You Don't Have to Be Old to Love Old Key West

by Pete Saroufim
ALL EARS® Feature Writer

Feature Article

This article appeared in the May 27, 2003, Issue #192 of ALL EARS® (ISSN: 1533-0753)

One day we're taking the Disney Vacation Club tour with make-your-own-sundaes and the complimentary photonext thing you know, it's eight years later and we're planning yet another trip as DVC members to our favorite Walt Disney World resort.

Many people don't expect that a family with three teenage boys would enjoy, above all else, to stay at the Old Key West Resort, but the fact of the matter is that this is one of the most underrated -- maybe THE most underrated -- Disney resorts for teenagers.

Maybe I like it because I found it before the BoardWalk was around. Maybe, though, it's the basketball courts, the bikes, the boats, the four pools, the enormous rooms or that mix of peace and solitude so close to all the excitement nearby.

My mother helps maintain the Old Key West Fact Sheet for AllEarsNet® and she has often told me that people ask if their kids will have a good time, or if there is enough for them to do at this resort. It's always the same answer: yes! Now, I know people are going to email me with comments about the other Disney Vacation Club resorts, shouting about the Boardwalk's ESPN Club or the Beach Club's enormous pool, and I completely agree that kids of all ages will love those as well. However, in this teenager's opinion, Old Key West offers a better variety to fit everyone's needs (including the parents'!).

The first thing that comes to many kids' minds when they think about vacation is the aquatic experiences that lie ahead. Have no fear -- the Old Key West Resort won't disappoint. This resort offers a nicely sized and quite popular main pool, a hot tub and a sauna right off Turtle Crawl, the resort's center of activity. If you're looking for a peaceful, relaxing time in the water, or even an entire pool for just you and your friends to play Marco Polo in, the Old Key West comes through with three quiet pools rarely holding more than a dozen people at once. Each of the quiet pools has nearby bathroom facilities and a laundry room, and the Turtle Shack pool also has a snack bar and a small arcade. (Note to parents: the Old Key West Resort does not have lifeguards at any of their pools.)

Just a few strides away from the main pool is Community Hall, the hub of all your at-home fun. Computers, board games, ping-pong, oh my! There's something to do for everyone in Community Hall. For me, nothing beats an intense game of my paddle vs. your paddle Ping-Pong after a long swim in the pool, but for the younger kids whose arms may not yet be at a length to play a good competitive game, inside Community Hall are games, crafts, and a super-sized TV screen, always showing something age-appropriate for the younger kids. Or, if you're picky, rent your own movie! This is a great part about all Disney Vacation Club Resorts -- the ability to rent VHS tapes or DVDs (free of charge to members, of course). VCRs or DVD players are available in all units other than the studios. And while dad is controlling the Ping-Pong table and little Timmy is off finding a copy of "3 Ninjas" (or was that just me?), the rest of us can head into the small, yet rarely occupied arcade room. It's no DisneyQuest, but it'll satisfy your desire to empty your pockets of that leftover change that you're only going to lose anyway.

Community Hall is also the place to be for "Hank's Happenin's," the weekly line-up of activities for both young and old. Past offerings have included checkers tournaments, open crafts, Tiny-Tot Tea Parties, "Squish Art" and face painting. Some events have a fee, but many are free of charge. Outside of Community Hall, you can also find "Fishin' Hole Excursions," volleyball games, pool games, contests and prizes, and a weekly landscaping tour.

OK, you Michael Jordan wannabes, let your little brother or sister get lost in the giant sand pail in the playground near the pool, and try out your crossover at the Old Key West basketball court, one of only two resorts to offer one. Basketball not your sport? There are other options. Some days I try my luck at the tennis courts, wishing I was Pete Sampras (but losing more like McEnroe). And if you're not much of an athlete, or if you just want to try something new, there's always shuffleboardit may not get your adrenaline going, but it's a nice diversion.

As you pass by "Goods Food To Go" and the peaceful Olivia's Restaurant, both just baby steps from Community Hall, you'll lay your eyes on the best portion of Old Key West's offering to the young: boat rentals. Here you'll find your paddleboats, hydro bikes and water mice, and there's nothing like manning your own vehicle before ever hearing the words "Driver's Education." Kids only need to be 12 years old to drive. Of course, if you're like me and want the ability to land two feet firmly on the ground at any point in your journey (excluding the plane flight), there are bicycle rentals nearby, with sizes available for all ages. There are even surrey bikes available for those "kids" 18 and older. Fees vary for each of these rentals, ranging from $6.13 for a half-hour excursion on a paddleboat to $34.90 for a half hour luxuriating on the Sun Tracker pontoon boat.

Again, if you're like me, then you want a hotel room where you can sit on your balcony, put your feet up, and enjoy the scenery while drinking strawberry milk in the early hours of the day (noon). Old Key West offers some of the best balconies around Disney, large enough so that you can actually sit and socialize, and peaceful enough that you can enjoy your view of the river or the large golf course. The young ones will find excitement discovering the many ducks, rabbits and birds that find a home below your balcony railing.

As you're enjoying the little things in life, you look around and you realize something. All the other Disney resorts try to make you feel like you're somewhere else. Maybe it's on a luxury yacht or camping out or on an African safari. Old Key West is the only Disney resort that actually makes you feel like you're in Florida. You really start to loosen up and feel like you're in your home away from home. You're not in one big hotel-like building at the Old Key West -- you really don't even know you're in a hotel. With many buildings scattered across the grounds you feel more like you're in a community, a small, peaceful town where you can relax before heading into the city for roller coasters and 13-floor drops. One of my favorite vacation memories is walking down the road toward Olivia's one morning for breakfast. Five or six carts were pulling into the property, each one loaded with a number of housekeeping staff. There wasn't one person on those carts who didn't give me a big wave or a pleasant, "Good morning!" This is one of those things that makes the Old Key West seem like home. Well, if you overlook the fact that we don't have a housekeeping staff.

Many people complain that Old Key West is not within walking distance of any of the theme parks, and that it's quite isolated from the heart of Walt Disney World. Well, two things should comfort these people. First of all, there is a direct bus, designated only for the Old Key West Resort, to all of the Disney theme parks. Second, and best of all, Old Key West is within walking and boat distance to the Disney Village Marketplace and Pleasure Island. The kids can shop, the teenagers can go to the movies, and children and adults alike can enjoy the beautiful pontoon boat ride over.

Yes, the Boardwalk Resort has jugglers and pizza and the Beach Club Resort is a short walk from Epcot, but the Old Key West Resort offers that little bit of something extra. It may not be as "exciting" as some of the other Disney Vacation Club resorts. It may not have a killer slide, or the Whispering Canyon Cafin the lobby. But the Old Key West is my choice of hotel. It's not simply because I love the boats or the basketball, which I most definitely do, but because it really is a home away from home. It grows on you, and soon you'll feel like you can't stay anywhere else, no matter how old you are. See you by the pool. Marco...!

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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.