Mar 092016
 

By Ann Dunnington

 

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In November, my husband, his parents, and I went on a short vacation to the Walt Disney World Resort. My mother-in-law had a conference at one of the near “Good Neighbor” hotels near Disney Springs, so who were we to resist going along, too?? Twist my arm…

When looking for lodging for the 4 of us, there were a few hotels we were considering. We went back and forth between getting two hotel rooms on Disney property, two hotel rooms at the conference center (technically off Disney property, but Disney Springs was across the street), renting two Disney Vacation Club (DVC) Studio Villas, or renting a 2-Bedroom DVC Villa. Weighing the options back and forth and comparing pricing, it made the most sense for us to rent a 2-Bedroom DVC villa. Since we were booking kind of “late” by point rental standards, we had three location options that were available on our dates- Animal Kingdom Villas, Saratoga Springs, or Old Key West.

Once the person we were renting DVC points from gave us the three location possibilities mentioned above, it was a no-brainer for me to go with Old Key West. Here’s why:

  • The conference my mother-in-law was attending was near Disney Springs. This ruled out the Animal Kingdom Villas from strictly a location standpoint. We love ourselves some safari view-age, but it just wasn’t as important this trip.
  • Old Key West was the first DVC property at Walt Disney World. Since this was the first DVC property (built in 1991), the rooms were constructed with more space than the other DVC properties. With 4 of us being in one condo (and 2 of us being rather tall people), we knew that the extra space would be welcome.
  • Old Key West was less money for more space, and they just did an update on the rooms not too long ago, and they look beautiful!

Once we arrived at Old Key West, we were surprised at how close it was to the front of Epcot! A hop, skip and a jump, and you’re there. Not to mention being connected via a waterway to Downtown Disney… it’s a fabulous location. The check-in/pool/restaurants/gift shop are all near the front of the resort, and the bus transportation can take you up there if you don’t want to walk. THAT is super convenient, especially if your room is in the back of the resort. The whole feel of the resort is very relaxed and home-like. When you’re there, you’re ON vacation.

You have three lodging options at Old Key West – Studio Villa, 1 Bedroom Villa, and 2 Bedroom Villa. Some of the buildings are two stories, others are three, and most buildings have both stairs and elevators (but not all- so if you have a mobility issue with stairs like our party had, request a ground floor room). Each group of buildings has its own parking lot, so if you rent a car, you’ll be able to park right outside your room. This alone was a FABULOUS perk that the other DVC resorts do not offer.

Our 2 Bedroom Villa was enormous. It offered two bedrooms, two bathrooms, a full size washer and dryer (bigger than I have at home!), a full kitchen, sitting area, eating area, and porch. We never once felt in each other’s space, and had all the amenities and comforts of home! If we ran out of tissues or toilet paper, the front desk sent someone over right away to help us re-stock. We had trash and towel service on day 4, and that was truly all of the housekeeping we needed.

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The kitchen was large enough for us to comfortably cook 3 meals a day, with a full size refrigerator, stove, microwave, double sink, dishwasher, and all the pots, pans, and utensils we could need. It also had dish soap, a sponge, towel, and dishwasher detergent as well.

The resort itself, as all Disney resorts are, was very well maintained, manicured, and themed. The villas were in the décor style of the Florida Keys with lots of pastel colors and charm (minus the plethora of cats…ha!). The guests at the resort bus stops were all very friendly and chatty, like old friends. If you’re staying at a DVC property, you’re most likely a Disney fanatic that knows the ins and outs of everything at Walt Disney World, so it’s very easy to make conversation and comradery. We shared what we had been doing all week, favorite rides and experiences, and chatted about Disney Vacation Club. DVC owners love to talk Disney!!

So overall, if I were to give Old Key West a rating of 1-10, 1 being the worst resort I have ever stayed at and 10 being the best, I would give it a 9.   Because I like Epcot and the Boardwalk area so much, that keeps this resort from getting a full 10. But, if I were coming down to Walt Disney World with a group again and the Boardwalk wasn’t available, I would have no hesitation whatsoever staying at Old Key West, and would totally recommend giving it a try! We had a fantastic stay and would love to go back whenever we get the chance!

Jan 132016
 

By Roye Ann Morris

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On September 21, 2015, my husband and I had been married 30 years. We wanted a family celebration in honor of this occasion, and chose our favorite family place, Disney World, as the location for the party. On October 9, after several months of planning, coordinating schedules, and a long drive to Orlando, it was finally time for our 30th anniversary celebration at Disney World! To say that I was excited would be a huge understatement. But let me back up to the day before….

My husband and I and our youngest son arrived at The Dolphin for check-in before the rest of our crew. Even though we arrived in the early afternoon, our rooms were ready and waiting! We had connecting rooms on the 12th floor, overlooking the walkway to The Swan and the Friendship Boats dock. It was a beautiful view; watching the boats come and go, seeing the huge fountains each morning and the palm trees lit up every night! We could not have asked for a better location. We were just a few steps from the elevator, but I never heard any noise from them or other guests, and it was wonderful each time we came back to have only a short walk to our rooms.

The Dolphin provided a rollaway bed for us, as we had five in our room, and a full-sized crib for our granddaughter. Although I had read that some people missed the Disney atmosphere in The Dolphin, every employee we met had a smile and a can-do attitude, which helped make our trip even more special from the minute we arrived.

After a great dinner at Picabu, one of the restaurants in the hotel, and collecting the rest of the family from the airport, we tried to get a few hours of sleep before the big day.

The alarm went off bright and early to get us up and going. We were meeting the photographer at the Boardwalk at 9:30 for pictures before the brunch started. I was a little worried about getting everyone – 10 of us! – ready in time, but with two bathrooms and two separate vanity areas, we had no problem at all! Because of the construction going on around the hotel, we used valet parking, something we rarely do. It was really a treat to stand inside the hotel and have our cars delivered to us! Off to the Boardwalk!

At the BoardWalk entrance, we told the attendant that we were there for the Morris Brunch, and he directed us where to park. We were supposed to meet our Disney event planner and our photographer in the BoardWalk lobby, and here we ran into the first, and really the only major problem we encountered. No one was there to meet us, and we spent almost half an hour waiting and wondering what was going on. We weren’t really sure how to get to The Attic, where our brunch was to take place, and weren’t sure who to ask! My husband asked for help at the Concierge Desk, and they were able to direct us to the right place. The photographer was waiting for us in The Attic, instead of the lobby, because somewhere along the way, our request for family portraits to be taken around the Boardwalk had gotten lost. He was very apologetic about the mix-up, and brought all his equipment to the lobby to start taking pictures. And it’s quite a hike between The Attic and the lobby, so that was no small task!

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It was a beautiful day, so after taking some pictures around the beautiful fireplace and on the porch of the hotel, the photographer took us outside and got some great shots around the lake and some really cute ones around the photo booths on the Boardwalk. He was wonderful to work with, and very patient with all our requests. We have some wonderful pictures to remember the day by!

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After all that walking, we were all ready for brunch. We felt very special when we saw the sign outside The Attic announcing our event! It is a cozy, very cute space, with old-fashioned toys, pictures, and other things you would find in your grandmother’s attic decorating the room. I wanted to take pictures of everything, and found out when we looked at the Disney photographer’s pictures later that he had done exactly that! After another family picture on the porch overlooking the Boardwalk and the lake, we were served with mimosas and juice, then we helped ourselves to the buffet. My favorite part of the buffet table (other than the Tonga Toast!) was the Mickey and Minnie figures, holding little miniature ticket books from the first days of Disney World! And the food was amazing; everything we had asked for and more than we could begin to eat! We started some old family movies that my husband had converted to DVD, and ate and enjoyed ourselves for the rest of the morning. My husband and I even cut our cake and fed bites to each other just like on our wedding day!

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Our granddaughter had turned one year old the day before, and the cast member in charge of the catering provided a tablecloth to put her and her birthday cake on so that she could dig in without making a mess. Well, it was a little bit of a mess, but at least it was easy to clean up!

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There was very little that wasn’t wonderful about our brunch, but here are just a few things to remember if you plan an event with Disney. If you do schedule a Disney photographer, make it clear that you want family portraits if you plan to have group pictures made. Our photographer was scheduled as an ‘event photographer’, which meant that he did not have the extra lights and screens with him to make portraits. He was absolutely wonderful and did a great job, but you can definitely tell that the group shots were not well-lit. Talk extensively with your event planner to make sure that all your requests are understood and written on your agreement.

And you can’t take it with you! The only food that you are allowed to box up and take is any specialty cake you may order from the Disney bakeries. The cast members provided several boxes for our cakes and we had them for dessert the rest of the week! If you have any alcoholic beverages provided, make sure every member of your group has a valid ID with them; Disney makes it clear that they will check!

From beginning to end, our celebration was everything we had dreamed of as we were planning it. The cast members were all lovely, and The Attic was the perfect size and place for our group. We never felt rushed, and there was plenty of space to spread out and for the baby to crawl around. There was even an over-stuffed couch where I’m pretty sure one of the boys took a cat-nap! The view from the porch of The Attic was really magical for us, because it looked out over all the places where we had spent so much time both as a couple and as a family. It was hard to have it end, but we have some great memories and more than a few great pictures of our amazing day. And who knows; maybe we’ll do it all again when we celebrate 40 years!

Dec 302015
 

By Rikki Niblett

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2015 was a crazy busy year for Walt Disney World, however 2016 looks like it’s shaping up to be even more exciting. There are a lot of great things that those of you planning trips for the new year should look forward to that will make your vacation even more eventful. Here are my Top 5 things you should expect to see at Walt Disney World in 2016.

  • Construction at Disney’s Hollywood Studios: Ok, this first one is going to be more of a warning than anything else. One would expect 2016 will be the year of the construction wall at Disney’s Hollywood Studios. A good chunk of the park will be closed off to Guests as Disney prepares for Star Wars Land. (And we still don’t 100% know what’s going and what’s staying…we could still lose a few more attractions along the way.) So, be prepared for lots of walls and long waits for attractions that are there. As a silver lining, the new Star Wars stuff is pretty cool and is a good diversion to enjoy while visiting the park.
  • Soarin Around The World:  Announced at this year’s D23, Soarin Around the World will take guests on a journey to far-flung lands, where they will fly above some of the world’s most unique landscapes and man-made wonders, including the Great Wall of China and Monument Valley. No time table has been announced on the official opening date of this attraction, but it is expected to be open by the summer.
  • Frozen Ever After: For those who love Frozen, this attraction is for you! The attraction which takes place in the former Maelstrom building, will take guests through the world of Frozen, past Troll Valley and Grandpappy Troll, then past Olaf singing and ice skating, past Anna, Kristoff, and Sven, and yes, even through the infamous “Let It Go” scene with Elsa. Guests will also visit Marshmallow and the Snowgies too! This attraction is slated to use the latest AudioAnamtronic technology, and it will be interesting to see it when it’s finished. (Which is rumored to be late spring/early summer.)

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  • Disney Springs: The multi-year expansion is almost done! In 2015, we saw the opening of quite a few new restaurants, including The BOATHOUSE, Jock Lindsey’s Hangar Bar, and Morimoto Asia. We also saw the inclusion of many new shops in The Landing. In 2016, the remaining restaurants and shops will open, including The Edison, Frontera Fresco, Homecoming: Florida Kitchen and Southern Shine, The NBA Experience, Lily Pulitzer, Tommy Bahama, UGG, PANDORA, Sprinkles Cupcakes and more! There will be plenty of great new options to choose from. Disney Springs really has seen a renascence and I look forward to the future enhancements.
  • Rivers of Light: This upcoming Disney’s Animal Kingdom nighttime spectacular is going to be a sight to be seen. The show, which will take place on the Discovery River in between Discovery Island and Expedition Everest, will feature a pair of mystic hosts who have come to the river and are bringing with them the gift of light. During the show, the hosts will journey from the shores to lantern vessels and will present dances of water and light to summon animal spirits. It seems like it will be an experience like no other and it is expected to debut in the spring of 2016.

See! There’s a ton going on a Walt Disney World in 2016! Now, of course, this is just a start of what guests can expect for 2016 and I’m sure as the year goes by, we’ll get a ton of new updates on other great attractions, shops, and restaurants we’ll also be able to experience in the parks and resorts. What upcoming attraction are you most looking forward to?

Dec 162015
 

By Tim Rogers

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Main Street U.S.A. Just saying the name brings up countless memories and emotions for Disney fans. From the Train Station to the Emporium, to that view of the castle, Main Street is where the idea of Walt Disney World comes for many visitors.

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However, many of us also just treat Main Street as a means to an end and don’t spend much time on Main Street. We’re just trying to quickly get from one place to the next, or watching a major production that nearly shuts the whole area down.

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But simply experiencing Main Street U.S.A as either a conduit to the other lands or a fireworks viewing location is missing out on a lot of the magic of this part of the Magic Kingdom. So my advice to you is to slow down and enjoy the street for what it is, and here are just a few examples.

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First, the trolley show – every morning some of the citizens of Main Street travel up and down the street singing and dancing and overall having a good time. Even if you have seen this show before, they switch it up for the seasons, so you might see a whole new show! As with any of these performances, check out your Times Guide for specific show times.

As an aside, the citizens of Main Street as a whole come out and mingle several times during the day, so keep an eye out to get your picture with the Mayor!

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Next up, the Pianist at Casey’s Corner. Casey’s is a beloved stop for many a guest wanting a hot dog or some Cracker Jacks, but those eating outside or just stopping by can get another treat (and one lower in calories at that) with the pianist.

The pianists play occasionally throughout the day, but will cycle through arrangements of Disney favorites, old standards, and more. As you might notice, they also have a mirror and are quick to pick out celebration buttons. (On two separate trips me and/or my wife got special songs for our anniversary and her birthday).

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As you may have gathered, I am a sucker for live music, and Disney World is happy to oblige. Having grown up in marching band (and still missing the Future World Brass) I love the Main Street Philharmonic. In fact, on two recent trips we ended up having our first Magic Kingdom day on one of their days off, so I had to get back on another day just so I wouldn’t miss them.

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Being full of great musicians (which they are) is one thing, but in watching them you get the overwhelming feeling that they are having a great time being there, and that makes the show even better. Depending on the season, they generally play a mix of old marches, big band hits, and Disney classics. They also usually exit to, of course, the Mickey Mouse Club March.

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When people think about entertainment on Main Street, probably the most common group they think of is the Dapper Dans. The Dans are a barbershop quartet that has been serenaded guests on Main Street of the Magic Kingdom since 1971. They combine horrible puns with wonderful harmonies to the delight of all. They also use a set of organ chimes on several pieces, and often end with a Disney medley that includes a reenactment of “It’s a Small World.”

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Before I close, a little bit of advice if you want to get the most out of the Main Street musicians. In the afternoon, watch the Festival of Fantasy parade from somewhere on Main Street (if you are skeptical about afternoon parades at Disney World, please give this one a chance). The parade will be over usually around 3:30. On normal days, the last Dapper Dan show is around 3:35 and the last Main Street Philharmonic performance is at 3:55. With that, you could see the parade and both of those groups without having to move much or have much downtime.

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The last specific thing I want to mention is the daily Flag Retreat ceremony. Each day at 5pm the Main Street operations team, the Dapper Dans, and the Main Street Philharmonic gather for a ceremony both lowering the American Flag and recognizing a veteran. It is a great ceremony and is definitely worth the effort to make it.

Even with all of that, I know there are plenty of parts of Main Street I haven’t touched on, from getting your hair cut, to meeting characters, to stage shows at the castle and more. However, I hope you agree (if you didn’t already!) that slowing down and really taking part in the atmosphere of Main Street is a great way to spend your day at the Magic Kingdom.

So in closing, as the Dapper Dans would say, “If it wasn’t for Venetian Blinds, it would be curtains for the rest of us!”

Dec 022015
 

By Ann Dunnington

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For most families, vacations are a time of fun and excitement. For those of us who have to navigate the tricky world of food allergies, vacations can be more stressful than relaxing. Figuring out where to eat, what to eat, packing foods that are safe but also travel well… it’s a lot to keep track of. After spending 6 magical days at the Walt Disney World resort this past week, one thing has become very clear. Disney is taking GREAT strides in better accommodating their food allergy guests in a way that is “mainstreamed”.

So much so, that nearly every restaurant on Walt Disney World property now offers an allergy-friendly menu with food modifications that you can order without needing to talk to a manager or a chef. Don’t get me wrong, speaking to the chef about our allergies in the past did give us a sense of security. Knowing that they understood how to accommodate us (and doing so is still an option if necessary) was a welcome sigh of relief, but that would pull the chef away from what he was doing and unintentionally make us feel like we were being “high maintenance”, especially when non-allergy diners were eating with us, too. The addition of the allergy menus really helps to make allergy diners feel comfortable and “normal”, which is a treat!

Many of the gift shops are now even offering Disney’s own private label “allergy-friendly” snacks. In years past, this was my biggest complaint… the serious lack of allergy-friendly snacks in the gift shops was always a frustration. Apparently I wasn’t alone in thinking that this was needed, and Disney is really stepping up to the plate. Let’s take a look at a few of the new allergy friendly snack options that I found in numerous gift shops around the hotels and parks.

 

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These chips are made by Way Better Snacks, and are free of the top 8 allergens, but are produced in a facility that also uses milk and soy. They are delicious!

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These cookies are produced by the WOW Baking Company, and are made in a dedicated gluten free facility. Normally I can only find these at Target stores in my area, and I was so excited to see them at Disney World!! They’re soft, chewy, and a really fantastic treat.

The chocolate bars, ‘granola’ bars, seed/fruit mixes, and cookies are made by the Enjoy Life company. This company is known for being free of the top 8 allergens, and then some! I was so surprised to see the cookies in the Pirates of the Caribbean gift shop, right up by the register! Needless to say, we picked up some to keep us going through the Evening Extra Magic Hours!

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In addition to this, the Erin McKenna’s NYC bakery at Disney Springs is a gluten free and vegan (which means no dairy or eggs there, either!) bakery that makes the most delicious treats that the whole family can enjoy!   Their treats are also available around the various hotels and the Allergy Kiosk at Animal Kingdom in “grab and go” containers. I love the chocolate brownie mini-cupcakes!

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We have traveled to the Walt Disney World resort 8 times in the past 9 years, and of those vacations, 4 of them were after a diagnosed food allergy. With the addition of the allergy-friendly restaurant menus, training of the Cast Members, and the availability of more and more snack options at most of the gift shops, there is no better vacation destination for food allergy guests! Regardless of what allergy you may have, you’ll have no problem eating safely at the Walt Disney World resort!

Do you have a food allergy? Tell us your ‘allergy dining’ experience on our Facebook page!

Nov 182015
 

By Ginamarie Palmieri

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Finding the right accommodations at Walt Disney World can be challenging, especially since there are so many options. This becomes even more amplified when you are traveling with a large group. However, on our last trip, I think we hit the sweet spot for our group of nine. A two bedroom suite at Old Key West Resort was the perfect choice.

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First of all, the rooms at Old Key West are large. They have the largest rooms offered by Disney Vacation Club resorts. At almost 1400 square feet, our accommodations were akin to having a whole vacation home instead of just feeling like we were in a hotel room. Closet space was ample, even with our large group and all of our extra luggage for the wedding we were attending. In fact, on the morning of the wedding, we had all of the girls come to our suite to get ready, and even with the hair stylists, makeup artists and photographers, we still did not feel cramped.

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Old Key West is also the only Disney Vacation Club resort to offer a full sized washer and dryer in its suite accommodations. This came in especially handy, and we ran the laundry machine for each day of our stay at least once. In fact, we had a whole laundry room, which was stocked with a laundry basket and some detergent.

Similarly, the suite came with full sized kitchen appliances, like a refrigerator, stove/oven, and dishwasher. This made it easy for us to have meals in our room, which saved a good deal of money. It also meant that we had enough space to store all of the leftover wedding cake. We had no shortage of dishes, bowls or utensils.

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We also found the massive bathrooms to be useful. While the second bathroom is set up like most hotel rooms, with a toilet and tub/shower combo, the master bathroom was much more impressive. It had a giant whirlpool bathtub and sink area, and then a separate lock-off area with a toilet, sink, and stand-up shower. This meant that after a trip to the pool, we could pop the kids into the bath and still have two showers accessible for the adults to use.

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The most surprising detail about our suite was how homey it felt. It was the perfect place to hide from a rainy day. We had three televisions, so we could split up to watch different shows or all watch together in the living room. We used the kitchen table for eating, playing cards, and doing homework, and the large balcony was wonderful spot to have a cup of coffee in the morning or watch the sunset at night. It was a great way for everyone to stay together without feeling cramped up on top of each other.

So, the next time you need to find accommodations for a large family or group traveling together, I would seriously consider Old Key West Resort. I know my family is itching to get back there already.