During a family dinner this past week, we were lamenting the end of the Wishes fireworks display at Magic Kingdom in Walt Disney World (WDW). Our teen son, Nic, exclaimed “Wishes has been the fireworks show for my whole life”. Well, then I realized that this goodbye was going to be harder than I thought.
Nic’s first visit to WDW was in 2002. At first, the fireworks were difficult for him to watch as he was sensitive to the noise. But over the years, he grew to look forward to viewing Wishes on every visit. And at 17, he still loves to watch the show. As does our whole family.
Since the show debuted in 2003, technically Nic did see the previous show — Fantasy in the Sky. But by the time of his second visit to Walt Disney World in December 2003, Wishes had become the nighttime entertainment at the Magic Kingdom. Michael and I have watched it as a couple, as parents, with our parents next to us, with friends, with Disney Parks Moms Panel family, and with other family members. That’s a lot of Wishes memories that bind us together with the special people in our lives.
When You Wish Upon a Star is one of my all-time favorite songs. It always makes me tear up. And every time Jiminy Crickett announces the following my eyes got watery and my lip quivered…
So, today, I’m just going to take a moment to remember Wishes, as well as the holiday variations enjoyed over the years. We’ve watched the show while staying at Disney’s Grand Floridian, Polynesian Village, Contemporary, and Wilderness Lodge. Sadly, most of my fireworks photos are blurry, but here’s a few memories in honor of Wishes:
2003: Watching Wishes from Polynesian Beach.
One of my favorite memories was when my family surprised me with a Wishes fireworks birthday cruise.
Wishes Fireworks Birthday Cruise
Watching Wishes while on a fireworks cruise.
This slightly obstructed Wishes view was taken from our balcony at the Grand Floridian.
Wishes from balcony at Grand Floridian
During my December 2007 Disney Parks Moms Panel training, we enjoyed watching Wishes from the Train Station.
Watching Wishes during 2007 Disney Parks Moms Panel Training.
And the following year, we went to a private party for the Disney World Moms Panel, and again watched the fireworks from atop the Main Street train station. Stellar view!
Wishes from Main Street Train Station.
And who doesn’t love noshing down on sweets while watching the Wishes fireworks. In 2011, it looks like we were enjoying the dessert party!
Desserts at Wishes Fireworks Dessert Party.
One of our favorite unique views of Holiday Wishes occurred while waiting to enter Be Our Guest Restaurant for an evening dinner reservation.
Wishes Fireworks from Be Our Guest Restaurant entrance.
Check out a little video from that perspective.
We’ve seen Wishes from many different vantage points around the Magic Kingdom.
Planning our Disney vacations always starts with a tough decision: Which Walt Disney World Resorts should we consider?
Since, we’ve stayed at nearly all of the Walt Disney World resorts, we want to help you with this part of your vacation planning. After all, my favorite part of a Disney trip is time spent at the Walt Disney World resorts. I love to shop, dine, relax by the pool with a good book, sip on a Banana Cabana or Pina CoLAVA, and go on walks to take in the resort’s decor. The hotel themes and amenities are an important part of my Disney adventures. Let’s make sure that your family opts for the hotel that suits your budget and other requirements. We’ll start today by exploring some of our preferred hotels at Walt Disney World.
Preferred Walt Disney World Resorts
My husband and son also enjoy staying at the resorts. We’ve selected our preferred Walt Disney World resorts in each budget category — deluxe, moderate, and value. However, we want your family to carefully select the resort that is right for you. For now, let’s explore the resorts that my family finds the most appealing. First up, Michael and I select our favorites, followed by our teen son’s choices.
Deluxe Walt Disney World Resorts
In the deluxe category, guests at Walt Disney World will find examples of exquisite themeing, convenient locations, luxurious rooms, concierge services, a variety of restaurants, and, the less than fun aspect — higher prices.
Disney’s Grand Floridian Resort and Spa
The Grand Floridian (GF) is our family’s favorite resort, thus we’ve stayed here for many special occasions. Our honeymoon, 10th anniversary vow renewal, and my birthday are among the celebrations that we’ve opted to spend (probably too much cash!) at this Victorian-style hotel. At first glance, you may get the impression that this isn’t a family resort. However, there are fun activities for kids of all ages! I love the Alice in Wonderland theme at the splash area.
Mad Hatter Splash Area.
Exquisitely appointed with red gabled roofs, it’s reminiscent of Victorian beachside lodging.
Red gabled roofs of Disney’s Grand Floridian
A visit to the lobby to listen to the ethereal music played by the pianist or orchestra is a perfect pastime.
Listen to the Grand Floridian Society Orchestra
Aptly named, the multi-storied lobby is grand. From the marble flooring to the stained glass rooftop’s domes, no matter how many times we see it, we always find this room jaw-dropping. And then, there’s the grand staircase that I absolutely adore (or the caged elevator) that beckons guests up to the second floor where the monorail, plus additional shops, restaurants, and lovely outdoor decks await.
Monorail access to the Magic Kingdom, Epcot (via transfer at the Transportation and Ticket Center), and Disney’s Contemporary and Polynesian Village resorts make this a convenient vacation spot. Plus, there’s the gorgeous marina connecting to Seven Seas Lagoon adding more transportation and recreation options at nearby Fort Wilderness and Wilderness Lodge.
The restaurants live up to the grandness too. Open 24 hours, the quick-service Gasparilla Island Grill is situated with outdoor views of Cinderella’s Castle.
Booth with a view at Gasparilla Island Grill.
Narcoossee’s, with its prime waterfront real estate, is a fabulous place to dine. It serves up the best steak on property as far as Michael is concerned. 😉
Narcoossee’s waterfront restaurant
Rooms are larger than you’ll find at most Disney hotels and they are decorated in luxurious textiles. Views of the inner courtyard, lagoon, and Cinderella’s Castle are all memorable.
All amenities including the spa and pools are easily accessible via lighted garden walkways.
Reserve your room at the Grand Floridian if:
your budget is deluxe sized
you’ll be spending a lot of time at the Magic Kingdom
you want luxury over value
you love waterside activities (Electrical Water Pageant, marina rentals)
spa amenities are important
an assortment of table service dining is high on your list of requirements
you are night owls and want a 24 hour dining location (Gasparilla Island Grill)
Guest Tip: Take a romantic moonlit walk from the Grand Floridian to Disney’s Wedding Pavilion to the Polynesian Village.
Animal Kingdom Lodge
As guests arrive Disney’s Animal Kingdom Lodge, the landscaping immediately pulls them into the exotic theme. Relaxation is nearly guaranteed here since the ambiance lends itself to leaving real world cares at the front entrance.
Entering the lobby at Jambo House, your eyes will need to adjust to the low lighting. The dark woods, intoxicating fireside smells, ambient background music, and cozy furniture are welcoming.
Animal Kingdom Lodge Lobby
A room with a savannah view isn’t necessary but it does make a stay more fun. Imagine standing on your balcony and watching animals grazing.
Savanna view of giraffes grazing
Here, you can explore the large pool area and then venture to the animal viewing areas near Arusha Rock.
Animal Viewing from Arusha Rock area
Other than the villas, rooms are smaller than some other deluxe resorts. We think the resort’s theme more than makes up for the lack of personal space.
Exotic decor in room
Dining at Boma for the bountiful breakfast buffet is one of our favorite meals to savor at WDW. This is where we had our first sip of Frunch.
Breakfast at Boma
We also highly recommend the accommodations at Kidani Village. While further removed from some of the resort’s amenities, it offers a pool area that is divine.
an assortment of table service dining is high on your list of requirements
you want to spend time at the pool and prefer shaded lounge chairs
Guest Tip: Ask for a room close to the lobby as the hallways are LONG.
Moderate Walt Disney World Resorts
Moderate resorts are your middle options at Walt Disney World. Not as expensive as the deluxe hotels but not as inexpensive as the value resorts, moderates offer nice amenities such as family-friendly food courts and well-themed rooms. You’ll get queen beds (not the doubles found at most values) too.
Disney’s Port Orleans French Quarter
We have stayed here many times because the resort is absolutely charming. While compact, Port Orleans French Quarter boasts a convenient main building with amenities such as registration, lobby area, store, bar, and a recently updated food court, Sassagoula Floatworks and Food Factory. As you stroll the resort, listen to the uplifting jazzy tunes.
The architecture and design details are amazing. We love the wrought iron fences, soft lit lampposts, beautiful fountains, meandering streets and sidewalks, and serene courtyards. Plus, the alluring walkway between Port Orleans French Quarter and Port Orleans Riverside parallels the Sassagoula River.
While the rooms are not large, they are pleasantly appointed and easily accessible from the parking lots or bus stop after a long day in the parks.
Port Orleans French Quarter Room
Access to Disney Springs via the Sassagoula river boats adds to the endearing ambiance of the resort.
a compact resort with less walking fits your needs
you like jazz music
beignets are one of your favorite treats
quick service dining is enough for your resort meals
you want parking that may be close to your building
Guest Tip: Take a walk or boat to Port Orleans Riverside for shopping, dinner, or a carriage ride.
Disney’s Port Orleans Riverside Resort
Port Orleans Riverside wasn’t on the top of our list until recently. We had stayed several times in the Alligator Bayou section. While these lodge buildings are quaint, the sprawling walkways were tiresome especially since we always seemed to stay here during rainy days and nights. With no elevators, these buildings were inconvenient for our road trips to Walt Disney World. Maybe we just packed too much stuff. 😉
Mansion section, Magnolia Bend, of Riverside.
This year, we opted for a Royal Guest room and thus, were introduced to the Mansion buildings. Although we still had to navigate in some rain, we fared much better this time. We were finally able to relax and take in the resort’s finer aspects: large food court, quaint bar, cozy pool bar, beautiful landscaping, and large store.
Muddy Rivers Pool Bar.
The real downside here remains the multiple bus stops and often chaotic main depot. However, the Sassagoula Riverboat transportation to Disney Springs is extremely convenient.
Reserve Your Room at Port Orleans Riverside if:
your budget isn’t deluxe but you are okay spending more than the value prices
you’ll be spending a lot of time at Disney Springs
you need to sleep five people in a room (Alligator Bayou rooms accommodate a fifth person with a trundle bed)
you want a moderate resort with a table service restaurant
the Royal guest rooms appeal to you
sharing amenities between the two Port Orleans resorts seems fun
watching Yehaa Bob Jackson at the River Roost is on your must-do list
Update: We’re moving Coronado Springs down a bit due to the ongoing construction. The Club Level building that we once enjoyed has been demolished to make way for the new tower. Rooms are also under renovation. We’ll need to stay here again before recommending it as a top choice in the moderate category.
Our impression prior to construction: The first time we stayed here, we had mixed feelings as Coronado Springs was different (less quiet) than the other moderates. Different? Well, for one, it has a convention center, which attracts business people and large groups. However, once we gave this resort a second chance we were pleased with the amenities it offers.
We liked the concierge/club level (business class) option as it was available at a moderate price, although it wasn’t a necessary upgrade. Cabanas 9B that housed the club level rooms and lounge has now been torn down.
We still like that the resort offers a room service menu for breakfast and dinner. Pepper Market continues to offer delicious quick service food in a lovely setting.
The resort is well-themed in Spanish-Colonial architecture with soothing background music as well.
Exterior of the resort’s main building, El Centro.
While the walk from your room may be lengthy, the lake and surrounding landscaping are beautiful (or were before construction took hold). The rooms with dark woods are transforming too. Renovated rooms have a lighter, sleeker and more modern atmosphere; we can’t wait to try one.
Coronado Springs Room Before Renovation
The Dig Site pool has a great slide, lots of lounge chairs, and even some shade!
Dig Site Pool
Let us know your recent experiences at Disney’s Coronado.
Guest Tip: Spending most of your down time at the pool? Request a room near The Dig Site.
Value Walt Disney World Resorts
What do we love most about the value Walt Disney World resorts? First, the lower costs, and second, the food courts. When we check into a value resort and see our room account balance, we are always amazed by the low bill. These resorts are instantly appealing when you can vacation at Walt Disney World for the fraction of the cost of a deluxe hotel on property. Stay at a value if you won’t be spending much time in your room. While Pop Century is being renovated and adding queen beds to the updated rooms, the other value resorts still have double beds. Note, however, that All-Star Music has a suite option.
Renovated room with queen bed.
Disney’s Pop Century Resort
While we tend to waver between Pop Century, Art of Animation, and All-Star Music, we’re giving Pop Century top billing now due to the renovated rooms. What we like most about them? The queen bed! Check out all the memorabilia and great photo-ops!
Great photo ops at Pop Century!
What else does Pop Century offer? Well, convenient bus service, for starters. Plus, the food court has ample seating and some unique offerings.
Reserve Your Room at Pop Century if:
a smaller hotel bill is a high priority
you’ll be spending a lot of time at the parks
you don’t mind having to take a Disney bus (or you have your own car) to all WDW destinations
there’s no need for a table service restaurant at your resort
the new queen bed/trundle bed rooms appeal to you (note: while refurbishments are on-going these rooms are not guaranteed)
two food courts (including the one at Art of Animation) would be helpful to your dining needs
a hotel with fun photo ops, themed food, and nostalgic decor sounds fun
Guest Tip: Take a walk around the resort to read the trivia. Plus, head over the bridge to shop or dine at Art of Animation.
Bridge from Pop Century to Art of Animation
Disney’s All-Star Music Resort
As we mentioned above, All-Star Music is one of our favorite value resorts. And we still think a lot of fun can be had here. We really think All-Star Music is a hidden gem.
All-Star Music Pool
The themed areas, background music, charming outdoor lights, and well-groomed landscaping make this resort seem more moderate than value. Well, until you enter the room. Yep, the rooms are still small and motel-like but for an affordable visit to WDW, we think All-Star Music is a pleasing option.
Guest Tip: You can easily walk to the other All-Star resorts (Sports and Movies) from All-Star Music. It’s fun to explore the different shops.
Nic’s Picks of Walt Disney World Resorts
As you’ll see below, Nic’s picks are quite similar to ours but they’re not exact. Here are the top resort choices from a 17-year old teen who has stayed at nearly all of the resorts. He also mentions briefly why he chose each hotel.
Grand Floridian – architecture and atmosphere
Contemporary – walk to Magic Kingdom, monorail, rooms are very nice
Easy walk to the Magic Kingdom
Monorails going through the Contemporary Resort
Contemporary Resort Room
Port Orleans French Quarter – atmosphere, themeing, boat to Disney Springs
Caribbean Beach – food court, Pirate room
Pirate Room Prior to Refurbishment
Pop Century – convenient bus transportation, food court
Epcot Bus at Pop Century
All-Star Music – theme
Swimming Pool All-Star Music Resort
What are your favorite Walt Disney World resorts? Where do you hope to stay on your next (or first!!) WDW visit?
Only a few short days until New Year’s Eve, and I’m already exhausted from the seemingly never-ending holiday preparations. Additionally, I am struggling with keeping my immune system from crashing given that everyone around me (including my wife!) has been or is getting sick. It generally isn’t Christmas for me unless I have some sort of upper respiratory ailment. 😉
This time of year, however, does provide me with an opportunity to reflect upon something I am going to term as the Holiday Aesthetic at the Disney Parks.
Dream Lights on Cinderella’s Castle
Holiday Aesthetic at Walt Disney World
Having experienced a dozen or so excursions to WDW during the holiday season, including one at Disneyland, I am keenly aware that the look and feel of the parks and resorts is strikingly different from November through early January.
Garlands and wreaths on Main Street, Magic Kingdom.
Aesthetic as a noun indicates the presence of a set of principles governing the idea of beauty at a given time and place or underlying and guiding the work of a particular artist.
Aesthetic as an adjective apparently can refer to the study of the mind and emotions as they are related to a sense of beauty or the appreciation of beauty.
From my perspective, the Disney Holiday Aesthetic can and should be inclusive of both definitions.
Christmas Tree at Disney’s Wilderness Lodge
There can be no doubt that from their inception in the 1950’s, every design detail related to Disney Parks and Resorts around the globe has been planned from a specific set of principles. Those initial principles are very clearly Walt’s. It might be debated as to how much of those principles remain as the Disney company has moved past the millennium, but that is a topic for another day.
Whimsical Gingerbread Carousel at Disney’s Beach Club
The specifics of the look and feel of the Disney Parks and Resorts has been studied and extensively written about in various mediums for decades. Frequently, these musings make mention of individual perceptions and emotions as they relate to the appreciation of architectural design and seasonal decor.
I am a Behavior Analyst and concerned with human behavior that is objective as well as measurable. For this reason, The Holiday Aesthetic of WDW for me is difficult to operationalize. However, I am keenly aware that it is something tangible that has always affected me in a visceral manner.
Enjoy a holiday meal at Biergarten
Here are a few more visually represented quintessential examples of the Disney Holiday Aesthetic from my perspective.
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