Two Weeks at Disney Springs

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Day view from our hotel's outdoor elevatorWhile my husband is winding down projects at his Orlando office, we’re staying at a Disney Springs hotel.

After that, we’ll be on our way to New England, that’s where my husband’s new office is. Yaayyy!

The blue balloon in the photo at right… that’s an attraction at WDW’s Disney Springs. It regularly goes up in the air – using cables – for a great view of the area, including theme parks. We can walk to it in about 20 minutes, maybe less.

Weirdly, our very upscale Disney Springs hotel was one of the least expensive options, among some shady looking deals in Kissimmee (nearby) and other parts of Orlando.

So, even after close to 30% in additional fees (not disclosed by Priceline)* which – fortunately – we could cover, this was still a good deal… among Orlando hotels.

Most of the views from our 15th-floor tower room… are spectacular.

We also have access to a private, outdoor elevator reserved for tower rooms. (The daytime view, above, is from inside that elevator.)

At night, the scenery can be amazing. One wall of our room is a floor-to-ceiling window (formerly a sliding door opening to a mini-balcony, but now locked closed).

At night, looking straight out the window, we can see all the way to FunTown and ICON. (In the photo, those are the red/pink lights at the middle of the horizon.)

Night view from our hotel room
Night view from our hotel room.

 

East of us, we clearly see I-4 commuters on their way to downtown. (The latter is off the right side of that photo.)

The hotel’s private pool on the ground floor is magnificent and clean. It’s also very popular, and has a large in-ground hot tub nearby.

So, this is “home” for another week.

All in all, it’s been fun. Far more expensive than we would have liked… but good enough. We’ve started joking, “It’s not an A resort, it’s a B resort.”

Visiting Disney World soon? Expect crowds. Big crowds.

Since we still have WDW Annual Passes, we’ve visited Disney World several times. After all, our hotel is on Disney property, and a leisurely 10-minute walk from Disney Springs.

But now – in February 2022 – the crowds at the Magic Kingdom have been kind of overwhelming. Clearly, Disney is eager to attract as many guests as possible, to make up for financial losses during their Covid-related shutdown.

I’m not sure packing the parks with guests will serve Disney well in the long run. The experience isn’t nearly as much fun as when the crowds are kept within reasonable limits.

For us… try to navigate the dense crowds makes Disney uncomfortable.

However, there are ways to avoid some of the worst crowds.

For example, one recent night, we chose to walk from the Magic Kingdom to the Grand Floridian Hotel, then to the Polynesian Resort, and then to the Ticket & Transportation Center. That took at least 45 minutes, but was more comfortable than standing shoulder-to-shoulder, waiting for the monorail or ferry back to the TTC.

How to estimate Disney crowd sizes before you go.

Since that visit, we’re relying on the Touring Plans app to gauge the current and anticipated crowds. If you’re going to Disney theme parks, we recommend checking an app like that before making travel arrangements. (If the crowds are estimated at 5/10 or higher… think twice. Even 5/10 can be daunting.)

That’s why we were at Epcot last night, when the crowds were super-light. (The breeze was brisk and chilly, and a lot of people were elsewhere watching the Super Bowl on TV.)

We walked right onto Epcot’s Soarin’ attraction, which usually has a 35-minute wait line. Even better, we had an entire row of seating to ourselves, and – thanks to sitting in the middle of that row – that big-screen attraction’s scenery had minimal distortions.

After a romantic fish-and-chips dinner at the UK pavilion in the World Showcase, we walked the entire loop (1.2 miles), pausing at different countries’ pavilions. It was a lovely way to spend the night before Valentine’s Day.

Choosing a hotel? Stay at an actual Disney hotel.

Though this hotel was a good value during a busy week (it’s “cheerleader season” at WDW right now), it’s far more expensive than staying at any of the budget hotels owned by Disney.

If you’re looking for a low price, any of Disney’s “All-Star ____” hotels are fine. All are clean, spacious, and offer steady, free transportation to all four Disney parks.

Also, I’m not sure any of the hotels on Hotel Plaza (where our hotel is) are very quiet. I-4 (a very busy highway) is right next to us. We’re glad our room doesn’t face that highway; even on another side of the building, I’m using earplugs at night.

There are no required vehicle inspections in Florida, so some people drive without an engine muffler. The noise can be impressive.

Also, most Hotel Plaza hotels charge – in addition to the quoted room price – local and state taxes, and some sort of mandatory “hotel fee” of $15 – $65/day, plus around $24/day to park your car in their parking lot.

The “hotel fee” supposedly includes housekeeping services and access to the nearby hotels’ shuttle bus service to Disney. So, if you’re going to stay at one of those hotels, expect to pay $100/night more than listed online hotel prices. (For more info, see the “extra fee” categories at the Touring Plans website.)

Well, we’ve never been charged for housekeeping at other hotels, and – at our current hotel – “housekeeping” means guests can put trash in the hallway to be collected, and pile used towels in the hall to be picked up. (After a few days, we had to ask the front desk for clean towels.)

We haven’t used the shuttle bus to Disney, but have been advised that it’s better to drive yourself. The Disney Tourist Blog was one among many that advised, “I would only use this in a pinch–presumably you will have a rental car if you’re staying here. Use it.”

So, for a true Disney experience, my advice is: Stay on the Disney property. It’s well insulated from the noise and busyness of the outside world. And you can find far lower prices than most reliable hotels near Disney. Reserve your room early for the best price; all Disney hotels fill quickly during vacation weeks and the summer.

(Avoid any Orlando hotel with a per-night room fee of $50 or lower. Many serve as alternative, affordable housing to families and groups of “hospitality workers,” meaning: waiters, housekeeping staff, etc., from local hotels and restaurants. Btw, Disney Cast Members have their own housing.)

What’s next for us.

We’ll miss many things about Orlando, especially local family get-togethers, and – of course – Disney World.

But while the theme parks and hotels are getting back on solid financial footing, we’re happy to head back to New England. We love that area’s beaches, mountains, and other wide-open (and free) attractions.

We’re glad we’ve had this opportunity to stay in a Disney Springs hotel, while putting the finishing touches on our move north. It’s helped us understand vacation visitors’ Disney experience, both the good and the bad.

Will we return to Florida in the future…? Maybe, but probably not.

We know we’ve been extraordinarily fortunate to have years living next-door to Disney World. During that time, we visited WDW – mostly Epcot – an average of twice a week. (Florida residents can buy deeply discounted Annual Passes that include free parking.)

Now we’re looking forward to other adventures, among happy, chatty people and in a four-season climate.

And after all, there’s always Disneyland Paris.  Their 30th anniversary starts in March 2022, and – by plane – travel time to Paris looks pretty good.

Meanwhile, if you’re planning a Disney World vacation, I can only recommend staying at a Disney-owned hotel.

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