Monday, June 7, 2010

The Diva's Trip to the Walt Disney World Dolphin

Swimming, BBQ's, Camp, Popsicles, Fireworks...Ah! The lazy days of summer are almost upon us. One thing I relish each summer, is vacations with my family. It's an opportunity for everyone to energize and reconnect. Over Memorial Day weekend, the C.P.A. Chef and I decided to kick off our summer with a trip to Starwood's Walt Disney World Dolphin in Lake Buena Vista, Florida.

As our car approached the hotel, I could feel my body begin to relax. In less than an hour I'd be finding a spot by the pool to people watch and enjoy a swim with my children. While checking in, I inquired if a room with a Disney view was available. Without hesitation, the staff member checked and before we knew it, we were unpacking our suitcases in a room that overlooked EPCOT at no extra charge.

While the kids headed off to the basketball court to join a game and my husband to a hammock for an afternoon nap, I found my happy place under an umbrella overlooking the main pool. Guests were a mixture of couples and families, that ranged in age from newborns to senior citizens. Music filled the air and attendants regularly stopped by to offer drinks and munchies from the Cabana Bar.

Before continuing to describe my family's experience at the Dolphin, I'd like to take a moment to acclimate you with the resort. The Dolphin is situated on 87 acres and shares amenities with the Swan Hotel. With three pools, eleven dining options, a full-service spa, tennis courts, basketball courts, miniature golf, boat rentals, child care at Dolphin Camp, two health clubs, a candy store, art gallery and a boutique filled with  treasures from Brighton, Vera Bradley, Tommy Bahama, Lilly Pulitzer, etc., the resort has something for everyone! If however you still had the urge to venture outside of the resort's property, the Dolphin is a hop, skip and a jump from Disney's Boardwalk complex, offering more restaurants and bars, bicycle and boat rentals, arcade games and performances by a variety of street entertainers. When staying at the Swan or Dolphin, heading to the Disney parks doesn't require use of your car. EPCOT is within walking distance from the hotel, or you can take a relaxing ride there via water taxi. The water ferry also travels to Disney's Hollywood Studios. Bus Transportation runs continuously throughout the day and into the evening to and from Disney's Animal Kingdom and the Magic Kingdom. Although the Swan and Dolphin are not considered "Disney" resorts, they do allow guests to enjoy the perks of "Extra Magic Hours." Visit the hotel's front desk and/or concierge for a schedule as to which parks are offering "Extra Magic Hours" during your stay.

Now back to my trip...

After a fun-filled afternoon by the pool, my family and I had worked up an appetite. My son had just graduated high school the week before. To celebrate this milestone in his life, we dined at Shula's Steakhouse our first night away. Shula's offers a wide variety of steak, chicken and seafood. Salads and sides are a la carte. The night of our visit, Shula's was offering a special. Two could enjoy salads of their choice, a Shula cut filet and lobster tail accompanied by two sides for $89.00. My husband the C.P.A. Chef, quickly did the math. This same dinner if ordered from the regular menu would have come to at least $68.00 per person before tax and tip. We all enjoyed the special, as our little one gobbled up a huge, juicy hamburger from the children's menu. After satisfying the carnivore in us, my inner dessert demon was calling out for something devilishly sweet. Our server recommended the Chocolate Souffle for Two or the Chocolate Lava Cake. For chocoholics like us, that was an extremely troublesome decision. Yet after a family vote, we ordered both! Neither disappointed the palette.

I slept like a baby that night. The Heavenly Beds lived up to their name! It was like sleeping on a cloud.

The next day after an early morning game of tennis and a dip in the pool, we ventured over to the Cabana Bar to savor a leisurely lunch on bed styled seating. The food was fresh and creatively presented. I loved how the french fries were served in adorable mini frying baskets! You know, the ones fast food establishments use to fry french fries and onion rings in hot oil? Same look only mini. While munching, we enjoyed a bird's eye view of the basketball courts and a hula hoop competition. Everyone, including us, looked like they were having a wonderful time in the sun!

Although on vacation with my family, I couldn't resist the opportunity to indulge my inner diva at the Mandara Spa. When the bill for lunch arrived, it included a 20% off coupon good for a spa service of my choice. I took that as a sign, grabbed my cover up and headed for the spa! Ritual of the Hands and Feet caught my attention on the extensive list of spa services. I oozed with excitement, just imagining my hands and feet being pampered and polished! Before my treatment, I was escorted into a room that transported my senses to the island of Bali. As I sipped a cup of herbal tea and nestled myself in a couch filled with elaborately decorated pillows, I wished I could have paused time to savor the experience a bit longer. For almost two hours, Lucy primped and massaged my feet and hands. I have to say, she gave one of the best foot massages I have ever experienced. I floated out of the spa and back to my room, feeling like a million bucks!

The kids and the C.P.A. Chef, were in the mood for Italian on our last night away, so we headed to Il Mulino at the Swan Hotel for an authentic Italian meal. Il Mulino New York has been voted #1 by Zagat's rating system for years. Orlando's  Il Mulino menu is modeled after the NY one, making it difficult to disappoint. The exposed brick walls, leather chairs and decorative glass give the restaurant a warm, cozy lofty feel. Their wine list is extensive, as well as, the drink menu. It's difficult deciding what to eat, since everything is so incredible! The pasta is delicious and the portions are huge. Think about asking for a half order, if trying to leave room for dessert. The Pollo Parmigiana was tender and juicy.  My little one's pizza was dripping with cheese and fresh tomato sauce. Try your best to save room for the Tiramisu. Yum! Yum!

The morning of our departure, we requested a late check-out, in order to enjoy one last hurrah by the pool. Once again, our request was happily granted. What a fantastic experience we had at the Walt Disney World Dolphin.  Check it out for yourself and see why my family and I will be back again and again!

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