June 16, 2020

Disney Adventures - Fun-Filled Explorations In and Out of this (Disney) World

It was excruciatingly painful for several reasons, but I believe my blog and I survived the transition to the new Blogger format.  If you have any trouble viewing the post or notice any other type of problem, please do let me know.  Thanks much!

This post represents another installment in The Big Switcheroo series – tales from last spring’s epic journey from the northeast to the Florida Keys and back – involving family, friends and an extraordinary range of adventures.  It also represents the third post recounting our one week visit to Disney World with our daughter (Kyra), our son (Ryan), and our son’s girlfriend (Anya.)

I’m a cheap date.  Actually, Alan is, too.  Although we certainly do spend money on activities that are important to us, we don’t have to spend much (or even any) money to have a good time.  Picking up coffee and bagels on our way to the park on the river costs about five bucks for the two of us, and the time we spend observing the seagulls and eagles, the commercial and pleasure boat traffic or even just the waves quietly lapping on the shore is time well spent and much enjoyed.  Taking to a bike trail for an hour or two, cruising along and simply watching the scenery float by is an inexpensive way to pass a lovely afternoon.  Or, we just head out to do some “poking around.”  I consider poking around to be our guilty pleasure.  It accomplishes nothing other than allowing us to satisfy our curiosity, take in some gorgeous or otherwise memorable sights and scenery, enjoy each other’s company and pass some time in the most relaxing of ways.

During our week-long stay at Disney World’s Fort Wilderness Campground, Alan and I decided to poke around several of the Disney hotels – more out of curiosity than anything else.  During our past visits to Disney World, we had always stayed just outside the gate in Kissimmee either in a hotel suite or at the KOA there.  We never were the family that would go back to our hotel room for an afternoon nap; instead, we chose to start our days in the theme parks early and finish them early, as well.  Now that we were staying at Fort Wilderness, we realized that we had a perfect opportunity to explore several of the Disney properties that had caught our eye.  Would any of them catch our dollars on a future trip?

First off, I’d like to point out that, while we didn’t visit the Wilderness Lodge during this trip to Disney World, the Lodge would be my #1 choice in Disney accommodations if we were to book a hotel on Disney property.  You all know that we’re loyal and tremendous fans of our National Parks, and the Wilderness Lodge was built in the style of the old National Park Lodges, so it holds a certain appeal for us that no other Disney property ever could.  But there are plenty of other Disney accommodations to explore, and Alan and I set our sights on the Yacht Club, the Old Key West Resort, Port Orleans and the Grand Floridian.

The entrance to the Yacht Club Resort

The Yacht Club was our first destination, and I was expecting to really like it – water, yachts, a first class hotel, what’s not to like?  Although it was certainly an attractive resort, there wasn’t a yacht in sight.  Pontoon boats for rent at the tiny marina, but no yachts.  Not even a ski boat or two.  In fact, aside from the small fleet of pontoon boats, the shuttle boats were the only watercraft on the premises.  I did find out later that, apparently, the only real yacht to be found on Disney property is the Grand 1 Yacht, based at the Grand Floridian Resort.  The yacht, a 52’ Sea Ray Sedan Bridge, comes with a Captain and a deckhand, and can be chartered for a mere $399 per hour.  It’s absolutely gorgeous – but, then, our first boat was a Sea Ray, so Alan and I are, perhaps, just a bit biased.  The yacht will comfortably hold 18 passengers - 17 if you splurge on a butler.  For that price, you’d think that Disney would, at the very least, include drinks and snacks but, alas, the cost for any additional services beyond chartering the boat is extra.  (Go for a pontoon boat – they’re only $90 per hour, and I’ll bet you can pilot it yourself and bring your own drinks and snacks aboard.  No drinking while piloting though – be sure to designate a Captain.)

Bayside Marina at the Yacht Club Resort ~ pontoon boats for rent!

The Yacht Club’s location directly across Stormalong Bay from Disney’s Boardwalk was a plus, and there were courtesy water taxis available to transport guests over there - and to Epcot, Hollywood Studios and the Swan and Dolphin Hotels, too.  The taxis were called “Friendship Boats” which I thought was kind of an odd name.  “Club Cruisers” seems like a better (and more upscale) fit for a yachting resort, but what do I know?  Oh, wait.  I forgot - no yachts.

You can see the Boardwalk at the far side of Stormalong Bay.

Another thing that annoyed me at the Yacht Club was the resort’s gate attendant.  It had been suggested to us that we tell the gatekeeper at any of the hotels we visited that we were there to enjoy a meal at one of the restaurants.  We didn’t see a point to the ruse, and so just explained that we were staying at Fort Wilderness and wanted to take a look at the property to see if we might like to stay there in the future.  Wouldn’t you think that the staff would be attuned to Disney’s love of return visitors, and that they would do anything they could (within reason, of course) to increase the potential for future reservations?  Yeah, me, too!  The gate attendant directed us toward the worst parking area, and practically told us we could only stay a little while.  Really?  Whatever happened to that old’ Disney magic?  So, it’s not that I didn’t like The Yacht Club, it’s just that I wasn’t as impressed as I thought I’d be.  That being said, the hotel does deserve bonus points for having a real sand beach at the edge of the pool.  The kid in me really liked that!

The Yacht Club gatehouse and its not very welcoming attendant

The second Disney hotel we visited, the Old Key West Resort, was a lovely property but, at the time, I didn’t realize it was a Disney Vacation Club Resort.  If I understand correctly, in order to stay there, you either must be a member of the Vacation Club or you have to “rent points.”  I liked the Key West vibe, but I don’t think I’d go through the effort to figure out what renting points was all about with so many other beautiful Disney properties available.  If we were members of the Disney Vacation Club, however, the Old Key West Resort would definitely be on my list of possibilities.

Loved the lighthouse at the Old Key West Resort!

The third Disney hotel we checked out was Port Orleans, and I admit that I could see us having a wonderful time there.  When we found an old player piano in the public area of the hotel, that was the tipping point for me.  It was extremely easy for me to imagine relaxing in the lobby with a good book, a tall glass of iced tea and a little jazz in the background, courtesy of that piano.

Welcome to the French Quarter and the Port Orleans Resort!

The grounds at all of the Disney hotels were perfectly manicured, but Port Orleans went one step farther by incorporating a Mardi Gras theme in their landscaping which gave the resort a fun and playful vibe.  I don’t think I’d actually want to be there during Mardi Gras, but any other time, I’d be happy to give Port Orleans a go.

Whimsical band members parading through the Port Orleans Resort

Alan and I had driven to the Yacht Club, Old Key West Resort and Port Orleans using our handy dandy map of the entire Disney property as we navigated our way around the World.  It was available free for the asking at the Reception Outpost at Fort Wilderness (which would be known as “the front desk” at most regular hotels).  Rather than take the truck to the last resort we wanted to visit – the Grand Floridian – we decided that part of the adventure would be getting there via the Disney transportation system.  (Like I said, it doesn’t take much to make us happy.)  A short and pleasant stroll from our campsite brought us to Fort Wilderness Landing where we boarded a launch boat (water taxi) at the marina that would take us to the Contemporary Resort.

Fort Wilderness Landing ~ beach, boat rentals and water taxis

Although the Contemporary Resort is a little too, uh, contemporary for our tastes, we have fond memories of the Character Meal we enjoyed at Chef Mickey’s when our kids were young.  The buffet was nicely done (and greatly appreciated by our picky eater), and this proved to be our favorite of several Character Meals.  My personal opinion is that the Character Meals offered at the Disney hotels are better than those available in the theme parks due to the quieter setting and lack of crowds.  But, I digress.

We all enjoyed visiting with Mickey & friends at Chef Mickey's!

After the launch dropped us off at the dock, we entered the Contemporary Resort and made our way to the monorail station.  (The kid in me also loves the fact that the monorail goes right through the hotel!)  We hopped on the monorail and exited at the Grand Floridian Resort.  Now you’re talking!

The elegantly imposing Grand Floridian Resort

This resort hotel had an abundance of elegance and charm, and I would have been quite happy to stake out a comfy spot in the enormous lobby just to soak up the ambience and listen to the pianist all afternoon.

The large and lavish lobby at the Grand Floridian Resort

After exploring the Grand Floridian to our hearts’ content, we retraced our steps to the monorail station, enjoyed the monorail ride back to the Contemporary Resort and headed to the dock to hop on the launch back to the marina at Fort Wilderness Landing.  All in all, it was a fine day of poking around, and we explored a total of four Disney resorts that we had not visited in the past.  Alan’s choices may be different, but Port Orleans and the Grand Floridian both landed on my short list for the day.  While I have no doubt that I’d totally enjoy a stay at either resort (and the Wilderness Lodge, of course!), whether or not I’d pay the price to do so remains to be seen.

I wonder what this young guest at the Grand Floridian was thinking!

One of the benefits of camping at Fort Wilderness is that the evening fireworks display over the Magic Kingdom can be seen from the beach and marina at Fort Wilderness Landing.  So, one evening, we wandered down to the water to enjoy the fireworks display.  I don’t think I would have endured the crush of people exiting the theme park afterward to watch the fireworks from the Magic Kingdom itself, but the small gathering at Fort Wilderness Landing was perfectly okay, and I’m sure we made it safely back to our campsite well before the guests at the Magic Kingdom even made it to the exit.  (I used the word “safely” because I do believe this is one of those camping resorts where you might get that low run down feeling due to the number of reckless golf cart drivers sharing the campground with you.)  I wouldn’t book a campsite at Fort Wilderness just to be able to watch the fireworks from the beach, but it was definitely a perk that we all appreciated.

The fireworks were much better than the photography.

While all three of our guests – Kyra, Ryan and Ryan’s girlfriend, Anya – were still in town, we decided that an excursion to a miniature golf course for some friendly competition was in order.  We chose Congo River Golf on West Irlo Bronson Memorial Highway in Kissimmee.  The course was not only challenging, but a fun-filled barrel of laughs, too, thanks to the diabolical “Congo Spinners.”  It was the first time we had ever come across this feature on a mini-golf course and, I must say, it does up the entertainment value considerably.  The Spinners were located at several holes throughout the course, and players had to spin the wheel before taking their first shot at that particular hole.  With the possibility of landing on “Get Back” (choose an opponent to attempt his/her next shot holding the putter behind his/her back) or “Blind Putt” (attempt your first shot with your eyes closed) among others, completing the course without lots of laughter and some really wonderful blackmail photos is next to impossible.  As the saying goes, a good time was had by all.

Someone with a diabolical mind conjured up this contraption.

On the Friday of our week at Disney, Kyra was leaving us to spend the Memorial Day weekend with friends who live near Orlando.  Since Alan and I were planning to drop her off at the home of her friends late on Friday afternoon, the five of us decided to head to Daytona Beach that day to take a tour at Daytona International Speedway.

The entrance to the Tickets & Tours building at Daytona International Speedway

While none of us are particularly interested in auto racing, Alan and I, as well as our two kids, have an ongoing love affair with vehicles, and the thought of touring the Speedway was an exceptionally attractive one.  Understandably, tours have been suspended due to COVID-19 but, under normal circumstances, three tours are offered – the Speedway Tour ($19.00 for adults, 30 minute tour), the All-Access Tour ($26.00 for adults, 90 minute tour) and the VIP Tour ($55.00 per person, 3 hour tour).  If you’re interested in kids’ pricing or additional details on any of these tours, you may want to hop over to the Speedway’s web site (link HERE).  Both tent and RV camping are allowed on the infield at Daytona International Speedway.  If you're a camping enthusiast and a racing fan, I imagine that would be quite a thrilling experience!

The RV sites aren't fancy, but you're definitely close to the action.

Considering our level of interest in auto racing, we agreed that the Speedway Tour would be sufficient, and we purchased tickets when we arrived.  (Tickets may also be purchased online or by phone prior to your tour date.)  The Speedway Tour turned out to be a 30 minute, guided tram ride around the facility, with the driver/tour guide providing lots of interesting facts and info about the famous racetrack as we made our way around it – and onto it!  Yes, folks, I can say that I got to see Daytona’s banked turns 3 and 4 up close and personal, and it was quite thrilling.  If you're a big racing fan, I imagine the experience would be exceptionally meaningful, and I think just those few moments on the track were worth the $19.00 cost of the tour.  I read that the stock cars can reach speeds of close to 200 m.p.h. on the straightaways at Daytona, a concept I just can’t seem to wrap my head around.

The turns at Daytona are banked at 31 degrees!

We also had an opportunity to take a family photo on the podium in Victory Lane at Daytona International Speedway, and visit the Motorsports Hall of Fame of America located inside the Speedway’s Ticket & Tours building after we had completed the tour.  The Hall of Fame honors all kinds of motorsports, not just stock car racing.  If you have any interest in sports cars, drag racing, land speed records, motorcycles, power boating or aviation, I think you’d enjoy the colorful and informative displays. We had the opportunity to see the #11 Fed Ex Toyota driven to victory in last year’s (and this year’s) Daytona 500 by Denny Hamlin.  Allegedly, the car was in the same condition it was on the day Hamlin won the race back in February 2019.  Alan and I were definitely pleased with the Speedway Tour; if we return to the Daytona Beach area in the future, I’d be happy to visit the Speedway again.  In my opinion, the VIP Tour is overkill for a non-racing fan like me, but I do think I’d upgrade to the All-Access Tour next time just for the chance to get a close-up look at the pit stalls and see the media deadline room.  Honestly, no matter what tour you prefer, I think you’d consider any time (and money) spent at Daytona International Speedway a worthwhile investment.

The winning car in both the 2019 and the 2020 Daytona 500

Life (while on vacation or not) would not be complete without ice cream – or, on this trip, frozen custard from Culver’s.  In our family,  a cool treat is considered the perfect ending to a perfect day - whether that day is jam-packed with exploration, adventures or plain old poking around.


The next installment of the Big Switcheroo series (and the last Disney-related post of the trip) will include the tips and tricks for making the most of Disney World vacation that our family has collected over the years.  Then, it will be time to move on to the Gulf Coast of Florida.


  1. Oh my! What a tour de force; these detailed reviews are priceless. They must also have been tiring, judging from a few tiny blemishes in your normally perfect writing mechanics. Because of your obviously glorious achievement, presented here in such entertaining prose, I cannot bring myself to give you anything but praise. However, knowing your penchant for perfection, my withholding of the tiny missteps--that would be noticed by no one else--is, perhaps while gentlemanly, almost Machiavellian, don't you think? That presents a dilemma for me: I don't know whether to be smug or ashamed.

    1. Mike, I'm going to chalk up any errors to the stress, frustration and aggravation generated by trying to publish my first post using the new Blogger format. Don't think I don't know what's going on, though. Mrs. Reid is sitting on one shoulder saying, "Mike, you must do something about those grammatical errors!" On the other shoulder is your Mom, "Now, Michael, don't you dare embarrass your friend!" You, of course, wish to make both of them happy; that's why you're feeling both smug and ashamed. Why is it, my friend, that I'm the only blogger you pick on - or should that be, "on whom you pick?" By the way, I'm thinking it's a good thing that Mindy didn't know about the Grand 1 Yacht at the time of your visit to Disney World or your wallet would have returned from vacation even emptier than it already was!

    2. All in fun among us OCD types; I would never so boorish as to pick on anyone with a lesser gift than yours as a scribe; consider it a compliment. My fear is that one day, payback will come, and it will be deservedly brutal. Did I tell you that our visit to Disney World coincided with the burst of the great tech stock bubble in 2000? I took a bath in the market while we were in Florida, which I kept to myself; if Mindy had known about the Grand 1, we would probably have had to stay there and wash dishes to get a bus ticket home. Thanks for being a good sport and a great writer.

    3. Ah, payback. Let me give that some thought. By the way, with our camping plans curtailed for another month (at least), I'm living vicariously through the travels of my favorite bloggers. So, travel safely, and be sure to have a delightful time in the Rockies!

  2. When I saw your photo of the Grand Floridian, I thought it looked awfully like our beloved Hotel Del Coronado (where they filmed Some Like It Hot in 1959). A quick search of the googles told me that, in fact, the Hotel Del was used as an inspiration for its design. How about that? Congrats on your successful switch over to the new Blogger format. WordPress made a similar change, which I managed to navigate successfully. Sometimes I think they love to come up with ways to mess with us.

    1. I just took a look at photos of your Hotel Del Coronado, Janis - it's absolutely spectacular! I didn't know it was the inspiration for the Grand Floridian, but the similarities are certainly evident. The Disney resort is lovely and elegant, but I doubt it will ever attain the iconic status of your beloved landmark.


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