This was our second trip on AirTran, after our trip out east this summer. We upgraded to business class both ways when we checked in online for our flights, and it was worth every penny. We picked the first row on both flights, and it worked out great to have the extra room for Leah, and the endless animal crackers for Aly. The crews on both flights were polite, friendly, and engaging, which is a nice departure from what we had been accustomed to flying NWA and Delta over the years. Aly got to spend quite a while in the cockpit on both ends of the southbound leg, and another good chunk of time in the cockpit upon our return to GRR. The pilots were great with her in both instances, and she absolutely loved it – can’t say enough good things about AirTran at this point. 10/10 for air travel.
We rented a car from National, and picked a GMC Acadia from the aisle. It was a nice car, but not great – the steering column was creaky, not good for a car with less than 3,000 miles. We loved the automatic rear tailgate, and it has replaced the panic button as our preferred method for finding our car in the massive DisneyWorld parking lots. As a bonus, it had a well-hidden USB port, so we could play the Hampsterdance over and over for Leah via Spotify on my iPhone. National gets 10/10 on this rental, everything was very simple.
We stayed in one-bedroom villas at both stops, using annual pass holder discount rates, though neither hotel required us to present our APs when we checked in. We spent the first six nights at Boardwalk Villas, which is a Disney Vacation Club property attached to the Boardwalk Inn. It was our first time staying there, though we’ve stayed across the lake at Beach Club in the past. We all liked BWV – the accommodations were great, beds were comfortable, liked the hotel and staff, and all the BW activities were great. The room didn’t show much wear, but it was not nearly as polished as the just-opened BLT. We were in room 3114, which is a decent walk from the elevators, but we found other shortcuts to the parking lot for the times we didn’t have the stroller with us. We actually liked being down that wing, because it made the walk into Hollywood Studios pretty quick – less than ten minutes from our room to the turnstiles. Of course we also walked into EPCOT several times, and found that to be convenient as well, even carrying Leah most of the time and pushing Aly in the stroller all the time. The scenery is great, and I had several great early morning walks around the lake with Leah.
We enjoyed the Luna Park pool at BW several times, and the daily afternoon pool party was a huge hit with Aly. Leah liked the playground, and we also enjoyed the Villas quiet pool a few times, though it was frequently filled with duck crap and there were usually ducks in the pool. Ducks, thankfully, had no interest in the hot tub, so that’s how I avoided duck crap. We loved BWV overall, and would not hesitate to stay here again – I’d give it a 9.5/10.
We spent our last night at Bay Lake Tower, another DVC property just north of the Contemporary hotel. There’s a skybridge between the tower and the main hotel, and Magic Kingdom is a quick 7-minute walk from the front door of BLT. The tower is very nice, and the room was immaculate, but we found it a bit cold for our tastes, and even a bit dark (this coming from people who love Animal Kingdom Lodge and villas). We were stuck on the first floor, so we didn’t have much of a view, but a quick trip on the elevators up to floor 15 gave us all the view we needed. Check-in is in the main lobby of the Contemporary, and the staff there was wonderful. Carl was working the lobby and gave Aly her first pin – the whole story’s in day seven below. We would stay at BLT again, but mostly for the location – it was very nice, but just not our style. I have never stayed in the main Contemporary, but will do so at some point. BLT gets 8/10.
We rented a side-by-side double stroller for this trip, rather than fighting one of our strollers through the airport. This was a great decision, made travel easier, and the stroller was waiting for us at BWV when we arrived, and we left it at the Contemporary as we headed to the airport. The price was just $90 for the week (way less than renting from Disney at the parks), and the stroller was easy to fold, easy to open, and easy to roll and steer. Orlando Stroller Rentals had two tags on the stroller with our family name, which always made it easy to find our stroller among the masses outside Soarin’ or iasw. Though this is the first time we’ve ever rented a stroller, I recommend them without hesitation and will hopefully never fly with a stroller again. 10/10.
A large part of the appeal of a late November or December trip to DisneyWorld is the amazing job they do with Christmas decorations. We’ve done December trips before, and they never disappoint. The Boardwalk Christmas decorations were lovely, each park had a great big tree and extensive decorations throughout, and I also made journeys through the lobbies of Beach Club and Yacht Club to enjoy their decorations as well. Our kids love seeing the characters in their holiday outfits, and Cinderella Castle after dark during Christmas is a must-see. We also enjoyed the Osborne Family Spectacular of Holiday Lights, but not as much as the old version, because this one has no flow to it, and we missed the experience of the old 3-D glasses they used to hand out. Still great to see, though. Disney holiday decorations earn an easy 10/10.
As always, the food is a highlight of the trip to WDW. We had good meals at Kouzzina for breakfast, fun with characters at Crystal Palace, Chef Mickey’s and Garden Grill, and also enjoyed some of the convenient food choices along the Boardwalk, including the Kouzzina pizza window and the Boardwalk Bakery. We had a great lunch at Yak & Yeti, and enjoyed return visits to Whispering Canyon and ‘Ohana.
We did have one less than pleasant experience with Disney dining on this trip, at the 50s Prime Time Cafe in Hollywood Studios. We’ve been eating there since our first trip way back when, and we’ve always enjoyed the food, the atmosphere and the fun attitude that comes with the service. In this case, the attitude was not fun, but more real. Here’s what I wrote about that experience:
I am standing outside 50s PTC after being told at 5:30 that I cannot check in for my 5:55 reservation until 5:55. The CM working the desk was very rude and said “there is no way I can let you check in before your reservation time, because we are so busy”, after I mentioned that we are told to check in fifteen minutes prior to our ADR time.I’m normally a pretty mellow guy, but I’m fuming about this CM’s rudeness. Also, if this is due to overbooking, what’s up with that? I’ve never heard a CM say anything like this before, though we’ve had to wait past out ADR times before- I understand that’s how the system “works”.
The food was good once we got seated (at 6:35 for our 5:55 reservation), but I don’t like the way they are handling that now, at least at that restaurant. Overall, we had a decent food trip, but it lacked some of the wow factor that our pre-kids trips used to have when we ate at places like il Mulino and LeCellier all the time. We used our Tables In Wonderland card to save 20% on all our dining, except Yak & Yeti, where we saved 10% with our APs. 7/10.
The sweatin’ (and the shiverin’)
Overall, the weather was fabulous for the first week of December at DisneyWorld. Most of the daytime highs were in the upper 70s or lower 80s, and all but one day felt hot in the mid-afternoon. Not too hot, but hot enough to know you were in Florida. Humidity was low for almost the entire trip, which was wonderful, and the nighttime lows were mostly in the mid to upper 50s. There was one rainy, blustery, freezing late afternoon, where the temperature dropped from around 80 to around 45, with the windchill pushing it even lower. That was the only rain we saw, and there were but a few clouds the entire time. The weather was really perfect overall, 9.5/10.
Here are more detailed reports from each day of the trip:
- Day One
- Day Two
- Day Three
- Day Four
- Pictures of Boardwalk in the early morning
- Day Five
- Day Six, part one
- Day Six, part two
- Day Seven
- Last day, getting home
I bought a new Canon EF-S 17-55mm F2.8 lens shortly before this trip, and paired with my Rebel T3i, got some great shots of both the parks and the family. I’m very pleased with this lens in the two weeks I’ve had it, though I did have some lighting issues when shooting indoors at close range with the built-in flash (I didn’t take my 580 flash to Florida). This is the only lens I brought for this trip, and it proved to be a great travel/walkaround lens. I managed all my photo posting and blogging on this trip with my iPad 1, just to see how the experience is without a laptop. Conclusion: iPad doable, laptop better. I’m posting a few of my favorite pictures below, and you can view the entire gallery here: disney.2011