Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Thanksgiving at Disney: A Trip Report - Day 4 - Staying Off Property

This trip my family did something unprecedented for us at least: we stayed "off property!" That's right, instead of staying at a Disney Resort and using Disney Transportation and Disney everything, we opted to stay at Wyndham Bonnet Creek Resort. (Before I move on in this post, I am not being paid to endorse this Wyndham Bonnet Creek Resort. I was not compensated for my stay. Furthermore, it is highly unlikely they will ever know I wrote this review of them. *grins*)

Entering the lobby to check in!

I was apprehensive, to say the least, about not staying on a Disney property. All of my Walt Disney World experiences since high school have been staying on property and using Disney Transportation, so just the idea of driving ourselves to and from the parks seemed nerve-wracking. However, I was comforted by knowing that I'd get to try new forms of Disney Transportation: trams and the ferry!

Gorgeous Christmas Tree here just like we expect at Disney

Moving on! Wyndham Bonnet Creek Resort has quite a few amenities which we were too busy to use, but if you are the type who likes to relax at your resort, you wouldn't be disappointed here! They have 5 pools, 8 hot tubs, a Lazy River, an "Interactive Wading Pool," activities, cabanas, game rooms, mini-golf, a playground, a fitness center, picnic and BBQ areas, places to dine and shop, and much more! I was thinking we were walking in to a glorified hotel. Nope. We were walking into a full blown RESORT with a capital R! On a side note: they do have a Disney Shuttle, but it is $6 per day per person.

I found some Hidden Mickeys in the lobby!

We opted to get a two bedroom unit which came with a master bedroom, a 2nd bedroom with 2 queen-sized beds, a sleeper sofa in the living room, a full kitchen, a dining room, and in room washer/dryer. It came fully stocked with toiletries, an alarm clock, iron & ironing board, cable TVs, DVD player, and best of all: FREE INTERNET ACCESS! Walking into our unit, we were stunned at how beautiful it was, and it was such a good price. Words can't quite describe what a photo tour can give you:

As we walked in, the kitchen and dining room were to the right.
The kitchen looked out toward the living room.
That couch was a queen-sized sleeper sofa, and there was a private balcony.
Through the living room was the master bedroom.
Through the master bedroom was the master bathroom with one full room for
a sink area and whirlpool tub. Oddly there was no door from the master
bedroom to this part of the bathroom, so when I took advantage of the tub,
we had to close the bedroom door. It felt very exposed.
Another view of that glorious whirlpool tub!
Through the whirlpool area was the toilet, shower, and another sink.
The master bathroom was so spacious, we could have put another bed
in there, and had a 3 bedroom unit!
To the left of the front door was the 2nd bedroom, laundry area, and bathroom. 
2nd bathroom was dull compared to the master bath! 

After seeing the photos with all the space we had for WAY less than a Disney Moderate or Deluxe Resort, you can see why our family of 5 loved staying here! The space alone was wonderful. The living room and extra bedroom allowed the kids to have rest time away from each other and distraction. The dining room table was my favorite afternoon & evening location. I loaded all of the day's photos from the DSLR to my iPad mini, so I could see them larger. Then I cleared off the "throw away" photos from the camera's memory. That way I could take tons of photos trying to get the "perfect shot" each day without running out of memory.

Having the kitchen was glorious! We made an order with Garden Grocer before our trip, and they delivered food to our resort for us. We could have driven to WalMart, but using GG meant we didn't have to take that time away from our vacation. This also allowed us to save money by allowing us to eat breakfast in our suite, pack snacks for later in the parks, and have evening snacks when we got back from a long day at the parks. Totino's Pizza Rolls were a family favorite for late night snacking after the kids had gone to bed.

Wyndham Bonnet Creek is within the Walt Disney World gate just like a Disney Resort. We found driving to and from the parks to be very easy and calmer than taking the bus. (My sister and I did take Disney busses on our trip after this one, and we were happy with them too, so I'm not slamming Disney busses by any means!) Getting in and out of Disney lots was simple due to the way Disney loads an entire row of parking at a time. There's no searching for a spot or really any waiting for a tram. The tram was usually waiting for us to load! Going back to the van was easy (can I say easy a few more times?!) as the trams were running constantly and efficiently. I do recommend bringing a light jacket though. What feels comfy walking around is like an Arctic breeze on the trams!

I'm sure you want to know the bad with the good though, right? Ok ok ok, let me fess up to the not so amazing parts of the resort.  The washer and dryer, while nice, were small and took a very long time to dry clothing.  That wasn't such a big deal as we'd wash and dry clothing mornings, during rest times, and in the evenings. The toiletries were not of high quality. If toilet paper needs to be cushy for your family to be happy, order some better stuff from Garden Grocer. Room service is only available on request for a fee, so we took care of our own trash. The linens were also lower quality, so the towels were not fluffy and soft, and the sheets were a bit rough. The pillows left something to be desired. After sleeping on the most comfortable bed in the world on the Disney Dream, the beds here were less than a dream, but I still got a good night's sleep every night.

Overall, I'd definitely stay at Wyndham Bonnet Creek again. I might would vacuum pack a pillow or two or maybe bring a set of sheets. However, the good outweighed the bad by so much that those items aren't a must.

Have you ever stayed off-property at Disney? Tell us in the comments where you love to stay when you visit Walt Disney World!

Next post we'll head back to Disney's Hollywood Studios to check out the Osborne Lights and ride a few more rides. 

I feel this post is too lacking in Disney photos, so here's my nephew playing
with one of the souvenirs he picked out along with some Mickey Milk!

Monday, July 29, 2013

Thanksgiving at Disney: A Trip Report - Day 4 - Great, Flaming Hot Dogs!

Obligatory Walt Disney World Gate Photo
We drove straight from the hotel in Cocoa Beach where we'd left our car to Disney's Hollywood Studios. Everyone was super excited to move from the cruise ship to the parks! This is the first time in a long time that I used more than my iPhone to take photos, so be ready for lots of photos from the DSLR!

First sign of Christmas in the Parks. I love going to Walt Disney World
during Thanksgiving because Christmas decorations are already up!

Dockside Diner
After getting through the gates, we made a beeline to get food. Breakfast had been so long ago that we felt like we were starving! Hollywood Studios isn't known for the best food on property, so when LaRae suggested we try somewhere new, we all agreed. Dockside Diner had pretzel wrapped hot dogs on its menu, and we were eager to try them. A word of caution: the line may look short, but for some reason it takes FOREVER to get food here. Randy hurried off to try to get FastPasses for Star Tours for us. Thanks to my handy Wait Times app, we knew there were no Toy Story Midway Mania passes left.
FastPass Runner!
 Randy got back before we had our food, but we were so happy to get it, that the time didn't matter much.
The kids and I had the Frankfurter in a Pretzel Roll.
LaRae had the Chicken Caesar Sandwich.
Randy opted for the Italian Sausage.
 The frankfurters had deli mustard which was too hot even for me. The kids shed some tears over the heat, and we had to remove the hot dogs from the rolls and wipe them with napkins. I actually did the same for mine! LaRae loved her sandwich, but I think Randy got the best of the options. I'm glad we tried something new. Here are the kids' review on Dockside Diner:

Thumbs Down for Katelyn (and me), but Josh gave it a thumbs up
after the hot mustard was gone from his hot dog!

After lunch we noticed that Great Movie Ride only had a 15-20 minute wait. We all walked through the queue, but Katelyn did not want to ride it, so Randy stepped out with her and Josh I think. When we got to the front of the queue, I asked the CM if we could see the Western side of the ride instead of the Mobster one since I'd seen it every other time. We only had to wait a couple of extra minutes, and it was worth it! Afterwards we went over to use our Star Tours FastPasses. Gotta love the FastPass!
Hey, Kronk! ;-) 

Animator's Courtyard is a family favorite as you can see so many characters at once. We wanted to meet Wreck it Ralph and Vanellope since we watched their movie on the Dream. We all wore our Incredibles shirts too, so we definitely wanted a photo with them!
We missed The Incredibles, but here's my Incredible Family!
Katelyn was a Vanellope fan!
I love that Disney's PhotoPass Photographers get great photos like this one!
To match my family, my shirt had Edna Mode on it with the
caption "NO CAPES!" Wreck-It Ralph has to be one of the tallest
characters I've met.

 We walked over to the Pixar area on the off chance that Toy Story Midway Mania wouldn't have a horrible queue. We weren't surprised to find it was about 2 hours long, so we grabbed some frozen treats and decided to go check in at our resort and drop off our luggage before returning for the Osbourne Lights later.

Next Post: We actually decided to stay, gasp, off property for this trip! Ever wondered about doing this yourself? The next post is definitely for you as we'll be exploring Wyndham Bonnet Creek.

Friday, July 26, 2013

Thanksgiving at Disney: A Trip Report - Day 4 - Walking the Plank!

Final Photo of the Disney Dream - I'll explain why there aren't any other photos in this post
a bit further down. 

The final day on a cruise ship is one that starts far earlier than you want it to. Not only are you bummed that the cruise is over, but you have to be off of the ship at what feels like the crack of dawn. Today's post is going to take you through the disembarkation process. As a first time cruiser, I was quite confused about all of this, so perhaps this post will set some of your minds at ease.

The night before we had the opportunity to leave our bags in the hallway to be taken off of the ship for us. At first I was really uncomfortable with this idea. I hate letting my suitcase be out of my control. At the start of the trip I was worried my luggage would get lost on the flight to Orlando, and I'd be cruising in the outfit I was wearing. Thankfully that didn't happen. Putting my bag in the hall made anxious that something would happen, and I'd have to spend the rest of the week at Walt Disney World in my pj's and the outfit I was wearing! Writing this I realize that I might have a bit of an irrational fear of lost luggage. I just googled it, and I can't find what this phobia is called, but I did find Nomophobia which is the fear of losing one's cell phone!

Bottom Line: if I gave into these lost luggage fears, I would have to take my luggage with me to breakfast the next morning. That would mean I'd have a backpack, a rolling suitcase, and a rolling carry-on to keep up with, and I didn't foresee my family having mercy on me and helping since they'd have their own carry-on type bags to keep up with, so into the hall my precious suitcase went! Spoiler alert: I was able to find it again with no problem the next morning!

Moving on... since we had late seating for dining that meant we had an 8 AM breakfast time. (Main dining time had a 6:45 AM breakfast seating I believe.)  8 AM wasn't bad, but we had to be completely out of our cabins by then, so any bags we had went with us to breakfast and were "stored" in the entry of the restaurant. For breakfast, passengers can visit Cabanas for the breakfast buffet or the dining room they had dinner in the night before. We wanted one last sit down meal on the ship, so we went to Animator's Palette. Breakfast was a limited menu but had something for everyone.

After eating we made our way to the atrium. It was FULL of people waiting to get off of the ship. LaRae, Randy, the kids, and I were heading to Walt Disney World after getting off the ship. Mom and Dad were going to spend time with a friend of theirs who lives in Florida. We were all eager to get going to the next leg of our vacation, but there's really no speeding this process up.

As you leave the ship, you enter Customs where there are tables and tables of luggage. This part is EASY. The night before tags are left in your room to place on your luggage.  Tags have a Disney character on them.  When you enter Customs, you go to the area with that Disney character and find your bags. Porters with carts are all over the area asking to help you with your bags (for a tip), but rolling luggage has made them much less necessary. There are also signs posted ALL OVER the area saying "NO PHOTOGRAPHY," so in a push for self-preservation I decided this post would just have to be fairly photo-less.  So sorry.  I just wasn't willing to get tackled by Customs Agents! ;-)

Once you have your bags, you get in a long queue. Honestly though, it was just prepping us for queues at Walt Disney World, so it was fine. It moves super quick. You go to a Customs Agent who asks a couple of questions, checks your passport, and if everything is ok, sends you along your way. From there we took our shuttle to the hotel for our cars (be ready for curbside to be CRAZY!), said quick goodbyes, and started driving to Orlando to go straight to Disney's Hollywood Studios.

Overall Impressions of Disney Cruise Line 
The big question is always "As a single, adult woman, would you go back on a Disney Cruise again?" Quick answer: I have a Disney Cruise booked for 7 nights on the Disney Fantasy with my sister, brother-in-law, kiddos (in my room again), and a couple from church who we all love for Thanksgiving week 2014!  I found that even as an adult sans kids DCL just does it right. Their service and ships are superior to the competition, and there's always plenty for everyone to do.

"What would you do differently next time?" 
  1. While our lower level rooms with the Magical Porthole were absolutely fine with us, we decided that this next time we wanted to pay a bit extra to get bigger rooms with an actual porthole. Our room will have window seat portholes, and our friends will be next door with an extended verandah that we've requested they share. The larger rooms have a split bathroom with a toilet and sink in one and the tub/shower and another sink in the other. That will be nice for us. 
  2. A 3 night cruise is not even remotely long enough even with WDW on the end of it. We decided to skip WDW next time and spend 7 nights on the ship. We didn't feel we had enough time to explore, and we missed sections of the ship.
  3. Since we'll be on the ship longer, we want to do Palo Brunch next time.
  4. Let the kids spend more time in the kids club if they want to.
  5. Do earlier dining since late dining had us finishing dinner so late that we wanted to go straight to bed.
  6. Find the Pirate Night Buffet!
  7. Enjoy the Adult Pool.
  8. Take MORE photos!
  9. I only plan to see the shows that I haven't seen before.
  10. I'm not sure I'd spend the money on bingo again.
"What would you do again?"
  1. The Rainforest Room is a must! Get some day passes and take advantage of them!
  2. If you haven't done it before, do the rotational dining. It's yummy!
  3. Snorkel at Castaway Cay - see the posts before this one. 
  4. Get on up in the mornings instead of sleeping in. The decks are practically empty in the mornings. Enjoy the peace!
  5. Take time to just wander around the ship.
  6. Ride the AquaDuck.
  7. Cruise during "peak season." A full ship feels much different than a full park at Walt Disney World. Cruising on a full ship is still relaxing. Meals can be a bit crowded, but we never had problems getting to food quickly and finding a table at buffets.
I've cruised Carnival before. Disney is the only way I want to go now. The decor is subtle Disney without being in your face. Characters are around and fairly easy to get to meet. Food and service are amazing! It's the way to cruise!

Next post: We make it to Disney's Hollywood Studios and try a new place to eat. See you in Walt Disney World!

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Thanksgiving at Disney - A Trip Report - Day 3 - Dining at Animator's Palette

Our final dining rotation took us to Animator's Palette, the dining room I was most looking forward to seeing along with the menu I was most looking forward to trying. Three words: Chocolate Browning Cheesecake. I'm getting ahead of myself! For this post I'm going to tell of our meal through a series of photos. Be sure to check out the captions! Will you join us for a meal?

Niece, sister, and nephew waiting outside of Animator's Palette
We were all having a hard time checking out the menu when there
was so much to look at! The lights started white, and as
the meal progressed, the became filled with colors. Notice the
paint bucket and brushes with our table number!
This bread knife is so popular that you can purchase it in the gift shop!
The bread bowl was more my style though. It's a huge collection of
hidden Mickeys! 
When you first arrive, the walls are covered with animation artwork.
Mickey is everywhere! 
The lights started getting more colorful as Crush came to various tables
to interact with guests. While we were not seated close enough to
speak with him, we got to watch. He only visited one screen at
a time while the other screens had the schools of fish making pictures.
I had been eagerly anticipating trying this appetizer: the Sesame-flavored
Rock Shrimp and Caramelized Onion Cheesecake. Wait, cheesecake?!
Yes, you read that right. It was... interesting... I felt like it was more
of a spread that needed crackers on the side.  
My sister got the BEST appetizer. We all loved the Black Truffle
Pasta Purseittes. I can't even describe how they tasted other
than wonderful!
My brother-in-law tried the Wild Mushroom Risotto and Porcini Twist.
Risotto always makes me think of the show Hell's Kitchen because
the chefs can never seem to get it right! He seemed to like it ok.
I also ordered the Baked Potato and Cheddar Cheese Soup. It was very
smooth without any chunks. After the lackluster cheesecake, I was
grateful for a palette cleanser!
Crush came close to us! 
My sister had the Lemon-Thyme Marinated Organic Chicken Breast.
After being good-naturedly made fun of for ordering "baby cow," I tried
the Animator's Trip of Veal. It was grilled tenderloin, pulled shank, and
tortellacci pasta. The tenderloin was over-cooked and tough which
is not what I'm told veal should be like. I'd give it a chance
and try it again.
I was lucky enough to snap this gem of my
brother-in-law digging in to his Cookies and Cream Sundae!
Just take a moment to check out all of the expressions in this photo! 
The Chocolate Brownie Cheesecake was my favorite part of the meal.
Delicious chocolate brownie topped with rich, smooth
cheesecake. This is what dessert should always be! 
Would it be odd to have this carpet in my living room? ;-)
Throughout the restaurant there were sculptures of various
Disney characters. I love this kind of art!
Kind of blurry thanks to the rough seas and my earlier beverage, but seriously
how much does this tile rock?!

Overall dinner at Animator's Palette was delicious, but it was not my favorite restaurant on the ship. Honestly after the amazing Prime Rib the first night in Enchanted Garden, I'm not sure any other menu items had a chance! Since we had late dining, we needed to go back to our cabins to pack up and put our luggage in the hall for pick up. The waters were VERY rough... which totally explains why this next photo looks as it does! I swear it seemed straight in my viewfinder when I took the photo!

Neverland Mermaids. That's right, just tilt your head a bit to the left...

Never disappointing, the towel animals on our bed were of the sea life variety this evening.
Stingray on my bed!
Lobster for LaRae and Randy!

After packing up my luggage, we put the kids to bed, and LaRae, Randy, and I hung out in their cabin (connected to mine & the kids). The seas were so rough that the captain made in-cabin announcements about them again. We could hear the hangers in the closet rattling, and I was having a really hard time with nausea and standing up. (Ya know it's the little things like standing up... no big deal!) Randy kindly went and got us some food to snack on since we'd never taken advantage of late night dining since dinner always ended around 9 or after. I just kept feeling like we should be eating all of this food, but I was so stuffed from meals that snacking really wasn't much of an option!

We finally headed to bed happy and content from our final full day cruising. I was eager to et off the ship the next day as the nausea was really getting to me. The whole family was excited to move on to Walt Disney World.

Next post will go up on Monday. Find out about the disembarking process and my final impressions of the cruise. Are we willing to do another Disney Cruise?