Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Walt Disney World (or, "I'm too EXCITED to blog!")

I apologize for the lack of a post yesterday. I got caught up in planning a trip to Disney World. If you don't mind a self-indulgent post about those plans, read on. Otherwise, skip this and I'll post some more links to jungle comics in a few minutes. I don't blame you.

We've been talking about going back to Disney World for a few years now and David's at just the right age to really enjoy it. He was just about to hit his first birthday last time we were there and while it was an incredibly fun and memorable trip, there are challenges to seeing Disney World with a baby. As easy as the parks make it on parents, there's still a need to make time for naps and diaper changes and they still won't let infants ride Space Mountain, so you've got to figure all that out. This time should be a lot easier.

What made it awesome last time was The Unofficial Guide to Walt Disney World with Kids. I practically memorized that thing and we certainly made our plans based on its recommendations. What could have been an extremely stressful, chaotic visit was simple and organized. We were able to concentrate on having fun and being in the moment instead of being anxious about the length of lines or being in certain places at certain times.

We haven't figured out exactly when we're going yet (need to work out vacation-time and some other details), but to get started last night I picked up the current editions of both the UGtWDWwK and the larger, basic Unofficial Guide to WDW (aka, "the Big Book"). I spent all evening catching up on the new stuff.

One of the things we're doing differently this time is staying on a WDW resort. I've always stayed with friends or at nearby hotels in the past (though last time we used a timeshare owned by Diane's parents, which was awesome), but I've always wanted to try the on-property hotels. The deluxe ones are out of our budget for this trip, but Disney has some nice, moderately-priced hotels, so we'll pick one of those. A lot of my reading last night was comparing those and I've got it narrowed down to two or three.

The Caribbean Beach Resort is tempting because of its theme. Apparently they even have pirate-themed rooms, which is a huge draw for me. Unfortunately, the layout of the resort is very spread out and the pirate rooms seem to be furthest away from resort's central facilities including its restaurants (no room service) and the bus stop to the parks. I'd happily walk ten minutes to that stuff in order to stay in a pirate room, but this isn't just my vacation. Need to talk that over with the other two first.

The other resort I'm considering is the Port Orleans Resort, which is actually divided into two smaller resorts, the French Quarter (pretty self-explanatory, the theme of that one) and the Riverside (which is inspired by the bayous and antebellum mansions of rural Louisiana). The layouts of these make the facilities much more centrally located and the amenities are apparently nicer, but it's tough to pick between the two. The pool at the French Quarter looks amazing, for instance, and its rooms are supposed to be almost as nice as those in the deluxe resorts. But the only sit-down restaurant between the two is over at the Riverside and the bayou-themed rooms for that location are surrounded by trees and gardens, which is very tempting. Right now, I'm leaning towards the French Quarter, but this also needs to be discussed.

Other details to figure out are whether we want to use Disney's Dining Plan and whether or not to rent a car while we're there. A friend of ours raved about the Dining Plan, but The Unofficial Guide has made me cautious about it. Others who've used it report that you have to use all of it in order to justify the expense, and doing that tends to make the trip all about the food. We're much more used to eating as we go between rides when it's convenient, not scheduling rides around dinner reservations. Also, kids are apparently limited to ordering off the children's menus, which some guests report are restricted to mac-and-cheese and chicken fingers at many restaurants. As much as David loves chicken fingers, I'm thinking he may get tired of that after a week. Apparently there are ways around that restriction, but again, I don't know that I want to make meal times a long, stressful time of negotiation. In order to keep things flexible, I'm leaning away from the Dining Plan, but want to talk to my friend first and get his input on my concerns.

As for the car, The Disney Blog has been reporting some recession-motivated cutbacks at WDW that have begun to affect guest experiences, particularly in the area of transportation. The Unofficial Guide backs this up by sharing complaints from guests about long wait times for buses that make multiple stops before arriving at their destinations. However, the Guide has also done some research and actually measured door-to-door travel times (which includes waiting for the bus) from each hotel to each park. The hotels we're considering all have travel times around 30-45 minutes. Which, yeah, is a lot of time to travel from one part of the World to another, but it's easily planned for. I'm hesititant to give up the freedom a rental car would allow, but I'm not seeing how I can justify the expense. We're not planning on seeing other Orlando attractions or eat in offsite restaurants (a big part of this trip for me is experiencing WDW completely onsite), so I think we can get up early enough to plan around the bus system.

Next step though is to figure out when we're going.


JK Parkin said...

I would recommend the dining plan. It ended up being very convenient and very economical in the long run when we went a year ago September, and we ended up eating at places that we probably never would have ventured into (and I'm really glad we did).

Also, it seems like Disney runs a lot of specials around the dining plan, or at least they were earlier this year. My wife follows that kind of stuff the same way we follow comic news, so I can check with her if you'd like. When are you going?

Also, resort wise, our favorite on-site resort is the Coronado, which is their convention hotel. And if there's a convention going on, it'll be full ... but the bus stops are all dead during the day because everyone's in meetings. It also has a really great food court, a nice restaurant and an Aztec-themed pool.

And I'd only rent a car if you plan to go somewhere else in Orlando. If you're just staying at WDW the whole time, you'd be fine without it ... Disney has gotten their act together with their airport-to-resort buses; it's much more organized now than it was when they first started doing it. And even if you plan to go to Universal Studios, you can book a Mears shuttle that'll pick you up at your resort.

Michael May said...

Nice! Thanks for all of that!

I hadn't really considered the Coronado because the theme didn't grab me, but I'll take a deeper look at it.

I've also heard that a couple of other friends really like the Dining Plan, so I'm starting to realize that there must be more to it than the guidebook indicated. I've got more research to do, but I'd love to hear about it if your wife knows of any specials. Right now we're thinking about going in one of the last weeks in February if we can get it pulled together by then.

Thanks again!

Anonymous said...

The other thing that is good about the Carribean one is that it is the last stop before hitting the parks, so you get to the parks fast (at least how i remember it from a few years ago). The caveat is that then on the way back you are the last stop, so it takes you like 40 minutes to get back from the park. but generally you are wiped at that time anyways, so just close your eyes.

Michael May said...

Good to know. Thanks for the tip!


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