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Time Among the Trees:
Treehouse Villas at Saratoga Springs Resort
by Debra Martin Koma
AllEars® Senior Editor
This article appeared in the June 15, 2009 Issue #508 of ALL EARS® (ISSN: 1533-0753)
When I first started visiting Walt Disney World, in the early '90s, my family and I stayed several times at what was then known as the Disney Institute -- now Saratoga Springs Resort and Spa. The studio villas there were spacious, but never fully booked, so we got some great rates. But when staying there I used to spy these really cool houses on stilts -- they were called Treehouses, and they accommodated larger families, so I didn't ever think I'd stay there. But I really wanted to! I had this romanticized notion of having a special place hidden up among the branches and leaves -- conjured up images of secret clubhouses built by ambitious dads for their kids. That's what the treehouses looked like to me, and I secretly plotted to find a way to stay there some day.
When the Treehouses were closed in 2002, that dream was squashed. I didn't think I'd ever have a chance to cross that particular Disney Must-Do off my list. Fast-forward to 2009 and guess what? The Treehouses have been completely rebuilt and reopened as the Treehouse Villas at Disney's Saratoga Springs Resort and Spa -- and I had the chance to stay there for their opening days.
After checking in at the Carriage House, the main check-in point for all of Saratoga Springs, my luggage and I needed to get to the area with the 60 Treehouse Villas somehow. I found that if you have a car, you actually have to EXIT the Saratoga Springs entrance you came in, and turn left. Drive down that road a few hundred yards and you'll come to the gated entrance for the Treehouse Villas -- using your keycard you gain entry. If on the other hand you don't have your own vehicle, a cast member has to take you and your bags via golf cart -- just be aware that during peak volume times it may take a while. (You can also walk from the Carriage House to the Treehouse Villas -- you'll travel along a poorly marked path for about 5-8 minutes, but more about that later.)
As I made my way to my treehouse (I was being driven, even though I didn't rent a car this trip), I enjoyed the rustic views of trees draped in Spanish moss, butterfly-attracting plants, and glimpses of the river through the leaves. Peeking out from the foliage I saw the tall, stilted structures that rose about 10 feet off the ground and my excitement grew.
Unless you're in one of the accessible villas (#7006, #7007, #7047 and #7048), the only way in is up a long, twisting flight of stairs -- no elevators, I'm afraid. If you think you'll have issues getting your luggage upstairs, you'll probably want to have Bell Services handle it for you -- although I really feel for those poor guys and gals huffing and puffing up and down the steps all day in the Florida heat and humidity.
My first impression when I walked into the circular villa was, "Wow." It was even cooler than I had imagined. I had always pictured the treehouses as kind of cozy and casual, and they were -- only instead of being for kids as they were in my old dreams, this was clearly designed for adults, or rather, families.
Dark colors -- browns, rusts, greens -- evoked a very rustic feel. In fact, the decor reminded me a great deal of the Fort Wilderness cabins. Unfortunately, also like the FW cabins, the Treehouse Villas tend to be on the dark side -- even when all the lights are lit, and the curtains are all drawn back from the floor-to-ceiling windows, the rooms seem very dark. Despite that, though, the villa felt very warm and welcoming. When I walked into the main living space my eyes were immediately drawn to the bar -- a dark granite-like countertop with tall stools on one side making a nice breakfast bar, the sink and dishwasher on the other. Completing the kitchen were a full-size oven and refrigerator, microwave and dark wood cabinets that hold all the necessary dinnerware you might require during your stay, including a full dozen wine glasses.
To carry on the outdoorsy motif, there were also a dining table made to look like rough-hewn wood with six chairs in the eating area. Finishing out the furnishings were a sofa that pulls out to a queen bed, a single chair bed, plus another chair, all grouped around a flat panel television equipped with a DVD player in the living area. Everything was nice and new and very comfortable, and I had no trouble at all imagining a big family, or a couple families, relaxing in the secluded space after a long day in the theme parks.
The master bedroom suite was quite spacious, with a queen size bed, a chest of drawers, two nightstands, and a chair, as well as a desk. Little woodsy touches are scattered throughout -- a lamp that has a tree-trunk base, a headboard that is heavily varnished, but still looks like rough-cut wood. Leave it to Disney to get all the details right. Well, almost all the details. There was one significant drawback -- the only high-speed internet connection in the entire unit is located in this room at the desk. If you had multiple families staying in the villa, or even multiple generations, each with their own laptop, you wouldn't be able to be online simultaneously. Could be an issue, in this day and age of connectivity for all.
The master bath adjoining the bedroom was roomy and appointed with many nice features, most notably the glass-enclosed shower. There was a whirlpool tub, with a shower in front of it -- the shower had both a handheld, detachable shower head and a fixed, large-sized "rain"-style shower head, as well as a built-in bench seat. The bathroom's toilet is in its own room, and though there is only one sink, there is plenty of counterspace and drawers for storing toiletries. One odd thing I noticed though -- none of the bathroom doors had locks! As a mom, I recall many days when those little privacy locks spared me an invasion from my little one at an inopportune moment. I really think they need to add those, and pronto!
The bathroom was very contemporary and beautifully appointed, without losing that almost "wilderness" feel, but I did have one complaint -- and this went for the second bathroom on the other side of the villa as well. The texture of the tile flooring was so rough and uneven that even my less-than-delicate tootsies were wishing I'd remembered to pack slippers or flip-flops. Just a little caveat to future Treehouse dwellers.
The second bedroom, which has a queen bed, and the bathroom located on the other side of the villa are nothing out of the ordinary, but are perfectly comfortable. The bedroom has its own telephone and flat panel television and the same floor-to-ceiling windows as the other rooms. A nice feature in the bathroom is that the shower curtain bows out, so that you have a little more room in the shower without having the curtain cling to you. The third bedroom is the smallest and houses the bunk beds -- it's clearly geared to children, and suited my idea of the treehouse as a special hideaway for youngsters. What kid doesn't love bunk beds? OK, I'm sure there are some, but in general they seem to be real child-pleasers. But if you're an adult staying in this room consider this: there's no mirror, no dresser or armoire, nor is there a chair, which would have come in handy for sitting when putting on your shoes. (Have you ever tried to sit on the lower bunk of a bunk bed to do this?) The bunk bed itself was quite comfortable, but then again, I'm only 5'1". I can imagine that anyone much taller would have an uncomfortably snug fit. When I sat up in the lower bunk, my head brushed against the upper bunk -- if I was any taller (and oh, how I wish I was, but I digress!), I would have conked my head. In fact, I still managed to bump my head a few times -- once when sitting up too quickly, another time when not ducking my head down far enough as I crawled into bed. Ouch. There is a shelving unit in lieu of a chest of drawers, and a flat panel television, but because of how it has to be positioned on the wall you really can only watch it from one of the bunks, sitting sideways. Yes, this is really a room for the younger ones.
As with most Disney Vacation Club Villas, the unit is equipped with laundry facilities (a stacked washer and dryer concealed in a closet), a Pack-n-Play crib, etc. Many of the comforts of home -- some that most moms would just as soon forget, like the vacuum cleaner. Outdoors, there is a lovely, wide open deck, perfect for enjoying nature on a cool morning or cooling down evening. There's even a grill if you're feeling like a cook-out.
Transportation to the Treehouse Villas seems to be working well -- it was actually a concern of mine since I didn't keep a car with me during this trip. Luckily, our villa was located right next to the boat dock. The boat takes you on a pleasant trip to the resort's main boat dock at the Carriage House and then continues on to Pleasure Island at Downtown Disney. In addition there's a bus that loops through the Treehouse Villas, transporting you to the Carriage House. From there, you can hop a bus to any of the theme parks or elsewhere on Disney property. Even though I was there opening day, the buses were running very promptly, every 20 or so minutes. Also, if you're impatient as I am, you can walk over to the Carriage House to dine, shop or catch another bus. The path starts at the Villas near building #7034 and is clearly marked, taking you through the golf course, until you reach the parking lot for the Grandstand section of the resort. Then all signage stops. If you're unfamiliar with the resort layout, you might not notice that the top of the Carriage House can be spied in front and to the right a bit (we guessed at about 2 o'clock). Once you cross the parking lot, you can find the path again (it's red) and follow it up the hill to the Carriage House. Once you know where you're going, it takes about five to eight minutes. If you factor in getting lost... it will take a little longer.
All in all, the Treehouse Villas definitely lived up to my expectations as an idyllic little retreat amidst the woods. Having said that, though, I'm not sure I would ever stay there again. On a morning's walk around the grounds, I discovered that much of the area is even swampier than I'd come to expect around Florida -- lots of standing water, which means lots of mosquitoes and other bugs. I understand that Disney sprays to keep the pests down, but still I noticed quite a few flying critters buzzing around, landing on me and giving me the itchies. In addition, I was told that many plants had been installed specifically to attract butterflies, and that they did -- I saw monarchs, swallowtails and many other beautiful specimens fluttering by. But there were also a lot of other critters -- most notably some squashed toads and frogs along the pathways who apparently met their untimely demise from speeding golfcarts, and one squashed corn snake we came across in the middle of the main path, which gave Deb Wills and me quite a start. (And we didn't know it was a harmless corn snake until we looked it up online later -- made us worry about what other slithery creatures were about!) Maybe there's a little too much wildlife for this city girl.
But if you're looking for a peaceful retreat in a natural setting, with the chance to stay in a way cool house amongst the trees, I think you'll find the Treehouse Villas perfect for you
Deb Wills' blogs on the Treehouse Villas, including photos and videos: http://land.allears.net/blogs/debwills/
Jack Spence's blogs on the Treehouse Villas: http://land.allears.net/blogs/jackspence/2009/05/treehouse_villas_at_saratoga_s_1.html
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.