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Thread: 3 hotels, 2 parks and 1 train ride - May 3-10, 2019

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    Registered User ericles's Avatar
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    3 hotels, 2 parks and 1 train ride - May 3-10, 2019

    Who: Myself (Les, and my husband (Eric) - on occasion joined by my BIL & SIL & their our 2 1/2 year old niece + our Nephew & his wife
    Where & When: May 3-10, 2019 Cabana Bay- 1 night. Bay Lake Tower theme park view- 2 nights, Saratoga Springs deluxe studio which turned into a 2 bedroom villa- 4 nights
    Methods of Travel - Southwest out of BWI & Amtrak auto train north Sanford to Lorton

    I don't usually write trip reports, I don't take notes and don't usually take photos. It's at least our 17th trip (probably more, I haven't counted up) and we are more live-in-the-moment types at this point in life, so this might be a bit different than other trip reports!

    Last fall, 2018 during one of our frequent family meals it was decided we'd go to Universal w/ my BIL & SIL, and they'd come to Disney. Some backstory: my BIL is a rabid Universal Fan, AP holder w/ them, frugal and a sun up till midnight type, a big roller coaster and ride fan,and makes 1-3 trips down there a year with his wife and now 2 1/2 year old daughter. We in turn, are full-on Disney bubble DVC property types that usually do a nice long weekend every 18-24 months, not roller coaster fans, and naturally get up early but rarely get back to our room later than 8 PM. So we got to talking and it was decided that we would each compromise. We'd try Universal for a day, and they'd come over to the Magic Kingdom for a day. I should note that we are all big HP fans, so while we were committed to going to Universal, it was really only to see HP.
    Those family members you actually like? The ones you enjoy hanging out with? These are those family members! Even though my husband and his brother are both in mid-late 40's, we are all in different stages of life. In last few years he's bought his first house, gotten married and had a child. Our kids have finished school, come home from deployments, begun careers and moved out. Still - we get on really well. So we figured this was doable.
    *it should be noted that Eric & I prefer to travel alone or with other like minded travelers who DON'T need to be hand-held or stuck with us 24/7. We've traveled successfully with my parents (most recently a Viking River Cruise in Europe) because we have the same attitude about it, but don't usually travel well with others. It's us, not them!
    Long story short - it was decided we would start the trip with one day at Universal, and we'd stay the first night at a Universal hotel to enjoy the benefits and then move on to WDW. So - admittedly I did very little research - they picked Cabana Bay for their stay, so that is where we went. I knew I made a mistake when our Uber driver pulled up and I saw the rooms to Cabana Bay had outside doors.

    Flights - Southwest out of BWI

    our flight was fully sold out, and they called for anyone to give up their seats for a few hundred bucks and spots on the next flight. We stayed put, although we did consider it! ha ha...our flight left a bit late, weather delay, but we finally got on our way and had a pleasant, uneventful flight down to MCO. Got to MCO and grabbed our luggage and grabbed a Uber to our first hotel.

    Universal Studios - Cabana Bay Resort. 2 park, 1 day tickets

    I admit it - I'm a bit of a hotel snob. It's not just a place to shower & sleep to us, and our initial impression was not great. Then there was a 40 minute wait to check in (it should be noted we came in on a Friday around 5ish so that is entirely our fault). We were upgraded to a family suite (I had booked a regular basic room since it was just one night) with a inside door so that pleased us greatly! Unfortunately the rooms condition was not the greatest, frayed carpet and very dated - beyond the theme of the hotel-. Anyway - off we went to City Walk to a place called CowFish for dinner. It was loud, but it was very good! We didn't see a lot of City Walk, but looked like a fun place if you are into that sort of thing. We headed back to the hotel by 10 PM ( late for us!) as we had a early start planned.
    Off we went the next morning and hit all the highlights of Hogsmead & the Hogworts Express and Diagon Alley. It really was pretty neat. We scooted thru there pretty fast, and the Chocolate Emporium for lunch. We were seated in no time and had a nice late lunch. When we came out it was raining pretty good, so Eric & I decided to make a break for it and walked back to the hotel to collect our bags and head to Bay Lake. That's when we saw it...as the rain continued, evidently our fellow guests at Cabana Bay decided that bringing their room furniture out to the sidewalks outside of their room doors so they could be outside and smoke but still keep an eye on their kids and yell at them to "be quite or they'd beat their ***" via the open door and thru a blaring TV. I'd like to say it was just one section, but we say this in three different places as we made our way around the pool area. I'm not going to lie, that put the nails in the coffin of our opinion of the place as no better than Motel 6. There were other things ....similar trashy things - lets just say we were thrilled to grab our bags, catch our Uber and get out of there. By 3:30 that afternoon we were in a car and on our way to Bay Lake Tower!

    Walt Disney World - Bay Lake Tower - park hoppers

    Bay Lake Tower Theme park room had been a long-time bucket list stay for my husband, so we booked 2 nights here with the thought that it would be super convenient for our trip the next day to MK w/ our family. We were not disappointed! We were on the 5th floor, and near the walkway to the main building. At first it was a bit disappointing to not be higher up, but our views were GREAT, and I soon learned how convenient being right down from that walkway was! We forced ourselves to stay up late (okay - late for us!) both nights to enjoy the fireworks from our room, and it was a wonderful spot to see them from. We were joined for our day in MK by our nephew who works at Disney Springs, and his wife who is a CM at Animal Kingdom. She did the college program there, and after they both graduated college, she was able to get a job at WDW. They are really enjoying their time down there, and she hopes to parlay her job at AK into a position at a zoo , and our nephew was able to get a position with a Company in the industry he wants to be in. It's nice to see them doing their thing like they planned so many years ago....anyway. We had our first Pixie Dust moment at BOG. My SIL wanted to take our niece there, so I had long ago secured a ADR at 11:25 AM for the 5 of us, but now we were a party of 7. I had tried repeatedly to modify the reservation online and via the phone number, but there was never availability. We kept the ADR "just in case". I walked up, explained the situation and boom! Not a problem, they were able to accommodate us all. Everyone enjoyed the experience, although it was the second time for Eric & I to eat there, and it's not our favorite. We hit all the rides we could until our FP's for Haunted, Pirates were canceled due to weather and rides going down (rain & T-storms all afternoon), although we did get on the Jungle Cruise, Mermaid, the tea cups and barn stormer and something else before the afternoon was cut short. At this point in the day we all took our leave of each other and went our own ways. Eric & I eventually headed to Trader Sam's for a drink.

    Saratoga Springs - 4 nights

    Why SS? Well...we are creatures of habit, and almost always stay at BC or BW because we enjoy walking over to EPCOT for dinner/drinks a lot of evenings. BUT we wanted to try something new and so we figured we'd try SS so we could walk over to the Springs for our evenings of drinks/dinner and maybe try some new places.
    I had booked a deluxe studio and requested Congress Park, and we ended up in the Paddock. We were happy to be nearer to the Springs and happy with the location. However, we walked in the room and the floor was soaking wet. I called down - ended up they had washed the carpets but not pulled the water up or put the blowers on it, instead releasing the room to inventory to be assigned. We thought maybe there was a leak at first - it was that wet. They were quick, helpful and very accommodating in that special way, and we experienced another round of Pixie Dust when they moved us to a 2 bedroom villa that was steps away from the bridge to the Springs! Way more room than we needed - and just a treat! It really made our evenings exploring the Springs so much nicer!
    Speaking of the Springs, we revisited the Jack Lindsey's Hanger Bar - still great! Went to Enzo's hideaway for the first time, wonderful customer service and great martinis! Had dinner at the Boathouse - in a word, Fabulous. Also great martinis . I know we ate somewhere else but can't remember where! I think the Paddlehouse - no complaints! Oh - and Ragland Road, which we've been to before, also really good. I had the braised lamb, so good. We picked up drinks here and there as well. Overall a really nice place to have as our "back yard" during our stay, and although we really missed having easy access to Epcot, I'm so glad we decided to stay in the area of SS & Disney Springs.

    Auto Train- north

    We had a credit w/ Amtrak for a auto train trip we originally planned to take in December of last year. We were headed to Ft. Myers to visit my folks, then up to Augusta, GA to visit our son who was stationed there and needed a car. Well, our plans changed and we were able to leave two days earlier, but there was no availability on the train so we drove down. Anyway, so we rented a car, and took the train back up north. We had booked a sleeper - and if we do it again I'd book at family bedroom for the extra elbow room. My husband and eldest son had traveled in a sleeper a few years ago on a trip back home from school, and Eric has always gone on about it being the best nights sleep he ever got! Um, no. this time was way different, and we didn't get much sleep. Still - I had been dying to give it a try and I'm glad we were able to. Tip: at a minimum get a sleeper car. The earlier you check in, the better choice you get of the sleeper car dining times of 5, 7 or 9 PM. Food wasn't horrible actually! And yes, you can buy wine or beer! Of course, we brought a small cooler with some wine to enjoy in our room while watching the scenery go by. You can also pay an extra $60 to get your car off early. We were unable to do so since we booked to late and the availability was sold out. Train stations are in Sanford, FL outside of Orlando by about a hour, and Lorton, VA, just below DC. Train arrived about 45 minutes early, so we had to wait a bit to get off the train - still we lucked out and didn't have to wait that long for our car. We were hitting 95 N by 9:15 AM. We were home on MD's eastern shore by 11:30! Would I do it again? I'm not sure, but it is a nice option to have. Of Note: According to Amtrak, unless it has changed recently, they are unable to accommodate animals, which makes sense, and there must be a car as part of your reservation. We talked to one woman who had been dropped off and was not traveling with a vehicle, and witnessed one small dog (not a service animal) traveling with it's human companions. I guess maybe things have changed? I don't know. One thing I do know - we are in our mid & late 40's and we brought the median age down a bit haha!

    Parks @ WDW-

    Yes! We hit all the parks, and no I don't exactly recall what parks in what order! Sorry, like I said about, I don't take notes. Here are the highlights: Pandora at Animal Kingdom: We only had a FP for the Navi River Journey and I had not seen the movie, although Eric has. I thought the ride was beautiful, and the land was as well. Very nicely done. We enjoyed the Safari as usual, and saw a lot of animals. Rode Kali River Rapids for the first time in Years! Skipped Frozen in Epcot, suffered thru the movie in France for the first time. Yes, I said suffered! Enjoyed The Flower & Garden areas immensely, as well as several of the food & drink kiosks. Ate at Spice Road Table for the second time, very good. Ate at Coral Reef for the upteenth time. A word about CR: I'm not a fan. I used to be, but the food seems to have gone down hill A LOT during our last few trips. We actually didn't want to go, but our Nephew picked it as where he wanted to go (we wanted to take them out for dinner the night before we left and let them choose the location). I will say, I only made the ADR the night before, so it was easy to get in. And oddly enough, when I checked in I asked for a table on the upper levels as the close proximity of the glass makes me feel off. Also I like to avoid peoples unruly children (there, I said it)- plus most people like sitting down there so I figured asking for a table away from there would make it easy on them. Guess where they sat us? At one of the primo glass - front seats....????????? I didn't ask why, since our nephew & wife were THRILLED with the great table. I ordered the magic star cocktail without the flashy cube. This confused our waiter, but I explained that the flashy light gave me a headache and if they could just not put it in there I'd appreciate it (I've ordered this drink around the World over the years, making the same request - never a problem )So, yeah - the drink comes with the flashy cube. I fish it out with my salad fork and move on. The food was enjoyed by all -even me, although I just got a Caesar salad. The highlight was the two different tables with screaming kids. I'm talking long-term screams. Screams. poor tired little ones who were over it and it was late, after 7:30 at this point-. But no, the parents never removed them from the restaurant and everyone got to enjoy the little dears. I'm talking 10-15 minutes of crying and screaming at two different times. Why people torture their kids, and others, I don't know. Anyway...lets see. Studios, we did Buzz Lightyear and experienced the new (to us) entrance in Toy Story Land. Can you say wall to wall people? We had a FP, otherwise we would not have even ventured down there. Anyway, that place was crazy crowded! We enjoyed Tower of Terror, and Muppets as well.

    Thoughts:

    Park Hoppers - we always get them and always use them, for us they are a must.
    May? Why May? Well as stated above, we were traveling with family and had to compromise on time of year timing. Was it warm? Yes - was it unbearable? No. Was it a bit more crowded than we thought? You know it. I think our next trip will see us going back to our early Dec. or mid-January/early Feb. times we prefer.
    Still, because of the warmth we enjoyed a no sweatshirt trip for the first time in a long, long time! And had two nice pool afternoons as well!
    Traveling again with family? Nope. One & done. Eric & I are not flexible enough to enjoy traveling/touring WDW with others. We know it, and won't put ourselves (or our family ) thru it again.

    DVC & The Bubble:

    Why don't we own DVC if that is where we stay? Honestly, we've run the numbers so many times and it never works out for us. We favor a trip every 2 years or so, and at this point in time our sons are in their 20's and have no real interest in going...to be honest they have not wanted to go since they were about 13 or 14! Just not their thing, and our immediate family trips have evolved into something & someplace different. That being said, we've found renting points & getting the rooms we want at the resorts we want to be a fairly simple and easy process. We favor Boardwalk & Beach Club, and stayed there several times,although we've stayed at OKW, WL, SS, Bay Lake Tower and Animal Kingdom as well on rented points. and POR, CB & POFQ at other times. We used to rent thru a private person, but our last 5-6 stays have been thru David's and their customer service folks could not be nicer or more helpful or friendly. It just is what works for us.

    Do I hate kids?

    No! I just don't understand why parents torture their little ones who are hungry, tired,hot, cold whatever and let them be miserable and scream and cry at top of lungs for what seems an eternity in a crowded restaurant. I've been there, I've had to leave a place with a toddler who just wasn't having it and leave my husband there with the other one. We survived!

    Do I hate Universal Studios?

    No! Admittedly we did not like Cabana Bay though! What we saw of the parks was nice, and City Walk looked like a lot of fun! We just were there to do the Harry Potter stuff and move on to WDW. I think families and or folks who enjoy thrill rides and night life would really have a blast there!

    Uber - whats the deal ?


    Ugh - the wait for the buses in the AM is torture for us at times, and yes, we've succumbed to the convenience of Uber. We even took them back from some of the parks. All took we probably took 8 Uber trips. All totally worth it.

    Why WDW if you complain about the bus waits & screaming kids?

    Easy - we usually avoid those things, and when we can't we go with the flow! In all seriousness, we still find a lot of value in a trip there. For us it's a trip in between "real" vacations aka vacations to other locations. Why do we come back? To be honest, we find it relaxing. Every time we come down to WDW we find we are spending more time relaxing (two times reading at the pool this trip) and enjoying our resorts. Also, we live in a very rural area, and it's an hour to any fine dining. Plus I am, shall I say uptight to the nth degree?? about having a drink - even one - and driving home. Had a family member killed by a drunk driver when I was a teenager, has stayed with me ever since. Problem? We own a vineyard, and we enjoy having drinks, and come from a drinking family, so it's part of our lives. So we really enjoy the opportunity to be in close proximity to decent restaurants and the ability to have some drinks and together off of our farm property and not worry about how we will get home/arranging a DD.

    Will we be back?

    Yes, for sure! When? No idea...recently had the wonderful chance to finally spend some time in Europe and take in a bit of the wonderful architecture and history. That, combined with the tragic fire at Notre Dame has really lit a fire in us to expand our horizons a bit more than we have been and expand our vacations beyond North America, the Bahamas & the Caribbean. And yes, beyond WDW. That being said I think it will still be our go-to destination for a long weekend every once in a long while. We love to travel, and always have the next two or three trips lined up. We did talk to a lot of folks, Uber drivers, CM's and other travelers about the impact that the Gondolas, new resorts and of course, Star Wars will have on WDW and everyone agrees it's going to be a mad house over the next 18 months, if not longer. Our nephews wife, who is a CM herself, let us in on a bit of the general feeling from the WDW employees point of view, as well as what they've been told to expect. She said they've been warned it will be brutal for quite some time and to prepare! As far as our next long weekend? I'm guessing it will be 2 + year for us. And that is ok, because it's fun to look forward to, and we've never had a bad trip! I think our next trip we will go back to the BC, or perhaps try the GF or Poly. And I think we will go back during the January time period. That really suits us and we like the break to the warmer south from the cold and wet Maryland January!

    Gondolas???

    Oh yes, we saw them. We saw the stations, and they unwrapped them while we were there so we saw the cars up front. Looks like a fun new way to travel and I can't wait to try it. Once everyone one else has gotten it out of their system!

    Cell Phones:

    I get it, people have them. And they use them. I use them. And they use them to book ADR's and FP's and do other things on the Disney App. I do, too. And they need to get off them 24/7 and look up! The amount of folks we saw walking around and looking down at their phones was unreal. We were walked into a few times by folks looking down at them instead of ahead as they were walking. Don't get me started by entire tables of folks enjoying a nice meal all on their phones and not interacting with each other. It was shocking to us, to see so many people glued to them constantly vs. speaking with their companions.

    Last thoughts:

    I'm not secretly a curmudgeonly old bugger, I promise you. I'm thinking this trip report, it you can call it that, perhaps may come off a bit judge-y and complaint ridden. I don't mean it to be, honestly! A thought on Bay Lake Tower and the Theme Park View Rooms: This had long been on my husbands wish list, although to be honest I could have taken or left The Contemporary Resort area before. First off those rooms aren't cheap, and even at getting them via DVC point rental prices which was almost 1/2 of the rack rates, we had to think twice about pulling the trigger. If you have been thinking of treating yourself to this type of room, I heartily recommend the splurge! It was a nice resort, and even though we aren't the types to stay out late and brave the crowds for the fireworks, seeing them from your room balcony is a whole new experience! I don't know if we will go there again, but we will always remember the great experience it was and do not for one bit regret it. Saratoga Springs - whew! It's a big resort, bring your best walking shoes! We realize we got super lucky with our room, most especially it's location. The proximity to The Springs couldn't be beat, and we truly took advantage of being so close to it. The Boathouse Restaurant was just out of this world as well. We aren't smokers, although thankfully we are former smokers, so can empathize for those who are still on their journey to quit. We did seen signage indicating no smoking in the parks, and we did see folks smoking outside in the designated areas. What we didn't see was anyone throwing a fit over it. Disney seems to have done a good word getting the word out thoroughly so guest aren't taken by surprise. I won't lie, it was nice not walking thru clouds of smoke as it wafted out of or near by smoking areas inside the parks. We did a fair bit of window shopping, Eric picked up a pin & a T-shirt. I grabbed a new cup and one of those fridge magnets with the note pad on them...I can't pass up a good fridge notepad! We aren't usually big souvenir spenders there, unfortunately what we see in the various stores seems to repeat itself and there is less variety in general, or so it seemed to us.
    Oh - and one of our other nieces just graduated college and has decided to attend the College Program beginning in August and has signed up for a stint! So it looks like I might be eating my words about it being a 2 year wait between now & our next trip! I hope to pop down and visit her for a quick 24 hour non-park visit sometime this fall. Does that still count as a "trip"??? Sure! And I'll be in the bubble again, if only for one night!

    Thanks all for reading, sorry if it was a bit rambling!
    Last edited by ericles; 05-15-2019 at 08:02 AM.
    Mrs. Slocombe is my spirit animal

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  3. #2

    I just skimmed over your report, and plan to read it in more detail later today. Thanks for posting!

    Dan

    The secret of life is enjoying the passage of time.
    - James Taylor

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    Registered User ericles's Avatar
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    No worries - I just re-read it and bored myself!!! ha ha!!!

    Mrs. Slocombe is my spirit animal

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    At home in the hills candles71's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by ericles View Post
    No worries - I just re-read it and bored myself!!! ha ha!!!
    I loved it as it was. Concise is good for me.

  6. #5

    Thanks for sharing your trip report. It was really great!


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