I feel like this is starting to become my WDW mantra: there are unlimited possibilities when you visit. It all comes down to deciding what kind of experience you want
Our first 2 trips to the parks, my parents called the shots (as they should, since they were paying). We drove down the east coast to Florida in 2 days. We stayed in the Caribbean Beach and we wore ourselves out with attraction after attraction; breakfast, lunch, and dinner; fireworks; and waiting for parades. If it was there, we wanted to do it. That’s the thing. WDW is like this huge bakery and your eyes are bigger than your stomach. You want to sample it all. Even though navigating your trip like that won’t leave you with a cavity or stomachache, it does leave you feeling spent. You run around your whole vacation and then you have to go back to work the next day.
I think my parents learned their lesson after those initial vacations. It’s not like they were dragging around two monster children but it was a lot. (Especially after all that driving and the August heat.) So they decided to buy into the Disney Vacation Club and quite suddenly, the way we did Disney slowed down. In a good way.
Not only were we able to stay in hotels we never could afforded before, but we could stay longer. (Score!) This meant quiet mornings with breakfast by the pool. Sun, swimming, lots of reading. Our new routine was not only relaxing, but it brought real meaning to “welcome home”. We were able to get comfortable and enjoy our surroundings. Learn our way around our resort, know where to get the best food and drinks. Know when to get the best seat by the pool. (Or like my mother did, make friends with the pool attendant.) After those few hours, we would hit the parks and still manage to see everything and eat everywhere we wanted to.
This is why the Disney resorts are more than just a place to lay your head and take a shower to me. As a child becoming a young adult, I learned that taking WDW in stride was okay. It was a way to get the best of both worlds. My family and I were able to recreate what we loved so much about those beach vacations we took every year – doing nothing is sometimes the best thing to do.
Grown up life has not always afforded me that same luxury. A mortgage, few vacation days, and all those other responsibilities that Peter Pan managed to avoid have certainly changed the way I vacation.
And while I am so grateful that Disney provides a way for students, young professionals, and the average family to hang out with the Mouse (unlike, say Yankee Stadium), there’s still no arguing that the deluxe resorts provide as much entertainment and possibility as the theme parks themselves. In fact, when I’m not able to borrow those golden points from my parents, I find myself making time in my nifty schedule to stop and say hello.
So I thought I would take the time to document a few of my favorite and not-so favorite details from the villas I’ve been able to experience. Hopefully you’ll be able to make a stop over to one of them during your next trip!
Old Key West is the first DVC resort we ever stayed in (and the first DVC resort built). Being that we are a huge beach family, we loved the Florida Keys theming overrun with palm trees – and they have a pretty awesome main pool. I just recently visited Key Largo for the first time, and I can’t tell you how spot-on Disney was when designing this resort. I kept thinking: “Old Key West looks just like this!” I love the lobby of this resort… it looks like my dream living room with a massive amount of built-in bookshelves. You can almost imagine Belle swinging around on her ladder.
+ Roomiest studio rooms you will ever find.
+ The Gurgling Suitcase is an adorable spot to grab a drink (and it has an awesome name!)
+ The updated pool area is awesome with a fun slide in the shape of a sandcastle. There’s also a little bridge that you can hide under in the heat.
+ Boat service is available to Downtown Disney (plus you can rent your own water mobiles too!)
My one complaint: Getting a room far away from Hospitality House can be a pain. What I found even more annoying was how twisty and turny all the roads were as your bus driver works to get around the resort. The buses made the stops feel very narrow.
Saratoga Springs is a newer DVC report that is themed after the New York racing town. (I’m not a huge fan of horses but I was still really impressed how they managed to skillfully use them throughout the décor.) Did you know it was built on top of where the Disney Institute used to be? It’s also the largest out of all the DVC resorts. It is a fun place to explore. There are great spots to jog and just wander, if you want to. The whole place really embraces you.
+ Flatbread pizzas in the Artist’s Palette (counter service). Yummy. Yummy. Yummy.
+ Walkway and boat transportation are available to Downtown Disney. (They come every 20 minutes and it’s a speedy ride.)
+ Great views of Downtown Disney.
+ The High Rock Springs Pool does not disappoint. There’s a Donald Duck watering spot plus zero-depth entry to the pool which is awesome. I haven’t done the slide but I can imagine it’s pretty fun.
+ Turf Club Bar & Grill was an amazing experience, and I have to get back there ASAP.
My one complaint: It’s big. Like really big. I remember that one of the times we stayed we had a room pretty far away from everything, and that got irritating. There’s always a possibility this could happen but hopefully now that they added another feature pool in the Paddock area, amenities will be a bit more convenient.
I’ve already talked about our honeymoon stay at Bay Lake Tower from a few months ago. It’s the newest addition to the DVC resorts, and looks like the little kid to the Contemporary. Beautifully decorated with very modern themes (and small tastes of Disney here and there), it just oozes luxury where the other resorts I’ve mentioned so far are intensely themed. I hear it’s hard to get into, but if you have a chance, you should not pass it up.
+ Proximity to Magic Kingdom. (For someone who never stayed in an MK resort in 14 consecutive years of Disney tripping, this was a treat!) And also all the amazing adventures available at other MK resorts just a monorail ride away.
+ Top of the World Lounge – an exclusive perk for those staying in BLT. Delicious flatbreads, nice variety of drinks and a front row seat to Wishes. Can’t ask for more than that. (It’s so worth just stopping up to see the decor.)
+ The views! Whether you are facing Bay Lake or the Magic Kingdom, you can’t go wrong. Truly breathtaking.
My one complaint: Waiting for a monorail can be wearying. You never really think about how many cars there are (or aren’t), but they get filled very fast – which leads to waiting and some uncomfortably close rides (and, being a New Yorker, it can be oddly reminiscent of the NYC subway system).
Last but not least, the place I would move into a garbage can for, the BoardWalk. It may be the Jersey girl in me but I can’t stop raving about this place. It’s not only because I’ve stayed here a lot or had my engagement photos taken here – it truly offers a plethora of activities. Whether you are taking a relaxing stroll around the BoardWalk with the 20s music in the background, grabbing a beer at the Big River Grille, catching at game at ESPN Club, or watching the street performers. And all of that is without even being a guest at the resort. I wish Disney made it easily accessible for guests (a separate bus) but for now, I like to think of it as a special bonus for anyone’s WDW trip.
+ Walkway/boat to Hollywood Studios AND Epcot. Not to mention easy access to Swan & Dolphin, and Yacht & Beach Club.
+ Theming is so accurate throughout. I love the beachy hallways and the carnival-like carpets.
+ Great slide at the Luna Pool, and the quiet pool is great too.
+ Variety of shops and restaurants on the strip.
+ The balcony right off the lobby – perfect for people watching.
+ The big, cushy couch as soon as you walk in.
+ The Bellevue Lounge in the BoardWalk Inn (a family favorite!)
My one complaint: It was hard for me to come up with one of these, to be honest. We’ve gotten stuck with quite a few rooms at the end of a hallway and had to take the stairs down to BoardWalk level. Not exactly a hardship, but it did take awhile to get to the pool and the buses.
So there you have it. My world of Disney villas. As a kid, I never imagined there would be a place I would love more than our shore house. Especially not the hotels in Disney World of all places. But, gradually, I began to feel just as attached to them as my own house. When I hop off that plane, I do feel like a little piece of home is waiting for me. Whether I am staying at one of these amazing establishments, or just stopping by for a drink or a look around.
One thing I notice about these particular resorts is the people who stay there. Last year when my husband and I stayed at Old Key West, I noticed it the most. They were relaxed; they were having fun. Drinking and eating, swimming, and enjoying the sunshine. A giant tidal wave might have been the only way to move them from their spots — they were not planning on going anywhere. It was like there was no other world than where they were at that moment. Not four other parks nearby buzzing with attractions, crowds, performances, and restaurants. Being in that spot, on that beach chair, surrounded by friends and family was enough.
For all those who are given a look when they say they are traveling to WDW again (“Didn’t you just go there?!”), I wish those “non-believers” could see this aspect of Disney vacationing. It doesn’t have to mean eating hamburgers, waiting and sweating in long lines, and maneuvering around strollers and crying kids.
No, there is definitely a calm to be found. Places to wind down and truly escape. Without a guidebook or a park hopper.