A few weeks ago during my last Best Week Ever post, I discussed how I am learning a lot about fear. This week I am experiencing a lesson in enjoying the moment. This week provided some best ever moments and yet I don’t feel like I really took the time to savor it all and enjoy. I experienced Disney’s Animal Kingdom during the DVC Member event, stayed the night at Beach Club Villas, woke up and checked into Bay Lake Tower for the night, enjoyed Epcot International Food and Wine Festival, and capped it all off with cocktails and fireworks at Top of the World Lounge.
Even though I feel like I didn’t really soak it up, I get to share it with you, helping it to make one the my Best Weeks Ever! And since many of us in Florida, and at the Atlantic Coast, are getting ready to face Hurricane Matthew, let’s take a break from storm prep and bask in some pixie dust.
DVC Member event at Disney’s Animal Kingdom
Disney Vacation Club is celebrating its 25th year of existence. This year members have seen a slew of perks and free events roll out to them not only in order to mark the special occasion, but to help boost member satisfaction as well. During a few nights in September DVC Members enjoyed Animal Kingdom all to themselves from 9:30 PM – 12:30 PM.
While I worked, my parents enjoyed Disney’s Beach Club Resort and then checked us in for the event, at the hotel lobby. This enabled us to have our event wristbands ahead of time and although it may not have saved us a ton of time, we simply had one less thing to worry about. Once inside the park we stopped at one of the many tables being manned by an event Cast Member who handed us each a card to get into the night time Kilimanjaro Safari between 9:00 PM – 9:30 PM and two tickets each to play the midway games in Dino-rama in Dinoland USA.
We headed straight for Nomad Lounge. I bragged about this place to my parents and wanted them to experience what has become my favorite lounge inside any Walt Disney World theme park. Nomad Lounge now has an updated food menu; you can check out my quick review about it here.
My parents relished the décor and adventurous spirit of Nomad Lounge. The perfect balance between sophistication and casual approach-ability is struck here. Starting our evening here set the tone for a pleasant and memorable night together.
From here we ventured over to marvel at the subtle movements of the new night time projections. Every 15 minutes the Tree of Life awakens with a beautiful 2-3 minute show using colorful projection mapping techniques. This show blends themes of Disney movies and songs with artistic interpretations of real animals. Audible gasps could be heard across the audience; DVC Members sure do love their Disney.
Soon it was time for the night time safari. We arrived at 9:10 PM to the FastPass+ redemption entrance which was queued through the former legacy FastPass (paper) distribution area. No one was moving, so we stood still, waiting for about 10 minutes before the line began moving. Overall we waited just over 15 minutes to board our night time safari.
Our driver went off script a few times and added a lot of her bubbly personality to the experience. I enjoyed seeing the greater kudu and okapi being more active than in the day. The savanna itself did not provide much excitement, but all bets were off when we came around the bend and happened upon two very active cheetahs. Breathtaking! But wait there’s more! As we crawled along the path to the lions overlook, the male lion sat at the very edge of the rock, towards the ride path while the lioness prowled back and forth on the back of the rock formation. Incredible!
We wrapped up our evening in Animal Kingdom with a longer than anticipated wait for a meet and greet experience with characters and two performers from The Festival of the Lion King show. It took us about 30 minutes, but once inside and seeing that we have the theater almost to ourselves, it was a quick, but Magical Moment for us!
Disney’s Beach Club Villas
Oh how I wish I could have enjoyed this room and this resort more. My parents enjoyed two nights in the one bedroom villa at Beach Club Villas whereas I only had the opportunity to quickly get refreshed before the event that night and then crash on the surprisingly comfortable sleeper sofa in the living area. The recently refurbished Beach Club Villas offer a new level of comfortable sophistication. The décor is now up-to-date with soft pale and silver tones and crisp white furnishings. I wanted to blockade myself in and not ever leave, except to enjoy the theme parks and pool, and dining, and ok well, you get the point.
It proved very difficult to wake up and leave this resort. It is a favorite among DVC members, myself included. It had been five years since I last had the opportunity to stay here. Having such a short time to soak it up saddened me.
Bay Lake Tower at Disney’s Contemporary Resort
It is difficult to beat Bay Lake Tower’s location. You can almost feel the monorail breeze by you. The soft, but powerful whistle of the steam trains of the Walt Disney World Railroad linger on the air, an audible beckon of the most magical place on Earth.
The décor and modern soft jazz music are not my favorite themes. I prefer more thematical and storytelling environments. Still, Bay Lake Tower is another impressive jewel in Disney Vacation Club’s crown.
We were only here for one night and thus shared a studio villa. Although a studio can sleep up to four adults, three adults pushed the limits of being comfortable for any extended period of time. Surprisingly we checked in at 11:00 AM to find our room ready for occupancy. We dropped off our items, savored the view of Bay Lake, the Contemporary, and the monorail before heading over to the monorail station. Epcot awaited!
The monorail did not leave the station for nearly 10 minutes due to “traffic clearance”. Once we pulled into the Ticket and Transportation Center and transferred over to the Epcot monorail we also waited about five minutes in the station, aboard the monorail. It had to be shut off and rebooted. All told it took about 45 minutes to get from Bay Lake Tower to Epcot.
Epcot – some hits and misses of Food and Wine
Personally, I feel it is difficult to find good value in the Epcot International Food and Wine Festival. I prefer to visit Epcot when it isn’t festival time and enjoy the food and beverage offered at various quick locations around World Showcase.
However, my parents have not been to the food and wine festival in a few years and did not want to miss out on this experience. We started our trip around the world at one of the few things I truly enjoy at the festival: the Craft Beer stop inside the Odyssey building. This is a spacious building that was in desperate need of utilization and now you can enjoy six different craft beers, all brewed in my homestate of Florida. We ordered the pimento cheese and the charcuterie plate, plus a few beer samples of course.
The pimento cheese dip ($3.50) is a generous serving, plenty for three adults to enjoy, though we did run low on pretzel crisps. As a Southern girl I love pimento cheese, it is a simple classic, and this dip had some nice heat on the back end. The charcuterie plate ($5.25) did not seem as good a value due to the quality of the meat, but we still enjoyed it.
Our next stop is one of the most popular booths and the festival, and offers some of the more pricey items. Here we did the ultimate splurge and ordered the Le Cellier Wild Mushroom Beef Filet Mignon with Truffle-Butter Sauce ($7.75). Normally, I would scoff at such a price tag, and certainly the overall value is still pretty weak, but the quality of the dish, regardless of size, is undeniable. The tenderness and the cook of the filet is pretty remarkable considering they are prepared in such mass quantities. Paired with the Field Estate Red Conception wine ($4.50) our stop here was simply divine.
I won’t go stop by stop, but I will say one major miss in our journey was the Farm Fresh booth. In year’s past I had much love for this booth as it is Florida focused. But this year the two foods we sampled were of terrible quality. The Loaded Mac n Cheese ($4.50) didn’t seem loaded to us, two toppings (bacon and green onions) do not a loaded mac n cheese make. It was also dry and chewy. The Chicken and Dumplings ($4.75) needed to be seasoned badly, and who’s idea was it to add spinach into the mix?!
My absolute must-have is actually something simple that is already offered at Epcot year-round: adult soda floats. A variation of this treat is available at the Fife and Drum stand, open year-round, at the American Adventure. However, at the Desserts and Champagnes booth you can enjoy 4 oz of adult hard soda (orange, cherry cola, or root beer) with a generous serving of soft serve vanilla ice cream.
But what really makes this a decent value at $6.00 is it is served in a patented shatter proof wine cup. The cup from Govino, has a cool little groove on the side to make it easier to hold. This is the best way to end a day at Epcot!
Top of the World Lounge
Our time in Epcot wiped us out. Thankfully two monorail rides later we were back in our studio at Bay Lake Tower. To me that is one of the biggest benefits of staying on property: the ability to take a midday break back in your room.
While we relaxed, mother nature showed her angry side. Some pretty fierce looking storms started to roll in, thus changing our plans to head in Magic Kingdom. Instead we decided to take advantage of our close proximity to the Top of the World Lounge.
The Top of the World Lounge is considered to be the highest point and observation deck on Walt Disney World property. This lounge is open to DVC Members only, however, if non-members are staying with members on the same reservation they can also visit the lounge. Additionally, it does not matter if a DVC Member is using vacation points or paying “cash” for the reservation, so long as you are staying at a Disney owned and operated hotel, you’re golden!
With incredible views of all of Walt Disney World, and much of the surrounding Orlando area, Top of the World Lounge is a must-do, at least just for one drink. The food is not as high quality as other lounges, in part because there is no actual kitchen attached to the lounge, so found is transported from another kitchen at the resort. Still our steak flatbread ($10.00) and Bison sliders ($12.00) both satisfied.
We watched Wishes Fireworks from our window-side high top table. Although there were plenty of people standing out on the observation desk, we still had a decent view inside. We nibbled on our food and sipped on our drinks as brilliant colors filled the sky. What a lovely way to wrap up our quick stay at Walt Disney World!