Steve (DOS) and I just returned from a fun and quick 4 night stay-cation at Walt Disney World. My brother Andy and his partner Art were in town, and Andy was celebrating his 65th birthday. It seems not so long ago, that he and Art where here celebrating his 40th birthday, and I met them there (pre-DOS), twenty-five years ago, which was the year I moved to Orlando.
All of us stayed at the Swan Resort, located on Disney’s Boardwalk area, and walking distance (or ferry boat) to EPCOT and Hollywood Studios. The Swan Resort and its sister property, the Dolphin Resort located just across from it, are actually owned by Marriott Hotels, however are on Disney Property. These two deluxe Marriott-owned properties (and the brand new “Swan 2 Resort” have the distinction of being on Disney property in a great location, and also offer their own shuttle buses to the other parks as well.
While Andy and Art went to EPCOT one day during their stay, DOS and I skipped the theme parks altogether on this trip and lounged by the pool during the day, or took a side trip to nearby Disney Springs a couple times. Our annual passes have expired and we intend to renew them, but not right now during the peak summer heat. It was nice not being on a schedule, other than meeting Andy and Art for dinner on 2 of the 4 nights there, and we were quite content without going to the parks, especially with the afternoon showers most days.
The first night we Uber’d off-property to the Capital Grille, where we took Andy and Art for his 65th birthday dinner. The Capital Grille’s Generous Pour promotion was going on, which is a wine event, and a bargain at $35 a person (in addition to the dinner meal), and includes tastings of 7 different wines. Each year the selections and theme changes, and this year the wines were from Orvin Swift Cellars and J. Vineyards , and included 3 whites and 4 reds. The Generous Pour is a great way to try different wines, and pair them with your appetizers, entrees, and dessert.
We love sharing multiple appetizers, served at a leisurely pace per our request, which our server did wonderfully so in the course presentation and timing. Our server graciously (and continuously throughout the meal), offered us two or three wines at a time, ranging from the lighter Rose and Pino Gris, to Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, red blends, and an excellent Cabernet Sauvignon. While each glass was a small sample of a two or three ounces or so, the wine pours are unlimited, and you can re-visit any or all that you like! Again, for Capital Grille, this is an incredible bargain considering their huge mark-up on regular wines by the glass or bottle.
We had shared appetizers of Ahi-Tuna (very good, but would have preferred it without the added sauce), “Bacon” (which is more like a pork belly, thickly sliced and yummy), and a mozzarella wrapped in prosciutto appetizer. It was a splurge, but I definitely had my sodium quotient for the year with the appetizers, although I did (as always) ordered the steak entree without any seasoning.
As we had several appetizers in courses, by the time we got to the entree we were already getting full. DOS and I usually share one of the huge steaks when having a large meal such as this, and tonight was no exception. DOS and I had the Rib Eye, while Andy had a salad and Art had a Crab Meat cocktail. Capital Grille’s steaks are huge and really way too much for one person, but in this case we all four had a bit of the bone-in ribeye and we still had leftovers! DOS did enjoy the meat on the bone as well!
We finished up with a nice birthday dessert for Andy which he shared with the table.
After the 3 hour dinner at The Capital Grille, we Uber’d back to the Swan Resort, about 20 minutes away. (The Capital Grille is directly across from the Orlando Convention Center.). As usual for us when having a nice meal, we were among the last diners in the restaurant!
The next day Andy and Art went to EPCOT, while DOS and I had a full day on our own. The iconic “golf ball” attraction, Space Ship Earth is located at the front and main entrance to EPCOT, although since the Boardwalk hotels have a back entrance near the UK and French pavilions, they entered there.
Meanwhile DOS and I slept in a bit, and had a late and absolutely horrible breakfast at the adjacent Dolphin Hotel’s Rosa Mexican restaurant, which was recommended to us by the Swan’s front desk, even though it was in their sister hotel, (the Dolphin) and not their own. DOS and I walked the short distance over to the Dolphin Hotel, which at first didn’t seem very busy with most people in the parks or attending conventions at this large hotel.
I knew it was going to be hectic breakfast, however, as I heard young kids screaming and crying as we walked down the hall to the restaurant, their voices echoing along the walls and tile floors. Even at 10:30am, we had a 15 minute wait for breakfast in the small lobby area, and when we were finally seated, it was in the middle of the room with families full of more screaming kids; their parents apparently oblivious to their little tots throwing food (scrambled eggs, bits of pancakes etc) at each other and on the floor.
Me UNO: Why aren’t these kids in school? Steve DOS: It is summer time. UNO: Oh yeah, then why aren’t these kids at Magic Kingdom! DOS: Relax. ?. UNO: Ok, but I know it’s bothering you too.
I couldn’t really take photos without being too obvious, but it really was a stressful breakfast!
The restaurant offered a buffet, and while dodging the kids in line and the food they left scattered on the floor was a challenge, I try to stay positive, so at least I had a Mickey Mouse mini waffle! ?
I’m skipping ahead, but by comparison, the next day’s breakfast at the Garden Grove Restaurant, located in our hotel (The Swan) was WONDERFUL! Yes, there were families with small kids, but they were very respectful, mannered, and quiet, and it was much less busy as well. The atmosphere was serene with the huge open-air dining room with giant-sized tree and domed ceiling. It was literally an oasis compared to the Mexican buffet fiasco at the Dolphin; surprising since they are both in luxury hotels part of Marriott and on the Disney Boardwalk area.
The Garden Grove restaurant did not offer a buffet for breakfast like the Mexican one, but the portion sizes were HUGE! DOS and I shared his over-sized pancake platter, while I also got a yogurt parfait. It was a very nice and relaxing breakfast, more or less what one expect at a luxury resort at Disney World. Kudos to the Garden Grove staff!
Later DOS and I went to Disney Springs for lunch, taking the hotel’s complimentary shuttle bus. Disney Springs was rebranded a few years back from the old Downtown Disney area, and now has a more family-friendly atmosphere with loads of food, shopping, beverage, and entertainment venues, minus the old adults only Pleasure Island section of yesteryear.
The Swan/Dolphin buses stop at the West End of Disney Springs, down near the Circle du Soleil tent-looking building, and House of Blues, while the rest of the Disney Resort and theme park buses stop at the much busier Lake Buena Vista Hotels (Hilton and others) side of Disney Springs along the hotel row there. The West End is actually quite convenient and has quicker access without long entry lines, now that you have to pass thru a security checkpoint, for complimentary entry to Disney Springs.
We walked around Disney Springs West End a bit, before heading to lunch at Splitsville. Splitsville is a huge bowling alley/sports bar entertainment complex, located in the old Virgin Records multi-level building. It’s been open for a few years now, and actually has quite good food, and no you don’t need to bowl to go there. Splitsville even specializes in sushi, and they have full sit down dining in. a couple different sections as well.
We usually just have a salad, burger or pizza at Splitsville, but they have a full menu of items. It’s really a fun place to hang out for food and/or drinks (full sports bar sections), and people watch from the upper level overlooking Disney Springs, or the many colorful bowling alleys, conveniently “split” up into small sections at “Splitsville”! It’s also a family friendly location and it’s divided up into sections on two levels, so it doesn’t feel overwhelming in size, and small groups are often having birthday or other celebrations by their respective bowling allow, billiards, restaurant or bar area.
A hotel bellman at Disney had told us several years ago, Splitsville is a great place to have dinner if you are having trouble finding a dinner reservation at Disney, as most people wouldn’t think to go to a bowling alley for dinner! A great tip which I’m passing a long; go to Splitsville; it’s really a fun place to eat and drink! And yes you can even go bowling if you want; but obviously not a requirement for eating there.
After lunch at Splitsville, we headed back to our hotel, again via the complimentary Swan/Dolphin shuttle busses which run every 15 minutes or so from the West End of Disney Springs.
For dinner, DOS and I went to the Trattoria al Forno Restaurant, located on the Disney World Boardwalk, a short walk from our hotel. We had eaten there just before COVID about 3 years ago when it first opened (in the former Cat Cora restaurant), and really enjoyed the Italian eatery then, as well as now. We took a leisurely stroll around the Boardwalk area of Disney World, stopping for a few photos on the way to dinner. The Boardwalk area is normally fairly quiet in the daytime, but gets much busier in the evenings and when EPCOT closes at 9pm.
At Trattoria al Forno, we had an appetizer pizza, and later a chicken Parmesan, coupled with a bottle of Chianti. The restaurant has a nice and comfortable atmosphere, with a nice and colorful decor.
We finished up dinner shortly before 9pm, and then walked along the Disney Boardwalk, up towards the bridge overlooking EPCOT, arriving just in time to see the nightly fireworks, along with a small crowd of people who had gathered as well.
After the fireworks, the crowd quickly cleared out, and we walked the rest of the way over the bridge (where the boats sail thru from the Boardwalk area hotels to EPCOT), down to the entrance/exit for EPCOT.
We waited a bit for Andy and Art to exit the park, and walked with them back via the Boardwalk to our hotel. We noticed the lines for the Sky Tram queuing up to take guests back to their hotels (i.e. Pop Century, Art of Animation, Caribbean Beach, Riviera Vacation Club etc,) that are located along the Sky Tram route. The Sky Tram seemed to be moving much quicker than normal at this late hour, most likely to hurry the many tired park-goers back to their hotels after a long day at EPCOT.
The next day the four of us hung out at the pool and beach area most of the day, later having lunch at the nearby pool outdoor restaurant. There are several pools at the shared Swan and Dolphin pool and beach complex, and we utilized the largest one, which has waterfall, a couple bridges over it, and a rock slide. Along the scenic walkway to the pool and beach area, we passed the “Swan 2 Hotel I nicknamed it”, which recently opened, and appears to be next door to the Swan, but it’s actually just across the entrance road to the Swan. This new high-rise tower hotel is also owned by Marriott, and is a luxury hotel part of Marriott’s Autograph selection, named the Swan Reserve. When I saw how big that hotel was, I was concerned the Swan/Dolphin’s shared pool and beach area would be too busy, but the Swan Reserve guests have their own pool area, and it is not reciprocal with the Swan/Dolphin’s pool area. The photo is a bit deceiving as the hotel is actually located on the other side of the service road, not directly next to the hotel as it appears.
In the evening, Andy and Art had dinner on their own at at Jaleo by José Andrés, a Spanish Restaurant in Disney Springs, while DOS and I returned to Splitsville once again, this time for a light dinner.
Andy and Art then met us at Splitsville (actually just down the block at Disney Springs) for dessert before we headed back to the Swan. They loved the Jaleo Spanish Restaurant, complaining only that they were so full from so many different courses at this tapas-type restaurant!
On our last day at Disney, we stayed around the hotel, and had a light lunch, in anticipation of the big meal we were having that evening. We had reservations for the four of us at Jack’s Place Restaurant located in the Rosen Plaza Hotel, directly across from the Orlando Convention Center and the Capital Grille. We Uber’d over to Jack’s for our 7:30pm reservation, and had a wonderful night of dining there once again.
Andy and Art had not been to Jack’s Place before, so we pointed out along the wall some of the famous caricatures that were done by the original founder of Jack’s, Mr. Rosen during his New York City days working at the Waldorf Astoria in the 1930s.
I written about Jack’s place before, but on weekends they hire a Disney artist to provide complimentary caricatures of diners. The artist takes a photo of you, and then while you are eating he or she draws the caricature backstage somewhere, and later presents it to you at your table. It’s the second time we’ve had our caricatures done there, and we must have had the same artist as I look the same, while DOS looks more like Gilligan from Gilligan’s Island!
We had fun toasting each other over a bit of Prosecco my sister Jenni had sent to the restaurant for Andy’s birthday, while we took photos of our caricatures. Art even asked the artist to add a little hair to his (mostly) bald head! LOL! I knew the added hair wouldn’t help me, so I went with the flow of the artist’s rendition. Wow I look old! ?
We once again had a few appetizers, and paired with a bottle of Mt. Vader Cabernet Sauvignon. For our main, we each had our own entrees, rack-of-lamb for DOS, lobster tail for Art, and ribeyes for Andy and myself.
For dessert we shared a Crème brûlée dessert Jenni had also sent us. As we were finishing up, we met a man admiring the room’s caricatures (we were seated at a booth in the “poets section” i.e. Agatha Christa, Rudyard Kipling, Jack Frost and others), and after chatting a bit we invited him to join us for our after dinner drink. He was a veteran and attending a convention alone, so we thanked him for his service and toasted a drink before heading out.
We ended up closing down Jack’s Place when we left around 10:30pm, but not before taking a group selfie, and then Ubering back to the hotel.
Back at our hotel after dinner, Andy and I had a nightcap at the huge lobby bar at the adjacent Dolphin Hotel, before walking back to the Swan.
DOS and I headed back home the next day after our mini staycation at Disney World, which for us was only a 45 minute drive, while Andy and Art had to fly back to Roanoke. One nice thing about living in Central Florida is having access to Disney and the other parks (Sea World, Universal) close by, as well as beaches, Port Canaveral, and NASA all within an hour’s drive. So now we’re just catching up at home for the week ahead. We had a wonderful time at Disney Word (even without going to the theme parks!) and celebrating Andy’s 65th birthday.