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Thread: Patrick O'Connor - AKV, BLT and VWL - December 12-18, 2020

  1. #1

    Patrick O'Connor - AKV, BLT and VWL - December 12-18, 2020

    Patrick O'Connor - Animal Kingdom Villas (Jambo House), Bay Lake Tower, Boulder Ridge Villas

    Travel Dates: December 12-18, 2020
    Travel Method: Plane, Rental Car
    Resort: Disneys Animal Kingdom Villas (Jambo House) (1 night), Bay Lake Tower (2 nights), Boulder Ridge Villas (3 nights)
    Accommodations: Studios at each resort
    Ages Represented: Male Adults 28 & 49
    WDW Experience: Somewhere around 20 visits since 1996
    Comments: First COVID trip; the last trip having been completed in January 2020
    Cast of Characters:

    Patrick, 49 (trip reporter) 20-ish WDW Trips since 1996 and countless Disneyland visits as a local
    Ramon, 28 (partner) Second trip to Florida

    OMG, upon checking, it would appear that the last trip report I posted was in 2013! Boy, have I gotten lazy! There have been several trips since then, but I guess I gave up on note taking and I don't even bring my laptop on the trip anymore. Then, by the time I get home, I'm too busy with real life to recount my trip. Well, this time I'm going to make a noble effort - but it's going to be summary style. I simply can't do the play-by-play anymore, although I enjoy reading YOURS, so please don't stop them!

    This trip came about in the wake of COVID-19, because I'd purchased a WDW Gold AP back in January of 2020. When I saw that my refund for cancelling it would be almost nothing, I decided to leave it open and continue to USE it. Disney extended my expiration to April 2021, so between my January and current trip I will get about 11 park days out of it. That's decent, but I'm thinking a solo trip before the end of April next year might be in order as well. Ramon did not purchase a pass for his first trip, because we travelled with a Club 33 member who very graciously gave him complimentary admissions each day. On that first-ever trip, Ramon experienced a studio at the Poly, a Saratoga Springs treehouse, and an OKW Grand Villa. SMH! What a life for someone who has never been there. This time around, I already warned him that I was only going to spend my DVC points on studios for the two of us and that he'd have to purchase his own admission media. In the absence of any type of discount, not to mention no park hopping, he used undercovertourist.com and got a few bucks off, but basically paid rack rate, which makes me cringe. He's not into thrill rides and really only cares about pin trading and food, so for the few attractions that we did ride together, if I think about admission as a cost to ride rides, he was probably paying over $20 per ride some days. I try not to dwell on that, because I can't stand it!

    Airfares were cheap early in the year, but I waited too long to book, and ended up paying just about the same as I would have any other year. I purposely paid a little bit more to fly Delta, the only airline that was still blocking middle seats, and I'm glad I did. It truly is a luxury in this age of no-frills flying to have an entire row of 3 seats for just the two of us. I'll miss that when it goes back to normal.

    I also rented a car - something I hadn't done for the past several trips. I just felt it best to avoid as much enclosed contact with strangers on buses, plus I hate the buses in general, so this way I'd have a personal vehicle available any time I wanted or needed it. The other reason for the car was that I wanted to check out Downtown Orlando a little bit. I'd been there once in 1998, but not since, and since I always toss around the idea of moving to the area in the back of my mind, I wanted to see what was available in the core of the City. I really like using Magical Express - not only to make the approach and the return stress-free, but also to avoid the damn tolls - but this time, I made an exception. I'd stopped at the credit union before leaving home and picked up $30 worth of quarters for the toll booths, since I refuse to pay extra for the transponder. Yes, I'm frugal, and I reap the rewards of it

    Reserved airport parking at a nearby hotel was cheaper than in past years - obviously because of decreased demand - so that was nice. It was super easy getting to LAX in time for an 8am departure, and everything went off without a hitch despite that disaster of an airport that apparently will never be finished. In place of the beverage cart are bagged handouts of Cheese-Its, bottled water, sanitizer and some sort of dessert biscuit. This entire package was offered twice during the 4.5 hour flight, as well as free headphones to watch the complimentary TV shows, movies, and more.

    The flight home is another story. Taking advantage of the rental car, we stopped at Premium Outlets to visit the Character Warehouse on our last day - with about an hour wait to enter. I never would have bothered with this dump had Ramon not wanted to see the store. The great masking and social distancing enforced at WDW was nowhere to be found here, and we saw more than one group of patrons behaving like complete *****. I won't go into details. I really hate outlet malls in the first place - in most cases, they're a sham filled with second rate merchandise created just for the outlets that were never offered in the full line stores, and people fall for it year after year. After this, we raced to the Publix closest to the airport to pick up 2 subs we'd preordered on the app. There is so much buzz about how Publix has the best subs out there that I had to see for myself, plus, it made sense with there being no food offered on the flight home, plus the fact that traveling west takes about an hour longer. The sandwiches were good, but by no means spectacular - I can name a handful of other places with better subs at home, though all would be more expensive.

    Anyway, after all this, we arrived 2 hours before departure and STILL MISSED THE PLANE. The check in counter where you drop off your bags for Delta was backed up with only a few employees working, and each one was on the phone, apparently dealing with a unique issue. No passenger simply walked up and dropped off - everyone had some sort of exception. I was getting furious. We finally got our bag checked and then raced to security, which, of course, was backed up fairly badly. HUGE families of 10 or more were all going through, with multiple triplewide strollers and enough crap to house an entire tract of homes for a week. We passed through as fast as we could, raced to the monorail, and power walked to the gate, only to find the door already closed and loading ramp retracted. This was 6 minutes before take off time, and the gate agent said they always do this and there is no way to reverse it. I was livid, but didn't give the agent a hard time. We were not the only ones to miss, either - several of us showed up out of breath, only to meet with this horrible news. The agent rebooked us on the next morning's first flight and that was that. We noticed the next morning several passengers throughout the Delta area asleep in chairs - I have a feeling our flight wasn't the only one with missed passengers the night before. I got on Expedia and booked a reasonably priced airport hotel. It advertised 24 hour free shuttle, so again, I was pissed to learn from the driver that this was not true at present due to reduced occupancy. Fine, but at least update your website. Grr. So, that meant an Uber fare the next morning to get back to MCO in time for the 8:15am flight home. Good thing this was over the weekend and didn't affect my work. Our shuttle driver was actually the hotel's engineer doubling up as driver, since there were so few guests in house and most of the staff was still on furlough. So sad. Thankfully, we had our Publix subs to eat for dinner, which was good thing, since there really wasn't anywhere to walk to otherwise and the hotel restaurant would've been expensive.

    Once we finally made it back the next morning, the flight home was good. I had time to watch Mean Girls, Like a Boss, and part of an HBO show called, "Divorce". All were entertaining, and it passed the flight time quickly. Since I'd prepaid for a specific amount of time at the LAX parking hotel, of course, I was charged quite a bit more for exceeding the time, but what can you do. Not worth getting upset over it. When Delta emailed me their survey, I made sure to tell them that they need more gate agents, OR, they could do like Southwest where there are separate windows for those who need full service problem solving and hand holding vs. those who just want to drop off a bag.

    Next up - the Parks, one by one!


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  3. #2

    Sorry to hear of your MCO trials (especially the missing the flight!).

    I don't know that you would have done better on on any other airline. I know LA is considered bad, but I think MCO is in a stiff competition trying to be in the ranking for "number one" (or the worst) some times (though I realize there are far worse airports in the country). In normal times, the huge Mouse volume doesn't help at MCO, not sure with COVID if that was the driving factor (or maybe it continues to be on a lesser scale, but with staff reductions too, it's proportional, and therefore the same dynamics?).

    One of my last trips before COVID started last year, I got on the security line nearly half way down the mall! I also had a very similar experience at the baggage drop on American. It's almost like when they designed the check in and bag check area, they totally discounted the log jam that automatically results when you have 12 or more self serve kiosk terminals converging down to only one or two lines/people to accept bags.

    One (relatively) recent thing I was expecting you to have a "gotcha" story for was the tolls, depending on the route you take. I used to (like 7-9 years ago) do the 528 to I4 route, before I learned of the southern exit at MCO. Recently (maybe 2-3 years ago?) they changed the tolls along the 528 to I4 route to be cashless. So having coins doesn't help anymore, you then unexpectedly can get the "convenience" fee of using the electronic tolling in addition to the actual tolls, depending on your rental car company.

    I hope to read your actual park days were better than your MCO experience!

    -Dave

  4. #3

    Thanks for your report, looking forward to reading the rest of the installments!


  5. #4

    First up: Animal Kingdom Lodge! Also known as AKL and AKV!

    My original plan was to come in on a red eye and immediately go to a park on the first day. Then I thought back to my past trips where I did this. Well, I was much younger then. Nowadays, I think I value sleep more than rides, sad to say; so I began looking at daytime flights instead – they ended up being cheaper anyway. This would require one extra night of hotel. Since I’d made plans to visit Orlando downtown on the first night anyway, it made sense to spend the first night there. But then I got to thinking: I’m a DVC member with points. Why not check if anything is available that I can get for “free”, having already paid for it in my annual dues? The clear choice was a Value Studio at Jambo House. It’s a great deal, and it was only for one night, so it made more sense to just plan to visit Downtown and then drive over to WDW (In hindsight, I could’ve also used my free Marriott night that I earn once per year for having the Chase Marriott Visa…but I guess that would’ve made too much sense). It’s a pain to switch resorts during vacations, but there was nothing available on that Saturday at the resort I was staying at for following next two nights (BLT), plus the points cost was so low, I couldn’t resist.

    Currently, Kidani Village is open as usual since it’s 100% DVC, but Jambo House is only open on the DVC side. That means that the wonderfully large gift shop, as well as the Mara, Boma and Jiko, are closed. Arriving late that night, it was horribly depressing seeing all of those dark, shuttered spaces. The bright side is that the lobby is decorated for the holidays as always, and looks amazing. With so few people moving about in the public spaces, it was like having my own resort that night. The front desk had one person working, but with everyone checking in online, there was virtually no need. I did pass by at one point to ask the clerk if there happened to be any pin trading boards around, and was met with a grumpy “No”. She’d probably been asked that exactly 595 times before I did. There were also no Bell Services personnel anywhere that I saw.

    Upon entering the studio, it didn’t feel “Value” at all, and when I opened the slider, I was met with…a Savannah view! Sure, it was almost pitch black, but I was definitely looking at trees and dirt rather than a parking lot! I happen to have a friend in Guest Services who knew my reservation numbers, and methinks he may have somehow added a little Disney Magic for my single night stay. I profusely thanked him via text, and we loved the room. I’ve only stayed in a one bedroom unit at Kidani before, so I didn’t really have any frame of reference, but the room felt very fresh and new, and even though they’ve removed the colorful bedspreads and (I believe) painted the walls white, it still felt cozy and themed the way I like my Disney rooms to be. No complaints.
    I took the bus over to Kidani Village (literally a 30-second internal bus ride) and poked around. It was busier here, for obvious reasons, and Sanaa was doing quite a robust business of both dine in and to go orders. I glanced at the menu (when I could get a chance – people were SWARMING all over it) and could see the choices were quite reduced. At least they were offering breakfast, as they pretty much had to if they didn’t want to have starving guests between the two resorts every morning. I’d checked in regarding all of the dining issues here beforehand, so I knew to eat dinner well before arriving and that we’d be best off grabbing breakfast elsewhere after checking out the next morning.

    It's funny how memories change. I’d originally thought that I really liked the Kidani pool better, but upon visiting again, Jambo is the winner for me. This may also have more to do with the fact that Jambo’s pool was emptier and quieter this night. After my quick tour, I decided to see how long the walk was between Kidani and Jambo. It was a pleasant night weather-wise, and I think it took me all of 12 minutes or so, in my flip flops to boot. Back at Jambo, I saw that they have 2 separate jacuzzi areas behind the pool, neither of which had any guests in them, so I hopped on my chance to have one all to myself. What a treat! I could hear Flamingos in the background, so I think their area was directly behind the spa, blocked only by a bunch of vegetation. Eventually, another family came down, which was fine except that one of the kids kept inching closer and closer to me, to a point where it was less than 6 feet, and of course in the water, none of us had masks on. I didn’t love that, but I stayed a little longer. In overhearing the families’ conversation, I found that we were basically bathing underneath one of the Grand Villas at Jambo. I looked up and I could see the large, round balcony with lights on. All of the DVC resorts are currently conducting tours of their rooms, and this must have been one of them. I felt it was too late in the evening to ask if I could tour, but remembered based on other trip reports that I needed/wanted to do this wherever I could this trip.
    I tried to visit the Savanna overlook area, but it was dark and there really wasn’t anything to see at that point.

    The next morning, we did get to see a few giraffes having breakfast as well as a couple of other passers by. This really is some of Disney’s best work in terms of hotel accomodations. I like the fact that it doesn’t get as much press, likely from being so far away from the other three theme parks. That is just fine by me! The location of the resort would never prevent me from staying here again and as the rooms currently look, I would highly recommend this resort when shopping the Deluxe category.

    Animal Kingdom was open until 8pm that Sunday (which was AMAZING, given that even The Studios was only staying open until 7pm!) so knowing which attractions we wanted to hit, I felt we didn’t need to get there at the crack of dawn. Plus, I really like DAK in the dark, so skewing our visit more towards the evening made more sense. The bonus was that we didn’t need to hurry up and check out early, so we pretty much hung out at the resort until close to the 11am check out. From there, we popped out to Hwy 192 to grab lunch (since it was so late, breakfast was no longer needed) at Arby’s, followed by a trip to CVS for sunscreen. Funny story on that. I’m half Irish with pasty white skin, and I burn in 10 seconds. I am stocked like a store with sunscreen at home, but did I bring any? Of course not, because I’d looked at the weather forecast for Orlando and it was going to be 40s-70s, so I’d packed mostly long sleeves and figured I wouldn’t need any sunscreen. Sure enough, the damn weather changed to 80’s for the first few days and high humidity, so I traded my long sleeve hoodies for t-shirts and an 8 dollar bottle of sunscreen to add to the collection at home. This was one of those times I was glad to have had the rental car!


  6. #5

    Yayyyyy! Welcome back! I always enjoy your TRs. Keep it coming-great start


  7. #6

    First park day: Animal Kingdom!

    I don’t know why I historically go to DAK so early in a trip, as if I’m “getting it out of the way”. That couldn’t be farther from the truth. I absolutely adore this park, and although it’s an awful lot of walking and a little short on attraction count, it’s absolutely beautiful and definitely takes you away from the real world. I consider this Joe Rohde’s last masterpiece, from a creative time in Disney history that, so far, at least in my opinion, has not been repeated.

    Park hours for the Sunday we went were an amazing 8am-8pm. In retrospect, I don’t think any of the other three parks were open for 12 hours that day. Amazing! Anyway, as I’d mentioned before, there’s only 8 or 9 attractions I’d wanted to see here, so I didn’t think there was any reason to leave our lovely Savanna View studio too early. We arrived after having eaten our aforementioned Arby’s and stopped at the Christmas tree in front to get PhotoPass pictures. We did the same with another winter scene that was off to the side. When it’s just two of you, it’s so much easier to just let the cast members take your pictures than try to do awkward selfies or bother other guests. Of course, there were a few times when guests caught us doing that and would come up and offer to take pics for us, which we appreciated. I’m just not one to generally ask, I guess.

    I’d not been to this park when it was decorated for the holidays, at least that I’d remembered. The Discovery Island main area (I forget what it’s called – Tree of Life Plaza? Discovery Plaza? I’m just going to call it “The Hub” for now) had beautiful garlands on the shop buildings as well as figures of animals in the planters. If one thought they weren’t much to look at by day, they really stunned at night. Talk about understated beauty. I loved it all. The nighttime projection show on the Tree of Life did not seem to be holiday-themed, but rather the same production that always shows. It had what I’d call a medium number of guests in attendance that night, but not so many that you couldn’t keep easily distanced from others.

    So, without Fast Passes, this actually DID become an all-day park, contrary to what most people like to say. The queue lines were all shorter than the posted times, but some of them were still incredibly long for being at 35% or whatever it was. I know some people are fervent about wanting their FPs back ASAP – I’m undecided. I REALLY loved not having to adhere to the return times of my FPs and logically tour the park in a circle instead of bouncing all over the place to meet deadlines. On the other hand, with FPs, we could have finished sooner and spent more time relaxing at the resort. Dinosaur was our first ride, and I saw parts of that queue that I never knew existed, lol. I will say this – throughout this trip, not having had any special privileges for either FP or the like, I really enjoyed the theming that takes place in the queues and how it prepares you for the ride. That’s something that has been all but lost in the past 10 years – getting on and off a ride as fast as you can so you can move on to the next one.

    Pocahontas is a favorite, and we managed to catch her and Meeko on her “barge” as she emerged from the area near Everest and then out into the former Rivers of Light performance area and beyond. I think the way they presented the characters this way was great. I have no interest in ever waiting in lines to snap pics with the characters – I worked alongside them for years in the 90’s and it holds little magic – but to see them remotely without any type of wait was just fine by me.

    I never made it on Everest. Ramon doesn’t do roller coasters that have any thrill level greater than Big Thunder, so I’d decided I would make this my very last solo ride of the evening and he could leave beforehand and take the bus to our next resort. Well, thanks to the long lines, we ended up staying almost until 8pm, and I was exhausted from standing for so long, so I just skipped it. Not a big deal – it’s a fun ride, but I really do hate the backwards part and the older I get, the more sickening it feels.
    We had a great ride on Kilimanjaro Safaris, some time around 3:30pm when it was still light, but really getting that sunset glow-beautiful look out, and the animals were plentiful. Both the lion AND lioness were on the rock – I’d never seen that before! We also walked both of the exploration trails, which were fun and uncrowded. I think I’m liking being at this park later in the day after the rope drop crowd has moved on. I kept thinking that if I was a local, I’d probably hang out at this park on the benches in the lush forested areas and just zen out, and quite often.

    We developed a bit of an appetite from the walking and waiting, but I didn’t really want to have a formal dinner here, so we just grabbed pretzels with cheese and found plentiful seating at the Dawa Bar area, facing the closed Lion King Theater. It was VERY weird seeing no activity and no guests at all around this normally-packed zone. There were social distance stickers on the ground in the queue area, which puzzled me. Maybe at one point early in COVID they thought they were going to keep this show alive, but clearly that never happened. Anyway, on the pretzels, lemme tell ya – never again. I’m not one to get Disney snacks in the first place – I know many people worship the churros, turkey legs, Mickey premium bars and even the popcorn. To me, it’s all garbage. None of it is top quality, and the prices are laughable. I live in a predominantly Latino community and I can walk the street and buy a fresh, delicious churro that hasn’t been sitting under a heat lamp or carted a mile out on stage for $2, so that’s my benchmark. Anyway, the pretzels. First of all, I forgot to ask if they even offered them without salt. The amount they put on these could kill a horse. Ramon and I have become accustomed to asking for no salt when we order fast food fries or burgers at home. I’m getting older, and I don’t need the added weight on my blood pressure. So there I was, frantically sweeping off as many of those salt crystals as possible. Task done, I then dipped in the little cheese cup they include. So, this is not cheese. It’s some disgusting chemical combination dyed bright orange that is supposed to resemble melted cheese, but possesses none of the same DNA. OMG, it was the most horrid thing I’d ever eaten. I took a glance at the ingredients and I’ll be damned if Soylent Green wasn’t in there somewhere. Just HORRID! I forget the brand name now – I did snap a photo – but I thought, with all of Disney’s corporate relationships, they couldn’t get a well known national brand to provide real cheese in a cup? Or at least something closer to what you’d find covering nachos at a movie theatre? This was like shelf-stable glop that would last 1,000 years in dry storage. Just writing about it now makes me sick.

    After that “experience”, I figured we’d better get in line for Flight of Passage before the day escaped us. It was backed up along the pathway from the Harambe Theatre, but moved quickly, and again, I saw parts of queue I didn’t even know existed. Important tip: If you’re in standby, there is one of those filtered water dispensing stations inside the queue. Few and far between to find in all four parks, and you don’t have to wait in line to ask a CM to get you a cup of water, nor do you waste a paper cup if you have your own bottle. The ride was good, and although motion simulators are my least favorite type of ride, I can handle this one, thanks to my handy dandy Relief Band that I’d purchased for my last trip in January. This is worn around your wrist like a bracelet and, when turned on, sends little electric pulses to your wrist which are supposed to program your brain to pay attention to the pulses instead of the motion. I don’t know if it’s the placebo effect or not, but it really helped me. You can adjust the levels and for a ride like this, I have it almost all the way up. It just feels like little prickles on your inner wrist and then it radiates out into your hand. Not painful at all. I also use it during flights, but at a very low level. If there’s turbulence, I just reach over and increase the level. Now, this isn’t to say that it’s so great that I would ride Mission Space ever again. Forget that; as far as I’m concerned that will never happen and I still curse them for removing Horizons.

    When we exited the ride, it was dark. I just love Pandora at night. During Ramon’s first trip in January, we were not in this area after dark, so I’d wanted to be sure he saw it this way. Of course he didn’t remark anything – damn kids – but I was loving it.
    I actually prefer Na’Vi River over FOP, and even though the line was miserably long, I insisted that we do it. I may get to ride this attraction once per year, so it’s pretty important to me that it does not get skipped. I think we waited longer for this one than FOP, but again, it probably wasn’t more than 40 minutes. It felt like 4 hours, simply because I was so tired from standing and waiting in lines. The ride was lovely as usual, though far too short for my weary legs, but at least we got it done. After this, we slowly made our way out, stopping only to check out the shops and pin board one more time and just soak up the holiday lights.

    We’d also stopped to watch the bird show earlier, which I was happy to find open. It’s completely outdoors, and they have more than half the theatre closed with alternating rows blocked, so it felt completely safe. I forget what they call it now – something with UP – but the show is still Flights of Wonder and I still think it’s very worthwhile.

    All in all, we missed Everest, Kali River (by choice) and It’s Tough to be a Bug. The latter, I’d only wanted to visit because it was removed from DCA a while back, so this is now the only place I know of to see it.
    On this trip we had 5 park days: 1 DAK, 2 Epcot, 1 MK and 1 DHS. Those were hard decisions to make with no park hopping. If I had it to do over again, I probably wouldn’t have changed anything, but I definitely would have split one other day up to spend another 1/2 day back at DAK to repeat some favorites.


  8. #7

    Have to agree with you about too much salt on the pretzels. The cheese looks horrible. I always tell the vendor that I dont want any of it because otherwise its just tossed in the trash. Its a shame that Disney raised the price of the pretzels just to include giving out that cheese in name only.


  9. #8

    Contemporary Resort/Bay Lake Tower (BLT)

    After wed checked out of Jambo House for that first single night and spent the next day at DAK, we were moving over to BLT for the next two nights. Id never stayed here before, other than stopping by to visit the Top of the World Lounge and to wander out by the pools. Also, years ago, I remember stopping here (via Monorail) and walking out to the little beach in the back by the existing garden wing. Somewhere, I have a picture I took of my feet in the lake and just how beautifully peaceful that spot was, amidst the chaos of a world class theme park and resort. I repeated that experience during this stay, except at night, and its confirmed I LOVE that spot! Of course, you cant dip your feet in the lake anymore thanks to the barrier that has now been installed, but in the dark, I probably wouldnt have wanted to anyway. There was literally no one else around; all the chaise lounges were empty and no one was even walking around. This will always be my special WDW spot until Disney stupidly bulldozes the garden wing to put up another high rise (you know they will) Personally, I wish the garden wing would turn DVC. I would kill to have one of those rooms facing the lake with the patio or balcony.

    Anyway, check in was a breeze, since Id already done it on my phone. We were assigned a studio on, I believe, the 10th floor, and it had a lake view as Id reserved. Basically, it looked directly at the DVC pool. An odd thing we found upon entering the studio was that Housekeeping had left a HUGE stack of partially folded towels on the table in the room. LOL I asked my friend in Guest Services if hed sent those and he replied no, so all I can think is the housekeeper simply forgot and left them all there. Hysterical. We didnt touch them, so they were there for them to find 2 days later, having not been moved.

    The studios at BLT are small, about which Id already read, so I was prepared. Dcor is, well, spartan. If youre one of those millennial minimalists who likes a clean, white slate and nothing else but function, youll love this place. Me? Not my style. Very cold and boring. To accommodate the kitchenette area, which is normally out within the living space near the front door, they carved into the wall next to the bathroom; and when youre in there, it feels very much like being in that area on an airplane where the flight crew hangs out when theyre not serving people. Its narrow and tight. It does have a nice countertop area, which became our overflow toiletry area, since the actual counter in the bathroom feels like youre on a train, its so small. For food storage, they installed one of those tall, slim rectangular doors which slides out on tracks to expose storage racks. Clever, but at the same time, I didnt know we were in a 20s hotel in New York where space was at such a premium. Its just cramped; put it that way. I would not choose to stay here again, at least in a studio, but the lake view and proximity to the Magic Kingdom cannot be beat.

    I also love being able to walk the bridge over to the regular resort. Although I suspect the rooms here are similarly bland, you cant beat the 70s architecture of the tower itself. Thats something that will never get old, and that I truly do love. The Concourse level, with its shops, dining options and super cushy carpet (GREAT when you spend 8 hours per day traversing parks), really needs nothing in my opinion. Its a little out of date, but its cozy and, especially later at night when the day traffic has subsided, it feels like home.

    I walked outside to get close to the Christmas tree, which was quite nice, and took a few pictures. The first floor lobby didnt have much going on its pretty small and really has nothing to it other than a coffee cart, The Wave restaurant, and the front desk. For a first-time visitor, it probably appears as if these are the only features of the hotel, which is definitely not the case.

    The pool areas at both the hotel and the DVC wing are also plainly decorated; my favorite feature is, once again, the lake view. By the time I got down there to do my walk that one night, all pools were closed except the large, shallow circular pool at the regular hotel closest to the lake. Trouble was, it was cold out that night, and what I really wanted was the jacuzzi, but this pool did not have one. Oh well.

    We awoke to a beautiful view off the balcony, and I enjoyed staying out there for as long as I could before, inevitably, it was time to head off to the MK.

    There were two negatives about BLT that left an impression. First, my magic band did not work at the laundry room, and the door handle was about to fall off. Not a big deal, but when there are only two desk agents and each of them has a guest that has some sort of silly, long winded request that can take a HALF HOUR, youre basically SOL. There were no bell staff nor concierge types, so I was screwed. I ended up doing my pool walk at that time and then coming back, eventually getting a CM at the front desk to help me but I could have had my clothes in the washers an hour earlier if the door had worked. She didnt explain what was wrong, but whatever she did, did the trick. Why would a hotel guest need to have the laundry room manually activated? Yes, that pissed me off and wasted time.

    The other issue was that the elevators are few and far between. Because of COVID, you dont want to share an elevator with another party, and often times I would want to use one, and then feel like crap when Id need a cab all to myself while a family of 10 were behind me waiting. Theres also the unnecessary anxiety of worrying that youll have to tell another party not to ride with you, and then look like a jerk. This never happened to me in fact, there was only one time the entire week where someone else got in my cab and I shrugged it off but still, it would have been nice if there was better signage in the elevator lobbies to say what I couldnt say.


  10. #9
    MousePlanet Columnist
    Join Date
    Apr 2001
    Location
    Florida

    Enjoying your report Patrick - keep them coming!

    Sue (Holland) Rayford
    WDW1972

  11. #10

    Magic Kingdom

    Our second park day was spent at the MK. Even though the MK is the heart of “Disneyland” for all intents and purposes (and I often hear people refer to it as that – “Which park are we going to today?” “Disneyland”) sigh – and I love the “Magic” in “Magic Kingdom”, I had to make the difficult choice to only give myself one day here. We agreed to split up later in the week and Ramon would come back here solo again, and I’d instead go to the Studios solo.

    We had a lunch reservation at Liberty Tree Tavern, and since it’s all you can eat, I didn’t want to overdo it on breakfast, so we walked the bridge over to CR and each got kids meal breakfasts at Contempo Caf. I thought this made more sense than trying to find something reasonably priced inside the park. They’ve removed all but 1 cashier in favor of having you pull up the menu and order on your phone using the QR code they have posted. Well, naturally my phone didn’t want to cooperate this morning, so I had to be pathetic and speak my order to a live human, lol. What bugged me is that they didn’t even have the menu boards populated/illuminated – I still would have liked to have SEEN my choices displayed rather than having to squint to read them on the phone. Ugh. Anyway, the meals were good, if not teeny tiny small, and hit the spot for us. The entire beverage line is blocked off and they have a CM fulfilling orders for you. There was no checking of receipts, so basically you could go up and say “Yes, I had a large Coke” and they’ll give it to you. Lol. Oops! I simply asked for 2 waters, to go along with the chocolate milk that had accompanied my kid’s meal (lol) and we were good to go. I carry an aluminum water bottle at the parks now. It holds the temperature much better than a plastic bottle and doesn’t sweat, and I was hoping to be able to find filtered water taps as I went. I never found one at the MK, lol; in fact, I lost my nice water bottle either at the MK or at Epcot the next day! The attendant, of course, could not handle my bottle so I had to take the paper cup and pour the water in. I’d noticed that WDW had a fantastic new design on their paper cups and plates. It was so cute! I seem to recall that OneDisney basically eliminated the individuality of the plateware years ago in favor of boring “Disney Parks” wares instead, but this actually said Walt Disney World alone. I loved it. See, Disney? Guests DO notice. Too bad the same couldn’t be said for the plastic bags, which were still generic.

    One interesting thing happened while we were dining. The manager of the location came to each table to check in and ask how they were doing. You certainly never see that during full capacity days, so I found that to be very quaint and a nice throwback to the past. Granted, there were only THREE whopping tables taken, lol! She recognized one of the other parties as people who come back every year, which I thought was very cool. Anyway, when she got to us, I remarked that my scrambled eggs were really good. They still have that look of cheap cafeteria food rather than fresh scrambled like they always have, but the taste was much better. She said, “Oh yes, our chef has been trying a new recipe and he mixes them with butter and stuff now”. Basically, she was saying that now they apparently throw a pat of butter onto the grill instead of just oil. LOL. Disney can make anything sound spectacular or magical. At any rate, I appreciated the leap of faith this chef took, or was permitted to take, and the manager was rewarded with a compliment.

    Since we were already in the CR, Ramon assumed we would take the Monorail over to the MK. I’d of course planned on walking, but I didn’t want to put Mr. Life of Leisure I live with in a bad mood at the start of the day, so we proceeded up the ramp to ride. Unfortunately, from the CR it takes the long way, all the way around. At least the Poly stop is currently unavailable, so that saved a little time. It sure was magical having an entire Monorail cabin to ourselves; I’ll say that much. However, they just have vinyl partitions hanging between parties and they don’t go all the way down, so really, you can be sitting within 6 inches of a stranger even with all the “precautions”. For that reason, it really is theatre here, and I just opted to sit/stand in various places within the cabin to feel safest.

    The crowds in the park weren’t too bad, but it wasn’t empty, either. I enjoyed all of the impromptu cavalcades; I think we saw at least three different ones. After dark, the castle had projections on it that changed every 15 minutes. I’m already not a big fan of projection technology – I like real 3 dimensional sets – so after glancing at it for about 5 seconds, I was good. It’s comical that a good 2-3,000 guests were just standing there waiting, as if something more grand than a simple change of projection was going to occur whilst they stood there. Well, it was something, and it was something festive at least. Main Street was decorated as usual, with the tree, garlands, and arms that jut out on Main Street all in place and all lovely.

    We had very long lines for Haunted Mansion and Pirates, but did both. It was actually fun being in queues that moved so quickly, and went places I’d never seen before. Pirates was stressing me out, because we rode it right before our lunch reservation, and I definitely did not want to miss that. While in line, I looked on my phone at the official policy and found that we’d be OK if were up to something like 15 minutes late (I forget exactly now). It turned out that we arrived literally at the precise minute of the reservation.

    I noticed a scent inside Pirates other than the usual musty water scent. It was like a perfume, similar to what’s piped in to some of the resorts. I’d never noticed that before, but it was pleasant. It was ironic that we had this massive line to ride the ride, but then upon exiting, there was literally no one in the gift shops. The CMs looked so bored.

    The Mansion queue stretched all the way around the river’s edge and also went in to the area that I assume is used for the Liberty Belle. It had started to rain at this time, so I was grateful for the covered areas of queue before we got to the ACTUAL Mansion queue.

    I think we waited about 25 minutes total for Mansion – similar to the wait just to set foot inside Memento Mori, lol, which I never did get to do this trip, but Ramon did.

    I’d read that they were seating some Liberty Tree Tavern guests at the Diamond Horseshoe, which I DID NOT want, and was grateful when we were seated inside the main restaurant. This place needs a serious rehab; there is worn, exposed, scratched wood everywhere and the carpets upstairs where the restrooms are look like they were installed in 1990. That said, we loved this meal and I’m so glad I booked it. I’d had it before and knew what to expect, but it was Ramon’s first time. There was literally nothing in the mix that wasn’t good, except the mac and cheese which was subpar. I remember dining here some time around 2013 and at that time, the feast included “Root vegetables” and they were just terrible. It looks like that had been replaced with simple green beans. The DVC discount is accepted here, so I think we got out of here for under 100 bucks even with tip. I know – calling that a decent value for lunch for two could only ever fly at Disney. At home, I’m annoyed when the same meal tops $40.
    We did Big Thunder and the queue extended back into the railroad area. Still not bad, and again, I got to see so much queue inside the main building of the ride that I’d never seen before because I’m always in FastPass. Neat stuff there. Too bad that it was all turned off or removed so that guests wouldn’t have to touch anything. My favorite character in WDW’s version of this ride is the miner in the bathtub, but he was missing. Guess he’s being refreshed at the moment.

    Carousel of Progress is a must for me on any visit, often times more than once if I can. We actually had to wait for one show to load before getting our turn – there’s a first for everything! Still, the wait was not bad, and we enjoyed the show. Last January when we rode this as Ramon’s first time, someone we were with chose a row in the very back. The volume on this attraction is so low that, for a first timer, you miss half of the dialogue up there, so I was glad to be able to guide us to the front this time. It’s not even that I love this show that much; it’s that I love audio-animatronics. I see that they’re finally planning to update with Tom Hanks soon. I’m no huge fan of his, but if it means the finale room will stop mentioning laserdiscs and car phones, I think the time is right. Get it? Now is the time?

    Once all of the aforementioned attractions were done, we were joined by our local friends, a couple; one of whom is a CM. The non-CM flies for an airline, so the fact that they were both in town was rare, and we took advantage of the chance to visit. They would be celebrating their anniversary that day, and as a gift, I’d given them a night at Kidani Village in a DVC studio this evening, but before they checked in, they came to spend a few hours with us. The CM was in a terrible car accident several years ago, and one of the lasting effects is that he had shards of car pieces actually go into his neck. As a result, there’s some nerve damage there, so his brain often feeds feelings of pain to him when he’d otherwise be pain free, so he suffers through daily life a lot of the time now. For park visits, he’s now using an electric scooter that he bought. It folds up, so it’s fairly easy to transport in their small SUV. What this meant for the four of us is that he has a Disability Access Pass, and we’d be able to save some time in lines. The process with the DAS is that you either go to an attraction or to a Guest Experience location and request a return time for the attraction you want to ride. We did this with the Mine Train and got on and off pretty quickly. Little Mermaid didn’t have a line to speak of, so we rode that by waiting in the regular line. One of them was hungry at one point, so we used that time to ride Small World with the other guy. I’d vaguely remembered the accessible boat on this ride that allows one to “drive” right on, which was pretty amazing. If you remember my ex Bill from the early trip reports, we used this all the time, but I’d forgotten about it. That’s going way back! Anyway, that was a fun ride as usual. I couldn’t believe that the exterior was STILL under refurbishment just as it was back in January. I’ve read more than once that work continued on the parks even when they were closed, but clearly that wasn’t the case with every project!

    Pooh had been closed – we’d hoped to ride it while waiting for our Mine Train return time, but it never reopened, so that was missed. We didn’t get a return time for Peter Pan, but when we walked up to it, we somehow managed to be allowed to board without waiting in the entire line. That was a really nice treat, and we enjoyed that.

    That’s all we did with the DAS. I really hate abusing special privileges even when they are warranted, so I didn’t want to overextend the benefit. They were getting tired, plus they wanted to check in to their lovely resort, and so were we. In the end, I missed Country Bears, Space Mountain AND Splash Mountain, the latter two we could have easily knocked out with the DAS, but didn’t. Yes, I was annoyed and crabby, but I kept it to myself. It’s not like I can swing by Lake Buena Vista any time and use my annual pass. If I’m lucky, I get to see these things once per year and they do mean a lot to me. I guess that whole notion of making it a point to use my AP one more time this year needs to happen moreso now than before. In general, I’m not really a fan of traveling through theme parks with large groups. There is too much time spent in simple decision making, making sure everyone is happy, worrying about offending someone, and the like. Truthfully, I’m best touring a park with my significant other, one friend, or solo. Now, if this were at Disneyland, which is literally 5 miles from home, I wouldn’t care and would go with 20 people because anything that was missed, I’d simply ride later on another local trip.

    We were able to take advantage of the CM's discount in a couple of the shops, which was really great.


  12. #11

    Having just visited WDW for the first time in November, we as a family have decided that DAK was our favorite! (We are west coasters - Disneyland/DCA is our home park, so MK and DHS are kind of already accounted for). I was so happy that I had made 2 park reservations for DAK! Our first and last days in Orlando were spent there, and it was perfect! It's like Adventure Land, but BIG! I agree with you that if I lived closer and had an AP, I would just chill there and take in the beauty!

    Trips to DL: 2x 1978-1988, 90, 95, 98, 99, 00, 05 (2x), 10, 12, 15, 16, 17(2x), 18, 19(2x). WDW 11/2020.
    Me: 46, DH: 49, DD: 16, DS: 13

  13. #12

    Hollywood Studios

    This should be my shortest post. DHS has always been, and will likely always be, my least favorite of the Florida parks. I’m just not into the whole “Now YOU can be part of the movies!” marketing angle. It was fun in the 70s and 80s, but has quickly become trite in my opinion. These days, everyone has some connection to show business, everyone has been to at least one taping of some show, everyone has been an extra in a movie or knows someone who has, and thanks to social media, especially Tik Tok, anyone can be a star. So, forgive my cranky attitude, but I just don’t see it as that special anymore.

    That said, I do love the way Hollywood Blvd and Sunset Blvd are designed and decorated, and I always enjoy browsing through the shops. Some of them were closed, or featured very generic selections this time around, but I still made sure to visit every store that was open. My favorites are actually in the back by the Muppet Theatre – the store that sells Muppet plush and the Christmas store. Both closed. There is literally NO business in that area of the park except during those brief moments when MuppetVision lets out. I had a rest on a bench back there and literally had the entire park to myself, it felt like, other than the occasional guest come in or leaving Mama Melrose.

    Ramon was far more interested in attempting to do some pin trading, so he booked Magic Kingdom on this day while I went to the Studios solo. I very much enjoy solo days because I can do whatever I want, and at the pace I want. It was right in the middle of the trip, and I think it served as a nice “break” between us as well. Not that anything was going wrong, we got along just fine – but still, it does this introvert’s heart good to have a day to himself.

    My two main priorities for using a full park day at DHS were to try out the new Runaway Railway and Rise of the Resistance. I was a very big fan of the Great Movie Ride and was highly disappointed when it was removed. It had grown very stale, and Disney had done a very poor job of keeping it fresh and relevant. They tend to do that when they purposely want older attractions to fail so that they can then justify the removal as warranted. I’m not a huge Mickey and Minnie fan, but was willing to be open and try it. The queue snaked back and forth across the entrance and around the side. It was a little intimidating to see at first, but I joined first thing when I arrived and it probably took around 40 minutes – not a big deal. Once we got through the first part of the interior queue where the costumes used to be, I saw that the second section, where there used to be a video playing, was completely gone. That was a bummer. In this area of the queue they really butchered it up, and it seemed to be completed almost after the fact of the design. Anyway, I got on the ride quickly and what I guess I didn’t realize was that this was a trackless ride, similar to others already in Tokyo and just starting to make their way stateside. I was thinking it was going to be an actual “train” on a track. Because of that, the ride vehicle can be programmed to do other movements besides simply going forward. Cute and innovative, but for me, that is trigger number one for motion sickness! You travel between several different rooms, where each room has a different theme and subject. I was really enjoying it, but then realized I wasn’t feeling too good, so I quickly reached for my ReliefBand. Thinking I’d never need it on a dark ride, it was put away, so I was scrambling as fast as I could. I had it on and working by the end, but by then I had already endured the worst room – Daisy’s dance studio, lol! Oh well. The animation takes some getting used to, but the sheer scale of it all is really well done, and now that I know to prepare before boarding, I think I’ll like it on a repeat basis.

    As far as RoR, I’d successfully gotten my boarding pass from the hotel room at 7am. It was super simple. I disconnected from WiFi as instructed, and as soon as my phone’s time moved to 7:00, I pressed the button and got my time. I realize it’s not that easy every time, but it sure made me wonder why hundreds of people feel the need to post their grievances about how they couldn’t get on the ride when it took me all of 15 seconds to complete the task.

    Now, keep in mind, I have zero interest in Star Wars. I saw the 1977 film as a kid and liked it and owned the action figures, but beyond that, it’s been a non-issue in my life. The only reason I worked to get a BP for this attraction was simply to say I did it and be educated about what Disney had to offer. The entire Galaxy’s Edge area is some of the most boring theming I’ve ever seen. I didn’t even know where the RoR entrance was; having only seen GE one other time last January, I didn’t know that it was at the far entrance to the land rather than in the “Center” where everything else was. So, that took a good 15 minutes to figure out first, lol. I made sure to check out the area far in advance of my return time so I’d know where to go. It wasn’t busy at all in front of the attraction, so the reservation system seems to be doing a good job of keeping guest capacity at bay.

    Throughout the day, I almost thought about leaving for lunch, but my return time came fairly quickly, around 3pm or so. Much quicker than I thought it would, based on the estimates on the app. The queue line from time of entry to getting on ride vehicle was probably in the neighborhood of 25 minutes. So, what did I think? Well, I had done absolutely no research on this attraction whatsoever, so I enjoyed being surprised. The technology and the moving from room to room with various effects in the vehicle was actually very similar to Runaway Railway, just at quite an elevated level. In most scenes of the ride, there seemed to be pauses before the “action” would start, or before we would move on to the next show scene. It reminded me a lot of the way Indiana Jones used to be when it was new and working the kinks out. So, I don’t think I fully experienced the correct flow of the ride. Anyway, all was well and good until the last part when the motion sickness came back a little, so again, I quickly turned the ReliefBand all the way up and managed to make it out alive. Is it an amazing attraction with all of the latest technology? Yes. Is it enjoyable to ride? Yes. Is the theme something that I find attractive and repeatable? No. Had this same technology been employed to take us on a wild ride through Alice’s adventures in Wonderland, I’d probably have loved it. But for now, it’s just “a good ride” that is low on my list for the day when visiting DHS. Still, I’m glad I did it. I probably won’t ever ride Smuggler’s Run, as even Star Tours these days makes me quite ill.

    Lunch was at PizzeRizo, where they were making you order outside on your phone and then wait outside until your food was ready. The odd thing about that was there is a huge indoor area where you can queue up to place an order, but it wasn’t being used. The dining room was available for seating at every other table, and I took advantage and it was wonderful in there because it was quiet. So quiet, though, that the janitorial staff had nothing to do, and they would all stand in the corners and watch and wait for ANYthing at all. It was almost comical, if not a bit annoying, to be watched so closely. This got me thinking about exactly how much excess Disney really has in some places, whereas in others, they are woefully short on staffing. The food was pretty good, and I’d definitely go there again.

    It was great to see MuppetVision again, after having had it removed from DCA years ago. I still love the show. The queue was the longest I have ever seen, but we were still in the waiting area within 20 minutes – not a big deal. I really wish Disney would consider a Muppets dark ride.

    The only other attraction I did was the Tower of Terror. I always enjoy this ride, especially the Florida version, and I’m so thankful that it’s still original. I’m sure Guardians of the Galaxy is a nice update in DCA, but again, I’m not into Marvel or Action Adventure in general, so I’d just assume stick with ToT. The line stretched farther than I’d ever imagined possible – all the way up into the nether regions of the Fantasmic pathway! I had to laugh. Again, there were areas I’d never seen before, since most nights if I want to see Fantasmic, I just walk up last minute and avoid any type of wait in line.

    It was a nice day at DHS, but I think on my next trip, I will skip this park unless someone else in the party wants to go here. I’m good with making it an “every other year” type thing.

    Last edited by spectromen; 02-10-2021 at 02:20 PM. Reason: typos

  14. #13

    Epcot

    Well, as we all know, Epcot is a bit of a mess right now. I really feel they took on too many projects at once, all at the expense of the guest. Granted, the center features that are now boarded up were no longer anything special – Innoventions on both sides bore zero attractiveness to me in the past 20 years – but it’s still an awful lot of walls.

    Spaceship Earth’s refresh has been postponed, so the current version trudges along. Nothing was noticeably wrong with it, but I’ve never embraced a moving ride that spends 35% of the track length staring at a video screen. I’m literally praying that goes away in the next round. Sure, I’m very thankful that it exists at all anymore, in an age where every attraction must have an IP attached to it OR be highly thrilling – so with those considerations, I’m happy to still be able to ride it.

    The entrance looks wonderful without Leave a Legacy there anymore. When we were there, the walls were still up around the icon fountain, but came down within a few days of getting home. The luck! This was one of those features I always loved and was sad when removed, so I’m glad it’s back, with new LED lighting features and all. I hear they have also added lit strips to the sides of the fountain on the original curved buildings and the lighting is all in sync with the fountain. Should be pretty to see next time.
    I did feel like a few walls were down since January, so it wasn’t as much of a maze as it had been. We started to the right and were able to get on Nemo and Figment quickly before heading into World Showcase for lunch. It may have been a minute gesture to say the least, but it was cute to see Figment dressed in his winter sweater. Our local friends were celebrating their anniversary, so we’d reserved lunch at Chefs de France. Since our reservation was at noon, there were maybe 2 or 3 other tables seated at that time – what a TREAT! I’ve only eaten here for dinner before when it’s a packed house, so it was refreshingly peaceful at the round table by the window. We all got the prix fixe, but I was really disappointed that there was SO substitution if you didn’t want the included champagne. Most French restaurants offer orange juice, or at least Orangina, and neither were options, so I got the booze I couldn’t drink and let the others share it. All the entrees were good, if not expensive, and there were no discounts. I could have sworn DVC or AP got 10% here, but upon looking later, I saw that I was sadly mistaken.

    In the two days we were at Epcot, we never ran into any ridiculous sized crowds; I knew better than to even attempt it on weekends during any of the festivals thanks to social media. Festival of the Holidays was not a huge deal – we tried a handful of the booths and they were all good, but for some reason it didn’t have as much of an immersive feel as past F&W or FOTAs have. That may have more to do with COVID taking away added features than anything else.
    The line for Frozen extended all the way back into China near Lotus Blossom Caf, which was rather comical. We did get on it rather quickly thanks to our friend’s DAS, but I think that was the only time we used it.

    At some point on our first Epcot day, Ramon had arranged to meet up with local friends he’d met online, so when he left it was just me and my two friends, so we went back and did the Land, Soarin, Test Track, and I also showed them the DVC lounge above Imagination. It was kind of fun showing a current CM an area he’d never seen before himself.

    On the other Epcot day, Ramon and I were by ourselves, and just hit a few favorites for a second time. That was a nice, unhurried, relaxing day. I was truly amazed at how little work had been done 11 months later after having been here in January. All of the structure of both sides of Innoventions was still standing – it was almost as if one person was kept on the payroll throughout COVID to keep working, lol. The trouble with that theory is that I was told that no one on the crew of demo was ever furloughed, so it truly didn’t make sense. At any rate, I was glad to hear just this week that demo has finally kicked into gear, so hopefully we will see some new construction sooner than later, and more areas of Future World will being to open up again.

    We did exit through the IG on our second day to grab the Skyliner to the Riviera to take their grand villa tour. WOW, is that a beauty of a room, and with a gorgeous view of the existing CBR lake. The size of that kitchen would be enough to cook and serve a family of 50. I have to wonder if it will ever be used for that purpose, since so few people opt to cook big meals in their villas. I would totally do it, just to say I had done so!

    I’ve heard about some terrible bottlenecks of queues to get on the Skyliner at various stations at various times, but we had no issues whatsoever and basically walked on.


  15. #14

    Boulder Ridge Villas/Wilderness Lodge

    Oh my goodness. The last time I stayed at the Wilderness Lodge was in 1996 on a cast member rate, as I was still working at Disneyland at the time. It was WDW’s 25th anniversary, and it was my first trip ever to Florida. We did a split stay beginning off property using Marriott employee rates, ultimately landing at WL on the last night of the vacation. Back then, I remember being a bit disappointed in how small the room was. Some of the other accommodations we’d had on that trip (Marriott World Center, Courtyard by Marriott, Holiday Inn Nikki Bird – ANYBODY REMEMBER THAT ONE?) were larger, and then we got to the Lodge and felt a little short-changed. Well, I was 25 years old then and let’s just say that a lot has changed in terms of my priorities now that I’m 50, lol.

    Check-in at the Lodge was done virtually, so I had no need to visit the front desk, but I wasn’t that familiar with the property’s layout (especially since DVC had been added) so we still lugged our suitcases up from self parking to the main lobby and followed the signs to Boulder Ridge from there. We soon learned that we could take a more direct path from the parking lot directly over to our building, which was convenient.

    I’d been to the lodge several times since 1996, including to dine at the then-original Artist Point steak house and then again when it became Snow White’s character dining. As a West Coast native, the depiction of the Pacific Northwest is superbly done here, and the theming, combined with the location at lake’s edge, just makes this one of the prime resorts in all of WDW for me.

    This was the first time I’d been to the Lodge during a holiday season, and the dcor package was really beautiful. Arriving at the foyer of the Boulder Ridge building, I was enchanted. What a BEAUTIFUL, rustic lobby area and with decorations to boot, this area was just paradise. Our studio was on the 2nd floor facing the pool – a very nice location, and a corner room. The rooms in Boulder Ridge are on the older side in terms of current dcor. I can see where some newer touches have been added, such as the pull-out twin bed, but the texture of the walls, the carpet, the soft goods and the (rather bad) lighting are leftovers from another decade. All that said, we loved it. We did later tour a room in the Copper Creek section. Sure, it’s nice and new and fresh with brighter lighting. But it’s also just flooring. Most people love this and find it cleaner. Maybe it is, but I’m a carpet purist. I need the comfort of carpet when I’m on vacation in a hotel room. Without it, I feel like I’m in a nicely decorated hospital room. I’m sure those with young kids feel differently, since their toddlers are often found crawling on the floor. I realize that Disney will eventually remove all carpet inside a guest room, except maybe in the larger rooms where they leave it in the sleeping areas only – and I’ll deal with that as it continues to happen. For now, I really enjoyed having a fully carpeted room.

    The walks to the pool, to the boat docks, to the main pool, and to the path where the cabins are located were all very short and very beautiful. I never did get a chance to take the boat over to the MK, but I believe Ramon did on his solo day there. We also toured the Wilderness Cabin, and they’re just wonderful. Now, I need to see the Bungalows at the Poly to decide which premium accommodation is more my style. Considering that Wilderness are the ones that have the actual jacuzzi on the patio instead of just a soaking pool, I think my choice will be pretty obvious.

    We did a couple of mobile orders at various times from Roaring Forks and all were good. The outdoor seating was open and, since it was cold, the heat lamps were on. We didn’t have time to try Geyser Point, but I did walk through it when it was both open and closed, and really liked it. I probably would NOT like it from May to October when it’s hot as hell outside with bugs flying in from the lake with no A/C. We had breakfast at Whispering Canyon one morning, and that was really good and thankfully not at all corny. I think we escaped the brunt of that but just being a party of two.

    The gift shop here had lots of great selections, and it was a pleasure to stroll through a couple of times. I really enjoy resort shopping because it is at more of a relaxed pace than when you are at the parks competing with day guests. The gentleman who rung up my purchases had no fingers on one hand, and I was mesmerized by the way he masterfully used what he had to both ring me up and package my order. It reminded me of Disney’s very inclusive hiring practices and just gave me a smile.

    After having spent 3 nights here, I definitely plan to add this resort in to my rotation more often. It doesn’t bother me that it’s not walking distance to a Park – the boat ride is easy enough, and really, in proximity, it’s still very close to the MK and yet still offers a nice “remote” feel. I’ll be curious if Reflections (the next DVC resort) ever comes to fruition, but based on the concept artwork, it does not look nearly as cozy as Boulder Ridge. I can see why BR owners are so very loyal to their home – I would be too!

    Well, that will wrap up this report that, embarrassingly, took me 5 months to write. My apologies to those who followed along from the start! Since this trip, I’ve spent a single night in a studio at the Grand Californian Villas, just to burn points while taking a quick staycation. I only live 5 miles from DLR, so it’s very easy to just hop in the car, motor on over to Anaheim, park, and pretend I’m on vacation.

    I didn’t make it back to WDW before my pass expired (I’m actually future-dating this sentence. It turns out it doesn’t expire until June, but I already know I won’t make it back by then) but I will plan to renew the AP before it’s too late so that I don’t get locked out, and then plan to return some time in late Summer or Fall/Winter. I have never been to WDW in the Summer and truly don’t want to – but, I’ve since added more points on to my membership, and I want to use them! I can very happily spend the entire day at the resort and only venture out to parks at 5pm or later. My family always wonders why a) I don’t use my points for Aulani and b) I don’t use them with RCI more often. I realize both are options, but I like to stick with what I know. For this non sun-loving pasty white guy, the island vacation doesn’t appeal that much – but I know, I do have to get to Aulani at least once. Same goes for Vero and Hilton Head.

    I booked a single night at Saratoga Springs on WDW’s actual 50th birthday, but I don’t know if I’ll keep that. I really have no need to be there on the “official” day, and I see that that week has filled up very rapidly, so if it looks to be extra busy because of the date, I can easily adjust my plans. That’s the luxury of DVC and also of not having any kids in school – I can go whenever the point value and crowd levels make the most sense!
    Thanks for reading.


  16. #15

    Thanks for posting this--I always enjoy your TRs.


  17. #16

    Thanks for reading!


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