeping service is provided.


Closet


A Studio room features one queen bed and a convertible sofa, allowing for four guests. The two high-back chairs are comfortable and the large table offers plenty of space for a meal or laptop. Electrical outlets and internet connections can be found near the baseboard behind the table. The bureau contains four drawers and three shelves. A flat screen TV and DVD player are also housed here.


Living and Sleeping Area

Living and Sleeping Area

Living and Sleeping Area


The convertible sofa is simple to open. One person can easily carry out this task. However, I wasn't quite sure what to do with the coffee table once I opened the bed.


Convertible Sofa


The decorator used a multitude of hues when designing this room, but the colors seem to blend well and convey a bygone era at the seashore. The bedspread continues the Little Mermaid theme and a number of the characters can be found in the pattern.


Bedspread

Rooms at the Villas offer a balcony or patio. Some balconies are larger than others. I was on a ground floor and my room faced out onto Epcot Resorts Blvd. During the day, I was aware of the traffic noises while sitting in my room as cars and trucks passed by.


Patio


To see a 2½ minute video of a Studio Room, check out the video below.



That's it for my coverage of the Yacht Club, Beach Club, and Beach Club Villas. I have created a 12½ minute video that covers the complete resort. Enjoy.



August 12, 2011

Contemporary Resort – Part Two

Yesterday I discussed the restaurants and shopping options at the Contemporary Resort. Today I'll discuss some of the recreational activities, history, and room layout and amenities.

No description of the Contemporary would be complete without mentioning the 90 foot high tile mural that towers from the fourth floor to the roof. This mosaic astonishes first time visitors and welcomes returning guests.

The original concept for the Contemporary's vast atrium was that of the Grand Canyon - thus the name, Grand Canyon Concourse. When the hotel first opened, restaurants and bars sported names like Terrace Café, Pueblo Room, Coconino Cove, and the Outer Rim (which still exists today). All of these monikers helped set the mood of the Southwest U.S. Some of you might even remember that for a few years, each balcony was painted a different shade of earth tone.


Earth Tone Balconies


When designing the Contemporary, the Imagineers knew that the elevator shafts that ran through the middle of the hotel needed to be "hidden" with something eye catching. They called upon Mary Blair for ideas. Mary had already proven her worth as a major contributor to "it's a small world" and for her mural designs at Disneyland's recently redesigned Tomorrowland.


Mary Blair Mural at Disneyland


Mary used a number of sources for her inspiration for the Contemporary mural. These included prehistoric petroglyphs, pueblo murals, Navaho ceremonial art, and sand paintings. The colors used are keyed to the earth and sky tones of the Grand Canyon as well as Native American art. When completed, over 18,000 individually hand-painted, fire-glazed ceramic tiles were created. The glazes used on the ceramics are both mineral and chemically based -- the color pink is made from gold. It took more than a year and a half to design, produce, and install the final mural.


Mary Blair Mural at the Contemporary


The Contemporary offers two pools, one for the entire "raucous" family and one for quieter moments. Let's start with the livelier of the two. This pool sports an interesting shape that meanders in and out. A fountain positioned on the pool's edge and a geyser in the middle of the water splash nearby swimmers. A waterslide adds to the excitement.


Contemporary Pool

Contemporary Pool

Contemporary Pool & Slide


The quiet pool, or Bay Pool, juts out into Bay Lake - or at least it used to. Take a look at this first picture I took in January 1972. As you can see, this original Contemporary pool is surrounded on all sides by water with a bridge connecting it to the shore. It looked like it was floating on the lake. Today, a sandy beach surrounds two sides of the pool deck. I have no idea why this change was made, but I prefer the "floating" pool. Although children are welcome to use the Bay Pool, the intent is they will be accompanied by their parents and their screams of joy be kept to a minimum.


Bay Pool - Old Shoreline

Bay Pool - New Shoreline

Bay Pool - New Shoreline


Speaking of "screams of joy," check out the Water Play Area. Here, motion detectors sense movement and water jet spring to life when your young ones run by. Waterproof speakers are imbedded in the various sculptures and add the dimension of sound to their play.


Water Play Area


In the early years, the decking surrounding the pools at the Contemporary was constructed of concrete, concrete, and more concrete. This made sense. All you had to do was look at Tomorrowland of the 1970's to see what the Imagineers thought the future would look like. Today, the pool decking is covered with pavers of multiple colors. This simple change gives the area a softened and welcoming feel.

Deck chairs and lounges are numerous and there even are a few situated on the sandy beach looking out onto Bay Lake. Private cabanas can be rented by the half day or full day. They include personalized service from a cast member, a 32" flat-screen TV with DVD player, digital music docking station, a locking drawer for personal items, a mini refrigerator, a fruit platter, and bottled water and soft drinks. For pricing and availability call (407) WDW-PLAY.


Pool Deck & Beach

Cabana


Located near the pool is the Contemporary Marina. Here you can rent Sea Raycers, Boston Whaler Montauks, and SunTracker Pontoon boats. On more than one occasion, I've purchased sandwiches and chips at the Sand Bar then toured Bay Lake and Seven Seas Lagoon in a pontoon boat and enjoyed a leisurely and relaxing lunch. For a more exciting afternoon, you can arrange to waterski or parasail with Sammy Duvall's Watersports Centre. Note, swimming is not allowed in any of the Disney lakes and streams.


Contemporary Marina

Contemporary Marina


A great picture spot is located near the marina. Mouse ears and Mickey make a wonderful photo op. There is even a platform for you to set your camera (and synchronize the timer) so everyone in your group can get into the shot. Here is a picture of me taken in 1983. Clear plastic panels have been added to the backside of the ears in recent years as a safety measure, preventing anyone from falling backwards.

A sharp eye might also notice that this metal Mickey is very similar to one seen sitting on a rooftop as you approach the Contemporary while riding the express monorail.


Mickey Photo Op

Mickey Sitting on the Edge of a Building


There are several nighttime activities available near the marina. "Movies Under the Stars" shows a different Disney movie each evening and is presented on the lawn between the marina and Bay Lake Tower. A sandwich-board marquee in this area lists the times and movies.

You can also charter a private boat and skipper for a trip to Seven Seas Lagoon for a ringside view of the Magic Kingdom's nightly fireworks spectacular. Call (407) WDW-PLAY or see the concierge for more information.

A perennial favorite, The Electrical Water Pageant, stops by the marina at approximately 10:10 each evening.


Electrical Water Pageant

Electrical Water Pageant

Electrical Water Pageant

Electrical Water Pageant


To see a video of the entire resort, click the picture below. This video is 14 minutes in length. Sorry it's so long, but there is a lot to cover here.



The Contemporary was an opening day resort (October 1, 1971). As you may know, the Contemporary and Polynesian were built using modular construction. The rooms were constructed by the U.S. Steel Company at a manufacturing plant three miles away. An assembly line, much like those utilized for automobiles, was used and rooms were completed at the rate of approximately 15 units per day. When complete, the 9-ton rooms were trucked to the hotel site and lifted into place by a crane. The rooms measure nine feet high, fifteen feet wide, and 32 feet 7 inches long. It took approximately 1½ years to build the Contemporary Resort with construction beginning around December 1969-January 1970. The A-frame stands 184 feet high, is 220 feet wide at the base, and 468 feet in length and was designed to withstand hurricane force winds of up to 100 mph. Contrary to a popular rumor, the rooms were never designed to be removed once they were set in place. This construction method was used for economic reasons and to test new building techniques, not so the units could be swapped out for remodeling.


Rooms Under Construction

Transporting Rooms to the Hotels

Contemporary Under Construction

Lifting Rooms Into Place


The Contemporary has 655 rooms divided between the Tower and Garden Wing. It also boasts some of the largest standard rooms at Walt Disney World at 436 square feet. Standard rooms have either two queen beds or one king. In addition, standard rooms have a daybed. The rooms can accommodate up to five guests plus a child under three who uses a crib. Suites in various configurations are also available.


The basic layout of the room has not changed all that much over the years. You enter through a small hallway. The bathroom and closets are located off of this hallway and the sleeping area is straight ahead.


Standard Room Configuration


There are two closets in the hallway with frosted glass doors. Both closets have wooden coat hangers that actually come off the rack. And better than that, these hangers actually have hooks rather than those hard-to-use models where you have to negotiate a rod and ball into a device on the rod.

In one closet you'll find an ironing board, iron, a nice sized safe, and several drawers. The other closet has a luggage rack and clothes rods. Both closets have lights in them so if you need a nightlight you can leave the lights on and the doors closed. The frosted glass defuses the light and puts out a soft glow. A vanity with drawers separates the two closets and provides a great place to leave and pick up essentials as you come and go. A coffee machine is also located on this vanity.


Closet

Vanity

Safe and Drawers


The bathroom is big and nice for families. However, I had some problems with it. First, the sinks. There are two, but in trying to decorate in a "contemporary" way, the Imagineers chose large, square, flat sinks that take up almost all of the available counter space. The only area left to put your toiletries is in a small area between the sinks. This space would hardly be adequate for a family of four. In fact, it wasn't adequate for two. Also, the sinks in my room were so level that all of the water did not flow down the drain. There was always standing water in the basin. Not good after you've brushed your teeth.


Bathroom Sinks


When you first enter the bathroom there is a stylish towel rack on the wall that holds four, fluffy towels. The bathtub/shower is on the other side of the room. There is no way you can reach the towel rack from the tub. So if you're smart enough to remember to pick up a towel before getting into the shower, you must either sling it over the curtain rod or lay it on the edge of the sink. But be careful with this second choice. Chances are the sink will have standing water in it and your towel will end up getting wet.


Towel Rack


The curtain rod in the shower is nice. It curves outward at the top and this gives you more room to maneuver in a tight area.

The shower walls are all lined with brown and white marble. This looks very nice. Disney has also provided a nice marble ledge to hold your shampoo, conditioner and soap. But once again I found a problem here. This ledge is completely flat with no drain slots or ridges. Because of this, my bar of soap "glued" itself to the shelf during the night. I'm not kidding when I say that I had to pry if off the ledge the next morning.


Tub and Shower


The bathroom has a separate water closet which is always nice. In addition, the bathroom and water closet have motion sensors that activate the exhaust fans. Whenever you enter these rooms, the fans turn on automatically. This is a nice touch and the fans are quiet.


Water Closet


The bathroom also has a real hairdryer. This isn't one of those "attached-to-the-wall" models, but a genuine hairdryer that you must plug in. It can be found on the open shelf under the sinks.

The sleeping area is nicely appointed. Dark woods and light earth tones make up the design. The headboards are imaginative and are upholstered in padded material in shades of browns. The carpet is light beige and the curtains feature large horizontal stripes in more earth tones.

There are two queen-sized beds and a couch that makes into a single bed so the room can sleep five very comfortably. The two queen sized beds have five pillows each. This made me very happy as I like lots of pillows. There is also a dimmer switch for the over-head bed lights on each side of each bed. So no matter what side you sleep on, you have easy access to the lights.


Two Queen Beds


The TV's at the Contemporary are now flat, widescreen, and they're built into a nice cabinet that features a wrap-around shelf below the screen. Below the wrap-around shelf is a glass mosaic made up of yellow tiles. The mosaic is lit from behind and this also makes a wonderful night light. When I arrived, the TV remote control was sitting in the middle of a modernistic tray on the edge of the bed. It was an unusual, but interesting touch.


Television


In the corner of the room is a nice sized desk. Electrical plugs and the high speed internet access cord are conveniently located. There was also a smaller desk on wheels that would be perfect for a laptop. To one side of the desk is additional drawer space.


Desk


The couch/bed is comfortable enough to sit on and if you look closely at the fabric, you can see little Mickey heads integrated into the design.


Day Bed


Large sliding glass doors make up the back wall of the room. Here you'll find sheers and black-out curtains that actually overlap, ensuring that you can close out the sunlight. The sliding door has TWO locks, one down low, and another one that only an adult could reach. There is no way a child could open the door and wander out onto the balcony without an adult first unlocking this upper latch.


Sliding Glass Doors


The balconies at the Contemporary are decent sized. Not large, but big enough that you can maneuver without having to fight with the two chairs and end table that occupy this space. Four people can comfortably stand out here. The balconies are also reasonably shielded from the surrounding rooms.


Balcony


If you have a room facing Bay Lake, a cup of coffee in the morning while watching the sunrise is a great way to start the day. And in the evening, it's a wonderful place to sit and relax as the building blocks out the afternoon sun. Of course, views of Seven Seas Lagoon offer vistas of the Polynesian, the Grand Floridian, the ferry boats, the Magic Kingdom, and especially, the nightly fireworks. Note, if you have a Magic Kingdom view room the afternoon sun, especially in the summer, can be brutal as its rays beat down on the building. You'll definitely need to pull the sheers until the sun sets.

To see a video of a Standard Room, click on the picture below.



The rooms in the Garden Wing are identical to the Tower rooms, with one exception, the balconies - there are none. The rooms on the first floor of the Garden Wing have an open patio with a table and two chairs. There is little to no privacy between patios. The rooms on the second and third floors have railing. It is impossible to step outside here.


Garden Room No Balcony


The Garden Wing also houses three unusual rooms. These are known as Garden Wing Deluxe Rooms and are located at the "elbow" of one of the buildings. Because of the unusual shape this bend creates, the rooms on the first, second, and third floor here are larger in size and measure 629 square feet (compared with 436). The bathroom has a tub shower and a stall shower. Although they are not considered suites, they are spacious and have a sitting room. These rooms feature a king bed and a queen sofa/sleeper. Since they are larger than a standard room, they do command a premium price, but aren't nearly as expensive as a suite. As there are only three of these rooms, they can be difficult to reserve.


Garden Wing Deluxe Rooms Exterior

Garden Wing Deluxe Rooms Exterior

Garden Wing Deluxe Room Layout

Garden Wing Deluxe Room

Garden Wing Deluxe Room

Garden Wing Deluxe Room

Garden Wing Deluxe Room

Garden Wing Deluxe Bath

Garden Wing Deluxe Bath


To see a video of this room, click the picture below.



That's my review of the Contemporary. I realize that this hotel is not for everyone, but it works just fine for me. As I said at the beginning of this piece, it's my favorite Walt Disney World resort and I consider it home.



August 11, 2011

Contemporary Resort – Part One

Please note, this article is about the Contemporary "Hotel" only. I will not be discussing Bay Lake Tower or any of its facilities.

As a kid in the 1950's and '60's, I loved Tomorrowland over all the other lands. The ultra-modern architecture and futuristic rides fascinated me. I remember asking my dad, "Why don't real cities build buildings like this and install monorails?" If he answered me at all, I'm sure I didn't find his explanation satisfactory.

In May of 1971 I started working at Disneyland and in June of that year I graduated from high school. As with most of the schools in Southern California, my school took part in Grad Night celebrations at Disneyland. For two weeks each June, Disneyland welcomed graduates to all-night parties (10pm to 6am). For the price of a special ticket, parents could rest assured that their kids were celebrating safely. I took my girlfriend, Marianne.

We started out in Tomorrowland, but somehow we ended up in New Orleans Square, sitting at a quiet table and talking. It was at this moment that my love for Tomorrowland gave way to the romantic captivation of less modern surroundings. I think it was also at this moment that I realized that there was more to Disneyland than riding rides. You see, this was the very first time I slowed down and smelled the roses.


New Orleans Square - Disneyland

Jack & Marianne at Grad Night


So what does all this have to do with the Contemporary Resort? I'll get to that in a few minutes.

In the autumn of 1971, Disney announced a deeply discounted trip to Walt Disney World for the cast members of Disneyland and the Burbank Studios. The trip would take place in early January 1972 and would include airfare, five nights at the Contemporary Tower, backstage tours (including the tunnel system under the Magic Kingdom), a Polynesian Luau, meals at several restaurants, a trip to Kennedy Space Center, and a trip to Cypress Gardens. All for the amazingly low price of $200. Even though I was only making $1.71 per hour, I had enough money in the bank to afford this trip. This was the first time I had ever traveled by myself and the first time I had ever stayed in a real hotel (rather than a motel). Although I was not impressed with the Magic Kingdom (as compared to Disneyland), I was blown away by the Contemporary.


Contemporary Resort - 1970's


The Imagineers very intentionally placed the Contemporary where they did. They wanted its ultramodern design to be a backdrop to Tomorrowland in the Magic Kingdom. And during the 1970's, it fit in perfectly. But people's concepts about the future began to change during the 1980's. People started to realize, straight lines of concrete can be cold and unwelcoming. Although Tomorrowland has gone through a transformation to change its outward appearance, the exterior of the Contemporary has not. It still conveys the mindset of a bygone era.


Tomorrowland and the Contemporary


In the many years since my first trip, I have stayed at every Walt Disney World resort, but to this day, the Contemporary is my favorite. I'll admit, my preference may be influenced by the fact that I stayed here on my first visit to Orlando. As we know, emotions and memories can affect our perspective. But I think this fact only plays a small part in my affection for this great hotel. I have many "logical" reasons for calling the Contemporary home.

Back to my Tomorrowland/Grad Night story"

I still love New Orleans Square over Tomorrowland, but I'll take the Contemporary over the Grand Floridian any day. Disney has done much to transform the Contemporary over the years. Of course, the building's exterior cannot be changed and limits motif possibilities. Let's face it, a Tuscan décor would not work here. It is necessary to convey a "contemporary" theme throughout the resort. But "contemporary" doesn't necessarily translate to the "cold and sterile" world of 1971 Tomorrowland. I'll be the first to admit, there are more romantic resorts at Disney World, but the Contemporary has a lot to offer -- enough so that you should give it serious thought. Don't let its outward appearance put you off.

Note, there has been one significant change made to the front exterior of the hotel. The trees shaped like upside-down Dixie Cups have been allowed to grow naturally. This is another example of how the Contemporary has mellowed over the years.


Dixie Cup Trees

Natural Trees


The original name for the hotel was to be Tempo Bay Resort Hotel. However, during construction, everyone kept calling it the Contemporary. Finally, it was Roy Disney who asked, "What's wrong with calling the hotel The Contemporary Resort?" Who was going to question the boss' wisdom and the name was officially changed.

Let's start my description of the Contemporary with the monorail. I know the monorail services the Polynesian and the Grand Floridian, but it is a part of the Contemporary. How can you think of the Contemporary and not think of the monorail? They're a package. Who doesn't rubberneck when passing through the Grand Canyon Concourse on their way from the TTC to the Magic Kingdom? And when you're shopping or dining on the hotel's fourth floor, it's hard not to marvel as the monorail quietly passes by. I hope the Imagineer who first conceived the idea of having the monorail travel through the Contemporary got a big bonus.


Monorail inside the Contemporary

Grand Canyon Concourse

Monorail inside the Contemporary


And not only is the monorail cool to look at and fun to ride, it makes trips to the Magic Kingdom and Epcot especially easy when staying at the Contemporary. It also "combines" the Contemporary, Polynesian, and Grand Floridian into one large resort. Want to have dinner at 'Ohana or a spa treatment at the Grand Floridian? It's easy when all you have to do is hop aboard the highway in the sky. (Please note, swimming pools are intended for guests staying at their own resort only.)

The Contemporary is also the only resort from which you can walk to the Magic Kingdom. It's about a ten to fifteen minute stroll from the lobby.


Walkway to the Magic Kingdom


Another transportation option offered at the Contemporary are the small boats that ply Bay Lake. If you have tickets for the Hoop-Dee-Doo Musical Review at Fort Wilderness Campground or dinner reservations at Artist Point at Wilderness Lodge, riding these enchanting watercraft is far superior to traveling via bus transportation offered at the other resorts.


Bay Lake Boat


Next there are the views from the Contemporary Tower. As I've said to many people who do not like this resort, "I'd rather be sitting on my balcony at the Contemporary looking at the Grand Floridian, than on my balcony at the Grand Floridian looking at the Contemporary." The views of Bay Lake and Seven Seas Lagoon are fantastic. Even the lower floors offer great vistas. And if you have a Magic Kingdom view room, you can enjoy your own private viewing of the fireworks each evening.


Polynesian

Grand Floridian

Bay Lake at Evening

Bay Lake at Morning

Fireworks


The Contemporary has six dining options. First there is The Wave. Located on the ground floor, this restaurant serves breakfast, lunch, and dinner. The Wave opened three years ago and replaced the Concourse Steakhouse which was located on the fourth floor. Although I think Disney could have done a better job with the restaurant's décor, I've always been pleased with the food and the service. On the other hand, I think the lounge/bar is extremely inviting and is a good place for an intimate drink. Reservations are suggested, but I've rarely had a problem when arriving without. Hours: Breakfast 7:30am to 11am. Lunch 12 noon to 2pm. Dinner 5:30pm to 10pm.


The Wave Entrance

The Wave Dining Room

The Wave Lounge


Also on the first floor is Contemporary Grounds. This coffee bar serves gourmet coffee drinks, smoothies, and assorted rolls and muffins. This is the perfect spot to grab a quick bite to eat when rushing to catch a bus to Disney's Hollywood Studios or the Animal Kingdom. Hours are 6:30am to 5pm.


Contemporary Grounds


On the Grand Canyon Concourse (fourth floor), you'll find the Contempo Café and Chef Mickey's. Contempo Café is open for breakfast, lunch, and dinner and offers grab-and-go items as well as cooked-to-order meals. Guests use touch sensitive screens to place their orders. Once everyone has made up their mind and entered their selection into the computer, you'll receive a receipt. Before heading to the cash register with this receipt, pick up any other items you might want. Fountain drinks are ordered at the register. When paying, you'll be given a pager to let you know when your food is ready. Then find a table and relax until beeped.


Contempo Cafe Sign

Contempo Cafe Ordering Stations

Contempo Cafe Ordering Station

Contempo Cafe Kitchen

Contempo Cafe Dining Room


I think the lunch/dinner selections at the Contempo Café are excellent. Everything is prepared to order and arrives at your table hot (or cold). Disney is striving to serve more upscale and tastier "fast food." I think they succeed at the Contempo Café. Since this is a quick service restaurant, meals are served on paper plates. The Contempo Café is open from 6am to midnight.

One of the most popular character meals at Walt Disney World can be found at the Contemporary -- Chef Mickey's. Breakfasts and dinners book up months in advance and reservations are an absolute MUST if you want to eat here.


Chef Mickey's Sign


Shortly after you arrive you'll have your picture taken with a statue of Chef Mickey. This photo makes a great souvenir. Don't hesitate to ask the photographer to use your own camera if you want a "freebee."


Chef Mickey Photo Op


Tables at Chef Mickey's are scattered throughout several rooms. This helps breakup the enormity of this establishment. Meals are served via a central buffet, which can get crowded at times. And of course Mickey and his friends make the rounds while you dine. Breakfast is served from 7am to 11:30am. Dinner is served from 5pm to 9:30pm. Note, this eatery is noisy -- but what do you expect when you combine excited children and Disney characters in a cavernous structure like the Grand Canyon Concourse.


Chef Mickey's Dining Room

Chef Mickey's Dining Room

Chef Mickey's Buffet

Mickey Posing for a Picture


Although not an eatery, The Outer Rim must also be mentioned while talking about the Grand Canyon Concourse. This small cocktail lounge sits window side and offers wonderful views of the Contemporary's swimming pool and Bay Lake. I love sitting here with friends, talking about our day. And remember, you do not need to order alcohol to use this facility. Soft drinks are just fine. In fact, ordering nothing is also okay. These comfortable chairs are open to everyone. The bar is open from 4:30pm to 10pm.


Outer Rim Sign

Outer Rim Seating

Outer Rim Bar


As I mentioned earlier, the Contemporary offers one of the most popular character meals on property with Chef Mickey's. It also boasts one of the most sumptuous restaurants at Disney World. The California Grill is located on the fifteenth floor and offers outstanding food, attentive service, and magnificent views of Seven Seas Lagoon and the Magic Kingdom. The California Grill earned the 2004 Disney Magazine Reader's Choice Award for Best Overall Walt Disney World Resort Restaurant for Adults!

Guests check-in at a reservation desk located on the second floor. Once your table is ready, a host or hostess will secure an elevator for your ride to the top.


California Grill Check-in Desk


Note, elevators are programmed NOT to go to the 15th floor without special access provided by a cast member. At one time, guests not dining at the California Grill were allowed to use the rooftop catwalks that flank the restaurant to view the fireworks. However, their presence became annoying to diners paying a high premium to eat here. Because of this, access to the 15th floor has been restricted to patrons of the California Grill only. If you would like to watch the fireworks from the Contemporary and you're not dining at the California Grill or have a Magic Kingdom view room, a viewing spot has been set aside for this purpose. On the north end of the fourth floor, a special viewing area is available, complete with chairs. Although not as spectacular as the view from the 15th floor, this is a good spot to watch the nightly display.


Fourth Floor Fireworks Observation Platform


The California Grill is beautiful. For me, this is another example of how the Imagineers have removed any "1970's futuristic" feel from the hotel and replaced it with warmth and elegance. Light woods and muted tones provide a casual atmosphere while crisp tablecloths add sophistication and formality. The combination works wonderfully.


California Grill Dining Room

California Grill Dining Room

California Grill Table

California Grill Bar


The food here is prepared in an open kitchen and features California Fusion cooking. The menu changes frequently so that only the freshest produce and products are used. Some of the offerings include sushi, brick oven-baked flat breads, handmade Sonoma goat cheese ravioli, oak-fired filet of beef with Teriyaki barbeque sauce, oak-fired pork tenderloin and Valrhona chocolate cake; warm chocolate cake with molten center and house-made ice cream. An extensive wine list features numerous selections from the Golden State and several sommeliers are on staff to help you with your choice.

There is a dress code at the California Grill.

Men: Khakis, slacks, jeans, dress shorts, collared shirts. Sport coats are optional.
Ladies: Capris, skirts, dresses, jeans, dress shorts.

The California Grill is open for dinner only (5:30pm to 10pm). Reservations are necessary and can be made online or by calling (407) WDW-DINE. If you can't secure a reservation by phone, you can always stop by the check-in desk around 5 and see if they can squeeze you in. But please understand if they say no. This is an extremely popular restaurant that fills to capacity nightly.

The last eatery at the Contemporary is the Sand Bar. Located next to the pool, this spot serves hamburgers, hot dogs, turkey sandwiches, Caesar salads, chicken nuggets, drinks (soft and hard) and various desserts. Hours of operation are 11am to 7pm. The bar is open from 12 noon to 7pm.


Sand Bar


The Contemporary offers several shopping options on the fourth floor. Bay View Gifts (B-V-G) sells clothing, housewares, souvenir items, artwork, jewelry, and fine candy. I find it interesting, the shop's name implies that you can see Bay Lake from within, yet Disney has gone to great lengths to cover every window in this shop with shelving to block the view. What a shame. Bay View Gifts is open from 8:30am to 11pm.


Bay View Gifts


Next to Bay View Gifts is Fantasia. This whimsical shop is a recent addition and sells pins, Disney kitchen items, and toys. Fantasia is open from 7:30am to 11pm.


Fantasia


Also nearby is Fantasia Market. This is the spot to buy liquor, sundries, reading material, and snacks. In addition, real food items like milk, bread, and eggs are available. These needing-to-be-cooked foods are intended to be used by guests staying at the Bay Lake Tower and who wish to cook their own meals in their villa kitchens. Fantasia Market is open from 7:30am to 11pm.


Fantasia Market


Next to Fantasia Market is The Game Station. As the name indicates, this is the spot to lose yourself in electronic gaming wizardry. Hours of operation are from 8am to 11:30pm.


The Game Station


On the third floor, which can only be accessed by elevator, you'll find the Olympiad Health Club and Contemporary Styling Salon. The Olympiad Health Club offers a full range of weight training equipment and several cardiovascular machines, including elliptical machines, treadmills, and stationary bikes. The center is open 24 hours a day and can be accessed with your room keycard. Massages are available at the center or in your room. Touch MASSAGE/HEALTH CLUB on your in-room phone for pricing and availability.


Olympiad Health Club

Olympiad Health Club


The Contemporary Styling Salon offers facials, haircuts, manicures, and other beauty services. The Salon is open from 9am to 6pm and is closed on Sunday.


Contemporary Styling Salon


That's it for Part One. Check back tomorrow for Part Two and videos of the resort and rooms.



September 23, 2010

Walt Disney World Swan & Dolphin Resort - Part Three

Hi all,

Before I discuss the Walt Disney World Swan and Dolphin hotels, I need to let you know of a change in the way you will be posting comments. Because we have been getting a lot of junk email, we have had to implement a new procedure. After sharing your thoughts, there is one more box that needs to be completed before you press "Post." At the moment, you need to write the word "blog" (without quotes) in this field (this word could change periodically). This will let the computer know that a real person is writing us and not some automated program that generates spam. If you don't complete this field correctly, your comment will end up in a "junk" folder.

Thanks for your help and understanding.

Jack


For the last two days, I've been telling you all about the Swan and Dolphin Resort and the amenities that are offered. Today I'm going to discuss why these non-Disney hotels exist in the middle of the action and are not relegated to some remote corner of the World.

In the early 1980's, the Disney Company was subjected to several hostile takeover attempts. In order to fend off these attacks, the company needed an infusion of money -- quickly. One of the parties Disney turned to was Tishman, the construction company that built much of Epcot. In return for the loan, Tishman would be allowed to build two convention hotels somewhere on property. In the end, Disney prevailed and the takeover attempts were thwarted, but many of the company's executives were ousted. It was at this time that Michael Eisner and Frank Wells entered the picture with a directive to further develop the Florida property.

In 1984, the only on-property hotels were the Contemporary, Polynesian, and Golf Resort (later the Disney Inn, currently Shades of Green). Eisner wanted to build more, architecturally pleasing resorts to lure off-property guests to spend their entire vacation on Disney property. But there was this pesky contract with Tishman that needed to be honored first. After reviewing Tishman's plans, it was discovered that they intended to build uninspired "boxy" buildings. This did not please Eisner, so in typical fashion, he demanded that the contract with Tishman be broken. Of course Tishman did not take kindly to this and filed a countersuit against Disney. In the end, Disney had to back down but a new contract was crafted. It gave Tishman a prime location next to Epcot but it gave Disney the right to determine the design. So Eisner hired famed architect Michael Graves, who had never designed a hotel before, to create the whimsical Swan and Dolphin Resort. The Swan opened January 13, 1990 and the Dolphin opened June 1, of the same year.

In all my research, I have never found a good explanation as to why Eisner okayed a design that would intrude so much on Epcot. If you stand anywhere on the east side of World Showcase (from Mexico to Italy) you can see these massive buildings standing behind France, the United Kingdom, and Canada. When Walt built Disneyland, he insisted that a berm be built around his park. He wanted to keep the outside world from intruding on his realms of fantasy. It's beyond me why Walt's philosophy was not followed in this case.

This next picture was taken from between the Mexico and Norway Pavilions. Notice how the towering Dolphin dwarfs the Eiffel Tower in France.


Swan & Dolphin Seen from Epcot


But if you can get past the Swan and Dolphin's controversial location, they represent inspired architecture. They're fun. They're silly. They're whimsical. They are not "boxy" anywhere U.S.A. hotels. These are one-of-a-kind buildings that are full of magic. It's just a shame they are located where they are.

There are two persistent rumors that will not die in regards to the Swan and Dolphin. First, that the "black boxes" in the middle of each building can be removed so a future monorail can pass through the buildings (in much the same way the monorail travels through the Contemporary).


Dolphin Black Box

Swan Black Box


Another rumor insists that the giant swans and dolphins were placed atop the wrong buildings. The swans sit on a building painted with ocean waves while the dolphins are on top of a building with palm trees. Many think this is incorrect and ask "Shouldn't the dolphins be on the building with waves and the swans associated with the foliage?"


Swan Waves

Dolphin Leaves


Both of these rumors can be dispelled with one explanation.

Even though these are not Disney hotels designed by Imagineers, architect Michael Graves crafted a "story" to help him with his design. Unfortunately, this story never found its way into any formal documentation and has more or less been lost with time.

Graves wanted to represent the essence of Florida with his design and color selections, and he felt the theme of "water" could best accomplish his goal. As the story goes, there was a massive upheaval beneath the ocean that spewed forth and created an island. As the land mass grew, it lifted dolphins out of the water. It's these dolphins we see sitting on top of the hotel (or island). And the island is lush with tropical growth which is why we see banana leaves on the side of the building (island) and palm trees encircling the structure. The black box represents the heart of the island that burst open when the upheaval occurred. (It's symbolism, folks.)

As the island continued to grow, water began to cascade down the side of the mountain. As more water began to flow, it started to splash a nearby island (the Swan). If you take a look at the walkway that connects the two buildings, the railing is wave-like, representing the water flowing toward the Swan. And the waves on the side of the Swan represent the water lapping up against its shores.


Dolphin Waterfall.jpg

Walkway Waves


When it comes to the swans themselves, I have read two accounts. The first suggests that the swans were so transfixed by this phenomenon that they decided to take a closer look and were turned to stone as they sat watching the events unfold. The second story says that the eruption captured the attention of two passing birds and they were so awed by the spectacle that they alighted on the top of the waves to get a better look and were magically transformed into swans.

The original interior of both resorts helped tell this story, but during the redesign, much of the tale's elements were lost. It's also said that Graves selected the swan and dolphin because they weren't already in Disney's arsenal of characters.

I think this story illustrates that the swans and dolphins were placed onto the correct buildings. And as for the black boxes being removed for a monorail, this just doesn't make sense. I know the "heart of the island" story is a bit over the top and symbolic, but if you look at things practically, these spaces are tremendously huge. Why would you take out all of those cash-generating rooms when all you need is a small space for the monorail to pass through? I grant you, it would be impressive to see this happen, but it just isn't so, folks.

So there you have it, the controversial Swan and Dolphin Resort - a resort that has its admirer's and its foes.



August 18, 2010

Coronado Springs Resort -- Part Two

The Dig Site is located in the middle of the resort and this is where you'll find one of the best themed swimming pools at Walt Disney World. The centerpiece here is the Pyramid of the Sun. Inspired by the Temple of the Great Jaguar at Tikal, this structure is covered with years of jungle growth and a waterfall cascades down the ceremonial stone steps into a pool measuring 120' by 90' and containing 272,912 gallons of water. Towels and life-vests are available poolside.

The pool officially opens each morning at 10 am. To kick things off, children are invited to participate in a simple ceremony where they are asked to chant to the Mayan gods asking them to let the waters flow.


Pyramid of the Sun

Pyramid of the Sun


This area is called the "Dig Site" as it is supposed to represent a modern day archeological excavation of a lost Mayan community. Numerous "finds" are located throughout this area including a Mayan idol and hieroglyphs etched into the pavement.


Mayan God

Hieroglyphs


No Disney pool would be complete without a water slide and the Dig Site is no exception. The entrance is located behind the pyramid and this 123 foot long ride takes you through a jungle and beneath a spitting jaguar. The "splashdown" is well positioned to afford a good photo op.


Jaguar Slide

Jaguar Slide

Jaguar Slide

Young children can enjoy their own pool complete with fountains and for those of you who wish to soak away your aches and pains, a 22-person hot tub is on hand.


Children's Pool

Hot Tub


One of the most imaginative children's spots you'll ever hope to find is located to the left of the pyramid. Explorer's Playground features an assortment of Mayan ruins that have been unearthed and "converted" into a swing set, slide, sandbox, and jungle gym. The 3D face of a Mayan god is especially compelling.


Explorer's Playground

Explorer's Playground

Explorer's Playground

Explorer's Playground


Near the playground is Iguana Arcade where you'll find the typical assortment of electronic games for the kids and dad. Be sure to notice the architectural details of the building. Giant serpents flank the entrance and intricate Mayan carvings line the exterior walls.


Iguana Arcade

Iguana Arcade


Next to the arcade is Siesta's, a pool bar that offers just about any concoction you can think of. A reasonable selection of food is available here like sandwiches, salads, and nachos. The choices are numerous enough to create a nice lunch so you do not need to return to El Centro for a bite to eat. Refillable mugs can also be replenished here. Siesta's is open from 11am to 7pm.

Siesta's


To the left of Siesta's is a Mesoamerican Ball Court that the archeologists have converted into a volleyball court. If you look to one side of the playing field you'll see the traditional hoop of this ancient game. Although the rules of this contest have been lost to antiquity, it's believed that the Mayans used their hips to toss a heavy rubber ball through this vertical hoop.


Volleyball Court

Volleyball Court


The guest rooms at Coronado Springs are divided into three, distinct villages, Casitas, Ranchos, and Cabanas. Each village has its own, "quiet" pool and laundry facilities. No towels are offered at these pools so be sure to bring some from your room. I'll start my description with the Casitas village.

The Casitas guest rooms are located in three and four story buildings and are themed after urban areas of the Southwestern United States (such as Santa Fe) and Mexico (such as Monterrey). The buildings exude the feel of an ultra-deluxe hotel. One would never guess you were in a moderate resort. Fountains, overhead walkways, arbors, courtyards, and lush landscaping create a feast for the eyes. I was amazed the first time I walked through this area. It is remarkably beautiful.


Casitas

Casitas

Casitas

Casitas

Casitas


The Casitas village is located closest to the convention center and these rooms are generally allotted to those participating in a sponsored event. It's also in the Casitas Village that you'll find the Casa de Belleza Salon and the La Vida Health Club (Building Four). Located nearby is the quiet pool.


La Vida Health Club

Casitas Pool


The guest rooms of the Ranchos village can be found at the far end of the resort and are designed into two and three story pueblos associated with the American Southwest. Think upscale dude-ranch. The landscaping is intended to look like rural desert ranchland and is dotted with large wind-swept boulders, a dry creek bed, and various varieties of cacti. The effect is so convincing that it's almost possible to forget about Florida's humidity for a moment. It's interesting to note, the dry creek bed, or arroyo, is actually used as a water runoff channel during the rainy season.


Ranchos

Ranchos

Ranchos

Ranchos

Ranchos Pool


The third village is called the Cabanas. The theme here is that of a small tropical fishing village found along the Mexican coast. Four, two-story buildings sit beside an inlet of Lago Dorado. Velvety lawns, palm trees, and low hedges create an exotic atmosphere. Nearby, a white sandy beach, complete with hammocks, beckons you to relax and enjoy the lake breeze. In many ways, this village reminds me of sections of the Caribbean Beach Resort.


Cabanas

Cabanas

Cabanas

Cabanas

Cabanas Pool

Cabanas Beach


The guest rooms at Coronado Springs measure approximately 314 square feet. Most rooms feature two queen beds. There are 224 rooms with king-size beds and 99 disabled-accessible rooms.

The beds are simply made, covered with a white duvet and blue runner featuring a silhouette of Mickey Mouse. The headboards are tall and constructed of dark wood, creating a nice contrast to the light-colored linens and walls. Enclosed florescent lamps cap each headboard.


Guest Room Bed

Guest Room Bed

Guest Room Bed


All of the guest rooms were renovated in 2009 and now feature flat-screen TVs and a desk rather than a table and chairs. The desk is designed with laptop computers in mind. Electrical plugs and a high-speed internet connection are located on the desk's back panel for easy access. Internet access costs roughly $10 per day. The internet cable can be found hanging in the vanity area. The desk chair is also functional for "office" use.


Guest Room Desk

Guest Room Desk

Guest Room Desk Chair


The TV and DVD player sit on a dark wood chest. The chest contains six drawers and a small refrigerator. A coffee maker, ice bucket, and glasses are also located on the chest.


Chest of Drawers

Chest of Drawers

Chest of Drawers

Chest of Drawers


Something that I really like about Coronado Springs as compared to Port Orleans and Caribbean Beach Resort is the divider between the vanity and the bedroom. Instead of being a flimsy curtain, sliding wooden doors separate the rooms. This helps tremendously in keeping the vanity light and noise from intruding into the bedroom.


Sliding Vanity Doors

Something I don't like as well about Coronado Springs as compared with the other moderate resorts is it only has one sink. A family getting ready in the morning needs two.


Sink


In the vanity are clothes hangers, an ironing board and iron, and a key-locking safe. This safe is extremely small. At the most you could store a wallet and a pocket sized camera in it. The hair dryer is not attached to the wall as it is in other resorts. Instead it's found in a bag along with the hangers. Be sure to look for Mickey Mouse on the bathroom mirror.


Hanger and Ironing Board

Safe

Hair Dryer

Mickey Mouse Mirror


The toilet and shower area is separated from the vanity with a solid door. The shower curtain rod bows out at the top allowing for more space when bathing. The shower head generates a decent spray with three settings.


Tower and Shower


Overall, I like the bedroom decor at Coronado Springs. I think it's well themed and executed. But I have to admit, the vanity and toilet area are uninspired. I like to believe the Imagineers could have created a more inviting look even if this is a moderate resort.

Another advantage to Coronado Springs over Port Orleans and Caribbean Beach is the availability of room service. Whereas the other moderate resorts only offer pizza delivery after 4pm, this resort provides a decent menu for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Note, a $3 delivery charge, an 18% tip, and appropriate taxes will be added to the bill.

About half of the Cabana rooms offer a lake view. I decided to spend the extra money to see what I'd get. This first picture was taken with a standard lens setting from my window. In the second picture I zoomed in all the way. You tell me if you think the view is worth the money. I'm sure other rooms offer better vistas, but what room you're assigned is the luck of the draw.


Water View Standard View

Water View Zoom View


Coronado Springs is a large resort. A very large resort. My room was in building 9B, one of the closest to El Centro. It took me between three and five minutes to walk to the lobby. Although you can drive to El Centro from your nearby parking lot, there really aren't all that many spaces once you get there. Primarily, this area is used for those guests checking in and out. It was the designers' intent that you use Disney transportation if you don't wish to walk to and from El Centro and the convention center. Each village has its own bus stop. If you wish to ride TO El Centro, catch a bus marked Magic Kingdom, Epcot, Disney's Hollywood Studios, or Animal Kingdom. This will drop you off at the main bus depot. When you wish to RETURN to your room from El Centro, board any Downtown Disney bus.


Bus Stop


I think Coronado Springs is the "forgotten" moderate resort. Many people have a deep love for the Caribbean Beach or the Port Orleans Resorts and they aren't willing to give the Coronado Springs a try unless they are forced to stay here due to a lack of availability at other properties. That's a shame. Its large size really isn't any more inconvenient than Caribbean Beach and it has just as much charm as Port Orleans.

I'm a big proponent of trying everything Disney has to offer. To stay at the same resort year after year and to eat at the same restaurant time and time again is limiting. Disney has put a lot of effort and imagination into everything they do. When you try something new, it might not make it to your top-ten list. But then again, it just might. And it's rare that Disney will give you a bad experience so you really don't have anything to lose. So next time you're contemplating booking a moderate hotel, consider Coronado Springs. I think you'll be pleasantly surprised.

When I wrote about Port Orleans, I created two separate articles, one for the Riverside and one for the French Quarter. This allowed me to create shorter videos. Since Coronado Springs cannot be divided so easily, my video is rather long running at 13 minutes. This was necessary to capture the entire resort. The second video is of the room interior and is just a little over a minute long. Enjoy.




August 17, 2010

Coronado Springs Resort -- Part One

Hotel%20-%20Coronado%20Springs%20Logo.jpg


First, a little history.

In the early 16th century, the people living in New Spain (now Mexico) began to hear rumors of the "Seven Golden Cities of Cibola" located in the deserts hundreds of miles to the north. The legend told that these cities held vast amounts of wealth just waiting to be claimed by anyone fortunate enough to discover their whereabouts.

In 1535 Francisco de Coronado left his home in Salamanca, Spain and came to the New World. He climbed the social and political ladder quickly and was soon appointed to the position of Governor of Neuva Galicia. In 1540, Mexican Viceroy Antonio de Mendoza sent Coronado on an expedition to find the "Seven Golden Cities of Cibola" and secure their riches for Mexico and Spain. Coronado's travels took him through Northern Mexico, Arizona, New Mexico, and as far north as Kansas, but he never did discover these magnificent cities teeming with gold. He returned to Mexico empty-handed in 1542.


Francisco de Coronado


Disney's Coronado Springs Resort was not so much named for Francisco Vasquez de Coronado as it was for his journeys. While traveling through Northern Mexico and the Southwestern United States Coronado encountered breathtaking landscapes, unique architecture, and fascinating cultures. The resort draws its inspiration from the missions, pueblos, haciendas, and cabanas he saw during his journeys. In addition, a new myth regarding the "Seven Golden Cities of Cibola" has emerged at the Coronado Springs Resort. It proposes that if the stars align correctly during the new corn moon, images of the golden cities will be reflected on the waters of Lago Dorado, the Lake of Gold, found in the middle of the resort.


El Centro at Night


Coronado Springs is one of three moderately priced resorts located at Walt Disney World. The others are the Caribbean Beach Resort and the Port Orleans Resort. Coronado Springs opened on August 1, 1997, has 1,921 guest rooms and suites, and is the only resort in this price category to have a full-fledged convention center. The entrance to the complex is located off of West Buena Vista Drive.


Main Entrance Sign

The Spanish influenced architecture is unmistakable when you approach El Centro (The Hub or Center). This area was intended to create the illusion of a 16th century Mexican village marketplace, complete with stalls, civic buildings, and eateries set alongside the waterfront. A multifaceted façade was created to invoke the look of a community that has grown over the years.

Underneath the porte-cochère are a number of cast members waiting to help you with your luggage and direct you to the registration desk.


Porte-cochère


The indoor design hints at the lavish palaces and town halls of latter-day Mexico. The centerpiece of this design is "La Fuente De Las Palomas" (Fountain of the Doves). This lovely fountain is a gathering place and acts as a seating area for families and friends waiting to begin their day. On top of the fountain is the traditional symbol of hospitality, a pineapple. Be sure to take a look at the hand-painted domed ceiling which is filled with clouds and doves. The sky and clouds were painted on canvases off-site and applied to the dome in pieces. The doves were added once everything was in place.


La Fuente De Las Palomas

Dome


In a room to the right of the fountain are the registration and concierge desks. The architecture in this room is stunning. Large wooden beams crisscross the ceiling, hammered-tin chandeliers hang from wrought iron chains, and stucco arches line the wall. Be sure to take a look at some of the murals located behind the check-in desk. They depict colonial life in Mexico.


Registration Hall

Mexican Mural


To the left of the fountain is Panchito's Gifts and Sundries which sells the typical array of Disney souvenirs. Named after Panchito Pistoles, this feisty rooster is one of "The Three Caballeros" and joins Donald Duck and José Carioca in a tour of Mexico and Latin America.


Panchito's Gifts and Sundries


"The Three Caballeros" (1944) followed the movie "Saludos Amigos" (1943) and was part of a good-will tour promoting Latin and South America. Tiles depicting these feathered adventurers can be found high overhead in the shop. In addition, a statue of Panchito Pistoles is prominently located in the middle of the store and a likeness of José Carioca can be seen perched on a balcony railing.

In the Disney series "House of Mouse" (2001-2003) we learn a little more about Panchito's lineage and find out that his full name is Panchito Romero Miguel Junipero Francisco Quintero González III. Somehow his original family name of Pistoles is lost in this explanation.


The Three Caballeros


Panchito Pistoles

José Carioca


"The Three Caballeros" was a collection of short segments loosely bound together by the presence of Donald Duck opening gifts throughout the movie. One of these shorts is titled "The Flying Gauchito" and tells the story of a little boy from Uruguay who discovers a winged donkey, Burrito. A likeness of this cute little animal can be found near the entrance of the shop.


Burrito


Also radiating off of the fountain is a long hallway. Along this corridor you'll find several restaurants and a lounge/bar. This is also the way to the convention center.


Hallway


Café Rix, a grab-and-go restaurant, was added to Coronado Springs several years ago. Before its existence, there wasn't any place for guests to quickly pick up a bite to eat and be on their way. Breakfast is offered from 6:30am to 11am and includes such items as egg-&-cheese sandwiches, pastries, quiche, and fruit plates. Lunch and dinner is served from 11am to midnight and offers standard fare such as hot dogs, hamburgers, and pizza. A temping selection of ice cream is also offered. Tables are available next door in Rix Lounge. If you want to take the food back to your room, the cast members will be happy to provide you with a nice carrying bag.


Café Rix

Café Rix

Café Rix


Rix Lounge, located next door to Café Rix, is perhaps one of the best watering holes at Walt Disney World. Even though it can accommodate 300 guests, it feels dark, mysterious, and cozy due to its well-designed layout. It's a wonderful place to hide away for an hour or so. Although the tables are available all day to accommodate Café Rix, the bar is only open from 5pm to 2pm. A DJ cranks out music from 9pm Thursday through Saturday and a private room is also available for special events. Full catering options are available. For more information about Rix Lounge, click here.


Rix Lounge

Rix Lounge

Rix Lounge


One of the things I hate about the food courts at the other resorts is the way you pay for your meal. By the time everyone in your party gets what they want and you make it to the cashier, your food is already starting to cool off. And if there's a line waiting to pay, your meal can be cold by the time you get your beverage and find a table. But this isn't a problem at Coronado Spring's Pepper Market.


Pepper Market


Your meal begins with a host or hostess escorting you to an assigned table. As you're being seated, each person is given a "receipt" and it's explained that everything you order will be recorded on this piece of paper. Shortly after the hostess leaves the table, a server will approach and take drink orders and each person's selection is written on their receipt. Refills for Coke products and similar beverages are free and brought to you by your server.


Pepper Market Receipt


Designed to resemble an open-air marketplace, the Pepper Market is comprised of a number of stalls and booths, each serving a specialty. One stall might offer grilled items while another serves pasta dishes. It's fun to wander from stall to booth and vendor to merchant, inspecting their wares.


Food Stall


When you finally make up your mind, you tell the vendor what you'd like to order and they will stamp your receipt with your selection. Depending on cooking time, you order might be dished up immediately or within a couple of minutes. Once you're served, just return to the table with your food and receipt in hand. If you want dessert, just take your receipt back to the food stalls and make another selection. At the end of the meal, one person in your party can gather up all of the receipts and pay as you leave. No more cold food. A 10% gratuity is automatically added to your bill unless you're on a Dining Plan. In this case, no tip is added so please remember your server.

The seating area is very festive. A large kachina doll stands watch over multi colored tables and chairs, complete with umbrellas to add to the illusion you're dining on an expansive patio. Strands of lights hang overhead and soft music plays in the background.


Kachina Doll

Pepper Market Seating


At the far end of El Centro is the Maya Grill. But you won't find typical Americanized Mexican fare like tacos and burritos here. This is an upscale restaurant where guests sit inside a Mayan temple and are offered seafood, chicken, beef, and pork prepared with a Latin and Caribbean flair, much of it cooked on a wood-fired grill. The restaurant also features wines from Mexico, Argentina and Chile. The Maya Grill is open for Breakfast from 7am to 11am and for Dinner from 5pm to 11pm.


Maya Grill

Maya Grill

Maya Grill


I think I've eaten at the Maya Grill five times, but to be honest, it's been at least four years since my last visit. The reason? This restaurant has yet to knock my socks off. The food and service has always been fine, but just fine, nothing spectacular. And although I like sections of the restaurant, other areas in this room leave me cold. To me, portions of this eatery have a "coffee shop" feel about it. When I'm paying $7-$13 for an appetizer and $20-$29 for an entrée, I want things to be better than "fine." But as I said, I haven't eaten here in a while. Although the atmosphere is unchanged since my last visit, maybe the food is now spectacular.

If any of you would like to share your dining experience at the Maya Grill with me, either positive or negative, please feel free to add a comment to this blog. Whenever I've had a less than fantastic experience at Disney, I like to think it was just bad timing on my part and not indicative of an overall pattern. If you leave a comment, others can scan the remarks and obtain more than just my opinion.

As I mentioned at the beginning of this blog, Coronado Springs is the first moderately priced Disney resort to offer full convention services. Although I have never had a problem with conventioneers interfering with my enjoyment of the resort's facilities, I started to wonder what would happen if a group of 500 let out for dinner and they all descended on the Pepper Market or Rix Lounge at the same time. I like to think that Disney designed Coronado Springs with this in mind and the resort can handle the ebb and flow of people. I asked several cast members about this, but I was unable to secure a firm answer. Once again, I'm curious about your thoughts. If you've experienced a convention letting out while staying here, let me know how everything went. Remember, I'm looking for positive as well as negative feedback.

You can also leave and read comments in the Rate & Review section of Allears.

El Centro sits on the shores of Lago Dorado or Lake of Gold. This fifteen acre body of water offers a tranquil setting for cocktails at Laguna Bar (open 11am to 11pm) or for a run around the ¾ mile jogging track.


Lago Dorado

Laguna Bar


This area is also the perfect spot to gather with your friends and family and enjoy some good conversation. There are a number of tables, many with umbrellas, in which to kick back and relax. Nighttime is especially pleasant here when the heat of the day has dissipated and a cool breeze blows off of Lago Dorado.


Seating by Lago Dorado

Seating by Lago Dorado

Seating by Lago Dorado


And don't forget to check out "The Three Caballeros" topiary located nearby.


The Three Caballeros


The Marina is the spot to rent surreys, bikes, kayaks, pedal boats and more. Please note, this facility is open seasonally so if these amenities are important to you, check with your reservationist when booking your room.


The Marian


This ends Part One of my article about Coronado Springs Resort. Check back tomorrow for Part Two.


July 7, 2010

Port Orleans French Quarter - Part Two

Thanks for checking back for Part Two of my French Quarter blog.

Leading from The Courtyard to Doubloon Lagoon (the swimming pool area), is a rather unique walkway. Here you'll find a number of jazz-playing gators to liven things up. This is also an irresistible picture spot. Here's a shot of a much-younger me on my first stay at the French Quarter followed by a similar shot taken recently. Notice how the length of my shorts has changed.


Gator Alley

Jack and a Gator

Jack and a Gator


Flanking this walkway is a children's playground (ages 2 -12) and hot tub (open 7am to midnight).


Children's Playground

Hot Tub


Further along the walkway is Mardi Grogs Pool Bar (I just love this pun). Open 11:30am until dusk, this spot serves alcoholic concoctions, soft drinks, and snacks.


Mardi Grogs Pool Bar

Mardi Grogs Pool Bar


The harlequin character that guards the swimming pool is based on a similar figure found next to Canal Street and the Algiers Ferry Terminal in New Orleans.


Harlequin Character


The pool area at the French Quarter is called Doubloon Lagoon. The centerpiece for this oasis is "Scales" a huge sea serpent that snakes its way in and around the deck. Legend has it that when the French Quarter was in its infancy, folks created a makeshift serpent to frighten children away from the dangerous bayou. Eventually, this creature became a part of the Mardi Gras celebration and ultimately, a permanent fixture of the French Quarter. Today, kids enter Scales and slide down his tongue for a splash landing. Atop Scales is King Neptune, keeping a watchful eye on those below. And more jazz-loving gators can be found nearby.


Scales

Scales

Doubloon Lagoon


Gator Band

Gator with Horn


Adjacent to the main pool is a children's wading pool, but there are no secondary, "quiet" pools at the French Quarter. However, guests may also use any of the pools at Disney's Riverside Resort located a short walk up the Sassagoula River. Towels are available at Doubloon Lagoon; however, you'll need to take your room towels with you when using other pools. You can call Housekeeping to replenish the towel supply in your room.


Children's Pool

Gator with Sax


Also near the pool is the one and only self-service laundry facility. "Laundry on the Levee" features a large number of washers and dryers in air conditioned comfort. Vending machines offer soap, bleach, beverages, and change. If you must wash clothes while on vacation, this is a good spot as you can easily enjoy the pool while taking care of this otherwise boring task. Dry cleaning and laundry service is also available for pickup from your room.


Laundry on the Levee

Laundry on the Levee


The French Quarter opened on May 17, 1991 with 432 rooms in three guest buildings. In the months to come, the resort was expanded to seven buildings and a total of 1,008 rooms. Of these, 946 rooms have 2 double beds and 62 rooms have a king-size bed (with a higher room rate). There are also 12 disabled-accessible rooms. The typical room is 314 square feet. Each building contains 144 rooms and is clearly identified with a number and a musical instrument associated with jazz music.


Building Numbers

Building Numbers


Although the seven buildings are quite large, the clever use of color, different styles of wrought iron, brickwork, rooflines, and angles create the look of row houses in New Orleans rather than large, institutional structures. Lush landscaping and cobblestone "streets" add to the effect and make guests believe they're wandering in a bygone neighborhood rather than a modern resort.


French Quarter Exterior Buildings

French Quarter Exterior Buildings

French Quarter Exterior Buildings

French Quarter Street

French Quarter Street


To help you find your way around, the streets have been given some imaginative names that are sure to make you smile.


Sign Posts

Sign Posts

Sign Posts


Between many of the buildings are manicured courtyards complete with fountains. Note, most of these areas are designated smoking sections so those of you with an aversion, plan accordingly.


Fountain and Courtyard

Fountain and Courtyard

Fountain and Courtyard

Courtyard


Basic rooms contain the following:

Two double beds or one king
Chest of drawers
A table and two chairs
Vanity area with two sinks - curtain divide from bedroom
Private shower/tub & toilet area
Clock-radio-alarm
Cable TV with Disney programming
High-speed Internet Access (for an additional fee)
Hairdryer
Safe
Iron and Ironing Board
Coffee Maker
Refrigerator

For guests with disabilities, wheelchair-accessible bathrooms and rooms designed for the hearing impaired are available (not shown). Elevators and snack and beverage machines can also be found in each building.


Table and Chairs

Chest of Drawers and TV

Beds

Vanity

Toilet and Shower


Finding the right spot to park your car is a breeze. Large, easy-to-read signs mark each lot and none are too far away from your room. Note, staying at a Disney Resort entitles you to complimentary parking at the theme parks.


Parking Indicator Signs


For me, one of the most delightful activities at Walt Disney World is a boat ride on the Sassagoula River. Flat-bottom craft make their way between the French Quarter, Riverside, and Downtown Disney. Service begins each day at 10am with pickups every 20 minutes. Starting at 4:30pm, the interval is 10 minutes until the end of service at 11pm. Bus service to the resort is available from 11pm to 2am.


Sassagoula River Boat


I like the French Quarter. I feel it is more compact than the Riverside, thus, easier to navigate. However, it might not be perfect for everyone. A number of facilities and amenities are only available at the Riverside Resort next door. Although Disney touts this as an easy journey, it isn't necessarily so. Depending on your room location, the walk can be anywhere from 10 to 15 minutes (in the heat or rain). And waiting for the boat can be just as long if not longer. Here are a few of the services found only at the Riverside:

Boatwright's - a full service restaurant
Fishing hole and fishing excursions
Boat rentals
Bicycle rentals
Horse-drawn carriage rides
Quiet pools

Now if you don't plan on using any of these services, then I think you should definitely consider a stay at the French Quarter. As I said at the beginning of this article, Disney has done a wonderful job of combining festivity with relaxation. Charm oozes from every nook and cranny and your senses are in for a treat. It's hard to believe the French Quarter is a moderate resort. It has an allure worthy of a deluxe facility.

I have created a 10 minute video that highlights most of the resort. For those of you who are curious, the songs played are:

Down in New Orleans (from the Princess and the Frog)
Swanee River (Disneyland's Royal Street Bachelors)
Happy Rag (Disneyland's Royal Street Bachelors)
My Grandfather's Clock

Enjoy.




September 1, 2009

Kidani Village – Pembe Savanna

The six-acre Pembe Savanna which surrounds the north wing of Kidani Village at the Animal Kingdom Lodge opened today (September 1). I was on hand to check things out. Unfortunately, I don't have much to report as there isn't anything "new" that I didn't already cover in my Kidani Village blogs. You see, for the most part, this new savanna can only be viewed from the rooms of the north wing. The one exception can be found in the pool area. Next to the Maji Bar, tables now overlook a small section of this animal habitat. This makes for a fantastic place to enjoy a cool drink in the evening.


Maji Bar

Maji Bar

Maji Bar


Disney has also created a small viewing area near the Maji Bar where you'll find a knowledgeable cast member who can answer questions about the various animals.


Pembe Overlook


The savanna is populated with okapis, a typically shy animal closely related to the giraffe. You'll also find red river hogs, impala, waterbuck, blue cranes, and spur-winged geese.

Since I visited Kidani Village around 9:30am, most of the animals were backstage attending their daily check-up with the vets and caretakers. Because of that, I don't have any animal pictures to share with you. But to make up for this, I created a short video that highlights the public spaces of Kidani Village. I hope you enjoy it.



Read Disney's Official Press Release on the Opening of Pembe!

May 3, 2009

Kidani Village – Final Blog

In this final blog I'm going to try to tie up any loose ends and answer a few more questions.

When I checked into Kidani Village early on May 1st, I was the only guest at the front desk and I had seven eager cast members ready and willing to tell me everything there is to know about Kidani Village. When I mentioned that I had lunch reservations at Sanaa, in unison they said "Try the pork chop."

Yesterday, it was time to put their recommendation to the test. But before I ever arrived at my table, I learned something new about the restaurant. It was designed to look like a stylized outdoor marketplace and all of the waitstaff are referred to as merchants. I realize that this is sort of gimmicky, but it works. Hey, it's Disney and getting lost in our imaginations is what it's all about.

Take a look at the design in the middle of the tables at Sanaa.


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Since I knew I'd be writing a mini-review about lunch at Sanaa, I felt it important to order two different meals. Since Donald and I were both still full from our large dinner the night before, we decided to skip appetizers and desserts and only order entrees. But now the hard decision - who gets the Grilled Port Chop ($17.99)? It was finally decided that Donald would get the recommended selection.

This chop is available at lunch only and is the sole pork item served. Because this meat is not commonly served in Africa or India it was decided to limit its use. In fact, the bacon used on the Club Sandwich is Turkey-Bacon.

The Grilled Pork Chop is glazed with ginger and pickled lime sauce and served with sautéed spinach. However, Donald opted for the stir-fried green beans.


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Donald did allow me a small bite of the pork and we both agreed that the front-desk cast members were right - this dish is a winner. It was tender, moist, and flavorful. Note, I would call the serving size a "lunch" portion, but there was enough food here to satisfy Donald.

For my entrée I tried one of the combination meals ($18.99). Here you can choose two from the following: Chicken With Red Curry Sauce, Paneer Cheese and Spinach, Shrimp with Green Curry Sauce, and Beef Short Ribs. I opted for Chicken Curry and Paneer Cheese.


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The Chicken Curry was good; however I wish there had been a few more bites of meat in the bowl. As for the curry, I liked it. Curry is certainly a robust flavor, but it wasn't overpowering. It had a slight tingle, but not so strong as to scare away those of you who don't like spicy-hot food.

The Paneer Cheese and Spinach was interesting. I want tell you more, but I'm really not sure what to say. I finished it all so it must have been good, but words escape me when I try to describe it. Sorry.

Overall, I'm pleased with Sanaa. The menu is diverse and it would take several visits to try everything. And the food is unique. Even though I found it difficult to describe the Paneer Cheese and Spinach, I'm still glad I ordered it. It was fun to try something new. And I love the décor of the restaurant. The designers created one of the most inviting and warm spots at Disney.

Now it's time to move on to some final odds and ends about Kidani Village.

High Speed Internet Access: Each room is equipped with a cable to connect a laptop to the internet. You'll find the cable in a cloth bag hanging in a closet. The price is $9.95 for 24 hours. However members (and their guest) get this service for free. Non-members making general reservations must pay. Also, if you take the cable home with you, you'll be charged $9.95.

Disney is installing WiFi in many of the public rooms of their resorts. It will eventually make it to Kidani Village, but no date has been set for this to happen.

Throughout the resort you will see wonderfully shaped pieces of colorful glass in a number of chandeliers. This glass was crafted by Savoy Studios. For more information, check out their website. http://www.savoystudios.com/


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Take a look at the hidden Mickeys found in the hallway carpet.


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In your room, look for a "Wildlife Field Guide." On it you'll find a list of animals that roam the savanna and a brief description of their habits.

Of course, as nice as the resort is, the real reason anyone would stay here is to see the animals. Greg, Curator in the Animals Program Department, told me that when you see the animals on the Kilimanjaro Safari, it's only for a brief moment. But when you view them from Jambo House or Kidani Village, you can actually watch them behave and interact over a period of time. This gives you a far better understanding of the animals than a quick "drive by" can provide.

All of the pictures below were taken from my room on the third floor.


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May 2, 2009

Kidani Village Part 5

For lunch yesterday we went to the Maji Pool Bar. Disney offers two options for lunch at this location. The first is a more casual menu of premade sandwiches and salads at reasonable prices. These are handled by the bartender and service is immediate.


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The other option is called Private Dining (in other words, room service). Located at one end of the bar is a phone with a direct line to the kitchen. Just pick up the receiver and you'll be connected to an operator. This menu is more substantial with prices to match.


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After placing my "Private Dining" order I was told there would be a $3 delivery charge and an automatic 18% gratuity. I was also told there would be a 35-40 minute wait for my food. Located next to the phone were large numbers to place on the table. I was asked to select one so a cast member could find me later. To my surprise, my order arrived in just a little over 10 minutes.

The food is beautifully served in a Bento Box and the display is well worth the extra cost. I ordered the Tandoori Chicken for $14.99. It was served on Naan Bread and it came with a cucumber dressing, a small green salad, and pineapple custard. All of it was extremely good and the chicken a little spicy. In fact, my lips were tingling after each bite. My friend Donald ordered the Club Sandwich on Multi-grain bread for $11.49. It was good, but nothing out of the ordinary. However, this meal comes with two sandwiches --- enough for a couple to share.


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The Maji Bar is the perfect spot to enjoy a lunch. African music plays in the background and the pool is nearby. And when the Pembe Savanna is completed this fall, animals will be within sight of the bar.


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Also in the pool area is a Walt Disney proverb. But I won't tell you where. You'll have to find it on your own.


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After lunch we headed to the Savanna Overlook that juts out into the Sunset Savanna. Here we spoke with Greg who is a Curator in the Animals Program department. One of the things he wanted me to share with you is the hours that the animals are available for viewing in the Sunset Savanna.


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Every morning at 6am, the animals are encouraged to return to an enclosed area for general care and treatment. And while the vets and other experts are tending to the animals, the horticulturists and groundskeepers use this time to maintain the savanna. By noon, all of the animals are returned to the grounds and will remain available for viewing until 6am the next day.

The reason this time of day was chosen to care for the animals was that it was thought that the majority of guests would be busy in the morning getting ready to go to the theme parks and interest in viewing them would be at its lowest. Then, in the afternoon when you return from the parks, these magnificent creature would be waiting for you.

My next stop was the sports area. Located next to a small retention pond you'll find a half basketball court, two tennis courts, two shuffleboard courts, and a covered picnic area with tables and four BBQs.


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Here are two Hidden Mickeys for you. All I'll tell you is that both of them are located in the lobby.


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Something I want to warn you about is the resort's size. In order to maximize the number of rooms that have views of the savannas, the buildings needed to be long - extremely long. So if you have a room at the far end of one of the wings, it can be a substantial walk to the lobby, Sanaa Restaurant, or the Samawati Springs pool area. If you have mobility problems you would most certainly want to let Disney know when making your reservation and again when checking in.

Now that I've stayed a night at the Kidani Village, there are a few odds and ends I'd like to share with you.

The exhaust fans in the bathroom are motion activated and remain on for several minutes after leaving the room. Normally I don't see this as a problem, but if you have light sleepers in your group this could wake them at night.

The bathroom vanity is well designed with plenty of space to store your toiletries.


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The clock-radio has a docking port for iPods.


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The balconies are large and reasonably private. However, noise travels and conversations from adjoining balconies are easily heard.


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There are no recycle trash bins in the room. Shame on Disney since I know these are available at other Disney World resorts. Maybe they were just missing because it was opening day and they hadn't arrived yet.

One reader asked me what floor offers the best views of the savanna. After giving this question a bit of thought, here's what I came up with.

The public viewing porches are located on the second floor. Obviously someone thought this would be a good location to watch the animals. However, the Grand Villas, the most expensive rooms, are located on the fourth and fifth floors. So it appears that Disney doesn't have an answer for this question either.


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I found out that Night Vision Viewing of the animals is only available at Jambo House.

The pool's maximum depth is 4'11".

Sanaa


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Each day when the restaurant opens for lunch and dinner (11:30 a.m. and 5 p.m.), a number of Sanaa cast members sing an African welcoming song to those guests in the lobby, waiting to be seated. This certainly isn't a "knock-your-socks-off event," but it is a pleasant way to start a dining adventure and it made me glad I had 5 o'clock reservations so I could experience it. Also, the first several guests to enter the restaurant are greeted by additional cast members who carry long, grass-like sticks and they wave them at you as you pass between them. I'm sure there was ceremonial significance to this, but I was so awestruck by my surroundings that I forgot to ask.


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Donald and I were the first party seated on May 1st and thus became the very first guests to have dinner at Sanaa. Our server was James and he epitomized the perfect Disney cast member. He provided us with enough conversation to be friendly, but never intruded. He was also extremely knowledgeable when it came to the menu. And the meal was timed perfectly. There is nothing I hate more than to be in and out of a nice restaurant within 45 minutes. Our meal took two hours as we were allowed the time to enjoy each course before the next was anywhere in sight.


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We started our meal with the Indian-style Bread Service for $8.99 (serves two). Here you can choose three flatbreads (from four) and three dipping sauces (from eight). For the breads we chose Roti, Paratha, and Paneer Paratha and for our dipping sauces we selected Coriander Chutney, Mango Chutney, and Tamarind Chutney.


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To be honest, I really couldn't distinguish a lot of difference between the breads. But the chutneys were a different story. Each had a very distinct taste with the Coriander ranking as our favorite. But please note, while the other two were flavorful, the Coriander was kick-in-the-pants spicy. I would definitely order the bread course on a future visit just for the sauces.

For appetizers we decided on the Sampler for Two ($14.99). This included Roasted Cauliflower, Pulled Duck with Red Curry Sauce, and Potato and Pea Samosas. James left the dipping sauces (from the bread course) on the table just in case we wished to use them with the appetizers. I felt the Cauliflower and Duck held their own, but we both added some sauce to the Potato and Pea. There is a fourth appetizer that is not part of the Sampler. Although we were happy with these selections, we weren't blown away by them either. Good, but not great. I think next time I'll try the stand-alone appetizer of Mustard Seed Crusted Scallops.


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For an entrée, Donald tried one of the combination meals ($18.99). Here you can chose two from the following: Chicken With Red Curry Sauce, Paneer Cheese and Spinach, Shrimp with Green Curry Sauce, and Beef Short Ribs. Donald opted for the shrimp and ribs.


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I make short ribs at home and Sanaa's version definitely had that distinctive short rib taste. But there were other subtle flavors infused in the meat that my down-home recipe is lacking. If there had been salt on the table, I would have used it, but the ribs were quite good and extremely tender.

In a way, I would have to describe the shrimp in the same manner. It certainly tasted like shrimp, but there were other flavors playing with my taste buds.

The gentleman at the next table opted for the spinach and cheese selection. He told me that it tasted like nothing he'd ever eaten before. When I asked him if this was good or bad, he said, "Good." But the flavors were so new to him that it took a moment for his palate to become accustomed to the 30 spices used in the dish.

For my entrée I selected the Spice-crusted Cornish Game Hen with Turnips and Cherries ($17.99). I thought this dish was outstanding. I also make game hens at home, but they taste nothing likes this. Sanaa's bird was heaping with flavor. So much so that the chef-selected wine is Pinot Noir (a red wine, not a white). And to be honest, I feel a more flavorful wine should be paired with this dish. Please note, the meal is spicy, not spicy-hot. However, James did tell me that the chef can add some "kick" to any dish if you request it.


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For dessert I ordered the Cardamom-Butter Cake with Orange Supreme and Saffron Syrup for $5.49. This offering has a subtle taste. I did like it, but after my spicy hen the cake seemed mild. I think this dessert would be better suited to follow a less spicy dish.

Donald ordered the Chai Cream with Tea Tuile. This was probably the highlight of the meal. A creamy custard, served in a glass, with a taste that's very difficult to describe, but oh so delicious. I know what I'm getting on my next visit.


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Here is the view from our table.


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I've eaten at Jiko five times and have yet be overly impressed with the food. But I think Sanaa is on the right track. A few dishes might need some fine tuning, but this spot has the beginnings of a unique and fine Disney experience.

For pictures of Sanaa, see Blog 2 in my Kidani Village series.

That is it for this blog. I'll be writing one final entry and it should be up sometime tomorrow.

January 11, 2009

Disney Vacation Club Construction Update

I was out and about on Saturday (1/10/09) and thought I'd snap a few pictures of the three Disney Vacation Club properties currently under construction.

Let's start with the Treehouse Villas which will be part of the Saratoga Springs complex when completed. I was only able to get one picture without taking the boat along the Sassagoula River. As you can see, progress is being made on this unique property.


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Next stop, Bay Lake Tower. This picture was taken from the ninth floor of the Contemporary.


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Some sort of "entrance" structure has been built on the fourth floor of the Contemporary anchoring the elevated walkway.


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The scaffolding has been removed from the north wing of the structure.


DVC Bay Lake Tower

DVC Bay Lake Tower


The pool area has "Mickey" themed buildings.


DVC Bay Lake Tower


The property map on the fourth floor of the Contemporary has been updated to include Bay Lake Tower.


DVC Bay Lake Tower


And last, but not least, Kidani Village at the Animal Kingdom Lodge.


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DVC  Kidani Village

DVC  Kidani Village

August 28, 2008

Bay Lake Tower Observation Deck

A strange looking structure is being constructed on the top of the rumored Bay Lake Tower, Disney Vacation Club located north of the Contemporary Resort.

This is strictly a RUMOR, but I have it on good authority that this will be a private, Magic Kingdom firework viewing area for DVC members staying at this resort. If true, this feature will make this "home away from home" all the more enticing.

Bay Lake Tower Construction

Bay Lake Tower Construction

August 7, 2008

Construction Photo Updates - Walt Disney World

While I was out and about, I took a few pictures of the Bay Lake Tower under construction.

This is a rumored DVC that sits prominently next to the Contemporary Resort. It appears that the structure has reached its ultimate height as finishing touches are being added to the top of the building.


Bay Lake Tower Construction at Contemporary

Bay Lake Tower Construction at Contemporary

Bay Lake Tower Construction at Contemporary

Bay Lake Tower Construction at Contemporary


At the Contemporary, I took a few pictures of the construction going on where the Concourse Steakhouse once stood. The Tempo Grab & Go will be permanently located in a portion of this space and Chef Mickey's will expand into the remainder of this area.

Old Concourse Steakhouse Area Under Construction at the Contemporary Resort

Old Concourse Steakhouse Area Under Construction at the Contemporary Resort

Old Concourse Steakhouse Area Under Construction at the Contemporary Resort


And finally, I drove over to Downtown Disney and snapped a few pictures of the T-Rex restaurant that looks ever closer to completion.

TRex  Restaurant Construction at Downtown Disney

TRex  Restaurant Construction at Downtown Disney

TRex  Restaurant Construction at Downtown Disney


June 8, 2008

The Wave at Disney's Contemporary Resort

The California Grill is the Contemporary Resort's signature restaurant, offering upscale dinners, sophisticated atmosphere, and spectacular views of the Magic Kingdom.

For many years, the Concourse Steakhouse, on the fourth floor of the Contemporary, was their casual dining spot, serving breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Although I liked this restaurant, I always felt it lacked a true identity. Since it was open to the cavernous Grand Canyon Concourse, you could never achieve any intimacy here, no matter how hard you tried. So I was happy to learn that this eatery would be replaced by The Wave on the first floor of the hotel, occupying what used to be the Food and Fun Center.

Last night (June 7), The Wave opened its doors for dinner and today it opened for breakfast and lunch. My friend Donald and I were on hand today to sample lunch.

To begin with, I like the entrance. The Disney Imagineers have taken what was once dead space and created a modernistic tunnel that leads to a stylish check-in desk.


The Wave Entrance at the Contemporary

The Wave Entrance at the Contemporary


To the side and behind the check-in desk are two lounges where you can wait for your table or sample a refreshing drink. These lounges are decorated in deep blues with fabric-covered walls, plush bench seating, and black cocktail tables. The lighting is very low and the atmosphere cozy.


The Wave Check-in Area at the Contemporary


Also behind the check-in desk is a stylish bar with seating for approximately 36. Overhead "stars" twinkle. Even the cocktail glasses have "The Wave" etched into them.


Bar at The Wave in the Contemporary

Bar at The Wave in the Contemporary


One might think that with a name like "The Wave," everything would be decorated in shades of blue (like the lounge), but in trying to avoid the obvious, the designers chose a pallet of browns for the main dining room. Instead, the "wave" theme is carried out in the chair's seat backs and the ceiling's lighting.


Dining Room at The Wave in the Contemporary

Dining Room at The Wave in the Contemporary

Dining Room at The Wave in the Contemporary


I spoke to one of the managers and she told me that the restaurant's "punch list" is still being worked. There are a couple of areas that still need to be tweaked, such as they are adding sheer curtains over the windows that separate the bar from the dining room.

At the back of the restaurant is an area that can be closed off to create one large or two smaller, private dining rooms. Also, hidden from the main eating area is a sizeable buffet that can be used when booking a banquet style conference.


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At night, the overhead lights are turned down to create a more intimate dining atmosphere. Also, the salt, pepper, and sugar containers are removed from the table and presented on a "request only" basis. In addition, votive-style candles are placed on each table.


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I was never enthused about eating dinner at the Concourse Steakhouse. Even though they served very good food, I wasn't willing to pay the prices they were asking to be seated in a restaurant with so many distractions and so much noise. I don't feel that way about The Wave. With the lights turned down low and candles on the table, I think this would be a nice spot to enjoy a casual meal.

Overall, I very much liked the décor of The Wave. It has an intimate and relaxing feel about it. However, I do have one negative comment. The pillars and the overhead soffits appear to be covered in a wood-grain laminate instead of real wood. I thought this was a little tacky. I don't suppose it will be obvious at night, but during lunch, it can easily been seen.

Being our first visit, Donald and I wanted to try several items, so for appetizers, Donald ordered the Lettuce Wraps and I ordered the Avocado & Citrus Salad. We were told that the Lettuce Wrap is big enough to share, and I suppose it is, but it would be rather messy. The wraps come with sautéed lamb, bay scallops, and red bell pepper in a soy-rice wine vinegar sauce. The menu did not mention the bell peppers, which Donald hates, so he traded with me.

I'm not a big fan of lamb, but I have to admit, I really didn't notice the gamey flavor that I dislike. In fact, I would have no problem ordering this item for myself sometime. It was a little spicy and my lips were tingling when I finished.


Lettuce Wrap Appetizer at The Wave in the Contemporary


The Avocado and Citrus Salad comes with a nice variety of greens, grapefruit sections, and plenty of avocado in an orange vinaigrette. I had one bite before I traded with Donald and I was very pleased with the flavor.


Avocado and Citrus Salad Appetizer at The Wave in the Contemporary


For entrees Donald order the Spice-crusted Chicken Salad and I ordered the Italian Chef Salad. The Spice-crusted Chicken Salad is an assortment of greens, chicken, apples, and polenta croutons. I stole a bite from Donald and both of us agree, this salad is excellent! I've always touted the Colony Salad at the Liberty Tree Tavern as being the best salad at Disney World. I think it has competition.


Spice-crusted Chicken Salad Lunch Entree at The Wave in the Contemporary


I think the name "Italian Chef Salad" is a misnomer. I feel it really should be called "Italian Chef Deli Plate." There were far too few greens to call this a salad. That's not to say I didn't enjoy my meal. There was an abundance of prosciutto, cappicola, provolone, salami, and shaved parmesan, sprinkled with red wine vinaigrette - all of it very good. But if you were expecting a green salad, you'd be disappointed.


Italian Chef Salad Lunch Entree at the Wave in the Contemporary


I love the way desserts are served here. There are four selections, each costing $7.99. Within each selection are three offerings.

For example, the "Creamy Indulgence" includes a small serving each of Cheesecake, Coconut Panna Cotta, and Chocolate-Passion Fruit Mouse. The "Crisp & Crunchy" offers Vanilla-braised Pineapple Spears, Baklava, and Zucchini-Carrot Cake. But if you don't like one of the specific offerings, you can pick and choose from among all twelve taste treats.

I had the Creamy Indulgence and was very happy with my selection. Donald had the selection of sorbets and he said it was a refreshing way to end his meal. He especially liked the Lemon-Basil Sorbet.


Desserts at the Wave in the Contemporary


Two other new items on the menu are Coke-Zero and Sprite-Zero. As I like Coke-Zero better than Diet Coke (which is still available), I'm hoping that other restaurants will also start to offer these beverages.

Our server was Agueda. She has waited on us several times in the past at the Concourse Steakhouse. When we walked into the lobby today, she immediately recognized us and arranged for us to be seated at her table. As always, she gave us exceptional service. In addition, it is obvious that the management of The Wave has gone to great lengths to make sure their staff is current on the new offering as Agueda was very knowledgeable and was able to answer an array of questions I had for her.

I also inquired about vegetarian meals and sugar-free desserts. I was told that the Seasonal Vegetable Stew is normally finished with a pat of butter, but this could easily be omitted if requested. Likewise, the Vegetarian Sandwich can be tweaked to suit the needs of the diner.

The chef came out to talk to me about sugar-free desserts. After some consultation with others in the kitchen, he told me that the Braised Pineapple and Baklava have no sugar added to them.

I had a very good experience today and I hope to be back soon and try their dinner menu.

Reservation can be made by calling 407-WDW-DINE. The Wave is open for breakfast from 7:30am-11:00am, lunch from 12:00pm-2:00pm and dinner from 5:30pm-10:00pm. The lounge is open from 12:00 noon to 12:00 midnight.

The Menus:

Breakfast Menu
Lunch Menu
Dinner Menu
Child's Menu

While I was at the Contemporary, I snapped a few pictures of the Kingdom Tower aka Bay Lake Tower , the new, rumored DVC to the north of the hotel.


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May 3, 2008

Contemporary Resort Update -- The Wave & Construction

I decided today to eat at the Concourse Steakhouse one last time before it closes at the end of the month. When I was handed the menu the waitress told me that for the last several weeks, and for the few remaining, the chef is testing various new appetizers, entrees, and desserts that will be featured at the Wave Restaurant when it opens in June.

Today I tried their Roasted Corn Chowder. It was delicious. The roasted kernels gave the soup a nice smoky taste and the Applewood Bacon also added a rich flavor. Served on the side was a jalapeno corn muffin which was also tasty. I wasn't sure if I was supposed to dunk the muffin or eat it by itself, so I opted for the latter. Later, a manager told me the idea was to dunk it. Maybe next time.

Corn Chowder

I also tried one of their new desserts, the Crisp and Crunchy Trio. This consists of almond-pineapple-raisin baklava, vanilla-braised pineapple slices, and zucchini-carrot cake with vanilla panna cotta. I very much enjoyed the baklava and pineapple slices, but I thought the zucchini-carrot cake was rather dry. I think if they can add some moisture to the cake, they will have a nice dessert that satisfies one's sweet tooth, but doesn't overwhelm you with sugar.


Crisp Crunchy Trio

Also new on the menu were two new entrees. First, Linguini with Florida Littleneck Clams and Rock Shrimp, fresh Thyme, and chucky Tomato Broth. And, Spice-crusted Chicken Salad with Apples and crispy Polenta Croutons. I did not try either of these items so I can't comment on them.

Reservations are now being accepted for The Wave Restaurant starting on June 30th. It is possible that a "soft" opening may commence a few weeks prior to this date. My understanding is that the new menu is mostly complete, but they are testing and fine-tuning items in the Concourse Steakhouse until then. The Wave will be open for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. I hope to be there on opening day so watch for my review.

I also snapped a few pictures of the Kingdom Tower (a suspected, yet to be announced DVC property) under construction north of the Contemporary. Other than the fact that the building continues to climb higher and higher, the only new feature of interest is the walkway that will connect the Kingdom Tower to the fourth floor of the Contemporary. It's clearly visible and seems to snake around four giant pylons and looks like it will eventually be suspended by large cables. Time will tell.


Walkway at the Contemporary

Walkway at the Contemporary

Kingdom Tower at the Contemporary

April 17, 2008

Harper's Mill, Old Time Telephone, and Kingdom Tower - Walt Disney World

I recently wrote a blog about the bird's nest hidden in Harper's Mill on Tom Sawyer Island in the Magic Kingdom. One of my readers, Chris, wrote to tell me that if you listen carefully, the creaking gears inside the mill play "Down By The Old Mill Stream." I checked it out today and sure enough, if you know what you're listening for, there's no mistaking this tune. Thanks Chris.

Harpers Mill Tom Sawyer Island

In another blog I wrote that when Arribas Brothers took over the Market House on Main Street, the old-time telephone was removed. Another reader, Shorty, wrote to tell me that the old telephone now has a new home in the Chapeau Shop on Town Square. Yea! Thanks Shorty.

Chapeau Shop Main Street USA

Telephone in Chapeau Shop

Telephone in Chapeau Shop


As I keep saying, it's these little details that make Disney special. Now, if I could just convince Disney to bring back Jennifer, the ticket seller that used to sit in the entrance area of the Main Street Cinema"

While riding the monorail to the Magic Kingdom today, I snapped a couple of pictures of the "Kingdom Tower" (the yet to be announced DVC) under construction. As you can see by the pictures, the structure is coming right along and it appears they're currently working on the twelfth floor. Also, new construction has commenced on the walkway that will connect the new resort with the fourth floor of the Contemporary.

Kingdom Tower

Kingdom Tower

January 24, 2008

Boardwalk Castles

Anyone who visits a Disney theme park knows that it's the details that set them apart from all other amusement venues. Well, this attention to detail doesn't stop at the parks. It extends to their hotels as well. Case in point, the Boardwalk Resort.

Boardwalk Lobby


In the lobby, above the check-in desk are three ornate gold frames.


Gold Framed Castle

Within each frame is a pastoral setting with a castle nestled in the background. Close observers will notice that these castles are actually the castles at Disneyland California, Disneyland Paris, and Tokyo Disneyland.

Castle

Castle

Castle

If you're wondering what happened to Hong Kong's castle, well, it didn't exist when the Boardwalk was built. However, since it's a copy of Disneyland California's castle we can just make believe it represents both.

October 19, 2007

Contemporary Resort

Construction continues on the new shop being built on the Grand Canyon Concourse of the Contemporary Resort. The layout and shape of the facility is easy to make out as most of the walls/shelves are in place. I asked a Cast Member when the project is scheduled to be completed and she told me that Disney hopes to open the shop the day after Thanksgiving.

Contemporary%20Floor.jpg

Contemporary%20Shop%201.jpg

Contemporary%20Shop%202.jpg

Another change to the area is the elevator that takes guest from the fourth floor to the monorail loading area. The structure has been re-colored from a deep purple to light beige. Also, the new tile floor appears to be completely installed.

New%20Monorail%20Elevator.jpg


The yet to be announced construction project north of the Contemporary is continuing to make progress. More pylons have been installed and a "second" floor is clearly visible in one section. Also, a second crane was added to the project site a couple of weeks ago.

Contemporary%20Construction%201.jpg

Contemporary%20Construction%202.jpg

Contemporary%20Construction%203.jpg

September 13, 2007

Contemporary Resort Updates

Jack Spence Reports....

The Food & Fun Center on the first floor of the Contemporary Resort has been completely closed.

Contemporary old Food and Fun Center

Contemporary Old Food and Fun Center

A new, temporary, counter service restaurant is now open on the fourth floor of the resort. This new eatery is called the Tempo Grab And Go. Much to my delight, this short-term establishment looks more permanent than temporary so resort guests won't feel like they're being short-changed when paying deluxe prices.


GrabAndGo1.jpg

GrabAndGo2.jpg

GrabAndGo3.jpg

GrabAndGo4.jpg

GrabAndGo5.jpg

GrabAndGo6.jpg

GrabAndGo7.jpg

GrabAndGo8.jpg

GrabAndGo9.jpg

GrabAndGo10.jpg

GrabAndGoSeating1.jpg

GrabAndGoSeating2.jpg



A new shop on the fourth floor is also taking shape as actual structures are now visible. In addition, the new floor tile in this area is coming along and looks quite nice.

NewShop1.jpg

NewShop2.jpg

NewTile.jpg

On the first floor, artist renderings now display what the redesigned check-in area will look like.

ContemporaryLobby1.jpg

ContemporaryLobby2.jpg


Construction continues on the rumored DVC just to the north of the Contemporary. The building is definitely taking on a horse-shoe shape that matches artist renderings that circulated on the internet for a short time.


NewConstruction1.jpg

NewConstruction2.jpg

NewConstruction3.jpg

September 3, 2007

Lawn Mower Tree

For those of you not familiar with the "Lawnmower Tree" it's an interesting oddity located at the Fort Wilderness Campground. It seems that years before Walt Disney World opened, someone leaned an old, push-style lawnmower against a tree and left it there. Over the years, the tree slowly grew around it. When the campground was being developed, the Disney Imagineers noticed this lawnmower half encased in a tree, thought it was interesting, and eventually put up a small sign to highlight this curiosity.

Lawn mowertree at Fort Wilderness


I've been visiting Walt Disney World since 1972 and on each visit have watched the slow disappearance of the lawnmower as the bark continues to incase it. Currently, only a very small part of the blades are still visible at the base of the tree. But I have sad news" For reason I do not know, most of the upper half of the tree has been cut off. Now, only about twelve feet of the trunk remains. Since the tree is now dead, the lawnmower's slow disappearance has been halted.

August 22, 2007

Contemporary Resort Updates 8/22/2007

I visited the Contemporary Resort on 8/22/07. Construction abounds.

First, the lobby is undergoing a complete makeover. When you enter the building from the main entrance, the first thing you'll notice is the statue of Mickey has been removed. I have no idea if this is temporary or permanent. Only time will tell. Also, half of the check-in desk has been boarded off as construction begins on the remodel.

Contemporary%20Lobby.jpg


Additionally, the concierge desk has replaced what use to be the "Contemporary Grounds." If you remember, this was the small coffee and pastry shop just off of the check-in desks.

New-Temporary%20Concierge%20Desk.jpg


The Food & Fun Center is still located on the first floor, but a cast member told me that the move upstairs should be completed within a couple of weeks.

There are a number of changes occurring on the 4th floor of the Contemporary Resort (the Grand Canyon Concourse). The biggest change is the addition of a new shop. It's being placed in the open space between Bay View Gifts and the Arcade. I have attached two artist renderings and it looks like it's going to be very attractive - a vast improvement over the temporary shops that once filled this space.

New%20Contemporary%20Store%201.jpg


New%20Contemporary%20Store%202.jpg


New%20Contemporary%20Store%203.jpg


New%20Contemporary%20Store%204.jpg


The next noticeable change is the replacement of the tile floors. The rough, dark brown tiles are being replaced by a smooth, lighter tile that is reminiscent of stylized bamboo. This is another nice upgrade. Also gone are the planters that once surrounded the elevators. Nothing has replaced these yet.

New%20Tile%20Floor.jpg


Directly across from the entrance to the Concourse Steakhouse is another construction site where the temporary fast food restaurant (the Tempo Grab & Go) will eventually be located. This area is walled off so I can't give you any details.

Grab%20%26%20Go%20Site.jpg

Construction continues where the North Wing once stood. Pylons and concrete walls have sprouted and the outline of a building is beginning to become apparent. This is the rumored site of a new Disney Vacation Club.

Rumored%20Contemporary%20DVC%201.jpg


Rumored%20Contemporary%20DVC%202.jpg


Rumored%20Contemporary%20DVC%203.jpg

I ate lunch at the Concourse Steakhouse. As always, the service and the food were top-notch. However, the noise from the jack hammers breaking up the tile floors was more than a bit disturbing. Guests might want to think twice before eating lunch here for the next couple of weeks.

August 2, 2007

Contemporary Resort Updates 8/2/2007

AllEars® Team member Jack Spence visited the Contemporary Resort recently.

According to reports, the Food and Fun Center was supposed to close this past weekend. I ate lunch at Concourse Steakhouse Tuesday, 7/31, so I could take pictures of the Tempo Grab and Go (temporary replacement) next to the Outer Rim. It isn't there yet. In fact, the Fun and Food Center is still open. We asked our server when it would open and all she knew was "very soon."

I noticed a couple other "construction" projects going on at the resort.

Actual construction has begun where the North Wing once stood at the Contemporary Resort. This is the possible site of the rumored new Disney Vacation Club resort.

Construction at Contemporary Resort

All of the public doors into the Contemporary Resort are being remodeled. The revolving doors are being replaced with sliding doors with an "airlock" room inbetween.

Contemporary%20Doors.jpg

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