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Sunday, January 14, 2007

A Walt Disney World Vacation - A Look Back

Now that we are back from our Walt Disney World vacation, I wanted to take a look back at the good and bad from the trip. Here are my thoughts about our recent vacation to Walt Disney World in Orlando, Florida. Overall, it was a great trip -- and while this post focuses on the nuances, they are mainly to make you aware of what to expect on your trip. Of course, in addition to all of the Magical fun you will have!

Walt Disney World:
In general, it is Disney and it is a great place to visit. All of the parks are great, and only in a few cases are there some annoyances. The main one worth mentioning are the pathways as the Animal Kingdom being too small, so the park becomes unbearably crowded in the afternoons.

We had major issues with our electronic room key, which is also used for park entrances, food service, and other important items. They were constantly being demagnetized throughout the week, and it was not just one or two of us -- just about all of us had problems multiple times with cards. Seems like Disney could make a little improvement in technology there -- we do not have the same problems with our credit cards. The interesting thing is that they would invariably happen at different points of the day -- sometimes at the entrance to the park, other times during food service, and lastly when trying to get into our rooms. All of them are quite an annoyance, especially when you are staying at a resort like the Caribbean Beach Resort where you may be a mile or more away from the service desk.

Caribbean Beach Resort:
I would not stay at this resort again. We decided to do this trip a little more on the "cheap" and the difference between this resort and the Beach Club / Yacht Club where we had stayed twice before are quite glaring. Future trips will return us to one of those two resorts for a number of reasons, none of them due to specific problems -- rather comfort and convenience.

  • The rooms themselves are not bad, we were in the newly remodeled Jamaica area and the rooms themselves while basic, was sufficient. To note, they do not stock the rooms with several amenities and toiletries that you may at Deluxe resorts like the Beach or Yacht Club. However, when asking for them -- they were quick to bring them.
  • The staff and service are mediocre at best, as our party had issues at both check-in and at check-out. At one point we were told three different things about a possible room upgrade within 5 minutes by three different people. Yes, maybe, and no -- in that order. Additional issues with the way the staff handled Disney's Magical Express, discussed below.
  • Staying in a resort like the Caribbean Beach Resort will cost you at least 1-2 hours a day of time if you take the Disney transportation (more info below). The is most apparent when going to Epcot Center, Disney-MGM Studio, and when returning from the parks at night after the night time entertainment and fireworks, especially the Magic Kingdom.
  • No mid-day breaks. If you want to head back to your hotel for a couple hours to sit by the pool, you will again cost yourself another 1-2 hours. If you stay at the Caribbean Beach Resort plan on being at the parks for the entire day.

A lot of other positives on this resort include the Old Port Royale, which is a great one-stop area of somewhat central access. You can almost anything you need in there, including a great selection of foods from the Food Court. The grounds and buildings are well kept as most things Disney are. Each little Caribbean country has its own pool, in addition to the large pool at the Old Port Royale, so you can have your mix of chaos and relative quiet -- depending on what kind of mood you are in.


  • Transportation around the Walt Disney World for the most part is not too bad. Especially between the three parks of Disney-MGM Studios, Epcot Center, and the Magic Kingdom -- you have numerous options that can move you with relative ease.
  • Communication is poor for the bus system. Meaning, approximate time schedules, times to go between parks, etc -- either is not published or not widely available. We did some looking and several cast members told us nothing was published.
  • Transportation around the Caribbean Beach Resort takes a long time, period. This of course the nature of the layout of the resort. At some point during the day you will stop, at least once at all stops (8+) around the resort -- either coming or going. Honestly, it makes you consider getting a rental car to get to the resorts as you need to. Once you do than and spend the $50/day plus parking -- you might as well have stayed in a resort with better access, like the Beach / Yacht Club, Contemporary Resort, or Grand Floridian and had the quick access via walking or Monorail.
  • If you are in line for transportation at a park, and folks with handicaps come up as the buses arrive -- they will be the first to board. Even if you have been waiting 30 minutes or more and they just show up. This is not a complaint, just a fact about how Disney operate. We noticed several people complaining about this in lines that we were in, and it is best to be aware of this before you go!

Disney Dining Plan:

The Disney Dining Plan has been getting rave reviews from everyone who was on it, including us. Due to this, it is highly popular -- especially in low season times where Disney significantly increases promotion, including it packages sometime. This is the only downside, if you do not plan ahead, you will have a tough time getting table service for dinner. Basically, adhere to this rule, as soon as you know you will be going there, make your reservations for the table service meals and plan your days around that.

I cannot tell you the number of folks that we ran into that commented, we keep having to have table service because all of the sit down restaurants are full. This was most apparent in Epcot's World Showcase where many of the countries have very popular eateries. In addition, if you do not know you are going to Walt Disney World at least 180 days in advance, you should not expect to eat at the Le Cellier steakhouse in Canada. It is highly popular given that it is a great steakhouse that only costs one table service meal. A comparable Yachtman's Steakhouse in the Yacht Club costs two table service meals.

The promotion and popularity of the program was the only downside to us. Given Ashley's vacation planning spreadsheet that she completes before we head there, we have always done the Disney Dining Plan, whether it was under a different name (Magical Wishes) or not. Again, I can not stress this enough -- due to the popularity of it planning ahead is key if you are on the plan.

Disney's Magical Express:

For our group, Disney's Magical Express was less than Magical on both the way from the airport and the way back to the airport. I will provide summaries, but you can read more about the specific experiences here and here.

On the way from the airport, it worked relatively flawless for Ashley and I. Basically we tagged our bags with the Magical Express stickers at Los Angeles International Airport (LAX), and did see them until we arrived in our rooms. My parents on the other hand had an abundance of issues. The bottom line, if you are arriving late at night, and want to have access to your luggage immediately it is best to pick it up yourself -- or insure your carry-on has what you need for the evening because it could take 2-3 hours for the luggage to get to you.

On the way to the Orlando International Airport, the biggest tip is if you feel something is wrong and a bus is delayed -- go immediately to the Bell Service staff and demand they look into it. Be persistent, and insure them it is an issue. If you are not, you could wait an hour and a half like us and potentially miss your flight (like someone in line next to us did). Remember, the "schedule" you set is not a reservation or guarantee that the bus that arrives at the time on your sheet will have enough space for you. It operates more in a first-come, first-serve manner.

Other Tips:

  • If you have a AAA (Automobile Club) membership and you are thinking about booking with Disney, do not. Book through AAA. While the price will be identical, AAA throws in some nice bonuses worth $50-75 including a free meal at the Planet Hollywood, 10% discount at the Downtown Disney Store, and a free every-park parking passes which is a huge benefit if you have a car.

Read the rest of our trip log for all the details: