Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Favorite Disney Resorts

What are your favorite Disney Resorts? Over the years we have stayed at several on site resorts at Walt Disney World, and just like the attractions in the parks, we have our favorites, not so favorites, and the ones in between. But even our least favorite resort isn’t really that bad, after all it is on Disney World property!

For those of you who are not familiar with how Disney groups their resorts, they use three levels of accomodations; Value, Moderate, and Deluxe. I’ll explain what makes each level different from the others, list what resorts fall into each category, and share with you which ones we have stayed at (in italics), and finally give you our favorites and why!


These are your basic run of the mill hotels, but with a touch of Disney magic. Things you can expect in a value resort are, oversized decorative icons, a large themed swimming pool, a couple of less themed “quite pools”, a food court, arcade and of course gift shop. These tend to belarger resorts, and further away from the theme parks. Also all of the rooms open up to the outside. The resorts on property that fall into this category are: All Star Sports, All Star Music, All Star Movies, and Pop Century.

Our favorite: All Star Music

Our family enjoys All Star Music mostly because of the feel of the resort. The resort is very large, but the walkways and landscaping make it feel very subdued. I especially enjoy walkingaround at night. The fountains and walkways are lit as if you were out exploring an old city, looking for some live jazz to listen to. The oversize icons are present, but they don’t feel as in your face here. While we have not experienced them, All Star Music offers family suites, which are good for families larger than four people.


Moderate resorts also have outside facing exits, but the rooms are larger, and have more upscale trimmings. These resorts are themed, but with decorations, and landscaping. Some resorts have specially themed rooms, like pirate ships, and Finding Nemo. At moderate resorts each room comes with a small refrigerator. Most moderate resorts have a food court and a sit down restaurant. The pools have slides, and might be elaborately themed, depending on if they have been recently renovated. They tend to be closer to the theme parks compared to the value resorts. Disney’s moderate resorts are: Caribbean Beach, Port Orleans riverside, Port Orleans French Quarter, and Coronado Springs. Plus the Swan and Dolphin resorts are included in this category.

Our favorite: Coronado Springs

This is the level of accommodations we have the least experience with, and we love both of the moderate resorts we have stayed at, but Coronado Springs edges out French Quarter. Again we love the theme of Coronado Springs. It has a very American Southwest/Mexico theme. It reminds us a lot of Arizona, where most of my wife’s family lives. The Mexican ruins themed pool and dig site is awesome! We also really love the Pepper Market food court (with a twist). The rooms are recently renovated with queen size beds, and you get the benefit of the nicer H2O Plus Spa toiletries here. A couple of months back I wrote about our first experience at Coronado Springs, for more details click here to check it out!


These are the crème de la crème of Disney resorts! Their location is great, the Theme Parks are usually just a short monorail, or boat ride away. Some are even walking distance to a park or two! The resorts feature elaborate themes, lots of activities, multiple dining options (quick service or sit down), and awesome pools! The rooms are interior, and much larger than lower categories. The jump from moderate to deluxe is much greater than value to moderate! Many of the resorts are also part of Disney’s Vacation Club, so one and two bedroom villas might also be available! Disney’s deluxe resorts are: The Contemporary, The Polynesian, The Grand Flordian, The Yacht and Beach Club, The Boardwalk, The Widerness Lodge, and The Animal Kingdom Lodge.

Our favorite: Beach Club

This was a tough one to decide. We also love the Contemporary for its location (walking distance to Magic Kingdom), and we love the feel of Wilderness Lodge. What makes me know that Beach Club is our favorite? The feeling we get when we walk in. It just feels like home. The sights and smells, and Beaches and Cream… Ummmm No Way Jose Sundae… Sorry, I lost my train of thought! Oh yeah, and the location! A 5 minute walk to Epcot’s World Showcase… Plus the entertainment of the Boardwalk across the lake. Plus the attached Yacht Club with it’s signature restaurant The Yachtsman… Oh and the best pool on property, Stormalong Bay, with it’s sand bottom and awesome waterslide! The Beach Club is also home to one of our favorite character meals at Cape May Café. Here you can have breakfast with Minnie, Pluto, Goofy and Donald, and getting a reservation is usually pretty easy.

I hope that we share some favorites with you. One day I'll stay at all of them, for research purposes of course!

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

New Specialty Rooms Coming to Walt Disney World

The Official Disney Parks Blog has just announced that there will be two new specialty rooms available for vacationers looking for a little extra magic or relaxation on their next trip to Disney World.

Health & Wellness Suites at the Contemporary Resort:
These guest suites will offer the best in relaxation and healthyliving. According to the blog the suites "will feature bamboo flooring, 100-percent cotton linens, non-allergenicwrapped mattresses- as well as great views of Magic Kingdom Park and Bay Lake." The bathrooms will also be equipped with special rainwater showers and tea tree oils. Guests staying in these suites can also enjoy having cardio equipment in their room, and access to special organic food options in the concierge lounge. Take a look at these pictures for the updated decor as well!

I think it is fair to say that these suites will come with a premium price tag! Magic Kindom views, and access to the concierge suite doesn't come cheap! It will be interesting to see how these room book when they are made available this summer.

I like the idea of another suite option on property. Our family of five really has limited options, but I'm not sure if this is the right fit for us. I really like the decor though, and we love the convenience of the Contemporary, but I think we will just stick with the villas over at Bay Lake Tower for now.

Royal Guest Rooms at Port Orleans French Quarter:
Down in the Bayou guests will soon be able to book a special Royal Guest Room, and be a guest of Princess Tiana! Over 500 of the guest rooms at POFQ will get this special Princess makeover featuring ornate bedding and decor, as well as special fiber optic headboards. These rooms are set to be ready for March of 2012. Just in time for the Spring Break crowds!
I think these rooms will book really well, and Disney must think so too if they are willing to renovate half of the rooms at the resort to this theme. The pirate themed rooms at Caribbean Beach have done well, there is no reason to think that these won't surpass those.

French Quarter was the first moderate resort we stayed at and was our favorite resort until we experienced deluxe resort living. I am glad to see that Disney is investing the money to bring life into the resort that seems to get lost in the formidable shadow of its Port Orleans neighbor Riverside.

The blog also throws in a little hint about the upcoming Art of Animation Resort, saying that there will be more specialty rooms coming online when it opens in May of next year. That should be very interesting, especially since half of the rooms of that resort have been said to be family suites.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Revving Up For Cars 2

One of the "fun" things that we go through in this family is trying to find a movie that all 3 Dis Kids can enjoy together. More often than not the movie ends up being a Disney movie, and then it usually ends up being one of the Disney/Pixar films.

Of all the Pixar movies that we own on DVD (and we have most of them), Cars gets the most playtime. All 3 Dis Kids love the movie. The oldest Dis Kid (11 years old) likes the story and the music. The middle Dis Kid (4 years old) loves the characters. And the youngest Dis Kid (2 years old) loves the cars and racing scenes.

With that knowledge in hand you can see the "perfect storm" that is coming with the release of Cars 2. In the last 4 years we haven't been to the movies much as a family. My wife or I have taken the oldest Dis Kid to some movies individually, but all 5 of us have not seen a movie together. You parents of young kids understand why... Some movies just don't hold their attention. Add to the fact that we have 2 little ones, and the fact that my 2 year old has the energy level of a... 2 year old boy, and you can see why our movie viewing has been limited to our living room.

Cars 2 could change that trend. For the first time I can remember a movie is coming out that should not only keep all three of our Dis Kids interested, but Mom and Dad too. The only thing to worry about now will be keeping the screams of excitement down when the little ones see a new adventure for Lightning McQueen, Mater, and some of their favorite Cars characters. On top of that it looks like there will be some really cool new characters introduced as well! The screams from the 4 year old may shatter glass!

The only thing we have to do now is wait. I haven't seen a release date for Romania yet, so I have a feeling that we will be enjoying this movie on the open seas of the Mediterranean! You can bet your lunch money that Cars 2 will be one of the movies being featured in the Buena Vista Theater on board the Disney Magic cruise ship! That is one of the cool things about the Disney Cruise Line... They show first run movies on board, and often have premiers at sea. We enjoyed one of those on board a couple years back when we saw Ratatouille on board the Wonder!

One more thing to hope for... Maybe, just maybe, after it has been out a few months, we might be able to watch Cars 2 here in Bucharest at our drive in movie theatre... Now that would be a perfect storm!

Monday, April 11, 2011

Disney Cruise Line Announces New Ports and Itineraries

Last week was a big week for Disney Cruise fans. The long awaited itineraries for the second half of 2012 were announced for the Magic, Wonder, dream and Fantasy (entering service March 2012). There was a lot of discussion, argument, prediction prior to these announcements. Disney cruisers eagerly awaited in particular the news of where Disney's two classic ships, the Magic and Wonder would be docked next year. A lot of people were hoping for a lot a different places. Newspapers started leaking information, and there was very little surprise when the official announcement came out on Thursday April 7th. Here are the official itineraries, and my thoughts on what was announced. For exact dates and prices visit Disney Cruise Lines Official Website.

The Dream and The Fantasy stay in Port Canaveral:
This was the least surprising of all the announcements. The Dream will continue to do 3, 4 and 5 night Bahamian cruises, and the Fantasy - whose maiden voyage is set for March 31, 2012 - will do alternating 7 night Eastern and Western Caribbean cruises. Nothing special here. The Dream continues to be very popular, and I would expect the same from the Fantasy when it goes into service next year. These are the newest ships in the Disney fleet, with the newest technology, and bookings are great among first time Disney cruisers and Castaway Club members alike.

The Wonder stays West:
This is where it starts to get interesting. The Wonder, who has been doing Mexican Riviera cruises out of Los Angeles, and will make its first trips to Alaska from Vancouver this summer, will stay put on the West Coast with a couple changes.

In the Summer of 2012 the Wonder will return to Alaska, but the cruises will depart from Seattle, Washington..

in September the Wonder will return to LA with 4 special West Coast itineraries that will include stops in San Fransisco, San Diego, and Ensenada, Mexico. Afterwards it will resume Mexican Riviera cruises.

The big news for the Wonder was the announcement of a special April 29th, 15 night Hawaii cruise! This was the dream itinerary for many Disney cruisers. A lot of people were reading the tea leaves for a couple years after the announcement of the Wonder moving to Los Angeles, and the construction of the Disney Vacation Club property in Hawaii, Aulani. This seems to be booking very well despite the high cost, and major time commitment. The prices start at $1800 per person, so just for fun I requested a quote for our family. For the five of us in a Category 4C stateroom (the lowest category that will fit all of us), the cost was over $14,000!

I have to say that I am somewhat interested in the West Coast cruises, and would love to do the Hawaii cruise, but the late April sail date just can't work for us. Hopefully this is a test run for DCL, and they may make it a more common itinerary in the future!

The Magic Leaves Europe:
The biggest news, and most anticipation came from the announcements of the new Magic itineraries for post April 2012. This was also my biggest disappointment (more on that later), but it is great news for some.

In May the Magic will begin sailing 8 night Bahama cruises and 5 night Canada cruises out of New York. In addition they will have 3 special 2 night "cruises to nowhere" or introductory, weekend cruises. The 8 night Bahamian cruises will include a stop at Port Canaveral to allow passengers a day at Walt Disney World. A 1 day Park Hopper ticket and transportation between the port and the park (about a one hour drive) will be included in your cruise fare. In addition the ship will stop in Nassau, The Bahamas, and there will also be a stop at Castaway Cay, Disney's private island (paradise) in the Bahamas.

The 5 night Canadian cruise will start in June of 2012, and will hit Halifax, Nova Scotia and St. John, New Brunswick.

After the Magic finishes its time in the north east it will reposition to Galveston, Texas. Starting on September 22 the Magic will be making 7 night sailings to the Western Caribbean, making stops in Grand Cayman, Costa Maya, Mexico and Cozumel, Mexico.

As I mentioned before the Magic announcement was a disappointment for me. I had thought (and heard) that Disney was planning on having an annual presence in Europe, and hearing that Disney would not be offering cruises in Europe in 2012 was surprising. My hope was that they would switch from Western Mediterranean cruises in 2010 and 2011, to Eastern Mediterranean in 2012. Since I will be living in Eastern Europe for the next two years, I was hoping to get to visit places like Venice, Turkey and Croatia my favorite way, on a Disney Cruise ship!

Besides my personal disappointment, I'm not sure that moving the Magic to New York and Texas makes the most sense. Sure, it extends your product to a new area, possibly opening it up to new people who would not travel to Florida to cruise, but I'm not exactly sure who that is. People from the New York and New Jersey area come down to Walt Disney World in droves. Many of them pair their Disney World vacation with a cruise. While not in as big of numbers, I'm sure the same can be said for Texans. Maybe Disney is trying to appeal to cruise fans, not just Disney fans who want to try a Disney Cruise... I think Lou Mongello on his WDW Radio podcast had the best opinion on it. He is of the opinion that these moves to new home ports are to re-invigorate interest in the older classic Disney ships.

The itineraries out of New York and Galveston are even more confusing to me. I have spent a lot of time on Disney message boards reading Disney cruiser wishes and opinions. there never seemed to be too much interest in Canadian cruises. I understand north easterners wanting their favorite cruise line to leave from their home, but Canada just doesn't stick with me. I actually like the 8 night Bahamas cruise itinerary, even though I have no interest in leaving out of New York for it. If I do another Bahamas cruise it will be on the Dream, to see the new ship. I would have liked to see a cruise to Bermuda from New York. That would have been something new. I do like the 2 night cruises. But that just isn't enough time to get a feel for a Disney Cruise.

The Galveston itineraries are especially hard to understand. Disney already has the Western Caribbean covered with the new Fantasy, and has been sailing there for years. Why have a second ship hitting the same ports from Galveston? Add to that the fact that they will not be visiting Castaway Cay, and I am stumped.

I think the big winner in these announcements is the Wonder. Overall I like the new itineraries on the west coast much better than anywhere else. I have always wanted to cruise to Alaska, and when I saw Disney was going there my interest became even higher. Leaving out of Seattle gives me a chance to visit some friends, and airfare is cheaper to Seattle compared to Vancouver. The special west coast cruises to San Francisco, San Diego and Ensenada sounds really cool to me. The Hawaii itinerary sounds like 15 nights of heaven on Earth! I could take or leave a Mexican Riviera itinerary, but with family out west, we are thinking of doing this cruise at some point.

What are your thoughts on the new itineraries? Are you excited or disappointed? are you planning on trying any of the new cruises?

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Exploring New Disney Frontiers

Sorry for the delay in a new post, but as some of you may know, we have recently made a little bit of a move... About a month and a half ago my wife and I packed up our 3 Dis Kids, all of our stuff, and moved to Bucharest, Romania! We will be here for the next two years while my wife works at the American Embassy.

With any move there are new things to learn and explore... Things like driving in a major foreign city, ordering unknown food in a foreign language, and feeling like your last minute on earth might be in this taxi! These are all fine and good, but this is a Disney blog! The real question is, how will this move affect my Disney vacation habit? Well there is good news, Disney is a world wide company, and there are opportunities to vacation with them all over Gad's Green Earth!

Since I am currently located in Europe, and this is MY blog, I'm going to write about what our family is doing to quench that constant thirst for "The Happiest Place on Earth." At this point in time we have several different Disney vacations in the works. Some are more concrete than others, but they have all been discussed, and are at different planning stages.

1) 7-Night Mediterranean Cruise aboard the Disney Magic: Summer 2010
Ever since we started sailing on Disney Cruise ships this has been my dream itinerary. We were very close to booking one last summer, but the dates just didn't work out. I'm not letting it slip through my fingers this year. My parents coming to Europe for the first time is the perfect excuse, and since inner Europe airfare is so cheap, a big part of the expense is lightened for us!

2) Disneyland Paris: Dates TBD
Last year we were Annual Pass holders at Walt Disney World for the first time. I fully plan on doing the same at Disneyland Paris sometime this year. DLP AP's are a great deal in comparison to WDW AP's, plus there are some really great benefits that go with them. Hotel discounts year round, extra magic hours, dining discounts, and discount tickets for guests are just some of the advantages! As I said before inner Europe airfare is pretty cheap, so we should be able to sneak away to the "City of Lights" for a few long weekends in the next 24 months. Heck, I might even let the kids see the Eiffel Tower!

3) Hong Kong Disneyland: ???
One of the best parts about being in the US Foreign Service is that you get to know and make friends with other people in the Foreign Service. In other words, you have friends all over the World! We are planning on visiting one of these friends in Hong Kong at some point in the next 2 years, and you can bet that we will have at least one day at Disney's most recently opened theme park!

So that's what we have planned Disney wise in the near (and not as near) future. Do any of you have plans to visit a Disney Park outside of the United States or your home country? If you could visit any Disney Theme Park in the world, which one would it be?