Villas and studios resembling turn-of-the-20th-century Key West houses have full kitchens, white and pastel clapboard siding, delicate ornamental woodwork, and private balconies that overlook the waterways and golf fairways winding through the grounds. A red-and-white lighthouse sets the scene, and kids can roast marshmallows at the campfire. Rooms are decorated in soft, beachy, pastels. A pleasant boat ride through tree-lined canals delivers you to Disney Springs and its nightlife. The resort is part of the Disney Vacation Club network, but rooms are rented to anyone when they're available.
The deluxe studios sleep four adults in two queen beds, with a kitchenette equipped with a microwave, a toaster, a coffee maker, a small refrigerator, a wet bar and small table and chairs. The three bedroom villas can sleep up to 12, and all villas have fully equipped kitchens, a flat-screen TV, ample storage space, a table and chairs, couches and occasional chairs, a furnished balcony or patio, and a very welcome washer and dryer, all making for a home-like experience.
YOU SHOULD KNOW Request ground floor accommodations, in a refurbished villa or studio, if stairs are not to your liking, as there are no elevators, and this is a three-story resort.
Studios have a single sink with a plain white vanity top that does provide plenty of room for toiletries, and a shower/tub combination. The villa bathrooms are roomier, with whirlpool tubs, shelving for toiletries and, oddly, a pedestal sink.
YOU SHOULD KNOW The whirlpool bath in the villa sits next to an opening with louvered shutters leading to the bedroom area. Just so you know.
Resort registration takes place in the central Hospitality House, which is the social and practical hub of this huge resort. It's also home to Conch Flats General Store, and two dining choices, Olivia's Cafe and the Gurgling Suitcase bar.
The big Sandcastle Pool, just outside the central Hospitality House, is dominated by--what else?-- a giant sandcastle, through which runs a 125-foot-long water slide. If you are up for a spot of beach volleyball, a nearby sandy beach contains a court. The red and white striped lighthouse on the pool deck houses a sauna for relaxing those park-weary muscles, or you can simply lie in the sun or under the shade of an umbrella on one of many lounge chairs scattered around the pool. Three other palm-tree lined pools, all a bit quieter, are situated on the far reaches of this huge property, so no one needs walk too far to take a cooling plunge. Towels are provided, and there are often lifeguards on duty.
YOU SHOULD KNOW This resort and its pools are set in mature, tropical landscaping with a number of meandering waterways, which are lovely to look at, or to glide across on the boat to Disney Springs or elsewhere, but are not for swimming. This is Florida, those are natural waterways that connect with real Florida wilderness, which contains real Florida wildlife, despite the best efforts of Disney officials to discourage them.
Old Key West Exercise Room, near the central Hospitality House, offers treadmills, bicycles and stair climbers along with free weights and weight machines. Lockers are available.
Olivia’s Café at Hospitality House offers table service for breakfast, lunch and dinner, and in keeping with the Key West theme, popular items include conch chowder, conch fritters, fried chicken and other seafood. Good’s Food to Go, by the main pool, offers fast food such as burgers, hot dogs and pizza to take out, as does Turtle Shack Poolside Snacks by the Old Turtle Pond area pool.
Olivia's is the only sit-down eatery at this huge resort, thus can be very busy. Reservations are encouraged.
Olivia's pours cocktails for those older than 21, along with wine and beer. Their Bloody Mary is more like brunch than just a drink. In addition to the traditional fixings, it's loaded with bacon and shrimp. The Gurgling Suitcase (yes, that's its name, inspiring visions of rum-runners with capacious bags clinking with bottles of illicit alcohol) is a cute little watering hole near the main pool where you can order Key West-inspired drinks to enjoy inside or outside.
As a resort guest, you have full use of the Disney transportation system, so a car is not absolutely necessary. The resort is connected by water taxi to the dining, shopping and drinking extravaganza of Disney Springs, and to the rest of Disney World by bus. The buses always take longer than you expect, but there are ride-sharing services and taxis readily available to cut travel time down. If visits to Universal Orlando or SeaWorld are part of your plans, a car would be ideal.
Nearby Disney Springs (10 minutes by water taxi or car) offers a wide array of restaurants, including the three-story PaddleFish, a modern take on the American traditional paddleboat, where seafood is king and the outdoor rooftop terrace offers striking views of the lagoon and the entertainment at the Springs. Nearby you’ll find Raglan Road, an authentic Irish Pub featuring refined Irish fare and lots of music and dancing; Morimoto’s Asia, an Asian Fusion eatery owned by, and often visited by, famed Japanese chef, Morimoto; and Chef Art Smith’s Homecomin’ restaurant, showcasing local, Southern food. For those who fancy a Mexican experience, James Beard Foundation Award winning Chef Rick Bayless’ has opened Frontera Cocina. Further afield is House of Blues, where barbecue and blues reign.
Disney Springs (10-minutes by water taxi or car) is the closest place for a drink, and you are spoiled for choice when it comes to watering holes. You can sip sake on the rooftop terrace at Morimoto's Asia, hoist a Guinness at Raglan Road, sample tequila at Frontera Cocina or taste some locally distilled whisky at Chef Art Smith's Homecomin' bar. Beers galore are available at House of Blues, and Wine Bar George offers a superior choice of national and international wines curated by a master sommelier.
WHY WE LIKE IT
It seems redundant to have a Florida-themed resort in Florida, but this one works. The buildings in the various villages are charming, with white gingerbread trim and pastel colors. The rooms are large, and the multi-bedroom suites can accommodate a big family. The pools are beautiful, but the best thing of all is the water taxi to Disney Springs.