Disney's Animal Kingdom Lodge
I hope you all are doing well and have had a healthy dose of magic recently. If not, you've come to the right place! Let's talk about resorts and how you can have amazing experiences at them... without even staying in one!
Disney's Yacht & Beach Club Resorts
Take it from this local... Resorts are an awesome place to spend some down time. In fact, my Littles and I probably spend more time on property at the various resorts than we do in the parks! There's always cool activities to check out, quiet spots or rowdy games, gorgeous vistas and never, EVER a shortage of incredible people-watching. (Trust this nosy Mamma. You can learn an awful lot about that family from California as they are hanging in the lobby, waiting for their room to be cleaned!)
Disney's Polynesian Village Resort
Resorts are open to everyone, regardless of whether or not you are staying on Disney property. That being said, if you're driving to a resort and plan on parking, be aware that resorts that have easy park access, (monorail resorts and Epcot resorts), will likely not allow you to park without either a) having a previously booked dining reservation in said resort, b) paying to valet park, c) knowing a guest who is staying in one. Never fear though, you can always park elsewhere and take Disney transportation in. Also, while visiting the resorts, obviously be mindful of guests that are staying there, and know that certain locations or activities, (like pools), may be reserved exclusively for the use of resort guests.
Disney's Port Orleans Resort - French Quarter
But with so many resorts to choose from, where do you go? Which are the best to visit? Well, arguments could be made for pretty much all of them! Every resort has their own theme, decor, background music, even scent! Here are my top 3. See if any of them match your favorites!
Walt Disney World Dolphin Resort
1. Disney's Grand Floridian Resort and Spa
The Grand Floridian (or simply "The Grand", as us locals call it!), is undeniably the crown jewel of the Disney Resort collection. It is the most upscale resort option, and its Magic Kingdom views and proximity alone make it a fan favorite. The resort opened in 1988, as the first true "luxury" resort on Disney property. It is themed to be a Victorian-era seaside Floridian resort, and is decorated with an opulent flare that is distinctly "grand." The resort is made up of several buildings, including recently added Disney Vacation Club Villas, but the main building is the real attraction. Just stepping into this massive lobby with high ceilings is awe-inspiring. There's no shortage of comfy, fancy-looking furniture to plop down on, while you take in the sights and sounds.
Speaking of sounds, music-lovers will adore hearing the Grand Floridian Society Orchestra, a jazzy ragtime band that specializes in Disney hits. They play nightly, on the second floor balcony, but can be heard throughout the entire lobby. There's also a lobby pianist throughout the afternoon and evening hours as well.
While you listen, you can grab a drink at Mizner's Lounge, or just stroll around the two levels of the lobby and do some shopping. You'll find outlets like Basin, which specializes in bath and body products, a couple of Disney gift shops, and even men's and women's apparel stores.
Should you find yourself hungry, you will find some of the very best restaurants on Disney property located just a few steps away. Seafood and steaks are the house specialties at Narcoossee's. Citrico's has a Mediterranean flair. Both Narcoossee's and Citrico's are signature dining locations and are on the upscale side. If you're looking for a more casual option, The Grand Floridian Cafe is wonderful, and even the counter service location, Gasparilla Grill is quite good. You can enjoy breakfast with Alice, the Mad Hatter, Tigger, Pooh and Mary Poppins at 1900 Park Fare, and in the evening, go back for dinner with Cinderella, Prince Charming, Lady Tremaine (the Evil Step-Mother), and her wicked daughters, Anastasia and Drizella.
|Citrico's open kitchen|
|Grand Floridian Cafe|
|1900 Park Fare|
|My little guy getting some step sister love|
If you're really looking for something extraordinary, though, nothing beats Victoria and Albert's. This adult-only, (no children under the age of 10), fine dining venue is a multi-time AAA Five Diamond Award Winner. You'll eat like a king/queen and never forget this incredible meal!
If you're not quite ready for dinner, but wanting another sort of lovely experience, you can treat yourself to high tea in the Garden View Tea Room. Here you can sip a tea of your choosing and nibble on sandwiches, pastries and treats, while gazing out at the rose garden and nearby pool area. There's even experiences for children, including a Perfectly Princess Tea Party with Sleeping Beauty!
If you happen to be in town during a major holiday, there may be some other treats in store for you in the lobby of the Grand Floridian. At Easter, you can enjoy the hand-crafted, gorgeous chocolate egg display that adorns the lobby. If you're lucky enough to be at The Grand at Christmas time, you'll be treated to the heavenly aroma of an amazing, larger than life gingerbread house, where you can purchase cookies and candies! There's also a rather amazing Christmas tree to behold and holiday flourishes everywhere! It's one of my very favorite places to visit at Christmastime.
2. Disney's BoardWalk Inn and Villas
It's the showplace of the shore, the vacations sensation, where there's timeless fun for everyone! (Seriously. That's it's slogan!) Opened in 1996, The BoardWalk has been a popular resort for both regular Guests and Disney Vacation Club Members, since half of the resort's rooms are Vacation Club villas. Themed to turn of the century beach areas like Atlantic City and Coney Island, is has all the charm and dazzle of prohibition-era movies and shows, like 'BoardWalk Empire' (without all the guns and bootlegging, of course!). The BoardWalk has so much to see and do, it's considered an 'entertainment district' at Disney.
Let's start in the lobby. The check-in area is far smaller and less impressive than The Grand's lobby, but it's still beautiful. There are trinkets everywhere that pay homage to Atlantic City's and Coney Island's heydays, including a replica of the famed elephant-shaped roadside attraction from Atlantic City, Lucy the Elephant. There are plenty of comfy places to sit, as well as some creepy ones, too.
|Lucy the Elephant|
|And a photo of the real hotel|
|Creepiest chair ever, right???|
|Huge balcony off of the main lobby|
Just off the of the main lobby, there is a cozy lounge, known as the Bellevue Lounge. It looks like an old study or library and there are real books and games lining the shelves. The comfortable, leather armchairs and couches are a great place to rest, or step out onto the balcony for some air and a view of the village green.
|The Bellevue Lounge|
The green itself is one of my children's favorite spots to run around, practice cartwheels and chase each other. Sometimes, The BoardWalk even offers outdoor movies on the green, but by far, the place to be at this resort is on the BoardWalk itself.
This shoreside walkway stretches on the edge of Crescent Lake, right behind the World Showcase section of Epcot. During the day, you can enjoy the shops and eateries, including an ice cream shop, bakery, candy store, and retail outlets. If you want to work up an appetite first, you can rent a 2, 4 or 6 person surrey bike and pedal around the 1+ mile stretch around the lake. But nighttime is when the BoardWalk really comes to life, with restaurants, night clubs, carnival games, live music and more. Adults can sing along in the dueling piano bar, Jelly Rolls, dance the night away at Atlantic Dance Hall, or enjoy a magical concoction at Abracadabar. Families can root for their favorite team at the ESPN Club, or catch an astounding live magic or musical act on the BoardWalk. And if you happen to be around during Epcot's nightly fireworks, Illuminations, you can view some of the higher parts of the nighttime show by standing in front of Jelly Rolls.
If you're there to dine, aside from outdoor vendors, you'll find fine dining at Flying Fish, and more casual dining at Big River, ESPN or Trattoria al Forno.
No matter what your pleasure, a stroll back in time at the BoardWalk is always a good way to spend a day... or night!
3. Disney's Animal Kingdom Lodge
Jambo! Welcome to what is without a doubt, one of the wildest, coolest, and most amazingly detailed resorts on property. The Animal Kingdom Lodge first welcomed Guests back in 2001, and when it did, man, were people shocked. This resort actually has rooms that look out over a recreated African savanna. From your balcony, you can watch a giraffe feeding from a nearby tree, see wildebeests gazing in the grass, or check out antelope and zebras, frolicking by the watering hole. It's truly amazing, but it's not just the rooms that are incredible, it's the whole resort.
Jambo House is the main lobby of the resort and entering it is like walking into another world... or another continent, at least. The towering ceilings and ornate lobby decorations are all straight out of various countries in Africa. There is an indoor fireplace to sit by, African art to explore, a really cool gift shop with both Disney items and African crafts, and more. If you want to get up close with the animal residents of the Lodge, you can step outside, off of the back of the lobby, and walk out past the huge outdoor fire pit, to a viewing area, where you will also typically find a local African guide, who will answer any questions that you may have. In the lobby, you'll also find a full list of activities for the day, including drumming lessons, animal education sessions and more.
|Super high ceilings|
On the lower level of Jambo House, you can find two of the best restaurants on property: Boma and Jiko. Boma is an all-you-care-to-eat African inspired buffet and Jiko is a signature fine dining restaurant. Both are wonderful, but if you just want a quick bite, there's also The Mara counter service location, or you can grab a drink at the Victoria Springs Lounge.
|No Mickey waffles here... Simba waffles!|
The Disney Vacation Club side of the resort is called Kidani Village and it's just as amazing as Jambo House, but on a smaller scale. Quite honestly, Kidani is my favorite part of the resort to visit. Though the lobby is smaller, it has a lounge/library off of it that features cozy indoor seating, by giant windows looking over the savanna.
There's great dining here too, downstairs at Sanaa. This restaurant is unique because it's not just African infusion, but also flavors of India as well, plus it's the only restaurant in all of Animal Kingdom Lodge where you can actually SEE the animals while you dine. It's a great place to have lunch. Just be aware that not all tables have savanna views. You'll have to request a window table, and possibly be willing to wait a little longer, but it's worth the wait!
|You can peep on the animals while you eat... or they can peep on YOU!|
|Bread service is a MUST at Sanaa!|
There you have it! My three favorite resorts to visit! Any of these three places are a great way to spend some time when you want to be outside of the parks, or when you don't have tickets. (Think arrival day or departure day.) What are YOUR favorite resorts to hang out at? I'd love to hear!
Need help planning your next Disney adventure? Contact an agent at Kingdom Konsultants for help planning the perfect vacation for you!
Until next time, kiddies, have a magical week!