Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Back to Reality. Reality Sucks.

God, the Disney Weekend was just about as perfect as I'd hoped, though hotter than the exhaust fan at Satan's Dry Cleaning. Hot, hot, hot, fry your brain hot. The sun was so intense that Neutrogena SPF 100 sunscreen applied liberally and often could barely keep up. My shoulders and face were a tad pink by last night, but that's only because I'd spent hours and hours in the gorgeous, huge, resort pool, so yay, sunscreen! The poolside bar's classic margarita was as good as I'd hoped. I only indulged in ONE, because the rest of the time I was in the water with Miss D.

I won't bore you with minute by minute details but will share the highlights. We arrived for the weekend separately, as they were staying three nights while I was staying for two. My daughter received her text that their room was ready early, so they parked at the resort and settled in their room. I didn't get the "room ready" text early, so I went directly to the park (my annual pass offers free parking, so I could leave the house later and go to Epcot until my room was ready). My daughter texted to say that the magic had already started: Delaney was wearing her Queen Elsa dress in honor of the princess luncheon, and the bus driver greeted Delaney as royalty and presented her with ring with a purple stone, a pirate themed bracelet, and a princess balloon! When they arrived at Epcot a photographer was waiting to take a complimentary photo of "Princess Delaney arriving at Epcot" which was later delivered to their room. After a spin on Test Track and a stop at the sooper seekrit Disney Visa cardholder character experience (Grandma may have gotten that Visa card just for the perks) and getting the first two signatures in Delaney's brand new autograph book, it was time for our late lunch. Akershus Royal Banquet Hall was truly a great experience. This is a restaurant adults without kids should not miss, the food is THAT good. It is a Disney restaurant and of course princess-focused, but adults without kids aren't viewed with suspicion, and the food is excellent and elegantly presented. We were all dazzled. Delaney was thrilled by it all. The front desk announces each party as "The Royal (insert name) Family!" with great fanfare, while the families waiting for their announcement were given cups of ice water and shade umbrellas, because did I mention Satan's Dry Cleaner?

After we were announced and granted admission, Delaney was taken to a private photo session with Belle, and it was on to the Royal Dinner. The appetizer buffet was a meal in itself, with a variety of cold Norwegian specialties like smoked herring and smoked salmon with capers and onions and sauce for topping, a variety of cheeses, green salad and a fabulous shrimp pasta salad (Delaney ate two helpings), and a variety of cold meats, and I'm sure I'm already forgetting something. I sampled the herring and salmon and cheeses and pasta salad and loved them all but paced myself, conscious of needing to leave room for my entree. I am not one of those people who takes pictures of my meals. I took one Saturday:
That is Aquavit Laks, described as "Pan-seared Salmon with Roasted Potato Cake, Pickled Fennel Slaw, and Aquavit Cream Sauce," and if you think the Disney Parks just slop food out to the thundering herds of tourists this place will change your mind, and blow your mind. All of our meals were elegantly plated, drizzled with sauce, and served by a wonderfully friendly and charming server from Norway. We all loved the food, even Her Royal Pickiness polished off her Norwegian meatballs and mashed potatoes AFTER shrimp salad, cold cuts, some smoked herring, and a roll and butter. This is the kid who lives on air and her mother's energy 90% of the time, but she loved this food and ate like a longshoreman. While we ate the princesses visited our table for autographs, pictures and hugs.

And the desserts! A dense and decadent chocolate mousse, an apple cake that looked like it would be dense but was actually delicate and airy, and a rice custard, served on a small platter with individual bowls for sharing. Delaney polished off nearly all of the chocolate mousse and declared it amazing. We all agreed that it is one of the best table service experiences we've had at the parks. Do it even if you don't have a kid with you, but do be prepared for the many small diners.

After lunch we were all hot and tired and dreaming of the pool, so while my daughter stopped in the Norwegian bakery to take treats back for later (the School Bread is legendary) I left them and headed to the resort to get settled into my room. I had received a text that my room was ready shortly before we boarded Test Track, and I was definitely wilting in the heat.

A minor snafu: we had requested rooms near each other, but ended up two buildings apart. I suppose I should go write a whiny one star review on Trip Advisor, but in reality it was no big deal. The resort had obviously tried to make up for our locations by giving us fab rooms. We had paid a discounted rate that gets parking lot views, but were given first floor rooms facing the water, each with a "quiet pool" right outside our doors.
My room was up those three steps and behind the small palm tree on the right. I could actually walk ten steps outside my door and fall into a pool if I wanted. Their room was similarly located adjacent to another "quiet pool." Yeah, we were a five minute walk apart, so should we bitch about not being in the same building facing the parking lot? I think not.

We met up again at the main pool, which is huge, loud and a lot of fun if you don't mind huge and loud, which we didn't, but that's why they also have the scattered "quiet pools" like the ones outside our doors, which are smaller and more private. The big pool suited us just fine with its classic rock soundtrack and the sun setting; it was hard to leave. Actual exhausted child finally got us to call it a day.

Resort Reality: there are the usual tiny in-room coffeemakers suitable for emergency caffeine (and a mini-fridge) but good coffee is a bit of a walk. Of course, on a gorgeous morning with the sun reflecting off the water it's not exactly torture. If it had been raining the entire time I might be feeling a bit more whiny, but I didn't feel put upon while walking to the cafes at El Centro with my prepaid refillable cup, with the early morning sun glinting off the water and jazzy Latin guitar playing from the shrubbery.

It IS a big, sprawling resort and you WILL walk, but the stories of having to walk forever to get to a room are basically bullshit. I was in Building 9A and had no problem finding a parking spot in the 9A lot a two minute walk to my door. If you arrive by Disney bus from the airport they'll haul you and your stuff to your door on a golf cart. But it IS a huge property and you will walk. If for any reason you can't or don't want to walk any distance accommodations can be made, or you can always choose a more compact resort (I still want to stay at the French Quarter).

As for the Zero Star TripAdvisor whines, 95% of them are nonsense. There's a lot of talk about "moldy grout." The grout isn't moldy, it's colored a blue tone to coordinate with the accent tiles. The tile caulk is whiter than white and immaculate, and that's where mold shows first. There was no mold. It was spotless. The caulk would be better in a beige, IMO. The shower head was fabulous, as are the resort toiletries. I LOVED the grapefruit bergamot shampoo and conditioner; my hair shined and looked fabulous until I walked out the door into the sauna. But I did admire it in the mirror. The bathroom lighting could be better. The fridge wasn't cold when I arrived, but was fixed and fine a few hours later. The towels are basic and adequate. It's a nice moderately priced room in a fantastic lush resort.

We never saw the infamous alligator, despite being out early and late when alligators are more active. I did nearly trip over a bunny in broad daylight on Saturday afternoon. I was walking to the big pool when a rabbit just stroll-hopped across the sidewalk right in front of me and I had to stop short to avoid it. Florida has some scary wildlife! I nearly tripped on a bunny!

And that pretty much covers Saturday.


Karen said...

We stayed at the French Quarter in April and loved it. It was so pretty and you really feel like you're strolling through New Orleans. It's smaller than the Riverside section, which has more of a plantation feel, but it was also less crowded and more quiet (at least it was when we were there!) You can also take a boat to Disney Springs from there, which is fun.

Our room was comfortable, with plenty of space for us both, and plenty of pillows!

KatyaR said...

It sounds wonderful! I'm glad you had a great time.

Liz said...

We've been trying to decide on what to do for our 5th wedding anniversary, and you might have just sold me on Disney! (To be honest, it was mostly between Disney and a Disney cruise, so it wasn't a hard sell, but my husband LOVES weird Scandinavian seafood, and I love princesses, so that sounds like the best dining experience ever.)

Catherine said...

I'm happy to be a Disney enabler! My unsolicited suggestion about where to stay: Port Orleans would be a lovely place for an anniversary trip, it's beautiful and charming and you can catch a free water taxi to Disney Springs (the new remake of Downtown Disney, tons of restaurants and Cirque du Soleil). And yes, Akershus is delightful - we were there for the princesses and were dazzled by the food!

Catherine said...

Karen, I've never stayed at the French Quarter but want to! My daughter stayed there twice, once on purpose, and once on a bump/upgrade. I joined them for an afternoon to explore and swim, and LOVED it. The walk along the river, the water taxi to Disney Springs, I think it's perfect, but I understand that she wants to explore other properties. Coronado Springs was great, but yeah, personally I'd rather stay at the French Quarter.

besshaile said...

oh man - I'm so glad you had that weekend. It sounds divine.

Karen said...

I'd second Port Orleans French Quarter as an anniversary destination! It's beautiful! We walked through the Riverside section of Port Orleans and it was pretty, but we absolutely loved French Quarter.