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Wednesday, March 20, 2019

5 Ways to Overcome The Ever Increasing Crowds of Walt Disney World

Guide4WDW.com

by: guide4wdw - Collin

5 Ways to Overcome The Ever Increasing Crowds of Walt Disney World 

To me it feels like there's 100 different variations of this article out there on the internet shared by any number of excellent sites (and some not so excellent sites), but inevitably no two lists are the same. We all have our different "escapes" from the crowds and to me that's the ultimate testament to a well designed vacation destination. Half the battle isn't finding a place to go but rather knowing what opportunities exist that you may have overlooked. 

I share this list not because we have some secret tunnel or tucked away secret back room to escape to in the middle afternoon in Magic Kingdom, but rather to share the inevitable reality that if you try to overcome the crowds simply by trying to "wait it out" you're typically doing yourself more harm than good. If that philosophy works for you then by all means use it and make the most of it but you're likely the exception rather than the rule. 


After years of touring the parks I've started to pick up on a few select things that really tend to stick out in my mind. I know this is going to sound kind of blunt, but bear with me. The first thing I tend to pick up on is that 3:00-5:00pm exhaustion tantrum that you see each and every day in the parks. Kids (and sometimes adults) get to a certain point and they're just DONE. They're done with the heat, they're done with the walking, and they're done with Disney in many cases as a result. I'm the last person in the world that should be giving parenting advice as a 22 year old college student, but this one isn't all that hard to figure out in a majority of cases. The key to overcoming these afternoon meltdowns and conversely the insanely exhausted feeling many adults get later in the day is simply crowd management. 

It sounds too simple to be true, but with the exception of a few major holidays in the parks where crowds literally fill the park to capacity, you can solve so many problems by "escaping" from it all for even a brief moment. 

I realize this is a bit of a long winded intro but the goal was and is to set the stage in a metaphorical sense by sharing something that so many of us repeat Disney parks guests can relate to and prospective guests can theoretically visualize. As we move into today's list, keep that mental image in mind as we start off with a quite literal interpretation of the perfect 
"escape" from the crowds. This list isn't going to tell you to travel at different times of the year or on special dates or anything of the sort. In all reality, every one of us travel when we can travel. The vast majority of society is constrained by a real world schedule, select time off, or even quite possibly a school schedule for kids of all ages. In an ideal world we'd all travel when the parks were the least crowded, but as time marches on there really is no "off season" at Walt Disney World and if anyone tells you otherwise they haven't been to the parks in the last six months. It is true that some weeks are less crowded than others but with scheduling modifications and such within the parks it's not going to be a huge difference in wait times and crowd levels in the big picture. With that in mind, let's dive right into it.  



Find Your Literal Escape From It All 

I know I come at this topic from a different perspective than most, but sometimes the best way to overcome the crowds is to, quite literally, escape and do something else for a few hours. Even if you're a first time visitor to Walt Disney World, you'll immediately realize that at around 1:00-3:00pm the crowds will be at their absolute worst 98% of the year. It's a time frame that's incredibly difficult to overcome unless you simply stack your fastpass+ selections in that block of time, but even that is hard to recommend as the crowds are still overwhelming at times. 

What I do recommend is to leave the park, head to a near by resort or even your own personal resort, and relax, shop, or simply wander the property for a few hours. Not only does it give you a break from the physical crowd levels, but it also provides a relaxing stroll or even a comfortable place to sit and enjoy simply being there in the moment. 

I know so many of you reading this are thinking "That's easy for you to say, you go to the parks all the time..." and to an extent you'd be correct. We do have the incredible blessing of of being annual passholders and visiting the parks multiple times per year, but I can 100% assure you that the lost time in a busy park will be more than made up by the experience of leaving the parks for a few brief hours and returning later on. 


Perhaps the best example of this I can give happened just last week. At around 1:00 in the afternoon, crowds exploded on one of our Magic Kingdom park days as a result of Spring Break. Instead of simply dealing with it, we hopped on a boat (free and provided by Disney) over to Wilderness Lodge to grab a late lunch. After lunch we got back on the boat and enjoyed a scenic ride over to the Contemporary resort. When we got there, we utilized some of the free games out by the dock and shot a game of billiards and enjoyed the near perfect weather for a few minutes before walking upstairs to board the monorail to continue our resort hopping journey. 


By the time we made it to the Polynesian we stopped for a Dole Whip at Pineapple Lanai and once again took a leisurely stroll around the incredibly picturesque resort before moving on to the Grand Floridian where we shopped for a short while in the stores and then wrapped up our resort hopping with a few minutes in some incredibly comfortable chairs listening to the band. 

People ask me time and time again what I like most about Disney and time and time again the answer I share is in the form of a story so incredibly similar to the one I shared here. It's those simple moments that keep me coming back. It's those relaxing minutes of simply being there in the moment enjoying life that make all the difference and those are the memories with family I'll remember forever. The parks are great but more often than not some of the greatest memories develop from the simplest of experiences. If I could give one tip it would be to journey beyond the parks when the crowds become overwhelming. It may open up an entirely new realm of possibilities in the end result.
                     

Make The Most of Select Hours and Days

This is probably the most "textbook" answer you'll find on my list and I truly debated not sharing it as a result. Getting up and getting to the parks before they open will pay off big time if you can make it happen. The same is true if you can stay until close. In reality, it's one of those things that's easy to say and incredibly difficult to actually do. The first day it's easy to get to the parks super early and stay super late but as your trip continues on it catches up with you in a hurry. It's not out of the ordinary for me to run on about 4 hours of sleep when we're really trying to maximize our trips. I'm always looking for empty parks photos (which requires staying incredibly late - sometimes an hour or more after posted "closing times") and tend to go at things with a different goal in mind than most when staying late. It's far from the ideal way to enjoy your vacation. I'm fairly used to running on very little sleep as a result of running this site while working my way through college but nonetheless it even takes a toll on me over the course of a week. 

If you're going to try this, do so in a smart way. Take breaks, take a mid day nap, and maybe even head back to the resort to sit by the pool to save your energy and revitalize yourself in any way possible.

The early hours and the late hours are incredibly productive times of day no matter what park you're in. This tip in and of itself is a fundamental part of our How to Ride 6 or More Attractions in 90 Minutes or Less: With Only 1 Fastpass+ article and it really can make or break how many attractions you can get through during your vacation. In my opinion, Disney isn't all about the attractions, but if you're looking to do as much as possible, it truly is the only tried and true strategy that has stood the test of time.    


Don't Be Afraid to Book Dining 

I completely understand that this seems like an off the wall suggestion to overcome the crowds of the parks, but it's one of our go-to options time and time again. The fact of the matter backing this one up is that you can only fill a restaurant so full. If you run out of tables, you run out of tables. At peak times I can't tell you how many times a table service lunch reservation has saved us in so many ways. 

Not only is it a good meal and a good nourishment boost mid day, but it's also a guaranteed hour out of the heat, away from the majority of the crowds, and perhaps most importantly a needed time of rest after what has likely been a busy morning and what will be a busy night. 

There's no hiding the fact that table service meals in the parks can be expensive and I know that is an instant factor for so many guests, but when you're sitting in a packed counter service location, you'll be wishing you would have spent that extra money to book the table service meal instead. I don't say that to be judgmental or anything of the sort but rather because I've been in that situation one too many times myself. If you find yourself in a similar situation, jump back to the first tip and head to a near by resort. The Magic Kingdom area resorts in particular have excellent counter service dining offerings that are perfect for a last minute meal and they're typically far less crowded than the in-parks dining offerings. If you happen to be at Epcot or Hollywood Studios, board a boat to the Boardwalk, Swan and Dolphin, or even the Yacht and Beach Club for a quick way to remove yourself from the crowds and find a good dining option.        


Get Creative With Fireworks Viewing 

At the end of the night you'll likely want to return to the parks to catch a fireworks show if you you're not already in the parks. Sometimes fighting that urge to be on Main Street USA or in that "perfect spot" for Illuminations can work out incredibly well. For Magic Kingdom in particular, when crowds are high I highly recommend viewing the show from the Contemporary or the Polynesian. The music is piped in, the crowds are typically quite low, and the experience is almost as magical as being there in the sea of people on Main Street USA. It's a different fireworks viewing experience to say the least, but the benefits of the alternative experience often outweigh the tradeoffs. 



I can vividly remember one particular night where we left Magic Kingdom and went over to the beaches of the Polynesian to view the show. We grabbed a Dole Whip, walked down to the beach, and it truly develops one of the most incredible views you'll ever experience. From the casual crowds, to the sounds of flowing water at the pool near by, to the reflections off of the Seven Seas Lagoon as the fireworks burst high in the distance, it's an experience to remember that is truly indescribable. The observation deck of the Contemporary, while a different view, offers up a similarly unique experience. If you're up for it, climb up the external staircase a few floors to really get the perfect view and escape the crowds completely. 



Over at Epcot, avoid the temptation to be right up on the fence in preparation for Illuminations. The show is shockingly viewable from all kinds of odd angles but perhaps the best options to overcome the crowds are to find higher vantage points. Two near perfect go to spots of mine at the time being are at the top of the staircase entering the Canada Pavilion and at the top of the staircase in the Japan pavilion leading up to Teppan Edo. Both vantage points can be seen in the images below and more often than not you'll be one of the very few guests standing in these areas even on extremely crowded nights. 





Fully Utilize Your Resort    

Last but certainly not least, I highly highly recommend taking the time to leave the parks and enjoy your resort. Even if you're leaving the parks for a very short amount of time, exploring your resort is something I recommend to every single guest headed to Walt Disney World. The resorts that Disney runs are so incredibly immersive and tied to story that there's more to explore than you'll ever have time to fully grasp. It's a part of the Disney experience that nobody really expects, but quickly becomes a favorite aspect of the overall experience for retuning guests.

It's a weird phenomenon in a number of ways, but the resorts, no matter which one you choose, truly feel like home after you really take the time to explore and get to know the backstories and amenities available to you as a guest. 





If you don't know where to start exploring, stop by the concierges desk and ask about the activities planned for the day. You may be shocked at what the resort has planned for guests of all ages on that particular day! I cant stress this one enough. If the crowds are starting to get to you, enjoy your resort and explore every single aspect of it that you can. 

I know I say it time and time again, but I truly believe it's those little moments that stick with you more than anything else. When I think back on memories with family, very few memories are tied to an attraction but so many memories are tied to seemingly simple things that occur in the moment that you remember years later. 


Your Thoughts

As always, if you have thoughts, concerns, questions, or even some tips of your own to share, don't hesitate to reach out to us on Facebook or your favorite social media platform. Give us a follow while you're there, and we'll keep the conversation going in the future. We're not the largest Disney community, but we're one that's here and one that listens. Thanks for reading and have a wonderful day wherever you are!


Need a Travel Planner?

If you want or simply need a little bit of planning help to make your Disney vacation dream a reality, check out the quote request form below this article for our friends over at Destinations to Travel. They'll let you do as much or as little of the planning as you'd like and may even save you some money along the way! As always, thanks for supporting those who support us.

Ready to Plan?

Last but certainly not least, if you're starting the planning process, a great place to start are with some of our top planning articles! Looking for dining? Check out Disney World Dining Tips For 2018. Want to start with some more tips? 44 Excellent Disney World Tips for 2018 or Disney World Planning Guide and Tips For 2018 are a great place to begin! Looking to save money on tickets? Check out our friends over at The Official Ticket Center for great deals that even made it into our 2018 Discount Disney World Ticket selections and another great way to help us create more content through your contributions at no additional cost to you! You'll probably even save money along the way!





Saturday, March 16, 2019

Disney's Port Orleans French Quarter - Still Our Most Recommended Moderate Resort

Guide4WDW.com

by: guide4wdw - Collin

Disney's Port Orleans French Quarter - Still Our Most Recommended Moderate Resort 

As I've mentioned here on the site many many times, we are unashamedly "Disney Resort" people. We've done the offsite thing and in a select few ways it *can* be beneficial but for the most part staying on Disney property at a Disney resort is the best and, in my opinion, the only way to tour the parks. However, it's a rare scenario when someone is planning a Disney vacation and getting advice for their trip that the inevitable question of "what resort do you recommend?" doesn't pop up. It's a good question but one that I can't stress enough how situational the answer can be. At the same time though, one of my go to resort recommendations time and time again is Port Orleans French Quarter for reasons that I hope to share in great detail here today. 

To make a long story short, earlier this week (March 2019) we spent 4 nights in a standard room at the resort. We're notorious for staying at deluxe resorts, but on this particular trip it was just me and my dad enjoying a rare vacation on our own and this came in at the perfect price point with our Annual Passholder discount. That's one of the huge benefits of being an Annual Passholder but we recently shared so many other reasons in our The Unique Benefits of Becoming a Walt Disney World Annual Passholder That Tend to Get Overlooked article. Setting that fact of the matter aside, it was an incredible stay and fit the mold of our desired vacation style on this particularly trip. 

We weren't looking for something with the perfect room, the perfect view, or even the perfect location, and this ultimately fit the bill as it has on a select few occasions in the past as well. As an added benefit, it allowed for the opportunity to go back and update my thoughts on the resort overall and to do so from a first-hand experience standpoint. 


I could attempt to wax poetically about the theming, but in all reality the best description was a statement I overheard at the bus stop a few short days ago by another guest stating "I really like our resort. It feels nicer than what I expected." In many ways that's the ideal description for French Quarter. It's not a deluxe resort and is firmly categorized by Disney as a moderate but it has so many added bonuses when compared to the other resorts in that tier that I almost put it in a category of its own as a moderate+. Unfortunately, the price does tend to reflect the difference in accommodations in comparison, but I must say it's well worth the slight difference in price.

In all reality, it's likely the one resort I tend to recommend the most to first time Disney parks guests. It's a perfect blend of affordability combined with some unique additions that tend to give you a slight "deluxe tier" feel in a moderate resort before you decide if making the jump to a deluxe tier resort like Wilderness Lodge at a higher price. Some guests simply don't like paying deluxe tier prices and don't feel like it works for them. I will always be a proponent of deluxe accommodations but we're undeniably theming obsessed travelers and love the little details hidden around every corner. 

With all of that being said, let's dive into some of the greater details of the Port Orleans French Quarter experience.          



The Property and the "French Quarter vs. Riverside Debate" 

The best way I can describe the property itself is as classy and subtle theming in all the right ways. It's not a resort that has towering character statues the size of buildings (like many of the value tier resorts), but there's a certain upscale feel to the property that generates a great vibe. 

In the simplest of descriptions, the resort feels premium without the premium price tag. The pool area is rarely over crowded, the walkways feel quiet and almost deserted most of the day, and the luxury of it being the smallest moderate resort is a huge benefit when walking to your resort room. That simple fact alone is perhaps the greatest benefit of French Quarter. No matter what room you end up with, you're never walking miles to the counter service location or to the pool or transportation options. Everything (for the most part) is centrally located and a reasonable walking distance for the average guest. 

In our given circumstance, we had booked a standard room and utilized online check in. Our room was ready about 20 minutes before the stated check in time and we were given a room on the backside of building 5. For reference, the pool photo below was taken from the second floor walkway of building 5 on the side that faced the pool. Our room was on the opposite side of that building. We didn't have a "view" per say but we were still incredibly close to the pool and dining areas without paying for any type of upgrade. It was about a two minute walk to Floatworks and a one minute or less walk to the pool. You may not always get this lucky but it has worked in our favor at this resort many times. 

Inevitably there's always a debate of which is better, "French Quarter" or the neighboring larger sister resort "Riverside." Riverside is undeniably the bigger resort and debatably the more elaborate of the two resorts. The pool at Riverside is a bit more unique but not so much so that it sways my vote in favor of Riverside. To me, French Quarter is the perfect blend. It's spread out enough to avoid crowded areas, but also is small enough that everything is a short walk away and common areas don't feel overcrowded like many of the value resorts tend to. If you're really debating one of the two Port Orleans options, you cant go wrong with either one. Look into the pools and look into the dining options at each one and if all else fails, pick the more budget friendly option.         
  

The Resort Rooms (Standard View Room Tier) 

As touched on briefly above, we booked a standard view room. Pool view, river view, and garden view rooms are available but it's hard for me to recommend spending the extra money for any of those unless you're really dead set on a particular view. A standard view room is listed as a parking lot view, but in my experience that is rarely the case when you actually arrive at the resort. 


The resort rooms themselves are classy (much like the overall resort) and are accented by dark woods and simple decor that fits with the New Orleans inspired theming without being over the top. Our particular room was spectacularly clean, the beds were surprisingly comfortable, and the layout of the room felt fairly roomy despite our obvious comparison to deluxe accommodations. I could see the room being a little small for some families or groups primarily made up of adults, but for the two of us it worked out quite well.

As a final note, the wood floors are a nice touch, but I will say that it's hard for me to get used to the commodity style larger, in shower, shampoos and soaps at the resorts compared to the earlier years of individual toiletry size soaps in each resort room. It's not necessarily a bad thing and I applaud Disney's efforts towards being more eco friendly and cost efficient, but it's a slight gripe with an overly positive resort experience (the two items pictured were the only individually packaged items in the room).         




A nice little addition to the experience was a welcome letter from the general manager of the resort including an email address encouraging guests to share reactions and responses to their stay. I'll likely send over this article to share my own personal thoughts as a result. It's a simple option that they really did not have to have available to guests but it shows that extra "Disney" touch of class and was even paired with a business card for the head of housekeeping if any issues arose.

On our particular stay, our air conditioning unit was not working properly and literally within minutes of our call to the front desk we had a very pleasant gentleman (I wish I could remember his name) in our room fixing the problem and making sure everything was perfect for our stay. He even wrote up a report, installed a new filter because he saw ours was near time for a change, and stuck around for a brief few minutes to assure that the unit was cooling correctly and would work well throughout our stay. It was a near perfect response on Disney's part and a testament to guest service. As someone looking to find a way into this industry in the near future and as a management student finishing a degree, this particular situation is one I tend to take mental notes of and I have to say it was handled flawlessly.  

The Pool That's Better Than You'd Expect!  

In many ways, the pool at French Quarter isn't spectacular but it is exceedingly above average. The crowds are usually low, the cast members on staff are quite pleasant, and chairs are readily available more often than not. It's not a super crowded pool, but I do have to tip my hat to the lifeguards watching the pool on this particular stay. They watched this pool like it was their only goal in life to keep people safe. I know Disney has rigorous lifeguard policies, but these folks went above and beyond. A young girl came out of the waterslide disoriented for some unknown reason and her parents weren't close enough to take action. The lifeguard jumped in without hesitation and was there just in case things could have changed for the worse. It turned out the girl was fine but I find it important to note that there was no hesitation and that's not something you'll get at all resorts and especially not at non-Disney resorts. They saw a potential problem and took action and I can't express enough how much of an excellent reflection of management and training that response was. 

As a simple side note, the pool was immaculately clean. So much so that we both looked around trying to find one of those weird piles of sunscreen pooling in the corner or an arrant leaf and found absolutely nothing. It was crystal clear in a shocking way in the middle of the afternoon.        


The Food - Top Notch! 

I'm unashamedly a sucker for good food, and the counter service location Floatworks is always near the top of our list when dining at Walt Disney World. Even if we're not staying at this particular resort we typically make a trip over just to enjoy the food. Floatworks has a great array of offerings that have a slight New Orleans flare to them in a food court style environment where everything is made on the spot for each and every guest. It's an impressive dining location to say the least and if you're not positive it's for you, just check out the photos of the cheese stake sandwich below. The Po' Boy sandwiches are also top notch and no meal here is complete with trying the shockingly affordable yet incredible Mickey shaped Beignets.   
  



Transportation (The Slight Downside) 

If I had to pick one downside to Port Orleans French Quarter it would be the transportation. I'm not one to be nit picky because I don't see a point in being negative. Negativity never does anyone any good and one of my greatest goals on this site is to be positive yet honest and authentic with everything I post. This point kind of blends the difference. The boat transportation to Disney Springs was top notch and is a huge benefit to staying at this resort. It's about a 17-18 minute journey, but it's a beautiful trip down the river and across the stunning lake bordering Disney Springs. If you don't do anything else at the resort while you're here, make an effort to ride to or from Disney Springs via boat transpiration at night. The view of the lights reflecting off of the water as you traverse the lake are truly stunning! 

On the downside, we fought with bus transportation to all other destinations the entire week. Each morning we faced a line of at least 40-50+ guests at our bus stop which typically required two buses before we could get to our destination. No particular park was worse than another but the story was true on return trips to the resort as well. Even on one particularly night that I chose to stick around nearly an hour after Epcot closed to "shut down the park" and grab some photos of the near empty park we arrived at the bus stop to the entire waiting area full. Our bus stop was the only one with more than 5 guests present at this point in the night and I've never faced anything quite like it at WDW. I'm typically a big proponent of Disney Transportation but this trip had me considering Uber or Lyft on multiple occasions. I share this not to be negative but rather to share that there is no perfect resort. Was it an inconvenience? Sure. Did it ruin our trip? Not in the slightest.   
       

Cast Members 

I throw this aspect of consideration in here for one main reason and that is that I truly believe that a good cast member can make or break your vacation experience. The cast at French Quarter are quite excellent and a select few encounters stand out. On our last day of the trip, a younger lady working the beignet counter made a special effort to add a little extra powdered sugar to our beignets because, in her words, 'Somebody was being stingy making them." It was a funny encounter but one we'll laugh about for a while. 

Ironically on the same day, we had the opportunity to talk to a very nice gentleman working out in front of the resort in the guest pickup/drop off area. For the life of me I can't remember his name but he made a special point to make sure our stay went well and that he hoped to see us again when we returned for our next visit in June (at a different resort but we'll undoubtedly stop by Floatworks). He even went as far as to share a few personal stories with us and was even kind enough to share a few tips about how to work my way into a role with Disney in future. He was nice in a welcoming way even though he obviously knew we were leaving the resort on that particular day. I'm a firm proponent of trying to make every moment count on a Disney trip, but on this particular day it was increasingly difficult to say goodbye. He knew the right things to say and what he didn't know is that I'd spent the last two hours trying to pull myself away from Epcot and a place that unashamedly felt like home in an indescribable way. While that's a story for another day and something that I hope to share along the way, it was the perfect bid farewell and friendly face that you could tell loved every minute of his role at the resort. He had no idea what our situation was and had no idea that it had been a shockingly difficult day, but he was happy and helpful in a way that perfectly made all the difference for us.      

To me, that is the near perfect example of a quality cast member and an individual that I hope gets a metaphorical "gold star" along the way. It's not the big things that make a difference but the culmination of little things that you'll remember years later for odd reasons that make all the difference. It sounds strange but once you experience it you'll completely understand.               

Wrapping Up - The Big Picture 

When it comes right down to it, I'm bias in favor of Dinsey resorts, but this particularly stay felt different. Our typical choice for a home away from home is the Boulder Ridge Villas of Wilderness Lodge and they will always hold that spot for sentimental reasons, but I cant overemphasize the inherent value of Port Orleans French Quarter. It's a near perfect moderate and likely always will be our recommended resort for first time and often returning guests on a budget that may not be able to afford the deluxe tier price point. It's a blend of two styles, a resort with a select few flaws, but largely it's an experience that checks an unbelievable amount of boxes that currently firmly plants it at the top of our recommended moderate resorts. 

Your Thoughts

As always, if you have thoughts, concerns, questions, or even some tips of your own to share, don't hesitate to reach out to us on Facebook or your favorite social media platform. Give us a follow while you're there, and we'll keep the conversation going in the future. We're not the largest Disney community, but we're one that's here and one that listens. Thanks for reading and have a wonderful day wherever you are!


Need a Travel Planner?

If you want or simply need a little bit of planning help to make your Disney vacation dream a reality, check out the quote request form below this article for our friends over at Destinations to Travel. They'll let you do as much or as little of the planning as you'd like and may even save you some money along the way! As always, thanks for supporting those who support us.

Ready to Plan?

Last but certainly not least, if you're starting the planning process, a great place to start are with some of our top planning articles! Looking for dining? Check out Disney World Dining Tips For 2018. Want to start with some more tips? 44 Excellent Disney World Tips for 2018 or Disney World Planning Guide and Tips For 2018 are a great place to begin! Looking to save money on tickets? Check out our friends over at The Official Ticket Center for great deals that even made it into our 2018 Discount Disney World Ticket selections and another great way to help us create more content through your contributions at no additional cost to you! You'll probably even save money along the way!




Sunday, March 3, 2019

The Unique Benefits of Becoming a Walt Disney World Annual Passholder That Tend to Get Overlooked

Guide4WDW.com

by: guide4wdw - Collin

The Unique Benefits of Becoming a Walt Disney World Annual Passholder That Tend to Get Overlooked 

Like many of the more frequent visiting Disney World fans, we aren't local but at the same time we are Annual Passholders. However, I tend to get asked why? To really answer that question, there's only one obvious answer and that's cost, but in an entirely different way there are far more benefits to being a WDW AP (Annual Passholder) than simply the cost savings associated with the pass itself. 

In all reality, unless you're making more than one trip to Walt Dinsey World each year and staying at least 4 days on each stay, you're better off not buying an annual pass. If you are one of those guests that tours for an extended amount of time or books multiple trips to the parks each year, the obvious option from a cost perspective is the annual pass. At an average of around $488 for a 4 day park hopper ticket, if you make two trips it easily ends up costing you more than the $894 Platinum Pass. In this year alone, we'll easily get our moneys worth out of the ticket in our first two trips of the year. Essentially our June trip will be "free" in the sense that we have already saved more than we spent on the original AP purchase compared to multiple tickets for our length of stay. 


The Overlooked Mindset 

With that being said, that really isn't the key benefit of the annual pass I want to focus on today and it's not the benefit the title of this article implies as "overlooked." The overlooked hidden gem of the annual pass purchase is the perceived availability of time and flexibility. It's somewhat difficult to explain in words but when you finally break down and buy the pass, it feels like there's no longer a limitation to your vacation. You don't feel like you're bound by the limited nature of the days on your ticket and that applies to not only a realistic time equation but a perceived thought process as well. In the literal realm, you dont feel bad for paying for an entire extra day to head to the parks for a few hours on your arrival day, and again you don't feel obligated to hang around the resort or head to Disney Springs on your departure day if you book an afternoon flight. You don't have to worry about formulating the ever present cost benefit analysis when booking your trip as a result, and at the same time you don't feel bound to the parks every minute every day.

If you don't manage to ride an attraction you wanted on a particular day of your stay, you don't really worry about it because you know you'll be back sooner rather than later and you can hit that attraction on a different trip. A lot of this equation and perceived benefits are a mental thing in all reality, but there's an inherent value in the new perspective the annual pass helps develop. 

In many ways, when you don't feel "tethered" to the parks to make the most of your ticket purchase price, you open yourself up to so many new and unique opportunities and a far more laid back style of Disney vacation. If you want to go back to the pool for a few hours, or want to sit around at the Boardwalk and simply enjoy the view, or even head over and play some miniature golf, you don't think about it as being "lost park time" but rather as something new to explore. 


The More "Literal" Benefits   

The annual pass does certainly accompany some very real benefits as well that are more stated and what's actually written in the annual pass holder packet than many expect as well. The discount on select shopping and dining alone (up to 20% off) is a huge difference maker and an incredible way to really make the most of the initial money you sacrificed to buy the pass in the first place. If you're local, and even if you're not, 20% off on a variety of different things can add up incredibly quickly. Essentially, the more you're in the parks, the more the perceived value of the actual discounts will work in your favor. 



Additionally, the free PhotoPass service is something I entirely overlooked myself for so many years. Typically, I'm always the one behind the camera as I do quite a bit of Disney parks photography, but it's always nice to have the option to get in a family picture, participate in a "magic shot" and simply reap the benefit of something you paid nothing extra for (well obviously you paid for it in a round about way). If you're a big fan of "in-park" photos, this perk alone can save you $169 if you buy it ahead of time and $199 if you were to buy it in the parks for each stay you book. Personally, this type of a service is something I'd pass on as a typical resort guest but I do have to say that I'm impressed with photopass time and time again. It's an added benefit that I never expected to use but find myself using more and more frequently. 


Last but certainly not least you get free parking at the parks and in my opinion it tends to make parking at other resorts you'd like to visit during your stay (obviously not as an overnight guest) a bit easier to accomplish without a dining reservation. Obviously, being an annual passholder isn't going to get the overnight resort parking fee waived but it does tend to help at the parking gates when you simply want to visit a resort to walk around or explore a little bit of the property.   





The Reality of It All 

I know it's easy to look at a $894 price tag as a non-local and think that the price is insane, but when you really think about it it's one of the better values in Walt Disney World entertainment. Essentially your annual pass cost is equivalent to buying access to the parks for 8 days on two separate weeks. Not only does an annual pass cost less than those two ticketed stays, but it also accompanies an insane amount of benefits, access to the parks for 365 days and a perceived freedom to visit anytime you want to visit the parks. 

For example, say you find yourself in Orlando for a business meeting. You may only have a few hours of free time during the event and may not want to buy a full day ticket to WDW to enjoy those few hours. If I had already bought an annual pass in that situation, you better believe I'd be headed to the parks! If I had to buy a $109 one day ticket for that same frame of time, there's no chance I'd spend that much money. 



Obviously that's an example that will apply to a very limited audience, but nonetheless it shows the perceived value of the unlimited nature of the annual pass and the benefits that you'll never find on a pamphlet in the parks. 


The Full Story 

For about two years we put off buying an annual pass. It was one of the worst mistakes we could have made from a cost perspective. Last year we didn't expect to visit the parks 3 times for a week at a time, but in the long run we could have saved ourselves nearly a thousand dollars if we would have just bought an annual pass during our first stay of the year. 

Buying an annual pass is one of those things that it's easier to tell other people to buy than it is to convince yourself to buy, especially when you're not 100 percent positive when you're going to make it back down to the parks. There's no denying that for a reasonably sized family of four adults (how we travel most of the time) buying four annual passes is definitely not a decision to take lightly considering the total purchase price is well over $1600. In the end, if you think you're going to book multiple trips and reasonably sure of being in the parks for at least two separate trips in the next 365 days, buy the annual pass if you have the funds available to do so. If you really want to maximize your useful days of the pass, book your vacation as a package with standard tickets. When you arrive at your resort, head to the concierge or to a guest services location at any park and ask to upgrade your ticket. In doing so your activation date will be the first day of your existing ticket and you will be able to apply that tickets purchase price towards your annual pass purchase. It's a fairly straight forward process but can help spread out the costs a bit more and maximize your usable timeframe of the days your annual pass will be active. If you wait until the end of your stay to upgrade, it will only hurt you because the upgrade will only apply from the first day of your existing ticket. Essentially you would just be forgoing the discounts you could have used as an annual passholder during your stay. 



Your Thoughts

As always, if you have thoughts, concerns, questions, or even some tips of your own to share, don't hesitate to reach out to us on Facebook or your favorite social media platform. Give us a follow while you're there, and we'll keep the conversation going in the future. We're not the largest Disney community, but we're one that's here and one that listens. Thanks for reading and have a wonderful day wherever you are!

Need a Travel Planner?

If you want or simply need a little bit of planning help to make your Disney vacation dream a reality, check out the quote request form below this article for our friends over at Destinations to Travel. They'll let you do as much or as little of the planning as you'd like and may even save you some money along the way! As always, thanks for supporting those who support us.

Ready to Plan?

Last but certainly not least, if you're starting the planning process, a great place to start are with some of our top planning articles! Looking for dining? Check out Disney World Dining Tips For 2018. Want to start with some more tips? 44 Excellent Disney World Tips for 2018 or Disney World Planning Guide and Tips For 2018 are a great place to begin! Looking to save money on tickets? Check out our friends over at The Official Ticket Center for great deals that even made it into our 2018 Discount Disney World Ticket selections and another great way to help us create more content through your contributions at no additional cost to you! You'll probably even save money along the way!



Saturday, March 2, 2019

Our Top Six Recommended Resorts for Disney World in 2019 - Something For All Price Points

Guide4WDW.com

by: guide4wdw - Collin

Our Top Five Recommended Resorts for Disney World in 2019 - Something For All Price Points 

It's no secret that once someone finds out that you run a Disney travel planning website that they immediately start asking you questions about the parks. Personally, I love answering those questions and in all reality it's one of the main reasons I started this site in the first place. However, one of the first questions that always comes up is "What resort should I stay in?" or, and perhaps my favorite comment, "You really stay on property, isn't that super expensive?" While both questions certainly have merit and I'm more than happy to answer them no matter who might be asking them, they both hold a certain place as the question that everyone asks but there's really no good answer to when it comes right down to it. 


The "What resort should I stay in?" question is perhaps the more straightforward and easier to answer of the two but inevitably there are so many facets and elements of answering the question that it's often more difficult to answer than one may expect from the outside looking in. When you really dive into it, there are 25+ different resort options at Walt Disney World that are currently run by the Disney company. Combine that with the new resorts and the variety of Disney resort room types available across property and this question immediately starts to get more complex. To really nail down an answer, the simplest question I ask in return is "What is your budget?" That's the question that matters the most. If you're considering a trip, pick a budget and a number you are financially comfortable with before even pulling up the Disney website or doing anything else. Additionally, be aware that the total cost of your stay isn't going to be your accommodation costs alone. You have to consider ticket prices, food budgets, souvenir budgets (which vary drastically from person to person), and ultimately figure out the big picture number of what you are comfortable spending. If you don't know that going into it it's incredibly easy to jump on the site and scroll through a page of deluxe resorts and quickly rack up a bill that will stagger you and immediately end your hopes of ever going to Walt Disney World. 

So many people have walked up to me over the years at work and elsewhere and asked me how we afford to go to Disney so often. The key to it isn't all that difficult to grasp. We are incredibly careful about what we spend throughout the year, and when we book our trips we do so with a budget in mind. We're not staying at the Grand Floridian or the Boardwalk every trip. Then again, we're not staying at the no-name motel on International Drive either (you may be seeing a whole different kind of Mouse if you do that). We watch the resort discount percentages that roll out constantly, we book what works with our budget, and we've even been known to share rooms with friends to shrink the costs of deluxe accommodations by booking villas and splitting up the costs. 



You see, the booking equation isn't really all that difficult if you go in with a set price ceiling in mind. That's my first piece of advice when booking your resort accommodations and it likely always will be. Additionally you have to consider what you want out of your resort stay. Some people view a resort as simply a place to sleep for the night. Personally, I don't buy into that philosophy. To me, an incredibly themed experience like the unique offerings you find at Disney's deluxe resorts and the incredible attention to detail that those resorts encompass truly do change your vacation experience. It's an intangible difference and one that you can never really measure but in the simplest of explanations it just feels different. At the same time though, if you've never stayed deluxe, or never even stayed on Disney property, you may not realize what you're missing and you may be of that crowd that spends so little time at your resort that it may not matter near as much to you as it does to us. I always say the happy medium is trying a moderate resort. If you want theming but you also want a reasonable price to see what works for you, moderates tend to be the way to go. There's nothing wrong with values and there's nothing wrong with club level accommodations at the deluxe resorts, but I'd be lying if I said they create the same guest experience. I hope that point comes across here, but when it's all said and done the key to the resort choice dilemma many guests face is a question I can never answer for you. It's all about what you want out of your Disney vacation and obviously that's something I can never choose for you. 



In response to the "isn't that super expensive?" remark, my go-to answer is always to compare what you're getting at a Walt Disney World resort to what you're getting at a non-Disney resort. Anyone that's not just being incredibly and insistently stubborn will tell you that staying on property is undoubtedly different than staying off property. I'm never going to tell someone one is better than the other, but having done both many times, I will say that it is increasingly rare that you save a significant amount of money staying off property. It is certainly possible to save money when you do, but 99% of the time that reality comes with some serious trade offs and often once you add in resort fees to some of the nicer off property resorts of equivalent quality to onsite accommodations, the price differential is (usually) relatively negligible. Again, I'm not saying one way of doing things is better than the other because everyone's preferences are going to vary drastically, but there are certainly trade offs. The main things you're giving up are the free airport shuttle to/from MCO via the Magical Express, on site transportation by cast members (by means of bus, boat, and monorail), an obvious theming element, and most certainly the feeling of being encompassed in that Disney "bubble." 

Many resorts off site will offer transportation for free or even occasionally for a fee but having used it myself I can guarantee you that it is by no means equivalent to onsite transportation. I've been on those buses and know how that system operates, and different is likely the understatement of the day. Overall, you may save a few dollars if you're incredibly careful, but is it vastly more expensive to stay on property to the extent that it will be a huge deciding factor for most guests given the trade offs? Not likely. 

So, to get back on topic a bit more and to actually answer the question we set out to answer today, here's what I recommend for resort accommodations in 2019. This isn't our favorite resorts list, but it is a list of places we highly recommend in the coming year. 2019 is going to be a big year for resorts. Caribbean Beach has changed drastically and continues to change, Coronado Springs is changing drastically as well, and there are more resort options to consider today than there have ever been before. So what do we recommend and why? 

If you're really just getting started in the booking process be sure to check out the posts mentioned in our full and all encompassing resort information page: 

The Budget Friendly Option 

If you're going to book a budget friendly Disney trip, there really is no better option than Art of Animation. It only narrowly beats out Pop Century but Pop Century fills up much quicker and is far more difficult to book than Art of Animation tends to be. The kicker on booking either one of these resort locations is that if a discounted room appears to be unavailable or only family suites are listed as available, select the resort you'd like to stay in, and then when the room selection option pops up click away from the discounted rate and select the "room" only offer option at the top of the page. In doing so, the system looks at non discounted rooms and often times availability pops up. More often than not availability is still present but the amount of rooms allocated for the given discount may have already filled or may not include the resort you are looking to book. 



Art of Animation is the value resort I personally recommend because it not only has a great food court, a great shopping location, and some of the most impressive pools on property, but it also features theming that is quite a bit more enveloping and pointed towards intellectual property that guests are familiar with than the other value resorts. The new Pop Century rooms are debatably nicer, but if you're traveling with kids they're likely to prefer the Art of Animation in room theming. 

As a final note, you may pay slightly more for Art of Animation than the other value tier resorts. In many ways it acts as a "value plus" style resort and you will pay a touch more for that, and you'll likely pay a good deal more for it if you're looking to book one of the family suites.          

The Mid Tier Options 

If you're looking for something a little nicer, you'll want to move up to the moderate tier resorts if your budget allows. Moderate resort accommodations have changed drastically in the last 3 to 5 years and what once used to be a sizable gap in level of luxury between deluxe and moderate is a much smaller difference than it once was. With the introduction of DVC accommodations to Caribbean Beach, the resort has transformed drastically over the last year. Truthfully, parts of it are indistinguishable from past years. The new dining offerings are far better than they once were, resort rooms have been overhauled and have a far more upscale feel than they once did, and with the exception of the vastly spread out nature of the resort and multiple bus stops to accompany that, there's very little to complain about or that guests could be unhappy about staying at Caribbean Beach. Once the Skyline is operational in the fall of this year, prices will likely climb for this resort location, but at this point in time you can book Caribbean Beach during the construction and save a ton of money while getting to experience much of what has already debuted without paying the premium prices. 

Characteristically, and in a similar way to Caribbean Beach, Coronado Springs will be the next big resort to stay at in the moderate tier once the new multi story tower officially debuts in the summer of this year. Again, due to the construction, you can score some deeply discounted rooms here leading up to the debut of the additions. In my opinion it's not a better option than Caribbean Beach but it's an option nonetheless that should definitely be put under consideration if the price is right for your dates.  
      

If you're looking to avoid construction all together and are willing to pay a few dollars more per night, I would highly recommend looking into Port Orleans french Quarter or Riverside. The overall resort isn't under any major construction at the moment and it's been my "go-to" resort recommendation in the moderate tier for years. It is the closest thing you can get to a deluxe resort at the moderate price point. You not only get a better bus transportation experience with fewer bus stops, but you also get the opportunity to utilize boat transportation to Disney Springs. It's a fairly long boat ride, but I can't explain enough how valuable that option is considering how much has arrived and is available to enjoy at Disney Springs. From dining, to shopping, to late night entertainment, it's insanely convenient to jump on the boat, ride a bit and be right there in the heart of Disney Springs.       

The High Price Yet High Value Options 

For the more high priced options, I always tend to recommend the villas over standard rooms. In most cases villa accommodations are equal in price or even sometimes more budget friendly than standard rooms, especially when booking on discounted percentage offers. Even if you have to book a studio room, the bonuses of the studios tend to be the better option due to different room layouts. If you are going to splurge a little bit but don't want to really break the bank I highly recommend the Boulder Ridge Villas at Disney's Wilderness Lodge or the Boardwalk Villas. Both can be found at what I consider reasonable prices if you're careful about when you book.      






The Boulder Ridge Villas have consistently been some of the best "value for the money" villas anywhere on property over the last year. The prices for Boulder Ridge do appear to be creeping up slightly in the summer months of this year, but if that is the case for your dates, consider looking into a room at the Boardwalk Villas. For some reason or another this summer one bedroom villas in particular at the Boardwalk are popping up at incredibly reasonable prices that can be near $370 nightly. The proximity to both Epcot and Hollywood Studios is unbeatable and the resort itself is one of the best layouts on property. The views alone are worth a stay here and I can guarantee you that if you spend a week here you'll witness one of the greatest sunsets of your life overlooking Crescent Lake. 

At this point you may be wondering why I don't recommend the usual picks of Grand Floridian, Contemporary, and Polynesian. Well, the answer to that is pretty simple. In my opinion, the value for your dollar at those resorts can't compare to these other deluxe tier resorts. It's not unusual to pay nearly twice what you would pay at Wilderness Lodge for a resort room at any of those other three resorts (obviously depending on your travel dates). To me, the trade offs in savings don't add up to a great enough difference in the level of experience to pay more for the other three. I'm not saying they're bad resorts. They are in fact incredible resorts and some of the best resorts in the nation, but if you're looking for a good value for your money in comparison to other offerings, it's hard to put them anywhere near the top of my list. If you're not worried about the costs, by all means book a fireworks view room at any of those resorts and it will blow your mind! If it's a once in a lifetime trip, it's worth every penny, but if you're looking for an excellent resort, put our two recommended options high on your list and you wont be disappointed.   

For More On Both of These Recommended Resorts - Check Out: 



Wrapping Up 

In wrapping up this article I hope these options give you a few things to consider. Next years list may look entirely different than this list and that's inevitably the nature of Disney resort accommodations. The parks and resorts are constantly changing. In recent years Disney has been moving towards a more premium experience but they're not alone in doing that. Even the experience at some seemingly simple resorts of the past like the classic Hampton Inn and Hilton Garden Hotels have moved towards a more premium array of offerings for guests. It's the nature of the hospitality business. Guests are demanding more and so many different groups are rising to the occasion. 

There's no hiding the fact that a Disney vacation is expensive, but there's no doubt in my mind that it's worth every penny. The entire booking process depends on so many different things, and they're elements of the booking process that I certainly can't decide for you. So much of all of this is a matter of preference but making an educated decision is all part of the process and the first step in making your Disney dream a reality. No matter what happens, be sure to make the most of every minute of your stay. If you're staying deluxe or staying in the most budget friendly resort you can find, it's all about what you make of it.

Often times the guests touring Disney for one day and savoring every minute of the one day that they may ever get to spend in the parks are the guests who do this better than anyone. It's a difficult thought process for many of us lifelong Disney fans and repeat guests to fully grasp, but it's one of those incredible things to keep in mind. So many times I've caught myself getting bummed out on the last day of our trips and then you you take a step back and look around you. So many people you're standing in line with, or eating lunch with, or even riding a bus with, this may be their only day at Walt Disney World. It really puts things in perspective and helps you realize that so many aspects of the Disney experience are all a matter of perspective. That's the true message behind all of this. Everyones perspective is going to differ slightly and I can give recommendations all day, but you have to figure out what works best for your desired vacation experience! As always, if you ever have questions, feel free to shoot me an email or message me directly on Facebook! 



Your Thoughts

As always, if you have thoughts, concerns, questions, or even some tips of your own to share, don't hesitate to reach out to us on Facebook or your favorite social media platform. Give us a follow while you're there, and we'll keep the conversation going in the future. We're not the largest Disney community, but we're one that's here and one that listens. Thanks for reading and have a wonderful day wherever you are!

Need a Travel Planner?

If you want or simply need a little bit of planning help to make your Disney vacation dream a reality, check out the quote request form below this article for our friends over at Destinations to Travel. They'll let you do as much or as little of the planning as you'd like and may even save you some money along the way! As always, thanks for supporting those who support us.


Ready to Plan?

Last but certainly not least, if you're starting the planning process, a great place to start are with some of our top planning articles! Looking for dining? Check out Disney World Dining Tips For 2018. Want to start with some more tips? 44 Excellent Disney World Tips for 2018 or Disney World Planning Guide and Tips For 2018 are a great place to begin! Looking to save money on tickets? Check out our friends over at The Official Ticket Center for great deals that even made it into our 2018 Discount Disney World Ticket selections and another great way to help us create more content through your contributions at no additional cost to you! You'll probably even save money along the way!



                           




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