This week I am glad to have a good friend take the spot light on his recent trip. Brian and I have been friends for a few years now and while we have a lot to talk about, most the time it comes back to Disney. I was able to help him book his recent vacation and asked if he would share his thoughts on staying off site, and Genie +. This post will focus on his off site hotel stay and overall trip. His thoughts on Genie + will come out later this week.
My first trip to Disney World was back in 1982, I stayed off site. Let’s be honest – there weren’t the options that we have now and it was more common. We stayed at a Days Inn style hotel that had a pool. Nearly 40 years later, I’d be surprised if it’s still standing. You drove in to the Magic Kingdom, or Epcot that opened that year, and would ride a tram to the gates. It wasn’t that bad and we didn’t really know any different.
Locations that existed in 1982 were the 11-year-old Contemporary resort, Polynesian, Fort Wilderness and the slightly newer Village Resort, and Golf Resort. Not quite the network of hotels we are used to today.
More recently we decided to take a quick trip to Disney World to see all of the 50th anniversary setup and Christmas decorations. My first inclination was to splurge and spend two nights in an original resort – Contemporary or Polynesian. Both were not available. We looked at other options with the most reasonably priced option being Pop Century. The other family we were traveling with had 5 in their group and their costs were going to be pretty high with extremely limited choices. This led us to look off campus.
With the work of our Disney Vacation Planner Jason Davis, we located a hotel – the Homewood Suites in the new Flamingo Crossings area outside the West gate.
We arrived at the Homewood Suites on Thursday evening to find our tickets awaiting us at the desk. The first question I asked was how often does the shuttle run to Disney Springs. I learned at that moment that there was not a shuttle available and that the shuttle that was promised to take us to Disney World only ran a few times a day and would cost $10 per person. We were a little shocked to learn that we would be driving to the parks the next two days and paying parking. Parking would be $25 per vehicle or $50 per vehicle for a premium spot.
The hotel itself was nice. We were able to park in the front and unload our luggage. Plenty of luggage carts were available which is not always common. There was also an easily accessible parking deck available that accommodated my large truck with a couple of inches to spare.
The room had two queen beds in one room and a fold-out couch in the other room. The sink was separate from the bathroom shower/toilet which made it easier for multiple people to get ready in the morning. The hotel had a very popular, but well-stocked breakfast buffet included in the cost of the room available each morning. Make your own Mickey waffles, which you know I did.
Because we stayed off-campus we were not able to activate Genie Plus until the day of our visit. This means we were unable to book our first experience until the day of. Also, Lightning Lane experiences were unavailable till the same day. Some of the more popular experiences like Rise of the Resistance were sold out meaning a nearly 3-hour wait to ride.
We didn’t book any dining experiences in advance but didn’t have any major issues eating where we wanted as long as you are willing to wait. The first night we waitlisted at Rain Forest Cafe in Disney Springs for a table for 9. It took about an hour but we were seated.
The second night we were in Epcot and waited less than 5 minutes to get a table for 9 at the Coral Reef restaurant located at the Living with the Seas pavilion. This provided an amazing view of the aquarium as we ate dinner. Eating fish while watching fish.
The third night we rolled the dice to see if we could get into Ohana at the Polynesian Resort, a restaurant that is normally booked well in advance. Our backup plan was to eat at Captains Cook’s in the same building if that didn’t work. We arrived and were told that we could put our name on the list but would not be given an apx. time to return. We walked around the resort and about 40 minutes later my phone vibrated. We had a table for 9! We enjoyed our family-style meal of steak, chicken, and shrimp while watching the fireworks over the park out the window. Even the music playing in the park is played over the speakers in the restaurant!
There were definitely differences staying off campus, ones that despite how nice the hotel was, were big enough that I would only stay on campus from now on. The walk each evening to our car in the parking lot was the worst part about the trip. You are tired, your feet ache, you just want to lay down, but you can’t. That reason enough is why I wouldn’t do it again.