Saturday, July 27, 2013

Disney's Yacht Club - A Short Review

Last week, I had the opportunity to attend a 4 day conference to learn about using Alice, software that teaches about computer programming in a 3D environment, in the classroom. I won't bore you here with details of what I learned (I'll write a recap on my professional blog though), even though trust me- it was far from boring!

Not only was I excited to be attending the conference, but I was also excited because of where the conference was held! The conference was at Disney's Yacht Club, which meant that's also where attendees stayed! An added bonus was that I convinced my mom to join me and add an extra night to the conference covered nights so we could have a bit of a mother-daughter trip.

In our past Disney trips, we've stayed at one of Disney's moderate resorts, Coronado Springs Resort, which we absolutely adored. While I've always wanted to stay at the Yacht or Beach club, mainly because of the walking proximity to Epcot, I've never wanted to pay the price difference to stay at a deluxe. Thanks to conference rates, the price point was just right for us to stay at the Yacht Club for this trip. I mean look at how beautiful this is.

Disney's Yacht Club as viewed from the Boardwalk
Our experience at the resort was pretty great! Here are a couple of highlights.

Disney's Magical Express

If you're flying to Disney, take advantage of this service! This was the third time we used it, and you just can't beat the convenience of dropping your luggage at the airport for departure and having it arrive in your rooms after check-in. We were off the plane and on the Magical Express within about 15 minutes (including a pit stop at the restroom). Before stopping at the Yacht Club, our bus dropped guests at Caribbean Beach Resort and then Boardwalk. It still made the trip from the airport under an hour, cheaper than renting a car we wouldn't otherwise need, and most importantly- stress free! Perfection!


I did online check in 60 days before our check-in date, and made no special requests at that time. I did add my credit card to be used for room charges, and set up a 4 digit pin to verify charges at that time. We were greeted by name as soon as we stepped off the Magical Express and ushered to the Online Check-In area. Within just a few minutes, we had added another credit card so that my mom's Key to the World Card would charge to her card and were pointed in the direction of our room, which was ready when we checked in (around 1:30 pm).

Our Room

Daybed in Yacht Club Room 1079
Yacht Club Room
As part of the conference rate, we booked a Standard Room. I was surprised that when I did online check-in, we saw that we were assigned a Pool/Lagoon View room. Sure enough, once we got to our room, we saw that we had a perfect side-view of the lighthouse right on the lagoon. We also had a daybed, which we were shocked to have since it wasn't a request and there were just 2 of us. The room was clean and smelled fresh, stocked with plenty of towels and toiletries. I wasn't sure if I would like having a first floor room, which meant a patio instead of a balcony, but it was nice to walk to the sliding door to get in when I ran to refill our mugs each night! Housekeeping was great, with the exception of one day when our room didn't get cleaned at all. We never called because we thought maybe they were just running behind, but even when we returned from the parks that night no one had been in. I wouldn't say this is necessarily a negative at the Yacht Club, because I know that this could happen at any resort. I will say, that after staying at Coronado, we really missed the doors that can pulled-out to partition off the bathroom/sink area. These would have been a nice touch to have on this trip especially since I was getting up each morning to get ready for a conference and mom was sleeping in (and I was staying out at parks later than she stayed up also). I think these were an addition to CSR after the last refurbishment, and I think it would be great to see this at the Yacht Club too! If I'm being completely honest though, our rooms at Coronado have been just as nice (albeit a little smaller) and included the same H20 products as amenities, same queen beds, etc. If we were simply comparing rooms, I don't know that I would pay deluxe prices to stay at the Yacht Club over Coronado.
Yacht Club Room

Resort Area

This is where you can't really compare the two! I can't explain how amazing the location of this resort is. Within 5-7 minutes of leaving our room (and we weren't speed walking) we were at the bag check area of Epcot. Since Epcot is our favorite park, this really is great, and I can only imagine would come even more in handy during the Food and Wine Festival. Another convenience was being able to either walk or hop on the boat to Hollywood Studios. We also took advantage of being able to walk over to
Boardwalk Bakery for dinner one night! This is where the prices of the Deluxe Epcot Resorts start to make more sense to me. We always get park hoppers (I know actually have an annual pass) because we always end up at Epcot at some point each day. Even on this trip, where we only had evenings in the parks, we still saw Epcot daily- and the convenience alone of walking to or from the park means a lot!
The parks we rode buses to and from were Magic Kingdom and Animal Kingdom. I never waited for more than about 10 minutes for a bus to a park, and never more than 5 on one to take back to the resort. Even with stopping at the Beach Club before heading into the parks, we thought the bus service was great. We don't have kids, and although I always consult crowd calendars and suggested park days, this location was perfect for our touring style of going with the flow and park hopping. We also really liked the added benefit of the basically having access to 2 resorts at the same time, as the Yacht and Beach Club are right beside each other. 
Yacht Club Lobby entrance from back

Yacht Club view from lighthouse/boat dock

Resort Eats

Bacon Angus Burger from Beaches & Cream
Served with smoked bacon, barbecue sauce,
blue cheese, onion rings, and lettuce and tomato
On our arrival day, we visited the Beach Club Marketplace to purchase refillable mugs and shared a pepperoni flatbread. This was the only thing I had here, and I liked that it was prepared fresh and in front of us. We had reservations one night for dinner at Yachtsman Steakhouse- and it was fabulous! It has become our must do every trip, and they definitely did not disappoint. Since I actually have pictures of that meal, I'll do a separate review of that. We also ate once at Beaches & Cream Soda Shop. Mom and I split the Bacon Angus Burger and it was delicious! The burger The server was nice enough to bring it out on two plates with a serving of fries on each. The burger was great- but the fries are my new standard to compare all fries to! They were that good! I also found out that my mom had lunch here while I was in my last conference session on our departure day. She had the Beaches Hot dog and while I don't have pictures, she said it was the best hot dog she's had in years. There are several other dining options at both the Yacht and the Beach Club, but those are the ones that we tried ourselves.

Storm Along Bay

So this is the part I'm embarrassed to write. We stayed for 5 nights at the resort with what is arguably the best pool on property...and I spent a combined 15 minutes at it (not in it!). In my defense, since my days were taken up by a conference, I didn't want to waste a minute of park time each night! My mom did hang out at the pool for a bit each day, and I did walk out to say hello to her during my lunch breaks, and the whole area looks great! I will be staying at the Beach Club in October, so I'm already planning to set aside time just to hang out at the pool for a while! Since I can't say a whole lot about it, here are a few pictures!
Storm Along Bay


Yacht/Beach Club Beach

Storm Along Bay 3

Slide at Storm Along Bay

So in conclusion, I think the Yacht Club is pretty amazing! While I don't know if I could ever justify paying rack rate for a room there on my budget, I'm very thankful that I had the chance to stay here! I'm looking forward to comparing it to the Beach Club in October (booked with the runDisney discount for the Tower or Terror 10 Miler).

Which Disney resort is your favorite?

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Disney Dining: Yachtsman Steakhouse Review

Last November, my parents and I had our first dining experience at Yachtsman Steakhouse, located at Disney's Yacht Club. When Mom and I made plans to head back to Disney recently, the Yachtsman was one of the two dining reservations we made sure to secure (the other being Boma for breakfast). We had an early reservation made for 5:20. We checked in right around 5:00, and they were able to take us straight to our table. In the main dining room, I just love the detail in the high ceilings. Our view of Storm Along Bay wasn't bad either!
Yachtsman Steakhouse Ceiling

Right after our drink orders were taken, our server brought out the basket of bread. I try to make it a rule not to fill up on bread at meals (it is my weakness), but this is the exception! There are two kinds of freshly baked bread here: sourdough rolls and onion rolls. Served with the bread is roasted garlic and butter topped with Australian sea salt. I think I skipped the sourdough in favor of the onion roll last year, but this year I tried both and they were delicious! The sourdough was more firm and crusty, and the onion rolls soft and pull apart perfectly. I followed our server's advice to spread the garlic just as you would butter, and could have made that whole basket of rolls my meal! It was great!
Yachtsman Bread Basket
Yachtsman Bread Basket
Next up was the appetizer course, otherwise known to us as the whole reason we go to the Yachtsman. For the second year in a row, I ordered the Lobster Bisque. I order this soup pretty much anywhere that I see it on a menu, and Yachtsman has my absolute favorite. It is creamy, rich, and has nice sized chunks or lobster in it. This was so good that both Mom and I had a moment of consideration for licking the bowl. I always want to try a different appetizer here, but I know I'd regret not having this. Maybe next time I'll go just for apps and desserts?
Yachtsman Lobster Bisque
Lobster Bisque
Even though the bisque is always the star of the meal for me (which isn't to say anything bad about the steaks, that's just how much I love the bisque), we still had entrees to devour! This was the one meal of this trip that we ordered our own entrees, and I went with the 16 oz Boneless Ribeye. This is normally served with Brioche and Bone Marrow, but I substituted fries this time. I ordered the steak cooked medium, and it was perfectly cooked and seasoned. It was described as well-marbled, but it was a bit fattier than I expected. It was pretty delicious though!
Yachtsman Ribeye
Yachtsman Ribeye
We made one mistake at this meal- we skipped dessert! I absolutely loved my dessert here last year, but since we had a couple hours planned in Epcot, we decided to skip dessert in favor of picking up snacks around the World Showcase. Yachtsman was once again a favorite for us, and we'll be returning on our next trip!

If you've visited Yachtsman, what was your experience like?

Monday, July 22, 2013

Disney Dining Plan vs. Tables in Wonderland (Our Experience)

I've been lucky enough to travel to Disney World three times since 2011. After not traveling to Disney since I was a kid, on New Years Eve in 2010, we started talking about where to go for our family vacation the next year. Surprisingly, my mom said she had always wanted to visit Disney as an adult. After much discussion and research, we booked a trip and ended up with Free Dining, which we upgraded to the Deluxe Dining Plan.
We used 2 dining plan credits to attend the Spirit of Aloha
Luau in 2011 (and my hair was brown).
Well, that trip only served to spark my Disney obsession and somehow I convinced my parents we needed to return in 2012.
Both trips were in November, over my birthday, and during Epcot's Food & Wine Festival.
Pork Slider from the Hawaii booth at F&W (snack credit)
We had a great time on both trips, and when I had the opportunity to attend a conference in my field being held in Disney at the Yacht Club Resort, I signed right up and convinced my mom to tag along. After having the dining plan for the first two trips, we weren't quite sure how we'd like not having it. In addition to not having the dining plan, we decided to just make a couple ADRs (advanced dining reservations), and just wing the rest. This trip was totally different than our previous ones! Since it was so different, I thought I'd write a little bit about our thoughts.

First- we loved the deluxe dining plan on our past two trips. As three adults, it was nice to have breaks in our day and to be able to leisurely enjoy meals. We had no problem using our 3 credits a day by booking either a table-service breakfast or early lunch each day and a Signature dinner every night. We also loved ordering whatever we wanted without looking at prices. Both years, we had free dining, so we only paid the upgrade price to upgrade from regular to Deluxe dining. This meant that each of us ate for less than $40 a day (not including gratuity)- which can't be beat! We also traveled during the Food and Wine Festival, and had no problems using our snack credits to snack around World Showcase. Was it a lot food, and in some cases too much?
Oak Grilled Filet from California Grill (2012)
Absolutely! But to us, it was totally worth it to try new things and for the convenience factor, especially since we were eating Deluxe for less than $40 per day. (For reference, in the years we went, the Deluxe Plan included 3 meals and 2 snacks per person, per night of stay. Each meal could be used as table or counter service, and included an appetizer, entree, dessert, and non-alcoholic beverage per person. Also included was a resort refillable mug.)

Since this trip involved booking the room at the conference rate and me attending the conference all day each day, we couldn't add the dining plan. Instead, I purchased the Tables in Wonderland card, which is one of my Annual Pass benefits. The card costs $100, but can be used at most table-service restaurants to receive 20% your bill (including alcohol). I knew that it wouldn't actually save money for us on this trip, but I have a trip booked with a signature dinner every night of the stay in October, so I knew between the two it would save money.

Here's a line-up of where we ended up eating over the course of our 5 night trip:

  • Beach Club Marketplace
  • Be Our Guest (dinner- used TIW discount)
  • Tomorrowland Terrace Wishes Dessert Party
  • Boma (breakfast- used TIW discount)
  • Beaches & Cream (lunch- used TIW discount)
  • Boardwalk Bakery (dinner)
  • Coral Reef (dinner- used TIW discount)
  • Yachtsman Steakhouse (dinner- used TIW discount)
  • Rose & Crown (dinner- used TIW discount)
As I mentioned earlier, we only had a couple of set in stone ADR's for this trip. These were the Wishes Dessert Party, Boma breakfast, and dinner at Yachtsman Steakhouse. The week before we left, I saw an opening for Be Our Guest, so we also booked dinner there. Another difference between this trip and our Deluxe Dining trips was that instead of us each getting our own appetizer, entree, and dessert we knew that we'd order what looked good and most likely split some things. We actually ended up splitting entrees at every meal, and didn't order dessert or appetizers at every meal. Of course, by splitting entrees and not always ordering appetizers or dessert, we were able to eat much more cheaply than our previous trips. I must admit though, that at times, we ordered the way we did (or chose not to order) was because we were watching our budget. 
Grilled Strip Steak from Be Our Guest

That would be considered one negative of not having a dining plan- even though it is a lot of food, when everything is paid before you go you don't have to think about your budget at all once actually on your trip. I've seen it advised several times that you can budget and have everything paid for even when not on the dining plan by buying Disney gift cards before the trip or just setting the money aside. We actually did this- and even though it was great because everything was paid for before the trip, it just wasn't quite the same, because when the bill came, we still had to look at the price.

So, which works out better? The Deluxe Dining Plan or using the Tables in Wonderland discount card? Well honestly, I think it just depends. We loved the Deluxe Dining Plan both times we used it, and as long as we were paying to upgrade to it during free dining and not paying the full price, it is a fantastic deal. However, for the type of trips I had this time (a conference being the main reason) and that I have scheduled next (going down for the Tower of Terror 10 Miler), I think the Tables in Wonderland card will be the best fit. This has as much to do with tickets as food....I now have an annual pass, and I can purchase discount tickets for my traveling partners thanks to the conference and runDisney, so wouldn't be eligible for free dining.

I really think that which is the best deal is a personal decision and depends on a multitude of factors such as your touring style, your restaurant preferences, and whether or not you have children. So for us, we do like the dining plan, but will stick with Tables in Wonderland for now.

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

This Week's Eats: July 1 - July 7

Just like last week, I'm cooking my way through several Cooking Light recipes.

Shrimp and Shiitake Rice Bowls: At the request of my parents, made this one again on the night I cooked at their house. Again, so simple, so delicious. Doubled everything so we all had leftovers for lunch the next day. (Actually made Sunday night...with plans to make again Friday for company.)

Seared Scallops with Summer Vegetables and Beurre Blanc: This was also super simple, and delicious. Scallops are my favorite...I just wish they weren't quite so expensive here. I didn't really care for the Beurre Blanc, so probably would make it without that. (Monday night)

Maple Bacon Mashed Sweet Potatoes: Made this to go with the scallops. Cooked the potatoes in the microwave, scrape out the pulp, mash, add a little butter, milk, and syrup (I used agave), and top with crumbled bacon. I mean, couldn't be bad, right? Right.

Crab Cakes with Spicy Remoulade: I have plans to make this one, but crab is ridiculously expensive. Since I don't want to spend $22 on a pound of crabmeat, I'll look around or wait until I can find it cheaper.

Spice Rubbed NY Strips with Avocado Lime Salsa: Yep, another repeat of last week....because why not when it was a delicious success!