It’s been many and many a year since I visited Walt Disney World in Orlando, Florida, but after having my proverbial socks knocked off by Aulani in Hawaii (I say proverbial only because the place emphasizes barefoot luxury), I accepted an offer to accompany some members of the Fisher Travel team to see how the theme park is holding up.
I had forgotten how massive the resort is, and how many resort hotels are included within its boundaries. For the record, Disney owns more than 47 square miles in Orlando. That’s about two Manhattan Islands. It’s seriously big.
I’m staying at Animal Kingdom Lodge, an homage to African game reserves. Having stayed in several game reserves in Africa, I can say that they got plenty of details right, and that there is something utterly breathtaking about watching a giraffe amble along right outside one’s window, whether that window is in the Serengeti or in Orlando. (Though I will admit that my first thought upon seeing the giraffe was “Oh, no, if a lion comes along right now the kids are gonna be traumatized…” Fortunately, there are no lions or any other dangerous animals in the “Savanna” area of the park, but it would certainly be a good way to teach kids about the circle of life...Or maybe not.)
My room at the lodge is quite nice—smallish, and not ideal for business travel (not a lot of electrical outlets, and a dining-style table in lieu of a desk), but perfectly good for a couple or a small family. (And I already mentioned the views over the savanna—those are tops.) Oh, yes, and while the beds in my room don’t have mosquito netting all around them, there is a decorative panel of netting at the heads of each bed. It’s a pretty touch (must remember to suggest it to my interior designer), and a fashionable nod to African necessity.
After checking in, I headed over to the Saratoga Springs resort, part of the Disney Vacation Club, for a spa treatment. Elizabeth did a wonderful job working out (most of) the knots in my back, and the spa facilities look lovely. (I was pressed for time, so I didn't get a proper tour, but there seemed to be a good number of rooms, and the women's lounge was very soothing. Might go back there just to unwind in the hot tub...)
For dinner, I went with my host over to the California Grill at the Magic Kingdom’s Contemporary Resort, which nowadays looks delightfully retro. (It has undergone an extensive renovation since its 1971 opening, but maintains a few early-1970s touches.) The restaurant is huge and rather noisy (not a great option for a quiet romantic dinner), but kids are welcome and can learn about fine dining while looking down over the Magic Kingdom. (Great touch: Guests who dine at the restaurant can keep their receipt and come back at 900 p.m. for unobstructed views of the fireworks show over the Magic Kingdom.) The food is delicious, and covers a surprising range of styles. We started with a Dragon sushi roll (tuna, shrimp tempura, bell pepper, avocado and a chili soy glaze) and then tried an artisan flatbread (BBQ-flavor, delish) before moving on to the formal first course (a single, huge goat-cheese ravioli) and the main course…which, by then, we were too full to eat. (Well, I was, anyway.) The grilled pork tenderloin was just wonderful—incredibly tender, and served over goat cheese polenta with a zinfandel glaze.
Tomorrow I’ll be going on a Wild Africa Trek around the Animal Kingdom—this is a new feature of the resort, so I’ll be eager to see what that’s like…