By the co-author of The easy Guide to Your Walt Disney World Visit 2017, from the best-reviewed Disney World guidebook series ever. Paperback available on Amazon here. Kindle version available on Amazon here. PDF version available on Gumroad here.



yourfirstvisit.net—Disney World Instructions for the First-Time Visitor







Category — d. Where to Stay at Walt Disney World

Pop Century Refurb Begins

This morning before I drove to the airport I checked on Pop Century, and discovered its refurb has begun.

Carpets and furniture were being pulled out of the first floor east wing of Building 8, the 90s building.

Somewhat surprisingly, people were staying in rooms just ten yards away, around the corner on the south first floor wing.

I did go by before check out time, so maybe they will be out today. The alternative—that rooms will be pounded on in the same building that people are staying in—would be annoying.

Multiple leaked photos of test rooms have suggested that the refurbed rooms will include a queen bed, a fold-down full bed, and (in a first for standard rooms in the value resorts) a coffee maker.

The refurb schedule includes 20 work days (per room).

Day 16 (click to enlarge, but it’s still not that good a photo) includes “Install…Beverage Center” and Day 17 (and 18) includes “Install Inova Bed.”  So the fold-down bed is real, and the coffee maker may be the “Beverage Center.”

Staging of furnishings, etc., is over in the lot between Building 7 and Cars at Art of Animation, so likely the sequence of refurb will go roughly south to north, or 80s/90s to 50s.

I’ll let you know more once some of these refurbed rooms re-open!

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March 6, 2017   3 Comments

Wilderness Lodge Refurb Should be Complete by Mid-Summer

WILDERNESS LODGE SHOULD COMPLETE REFURB BY MID-SUMMER 2017

Late last week Disney World announced that the new Disney Vacation Club units at the Wilderness Lodge, known as Copper Creek, would begin booking on March 21, 2017 stays beginning July 21, 2017.

This suggests that the construction walls in the upper lobby will be down, and the refurbed smaller pool and the amenities around the lake will be re-opened by then.

They may be open even well before then—the new pool bar and grill, Geyser Point, is already open.

Geyser Point is also replacing Wilderness Lodge quick service Roaring Forks while it is closed for refurb.

Geyser Point is both a lovely lakeside full service bar—though a bit windy on my visits over the weekend…

…and a seating area for the adjacent quick service venue, which also has a refillable mug station.

The Geyser Point quick service menu, which I had a chance to visit over the weekend.

The lump crab cake sandwich.

Crab cake eggs Benedict. Loved them both.

The marina is ready to go…

…as is the bike and boat rental.

Something called “Reunion Station” is also here, backing up to the quick service—a DVC community room? A childcare center? A new spa? No one knows, though it looks far too small to be a third table service venue.

The re-done second pool is making substantial progress. Here it is in early March:


And here’s how it looked in late January:

The pool besides being its own thing also is part of the construction pathway to the wing of the Wilderness Lodge that’s being converted into Copper Creek. So it likely won’t re-open until these new spaces are largely done.

Based on how Copper Creek looks from the outside…

…some rooms have a way to go.

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March 5, 2017   3 Comments

Caribbean Beach Refurb Causes Some Qualms

(Note: the $75/night gift card offer is over for new bookings.)

Disney’s Caribbean Beach Resort will be going into a major refurb beginning around May 1. The scope of the refurb has led some to suggest avoiding the resort or changing your reservations if you are staying there.

(Coronado Springs is also seeing a less extensive but still major refurb, so Port Orleans Riverside and French Quarter are filling up fast. Kelly can help you get a room in one of these–she’s the designated Destinations In Florida travel agent for yourfirstvisit.net, and is at Kellyb@destinationsinflorida.com.)

However, Disney will be providing guests booked there May 1 and later a $75 gift card, per night, as a compensation for the awkwardness.

At least until Columbus Day, which is as far as I want to speculate, this is a discount of 27-35% off the rates of a standard room. Some will find this an entirely adequate payment for the awkwardness.

My advice?

  • If you have any qualms, change your resort. The potential for you to second-guess yourself is too high.
  • If you are one of the seven people worldwide who chose Caribbean Beach specifically for Shutters or the food court, change your resort.
  • If you never felt strongly about staying at Caribbean Beach anyway, change your resort.
  • If you picked Caribbean Beach for its tranquility, consider how construction noise might affect that.
  • If you picked it for the kid appeal/the beaches/the pool/the colors, for most I think the $75 per night gift card will be sufficient compensation for you to stay—but avoid Barbados and perhaps Martinique (for reasons I’ll get into below).

THE REFURB AT CARIBBEAN BEACH

The refurb seems to have two parts.

One is a shut-down of the food court, table service restaurant Shutters, gift shop Calypso Trading Post, and pool-side bar Banana Cabana.

These will be somewhat replaced by a new breakfast buffet and menu of dinner offerings from new (presumably temporary) facilities in “Centertown,” which is the broad area that includes the pool and former dining and shopping areas. My guess is that these will be centered on the old bar Banana Cabana, since it has power, water, etc. Also available will be some new grab and go locations in Aruba, Jamaica and Martinique, and, I suspect, a food truck in Trinidad South.

Here’s Disney’s words about this:

Closure for refurb of food areas is pretty routine at Disney World—Port Orleans French Quarter just went through this, and there was not much panic. This, however, is a more extensive closure, including the bar and gift shop as well.

Frankly, I expect the (temporary) supplemental replacements to be largely adequate—even after the closures, there will likely still be more counter service available at Caribbean Beach than in all of the BoardWalk Inn, Beach Club and Yacht Club combined (at least until the new counter service-ish area opens in the Yacht Club gift shop).

But we won’t know for sure until the supplemental options open. I have a stay booked here in early June—gonna catch me some Pandora, and the new fireworks show at the Magic Kingdom—and will report on specifics then.

The second thing that seems to be going on is construction, possibly even demolition, in the Barbados and Martinique areas.

Katherine Schutte (part of the German branch of my otherwise English family, I guess) posted in her Magical Castle Facebook Group on 2/27 that
“a new notice issued today indicates that buildings within Martinique and Barbados areas of the resort will be closed since they will be disrupted by the construction.”

It’s been widely speculated that a new Disney Vacation Club building will be going into the footprint of Barbados and perhaps some of Martinique—and, it is to be hoped, the Custom House check-in area as well.

And Disney has already communicated that “Disney’s Caribbean Beach Resort will be reimagined with new additions to the resort’s current marketplace, Centertown, including new waterfront dining and retail shopping areas. This centralized location will offer the resort’s guests more convenient access to services, amenities and dining.”

As I’d noted here, my guess and hope is that as part of this project, the current building housing dining and retail will be converted (or demolished and rebuilt) as the check-in area for Caribbean Beach.

This, when combined with the to-be-hoped for demolition of Barbados and perhaps the northern (non-preferred) part of Martinique, will much reduce the complexity and number of bus stops at Caribbean Beach, diminishing what has always been its biggest negative. (Especially if the current bus stops at Trinidad North and the perhaps truncated Martinique are replaced with just one at New Old Port Royale.)

If so, then the sequence of events could be something like this:

  1. Install temporary alternative dining and close Old Port Royale
  2. Build new waterfront dining and retail and convert/rebuild Old Port Royale as the new check-in area
  3. Open the new dining/retail/check in facilities
  4. Demolish the current check in facilities at the Customs House, Barbados, and perhaps some of Martinique
  5. Build a DVC facility on the footprint freed by step 4 (this could begin even before the Customs House comes down—if it is even coming down. Bay Lake Tower is about 400 feet across, and the longest extent at Barbados is almost three times longer—there’s a lot of land at that end of the resort…)

If my guesses are true, then there will be a lot of construction noise around Barbados and Martinique in particular, so for sure I would avoid rooms there…even the preferred rooms in Martinique, because of the Centertown construction noise.

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March 4, 2017   19 Comments

A Friday Visit with Jim Korkis: Shades of Green

Welcome back to Fridays with Jim Korkis! Jim, the dean of Disney historians and author of Jim’s Gems in The easy Guide, writes about Walt Disney World history every Friday on yourfirstvisit.net.

SHADES OF GREEN

By Jim Korkis

Shades of Green originally opened as a Disney-owned resort known simply as the Golf Resort in December 1973 with 151 rooms. The Golf Resort was located in the middle of the Palm and Magnolia golf courses and was meant as an amenity for golfers using the courses.

It was designed to look like a two story country clubhouse and originally did not have any guest rooms. Guest wings were added in 1973 as part of Walt Disney World’s Phase 2 expansion that was also meant to include three other Magic Kingdom resorts that were never built.

The resort was generally known for its dessert of French Fried Ice Cream served in the Magnolia Room restaurant (later the Trophy Room) that also included live entertainment. In addition to golf, the resort had two lighted tennis courts for night time play and a pool.

Unfortunately, Disney guests did not consider it a resort since it was off the monorail loop so it suffered low occupancy. In February 1986, Disney expanded the resort and renamed it The Disney Inn in hopes of attracting more than golfers, promoting it as having the intimate and rustic charm of a quiet country inn.

In 1988, it was re-themed to Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs in hopes of reinforcing the Disney connection. The snack bar was called “The Diamond Mine” to make the connection with the dwarfs. There was also a Diamond Mine Arcade. However, the resort still could not match the popularity or attendance of the other WDW resorts.

A that time, the U.S. military was looking for a continental America location to build an Armed Forces Recreation Center (AFRC) and surveys showed that Orlando, Florida was the highest ranking location for its service members.

On February 1, 1994, the US Department of Defense to Disney’s delight at declining attendance leased the resort and the land it sits on with a 100-year lease to use for the MWR (Morale, Welfare and Recreation) program and limited the resort to eligible guests.

Eligible guests active and retired members of the U.S. military, National Guard and Department of Defense as well as their families. Others who are on vacation with an eligible sponsor are also allowed. Room rates are based on rank and pay grade.

In 1996, the resort was purchased outright, for $43 million, due to the high success of the resort, although Disney still owns the land on which the resort sits.

In the process the resort was renamed Shades of Green referring to the colors of the different uniforms. At the time, all war-fighting uniforms had some shade of green.

The resort was completely remodeled and expanded during 2002-2004. Those renovations by KBJ Architects included a new five story wing featuring an additional 299 rooms, a 500 seat Magnolia Ballroom, a fitness center, pools, tennis courts, new restaurants and dining areas and a new lobby featuring a vaulted ceiling, fireplace and veranda.

Jim Korkis on Shades of Green from yourfirstvisit.netThe front entrance overlooks a large, natural pool with plants, rockwork and five waterfalls, with each flume representing a branch of the U.S. military.

The architects designed the new building and surrounding area to blend with the existing resort to create the feel of a Floridian lodge. Its new five story parking garage was a first at a WDW resort.

The U.S. military funded the expansion project, coordinating its efforts with Walt Disney Imagineering and Walt Disney World leaders.

*  *  *  *  *

Thanks, Jim! I’ve stayed at Shades of Green multiple times (thanks Dad!), and a complete review is here. Steve Bell, military moderator of this site, is the master of Shades of Green.  His web-based material is here. His book for military visitors is here.

And come back next Friday for more from Jim Korkis!

In the meantime, check out his books, including Secret Stories of Walt Disney World: Things You Never You Never Knew, which reprints much material first written for this site, and The Vault of Walt: Volume 4, and his contributions to The easy Guide to Your Walt Disney World Visit, all published by Theme Park Press.
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January 20, 2017   No Comments

Other Hotels in Disney World

STAYING IN A HOTEL THAT DISNEY DOES NOT OWN

The best reason to stay in a non-Disney hotel is to save money. (For the Disney-owned hotels, see this.)

The Non-Disney Hotels at Walt Disney World from yourfirstvisit.net

Water Play Area at Four Seasons Orlando

Four non-Disney hotels are in the heart of Disney World, and offer deluxe-quality rooms and amenities for typically less than the Disney deluxes (at Shades of Green, much less).

Shades of Green Resort

Shades of Green Resort

Shades of Green Floor Plan

Shades of Green Floor Plan

They are the Swan and Dolphin, Four Seasons, and Shades of Green. (I’ve stayed in all these multiple times–the links go to detailed reviews.)

Four Seasons Resort Orlando

Four Seasons Resort Orlando

Floor Plan Four Seasons Orlando from yourfirstvisit.net

Four Seasons Floor Plan

All these but the Four Seasons participate in Disney’s Extra Magic Hours program.

Disney World Dolphin

Disney World Dolphin

Dolphin Floor Plan

Dolphin Floor Plan

The Swan and Dolphin in addition use Disney’s transportation system and have access to FastPass+ 60 days in advance, not 30.

Swan Floor Plan

Swan Floor Plan

The Swan and Dolphin used to be part of Starwood, but are now part of the Marriott family.  These means many more folks will have points they can use to rent these, as they now go for both Marriott and Starwood points.

I’m not keen on any of these four for first timers.

  • None has any distinctive Disney theming–you could be anywhere.
  • Shades and the Four Seasons have less than great transportation, and only can access FastPass+ at 30 days.
  • The Swan and Dolphin have transportation comparable to the Disney-owned resorts, and get FastPass+ at 60 days, but are inconveniently located for a Magic-Kingdom-centered trip–which most first visits are.

They can each be great choices for returning trips–Shades of Green for its prices, The Swan in particular for a lower-priced way to be close to Epcot (the Swan has queen beds and two sinks, making it a better family choice than the Dolphin with its full beds and one sink), and the Four Seasons for its stunning amenities, and in particular its pool complex–the best at Disney World.

Complete reviews:

Another group of hotels on Hotel Plaza Boulevard are on Disney property but isolated from the main attractions at Disney World except for the shopping and dining at Disney Springs.

There are literally hundreds of other hotels and thousands of condos/villas/homes for rent off the property. The condos/villas/homes for rent will particularly save money for larger families or groups.

Be careful in your price comparisons to include added rental car costs, hotel parking, resort fees, theme park parking.

For more on saving money on lodging at Disney World, see this.

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January 19, 2017   No Comments

Accommodations and Theming at Disney’s Port Orleans French Quarter Resort

(For the first page of this review of Disney’s Port Orleans French Quarter Resort, see this.)

ACCOMMODATIONS AND THEMING AT DISNEY’S PORT ORLEANS FRENCH QUARTER RESORT

Disney's Port Orleans French Quarter Resort from yourfirstvisit.net

Port Orleans French Quarter is one of 5 moderate resorts at Walt Disney World:

The moderates have much more room than the value resorts, more amenities, and (except for Fort Wilderness) much better landscaping. See this for what you get by Disney World price class.

disneys-port-orleans-french-quarter-resort-from-yourfirstvisit-net-2

Although the typical moderate rooms, at 314 square feet (the cabins have 508 square feet), look much smaller than the rooms available at the deluxe resorts, differences in hall/entry layout make the living space of the typical moderates much more comparable to many Walt Disney World deluxes than raw square footage would imply. See this for more on square footage and livability.

Disney’s Port Orleans French Quarter Resort is officially “inspired by the romance and pageantry of the historic French Quarter in New Orleans…” where you can “…stroll cobblestone walkways and gaze down ornate wrought-iron railings as you listen to the smooth jazz backdrop and breathe in the sweet smell of magnolia blossoms in the air.”

disneys-port-orleans-french-quarter-resort-from-yourfirstvisit-net-7

Port Orleans French Quarter has 1008 rooms in seven buildings. These buildings are divided into a “North Quarter” and “South Quarter,” but, unlike other separately named sections of moderate resorts, have no difference in theming between them.

disneys-port-orleans-french-quarter-resort-from-yourfirstvisit-net

Rather, all share the same graceful New Orleans theming, and lovely walkways, gardens  and intimate courtyards.

The three story buildings have vertical sections divided by color, ironwork patters, and roof lines to create a bit of a townhouse feel.

disneys-port-orleans-french-quarter-resort-from-yourfirstvisit-net-6

This is successful in some treatments…

disneys-port-orleans-french-quarter-resort-from-yourfirstvisit-net-3

…but is mostly too low-contrast to be of much notice.

Most of the landscaping of the North Quarter is more intimate and romantic, with more of a street-scape and private garden feel, while the South Quarter is more open with more of a park-like feel. But this will vary by your room location.

Most rooms sleep four two queen beds, but rooms  that sleep two on one king bed are also available. According to Andre Willey’s invaluable PortOrleans.org,

“French Quarter rooms come in five category options: Standard (mostly parking lot views), Garden View, Pool View, River View, and King Bed (which are all corner rooms and could have any of the previous view types).”

disneys-port-orleans-french-quarter-resort-from-yourfirstvisit-net-5

The river view.

Connecting rooms and and accessible rooms are also available. To the room capacities of four and two you can add one additional child who will be younger than three at your visit and who will sleep in a crib.

Prices for these bed and view categories vary. Search “Mousesavers.com Port Orleans French Quarter Room Rates” for the latest.

floor-plan-standard-room-disneys-port-orleans-french-quarter-resort-from-yourfirstvisit-net

The floor plan of a standard two-queen room.

disneys-port-orleans-french-quarter-resort-from-yourfirstvisit-net

…and a shot of it.

These two images come from a detailed photo tour of a two-queen room at Port Orleans French Quarter here.

Among the moderates, Port Orleans French Quarter’s strength for first time visitors is its compactness and ease of getting around. Its biggest negative is its lack of visual kid appeal.

Returning visitors often find Port Orleans French Quarter to be a favorite, particularly if they have stayed before in one of the enormous moderates and therefore appreciate its relatively compact area all the more, and/or fall in love with the romantic setting. It’s my personal favorite among the moderates, and also the most romantic of the moderates.

See this for more on distinctions among the moderates.

PHOTO TOUR OF A STANDARD ROOM AT DISNEY’S PORT ORLEANS FRENCH QUARTER RESORT

This review continues here.

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PAGES IN THIS REVIEW OF DISNEY’S PORT ORLEANS FRENCH QUARTER RESORT

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January 4, 2017   2 Comments