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August 18, 2014

Saratoga Springs - A Relook

Jack Spence Masthead


Over the past several years I have stayed at every Disney resort. I did this so I could take pictures, create videos, and write reviews. Now that I've completed this mission, I'm starting the cycle all over again. But since not much changes from year to year, I am not writing completely new reviews. Instead, I'm just reporting on what has changed since my last visit. However, I am taking new pictures and creating all new videos. So far I have revisited Coronado Springs, the All Stars, and Caribbean Beach. Today I'll be discussing Saratoga Springs.

Actually, it was only a year and a half ago that I stayed at Saratoga Springs and wrote a review so this resort was low on my list for a relook. However, a good friend of mine had some Disney Vacation Club (DVC) points that were expiring and offered them to me at the last minute. (Thank you, David.) With such short notice, Saratoga Springs was the only resort I was able to book for four nights.

After an extensive look around Saratoga Springs, I could see no changes in and about the resort. When I returned home, I went through my pictures from 2013, looking for differences I may have missed during my visit. I'm sure some small things have been altered, but they certainly were not obvious to me. Because I have nothing earth-shattering to report, this article will be about some of the things I experienced during my stay. To see the complete resort review I wrote last year, click here.

Meaning no offense to any of you who have purchased a DVC membership at Saratoga Springs, but this spot is the least popular membership resort located at Walt Disney World. I'm not saying Saratoga Springs is a bad resort. In fact, it's very nice and worth your consideration when looking for a place to stay. I'm simply saying it is the last DVC to fill its rooms. This is why I was able to get a four day reservation during July with less than a week's notice.

So what is it that makes Saratoga Springs less popular than the other Disney World DVC's? Location is a major factor. With the exception of Old Key West and Kidani Village at the Animal Kingdom Lodge, all of the other DVC's are located convenient to a theme park. This gives them a definite edge over Saratoga Springs. Kidani Village is popular because of the animals outside the rooms and Old Key West is in high demand because it was the first Disney membership resort and the rooms here are significantly larger than at any of the other resorts. After Old Key West was built, Disney decided they could save money by making the rooms smaller in the subsequent DVC resorts. Pity.

Another thing people don't like about Saratoga Springs is its size. It is huge. And unlike the Caribbean Beach Resort that has a dedicated bus that continually circles that resort, Saratoga Springs does not. Instead, you must catch a theme park bus to travel in one direction around the resort and a Downtown Disney bus to travel in the other direction.

Location and size are the two major failings of Saratoga Springs. But it does have a lot going for it as well. Here are some of the things I like.

First, I enjoy the atmosphere. I think the resort is beautiful. The lakes are lovely and the grounds are lush and well-tended. If you take the time to walk around Saratoga Springs, you'll discover many lovely spots.


The Grounds of Saratoga Springs

The Grounds of Saratoga Springs

The Grounds of Saratoga Springs

The Grounds of Saratoga Springs

The Grounds of Saratoga Springs

The Grounds of Saratoga Springs

The Grounds of Saratoga Springs

The Grounds of Saratoga Springs


I like the Artist's Palette Food Court over those at any of the Value or Moderate resorts.


Artist's Palette


First, I like the menu here. At Artist's Palette, the chefs try (and succeed) to be a little more upscale with their offerings with dishes like Bistro Buffalo Chicken Panini, Greek Salad with Chicken, Lobster Club Sandwich, and Chicken Spinach Artichoke Flatbread just to name a few.


Artist's Palette Food

Artist's Palette Food

Artist's Palette Food


The food is made fresh with each order. You can easily see the chefs hard at work behind the counter.


Chef's Cooking


And finally, I like the ordering and serving process.

Once you decide on a selection from the overhead menus, you get in line. Here, a friendly cast member will take your order and give you a receipt and a numbered table-tent.


Ordering Area


From the ordering station you proceed to a nearby register and pay. It's also at this station that you order your fountain drinks. Bottled and canned drinks can be obtained at the neighboring refrigerators.


Registers

Refrigerators


Once you pay, you take your beverages and table tent and find a seat in the adjacent seating area.


Dining Room

Dining Room


Now here is the best part. Once your food is ready, a cast member brings it to your table, piping hot or appropriately chilled. I love this. No longer do I have to wait in line to pay as my food's temperature tries to approach room ambiance.

Three cheers for Artist's Palette.

Something I noticed on this most recent trip was an "Allergy Friendly" case. Here guests hungering for a snack can choose from Chocolate Chip Cookies, Bean & Rice Chips, Fudge Brownies, Caramel Corn, and Granola Bars. I'm sure this addition will make a lot of people with special dietary needs very happy.


Allergy Friendly

Allergy Friendly


I like the swimming pools at Saratoga Springs. High Rock Spring Pool is the largest and usually the busiest. It also has a pleasant bar for when you're in need of an adult beverage or your child needs to refresh their refillable mug.


High Rock Spring Pool

High Rock Spring Pool

High Rock Spring Pool


Paddock Pool has the best children's water-play area. In addition, breakfast and lunch are served here. I've enjoyed several alfresco meals at this spot and have appreciated the atmosphere, even though I wasn't going for a swim. The Paddock Grill is also the only spot at Saratoga Springs where you can get a hamburger.


Paddock Pool

Paddock Pool

Paddock Pool

Paddock Pool

I like the design of the Backstretch Pool. It has a great children's splash-n-play area that truly embraces the horserace theme of Saratoga Springs. However, the red and white color scheme can be a little intense for some. This pool also has a refreshment/food bar that is open seasonally.


Backstretch Pool

Backstretch Pool

Backstretch Pool


The Congress Park Pool has by far the quietest atmosphere of the four. This can be attributed to the lack of a splash-n-play area for the kids. This pool also has the most sophisticated atmosphere. Congress Park Pool is the perfect spot for adults who want some peace and quiet.


Congress Park Pool

To see a short movie that highlights these pools, check out the video below.

Under construction is a new footbridge that will connect Saratoga Springs to Downtown Disney. This is part of the Downtown Disney/Disney Springs expansion. When complete, this will add a new element to this resort that will hopefully boost its popularity.


Footbridge to Downtown Disney


During my visit I stayed in a one-bedroom villa. Overall I like these units and believe a family could be quite happy here. The only change in decor I could find since my last visit was the elimination of the bedspread in favor of the "spa look." This appears to be standard practice now at all Disney World resorts.


One Bedroom Unit

One Bedroom Unit

One Bedroom Unit

One Bedroom Unit

One Bedroom Unit

To see a short movie that highlights a one bedroom villa, check out the video below.

I have two stories about my room to share with you. One good and one not so good. Let's start with the not so good.

The living room couch is a convertible sofa. Because of this, the foundation beneath the cushions is not as good as a foundation found beneath a standard sofa. It has been my experience that hotel convertible sofas are tolerable for seating but not really comfortable. The foundations give out quickly with all the wear and tear they endure.

Well, that was certainly the case in my room. I don't believe I have ever sat on a more uncomfortable couch. All support beneath the front of the cushions was gone. When I sat down, I sank so low that the wood strip across the front of the sofa cut into my legs. To help alleviate the problem I took two bed pillows and placed them beneath the cushions. This helped some, but the couch was still painful on my legs. Ouch. Disney needs to address this issue.


Convertible Sofa


On the other hand, the bed in the bedroom was more than comfortable for sleeping. No complaints about the mattress.

Now for the good story, however my tale starts out on shaky ground.

Whenever I do a resort review, I open every drawer and cabinet to check for cleanliness and other unexpected surprises. You never know what you might find. The house cleaning staff is supposed to inspect every nook and cranny while cleaning a room, however sometimes things get missed. This is just a fact of life and nothing to get worked up about. If when I enter a room I find a minor issue, I shrug it off and let it go. However, if I find something beyond insignificant, I contact the front desk.

The first thing I do when I arrive at my room is to stash my luggage so I can take "clean" pictures. I want the room to look exactly like it would if you, my readers, were arriving. You don't want to see my personal belongings. Then I start opening doors, drawers, and cabinets and begin taking pictures.

The rooms at Saratoga Springs have a coffee table positioned in front of the sofa. In order to provide guests with maximum storage, these are also chests that open up.


Coffee Table/Chest

Coffee Table/Chest

When I opened this chest, I noticed that the hydraulic hinges were broken. Without these safety devices, the lid could slam shut on someone's fingers or worse, a child's head.

This is one of those items that housekeeping could easily miss and I wasn't concerned about it for the duration of my stay. I had nothing to store and no children to worry about. However, I felt that this issue was important and called the front desk. I wanted to make sure the chest would be attended to before the next guests arrived, who may have children.

In less than 15 minutes, a maintenance man was knocking on my door. He took one look at the problem and told me that he could not fix it in the room and that he'd have to take the chest back to his shop. He went on to tell me that he wouldn't have a replacement until the following day. I assured him that there were no children present so I didn't care if it was fixed immediately or not. He agreed to leave the chest for the time being, but informed me that if there had been children in the room, he would have had no choice but to remove it immediately. The chest was swapped out the next day.

I applaud Disney for their proactive safety policy.

As I said at the beginning of this article, not much has changed since my last visit. This makes it difficult for me to come up with original information that I haven't said before. However, I did re-film the entire resort.

To take a look at all that Saratoga Springs has to offer, check out the following video. Note, the video does contain the swimming pools segment mentioned earlier.

During my stay, I enjoyed dinner one evening at the Turf Club. Check back tomorrow and I'll give you the rundown of my experience.

That's it for today.


February 20, 2013

Saratoga Springs - Part Three

Jack Spence Masthead


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

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


Saratoga Springs Exterior

Saratoga Springs Exterior

Saratoga Springs Exterior

Saratoga Springs Exterior


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

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


Bus Stop

Bus Stop


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

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


Saratoga Springs Exterior

Saratoga Springs Exterior

Saratoga Springs Exterior

Saratoga Springs Exterior


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


Saratoga Springs Exterior

Saratoga Springs Exterior

Saratoga Springs Exterior

Saratoga Springs Exterior

Saratoga Springs Exterior

Saratoga Springs Exterior

Saratoga Springs Exterior


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


Willow Lake and View

Willow Lake and View

Willow Lake and View

Willow Lake and View


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

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


Fountain

Carousel Barbeque Area


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


Carousel Barbeque Area

Carousel Barbeque Area

Carousel Barbeque Area


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

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


Safety Horse


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

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


The Paddock Pool & Slide

The Paddock Pool & Slide

The Paddock Pool & Slide

The Paddock Hot Tub


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


Pool Chair Lift


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


The Paddock Splash and Play

The Paddock Splash and Play

The Paddock Splash and Play


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


The Paddock Grill


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


The Grandstand Pool

The Grandstand Pool

The Grandstand Pool

The Grandstand Pool


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


The Grandstand Splash & Play Area

The Grandstand Splash & Play Area

The Grandstand Splash & Play Area

The Grandstand Splash & Play Area

The Grandstand Splash & Play Area


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


Backstretch Bar

Backstretch Bar  Details


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


Congress Park Pool

Congress Park Pool

Congress Park Pool

Congress Park Pool


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


Congress Park Play Area

Congress Park Picnic Area


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


Towels, Laundry, Restrooms


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



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

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


Vanity


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


Mirrored Door

Tub & Shower

Toilet & Shower


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


Closet

Closet


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


Kitchenette


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


Kitchenette


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


Studio Unit

Studio Unit

Studio Unit


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


Chest of Drawers & TV Stand


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


Convertible Sofa


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


Patio


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

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


One Bedroom Entry


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


One Bedroom Kitchen

One Bedroom Kitchen

One Bedroom Kitchen

One Bedroom Kitchen

One Bedroom Kitchen

One Bedroom Kitchen


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


One Bedroom Kitchen

One Bedroom Kitchen

One Bedroom Kitchen


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


Dining Table

Breakfast Bar


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


One Bedroom Living Room

One Bedroom Living Room

One Bedroom Living Room


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


Horseracing Theme

Horseracing Theme

Horseracing Theme

Horseracing Theme


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


Balcony

Balcony

Balcony View


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


Washer and Dryer


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

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


Vanity and Shower


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


Water Closet

Water Closet


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


Vanity and Sink

Vanity and Sink


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


Bathtub


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


Closet

Closet

Closet


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


Bedroom

Bedroom

Bedroom

Bedroom


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

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


Now for the downside of Saratoga Springs"¦

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

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

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

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

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

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



February 19, 2013

Saratoga Springs - Part Two

Jack Spence Masthead


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

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


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

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

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


Main Entrance

Secondary Entrance


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


Broadway

Broadway


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


Saratoga Springs


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


Portico


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


Winner's Circle

Winner's Circle


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


Performance Hall

Performance Hall


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


Carriage House Check-In

Carriage House Check-In

Carriage House Check-In

Carriage House Check-In

Carriage House Check-In


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


Carriage House Children's Area


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


Disney Horses


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


Lounge

Lounge


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

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


Artist's Palette

Artist's Palette

Artist's Palette

Artist's Palette


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

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


Artist's Palette Dining Room

Artist's Palette Dining Room

Artist's Palette Dining Room


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

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


Table Number


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

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


Hallway

Mickey Mouse Jersey


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


Pool Table

Lounge

Lounge


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


Turf Club Bar & Grill


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


Turf Club Bar & Grill

Turf Club Bar & Grill

Turf Club Bar & Grill


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


Turf Club Bar & Grill

Turf Club Bar & Grill


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

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

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


Lake Buena Vista Golf Club

Lake Buena Vista Golf Club

Lake Buena Vista Golf Club


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


Lake Buena Vista Golf Course


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


Boat Dock


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


High Rock Spring Pool

High Rock Spring Pool

High Rock Spring Pool

High Rock Spring Pool


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

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


On the Rocks


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


Win, Place, or Show Arcade

Win, Place, or Show Arcade


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

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


The Spa

The Spa


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


Broadway

The Springs Bus Stop


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


Laundry Facility and Community Hall


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


Laundry

Laundry

Laundry


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


Community Hall

Community Hall

Community Hall


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

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


Horsing Around Rentals

Basketball

Tennis

Shuffleboard


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


Movie Theater


Speaking of prospective DVC members"¦

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


Membership Information Center at Disney's Hollywood Studios.


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

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


Saratoga Springs DVC Reception Area

Saratoga Springs DVC Reception Area

Saratoga Springs DVC Reception Area

Saratoga Springs DVC Reception Area

Saratoga Springs DVC Reception Area


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



February 18, 2013

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

Jack Spence Masthead


Saratoga Springs Logo


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

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

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

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


Lake Buena Vista Villas

Lake Buena Vista Villas


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


Single Family Homes


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

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


Lake Buena Vista Shopping Village

Lake Buena Vista Shopping Village


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

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

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

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

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


Disney Institute Logo

Disney Institute Concept Drawing


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


Disney Institute


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


Disney Institute

Disney Institute

Disney Institute

Disney Institute

Disney Institute

Disney Institute


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

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

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

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

Animation
Culinary
Gardening
Photography
Television & Radio
Youth

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

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

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

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

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


New Disney Institute Logo


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

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

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



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About Saratoga Springs

This page contains an archive of all entries posted to The β€œWorld” According to Jack in the Saratoga Springs category. They are listed from oldest to newest.

Port Orleans Riverside is the previous category.

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