DVC Studio Review – Saratoga Springs

Raymond and I have been Disney Vacation Club members since 2011.  Our home resorts are Bay Lake Tower and the Villas at the Grand Floridian.  When Megan and I decided to take our mother/daughter trip to check out Pandora, we needed three nights for specific dates.  The only resort available at the time we booked our room was Saratoga Springs.  This would be our first visit to the resort and we were excited to try a new place.

DVC Studio Review – Saratoga Springs

A bit of research helped me figure out where the best room option for us would be.  I called DVC and requested a studio in the Paddock area as close to the Congress Park section as possible.  Congress Park is popular for its close proximity to the walkway to Disney Springs, but the studios there require a higher point usage.  Because Raymond and Joseph wouldn’t be going with us, it seemed best (and nicest) to conserve points if possible.  Staying Sunday – Wednesday used 47 points.  Our room request was granted and we found ourselves also close to the Congress Park bus stop.  While we weren’t planning on spending any time at the resort except for sleeping, we wanted to be able to walk easily (and safely) to Disney Springs and back for our Paddlefish reservation.

Our first impression of Saratoga Springs was great.  Upon arrival, we parked near the Carriage House to check in and found the grounds and main building to be cheerful and welcoming.  The staff was super friendly and in short order, we were on our way to studio 6612.

The entrance was welcoming, but the hallways and outside entrances felt a little gloomy.  Inside we found a sink/vanity area outside the bathroom (tub/shower and toilet), a queen-sized bed, a small kitchenette area, and a sitting area with a sofa, ottoman and table and chairs.

The details were charming and the space (355 square feet) was perfect for the two of us.  These studios sleep up to four with the pull-out sleeper sofa, but Megan and I thought it would be pretty crowded with more than the two of us unless the second two people were small children.

Final thoughts…

Saratoga Springs Pros

  • Our location was convenient to Disney Springs and a bus stop.
  • We had plenty of space, were comfortable, and we liked the décor.
  • Our studio was quiet – we never heard any noise from neighbors.

Saratoga Springs Cons

  • This resort (like Old Key West) felt more like a condominium complex than a Disney resort.  Very spread out, many rooms are far from the main building/restaurants (which was okay for this visit, but might not work well all the time).
  • When it rained, there was quite a bit of flooding/high water to walk through.
  • The busses were SO slow and crowded.  Particularly horrible leaving Magic Kingdom at the end of the night.

Have you stayed at Saratoga Springs?  How was your experience?  Do you prefer staying closer to the parks or do you like feeling like you’re away from all the commotion?

 

 

Villas at Disney’s Grand Floridian – Studio

Happy Weekend!  Today’s installment of Saturdays With Nick is actually Saturday With Nick and Barbie!  Last year, this dynamic Disney duo took a fabulous Walt Disney World vacation that included a stay at the Grand Floridian’s Disney Vacation Club Villas.  This post offers some incredibly beautiful photos and a full description of Nick and Barbie’s studio and the entire Grand Floridian Resort and Spa.  Enjoy!

Villas at Disney’s Grand Floridian – Studio

by: Nick and Barbie

First off, we’re going to say that The Villas at Disney’s Grand Floridian (VGF), the latest Disney Vacation Club property to open at Walt Disney World, is now one of our favorite places to stay on Walt Disney World Property.

To put it in context, we’ve stayed at every resort with the exception of the Polynesian, Contemporary (including Bay Lake Tower), Kidani Village at the Animal Kingdom Lodge (we have stayed at Jambo House), and Caribbean Beach.

But before we tell you why it’s become a favorite, we’re going to tell you what we didn’t like about the Villas, because we had a bumpy start.

Things began well enough. We had stayed one evening at the All Star Movies, and took a cab over to the Grand Floridian, and checked in at about 8:15am.

As soon as we walked into this resort we felt like we were surrounded by luxury.

Our room was not ready, which was expected, as check in for DVC rooms is 4:00pm. We were asked if we would like to receive a text or to be called when our room was ready, and we left a number to get a text. We took our bags over to the Villas building via a covered walkway, and left them with Bell Services.

The Villas lobby is lovely.

The fountain features the penguins from Mary Poppins.

Mary Poppins umbrella as elevator hands.

After checking our bags, we walked back to the GF main building and made our way to the second floor to catch the Monorail to the Magic Kingdom.

We had a great day at the MK, but as 3:30 approached, we wanted to get to the room and shower and rest before dinner. We still hadn’t been notified our room was ready. As we exited the park, we noticed a line for the monorail. We should have taken the boat, but, as we were on the monorail loop for the first time, Nick really wanted to take that mode of transportation.

Big mistake. There was a problem with the train ahead of ours, and each stop had us waiting for 10 minutes. We reached the Ticket and Transportation Center at 4:15, and decided to walk from the there to the Villas.

It was a very nice walk, and we had an opportunity to capture the VGF under perfect light conditions, but by the time we got the the resort, it was after 4:30 and well, Nick was getting a bit cranky.

When we walked in, Nick let the group of Cast Members gathered around the entrance know that we had never been notified that our room was ready. We didn’t receive an apology, just an explanation that they had been having a problem with their text system.
Nick was too tired to ask why they didn’t just call his cel if that was the case, and instead just asked if we could have our bags sent up to our room. We were told it would be about 15 or 20 minutes.

Nick said we would just take our bags up ourselves, we’d been out all day, and waiting that long for bags was unacceptable. At least the Cast Member who gave us our bags refused a tip due to the inconvenience, but, again, no apologies.

As we were lugging our bags to the room, Barbie said she couldn’t understand why Magical Express could pick up our bags at the airport and deliver them to our room at an All Star Resort, but bell services couldn’t have our bags waiting for us in our room here!

Okay, end of complaints! Well, almost. More on that in a bit.

We made our way to the second floor, room 1204. The hallways are very nice, with soothing colors, which is what we needed at that moment!

Upon entering the room, we were impressed with the wood floors, but really loved the bathrooms, which are immediately to the right.

Yes, we did say bathrooms. There are two separate rooms that can be closed off from one another, via sliding doors, one containing a shower and a sink with a granite counter top…

…the other, the toilet and a tub with a shower.

We loved the individual shower with the dual shower heads, mosaic marble tile floors, and all the amenities provided. And there is a TV in the mirror!

The kitchenette includes a small refrigerator and microwave.

The living space is beautifully decorated, a very calming color scheme, great after a long day at the park, crown molding, and furnishings that feel more sturdy than what is found at other DVC resorts. It was also much more quiet. We never heard our neighbors the entire stay.

Then there was our view of the Seven Seas Lagoon looking towards the Polynesian. Even the sight of construction vehicles building the soon to be DVC at the Poly couldn’t detract from the beauty. We spent every morning, afternoon break and evening with the sliding doors open, listening to the music, birds, sounds of boats going to and from the Magic Kingdom and even some Magic Kingdom sounds, including the train! It was amazing.

We really felt that this was the most well designed DVC room we’d ever been in.
Until we started to unpack and we discovered there is a rather odd design flaw.

“Where are the drawers?” Nick asked. Maybe here, under the television?

No. That’s right, we’d read about this feature, a pull down bed with a Dumbo theme. How cute.

Let’s see, ah, large drawers under the bed. Except, you can’t really use one whole drawer, as the nightstand is in the way!

We like to unpack when we stay in a room, and not live out of a suitcase. As it’s just the 2 of us, we did find enough storage for the most part, using the nightstand drawers…

…and the spacious closet, after we moved the extra bedding out of the way. We can’t imagine where a family of 5 would store everything and think the only way to accommodate a party of that size would be to live out of their suitcases.

Reading back, it seems like we’ve done an awful lot of complaining and you may wonder, why then is this now a favorite resort?

Well, we loved the atmosphere, the location and ease of access to the Magic Kingdom via a Monorail or boat. The Ticket and Transportation Center (TTC) is a relatively easy walk away, past the Poly which gives you access to Epcot by Monorail.

Nick loved the pool areas, one very close to the Villas.

There is an Alice in Wonderland themed play area next to this.

A little further away is a larger pool area with a hot tub.

And then, there is the Grand Floridian itself. We never got sick of looking at it at all times of the day.

We loved entering the lobby to see and hear, depending on time of day, a pianist, a harpist, or a band playing.

We enjoyed just sitting in the lobby listening to the music and relaxing between park visits.

Wishes at the Magic Kingdom can be seen from several spots around the resort. This is from in front of Gasparilla Island Grill, the counter service restaurant.

Speaking of restaurants, we’ve eaten at them all with the exception of Victoria and Albert’s, and enjoyed our meals at every one. We’ll have reviews of Narcoossee’s, Ctitricos, and the Gasparilla Grill in the future.

Even the bus stop is nicer than at other resorts. Instead of queues, or multiple stops, there is one with rows of benches, and a screen telling approximate arrival times. This last feature is new, and being tested at other resorts around WDW as well.

Finally, we’ll just leave you with a view of the Grand Floridian from a boat heading for the Magic Kingdom. Knowing that we would be returning to this picturesque resort at the end of the day made the trip all that much more enjoyable.

Follow Nick and Barbie on all their adventures!  You can find Disney Musings on all your favorite social media sites:  Disney Musings Blog, on Twitter, on Facebook, On Instagram, On Pinterest.

WDW – Cars Suites at Art of Animation

Hello Saturdays with Nick!  Today I’ve chosen a picture-heavy review to share with you – and I think you’re gonna like it!  Nick and Barbie had an awesome vacay in 2013 at Disney World’s Art of Animation Resort in a Cars Suite and you have GOT to see the details!  If you’re in the trip-planning stages and you have kids (especially boys), you will want to consider Art of Animation’s Cars area.

WDW – Cars Suites at Art of Animation

By: Nick

On our last trip to Walt Disney World, my wife and I had the great pleasure to stay in a Cars Suite at Disney’s Art of Animation Resort.

Some background. I love the movie Cars. When Cars was released in June of 2006, I had just the month before driven a portion of Route 66 from Flagstaff, Arizona to Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, and had seen many of the sites that are referenced visually in the film, including staying in a Teepee (or cone) Motel (not as cool as you’d expect, by the way). I’d also seen many a lovely small town now abandoned, as Radiator Springs is at the beginning of Cars. In other words, the film really connected with me on an emotional level.

Jump to 2012, and we visited Disneyland, and I was absolutely enthralled with Cars Land at Disney California Adventure, and actually spent a very large portion of our 4 days in “Radiator Springs”.

Now, you can actually STAY in Radiator Springs at Disney’s Art of Animation Resort!

The theming of this section of AoA is extensive.
As you approach, you are greeted by billboards, and the Sheriff, to let you know to keep your speed down.

You then travel up Route 66, to one of 3 themed buildings, or the Cozy Cone pool area.

The building to the left is themed after Luigi’s Tires, where you’ll find the proprietor and Guido.

To the right is Tow Mater’s Towing and Salvage.

At the far end is The Wheel Well Motel, where Sally and Lightning McQueen can be found. This is where we stayed!

The theme extends inside as Red welcomes us.

On to the room. The family suites can easily sleep 6. There is a dining /sleeping area (yes, you read that right, more on that in a bit), small kitchen area, 2 bathrooms, a living room, and a bedroom.

The bathroom to the right is a full bath with a tub.
The bedroom has a queen size bed. The mattress was a bit on the firm side for me.
It has a flat screen TV.

The bath off the bedroom has a shower and no tub. Water pressure was great, and this was easily my favorite shower of all the resorts we’ve stayed in at Walt Disney World.

The cars theme is everywhere in the suites, with cone lamps, a fold out sofa bed that looks like a car seat, a table with a map of Radiator Springs, etc.

The kitchenette has a small refrigerator, sink, coffee maker, and microwave.

Our view was terrific as well, but of course, this is not a guarantee. One evening my wife made the mistake of asking how one family enjoyed the rooms and view, and the father replied in a rather churlish manor “The room’s great, but we’ve got a fantastic view of the parking lot.” Oops.

We were on the 3rd floor, and one evening we were able to see the higher fireworks from Wishes at the Magic Kingdom (left) and Illuminations at Epcot (right) at the same time!

I mentioned the dining/sleeping area earlier. Here we see a table. There are usually 4 chairs around it, we are in the process of moving them here.

Why are we moving the chairs? To pull the murphy bed down of course! We actually found this bed more comfortable than the the one in the bedroom, and slept here a couple of nights!

Overall, the room was fantastic. The one and only complaint I have is that you cannot lower the temperature below 68 degrees. And, you could possibly get a view of the parking lot.

The pool is themed after the Cozy Cone.

The cones, are cabanas, which is first come, first serve. Also, bring towels. We were not aware you needed to do this, and I had to run back to the room on our first swim.

It’s well lit at night.

Speaking of night, the place is really magical in the evening.

This is easily the best themed resort on Disney Property.
Don’t forget to get your pictures taken with some of the citizens of Radiator Springs!

Barbie with Flo, owner of one of our favorite eateries at Disney California Adventure.

Me and Mater.

What do you think?  Have you stayed at Art of Animation?  Would you consider a visit?

For more amazing Disney adventures, follow Nick (and Barbie) at Disney Musings Blog / Disney Musings on Twitter / Disney Musings on Instagram / Disney Musings on Facebook

Vacation Rewind: Fort Wilderness Cabins

This week’s “Saturdays with Nick” is actually with Nick and his better half, Barbie!  Barbie’s trip report from 2011 gives great details about the cabins at Fort Wilderness! (I’ve always wondered about them!)  For lots more great Disney stories, visit Nick and Barbie at Disney Musings and follow them on Facebook and Twitter.

Trip Report from November, 2011: Fort Wilderness Cabins

Who? Barbie, Nick and our friends Josh and Jill. (As told mostly in Nick’s words)

Where? The Cabins at Fort Wilderness.

Friday, Nov. 11th

We flew into Orlando from Philly, and took Magical Express to Fort Wilderness, checked in, and proceeded to our cabin. We were in cabin 2768, which is very close to the main road, and one of the many bus stops throughout the grounds. It is a fairly short walk to the Outpost Depot, which is where you get a bus to Downtown Disney and all the parks except the Magic Kingdom, which is reached by boat.

Our cabin:
Upon entering the cabin, you walk into the kitchen area straight ahead. To the right is the living room. There is a Murphy bed hidden in the wall, which is where Nick and I slept. This is a very comfortable bed, perhaps more comfortable than other resorts beds. It is a double however, so some may find it a little small. The bathroom was very roomy, and Nick and I both felt the water pressure was stronger than at many other resorts.

A couple of things of note. I think this may have been one of the cleanest and most well kept of the rooms we’ve stayed in! Mouse Keeping was exceptional. Also, one of the things I got the most feedback about was the bus service. Many people suggested we rent a car, but we talked it over with our friends and decided that wasn’t necessary. It turned out that the bus service was the best of any other resort we’ve stayed at, with the exception of one late evening, after returning via boat from the Magic Kingdom, when we had to wait about 20 minutes for a bus. Even the internal bus service was often arriving just as we would approach both our local bus stop or the main Outpost stop. On only a couple of occasions was a bus not at the ready, and we opted to simply walk either to the main depot, or our cabin.

Nick and I and our friends all agree, we would absolutely stay at the cabins again. A big thank you to Jill for getting the interior pics for us after we left, hers are better than ours.

Back to the trip report: We dropped off our bags, and headed right to Epcot to enjoy the Food and Wine Festival. The weather was absolutely perfect. The Christmas decorations were already appearing, and the Christmas loops were playing.

Having made our way around World Showcase “eating around the world,” we headed for Future World, and rode Imagination and the Seas with Nemo, and explored the Seas. By now, it was almost time to head back to World Showcase. We were attending the 3D Dessert Party that evening, which was at 8:00pm. On the way there, we ran into my (Barbie’s) co-worker, Mary! From New Jersey! And this wouldn’t be the only time!! How crazy is that?

The Dessert party:
We lined up about 7:30, and were admitted shortly afterwards. We waited in front of a curtain, which was parted at 8:00, and all the people there rushed for tables, which really wasn’t necessary, as there were plenty. The rumor was that people would have to stand if they couldn’t get a table! Nick plowed ahead of the rest of us and picked out a table, and next to our table sat my co-worker, Mary! Again! What are the odds?!

Thanks Mary, for getting this very crazy pic of me hogging all the desserts on the table while nobody was looking! That’s what co-workers are for.

The room was beautifully decorated. There was a live band playing songs such as “Sweet Caroline,” “Sweet Child of Mine,” “Sweet Home Alabama,” you get the picture. They were cheesy and extremely loud. They were also a lot of fun. There was a lot of beverage choices, coffees, teas, and many adult beverages including wine, punches, etc., and Josh ad Nick’s favorite, the DeKuyper liquors. Also available was also a savory station of dried meats and cheeses, as well as fresh and dried fruits and beautiful berries, which was my favorite section.

Sadly the most disappointing thing about the dessert party were the desserts. The best thing, and almost worth the price of admission alone, was the Flambeed Cinnamon Doughnuts with Red Stag Infused Sundried Cherries served with Red Stag Ice Cream. Thanks to Mary for pointing us to that lovely concoction! Most of the rest of the desserts were disappointing. We all agreed the dessert trio from the Food and Wine Dessert and Champagne Booth was far superior. Such a shame that wasn’t an offering. Out of all the desserts they offered, not a one had any lemon in it. (always my preference!)

Around 9:30, there was an announcement that we would be going to the Illuminations viewing area, located between the two shops at the entrance of World Showcase. On the way out, we were each handed a gift bag with a Merci Chocolate assortment, as well as some other goodies. We were also provide special glasses that made small Mickey heads out of the fireworks. All in all, it was absolutely worth experiencing once, but we agreed we wouldn’t do it again!