Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Walt Disney World Review

This review will cover the parks in general as well as the 2 hotels that we stayed at during our trip which were the Swan Hotel of Disney's Swan and Dolphin Resort and Disney's Polynesian Resort.

We arrived December 6, 2007. The trip was arranged as a Land and Sea Package through Disney which includes all of their transportation as well (I will cover the cruise in a separate review). When you book a stay at a Disney resort you get Disney's Magical Express as a free transportation option which means you get the luxury of checking your bags in at your point of departure and never have to touch them again until they arrive in your room at your hotel. In addition, most Disney resorts now offer airline check-in service. We checked our baggage in with Delta Airlines at the Polynesian on the day of our departure and avoided those long lines when we arrived at Orlando's International Airport. Disney offers a lot of perks that do not show up on a budget sheet sometimes but can save you a tremendous amount of time and headache.

Disney is very efficient. We arrived a little earlier than scheduled (around 11:30AM), made our way directly to Disney's Magical Express desk, and waited a few brief moments as they readied us to board the bus. We were on our way to the resort within 30 minutes of our plane landing.

We arrived at the Swan Hotel, checked in, received our park passes (a 7 day park hopper pass is included in your land and sea package), took a brief look at our room and we were off to to Disney's MGM Studios by 1:30PM and were on our first ride by 1:45PM. It could not have gone any smoother. I give Disney high marks for their organization.

After a fun day at the park, we headed back to the Swan Hotel. The Swan and Dolphin are in close proximity to EPCOT and MGM Studios. You can access either park by Disney's boat service or by a short 15-20 minute walk. We did both. Walking to MGM from the Swan takes a little longer than the boat ride since there are not stops that the boat has to make between the 2. It is actually a little quicker to walk to EPCOT from the Swan since the boats make 2 additional stops along the way at Disney's Boardwalk Resort and Disney's Yacht and Beach Club Resort.

The Swan's location is ideal for taking advantage of the 2 parks as well as the Magic Kingdom since you can catch a ride at EPCOT on Disney's Monorail service. It is also adjacent to Disney's Boardwalk area which includes several restaurants and other night life venues.

We also found the Swan to be a quieter place to stay compared to the Polynesian. It seemed to be more popular with the business crowd which tended to be less noisier than the resorts that cater to families. Some may find that to be a negative and find the Swan to be less "magical" than the other Disney resorts (The Swan is actually run by the Westin Hotel group). However, it will probably appeal more to the younger couples or those who travel without children. The Swan still has a breakfast on the weekends in which several Disney characters make an appearance.

Overall, it is a beautiful hotel inside even though the outside seems to be a bit over the top you might say. The rooms were comfortable, but nothing special when you consider the price paid. The restaurant choices were abundant though and we never waited in any line for any of our meals. For a quick, but good breakfast, we recommend trying Picabu over in the Dolphin side of the resort. I do give the staff high marks for their friendliness and smiling faces. They may have not been "cast members," but they were still great and provided great service.

We left the Swan on Sunday the 9th for our 4 night cruise. We returned back to WDW on Thursday the 13th and checked into the Polynesian. This was a totally different experience. The staff is very friendly and more oriented around spreading the Disney magic. Aloha's were heard everywhere as cast members greeted guests. Check in went smooth even though our rooms was not yet available, but it was only 9:00AM so we didn't expect our room to be ready quite that soon. We checked our baggage in with the bell captain and made our way upstairs to the Monorail. That's right...Disney's Monorail picks you up right outside the main door upstairs in a covered area. How convenient is that?! :)

By 9:30AM we were once again in a Disney park, this time we went to the Magic Kingdom for the day. We spent most of the day in the park and headed back around 6:30PM, after the Wishes firework display, and checked out our room. Our room was in the Tahiti building which was quite a walk from the main "Ceremonial House." The positives were that it was away from the main pools and made it a quieter spot and it also had larger rooms than the other buildings. Our room was big considering it was not a suite. It had 2 queen beds, a bathroom with double vanities and a large sitting area with 2 chairs and a couch. The rooms have been upgraded to also include LG flat panel TV's. The negatives were once again the walking distance from the main buildings and restaurants and the building had an old musty smell inside. Our room also a leak underneath the bathroom sink that went unfixed during our stay.

We ate at both Ohana's and the Kona Cafe. Ohana's is very popular for several reasons, one of which is the view of the Magic Kingdom were you can actually sit, eat and watch the nightly fireworks show. It is family style dining and the food just keeps on coming. We found it to be way too much considering we were a table of 2. We had to tell them to quit bringing food. The dessert was awesome however.

For the same price, 2 adults can eat at the Kona Cafe and actually have a better dining experience. We found the food there to be of better quality and the service was at par with Ohana's.

The crowds are where we saw a huge difference between the 2 hotels. The Polynesian drew numerous visitors who were there to see the resort as well as visit Ohana's. That coupled with the numerous families that were there made it feel much more crowded with noise levels quite high in the general areas. We did like the shops in the hotel which carried a wide variety of Disney apparel and gifts. I have to say that the real positive to me for this resort is that it is situated on the Monorail line. It makes it very convenient to get to the Magic Kingdom or EPCOT.

I am not sure however that the close proximity to the Magic Kingdom will cause us to want to stay there again. We prefer the other deluxe choices closer to EPCOT and Disney's MGM Studios.

We visited every park (minus the water parks) on this visit. We really enjoyed them all, but found ourselves wanting to go back and visit the rides in Disney's MGM Studios and EPCOT. The thrill rides in those 2 parks are worth the visit which includes Tower of Terror, Soarin, Rockin Roller Coaster, Mission Space and Test Track. We rode these rides multiple times and could not get enough of them. The newest thrill ride in Disney's Animal Kingdom is the ride called Expedition Everest. It is also a must do, but the walking within that park got the best of us by the 3rd day.

The things you cannot miss if you go to these 3 parks are (knowing not everyone likes thrill rides):

1) It is Tough to be a Bug
2) Festival of the Lion King
3) Soarin'
4) Illuminations (EPCOT's Fireworks show). Start looking for a spot at least 45 minutes before the show begins.

Magic Kingdom is in its own category. Because of the time of year that we were there, the crowds were fairly light which meant we had rode all of the rides that were on our must do list by 3:00PM that same day. It is really geared towards the younger crowds and large families who want to go have a "magical experience" together and aren't as interested in today's version of thrill rides. The fireworks show Wishes is a must see though. Start looking for a good viewing spot about 30 minutes before show time.

One word of advice for all of the parks...get there when they open. The crowds were noticeably lower for at least the first 2 hours that the parks were open and we had rode most of the rides at least once within those first 2 hours. Also try to plan your meals during off peak eating times such as 11:00AM or 1:30PM. That will allow you the ability to ride some of the most popular rides while others are eating their lunch. We also noticed much smaller lines during the scheduled parades that Disney puts on during the day in each park. Find out when those times are when you first enter the park and plan your day accordingly.

If you have specific questions regarding any aspects of Walt Disney World please send me an e-mail or post your question here on this site.

No comments: