2016 Walt Disney World Christmas Trip Recap – Part 1

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The pace of this Walt Disney World Christmas 2016 Recap post should pick up going forward. In large part, this is because when we checked into the Grand Floridian Villas, we were notified that we had been upgraded to a 1-bedroom unit. Upgrades are exceedingly rare when using DVC points, and it usually occurs because one category is less popular than others.

We had heard this was the case with 1-BR units at Grand Floridian, but still didn’t think it was in the realm of possibilities that we’d receive anything. Again, I think Sarah almost hugged the Cast Member who checked us in. She was beyond elated, and while our room wasn’t ready this time, I think she was perfectly content camping out in the lobby waiting for that text message notification.

Instead, we headed over to the Beaches Pool Bar to eat, knowing that “getting this out of the way” meant more time to enjoy the room. We’d never dined here before and I doubt I’ll do a full review, so I’ll give you the rundown here.

Sarah ordered the Lobster Sliders served on three mini Brioche Buns (below). These were pretty good, with chunks of lobster and a decent flavor. They were, however, incredibly small. So small that I wouldn’t order them again, particularly given that $16 price.

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I ordered the House-made Crab Cake Sandwich with Sweet Corn Tartar Sauce (below). Ordering an $11 crab cake sandwich from a pool bar is roughly equivalent to buying a hot dog from 7-11: you know what you’re getting yourself into, and you’ve come to terms with it. In this case, that means a high filler-to-crab rate.

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Even with that, this sandwich exceeded both of our expectations (which were admittedly low). I’d order this again before the lobster sliders, but my first choice would just be to eat elsewhere.

Shortly after this, our room was ready. I’ve been hard on Grand Floridian in the past, but had slowly been coming around on the resort, thanks in large part to recent refurbishments.

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Well, consider this me coming around the rest of the way. We’ve stayed in and toured a lot of Disney Vacation Club villas, and this ranks up there among the best. The balance of theme and luxury was perfect, and my initial fears that the rooms would be done on the cheap (since the outside looks like it was) were dispelled.

I’ll save further thoughts and photos for our full review, but I was really impressed. Obviously, the upgrade was part of that, but the quality of the 1-BR unit should be indicative of that found in all other rooms (just a different size) and if the studio is comparable to that, it would be among the best at Walt Disney World.

If you want to see more now–or want to watch the train-wreck that is me ad-libbing on video–we did this Facebook Live walk-through of the room:

My about-face on Grand Floridian is, admittedly, in large part based upon what we paid. We are paying a yearly cost of roughly $7 per DVC point that we own. Our 1-night stay was 17 points, or $119. While I do not believe Grand Floridian should command the $500+ rack rates that Walt Disney World charges, I think it’s justifiable as a $200-300/night resort. For a $120/night resort, consider me “very satisfied” with the experience. I realize in the future, it’s highly unlikely we’d receive an upgrade. Even for a studio, I think that price is more than fair.

If I had a time machine, I’d go back and buy more DVC points when we did. (I’d do cooler things with the time machine first…don’t worry.) Even today, we are tempted to buy more SSR or BLT points via resale. I could get behind staying at the Grand Floridian or Polynesian regularly for under $200/night!

We spent all day in that room. It was basically a day of this, on loop:

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In the evening, I headed to the Polynesian and inside the main lobby of the Grand Floridian to take photos of the Christmas decorations. The Poly felt pretty sparse, and it’s disappointing to me that they haven’t taken advantage of the empty space in the lobby (now that the fountain is gone) to add an icon tree.

Grand Floridian’s lobby looked opulent, but it was a bit of a bummer the Christmas tree wasn’t up yet. I’m saving photos of both resorts for our updated Vacation Kingdom at Christmas eBook, coming tomorrow. Make sure to sign up to get the free WDW Christmas eBook, if you already haven’t.

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I got up early for sunrise the next morning, and it was freezing–almost literally. It was in the 40s, and I passed many tourists shivering in shorts as they walked to the monorails and boats at the TTC.

Consider this your near-daily reminder that you should follow the advice in our Winter Packing Tips for Disney post. There are some clever things to take, some of which will help you avoid overpacking.

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The next morning, we transferred to Animal Kingdom Lodge – Jambo House. There, we scored a 9-point (so, $63/night based on our costs) value studio. We had stayed at the Animal Kingdom Lodge Villas on our last visit, and I’m not sure if anything–aside from the view–was different between this unit and our last.

I love the Animal Kingdom Lodge rooms. The theme/luxury balance skews more towards theme here, but that’s totally fine by me. The rooms are still well-appointed, and don’t feel visually garish or over the top. Sarah finds them to be too dark and drab, so I suppose it’s all a matter of personal preference.

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From there it was on to Disney’s Hollywood Studios…again. Because we hadn’t accomplished an adequate amount of fist-shaking at the construction walls on our first visit, we headed back to Muppet Courtyard. Actually, our prerogative this day was doing PizzeRizzo. You can read about how that went in our PizzeRizzo Review.

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While I (half) joke about having to spend time in Disney’s Hollywood Studios, one high note is that Muppets Courtyard is looking “BETTER THAN EVER.” In fairness, this is 140% because the exterior of PizzeRizzo is well done, and ties together the area. It’s -50% because the fountain has been filled in as a planter (supposedly temporary). Finally, 10% is because of the Christmas decorations. (I also really like the Muppets Area Christmas BGM.)

This left us with a few hours until our dinner ADR. I’ve managed to mostly block out those unpleasant memories, but you can piece together some of our “adventures” via the following photos:

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We had an ADR for the last seating at Minnie’s Holiday Dine, and Sarah went to check-in for that while I watched Jingle Bell, Jingle BAM! It did not improve with a subsequent viewing. If anything, I enjoyed it less. My viewpoint was definitely not optimal (my goal was photos), but that wouldn’t effect the “plot” or loose narrative thread.

The show lacks emotional oomph, and is downright boring in parts. Even a gratuitous use of lasers can’t save it. Also, and I realize this is a random nitpick, but does anyone know why there is the awkward mention of “Orlando” several times in the show? It felt like the dialogue was contorted to include this, as if saying the city’s name will elicit cheers from the crowd (it doesn’t).

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We already covered dinner in our Minnie’s Holiday Dine Review, so I’ll skip that. When we left the restaurant, the park was nearly empty, which provided the perfect opportunity for night photos.

From DHS, we headed to Disney Springs. I already covered that experience in our Tips for Disney Springs at Christmas post, so there’s really not much else to say about that, either.

Alright, that covers days 1-3 of our recent trip. That’s an average of less than 1,000 words per day…still not exactly concise given that I glossed over a lot of what we did, but better than the 4,000 words per day average of a normal trip report. Part 2 of this post will cover our remaining days of our Walt Disney World Christmas trip. Please feel free to leave your thoughts about anything here in the comments, including whether you prefer the more concise style of this report or the typical, verbose trip reports!

25 Responses to “2016 Walt Disney World Christmas Trip Recap – Part 1”
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