A Ramble to Disney World and beyond – Part 1

Living north of Atlanta, we have visited Disney World many times and even went to Epcot during its opening year. Unfortunately for a variety of reasons, it has become increasingly expensive to visit the Mouse House, but this has not stopped people from coming. If anything it is more crowded than ever, despite the high prices of food and lodging. There seem to be no bargain rates for the hotels on the Disney property even in the so-called off season. In fact, there is no longer an off season.  Of course there are hundreds of bargain hotels of varying quality that surround Disney World, but only a few are within the Disney Transportation system. Having access to the the Disney shuttles makes it much easier to get from park to park. Almost everyone(except small babies) needs a startlingly  expensive ticket to the park.  Yet, we still enjoy  Disney World albeit in small doses.It has many pluses that match the equally many minuses, and so… we decided to stop in Orlando on our way to Palm Beach and the Barrett-Jackson Auto Auction. Then I checked on the current cost of tickets and got sticker shock!

We actually still have a few unexpired partial tickets somewhere around the house in a “safe place,” but we couldn’t find them. If we were to go to Orlando, I’d have to buy  new ones. I follow several Disney websites that offer links to reputable sellers of new discounted tickets to see what was available. We prefer the Park Hopper tickets as we like to visit both Animal Kingdom and  Epcot, and sometimes Hollywood Studios, but don’t want to spend a whole day at one park.

However, Park Hopper tickets are more expensive (of course). In the past, we found that we could save a modest amount by buying a ticket for multiple days (the per day cost comes down as the days go up ) with the no-expiration option. It was disappointing to find that as of this spring, Disney eliminated no-expiration option. Luckily, I was able to find two 5 day Park Hopper tickets at one on-line ticket broker that were among the last no-expiration tickets issued. This was a good deal for us, even though the cost was a little higher initially, because we usually visit Disney World for only one or two days at a time. The multi-day conventional tickets expire, usually within two weeks and single-day tickets are pricey.

Almost forgot. If you haven’t been to Disney recently, all tickets have to be registered by  their owners on the Disney website before they will work. This links them to a bunch of things we didn’t use and one we did, but the key difference here is you can’t switch tickets. If you do, you can’t get into the park. This obviously prevents someone from stealing your ticket, but also won’t allow you to give your partially used ticket to anyone else. We did use the new fast pass system but I’m not sure I like the new way of getting a fast pass loaded onto your ticket before you get to the park. It’s kind of complicated, and in the end, we only got fast passes to Soarin,’  far and away our favorite ride.

So we had our tickets, now to find a place to stay. Unfortunately our favorite hotel, the Swan, was showing high rates, as did the other hotels on the Disney campus.

Our view from the 12th floor of the B, we always get the dumpster view or similar
Our view from the 12th floor of the B, we always get the dumpster view or similar

We were looking at the middle of April, and I guess that is still considered prime Spring Break time.  Fortunately, I noticed an excellent Travelzoo rate for a new hotel near Downtown Disney, the B. The B is considered one of Disney’s preferred hotels;  one of six or so along Buena Vista Boulevard. These hotels are within walking distance of Downtown Disney on one side and restaurants and stores on the other. They also  have a Disney shuttle that goes to all the parks, stopping to pick up people at each hotel in turn before heading out. We had never stayed in a preferred hotel  before, but it was only for two nights and the rate was less than half the cost of a Disney property. So the B it was. (“So B it!”)

Our drive to Orlando was uneventful, but seemed really long. A few years back, the Ramblers would have considered an 8 hour drive easy, but not so much anymore. As we headed onto the Florida Turnpike, we were really looking forward to getting to the B. Following our Google directions, we exited the Turnpike only to find that as we neared our destination, there was road construction everywhere around Downtown Disney! This made it a lot more challenging to find the B, but we eventually got there. The B is a rather strange hotel, modern and clean but somehow lacking in amenities. it had only one restaurant, mostly buffet style, and the rooms had no coffee makers. In recent years, we have gotten spoiled by the single serving coffee makers in many hotels. At the B, you could get a free cup at their gift shop, which also sold ice cream and pastries (I told you it was odd) but our room was on the 12th floor and it was a pain to go to their version of a Quick Mart for coffee. Nevertheless, the B wasn’t bad. It had comfortable beds and excellent soundproofing! We found their shuttle busses to be reliable and convenient and never had to wait very long for one.

We got to the B while the sun was still shining brightly allowing plenty of time to get to Downtown Disney and get our Earl of Sandwich fix.

Senior Rambler happy with his sandwich at the Earl's
Senior Rambler happy with his sandwich at the Earl’s

Downtown Disney is within walking distance but the construction around the area made it a confusing walk. The Ramblers decided to take it easy and ride the shuttle bus system. This turned out to be a really smart idea because the bus driver told us the best way to get to the Earl of Sandwich was to take a pontoon boat across the lake. This saved us a looong walk.

Downtown Disney is in the midst of major changes, but one restaurant that hasn’t changed is the Earl of Sandwich.  It is a counter service place that features a dozen or so sandwiches, with cutesy names, that taste really  good. They also have salads and sides and a few desserts but the Ramblers zeroed in on the original beef sandwich.  Although the prices have gone up,( What a surprise) the sandwich hasn’t changed and we enjoyed ours very much. It is still one of the best deals in the whole of Disney World. Although the Earl of Sandwich is a successful chain , alas. so far it hasn’t ventured into the Atlanta area. Seems silly to get excited about a sandwich in the era of Subway and Blimpie, but all I can say the Earl’s sandwiches are better or maybe it’s the name.

Balloon rising over the lake.
Balloon rising over the lake.

After strolling around Downtown Disney, we headed back to the dock to take the pontoon boat back to our bus stop. While we waited for the next boat, we had a chance to see the tethered hot-air balloon ride in operation. It was fun to watch and quite a romantic sight. The next day we would spend in the parks.

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