We made it home from our delayed flight. Apparently, the weather here in Indy wasn't good at the time our Southwest flight needed to leave for Orlando to pick us up. We didn't get back until nearly 12:45AM.
Sadly our trip has come to an end, but we've got some great memories. Fortunately, another trip isn't too far off so we can start our planning. As most of you know it helps to start planning your next trip to get over the depression of leaving your previous trip no matter how far away it is.
Here are some of my thoughts from our trip.
Animal Kingdom Lodge
Call me bias, but I love this resort. It is so unique. You cannot get this resort experience anywhere else in the world. My only complaints about this resort are the rooms are somewhat small, but we typically don't spend much time in them. We are usually at the parks or out using the resort amenities. I also wish there were more paths and trails to walk along. The dining at the resort is above average with an upscale restaurant, buffet casual restaurant and a counter restaurant; a nice variety for everyone. The lounge/bar inside the resort provides a nice relaxing retreat after a long day in the parks. The pool area is very large and the pool bar is a nice bonus. I think I could sit in the lobby for hours just relaxing and enjoying the surroundings. Some people will say this resort is remote and away from everything, but I tend to disagree. The Animal Kingdom park is right around the corner. In addition, this resort needs to seem remote in order to enhance its savanna theming. Could you imagine AKL near the Magic Kingdom or Downtown Disney.. :shock: Disney did a great job with this resort and our family loves it!
Old Key West
This was the first DVC resort built. I was concerned the resort would show its age, but quite honestly it is well maintained. Everything looks fresh and new both interior and exterior. The resort is large much like Saratoga Springs in size, but we do enjoy the resort village atmosphere. The resort offers counter service dining with outdoor seating and a small bar/lounge with limited seating as well. The table service restaurant is a nice, relaxing experience with above average food and some nice people who run it. Actually, eveyone at the resort went out of their way to be friendly. They made you feel special! I also love the fact the resort is surrounded by LBV golf course. It is very picturesque and when we go there again I will be requesting a golf course view. The resort main pool is a bit small, but it is made up in the nice size and theming of the pools in the various sections of the resort like the Turtle Pond pool area. The rooms are a huge plus to this resort. They are so large and expansive. Its nice to have space on a vacation and this resort does not disappoint. We thuroughly enjoyed our time here.
I must say not having to haul your luggage around was a nice feature of Magical Express. We didn't see our luggage until we got to our room at the Animal Kingdom. On our return trip we needed to keep our luggage with us since Southwest does not participate in the Magical Express resort check-in service. You can still get your boarding passes and use the Magical Express busses, but you can't check your luggage with Magical Express. I hope Southwest becomes a member of this service soon since we use them quite often. One of my dislikes of the Magical Expess service was the speed of the busses. It seemed like we were moving at a snails pace. It normally takes us 20 minutes by rental car from the airport to WDW, but the ME busses took 40 minutes. Not a huge deal, but when you are anxious to get there an extra 20 minutes seems like an eternity
. I'd do ME again for the shear convenience of the service and cost savings of not having a rental car and purchasing gas. I wonder how long this service is going to be free?
Resort & Theme Park Transportation
During our entire week we did not encounter a bus taking longer than 20 minutes to arrive. I was worried prior to our trip because Old Key West is a large resort which makes multiple stops along the way at each section of the resort. Call us lucky, but there were times when the bus was waiting for us.
The busses were clean; however, we did have 2 issues of busses needing to stop because something didn't seem right with brakes, or the bus all of sudden was moving very, very slow and the driver had to stop and restart the bus. I think Disney's fleet of busses is beginning to show its age. If you think about it they run constantly and I can understand why there would be some mechanical problems. Some of the bus drivers were very friendly, while others seemed like they were "animatronic" and didn't say anything. We loved the boat ride from Old Key West to Saratoga Springs and Downtown Disney along the Sassagoula River. It was peacful and relaxing. I think it would be fun just to take the ride without getting off the boat. The boats usually would arrive every 20 minutes at Old Key West. The monorail seemed to run without problem. Again, we never waited long for a monorail to show up. I should also mention all of the transportation we took was very clean. We did not encounter any trash or smells in the monorail trains, busses or boats. All in all our transportation experiences were positive.
The Dining Plan
This was the first time we ever used the Disney Dining Plan. My suspicians about the plan were right. It's simply too much food. We had a hard time using all of our credits. We found ourselves simply eating to avoid losing credits (force feeding ourselves). I know the plan is designed to save you money, and it did in theory; however, the plan forces you to eat when you wouldn't normally eat. For example, we ate 7 table service meals. On one of our normal trips we would probably only eat 4 table service meals. So, I'm basically paying for 3 more table service meals I wouldn't normally eat and pay for. So, in reality the plan costs me more money. In addition, since you now have to pay for the tip out of pocket the cost of the dining plan has increased. tipping for 7 table service meals in a week is not cheap; especially for a $100 bill. The plan isn't as convenient as you would think. Since you need to use credits you find yourself stopping to eat in order to try and pace yourself of food intake. "Hey! Has anyone seen my feed bag?"
I don't think we'll be doing the dining plan again. I wanted to try it to see what it was like. We'll be sticking with our Disney Dining Experience card in the future.
Table Service Dining
The dining plan did allow us to try some restaurants we would not have normally tried. Let me say I believe our table service dining experiences varied based on the chefs who cooked our food. I also believe to some extent certain restaurants get better quality food; which would enhance your dining experience at that restaurant. Here is how I rated our table service restaurant experiences with food and service.
1. Kona Cafe - Excellent food and dessert choices. We'll be going back soon!
2. Chef Mickeys - The prime rib was the best I've ever had.
3. Ohana - Great service. A great breakfast starting your day off right.
4. Olivia's - The food was good, but the service was even better.
5. Tusker House - Average service with slightly above average food.
6. Sci-Fi Dine In - A unique restaurant with average food and average service
7. Tutto Italia - Not a bad experience, but for the price it should be better. A good dining plan restaurant.
Let me say right off the bat the cost of dining at a counter service restaurant at Disney World has increased significantly. I can recall about 5 years ago the cost of the 3 of us dining at a counter service restaurant was a little over $20. Most of our meals this trip cost over $35 :shock:. For example, our bill was $36 at Restuaranasaurus yesterday for mostly McDonald's branded food. Again, the dining plan did save us money; however, I would have never had 7 counter service meals without the dining plan. So, in reality, it cost us more money. Look, I understand everything goes up in price, but at the rate Disney is raising their prices being able to afford a trip to Disney World will almost be impossible for the average family. Remember when going to a professional sporting event used to be somewhat affordable....Today? Forget about it! I'm seeing this same, alarming trend at Disney parks; ticket prices included! The counter service food is not bad, but nothing exceptional.
Here's how I rate our counter service meals.
1. Backlot Express - Quick line during ordering process and surprisingly good food. A nice place to eat.
2. Casey's Corner - Great location, Still good food despite the bun fiasco.
3. ABC Commisary - Nice choices, very large seating area above average food.
4. Tangerine Cafe - Very good choices and decent food. Service was a bit unorganized.
5. Good's to Go @ Old Key West - Limited seating, decent food, slow service.
6. Restaurantasaurus - Overpriced McDonalds food, but nice fixings bar.
7. Yak & Yeti Counter Service - Pretty disappointing, the seating area was terribly unorganized, the chinese boxed food was not very good. Pass this place up; especially in the summer months.
All 4 of the theme parks look to be in great shape. I didn't see much evidence of wear and tear. Whoever does the horticulture (sp) at Disney World does a great job. You would expect EPCOT to look beautiful with the Flower & Garden festival, but the other 3 parks' landscaping were very well done too. The only word I can use to describe the parks is beautiful. I should also mention the lines although they were long were not longer than I thought for Spring Break. It seemed to me the parks were not as busy as I would have expected for this time of year. However, waiting in line for 90 minutes to ride Test Track doesn't make sense to me, but guests will do it. I understand this is a busy time of year, but its hard to enjoy a theme park in the middle of the afternoon when the lines are out the door. Unforuntately, fastpass is your only option if you were lucky enough to get one. As long as Disney continues to build new attractions it should help, but I wish they would build them a little quicker to help thin the wait times a bit. A 5th theme park? It's needed in my opinion, but Bob Iger has already said "no new theme parks in the forseeable future." I tend to believe him. In the meantime we'll have to do with the new attractions at the existing parks like Toy Story Mania.
Year of a Million Dreams
This is a great promotion and passing along a little joy and happiness to a family is terrific. But, there are a few things I need to say about it. I think the prize give-a-way portion of the promotion has some transitional issues. Here's what I mean. I've seen issues with dream squad cast members handing out or awarding prizes to guests in the presence of several other guests. We saw the dream squad quite a bit this trip. When we walked out of the Seas aquarium the dream squad was there handing out dream fastpasses. We walked out of the aquarium, then the dream squad cast member says we don't have anymore passes to hand out. But, wait a minute! we were already here. Where's our passes? "Sorry we are all out". The dream squad seems to hang around longer than they should after fiinishing handing out prizes. In the case of Pirates of the Caribbean we saw a major prize get awarded...Again there were several people huddling around the dream squad watching what was going on. People were trying to ask questions to the dream squad while they were introducing themselves to the family who won. I sort of think they should have taken them backstage as soon as possible instead of hanging around with the family and doing introductions right there at the unloading dock of Pirates. Who knows it could get a bit dangerous. This is not a case of "sour grapes", but just something more we noticed.
We had a wonderful time as you'd expect. For us what makes Disney World special besides just being there is getting to experience some different and unique elements of what Disney World has to offer. The dining plan and the magical express experiences were different and enlightening at the same time. Everything looked beautiful at the parks and resorts. The weather was rainy at times, but the temps were picture perfect all week; not too hot and not too cool. Our DVC membership is priceless. Without it we would be visiting the parks and resorts much less than we do today. The DVC resorts are well maintained. If you are a family who loves to vacation to the Disney parks you really need to look into this program. The cast members at Disney seem to be going out of there way to be friendly. I spoke with a number of Cast Members on this trip who were really kind and enjoyed just talking in general. Disney makes everything as convenient as possible; which is part of the reason I enjoy returning over and over. There is so much to do in such a small proximatey. Plus, they transport you whenever you are ready to go. Its quite a nice system Disney World has in place to accommodate guests. I'm sure the cost of all of this convenience is built into the price of the vacation, but it is nice to have it.
Thanks for all of the kind comments during this report. It was nice conversing with all of you as we experienced our trip. I hope it was as fun for you as it was for us to bring it to you.
July 14th - July 22nd
Wilderness Lodge Villas