Visit Walt Disney World in Style
Is your image of Walt Disney World one of sleeping in motel-style accommodations and dining on hamburgers as you roam the theme parks? Well, it’s time to change that picture. Instead of a chain motel, how about an African-style lodge or a resort with the sophisticated ambience of an exclusive yacht club? Instead of chicken fingers, how about Potato Wrapped Florida Red Snapper with a Creamy Leek Fondue, Basil-Crusted Rack of Lamb with a Ragout of Spinach, Shitakes, and White Beans, or Grilled Buffalo Top Sirloin with Sweet Potato Hazelnut Gratin and Sweet Onion Jam? No question about it, Walt Disney World offers an abundance of amazing themed resorts and superb restaurants that are perfect for the sophisticated traveler. Here are some of the best experiences to indulge in while touring Mickey Mouse land:
Most Luxurious Resort
Disney’s flagship resort, The Grand Floridian, with its red-gabled roofs and Victorian elegance, draws inspiration from the grand Florida seaside “palace hotels” of 19th-century America’s Gilded Age. Just a short monorail ride to the Magic Kingdom, it spreads along the shore of the Seven Seas Lagoon, offering spectacular views of Cinderella’s Castle and the Wishes fireworks display. You’ll also be treated to some of Disney’s very best restaurants along with two sophisticated pools, a crescent white sand beach, a full-service health club and spa, tennis courts, and sophisticated shopping.
Most Atmospheric Resort
Disney’s Animal Kingdom Lodge is a stunningly faithful celebration of African wildlife, culture, cuisine, and art. Here the atmosphere literally pulsates with the beat of drums throughout 33 acres of glorious savanna filled with hundreds of roaming exotic animals. The lodge’s 5-story, thatch roof lobby is a wonder with its massive overhead chandeliers formed by resplendent Masai shields overlooking safari chic seating. Don’t even consider a room without a savanna view, well worth every penny for its front row view of the wildlife. The resort boasts an 11,000 square foot pool overlooking the savanna, a full service spa and fitness center, and one of Disney’s loveliest restaurants, Jiko, serving international food with an African flair.
Best Resort For Romance
Disney’s Polynesian Resort’s lush grounds and white sand beaches with views of Cinderella’s castle are a dream come true. Tangerine and mahogany tinted longhouses are scattered throughout this luxuriant property where ducks and ibis roam the dense vegetation and thick, grassy lawns. Meandering pathways lined with volcanic rock are tiki torch-lit at dusk, and soft Hawaiian melodies set the mood for memorable nights. Come nightfall, pick a hammock on one of three beaches for a spectacular vista of the Magic Kingdom fireworks.
Best Resort For Nature Lovers
I challenge you to keep your jaw from dropping on your first encounter with the awesome eight-story lobby at Disney’s Wilderness Lodge. Sheer walls of ponderosa pine logs, an 82-foot fireplace, and authentic Pacific Northwest totem poles overlook rugged stone and hardwood floors topped with Native American rugs, teepee chandeliers, and a bevy of “park ranger” staff who roam the lodge attending to guests. Outside is a breathtaking scene of roaring waterfalls, rushing creeks, towering pines, and a boulder-lined, hot springs-style swimming pool, one of Disney’s best. On the shores of Bay Lake, Wilderness Lodge’s very own geyser is surrounded by a steaming expanse of geothermal activity and erupts hourly from early morning until late night.
Best Resort Pool
Stormalong Bay at Disney’s Yacht and Beach Club offers three acres of winding, watery delight. Here you’ll find sandy bottom pools, a giant “shipwreck” waterslide, a tidal whirlpool, bubbling hot tubs, a kiddie pool with its own slide near the beach, and enough waterway to float lazily in inner tubes to your heart’s content.
Best Resort Restaurant
The California Grill is a definite highlight for any connoisseur of cutting-edge cuisine. The modern decor and constant bustle of excited diners only adds to its drop-dead setting on the 15th floor of Disney’s Contemporary Resort. Its broad windows present an unbeatable panorama of the Magic Kingdom and the Seven Seas Lagoon and on many nights picture-perfect views of the Wishes fireworks show. From pristinely fresh sushi to the exceptional New American Cuisine to sensational desserts and the outstanding California wine list, this place has it all. The open show kitchen is a treat, and the cocktail lounge has some of the best views in the house. And don’t be discouraged if the coveted window seats are all taken. Head out to the adjoining observation platform during the fireworks presentation where you’ll get a bird’s-eye view of the extravaganza.
Most Romantic Restaurant
Victoria and Albert’s at Disney’s Grand Floridian Resort offers fine dining in a elegant setting combined with flawless service. Honored with a AAA Five-Diamond Award for the 3rd year in a row (the only such restaurant in Orlando), diners feast on six sumptuous, prix-fixe courses served on Royal Doulton china with crystal glasses to the strains of the enchanting sound of harp music. Those seeking a special evening should book the 6-person Chef’s Table set in a candlelit alcove in the kitchen, perfect for an up-close, behind-the-scenes look at Disney’s top chef in action.
Best Theme Park Restaurant
Epcot’s Bistro de Paris is a charming Belle Époque dining room with an air of exclusivity. Here you’ll find gilded mirrors, crimson banquettes, and billowy white drapes that frame windows overlooking the World Showcase Lagoon. Servers with delicious French accents roll out sensational dishes and stylishly plate them tableside. Fresh ingredients are prepared simply in tantalizing sauces, and the all-French wine list is a pleasure. Afterwards, order a dessert of crepes prepared and flamed at your table while lingering over cordials and coffee in anticipation of the Illuminations spectacle.
Most Exotic Restaurant
The Animal Kingdom Lodge’s premier dining room is Jiko (Swahili for “cooking place”), one of the most seductive spaces yet at a Disney hotel. Floor to ceiling windows look out on a boulder-strewn creek. The soft, contemporary lighting, fantastically shaped in the guise of bird wings, hangs from a rich, blue ceiling creating the feeling of open space. Giant, twin clay ovens draw the eye to the open kitchen where an eclectic blend of creations prepared with African spices and ingredients are turned out in attractive presentations. Accompany your meal with a selection from the all South African wine list, the largest in North America.
In short, Walt Disney World is not just for kids! It’s a world of fantastic resorts and innovative dining just waiting to be explored. You may never even make it to the parks.
Cara Goldsbury is the author of The Luxury Guide to Walt Disney World: How to Get the Most Out of the Best Disney Has to Offer available at 800-247-6553, www.luxurydisneyguide.com, Amazon.com, or your local bookstore. Visit her at www.luxurydisneyguide.com.