Aloha! My name is Len and if you remember (even after wanting to forget) my last guest post here, you’ll know that I’m back with part two of a series of columns devoted to our Walt Disney World Christmas vacation.
Instead of following a chronological timeline of our trip, I thought it’d be easier to break down the report to specific parks and areas. This way I won’t have to strain my already poor memory on exact details and it won’t give you readers whiplash jumping from one park to another in states of utter confusion!
I covered the Universal portion in part one of this series and will now take a look at Disney Springs and the WDW resorts we stayed at during our time in Orlando.
I’ll start with Disney Springs first as this will be a fairly short take on the place. I’ve only been to WDW twice before, in 1996 and 2004, so my recollection of Disney Downtown is vague to say the least. I know major changes have occurred (the shutting down of Pleasure Island, etc.) over the last few years, but I don’t have enough history or perspective to really comment on it. I always felt Disney Downtown was an extravagant outdoor type shopping mall...an urban force of lights, neon, and commerce. With that being said, I’m digging the creative focus and direction of the newly appointed Disney Springs. The area has a more rural, outdoor “fresh air” feel to it that’s more in line with the quaint, rural themes of Main Street. Imagineers have begun reshaping the area with a more natural and relaxed approach. There’s increased usage of plants, flowers, and trees throughout the walkways and between the buildings. All of this ties into a rebirth of sorts for the shopping complex as well as reinforcing Spring as a time of renewal.
Due to time constraints, we weren’t able to visit many establishments, but one targeted early on was Jock Lindsey’s Hangar Bar (based on the pilot who flew Indiana Jones in the beginning of Raiders). The place is surprisingly small, but that works to its advantage. From a story viewpoint, it makes sense that an ex-pilot might open up someplace intimate to reminisce about grand adventures that spanned the globe. The bar would also serve to display artifacts and relics amassed throughout the years by a famed archeologist. And boy, do the Imagineers use this premise to exert their considerable skills in artistry and theming. The little touches and attention to detail are all there…from the unearthly beverage dispenser of green glowing juice to a large time capsule which doubles as a private dining area. Guests will feel as they’ve walked into a place totally at home in a George Lucas movie. I’m not sure if it’s because Indy exists in a specific time period grounded in reality, but I think Disney does a better job at translating this property over Star Wars into rides and attractions.
Of course, the upcoming SW land may change my opinion, but until that time, the Hangar Bar clearly puts Indy ahead of Han Solo and company.
Dinosaur! The restaurant version.
At the opposite end of T-Rex’s cavalcade of (in)sight and sounds, you can discover a quaint little shop like Erin McKenna’s Bakery. This is literally a “hole in the wall” with enough room for maybe a dozen customers. But what a gem of a find! We ordered a couple of the pastries including one of the best chocolate doughnuts I’ve ever eaten. It was of the cake variety…super moist with a chocolate frosting that mesmerized my taste buds. The doughnut was pricey (about $3.95), but worth every penny. Besides when you’re at a Disney resort, four dollars is equivalent to a buck and a half in real world currency…hah!
If the good Lord is willing, I hope to make it back to Disney Springs when construction is complete. I already like what I see and can imagine it will only get much better it heads to the finish line.
For this trip, my wife and I stayed at 5 different resorts! Yes, it is crazy and something only a goof ball like me would attempt. I love the theming of each individual resort, so I wanted to experience as many of the hotels at WDW as humanly possible. That being said, it was too much of an overkill with the constant moving and packing. I’m blessed to have such an understanding wife who puts up with my Disney madness!
Animation before your eyes.
I stayed at the All-Star Music back in 1996 and wasn’t a big fan. The rooms were small, stairwells cramped, and it felt like your basic cookie-cutter motel but for a few Disney trappings. Plus the food court felt like miles away, making those free refillable mugs practically useless. Although some may question whether AOA is worth the 33% price increase, it was for me. The rooms are bigger for one reason. And although the food court is still a long trek, the theming of the grounds makes the walk seem shorter. The Imagineers seemed inspired by the resort’s theme, utilizing a nice mixture of 2D and 3D art. While those huge props at the All-Stars seem a bit cheesy at times, the larger than life characters from Disney’s animated features fit right into the overall staging here.
Our 3rd night saw us moving over to the Cabins at Fort Wilderness. I was tempted to book two nights, but I just couldn’t justify the cost seeing as how it was only for the two of us. The cabin can easily accommodate a family of six and that would make it worth the nightly room rate. With a kitchen, living room, and dining area, our cabin was beautiful and very homey. But getting out to Fort Wilderness is a task, let alone trying to reach the cabins. Maybe if I had a car and/or family, I would consider staying here again, but as that’s unlikely, I don’t see myself returning.
Nighttime view at Coronado Springs.
Three nights at the Port Orleans Riverside seemed like an eternity after two 1-nighters…LOL! This is a beautifully themed resort that really brings the feel of the South alive. From the architectural design of grand plantation manors to the Riverside Mill food court, Port Orleans imbues its guest with a feeling of relaxation and peace quite rare in the hustle and bustle of WDW. Even three nights was not enough for us to fully experience all this resort has to offer. I highly recommend the “Make Your Own Pasta” station… a linguine lover’s dream!
Our final stop, and a ritual I’ve followed on our prior two trips, was Disney’s The Wilderness Lodge. This resort is the “crème de la crème”, if hotels were desserts! The Disney term “coming home to the parks” is sheer marketing jargon for the most part, but it does ring somewhat true whenever I enter the lobby of this resort. Wilderness Lodge is the epitome of Disney’s mantra for total immersive experience.
Not for a second do you think you’re in former Florida swamp land. Here, you’re deep in the heart of the Northwest, off on some frontier expedition, looking for a night or two of rest and relaxation! Okay, that sounds like more marketing jargon, but you get my point! The rooms are excellent with adequate space, but the spotlight belongs to the lobby. From the immense totem designed pillars to the huge stone fireplace, Wilderness Lodge has a queue design that the park’s rides could only dream about.
Lobby fit for a (Cowboy) King!
Meeting the Big Cheese.
Coming Soon: Part III – Magic Kingdom
(Text and photographs copyright Len Yokoyama.)