Our most recent visit to Walt Disney World taught us a lot about logistics. And, interestingly enough, about relaxing.
I feel like, for as long as we have a child who loves visiting the area, we are going to hone our approach into the perfect, streamlined agenda.
For a planner like myself, the very idea makes me giddy.
The trip in August was great - the downside was that we had booked a beautiful hotel that we really didn't get to enjoy. This time, we had a room at the Hilton Bonnet Creek, and we thought it would be a shame not to take advantage of all the amenities.
Hilton Bonnet Creek
We have heard nothing but rave reviews of this particular hotel. so we were excited to give it a go. It's pretty much right across the street from Downtown Disney, so extremely convenient to all the Disney properties. The hotel boasts a gorgeous pool with lazy river and waterslide, and several different restaurants and bars.
Our plan was to just drive in Friday afternoon and spend the rest of the day hanging out and enjoying the pool and grounds. It was a good plan. A really good plan.
The Hilton Bonnet Creek is beautiful and the staff is so welcoming and accommodating. We were given a room on the top floor with a beautiful view of Downtown Disney. Everything was comfortable and quiet and clean.
After checking in, we got changed and headed straight to the pool. Rain threatened, but we secured lounge chairs under umbrellas, got some margaritas from the bar, and rented inner tubes for the lazy river.
Turtle thought it was the coolest thing ever. There was a DJ out the whole afternoon, playing Top 40 type hits, and it was just such a nice atmosphere. Not too hot, not too crowded, and just the right amount of R&R.
He spent ages on the waterslide with a few other hotel guests,
and then the rest of the time, just floating along on the lazy river.
After a few hours, we decided to grab dinner at the Harvest Bistro, the "main" dining establishment that contains both a small convenience store (for snacks and desserts) and outdoor dining overlooking the pool area. Turtle's meal was free with our entrees, so we thought we would give it a shot (the pool bar didn't really have a huge variety and the Italian place was a little too upscale for a four year old).
I had the most incredible, tortilla-crusted mahi served over cheddar mashed, with green beans, tomato chipotle puree and a corn and black bean salsa. Heavenly.
The food was a little pricier than I would have thought, based on the casual feel of the place, but worth every penny. Turtle loved his spaghetti and MacGyver thought his lamb shank was stellar.
After dinner, we stocked up on some snacks and headed back to the pool, where a giant movie screen had been inflated and set up. On Friday nights, the hotel offers a family-friendly movie, aired poolside, where swimmers and loungers alike can enjoy.
We didn't think to wear our bathing suits (we had changed before dinner), but next time, we will definitely float out on inner tubes and enjoy the flick from the water.
On Sunday, we visited Harvest Bistro again for breakfast. MacGyver and Turtle hit up the buffet, but I stuck with the a la carte menu and treated myself to the Nutella Strawberry French Toast with fresh berries and Creme Anglaise. So good.
We will definitely be coming back, and also making it a point to spend some "hotel time" whenever we take a little weekend trip. We loved all the personal touches (a welcome voice message in our room, a gift of mini-inflatable beach balls to take to the pool, etc). It was great to take a breather upon arrival, rather than launching into the mayhem of the Disney machine.
After a wonderful night's sleep, we got Turtle a little snack from the hotel's coffee shop before heading back to Epcot. I had made 10:45 reservations at Akershus for the Storybook Princess Breakfast.
We took our time and arrived with a little over an hour to spare.
Perfect. There is adorable Character Spot on the way to the World Showcase, so we swung by their first. MacGyver had picked up an autograph book for Turtle the last time we were in Disney, and this was his first time trying it out. He loved getting to spend some time with the classic characters, and it was nice to have them all in one place.
And then we were off to Norway.
Akershus Turtle loves princesses. He constantly tells me how much he adores when I wear "princess" dresses , and after several viewings of The Three Mouseketeers, he often approaches me with a play sword and a sweeping bow to ask me "How can I help you, your majesty?" I've asked him to save me from the Devilish Laundry Monster, but he would rather exert his effort on some imaginery "fiery breathing dragon." It's the thought that counts.
We thought it would be really cute for him to get to see some real princesses up close and personal, and Akershus is not only less expensive than Cinderella's Royal Table, but consistently gets amazing reviews for food quality, service, and princess interaction.
There are no guarantees as to what princesses will actually be in attendance, but we figured he wouldn't be taking notes as to who was missing. He would just be excited.
We arrived in advance of our reservation, and had to wait for a few minutes before our "Royal Family" was announced by the footman. At this point, guests are led inside for their complimentary photo with the "hosting" princess of the day (an 8x10 in a decorative folder was presented to us later in our meal). In this case, Belle was our woman. Turtle was painfully shy and it was pretty hard to get him to look at the camera, but he finally did and we were seated.
Like most of the characters breakfasts, the meal at Akershus is buffet style, but with a twist. Servers bring to each table a platter of scrambled eggs, bacon, sausage and some kind of magically delicious cheese and potato casserole. The food was piping hot and Walt Disney World has certainly locked down the secret to tasty mass-produced eggs. Additional servings are available upon request, although one platter was more than enough for our table.
Diners can also partake of the ample cold buffet. Offering include yogurt with granola and other toppings, fresh fruit (they had blackberries that were bigger than my thumb) cheeses, meats and smoked fish, and all kinds of delicious pastries and muffins. The benefit here is that the bulk of the food is already at your table so you don't have to time buffet runs between princesses and risk missing someone.
We were one of the last tables seated, so we were pretty much finished with our meal before the princesses reached us. Periodically throughout the meet-and-greets, the princesses would gather up the children in whatever areas they were in and would lead a little parade through the dining hall. Turtle didn't want to participate, but he watched and waved each time everyone passed.
And then, finally, Cinderella appeared.
The interactions were wonderful. Turtle was really interested in telling the lovely ladies all about his new Batman action figure, and bless their hearts, they showed great interest in what he had to say. At first, he didn't want to get up and pose, so Cinderella crouched down for a picture and Aurora shared his seat. By the time Snow White made her way to us, he was warming up and when Ariel arrived? It was on like Donkey Kong. He pronounced her his favorite and she stayed with us for what felt like 10 minutes. She told me that he was one of the only "fishies" who wanted to talk (I think a lot of the kids are just so in awe and starstruck that they can't find words) and she loved it.
I think we lucked out and got the five most "famous" princesses. At other times, Mulan, Jasmine, Tiana and even Mary Poppins could be in attendance. Turtle loves Mulan so I was kind of hoping she would be there, but we'll catch her another time.
I'm not sure if we'll get to go back - I guess it just depends on how long Turtle shows interest in the princesses. However, the food quality was top notch, the service was wonderful, the interactions were so individual and personal and we had a great time.
A definite must-do for your Disney Princess lover.
Tomorrow, we'll share some more from the Magic Kingdom and our new plan for Hollywood Studios!