Orlando 2015: Travel and Accommodations

This post is the third in a series about our 2015 family vacation to Orlando. The series includes these posts:

There is no painless way to get to Orlando with three kids from 2800km away. I enjoy the occasional road trip, but that’s a doozy of a drive so we opted for flying. From our small city of Fredericton, New Brunswick, Canada there are limited flight options with no direct flights to Orlando. Our best option in terms of price and travel time was to drive three hours to Bangor, Maine and take a nonstop flight to Orlando Sanford Airport.

Ground transportation from Sanford is less convenient than Orlando International. There is no Disney Magical Express and it’s twice the distance. And when traveling as a party of five, you can’t just hop in the first cab you see. We pre-booked our ground transportation with https://www.americanluxurytransportation.com/ and it was perfect service. The driver was waiting at the bottom of the escalator for us as we entered the baggage claim area. He was super friendly and a science fiction fan so the conversation was pleasant (the rest of the family might have a different opinion here). The reservation included a short stop at a grocery store for a few essentials (water, granola bars, fresh fruit, sunscreen), which was far more convenient than trying to track things down at the hotel near midnight. We used the same company for traveling between Universal and Disney as well as for the return trip to the airport. Each time the driver was there ahead of the scheduled pickup time with an SUV that held everyone. We could not have asked for ground transportation to run any smoother and the cost was comparable to renting plus parking a vehicle. My one regret is not splurging a little to get a limo instead of an SUV for one of the trips. I think that would have stuck in the kids’ memory for life and wouldn’t have cost much more.

Our first three nights were at Loews Royal Pacific Resort at Universal Studios. We arrived late and were exhausted when we got there. Arriving exhausted was unfortunate because the resort is lovely and we didn’t end up paying it much heed – we went to bed then hit the parks nonstop our entire stay. We didn’t even eat at the Royal Pacific. The other problem we had arriving late was trying to get our Universal Express passes printed from the lobby kiosks while everyone was bleary eyed and road weary.

Royal Pacific pool with Universal Studios Florida in the background

Royal Pacific pool with Universal Studios Florida in the background

We stayed in a standard two bed hotel room at Royal Pacific with a rollaway cot for the boy. That’s cramped quarters for our family but we weren’t there for the room. We were there for the express passes and early park admission.

Islands of Adventure was our first park destination, which is an easy walk from the resort, but we opted for the water taxi our first day. It is a pleasant novelty but not more time efficient unless you happen to arrive as the boat is boarding. Unlike Disney World, the Universal area is very walkable. We mostly walked and took a couple boat rides to mix things up.

King's Cross Station

OK, technically we did also take a train

We transferred to Animal Kingdom Lodge midday on day 3. The plan was to enjoy the resort for the afternoon then head to a park for a dinner reservation. A piece of advice I had heard multiple times was to schedule some downtime at the resort. You pay a premium to be onsite so take some time to enjoy the Disney magic. AKL did not disappoint. The theming is well done and animals roam the surrounding savannahs. We left our luggage in the baggage room and enjoyed the pool while waiting for our room to be made available. When our room was ready, a hotel staff member brought up our luggage and the groceries we had ordered in advance from gardengrocer.com. A terrific part of the AKL service is receiving grocery deliveries and storing your perishable items in their fridges and freezers.

Our savannah view room was a great novelty

Our savannah view room was a great novelty

Our “room” was a spacious one bedroom villa with a kitchen, laundry, two full bathrooms, and a balcony overlooking the savannah. There was a king size bed in the bedroom for the parents; the living room had a pullout sofa and a pullout sleeper chair for the kids. After the cramped quarters at the Royal Pacific, our villa was wonderfully spacious.

We booked our villa through David’s Vacation Club Rentals based on a recommendation from @wightman and family. Animal Kingdom Lodge is mostly Disney Vacation Club rooms (that is, Disney timeshares). David’s Vacation Club Rentals is a points broker that facilitates “renting” Disney Vacation Club points from a DVC member. While I don’t know exactly how the system works from the perspective of the DVC member, my understanding is that David’s Vacation Club Rentals acts as the middleman for a vacationer paying a DVC member to reserve a room under the vacationer’s name using the member’s DVC points. Before I learned of this snazzy little exchange system, I was turned off by the cost of booking at Animal Kingdom Lodge directly with Disney. Now that I know about it, I’m not sure I would ever book a regular resort room. For a family of five, the one bedroom villa makes the resort enjoyable instead of tolerable!

If we ever go back to Disney World, I will definitely start with David’s Vacation Club Rentals. We won’t go back to Animal Kingdom Lodge though. I absolutely loved it at AKL and I’m happy we stayed there, but it is not walking distance to anything so the tranquility of the savannah views comes with convenience tradeoffs. Given how much time we spent in the parks and how little time we spent at the resort, I wouldn’t make those tradeoffs a second time around even though they were totally worth it the first time. I would probably look first at the Beach Club or Boardwalk Resorts.

Check out the other posts in this series for how we planned our trip, where we stayed, how we got around, what we ate, and what our favourite experiences were. Hope it’s useful to you:

 

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