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I am going to try to make this review as to the point as I can and unfortunately, I am doing this months after the actual trip. It’s been a busy year!
I had a Travel Convention to attend in Orlando, so figuring it had been quite a many years, over a decade since I had traveled to Disney World ~ along with a husband who had never been, we decided it was the perfect time.
We flew United, using mileage and did pay for the Economy Plus seating. For anyone not sure about paying for more legroom, it really is worth it. Even though I am a mere 5’3”, it is nice to stretch out the legs without kicking your carryon bags under the seat in front of you! Flights were good and amazingly the service was very good. I am beginning to wonder if some of the Airlines not known for service are seeing that they have some very good competition out there with carriers like Virgin America and Jet Blue! We arrived on time to the Orlando airport, albeit quite late, but we found our way to the Mears Transporation Desk. I had pre-arranged airport transfer services, knowing we would be arriving close to midnight. Once our driver arrived, it was only about a 20 minute drive to our first hotel of the trip.
ORLANDO WORLD TRADE CENTER MARRIOTT:
It was close to 1am when we arrived at the hotel, check-in was a breeze and we were quickly going up one of the many elevators to our room. The only unfortunate thing was that we were starving and room service cut off at 1am. We had a few of the overpriced munchies they leave in your room! Overall, the service at the Marriott was very good- it is connected to the Convention Center, so it is the place to stay if you have a convention to attend. Depending on the rooms used for your convention, you could have quite the hike to and from your room. I was fortunate that most sessions for my conference were close to the hotel lobby. We dined at the hotel a few nights, once night in their Teppanyaki style restaurant and again in the Sports Bar/Pub style restaurant. In both cases, service was excellent and the food was very good.
We didn’t get to enjoy too many of the hotel amenities while we were there, but managed to get about two hours by the pool one day. Pool Bar service was prompt and friendly, our only complaint was more about our fine timing, as about 30 minutes after we got settled in the blazing sun, the pool had to be closed due to contamination. Some parents just don’t understand “swim diapers”!
We stayed a total of 6 nights at the Marriott and I’d say the only complaint would be that the Starbucks in the lobby was always extremely busy, never less than 15 people in line. They need a larger facility for that because everyone seems to go there instead of making their own coffee in the room!
EVENTS DURING CONFERENCE STAY:
Before the conference began, we had a full day to explore Universal Studios on our own. There are two parks that make up Universal now- the actual Universal Studios and the Land of Adventure. We managed to get in a good part of both parks. We started at Islands of Adventure because that is the location to the new Harry Potter land, which had just opened about a week before our visit. We probably should have made a beeline to that land once we got there because by the time we worked our way to that area, it was extremely crowded. We had such limited time that we didn’t want to kill 3 hours in line for one attraction. So we walked through the area and got a good feel for it, but missed out on trying the rides! We did attempt one ride that didn’t appear to have a very long line, but then it broke down. Between the two parks, much like our Disneyland is a downtown area with a lot of different shops and restaurants. We ended up eating at the Hard Rock Café that night- true to form, exactly what you would expect.
Fortunately, one of the conference nights, they had planned an attendee night at Universal, so I knew we would have a chance to come back and when we did- we did make that beeline to Harry Potter and waited about 90 minutes to ride what is probably one of the best rides I have ever ridden. You are in these chairs- almost like bucket seats, connected to others and the premise of the ride is that you are riding on a broomstick with Harry – just like he does in the movies. It was actually very cool, I’m glad we took the time to go back and ride the ride. My only complaint with Universal Studios parks is that some rides require you to put your belongings in a locker and although the lockers are free for a duration of time, they really are not put in areas that are super convenient. The one for Harry Potter was a zoo trying to get into the locker sand then out again. Knowing about these lockers from our first day, I purposely went that second night with a very small purse that I could wear side strapped to my body and the worker at the ride advised that I should put it in the locker because I could crush my belongings. It was not at all a problem, I could have taken that purse on the ride with me.
One of the other conference nights, we were taken down to the Port Walk- an open air place with dining venues and shops. We didn’t have much we wanted to do down there, so we walked around a bit and then had dinner at Maggiano’s. It’s one of our favorite Italian Chains and we enjoyed our meal thoroughly. We spent the rest of our time there getting to know one of the bartenders who also works at Sea World. She had a lot of interesting stories to talk of regarding her employment at Sea World.
WALT DISNEY WORLD – HOTEL
After the conference, we took a short taxi ride to our hotel- the Caribbean Beach Resort. This is considered one of the moderate properties located within the Walt Disney World area and I was very pleased with our choice. The property itself is spread out over quite a bit of land, there are approximately 6 Caribbean villages and within each Village probably about 6-10 buildings that are two-story and probably house about 20 rooms per building. They are all painted in vibrant colors and situated around the outskirts of a lagoon. There is the Main House area to the resort and that is the Pulse of the resort. You go here for the dining options, the snack shop, souvenir store and the main pool and bar. There are a few fast-food type of venues, served cafeteria style and then a sit down table service restaurant. We did eat there a few times and enjoyed getting to know the bartenders and the other guests by the Pool Bar. Seemed the same group of adults would congregate there each night and parents would take turns being the supervisor by the pool. Very nice, family atmosphere and even though we didn’t have kids, we still didn’t feel out of place. The means of transportation from this resort to the parks is a bus system and it runs very efficiently. There are destination specific buses that take you to Downtown Disney, Blizzard Beach/Typhoon Lagoon, Disney Studios, Walt Disney World and Epcot. We never waited more than 10 minutes for our bus of choice either way.
The rooms are very comfortable and pretty large for a standard hotel room. Again the vibrant colors resonate inside the rooms as well. Being a “Caribbean” theme resort, the bedding was all underwater themed with “Little Mermaid” and “Finding Nemo” undertones. Bathroom was basic, two sinks that were located outside the room with the tub and toilet- so plenty of room to get ready in the morning without getting into each other's way. All in all, a very comfortable stay and comfortable resort.
In addition to the main pool, each Caribbean Village has their own pool closer to their room. These pools are very quiet and don’t have the bells and whistles that the main pool has, but the bells and whistles aren’t for everyone anyway.
WALT DISNEY WORLD- ATTRACTIONS
Of course, this is what it is all about, visiting the parks! We spent our first day at Epcot, we started with going through the Land of Nations Pavilions and decided to have lunch in the Mexican Pavilion. Well, I am not as good planning my own trips as I am with my clients’ trips. I always emphasize that you really should make dining reservations for the places you really want to dine in while visiting the parks. I didn’t do that for myself and as a result- we could not dine in the Mexican restaurant, so we settled for the Taco stand outside the Pavilion. It was very good and it worked.
As we got close to the end of the Pavilions, it began to rain quite heavily. We had to purchase ponchos and for a few hours we walked around, seeking cover, but we ran out of things to do because some of the attractions we wanted to try were shut down because of the rain, but more so due to the lightening. Boy gotta love those storms in the summertime!
Our second day, we decided that would be our pool day and low and behold, it rained and rained and rained. Change of plans, we decided to lounge around the hotel room and watch some movies on the laptop while we waited for my relatives to arrive from Connecticut. We eventually met them at the Magic Kingdome that night, just in time to do a few rides with my cousins and their kids. It was their very first time to visit Walt Disney World, so very exciting! We stayed long enough to take in 3 rides and see the fireworks, get some late dinner and head back to the hotel.
Our Third day was the 4th of July. WARNING: Never go to an amusement park of this caliber on the 4th of July!! It was a madhouse, so many people there that they actually closed the gates and didn’t let anyone else in for awhile! We had a fairly good morning taking in most of the kiddy attractions with my cousins kids, but by afternoon the place was packed and it was extremely difficult to get around. We also got rained on a bit that day off and on, but once the parade passed us by, it really started to come down and we had had enough! After a quick stop in the Christmas store to add to our collection (and hide from the rain), we headed back to the hotel. We ate dinner at our resort and then hung out by the pool bar and got to see fireworks in three different directions – WITHOUT CROWDS!! I heard such horror stories of people trying to get home and it taking a good hour just to get out of the park! Not to mention waiting for the bus, etc.
The next day was Disney Studios and that park is really a fun park and nicely laid out. Some of my favorite attractions in this park: Tower of Terror, Rock N Roller Coaster, Toy Story Mania…just a really fun park. There is a back lot tour that is worth doing and the stunt show was awesome! There are designated character greeting places as well. We actually visited this park twice during our stay – once just ourselves and again with the relatives. One of my favorite dining places is the Prime Time Café- takes you back to the 50’s! Quite the hoot!
The only park that was new to me this visit was the Animal Kingdom and that is a really cool park. The huge roller coaster (Kilimanjaro) is simply wicked, so much fun. There are some great water rides and also a fun Safari ride where you truly do see some amazing animals. We had a lovely buffet lunch at the Tusker House restaurant in the Africa Land. This venue also does a character breakfast, but not a character lunch. Great food and plenty of it!
We didn’t venture to the water parks during our stay, just not enough time. However, we did get to Downtown Disney- once again getting rained on. Since we were going to dinner, we really didn’t want to bring our ponchos- so we purchased another souvenir- Disney Umbrellas! And boy did we need those!! It started to rain as we were walking to the restaurant, but as soon as we got into the restaurant it came down in buckets! I have not seen rain like that in a very long time. We enjoyed as long a dinner as we could, but the rain just wouldn’t let up. The restaurant was even passing out garbage bags to people if they needed them to cover up! We got back to our hotel, drenched- but not cold- it is still in the 80’s when it rains in Florida in the summer!
On our last night we met the relatives at their hotel, the Walt Disney Swan and had dinner over there just the adults, the kids were in the kids club so we could all enjoy an adult evening. We had a very nice time (thank you Aunt Kitty & Uncle Ray for picking up the tab!), but more importantly, it gave us quality family time with part of my family that we just don’t get to see that often living cross country from one another!
You could easily spend two weeks at Walt Disney World and still have things you didn’t get to do. There are so many parks, attractions within the WDW complex, not to mention all of the things located in the surrounding areas. Families with small kids, you really need 7-10 days for sure because you will need to take it slow and not expect to do the entire park in one day.
I would highly recommend staying on-site and utilizing the WDW Transportation system- it’s very efficient and then you don’t have to worry about parking, traffic, etc.
I think it’s a great place, although I think if given the choice between going to Florida again or returning to my own California park- I would pick Disneyland hands down. In reality- what some of Epcot, Magic Kingdom and Disney Studios has to offer is all offered to us in Disneyland or California Adventure. I didn’t see any super “must see” reason to pick Florida over California- besides they say “it never rains in Southern California”! Although, I know that to be untrue given my last December visit to Disneyland had one very wet day!
Something to make sure you keep track of when visiting Walt Disney World is that each park has their own set of "Magic Hours". They open early on specific days and stay open later specific days- but ONLY for hotel guests of the Walt Disney Resorts. Each park has different days, so it's best to get that calendar at the beginning of your stay and plan accordingly.
It is also imperative to make any specialty dining reservations that you just can't live without. It can be tough during peak season to get into your desired restaurants on the spur of the moment.
To see pictures from this vacation click here:
BELOW: One of our professional Disney photos....and THE BEST Chocolate Cake EVER!!