Monday, October 8, 2012

The First Taste, Part Three: The Great Hotel Switch-Off

Did I mention that, at this time in her life, my then three-year-old daughter had a charming insomnia habit that emerged on the first night of every vacation?  And that, since my children absolutely can NOT share a bed, it was always my good fortune to be her sleeping partner?  Oh, and that she had this pink rattle-head rabbit "lovey" that she would re-purpose as a mace, battering the head of whomever lay next to her.  So, that first night (after an early morning, an arduous day of travel, and a memorable late-night family swim) I finally collapsed into bed, closed my eyes, and slowly drifted off into...the lobby of the Wilderness Lodge where Sadie and I spent most of the night reading, soothed only by the low hum of the night staff vacuuming around us.

Needless to say, I was bleary-eyed the following morning, but the anticipation of our first day in the parks fueled me with much-needed adrenaline for the day ahead.  This brings me to the "worst idea ever" that I alluded to in my previous post.  When I first began planning our vacation, I originally booked four nights at The Contemporary Hotel; due to our flight schedule, this left us with only three days at the parks.  As our vacation crept closer, a nagging sense of inadequacy grew more intense inside of me.  All of the research I'd been doing cumulatively insisted that, for first-time visitors to Disney World, three days in the parks is simply not enough (an edict with which, incidentally, I now completely agree) .  About one month before our trip, I could no longer ignore it: we needed another night.  Unfortunately, there was no availability at The Contemporary, so I decided to book a room at The Wilderness Lodge for the first night, giving us another full day at the parks.  Sounds brilliant in theory, right?  In practice, however, I had created the most chaotic 36-hour beginning to any vacation...ever.  Thus, we arrived at the Wilderness Lodge (a beautiful, welcoming resort) at 5:00pm on the first night, unable to truly settle in due to the impending hotel switch-off looming over us.  Then, to get to Hollywood Studios for "rope drop" (more on that later) the following morning, we had to check out of the Wilderness Lodge, pack up our car **, drive to The Contemporary and check in, grab some breakfast, get back in the car, and drive to Hollywood Studios--all by 8:30am.

Tip Time: When you book your first vacation at Disney World, you might read about the option of a "split-stay"; this allows you to lodge at two resorts during the course of your vacation.  Disney World has so many beautifully-themed accommodation options (18 hotels, 8 villas, and one campground, to be exact) that a "split-stay" is an attractive choice for guests who would like to experience more than one of them during their trip.  I strongly believe that this option is best suited for return guests (who already "know the ropes") and guests without very small children.  It takes many kids a few days to completely settle in to a new environment; if you switch hotels, the adjustment period will start all over again.  

When we arrived at The Contemporary to check in, however, we immediately felt at ease.  Disney is famous for its attention to detail and exemplary customer service; truly, no other vacation destination compares in these respects.  Cast Members ("Disney Speak" for employees) greeted us with a smile and a "Welcome Home"; it felt as if they were waiting just for us.  The Contemporary Resort (like all Disney resorts) is impeccably themed and remarkably clean.  The lobby (like all Disney lobbies) even features a kids' corner where children can watch old Disney cartoons while their parents check in.  In addition to these standards that you will find at any Disney hotel, each resort possesses unique features.  For example, The Contemporary Resort is the only hotel that is within walking distance to The Magic Kingdom; for a fee, guests can even request a room with a view of Cinderella Castle!  By far, the most impressive feature of The Contemporary Resort, however, is that the Disney monorail (one of the modes of Disney transportation) runs right through the building!

Since it was so early in the morning, our room was not ready.  However, we were able to easily obtain our park tickets, and Bell Services was happy to keep our baggage; they even sent us a text message later in the day when our room was ready!  Before hopping back in our car to head to Hollywood Studios, we decided to grab some breakfast in the Contempo Cafe, The Contemporary's quick-service restaurant.  As we munched on breakfast burritos and french toast sticks, we stared in awe at the monorail trains that sped overhead, and we let the magic completely settle in around us.  Perhaps the most defining moment of our vacation, however, came just seconds later.  On our way back to the parking lot, we noticed an outdoor observation deck and decided spontaneously to check it out.  As we stepped outside, I gasped audibly.  There in the distance, in all its glory, stood The Magic Kingdom's Cinderella Castle.  "Mommy," came a hushed voice from behind me.  "That's where Cinderella lives."  I turned and looked at the expressions on my kids' faces; even though they did not fully comprehend what they were seeing, they could not take their eyes off of it.  As I sipped from my much-needed cup of coffee, I couldn't help but think how much it tasted like Kool-Aid.  

The View from the Deck

Next Up: We Hit The Parks!

** Disney World provides free transportation (by bus, monorail, and/or watercraft) between its hotels, its theme parks, its water parks, and the Downtown Disney area.  Regardless, we chose to rent a car on this vacation.  There are definitely pros and cons to renting a car at Disney World, and I will cover these in more detail in a later post.

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