Monday, March 17, 2014

Cheap Deals at Disney World

I was talking to a friend of mine who was looking for some inexpensive ways to enjoy Disney World. I had a list, but couldn't find it. Luckily, it was easy to recreate over lunch.

Don't get me wrong - I think we have probably paid for the equivalent of two graduate degrees between the tickets, annual passes, merchandise, meals and, of course, our DVC membership through the years. But we enjoy MORE than just the parks themselves. And some of our favorite magic happens outside the parks.

A lot of this, admittedly, centers around transportation and exploration. But for me, those are two parts of travel that I really enjoy - and since Disney is as big as Manhattan, it's worth exploring.

Caveat: Be aware that in places where you go through a guard house, you may be asked for picture ID. They are making sure people have a legit reason to be there and not trying to get out of paying for parking for the theme park. As a hotel guest, I appreciate that. So give them the reason for your visit: See the marina, the hotel or the restaurant, to ride or rent a boat, rent a bike, etc. I recommend Wilderness Lodge for the MK activities because rules can be stricter or have time limits at the monorail resorts, because guests of the hotel have first dibs. Boardwalk can be tough if there’s a big convention. If all else fails, park at Downtown Disney.

The Polynesian boat dock on the Seven Seas Lagoon.
Happy exploring:

  1. Sail the many seas: Disney has a gigantic fleet of ships on several bodies of water. If you park at Wilderness Lodge, you can ride on Bay Lake between there and Fort Wilderness. (See Fort Wilderness entry). 
  2. You can also sail to the Contemporary, and change boats to the Magic Kingdom loop and ride around on the Seven Seas Lagoon to the Grand Floridian and the Polynesian.
  3. While you’re at one of those properties, why not jump off and explore the hotels and the gorgeous grounds. Get a Dole Whip at the Polynesian. Or have a cup of afternoon tea at the Grand Floridian (you need reservations for that last one, but it’s a neat thing.) There are also walking trails all over for a lovely day.
  4. You can change modes of transportation and get on a monorail at one of those hotels. Get off at the Ticket and Transportation Center. Then relax on the monorail out to Epcot. 
  5. If you happen to have a season pass, you can go in the park and then get on the boat at the International Gateway for your next adventure. If not, hop on a bus to Boardwalk. 
    Disney's Boardwalk.
  6. Boardwalk is a free entertainment district unto itself. You can also just drive there. Yes, the restaurants and clubs cost money, but in the evenings, lots of street performers come out to entertain, and the boardwalk shops have lots of interesting things to look out. You can also take a wonderful cruise to Epcot, the Swan or Dolphin hotels or the and Yacht and Beach Club resorts. (And explore those hotels!)  If you walk or take the boat to the International Gateway in the evening, you’ll be able to see some of Illuminations. 
  7. If you don’t mind spending a few dollars, the Fantasia mini-golf course is nearby. 
  8. Downtown Disney is a fun place to explore and it is free if you don’t buy anything. The Lego store is amazing, as is the toy store, and we love the Art of Disney gallery. There are often special events, shows and festivals going on. All free. 
  9. You can take the Sassagoula River Cruise boat ride from Downtown Disney to Saratoga Springs, Old Key West and then to Port Orleans Resort. (Again, explore at your leisure, eat at any of the restaurants – they are all public.)
  10. $$: For something special, book a horse and carriage ride at Port Orleans. 
  11. $$: You can rent bikes and/or boats and many of the marinas. 
  12. At most of the resorts (especially the Deluxe and DVC resorts) they show evening movies under the stars – sometimes out on the beach.)
  13. At Fort Wilderness, there’s a nightly marshmallow roast. (It might cost a few dollars.)
  14. At the “monorail” and “wilderness” resorts, you can watch the electrical water parade go by nightly. 
  15. Wishes at the Magic Kingdom.
  16. Watch the nightly Magic Kingdom fireworks "Wishes" from the beach at the Polynesian, Fort Wilderness, or Ticket and Transportation Center. They pipe the music in. (Be aware that especially at the Polynesian, you must be a resort guest to gain access to the beach for this during peak times.)
  17. $$: For something different, see a movie while you’re having dinner at the Downtown Disney movie theater that serves a full menu in some of the theaters. 
  18. $$: Bowl at the Downtown Disney Bowling Alley.
  19. Want to see the animals but not go into the park? Go to the Animal Kingdom Lodge. Both Jambo House and Kidani Village have Savannah areas to watch the animals. Their hotel gift shop also has very unique items.

Thursday, March 6, 2014

Palm frond mirages

I was talking yesterday with one of my coworkers about the strange phenomenon that still happens to me occasionally. It's most often at off-ramps, or when I'm stopped in traffic. It's especially bad when I'm down near the theme parks.
I'll suddenly have to remind myself that I LIVE in Florida. I'm not just here on vacation.
It's because of the palm trees.
Before we moved here, we came often enough to know our way around. One of the very first things you see when you land at Orlando International Airport is palm trees. They're everywhere.
And it meant you were on vacation.
But now, they're everywhere.
And it's just where we live.
It's been a blessing this winter to be under these warm leafy fronds while everyone we know has been buried in snow and ice. So I'm not complaining at all.
And it has been about 18 months since we moved down here. For all practical purposes, I think we're settled in to the state. Heck, it's been almost three months since I've been at my new job.
Come to think of it, maybe feeling
like I'm on vacation occasionally isn't such a bad thing after all.