Monday, October 15, 2012

A Room with a View

While we were dancing on the sidelines of the afternoon parade at Hollywood Studios, I received a text message that our room at the Contemporary Resort was ready.  It was only 3:30pm, but we had stayed ahead of the crowds with my touring plan, already experiencing every attraction on our wish list and then some (more about attraction "wish lists" later).  One look at my sweat-drenched kids, and I knew it was time that we hopped in our car and headed back to the hotel.

As I mentioned in a previous post, we decided to rent a car on this trip.  I knew that renting a car was not a necessity since Disney provides free transportation both between Orlando International Airport and its resort hotels (via its Magical Express shuttle) and between its resort hotels, theme parks, water parks and Downtown Disney area.  Regardless, I was drawn to the convenience of having a car at our disposal.  I quickly learned, however, that there are pros and cons to renting a car in Disney World.

First, the pros. We were able to get from the airport to our hotel faster in our own car.  In most cases, having a car also saved us some commuting time from our hotel to the parks.**.   Finally, I will be the first to admit that my personality sometimes makes it difficult for me to relinquish control, so I thought I would be less stressed with my own car, as it allowed us to come and go as we pleased.

Now, the cons.  First, renting a car is not cheap; it will definitely add to the cost of any trip.  Next, we often found it stressful to navigate Disney World's sometimes-confusing roads.  We got lost no less than three times; one time, we almost missed a character breakfast reservation.   Finally, when we did use Disney transportation on a few occasions, we did not have to leave the magical "Disney cocoon"; nothing puts a damper on Disney magic like having to trek across a steaming hot parking lot and crawl into a steaming hot car at the end of a steaming hot day touring steaming hot parks.

So, to rent or not to rent?  The answer depends on many factors.  If you are staying offsite, you should seriously consider renting a car.  Even if your offsite hotel provides shuttles to the Disney parks, it is usually not as frequent or efficient as Disney transportation.  If you are planning to take a side trip (to Universal Studios, Sea World, the ocean, etc.), renting a car would probably be in your best interest.  However, if you are staying at a Disney resort and you are planning to vacation solely within Disney World, I would caution against renting a car.  Initially, I thought it would be comforting to stay in control of our transportation, but I found it infinitely more enjoyable on the occasions when someone else was in control (you are on vacation, after all).  Furthermore, the small amount of commuting time that we saved by driving ourselves to the parks was negated by the time it took to find a parking spot, hop on a parking lot tram (or walk across the lot), and trek to the front gates of the park.

So, there we were, dragging ourselves across the baking parking lot to our inferno of a car, after a long night of being abused by that blasted pink bunny lovey and a tiring (albeit truly magical) day of touring at Hollywood Studios.  When we finally arrived at the Contemporary Hotel, we were completely wiped out and a little cranky from the hot car ride.  OK, a lot cranky.

Our magical view
All of that melted away, however, when we opened the door to our hotel room.   The first thing we noticed was how impeccably clean and tidy the room was, and it didn't take long for Jack and Sadie to notice the special little details left by housekeeping: "towel animals" on the beds, a welcome note on the nightstand, candy on the pillows, just to name a few.
A special touch from Mousekeeping

Tip Time: Disney housekeeping (dubbed "Mousekeeping") is well-known for its dedication to cleanliness, attention to detail, and propensity for leaving that "little extra touch".  In return for such exceptional service, we like to share a "little extra touch" as well.  Before we leave for a Disney trip, we visit The Mouse for Less and download fun templates for gratuity envelopes.

Nothing could have prepared us, however, for the magic that befell us when we stepped onto our balcony.  Because we were traveling in the off-season, we had gotten an incredible deal on our room (more on how to get the best Disney discounts in a later post).  At that point, I was still under the delusion that this would be our only trip to Disney World while the kids were still young (haha), so I decided to use the money we'd saved to upgrade to a "castle view room".  Even though I knew that we would be able to see the castle from our room, my breath still caught in my chest when I pulled back the curtains for the first time.

We spent the next half hour on our balcony, the kids sprawled out lazily on our laps, just staring at the castle.  At this point, we were so exhausted that we barely had the energy to stand, so we decided to spend the evening exploring our surroundings instead of returning to the parks.
Tip Time: Disney parks are the hottest and most crowded in the afternoon, even during the off-season.  I strongly suggest that you arrive at rope drop, take an afternoon break (we usually leave the parks from around 1:00pm to around 5:00pm), and return refreshed in the evening.  If you want to stay past 1:00pm in a park to see an afternoon parade (like we did on this day at Hollywood Studios), finish your park touring by 4:00pm and then leave for the day.  Instead of returning to the parks that evening, spend time relaxing at your resort and swimming in the pool.  This is the best way to keep your vacation feeling like a vacation instead of an over-scheduled frenzy. 

After a monorail ride, an early quick-service dinner at the Polynesian Resort (another hotel on the monorail), and some more time relaxing on our balcony, the kids were completely spent.  We had an early morning planned at the Magic Kingdom the next day (complete with a pre-park opening breakfast at Cinderella Castle), so we tucked them into bed before it was even completely dark.

As my husband and I sank back into our balcony chairs, enjoying a glass of wine and rehashing our favorite parts of the day, I found myself holding back tears.  This may be hard to believe, but I am generally not a very nostalgic person.  However, watching the castle change colors in the night and turning to glance at my sleeping children, I was suddenly acutely aware of how special these moments together were.  I knew that our children were never going to be this innocent again.  If we ever returned to Disney World (yes, I was still delusional), I knew that they would be wiser and more skeptical.  Mickey would just be a person in a costume and the pixie dust would have lost some of its power.  This trip symbolized the innocence of their entire childhoods, and I was loving every minute of it.   

The castle at night
Next Up: A Magical Morning at the Magic Kingdom!!

**Magic Kingdom is the exception to this rule.  If you drive to Magic Kingdom, you will have to park at the Ticket and Transportation Center, take a tram to the front of the parking lot, and board a monorail to the Magic Kingdom.  If you are staying at a Disney resort, you can ride a bus to the Magic Kingdom gates, completely bypassing the Ticket and Transportation Center, saving at least 20-30 minutes.

The Magic Minus the Mayhem

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