By the co-author of The easy Guide to Your Walt Disney World Visit 2019, the best-reviewed Disney World guidebook series ever.

Available on Amazon here.





Category — q. Reviews

Amenities and Dining at the Hilton Buena Vista Palace, Disney Springs Resort Area

The Hilton Buena Vista Palace in the Disney Springs Resort Area has both valet and self-parking.

If you are driving and self-parking, you may park in the port cochere until you have completed check-in.

There’s one large, obvious, ugly, and painfully distant self-parking area–on the left as you enter the property. A much better choice, once you have checked in and gotten your room key card, which also serves as your parking pass, is on the right when you drive in, but of course on the left as you drive away from the port cochere.

See the annotated image, where the better parking area is marked with red fill in the lower center.

This better parking area is also right next to the bus stop. Details on transportation to the theme parks from the Disney Springs Resort Area hotels are here. Perhaps worth noting is that these Disney Springs Resort Area hotels are also served by the Minnie Van service, which can allay some transportation issues, especially to Magic Kingdom.

Also right in this area is the walkway to Disney Springs. Basically you go out to the road, turn left, and walk to the overpass. The furthest tower rooms are about a half mile walk to the nearest part of Disney Springs. Closer Island rooms are a quarter mile away.

The basics of the Hilton Buena Vista Palace’s services are around the lobby that you’ll find on the floor that comes off the port cochere. Check in is way at the back–by the windows.

You’ll find the bell stand on one side…

…and concierge services on the other. Around the corner from the concierge desk is the rental car desk.

There’s some seating on the way back to the check in area.

The check in area itself.

Also in the main lobby is this bar, Sunnies.

The lobby bar at night.

The lobby bar closed unreasonably early a couple of nights I was there–but there’s a second bar, Blue, more of a sports bar, down the hall and down some steps.

It has about a tenth–maybe a twentieth–the romance of the lobby bar.

There’s another bar at the pool.  I cover the pool at the Hilton Buena Vista Palace in detail here.

All other amenities (unless I am forgetting something) are either on, or accessed from, the Palace’s lowest level.  This is also the path from tower rooms to the pools, the bus stop, and the pathway to Disney Springs, so you’ll be down here a lot.

On the way to the bus stop you’ll find this gym.

Just outside is this outdoor lounging area, sometime used for events but otherwise more popular than you might think, given the Florida weather.

Back inside you’ll find a large gift shop…

…separated from an even larger grab and go and snack shop by this seating area, which could use some redecorating.

The grab and go shop keeps extended hours–it was open 24 hours one of my stays, and until 2a on another.

It offers, besides hot snacks, all kinds of cold items and shelf-stable snacks and drinks.

More shots of the grab and go area.

The featured dining venue at the Hilton Buena Vista Palace is Letterpress.

It has character meals on Sunday mornings…

…and has, God bless it, book theming.

I think, though, that I am the only person to have actually read books in the restaurant.

The dinner menu.

The lunch and breakfast menu–Letterpress, by the way, serves breakfast all day, a practice I commend.

I had a nice salad…

…and fine steak for dinner…

…and the “Breakfast Standard” another day for lunch.

I’ve eaten in the past 6 months in all the Disney Springs hotels except for the Doubletree (I had Disney dining reservations my entire stay there), and Letterpress at the Palace is the best of the bunch. That said, dinner in Disney Springs is still your best bet.

Overall, including its pools, the Hilton Buena Vista Palace in the Disney Springs Resort Area has as strong a set of amenities as you’ll find among the Disney Springs Resort Area options. Both its pools and its table service dining are the best among these resorts, and the only thing obviously missing is outdoor sports courts for tennis or basketball, for which the Wyndham has the best offering.

 

 

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November 20, 2018   No Comments

Review: The 2018 Edition of Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party (“MVMCP”)

MICKEY’S VERY MERRY CHRISTMAS PARTY: A REVIEW

Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party (“MVMCP”) is a special event that takes place during the Christmas season at Walt Disney World.

It requires its own ticket, which is entirely separate from regular Disney World tickets and is only shown on certain nights from early November through the first two thirds of December.

(For more on MVMCP tickets and show nights, see this.)

Even though it is expensive (tickets for a family of four will cost $400 or more) it’s been part of this site’s Basic December Itinerary since the site opened, for a couple of reasons:

Going to it lets people save a lot of time. 

Disney limits the amount of tickets it sells to each show of MVMCP.  As a result, waits for the rides are low–most typically 10 minutes, although you’ll find longer waits at Seven Dwarfs Mine Train, Peter Pan, and Jingle Cruise.  Going to it and seeing some really popular rides with hardly a wait saves a ton of time that can instead be spent sleeping in or at the pool.

Waits Mickey's Very Merry Christmas Party 2015 from yourfirstvisit.net

For example, above is the Space Mountain wait at a little after 9p.

Big Thunder around 8p.

The Castle Transfigured Frozen Holiday Wish from yourfirstvisit.net

Going to it guarantees seeing an evening parade and fireworks. 

The regular evening parade at the Magic Kingdom is now gone, and at the time of year the Basic Itinerary covers, the fireworks at the Magic Kingdom may happen just a couple of times a week on non-MVMCP nights.  Going to MVMCP guarantees your family will have the opportunity to see an evening parade and fireworks.

Moreover, the parade and fireworks are unique. The fireworks are tied with those of the Halloween party as best of the year, and the parade has a fun Christmas theme!

I recommend people go to Walt Disney World in the early part of the Christmas season…so how can I not send them to this show?

It’s silly and fun!

In November 2018 I had a chance to see it again, on Friday the 8th, my twelfth visit to this party. The rest of this entry is the review of that visit. (Note that some of the photos are from my earlier visits, where they turned out better than those I took that night…)

MICKEY’S VERY MERRY CHRISTMAS PARTY

There’s a couple of components to MVMCP.

Noted already are the parade and fireworks, both in special Christmas versions.

Parade Mickey's Very Merry Christmas Party 2015 from yourfirstvisit.net

The parade, called Mickey’s Once Upon a Christmastime Parade, happens twice each night, at 8.30 and 11p.

I strongly suggest you avoid the first parade.  Instead, go on rides until about 30 minutes before the fireworks, and watch them and then watch the second parade–crowds for the second parade will be much lower.

Characters Mickey's Once Upon a Christmastime Parade at MVMCP from yourfirstvisit.net

The parade begins with a bunch of characters…

Mickey and Minnie Mickey's Very Merry Christmas Party 2015 from yourfirstvisit.net

…then Minnie and Mickey.

Frozen comes next with three floats, beginning with Anna and Elsa…

…then Olaf…

…and then Kristoff.

Next is Wreck-It Ralph…

…then Clarabelle Cow and Christmas cookies–I still wonder why no resort is themed to Clarabelle?

Goofy Mickey's Very Merry Christmas Party 2015 from yourfirstvisit.net

Next is Goofy and Christmas candy.

Next up is a sequence of princess-themed floats.

You might spot some dwarfs.

Snow White Mickey's Once Upon a Christmastime Parade at MVMCP from yourfirstvisit.net

Snow White Mickey's Very Merry Christmas Party 2015 from yourfirstvisit.net

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Snow White and Cinderella get their own floats.

A closer shot of Cinderella.

Princesses Mickey's Very Merry Christmas Party 2015 from yourfirstvisit.net

One large float is fronted by the Beast and holds a passel of princesses.

Woody Mickey's Very Merry Christmas Party 2015 from yourfirstvisit.net

The parade then shifts to a toy theme, including Woody and Jess…

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…and toy soldiers.

Santa Claus is on the last float.

Santa Mickey's Once Upon a Christmastime Parade at MVMCP from yourfirstvisit.net

Santa Mickey's Very Merry Christmas Party 2015 from yourfirstvisit.net

The fireworks, called Holiday Wishes, happen between the parades at 10p.

More fireworks:

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Also noted already are the rides.

  • Not all rides are open, but all of the most popular ones are (there’s a list of what’s open on the brochure below).
  • Because of the limit on tickets sold, most of the rides are pretty easy to get on to without major waits. The park will feel very crowded on Main Street and near the Castle, but this is because of all the people lining for the castle shows and the parade route.  Away from Main Street and Frontierland the park opens up and ride waits are quite short.

There’s some shows, some unique to this event.

Elsa Making Snow Frozen Holdiay Wish from yourfirstvisit.net

A Frozen Holiday Wish is the same as on regular MK evenings. It’s OK but the 8.15 show will be mobbed and cut into your ride time.

Totally Tomorrowland Mickey's Very Merry Christmas Party 2015 from yourfirstvisit.net

Only shown during the party are the skippable A Totally Tomorrowland Christmas in Tomorrowland…

club-tinsel-at-mvmcp-2016-from-yourfirstvisit-net

…and a skippable dance party in Cosmic Ray’s in Tomorrowland.

Also available is “The Edge,” showing on the same stage as A Totally Tomorrowland Christmas at 8.10, 9, 10.20 and 11.10p.  This will please you in direct proportion to the joy you take in boy band a Capella gestures towards Christmas songs.

Continuing from its 2016 debut is the Castle stage show “Mickey’s Most Merriest Celebration.” Showing at 7.40, 9.25, 10.30p, and 11.55p, this utterly skippable show includes dancing and character appearances to (mostly) second rate Christmas standards and (mostly) third rate original songs (all powerfully sung, however).

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Oddities include a song about texting and keeping your phone charged which also features Daisy’s rarely expressed longing for Donald, and a torch song by Clarabelle that will chill any potential target of her affections.

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But wait, there’s less, as the Three Amigos also are a focal point.

In Storybook Circus you’ll find, most likely by mistake, a sparsely attended dance party with Disney Jr characters.

There’s some fun other business: free cookies, free hot chocolate or other drinks (locations on the map), and snow!

Snow on Main Street Mickey's Very Merry Christmas Party 2015 from yourfirstvisit.net

There’s also character encounters, some typical, and some rare.

You can spend a lot of time waiting in lines for characters–go for it if that’s your thing, but for most there’s much better ways to spend your time given the cost of this party…

seven-dwarfs-at-mvmcp-2016-from-yourfirstvisit-net

More characters:

sandy-claws-mickeys-very-merry-christmas-party-from-yourfirstvisit-net

Both sides of the 2018 MVMCP brochure are below–as always, click them to enlarge them.

Even though the party starts at 7p, Disney traditionally lets people holding tickets for it through the turnstiles beginning at 4p. Show up early, see some of the lower wait rides, and have dinner.  If you show up around party time, Main Street will be mobbed.

FastPass+ is not available during the party–but it’s also not needed, as only Seven Dwarfs Mine Train, Peter Pan and the Jingle Cruise see major waits. If you want to see these at the party, do them as late as you can stay up.

New in 2018 is a dessert, drinks and appetizer offering at Tony’s, which also gives access to the area around the Christmas tree for viewing of the 11p run of the parade.  I don’t entirely get the logic of paying around $100 to got to the party, then another $100 to avoid it. I think Victoria & Alberts would be the better choice for about the same money. My co-author Josh has a more positive view of this offering here on easy WDW.com.

WHAT ABOUT PEOPLE NOT FOLLOWING THE BASIC ITINERARY?

Fireworks Mickey's Very Merry Christmas Party 2014 from yourfirstvisit.net (2)

As noted, this show is expensive, but worth considering if one or more of the following apply to you:

  • You otherwise won’t see the fireworks at the Magic Kingdom
  • Your plans otherwise leave you short on Magic Kingdom time, and/or
  • You are really a fan of Christmas

With kids old enough to be focused on rides, the right plan for MVMCP is to

  • Show up early, and eat before the party
  • Do rides until around 9.30p, and then
  • Position yourselves near the Castle for Holiday Wishes, and the second showing of the evening parade.
  • After the parade, do more rides or see the shows!

Some more shots from around Magic Kingdom during the party:

Around Main Street.

Shots of the Castle.

Some graphics.

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November 14, 2018   1 Comment

Amenities and Dining at the Wyndham and Wyndham Garden Lake Buena Vista, Disney Springs Resort Area

The Wyndham Lake Buena Vista and Wyndham Garden Lake Buena Vista in the Disney Springs Resort Area are essentially the same resort, and share all the same amenities.

The name distinction comes from the two different room types you will find here, in the tower versus the wing buildings.  For simplicity, I will refer to both in the rest of this post as the Wyndham Lake Buena Vista.

The Wyndham Lake Buena Vista in the Disney Springs Resort Area has both valet and self-parking.

If you are driving but self-parking, you may park in the port cochere until you have completed check-in, but if it is too crowded you’ll be given the code for the self parking and park there during check in.

This same front of the hotel area has the bus stop.

Details on transportation to the theme parks from the Disney Springs Resort Area hotels are here.

Perhaps worth noting is that these Disney Springs Resort Area hotels are also served by the Minnie Van service, which can allay some transportation issues, especially to Magic Kingdom. This image is from the Wyndham check in desk.

Most of the Wyndham’s amenities are on the floor that comes off the port cochere, around the main lobby.

Back at the left is the check in area.

To its left are guest services and a rental car desk…

…and beyond it, in an area most guests except those staying in the east Garden wing won’t see, is a kids waiting area and a library.

Back in the lobby proper, there are many groups of comfortable chairs. I noted several guests napping in them, but am too kind to post those photos here.

Beyond this area is a Disney gift shop.

Inside the gift shop.

Diagonally across from this gift shop, near the entrance, is this much larger coffee shop and grab and go spot.

It includes a seating area, and offers various warm, shelf stable, and…

…cold drinks and snacks.

On the opposite side of the lobby space is this bar, which also serves food from the menu of the upstairs Lakeview restaurant. There’s another large bar and grill at the pool. I cover the pool at the Wyndham in detail in this post.

Upstairs is the Lakeview restaurant…

…which also serves character meals at a buffet breakfast Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays.

Other days of the week see a breakfast with both buffet and a la carte options.

I dined on Lakeview food, but in the bar.

My wedge salad was fine…

…and my steak disappointing.

Links to menus for the Lakeview restaurant are here.

Downstairs at the lowest level you’ll find this gym…

…and outside flanking the pool you’ll find on one side these tennis courts…

…and these sports courts on the other side.

Overall, including the pools, the Wyndham Lake Buena Vista  in the Disney Springs Resort Area has a strong set of amenities.  Table service dining is undistinguished except by convenience–but there’s a ton of great options in nearby Disney Springs.

The Wyndham positions itself as the closest of these hotels to Disney Springs.  That may be true mathematically, but practically speaking, the Palace, Hilton, and Wyndham are all in easy walking distance. Disney Springs is also served by buses beginning in the late afternoon.

 

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November 7, 2018   No Comments

Amenities and Dining at the Holiday Inn Orlando, Disney Springs Resort Area

The Holiday Inn Orlando in the Disney Springs Resort Area has both valet and self-parking.

If you are driving, you will park in the port cochere until you have completed check-in.

Also in this area at the front of the resort is the bus stop.

Details on transportation to the theme parks from the Disney Springs Resort Area hotels are here.

The lobby is just inside–with guest services on the left, and a small seating area on the right.

Around the corner is a couple of desks for airline check in and such, and next to it is a Hertz counter.

Nearby you’ll find a Disney gift shop.

More from the gift shop.

Around the corner is this gym.

Just beyond the lobby you’ll find this bar, which also serves lunch and dinner, and is right next to the pool.

In addition to the indoor seating, the bar has pool-side seats. (I cover the pool at the Holiday Inn Orlando in detail here.)

At the corner of the bar you’ll find this mini-shop with drinks and snacks, supplementing the Disney gift shop.

Back inside, most rooms at the Holiday Inn Orlando are in a tower with an atrium. The elevator bank is in the back corner of this area, and you walk around the dining room to get to it.

The dining room is open for breakfast and dinner. Dinner traffic is pretty light, so I actually ate in the bar.

The menu–I had the burger, and it was fine.

Breakfast is an at-first-glance expensive buffet….

…but kids 11 and under eat free. Note the asterisk–parents need to be eating too, and paying full price.  All the details to the asterisk–which strike me as reasonable– are here.

I’ve also seen a lot of deals for the Holiday inn Orlando fly by that offer free breakfast for everyone.

The breakfast itself is fine but undistinguished. There’s fresh Mickey waffles and an omelet station…

…fresh fruit…

…eggs, potatoes, and, not shown, french toast and pancakes…

…breakfast meats, and the usual cereals, pastries, and such.

The Holiday Inn Orlando in the Disney Springs Resort Area has all the basic amenities you’d expect from a hotel its size.  Dining is undistinguished except by convenience–but there’s a ton of great options in nearby Disney Springs, whose nearest part is about a third of a mile away, and which is served by buses beginning in the late afternoon.

 

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November 5, 2018   No Comments

Amenities and Dining at the B Resort & Spa, Disney Springs Resort Area

The B Resort & Spa in the Disney Springs Resort Area has both valet and self-parking.

If you are driving, you will park in the port cochere until you have completed check-in.

Also in this area at the front of the resort are some lovely flowers…

…and the bus stop. (Details on transportation to the theme parks from the Disney Springs Resort Area hotels are here.) Note the whimsical seating.

There’s more of that outside–and even more inside.

Inside you will find the interesting and in many ways lovely lobby.  Dead ahead, backed by an image of fireworks, is the check-in desk.

To its side is the concierge service.

There are some particularly interesting seating areas near the lobby.

The lobby lighting is also often worth a second look.

Beyond the front desk area is this small business center.

Near the business center are the principal elevators for the tower (Lanai rooms are served by a different elevator).

There’s another tower elevator, with glass walls, at the very front of the building, with music that I’m quite sure someone will not find annoying, but in recompense some lovely views.

The upper floor elevator lobbies continue with the interesting furnishings…

…and add a carpet full of hidden mickeys.

Back downstairs, to the left of the lobby you will find a Disney gift shop.

The gift shops in the Disney Springs Resort Area hotels all give the appearance of being stocked, run, and staffed by Disney cast members…

…even to having rather familiar bags.

Beyond the gift shop, towards the B Resort’s Lanai building, is a second shop. The Pickup, with more food and drink options…

…including some hot food.

More from inside The Pickup:

The Pickup also has an exterior service window convenient to the B Resort’s pool.

Also outside by the pool is the spa and gym.  (I cover the pool at the B Resort & Spa in detail here.)

At the other end of the first floor is the B Resort & Spa’s full-service restaurant, the American Kitchen Bar & Grill.

Open for breakfast, lunch and dinner, I hear that the Kitchen launched with intentions of becoming destination dining, but with the massive improvements in dining at nearby Disney Springs over the past few years, that’s not on.

The bar.

The dining room.

The dinner menu.

I’ve eaten here a couple of times during my stays at the B Resort & Spa–an interestingly plated steak…

…chicken and waffles…

…a large salad.

I have to like any restaurant that serves its iced tea in a jar, and the American Kitchen is certainly convenient–and a step above what you’ll find at the other smaller Disney Springs Resort Area hotels, like the Doubletree, Holiday Inn, and Best Western. But folks, for dinner, if convenience is not an issue, Disney Springs is the way to go. The nearest part of Disney Springs is a half mile walk away, and the furthest a little more than a mile, but buses run there beginning in the late afternoon.

There’s some real charm and grace to the B Resort & Spa’s lobby, especially its decorations and furnishing, and the hotel has all the basic amenities that most would want.

 

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November 4, 2018   No Comments

Photo Tour of A Lanai Building Room at the B Resort & Spa, Disney Springs Resort Area

The B Resort & Spa in the Disney Springs Resort Area has several room types in two buildings–the main tower, and the Lanai building. Most rooms are in the main tower, and I have a photo tour of a B Resort tower room here.

The Lanai building at the B Resort & Spa is a two story wing that encircles the pool at the B Resort. Lanai rooms are available with a king bed, a king and a set of bunk beds, and two queens–as well as suites. There’s about 120 bays in the Lanai building, with fewer keys, as some of these rooms–especially poolside rooms–are multiple-bay suites.

More than half of the Lanai building rooms are separated from the parking lots of the B Resort just by the width of a narrow balcony and a sidewalk. While I don’t think first-timers should focus too much on views–they won’t be in their rooms enough–almost any view at the B Resort is better than these.

The rest of the rooms–about 50 bays, a few less keys–face the pool.  These are subject to pool noise, but do largely have better views, and the 20 or so on the first floor, which the B Resort markets as “Captivating Poolside Rooms,” have nice patios with pool entries. This photo tour is of a Captivating Poolside Room.

You will find an immediate difference from tower rooms as soon as you enter the space.

On one side you’ll find a closet, and a divided bath. Tower rooms have a wardrobe rather than a closet, and their baths are undivided.

Here’s one side of the closet.

Note the safe. My book is 6″ by 9″–so the safe is plenty big.

The far side of the closet.

The other side of this space has the sink…

…with these toiletries…

…and this flower, which I find charming. The sink itself has an annoying flat-bottomed shape–you’ll find similar sinks in Disney’s Contemporary Resort–which means that toothpaste tends to accumulate in it. I am not suggesting that you don’t brush your teeth–just that you’ll need to spend a little elbow grease persuading the toothpaste to go away.

Back in their own space you’ll find a tub-shower combo. Note the grab bar, which as far as I’m concerned should be in all tubs, not just those in accessible rooms. A nice touch.

Also in this space is the toilet.

Further in the room you’ll find two beds on one side.  The B Resort markets these as queens. My measurements–this is the third B Resort room I’ve stayed in and measured–mark the beds as a little smaller than that, but they are clearly larger than full beds.

The beds from the back of the room.

A closer view of one of these beds.

Between these beds is this bedside table, with a storage cubby below.  No drawer–there’s not a single drawer in this room, which I find curious.

The other side of the room has a couple of ottomans, more cubbies with a TV above, a desk and a mini-fridge.

The TV side from the back.

The moveable ottomans give your kids a place to sit beyond the beds and the desk chair.

The storage cubbies, with the TV above. The TV looks small in the image, but I got it as 47 inches, which is an adequate size these days. These cubbies, the one between the beds, and the closet, are the only storage spaces in this room. I suppose there is a market segment that is demanding that there be no drawers in their rooms–I just have yet to meet anyone in it.

The small desk has a glass top–not uncommon, but making optical mouses impossible to use.

Next to the desk is a cabinet with a Keurig coffee service above.

Inside the cabinet you’ll find this mini-fridge.

At the far end of the room you’ll find the door to the highlight of these spaces–the poolside patios.

Some views of my patio. Another is at the top of the page.  All patios have gates to the pool area.

These patios come in several sizes, and a couple have views of walls rather than the pool, but are mostly delightful.

Overall this is a spacious, and other than the absence of drawers, well-appointed room.  At around 355 square feet, the overall size is in the lower end of the Disney deluxe resort range. At around ~250 square feet, the size of the living area is comparable to or bigger than that in all Disney deluxe resorts except for the monorail resorts.

The amenities of this B Resort Lanai poolside room, with its divided bath, make it fine for families, although they will be challenged by the lack of storage (cubbies are not a great solution, and when used for storage add powerfully to visual clutter).

The long-time travel agent partner of this site, Kelly, can book you into the B Resort & Spa or any other Disney World accommodations. Contact her using the form below!


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October 29, 2018   No Comments