Walt Disney World… The Resort Experience

Over the past two months, we’ve looked at some of the wonderful off-season events and great dining options that will enhance your Walt Disney World Vacation. Now let’s wrap up your perfect vacation by reviewing the Disney Resorts.

If you’ve gotten to this point and you’ve decided to travel for the Epcot International Food & Wine Festival, and you’ve picked out a couple of great restaurants that you’d like to try, and you’re thinking you’ll tie it all up with a stay at the Sleep Cheap Motor Lodge that’s “five minutes from Walt Disney World”, think again! When you take into account that Walt Disney World covers 47 square miles (or roughly the same size as the city of San Francisco), “five minutes away” might as well be 50 miles.

Staying at a Walt Disney World Resort hotel lets you envelop yourself in the magic for the duration of your vacation. There are also other great benefits of staying on-site:

  • Most importantly, you don’t have to deal with all the traffic! Their transportation system is quick and efficient, never leaves you stranded and it’s free.
  • One of the Disney theme parks opens an hour early to resort guests each day.
  • You can truly leave the outside world behind from the time you arrive until the time you depart, and isn’t that part of what you’re looking to do when you go on vacation?

Disney Resorts may be classified into several different groups, so there really is something to fit every travelers taste and budget. Here are some of my favorites:

  • Disney’s Pop Century Resort – this is Disney’s version of the Sleep Cheap Motor Lodge and is classified as one of their “Value Resorts”. It is truly massive in size and rooms are compact, but it has several themed pools and a gigantic food court. Best of all, nightly rates here start at roughly $79 per night and it’s less than a year old.
  • Disney’s Port Orleans Resort – one of Disney’s “Moderate Resorts”, Port Orleans is split into two sections; one reminiscent of New Orleans’ French Quarter and the other evoking the feel of the old south. Pools at the moderate resorts have water slides and dining options include a full-service restaurant in addition to a food court.  Transportation picks up at locations throughout the resort.
  • Disney’s Animal Kingdom Lodge – this is a Disney “Deluxe Resort”. For those of you who have always dreamed of going on safari in Africa, but the thought of an 18 hour flight doesn’t thrill you, then Disney’s Animal Kingdom Lodge is the place for you. As soon as you turn onto the entrance road, you leave Florida behind and arrive in Africa. I highly recommend the Savannah View rooms. They are worth every penny. This resort also has a spa, zero entry pool with water slide, fabulous dining with an African twist, cocktail lounge and concierge level accommodations.
  • Disney’s Polynesian Resort – one of the original resorts at Walt Disney World, this “Deluxe Resort” has the highest number of repeat guests. Tropical flowers, waterfalls and soft Hawaiian music relax you almost instantly. Great dining options abound, including an authentic Polynesian revue. Go boating on the lake or immerse yourself in the tropical pool and watch the fireworks explode over Cinderella’s Castle. It doesn’t get much better than this.
  • Disney’s Grand Floridian Beach Resort & Spa – the flagship of the Disney Resort, it is the ultimate in luxury. From gourmet dining to parasailing, high tea and beach cabanas, this resort has it all. It is also one of just three resorts that are connected via monorail train to the Magic Kingdom.

Off Season Events

Now, let’s take a look at the off-season events that make this an attractive destination either with or without the kids. If you’ve never considered visiting Walt Disney World without children, or if you thought there would be nothing for you to do if you don’t have kids, think again. There is enough here to rival any resort, and many of these events are free as long as you have park tickets.

  • Epcot International Flower and Garden Festival – runs from mid-April to early June.  The ultimate event for gardening fans, the festival is co-sponsored by HGTV. From floral displays to expert lectures, there’s something to interest anyone with a green thumb. This event is free with Epcot admission.
  • Star Wars Weekends – runs Fridays, Saturdays & Sundays from mid-May to mid-June. You can come face to face with your favorite Star Wars heroes and villains, test your knowledge of Star Wars’ trivia and meet celebrity actors from the movies. Top it off with the Legends of the Force Celebrity Motorcade, and you’ve got a recipe for a great intergalactic experience at Disney MGM Studios. This event is free with park admission.
  • Night of Joy – this increasingly popular event has been expanded to three nights this year and will be held September 9th, 10th, and 11th. It’s a night filled with contemporary Christian music at the Magic Kingdom. This year’s performers include Michael W. Smith, Stephen Curtis Champan, and many others. Advance tickets are recommended as this event sells out every year.
  • Epcot International Food and Wine Festival – has been expanded this year to run from October 1st through November 14th. Now in its ninth year, the festival offers delectable food and wine samplings. More than 100 wineries offer tastings, and savory cuisine is featured from more than 20 regions of the world at international marketplaces. Cooking demonstrations are abundant and many are free with your Epcot admission.
  • Mickey’s Not-So-Scary Halloween Party – takes place at the Magic Kingdom on select nights during the month of October. The kids can dress in costume and trick-or-treat in a safe environment. Live entertainment can be found throughout the park as well as a special Halloween Parade followed by Halloween Fireworks. A separate ticket is required for this event and weekend dates sell out months in advance.
  • Holidays Around the World – runs this year from November 26th through December 30th and takes place all around the World Showcase promenade at Epcot. Holiday traditions and customs from around the world are showcased throughout the month-long celebration. A special tree-lighting with the Disney characters takes place nightly. The nightly Candlelight Processional is an inspiring musical retelling of the Christmas Story along with a huge choir and live orchestra (separate ticket is needed for Candlelight Processional). This event is free with Epcot admission.
  • Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party – on select evenings beginning just after Thanksgiving and running until just before Christmas you have the opportunity to join Mickey and the gang at the Magic Kingdom for an evening filled with holiday treats, the Very Merry Christmas Parade, and special Holiday fireworks. In true Disney fashion, they even make it snow on Main Street USA. A separate ticket is required for this event and weekend nights sell out months in advance.

This is but a sampling of some of the great events that Walt Disney World has to offer. I didn’t have space to tell you about the Disney Marathon, the Walt Disney World Golf Classic, the Festival of the Masters, etc., etc. Perhaps we’ll get to those another time.

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