Archive for the ‘Resorts’ Category

Blake’s Picks – Top 6 Walt Disney World “Extras”

August 6, 2009

Image belongs to Blake’s family.



Disney goes the extra mile to immerse their guests in a fantasy kingdom where everything contributes to telling stories.

By Blake

Orignally posted August 6, 2009.

Guests visiting Walt Disney World feel like they’ve been transported to some imaginative community far from reality. Not only is this the place where dreams come true, but it’s an immersive experience like none other. Whether guests realize it or not, a variety of components all culminate together to make sure that everyone is in an authentic environment that meets the level of quality that Disney is used to giving.

Sid Cahuenga’s One-of-a-Kind at Disney’s Hollywood Studios is a great example of Disney’s attention to detail and theming. Image belongs to Blake’s family.

Some of these aspects are fairly simple, such as Cast Members being courteous to guests, while others require a far more intricate amount of detailing and planning out. Here are some of my favorite little perks that make Walt Disney World such a special place, and also help to relieve guests of their “real-world” worries and give them the chance to be immersed in the Disney enchantment.

6.) In-Room WDW Specialty Television Programs

Televisions in the hotel rooms at the Disney resorts have several unique channels that you won’t find back home on your regular TV set. Made especially for Disney resort TVs, a few programs play on a continuous loop and have one main purpose: to give guests a preview for what’s in store for them in the parks by getting them excited for some of the parks’ best attractions. Some channels may show highlights from each park, while another has a countdown of favorite attractions. Other channels have handy tips accentuated by Disney music, as well as weather reports. One channel that used to be featured but (unless something has changed recently) doesn’t play anymore was the classic cartoons channel, which included showings of the Disney cartoon shorts from the 1930’s, 1940’s, 1950’s, and 1960’s.

Since most guests are in their hotel rooms at the beginning and end of each day (sometimes at other points, too), these special TV programs allow a great preview of what’s to come (while you’re watching as you get ready to embark into the parks in the morning), and make as a pleasant look back at your fun day (as you’re unwinding in the evening).

5.) Wake-Up Calls

Another Disney resort perk that I look forward to experiencing in the mornings at WDW is a special wake-up call. If guests let a Cast Member know in the resort lobby, or call a special number on their room phone, they’ll get a wake-up call from a Disney character at the time of their choice. The wake-up call during my last visit had Stitch hollering “No sleeping!,” though the particular message may have changed since then. I advise putting the call on speaker phone once you answer it, so that the entire family will have a chance to listen in on this fun way to start the day.

4.) Transportation

An integral part of immersing guests in another world relies on getting them to and from their destinations in a way that they might not usually experience elsewhere. I’ll admit that riding a bus may be typical, but whisking off on a pleasant ferry ride just to travel a short distance isn’t your everyday carpool. And are there that many other places that you’ve traveled via a gliding monorail?

The monorail in particular is such a Disney way to travel, and even though I’ve never stayed at a resort along its route, I try to go out of my way to at least hop onboard for a quick trip every visit. Being elevated above regular traffic is an experience in itself, but a few other details, including its narration and announcements, make the monorail a memorable classic. Also notice that after each stop the monorail makes, Disney has made an effort to send those that are leaving WDW at that time with some special words of parting, making the monorail a terrific way to end a Disney vacation.

3.) Characters

Something I love about meeting Disney characters is that each of them has their own personality. They each put their own little spin on how they pose for a picture, and each character has a specific autograph style, complete with specialty font that they use to sign their name. Each character implements their own . . . well, character . . . into their meet & greet experiences. Goofy is a little bit clumsy, Stitch is usually very playful, and you can count on the princesses to be all smiles with plenty of patience.

Buzz Lightyear (left) and Woody from the Toy Story movies are some Disney’s many famous characters that guests can meet in the Disney parks. Image belongs to Blake’s family.

2.) Story

No matter where you go in Walt Disney World, almost everything you experience is part of some kind of story. However, unlike in movies and television shows, the Disney theme parks allow the guests to be a part of the stories Disney tells, immersing guests and letting them experience adventures as if they were plopped right into a movie.

This creative prop is a detail that helps tell the story of Jim Henson’s Muppet*Vision 3-D at Disney’s Hollywood Studios. The pre-show area of this attraction is full of goodies like this to look through. Image belongs to Blake’s family.

Nearly every Disney attraction or show tells a story. It can sometimes be a stretch to figure out what the plot of a particular ride or atmosphere may be, but most of the time something’s there for guests to decipher. For instance, The Barnstormer in Mickey’s Toontown Fair at the Magic Kingdom isn’t just a small roller coaster. It’s a “flight” being “piloted” by Goofy, who is his usual self and ends up crashing the coaster through his barn.

Typically attractions are grouped in themed “lands,” all pertaining to a particular subject. While each of a land’s attractions may have their own individual story, they also all come together to tell a bigger story involving that land’s purpose. For example, while The Barnstormer does indeed weave its own little backstory, the premise of Toontown (the land where The Barnstormer is located) is that the fair has come to the town where Mickey and Minnie live, and guests are invited to see some of the fair’s highlights.

Look around and smell the flowers – sometimes literally – while you’re in the Disney parks. Image belongs to Blake’s family.

1.) Cast Members

More than any particular “thing” or ride, Disney’s Cast Members truly make Walt Disney World the most magical place on Earth. They continually make an added effort and go the extra mile to make sure their guests are having a good time.

Sometimes the gestures of Cast Members are purely simple, but so genuinely Disney, such as addressing each guest as either a “princess” or “prince,” or wishing you to “Have a magical day!” It’s so simple, but its results are extraordinary. It makes guests feel special, and also reminds them that they really are in a Disney World.

Other Cast Member experiences may involve some of the Cast Members truly going out their way to make a guest’s day especially memorable. This could include tracking down a particular character, selecting a family to be the Grand Marshals of a parade, or something else that the Cast Member goes beyond their call of duty to pursue, just to give guests a magical experience. One particular instance of this happening to my family was when we didn’t answer our wake-up call (but still woke up), and a few minutes later a Cast Member was knocking on our door to make sure we hadn’t overslept. Fortunately we were already awake, but it was very kind for the Cast Member to check in on us.

Cast Members bid gets good-bye as they hold signs that read “See ya real soon!” at the end of a Magic Kingdom day. Image belongs to Blake’s family.

Pin trading is an excellent way to interact with Cast Members. Not only are pins fun to collect, but trading with Cast Members gives you the chance to talk to them, hear some of their stories, and makes you feel like you’re sharing a bit of magic of your own.

Whether their tasks are miniscule or humongous, the Disney Cast Members make every day an unforgettable experience in the Disney parks.

Walt Disney World really does seem to take its guests on a journey into a fanciful, inspired dream. Little perks like special television shows and character wake-up calls give guests something exciting to experience right in their hotel room, the unique transportation makes traveling just plain fun, the Disney characters give guests the chance to see their childhood favorites in-person with plenty of personality, guests are continually involved in an ongoing story told through the parks’ attractions, and Cast Members give a level of terrific customer service that makes Walt Disney World what it is – an enchanting realm where worries are forgotten, imaginations are set loose, and families are grown closer together.

Cinderella Castle at Magic Kingdom. Image belongs to Blake’s family.

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By Blake; posted August 6, 2009. All images belong to Blake’s family.

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Disney Detours – Budgeting Disney, Part Three: Where to Stay

July 13, 2009
Image © Disney.

When on a budget, Walt Disney World’s campground or value resorts are the way to go.

By Blake

Originally posted July 13, 2009.

Welcome to another installment of Budgeting Disney, a special look at planning a Walt Disney World vacation on a strict budget. I’ve already discussed looking for promotions and deciding when to visit, and now it’s time to focus on where to stay overnight during a WDW trip.

Whether you’re watching your money or not, there’s a huge decision to be made first thing when deciding your accommodations: on-site or off-site? Walt Disney World has over 20 on-property resort hotels to choose from, all sorted into several categories based on price and extra benefits. From most-expensive to least-expensive, the groups are deluxe resorts, moderate resorts, value resorts, and the campground. I’ve got news for you – if you’re on a budget, eliminate deluxe and moderate right away so that you don’t even have the option to splurge.

So now you’re down to three choices: a Walt Disney World value resort, the campground section of WDW’s Fort Wilderness, or an off-site venue. Personally, I’ve got to go with Disney. Due to the Disney quality service constantly being displayed and the convenient (and free) transportation to all over WDW, I’d say that it’s overall worth it to stay on Disney property.

Between the campground and the value resorts, the choice should be relatively easy based on whether or not you have the necessary equipment (either tent or RV) or not. If you do, the campground might be a pleasurable experience, as you’ll be in the excellent atmosphere of Fort Wilderness. You can check out details at AllEars.net, including differences between campsites and price ranges. Guests staying at Fort Wilderness will most likely want to bring their own groceries from home or purchase groceries once they get to WDW, as (unlike the value resorts), Fort Wilderness doesn’t have a food court (though it does have a buffet restaurant).

The campground area of Fort Wilderness (as opposed to the cabin area, which is priced as a moderate Disney resort) is ideal for guests with RV’s. Image © Disney.

If you don’t have a tent or camper, or if camping isn’t your thing, then the Disney value resorts will probably please you if you’re on a budget.

To be honest, the hotel rooms themselves at Disney value resorts are just regular rooms with no special perks. However, if you’re on a budget, it’s the way to go. Value resorts are especially ideal for those that will be spending a lot of time in the parks, as opposed to those that would rather relax all day. There aren’t a lot of “extras,” but the basics are all essentially covered.

Instead of full-service restaurants, each value resort has a food court that includes several counter-service options featuring a variety of choices. Additionally, guests can also order pizza to be delivered to their room (a great bargain for large families).

Most Disney resorts (value or otherwise, though there are a few exceptions) also implement refillable mugs, another great way to save money. Guests that purchase a refillable mug get free refills at their resort’s food court throughout the duration of their stay. Guests can only refill their mug at the resort they are staying at, and the mug can only be used for that one particular vacation.

All of the value resorts have at least two pools, each with a specific theme. There are no waterslides, though several of the pools have some unique fun features to them. Additionally, each value resort has an arcade, a gift shop, and an area in the lobby to view Disney programs on a TV.

Walt Disney World has four value resorts: All-Star Sports, All-Star Music, All-Star Movies, and Pop Century. Essentially, the room layout is the same in all four resorts and the atmosphere has the same format, as well. Since we’re budgeting, I advise booking a standard room at the lowest price possible, in this case being about $82*. The “view” from the room will most likely either be a parking lot or some bushes, but since no rooms at any of the value resorts have actual porches, you won’t be sitting out enjoying the view no matter what room you’re in. However, all of the resorts are relatively easy to navigate, so if guests desire to see something particular, a short walk is all that it will take to get there.

Disney’s All-Star Sports depicts scenes like gigantic football helmets. Image © Disney.

Each of the resorts’ rooms are housed in several separate buildings, each building surrounded by huge atmospheric characters and objects. At All-Star Sports, this includes giant sports equipment. At All-Star Music, each area is themed to a different music style, with large instruments adorning the atmosphere. At All-Star Movies, areas are themed to different Disney films, with huge versions of Disney characters found outside rooms. Lastly, Pop Century is all about the second half of the 20th century, with areas themed to each decade.

Disney’s All-Star Movies features atmosphere based on Disney movies, including 101 Dalmatians, shown here. Image © Disney.

The layout of the resorts are almost the same, the food courts have mostly the same food, and the rooms are identical at all four value resorts, so ultimately the choice comes down to your preference of theming. Pop Century does have a slight edge over the other three, though. Its grounds are slightly more expansive, it has a lovely lake at the back of the resort that makes for a great view, and it has several Disney sights that guests can view from a distance (including Wide World of Sports, The Twilight Zone Tower of Terror, the Swan and Dolphin, and Spaceship Earth). AllEars.net has a great photo gallery of each of the four value resorts, making it simple to go through and choose one that your family likes the best. (Links: All-Star Sports photos, All-Star Music photos, All-Star Movies photos, and Pop Century photos.)

Disney’s Pop Century Resort is themed to five individual decades of the 20th century, including the 50’s, shown here through Tramp from Lady and the Tramp and some disco dancers. Image © Disney.

The limit at value resorts of amount of guests per room is four people, so families larger than that have another decision to make. They can either book two adjoining rooms, which feature a door between both rooms providing access to the other. Or, they can book a family suite, which right now is only available at All-Star Music. If guests choose the adjoining rooms and book the lowest-priced rooms possible at about $82* per night each, then the total comes out to be about $164* per night. The family suites cost about $184* per night, making the adjoining rooms a better value. You can view the photos at AllEars.net to compare the look of the family suites to those of regular rooms (you’ll have to scroll down a little).

Country music is one of the music styles represented at Disney’s All-Star Music Resort. Image © Disney.

If guests are on a budget but still want to be immersed in Disney enchantment throughout their Walt Disney World vacation, the Fort Wilderness campground sites or the Disney value resorts are ideal. The campground guests might have to be a little more independent for food, but for those with campers, it’s ideal. The value resorts of All-Star Sports, All-Star Music, All-Star Movies, and Pop Century are all great choices, and guests can choose which resort to stay at based on personal interests or hobbies. The value resorts don’t include many extra bonuses, though they’re ideal for those that will be hitting the parks often, making them a great . . . well . . . value.

*Prices are approximate and get raised during peak seasons.

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By Blake; posted July 13, 2009. All images © Disney.