Thursday, October 21, 2010

Basting away again in Margaritaville

I know, I know, you want Disney stuff. You want to hear about the parks, the rides, the food, the magic.
We're getting there.
Before we do, I would like to beg an indulgence of you. I'd like to describe the indulgence and decadence that is Disney's Old Key West Resort. This was our Disney home, and a very fine home it was. A magical home. In fact, blasphemy though it may be, I would suggest that it was one of the best parts of our entire WDW experience.

Disney plays down Old Key West, for reasons I don't pretend to understand. Sure, it's a Disney Vacation Club resort--a time-share, in other words, and thus a little difficult to get into for non-DVC members like us. Not only that, it's the oldest DVC resort, dating to 1991. But the villas are huge, considerably larger than those at other Disney resorts. Our 1-bedroom was 942 square feet...practically the size of the living areas in our house.

Because Old Key West is a Vacation Club property, and because staff (called 'Cast Members' in Disney parlance) have no way of distinguishing DVC members from non-members, everybody is told 'Welcome Home'. It really did feel that way: before long, we were calling it home, anyway.

The resort atmosphere is relaxed to the max and the guest service was simply incredible. At 8:30 at night on our anniversary, after we had returned from Epcot, somebody knocked on our door. Eva went to get it.
"Hi, are you Mrs. Breadner?"
"We have something here for you."
Thinking we had left something in the park, not knowing what it could be, Eva hesitated for a second.

We were given a laminated poster, signed by Mickey and Minnie Mouse, saying 'Happy 10th Anniversary"; a plush Mickey and Minnie; and a box of chocolates, all in a cloth reusable Old Key West bag.

At that magical moment, both of us began to think about coming back. Not necessarily to Old Key West or even Disney World, but somewhere Disney-owned. I'd long intended, out of mostly idle curiosity, to investigate the Disney Vacation Club. When we found out we could arrange vacations through them all over the planet, we decided to look a little deeper.

They promised no pressure or obligation and they pretty much delivered on that. We had an hour-long interview with a salesman who did a masterful job of pitching DVC to us. (I was willing to sit through much worse for the $100 Disney gift card we got right up front.)

A little more research has convinced us we didn't get the whole story--big surprise there--but it's still something I plan on costing out just to see if it's worth it for us.

We meant to film a video of the room for the Breadbin. Circumstances didn't allow for it. But there's a great YouTube treatment that could well have been shot in 3111, the recently refurbished unit where we stayed:

Old Key West is quite large (64 buildings, each with 4-8 units), but laid out such that you don't have to walk very far to get to a bus stop. The buses run frequently, all of them dropping you off at the main 'Hospitality House' before travelling to their respective Disney parks. Perhaps my only little beef about the buses is their music loop, really heavy on Buffett and Belafonte. I think I heard 'Margaritaville' about thirty times over eight days, with 'Come Monday' and 'Day-O' tied for second place.

No, wait a second, there's something else I hate about buses, Disney or otherwise, and that is bus riders.

Sometimes they're entertaining, as the teenager was the day we were bound for Disney's Hollywood Studios. He was giving a running commentary of the WikiHow article he'd dug up on his iPhone: "how to deal with mosquito bites". "Patience", he read aloud. "Screw that!"..."Bite the mosquito right back! Hey, I like that one!"

Sometimes they're jaw-droppingly dumb. I have a confession to make: I'm a little more racist than I thought I was. I'm racist towards Southern people. Y'all put a drawl in my ear and I'm just sittin' there waitin' for the stupid. I knows it be comin'. I'm sure there are PhD's from Atlanta that would blow my mental capacity before breakfast...but if they talk like that, I'm a-gonna assume they're dumber than grits, hyuck-hyuck-hyuck.
Those Chilean miners? Inspirational story, right? They was rascued the first night we were at Disney? One women held forth at great length to the bus at large about them miners. In a conspiratorial and yet somehow overloud voice, she informed everybody that she'd seen them miners come up, and they was clean-shaven. "What was that, like, 60 days and nights they was down there? And they even looked clean when they came out! I thought it was dark down there....He must have shaved on the way up."

That's the new Breadner code-phrase for "oh my God this person is a moroon": they must have shaved on the way up.

And sometimes...sometimes it gets scary. We didn't see this--it happened the first night we were there--but we sure heard about it over the next few days....

Yes, the crowds can get a little nuts, especially at the end of the day when your feet are nubs and you just want to get back to your resort. But there is NO EXCUSE for this kind of behaviour. I hope his kid gets taken away, his wife leaves him and he ends up sued to within an inch of his solvency.


Okay, Rocket, I know you're looking for Disney must-dos and must-don'ts and I'm really sorry, I may not be able to help much. Beyond suggesting you research the hell out of your trip beforehand and know what you're looking for. With accommodation alone, there are 33 resorts on Disney property and probably 330 in the immediate area. The pros of staying with Disney:

--Extra Magic Hours (early openings and late closings just for resort guests)
--free parking at all seven park areas for the duration of your stay
--alternatively, free, unlimited bus transportation from resort to park and back. As a regular bus commuter, I can tell you this works pretty well
--atmosphere. You're right there in the Disney, 24/7...that might be a disadvantage, come to think of it

There's only one other con I can think of, but it's a doozie:

--price. At least if you want space. You can stay at Disney's Pop Century Resort for as little as $82 a night. That's the value category: the theming is garish and there are few if any frills. Think Super8. Families are probably going to want at least a moderate category resort, which starts at about $150 a night. The deluxe category--which gives you lots of space to avoid tripping over each other--will run you $250/night+, while the villas--suites--are even pricier. There is a wide variety of resorts in each category, each with different theming. But you can stay off-site considerably cheaper. You can even rent a house in the area, a house with its own private pool, for less than a villa costs per night.

Consider your vacation habits. Are you a theme park commando? Is your hotel room basically just a place to sleep between park raids? If that's the case, don't spend any more than you have to--cram your family into a Value if you want. We're the exact opposite, if you haven't figured that out.

And we ended up spending a little more time lounging around the villa than we had expected. Part of it was the 'welcome home' vibe...but part of it was also the weather. And the walking. And the crowds.


Our anniversary happens to coincide with what's supposed to be Disney down-time. If that's the case, I never want to see the place when it's busy. In Epcot especially, thanks to the Food and Wine festival, you had to suck your gut in to turn around. At times, you actually had to spend a significant part of brain processing time figuring out how to get from here to just over there.

And you will walk. Believe me, you will walk. John Pinette calls it the Epcot Death March. That's not far off. The Magic Kingdom--which should really be called a principality or something, because it's pretty small--has a nice little railway that takes you to various places. Epcot's got a boat sailing the World Showcase Lagoon, which is all well and good except to get to it, you've got to walk from the bus drop-off to the entrance (itself a heckuva hike) and then from that entrance through Future World.
We saw scooters galore zip by us, the majority of them--I'm positive of this--steered by fully able-bodied people. More than once I watched a scooter zoom up outside a washroom, whereupon its driver would disembark and trot in. I gotta say, at times like that, Mickey Mouse leaves your head to be replaced with Homer Simpson: "Hey, they have chairs with wheels and here I am using my legs like a sucker!"

Animal Kingdom's even worse--so bad I regret to say we didn't bother with most of it. The back of the park is called 'Africa' and I'll be damned if I'm going to walk there. It's also the only place in Disney where shade and rest benches are afterthoughts. And shade in Florida should never be an afterthought, because of

The heat. In hindsight it wasn't horrible, but it was pretty bad. Again, we were lucky: had we gone in July or even September, we would have got a permasauna. We had zero humidity, with temperatures in the high eighties each and every day. That's 28-30 in Canadian: hot, but not strictly speaking unbearable. What made it worse was the sun. There has been no measurable precip in Orange County for several weeks at this point, and rarely even a wisp of cloud. The sun beats relentlessly down with a strength that beggars belief and crisps your neck hair.

After one full day of this, we knew two full days would be unthinkable and three full days would probably be fatal. Being as we had five full days left, we concocted a strategy. We'd hit the parks early, making a beeline for the popular attractions, spend three or four hours, then retire to Old Key West for a nap, a Jacuzzi, and a foot rub before heading out again for dinner and maybe a little more park-time. This had advantages besides keeping us relatively cool, ambulatory, and sane. The worst line we faced was half an hour, and that only because the single rider line hadn't opened yet. FASTPASSes, which reserve a spot in line and cut wait time considerably, were completely unnecessary for us.

Next installment: THE PARKS


Rocketstar said...

The room or should I say apartment: That's awesome, love the space and great service, nice.

$100 for an hour of your time, no brainer, nice. But what about the story was missing? What was in the smnake oil that the sales guy didn't tell you about?

racist: LOL! So right on. It's a perfect example of how stupid Americans just read the headlines. If she had known anything about the miners actual situation, she'd know better.

Thanks for the tips.

Wow, it sounds like you burned a lot of caories walking around which woudl be even harder for the little ones, they'd be dying by the end of the day.

I think you've convinced me to NEVER go during "peak months"

Ken Breadner said...

What was missing: Okay, DVC's a timeshare, except instead of purchasing a block of time, you buy points and then use the points however you want. You buy in at say 150 points a year, that's your allotment over the 50-year life of the contract (you can will it on to your kids). It didn't occur to me until afterwards to ask if those point decline in relative value, i.e. if 150 pts will get you 7 nights this year but only 4 nights in 10 years. As it turns out, they don't decline at all--that's written into the contract. Disney can adjust the points required in any given season to balance demand, but anything they add to one season they must subtract from another. So that's fine. What he skimmed over--for good reason--is the resale market. Turns out you can buy in a lot cheaper through a third party. This is probably the route we'll end up taking if other roadblocks don't appear. It really is a good deal: pay, for example, $12,000 over ten years for 50 years worth of vacations.
Calories burned: yep. You can go off whatever diet you're on with impunity.
"he shaved on the way up"--you nailed it. It's like she paid real close attention to just one part of the story.

Ken Breadner said...

Oh--Someme very honest people on the DISboards--DVC members all--have told me that it's really only worth it if you plan on vacation on Disney property, at least once every other year. While they are affiliated with some 500 other places, those places don't come cheap. That sways us firmly into the "thanks, but no thanks" category.