Deej's Picture of the Week

Golf Driving Range in Seoul South Korea

As my buddy and I were walking down the streets of downtown Seoul, we happened to pass a driving range located on top of one of the buildings. We decided to stop and hit a bucket, since it's not every day one can hit golf balls in the middle of one of the world's largest cities. Of all the pictures I've taken while traveling, this is one of my favorites...

~Insert Dude-like Closing Here~ 

Deej

The Four Seasons for $100? Yeah, There's A Story...

"Deej, is the guest in room X staying tonight? His bags are still here." 

During my days in the hotel business, this was a fairly typical conversation between myself and the hotel's Executive Housekeeper. Guests would often extend their stays without informing the Front Desk, or sometimes they had a continuing reservation for the next evening that we hadn't noticed. However, the moment I heard these words from my cohort, a great deal of panic set in, and it was all I could do to not drop the phone.

Let's just say the gentleman in room X was a very important guest, and was part of a very important group staying in our hotel. His group departed our hotel for an event, and while they were away our bell staff was to visit each member's room and retrieve their bags. The luggage was then to be loaded onto the group's bus, which would pick them up en route to the airport for their charter flight. This was a process that our hotel did so often, it was all but routine, but even the best of routines can have their flaws. For the first time in nearly three years, we missed a bag....

By the time the bag was discovered, our group was already on their charter flight, and well on their way to Atlanta. Complicating matters further, they were only due to stay in The ATL for one night, before moving on to their next stop in New York; not to mention the fact that the guest from room X was also without all of his belongings. Any way I sliced it, this was a bad situation, and I spent the next few hours attempting to figure out how to fix it. After speaking with my General Manager, it became clear that there was only one choice....I'd be driving to Atlanta to hand deliver Mr. X's bag. 

After a quick trip home to grab a toothbrush and change of clothes, I headed back to the hotel to pick up the rental car they had arranged for me. My roommate decided to make the road trip as well, and I was pretty glad he was coming along, because otherwise it would have been a lonely 8 hour drive. In all the frenzy, I failed to line up a hotel for us once we arrived in Atlanta, so I called a colleague while on the road and asked him to find us something within the $100 budget I'd been given. I had no idea just how well he would tackle this task...

As we made our way a little north of Valdosta, my coworker calls to say he's found us a place for the night...The Four Seasons Atlanta. I started to flip out because we only had a $100 budget, but he was quick to cut me off. He had taken the liberty to call The Four Seasons, where our group was staying that evening, and explained the dilemma. He found very sympathetic ears, and they agreed to book us a room for my $100 allowance. Suddenly, things were looking up, and this hotel guy was on cloud nine, but also incredibly impressed. The Four Seasons certainly did not have to help me out, yet they went above and beyond in the same manner for which their service has become legendary.
 

After an obligatory stop at The Varsity, we arrived at the Four Seasons after 11pm, and checked into what I'm sure was the cheapest room their desk agents had ever seen. I gave Mr. X's bag to the bellman, ignoring the irony that such an action is what had led me there in the first place. Up to that point, I'd always wanted to experience a Four Seasons hotel, and here I was finally given the opportunity, yet all I wanted to do was crawl into bed...

Four Seasons Atlanta
 The Building on the Right. Photo Credit: Four Seasons

Our wake up call came far too early the next morning, but I still awoke completely refreshed. The day before had been incredibly stressful, but something about waking up at The Four Seasons had made it all worthwhile. During my time in the hotel business I created countless memorable stories, some which would come close to rivaling this one, yet none that could ever surpass it. After all, it is the only one that landed me a $100 room at The Four Seasons.

Enjoy Your Stay

Magical Blogorail Teal - The Perfect Disney Afternoon


 Welcome to those of you joining me from Capturing Magical Memories, and to those of you just hopping aboard. I am the final stop on our Magical Blogorail tour through the perfect Disney afternoon.

There is not much that I can still recall from English class as a kid, but one of the things I do remember is when attempting to define a word, one is not to use that word in the actual definition. Sometimes, however, it just seems impossible to keep to the rule, and this happens to be one of those times. For me to define the perfect Disney afternoon without using those words is impossible, because it simply is The Disney Afternoon.

My routine was pretty simple as a kid. I came home from school, grabbed a Pop-Tart or Little Debbie, and sat down for two hours of The Disney Afternoon. Homework would simply have to wait, because starting at 3pm every weekday I was glued to some of the best cartoons ever made...Duck Tales, Chip n Dale Rescue Rangers, Tale Spin, and Darkwing Duck. With the animated shorts of Disney past long out of production, these were the cartoons I grew up with, and man do I wish they were still around.

In later years, Duck Tales was substituted with Goof Troop, which seemed to be a backwards move for the lineup, because I much preferred the antics of Huey, Dewey, and Louie to Goofy and his made up son Max. There were too many unanswered questions with Goof Troop for me to appreciate it. I mean, how did Goofy have a son? Does that mean there's a Mrs. Goofy out there somewhere? Surely there has to be, but where is she? Did she dump Goofy? Or maybe he dumped her? These are all questions that arose from The Disney Afternoon, and I'm still attempting to reconcile them to this day.




If you came here today looking for a great way to spend a day at Walt Disney World, I'm sorry to leave you disappointed.  My hope is that there are others out there who severely miss Uncle Scrooge's swims in the money pit, and his ever faithful pilot, Launchpad McQuack. I know I sure do...

Thank you for joining Magical Blogorail Teal this month. We will be back November 22nd with an all new theme. Keep checking in with our blogs in between loops to keep up to date with our Disney info, photos and stories. If you are looking for more Disney magic, you can make your way over to The Magical Blogorail website to see all our members and their blogs, as well as all our previous loops.

Here is the map of our Magical Blogorail should you happen to have to make a stop along the way and want to reboard:

1st Stop ~ YourFirstVisit.Net
2nd Stop ~ The DisneyFAITHful
3rd Stop ~ The Many Adventures of a Disney-Lovin’ Spectrum Mom
4th Stop ~ Capturing Magical Memories
Final Stop ~ The World of Deej


~Insert Dude-like Closing Here~

Deej

Mission Inn Resort & Club - A Long Overdue Review

Last week, as I made my way down the Florida Turnpike toward Orlando, I noticed for what was likely the thousandth time a billboard for the Mission Inn Resort in Howey-in-the-Hills. As with each of the times I'd passed the billboard before, two thoughts crossed my mind in that moment. First, having lived so close for so long, I wondered if I should finally pay Mission Inn a visit; second, I was curious where in the world I could find the metropolis of Howey-in-the-Hills. Thanks to a free day in my schedule, and the brilliance of Google Maps, that would be my last curiosity filled trip down the Turnpike.

Mission Inn Resort Florida
 One of Many Tranquil Places within Mission Inn 

When I set off for Mission Inn, I had a rough idea on where Howie-in the-Hills was located, and by rough I mean within a 40 mile radius. Realizing that could be anywhere between my home and Orlando to the south, and either coast to the east or west, I thought it best to consult Google for advice. As it turns out, Howie-in-the-Hills is located right smack in the middle of Central Florida, about 35 miles northeast of Orlando in the - pun intended - hills of Lake County. As I made my way down the country road leading to the resort, I couldn't help but notice a feeling of nostalgia come over me. It was as if I had stepped back in time, to a Florida I have never known. One that seemed unaware of the "Florida Project," and the transformation it would bring to this area I have always called home. This was Old Florida, and I kinda liked it.

Mission Inn Resort Florida
 A Deluxe King Room 

As I arrived at Mission Inn, the first thing that struck me was a feeling of seclusion and tranquility. I was only 45 minutes from home, yet I felt far away from the hubbub of everyday life. The resort's name and architecture were derived from a Spanish style mission, which made me pause and wonder if I was still in Central Florida, or if I'd somehow been transported to the California coast. I made my way up the steps toward the small, yet comfortable lobby, and it was then that I realized Mission Inn was unlike any other resort I'd visited to date.

Mission Inn Resort Florida
 The Guestroom Terrace.

I started by touring several of the resort's guest rooms, and was a fan of what I found inside. The rooms have all had recent renovations to their bathrooms and bedding, and the resort is currently in the process of installing flat screen TV's throughout the property. The suites featured a great wet bar area, perfect for those looking to entertain guests, or just guys like me who like to play bartender on vacation. All of the rooms have a screened lanai overlooking the resort's two golf courses, where I could no doubt burn an entire day reading a good book.  

Mission Inn Resort Florida Golf Course
 Great Hole on El Campeon Golf Course

Speaking of golf, Mission Inn is home to two championship courses: El Campeon and Las Colinas. I previewed both with the resort's golf professional, and in the end I really wish I had brought my clubs. Las Colinas is the resort's newest course, designed by Gary Koch, and fits the mold of most designs found today. El Campeon is the original course at Mission Inn, and appeals strongly to the golf purist in me. The course has a great deal of character and elevation change, both of which are hard to find in more modern designs. On El Campeon, good shots will be rewarded, and poor ones will receive their due punishment...just the way I like it.

Mission Inn Resort Florida
 The Couples Treatment Room in Spa Marabella

Next I made my way through Mission Inn's spa, Marabella. The spa was built about three years ago, and offers a wide array of treatments for men and women alike. The couples massage treatment room was especially impressive with its attached lanai and amazing shower straight out of the Kohler commercial. No doubt the spa offers the perfect oasis for those looking to unwind, or for a wife that has been abandoned by her golfing husband.

Mission Inn Resort Florida
 The Beautiful Grounds of the Resort

As I made my way around the resort, perhaps the thing that struck me more than any other were its beautiful grounds. Everything throughout the property is lush and perfectly manicured, and everywhere I turned there was a staff member tending to some form of greenery. It is clear that Mission Inn places a high priority on the condition of its grounds, so it is of little surprise that the resort is a popular choice for outdoor weddings and other functions.

Mission Inn Resort Florida
 The Resort's Pool. Don't Worry, There's a Hot Tub and a Bar

Earlier I said that the location of Mission Inn was a slice of Old Florida, yet in many ways the same can be said about the resort itself. By investing in the update of their rooms, the construction of Spa Marabella, and the tireless maintenance of their golf courses and grounds, Mission Inn is moving forward to the future, while still holding onto their roots in the past. This great state is littered with resorts that have seen the hourglass of time pass them by. Not so with Mission Inn, where one can get a taste of what Florida once was, without sacrificing the modern amenities of a great resort.

Mission Inn Resort Florida
 A Gorgeous Setting to Exchange Vows...

In summary, Mission Inn is a wonderful place, but it is fair to say it's not for everyone. If you need a pool with a lazy river, or a vast expanse of marble also known as the lobby, then Mission Inn may not be the place for you. However, if you are a couple in need of a weekend filled with serenity, or a bride in search of the perfect destination wedding, then it's my suggestion that you consider a visit to the Mission Inn Resort.

Enjoy Your Stay

Deej's Picture of the Week


After a few weeks of slacking off, it's time to bring back the Picture of the Week. This one comes from our hair raising drive into Asheville, North Carolina the day after Christmas last year. It was right about now when this Florida boy, having never driven in snow, began to freak out...


~Insert Dude-like Closing Here~


Deej

Facebook Fan Giveaway - Conde Nast Traveler Magazine


For those that may have missed it, The World of Deej is giving away a year subscription to Conde Nast Traveler Magazine to one lucky fan on Facebook. If you currently follow us there, then you are already entered to win. If not, then click the "Like" box below and good luck! The winner will be chosen Wednesday (that's tomorrow) at 8pm.



~Insert Dude-like Closing Here~

Deej

Wyndham Grand Orlando at Bonnet Creek - A Review

Nestled on a corner of land adjacent to Walt Disney World lies Orlando's newest luxury hotel...The Wyndham Grand Orlando Resort at Bonnet Creek. The resort is nearly four years in the making, and after much anticipation, started welcoming guests on October 1st. Given my affection for the Hilton and Waldorf Astoria, which also call Bonnet Creek home, I was quick to clear my calendar when presented with the opportunity to tour this beautiful new property. Here's a review of what I found inside.

The resort's exterior fits nicely with the rest of Bonnet Creek

The Wyndham Grand Orlando has mastered the art of the first impression, because from the moment I arrived I'm pretty sure I was in love. As I walked from the portico and through the front door, I was immediately struck by the enormous two story windows that overlook the lake which the resort surrounds. Throughout the lobby are numerous seating areas, with contemporary, yet comfortable furnishings, which appealed to the soft spot I have in my heart for hotel lobbies. At the Wyndham Grand, the lobby is not simply a place one passes through en route to somewhere else. Here, you're invited to stay awhile.

One of the many seating areas around the lobby.

As if they were forewarned on how to appeal to my good side, members of the hotel's sales and marketing staff began our tour with a stop at the resort's coffee bar. Sadly, I had already downed two donuts and a large ice coffee on the drive over, so I had to pass on the freshly brewed Starbucks that the coffee bar had to offer. On any other day, this would be the perfect place to grab breakfast on the run, or the late afternoon pick-me-up.


The Coffee Bar.


Next we made our way upstairs for a tour of some of the Wyndham Grand's 400 guest rooms. In all, there are 21 different room types at the resort, however I found two particularly intriguing. First, guest rooms on the concierge level provide some additional amenities over a standard room, however the main reason to reserve these rooms is the beautiful Concierge Lounge. The Lounge serves continental breakfast and evening hors d'oeuvres, and features a stunning panoramic view of the resort, and Walt Disney World in the distance. It was clear that were I to stay on the concierge level, I might not ever leave its outdoor terrace, preferring its quiet tranquility to the sheer madness of Main Street USA.


View from the terrace of the Concierge Lounge.

The second room type that intrigued me during my tour were the bunk bed rooms. That's right...a luxury hotel has rooms with bunk beds. While these rooms are obviously kid friendly, one shouldn't worry that booking this room type also means pictures of Lightning McQueen and Hannah Montana will adorn the walls. The bunks fit seamlessly with the overall decor of all the guest rooms, and they will no doubt be hugely popular for families or those that recently saw the movie Big. 


Shotgun top bunk!

After touring several of the hotel's guestrooms, we made our way through the resort's food and beverage outlets. As with the guest rooms, when it comes to dining, the Wyndham Grand Orlando has something for everyone. In addition to the previously mentioned coffee bar, the resort offers three table service restaurants with diverse menu options. First is the casual Tesoro Cove, which features a breakfast buffet, as well as traditional fare for lunch and dinner. For those seeking a light bite by the pool there's Back Bay, which is set to make its debut near the end of October, and offers a lakeside deck for alfresco dining.


Deep Blu's exhibition kitchen.

The main attraction when it comes to food at the Wyndham Grand is most definitely Deep Blu, the resort's signature dining experience. Deep Blu offers an array of land and sea options, set in a beautiful dining room with an open exhibition kitchen. With things such as calamari fries and crab mac & cheese on the menu, it was good to know in advance that returning home from vacation to Hamburger Helper would be quite a challenge.

Entrance to Deep Blu.

Next on my tour of the resort, we explored the numerous activities around the hotel, all designed for guests both young and old. I was thoroughly impressed with the resort's zero entry pool, which offers private cabanas for rent, and a more refined atmosphere than the water slide and lazy river sort. Adjacent to the Wyndham Grand's pool is that of the Wyndham Vacation Ownership resort, which features a pirate ship and a much more kid friendly atmosphere. Guests at both resorts can share the amenities of the other, meaning the best of both worlds is close at hand.


The resort's pool, as seen from the Concierge Lounge.

After a walk through the tranquility of the Blue Harmony Spa, we made our way past the resort's arcade and adult rec room. That's right...an arcade and adult rec room, directly across the hall from one another. This place was getting better by the minute. The Wyndham Grand also is home to an extensive work out facility, but I wouldn't know what it looks like, because oddly enough I'm allergic to the gym.



The adult rec room...I wonder if they get Fox Soccer.

While the Wyndham Grand has obvious appeal to those visiting Orlando for the family vacation, its meeting facilities are also well suited to those hosting groups and events. With over 25,000 square feet of meeting space, the Grand is able to host groups of just about any size. The beautiful facilities will no doubt be a popular choice for wedding receptions, with the resort offering the perfect setting for a destination wedding.


Touch screen monitors with information throughout the resort.

Taking a page from Disney's playbook, our tour came to an end in front of the resort's gift shop and theme park ticket desk. OK, so they weren't trying to sell me anything, that's just how things panned out. However, here I learned some important information for those visiting staying at the hotel while touring Disney. In addition to being able to purchase theme park tickets at the hotel, the Wyndham Grand also offers a complimentary shuttle to the Disney parks. Unlike many hotel shuttles, the Wyndham's is dedicated to the resort's guests, and does not make stops at other properties along the way. Not to mention, it'll save you $14 every time you want to park at Disney.


The resort's portico.

If there is one thing that I am keenly aware about myself, it is that I'm not easily impressed when it comes to hotels. However, after spending a few hours touring the Wyndham Grand Orlando, to say that I was impressed is a bit of an understatement. The resort appeals to just about everything that I love about great hotels, and it will likely prove popular with a wide range of travelers coming to the Orlando area.

Traditional guestroom. Photo Credit: Wyndham Grand Orlando

Whether you're a couple looking for a weekend away, a family on the annual summer vacation, or a meeting planner in search of your next conference location, you'll likely find the perfect solution in the Wyndham Grand Orlando Resort at Bonnet Creek. The true test will of course be how the resort and its service performs once the new car smell wears away, but from what I've seen so far, I'm confident this is only the beginning of great things to come.

~Insert Dude-like Closing Here~
 

Deej

Hard Rock Live at Universal Orlando - A Review

If you've been following along here for any period of time, or you happen to have the misfortune of actually knowing me, then you may have picked up that I'm a big fan of all things Hard Rock. Cafes, hotels, casinos...I love them all for reasons still unknown. So when my wife suggested that we see her favorite band - The Script - in concert at Hard Rock Live in Orlando, I was more than happy to oblige the request.

The Venue - Photo Credit: HardRock.com 

This would be our second visit to Hard Rock Live, the first being a couple years ago when The Script were the opening act for some already forgotten American Idol winner. The venue features a large general admission area, and there are also ticketed seats on a second floor balcony for those like myself that are too old and stuffed shirt to catch a show from the floor. In addition, this being Hard Rock the traditional memorabilia can be found adorning the walls, and the 19 or so bars throughout ensure one is never far from a Hurricane.

Our Table...Stage to the Left 

One thing we learned from the previous show is the secret of the tables on left and right side of the second floor balcony. Well, it's not really a secret, but unless you know how to book one it may as well be. These private tables seat four people and have an awesome view looking down on the stage. They are perfect for a small group heading to the show, and yet the tickets cost the same as general admission. The tables also have a dedicated cocktail server, which naturally came in handy during the concert.

The Awesome View

The tables are assigned on a first come first serve basis, and can only be booked by calling the Hard Rock Live box office, as opposed to via Ticketmaster. Since I watched with a great deal of jealousy the people at these tables on our last visit, I made sure to be on the phone with Hard Rock the minute tickets were available. We were assigned table "E" which was along the balcony railing, and had a perfect, unobstructed view of the stage.


Opposite Side of Balcony - Empty House Post-Show

Naturally, the show was fantastic, and I'm quite confident that the table played a small role in what was an awesome night. Looking back on the evening, I still can't believe that Hard Rock does not charge a premium or some sort of service charge for these seats. I probably should not put this in writing and give them any ideas, but I would gladly have paid twice what we did for the experience. It is also pretty safe to say that seeing a concert from my own private table has probably ruined me for future shows altogether.

Correction: Hard Rock Live has informed me that there is in fact a small premium for table seating. For our show it was $5 per ticket over general admission cost. Now, can someone hand me a towel to wipe this egg off my face...

~Insert Dude-like Closing Here~

Deej

Doubletree at Universal Orlando Resort - A Review

Last weekend we did an overnight at the Doubletree Hotel at Universal Orlando, while taking in a concert at Hard Rock Live. This hotel has been around for as long as I can remember - about the mid 80's - and has flown the flag of several different chains over the years. Anyone that arrives to Orlando by car has no doubt seen this hotel, with its twin towers greeting those exiting the Florida Turnpike onto I-4. There are a few good things going for this property, but by the end of the stay I was quite happy to be checking out.

First, the good stuff: The biggest reason to stay at the Doubletree is its incredibly convenient location to Universal Orlando. The hotel lies directly across the street from the theme parks, within a reasonable walk if one desired. In fact, the full name of the hotel is actually "The Doubletree Hotel at the Entrance to Universal Orlando." I guess they really want to drive that point home, and I can't really blame them considering the location and Starbucks in the lobby is where this list of "good stuff" comes to an end.


I had high hopes when I saw this...

Things got off to a rocky start when the desk agent informed us we were booked into a smoking room. I reserved the room through a third party website as I always do, but the potentially fatal error was skipping my call to the hotel prior to arrival to inquire what room type we received. As the desk agent searched for a non-smoking room, he politely informed us that "This is what happens when you book through wholesalers...You just get what they give you." To the casual observer, this statement would seem innocent enough, but to my ears it sounded about like "The Bird is the Word" on repeat.

During my hotel days, it was a very common practice for me to stick Priceline and Hotwire guests - neither of which I used - in smoking rooms when we were in an overbooked situation. The guests would arrive, they wouldn't be happy, and inevitably I'd say "This is what happens when you book through wholesalers...You just get what they give you." Granted, I probably said it with much more tact, but regardless, now that I am on the other side of the desk I see those statements in a different light. The damage was done...my first impression of the Doubletree was a lecture from the desk agent, and I felt a pit in my stomach for ever having done the same.


The lobby and front desk. 

Unfortunately, things didn't get much better once we got up to our room, which did turn out to be non-smoking, on the 2nd floor of the south tower. Aside from the flat screen TV, nice looking carpet, and Keurig style coffee maker, I'm pretty sure the room had not seen an update since President Clinton's first term in office. I was however, relieved to learn that there are 5 different pizza joints which deliver to the hotel, and their menus were conveniently slid under our door and waiting on the floor for us. In addition, while I am not usually bothered by thin walls in a hotel, these were so bad that I could hear anytime someone sneezed in the adjacent tower.

The rattan headboard and mirrored closet doors were a nice touch 

The old saying "You get what you pay for" could not be more appropriate. I got a bargain, and in the end the value I received in return was about on par with what I paid. There is no doubt, however, had I paid the rate shown on the Doubletree website - around $130 - that I would have felt severely ripped off. All the welcome cookies in the world simply can't offset what comes with a hotel being stuck in 1988.


Overall, if you find a deal like I did, then the Doubletree at Universal Orlando is a fine solution for someone that simply needs a bed for one night. On the other hand, to spend a multi-night vacation at this property is something I can't imagine, no matter how great William Shatner's price may be.

~Insert Dude-like Closing Here~

 Deej

Hilton Bonnet Creek Orlando - An Updated Review

About a year ago, my wife and I visited the Hilton Bonnet Creek for the first time, and it quickly became one of our favorite hotels in Orlando. A beautiful resort property conveniently located within-though technically outside-the Walt Disney World Resort, the Hilton Bonnet Creek seemed to have just about everything I look for in a hotel. We have called it home several times since that initial visit, and with the resort celebrating its two year anniversary during our stay last weekend, it seems an appropriate time to take off the blinders and provide an updated review of this great hotel.

We arrived to the hotel around 6pm, and it was immediately clear that things were going to be quite busy around the resort this weekend. As we made our way into the self-parking garage, my usual parking places on the 2nd floor were all full, and it wasn't until the fifth level that we found a spot. By usual parking places I'm referring to the half dozen spaces reserved for hybrid vehicles, awesomely located next to the entrance of the walkway to the hotel. This is the only hotel I've ever seen this perk, and I definitely wouldn't complain if more followed the Hilton's lead.

The reserved spaces for hybrid vehicles

Check-in went smoothly enough, and we made our way up to our room on the 10th floor. We reserved a standard view room, and while it is not technically the alternative "Disney View," one still has a great panorama of Downtown Disney and the rest of Orlando in the distance. The rooms at Bonnet Creek are gorgeous, with all the modern amenities one would expect, and most importantly, insanely comfortable beds.



Our view and the Characters in Flight balloon.

After settling into our room, we headed down to the lobby bar for a light bite to eat. I was in the mood for a nice cheeseburger and fries, and was slightly disappointed when our server told us a burger would not be possible. She explained they "changed the rules" about a year ago on ordering burgers, but I knew this to not be exactly true, given I had one there on our last visit in June. Either way, we opted to share an order of wings and a pizza, and the combination paired perfectly with the beer in my hand, and playoff baseball on the TV.



The resort's pool and the morning towel greeting..."Tranquil."

Following our visit to the bar, I was now suffering from an enormous sweet tooth. Thankfully, the Hilton has a coffee/sweets bar right in the lobby. I headed over to Muse as it's called with one thing in mind....chocolate covered strawberries. Now, I didn't go making up this random craving; I'd had them on our last visit, and man were they awesome. Imagine my disappointment when I learned they were out of chocolate covered strawberries....forever. I was told they were taken off the menu a few weeks prior, so I opted instead for a cinnamon roll - its gooey deliciousness playing well the roll of second fiddle.



Some of the sweets at Muse.

Before heading up to bed, I stopped at the front desk to inquire about transportation options to the Wine & Dine Half Marathon, which my wife and I were running the following day. The hotel had advertised a shuttle service to the starting line for its guests, but this seemed to be news to those at the front desk. One agent pulled out a flier for guests describing the hotel's services surrounding the race, but I was fairly confident none of them had read it or been briefed on what the hotel was offering. This was a bit surprising, given how much the hotel promotes itself to runners in these events with things like a "Runners Package," in which one of the key elements is.....transportation. In the end, I got the answer I was looking for, and headed upstairs for what I knew would be an awesome night of sleep in their bed.



The gift shop has been transformed into an official Disney store.

We started the next morning with the breakfast buffet in one the hotel's two restaurants, Harvest Bistro. This is one of the better buffet breakfasts around, and I looked forward to it with great anticipation. Fresh waffles, made to order omelettes, and all the other usual suspects on a buffet breakfast are available, but it's the smoked salmon which makes this place worth every penny. I've had more than my fair share of smoked salmon, and I'm pretty sure one can only find better in Ketchikan, Alaska.



The hotel's signature restaurant - La Luce

Finally, after much anticipation, it was time for us to leave for the Wine & Dine, and as advertised, the hotel's shuttle was waiting outside the lobby for us. We made the short ride over to the Epcot parking lot, and yet again upon our arrival there seemed to be a good deal of confusion. The driver and hotel staff member which accompanied us both seemed unsure on where to drop us off. To their credit, the people at Disney seemed equally confused, and in the end we were in the right place, so it was of no concern.



The display which greeted returning runners.

Getting back to the hotel, the one thing I noticed more than anything is that the place looks as good as the day it opened. Everything throughout the property is spotless and free of the wear and tear that every hotel battles on a daily basis. It is a true testament to the quality of the hotel's maintenance and housekeeping staff that a property which endures as much traffic as Bonnet Creek has held up so well over the last two years.

Overall, as we have come to expect, we had an exceptional stay at the Hilton. If there is an observation to be made comparing this visit to our last few, it's that the hotel should double up on it's staff communication, especially during big events like the Wine & Dine. It was clear the marathon was only one segment of the hotel's busy weekend, with several conventions also taking place at the same time. However, the staff was clearly not on the same page regarding events for the race, and a simple failure to communicate was obviously to blame.

All of that aside, the Hilton Bonnet Creek still firmly remains my favorite hotel to visit in Orlando, even without the chocolate covered strawberries.

~Insert Dude-like Closing Here~

Deej


Disney's Wine & Dine Half Marathon - Finish Line Party

When my wife first approached me about running in Disney's Wine & Dine Half Marathon Relay, one of the biggest things she used as a selling point is the Finish Line Party which takes place post-race within Epcot. Last year's race was Disney's first crack at this event, and that meant there were many kinks in the system, mostly surrounding the post-race festivities. As a result of many of those kinks, last year's party was a complete bust for us, and we went home immediately following the race. This year would be different, not only because I'd be running this time, but because Disney went to great lengths to assure runners those kinks were completely out of the system.

While I did not participate in the actual race last year, I was at the Finish Line Party and saw first hand many of the problems Disney failed to foresee in advance. For the runners, the biggest complaints surrounded the poorly laid out finish area which became overwhelmed with participants. In addition, the disorganized bag check area was within an unventilated tent, which caused many to become sick. As for the party itself, the crowds were so large that Epcot's World Showcase was filled to a point which would rival New Year's Eve or July 4th, two of the park's busiest nights. The allure of the party was that the booths for the Food & Wine Festival would all be open, and runners were each given two tickets for free food and beverage. They were of little use to many, however, as the lines for most booths were longer than Splash Mountain on a summer's day.

What does this have to do with the party? Nothing...

In addition to numerous changes surrounding the finish of the race, the price of attending the Finish Line Party was doubled this year to $70 for non-runners. This had the net effect of lowering the crowds to a degree, and the stat I heard from a race volunteer was only 65% of the tickets had been sold. To help spread the crowds further, Epcot opened many of the more popular attractions, such as Soarin' and Test Track. Finally, runners were given a $10 Disney gift card, which was a much better solution than the previous years tickets for food or beverages. With all of these changes, I was optimistic that our experience this year would be far superior than last. To make that claim, however, would be an overstatement.

As we made our way into Epcot and over to World Showcase, the crowds certainly didn't feel any less. The narrow walkways leading into Future World were packed with family members searching for their runners, and for whatever reason everyone seemed to be corralled through there, as opposed to the much wider areas entering the park. Once in World Showcase, we headed straight for Canada, because I was now starving, and a couple orders of maple glazed salmon were on my mind. The line was enormous, and that was the case at nearly all the booths throughout World Showcase. In fact, the lines were longer than any I saw all weekend, with this being the first, and possibly busiest, weekend of Food & Wine.

After curing my hunger, we made a lap around World Showcase, and I slowly came to realize what the problem was.....me. Loads of people were having a blast, most unaware of the 30 person line in front of them for Kefta pockets in Morocco. And while I was having a great time with my wife and friends, I was definitely not down to "party." It was 2am, I had been up for about 19 hours, my ankle was killing me, and oh yeah, I ran 5 miles a couple hours prior. At that point in the proceedings, if given the choice between Bass and a plate of Chips, or going to bed, I choose the bed every single time. And for me to turn down Bass and Chips is really saying something...

In a nutshell, the Wine & Dine Half Marathon Finish Line Party is a great time, and certainly a unique way to celebrate your accomplishment. But pay no attention if a friend or family member is using it as a selling point to get you to run next year. Call me crazy, but there's a good chance after 5, 8, or 13.1 miles, the last thing you'll want is a plate of steamed mussels and a Stella Artois. If there was one thing I learned, it's that the feeling of accomplishment far out weighs the fun of any party, and that is perhaps the best celebration of all.

Enjoy Your Stay

Disney's Wine & Dine Half Marathon - A Beginner's View

This past weekend, my wife and I took part in the 2nd annual Wine & Dine Half Marathon Relay at Walt Disney World. The event is part of the hugely popular runDisney series of races, and is timed to coincide with the kickoff of the Epcot Food & Wine Festival. Over the last couple years, I have mastered the art of spectating runDisney events in which my wife is running, however this time around-after much arm twisting on her part-I agreed to be a contestant for the first time. What follows is my perspective of the Wine & Dine as a first-timer, to help provide guidance for those who's spouse, family, or friend have convinced them to run 5, 8, 0r even 13.1 miles against their will.

Cost

Let's get the dirty part out of the way first, shall we? This is not the Robert F. Kennedy Middle School 5K Fun Run for Toys 4 Tots. This is Disney...everything is expensive here. Perhaps the biggest grumble I heard from fellow runners, and my biggest gripe upon registering, is the cost. A
runDisney half marathon is going to set you back in the neighborhood of $140, causing just about anyone, myself included, to question why they would pay so much for a few hours of self inflicted torture. What I came to learn however, is that there is some value in what Disney provides beyond the race itself, such as transportation, race course entertainment, and of course, the customary t-shirt. For many, a free bus ride to the course, a high-five from Goofy during the race, and a t-shirt do not justify the premium that Disney commands, but for me, it proved to be totally worth it...
The enormous Pre-Race Expo

Logistics

The decision of where to stay and how to get to the various race festivities is one of the more important things to consider for any
runDisney event, but especially the Wine & Dine. This race is unique because not only does it start and finish in two different places, but also takes place in the middle of the night, with an ending in the wee hours of the morning. My suggestion: Fork out the extra bucks and stay at one of Disney's "host resorts" for the race. Transportation is provided from these hotels to the pre-race expo, the starting line, and perhaps most importantly, back to the hotel after the event.
Running Great Jeff Galloway Speaks at the Expo.

For last weekend's race, I failed to listen to my own advice and decided to stay "off property" at the Hilton Bonnet Creek. While this awesome hotel saved us a few bucks, and even provided transportation to the "start," in the end not being at one of the Disney resorts proved to be a bad move. Those who drive to the race, or are taking alternative transportation like us, first are directed to Epcot to park. From there you board one of Disney's 837 buses for the the short ride over to the starting line at the Wide World of Sports complex. The system was a logistical marvel which would give UPS a run for their money, but it was still an extra step and time killer that we otherwise would not have had if we had stayed with Disney. Not wanting to deal with the stress of finding our hotel shuttle post race, we wound up taking a cab back to the Hilton and blowing some of our perceived savings. Lesson learned: Follow my own advice.

Gotta Go? Taken Before the Splash Mountain-esque Lines

The Expo

One of the highlights of most
runDisney events is the Pre-race Expo. It's here that you'll pick up your registration materials for the race, and if you're not careful, blow all of your vacation money on souvenirs. All of the major running brands are represented, and one can walk out with anything from a commemorative t-shirt, to a new set of Ginsu knives...no joke. This was my first expo as a contestant, so I took advantage of the new found opportunity to buy some gear, free from the usual feeling of being an imposter.
Chilling with Minnie Before the Start. 

A valuable lesson from this experience is to go late in the day, or even the evening if possible. In the past, we have always gone to the Expo in the middle of the afternoon, which seems to be when every other runner decides to go as well. This makes for long lines at the check-in desks, and a zoo like atmosphere at the various booths. This time around, we didn't arrive until the end of the day, and were surprised to find no line at check-in, and the rest of the place pretty empty by past comparison.

Race Day


With the Wine & Dine not taking place until 10pm, you'll have an entire day to fill before the race, and if you only take one thing away from this post, it should be this... Get out of the hotel, have a light day at the parks, play golf, rent a water sprite, lay by the pool, do absolutely anything and everything to take your mind off the race. If you do like me and pace your hotel for 8 hours in anticipation, by the time the race arrives people will begin to mistake you for Tweak from South Park.
The DJ Warming Up the Runners with Some YMCA.

Once you've completed your epic mission, it's time for the Wine & Dine After Party. I'm reserving my thoughts on the party for a separate post, but I will say that Disney instituted some much needed changes over last year, however there is always room to improve.

Inside My Corral...The Sea of People in Front of Me.

Overall, I could not have asked anything more from my first experience in a runDisney race. Perhaps the biggest thing I took away from my experience at the Wine & Dine is the need to be in the moment during the race. Weeks, if not months, of preparation leads up to an event that for most will be over in just a couple hours, and even less for relay runners like myself. I actually credit my wife for this piece of advice, and I'm grateful she passed it on to me before the race. Otherwise I would have been lost in the zone of running, and failed to capture the mental snapshots I took along the way. In a nutshell, to quote a phrase I heard many times this weekend, you paid a lot of money to run this race...Enjoy it.

~Insert Dude-like Closing Here~

Deej