If you're a regular at Walt Disney World and Disney Cruise Line, you may be looking for a new Disney experience in Florida. A short drive to southern Indian River County could reward you with the treasure you are seeking.
On Florida's so-called Treasure Coast, Disney's Vero Beach Resort, which is a Disney Vacation Club property that also is open to hotel guests, is just a 90-minute drive from Orlando. It is the only Disney property in the area that is directly on an oceanfront beach. And this beach is special because it's near Archie Carr National Wildlife Refuge, which is where many of the protected species of sea turtles come to nest in the summer.
In fact, sea turtles are so prevalent along this coastal area of the state that it's no surprise that the sea turtle is the resort's logo. And two exciting events centered on sea turtles take place on the beach in front of Disney's Vero Beach. Summer turtle walks, which are led by guides permitted by the Florida Fish & Wildlife Service, take guests in small groups to see sea turtles nesting on the beach in the darkness of night. Turtle walks only take place in June and July and are open to resort guests only. (There are, however, other locations along the Treasure Coast for turtle walks that are open to the public. You can read more about them here.)
Also, at the end of July, the Tour de Turtles kicks off at various beaches around the world, and Disney's Vero Beach Resort is home to one of them. This "race" is a fun way to raise money for sea turtle preservation while collecting data about the species. You can read more about the Tour de Turtles here.
Its location on a Florida beach is not the only thing that makes this Disney property unique. In the summer -- from April 21 to September 1 -- the resort's main restaurant, Shutters, pays homage to the region's history of pirate lore and hosts a character pirate dinner on Monday nights. There are no pirate-themed character meals at Walt Disney World, though they are a signature event on Disney Cruise Line ships. So, if your child loves pirates, this could be the landlocked place for you!
Reservations are strongly recommended for the pirate dinner, but I was able to book a table for my family of four the day before, even during a holiday week. The pirate dinner is served from 5 to 9 p.m., and we chose to dine at 5 p.m. because we had plans for a Brevard County turtle walk later that night.
Shutters is transformed into a pirate's lair with large skull-themed flags throughout the restaurant, which complement the regular nautical decor. Servers wear pirate costumes, and each table is set with eye patches and skull-themed bandanas to encourage guests to get in on the dress-up fun, too. Plus, the kids receive coloring pages that can be used for collecting autographs from Pirate Goofy and Pirate Donald Duck. We appreciated that thoughtful gesture because my son left his autograph book at home.
Because we were among the first diners seated, we also were among the first to be visited by Goofy and Donald. Unlike at some of the busy character meals at Walt Disney World, the two were in no hurry to leave our table and even stopped by again on their way to other tables. Toward the end of our meal, kids were called to the replica ship at the entrance to the restaurant to take the pirate oath with Pirate Goofy. Afterward, he handed out a treasure map to the young swashbucklers.
The pirate dinner is served family style, which means all the food is brought to your table and then you can request refills on any or all items until you are full. The menu includes: cornbread, rolls, oak-grilled chicken, brisket, BBQ pulled pork, roasted potatoes, macaroni and cheese, corn on the cob, baked beans, coleslaw, cupcakes and non-alcoholic beverages. My husband and I found the meal to be like a typical summer barbecue -- we each liked some items more than others. It was entirely acceptable, but nothing we would rave about. Perhaps, then, the value was in the experience, which both of our children, ages 9 and 11, thoroughly enjoyed.
The price of the all-you-care-to-eat pirate character meal is $26.99 for adults and $12.99 for children ages 3 to 9. When compared to a similar experience at Walt Disney World, that is a bargain.
Florida's Treasure Coast gets its name, in large part, from the bounty of gold and silver that was lost offshore from the 1715 Treasure Fleet that was bound from the New World to Spain. How fitting that Disney's Vero Beach Resort offers a unique treasure, too, for those who want a quick getaway from Orlando but not the magic of Walt Disney World.
The previous post in this blog was What you need to know about taking food into Walt Disney World.
The next post in this blog is Disney Store hosts free events based on "Planes: Fire and Rescue" for kids in July.