The wheels on the Disney buses go ’round and ’round

So you’re finally at Disney for a vacation. Great! Let the magic abound! And you’re even staying on the Disney property due to some person’s blog about how great the property resorts are. Even better (and you’re welcome).

Hang on, how can you get to the parks? Would driving be the best way? Won’t that cost an awful lot of extra money for parking?

No worries, my friends. The Disney Imagineers have you in mind yet again. Your comfort and ease have been made a top priority. There’s a bus for that.

Now, I am not one to say that I travel by public transportation particularly often. Typically, I would prefer to drive my own car and have my own things very handy. But you’re on vacation at the Happiest Place on Earth. You shouldn’t have to worry about trivial things like parking.

Should you want to, that’s perfectly fine. Every park, resort, etc. has a parking lot, though, at least for the parks, you will need to pay a fee. And good luck getting to your car when the parks close. I’ve never done it myself, but I know it can be a hassle. Except for maybe Downtown Disney, where parking is free, if you can find a space. Oddly enough, we did when we went pretty late at night (around 10 PM, I would guess?). That’s why, in today’s post, I’m going to discuss the Disney transportation shuttle buses.

You can find the buses at every Disney resort and theme park, as well as Downtown Disney and the water parks. From your hotel, you can go on these options of buses: Magic Kingdom, EPCOT, MGM Studios (Ok, Disney Hollywood Studios, but I still can’t get used to it) and Typhoon Lagoon, Animal Kingdom, and Downtown Disney and Blizzard Beach. As you notice, some of the buses may make multiple stops. It may sound out of the way, but these extra stops really are on your way if you’re going to the farther destination. It will just take a little extra time.

Once you’re finished at the park you are at, you have the choice to take a shuttle back to any of the resorts on the property or hop over to another park. No questions asked. This is super convenient if you have a park hopper pass. For example, say you have a few attractions you want to see at one park and then you’re done for the day. Well, then you’ll have time for a jaunt over to a water park or some shopping at Downtown Disney. No problem. Just hop on the appropriate bus, and you’ll be there in no time. Well, it could be some time, but at least you don’t have to brave the busy traffic.

The greatest things, though, about the shuttle buses are the bus drivers. No lie. You never know what to expect when you get on that bus, especially if you stay for extra magic hours at Magic Kingdom. Not every bus driver wants to interact with his/her passengers, but some do. They have stories to tell, too, and you may not want to miss that. And sometimes they just want to have some fun with you and put a little extra magic in where it could be lacking on this most special of trips to Disney. Just one little thing like an entertaining bus driver could form some memories for your family.

And I’ve got stories to tell!

Let’s talk about Nick. I mean Gladys. I mean… We had Nick multiple times, and he was a hoot each time. Definitely some jokes that we still tell from his trips to and from parks. If you liked the ride, his name was Nick. If not, his name was Gladys. Remember to take your children when you leave the bus, or else he would have them clean the bus with a toothbrush. Whenever he drove up to the gates at one of the resorts, he would “magically” open the lifting bars by saying “Open sesame.” And, if you want to see him again, don’t forget: he’ll see you at midnight.

Then there was Ken. He threatened that, if you left your kids on the bus, he would take them to stay in “it’s a small world” overnight and then eventually return them to you, the parents. And the kids would forever sing, to you, the Small World song. In all 56 languages.

Remember my Caribbean Beach blog? Yes, there was a reference to one of my favorite drivers there. Ja-MAI-ca. Bar-BA-dos. It actually sounded like he was from the islands. It made the experience both more authentic and more entertaining.

One of the most interesting experiences was when we came back at 2 AM from Magic Kingdom after staying for extra magic hours (I can talk about this awesome extra in another post). Everyone on the bus was half-asleep after a long night, but our bus driver was far from tired. In fact, he wanted us all to join him in some rousing songs. We sang happy birthday to a fellow bus rider, and we also joined in a chorus of “it’s a small world.” Our driver told fun jokes throughout the drive to keep us from falling asleep by keeping us entertained.

Unfortunately, these nuances of especially entertaining drivers is becoming a lost art. When I visited WDW this past summer, I was disappointed to find that they now have “park/resort appropriate” music playing throughout the ride, and, instead of the drivers welcoming passengers aboard over a microphone and introducing you to your destination, there are automated messages that explain where you are headed. I found this took away from one magical portion of my trip. I love these bus drivers and the stories and jokes they have to tell. I hope that, as time goes on, more bus drivers go away from this new system and go back to the days of cast member driver improv.

The biggest problem I would say you have to deal with is the wait for the buses. Typically, you shouldn’t have to wait more than about 15 minutes for a bus at any given bus stop. However, sometimes the buses aren’t quite on schedule because of traffic, amount of people per bus coming on and off, the shuttles just getting out of sync, etc. The buses can get quite full at night, so wait times could get rather lengthy, or at least so they may feel, especially after a long day of theme park hopping. So definitely weigh your options before you go. But, remember, this is a FREE SERVICE if you stay on the Disney property with little hassle. And it can definitely leave some lasting memories that you may not expect, even from a Disney trip.

Staying on safari

Ok, you’re going to have to keep your eyes peeled at this resort. You don’t want to miss ANYTHING while you’re here. And I’m going to help you see as much as I can, so stay close!

Animal Kingdom Lodge is the resort that is the freshest in my memory, having stayed there in June 2011 with my family for a special college graduation trip. It, unlike the last three I’ve written about, is one of the deluxe resorts at Disney World. I like to consider Wilderness Lodge its older brother, which is also a ridiculously nice place to see (I’ve visited there, and I would certainly love to stay there someday. But that’s for another blog post).

At Animal Kingdom Lodge, there are two different areas you can stay at: Jambo House (of which I’ll be talking about) and Kidani Village (which actually has rooms that act more like apartments). I could take the time to talk about the rooms and how we stayed in a room with bunk beds (although I might along the way), but I’m going to focus on the really important aspect of the resort: the fire pits.

Ok, I’m joking, although the fire pits are pretty awesome and very useful if it’s a cold night, or even if it’s not. I found the one in the lobby particularly nice when we came back to the resort late at night, and the air conditioning was BLASTING through the lobby. I get cold very easily, so the fire pit was a nice place to warm my exposed legs and arms after wearing shorts and a tank top in the Florida heat. It ended up being my favorite place in the lobby. There’s also one outside near the savannah if you want to enjoy the fire outside with the animals.

When you first enter the lobby, it’s a grand entrance into a big, high-ceilinged room as African drums beat down by the buffet restaurant Boma and the cast members greet you. The gift shop is to your immediate right, like any good Disney resort, but, if you look up as you walk in the lobby, you can see a bridge crossing from one side of the hotel to the other for guests to cross and take in a bird’s eye view. It looks like a typical rickety bridge that you would think of on an African trek, but, of course, caring much more about safety, it is far from rickety and is rather stable and a nice place to look at the resort and lobby from a different, higher viewpoint.

One neat room arrangement that we took advantage of was the bunk beds instead of one of the typical queen beds in a room. It’s probably really great for kids, but my brother and I are adults, and we both really seemed to like the unique opportunity. I had never slept on a top bunk before (or a bottom bunk, for that matter), and it was actually fun to finally get the opportunity. The scariest thing is coming down the bunk since it has such a tiny ladder and you have to be very careful going up and down, but that’s just me. But I really enjoyed the experience overall.

Now for the animals. They’re what you came for, aren’t they? Yeah, you can’t go there and avoid the animals walking around the savannah. And why would you want to? It’s always a surprise to see who’s out at any given hour. And I mean that. Sometimes, we came in at 2 AM, and there were animals grazing about. Though we had a pool view room, there is no lack of viewing spots to see the savannah. Giraffes, zebras, wildebeest… They’re everywhere. All you need to do is walk outside on the hotel’s grounds or around the hotel’s hallways, and you’re bound to see some animals. The resort even provides a guide in your room so that you know what species you’re looking at and to make sure you can catch every animal species that lives there. I can’t tell you how many pictures I took just of giraffes. And you can get pretty close to them, considering. They are fenced in, but there never is a problem of seeing them. Animals abound. And look for the flamingos by the pool. They’re a bit hidden, but it’s a nice find when you look.

I would stay here again in a heartbeat. The views are beautiful, the rooms are unique, and the animals are magnificent. And make sure to take a trip over to Kidani Village. It’s worth a slight detour just to see it.

Well, that’s pretty much my review of hotels, at least of those I’ve personally stayed at over the years. What’s my next topic going to be? Why don’t YOU decide that? Send me a suggestion of something you’d like me to discuss, and I’ll do my best to address your question. Drop me a line!

A trip to the Caribbean

You have a boat rental ready? Good. Now we can talk about Caribbean Beach Resort!

Martinique! Jamaica! BARBADOS! I do love the bus drivers…

Featuring Caribbean villages for guests to stay in and located in the EPCOT vicinity, Caribbean Beach was the first moderate-priced resort to open on the Disney property. This is why, as I understand it, the check-in area and the food court/gift shop (AKA Old Port Royale) are separated. This is rather inconvenient, but I can’t say that it really bothered me all that much. Plus, all of the other moderate resorts that came after decided to bring everything together in one locale. But the place is beautiful just to walk around and take in the sites.

It really does have a beach theme, and the beach is not too far from any rooms. You can sit on the sand and take in the views, even while resting in a hammock. I remember walking each day from our room past the beach and the pool to the Old Port Royale. It is just a nice place to relax and take in a Caribbean beach atmosphere while watching boats float by.

As you can probably guess, the Caribbean Beach Resort has taken a hint from a series of hit Disney movies and a hit attraction at Dsineyland and Magic Kingdom and now focuses on the theme of pirates. Does “Pirates of the Caribbean” ring any bells? The Old Port Royale is complete with pirate gifts and dressings, and even new rooms have been renovated to include this theme. How would you like to sleep on a pirate ship and grab some grog out of a barrel? Aargh, sounds like a good time!

What is truly strange to me about the Caribbean Beach resort is that they have a man-made ocean that you can’t actually swim in. Wait, what? Nope. It’s not for swimmers. But it is for boaters. You can rent a boat at the resort and take it on the lagoon, but, probably at least partly due to safety concerns, swimmers cannot partake in the waters of the resort. But there are pools available for those that have the urge to swim.

The main pool is cute and has gone through some renovations since I stayed there in 2006. It has a Spanish fort theme to it, complete with, you guessed it, a water slide. When I originally saw the smaller version of this pool, I thought it was rather neat, but it was much too small and way too crowded for my family to endeavor. We decided to check out Blizzard Beach instead (but that’s for another blog post…). As I understand it, though, the pool at Caribbean Beach is now approximately twice the size it was in 2006, and I would definitely be interested to see it in person and maybe even take a dip in it. The extra space was much needed, and, even though the new pirate-themed rooms sound really great, and I would love to experience those as well, the renovated pool is a must-see for me.

I think I would actually like to stay here again, if nothing else, to see the changes that have occurred since my last visit. It really is a nice place to stay, and I highly recommend it. And I think some of the bus drivers have a lot of fun with their travelers (but that’s, yet again, for another post).

Yet again, go check out www.AllEars.Net to find the pictures that I’ve posted and for information on all things Disney.

One more resort to go! Don’t forget your binoculars and cameras, but please refrain from feeding the animals…