It is fair to say that discussions of Disney conjure up images of Mickey and Goofy cartoons, princesses and general kitsch. There is no denying that Disney can be over the top and often syrupy sweet. That is great for the kids and it will surely make you feel like a kid again. But it is also what makes the extravagant resorts, restaurants and shops on Disney property surprising. Below are our suggestions if you are looking to take your Disney vacation experience to the next level.
GRAND FLORIDIAN RESORT & SPA
This resort is modeled after the Hotel del Coronado in San Diego. With it’s Victorian charm and close proximity to Magic Kingdom it the quintessential, and original, Disney deluxe resort. Famous for its excellent restaurants, this is the place to indulge your taste buds. Citricos, Narcossee`s, Victoria & Albert`s and Park Fare (dinner with Cinderella) are all hot tickets. On our recent visit we were particularly impressed by the excellent Mad Hatter themed splash pad and lovely lobby, complete with live music.
POLYNESIAN VILLAGE RESORT
As great as the Grand Floridian can be, we prefer the decor at the Polynesian Resort. In fact, this is our favourite place on property. The lush landscaping makes you feel like you are truly in a tropical paradise. I find I relax as I walk up to the entrance. The dinner experience at Ohana is something we are still talking about, despite the hefty price tag. Dumplings, noodles, spare ribs, meat on skewers and pineapple bread pudding…. all served family style while a Polynesian singer leads the restaurant in dance lessons. The fire show with Cinderella’s castle as a backdrop was a fun surprise. But watching the water pageant and fireworks on the beach made our highlight list.
ANIMAL KINGDOM LODGE
We recently had the good fortune to stay at the Animal Kingdom Lodge and it exceeded our expectations. Just a short ride from the parks felt like we had left Florida and traveled to Africa. We marveled at the majestic animals on the Savannah while guides educated us on African culture. The wide variety of children’s activities meant we could easily stay at the resort all day. In fact, the lodge is actually made up of two villages, Harambe House and Kidani Village, offering different activities, pools and restaurant options open to all guests. The décor, music, artifacts and grander of this resort makes it a must see. We love heading over for the marshmallow cook out next to giraffes and zebras even when we stay at a different resort.
OTHER DELUXE DISNEY OPTIONS
The above hotels aren’t the only Deluxe options they just happen to be our favorites. Other resorts that have a luxury feel include the Beach Club Resort, Boardwalk Inn, Yacht Club, Contemporary Resort and Wilderness Lodge. The villas at Saratoga Springs, Old Key West, Bay Lake Towers, Boulder Ridge, Boardwalk, Yacht Club and Wilderness Lodge also provide a relaxing and indulgent feel. These options are also great if you are staying with a larger group. Copper Creek and Royal Suites at Port Orleans video:
DISNEY VIP TOURS
Nothing says ‘once in a lifetime’ like a special VIP tour. We’ve seen custom tour options that include a personal tour guide, door to door transportation, select seating at shows and special fast passes to allow you to experience the parks in the most efficient way. On the 5 hour ‘Keys to the Kingdom’ tour you can see secret locations in Magic Kingdom and learn about your favorite rides. The 7 hour ‘Ultimate Day of Thrills’ tour gives you fast passes to all the thrill rides at Magic Kingdom and Hollywood Studios. Other tours allow you to experience a tree top walk or private safari at Animal Kingdom or go behind the scenes to learn how Disney grows their own produce on the ‘Living with the Land’ tour.
Recent renovations at Disney Springs have added some excellent and very high end shopping to this family favorite. The Lego store and the world’s largest Disney store are still here, but now you can indulge at Kate Spade, Tommy Bahama and Ugg to name a few. With the name change also comes a beautiful spring that runs through the shopping area.
DISNEY CRUISE LINES
If you know anyone who’s cruised with Disney they are likely to tell you this is a cruise like no other. This is truly the best cruise for kids. There is no other cruise line that does themed sailings the way Disney does: Marvel, Star Wars, Halloween and Merrytime cruises all allow you to see your favorite characters without the lines. Every cruise has fireworks at sea, Broadway caliber shows with kid friendly times (6pm & 8pm) and incredible water slides. There are options from 2 days right up to 14 day cruises in North and South America, the Caribbean and Europe many with unique destinations, such as Tortola, the Norwegian Fjords, Iceland and the British Isles. You have everything you would expect from other cruises enhanced by that top-notch quality that Disney does so well.
DISNEY VACATION HAWAII – AULANI
Nothing says luxury like a resort in Hawaii. With no theme parks in sight, Disney’s Aulani is a resort and spa that has something for the whole family. It is in the centre of the island of O’ahu, a 30 minute drive from Pearl Harbour and a 50 minute drive from Waikiki Beach. Aulani has tons of family activities, including a snorkeling reef, pool parties, guided tours around the island, a Luau, star gazing and fire pit story telling. Of course, there are still character breakfasts and movie nights to give you that Disney feel.
ADVENTURES BY DISNEY
While deserving of a blog post all it’s own (which is in the plans), no list of Disney’s opulence would be complete without mentioning Adventures by Disney. It may seem hard to believe when comparing to the list above, but this relatively unknown tour option is actually Disney’s highest rated experience. The countless tours available across the world, that combine magic with history and culture, are probably some of the most incredible, family focused tours around. Some examples include, a Frozen themed adventure through Norway where you see real castles, or a tour of Germany where you follow Little Red Riding Hood to Grandma’s house, among many many other once in a lifetime experiences.