Magic Kingdom, Lake Buena Vista, Florida, USA
Disney's Hollywood Studios, Lake Buena Vista, Florida, USA
Disney's Animal Kingdom, Lake Buena Vista, Florida, USA
Epcot, Lake Buena Vista, Florida, USA
It really was the in between stuff... the mini-golf, the Segway tour, the new to us restaurants... that really made the trip. It was much needed grown-up time together.
In the first part of this trip report, I described mostly the theme park experience proper, but here I wanted to talk about all of the other stuff, including the resort, the food and the mini-golf.
My previous on-property stays, all four of them, were at the Pop Century Resort, which is one of the value resorts. To be honest, it's really adequate, really inexpensive, and like everything else at Walt Disney World, really clean. Particularly if you don't visit very often, or it's your first time, it makes a lot of sense since you'll likely do little in your hotel beyond sleep and eat breakfast (which is also good there). It's not close to anything, but again, if you're not coming back until late in the evening, no big deal.
For us, there is no rush to see everything, and we knew we would spend a whole lot of time at Epcot, as we usually do. Location matters. We got a mailer for 30% off the room rates for deluxe resorts, so we figured now was as good of a time as any to stay at Beach Club. It was worth every penny. We got on a bus three times: Once coming back from Magic Kingdom (took the monorail there from Epcot), and to and from Animal Kingdom. The boat takes you to Hollywood Studios, and Epcot was quite literally 1,000 feet from our closest exterior door to the International Gateway entrance. It was awesome.
Beach Club is a fairly nice hotel. It's about 20-years-old, but the rooms were updated in the last few years. While you can see a little wear-and-tear if you look hard enough, the overall condition of the rooms and public areas is tip-top. Being clean is a huge priority for them, as I saw housekeeping staff wiping down the railings on the little quasi-balconies, where you probably would never notice dirt. The king bed in our room was just fantastic.
There are a bunch of places to eat in Beach Club, including a snack bar kind of "marketplace," a buffet, an ice cream and hot dog joint, and a nice steak and seafood place. We ate in none of them, actually, aside from getting a few snacks out of the marketplace. The pool is pretty great, with a huge shipwreck, but we didn't use it. We did use the hot tub at the secondary pool near our room. There is a nice faux-beach with swings and such along the water. Did I mention it's a thousand feet from Epcot?
We once again did the dining plan, but I think this time, it was very much a neutral value proposition. It costs about fifty bucks a person, per day, and it includes one snack item (basically anything under five bucks... we did a lot of popcorn and other snacks), one counter service with drink and dessert, and one table service with dessert. I was doing the math, and we generally came out in the $55 to $65 range for the food we ordered. I say it's neutral, because we didn't always eat the dessert, or didn't finish it.
So this time, the dining plan was convenient, but it didn't necessarily add value. Two things have changed since our last visit. The first is that we're eating differently. I just don't eat as much, and Diana was pregnant, and definitely doesn't eat as much now. The second thing is that, because they emphasize reservations so much, the more expensive restaurants are harder to get decent reservations for. Forget a place like Le Cellier, which is booked months in advance (not sure why, beyond it being essentially American food), but even Tutto Italia is left with late dinner times. Mind you, that's just within the parks. There are a lot of places in the hotels and other areas, but given our Epcot fetish, you can understand the disappointment. We had no problem eating in the Chinese restaurant and Tokyo Dining.
Our other two table service credits were used on the Boardwalk. One was at ESPN Club, which is really above average bar type food. Delicious wing sauces there! We ended up back there for drinks and appetizers after our mini-golf endeavor. The other credit we used at Big River Grille, which includes a brewery. We met our friend Kara there for dinner and were pleasantly surprised. I'm a chicken alfredo snob, but what they had was delicious. I did not get any brews, because honestly, I wanted to give myself a break after the previous night's drink-around-the-world.
So overall, I wasn't as enthusiastic about the dining plan, because we didn't save as much as we did last visit, when we were doing $50-each dinners at a few of the better restaurants. Again, pre-paying it does have a convenience factor. Most of the food we had was excellent. Also, they give you a mug that you can refill in the hotel, 7 to 11, with sodas, tea, coffee or hot chocolate. We actually used that pretty effectively.
Our room package included a voucher for one person to use at the Fantasia Gardens mini-golf courses, which are just across the street from the Swan hotel, next door to Boardwalk and the Beach Club-Yacht Club complex. It has two courses, one being the traditional "windmill" type of mini-golf, in this case themed to Fantasia, and a second fairway course, which looks more like a real golf course. It's $12 per person, so we brought Kara along with us for some sporty fun.
We played the fairway course, and it is seriously not easy. You have to get over the idea that you're going to get a hole-in-one, because in most cases, you're really just positioning yourself for a good second shot. Some holes are over a hundred feet long, and there are no concrete barriers around them. It's a really beautiful course, and the most fun I've had with mini-golf since playing the greens at the Newcastle Country Club outside of Seattle. Having fun tee-mates that are better sports than me helped, too.
As I mentioned in the first part, we really should have stayed a day longer for mid-week down time. Given the "frequent enough" nature of our visits, we're into enjoying just being there as much as we enjoy trying Spaceship Earth in alternate languages. It's possible we might do it again next year (maybe for Food & Wine Festival?), but who knows. Simon is out until he's 4 or 5, at which time we might be considering a resort with suites (Art of Animation is a likely, if inconveniently located, option).
Fantasia Gardens Fairway is the best putt-putt course I've ever played (of course, it's the only one I've played of that style). Much more fun than a standard "windmill" type - no matter how well themed.
Now the wives didn't agree ... too hard for their liking.
I have done Food and Wine for several years now pre-IAAPA and it is a must do. Especially if you like to drink (responsibly), it really is a fantastic experience for any Epcot fan.
If you want to avoid the crowds, go in the afternoon. In the evening, Epcot gets very crowded during F&W.
Finally, keep room on your Visa card. While portion prices seem reasonable, to do it right, you are going to drop some coin.
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