Our housekeeper, Zaida. She was an absolute delight.
Haha okay, don’t worry. There was plenty more to like about Disney World. This overview comes from the point of view of an adult that has fond memories of a 1997 Walt Disney World, where times were simpler and our expectations were far surpassed. I know there are Disney experts out there that know way more about the ins and outs of a fabulous vacation experience, but we were just eight adults, looking for some fun, a few nice meals, and some sunshine. We did have plenty of each.
Things We Loved About Our Disney World Experience:
- Our rooms at the Caribbean Beach Resort – From the moment we arrived, our rooms were clean, comfortable, and large enough to accommodate two people and all their crap. This of course, is much in thanks to the friendly and hard-working housekeeping staff at the resort. It was one of the “as you wish” perks that we remembered so well from our trips years ago. I slept like a baby every night, and that’s saying a lot from a picky mattress and pillow person. Did I mention they do towel animals now? By the end of our stay, we had an entire towel family including a towel puppy. Loved it.
- Our Magical Express airport transfer on the way to CBR – Our driver, Kenneth, was maybe even more excited than we were to be arriving at WDW. It was our first reminder of the caliber of Disney cast members (well, the ones we always remembered in the past,) and how hard they work to create a memorable experience. It was also nice to get off the plane and get right onto an air conditioned bus.
- The Caribbean Beach Resort staff at the Banana Cabana Pool bar, Calypso Trading Post, and To-Go food service area – We were lucky to encounter some staff that were always happy, helpful, and understanding of our questions and needs. Especially at the pool bar, which became one of our favorite spots for a nightcap after a long day of touring. Many thanks to Cathy, JoAnne, Mike, and the other bartenders serving up stellar bloody marys and daiquiris.
- Billy at Tony’s Town Square Restaurant, Magic Kingdom – On our first night in Disney, we were lucky to meet Billy, who gave us all the insider tips about where to drink in WDW. Not only did he give us invaluable advice, but he kept returning to our table throughout the night with things he remembered to tell us, and to check on our dinner experience. We were secretly hoping to run into him for a cocktail later. The dinner was pretty good, too.
- Splash Mountain – This was probably the only ride that lived up to my 12 year old self’s memory of greatness. Still as happy, fun, and sing-along friendly as 17 years ago, Splash Mountain was the ride we returned to over and over again. Honorable mentions for our favorite Magic Kingdom rides include Big Thunder Mountain, Journey of the Little Mermaid, Peter Pan’s Flight, and the Haunted Mansion.
- Magic Kingdom AT NIGHT – Look, the Magic Kingdom is obviously the first thing people think about when imagining a Disney experience, and rightfully so. It’s remarkable. We found our best MK experiences happened after dark, when the crowds thinned and the sun set. It made for a cooler, less crowded experience that was much more enjoyable, and HIGHLY recommended!
- Wishes Nighttime Spectacular at Magic Kingdom – These were hands down the best fireworks we experienced, and I personally enjoyed them both from afar (at the Polynesian resort beach,) and literally in between Cinderella’s and Beast’s castle, where you were directly below the action. It was a spectacular, indeed.
- Epcot – Obviously, the adult’s paradise. Even though we made many treks through Epcot for various ride seeking and restaurant visits, I still feel we missed so much. Drinking around the world was no easy task in 95 degree heat, but we sure did try, only partaking in beers from China, Germany, the African outpost, and of course, Canada. I would have loved to spend more time tasting foods and wines as well. Next time! We were also still impressed with the great Future World rides and attractions, including Spaceship Earth and Living With the Land. I heard Soarin’ was cool, though I opted for a pool day when others returned to ride that one. No regrets.
- Twilight Zone Tower of Terror and Aerosmith’s Rock n Roller Coaster at Hollywood Studios – These were the attractions on my “must ride” list at HS. The Tower of Terror was just as great fun as I remember, and my first ride on the Rock n Roller Coaster was enough to make me want more. Honorable mentions went to Star Tours, (which everyone raved about, but me,) and Muppet Vision 3D, which is just as cute and fun as ever. Hollywood Studios is a much more manageable park, which is always nice after your ankles plump up to the size of spaghetti squash.
- Chef Josh from Kona Cafe at the Polynesian Resort – We happened to be in WDW for Mother’s Day this year, and were able to make Mother’s Day brunch reservations at the Kona Cafe. Not only was the food excellent, but the service exceeded our expectations as well. I’m also fortunate enough to know the guy behind the scenes, and Chef Josh not only ensured we had a wonderful time, but gave us several “secret Disney” insights. Thanks to Josh, I now know that I’d be happy to spend $150/hour to have a personal VIP tour guide, taking you to the front of every ride line, plus how to spot celebrities touring the property. Priceless tips! Highly recommended brunch options include Tonga Toast, and The Samoan. Google them, you’ll drool a little.
- The Polynesian Resort, and any other resort we’ve never visited before – One mistake I’m kicking myself for, is not taking a day to just property hop, and see all of the other great spaces WDW has built over the years. We’ve only known one resort for all our stays, and while it’s a lovely place, I definitely think we’ve outgrown the CBR. Even though it’s over 30 years old and one of Disney’s original hotels, The Polynesian is so nicely themed, with great restaurants, a hookup to the Monorail, and its convenient location across from Magic Kingdom, it’s hard not to fall in love. Also visited and appreciated were the Boardwalk Resort, and the Swan and Dolphin Resort, both within walking distance to the back entrance of Epcot. What better spot to be in? These are definitely locales we’ll be looking into for our next visit, someday.
- Kilimanjaro Safaris at The Animal Kingdom – We were AK first timers. The park was still being built during our last trip, 17 years ago, so we were very excited to experience it all through new eyes. As instructed, we marched straight to the Kilimanjaro Safari ride upon entering the park at opening time, which apparently, everyone else has been instructed to do as well. Still, we only waited 20 minutes, and were treated to the most amazing “safari,” getting to see nearly every animal listed on the guide. Giraffes graced us from just a few feet away, lions perched atop their rocks, and we even got to see some rhinos engaged in what we’ll call, a disagreement. It was our favorite part of the park. Expedition Everest was a close second, although it’s not my personal favorite to ride backwards on a roller coaster, for stomach-flipping reasons.
- Magic Bands – We have some mixed reactions on these, which I’ll get more into later in another post. The perks of Magic Bands were perks indeed: automatic key entry into your room, FastPass+ (if you were smart and savvy enough to accurately plan them into your day,) and park entry. In short, it was nice to not have to think about having your room key, and also have the potential to charge things to your room at a moment’s notice.
- The details and cleanliness of all Disney parks – One thing I learned while at WDW that I thought was kind of genius is that nowhere on property OR at places like the Orlando International Airport, are you able to purchase gum. I wonder how much that cost Disney to enforce? It’s pretty smart, and a great way to avoid scraping nastiness off your rides and tables at the end of the day. As always, everything was beautiful manicured, rinsed off, and guest ready at each park, each day. When you’re not busy rushing to your next FastPass, it’s awesome to be able to just look around and take it all in: every themed area of Magic Kingdom, each animal carved into the Tree of Life at Animal Kingdom, or the exquisite landscaping all over Epcot. Disney sure knows how to stay presentable, and we definitely appreciated that throughout our entire trip.
- Stephanie at The Wave restaurant in The Contemporary Resort – A last minute change of plans on our last night brought us to a last supper with Stephanie at The Wave. I had never heard much about this restaurant, so didn’t know what to expect. Not only was Stephanie the most helpful in explaining the ins and outs of our dining plan, but she was sweet, friendly, helpful, and attentive. She made our last meal a memorable one. Also, the food was so, so delicious. A happy surprise all around!
- Favorite Restaurants – Our favorite sit down meals (which we much prefer to the quick-meal thing,) were at The Wave at Contemporary, Coral Reef at Epcot, Le Cellier at Canada in Epcot, and Shula’s at The Dolphin Resort. Shula’s was just, wow. The prices were steep, folks, but it was the type of meal where you just knew it was worth it. Among the steak orderers, comments included, “best steak I’ve ever had,” and “it melts like butter in my mouth.” Every morsel of food we consumed from the warm sourdough bread to the last bite of chocolate soufflé were heavenly. And that’s coming from a Buffalo Bills fan. Shula knows his fine dining. Le Cellier, the favorite among just about everyone you talk to, was also excellent, though we were only able to get a lunch reservation. I actually ordered a filet, unheard of for me, and it was incredibly tasty. We all gobbled up the pretzel bread and beer cheese soup appetizers. I probably would have been happy to just order that and call it a day. Our server was the super adorable, politely Canadian Lacey, who made our lunch a fun one. Though the food at Coral Reef was on the bland side for me, the calming experience of sitting next to the giant aquarium made it one of our favorite meals.