Brad Wardell's views about technology, politics, religion, world affairs, and all sorts of politically incorrect topics.
Disney Vacation: Day 1
Published on April 24, 2005 By Draginol In Vacations

There are a lot of guides out there about going to Disney World on a small budget. We've explored how maximize ones Orlando Florida experience on the cheap in the past. There's camping, there's time-shares, there's low cost hotels.

But what about at the high end? If you put in the bucks, how well does Disney scale up? Based on recent Disney commercials, the implication is that Disney can also serve as a pretty impressive upscale destination if you want to put in the dollars.

So this time around, we thought we'd put that to the test.  Our family of 4 has myself, my wife, and our two small children.  We purchased Disney's "Magic Your Way".  This includes a Concierge room at the Polynesian resort.  The Polynesian is rated as the second highest rated luxury resort located in Disney World (Grand Floridian is the best).  And the Concierge rooms are the best of the best at the Polynesian. 

There's a lot of "special services" you get by getting a concierge room. Examples - all day exclusive buffet for being able to get pretty high end snacks throughout the day (at night there's wines, cognac, and specialty drinks along with very tasty deserts).  The view looks out right at the lagoon where you can see the nightly fireworks, boat parades, etc.  And the special perks such as a staff that will make sure you "get into" whatever you want on short notice (such as character dinners without reservations if you're into that thing).

So how does this translate into reality?  Well, for me the question is number of fun units per dollar spent.  And make no mistake, if you have small children, Disney World rocks.  We're having a great time.  But so far I can tell you that the experience doesn't scale well.

Part of the issue has to do with the incredible gouging that the resorts take part in.  Want a "cheap" lunch for a family of 4? It's going to be around $30 and we're talking McDonald's level food here.  The Consierge floor does cut down on this since it has enough snacks to tide the kids over the but expense is immense.

The tickets and room combined end up aboug $800 PER DAY. Bear in mind, that's a family of 4 but the tickets are only around $120 per day of that cost.  That leaves nearly $700 per day just for the room. And the Polynesian is unimpressive.  It doesn't have Internet access (i'm writing this via my cell phone connection).  The rooms are one room, nothing you wouldn't expect in a Day's Inn.  The fireworks and boat light show are neat but not worth any sort of real premium.  And the constant food buffet probably saves us $30 or so per day in food expenses, that still leaves us with $670 per day.  Even if you give the view $70 per day, you're talking about a hotel at $600 per day. 

Okay, fine, what about conveniences? After all, isn't that really why you'd say at the Polynesian or the Grand Floridian? Convenience to get to the park?  The mono-rail comes right into the resort which is nice.  And there's shuttles to take you to the various Disney properties.  But on the other hand, if you get a decent hotel in Orlando for say $200 per night, rent a car ($70 per day here -- yea it's steep) and spend an extra $30 per day infood and you're looking at $300 per day vs. $700 per day. 

In other words, staying in one of the premium resorts with relatively convenient access to the parks is a $400 premium per day.  And in my view, that kind of premium isn't justified for what you get.  Simply put, Disney World doesn't scale well.  It's still a blast of course but the experience isn't really much better than it would be if we'd stayed at a nice but less expensive hotel locally.

What could/should they do? I can think of a few things:

1) The Polynesian should have real Internet access. I know that sounds geeky but believe me, when you've got 2 small children, there's some down time.

2) Don't gouge us at the resort.  Meals at certain resort restraunts should be included.  It really chaffes me to spend another $30+ to get a couple of burgers and fries and chicken fingers.

3) Universal Fast Pass.  Fast Pass is a great idea. But you still have to go to the ride, pick up a fast pass, then go back an hour or two later.  For that $400 premium, fast pass should be something you always have.

4) Less waiting.  The Polynesian and the Grand Floridian are the most expensive of the Disney resorts.  They should have an extra shuttle going to them for each of the parks so that there's less waiting.  20 minutes of waiting may not seem like a lot but add it up during the course of a week and you're talking a couple of hours.  And again, if you're charging $400 per day as a premium, the return should be about increasing the amount of Disney magic you are able to get.

5) MUCH better rooms.  Here's a ridiculous thing - I'm writing this laying on the bed in the $700 per day room because it's too small to have a desk.  The television is 13 inches. The bathroom is tiny.  We're talking a very low end room. 

Anyway, so that's the first day's impressions.  Disney World is a great vacation destination. But even if you have money to spend, don't waste it on spending on extras at Disney World.  It just doesn't scale up. They'll happily take as much money as you can throw at them but they're just not set up to make it worth it.  The law of diminishing returns starts far lower here.

on Apr 24, 2005
Let me know if you need any tips on places to go.
on Apr 24, 2005
Well, just a bit of history, the Polynesian was one of the originial four hotels open when WDW opened in 1971. (maybe it was 75, but I know it was one of the originals) That might be why it's not that updated yet. I've stayed in Fort Wilderness, Port Orleans, Coronado Springs, and the Beach Club. The Beach club was REALLLY nice and so was Coronado Springs. As to the connected-ness of the resorts to the parks, I feel that the monorail is a nice touch (and uber cool to ride on as a kid...*PLEASE STEP AWAY FROM THE DOORS! ding dong!*) but all of the other hotels are easily available via the buses.

It might cost you, but I'm sure the kids will love it. I don't know if you have it penciled in or not, but try to grab breakfast one day at Chef Mickey's in the Contemporary Resort (just down the monorail track). It's very good restaurant plus all of the characters come around too. Have fun!
on Apr 25, 2005
Ouch, thats a pretty damning and comprehensive review of the service there. I agree that for a $400 dollar a day premium you should be getting a ton more perks. A 13 inch TV in a premium hotel suite is laughable.
on Apr 25, 2005
You didn't do your research.

Polynesian is one of their oldest resorts, and isn't really rated that well in most of the independant Disney books. You don't get what you pay for. There are several highly recommend print books that tell you how to get the most out of a disney vacation and offer an amazing amount of great advice. As a result of reading these books, our vacations to disney are always our best vacations by far.

For resorts, Disneys Animal Kingdom Lodge is new, gorgeous, fully appointed with all of the luxuries, has the best restraunts, best rooms, and best views. You wake up in the morning overlooking a safari with rhinos, giraffes and the works, its stunning! Costs are a good bit less than Polynesian believe it or not.

So in a nutshell, it sounds like you didn't do your research, because if you had, you'd of known Polynesian was overpriced and under appointed, and there are far better alternatives. Go visit the Animal Kingdom Lodge while you are there, and you will understand this for yourself. Its lightyears ahead of the polynesian in luxury, yet cheaper amazingly.
on Apr 25, 2005

Well whether my wife researched the issue or not, it doesn't change the bottom line -- Disney itself controls the rates on their resorts. So if the Polynesian (which came highly recommended) is not a good deal, that reflects badly on Disney World, not us.

Moreover, if my wife's research was so poor, surely you'd been able to name a bunch of better options. You named one -- Animal Kingdom Lodge -- which we did indeed look into but chose not to go to.

If Disney wasn't the one in charge of the resorts, then I'd say "shame on us" for not "researching" enough. But since Disney itself runs the resorts, it's fair to say that their own recommendations on where to stay and what they offer are due entirely to Disney's own decisions.  In other words, Disney fun still tops out at the high end.

on Apr 25, 2005
You'd be surprised that it doesn't top out, thats more your limited perception than fact. You just have to plan wisely, and do the research. Specifically independant sources. I highly recommend the "Unofficial Guide to Walt Disney World 2005 Edition". It will save hundreds, even thousands on a Disney trip, and is filled with information on how to do things the best, where to get the top end with top value combinations. We go to Disney every 2 years and each time we go, I order this book 3 months in advance and plan the perfect vacation adventure for us.

One of the things the book recommended was Animal Kingdom Lodge over the "Older" so-called upscale resorts like the Polynesian. They aren't updated, lack modern amenities and don't have the beauty of the newer resorts. Animal Kingdom costs less, yet is 5 star, has room balconies overlooking the most gorgeous savannah outside of Africa. I believe it is priced almost $400 a night less than Polynesian yet stomps it in luxury.

In addition Animal Kingdom Lodge has Boma, one of the highest rated dining experiances in Central Florida, and let me tell you, it's a dining experiance you will not soon forget, and very reasonable priced.

Walt Disney World still offers some of the best upscale resort experiances money can buy, but it takes careful research and advanced planning to take full advantage of everything they have to offer. After 10 trips to Disney World, we have it down to a science. I'm a virtual travel agent when it comes to what they offer, what is the best, and what gives you the most bang for your buck. The most important thing to remember is throwing a lot of money at something, doesn't always result in the best experiance (shocking, I know, but true in all of life).

on Apr 25, 2005
When we went we stayed at the All Star Movies resort - a value resort. Really I think other than the buffett and view we got all the other perks mentioned. I do think staying on site was much more fun. It really added to the experience. Our room was small but we didn't spend too much time there. We were running the whole time. I am planning to go next year but we will be staying at Shades of Green which is on Disney property but exclusively for the military. They have larger rooms but its not the cutsie Disney theme. My boys are bigger and we need space more than cute now. I will make sure to watch out for crazy people with tasers pointing our direction - lol!
on Apr 25, 2005
My friends and I went for three days- four nights in a Disney hotel and all the parks for $1000... and we got half-off the hotels and free tickets! That thousand was for gas, food (which we bought at grocery stores and one meal a day in park)and the half of the hotel rooms. I agree, the rooms should be better. They were very generic for the price we paid... and like I said, we got half off.
on Apr 26, 2005
The Disney commercials always show these rooms that have separate areas for the parents and children.  What resort is that?  They never mention it.  You would think for that price and the way they describe the Polynesian that it would be better than that.  I'm too cheap to spend that much on a room, so I don't have to worry about having that problem
on Apr 26, 2005

Henfg, I think we have differernt ideas of what "top out" means.

After your response, I asked my wife, who stressed very adamently that she did look through a number of Disney guides she bought at the local book store, about the Animal Kingdom lodge.

She said: 1) No on-site child care.  2) No mono-rail or boat access to other parks. 3) Much farther away from other attractions than others (which adds up when you're taking around small children). 4) Does not have visual access to the nightly fire works (again, with small children a big deal) 5) No nightly light show with the boats on the water 6) Requires a lengthy bus-trip to get to other resorts.

In other words, what you and I consider to be essentials differ.

But the main point is about topping out -- you're essentially arguing that Animal Kingdom Lodge is more bang for the buck. And I'm not going to argue against that since I haven't stayed there.  But that is a very different argument from what I'm making -- scaling your buying dollars.  For me, not having an on-site night-care for children (so that the wife and I can spend some adult time checking things out) would have been a show-stopper.  Having it take longer to get to the parks would have been a show-stopper as well.

The problem is that Disney's resorts don't have a method of "getting it all".   You can't put "big bucks down" and get things like univeral fast pass.  The restraunts here are unimpressive (I've gone to ones in Fort Wilderness Lodge, Polonesian, and Grand Floridian -- and in every case the service has been sub-par compared to a similarly priced restraunt in Manhatton or San Francisco). 

I don't mind paying even $1k per day if I'm getting some serious benefits.  But Disney World doesn't seem to have an option to make it worth the while.  Animal Kingdom Lodge sounds better - in some ways - than the Polynesian.  But it also sounds like it's pretty deficient in other areas.  Today my wife is taking the kids around to explore/shop at the various nearby resorts, a 2 or 3 minute Mono-rail trip each. Something not practical at the Animal Kingdom Lodge.

Disney's fun doesn't scale because they don't provide the options of getting it all. 

on Apr 26, 2005

One other thing I want to really stress here:  This article isn't about "Best deals" at Disney or "Get the most bang for your buck" at Disney.  What I'm writing about is that Disney World doesn't scale in value as you go up in price very much.  It has a very definite top off which is not particularly luxurous.

on Apr 26, 2005
Slightly off topic but
Disney's websites are and have always been shit always laggy.. **Doing a web ordering site heavy in flash... Bah!
Fucking thing doesn't work right now

Anyone else ever notice that?
on Apr 28, 2005
The evolution of the Disney Theme Park will be that your entire trip is planned before you get there. Having been there several times and most recently in January of this year, (this is the best time of year to go ... weather is great and lines are short) we always like to find out what is next. We found out that they are kicking around the idea that you will have the ultimate fast pass. You are scheduled to ride at a specific time and date prior to arriving atthe resort. For someone like me who goes a lot this isn't a bad idea, but if it's your first time you probably have no idea what you will or won't like. I'm all for it.

Don't miss Mission Space. This is the best ride I have ever been on.