Saturday, September 19, 2009

The Green Organic Family Visits Walt Disney World - Part 1 - Arriving at Old Key West

Oh what a magical time we just had!  We've returned from a lovely 6-day vacation to Walt Disney World in Orlando, Florida, to celebrate Green Organic Girl's 4th birthday!

This was the first visit for all of us, and while we read up on several very helpful books and blogs, all about traveling to, staying at, and touring the Disney property (especially the helpful hints about how to accommodate small children), nothing can quite fully prepare you.  Walt Disney World is a huge, beautiful, and overwhelming place, but they do an outstanding job catering to all of their "guests"; from first-time visitors, to long-time fans.  Everybody gets the same world-famous royal treatment, to ensure they have a "magical" stay.

We're still a bit weary from all the excitement and travel; not to mention still staring at several bags and suitcases that need unpacking.  But we'll be sharing our adventures and maybe some hints and lessons from our experiences, to help others planning their first visit with little ones to the "happiest place on Earth".

Our whole trip was made extra special by a coworker of mine, who is part of the Disney Vacation Club.  Call it a flexible time share.  In a nutshell, you put up a lump sum in the beginning (somewhere around $16K US), and then submit annual dues of about $600 (or more, depending how frequently you want to stay), and are then allotted a base of points.  You then spend the points each year to stay at any Disney resort, or cruise, or Adventure package, anywhere in the world.  You can use the points all at once, or divide them up; it's up to you.

My coworker's points were coming due to expire for this year, and she had to use them up.  Knowing that Green Organic Girl was about to celebrate her fourth birthday,  my coworker graciously offered to make arrangements for our family to use them at the Disney World resort here in Florida.  She is an amazingly generous lady :)  She arranged a five-night stay for us at the beautiful "deluxe" Old Key West resort on the Disney property.  We enjoyed a lovely stay in a one-bedroom villa, that sleeps four; complete with a full kitchen, jacuzzi bath, in-room laundry, and a lovely private balcony, overlooking a pond with water features.

Old Key West isn't exactly like the real old Key West (coming from current residents of the Florida Keys).  It's similar to one of the condo complexes down here called Truman Annex, but much more spacious.  We enjoyed a lot of quiet and privacy; although we were close enough to hear the fireworks from the "IllumiNations" closing ceremonies each night at Epcot.  Nothing to worry about... the show starts at 9pm and was finished within 20 minutes.

Like the rest of the Disney property, everything was spotless.  The streets, the walkways, the lawns, the landscaping, and of course, the hotel rooms.  Every staff member greeted us with a smile.  And if something wasn't right, they made it right, and right away!  We found this out almost immediately.

We drove from the Keys, and arrived at about 2:00 AM.   I had brought along several of our favorite pillows from the house, so that Green Organic Girl and I could get some sleep during the drive up.  We did fall asleep quite comfortably, but Green Organic Girl woke up about 20 minutes before our arrival at the resort.  She woke up and screamed.  She was tired and wanted her own bed.  Nothing could console her.  Not even the images of Mickey Mouse and Minnie Mouse as we entered the gates of Disney World.  After passing the gated security check, where the guard greeted us with a smile and after checking our papers and ID, waved us through the gates with a "Welcome home!", we pulled up to the Hospitality House of Old Key West to check in.  The poor little thing was still crying.  Hubby stayed in the car and tried to comfort her, while I ran in to the lobby.  Even at 2AM, I was greeted with a warm welcome and a smile by the front desk.  You'd think it was the middle of the day, as this lady was full of energy and smiles.  She took care of our check-in efficiently and filled me in on all sorts of things about our stay -- things I probably would have asked about, had I been fully awake.  LOL!  I could tell she was a seasoned pro, and knew what new guests would need to know. While waiting, I admired the adorable balloon creations behind the desk.  They were made of the same skinny balloons used to make balloon animals, but these were in whimsical shapes of giant flowers and lollipops.  I asked the clerk if I could have one for my screaming child in the car.  She said "Of course!  I'll give you a bunch!".  I headed back to the car with an armload of giant balloon flowers and lollipops, to a suddenly wide-eyed, excited and happy child.  "Here honey!  Mickey Mouse said to give these to you."  And our Disney adventure begins.

Before heading back to the car, the desk clerk gave us a detailed map of the resort,drawing an exact route to drive to our room with a red Sharpie.  Yes, we had to drive to our room. Old Key West is HUGE!  It's made up of rows and rows of two- and three-story "flats", surrounding artificial ponds, a waterway that leads to other resort areas, and even an interweaving golfing range.  Thankfully, most every guest  has ample parking right in front of their room, and each room has a lot of privacy.

We each had our own electronic key card, printed with Mickey Mouse and our own names on each.  The desk clerk was even able to link my credit card to my key and hubby's, so we ended up not having to carry cash around the parks.  With the exception of some Downtown Disney locations and some of the in-park "street vendors", we could show our photo ID and charge everything from gift shop souvenirs to meals to our room key.  That was a very handy feature.

Our room was very pleasant, with soft pastel "Keys" colors, and lots of windows and even glass doors to let in plenty of natural light during the day.  I was pleased to see CFL-bulbs in the light fixtures.  Glad to see Disney is taking greener steps, although they appear to still have a ways to go to be established as "Green Lodging".  More on that later.

We put the little one down in the massive king-sized bed, and began unloading the car and putting things away. Hubby and I are both "gear heads", and we each had our own laptops, and our two digital cameras.  We were aware that there was Internet access available via Ethernet cable (included for free for us as guests of the Disney Vacation Club), and we began our hunt around the villa for the wire.  We finally located the bag it was supposed to be hanging in inside the front hall closet, but the bag turned up empty.  Hubby wanted access to his work e-mails in the morning, so he rang up the front desk, to ask if he could run by in the morning and pick one up.  Instead, the front desk told us that Housekeeping had them, and they would bring us one.  Okay, so we'll have one in the morning, we figured.  Five minutes later, there was a knock on the door.  At 2:30 in the morning, there was Housekeeping bringing us an Ethernet cable.  And that was just  a taste of Disney's hospitality.  We went to bed and slept very comfortably in the quiet neighborhood of Old Turtle Pond Road; getting plenty of rest for our first visit to Downtown Disney, planned for later in the day.  That adventure will be the subject of the next post :)

Just a few more things before heading off to bed...  I hope these tips will help out other parents planning their first trip with little ones:

For anyone planning a road trip with small children, I highly recommend the Star Kids Snack & Play Travel Tray.  It's a soft, foldable nylon tray, with a buckle and strap that easily fastens around a car seat or booster seat. There are ample pockets for things like crayons, snacks, tissues, and drink bottles, and the flat surface is perfect for coloring, eating, and playing with toys.  The tray's soft, yet sturdy bumpers also proved to be invaluable for holding the little one's pillows in place; giving her the option of hugging the pillows in front of her and resting her head on them to sleep in the car, and avoiding "head flop".  There are buckles on either side of the tray, making it super simple to undo one side, to let your child out of her seat.  I raved about this tray to my mom, and now she wants one for her road trips, too.  Haha!

A travel tray is a great accessory, but it's meant to hold fun things to do.  Anytime we're planning a trip, I start checking out the bargain bins at our local bookstore.  I stock up on coloring books, stickers, picture books, activity books, puzzles, and little games that might appeal to the little one.  They all then go into hiding, until we're on the road (or in the air).  Then they get presented one at a time to keep my daughter occupied during our travels.

As we also had our laptops with us, we brought along some favorite DVDs, rented from Netflix, as well as a few downloaded children's shows in iTunes for extra entertainment.  The little one really loves "Max and Ruby", and "Olivia"; both based on lovable children's book characters.  I discovered a while ago that iTunes also has several free (yes, FREE) episodes of Sesame Street.  Be sure to check those out and add them to your iTunes library.

Of course, we couldn't forget our favorite pillows, blankies, and most beloved stuffed toys.  A favorite hat and sunglasses helped shield the setting sun, and later, the glare of oncoming headlights.  We're also fortunate that our Dodge Grand Caravan also has built-in retractable sun shades.  An indispensable feature when living in the tropics.  If your car doesn't have them, most baby sections of department stores sell roll-up shades that attach to windows via suction cups.  After propping up her feet with a small cooler full of healthy, organic drinks, we were on our way! 

More on our adventures in Disney to come :)  Click here for Part 2.

Star Kids travel tray image courtesy of


  1. This is great timing for me... we're headed to Disney World on Sunday!

    Did you find any place that served organic food at the resort? I've been thinking of going to the Whole Foods and stocking up for breakfast & lunches, but dinners I'm probably just going to have to let it go right?

    Glad you had a great vacation, can't wait to hear more!

  2. Hi Susan!

    I love your blog, BTW! I always look forward to your posts in my reader :)

    Susan, you're going to have a great time. Unfortunately, that's one of the things I'm going to have to discuss... the lack of organic food. Now, from what I think I remember watching on a Food Network special, Disney does have hydroponic gardens on property, and they do grow some of their own produce. But I don't remember anything specifically mentioned on a menu as such.

    I do then recommend stopping by one of the local grocery stores (Publix chain is our favorite, and there are a dozen within a nine-mile radius of Disney World), or your idea of Whole Foods would be great too, and stock up on your own.

    Park food is EXPENSIVE!! I'm talking $28 for a hamburger-and-fries dinner for two adults and one child. I'll be sure to go into more detail about eating at Disney.

    Will post more this weekend :) Thanks for following our blog :D


  3. Hope you had a great time! When we went to Disney, we stayed in a time share too. Ours had a kitchen, so we went to the store and bought a week's worth of groceries and were able to make all of our meals and snacks. For four of us, the whole week cost us $100 in food. Not too bad for being away from home.

    I just added your button to my blog (finally!!)

  4. Thanks Faye!

    Luckily we are staying in a time share and have a kitchen, so we can do at least 2 organic meals a day. I will definitely check out Publix. I hear about great deals all over the blogoshere and we don't have one, so I would love to check it out... thanks for the tip!

    Can't wait to read about the rest of your trip :)