MousePlanet Trip Report Editor
Nadyne Hick - WDW (23-30 Nov, 1996) - Villas at Disney Institute
- Time of Year: Fall
- Travel Method: Plane, Rental Car
- Resort: Villas at the Disney Institute
- Accommodations: 1 Bedroom Vacation Home
- Ages Represented in Group: Teen, Adult
- WDW Experience Represented in Group: Veteran
- Comments: Nadyne and her family stayed at the Villas at the Disney Institute -- and took many of the wonderful hands-on classes that are offered there. An excellent report for those folks that are considering a Disney Institute vacation.
The first reaction, when we told people about our upcoming trip, was "You're going to Walt Disney World and doing what?" After six trips in four years, there are only so many attractions at the Parks that interest us. We like to check out the new things, visit our old favorites and spend time at Epcot, which always has something waiting to be discovered. We've also realized that each of us, my husband Steve, fourteen year old daughter Bethany and I, have very different interests. While we savor the time to spend together on vacation, we do tend to irritate each other when together 24 hours a day for seven days. Bethany and I had visited the Institute four days last spring and were eager to return.Steve and I are both in our mid-forties. I'm a teacher and he is an engineer. Bethany is a high school freshman and heavily into sports and art.
Before the trip, I planned our schedules so that we could each take as many programs as we were interested in, yet still have free time to explore the Parks and enjoy the leisurely meals that going with the World Choice Plan allowed. We were scheduled for breakfast and any other meals we wanted at Seasons at the Institute, but also had a long list of other restaurants both in the Parks and at other resorts where we could eat lunch and dinner. The plan included Park admissions for the duration of our stay. I'm not sure how cost effective it was, but it was relaxing not having to check the prices, worry about Park tickets or look forward to the credit card bill arriving in the middle of Christmas shopping. Since the meal vouchers included sales tax and 15% gratuities for each meal, they are actually worth 20% more than your actual item by item cost would amount to.
Day One, Saturday, 11/23
After an uneventful trip from Washington Dulles, we arrived in Orlando around eleven. We rented a car from Avis, and had the usual wait at the airport. We got to the Disney Institute around one. The check-in process at the Institute went smoothly, which was amazing considering the number of documents they had to explain. We each had a resort ID card, a Park pass, a booklet of meal vouchers and a copy of our individual itineraries that listed each program for which we were registered. The resort ID not only served as a room key but also would need to be presented at each program we took, used for free parking at the Parks and open the car gate at the entrance. The Park Passes were good for our length of stay at all the Parks. We each had a book of meal vouchers that would be torn out meal by meal and presented to our servers.
I had requested a water view room, which was not yet ready, since official check-in wasn't until four, but would be ready in about an hour. We opted to have lunch at Seasons and wait for the water view. From my observations on our previous visit, there are three views, parking lot, grass or water. We enjoyed the first of many delightful meals at Seasons. The menu was varied enough to fit all our tastes and the service was so pleasant that I resolved to carry extra dollar bills to increase the 15% tip that was part of our vouchers. After lunch we each printed out a pocket size copy of our schedules from the computer terminals in the lobby, so we could check on locations.
We moved into our room about 2:30. We had a second floor bungalow, with a separate bedroom and living room, cathedral ceilings, a microwave, coffee maker, small refrigerator, two TV's and a balcony. Steve and I went off to Goodings for various beverages to stock the refrigerator, then it was time for our first programs, which ran from 4 until 6.
I took Container Gardening. We learned about how containers can be used for growing plants, even vegetables. We toured the Teaching Garden. Then the instructor gave us directions for forcing bulbs. We decorated our clay pots with paints and planted either paper whites or amaryllis. They even had a system where the saucer for the pot was used as a lid for easy transporting. The instructor certainly knew what she was doing and all the participants were enthusiastic.
Bethany took DI Art Lab, a Teen Program. There were four kids with two adult instructors. They practiced doing doodles to music then each participant made a collage using a variety of materials, glitter, clay, paint, feathers, etc. As they planned and constructed the collages they responded to the instructor's questions to clarify their ideas. Each participant brought a collage away with them. Bethany reported that the session was good for different age groups and you needed to open up your mind. The main instructor did background art for Disney and was good with kids.
Steve took the Animation Sampler program, Bethany had taken it on our previous visit and did not need to repeat it to take advantage of the other programs in animation. Steve reported that the instructor, Ken, was animated, a great story teller and a font of information about movie animation, not just Disney. The group toured four other areas of animation then they learned about cells and spent a busy 50 minutes painting theirs. While they worked, Ken kept up a light patter. Throughout the program the participants were encouraged to ask questions. Steve stayed to ask more questions and was fifteen minutes late leaving, but others were still there.
We all met for dinner at Seasons, where we took our first real exploration into Florida Nouveau cuisine and all enjoyed the meal and the service.
We decided not to attend the evening movie. It was in French with English subtitles. Instead we discovered the disadvantages of the cathedral ceilings. It turned into dueling TV's during the evening and seemed to amplify snoring during the night. The problem was that the ceiling was open from about a foot above the wall separating the two areas to the high ceilings and the TV's seemed to produce sound in all directions. Despite this, we all managed d a good night's sleep with the moonlight shining through the skylights.
Day Two, Sunday, November 24
Mickey's wake up call came right on time at 6:30 a.m. We went to breakfast about 7 and easily finished to make 8 o'clock programs. Bethany and I did Topiary. There were 7 participants. The instructor was good, he enjoyed teaching the programs and being able to practice horticulture. We toured the gardens, learned the history of topiary and the techniques used. We each made our own small tabletop topiary. We stuffed the form, planted seedlings and decorated. We also received a tip sheet for their care. There was a lot of interaction among the participants. I made Mickey and Bethany made Minnie. I had scheduled Steve in Personal Fitness Explorer this early in our stay so he would take advantage of the fitness facilities the rest of the week. There were only two people in the program. They spent 45 minutes doing three different kinds of aerobic then 45 minutes on the machines. He thought the instructor was good. She knew what she was doing and made good decisions about the amounts of weights they should each use. We met back in the room and headed for the Magic Kingdom for the afternoon. Even though buses run from the Institute, we drove there. We were quick parking and with transportation. Made it from our room to the Town Square in about 25 minutes.
We had scheduled lunch at Tony's Town Square. We were discreetly moved from our assigned table at our request, to get away from a mother with two unruly children who had gotten on our nerves in the waiting area. We pulled out our meal vouchers before ordering and waited while the waitress checked with her boss. She had never seen them before, but all was OK. We had a delightful lunch then stopped at the Welcome Center, viewed the film , and got our badges and commemorative lithograph. After an hour and a half we had only visited three attractions and became impatient with the crowds which were so grating after the serenity of the Institute.
We had planned on dinner and fireworks at MK, but instead went to play Fantasia Miniature Golf. We had a slow start on the course, but the groups spread out by the 5th hole. It was a beautiful course with the music and all. There were enough "tricks" to make it interesting for all levels of players. Bethany wanted to play the other course also, but we were too tired by this point. The Cast Member at the desk offered that she could try the first few holes to decide if she liked it. She did. We went back to Seasons for dinner about six. We were the only people in the dining room. Our waitress showed Bethany how to fold the napkins. More people arrived while we ate. At this meal there was some confusion as to whether cappuccino was included in our meal plan, but since we had it the previous night the waitress didn't charge us.
We went by the Programming Desk after dinner to get the list of the next week's evening performances. We had been told the previous night that tickets wouldn't be needed for the evenings presentation, but the rules had changed and we got Steve a ticket. We also went by Registration to ask if the coffee and cups in the room could be replenished, since it hadn't been done during the day's cleaning. They were in the room by the time we walked back.
Steve went off to the lecture by Art Director Michael Humphries and background artist Dean Gordon on "Visual Development and Disney Animated Features." While the programs are described as lasting 60 to 90 minutes, Steve was there two hours and said he wasn't the last to leave. The focus of the lecture was Fantasia Continued with film clips and discussion of techniques.
Day Three, Monday, November 25
It hit about 8 a.m., we really are on vacation! I'm supposed to be teaching first period right now. I started noticing the little things. The waiter at breakfast asked what we had planned for the morning and seemed to use this to determine how quickly we needed to complete breakfast. Bethany and I left for Epcot at 8:30 while Steve went to the Fitness Center. I dropped Bethany off at the Land Pavilion to work on a Biology project with the Director of Aquaculture for the Land and Sea Pavilions and went to the Discovery Center to do some Christmas shopping for my fellow teachers.
When I got back to the Institute, Steve had completed his workout and was happily ensconced in a rocking chair out of the sun that caught a beautiful breeze on the verandah in front of Seasons. I picked up Bethany's bag lunch, refrigerated part of it, took the rest with us and we headed back to Epcot. We arrived, maintained our tranquil mood, sat in the sun and people watched.
Steve and I had a pleasant lunch at Coral Reef, the waiter seemed familiar with the meal vouchers. We met Bethany and went back to the room for her to change and finish lunch.
Bethany had a three hour tennis program and was exhausted on her return, but said she had really improved her game. There were seven people in the class, with a wide variety of experience. The instructors ran them hard, but seemed to give a lot of positive reinforcement. She learned the basic strokes and judgment and is looking forward to her next session. Steve and I spent the afternoon in Imaginneer It where we learned the techniques used by Disney when developing new ideas. It gave us a new way to look at product creation and will probably be a useful skill in our professional lives. There were only five people in the class, but they were very diverse.
We went to Rose and Crown for dinner, where again the waitress did not recognize our meal tickets and we had to wait while she got them checked. The chef and manager came by our table during dinner to chat. We enjoyed the meal but Epcot was crowded so we returned to the room for much needed sleep. It had been a long busy day.
Day Four, Tuesday, November 26
Steve and I did the Celebrations program and learned recipes and techniques for entertaining at a holiday brunch. In addition to the recipes for the dishes we saw and helped prepare we received a copy of a section of the Holiday Cooking supplement to Southern Living Magazine that featured one of the chefs and was the menu and recipes for a holiday dinner party.
Even though this studio only had one cooking station, the chefs had worked out ways that we would help with the food preparation, rather than just watching them. We were also given tips on planning, and table arrangement. All the participants appeared to enjoy it and we all liked the meal we ate at the conclusion of the program. Meanwhile, Bethany had spent the morning in Outdoor Photography. They had a short orientation to the provided cameras at the Fitness Center, then went by van to the Contemporary and then boat to Discovery Island where they shot pictures of wildlife, including a one winged bald eagle. There were fourteen people in the class, three teenagers. Bethany learned how to position the animals in her pictures and about the use of light. She returned with a roll of film to be developed and a discount coupon to use if we had it done through Dabblers.
We had lunch at Seasons and picked up tickets for the jazz concert that evening. We also began reevaluating my original plans to spend the evening at Epcot, since the weather was getting cooler. In the afternoon, I took Gifts from Your Garden, where the focus was on the Anasazi bean, which is a relatively recent discovery of a legacy from the Anasazi Indians. We learned about the Anasazi Indians and where they had lived. I then participated on my third tour of the Teaching Gardens, but since each one was led by a person with a different area of expertise and interest, there were new things to learn each time. This time the focus was on the heirloom seeds for crops that were being grown in containers.
The instructor shared stories of her previous experiences at Disney, including the Large Tree Moving Detail. She also was involved with the planning for the new animal park and explained the importance of horticulture to the new park and some of the unique problems they have had to solve.
We then prepared spice packets for bean dip, decorated pots and filled them with the anasazi beans. Everything we made was done in such a way that it could easily be packed. There was time for individual questions and discussions at the conclusion of the session. Bethany and Steve had spent the afternoon in Voices of Disney. They both enjoyed taking the different parts and seemed pretty good at it. The audio tape of their performance will be available Thursday. There was extra time, so Bethany and I did a power shopping trip to the Marketplace. There were hardly any crowds and we managed to get all our needed gifts for others as well as a few Christmas gifts for ourselves. I was glad I'd remembered our Magic Kingdom Card, it made a definite difference in the final cost. We stopped by Goodings to replenish the seltzer and beer supply.
We decided to remain at the Institute for the evening. We picked up Bethany's prints from that morning, and they were interesting shots. There was some confusion at the conclusion of our dinner at Seasons about what non-alcoholic drinks were included in the meal plan. The manager was around as we left, so I suggested that the people using the plan as well as the serving staff needed more details.
We went to the concert. There were about 50 in the audience at the Performance Center. Jackie Allen's new CD is on Billboards' top 20 Jazz list currently. Most of the one hour performance was devoted to Ms. Allen's interpretations and explanations of the different styles of early jazz singers during the Big Band era. She appeared quite impressed by the Center and its piano and acoustics.
When Ms. Allen took a break, the accompanist told us about his job and the different sounds created by playing the different lines of music. He was very good at this, and it was so fresh, that I doubt he has spent much time in the spotlight.
Ms. Allen was available after the concert to sign her CD and promised that the next night's performance would be more of her own material. Steve and I enjoyed the 90 minute performance.
Bethany returned to the room, and Steve and I headed off to Pleasure Island to visit the Adventurer's Club, appreciated it as much as always. We noticed that the Christmas decorations are going up and the arrangements on the trees, swags, and wreaths at the Institute all have children's toys as decorations, (bears, trains, blocks) in addition to the lights and ribbons. At the main gate to the Institute there were nutcrackers, Tinker Toys and blocks. These oversized toys seem to reflect the DI theme of fun for adults. This has to be the ultimate "summer camp" for adults, where we get to play.
Day Five, Wednesday, November 27
We had no classes scheduled in the morning, it was early open at MGM, so I had planned on that. We had the usual breakfast at Seasons then drove to the Park.
We got there about 8:30. We saw Star Tours with little line but got caught in the regular opening surge at Great Movie Ride, enjoyed it then went to Behind the Scenes at 101 Dalmatians - not that great, but it reminded me how fragile the movie images are, when you see a vacant sound stage. We noticed that the crowds were much heavier than they had been early in the week at MK. We had an early lunch at Brown Derby and returned to the Institute for our afternoon programs.
I took Painting Illusions - discovered that I can't do anything painting with a feather, but can do pretty good with sponges. The multistep directions were given orally and demonstrated, but I would get lost and have to ask for help in getting the sequence of steps straight. The instructor had his own interior design business and will not be at the Institute after January. He said that he was hired to set up the program, and that was completed.
This was a class recently cut from 3 to 2 hours. No one completed all three boards of painting techniques by the stated ending time of the class. I opted not to take my sample boards with me, three one foot squares of masonite board are pretty heavy and they weren't very good. Steve and Bethany took Clay Animation. They were grouped with a mom and two sons. This seemed to be one of those situations where the weakest link (older boy) held down the whole group.
They made up a story then made and used clay figures and props to film their story. They managed to do a tape and we will get a copy on Friday. The instructor ran out of time in this program. She showed clips, then how to work machine, camera and computer. They each shot a 20 second film. We went to the Rose and Crown for dinner, visited our favorite attractions and stayed for Illuminations 25. While the fireworks display at the end was good, we couldn't hear the announcer and music early in the show.
Day Six, Thursday, November 28, Thanksgiving
I was out first this morning for an 8 to 11 Traveling Gardener program at Epcot. I enjoyed one of those luxuries that only other working moms can appreciate, a solitary breakfast with the newspaper, and someone else cooking ,serving and cleanning uo..
For this program we met in the Welcome Center. All 14 of us rode the van to a parking lot behind Canada in the International Showcase of Epcot. We circled behind many of the buildings and could only see the tops of the pavilions. We were surrounded by warehouses, loading docks and trailers. Upon arrival, we were provided with loaner automatic focus 35mm cameras to record our experiences.
We toured each of the countries gardens, learned how they were influenced, the substitutions made due to Florida weather and about the amount of maintenance required. It's amazing how many people work to maintain the plants at WDW and this is apparently a pretty good job, mainly 9 to 5 with a steady income and some seasonal workers. Bethany and Steve were already back and cleaned up when I got back. They had taken Special Effects Makeup and each experimented with various scars and bruises and had the gruesome pictures to prove it. It was off to Italy for lunch. They had both enjoyed the class. It began with an overview of both the instructor's work, they had degrees in cosmetology and described their various work experiences. Currently, in addition to the institute, they do weddings, the dancers at King Stephan's Castle. The participants were shown how to make scars. The instructors had actually worked with the FBI on a sting case that involved making up someone so they looked dead. While Bethany and Steve both chose the wound makeup there were 2 witches, 3 cats and 7 other wounded in the class. They both loved the program. We joked that they should have kept on the makeup and gone to the Boardwalk to complain about the multiperson bikes. (Another DI guest wrote me after we got back: "One day my class was longer than hers ( Disney architecture ) and when I returned to our room Linda was reading on the patio. I didn't see her since I walked directly into the other room. All I had on my mind were all the things I wanted to tell her about my class. Then she came staggering in and I saw her - deep lacerations to her forehead, nose and mouth, black eye and bloody nose. Needless to say I almost had the big one on the spot thinking only the worst that she was involved in a traffic accident with her golf cart. Then she started laughing and I remember she had the makeup class that morning. Got me good ( can't wait for payback ). The makeup looked so real.") After a light lunch we were back to the Institute. Bethany had her second tennis program where she learned about serving and volleys. She increased her accuracy from 1 to 25% during the session. The participants mainly worked in pairs.
Steve and I took the Culinary Techniques program and learned how to make the cookies featured in Eating Well Magazine's Entertaining supplement. The chefs were entertaining and we had a lot of fun. We came back to the room with about 2 dozen cookies and the recipes. Steve went to the Fitness Center to work out for an hour then it was off to Seasons for Thanksgiving dinner. We enjoyed it, both the menu and the entertainment and decided to make it an early evening rather than see the movies that were offered at the Cinema that evening.
Day 7, Friday, November 27
This morning Bethany completed her third tennis session. They used the HDP in the Gym to measure reflex speed and maneuverability. She did pretty well on the reflexes and got a tag for her tennis racquet case for completing all three tennis sessions.
She now feel comfortable about accepting invitations to play tennis with her friends. She was videotaped and photographed during this session and spent the last part of the time practicing what had been identified as problems from the taping.
I took Storytelling Journeys this morning. This was apparently the last session to be offered in the scheduling releases made by the DI. The originator of the program has left the Institute. We practiced putting our own memories into tales. While the instructor was an accomplished storyteller herself, as evidenced by her performances, she was following written script and admitted that she had only taught the course before to business groups. Bethany and I skipped lunch and ate cookies, since we were both scheduled for cooking classes in the afternoon.
Steve took Food from the Bayou. Chefs Paul and Carlos taught this and Paul was his ebullient self.
They learned about Creole and Cajun history and cultures and why the foods were different. They made Chicken Gumbo soup and learned how to make brown roux. They also each created their own Cajun spice mixture to their own taste.
Tabasco sauce played a part in this program as they learned ho it was made on Avery Island. They also made Crawfish Etoufe Sauce for potato crusted chicken breasts. Of course, they got to eat the results. Steve reports that an interesting part of the class was learning how to dice. They learned how to dice an onion.
Steve and Bethany took Studio Bakery: Chocolate this afternoon. The chefs first made a cappuccino drink. Then they made a flourless chocolate cake (shared among the group midway through the class). They learned how chocolate is made and different kinds of chocolate, history of chocolate and where the best chocolate is grown. They cut up chocolate using a variety of the techniques learned in the Bayou cooking class. They made truffles and rolled them in various coatings such as paprika, almond crunch, chocolate sparkles, white chocolate decorations. They ate one mistake and licked all the bowls and utensils clean. Meanwhile, I was being virtuous and taking Healthy Cooking. This class went much more in depth than I had expected. We received basic information on nutrition, food labels and substitutions. We observed and help to make a healthy holiday dinner of turkey breast, mashed sweet potatoes, stuffing, green beans, cranberry sauce and pumpkin pie tarts. We watched and were instructed on how to bone a turkey breast, then truss and marinate it prior to baking. The chefs prepared the cranberry sauce and the filling for the pumpkin pie tarts and we fixed the rest. All the ingredients were measured out for us in little aluminum cups. We also received extensive instruction on the best way to use and care for knives. The session concluded with eating our food.
This was our last dinner at Seasons, good as always. In the evening Bethany chose to do homework while Steve and I attended another jazz performance. Vanessa Rubin had a trio of musicians. We both got the impressions that she was more used to playing clubs rather than concerts. It was a very restrained performance. They seemed on the verge of 'cutting loose' several times, but reined it back in. Most of the selections were oldies. The more contemporary numbers were scheduled for Saturday's performance.
Day 8, Saturday, November 30
This was our last day and we had no programs scheduled until 10:30. Steve went to work out early, then we met for breakfast and were ready for check out in plenty of time. The audio tape from Voices of Disney was still not in at Dabblers, but they promised to send it to us. The Institute staff collected our luggage to store for us at our request, since I didn't want the topiaries, cookies or truffles in the car all day. My program was Journal Keeping, which was very appropriate after writing this all week. The class was taught by an experienced writing instructor at the college level - she had developed this part of the DI Program. We did free, structured and dialogue writing. We discussed the practicalities and kinds of journal keeping. The two hours went quickly and I felt it gave me the tools and confidence to make journal keeping a part of my life. The class was full.
Steve and Bethany took Computer Animation.. The class was full and had a waiting list. They worked on Power Macs, with one computer per person. The class began with instructions on using the application then the participants made animated segments using the character that the instructor had previously created. There was no way to keep a copy of their segments, but they both reported it was fun.
We now embarked on our afternoon of little stuff. First we had lunch at Norway in Epcot, a pleasant surprise. We drove to the Contemporary and took the boat for Bethany to show us Discovery Island. This was a pleasant hour.
We then took the boat to the Magic Kingdom. We took the train to Mickey's Land. The place was swarming with strollers. We made our way through it and down Main Street to see all the Christmas Decorations. We got to take the pictures we wanted of the castle and decorations. We then took the monorail back to the Contemporary and drove to the MarketPlace for our last minute shopping. By now it was about 6 and the place was a madhouse. Made a quick purchase, picked up sushi at Goodings for dinner and drove to the airport.
We turned in the rental car, checked in at the Hyatt at the airport (not very expensive if you have AAA membership) and spent two hours snacking and watching planes from the balcony. During checkin we had arranged for the morning bellhop to help us take our luggage to the gate in the morning.
The next morning everything went according to plan and we were at the United Desk one hour prior to our flight. Staying at the airport Hyatt is worth the expense to have such a relaxed departure. We arrived home well rested and satisfied with our trip. In the last two weeks we have tried many of the recipes and cooking techniques we learned. Steve participated in the Cookie Swap at work and Bethany has made Truffles for her teachers for Christmas. My lesson plans for January include many of the things I learned in Journal Keeping.
Would we do this trip again?
I'd love to repeat the experience, but the programs at the Institute would have to expand to justify another stay of this length. While the cooking classes are constantly changing, the others appear to remain much the same.
I'm not sure if I'd go with the World Choice Plan again. It was nice having the park entries covered and all the meals were good, but I don't think we would have suffered to have a few breakfasts and lunches in the room and at times this would have been a lot more relaxed. Goodings also has quite a selection of prepared foods so we probably wouldn't even have had to do more than microwave them.
Please feel free to write if you have any questions about the Institute.
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03-01-2006 07:18 AM