Thursday, February 27, 2014

Resort Hopping

While I'm at Disney World, one of my favorite activities is resort hopping.  There is a wealth of surprises waiting to be found at the various resorts around the Walt Disney World complex.  If you ever have a chance to venture away from your resort to visit some of the other resorts, you’ll see what I mean.  The d├ęcor, ambiance of each resort is unique.  Imagine you are in the South Pacific at the Polynesian or deep in the heart of the savannah of Africa at Animal Kingdom Lodge.  Take a look at a highlight from each destination!  Most of these activities are free; check with your resort concierge for times, locations, and directions.

Contemporary Resort – View the Electrical Water Pageant from the beach on the Bay Lake side of the resort.

Polynesian Resort – Experience the torch lighting ceremony featuring a Polynesian dancer who does a traditional fire-knife dance and lights the torches leading to the Great Ceremonial House.  

Wilderness Lodge – View the Geyser.  Located between the pool and the beach, this 120' Geyser spouts every hour on the hour from 7:00 am to 10:00 pm.  While the geyser does look real, surrounded by hot springs that create “steam”, the water is not hot.  On occasion you can find ducks swimming in the “hot springs”.  

Animal Kingdom Lodge – Nightly African storytelling next to Ogun's Firepit outside the Lodge.

Grand Floridian – Listen to the soothing sounds of the piano player in the lobby from around 3 p.m.; alternating with the orchestra until 9:45 p.m.

Fort Wilderness – Chip and Dale sing-a-long, campfire, and movie.  This campfire program is free open to all WDW resort guests. It is held near the Meadow Trading Post in the campfire area. The program begins with a sing-along and a marshmallow roast around two campfire rings. You may bring your own marshmallows or buy them at the Chuck Wagon.  While this is going on, Chip and Dale make an appearance to visit with guests and sign autographs. Afterwards a Disney animated feature is shown on a large outdoor screen. 

Yacht & Beach Club – These two resorts also offer a campfire program and Disney movie on the beach.  Stay around long enough and you can view the high fireworks from Epcot’s  Illuminations.

Boardwalk – Reminiscent of the early 20th century East Coast beachside resorts, the Boardwalk itself is a big draw, but I really enjoy the ambiance of the hotel's lobby.  Look around for the carousel chandelier, roller coaster model, and antique novelty machines.  Step outside and you are taken to a bygone era on the Boardwalk.  Relax "beachside" with a drink and sit in the comfy rocking chairs.

The following resorts are listed in the Moderate and Value categories and, as such, are slightly more difficult to get to if you don’t have a car.  Never-the-less, they are filled with theming and hidden gems equal to those at the other resorts.  I wouldn’t necessarily recommend making a special trip to see them, but if you happen to be dining in the vicinity or have an afternoon the kill, these are great places to check out. 

Port Orleans Riverside – Take a leisurely and scenic boat ride to Downtown Disney along the Sassagoula River.

Port Orleans French Quarter – Enjoy live entertainment at the Scat Cat Lounge in the evenings.

Caribbean Beach - The centerpiece of this resort is its 45-acre lake, Barefoot Bay, surrounded by a 1.4-mile promenade which connects to winding paths leading to guest rooms and common areas.  In the center of the lake is Caribbean Cay, an island with a picnic area and beautiful foliage. Caribbean Cay is connected to each side by a footbridge. 

Coronado Springs – Explore the grounds of this resort via a 0.9 mile Esplanade as it winds its way through the wooded areas of the grounds.  Check out the partially buried large Mayan head statue in the middle of the Explorer’s Playground. 

All-Star Music, Movies and Sports – Check out the larger-than-life icons in and around each of the All-Star Resorts.

POP Century – Nostalgia overload reins king at this resort!  In the lobby, you will find numerous wall-mounted shadow boxes full of fads, fashions, music, toys and other trinkets from the 50’s, 60’s, 70’s, 80’s and 90’s.  You can’t help not to smile when you these.

I’ve only touched the tip of the iceberg for what you’ll find at the various resorts around the complex and did not even get into the Disney Vacation Club Resorts.  

What’s your favorite resort hopping activity? 

Monday, February 17, 2014

My favorite “lost” attractions

Ahhh…memories.  I’m all for progress but sometimes you just yearn for those “lost” attractions.  A trip down memory lane is required every now and then; and thus here is my list of favorite “lost” attractions.  What’s yours?

Horizons – OMG, the orange groves.  That smell is permanently engraved in my olfactory memory.  Soarin’ helps but still not the same. 

If You Had Wings – “had wings, had wings, had wings…”.  OK, I’ll admit, it’s was a cheesy ride, but it did have character!  It’s kind of cool how the building and parts of the ride were transformed into Buzz Lightyear Space Ranger Spin. 

Mr Toads Wild Ride – ‘nuff said.  Although, the Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh can’t be beat. 

20,000 Leagues Under the Sea – Man oh man, I loved the sea whistle and the red flip down seats. 

The Original Tiki Room – Iago and Zazu are just plain annoying.  This is the one change that I truly believe should have been left alone.  The DL version is the old version, why did WDW feel the need to change this up?  I think mistakes were made and people know it, but what’s done is done, so we’re stuck with it.  I think any plan to remove the Tiki Room in it’s entirety (old or new) would be met with great resistance.  It’s iconic.  At least we still have the angry tiki gods.  Just bring back the annoying barker bird!!!  “Sqawk…one show … one show for you to see…” (Blogger note -- at the writing of this post, the news of the new opening of The Enchanted Tiki Room hadn't occurred.  See previous blog entry for details)

The empty space in front of the Tiki Room – so this really isn’t a “lost” attraction, but that silly camel ride (Magic Carpets of Aladdin) just is TOO much in a small space (OK, I know my picture doesn't really show the open space, but it was all I have at the moment.  BTW, that's my Dad and I think we have a picture of someone bringing back citrus swirls from that exact spot each trip!) 

The Magic Shop originally on Main Street.  Loved, loved getting a souvenir from here. 

River Country – this was the first water park at WDW, located at Fort Wilderness.  The official word for its closure was due to an amoeba commonly found in the warm fresh waters of Florida.  You see, part of the water park was created from Bay Lake; however, I believe that if River Country wanted to be kept around, it could have been isolated from the lake.  Economics probably played a bigger part in it’s demise.  I think in an attempt to develop Blizzard Beach and Typhoon Lagoon, it was deemed not cost-worthy to keep River Country.  RC was harder to get to for non-resort guests, there was no parking nearby, it was smallish for a water park.  I liked it as a kid, but as an adult water parks aren’t really my “thing” so it’s doesn’t bother me too much.  The state it currently is in bothers me more than anything. 

Discovery Island – this attraction was good in it’s heyday when all the other local attractions (Busch Gardens, Cypress Gardens, etc.) had their own nature-theme activities. 

There are many others!

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Vintage Fort Wilderness Brochures

We've been talking Fort Wilderness this week on the Magical Mouse Pad!  Take a look at theses awesome brochures.

These brochures are from approximately 1979 or so.  My brother collected all sorts of things from our family trips to Disney in the 70's & 80's.  Ticket stubs, brochures, napkins, pins, bags, etc.  I'm working with him to scan in the items and will post them from time to time.    

Campground Resort Information & Map

Campground Postcard (front/back)

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Fort Wilderness Cabins

Fort Wilderness Cabins at the Fort Wilderness Resort & Campground

One of the 5 moderate resort options at the Walt Disney World complex, the Fort Wilderness Cabins provide spacious and unique accommodations for families looking to try something new in terms of lodging.  The Cabins are located in the Fort Wilderness Resort and Campground.  This resort is located south east of the Magic Kingdom on the shores of Bay Lake.  The resort opened in 1971 as a destination for campers, but over the years added Cabins for families who aren’t the “camping type” or don’t have access to an RV or tent.

Map of Fort Wilderness
Cabins are located in Loops 2100 - 2800
The Fort Wilderness Resort and Campground has 799 campsites and 409 cabins covering over 700 acres of lush pines and cypress trees.  The cabins, according to the Disney World website, “provides all the comforts of home wrapped in a rustic, American Frontier theme”.  Indeed, these cabins look like mini-log homes, but they are basically small module homes wrapped in a veneer to look like logs.  

Fort Wilderness Cabin exterior
Parking in front with space/charger plug for golf cart

These cabins are roughly 12’ wide x 42’ long.  There is a wood deck on the outside with a picnic table and charcoal grill.  Inside, the cabins have one bedroom with a double bed, bunk beds, and a TV; a full bathroom with tub/shower; full kitchen; living area with TV, dining table for six, sofa and a pull-down Murphy bed.  The cabins comfortably sleep six guests.  The full kitchen has nearly every amenity you’d need to prep a meal.  Also in the kitchen, you’ll find a full-size coffee pot, microwave, full-size refrigerator, electric stove, and dishwasher.  A bonus is that Mousekeeping will do the dishes for you!

Cabin interior layout
Cabin kitchen

Inside the confines of the resort, there is plenty to see and do.  There are two pools at the resort, a smaller quiet pool, and the Meadows Swimmin’ (no “g”) Pool where the daily activities occur.  The main pool features a wet play areas for little ones, a slide, and a hot tub.  Down by the marina, there is a variety of watercraft to rent for exploring Bay Lake and the Seven Seas Lagoon.  Horseback riding is available for guests over 9 years old.  If you can’t find fun by the pool, there is an assortment of other activities offered including hiking, tennis, volleyball, horseshoes, shuffleboard, archery, bike riding, and canoeing.  At one time a real steam train traversed the ground of the Fort.  If you choose to check out one of the many walking trails around the property, you may see the remnants of the original track.  
Meadows Swimmin' Pool
Meadows Swimmin' Splash Pad

A long-running specialty of Fort Wilderness is the nightly Chip ‘n’ Dale “Sing-a-Long” and marshmallow roast, followed by a Disney movie on a outdoor screen.  The “Sing-a-Long” is lead by a singing cowboy and Chip and Dale make an appearance to visit with guests and sign autographs.  You may bring your own marshmallows or buy them from the Chuck Wagon.  The Chuck Wagon also serves an assortment of light refreshments during the movie.

Chip and Dale at the nightly campfire

Speaking of refreshments, Fort Wilderness offers a few dining options.  The most well-known is the Hoop-Dee-Doo Musical Revue, an all-you-can-eat dinner show held nightly at Pioneer Hall.  Mickey’s Backyard BBQ is a barbeque buffet with live entertainment, dance instruction, and appearances by Disney characters.  Crockett’s Tavern, located in Pioneer Hall, features beverages and snacks.  Next door to the Tavern is the Trail’s End Restaurant which provides a sit-down buffet at breakfast and dinner and a la carte items during lunch.  By the pool is the Meadows Pool Snack Bar which serves hamburgers, sandwiches, and assorted small snacks.

If you are looking for supplies for your cabin, there are two main shops:  The Settlement Trading Post located near the marina, and the Meadow Trading Post located in the Meadow Recreation Area.  Both trading posts feature the standard souvenirs and Disney merchandise, but also an assortment of groceries.  The groceries are on the expensive side, but if you need something in a pinch, you can find it there.  For guests with a vehicle, you may consider outside supermarkets for your supplies.

The Fort is serviced by the Magical Express, should you be coming from the airport.  The process is similar to the other resorts.  Your bags will be "magically" delivered to your room while you are bussed from the airport to the Fort.  Check-in is at the Reception Outpost.  Here you will receive all your resort information (room key, tickets, maps, etc), and a copy of the Fort Wilderness Gazette.  The Gazette will contain information on the campground, directions for transportation, campfire movie schedule, activity times and locations, and maps.  

Driving, except to and from your campsite, is not allowed in the Fort.  A series of internal buses provide transportation throughout the resort.  Guests can also rent golf-carts to get around inside the Fort.   Advance reservations are highly recommended for the golf carts.  

Pricing for cabin accommodations range from $285 in the value seasons to $450 is the peak holiday seasons.  Standard Disney resort guest perks are included:  Magical Express, daily Mousekeeping, room charging privileges, Extra Magic Hours, package delivery to resort, bus/boat transportation, etc.

So, now you know the specifics, I know you want to know how the cabins really are.  The following is my review of the Cabins from my trip in June 2011.  

I grew up camping at the Fort with my parents in the 70’s and 80’s.  We traveled in a RV and spent many fun summers there.  I have very fond memories of Fort Wilderness.  It was a great place for my brother and I to explore.  In 2011, I went back with my two children for 10 days and we stayed in the Cabins.  While I enjoyed the trip very much and it was perfect for our situation at the time, I’m not sure if I would consider the Cabins again.  For me, the cons far outweighed the pros.  But what may not be suited to my tastes, may fit another family extremely well.  The best advice would be to try it if you think you may like it.  

  • Room for 6 - we were traveling with my Mother and it was nice that she could have her own space (living room/murphy bed)
  • Spacious cabin with room to spread out, inside and outside.  As soon as the kids are dressed and ready, we pushed them out the door to explore around the cabin while the rest of us got ready.  
  • Full kitchen.  Loved having a full size coffee maker (you have to bring your own coffee, though)!
  • Two TVs.
  • Quiet and peaceful surroundings.  It’s hard to imagine you are in the middle of a sprawling theme park complex when you are at the Fort.  
  • Wildlife.  We saw lots of animals, bugs, and reptiles that my kids loved.  I didn’t care too much for the lizard in the closet, though.  
  • Boat access to Magic Kingdom.  There is something special about arriving at the Magic Kingdom via boat. 
  • Pool amenities - the Meadow’s Swimmin’ Pool is large and nicely laid out.  Nice splash area for the younger kids.

  • Size.  The Fort is a sprawling complex.  It’s not easy to walk from the cabins to entertainment areas, or the front reception area.
  • Transportation.  I hated the internal buses.  The Fort used to be serviced with open-air trams.  As a kid, it was fun to ride these trams.  Plus they had cool names for each camping section or loop, like “Jack Rabbit Run”, or “Armadillo Way”.  The driver would announce each stop distinctly.  Now the drivers barely know what loop number they are at.  Plus, I don’t like riding the bus from the pool in wet bathing suits.  We rented a golf cart during our stay and only experienced the buses when our group separated.  I would highly recommend to anyone staying at the Cabins to rent a golf cart.  It was a life-saver, but added to the cost.  
  • Lack of quick service dining option/food court.  Because the Fort’s main purpose is for campers who have their own cooking facilities, there is little in the way of quick service dining options.  We were on the dining plan during our visit and had to plan our quick service meals at other locations (parks or other resorts).  We did use the Meadows Snack Bar a few times and the food was good, but it’s not open very late.  
  • Distance from everything.  Boat to the Magic Kingdom often shared with Wilderness Lodge, and bus service everywhere else.  It took some time to get to our destinations.