URGENT NOTICE

NATIONAL PARK SENIOR ADMISSION

In a recent post about our trips thru the parks of Utah we made mention of the cost of the National Parks Senior Pass going up sometime soon. We got information from a reader that they decided to go out and pick up their pass right away to avoid the price increase. They were told when they went to a nearby National Heritage site that the increase will go into effect in August and it will go from $10 to $80. You can buy the pass by visiting an entrance fee National Park or National Historic Site or go to the online store (currently the site has issues with high traffic) and the official increase date is August 28th. We would also advise that if you are a couple that you each buy a pass since they are non-transferrable.

Georgia Wine Drive

Late last summer we spent a couple of weeks driving around the north Georgia mountains, hiking and visiting wineries. Georgia wines were a pleasant surprise. In general, their quality was good and the wineries were fun to visit. We had planned this trip for the spring but than had to postpone and didn’t update our information before heading out. We discovered too late that many of the wineries had reduced their hours for summer or were closed when we tried to visit, so we had to modify much of our plan. Be sure and update days and hours before you head out and also pricing, as each winery has a different charge for sampling.

We started out driving north through Atlanta stopping for lunch at the famous

Ga 1
Atlanta Botanical Garden in Gainesville

Varsity Hot Dogs next to the campus of Georgia Tech. We had heard a lot about this institution and it turned out to be much bigger than we expected and the food was remarkably good. After lunch we left Atlanta heading for the small town of Oakwood and our first night on the road.

Early the next morning we headed for the Atlanta Botanical Garden in Gainesville. The gardens are reasonably new and diverse featuring over 1,200 different plants including 80 varieties of magnolias, oaks and maples. There are some nice lily ponds and a mountain stream flowing through the plantings. The gardens are also home to an impressive concert series in the summer.

Sunset Amicalola Falls Lodge

From the gardens we drove to Amicalola Falls Lodge inside the state park. The lodge was great, with modern, well furnished rooms. It sits atop the tallest cascading waterfall in the Southeast (729 feet). The falls are paralleled by a staircase with 604 steps and the park is also crossed by The Appalachian Trail. That evening it was a treat sitting out on the deck of the lodge watching a mountain sunset. The Lodge also has a decent restaurant with reasonable prices.

Wolf Mountain Vineyards
Dahlonega, Georgia

While in the area we visited The Cottage Winery in Cleveland, and Cavendar Creek Vineyards, Montaluce Winery and Wolf Mountain Vineyards & Winery near Dahlonega, Georgia. Dahlonega is a quant mountain town that also offers tasting rooms for many of the region’s wineries – sort of one stop shopping and tasting.

Helen, Georgia

From Dahlonega we traveled over to the Alpine town of Helen. The town has been a tourist destination for a number of years. Our first stop in Helen was the Habersham Winery with a nice tasting presentation and gift shop. Years ago the town rebuilt itself as an Alpine village featuring Bavarian food and gifts and offers a number of interesting restaurants and accommodations. The town is also popular for the tubing stream that flows through it. We had lunch at The Old Bavaria Inn, an old-world tavern specializing in imported beers and classic German fare.

Helen, Georgia

After Helen we drove up Brasstown Bald, the highest peak in Georgia at 4,784 feet above sea level. While at the National Park Service facility at the top we got caught in a thunderstorm which brought a bit of excitement to the afternoon, with lightening, thunder and clouds rolling by. After the storm we drove to Hiawassee on Lake Chatuge , checked in to The Lake Chatuge Lodge and then visited the Crane Creek Vineyards in Young Harris for Friday happy hour. It appeared that we should have made reservations as it is a very popular evening event in the area. The staff, however, was very accommodating and we bought cheese, crackers and a bottle of their dry rosé making a great ending to the day.

The Chatuge Lodge is within walking distance of the Fred Hamilton Gardens and the Georgia Mountain Fairgrounds. The Fairgrounds opened in 1978, and are home

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Crane Creek Vineyards

to several popular events throughout the year including the Georgia Mountain Fair, Georgia Mountain Moonshine Cruizin, Georgia Mountain Fall Festival, Superstar concerts, and Georgia’s Official State Fiddlers’ Convention. Any of those events have impact on room availability and rates so, if you’re planning on going, check dates and make plans well in advance. In the same area we also visited Odom Springs and Paradise Hills Wineries.

Red Barn Café

We left the lake early Sunday morning and headed for brunch at Tiger Mountain Vineyards & Winery which turned out to be the high point of the trip. The wine and food were delicious. Their Red Barn Café was selected as a top-ten winery restaurant by USA Today and our wine choice, Petit Manseng won a gold medal at the San Francisco International Wine Competition. We would highly recommend this Sunday Brunch.

Tallulah Gorge

After leaving brunch we made a brief stop at “Goats on the Roof” in Tiger, a throwback tourist stop featuring gifts, food, ice cream and yes – goats on the roof. We then headed for Tallulah Gorge and another long hike. This is a beautiful and rugged area and was the setting of the Burt Reynolds movie Deliverance as well as Disney’s The Great Train Chase.

Tallulah has an interesting visitors’ center and a number of trails with steps that go to Tempeste and Hurricane Falls and then further down into the gorge. To go beyond the main trail into the creek to slide on the rocks, you need a permit. Only a small number are issued each morning so you need to be there when the park opens.

After a day in the gorge we headed for Mark of the Potter in Clarkesville, an interesting store featuring local pottery and crafts. Then it was on to Savannah and the next part of our adventure. More on Savannah, Georgia soon…

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CAVENDER CREEK VINEYARDS AND WINERY

3610 Cavender Creek Road, Dahlonega, GA 30533          Phone: 770-823-9255

Tallulah Gorge

 

 

CENITA VINEYARDS, WINERY AND TASTING ROOM

591 Dock Dorsey Road, Cleveland, GA 30528     Phone: 706-865-7478

CHATEAU MEICHTRY VINEYARDS

1862 Orchard Lane, Talking Rock, GA 30175                                     Phone: 706-502-1608

Lake Chatuge

CRANE CREEK VINEYARDS

916 Crane Creek Road, Young Harris, GA 30582

Phone:                706-379-1236

ENGELHEIM VINEYARDS

127 Lakeview Road, Ellijay, GA 30540                               Phone: 706-635-9463

FAINTING GOAT VINEYARDS

201 Vineyard Way, Jasper, GA 30143

HABERSHAM WINERY

7025 S. Main St., Helen, GA 30545                                Phone: 706-878-9463

HIGHTOWER CREEK VINEYARDS, LLC

7150 Canaan Drive, Hiawassee, GA 30546                         Phone: 706-896-8963

MONTALUCE WINERY & ESTATES

501 Hightower Church Road, Dahlonega, GA 30533          Phone: 706-867-4060

ODOM SPRINGS VINEYARD

637 Odom Rd, Blairsville, GA 30512                                   Phone: 706-745-3094

PARADISE HILLS WINERY RESORT AND SPA

366 Paradise Road, Blairsville, GA 30512                           Phone: 877-745-7483

SERENBERRY VINEYARDS

Morganton, GA 30560                                                         Phone: 706-623-8463

SERENITY CELLARS

265 Laurel Ridge Rd, Cleveland, GA 30528                           Phone: (706) 348-1277

SHARP MOUNTAIN VINEYARDS

110 Rathgeb Trail, Jasper, GA 30143                                   Phone: 770-735-1210

STONEWALL CREEK VINEYARDS

323 Standing Deer Lane, Tiger, GA 30576

TIGER MOUNTAIN VINEYARDS & WINERY

2592 Old Hwy 44, Dahlonega, FA 30533                             Phone: 706-782-4777

WOLF MOUNTAIN VINEYARDS

180 Wolf Mountain Trail, Dahlonega, GA 30533                Phone: 706-867-9862

Find More on Georgia Wineries Here

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Yellowstone, An American Treasure

We spent a couple of years trying to plan a trip to Yellowstone. One of our primary goals was to spend some time at The Old Faithful Lodge. It turned out that getting reservations there is a very difficult thing to do. It is almost impossible to book directly with the lodge, because as soon as the booking season becomes available, it is virtually sold out. The Park Service suggested we book through a broker where you pay a non-refundable fee. We then found out that some travel friends of ours had booked a trip through Yellowstone with Caravan Tours the year before and really enjoyed it. After speaking with them, we decided to give this a try, our first land tour.

Crazy Horse Memorial

The tour we booked started in Rapid City, South Dakota, and visited Mt. Rushmore National Monument, Crazy Horse Memorial, Devils Tower National Monument, Little Big Horn Battlefield National Monument, Yellowstone National Park, the

Mount Rushmore

Grand Tetons and Jackson Hole and ended in Salt Lake City, Utah. After leaving the tour in Salt Lake we rented a car and spent a week on our own visiting Moab, the National Parks of Arches, Canyonlands, Capital Reef, Bryce Canyon and Zion. That gave us a good perspective to compare the two experiences.

Devil’s Tower

First, an overview of the tour. Caravan provided accommodations each night, a modern and comfortable motor coach that accommodated 48, a driver and tour guide, admission to all parks and attractions, breakfast each morning and occasionally other meals. Suitcases were tagged and placed inside our hotel room each evening and picked up outside our room in the morning.

The tour started with a meet and greet with our guide Greg on Wednesday at the hotel in Rapid City. The next day we boarded the bus and headed for Crazy Horse Memorial and after that stopped at Mt. Rushmore. Neither of these sites were on our bucket list but,

Little Big Horn Memorial

afterwards, we are glad we visited. Back in Rapid City that evening the town was hosting the first street concert of the season (Thursday evenings) which was a nice surprise.

The next morning we headed west with stops at the Devils Tower and the Little Big Horn Battlefield. The Devils Tower is a natural wonder and truly an impressive formation (think Close Encounters of the Third Kind). The Little Big Horn site offered a historical perspective on the 1876 battle. The Custer National Cemetery was on the same property. Next stop was lunch at the historic Sheridan Inn and a talk on Buffalo Bill. We spent the night in Billings, Montana.

Yellowstone Canyon & Falls

Between stops, one of the interesting aspects of the tour was our guide playing historical or informative DVDs relating to the places we were visiting. Greg also shared his knowledge and thoughts in a running commentary throughout the trip.

Day four of our journey was dedicated to the main

Mammoth Warm Springs

event, Yellowstone National Park. If you have not visited Yellowstone, no matter what you have heard cannot do it justice. Our first stop was Mammoth Hot Springs where we encountered some elk and walked trails around the hot springs where mineral deposits form terraces down a hillside. After a few brief stops, including iconic Yellowstone Gorge, called the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone with Yellowstone Falls we arrived at the Old Faithful Lodge for a two night stay. Shortly after checking in we got to watch our first Old Faithful eruption.

If you intend to visit Yellowstone, the first thing you need to recognize is that the park is larger than the state of Delaware with just nine hotels and a few campgrounds inside the park and reservations difficult to come by. Most Park visitors stay at motels in Jackson Hole or West Yellowstone so a lot of time is used up getting in and around the park. As summer advances so do the lines of cars so getting up early becomes a necessity. Also, if you get into the park late, the parking lots for a number of featured areas can be gridlocked.

Old Faithful Lodge

The Old Faithful Lodge is a historic site sitting in the middle of the largest concentration of geothermal features in the world. We were told that half of the world’s active geothermal features are located within one mile of the Lodge. The Lodge is an impressive building with a grand lobby standing five stories high. The guest rooms, however, are primitive by modern standards: no air-conditioning, television or wifi, with spotty cell service and a real 1950s look. Ours had one double bed with a small bathroom featuring a pedestal sink (not much room for toiletries). The real draw is simply the location.

The afternoon we arrived, just outside our window, was a bull bison and, looking down the hill past the general store, there was a steaming field of vents with various geysers going off frequently. Every evening in the main lobby there was live music and, weather permitting, a fire in the massive fireplace. Food is available in the main dining room (menu & buffet), the lobby bar which served light fare like bison burgers and chili, and a deli. Near the main lodge there is a country store with counter service until 5 o’clock and a large cafeteria a short walk away. Between the lodge’s front door and the cafeteria is the Old Faithful geyser, currently putting on a show about every ninety minutes.

 

Jackson Hole

After checking out of The Old Faithful lodge we stopped at Lake Yellowstone on our way to the Tetons National Park followed by a night in Jackson Hole Wyoming. The next day we headed off to Salt Lake City with a stop at the Oregon Trail Center.

The Tetons

We both felt as if we had gotten our moneys worth with this tour. We saw sights we may have never visited by ourselves, met some great people, traveled in comfort and spent time at all of our wished for destinations. We would highly recommend Caravan Tours and their Yellowstone trip.

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The National Parks of Utah

After spending a week on an organized land tour in early June (Yellowstone, Grand Tetons, etc.), we picked up a rental car in Salt Lake City. With accommodations booked in Moab, Panguitch, Springdale and Los Vegas, Nevada we headed out taking US15 south from Salt Lake City and then picked up Route 6 toward Moab.

Nine Mile Canyon

On our way we took a side trip to Nine Mile Canyon (additional information). We had been told about the canyon and had also read an article about the locations of petroglyph sites in the area. The canyon is actually forty-eight miles long with the first petroglyph site about twenty-seven miles in. Unfortunately we seemed to have misplaced the article, which listed the location of each site and, once into this isolated area, we realized what a mistake that was. The two-lane road had virtually no traffic (except some free roaming cattle) and there was very little in the way of signage. We passed the first marker twice without seeing it – a green sign on a post about six inches tall and ten inches long that simply said “First Site” and an arrow. If you have the time, a visit to a few of these thousand year old sites is really interesting.

Getting into Moab late in the afternoon we checked into the motel and got something to eat with a plan to start in Arches National Park early the next morning.


NOTE: National Parks Senior Pass

There are rumors that the senior pass is going up soon from $10 to $80. If you qualify and don’t have one you should act soon. The lifetime pass for U.S. citizens or permanent residents age 62 or over is $10.00 and may be obtained in person at a federal recreation site or for an extra $10 processing fee it can be ordered by mail.


Arches National Park

 

We visited Arches National Park early in the morning and realized that no photograph or description can begin to express the massive size of its’ formations or the scale of the arches and balancing rock structures. This place just has to be experienced in person. The sandstone formations are massive and the colors are fantastic. If you are a hiker, there is a large number of very walkable trails in the park, temperature permitting, along with a number of scenic drives. On the subject of weather it is very important that you carry water in your car and with you if hiking. The high temperatures and dry conditions can be punishing.

Canyonlands National Park

Only about twenty-five miles from Arches is the northern entrance to Canyonlands National Park and it is a wholly different experience as you enter on high bluffs and look down into the canyons. The landscape is similar to the Grand Canyon in character and color as you stand on the rim. In the western area of the park are the best hiking trails where an extinct volcano caldera formed an interesting bowl-like valley. Between Canyonlands and Arches is a state park named Dead Horse Canyon which is worth a visit as well. There is also an entrance to Canyonlands about sixty miles south of Moab that features the Needles District with a strikingly different look, featuring backbone formations of rows of sandstone spires.

Scenic Route 128

Just south of Arches National Park is scenic Route 128 North that runs up another canyon beside the Colorado River. As you drive the road along the river, you are surrounded by 500 to 1,000 foot sandstone cliffs with many completely vertical. On the river you see numerous rafting groups and as you drive deeper into the canyon the land opens up to dozens of spires and buttes.

In the canyon is a small town named Castle Valley and near the river is the Red Cliffs Lodge and the Castle Creek Winery. The winery offers tastings and features some good wines that are popular in the region’s restaurants. On the map you may notice a ghost town named Cisco and might be tempted to go take a look. Do not bother – the town is a junkyard of abandoned trailer homes and RV’s laced with obscene graffiti. Our suggestion is when you reach Dewey Bridge, turn around and drive back unless you are going on to US 70. While we didn’t visit, we were told that there is an interesting movie museum near the Castle Creek Winery and there are numerous raft operators on this stretch of the Colorado River.

Capital Reef National Park

Leaving Moab the next morning we headed north on 191 to US70 west. We exited 70 onto Route 24 south and headed to Capital Reef National Park. Capital Reef is home to another collection of petroglyphs and these are well marked with easy access from the road. This is also the location of Fruita which was established by Mormons as an agricultural area in 1880. A few structures from the original settlement still remain as do the orchards.

Route 24 travels right thru Capital Reef with one scenic side road inside the park featuring a number of good hiking trails. After exiting Capital Reef on 24 west we picked up Route 12 heading south towards Bryce Canyon National Park.

Utah Route 12 is a scenic and interesting trip from Capital Reef to Bryce Canyon. It crosses some spectacular country with ridges, canyons and mountains at every turn. One stretch navigated a ridge with only two narrow lanes and steep drops on both sides. Along the way we stopped at the Anasazi State Park where we viewed a interesting museum and Indian village excavations.

Bryce Canyon National Park

 

Bryce Canyon is a must visit. The park sits atop high country, looking down into the canyons which are packed with geological features called hoodoos. (Interconnected spires of colorful sandstone creating mazes and rising from the canyon floor.) While hoodoos are scattered throughout the parks in Utah, nowhere in the world are they as abundant as in the northern section of Bryce Canyon. Many of the hiking trails go down the canyon face and are steep and descend an average of 700 feet but there are a few walkways for those seeking less of a challenge.

There is a hotel with a restaurant inside the park but there are also a number of accommodations just a short drive away starting at Bryce Canyon City. The Park Service, in an effort to reduce traffic, operates free busses with pick-up stops in the “City”. The drive through the park is about nineteen miles to the end at Rainbow Point with an altitude of over nine-thousand feet. At the point, the morning we were there, the temperature dropped over twenty degrees from the Visitors Center and winds were howling.

Red Canyon is between Bryce Canyon and Panguitch where our motel was located. The canyon road goes thru two short tunnels cut thru the sandstone and there are a couple of parking areas for the hiking trails. Our motel had a colony of prairie dogs right outside our door and they liked to come out and socialize around dusk. The second night we were visited by a pronghorn antelope. One cautionary note here is that Panguitch is mostly closed on Sundays and it became a challenge finding a place to eat.

Zion National Park

After two nights near Bryce Canyon in Panguitch we headed off early for Zion. We had read that Zion has a traffic problem and that by late morning parking is almost impossible to find. Like Bryce Canyon, Zion also has a free shuttle bus that picks up at stops in Springdale, the town just outside the southern entrance to the park. In season Zion Canyon Scenic Drive is only open to the parks buses, which can be picked up at the Visitors Center near the south entrance. Of the parks we visited, Zion had the largest number of hiking trails ranging from wheel chair accessible to strenuous. One of the park’s more popular hikes goes thru “the narrows” which is a narrow width passage with a stream running through it . Unfortunately this trail and a few others require a permit and there is usually a several days wait to get one.

Driving down from Panguitch we entered Zion around 9:00 am at the east entrance. There were maybe three or four cars ahead of us and we traveled down canyon walls thru numerous switchbacks and two tunnels. One tunnel was two lanes and almost a mile long with no lights, so be sure and test your headlights before entering. We got to the visitors center around 10:00 and had to search for parking. We took a couple of hikes on trails near the Visitors’ Center and by noon the line for the tour busses wound thru the complex and out into the parking lot. A few hours later when we exited to Springdale the line of cars to get in was backed up over a mile through town.

We spent the night at The Red Rock Inn and it was the highlight of the trip. Located in town and a couple of miles from the park it was comfortable, beautifully decorated and clean. The owners were helpful and friendly and the room came with a voucher for breakfast at Oscars a block away. Oscars was also great, offering a full breakfast and plenty of coffee. The whole town is nestled in a canyon with towering red sandstone cliffs above it and unbelievable traffic “in season.”

The next morning we headed for Los Vegas with a couple of nights on the strip and our flight home. During the trip we saw snow (Panguitch averages six inches in June), windy conditions and virtually no rain. In summary, it was the trip of a lifetime offering spectacular scenery and temperatures ranging from freezing to over one hundred.

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Visiting Alaska’s Denali

A cruise-land tour to Denali National Park on the Wilderness Express from Seward, Resurrection Bay, with stops in Alyeska and Anchorage.

Above photo: First look at “The Great One”.

We visited Denali as part of a cruise-land package. Many travelers enjoy this combination of cruise and land tour as it is a comfortable way to visit this part of Alaska. We took the cruise from Vancouver and then traveled over land. If we were to do it again, however, we would do the opposite. It would be much better to spend a number of days touring and then have a wonderful seven nights to relax and be pampered on the ship.

We disembarked our cruise in Seward where we visited the Alaska SeaLife Center and then enjoyed a Resurrection Bay Wildlife Cruise. Seeing the variety of fish, birds and animals was amazing. In the early evening we boarded the Wilderness Express which took us to Girdwood where we spent the night at the Hotel Aleyska. It is our understanding that some cruise lines offer train service all the way to Denali. The trains are made up of glass domed observation cars with a dining room on the lower level. The cars themselves are actually owned by the cruise ship lines.

On the second morning of our adventure we took the Alyeska Tramway to see the views from 2,300 feet above the valley. We had time for some hiking and took lots of pictures. In the early afternoon we boarded our bus and spent the next night at the Marriott in the city of Anchorage. While in Anchorage we spent time at the downtown market and had a light meal at a wine bar, Crush Wine Bistro. The following day we spent most of the time on the bus getting to Denali with a stop for lunch in Talkeetna. We also got our first good views of Mt. Denali.

We arrived late in the afternoon at the Denali Visitor Center where we took the Discover Denali Tour, a 1.5 mile walk familiarizing us with the park and all it has to offer. We spent the night at the McKinley Village Lodge (now Denali Park Village). The next morning we embarked on the tundra wilderness tour, approximately 8 hours on a bus dedicated to enjoying the scenery and wildlife and learning the park’s history. There were lots of photo stops and a “bag lunch” was included.

If you are planning on going to Denali on your own it is important to understand three things. First, the park is vast and has very little in the way of rest areas or visitor centers. Second, the park generally does not allow private cars far beyond the entrance and visitor’s center. Lastly, you need reservations to take the park operated bus tour and they book up weeks, maybe months in advance. Visiting Denali is not a casual process and considering the vast distances crossed in Alaska, you need to make your arrangements months in advance.

The highlight of this whole trip was the day touring the park. The scenery is inspiring but so is the very desolate and wild character of Denali (map). The focus of the tour is the wildlife but that too needs some explaining. Area wise, Denali is our largest national park. It encompasses about 9,492 square miles (larger than the state of New Hampshire) and most of it is without roads or even trails. The animal populations are much smaller than most would expect with only 70 Grizzly bears per 1,000 square miles. Other census numbers per 1,000 square miles show 131 Black bears, wolves less than 8, and the estimate for the total Denali Caribou Herd was about 2,230 animals. Dall Sheep totals for the park are less than 1,900. Based on these numbers it’s easy to understand that looking for wildlife is the major focus of the tour. We were lucky and saw two grizzly bears, a small herd of Caribou and two different groups of Dall sheep. We also saw many “suicide squirrels” so named because locals think they prefer to die in front of buses rather then face the prospect of a grizzly bear encounter.

The landscapes are vast and rugged and North America’s tallest mountain, Denali (previously Mt. McKinley) stands above everything. The only problem is that it is shrouded in clouds most of the year, but, even if you miss the “Great One,” the Alaska Range is awesome.

After another night near Denali our bus headed for Fairbanks and our flight home. In Fairbanks you can see and walk under The Alaska Pipeline, visit an interesting history center and see gold mining operations. We love cruising Alaska but this land tour was a truly unforgettable trip.

Photos top to bottom: Featured – Mt. Denali Range, Sea lions Resurrection Bay, Wilderness Express interior, Wilderness Express rounding turn, Approaching the Alaskan Range, Park Service tour bus, Park landscape, Grizzly bear, Caribou, Dall sheep, Park landscape.

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Getting Around Disney World

Before you plan a trip to “The World” it might be helpful to understand the transportation systems. The basic drive in and spend a day at a park is pretty straight forward. Get inside The World and follow the signs to the selected park. Pay about $20, park and take the transports to the park entrance. Beyond that the options are many.

Magic Kingdom Transportation Center

First each resort has its own parking and usually when we visit, after check-in, that’s where the car stays. If you are staying at one of the resorts near the Magic Kingdom (The Contemporary, The Polynesian, The Grand Floridian) you are on the monorail loop that stops at each resort and the Magic Kingdom entrance along with the “transportation center”. You also have New York style ferries that travel back and forth from the transportation center to the Magic Kingdom entrance. There are also smaller boats from each of these three resorts that sail across Seven Seas Lagoon to the Magic Kingdom entrance. Each resort also has a bus stop with service to each of the parks and Disney Springs running about every 15 to 20 minutes. There is also the option of switching monorails at the station and going over to the main Epcot entrance. Also in the Magic Kingdom neighborhood are the Wilderness Lodge and the Fort Wilderness campground, that along with busses also have boats over to the Magic Kingdom entrance.

Boat Service

There are a few resorts that have regular boat service to Disney Springs. They include Saratoga Springs, Port Orleans & Riverside. Saratoga Springs is also close enough to Disney Springs for a nice walk along the trails around the lake.

There is boat service in the Boardwalk area with stops at Boardwalk, Swan & Dolphin, Beach Club and Yacht Club resorts with short trips to the Disney Studios Park and Epcot. There are also sidewalks that will take you from these hotels to The Disney Studios Park and Epcot.

The remainder of the resorts rely on the bus system to get around. Regarding the bus system, you can take a bus from almost all hotels to the six parks (2 water parks) and Disney Springs but you cannot take a bus from one resort to another unless they share the same route. To go from one resort to another you will have to go to a park bus stop or Disney Springs and switch to a bus going to the other resort. Another word of caution, normally, if you are a resort guest you can drive to other resorts and park. Unfortunately in busy periods they will restrict parking to only guests of that resort so you may get turned away.

It has recently been announced that Walt Disney World will be starting a dedicated taxi service soon to provide rides between any location inside the “World” for a flat fee (one report says $29).

 

 

Disney World, Staying Inside

A great number of families have a trip to Disney World as part of their future plans. If this is you, here are a few pointers on accommodations.

Epcot

First, the “World” is more than four theme parks. There is Disney Springs (previously Downtown Disney) with more shops and restaurants than you can count. There are two water parks, a sports complex and an entertainment area associated with the Boardwalk Hotel. In addition a number of the on property hotels are worth a visit like The Animal Kingdom Lodge and the Grand Floridian. There are also dinner shows at the Wilderness Camp Grounds and the Polynesian Village as well as Cirque de Soleil, and Disney Quest at Disney Springs.

Throughout the Disney property there is a wide range of accommodations at various price points. Like most resort areas, the pricing varies by season and there are numerous specials and packages available. Average room rates at Disney properties are around $250 to $300 with economy rooms being in the $100 to $150 range. The premium resorts without specials run $450 and up per night. Even though listed on the reservation site, many of the units are not readily available because they are part of the Disney Vacation Club system.

The Grand Floridian Resort

The economy range includes the “All-Star” hotels and are priced near what you are used to paying for travel around the U.S. You can save a considerable amount by selecting a motel “off property”.  The huge supply usually keeps prices remarkably low compared to Disney hotels and hotels in general. The biggest disadvantage to staying “off property” is the cost of parking at the parks (now $20 a day) and missing access to the Disney transportation system. Staying at a Disney World resort lets you park free at the hotels and provides the ability to travel around the “World” as you wish until very late at night. Also, if you are booking a resort off property be aware that many hotels apply a daily resort fee on top of the room rate (usually $12 to $20) that may not be quoted as part of the room rate.

Going up a bit in cost is Port Orleans, Riverside, Coronado Springs and Caribbean Beach, each with its own theme and character. In a similar price range, or maybe a bit higher, are two hotels not actually operated by Disney in the Boardwalk area. They are the Swan and the Dolphin and come with almost as many perks (no magic bands).

The Boardwalk area

At the higher end in resorts are the Animal Kingdom Lodge, where animals roam past your balcony, The Boardwalk with its entertainment area and Wilderness Lodge near The Magic Kingdom. Even higher in price are two of the original hotels with monorail stations at their door, the Contemporary and the Polynesian. The crown jewel of Disney World is the Grand Floridian also on the Magic Kingdom monorail loop.

The Dolphin Hotel at the Boardwalk

In addition to the Disney operated hotels, there are three areas inside the “World” which feature hotels. They include the Buena Vista area near Disney Springs, the Bonnet Creek area which includes the Waldorf Astoria Golf Club and the exclusive Golden Oaks neighborhood with its Four Seasons Resort. In these areas bus service, if available, is limited.

The transportation system and being close to all there is to offer are two of the main reasons for staying “on property” but the Magic Band system is also a consideration. These bands are connected to your vacation account so you can enter the parks, select FastPass rides, open your hotel door, access your dining plan and charge at many gift shops and restaurants.

Pop Century Resort

Following is a complete list of hotels and features:

Disney’s All-Star Resorts (each with its own matching theme)

  •     Movies Resort
  •     Music Resort
  •     Sports Resort
  •     Pop Century Resort

Disney’s Animal Kingdom Lodge (set on an African savannah with live animals).

Animal Kingdom Resort
  • Jambo House
  • Kidani Village

Disney’s Art of Animation Resort (family suites only)

Boardwalk area with restaurants, entertainment venues, roaming entertainers, access to Epcot and Disney Studios

  •     Disney’s Beach Club Resort & Villas
  •     Disney’s Beach Club Villas
  •     Disney’s BoardWalk Inn

    On the Boardwalk
  •     Disney’s BoardWalk Villas
  •     Disney’s Yacht Club Resort
  •     The Swan & Dolphin

Disney’s Caribbean Beach Resort

Seven Seas Lagoon area (access to Magic Kingdom, view nightly fireworks)

  •     Disney’s Contemporary Resort (monorail loop running thru it)
  •     Disney’s Grand Floridian (monorail loop running thru it)
  •     Disney’s Polynesian Resort (monorail loop running thru it)
  •     Disney’s Wilderness Lodge (boat service to Magic Kingdom)

Disney’s Coronado Springs Resort

Disney’s Old Key West Resort

Disney’s Port Orleans Resort – Riverside (boat service to Disney Springs)

Disney’s Saratoga Springs Resort & Spa (near Disney Springs)

The Cabins at Disney’s Fort Wilderness Resort (boat service to Magic Kingdom).

If you are booking a Disney hotel and are going to visit the parks, it is strongly recommended that you purchase the tickets, set up an account at My Disney Experience website and begin to reserve FastPass for rides.

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