Posts Tagged ‘ KOA ’

High to Low Orlando: Staying From $55 to $479 a Night

Thursday, October 9th, 2014

We split our recent Orlando vacation between bargain and pricey options. Here’s a breakdown of what we got (and didn’t get) at each price point.

Whippoorwill KOA from $55

The kids and I stayed here because it’s close to the airport and we needed to pick my husband up from a flight. But also, we love a KOA (short for Kampground of America), and this one has a pool, playground, pretty lake, and friendly geese. 

What’s to love A KOA cabin has a ship-like compactness. Though tiny, it fits a fullsize bed, bunk bed, desk and chair, television, and A/C. There are deluxe cabins with bathrooms, but we’re cheap and fine with sharing campground bathrooms. Whippoorwill is primarily a base for RVs, so we seemed to be the only customers in the bathrooms anyway. This particular KOA offers clean linens so we didn’t need to bring our own. We had a pizza delivered to our cabin for dinner and drove three miles to a Panera for breakfast. Our short stay felt like a taste of “real Florida” as opposed to “tourist Florida.”

But of course You have to enjoy camping to stay at a campground. Whippoorwill KOA is very close to the airport but not particularly close to the theme parks; the Orlando/Kissimmee KOA is a little closer to that action. Though you’ll spend far less on lodging here, you won’t get any park perks such as early admission and you’ll need to drive everywhere, plus pay for parking, tolls, and gas.

Cabana Bay Beach Resort at Universal Orlando from $134

This is Universal Orlando’s first moderate resort. Our family of four stayed in a Tower Suite which runs closer to $200 a night since there’s a sitting area plus a kitchenette. My mom stayed in a poolside room for about $150 a night; standard rooms lose the view but are bargains starting at $134.

What’s to love Universal went all-out with the retro theme of this hotel, and the kitsch is cute. My kids loved the pools and sand areas. A free bus pulls up to sweep guests over to Universal’s parks pretty much constantly, especially in the morning hours. And because you’re on Universal property, you can get into the parks an hour early most days.

But of course A stay at Cabana Bay does not get you the Universal Express Pass, useful for cutting wait time at rides. Guests at the pricier Loews Portofino Bay and Hard Rock Hotel do get Express Passes, worth up to $60 a person, so if you’ll be riding a lot during high season, paying more for one of those hotels may make sense. We, however, were only interested in the Wizarding World of Harry Potter, and Express Passes are fairly useless there: Most Potter rides don’t accept them. If, like us, you’re going to Universal Orlando for Potter mania, Cabana Bay Beach is a fantastic option.

Disney’s Animal Kingdom Lodge from $289

There’s no other resort like this one in the country, where you are immersed in another culture and also in a wildlife park. We stayed in a villa in the Kidani Village, where rooms are spacious. By this point it was me and my kids, my mom, plus my brother and sister-in-law and baby niece. Our two-bedroom, three-bath with a full kitchen plus laundry (and a living room that became a third bedroom at bedtime) runs for $767 a night, more affordable (about $256 per family) than three separate rooms.

What’s to love Staying on Disney property means Extra Magic Hours, free transportation to and from the airport, free bus service all through the resort, and Magic Bands. We were not low-maintenence, between my newly hip-replaced mom’s scooter and my niece’s stroller, and a ground-floor room at Kidani turned out to be ideal. We pre-ordered breakfast groceries through and ate morning meals in our pajamas. Every room has a balcony for animal-watching, and tracking the creatures was a highlight of the trip for every one of us. The pools and restaurants are among our favorites too!
But of course This is one of Disney’s Deluxe Resort Hotels and hanging out with the giraffes isn’t cheap. But though it’s deluxe-priced, you can’t walk to any of the parks like you can from the deluxe Contemporary or Yacht Club Resort. (Then again, Animal Kingdom is the only hotel with a nightly drum circle!) If you want a Disney hotel but need to really slash lodging to more like $100 a night, check out Disney Value Resort Hotels. The grounds are not as lush, but you still get all the park perks.
This resort invited us in during their opening month and we couldn’t say no. It was back to me, my husband, and our two kids, and we’ve never stayed together somewhere this luxe.
What’s to love Uh…everything. I woke up from my deepest sleep in years in one of their comfy beds and was inspired to hit the fitness room and walk around the lake while my kids actually slept in. It would be easy to spend an entire day among the pools, lazy river, and water slides, where staff rush to supply you with ice water, sunscreen, and frozen fruit (all free!), or pretty much anything else you want (mostly for a price). There’s an on-site Disney concierge to help with park logistics, a tropical paradise of a kids’ center, and a spa. And you can see the Magic Kingdom’s fireworks from here.
But of course You don’t stay at a Four Seasons unless you can spend. There’s no parking lot, only a valet (and valet charge). Our dinner, with a bottle of wine, went over $200. And that $479 price is not really for a family; using the Web site to try and book a room for four people, rates seem more uniformly about $700 a night. You’re living in a beautiful dream here, but it is Top. Of. The. Line.

This video nails all the reasons to go beyond the rides.

Disney's Magic Kingdom: Beyond the Rides
Disney's Magic Kingdom: Beyond the Rides
Disney's Magic Kingdom: Beyond the Rides

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My Summer of (Not) Camping

Thursday, September 26th, 2013

I went into this summer intending to camp for reals. My family of four is very good at renting cabins. But tent-camping would save us a lot of cash, and the way we like to vacation, that is becoming necessary. Plus I feel like camping is a childhood rite of passage, something my kids should experience. 
FIRST HURDLE: BAD MEMORIES Two years ago we borrowed a friend’s tent. There was a thunderstorm, and my then-6-year-old was having tummy issues, so he needed to be walked or carried uphill through mud to the bathroom every hour. The memory is seared in my brain, so there is no getting over this hurdle. Just around it.
SECOND HURDLE: NO TENT This was not supposed to be a hurdle, because I bought a tent a year ago, thinking that last year would be our summer of camping. (Instead it was our summer of sheepishly upgrading, from bare KOA cabins to their deluxe models with a bathroom.) But  I can not find our tent. Where can a tent hide?! I’ve searched the basement and under beds. But tents are so small these days, like the size of my travel toiletries bag. Someday I will probably find it tucked under the bathroom sink but for now…I have no idea where it it.
THIRD HURDLE: I WILL SLEEP ANYWHERE BUT THE GROUND, APPARENTLY I just didn’t realize it until my first campout of this summer. My son and I joined a group that included about a dozen second-grade boys, one of whom was celebrating his birthday, plus the birthday boy’s parents. I was offered room in any of the many tents, including the grown-up one, but…I slept in the SUV I drove. And was pretty psyched to do it.
I thought I would redeem myself on our big family trip to Yellowstone National Park. We had a campground reservation. We had no tent, but I had a half-baked plan to buy one nearby. My husband thought the plan was dubious from the start. I think his exact words were “That’s f-ing crazy.” In the end, we coughed up about $180 for four of us in a no-frills hotel room in the park.
So yea, we didn’t camp there either. But we saw buffalo, and they were awesome!
FOURTH HURDLE: I LOVE ME A RESTAURANT We had our third chance to camp in Montana. But I wasn’t sure if the campground was in driving distance to a restaurant. ‘Cause oh yea, I don’t know how to cook on a campfire.  I mean, I can roast marshmallows. But our usual M.O. is to stay at a campground that’s an easy drive to someplace where people serve dinner to us while we talk about roasting marshmallows later. Outside our cabin. 
FINAL HURDLE: I MAY NOT BE A TENT GIRL My last hurrah of the summer was a trip to Disney World. Did you know they have an awesome campground where you can stay for like $54 a night? Of course, you need a tent, or an RV. As I pictured my weary, park-warrior, pool-swimming self coming home to a tent each night…well, it should be no surprise that I caved. I booked us into a Fort Wilderness Cabin.
So maybe I am never going to be a tent-camper. But my summer of not camping still included fire pits, glow sticks, drinking my morning tea under the trees,  animal sightings, stick collecting, and stargazing. It was fantastic. And maybe cabins are all the “camping” that my kids need. I will work on trimming our vacation expenses some other way. Like, maybe stopping the restaurant habit. Anyone have campfire recipes they want to share with me?
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