Forbes Traveler Magazine has posted a story on the Top 10 Luxury Attractions at Walt Disney World. The usual point is made, If you have the money Disney can make your luxury dreams come true.
And Disney goes beyond special requests and random surprises. With the
VIP Tour Service, guides work with guests to customize their tours of
the park so they can hit as many attractions as possible in the least
amount of time. This of course means cutting to the front of the
endless lines, even for popular attractions like Expedition Everest.
The service can also score VIP seats for popular shows like Cirque du
Soleil’s "La Nouba" and "Finding Nemo — the Musical," arranging for you
to come in through the back door and be guided to your seat — the
complete star treatment. (If anyone mistakes you for Brad or Angelina,
don’t correct them.)
Let’s leave aside whether or not this goes against the egalitarian spirit of Disney World (I’ll just say that Walt started the ambassador program in part to give celebrities (and company executives he was courting) these sorts of experiences). But I have notice more and more ‘non-celebrities’ taking advantage of the service.
I was interviewed for this article and the author was gracious enough to include a small quote from me concerning the two can’t miss restaurants on property (Jiko and California Grill). But I was taking a different angle, How to have a luxurious experience at Disney World, even if you don’t have all the money in the world. That’s an article that still needs to be written.
In the interest of full disclosure I’ve included the full text of that interview in the extended post below.
I’ve been a fan of Disney theme parks all my life. My grandfather was an Imagineer who helped build Disneyland and Walt Disney World. So I guess it’s in my blood. I live in Orlando now, we moved here from Las Vegas in part to be closer to a Disney themepark, so my experience with Walt Disney World is a more frequent one than most guests. As such I see much more of the workings of the resort, but I also get to enjoy nearly every aspect (dining, entertainment, theme parks, etc) multiple times.
My ultimate Disney luxury experience was for my wedding and honeymoon. We were married at the Disneyland Resort’s Grand California Hotel. We spent three nights in the El Capitan Presidential Suite
and were married on the balcony of the suite that looks out over California Adventure. Since we were the first couple to be married there, they used our event for a photo shoot and I think we benefited from some décor they spread around. For us it was a once in a lifetime event and the staff went out of their way to make it memorable and romantic for us.
We honeymooned at Walt Disney World staying at both the Animal Kingdom Lodge and Yacht Club. AKL’s concierge service was well tuned into the needs of its guests, and the special Sunrise Safari offered only to concierge guests is a must. Plus where else in the USA do you get to wake up in the morning and be greeted an African savannah full of animals?
While on our honeymoon we took nearly every walking and backstage tour at Walt Disney World. For anyone who is more than a casual visitor, these special tours add another dimension to the theme parks that you don’t get while rushing around on your own. They’re easily worthy of their own story.
Another way of seeing the parks is to utilize a VIP guide. Disney offers their own service
which is typically offered to celebrities. But I do see more and more ‘regular’ guests booking this service. If you don’t feel like paying Disney’s steep price, you can use one of a few outside services that offer similar concierge booking and tour packages. I’ve never personally used any, so I can’t give you a solid referral. Tour Guide Mike
is one such Service.
As to where to stay, that is a matter of personal choice and preference. The traditional favorite, Disney’s Grand Floridian offers the most complete package of amenities. But I think you get a better value, with nearly as many luxury options at the Polynesian Resort, Yacht or Beach Club, or the Animal Kingdom Lodge.
All of the deluxe resorts offer concierge, but since I recommend doing all your dining and entertainment booking as far in advance as possible, concierge service is really just for access to the snacks in the concierge lounge, a few last minute plusses that might be available, and pre-arrival planning assistance.
Animal Kingdom Lodge has the wonderful BOMA breakfast and dinner buffet and Jiko’s, which with California Grill, is one of the two must not miss restaurants on property. The downside of AKL is the lack of kid friendly features at the pool and the 20 minute bus ride to and from Downtown Disney or the Magic Kingdom. What makes AKL my ultimate choice for WDW is its amazing theme and design (be sure to take the hotel tour) and the three animal filled savannahs.
If you want more details on the other hotels let me know.
Disney recently made most Downtown Disney dance clubs 21 and over (Adventurer’s Club and Comedy Warehouse remain all ages (although an adult must be present). So adults might find some new experiences there. The restaurant of choice is the new Raglan Road Irish pub and grill. After 9pm things really start to pick up there, but food is good all day long.
A unique experience is to book the 45 ft Grand 1 Yacht at the Grand Floridian for a romantic dinner and fireworks cruise. Comes with your own staff and a huge price tag.
For less money, but just as much romance, take the "Breathless" Illuminations Fireworks Cruise. "Breathless" is a 1930 mahogany reproduction Chris Craft run-about boat. Dinner service can be ordered.
Cirque De Soliel’s La Nouba. The only permanent Cirque show located outside of Las Vegas. Not as sexy as the Vegas shows, this is Disney World after all, but just as thrilling and entertaining.
Some of the best golf links in Central Florida. Including Magnolia and Palm courses where the PGA plays every October.
I do have some general criticisms of the Walt Disney World Resort. Lately it seems they’ve been reducing the guest experience to save a few bucks, rather than plussing things and asking guests to pay a bit more. Most of the in-park sit-down restaurants have reduced the options of items on their menus to just one or two items per meat choice (one fish, one chicken, and one meat). Do menu research online before you make a reservation at a restaurant if you prefer choice with your dining.
There have been some cut backs in staff and service at the resorts. For instance, an outside company is now staffing the night positions at Grand Floridian. That baggage handler or room service cast member
may now be earning less pay then their day-time co-workers, get fewer benefits, and have less incentive to provide you the magical experience you think you’re paying for.
General cast member turnover is high at the resort. The unemployment rate in Central Florida is around 3.0% and they company just doesn’t pay enough to attract the best and brightest anymore. So the company has filled in by expanding their College Intern Program and by recruiting from outside the states. Taken together, this can lead to some guest service problems.
To your general question; is Disney World where people go for a luxurious vacation? I don’t have any numbers. So I couldn’t give you a definitive answer. I feel that Disney does not do enough to attract the mega-VIPs and the whales. There is no private bungalow experience like you would get in Las Vegas. No private pools or transportation. In part, this is part of the Disney philosophy where every guest is to be treated like a VIP. So to offer an exclusive VIP service betrays that. But Disney does offer quite a bit if you’re willing to pay and if you know whom and how to ask.
There is certainly plenty to do in Orlando to occupy any level of traveler. When you’re on Disney property you’re isolated from the rest of the world, part of the magic, and you never know when something special could happen. That’s a different experience than you can get anywhere else on the planet. Whether that’s a luxury to you depends on how much you like the Disney product.