I love a good festival. Art, Food, Renaissance, Fools, I’m always up for a festival. I’ve written many times before about the various established Epcot festivals. Originally begun to bolster lower attendance weeks at Walt Disney World, the first modern, well-promoted festival at Epcot was the International Flower and Garden Festival, which began in 1993. I missed the first couple of years, but when I moved down in 1995 and began working for Walt Disney World, it became a tradition to attend. The Flower and Garden Festival always revolved around Mother’s Day and back then, Disney provided a free photo op (much like they also used to at Mickey’s Not So Scary Halloween Party and Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party). It became a Mother’s Day tradition to attend with my mom, enjoy all the fun topiaries and floral displays, dine in France, and get our photo taken together. Also in 1995, the Epcot International Food & Wine Festival began. I remember how exciting those first years were; being able to stroll around World Showcase and sample smaller bites from countries that may not have a full pavilion, but have some great flavors to offer. It was a fun time.
Now, there are very few “low attendance times” at Walt Disney World. People now plan their visits around the festivals, in order to try the food items, or take part in the many seminars and sessions offered. Another addition over the years was runDisney appearing on the scene, with some races around the festivals, making it even more well-attended. And, of course, Epcot drinking teams also became a thing, giving Food & Wine bit of a reputation for drunken hordes roaming the World Showcase Promenade. That is not to say these festivals are not still enjoyable, just that they have considerably changed over the years, and become an entity unto themselves. As a local, it’s still fun to go on a weeknight and try the foods, or perhaps splurge on a dining event offered. My husband and I did the Parisian Afternoon last year and had a lovely time. There is always something new to see or experience, so you really can get out of the festivals what you want.
Enter #ArtfulEpcot. Quietly sauntering into the festival scene in the middle of January this year, the Epcot International Art Festival became an INSTANT hit. And I do mean instant. There was very little info provided about this festival far ahead of time. We saw a few photos of “artsy food” which, yes, looked amazing, but I don’t think I was alone when I thought, “oh, it’ll be Food & Wine in February…” and also wondered how they would pull off these artistic food creations under the usually extreme conditions of festival food booths. Then, I walked into Epcot the first Friday it opened, saw a perfectly crafted Figment topiary, complete with two tiny wings, eyes big and yellow, horns of a steer…he really was a lovable fellow. Sorry, it’s impossible for me not to break into song when discussing Figment. Anyway, I sort of fell in love, again, with Epcot.
Of course it was more than just a Figment topiary to make me appreciate this new festival. I attended an event which highlighted the various food creations, merchandise, and entertainment offerings within the festival. Every cast member on hand who spoke about their area of expertise was so passionate and excited. That excitement was contagious, and I soon realized this was something very different from just another festival. As we strolled around Epcot, I saw more and more reasons why this was going to be a big hit.
There are many different types of Disney fan out there. I’ve spoken about what kind I am before, and though there are most certainly no wrong or right type of fan, there are many others like me, who love the history of the Walt Disney Company, the pioneering advances and different thinking that made it succeed, even while it was doomed to fail. We Disney history nerds love the original concept, hopes, and ideals that EPCOT Center stood for both in Walt’s initial idea, and the 1982-1994 incarnation of the theme park once known as EPCOT Center. I have professed my love for this park endless times. That park doesn’t really exist today, but you can see glimpses and sparks of it if you know where to look. As an EPCOT Center fan, it’s completely normal and acceptable behavior to stare at wall carpet, marvel at the ride system within Universe of Energy (Ellen’s Energy Adventure), or watch Impressions de France on repeat, while the rest of the park may be lining up for characters or Frozen or Test Track. That is not to say we can’t also enjoy some of the park’s current lineup. It is to say, we miss original EPCOT and all that it represented to us.
What the Epcot Festival of the Arts has done is found the perfect mix, to entertain the masses, and delight those who dearly miss what EPCOT once was. How? Well, for starters, the entire design of the festival speaks to EPCOT in a modern way. Muted, watercolor style images of park icons, including the original EPCOT Center logo, make my 1980’s heart sing. Figment is the “mascot” of the festival, but not in an annoying, or out of place way. He represents the very spirit of art, appearing in each World Showcase country, in a work of art hailing from the country you are in, only Figment-ized. A perfect way to get kids (and adults) interested in art and seek out more knowledge about the pieces featured, the countries, and art in general. This “scavenger hunt” featuring Figment is actually available as a paid activity. You purchase a Figment’s Brush with the Masters Scavenger Hunt map for $6.99 from several possible locations, and then match the Figment artwork to the artwork featured in the World Showcase pavilions. Turn in your map when you’re done, and you’ll get a prize. It’s fun either way!
Speaking of art, there are not one but two mini-galleries of original and concept art at the festival. Artists, Imagineers and Disney Legends Herb Ryman and Mary Blair have their artwork displayed within (another EPCOT Center holdout) the Odyssey restaurant. There we can see huge versions of Ryman’s original concept art for EPCOT and its Future World pavilions, as well as a selection of Mary Blair’s South American-inspired art pieces. Also within the Odyssey are free – yes FREE – informational sessions from topics like the animation ink and paint process, to different types of tea. There are also paid sessions on specific art topics which include take-home items from the lesson too. As you stroll around World Showcase, there are also classes like origami making or anime drawing in Japan, various chalk displays around the world, and fun photo ops where you become part of a famous work of art. Animation Academy, once held at Disney’s Hollywood Studios, also makes a reappearance in Innoventions during the festival.
The hit of the festival since it opened has been the Paint By Numbers Mural found between Future World and World Showcase. You are given – again, completely free – a tiny cup of paint and a paint brush and told to paint anywhere from 3-5 (depending on how busy it is) squares matching your color to your number. For the first few weekends, it was a Future World image, the full size version of what is available at character meets as the backdrop in the front of Epcot. Last weekend, the mural design was changed to a World Showcase image, which was also a big hit. When the murals are completed, they are changed out for blank canvases and guests can start all over again. It is sponsored by Glidden’s line of Disney-inspired paint names, so that adds for a fun connection.
The seven “Food Studios” (see full list of menu items at that link)as they call the food booths at this event, may be small in number, but the varied items almost all take a unique spin on a classic food item, or highlight favorites with an artistic twist. My favorites were the Classic Reuben, which looks anything but classic with it’s futuristic “rye curl” in place of traditional bread, and the Scallop with Chorizo found in America at The Artist’s Table. Oh, and don’t forget the jaw-dropping Piet Mondrian-inspired cake at Pop Eats! as well as adorable “chocolate easels” which are an edible work of art in the form of Figment, Mickey and Pluto, or Mary Blair designs. (Click to read full captions below)
Bridging the gap from classic art to modern, there are also many booths around World Showcase, featuring Disney artists and local artisans alike. Many of the artists are on hand to sign their work. It’s a great way to build your art collection with some originals or prints and meet your favorite artists at the same time.
To top off all that this festival has to offer, at the end of the day, Disney on Broadway Concert Series stars appear at the American Gardens Theatre three times a night, perfoming hit songs from the ever-growing catalog of the Disney Broadway productions. As a huge Broadway musical fan, these shows were the perfect fit. I’ve seen two sets of performers and every show was incredible. Such amazing talent. The shows always seem to have a full house too, so I think this series has been very well received.
Word has spread fast online about this incredible festival, which has quickly become my favorite of the Epcot festival lineup. Every aspect of Artful Epcot fills me with joy, and I hope it returns for years to come, running all week long instead of just long weekends. My only fear is that this charming, quaint, interactive festival that offers so much for so many, will lose that charm if it expands too much. However, I’ll put my confidence in the designers behind the scenes to ensure that doesn’t happen. Part of what made the Festival of the Arts such a success is the way it mixed history with present day, classic with modern, and just enough included opportunities that you don’t feel like you have to shell out premium prices (other than a ticket to the park), to experience all this festival has to offer.
There is just one weekend left to the Epcot Festival of the Arts, so I urge you to get down there, get some paint on your hands and chocolate on your face and ENJOY! If you’ve been, I’d love to hear what your favorite part of the festival was or what you hope is added next time around.
My family and I have been visiting Gaylord Palms ICE! as part of our holiday traditions since 2007, before I even wrote about it in Zannaland. It has really become one of the things my children most look forward to, and they ask every Fall – “when does ICE! start?” (Part of the perks of being Orlando locals; our holiday traditions are just a little bit bigger and over the top than many places.)
Over the years, we’ve seen the displays and offerings change and grow – ice skating outside, ice skating inside, snowball fights, snow tubing, enchanting circus performers, characters, and differing Christmas themes in ice. In all those years, none has been so magical, to me personally, than this year’s theme – A Charlie Brown Christmas.
Growing up in the 1980’s, I have very specific and very wonderful memories of Christmastime. Christmas is always exactly 2 weeks after my birthday, so the whole month of December has forever been overwhelmingly magical to me. I remember the weeks leading up to Christmas were filled with Christmas specials: Dr. Seuss’ “How the Grinch Stole Christmas!,” the Rankin Bass productions of “Rudolph the Red-nosed Reindeer,” “Frosty the Snowman,” “Santa Claus is Comin’ to Town,” and of course, “A Charlie Brown Christmas.”
I can see myself clearly, sitting on the floor close to the T.V. in my festive Christmas nightgown, while the lights on the Christmas tree twinkled behind me and the scent of pine and the cookies my mother was baking wafted around me…watching those shows, commercials and all, once a year. At the risk of sounding even more ancient than I already do, this was before a time of cable and satellite television, before 300 channels and DVR’s and Netflix and Roku and Apple TV, or even Blockbuster and VCR’s at this point. So waiting all year to see these shows and making sure you didn’t miss them was a big thing. It became a part of the season, a part of the traditions, a part of the magic.
So to walk in to Gaylord Palms at 9 degrees (a very common temperature feel growing up outside of Boston), and see “A Charlie Brown Christmas” larger than life, right before my eyes, was pretty special for me. The detail was absolutely mind-boggling. Every character, every color, every detail from the television special was carved in perfection. Add to that the music and audio clips from the show, and it was truly a wonderland for anyone who’s grown up with the show, or the Peanuts in general. They were my grandmother’s favorite, and she loved Snoopy, so the Peanuts Gang were always a big part of family visits to her house. I left the ICE! display and wanted to go right back in and see it all again, so I could be little 8 year-old excited-for-Christmas-me once more. If anyone is a fan of the Christmas special or Charles Schulz’s work in general, you must go, you will not be disappointed. The night we were there, Charles Schulz’s son, Craig Schulz, was on hand and seemed to be enjoying himself as well. I can only imagine the memories he must have of these characters.
More to see at Gaylord Palms
Also a part of Christmas at Gaylord Palms is a tree lighting display, A Christmas Wish Light Show, which is the most impressive display yet. Returning for the second year is Cirque Dreams, an impressive show of acrobatic artisans performing in the lobby stage nightly. Alpine Snow Tubing also makes a come-back in the ICE! area, where you can tube down snow-covered slides, as well as other fun activities like photos with Santa, stories with Mrs. Claus, a Build-a-Bear Workshop, and much more. ICE! runs this year through January 1, a perfect treat for winter break from school or work. The property itself is so beautiful, it’s like another world when you are inside and my kids ask me all the time when we can stay there next!
Thank you to Gaylord Palms for inviting my family and I to experience the magic of Christmas at Gaylord Palms and see ICE! and the other entertainment offerings first hand. My opinions, as you can see, are my own. Merry Christmas to all, and to all a good night!
Continuing the grand tradition of millions of pounds of ice sculpted by artisans and formed into amazing displays for all to see, this year Gaylord Palms Resort returned to a classic Christmas story, ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas.This was actually one of my favorite Gaylord Palms ICE! displays in years past, so I was happy to see it return to Gaylord Palms in an updated form.
For those unaware, ICE! is an indoor winter wonderland featuring:
- Walk-through holiday attraction, kept at a chilly 9 degrees
- Two million pounds of hand-carved ice sculptures
- Four ice slides
- Six individual rooms depicting the story of ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas
- The Frostbite Factory — a live carving zone
- Final room is a breath-taking Nativity scene carved from crystal clear ice
In addition to the sculpted ICE! displays, there is Alpine Rush Snow Tubing in a separately ticketed area, for unlimited rides down snow-covered slides on tubes.
Both of the above ticketed events are part of the larger Gaylord Palms Christmas, including free events like an all-new show:
Cirque Dreams UnWrapped
Be dazzled by an array of seasonal characters brought to life in a dreamscape of imaginative costumes and creativity, while stunning feats of showmanship are unwrapped, performed on stage and in the air. Broadway director and Cirque Dreams founder Neil Goldberg is bringing the famed entertainment brand to Orlando for the first time in the company’s 22 years with this exclusive show. The entire family can enjoy this uniquely inspired 25-minute Christmas dream presented with the Broadway style and inventive theatrics for which Cirque Dreams is renowned.
This show was captivating and fun for the whole family, a wonderful addition to the beautiful decorations in the grand atrium – which also features SNOW this year after the Cirque Dreams shows.
You can find out more about the events and activities at Gaylord Palms on their site, and purchase tickets to ICE! and other events. Staying at the Gaylord Palms is always a magical experience, I find myself just not wanting to leave the resort because there is so much to see and do and experience. The holidays amplify that feeling, so if you haven’t booked your stay, go ahead and make plans now for this year or next!
Disclosure: I was invited to experience ICE! with my family by Gaylord Palms. My opinions and thoughts are my own.
It’s no secret we are huge fans of LEGOLAND Florida here at Zannaland. It is a place where all of my kids, from ages 16 to 6 have SO much fun every time we visit. It’s a place where everyone has a great time, and the surroundings are so beautiful. It’s a wonderful place to reconnect as a family and experience some of the real Florida at the same time as a fun theme park. Now that time can be extended with the opening of the Legoland Hotel. In complete Legoland style, they’ve seemed to have thought of every detail to make Lego fans and families relax and enjoy. The Legoland Hotel had its grand opening ceremony last Friday and we sent correspondent Kira from SecondBlogToTheRight.com over to cover this event. She came back with some great photos and details that make me want to book a hotel stay right NOW! So without further ado, please enjoy Kira’s coverage and see all of the bricktacular details below:
LEGOLAND® Hotel is officially open for business & we’ve got the inside scoop!
On May 15, 2015, the doors opened…well maybe that’s not exactly how it happened, check out the video below…
A few of our LEGO® friends greeted us in the lobby. The details in this hotel are incredible. As an avid LEGO® video game player & huge fan of The LEGO® Movie, the little things are really easy to get lost in.
LEGOLAND® Hotel features 152 guest rooms and suites across four themes: Pirate, Kingdom, Adventure, and LEGO® Friends. Guests of the Hotel also enjoy early access to LEGOLAND® Florida Resort, free full breakfast daily, interactive play areas, daily and nightly entertainment, disco elevator, resort pool and much more.
Each room sleeps up to five, and offers a king-sized bed for adults and a separate sleeping area for up to three children, featuring a bunk bed and a trundle bed, as well as two flat panel TVs.
VIP Suites feature a king bed, a living room, pull out sofa, kids’ play area and three flat panel TVs. Suites can sleep up to nine people.
All rooms and suites feature LEGO models and a treasure chest, which can be unlocked only by completing a hotel scavenger hunt.
My personal favorite was the Adventure themed rooms due to all the Indiana Jones details!
Sidenote: LEGOLAND® resort is happy to preserve the land that used to be Cypress Gardens. Guests of the hotel can enjoy a relaxing walk on the boardwalk as well as the serene views of Lake Eloise.
Room rates begin at $219 per night. To make a reservation, visit LEGOLANDHotel.com.
Locals and frequent visitors alike have witnessed the Walt Disney World Resort landscape change over the past 20+ years with the addition of “Disney’s best kept secret,” or Disney’s Vacation Club (DVC) vacation ownership program. Disney Vacation Club began as a standalone resort, called the “Disney Vacation Club Resort” in 1991. With the success of the vacation ownership program, other resorts were planned and built, causing the original resort to be renamed Disney’s Old Key West, which it is still named today. The next property built was Disney’s Vero Beach Resort, which opened in 1995, followed the next year by Disney’s Hilton Head Island Resort, giving owners an alternative location to use their DVC points but stay in a Disney-like resort atmosphere. A few months later, Disney’s Boardwalk Villas were opened to guests and the DVC experience began to spread its way around Walt Disney World as DVC-specific buildings and rooms were added to existing deluxe Disney resort hotel properties. In many cases, the DVC additions blended seamlessly into the established resort grounds. The Villas at Disney’s Wilderness Lodge is my particular favorite as far as not disturbing theming or the non-DVC resort experience. Boardwalk also blends in nicely, and while they definitely stand out as different, it’s hard to imagine a time before the Beach Club Villas existed.
Things started getting a bit dicey with the announcement and addition of Disney’s Bay Lake Tower Resort, which now rises tall beside one the two original Walt Disney World resort hotels – Disney’s Contemporary Resort. This news was Initially met with rumblings of outrage and sacrilege among Walt Disney World purists not wanting to mar the classic landscape from 1971. The “blessing of size” that Walt Disney World espoused has been tested many times over, but messing with the 1971 skyline was a different beast. Disney’s Grand Floridian had of course changed that skyline too, and has now settled in as an accepted member of the monorail resort club. With the Contemporary moniker, there was some leeway in designing a new building that was, is actually, much more contemporary than its sister across the breezeway. And while many still miss the classic view from Bay Lake as you sail across the water bridge, Bay Lake Tower has fit in and brought not only new Magic Kingdom view rooms, but also a lovely lounge with gorgeous artwork from Disney’s original Imagineers.
There was similar concern with the news of the Grand Floridian joining the DVC family, but similar to Beach Club, in an even more seamless fashion, the new Grand Floridian Villas have, in my opinion added to the monorail resort loop, with the lovely and thoughtful additions of Mary Poppins and Sherman brothers touches throughout the resort and DVC units. The building itself matches the main Grand Floridian resort from roof to sidewalk, and we also gained a lovely waterfall between the buildings.
All of this backstory is leading up to, of course, the newest kid on the DVC block, Disney’s Polynesian Villas and Bungalows. This location has, unsurprisingly, also not been without concern or uproar. “What about the beach views?!” “But they’re SO expensive!!” And yes, they are ridiculously expensive at $2100+ per night for a bungalow. They also do block the water view for those on the ground floor of the concierge level of rooms in the Hawaii building, as well as most of the views from the buildings housing the new DVC studio rooms.
I’ll get into price again in a bit, but for now, let me share my thoughts on the views. In my opinion, the new bungalows are actually a wonderful new addition to the sight-line of the Polynesian Village. Why? Because it actually looks like a Polynesian village. When I was touring a bungalow and looking out onto Bay Lake, my reaction really was, “oh, the Grand Floridian kind of looks out of place…” So if you want to go for authentic view, looking out your window to see adorable bungalows makes much more sense than seeing a giant Victorian hotel or even the spires of a castle. As for the fireworks, last time I checked, they were in the sky. That’s not to say this new view is perfect. It’s just different. If you want to see some things, you may have to leave the comfort of your room and wander a bit. Hang out on the beach, or at the pool. I don’t think that’s a bad thing. Getting out and exploring is part of what makes the Walt Disney World Resort such a unique experience. For those lucky enough to have views from inside a bungalow, I’m sure seeing a giant Victorian or A-frame hotel in the distance won’t be too much of a chore.
Now, on to the price. Let me preface by saying for those with an actual DVC membership, while yes, these new bungalows will eat up more points per night than you’re used to, the sting is slightly less with the additional DVC membership benefits, etc. (but it will still sting at around 110-230 points per night for a bungalow). However, for those with larger families who want to stay on Disney property, the choices are, getting two rooms, getting a family suite at a value resort, or getting a DVC multi-bedroom suite. Before having 3 kids, when we lived in the Tampa area, we’d often get a suite at Old Key West to fit everyone plus my mother in one room. Now with 3 kids, 2 of them teenagers, the sharing of rooms or beds is less than ideal and things become harder. Staying at a 2-3 bedroom DVC suite is not really in our budget, even as locals who don’t need tickets or want a dining plan. Of course, staying off property is always an option, and that’s actually what we did before moving back to the Orlando area and doing less “staycations.” There are SO many timeshare and suite properties within a short driving distance to Walt Disney World that are literally the price of one room at a value resort per night. With choices like that, it’s very hard to pick the $400+ to $700+ a night option for most of the standard villas. If you want the over-water bungalow experience, you are going to start at $2100 a night and go up to over $3000 if you want to stay during the holidays. Even dividing that among the possible 8 adults that could sleep there, it would be $263.50 a night just to sleep there. And I don’t know about you, but we don’t usually charge our kids for their share of the vacation expenses. So why is Disney making these bungalows so inaccessible to the average guest? Quite simply, because they have to.
I’m sure at the time of writing this, the Polynesian bungalows are booked through year end, or beyond. With 20 bungalows, they are in high demand, period. Can you imagine if these were affordable? It would be like trying to book a Christmas day reservation at Cinderella’s Royal Table, getting an Anna and Elsa FastPass, and getting in to the new Trader Sam’s Grog Grotto, all at the same time. Everyone would want to stay and it would become a huge thing plaguing the Polynesian and Walt Disney World in general. As it is now, there is a presidential suite in each deluxe resort. Most guests will never stay there, or even try to, because the price range is just totally out of reach. These bungalows are no different, they are just out in your face, tempting and taunting you to stay there and enjoy the ultimate in Disney luxury. And this is why Disney as a company is so successful. They can get people to pay $3000 a night for a 2 bedroom bungalow, when you could get a 3 bedroom condo down the street for $99 a night, or even two deluxe suites at the Four Seasons for the same amount as the bungalows. Unlike most other luxury suites of this nature, you won’t be getting a private 24 hour butler or room service…but Disney is just not known for that level of service in accommodations, so most people staying there won’t think anything of that. In fact, the DVC model is based on stocking the kitchen and making your own meals anyway. Proponents of the Disney Experience will preach that you can’t put a value on the memories you will make at a Disney resort…and Disney has answered, oh yes, you can – and we did.
So at the end of the day, where does that leave us? Well, some people will just be able to afford this, it won’t be a problem. Others will scrimp and save for years to create the ultimate Disney vacation for their family. Still others will simply use their DVC points and call it a day. Some of us will hang out with friends who book a bungalow and experience it briefly that way. Others will take a stroll around the beautiful grounds of Disney’s Polynesian Village Resort, and enjoy the views of the new bungalows, the beach, the new volcano pool, and maybe grab a bite to eat at Trader Sam’s or one of the other restaurants at the resort. While the landscape of the resort, and indeed all of Walt Disney World is forever changed by these new accommodation options, it doesn’t have to affect our enjoyment simply because it is so far out of our price range. I know I personally love hanging out at all of the resort lobbies and grounds. They are fun places to people watch, take photos, and explore parts of Walt Disney World that we may not have realized existed. I think Disney’s Polynesian Village Resort is shaping up to be, for the most part, an improvement on the original. I will still miss the lobby waterfall, and think it was an unnecessary change for the overall feel of the resort, but the remainder of the changes have all been positive from what I’ve seen and experienced.
Below is a photo gallery of the 2 bedroom Polynesian Bungalow and a few shots of the opening ceremonies with Ken Potrock, DVC general manager and Tracey Powell – VP – Resort Operations – Deluxe Resorts both of whom dedicated the resort with a torch-lighting ceremony signifying the connection of the 3 points of the triangle of Polynesia. The islands of Polynesia are represented at the resort by the buildings of Hawaii (club level rooms), Niue, Rarotonga, Samoa, Tonga, Aotearoa, Tuvalu, Fiji, Tokelau, Moorea, and Pago Pago (the last two returning to their original names with the addition of DVC villa rooms – Tokelau will also contain DVC rooms). The bungalows have been named the Bora Bora Bungalows for added alliteration. All photos may be clicked on to enlarge and view as a slideshow.
The Bora Bora Bungalows are gorgeous. I instantly felt at home and wanted to just move in. The overwhelming feeling I got was that of a family cabin, and I could just picture my kids and fiance and I enjoying a wonderful stay here. I’m not sure if it’s because I’m a local or not, but I couldn’t imagine wanting to leave the cabins to go to the parks. These bungalows had everything: the latest appliances, tv’s, a spa tub, a personal plunge pool, and all the comforts of home. Seeing the water from the long windows in the master bedroom and master bath was so relaxing and comforting to me, not to mention the two decks on the water plus the front porch area. I loved it. I know my family would love it. Disney really hit it out of the park (no pun intended) with these bungalows. The studio villas are equally well-appointed and decorated. I think they will be a great hit among DVCers and regular guests alike, despite the cost.
What are your thoughts on this change to the Walt Disney World landscape? I’d love to hear what you think about any of the topics touched on here. Thank you for reading and following along on instagram, twitter and facebook at the dedication ceremony.
I’ve been lucky enough to stay at, tour, and even just visit more than my fair share of hotels and resorts, especially in the last 6 years with this site. While staying at an official Disney resort has its perks, I must say [whispers so Mickey doesn’t hear], there are some resorts nearby to give Disney a run for the money. Now before you die-hard Disney resort fans start protesting, please just keep reading and see if you agree when all is said and done. This should be of special interest to all of you runDisney racers out there, because in addition to being a relaxing, amenity-filled, comfiest-beds-ever resort, the Hilton Bonnet Creek has completely ridiculous Marathon Weekends packages that will blow your mind. In the best possible way. I promise.
So I first heard about the Hilton Bonnet Creek through my wonderful friend and fabulous blogger, Amanda Tinney. Amanda had been going to Hilton Bonnet Creek both as an invited guest and on her own time and dime for a while when she invited me over for a girls weekend over the last summer. We had such a great time (despite my getting sunburnt to a crisp because I seem to always forget that people with skin like Merida from Brave need SPF 500) lounging by the pool, being wined and dined at the Bull & Bear, and sleeping in. And it was $99 a night for our room at a special End of Summer rate. That’s Disney Value Resort pricing, people, and this is NOT a value resort in terms of anything BUT price. I still have to write about the exquisite dinner we had at Bull & Bear…I can close my eyes and still taste it, even months later.
Here is the run-down of the Bonnet Creek Marathon Weekends amenities:
A Special Experience For Runners
As our guest during Marathon Weekends at Hilton Orlando Bonnet Creek, you’ll receive the following:
- Complimentary bus transportation to and from the race venue
- Carb-Load Pasta Dinner options
- Personalized assistance from our Runner’s Concierge … and even dip into their Runners’ Survival Kit!
- Complimentary snacks and beverages before the races!
- Encouragement & recognition from our Marathon cheerleaders … even at 2:30 am!
A Special Marathon Rate For Runners
To get the most out of your weekend, we recommend the Marathon Weekend rate, which includes:
- Special rate on accommodations exclusive to marathon runners
- Complimentary bus transportation to and from the race venue
- 10% food & beverage savings card to be used during your stay
- A Welcome Runner’s Amenity
I’m just going to put this question here…what do the Walt Disney World Resorts do for runDisney racers staying on property? Well…if you stay at one the hotels they tell you to…they’ll send a bus for you before the races. That’s…pretty much it. The rest of the benefits to running a runDisney race are associated with the race itself and available to everyone running, no matter where you stay. So deciding whether or not to stay at the Bonnet Creek Resort is really a no-brainer, yes? Yes.
ADD to all of the above, the absolutely incredible guest rooms both at the Hilton and the Waldorf Astoria. Since I’d stayed at the Hilton Bonnet Creek over the summer, I was excited to experience all the Waldorf Astoria had to offer after hearing only good things from Amanda. Well, let me tell you, it did not disappoint. I pretty much wanted to move in and never leave. The beds were SO comfy, that is really the only downside…any wee hours of the morning 3am wake-up calls will seem like cruel and unusual punishment after basically being wrapped in a cloud all night in your Waldorf bed. We were lucky enough to be treated to a King suite at the Waldorf for our stay, and as a result I’m pretty much spoiled for life and only want to stay here from now on.
The Waldorf Astoria Orlando is actually, like all Waldorf properties, more of a boutique style hotel, which means excellent service for you, and the intimate feeling of a boutique hotel, with the benefits of the award-winning Bull & Bear, Peacock Alley lounge (which is gorgeous and I want to live there too), the other Waldorf amenities and pool – PLUS, all of the amenities at the Hilton Bonnet Creek, which is right next door, and connected by the convention center so you can walk in comfort inside between the properties. And of course guests staying at the Hilton can also enjoy the restaurants and bars of the Waldorf Astoria too. It really does have it all.
Checking in at the Waldorf was seamless. I was asked for my cell so the concierge could text me with any information and I could ask them for anything, at ANY time! I have to say, that was the coolest feature of all. Being able to ask a question by text (which is my preferred method of communication for the record), and get an instant answer, was heaven I tell ya. We felt so welcomed and at home, it really was an amazing weekend. I know it will be the first of many stays at the Waldorf. The level of guest service we experienced in every corner of both resorts was unparalleled.
In addition to the wonderful Marathon Weekends, the resort offers several special events throughout the year, including one of Amanda’s favorites, Cupcake Lovers Weekend in June, which I feel like I must experience first-hand, for research purposes. They also have spa packages, romance, tea for two, and so many more special experiences. Hopefully I’ve convinced you to look into the Bonnet Creek Resort and stay at the Hilton Orlando Bonnet Creek and the Waldorf Astoria Orlando (I mean, you have to stay at both to get the full experience, I think). Did I mention how convenient it is to all the Walt Disney World parks, Downtown Disney, and I-4 if you’re headed to other Orlando destinations? It’s pretty much perfect. I think I need to check out some dates for a weekend getaway…how about you?
Rates for the Hilton Orlando Bonnet Creek’s Marathon Weekends start at just $149/night. A little more and you get the added luxury of the Waldorf Astoria. There are constantly specials and offers going on, and if you’re a Hilton Honors member, there are double points weekends too. Click the links above to check on availability.
Disclaimer: I was an invited guest at the Waldorf Astoria Orlando for Marathon Weekends and was provided with a complimentary Deluxe Suite, daily breakfast buffet at Oscars, and a $100 room credit. That said, all of the opinions above are my own, and if we had a bad time, I’d have told you that too. But we didn’t. It was amazing. In fact, I need to tell you more things about our stay, and I haven’t even mentioned the lazy river at the Hilton Bonnet Creek or the spa or the brand new Myth Bar that just opened, but I’ll save that for future posts. So come back and check for those!
What better way to ring in a new year and all the potential it embodies than…running a marathon! The Walt Disney World Marathon Weekend is in its 21st year, and gets more and more popular each year. With so much going on and so many options for resorts during the marathon, the Hilton Bonnet Creek has really differentiated itself from the pack and offers an absolutely amazing Marathon Weekend set up for runners.
I am currently staying at their sister resort, the Waldorf Astoria Orlando, and experiencing those Marathon Weekend amenities first-hand. I wanted to post something hear really quick to let you know to follow along at my twitter, instagram and facebook pages to see all of the action as it unfolds. I’ll be writing up a full review after check-out, but until then, as always, my social media outlets are where to find out what’s happening as it happens.
Huge thanks to the Hilton Bonnet Creek and Waldorf Astoria Orlando for putting me up here this weekend, having such a plush place close-by to rest my weary feet after running the 5K and 10K (my first) on Thursday and Friday has been wonderful. And as I work up the courage and strength to run a half marathon, I definitely know where I’ll be staying!
Please stay tuned and follow along – and feel free to ask any questions either here or on your preferred social media platform, that I can answer for you while I’m here! See you on the courses!
After my recent visit a little further north of the hot Florida sun, the cooler weather got me thinking about the holiday season, so I was thrilled when this announcement about the Gaylord Palms ICE! theme and other Christmas events came through. This year, ICE! will feature The Nutcracker, one of my favorite holiday tales and one with a personal connection – my mother (a former professional ballerina) played the Sugar Plum Fairy for the Boston Ballet many years ago and it’s always been a family tradition to watch or experience The Nutcracker somehow each year. I think The Nutcracker is a perfect theme for the amazing ice sculptures featured at Gaylord Palms and can’t wait to see it in person. I’ll have to bring my mom too! This year they’ve also added Alpine Snow Tubing to the ICE! festivities. Can’t wait!
Here is more about ICE! and the other Christmas offerings at Gaylord Palms, which is beautiful year-round, but even more so during the holidays:
Dreams of the Sugar Plum Fairy and the Mouse King will come to life in a full-on frozen wonderland this winter during Christmas at Gaylord Palms. On Nov. 15 scenes from everyone’s favorite ballet, the Nutcracker, will be reimagined in nearly 2 million pounds of hand-carved vibrant ice sculptures. ICE! will feature four slippery ice slides and live carving stations inside of the Artisans in Action Frostbite Factory.
New in 2014
That’s not the only exciting happening during this year’s annual Christmas at Gaylord Palms. Guests can now experience the rush – Alpine Rush Snow Tubing – an 18’ 8-lane giant snow hill created with 1.5 million pounds of real Florida snow. Children and adults of all ages will frolic with delight as they speed down these snow covered hills.
The Christmas Experience
Christmas at Gaylord Palms is a mystical experience that boasts the true nature of the season all under a glass enclosed atrium. Lush gardens sprinkled with poinsettias, grand holiday displays and more than 2 million twinkling lights. Don’t forget the famous 54-foot-tall majestic Christmas tree; character dining and meet and greets; delectable holiday dining; Cookies with Mrs. Claus and awe-inspiring live entertainment that crowds have grown to love including the rhythmic Luminescence show.
With so much to see and do, the best way to experience Christmas at Gaylord Palms is to spend the night with us. Packages are now on sale at ChristmasAtGaylordPalms.com.
ICE! is open daily from Nov. 15, 2014 to Jan. 4, 2015, including holidays. The Christmas experience begins Nov. 21, 2014. For more information and to purchase tickets, go to www.ChristmasAtGaylordPalms.com. There are many specials, Florida resident deals and more to choose from!
On to part two of our epic Summer Family Road Trip – after the Georgia Aquarium, we planned to head to Stone Mountain to explore the state park and experience the famous laser light show at night. However, the leaving at 3am, driving 7 hours, and walking in an aquarium for about 7 more, it was starting to catch up to us. We checked in to our hotel for the night, freshened up and grabbed a quick dinner. It was kind of late, around 7:30, by the time we decided to head over to Stone Mountain, but I at least wanted to see it and see the laser show. I figured we could come back another time and spend the day here, because there really is a lot to explore and do.
As we drove down the road leading to Stone Mountain, we just curved a little bit and the giant mountain loomed before us. Now I know there are many, many mountains bigger than this, but my kids only remember living in flat flat flat Florida, and I haven’t been back to Massachusetts where I grew up, or Virginia where I lived briefly since 2004 and 1987 respectively. And although we had been to California and Disneyland, the San Gabriel mountains were far enough off in the distance that Stone Mountain was pretty impressive to us all. And really, it IS impressive in its own right. Less than 20 minutes from the hustle and bustle of Atlanta, lies this monolith of stone, surrounded by beautiful forests and lakes and natural beauty. After being in the car and inside for most of the previous night and day, we were all ready for some fresh air.
I really had no idea just how much there was to do at Stone Mountain. There are nature trails, a golf course, a quarry exhibit, a grist mill, a carillon, fishing in the lakes, the mountain itself and a sky lift up to the top, and on top of all that, a little amusement park area with kids activities and water fun, 3-D movies. mini-golf and more. On top of that, they have Duck tours, and a railroad for train rides. It really is at least a whole day’s worth of fun.
We got there right as everything was closing down, and though I would’ve loved to do the Sky Ride or the train around the park, it just didn’t work out. So we got our tickets for the laser show and went down to the huge lawn area in front of the mountain and waited for it to start. It really is a fun, family atmosphere at Stone Mountain, with families playing ball and frisbee, having picnic dinners on blankets, you could just tell that for generations, this was a family tradition to come here and enjoy the park and the nighttime show too. Coming from a world of theme parks, this was great to see.
There are many ticket options to enjoy the various activities and attractions at Stone Mountain, including tickets to see the laser show in special terraced seating, which includes drinks and snacks for everyone in your party to enjoy the show. There is another option for a dinner package, which includes a traditional southern dinner before the show starts. They even have a member pass which pays for itself in two visits, which I just may look into myself!
The laser show was a fun tribute to all things Georgia. Again, you definitely got the sense that it was a time-honored local tradition. Fireworks capped off the show with a very patriotic finale to the night. Then began the trek back to the car, similar to trying to leave Epcot after the 4th of July. Being theme park experts, we took that in stride, but those not used to that kind of a crowd and wait in the parking lot should be prepared. It was beautiful to see the mountain lit up at night.
All in all, I’m very glad we got to experience a little taste of Stone Mountain, and definitely want to return for the day to explore all parts of it. We had a wonderful whirlwind visit to Atlanta, and were now ready for a good night’s sleep before we began the next leg of our journey, into new territory, bigger mountains, and more amazing memories. Stay tuned for part 3!