Friday, December 8, 2006

Final thoughts

It was cold today - mid-40s. We wore our warm jackets over to Olivia's for breakfast. This was travel day, so I had plenty of time to write my final thoughts about our trip while waiting for the Magical Express bus to pick us up and take us to the airport for our flight home.

Old Key West
This is a lovely resort and I can see why many people prefer it over some of the newer DVC resorts. It is quiet and large enough so that you aren't aware of how many people are here. The setting and architecture are casual and comfortable. Our studio was nice, but the kitchenette was tiny compared to the ones at the Beach Club and Boardwalk, and I prefer having a couch rather than two beds. Old Key West is a very appealing place, however we both agree that we prefer the Beach Club and the Boardwalk for their proximity to both Epcot and MGM. Since we tend to visit Epcot almost every day, it's really nice to be able to just walk over there whenever we want and not have to drive and park, or walk all the way out to buses or the monorail at the front of the park with a mob of people after IllumiNations. There is also easy access from the Epcot resorts to the monorail to get to the Magic Kingdom - and it's such a nice ride - and Friendship boats for leisurely rides between the resorts, Epcot and MGM. For us, that location is ideal and you don't need a car at all.

10-day stay
This was our longest stay at Walt Disney World and it was really nice to have more time here. Although there are still some things we didn't do, we had time to do all that we really wanted and to repeat our favorites. There was no pressure to rush and cram everything in. We did slow down somewhat on this trip, but not as much as I had thought we would. It seemed that as we got closer to the end of our stay we pushed ourselves to do more in the final days. I won't say we're not tired, but we are leaving less so than on other trips.

Renting vs. owning DVC points
We think that for us, renting points from a DVC member is the best deal. We get to stay in a luxury resort for half the price (or less) than we would pay if we rented the same accommodations from Disney. Although the idea of DVC membership is appealing to me, the initial investment and annual membership fee would take us many trips to recoup. Since we don't normally visit more than once a year and we don't have other family members who are interested in vacationing at Walt Disney World now or in the future, there is little to justify this kind of investment. As long as we are able to rent from a DVC member, we feel we are getting a real bargain on quality vacation accommodations.

I had read that many people find Crocs extremely comfortable for extensive walking, and they are right. I alternated wearing Crocs and sneakers, and I was surprised to find the Crocs more comfortable. My feet weren't at all tired at the end of the day as they usually are. I did prefer wearing the Crocs with socks though. I have a very high instep and there is one spot on the top of my right foot where the Croc rubbed a little, but I put a band-aid on and it was fine. Other than that, these are the most comfortable shoes I have ever worn. They are very cushioned and my feet didn't sweat or stick at all when I wore them without socks. I saw many people, both men and women, and also children, wearing them in all the colors of the rainbow. Highly recommended!

Renting a car
I really liked having a car. We could come and go anywhere on a whim and never had to wait in line or stand on a crowded bus. Since Old Key West is rather remote, I think we saved a lot of time by having a car. It is very easy to navigate around Walt Disney World. There is abundant signage. We stopped using a map and just followed the signs and never had any problems finding anything. It was also nice to be able to get to the grocery store and Wal-Mart to stock up when we first arrived. The best idea I had was to pick up the rental car at the Doubletree on Hotel Plaza Boulevard instead of at the airport. We saved money and eliminated the stress of driving in and out of the airport, and were able to take advantage of the Disney Magical Express' free airport transportation and luggage service.

Disney's Magical Express
This is one of the best deals at Walt Disney World. Once you check your luggage upon departure from your home airport you don't see it again until you get to your hotel room - and you have no worries about driving from the airport to your hotel, and no expense of having a car or shuttle take you there either. This is why we chose to pick up our rental car at the Doubletree instead of the airport and we would do it this way again if we thought we wanted to have a car.

Visiting during the holidays
Disney sure does up Christmas in a big way. I'm not sure people who don't celebrate Christmas would be comfortable here at this time of year. Christmas is everywhere. Everything is decorated - beautifully. Christmas music is playing constantly everywhere you go. All the entertainment is centered around this holiday. There are nods to other traditions, but they are cursory. Christmas is definitely the thing here. The lights, the music, the shows - after a while I have to admit it was almost too much Christmas, even for me. I'm glad we came to see it and we did enjoy it, but I'm not sure I would want to be here again during the holiday season. I'm kind of Christmas-ed out at this point

Crowds were definitely lighter than we have experienced on previous trips during February and April school vacation weeks, but not as light as I had hoped they would be. We were told that a couple of years ago attendance was much lighter at this time of year. More people are taking advantage of the lighter crowds, especially since the advent of the dining plan. We saw an awful lot of kids who were obviously taken out of school to be here now.

Opting not to do the Disney Dining Plan
For $38.99/adult, you get 1 meal in a sit-down restaurant, 1 counter-service meal, and 1 snack per day. Table service restaurants require reservations made months in advance to ensure you get in. We didn't think we would eat this much food and we were right. We didn't even eat 1 meal every day at a table service restaurant, and we didn't want to commit to being in the vicinity of any particular restaurant at any given time. We like to go with the flow and eat how we want when we're ready to eat. I can see that on the dining plan, there is the potential for your entire vacation to revolve around eating. I also understand why people say they eat too much - I think we would feel pressured to get our money's worth by eating everything allowed on the plan. We rarely have an appetizer, entree AND a dessert when we eat in a restaurant, but all that is included in the plan. A quick glance at our bill this morning confirmed our instincts - we spent less than $38 apiece/day on food this trip. I wonder how long Disney will keep this plan going. It is making it impossible to get a same day reservation, and forget about just walking up to a restaurant and getting in.

WDW for adults
It's so much more fun to be here without kids, I'm not sure why anyone brings them! Seriously, we had lots of fun when we brought our son along when he was between 9 and 13 years old, but since we've been visiting as a couple, we can see how stressful it is for parents with very little kids - especially if they have more than one. We never had to navigate with a stroller or keep more than one child happy. I really don't know how they do it and manage to have any fun. We saw lots of middle-aged to elderly couples here and they all looked like they were having as much fun as we were.

Top 10 highlights (in no particular order)
1. Candlelight Processional
2. Yuletide Fantasy Tour
3. IllumiNations: Reflections of Earth, with Let Their Be Peace on Earth added for the holidays
4. Christmas Wishes fireworks at the Magic Kingdom
5. Our perfect Disney Day at the Magic Kingdom
6. Dinner at Teppanyaki in Japan
7. Evenings at Epcot strolling around the World Showcase
8. Storytellers in the World Showcase
9. Seeing Casino Royale at the AMC Theater
10. Being at Walt Disney World at Christmas

Next trip
Of course there'll be a next trip! We're thinking of coming in January 2008 and staying at either the Boardwalk or the Beach Club. Once we're home for a while we'll make a definite decision. Since crowds are reportedly quite light in January, we'd like to try coming then and see how it compares to December, February and April. Although we enjoyed being here for all the Christmas festivities, it's not something we feel we need to do again, at least for a few years. Leaving is bitter-sweet. No matter how long we stay, I could always stay longer, but it's nice to know we'll be back and that there will always be something new to see and do here.

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