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at WDW Deluxe Resorts, Part II
ALL EARS® Senior Editor
This article appeared in the April 27, 2004, Issue #240 of ALL EARS® (ISSN: 1533-0753)
Editor's Note: This story/information was accurate when it was published. Please be sure to confirm all current rates, information and other details before planning your trip.
If you're a regular reader of ALL EARS®, you've probably read our periodic columns on observing the little things at Walt Disney World. I'm sure many of you already do that, but perhaps some of you are thinking, "What are they talking about? What 'little things?' I'm in a hurry to get to (Splash Mountain, Test Track, Rock n' Roller Coaster, fill in major attraction of your choice)."
This is another in ALL EARS'® occasional series designed to give you an insight into some of the little things you might have missed -- some of those "stop-and-smell-the-roses" details (often free!) that help enhance the magic of a Disney trip. Earlier this month we profiled what we like to call the "Overlooked Attractions" in Disney's Deluxe and Home Away from Home Resorts in the Magic Kingdom area. This week, we're looking at the "Overlooked Attractions" for the remaining Deluxe and Home Away from Home resorts in the Epcot, Animal Kingdom, and Downtown Disney area. (The soon-to-open Saratoga Springs Resort and Spa will just have to wait for its own article, though! Look for it in June 2004!)
BOARDWALK INN AND VILLAS
When talking about the Epcot area resorts, I have to start with the BoardWalk. The BoardWalk itself is one of my favorite Disney areas outside the theme parks, and in my opinion is often overlooked as something to do or somewhere to just BE.
Try taking a walk along the BoardWalk in the cool of the morning -- on a sunny day, is there anything prettier than the sun sparkling on the bright blue water of Crescent Lake, with the gulls chattering as they glide by? Sigh. Oh, to be there right now, sipping a cup of coffee and munching on a Cinnamon Yummie from the BoardWalk Bakery!
There are lots of other reasons to not miss the BoardWalk area, including all the shops and restaurants. For a fun night out, there's Jellyrolls with the dueling pianos, or there's the brew pub at Big River Grille, or there's the ESPN Club if sports are your thing. There are midway games for the kids, typical of those found in seaside resorts like Atlantic City -- shoot some baskets to try to win a big stuffed animal. And several nights a week, you'll find "buskers" or street entertainers, performing along the BoardWalk -- maybe a rope wrangler, a fortuneteller, or even a one-man band.
While you're walking the boards, be sure to stop in to Seashore Sweets' and check out all the Miss America memorabilia -- photos, signs, and the actual crown, cape and scepter used by Her Majesty!
If you're feeling energetic, you might want to rent a surrey bike. Don't miss this chance to terrorize innocent pedestrians as you pedal your way around the BoardWalk!
Inside the lobby that the BoardWalk Inn and the Villas share, be sure to notice how architect Robert A.M. Stern created the atmosphere of the 1920s and '30s Atlantic Seaboard with vintage furnishings. In particular, note the odd accent chairs over near the fireplace. If you ask me, their faces are creepier than that of the resort's clown slide, which so many folks find nightmarish.
Did you know that the BoardWalk is home to 14 two-story garden suites with private entrances? This off-the-beaten-path spot, accented with white picket fences, is the perfect place for a secluded respite -- bring a book or a light snack and park yourself on one of the benches to enjoy a quiet moment enjoying the landscaped courtyards and manicured rose gardens.
The entire Boardwalk resort complex has been beautifully landscaped -- stroll the grounds. You'll find even more colorful flowers, quiet surroundings, fountains and benches.
There are other quiet spots located around this resort, though -- in particular, Luna Park (the main pool area) in the morning; the quiet pools; and the balcony located off the lobby.
The Belle Vue Room on the BoardWalk Inn side of the resort is a great place to relax after dinner. It's normally quiet, with overstuffed furniture and antique radios playing old-time radio dramas. There are also tables with checkerboards and backgammon, if you want some mental stimulation while you sip your after-dinner cocktails. And don't underestimate the relaxation of sitting outdoors on the balcony, overlooking the goings-on on the BoardWalk down below.
The BoardWalk's Community Hall offers a wide range of equipment for just about any interest, from ping pong to croquet and more. Community Hall also rents bikes, tubes, pool noodles, videos, and tennis rackets. There are two lighted tennis courts located on the Villa side of the resort, which are free to Boardwalk Inn and Villa guests.
If you are hooked on fishing, be sure to inquire about the guided fishing excursions!
Stand on the bridge that leads to the Boardwalk for a great view of the IllumiNations fireworks (if the wind's blowing in the right direction you can faintly hear the music, too). Walk over to the Boardwalk vending carts and you can see the Magic Kingdom fireworks, too!
It's hard to overlook the Friendships that sail between Epcot and Disney-MGM Studios, since they are the primary mode of transportation connecting the Epcot resorts to these locations. But don't miss the opportunity to treat the Friendships as an attraction on their own. If you're not in any hurry, try riding one for its entire circuit, or take it to one of the other Epcot area resorts and then walk back to the BoardWalk. It makes for a peaceful overview of the area.
YACHT AND BEACH CLUB
including BEACH CLUB VILLAS
The Yacht and Beach Club resorts are so intertwined, it's hard to separate out the things that make each unique.
First of all, they share a common pool and restaurant area, an area which in itself is a great, if not exactly overlooked, attraction.
One of the best things to do in this area (in my opinion, of course!) is to stop in at Beaches and Cream for an ice cream treat. If you're brave, order the Kitchen Sink, mountains of ice cream and all the toppings they have -- just watching someone attempt to eat it all is a delight!
But if you're more moderate in your consumption, try a regular milkshake or sundae and sit by the pool, taking in the beauty of Stormalong Bay, which, with 750,000 gallons of water, is the largest sand-bottom pool in the world.
While you're contemplating this mini-water park, take a look at the life-sized shipwreck named the Albatross. A spiral stairway takes swimmers to its 150-foot mast, which is at just the right angle to make it the perfect slide that plunges down toward a rocky outcropping, and is followed by another 150 feet of spins.
While you're out by the pool area, walk out past the pool bar, Hurricane Hanna's, and you'll find a kiosk selling pick-your-own pearls, fresh out of the oyster. Once you find a pearl that pleases, you can have it set in some beautiful jewelry to make a lasting keepsake.
similar in many respects, the Beach Club lobby differs from that of
the Yacht Club. The Beach Club lobby, with its white wicker furniture,
24-foot-high ceilings, and seashell motif, projects a relaxed and airy
seashore atmosphere, reminiscent of the New England beach cottages of
the late 19th century, while the Yacht Club is perhaps a bit more formal
in feel. Both were designed by the same architect, Robert A.M. Stern,
also responsible for the design of the Boardwalk across the lake.
But the most important difference between the two lobbies is that the Beach Club has Art the Greeter. Surely you've seen Art, the dignified older gentleman dressed in formal nautical attire, welcoming guests as they enter the resort. Art isn't just an overlooked attraction -- he's an institution. If he's on duty when you arrive, be sure to stop and say hello, and if you have time, chat with him a bit, or maybe make a pin trade. He's a Disney mainstay. Good morning, Captain!
It's easy to miss Martha's Vineyard, the 60-seat lounge located around the back of the Beach Club. Closed during the day, it looks like it might be abandoned. But at night, it's a quiet little nook for hanging out after a long day of park-going.
Don't walk by the beautiful sand sculptures adorning the walls of the Beach Club, or those that decorate the Cape May Buffet restaurant. Some of the framed sand art on the walls even sport little Hidden Mickeys! Take the time to look them over carefully!
If you're in the Beach Club Villas area, be sure to stop by two of the quietest locations on property. First, the Drawing Room is a lovely sitting room with watercolors, paper collages, etchings and a Victorian dollhouse. There are also vintage posters and black-and-white photos that recall days gone by. The secluded Solarium, reminiscent of a Victorian-era sun porch, overlooks the main entrance and gardens of the Beach Club Villas.
You can sit on the beach at the Yacht and Beach Club resorts, as well as any of the Epcot area resorts, and see the high pyrotechnics from Epcot's IllumiNations: Reflections of Earth.
If you're enchanted by the Yacht and Beach Club grounds, consider taking a tour with a member of the resort's horticultural team. The tours are usually held Monday, Wednesday and Friday at 8:30 a.m. and noon, but ask at Guest Services to confirm.
As with other deluxe resorts, there are fishing excursions and other watercraft rentals at the Yacht and Beach Clubs -- call at the Bayside Marina to make arrangements. But if you want to be on the water without dipping a line, maybe you'd like a cruise on the Breathless, a 24-foot, solid mahogany replica of a 1930s Chris Craft Runabout. You can take a high-powered trip across the lake during the day, or book the Breathless for a romantic evening cruise that includes viewing IllumiNations from a unique vantage point -- under the International Gateway Bridge.
OLD KEY WEST
Disney World's first Vacation Club resort has a reputation for a laid-back atmosphere in a Florida Keys setting. Unfortunately, it's a resort that I've only stayed in once. ALL EARS® photographer Dotti Saroufim, though, counts this resort as one of her favorites, and she has shared with me some of her candidates as its "overlooked attractions."
Old Key West has always shuttled its guests to Downtown Disney via a gentle pontoon boat ride. With the opening of the Saratoga Springs Resort and Spa, however, guests from the new resort will be added to the mix, possibly necessitating a larger watercraft. Still and all, it should be a peaceful ride to and from Downtown Disney.
love to be on the water, Old Key West, like the other deluxe resorts,
offers lots of opportunities. There are pontoon boat and other watercraft
rentals at the resort's marina. In addition, catch and release fishing
excursions starting from Village Lake (near Downtown Disney) are available
through Cap'n Jack's Marina on the Marketplace
Those with a green thumb might want to inquire about the free landscaping tour of the resort's grounds, offered on Wednesdays at 9 a.m.
There are a number of activities available for both children and adults at Community Hall, including pool games, face painting, arts and crafts, "Goofy Bingo" and more -- don't forget to ask when you check in.
If you're looking for a place to get away from everyone else for a while, you might want to hang out in Papa's Den in the Hospitality House. It's open 24 hours, and houses a collection of works by authors who once lived in Key West. (Note: you can't take the books out of Papa's Den.)
The walkways at the Old Key West are beautifully lit in the evening. If you have any energy left after a long day in the parks, take a stroll through the grounds. It's a peaceful way to end the day.
ANIMAL KINGDOM LODGE
Finally, there's the Animal Kingdom Lodge. This place is chock full of little touches that you might take for granted and walk by -- we could almost dedicate a whole article to this resort alone.
Start with the impressive lobby. Just take your time examining the hand-carved furnishings, African art and the giant fireplace. (Remind you of the Wilderness Lodge? You bet. Same architect!) Among the artworks you'll observe are: a Guro mask from the Ivory Coast, that is part animal with horns yet has the face of a human; an elephant mask with a chicken-feathered cape that illustrates the power of animals and the power of man; the 16-foot tall, 8-foot wide Igbo Ijele (pronounced e-bo e-gelay) mask, created by the Igbo people of Nigeria specifically for export to represent all aspects of the Igbo life -- no other Ijele is known to exist outside of Igbo land.
art inspires you, make the time to browse the traditional textiles and
basketry, along with books on African
arts and crafts, on sale in the Zawadi Marketplace.
When you're at the Animal Kingdom Lodge, it's impossible to overlook the main attraction -- the animals roaming freely on the 33 acres of savanna. But you might pass up a few of the viewing spots beyond the obvious ones. The Sunset Overlook is a fabulous place to watch for animals, but you could also walk down some of the other hallways, where you'll find large windows looking out onto animal areas. On the ground level, there's an additional pathway leading to more viewing just beyond the Arusha Rock -- there's often a Cast Member on hand to help you spot and identify the animals.
If you stop in the Sunset Overlook room, be sure to study the artifacts in the cases and shadowboxes on the wall. This is a quiet spot for reflecting, and it's also the spot where rainy day children's activities are held -- don't miss it!
the Animal Kingdom Lodge is such an unusual resort, it seems to have
more than its share of special programs for guests, adult and children
alike. In the past, they have held flamingo feedings, animal tracking
horticulture programs, art and culinary tours, a "cultural safari," and have even had special nighttime animal viewings with night vision equipment. Be sure to ask at Guest Services about special activities and programs that may be offered during your stay.
And don't miss what's easily the most overlooked attraction at the Lodge -- the staff. Many of the Cast Members here are natives of Africa, or have lived there, and they are storehouses of knowledge about the differences in cultures, as well as the animals. There are many formal opportunities for hearing from the staff, such as the nightly storytelling at the Arusha Rock Firepit, but don't hesitate to strike up a casual conversation to find out more about the Lodge itself, and perhaps another part of the world.
These "little things" are just to get you started. There are so many other details that offer chances for funny photos or magical memories -- all you have to do is take the time to look for them! And if you don't see them, ask a resort Cast Member -- chances are good that they'll know a little something special about the place in which they work.
Do you have a favorite "overlooked attraction" in one of the resorts that I've left out? Drop me a line at firstname.lastname@example.org to share your story!
Attractions in the Animal Kingdom: http://allears.net/tp/ak/issue183.htm
Overlooked Attractions in the Magic Kingdom: http://allears.net/tp/mk/issue140.htm
Overlooked Attractions in Epcot: http://allears.net/tp/ep/issue099.htm
Overlooked Attractions in Disney-MGM Studios: http://allears.net/tp/mgm/issue085.htm
Overlooked Attractions in at Disney's Value and Moderate Resorts: http://allears.net/ae/issue205.htm
More Overlooked Attractions: http://allears.net/tp/ola.htm
EARS® Articles by Senior Editor Debra Martin Koma: http://allears.net/btp/dkoma.htm