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"Overlooked Attractions" at
Disney's Value and Moderate Resorts
by Debra Martin Koma
All Ears® Senior Editor
This article appeared in the
August 26, 2003, Issue #205 of ALL EARS®
If you're a regular reader of ALL EARS® you've probably read our periodic columns on observing the little things at Walt Disney World. I'm sure many of you already do that, but perhaps some of you are thinking, "What are they talking about? What 'little things?' I'm in a hurry to get to (Splash Mountain, Mission: SPACE, Rock n' Roller Coaster, fill in major attraction of your choice)."
This is another in the ALL EARS® occasional series designed to point out some of the little things you might have missed -- some of those "stop-and-smell-the-roses" details (often free!) that help enhance the magic of a Disney trip. This week we're talking about what we like to call the "Overlooked Attractions" in Disney's Value and Moderate Resort Hotels. ("Overlooked Attractions" at the Deluxe and Home Away from Home Resorts, and Fort Wilderness, will be covered in future features!)
If you're like me (a theme park commando who MUST ride every ride and see every show!), you may not often want to take the time to meander around your resort and explore its architectural details, its hidden nooks and crannies, the finer points of its theming. But if somehow you should find yourself with some free time between strategic strikes on the Magic Kingdom Mountain Range and the Moons of Endor, there's no place better than a Disney resort!
Oh sure, everyone knows about the great themed pools the Disney resorts have, as well as the many "quiet" pools where you can sit and sun yourself. It's just about impossible to overlook them. But if you're searching for something different or unusual, something a little off the beaten path, take a look at some of our favorite "little things" you can find at these resorts.
Just because these Value Resorts only offer the most basic of amenities for the budget-conscious, it doesn't mean there are no hidden extras lurking here and there (although, I'll admit, there aren't as many as you'll find at the Deluxe resorts).
It's darn near impossible to overlook a 35-foot-tall Buzz Lightyear looming overheard, or a cup of Coke that would hold 20 million 12-ounce cans of the fizzy drink, but after seeing these giant-sized icons around the All Star resorts once or twice, you might take them for granted. Don't rush by -- they make for some terrific photo opportunities. And as you're walking around, you might want to contemplate some of the amazing trivia related to these icons. For example, you'd need nearly 9.5 *million* tennis balls to fill just one of the tennis ball cans you'll find at Center Court Hotel in Disney's All-Star Sports!
See those musical notes sprinkled across the main lobby at the All-Star Music resort? Well, unless you can read music, you might not realize that they actually represent a real tune. Can you guess which one? "When You Wish Upon A Star"!
Walk around the main halls at the other All-Stars, too, for some really neat photographs. The shots of famous sports stars that line the walls in the All-Star Sports halls are truly impressive. Other celebs, including that Mouse about town, Mickey, dot the hallways at the other All-Stars, fun to look at for starstruck fans like me!
In general, the All-Star Resorts are places that are just plain fun to walk around, as you try to spot all the subtle (and not-so-subtle) details that have been planted to enhance whatever the resort's theme is. I mean, how can you not appreciate the courtyard in the Touchdown section of All Star Sports, which is designed to look like a stadium, right down to the goal posts? And while you're walking around, be sure to stop and listen every now and then. There's different ambient music playing to match the theme of the area -- jazz music in All Star Music's Jazz section, for instance.
The laid-back feeling of the islands is pervasive as you're strolling around the grounds of the sprawling Caribbean Beach Resort. And, believe me, this resort covers so much territory, you WILL have to stroll around it to get to your room or the food court or Guest Services. So why not enjoy it?
Of course you'll want to check out the main, pirate-inspired pool with its cannons and waterfall, but if you're in a quieter mood, and don't feel like a swim, don't overlook the sandy beaches surrounding Barefoot Bay, the resort's 45-acre lake. There are lounging chairs scattered here and there, along with strategically placed hammocks, for the ultimate in lazing around. (The stretch of beach located along the Aruba cluster of buildings is probably the most private.)
Parents with small children shouldn't miss Parrot Cay Island, located in the middle of the lake, with its fun-filled playground complete with a jungle gym. When my son was 2 1/2, it wasn't just the playground that excited him. He also was captivated by the statuary scattered around the island -- we have some precious photos of him "riding" the stone crocodiles! They're obscured by the thick vegetation, though -- remember to hunt for them!
Even those without kids should take a stroll over to Parrot Cay Island. There are live parrots lurking amongst the exotic trees and plants of this mini-paradise!
When you're done swimming, you might want to try one of the different types of watercraft that are available for rent at Old Port Royale -- it can make for a pleasant hour or more on the water.
There's also a beautiful 1.4-mile promenade around Barefoot Bay that is perfect for jogging or bicycling (bicycles are also available for rent, adjacent to the boat dock).
Each of Port Orleans' two distinct sections, Riverside (formerly known as the Dixie Landings Resort) and French Quarter (formerly just plain old Port Orleans), has its own flavor. Accordingly, it takes numerous theming details to create their individual personalities.
As the larger section of the two, Riverside offers more to do and see -- and Riverside itself is divided into two sections: rustic Alligator Bayou and the charming Magnolia Bend, which exudes the grace and charm of the "Gone with the Wind" era.
It's a given at a resort like this that you'll be spending time poolside, but there's so much else to do at Port Orleans Riverside.
I like to walk around the lovely grounds, soaking up the atmosphere. (Yes, I'm trying to mend my park commando ways and chill out more often!) If you begin in the Magnolia Bend area, and you'll soon see the amazing attention to detail that makes the theming at this resort so impressive. The first cluster of buildings in Parterre Place, for example, are regal and very posh -- mini-southern plantations from which Scarlet O'Hara could walk any minute. As you follow the river, dubbed the Sassagoula, around toward the Alligator Bayou section of the resort, you'll notice that the buildings grow more run-down and backwoodsy. This is all in keeping with the colorful backstory Disney Imagineers created for Riverside: The further pioneers traveled up the Sassagoula River (which they tell us is the American Indian word for "Mississippi"), the scarcer building supplies became, thus leading to poorer quality housing. This "story" is also played out in the facade of Riverside's main building -- the side facing Magnolia Bend is lovely, but as you walk around the building toward the marina, it becomes more rustic, especially by the time you view the Riverside Mill, which, by the way, has a working water wheel!
While you're looking at the Riverside Mill, which houses the resort's food court, why not take a detour inside and order a praline at the bakery? What's a praline? It's only one of the sweetest southern treats ever conceived -- made of melted brown sugar, butter and pecans. Very lo-cal... NOT. Don't forget to pick up one (at least one) during your stay.
As you walk along the Sassagoula River between Magnolia Bend and Alligator Bayou, you'll see that not only the buildings are themed -- even the landscaping is used to delineate the areas. The stately flowering trees of Magnolia Bend gradually become more scarce, until they are replaced by the scraggly pines and Spanish moss of Alligator Bayou.
If you're a nature lover, don't miss the peaceful Butterfly Garden located behind the Acadian House at Riverside's Magnolia Bend section. In fact, you might want to take some extra time to appreciate all the grounds on this beautifully themed resort, since in 1995 Riverside and French Quarter won a Florida Nurserymen and Grower's Association's Award of Excellence. Did you know there were more than 100,000 flowering trees and bushes between the two resorts? I've never counted them, but that's what I'm told!
Besides the flora, there's an abundance of fauna located in and around the Riverside's rustic grounds. You'll see ducks and other aquatic birds, and you might even spy an otter! Of course, there are the usual rabbits, squirrels, and even a chipmunk or two... and there are rumors of the occasional gator. OK, so maybe that's one overlooked attraction that should *stay* overlooked!
Speaking of critters, did you know that you can go fishing on Ol' Man Island over in Riverside? There's a fun catch-and-release program operating from 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. daily at the Fishin' Hole, which is stocked with catfish, bass, and bluegill. (There's a fee for cane pole rental.) And if you're after a bigger, better fishing experience, you can head over to Downtown Disney and sign on for a two-hour fishing excursion.
Ol' Man Island is also home to a playground, which parents (and kids) will never overlook -- gotta burn off that excess energy! But the little things here you won't want to miss are the special activities that Cast Members often host near the pool, especially if you're visiting around a holiday. Be sure to ask at Guest Services if anything special is going on during your stay.
The Riverside Levee on Ol' Man Island will rent watercraft (pedal boats, pontoon and canopy boats, kayaks, canoes) or bicycles (surrey and regular) for those who tire of doing nothing while sitting poolside. You can also play a smashing game of croquet! Just ask at Riverside Levee and you'll be dealing with sticky wickets before you know it.
Can you believe that Riverside has one of the largest video arcades in Walt Disney World? If you're an aficionado of that sort of thing, you'll want to stop by the Medicine Show Arcade in the main building.
And while you're there, in the main lobby rotunda, look down. You'll find a compass on the floor.
Over at the New Orleans-inspired French Quarter, there are a number of theming details too clever to miss, as well. For example, as you're standing at the registration desk, look for the musical notes dancing above you -- they may look random, but they actually stand for the first verse of "When the Saints Go Marching In."
The grounds of the smaller, more intimate French Quarter are worth rambling around, too. As you wander, make note of the punny names, Rue D'Baga and Beaux Regards Square. They always make me chuckle.
As the Riverside has its pralines, the French Quarter boasts its own gourmet goodie -- the beignet. A deep-fried donut-type treat, rolled in powder sugar. Be sure to get them (at the FQ's Sassagoula Floatworks and Food Factor food court) when they're warm! Heavenly!
Looking for a little romance? Port Orleans, both sides of it, has it in abundance.
Drift along the Sassagoula River via boat from either Port Orleans Riverside or French Quarter to Downtown Disney. Or take an evening horse and carriage ride. The 30-minute carriage rides start in front of Boatwright's Dining Hall at Riverside nightly between 6 and 9:30 p.m. (Each carriage ride costs $30, including tax -- the boat rides are Disney transportation, free.)
If you'd rather walk, the carriage path between the French Quarter and Riverside makes for an ideal little romantic stroll (about a half-mile, or 10 minutes, each way).
Once you see the The Dig Site pool complex of this beautiful resort, you might forget that there's anything else to do or see here, but you'd be missing an awful lot.
As with all of Disney's resorts, the Coronado Springs grounds are worth investigating. This resort, in particular, is a flower lover's paradise. There are colorful hibiscus, canna, and innumerable multicolored blossoms scattered generously beside walkways, between resort buildings, along the lake's shore. And don't miss the short Nature Trail that winds behind the Dig Site for a private, quiet walk amidst the foliage.
If a longer walk appeals to you, there's a one-mile (approximately) path encircling the lake. It takes you past the three separate sections of Coronado Springs -- the urban Casitas, the remote, somewhat desert-like Ranchos, and the beachfront Cabanas -- and gives you a real feel for the diverse themes the architects of this resort attempted to create.
Don't miss the lovely courtyards in between the Casitas buildings with their spouting fountains and lush foliage, particularly at night when the dramatic lighting makes for a very romantic setting.
Need a break from the hubbub of theme park hopping? Just take a swing in one of the many hammocks surrounding Lago Dorado, the 15-acre lake in the center of this resort. Day or night, there's nothing like being waterside with the warm sand beneath you and palm fronds swaying overhead.
It's hard to overlook the resort's marina, situated as it is in a beautiful gazebo-like structure on the shores of the lake. As at the other moderate resorts, you can rent a variety of small watercraft and bicycles here for a fun few hours' diversion. You can also rent cane poles for a little catch-and-release fishing in the Lago Dorado.
Don't miss the umbrella tables near La Marina, behind the resort's main building, El Centro. They offer the perfect place for a quiet drink or lunch, peacefully overlooking the lake, with the resort's Mexican-inspired music gently playing in the background.
With its Mayan pyramid towering overhead, it's hard to miss the resort's main pool area, but what you might overlook here are some of the other aspects of this mini-water park. There's a 123-foot long water slide here, and perched atop is a jaguar who's been known to spit at unsuspecting swimmers. Walt Disney World's largest hot tub is tucked away in a secluded corner adjacent to the pool -- it will hold up to 22 people! Surrounded by trees as it is, you might also walk right past the sand volleyball court. And to the rear of the complex is the children's playground, which features a creepy (to me, at least) Mayan statue's head for the kids to crawl around in, as well as swings, a jungle gym, a slide, and a big sand pit.
The accents scattered around El Centro, which houses registration, Guest Services and the restaurants, may also be easily overlooked. Look on the walls -- there are really interesting Mexican and Native American wooden carvings in the lobby. The tiled fountains in Francisco's Lounge and Pepper Market sport fiesta-colored frogs and other creatures. The plants, including tropical birds-of-paradise, lining the hallways and adorning tables delight the eyes with bursts of color.
And then there's the dome. You can NOT miss the beautiful domed atrium that greets you when you walk into the main entrance of El Centro. Look up. White doves fly in a blue sky with puffy white clouds -- it's just a stunning piece of art.
All of these little things come together to create a very authentic Southwestern/Mexican feel, making Coronado Springs one of my favorite Disney resort hotels.
To round out this overview of my favorite "overlooked attractions" at the Disney Value and Moderate resorts, I thought I ought to mention a few things that you can find at all Disney resorts.
You probably know about Hidden Mickeys -- those subtly placed tri-circle symbols designed by the Imagineers that can be found in and around theme park attractions. Well, not surprisingly, Hidden Mickeys have been incorporated in the resorts as well. It's a fun pastime to try to scout these out -- check out www.hiddenmickeys.org or Steve Barrett's book "Hidden Mickeys: A Field Guide to Walt Disney World's Best Kept Secrets" for lists of where they're hiding, but don't miss these:
-- in the "hieroglyphs" at Coronado Springs' Dig Site
-- in the mural at Caribbean Beach's Old Port Royale
-- in the carpet in All-Star Sports' gift shop
-- in "Andy's Room" at the foot of Buzz Lightyear in All-Star Movies
Finally, one of the *most* fun things at the resorts, which I didn't even know about on my first trip many moons ago, is not so much something to look at, but something to experience. It's not something I would have ever thought I'd look forward to when on vacation -- a Wake-Up Call! If you're staying at a Disney resort use your room phone to request a free-of-charge wake-up call. When you answer the phone, Mickey will welcome you to the day! And, even better, if you want to wish someone in your group a Happy Birthday, Dial 0 and request the special birthday greeting!
These "little things" are just to get you started. There are so many other details that offer chances for funny photos or merry memories -- all you have to do is take the time to look for them!
Do you have a favorite "overlooked attraction" in one of the resorts? Drop me a line at email@example.com to share your story!
Overlooked Attractions in the Animal Kingdom:
Overlooked Attractions in the Magic Kingdom: http://www.allears.net/tp/mk/issue140.htm
Overlooked Attractions in Epcot: http://www.allears.net/tp/ep/issue099.htm
Overlooked Attractions in Disney-MGM Studios: http://www.allears.net/tp/mgm/issue085.htm
More Overlooked Attractions: http://allears.net/tp/ola.htm
Other ALL EARS® Articles by Senior Editor Debra Martin Koma: http://allears.net/btp/dkoma.htm
Editor's Note: This story/information was accurate when it was published. Please be sure to confirm all current rates, information and other details before planning your trip.