I was a guest last month at a Disney resort in Orlando, attending a convention. We stayed in the Animal Kingdom Lodge, a resort with a distinctive African theme. I was pretty excited about going there, because it was first time thing for me. I read the web descriptions about the wild animals roaming around the grounds outside, and figured it would be kind of like a safari. The huge lodge was done in dark wood with lots of African carvings and artwork everywhere. I was stunned by the sheer enormity of the place.
In fact, the one word I would use to describe Disney is enormous. Four huge theme parks with resorts, area eateries, highways, all the things you need for a tourist attraction. It’s just massive. And easy to get lost!
We arrived and were greeted by the friendliest staff I could have imagined, everyone just as sincerely nice and helpful as people could be, dressed, naturally, in safari gear. The lobby featured subdued lighting (another word for dim!) and lots of places for visitors to sit and take in the scenery. Soft African sounding music wafted in the background. And you could look out the huge windows and see zebras and giraffes wandering by.
Getting our room keys and directions took a few minutes, once again from the friendliest of staff members. We got these cool electronic cards with our names on them (that made great souvenirs for my son who came with us. At eleven, he was just enthralled with the place.)
Then came the trek to our room. And I do mean TREK. I am sure it’s authentic because African villagers walk everywhere and presumably long distances on a regular basis. But for this over-fifty grandma with lower back issues, I thought I was going to collapse before we found our room. It was a good quarter mile away from the lobby, down several dimly lit hallways.
Our room was beautiful, with big comfortable beds. But why did they make the beds so far off the floor? At 5’5″, I had to kind of hop up to get on the bed, and if I sat on the side of the bed, my feet dangled and never touched the floor. That meant being VERY careful about getting out of bed.
From the balcony we could look out over the animals meandering around and use the guide to identify them. At least we tried to. The guide to the resort was written in microscopic print, light letters on brown paper, most of which was totally undecipherable even with my reading glasses. So if you go, take an extra magnifier along so you’ll have a clue about what is where at the resort.
Naturally the first thing our 11 year-old wanted was the pool. We found someone who helpfully gave us directions. Naturally, it was off the lobby…the other side of the lobby from the halls that led to our room. But wow, what a pool! It was beyond his wildest dreams, and included a big water slide (that he informed me he tried seventeen times!) I never had the chance to enjoy it because the walk back to the room to change and then back to the pool was more than I could manage with a blister on my foot from wearing new sandals.
Someone at Disney ought to consider the needs of the many retirees who frequent Disney and make sure they offer rooms a bit closer to the lobby…and a larger print on their resort guide. There were at least as many over 50’s at the resort as there were young families. And several of them told me they come back there year after year.
Shuttle buses run every 20 minutes to the various theme parks and back, so once you get there, you don’t have to get in your car and go again unless you want to. But word to the older folk: it’s another quarter mile from the lobby to the bus stop, and once you get to the theme park (in this case, Epcot), a good half mile to get into the park and do anything. Take your walking shoes, a cane, some bottled water, and your nitro, if you need it!
For food, I was treated to a couple of meals a la Disney, whose catering service and wait staff are second to none, just totally over the top impressive. My son wasn’t much interested in trying African foods, so we were glad the typical fast food places were only a mile or so down the road just outside the Disney properties.
If you visit Disney, take plenty of money. It’s not a place for the faint-of-pursestrings. Almost every hotel in Florida charges about $10/day for their wi-fi services, and Disney is no exception. They offer an arcade for children at the resort, but that’s not free. Food is exorbitantly expensive if you eat there, too. I never had the chance to ask if they offer rentals of scooters for older folks to ride around the park, that would have been good.
At 55, I’m too old to believe in “magic” and too practical for hype, but I am glad in this crazy economy that they have this enormous business that can employ so many thousands of people. It’s obvious that Disney carefully screens their employees and is very choosy about hiring genuinely helpful, friendly people. That’s huge compared to experiences I’ve had with other theme parks! Disney has gone above and beyond the pale to make a visitor’s experience as safe and pleasant as possible. It’s a very smooth, well-planned place to visit.