The next morning repeated my popular refrain: I got up really early to wander around the resort. There’s a reason I don’t call these vacation reports (besides the fact that “trip report” was a common term before I started writing my own reports) and that’s because the word vacation implies some sort of relaxation. Our trips are more like grueling, nomadic viking voyages across the arctic tundra–except replace vikings with us and arctic tundra with humid Florida. So basically they’re completely different (I just like any analogy that compares me to a viking), but the idea is the same. We sleep very little and I carry around over 20 pounds of camera gear per day. We basically have mountain lion blood flowing through our veins (sorry, Charlie Sheen, mountain lions>tigers).
On this particular morning I was up early to collect more photos for the Port Orleans Riverside project. Before you get too excited if you’re a fan of Port Orleans Riverside, this project is sort of out of my hands, and it doesn’t appear it will be completed at any time in the near future. So don’t start sitting on pins and needles quite yet. Unless you want to be uncomfortable for a while.
My wandering around the resort included stops at every single building at the resort, and plenty of photos. For some reason, several of these photos were of rabbits. In my defense, I think rabbits were a step up from the squirrel I was photographing the previous morning, but I still am at a loss for my thinking behind taking so many rabbit photos. Maybe I need to visit Animal Kingdom more frequently to see some real animals!
Even though I got up pretty early, I was out for a couple of hours, so by the time I got back, I didn’t have a whole lot of time to get ready. Getting ready included packing our bags, cleaning our room, and making the bed so that I could take photos of the room. The downside of arriving late at night each time we travel is that I have to “restore” the room on the morning we leave for photos. I’m not exactly skilled at making beds (it’s something I’ve never really done–I see it as an entirely pointless task), so it always takes me far longer than I should to get all of this done. Once I got the photos I needed, we took our bags to bell services so they could take them to our next resort, and we caught a bus for Epcot.
Remember in the first installment how I mentioned that I had a long, boring story about how we booked our hotel over 7 months in advance? Well, here is the long, boring story that I’m sure no one has been anxiously awaiting!
If you’re Disney Vacation Club owner, you probably saw that “7 months” comment and knew exactly where I was going with this. For those who are Disney Vacation Club owners, basically, you have a home resort that you can book as many as 11 months in advance, and then you can book all other Disney Vacation Club resorts 7 months in advance. Basically, this gives owners a jump start advantage at their home resorts. These windows prevent everyone from simply buying at the resorts that are the cheapest on the resale market and/or have the lowest maintenance fees (cough*Saratoga Springs*cough). Well, the windows prevent a lot of people from doing that. We, on the other hand, bought into Disney Vacation Club with Saratoga Springs as our home resort, but haven’t stayed there once since becoming members!
For a lot of Disney Vacation Club members whose home resort is elsewhere, the Beach Club Villas are a white whale. Depending upon what time of year you’re traveling, you may not be able to get in them even right at 7 months (this is especially true during Food & Wine Festival and around Christmas). We had tried a few times at 7 months, and failed each time. It seemed like we’d never be able to stay there.
Even before starting to plan this May 2012 trip, way back in Fall 2011, I was writing a blog post about the 2012 Flower & Garden Festival at Epcot. I was comparing the 2012 dates to 2011 dates (one of the “joys” of running a Disney blog is that your day inadvertently includes fun-filled tasks of this nature), then I started looking at the 2011 Star Wars Weekends dates (2012 dates had not yet been announced), and I noticed that the calendars between the years were such that it appeared somewhat likely that the first weekend of Star Wars Weekends 2012 would overlap with the last weekend of the 2012 Epcot Flower & Garden Festival. This overlap hadn’t happened for a few years, but it seemed like a possibility, since otherwise Star Wars Weekends 2012 would be a weekend shorter than normal (unlikely) or extend towards the busy summer season. Right then, I knew we should try again to book the Beach Club Villas; it was at least worth a shot!
It was a little too early to book the “ideal” dates at that point, but we figured something was better than nothing, so we booked dates a couple weeks before the “ideal” dates, and then a week later, changed the reservation to the following week (once that week opened up for booking), and finally changed the reservation to our ideal dates as soon as we could book that. The calendar for Star Wars Weekends still had yet to come out (we were probably lucky this was the case, as I doubt we would have gotten that weekend if it were already out), so from then on, it was a waiting game.
My prognostication proved correct (look out, Farmer’s Almanac!) and we ended up with a room at the Beach Club Villas! Of course, being cheap with points like we are, we didn’t book the entire stay at Beach Club Villas since the weekends are more expensive, and in retrospect it would have been really nice to be able to walk to Star Wars Weekends, but I’m not going to complain. We got the resort we wanted for part of our trip.
If you’ve read our “Big Savings on the Deluxe Dining Plan” article, you know that we paired this portion of the stay with the Deluxe Disney Dining Plan. You can read more about the details in that article, but it seemed like the perfect plan: we had 3 days to spread out 2 nights worth of Deluxe Disney Dining Plan credits, and we had made ADRs at some of the most expensive restaurants on property that accepted the Disney Dining Plan. As you can read in that article, we ended up saving a ton of money without a whole lot of value maximization effort.
Unfortunately, the downside to being on the Deluxe Disney Dining Plan is that we had to pick up our room keys in order to use the Plan. Worse yet, we had lunch reservations 30 minutes from the time we arrived at Epcot. On the plus side, the reservations were in World Showcase, so it wouldn’t be too much trouble to make it work.
I don’t know how I managed this, but Sarah offered to go check-in to the Beach Club Villas while I took photos in Epcot. I think I’ve finally reinforced the idea enough that somehow me taking photos is “important research.” Now if only I could convince her of the high nutritional values of meals consisting solely of Slim Jims, Moose Tracks ice cream, and chocolate milk!
Lunch was at Tutto Italia. I arrived there first, on time, and checked into our reservation. I was under the impression that Tutto Italia is pretty popular, and I didn’t want us to lose our spot if we showed up late. I was mistaken on this. There were barely any guests in the restaurant, and it was clear that it was no issue that we’d be a bit late. Once Sarah arrived, we were seated.
I’ll do a full review of Tutto Italia later, but the CliffNotes version is that it was decent. It seems to be another divisive restaurant, but we weren’t quite so polarized on it. It was decidedly “meh.” The desserts were great and the appetizers were good, but the entrees were so-so. In fact, we both remarked that if we weren’t on the Dining Plan, we would have ordered much cheaper sandwiches that looked a lot cheaper. Instead, we each ordered fish as none of the other “nice” options really looked that appealing.
In short, while exceptional, even the (expensive) desserts and appetizers couldn’t save Tutto Italia from being simply an “okay” restaurant. With so many other excellent options in Epcot, it’s difficult for me to recommend Tutto Italia.
We booked Tutto Italia because it’s one of the overall most expensive one-credit restaurants on the Disney Dining Plan, meaning that it’s good for value maximization. In retrospect, we should have looked at Walt Disney World restaurant menus when booking, as we would have been content eating here later and paying out of pocket for something cheaper. Live and learn, I guess.
This also demonstrates one of the personal qualms I have in using the Dining Plan–I am very frugal so I always force myself to look at more expensive items on the menu to make it worth my money. For us, there is no benefit in purchasing the Dining Plan to prepay or to budget. The only reason we ever use it is to save money, so we make a point of only using it when we’re going to be eating at cost-effective restaurants on the Plan. Normally, this isn’t a big problem as I naturally gravitate towards the more expensive items on the menu. At Tutto Italia, I definitely gravitated towards the cheaper items.
After lunch at Tutto Italia we wandered around World Showcase enjoying the second-to-last day of Epcot’s International Flower & Garden Festival. This mostly just meant wandering around World Showcase, taking photos of the various topiaries, many of which were pretty similar (or identical) to what was out in 2011.
This is one of my biggest complaints about Flower & Garden Festival…
There are multiple pages in this Walt Disney World trip report installment. Navigate to the next page below!