Our Magical Christmas Trip: Yacht Club (Nov 29th-Dec 6th) and AKL (Dec 6th-9th)

FootracerJ

Fire by Arthur
Joined
Jun 21, 2010
Overall this may have been the best trip out the 4 times we have been to Disney World. Granted, the special magic of our first visit it 2009 will never be the same, but now that our daughters are 16 and 12, there were some big advantages that offset that: No meltdowns, more things they are able to do, a deeper gratitude for the experience itself, and more stamina. And the character interactions; they cherish these more than they ever did. The characters were all good this time around and provided great and funny experiences. Gaston, Merida, and Alice were standouts, though I’m sure this varies from day to day.

Speaking of interactions, almost all of the cast members were great this time. Two years ago, we had experienced the common concern that the magic was fading and the cast members were losing their charm. Yes, on this latest trip, there were still a few workers that had that end-of-shift impatience and seemed to gloss over my older kids. But overall, most were passionate about their job and some of them went so far above and beyond that it made me feel like the golden days of Disney World were making a comeback.

This was our first time visiting during the Christmas season and we were blown away by the decorations. If you have never been to the castle when it is completely covered in shimmering twinkle lights (magically frozen by Elsa these days), I highly recommend doing it at least once in your lifetime. It is breathtaking.

The Yacht Club: It was fantastic. The feel of the lobby is cozy and classy, especially at Christmas. The Stormalong Bay pool is the most impressive in Disney World, in terms of size and variety. On our "resort day" I floated around the lazy river for a while and slid down the waterslide a handful of times (as all 40 year old Disney World-loving dads should do).

We also watched the Illuminations show several times from outside the Yacht Club resort, in addition to seeing it up close with a fastpass in Epcot. The holiday addition to Illuminations was wonderful and touching. Staying in either Yacht Club, Beach Club, or Boardwalk provides a great atmosphere for seeing the Epcot fireworks, as well as being within walking distance of two parks.

I think the only downside to The Yacht Club was that our room felt a bit old and worn out. Though, this is in comparison to the Animal Kingdom Lodge, which has the most amazing rooms I have ever seen. If it weren't for the distance away from the main parks, Animal Kingdom Lodge would be the hands-down place to stay in Disney World, always.

Animal Kingdom Lodge: As far as the resort by itself, it’s still our favorite. We have visited most of the other resorts, and none of them make you feel like you are in a whole different world like AKL. Even the pool area makes you believe you are exploring deep in the jungle as you seek out another hidden hot tub. The only drawback to Animal Kingdom Lodge is the travel times, which leads me to the most controversial Disney World problem: Scooter abuse.

The scooter abuse problem is getting worse. There has got to be a better solution! I have a caring heart for people with disabilities, but the use of them is growing like crazy. Many cast members have said, off-the-record, that this growth is from people who just don’t want to get too tired by walking in the park. Honestly, those folks are ruining it for the people with legitimate disabilities.

Based on my smartwatch we averaged 8 miles of walking per day in the parks (we were rather hardcore, morning ‘til close go getters—and we were SORE!). So yes, after spending all year in our deep rooted American culture of sedentary life and high sugar processed foods, suddenly walking 8 miles a day is not easy.

BUT, at 1AM, when a big group of people have been waiting for a bus for 25 minutes—and then that bus finally arrives and, at the last minute, here comes a person on a scooter and their entourage of 8 family members . . . . well, sympathy starts to wane. Yes, the entire crowd stands there and groans while watching as the person, who has obviously never operated a scooter before, tries to drive up the ramp and park their machine. Then after that twelve-minute fiasco, the person’s entourage boards. Finally, everyone who has been waiting can get on . . . . except the sorry few that have to stay and wait for the next bus because it’s now full. This happened more times than not as we rode the buses for 10 days. One of the times, the person on the scooter realized they were on the wrong bus and everyone seethed at the sight of them trying to maneuver back down the ramp.

Before I get off this topic, the strollers are also getting bigger and bigger—double and triple strollers have grown more popular. I find myself feeling sorry for the poor dads that have to fold those massive beasts up and carry them on the bus, clunking them against everyone’s knees as they walk down the aisle. I’m not trying to toot my own horn, but when my daughter was 5, she walked the parks—when she was tired, I carried her. I never bruised anyone’s knees on the bus or slammed into their ankles in the park (both of which happened to me on this trip). Granted, I also move out of the way of the people who charge right at you in the walkways without seeming to care. It may seem odd, but I feel compelled to be considerate of those around me, even if it takes some effort.

Anyhow, I don’t want to focus too much on the negative. The only other thing that can be tough is how often other people’s kids are throwing tantrums. You can just feel the frustration of the parents. Here they are giving their child the ultimate dream vacation, DISNEY WORLD! Yet, the kid is screaming because their little mind cannot process the fact that there are still limitations, even in the happiest place on earth. Throw in some heat, lack of sleep, and trying to do as much in the park as possible, and you’ve got a recipe for terrible meltdowns. I’ve always said I would love to live in Disney World . . . . but that is one thing that you can only be around for so long.

Getting back on track, the night shows were phenomenal and continue to make me emotional. The only one that felt lackluster to me was the Jingle Bell, Jingle BAM show in Hollywood Studios. It was fun, but not worth saving a spot for an hour to see it.

The crowd sizes didn’t really bother me this time. They were probably medium-to-high, relatively speaking, but seemed pretty spread out and manageable. There was one extra magic hours day in Magic Kingdom that got bad for a while, but that was it. It amazes me how long people are willing to wait for some things in the standby line. If you are good at using the Fastpass+ system, it doesn’t seem necessary to wait longer than a half hour for any attraction.

This was our first split-stay (Yacht Club, then Animal Kingdom Lodge) and it went smoother than I expected. If you do this, a helpful tip is to keep your clothes and stuff organized during your stay. We had a little bit of a fire drill getting packed up for our transfer that could have been avoided. Also, if we do a split stay in the future, we will try to split it evenly. With 7 nights in Yacht Club and 3 in AKL, we felt like we barely got to enjoy AKL.

Another first for us this trip was NOT having a dining plan. We did save money going that route, though we didn’t order the excessive desserts and snacks that we usually feel “forced” to get when we have a dining plan. When we had a dining plan in the past, it felt like we were always waddling around stuffed to the max with food and ice cream. If that is your thing, the dining plan is worth it, but keep in mind that you are still paying 20% tips with the dining plan—including on all that extra stuff that you may not have ordered out of pocket.

In the future, I will always try to find free-dining deals, because that saves more money than any room discounts will. If I can't get free-dining, I'll go out of pocket.

On a side note, when the servers asked if we were on the dining plan, it always seemed like a look of disappointment flashed across their face when we said “no.” I may have been misinterpreting that, however.

We also used Amazon Now to order snacks to our resort, which arrived within three hours after ordering. I highly recommend this if you have an Amazon prime account. In the future, we will use this service ahead of time and plan some actual meals with it, instead of just an afterthought hodge-podge of crackers and granola bars.

I could write pages about the hundreds of priceless moments we enjoyed—from visiting resorts and seeing the giant gingerbread house at the Grand Floridian, to Russell (from Up) saluting me when he found out I was an Eagle Scout—then making the “drop the mic” gesture when we compared merit badge counts and he had twice as many. Many of these are personal and would come across as rambling in this report.

In the end, it was heart wrenching to leave, as usual. I have to give a big kudos to the Magical Express driver, who softened the blow by asking Disney World Trivia questions on the trip to the airport—making it feel like we still had a cast member with us on that part of the journey.

And, as they say, the best way to get over the post Disney World blues is to start planning your next trip—no matter how far away that might be.
 
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heaven2dc

DIS Veteran
Joined
May 26, 2003
I truly enjoyed your honest report :) We would love to stay at both the Yacht Club and AKL some day - our go-to resort has been Boardwalk Villas and we love the location. I can empathize regarding the scooter/stroller dilemma. It can be frustrating waiting for a bus for a longer than usual time and then not being able to board the bus. I always wondered if there should be more buses for the hotels especially during opening/closing times.

We love when the Magical Express driver engages the guests - makes the time fly especially on the way to the resort. It's always such a sad trip on the way home so any fun is appreciated.

In regards to the Yacht Club, did you find the location to work for your family in terms of walking to both Epcot/Hollywood Studios? Or did you take the Friendship boats? Sometimes it seemed we could walk faster back from HS.
 

FootracerJ

Fire by Arthur
Joined
Jun 21, 2010
In regards to the Yacht Club, did you find the location to work for your family in terms of walking to both Epcot/Hollywood Studios? Or did you take the Friendship boats? Sometimes it seemed we could walk faster back from HS.
We enjoyed walking to both Epcot and Hollywood studios from the Yacht club. I know that walking from Epcot is faster than the boat, because our daughters took the boat one time, while my wife and I walked back, and we got to our room way before they did.

When we were in Hollywood Studios, I realized I had forgotten our Visa Rewards Card, and I ran to the Yacht Club and back in less than fifteen minutes to make a Sci-Fi dinner reservation in time. Boy, did I get some entertaining looks as I sprinted down the path, sucking wind the whole time.
 
  • FootracerJ

    Fire by Arthur
    Joined
    Jun 21, 2010
    Great report- fantastic tip about Amazon Now!
    Also, note, "Amazon Now" is a completely separate app to download if you are going to use the smartphone app, or a separate site (primenow.amazon.com) if you use a browser.

    We made the mistake of putting together an order on Amazon Pantry at first, which charges for delivery (Amazon Now is free delivery) and takes 5-7 days to ship!

    You may wonder why anyone would use Amazon Pantry; well, because it's available everywhere, where as Amazon Now is only available at select locations (Orlando happens to be one of them).
     

    Hopefully

    DIS Veteran
    Joined
    Nov 3, 1999
    I would like to speak to your scooter concerns. I understand.
    That said, I have an invisible disability and I require a scooter or I can't go to Disney. I have Severe COPD. I get extremely short of breath walking any distance or even a short distance if it is up a slope. I deal with these limitations in real life" as well. I look fine at rest and you may judge me to just be lazy. I can't state strongly enough how I wish I could still walk Disney ( or around the block at home). Abusers ruin it for me too
     
  • natebenma

    Beach Club Dee
    Joined
    Jul 19, 2008
    Thank you for the detailed review of your trip, especially your comments about the Yacht Club (I'm biased) and the info about Amazon Now. It is great to get feedback about this relatively new service

    We have a section on the Yacht and Beach Club FAQ thread for trip reports. Would you mind if I added a link to this report there?

    :goodvibes
     

    natebenma

    Beach Club Dee
    Joined
    Jul 19, 2008
    We enjoyed walking to both Epcot and Hollywood studios from the Yacht club. I know that walking from Epcot is faster than the boat, because our daughters took the boat one time, while my wife and I walked back, and we got to our room way before they did.

    When we were in Hollywood Studios, I realized I had forgotten our Visa Rewards Card, and I ran to the Yacht Club and back in less than fifteen minutes to make a Sci-Fi dinner reservation in time. Boy, did I get some entertaining looks as I sprinted down the path, sucking wind the whole time.

    PS- Loved your story about racing back and forth from HS to YC. One of my favorite Disney memories was when my family walked back on the path and decided to race one of the Friendship Boats coming from HS. We arrived at the YC boat dock right around the time passengers were getting off the boat and going into the resort. My son Nate ran ahead so he would be first , turned around to taunt the people he had beat, and then tripped on the rug.

    :lmao:
     
  • FootracerJ

    Fire by Arthur
    Joined
    Jun 21, 2010
    My son Nate ran ahead so he would be first , turned around to taunt the people he had beat, and then tripped on the rug.

    :lmao:
    Now that is really funny! The path from the YC/BC/BW to Hollywood Studios is a gorgeous walk/run. I really think they should make a walking path from Animal Kingdom Lodge to Animal Kingdom. It would be beautiful and free up some buses.
     

    natebenma

    Beach Club Dee
    Joined
    Jul 19, 2008
    Now that is really funny! The path from the YC/BC/BW to Hollywood Studios is a gorgeous walk/run. I really think they should make a walking path from Animal Kingdom Lodge to Animal Kingdom. It would be beautiful and free up some buses.
    I totally agree! Our main choice in a resort is the ease of walking to the theme parks. Thus our love for the Yacht & Beach Club, Hard Rock Hotel at Universal and Grand Californian at Disneyland. Sadly, that is also the reason we may never stay at AKL, even though it is an incredibly gorgeous resort and you can see animals from your balcony. Being able to walk to the parks is that important to us.

    Any idea what the distance between the resort and Animal Kingdom park is?

    :simba:
     

    FootracerJ

    Fire by Arthur
    Joined
    Jun 21, 2010
    Any idea what the distance between the resort and Animal Kingdom park is?
    I'm not sure of the exact distance as the crow flies, but based on the map it looks like it's closer than the distance between the Yacht Club and HS.

    The ability to walk to the park is big for us as well. That's why we are considering an even split stay next time, where we do our Epcot and HS visits while at an Epcot resort. Then we'd stay at AKL and do our Animal Kingdom visit. We'd split our multiple Magic Kingdom visits between the two, since we'd have to take a longer bus ride either way for that. We looked at the Magic Kingdom resorts, but they are too overpriced in our minds--and the Contemporary felt way too cold, bland, and unwelcoming for our taste.
     
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    ariane37

    Dis veteran
    Joined
    Sep 25, 2012
    Thanks for your review. We were at BC from 11/19-11/26, our first stay there although we've stayed at BW 4x. The location of all the Epcot resorts can't be beat! We were able to see both Illuminations high fireworks and the same for JBJB from our balcony :)

    We've had one stay at AKL and feel the same as you, those rooms are absolutely gorgeous. We also didn't mind any of the transportation times, but we were there without our kids which may have had something to do with it. Regardless of transportation ease, it's my 2nd favorite resort (after WL)

    Also we've always found the walk to both Epcot and HS to be quicker than the boats! Even if a boat is pulling in to HS as we're beginning our walk back to our resort, we end up getting there slightly before. Glad you had a great trip!
     

    FootracerJ

    Fire by Arthur
    Joined
    Jun 21, 2010
    Regardless of transportation ease, it's my 2nd favorite resort (after WL)
    We had a reservation to stay at WL this time, but a better AKL deal popped up, so I switched. We visited WL on our transfer day and loved it--definitely a possibility for us in the future. We still consider AKL our home resort, and it has a lot of nostalgic value because that's where we stayed during our first trip.
     


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