Well back home, I think so anyway, not really awake enough to be sure yet.
Great time as always and many thousands of photographs taken. Will have to sort through when I wake up.
A few quick things whilst I remember them.
We had decided to skimp a bit on the flights since we're fortunate to go out there so often and just do economy but both going out/coming back Virgin had special offers at checkin for upgrades which worked out far cheaper than it would have been upgrading days before so we did that.
Both flights were on time, staff friendly enough and nothing to really complain about. The food on the way back was probably the most edible I'd yet experienced on a VA flight! Reasonably large piece of salmon with potatoes.
One thing of major note. We never used to bother with Downtown disney checkin but did this time. We arrived at Orlando airport with hours to spare and there was already a huge horrendous queue for virgin. They had perhaps three planes full of people waiting and the queue was wrapped round and round. THANKFULLY having done DTD checkin, we walked right past it and through security. We'll make sure to do DTD checkin all the time from now on
We went to Colonial photo/hobby in Orlando early on since they are perhaps the best/only real photo store around the area. First time we'd tried it and I can't say we were wowed. The prices were all top RRP and they weren't willing to discount to match amazon or even best buy. It's also not in a great area, so much so that our taxi driver insisted in coming in with us to escort us back to the car. Whilst I think he may have been exaggerating that a little, it certainly isn't in the best part of town. All in all, not worth a taxi journey given the prices although PERHAPS worth a car trip if you hire one and desperately need something photographic. Definitely worth trying best buy first though and even amazon who seem happy to send to Disney hotels.
A word on taxies. It pays to know where you're going and how to get there. If you find a driver you trust, ask for a card so you can call them directly for the rest of the trip. I've used taxies round the world and though Orlando may not yet be as bad, erm I mean, "creative", as some in new york/Vegas, they're getting there! Several times I had to tap them on the shoulder and say "look you can go this long way round if you want, I have lots of time but I'm only paying you for the direct route you just opted to avoid :)". Trying to get to Winter Garden Village, even with perfect instructions, was a particular nightmare. It's roughly a $30 ish trip from the contemporary and indeed, on the way back that's what we were charged but on the way out, the meter managed to get to $110. I believe they've had a hard time with the economy but still, cabs are expensive in Orlando and they've no right to rip tourists off
The Mall at Millenia is as lovely as ever and is the closest cheesecake factory I think? I wish they'd build a full one at Downtown Disney However, the mall is now completely women's fashion with the exception being the apple store. Seriously, even the tiny book store has now gone :( I guess the other exception is the ultra high price future tech store which sells a few cameras/lenses and cell phones at prices which have to be seen to be believed! I mean it's a beautiful mall, no doubt at all, and I know many of you will be thinking "yay clothes shops" but I do think the odd book shop, perhaps a cvs could be useful :)
By comparison the Florida mall is much the same as ever with a nice selection of general shops. Definitely a little less polished than the mall at millenia but if you only go to one mall, and aren't bothered by the latest designer brands, the florida mall is better. http://wdisneysecrets.com/index.php/...-shopping.html for more on shopping.
Winter Garden Village continues to be our favourite, if you can get there easily. Best buy, super target, book stores, restaurants all together in one admittedly huge area. A special mention to the Uno Chicago grill which always tries hard for us and makes us feel welcome.
Dining... well, where to even start Victoria & Albert flawless as ever although they seem to have switched from Evian water to well, something lesser which bugged us a little. Food and service perfect though and although expensive, it's a must do for that special occasion.
Although this year is Disney's "what are you celebrating?" year, if anything, we saw LESS fuss made of celebrations than ever before. Perhaps CMs are just plain bored of everyone celebrating something, but despite birthday/anniversary and so on being noted on reservations, little/nothing was said. Strange compared to previous years where the briefest mention would be rewarded with perhaps a tiny cake or some token. As a theme, this seems to be a flop and I hope they return to something more tangible soon.
California Grill made us ill (or so it felt!). Although always hard to pin down exactly, we were both really ill after the meal and for the next day or so. We planned to eat there twice and cancelled the second reservation. Shame since this has been one of our favourites for many years. Perhaps just a one off but we felt the service was off and the overall experience overpriced especially compared to off Disney restaurants.
Another special mention to Charley's steakhouse ~ Charley's Steakhouse ~ Aged Steak. Market Fresh Fish. Fine Wines.
We tried Ruth's Chris and Mortons but nothing compared to Charleys. This surprised me a bit given the relative prices and I'd heard such wonderful things about mortons. In the event, the Orlando mortons was a large room with tables thrown in there, nothing special, was practically empty when we were there. We ended up sitting directly across from the only other people in there so them on one side of the place, us on the other, staring at each other Servers weren't especially friendly, food was very good but no better than Charleys. Ruths chris somewhere in the middle. The servers definitely cared and were great, food again, no better than charleys and the atmosphere a little less good. SO thanks to Mr & Mrs Slowhand for introducing us to Charleys! Definitely my tip for a sensational steak only just off site, about $15 or so in a cab from AKL/all stars area.
GREAT times at the Luau and hoop dee doo, again, no surprise there and the unlimited wine helped I'm sure (hic!)
Food and wine festival HMMMsome really. EVERYTHING was several $ from the smallest taste of cheese upwards and whilst I'd been told and well prepared for this by other members here, the reality of it was just HMM! Eating our way round the world would have cost an absolute fortune and given the tiny portions, left us hungry at the end. Thankfully the alcoholic plans were somewhat better and did allow us to sample lots of different wines. Still, a bit disappointing and I wouldn't plan specially to go just for the FWF next year.
Halloween party great and I was AMAZED how many people dressed up. I reckon 80% or more had on costumes and they were REALLY great costumes too. Everyone was really into it and it was a great night.
Christmas party well, we went to the first one and it poured down for a couple of hours. I guess the rain plus the early date (nov 10th) plus the first showing all added up to it being less special than previous years. We missed the rain with a sneaky reservation for the liberty tree tavern (no characters still but all the better for it in my opinion!). Good food as always although underdone beef to my tastes, thankfully if you ask, the server will bring more well done meats
The CMs were all saying happy christmas and REALLY trying hard but the damp had certainly squashed a lot of the party feeling and prevented the first parade from running.
The WORST thing was the lack of the traditional Twas the night before christmas. This had become a tradition for us and the removal of this show from the party was a staggering mistake. They've integrated some of the dances into the castle forecourt show but everyone we spoke to lamented the lack of Twas the night. Worse still the new show, "A Totally Tomorrowland Christmas". YET ANOTHER excuse to trot out Stitch, buzz and the gang, as if we didn't have enough of Stitch already (he's even in the new TTA audio :/ ).
Well the new show had been rained off for a few hours. CMs did their best to prep the stage with blowers and brushes to remove excess water and eventually it began. The dancers tested the stage and didn't look that happy but still, they persisted.
The host, Haley Comet (oh dear), did a fine job despite appearing so hyper that one wonders how much sugar she'd eaten backstage. Promising Santa and even snow (ooo!) she then introduced the star of the show "Mike Wazowski from monsters inc".. you know, the big eye thing
So this dancing eye comes on stage, says welcome, throws his arms up in the air and one of them just kept on going. Yep, old mike's costume fell apart and his arm went soaring off into the distance.
Gasps across the kid section of the audience as mike the eye danced round a few more minutes with just an empty hole for an arm. A minute later they cancelled it and all future performances that night. Oh dear.
If someone considers this to be a suitable replacement for Twas the night then all I can say is WOW are THEY ever seriously deluded!
TTA mentioned elsewhere so won't rehash except to say, new audio HORRIBLE bring back "paging tom morrow, your party from saturn has arrived, please give them a ring". Why mess with the classics?
Animal Kingdom Lodge was wonderful and the CMs there really helpful and knowledgeable. I seem to be really highlighting the bad points, but with the new and busy kidani village, the bus transport to/from AKL is now worse than it was. It often arrived at the lodge already full of people and on the way back, frequently called at the kidani village first. So, as well as being a little further out, AKL now doesnt gave a true dedicated bus service, it shares it with the village next door. Kidani village itself doesnt quite feel finished. It's getting there though and should be a nice addition.
We were trying the new Bay Lake Tower at the contemporary this time and had booked a Studio with MK view. Well first thing to note, you have to checkin at the contemporary, there are no checkin desks at BLT itself. We didn't know this so having trekked over to BLT we went back over to the contemporary to checkin. We were checked in by a guy who kept doing that thing disinterested people tend to do when they're going through the spiel but their eyes are wandering round elsewhere having been assigned our room I noticed it was on the third floor and wondered how we could see the magic kingdom from there :/ when I asked if it really was an MK View room he said erm well yes you can probably see it from there, just.
So over we go and it was a rubbish view to be honest. We COULD see the castle if we went out on the balcony and looked all the way right, past the monorail track right in front but it was pretty lousy. Complaining about it quickly got us a room on the north side of the tower, 11th floor which was perfect. STUNNING view and exactly what I'd expected having paid for the MK view. Talked about this one quite a lot to CMs and other guests and thought I can't quite get it confirmed, it seems as though they've classified the whole "front" of BLT as MK view which may technically be accurate according to Disney's "if you can see water, it's a pool view" classification strategy but WOW if you're on the 1st/2nd/3rd floor and maybe even a few higher, you won't be getting a GREAT MK View and certainly nowhere NEAR as good as someone paying the same staying on for example the 11th floor. Worth saying here that the Contemporary apparently classifies only the higher rooms as true "tower - theme park view" to avoid this issue which explains why we've always had great views there! I'd really encourage disney to rethink this one and have a lower room rate for lower floors!
BLT itself was good. The room we had, studio sized, was, as real estate agents would put it "bijou but in an ideal area" they're certainly nowhere near the size of the contemporary rooms but were not as tiny as I'd been led to believe from some reviews. Certainly no problem for the two of us though I believe a family of three/four would have felt cramped.
There's no desk or anything at BLT so all guest services and the like must be done through the contemporary desks.
As it's a DVC resort, we found people were a lot more friendly with "howdy neighbour" from fellow guests and copious "welcome home"s from CMs and guests. Nice warming touch.
The walkway through to the contemporary is on the 5th floor and is a popular spot from which to watch the Magic Kingdom fireworks. Access to and from BLT requires a room key which kept it somewhat quieter than your average resort.
We were asked plenty of times if the monorail has a stop there, it doesnt and so you have to go through to the contemporary to get the monorail. Not that it's any problem at all thanks to the 5th floor walkway.
All in all, it's a very nice new resort and if you've bought points there for your home resort well done! You'll love it I'm sure :) It's ideally situated for the magic kingdom. I'd certainly recommend splashing out and making sure to get an MK view but here's my major concern. ONLY if you can guarantee a high enough room!
I really do seem to have listed a lot of negatives, whoops. It always seems easy to recall the icky bits somehow but the holiday really was great and I've some awesome memories of sitting out on the balcony watching wishes.
I'll try and get a few photos up there soon :)