Exploring the Darker Side of Disney

I have to admit it. I am not a pixie duster (someone who believes Disney can do no wrong). While I truly love the magic of Disney parks, there is also have a dark side to my Disney fandom. My experience began with childhood visits to WDW every 1-2 years. Back then it was entirely magical.

Just about the time when I became an adult is when we started having, albeit very archaic, access to the internet. Up until that point, my knowledge of Disney parks came from the Birnbaum guide books and some books I had bought as souvenirs. I remember searching for info on Walt Disney World and finding this very basic website that had tons of secrets about it. The site was just a huge bulleted list of info, mainly about the Magic Kingdom, and this was the first time I learned about the utilidors, hidden Mickeys and dozens of fascinating secrets about the park and its attractions. While I still enjoyed the magic of the parks, I started seeing them with more critical eyes, and wanting to know what was going on behind the scenes. Those perky cast members couldn’t be that way 24/7, right?

I remember I printed out that list from the website and took it with me on a trip so I could see these things with my own eyes. Emily and I also became fascinated with seeing “backstage” areas that Disney didn’t necessarily want you to see, but also didn’t completely cover up. For example, on the People Mover, there used to be a couple circular windows, and if you looked through them you could see a parking lot. When a cast member would open a door from backstage, we would see if we could see anything on the other side. On an occasional crowded night at the Magic Kingdom, you would exit from Tomorrowland behind Main Street USA. It is all done up nice back there nowadays, so it doesn’t lose the magic, but back then it was not very appealing to the eyes. Our favorite way to observe backstage areas and show buildings that you might not otherwise notice was to take the Skyway ride. It provided a great perspective on the park.

Some years later, I discovered the Mesa Verde Times website, and learned about two guys who had jumped out of the Horizons ride (arguably one of the best rides at Epcot) vehicles and spent hours recording and photographing their antics. I also read about Shane Perez’s illegal exploration of a then-abandoned Discovery Island at night. While I would never consider doing anything that would get me banned from the parks, the fact that others did this really intrigued me. When Leonard Kinsey wrote his book, “The Dark Side of Disney” in 2011, I picked up a copy and enjoyed reading about all his adventures and hacks. He also has some neat videos up on YouTube of his off limits explorations.

The documentary based on the book, Dark Side of Disney, was recently released and I have been looking forward to it for a while.  I was hoping that this documentary would be what I thought the train wreck of a movie “Escape from Tomorrow” might be. Indeed it was an offbeat look at how adults enjoy the parks in a variety of unconventional ways. You get to view Disney fans’ darker sides, but they all still are Disney lovers at heart. I don’t want to give too much away in case you want to check it out. This movie definitely isn’t for kids, but if you are interested in less traditional ways that people enjoy the parks, then definitely check it out. And, by the way, I totally want to join a Disneyland gang!

Here’s a preview of the film!

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Yet Another Off Property Resort…My Review of Hilton Bonnet Creek

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After all our years of staying at Walt Disney World without ever staying off property, the past few months have brought us to several off property resorts. We’ve stayed at and reviewed The Dolphin Resort, the Wyndham Lake Buena Vista, and I recently had the opportunity to check out the Hilton Bonnet Creek Resort.  My best friend from home, Sara, had a conference which was held at the convention center at Hilton Bonnet Creek. Always looking for an excuse to head to WDW, I not only was excited to see Sara, but I was also interested in checking out yet another off property resort. The entrance to the three Bonnet Creek resorts is on Disney property, but as you wind down Chelonia Parkway towards the resorts, there is a tiny piece of land that is not owned by Disney. This is where the Wyndham Bonnet Creek, Waldorf Astoria, and Hilton are located. I was always a little intrigued by the Bonnet Creek resort area, as there is that tiny sign for it as you drive down Buena Vista Drive, so that was my chance to check it out.

When I arrived, I pulled up for luggage service and check in. Valet was an option, but I opted to self-park in the attached garage. As I walked into to the lobby, I felt very disoriented…the way that we have felt each time when checking in to a non-Disney resort. It was also extremely loud because the conference was letting out for the day and there were hundreds of professionally dressed folks streaming out of the conference. I think the acoustics of the entryway are not good, because even when there were less people, it always seemed loud. I joked to the person at check in that I felt very under dressed, as I was the only person in a shorts/tee and not in business attire.

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I found my room, luggage was promptly delivered and I started to explore the resort. I definitely did not feel like I was at Walt Disney World. The resort is a concrete high rise with modern flair, but has none of the theming that I am used to when staying on property at WDW. Once I checked out the view from our room, I felt more at home, as I could see the bowling pins from Pop Century, some of the Caribbean Beach Resort, the Tower of Terror, and the Swan and Dolphin Resorts peeking up above the trees.  The room itself was modern, spacious and clean.

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The most impressive feature of the Hilton Bonnet Creek was its pool area. It’s a very large area, with a tropical feel, situated next to the Waldorf Astoria golf course. There were plenty of lounge chairs set up, and we never felt like there was a huge crowd at the pool. There was also a nice sized poolside bar and wait staff provided food and beverage service to the entire pool area. We enjoyed lounging by the pool, and took a few whirls around the lazy river on some tubes. One evening, a movie was shown poolside and folks were just hanging in the pool, watching the movie, and we practically had the lazy river to ourselves.

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I think the biggest perk of our room was the fact that we had an amazing view of the Star Wars Fireworks at Hollywood Studios. Judging from our location in relation to the Tower of Terror, I had an idea that we would be able to see fireworks, but it was so exciting to have a perfect view of the spectacular show.

The last thing that I enjoyed about the resort was the parking garage that was attached. It was really easy to get to my car any time we wanted to go out. I have found that at some of the resorts at WDW, especially the deluxe resorts, it is quite a hike to get to your car. Last year, we were stuck in our room at the Yacht Club due to an intense thunderstorm, and couldn’t make it to our dinner reservation on time. With the parking garage, you can quickly and easily get from your room to your car without getting rained on.

There are definitely some downsides to staying at this resort. Guests are charged a resort fee of $25, which is common for off property WDW hotels, and garage parking is $20 a day. I hear rumors that Disney is exploring adding a resort fee, and I hope it doesn’t happen. I would rather know up front the total price for a room, rather than having different fees added on. I also think that the Hilton jacks up the room prices for conferences. I checked pricing on a random weekend in May and the pricing was half of what was charged during the conference. Also, the food was really expensive.  A light lunch or breakfast will cost you much more than you would pay for Disney counter service food. The resort does offer a shuttle to the theme parks, and posts a schedule, but guests are not entitled to perks like extra magic hours, magic bands, free theme park parking, and Disney transportation. Being an annual passholder with a car, none of these are an issue for me.

All in all, I enjoyed my experience there and exploring the resort. The fireworks view and pool area were the highlights. I’m not sure if I would go out of my way to stay there again, but if an opportunity presented itself, I would return. You can follow along on our adventures in upcoming blog posts!

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