Disney World without the hassle
Roughly the size of San Francisco, Walt Disney World Resort is a daunting place to plan a family vacation. Let Disney’s VIP Tour Services remove the guesswork and allow you to cruise Mickey’s paradise in privacy and style.
By Jeff Louderback
Greeted with a hero’s welcome, Tony Dungy and Dominic Rhodes smiled and waved as they rode in a convertible down Main Street U.S.A. The coach and running back were the featured attraction in a parade at Magic Kingdom to celebrate the Indianapolis Colts’ victory in Super Bowl XLI. Cheers from adoring fans and colorful streamers are nice, but you don’t have to win the greatest spectacle in sports to visit Disney World in style.
Occupying 47 square miles, the Walt Disney World Resort is almost the size of San Francisco. Located in Lake Buena Vista, about 20 miles southwest of Orlando, the sprawling complex consists of four theme parks – Epcot, Disney-MGM Studios, Disney’s Animal Kingdom, and Magic Kingdom – along with two water-adventure parks, Blizzard Beach and Typhoon Lagoon.
Scattered around the parks are 32 resort hotels, 99 holes of golf on six courses, two full-service spas, the Wide World of Sports, the Richard Petty Driving Experience and Downtown Disney, which is a 120-acre entertainment, shopping and dining complex.
With this multitude of choices, planning a Disney World vacation can be a daunting task, especially if you have a recognizable face. If you are Michael Jordan or Peyton Manning, you can’t walk to the front gate of Magic Kingdom, buy a ticket and wait in line to ride Space Mountain. Chances are you would be mobbed by adoring fans and autograph seekers. The solution? Hire Walt Disney World’s VIP Tour Services. Disney’s VIP guides are trained to cater to the whims and desires of the elite.
Visiting Disney with a VIP tour guide is like having your personal concierge. Rates range from $95-$125 an hour for a five-hour minimum; and the fee covers up to a group of eight. The benefits are many. A guide can whisk you in and out of parks quickly, using back lot and cast member-only entrances. VIP guests are also treated to priority seating at live shows and VIP viewing areas for fireworks events and parades. Tour guides can even book reservations at Disney restaurants. You can book a guide for the day, or hire one to plan your entire Disney adventure. If you choose the latter, you will have the same guide for the duration of your trip, from the moment you are picked up at the airport in a luxury car to the second you are dropped off for your return flight.
For recognizable athletes who cannot experience Disney without drawing overwhelming attention, VIP tour guides will take guests to rides through private entrances, avoiding lines. Disney VIP services staff determines which athletes need this additional service upon coordinating the visit. Even if you are not recognizable enough to warrant private entrances to attractions, VIP guides help make your day productive and comfortable
“We know how to navigate the parks in a way that minimizes interruptions and allow you to see much more than you would on your own. We understand the best times to visit attractions, and the worst times,” said Frank McIntosh, who has served as a VIP guide for 14 years and has escorted Presidents Jimmy Carter and George H.W. Bush, the Duchess of York and Jake Delhomme among a long list of notables. “You can relax and let us do the planning. It gives you the chance to fully enjoy your vacation since the pressure of figuring out how to fill your itinerary is removed.”
Down on the BoardWalk
Kid-friendly attractions and activities are seemingly everywhere at Disney. Yet there are a plethora of options for adults. Though it may seem like otherwise with all of the hours you spend within their gates, theme parks only represent a fraction of Walt Disney World Resort’s menu.
Of the 32 hotels at the resort, 22 are owned by Disney. The Boardwalk area is an ideal place to base your vacation. Reminiscent of a Jersey shore waterfront village of yesteryear, the BoardWalk features a lively waterfront promenade with shops, restaurants and entertainment venues as well as two stately lodges along 25-acre Crescent Lake.
Designed to resemble the grand Oceanside resorts of the early 1900s, the BoardWalk Inn, a 378-room deluxe hotel; and Disney’s BoardWalk Villas, a vacation ownership resort with more than 500 villas, overlook the BoardWalk and the lake. Two-, three- and four-story buildings surround private courtyards and manicured gardens.
A sports lover’s haven, the ESPN Club is nestled along the BoardWalk and boasts 13,000 square feet of restaurant, entertainment and broadcast space. The main dining area, called Sports Central, is adorned with a basketball hardwood floor and a giant four-sided scoreboard that projects the featured game of the day. Periodically, original ESPN shows and live athlete interviews take place in the broadcast booth that is visible from the main dining area.
A water-taxi service connects the BoardWalk to other Disney resorts and Disney-MGM Studios. Across the lake sits the Disney Yacht Club and Beach Club, a pair of deluxe-category hotels that resemble late 19th century summer homes on Martha’s Vineyard and Nantucket Island.
At the Yacht Club – where cast members dressed in navy blue blazers greet guests – oak floors, antique chandeliers and rich millwork and brass decorate the interior of the silvery-gray clapboard hotel. The hotel has a nautical theme with restaurants like the Yacht Club Galley and the Yachtsman Steakhouse. Among the 621 rooms are the presidential and vice-presidential suites.
The pale blue-and-white Beach Club is enlivened with white wicker furniture, natural French limestone floors and a seashell motif. Restaurants range from an authentic clambake at Cape May Cafe to Martha’s Vineyard, a cozy lounge featuring a variety of wines. A tile-lined, 12-person Jacuzzi, reminiscent of the famous old health spas, is the centerpiece of the 4,750-square-foot Ship Shape Health Club with steam bath, sauna and massage rooms.
Both resorts share access to Stormalong Bay, a three-acre water park with a life-size, 230-foot shipwreck with a 230-foot water slide and a 750,000 gallon sand-bottomed swimming area that seemingly flows into the lake.
The grandest palace on Disney property
If you prefer elegance at its Disney best, the Grand Floridian Resort & Spa is considered the crown jewel of Disney’s vacation kingdom. Located on the shores of Seven Seas Lagoon near Magic Kingdom, the 867-room hotel are the most luxurious on Disney property.
The pool on the white-sand beaches of Seven Seas Lagoon is even immaculate with a waterfall flowing from a 27-foot-tall stone mountain. A marina offers boat rentals, but for an exquisite excursion on the water, the 44-foot Sea Ray yacht Grand 1 sets sail throughout the day. For the ultimate cruise, the Grand Floridian private-dining staff can prepare a gourmet evening snack with fine wines, and a personal butler can accompany the cruise.
The Grand Floridian is home to the only AAA Five-Diamond restaurant in Orlando, Victoria & Albert’s. Clouds are painted on the ceiling and the intimate, 18-table main dining room includes music from a celestial harpist. The restaurant’s wine cellar has been recognized by Wine Spectator magazine with an “Award of Excellence” and has more than 700 selections on the menu and 4,200 in the cellar. A jacket and tie are required, and priority seating is required. It is best to make reservations at least three months in advance.
Inside the 9,000-square-foot sanctuary of the Victorian-themed spa, services include therapies and treatments that incorporate the aromatic essential oils of Florida grapefruit, orange, tangerine and lemon. Couples can experience relaxing massages together in a romantic candlelit treatment room. Even children can partake in the pampering. The spa’s My First Manicure or My First Pedicure treatments offer 25 minutes of indulgence fit for a princess.
An playground for grownups
In the land of Mickey Mouse and Donald Duck, adults need their own playground. Here, it’s Downtown Disney. Divided into three districts — West Side, Marketplace and Pleasure Island – the area encompasses 120 acres along the southern shore of Buena Vista Lagoon. There are attractions for all ages, and a special place just for adults.
West Side features a permanent Cirque du Soleil theater with an original theatrical show, La Nouba, produced exclusively for Walt Disney World Resort. DisneyQuest – a five-story, 100,000-square-foot indoor theme park, is filled with the interactive entertainment and virtual reality fun. The House of Blues is an ideal place to dine on New Orleans-style cuisine and watch a concert. There’s even a Virgin Megastore, Planet Hollywood and a theater multiplex among other restaurants and shops.
For a family shopping excursion, the Marketplace offers a wide variety of shopping and dining adventures, including Once Upon a Toy, a toy store filled with exclusive playthings from Disney and Hasbro; Disney’s Pin Traders, the premier location for pin trading at Walt Disney World Resort; the LEGO Imagination Center; and the World of Disney, which literally is the world’s largest spot for Disney character merchandise.
Adults weary after repeated renditions of “It’s A Small World” will relish Pleasure Island, which buzzes with seven themed nightclubs stirring with dancing and live music. Admission to all of the Pleasure Island clubs is included in the regular ticket price of $20.95 plus tax.
A sporting paradise
With a total of 99 holes on 775 acres of the 47-square-mile property, Walt Disney World Resort is one of the largest golf resorts in the country. The five Disney championship golf courses have the signature of distinguished course architects Pete Dye, Tom Fazio and Joe Lee. The PGA’s FUNAI Classic is played on the Magnolia and Palm courses.
Osprey Ridge and Eagle Pines, introduced in 1992, are the newest courses. Magnolia, Palm and Lake Buena Vista courses are the other championship venues. Completing the 99 holes of golf is Oak Trail, a family-play nine-hole walking course.
The centerpiece of the resort’s sports offerings is Disney’s Wide World of Sports Complex, which covers 200 acres of facilities for more than 30 sports. It’s the spring training home of the Atlanta Braves, the training camp location for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and the year-round home of dozens of amateur championships. Reggie Williams, who spent his NFL career with the Cincinnati Bengals, heads the operation.
You can experience the thrill racing around Walt Disney World Speedway at speeds of 145 miles per house in a NASCAR-style car at the Richard Petty Driving Experience. Options include a three-lap “Ride-Along Program,” an eight-lap “Rookie Experience” where guests ride shotgun for a mock qualifying run, and a 30-lap “Racing Experience” for advanced drivers. You can even purchase your tires when your done, a unique souvenir to accompany the famous Mickey Mouse ears and weathered Mickey Mouse t-shirt that Hines Ward made fashionable after appearing in last year’s Super Bowl parade at Magic Kingdom.
For more information, call Walt Disney World Guest Information at 407/824-4321 or 407/WDW-2NITE (939-2648), or visit disneyworld.com