Friday, January 19, 2018

Our Top Disney World Resorts For Adults

by: guide4wdw - Collin

Picking a Disney resort is a huge part of the Disney vacation planning experience, especially for those of us who are not local. However, the planning process shouldn't be dominated by a set "must do everything" mentality, but rather a more relaxed journey planning your way through the parks. I understand that statement in itself sounds contradictory to just about everything on this site, but the best way to describe my frame of thought is to recommend that you plan only what's absolutely necessary. Plan your resort accommodations, buy your tickets well in advance, and make your dining reservations. With the exception of the last one of the pieces of the puzzle listed, these things are pieces of the vacation that you really can't do at the last minute. Dining is an exception if you're willing to be a little less stringent about where you want to eat and when. If you're not looking to catch Be Our Guest or Cinderellas Royal Table (and even sometimes if you are), dont worry about booking them at the beginning of the 180 day reservation window. For many, that type of planning gets them excited for their vacation and I can appreciate that, but it's not always necessary. 

I've personally seen reservations for Be Our Guest and many other hard to get reservations pop up on the dining app the day before, or even the day of, your planned time in the parks. However, Disney resorts aren't quite that way. Last minute reservations are certainly doable at times in regards to resorts, but it's not the ideal way to plan your accommodations. Personally, I don't recommend trying to book a stay (without flexible dates) less than 2 months out. The suggested booking window will vary for peak seasons and special events but if you're looking for a particular resort, the earlier you book, the better off you'll be. (If you are booking last minute, I highly recommend an authorized Disney travel planner to help you find any last minute possibilities)

So, to get to what you probably came for in the first place, we're taking a look at the resorts as a whole and diving into what we see as the very best resorts for adult trips. Of course, kids and adults are welcome at any and all resorts on property at any time but a few select options stand out to me as the best case scenario for an adult getaway. 

We'll start out with our suggestions at the value tier and work up from there to the deluxe category of resort accommodations. Honestly, we tend to stay deluxe simply because that's what works for us, but we also tend to avoid the dining plan because that also works for us. There's no perfect way to do Disney, and I'm sure many opinions will differ from mine, but we'll jump right into it and see what we come up with!


1. Pop Century
The value tier is a bit unique in the world of Disney accommodations. The hotels are great and remain incredibly clean, but many guests down play them simply because of the other top tier options on property. Personally, I don't see why. A value resort is every bit as "Magical" as any other Disney resort and I'd go as far as to say that any Disney value resort would stack up to any major hotel chains typical accommodations anywhere in the country. The values are great for what they are. They're not going to have the most elaborate theming thats deep with little hidden details like the Wilderness Lodge, but you still get that Disney flair that sets them apart from all other vacation destinations. 

If you're taking that into consideration, I recommend Pop Century as the best value resort. Not only does it feature a more "Disney" inspired theme in a round about way, but it's also separated from the hustle and bustle of the dance teams, cheerleaders, and sports teams which typically reside at the three All-Star resorts. For adults in particular, it features a great food court, an excellent pool, and some of the better transportation options of it's tier. 

Last, but certainly not least, you have the fact of it's price point. Pop Century, while typically a touch more expensive than the All-Stars remains quite budget friendly throughout the year, and even at peak times. For adult only trips, it's probably your best option of the value tier. 


1. Caribbean Beach 
The moderate resorts are a unique blend of deluxe theming combined with value transportation. For years, we vacationed almost exclusively at Caribbean Beach. We loved the resort (especially when we scored a great room location) and the pool area and all encompassing theming gave us an experience we couldn't get anywhere else. The bus situation isn't perfect, and the pool can be a bit of a walk from your resort room, depending on where you get placed, but the little communities allow you to spread out more and avoid a cramped feeling some guests experinece when staying in the value tier.

For adults in particular, the pool area is excellent, the youngest children have their own area to play in, the food and drinks are a few steps away from the pool, and the theming of the rooms is more subtle in regards to the character presence. I'll readily admit I'm a bit nostalgic about Caribbean Beach, and while it is an excellent resort if you can handle a resort with multiple bus stops, it's not my top pick for a moderate resort, but Port Orleans is!  

2. Port Orleans French Quarter
Port Orleans French Quarter has earned an impressive place in the realm of Disney resorts for me and I even went as far as to call it "One of the Best Moderate Resorts" in a recent article here on the site. In my humble opinion, it's the best bang for your buck on property. Now, that stament may change over the next few years as changes develop at Caribbean Beach and Coronado Springs so we'll have to wait and see how that plays out in the end, but at the time being I'd recommend Port Orleans to any guest headed to the parks. 

To me, this resort is the ultimate hidden gem. The resort is small, and rooms are never a far walk from the main lobby area, food court, or pool area. The main refillable mug station is just steps away from the main pool and the guest rooms vastly out rank their price level. The counter service food here is some of the best on property. The main dining location is called Floatworks and not only can you purchase the typical cheeseburger and fries, but you can get a little adventurous and try a Po' Boy Sandwich or even a piece of prime rib! For me, it's a highlight of any trip and a place we typically stop in even if we're not staying at that particular resort. We even added it to Our Top 5 Quick Service Dining Options at Walt Disney World!

Another bright spot for French Quarter is it's transportation. Featuring an easily accessible bus stop that only stops at that particular resort rather than making multiple stops to pick up additional guests at other resorts or at four or five additional stops within your resort. I completely understand that seems trivial but after a long day in the park, the last thing you want to do is stop multiple times before arriving at your destination.     


1. Wilderness Lodge 
Inevitably, deluxe resorts come with a higher price tag than all of the aforementioned resorts, but that price comes with some impressive benefits, especially for an adults only adventure. Wilderness Lodge is a prime example of a resort that offers more than you may expect going in. From the moment you walk in the lobby, the inevitable "wow factor" pops out to you. The large, vastly encompassing high ceilings welcome you from the moment you walk in the door. The level of theming is beyond what you may expect. Not only in the realm of theming but also in the realm of dining. At Wilderness Lodge, you have a few excellent dining opportunities including one of the latest and greatest counter service locations on property in my opinion, Geyser Point. The food is excellent and one of the best Disney cheeseburgers I've ever had (even though they offer other items). While providing great food, it also provides an excellent outdoor seating environment that welcomes a casual get together with friends or a simple place to hang out after many hours in the park to unwind and share some stories with friends. 

In a similar yet different way, you have the Carolwood Room which is an impressively themed and historically accurate representation of a passion of the man who started it all. For more on that, feel free to check out in our Outstanding Disney History Hiding in Plain Sight: The Carolwood Room post. 

I could go on and share any number of deluxe accommodations that are truly wonderful places to stay and unlike anything you'll experience anywhere else in the world. They honestly can be that impressive, but all things considered, you cannot go wrong in the deluxe tier of resorts. For a typical guest though, they may not be the best option for you. They're very expensive, even on discounted rates (Disney Discounts Are Here For Spring and Early Summer - Up To 20%), and are far from the most economical way to travel in the long run, but do certainly have their perks. It's all about what works for you and what you want out of a resort stay.  

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

10 Easy Ways To Save Money At Disney World in 2018

by: guide4wdw - Collin

Back in July we shared a brief look at 5 Simple Ways to Save Money At Walt Disney World and while many of those tips still remain vastly true for the new year, we wanted to take a moment and add to our list as the parks grow and change from time to time. Today, we're taking a look at 10 Easy Ways to Save Money At Walt Disney World in 2018. A select few of these are fairly common sense options, but others dive a bit deeper into specific and somewhat creative ways to save money when booking, and even occasionally while you're on your Disney vacation.

Before we get started, there's a few different reasons you may be interested in saving money during or when panning your Disney vacation. First and foremost, many of us have been in the position where we needed to keep a trip as budget friendly as humanly possible, and while Disney still remains quite expensive, it doesn't have to be the monumental expense that many prospective travelers view it as. 

We've done Disney on so many different budgets. I can remember our early trips where we stayed at Caribbean Beach (when it used to cost around $100 a night!), cut coupons for the grocery store for months to save money for the trip, and were incredibly selective about the few dining reservations we could afford. 

At that point, Hollywood Studios was still showing "Who Wants To Be A Millionaire: Play It!", Test Track was breaking down almost daily over at Epcot, and Fantasyland still featured the lake which once held 20,000 Leagues Under The Sea: Submarine Voyage. It was a different time in Disney history, but a savings experience nonetheless. Today, we tend to travel a little bit differently and have been known to stay at Deluxe resorts and eat at many table service dining locations, but for us the same frugal mindset still applies. We cut certain things out, prepare in advance, and do whatever we can to save money in order to afford our typical vacation "style." 

So, today we're going to look closer at what we do or have considered doing to save money over the years in one way or another. The biggest thing to remember is that when implementing these tips, you may have to give something up during your vacation. The key to getting the most out of these tips is not to cut out something the makes a huge difference during your vacation but rather to cut the small things that aren't necessarily fundamental to your vacation style. We tend to splurge on resort accommodations because that's what we enjoy, but other guests may not spend the time in the resort necessary to make a difference in their vacation experience. Everyone's situation is going to be different so you'll have to apply what tips work for you in the long run to truly maximize your savings.

1. Take Some Food With You

This is perhaps one of our simplest tips on the list. If you're driving to Disney World, pack up a cooler with fruit, drinks, and snacks that you would otherwise have to buy at your resort or make a trip to an Orlando area grocery store to pick up when you arrive at your resort. Buying simple snacks on Disney property can be ridiculously expensive and items that seem fairly simple tend to be the most expensive. Take for example a gallon of milk. Expect to pay near twice what you would typically pay at a grocery store if you buy a gallon at one of Disney's resort hotels. From Disney's perspective it's simply a necessity scenario. They know if you need it, you'll buy it and pay just about anything to get it. 

If you're flying, you still have a few options. Personally, I've heard excellent recommendations for Garden Grocer. The company is a grocery delivery service which services Disney property and surrounding areas. I know many Disney sites do have an affiliate relationship with them but I can assure you I am not one of them at this time. I simply recommend them because it could save you money compared to buying food on Disney property or catching a town car or uber to the closest grocery store. 

Lastly, in regards to food, we tend to recommend that guests, no matter if you're flying or driving, grab at the very least some cheese crackers or granola bars from home before embarking on their Disney vacation. Not only do they travel well and meet TSA guidelines, you can avoid a ton of breakfast costs by skipping counter service breakfast and simply doing a grab and go breakfast with a granola bar on the bus to the parks. If you still want to grab that full breakfast, wait until around 10:30 and use it as a breakfast and a lunch and save yourself an extra meal to be paid for in the end. To learn more about that strategy, before sure to check out our Disney World Dining Plan Tips and Tricks.

2. Reconsider the Dining Plan

If you've spent much time here one the site, you likely already know my opinion of the dining plan. It's a great program but a convenience rather than a good deal. If you cut out the dining plan (which seems like a good deal on paper), you may be surprised what you can save. The main plan will cost you near identical to what you would pay for the included items out of pocket. However, the kicker to it all is that most guests will never be able to fully enjoy the full showcase of offerings the dining plan provides. By the time you eat a full table service meal, which is oftentimes a buffet at Walt Disney World, you're typically so full you wont eat the next meal of the day. On top of that, your snack offerings tend to get used as secondary meals if you use them most effectively as mentioned in tip number 6 below. 

All things consider, most guests end up paying for something that they wouldn't typically buy in the first place if they were paying for the meals directly out of pocket rather than on a plan. It's vastly convenient but if you're looking to save many, it's not your best option unless you are someone who travels to the parks as a culinary adventure rather than a theme park experience. We've done that before, and it's a ton of fun, but certainly not the most cost effective option for the vast majority of guests. 

If you are looking for dining plan tips, be sure to check out our Disney World Dining Plan Tips and Tricks post or our  5 Disney Dining Plan Mistakes You Want To Avoid And Why.

3. Consider dropping the Park Hopper

I'm not ashamed to admit that I love the park hopper option on tickets. It allows you to jump from park to park as much as you want and in my opinion really allows you to maximize your time on vacation. If you want to ride Flight of Passage again but you're in Magic Kingdom, no problem! Jump on a bus and head to Animal Kingdom and jump in line. For us, the opportunities it provides vastly outweighs its cost in the long run, but with that being said, when traveling with a larger party the costs associated with the ticket add-on each day tends to get expensive.

Additionally, be aware of the reversed diminishing returns. If you go for a shorter ticketed stay, the park hopper isn't going to be all that useful to you because you will be spending each full day trying to cover as much of that particular park as possible on each given day. However, if you plan on a 7 day stay (if so you may want to try Our Typical Disney World 7 Day Itinerary) or a comparable length of stay, the park hopper can be incredibly beneficial. It can free up a ton of different dining options for each day of your trip and really allows you to bounce from park to park to make the most of every minute of your trip. 

With all of that under consideration, if you want to save as much as humanely possible, avoid the park hopper altogether. It's an expense that can be avoided unless it is fundamental to your vacation style. If you're a first time guest, you wont miss the park hopper option in the slightest.         
Join the Event

4. Try a Moderate or Value Resort

I openly admitted at the beginning of this article that we typically stay at Deluxe resorts. For us, it tends to be the splurge of most of our vacations. Sometimes, it's a bigger splurge than others, like when we tried club level for the first time. Granted, that was likely a once in a lifetime trip that we booked for a special occasion at a rate that we lucked into at the last minute. Even considering that reality, it may require the sacrifice we talk about in number 7 to do so.

As in life, Disney planning is very much about weighing what things are worth to you and your given situation. For us, we travel with people that get carsick very easily. So, as a result, we try to book resorts that have water transportation or monorail transportation rather than buses. There's nothing worse than arriving at a park carsick and fighting with that feeling for the first few hours. For us, it's worth the extra costs, but that is just one of many reasons we tend to stay deluxe.

In the long run, we've still stayed at moderate resorts time and time again and for a vast majority of guests they are top tier accommodations. We adored Port Orleans French Quarter and spent year after year staying exclusively at Caribbean Beach. Sure, you may have to walk further to the bus stops, or even walk quite a ways to get to the pool, but the trade off can save you $100 or more per night of your stay.  

5. Buy Disney Gift Cards

This tip is something that may or may not work for everyone. As a relatively new trend in the Disney planning online community, many guests have started buying Disney gift cards to pay for their vacations. In concept that sounds a bit strange but many guest have found it as a great way to save money and sometimes quite a bit of money. 

The kicker to the whole system is to buy the gift cards you'll use to pay for your vacation or to use on your vacation from a local grocery store or hardware store that sells gift cards and has a loyalty program. 

Kroger stores are perhaps the best example. When you buy these gift cards, there are often kickback offers throughout the year that allow the purchases to influence points used in exchange for gas station discounts at their gas stations. Typically, if you buy so many gift cards, you get a certain amount of cents off each gallon of gas purchased. 

If you do so carefully, you can max out your cents per gallon savings each month leading up to your vacation and save hundreds of dollars on gasoline while storing up gift cards to pay for your vacation expenses. 

Additionally, retail giant Target will occasionally run Black Friday type sales on gift cards offering a set percentage off of the total amount of the gift card in order to get people in their stores in hopes that they will buy something else while they're there. Most of the time, these offers are capped at a certain dollar amount of cards you can buy, but it could save you some money nonetheless. 

It me be the strangest option on our list but it has been proven to save some guests hundreds, if not thousands, of dollars.     

6. Use High Quality "Snacks" to Avoid Full Meal Costs 

If you're concerned about meal costs or simply want to cut back on meal spending, look for high quality snacks in the parks. If you're eating a table service breakfast or even some select counter service meals, you may not be hungry for a full fledge meal at the next meal time. Instead, head to a bakery and grab a muffin or a caramel apple, or even the iconic Turkey legs (not a dining plan snack) in the parks for a snack offering that will get you to the next meal without breaking the bank on an unnecessary full counter service meal. 

In conjunction with this tip, avoid the combo style meals at counter service locations. You don't always need to buy a drink and a side to get a full meal at Walt Disney World. Order a big cheeseburger, a giant hotdog, or even a half rack of ribs and forget the combo. You probably wont eat all of the side items anyway and avoiding the drink alone (and opting for tip 9 instead) can save you a ton of money over the span of a weeks vacation.    

7. Cut a Park Day

We've done this time after time to offset costs. I know it seems counter productive, but you dont have to go the parks every day of your vacation to have an amazing day. Just to share with you a few options we came up with The Top 5 Things To Do At Walt Disney World Outside Of The Parks (on a budget)

You will be shocked at how much time you can spend resort hoping or touring Disney Springs for a fraction of the cost of touring the parks even when you include a table service meal at the Springs or at a resort hotel. 

We take advantage of this on nearly every trip at some point and it has become one of the highlights of our longer trips to the parks. You'll be shocked at all their is to do at the different resorts and more importantly, you'll be surprised at how little it costs when you compare it to the cost of an additional ticketed day on shorter stays.    

8. Travel With Friends To Make Deluxe Affordable

This single tip is the main reason we can afford staying Deluxe on nearly every vacation. When we travel, we travel with friends. For example, on our next trip we'll be traveling in a group of seven people. While that many guests requires a 2 bedroom villa or larger accommodations available mostly at deluxe resorts, its often cheaper to do that and all stay in one room than it is to book multiple rooms at moderate tier or even value tier resorts at times. This is especially true when you consider the tradeoffs of a full kitchen and better transportation. 

When you spread out the cost among seven individuals, the cost per person, or even per family decreases exponentially. A room that was at one time unattainable for a single family becomes much more affordable when split two or more ways.

For most groups, this is the ideal situation. you don't have to break up your party, you save money, and you get to do almost everything together. If you want a few minutes away from the group, typically doors separate sections of the villa rooms that can easily be closed to partition off the accommodations. It's a win-win for everybody if you can find family or a group of friends you enjoy traveling with.       

9. Drink Lots of Water

This is a two sided tip. It can save you money while greatly influencing your health during your trip. Every Disney counter service location will give you a free cup of ice water just for asking for it. It doesn't matter what you order, or if you order nothing at all, they'll give it to you and you can save a ton of money doing so. 

If you can avoid soft drinks it will save you more money than you may expect. Fountain drinks at Walt Disney World parks and resorts tend to be a bit aggressively priced. Not only that, but in the heat of the summer, water will ultimately be the best thing for you and your health as you walk many miles each day. In the end it might not only save you money, but also keep you from falling into that "Disney Funk" many guests talk about half way through their week long vacation. The body can only stand so much junk food before it starts having adverse effects in the Florida heat. Take my advice from experience and make yourself feel better while saving money along the way. Ok, rant over (lol).        

10. Avoid The "Hidden Costs"

For many guests, this expense is the greatest expense of them all. Disney is designed to suck you into gift shop after gift shop full of unique merchandise to commemorate your experiences. From dated logo gear to attraction specific merchandise, it's easy to want one of everything that you walk past. If you can avoid the temptation to buy these souvenirs or convince yourself to wait and find that one ideal souvenir to commemorate you're whole trip rather than just one facet of it, you can save a tone of money. 

In a similar way, watch for hidden fees of off property resorts. If you want to stay off property to save money, I would reconsider it. Many times, after paying resort fees, parking costs at the resort and parks, or fighting with non-Disney shuttles you'll realize the couple bucks you may or may not have saved wasn't worth it in the long run. Trust me, I've tried it many times, and it's just not worth it. The sole exception to this tip is the Swan and Dolphin. It's an excellent resort but features Disney transportation and official Disney "bonuses" that very few off site resorts currently offer in early 2018. 

Hopefully these tips get you on the right track to saving money on your Disney vacation. This is far from an all inclusive list but hopefully a great place for you to start or add something to your planning process. 

Ready to Plan?

Need help planning your vacation? Let our friends over at Destinations to Travel (FREE - no obligation quote request form below) help you out at no additional cost to you! Their service are free and a great way for you to help out the site at no extra cost to you!  

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! 

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Monday, January 15, 2018

4 Excellent Places to Relax During a Disney Vacation

by: guide4wdw - Collin

A Disney vacation can be a bit overwhelming at times for guests of all ages. At some point during your trip you'll inevitably need an escape from the crowds or simply a place to sit back and relax for even just a few minutes. The crowds of the parks can be overwhelming at times, especially during peak seasons, but I dont see that as a reason to avoid the parks altogether, but rather quite the opposite. I see the crowds as an opportunity to explore something new. 

Perhaps, I view the crowds that way because I've been able to ride attractions time and time again over the years, or because I tend to enjoy the simpler elements of a Disney experience, but nevertheless, a relaxing spot can make all the difference throughout the course of your Disney vacation. A place of "escape" and a place to relax the mind and simply step away from it all while remaining present in the Disney realm of activities can become a small highlight of the day. No matter what your purpose of your vacation may be, here are a few unique places to step back and relax at Walt Disney World.

While many of these locations are outside of the parks, none of them will be more than 10 minutes away from the heart of the magic in Disney's theme parks. Additionally, we're taking a look at some of the less obvious locations and on top of that, locations that cost absolutely nothing extra during your vacation. 

The Second Floor of the Grand Floridian
The Grand Floridian is designed in a way that is quite relaxing and an excellent place to step away from the parks for even just a short while. The resort is a short monorail ride away from the Magic Kingdom and opens up a world of possibilities developing a relaxing venue for guests of all ages. The lobby is complete with a piano playing in the background or a classic band playing in the loft above the main floor, creating a sensory experience that is nearly second to none. Around Christmas, the lobby transforms into a winter wonderland and a Christmas setting like you'd find in a Hollywood movie. 

While the main lobby is excellent, one of my favorite places to relax for even a brief few minutes is on the second floor of the resort. On the right hand side of the lobby, if you're facing Magic Kingdom, you'll find a grand staircase lined with red carpet leading up to the second floor. As soon as you arrive on the next level you'll notice a relatively small seating area off to the right complete with an outdoor covered balcony. As you sit in the comfortable chairs, rest your feet for a while, or take some time to catch up with family or friends you can hear the sounds of the lobby while stepping away from the constant flow of guests. It's a vastly simple experience but oftentimes the needed few minutes of rest necessary to finish out your day in the parks no matter if you're a guest of the resort or not.       

(Pictured: The Carolwood Room)
The Carolwood Room 
A second location just a short boat ride away from the Magic Kingdom is Disney's Wilderness Lodge. Of course, the grand lobby of the resort is typically the selling factor for most guests when booking reservations for the location, there's a second lobby that many guests completely overlook. The second lobby is a short walk away from the main atrium if you follow the path traveling out the right hand side of the lobby. 

As you walk down the hill you'll see a second building. That second building is the main section of villas at the resort (the original villas) and actually features it's own small lobby with a unique twist involving Disney history, The Carolwood Room. I've mentioned it many times here on the site, but the Carolwood Room and display is one of my favorite places on Disney property. It's a place where you can head to late at night, sit down in front of a fireplace, and catch a glimpse at some true Disney history. The chairs are incredibly comfortable, the atmosphere is warm and inviting, and could quite easily be one of the quietest places on property at the right time of day. 

I wont go too in depth about the historical element of the room, because we covered it in detail in ouOutstanding Disney History Hiding in Plain Sight: The Carolwood Room article. All things considered, it's one of the most overlooked elements of Walt Disney World that I honestly think any guests should go and see even if you're not looking for a place to relax.

The Contemporary's Grand Concourse 
As one of the closest and simplest places to take a break from the parks, the Contemporary's 4th floor Grand Concourse is a great place to sit down or even wander around for a short amount of time. There are small seating areas throughout the floor in addition to one of the most expansive balconies with an excellent view of the Magic Kingdom. Looking to avoid the majority of the crowds during the Happily Ever After fireworks or have a young child who's ready to be done for the night? Head to the balcony of the Contemporary's 4th floor to relax before the show debuts and then as it nears the nightly fireworks debut, head out on the balcony and enjoy the show from a new perspective. It's not the perfect view of the show and you will miss some of the projections (due to the distance away from the castle) but it's a magical experience nonetheless. 

The Japan Pavilion 
Over at Epcot, you can take a few steps away from the promenade and the day's activities to a little hideaway full of character at the Japan Pavilion. Tucked away on the left hand side of the pavilion you'll find a series of fountains over near Katsura Grill. Grab a snack from the counter service location and escape from reality for a brief moment as you explore the unique elements of the garden atmosphere in one of the most picturesque settings in all of Walt Disney World. It's an incredibly simple location, but one that I see as one of the easiest "escapes" to implement for a long spell or as briefly as you want during your day at Epcot.   

The Polynesian Outdoor Seating 
Last but certainly not least is a casual location that I stumbled into a few short years ago and have surprisingly never mentioned here on the site. Just outside of the Polynesian's main lobby, near the Captain Cook's counter service location, you'll find an outdoor seating area a few steps away from the pool where you can catch a glimpse of the Seven Seas Lagoon and even Magic Kingdom in the distance. It's nothing overly special, but a great place to grab a snack and take in a view that is certainly hard to beat! The only real downside to this location to step away from the parks to is that it is not air conditioned. However, with the Polynesians main lobby and ample indoor seating also a short distance away, you'll always have that option to beat the weather if you get hot or a mid afternoon rain shower rolls in unexpectedly. 

Personally, my favorite time to visit this casual spot is in the early evening right after the typical dinner time as the sun goes down and those picturesque Florida sunsets debut. Grab a Dole Whip at Pineapple Lanai a few steps away and take in the sunset before walking down to the beach for an excellent experience you'll never forget.    

What do you think of our list? Of course, these aren't show stopping locations, or high end spas that most guests look to for prime relaxation, but if you want a free "escape" look no further! Hopefully, these relatively unique locations can provide you with something special during your vacation experience or something new to try for the first time. 

As always, if you're looking to book a Disney vacation, but want to catch some free additional help along the way, we recommend Destinations to Travel (no obligation quote request form below). They're a great group of agents, and it allows you to help out the site at no additional cost to you (Plus, It's a free service in the first place.)      

Sunday, January 14, 2018

Our Top 4 Disney Articles of 2017 - "A Closer Look"

by: guide4wdw - Collin

Without a doubt, the last year has been a huge learning experience, but I wouldn't of had it any other way. Along the way, we shared a little over 300 articles covering a vast range of Disney World news, tips, and history. However, a few articles stood out as the most popular of the year. 

Of course, we're a little late in posting this article, considering that we're already 14 days into 2018, but we thought we'd do a little bit of a throwback post to take a closer look at how the years top posts unfolded. Before we dive into it, I just want to take a moment and say thanks for supporting us over the last year. The site has grown more than I ever expected and continues to amaze me day after day. If this is your first time reading here or if you're a reader of every post we put out, we truly appreciate you being here and taking the time out of your day to spend a few minutes here with us. 

Moving over to the top articles of the year, we'll start out with an unfortunate situation turned memorable for many guests of the Swan and Dolphin Resort. During this years closings in preparation for the hurricane, Disney really made the most of a bad situation providing activities for guests that aren't normally available at resorts and provided entertainment for guests stuck in their resorts. However, one other resort made the most of the unfortunate situation with a celebrity many of us may recognize. Kristen Bell, who was shooting a movie in south Florida as the hurricane rolled in, made a last minute relocation to Orlando to the Swan property (part of the Marriot International group) near Epcot. While she was staying there waiting out the store, she made a special effort to play Bingo with a group of seniors staying at the resort during the storm as well. Along the way, we covered a bit of additional news detailing the items given to guests to get ready for the storm.  

For a variety of reasons, the article became quite popular. If you want to check it out in full, here's the original:  

Kristen Bell Bingo, Resort Dining, and Resort Emergency Kits: A Quick Update As Irma Rolls In

The next post on the list brings us to one of my favorite articles based on one of my favorite simple experiences in all of Walt Disney World. A few months back, during our July trip to the parks, we made a special effort to stay until the park officially closed to experience "The Kiss Goodnight." While that particular short show was excellent and the perfect end to any night at Magic Kingdom, the experience surrounding the show vastly outdid the words of the narration in nearly every way. As the park closes and guests make their way out, the night takes on an entirely different feel. While the park is innately the same in design, the hustle and bustle of the day fades away and there's a simple elegance of the lands that comes to life in a unique way. The lands are emptied, the music becomes much more pronounced and the atmosphere changes for the better. It's an incredible experience and while I'm shocked that this post topped our articles for the year, I would certainly say it was a highlight of my year. 

A One of A Kind Disney Experience: Shutting Down the Magic Kingdom!

In a somewhat shocking portion of our top posts, the list changes directions and goes towards our trip planning tips. As one of many food related posts (we know we do a lot of food posts lol) we shared a closer look at 5 excellent entrees under $15 at Walt Disney World. While we love dining at Walt Disney World in nearly any form, it's always great to catch a great meal at a fair price. It's no surprise that Disney dining can be quite high, so here's what we came up with to try and save you a little money along the way. 

Im happy to say that our last article in this top 4 breakdown takes the site back to it's roots with a little bit of Disney history and in particular Disney's extinct River Country waterpark. The park closed in 2001 and unfortunately I was 5 years old at the time so I never got to see  it first hand. For years, I've been fascinated by the park and it's origins, and wish more than just about anything that Disney would rebuild it in a self contained format (rather than the original lake conjunction design). Of course, it would never be quite the same due to the inevitable dangers of the lake itself and the nature surrounding the aquatic scenario, but it would be neat to see how Disney could bring the concept back to life in an entirely new way.

Sadly, River Country faced a number of safety and economical concerns, but it still holds a special place in the hearts of so many guests who experienced it over the years. It certainly wasn't an ideal waterpark but one that created so many fond memories for guests of all ages and paved the way for the Disney waterparks we have today! 

That about covers our list, but there were many others quite close in the rankings! Do you have a favorite post that we shared this year? Be sure to tell us about it the comments. Have a tip or suggestion for something we should cover next? Be sure to share that with us as well and we'll get to it as soon as we can! Thanks again for reading and have a great rest of the weekend 

Thursday, January 11, 2018

Our Typical Disney World 7 Day Itinerary

by: guide4wdw - Collin

Over the years we've traveled to Walt Disney World on so many different budgets. From the early days of staying at Caribbean Beach for less than $100 a night (which unfortunately is now nearly impossible) to splurging and going all out on our club level experience back in July. So, I would claim it's fair to say we've run through a vast majority of the realm of possibilities on a Disney vacation planning experience. Of course, budgets vary and personal circumstances and necessary accommodations change on a guest by guest basis, but today we're going to take a look at something every single Disney World guest can apply to their own vacation no matter what resort you're staying at. As you likely already noticed in the title, today we're taking a look at our recommended Disney World 7 Day Itinerary. 

When we travel to Disney, we typically do so with a certain balance in mind. We've done the trips where we went to ride as many attractions as we could, and we've even done stays where we didn't even go to the parks. While both have their merits and strong points, our style of traveling to the parks has grown into a culmination of both concepts. We like to go all out in the mornings and ride as many attractions as possible as shared in our How to Ride 6 or More Attractions in 90 Minutes or Less: With Only 1 Fastpass+! article but then take the afternoon to take a step back and enjoy the little things Disney has to offer in a more relaxed manor. 

If that sounds like a Disney style you can get behind and try for yourself one day (and I highly recommend it!), I invite you to join us as we share a detailed look at what we would do during a 7 Day Disney World Vacation. Before we jump into the details, you will need a couple things if you plan on utilizing our strategy (but it can me modified if you don't want to do these things). First, our plan relies heavily on the park hopper add-on or a annual pass of some type. The best current prices on the park hopper stand alone tickets we've found at the Official Ticket Center. Additionally, you'll need to be staying on Disney property to make the most of this itinerary. The best offer available at the time being is Up To 20% Spring and Early Summer Rates. Other than those two things, that's about all you'll need to take full advantage of our touring plan. 

Day 1
Typically the first day of a Disney trip is a partial day at best. A majority of guests will be arriving at mid day if they're flying in or later in the afternoon if they're driving from a fairly distant area of the country. As a result, what we recommend on days like this is that first and foremost you plan your fastpasses late in the day. Additionally, we recommend that you go to Magic Kingdom that first night, because nearly every guest wants to see Cinderella's castle and walk down the iconic Main Street USA as soon as they possibly can. As soon as you step into the lobby of your Disney hotel and the background music hits you and your greeted with that warm cast member welcome, your mind tends to go straight to the parks. 

The parks are a part of the magic that so many of us have fallen in love with over the years. As you arrive, there's no place you'd rather be, and waiting until that next morning to step foot in them is just tough to do. The extra day on a 6 day ticket to catch this extra few hours in the park is typically marginal as the price for extra days falls as the number of days you buy increases. In my opinion, it's well worth the extra money and most of you will agree with me once you get there. If you're looking to save as much money as possible, simply jump to Day 2 and begin your park days there. 

Day 2 
In our experience, the best case scenario for a week long vacation is to schedule your first full park day on a Monday. Monday's are great days for touring any park except Magic Kingdom. As mentioned above, every guest wants to step foot in the Magic Kingdom as soon as they arrive on their Disney vacation. Fortunately, if you took our recommendation, you will have already been to the park while many others waited until their first full day to explore the flagship park. So, instead of Magic Kingdom, we'll typically spend the first day at Epcot or whichever park has the best "Extra Magic Hours" (Disney wording for free extra park hours for onsite resort guests) for the day. To find out what parks have Extra Magic Hours for your dates, check here for Disney's calendar

If you decide to go to Epcot, as we typically do, spend the morning exploring your favorite attractions, and then set up an afternoon stroll around the World Showcase. If you're traveling in one of the hotter months of the year in Florida, you'll appreciate the shade the countries of the showcase provide and the ample amount of stores with air conditioning. 

As the day progresses, you'll want to eat at least two meals. At Epcot we recommend two somewhat ideal locations for dining. Teppan Eddo in Japan is an excellent table service dining venue at a fairly cost effective price. It's only one credit on the regular dining plan and allows you to be a touch adventurous and explore a bit of culture on your world showcase endeavor. Additionally, we recommend La Cantina De San Angel. The simple counter service Mexican restaurant features excellent nachos, empandas, tacos, and even churros that are quite reasonable in price (by Disney standards) and incredibly filling. In a typical Epcot day for us, we do lunch at one of these options and dinner at the other. The amount of food typically works out great and sets the stage as the world showcase truly comes to life as the sun sets and you claim your spot for the Illuminations nighttime spectacular. If you want more in depth info for Epcot be sure to check out our - Epcot in a Day Touring Plan.

Day 3 
At this point in our typical vacation, we start to mix things up and really start to make the most of that park hopper add-on option. On the third day, we typically move on to the parks that aren't necessarily our favorites, but ones that we certainly enjoy visiting time and time again. For us, it tends to be a toss up of Animal Kingdom and Hollywood Studios. We used to spend nearly full days at Hollywood Studios (and likely will in the future), but with the current construction and many of the attractions that we once spent a lot of time enjoying closed for future improvements (The Backlot Tour, etc.) we will rarely spend more than half a day in that park at one time. 

Additionally, Animal Kingdom has always been a park that we could nearly complete our favorite attractions and shows in just over a day. As a result, what we typically do is start the day in Animal Kingdom with early faspasses for Flight of Passage, Kilimanjaro Safari, and one other favorite attraction of your choice. Then as the heat of the afternoon approaches, we'll grab a bus and make the short journey over to Hollywood Studios to ride a few attractions and catch as many shows as we can before the sun starts to go down. At that point, we jump back on the bus and return to Animal Kingdom to experience Pandora at night along with many of the other nighttime festivities which have been recently added to the park. 

As far as food is concerned, we'll typically reserve this day for solely counter service meals. We'll eat a late lunch at Pizzafari or Flame Tree Barbecue before leaving Animal Kingdom and then catch a snack or second counter service meal at Hollywood Studios. If you're feeling really adventurous, we've been known to use this day to catch a late dinner at Floatworks at the Port Orleans French Quarter resort before heading back to Animal Kingdom for late night entertainment. 

To get to Floatworks quickly (if you don't have a car), head to the Hollywood Studios bus station, jump on the French Quarter bus and you'll arrive at the resort and steps away from the counter service dining location near the main lobby. To get back to Animal Kingdom, simply return to where the bus dropped you off and catch the next bus labeled Animal Kingdom just as if it was your own resort hotel.      

Day 4
After splitting our Day 3 among two parks, we try to keep Day 4 fairly relaxed. At this point, the long days and late nights will inevitably start catching up with you, especially if you have kids. To combat the fatigue setting in, we'll start the day at Magic Kingdom with our 6 or More Attractions in 90 Minutes or Less: With Only 1 Fastpass+ as mentioned above and then head to a breakfast reservations at Crystal Palace at around 10:30am. After breakfast, you'll notice that crowds are typically rather strong. If that is the case, we usually make our way around to Adventureland for a ride on The Magic Carpets of Aladdin, or to stop in the Enchanted Tiki Room. After riding a few attractions we'll leave the park and head back to the resort to hang out at the pool for a while and recharge for the night. 

Upon returning to Magic Kingdom we'll have our previously reserved fastpass+ selections set for around 7:00 and set in a way that they back up to each other at 7:00 and 8:00pm. If all goes well, one of those passes will be for Seven Dwarfs Mine Train and the other will be for Buzz Lightyear's Space Ranger Spin. After we complete the attractions, we make the journey over to Main Street to claim a spot for the fireworks. 

For a second meal on this day, we recommend a counter service meal at whatever resort you're staying at. It will typically be conveniently located near the pool and the food at most resorts is quite good. 

Day 5
On Day 5, we'll go back to park hopping fairly aggressively. The best way we've found is to start the day at Epcot (mostly because it's our favorite park). When you get there, ride any attractions you may have missed or simply want to ride again in the morning and set up a late lunch reservation at Disney Springs. Once you get done with Epcot by revisiting attractions and a few of your favorite pavilions once again, grab a bus to Disney Springs (to catch a bus to Disney Springs your best bet is to catch the first resort bus that shows up and then once you arrive at that resort, wait for the first Disney Springs bus) to make your late lunch reservation. One of our top pics for lunch at Disney Springs is Homecomin' Kitchen. We gave the location high praises in our Homecomin' Kitchen: Our New "Must-Do" Disney Dining Location article. However, the Boathouse is a great table service option as well. 

Once you finish the meal, we typically wander the Springs area for quite a while strolling in and out of stores and really simply relaxing the afternoon away. As night time rolls in, occasionally we'll head back to a park and other times we'll just enjoy the nighttime entertainment at Disney Springs. 

Day 6
As the vacation starts to draw to a close, it's easy to start thinking about the unfortunate trip home. This is where our greatest tip comes into play out of the entire Itinerary. Take a moment on Day 6 to step back when that thought rolls into your mind and think about the thousands of guests who only get to spend one day in the parks. For us, it starts to put things into perspective and makes those last two days that much more special and worthwhile in the end. 

On this particular day, a great thing to do is head to a park of your choice early. You may have one park that you enjoyed more than all the others, or maybe you just want to go back and do something all over again. At Disney, there's no way to do it all in a week. To be quite honest, there's no way to do it all in a lifetime so take whatever your favorite experience was and build on it. 

When you decide you're done at that particular park, we almost always schedule a resort table service meal at this point in the trip. Some of our top picks are Whispering Canyon at Wilderness Lodge, Ohana at the Polynesian, or even Chef Mickey at the Contemporary. For us, the meal could be breakfast, lunch, or dinner. It could be before or after our time in the park of our choice, but one thing we always do is plan our fastpasses around that meal. If you don't get to your fastpass+ selections or choose to go to a different park, don't worry about it. By Day 6 in your vacation you've probably already rode your favorite attractions. 

Our tried and true Day 6 tends to be a few hours in the park, a few hours eating at a resort, and the rest of the time resort hoping and exploring other resorts, shopping at resort gift shops (which all carry different merchandise) and taking the time to relax and take it all in. Head to the beach of the Polynesian for an excellent view across the water at the Magic Kingdom while your kids play in the sand, head to the Contemporary's Grand Concourse Balcony for the perfect view of Magic Kingdom from above, or pick a resort you've never been to and go explore all that it has to offer. All of these options sound very simple, but some of the best days I've had at Walt Disney World have been resort hopping days where we take the time just to enjoy being there.  

Day 7 
On the last day of your vacation, we always tend to recommend wrapping things up at the Magic Kingdom. It's the most iconic park and one that is steeped in history. Take some time to explore the hidden backstories of Main Street which you can find in the following articles: 

As the heat of the day begins in the early afternoon, head back to the pool one last time to recharge for that final push through to the end of your theme park journey. As the night continues on and slowly draws to a close, as much as you may try to stop it from doing so, stay until the park closes to experience the "Kiss Goodnight." 

As the cast members slowly start ushering guests out, head to the top of the Main Street Station for a truly memorable experience. As you peer out down the street at the few remaining guests in the park, think back on all the memories of your Disney vacation. You'll chuckle to yourself at some experiences, while others will simply bring a smile to your face, and just stand there for a moment and take it all in. For some, it may be an emotional few minutes, but it's one of the highlights of any Disney trip in my humble opinion. It sounds so simple, but at Disney some of the simplest experiences are the ones you remember forever.

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