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Friday, June 8, 2012

Disney's Vero Beach Resort - March 1999

This is a re-print of an original post to the ThompsonFamilyWeb site about a trip my family took to Walt Disney Vero Beach Resort in March 1999. It is completely unaltered from my original post.

Intro:



When we walked into the lobby of Disney's Vero Beach Resort, the first thought that passed through my head was "Wow - just like a Disney resort, but without Walt Disney World".
Well, duh.
Disney's Vero Beach Resort (DVBR) is, of course, exactly that. I don't know what it is about Disney resorts that make them feel different from other resorts. It's not that they are necessarily better, they simply have a feel that's all their own. Maybe it's the little touches; the attention to detail, the "theme-ing", the music playing softly in the background, the friendliness of the staff. But then other first class resorts have attention to detail, themes, soft music and friendly staffs. So maybe it's just me.


My wife Andie, our two kids Natalie (5 ½) and Charlotte (1 ½), and I would be spending the better part of a week at this resort, arriving the evening of March 27th and leaving on April 1st. This was our annual winter trip to a warm climate. In fact it was, of course, early spring, but it's nice to leave the cruel winter weather of the northeast for a week in the tropics (sort of), knowing that when we returned the weather would start getting warmer. Besides, Nat is in her first official year of school (kindergarten), and we selected this week to travel because she's on Spring Break. She also had a week in February, but getting to a guaranteed warm climate in February would require traveling further than we wanted to with 2 small children. The irony is that it took much longer to get to Vero than it had any right. Our plane left at 2:00 PM on Saturday, we had to switch planes in Atlanta, fly to Melbourne then drive an hour to Vero. We walked into the hotel lobby at about 9:00 that night.
All the buildings take their exterior design cues from the historic architecture of the area. I'm not familiar with the particular style, but it has something of a Craftsman style feel about it with multiple steep gables, a variety of roof lines and fairly prominent overhangs. I can say that there are many paintings and photographs of historic Vero Beach buildings throughout the resort and the heritage is clear. All the buildings are painted in a light muddy brown.
The lobby is a large, open space with a vaulted ceiling and exposed cream colored beams. There are many reminders of the history and natural surroundings in the lobby, as well as many references to the area's number one industry - growing citrus fruit. Near the entrance there is a wonderful mosaic on the floor with compass points and a large image of a sea turtle. Inside the lobby you'll find the check-in desk, DVC information and guest services, the resort's two restaurants and one lounge, and a small store called The Island Grove Packing Company. It's a charming little store with many of the little things you might suddenly find yourself needing: drinks, various food items like cereal and cookies, suntan lotion and sunscreen and, of course, Disney merchandise. This is also where you get DVC or DVBR logo clothing (gotta get that DVBR T-shirt!). There is a small area with mostly pirate (and Peter Pan) themed toys, a fact that earned this establishment the nomenclature "The Pirate Store" by Nat.
This trip was also the first time we had the opportunity to use our membership in Disney's Vacation Club (DVC).
DVBR has several types of rooms. The largest are the 3 bedroom Beach Cottages, which sleep up to 12 and are stand-alone structures. There are 6 of these cottages; one is used as a model. There are also 4 "Vacation Homes", each of which house several Studio, One Bedroom, Two Bedroom and Studio units (pictured is a bedroom in a Beach Cottage). Actually there are only One Bedrooms and Studios, as the two are attached to make the Two Bedroom units. The main building, which houses the restaurants and the lobby, also boasts over 80 "Inn Rooms". These rooms are a tad smaller than the Studios and with a more conventional hotel room configuration.
Our room was a Studio (room 1417 in vacation home 14) on the ground floor. Most DVC rooms are larger than most traditional hotel rooms although the studios are what I would consider about the size of a larger than usual hotel room. There was a queen-size bed and a sofa with a pull-out bed. The bathroom wasn't bad (though not *nearly* as nice as the master bathrooms in the 1 bedroom units with their Jacuzzi tubs - see photo), and there was a small refrigerator and microwave. There was a TV in a hutch with drawers and more drawers in a small dresser next to the bed. One of my biggest complaints about the room was the lack of drawer space. Not nearly enough for 2 adults and 2 kids. I think this is because the room was designed more as the 2nd bedroom in a 2 bedroom unit. The room was tastefully appointed, with pale pink walls (one wall was a pale blue) and nice details. It was a bit cramped for the four of us over 6 days, but a nice room overall.
The room also had a small patio. Being on the ground floor, when we first arrived it seemed a little claustrophobic because it was surrounded by tall plants. It just so happened that the ground-keeping staff arrived on our second day there and trimmed the plants back, and the claustrophobia was replaced by a lack of privacy - or light. You see, the bulk of the light for the room came through the glass door that opened to the patio, and if we wanted any privacy we had to pull the shade down. Oh well, that's what comes of requesting a ground floor room (Andie's preference, not mine).
Being a timeshare property, the services are somewhat different than you would find in a regular hotel. The main difference is you don't get daily maid service. Much of the hotel is occupied by people who paid cash and are not members of DVC (referred to as "guests" as opposed to "members" - guests account for about half of the people who stay at DVBR according to one employee (or "Cast Member", using Disney's parlance), and I assume the "guests" get full maid service. You do get "Trash & Towel" service every few days. This amounts to someone coming to your room and emptying the trash and replacing the towels. We found this to be perfectly acceptable - we always thought of daily maid service at hotels as overkill anyway. With a baby in diapers I will admit that the trash gets a bit ripe - we ended up emptying it ourselves. In the future I think we'll bring small trash bags to put the dirty diapers in before putting them in the trash.

The Resort:



The pool at DVBR, for us at any rate, was the resort's main attraction. Like most pools at Disney resorts it's very kid friendly. Most of the pool, which is shaped somewhat like Mickey Mouse, is shallow enough for a 5-year old to stand with their head above water. The deepest portions are about 5 feet deep, shallow enough for a parent (or a dad, at least) to stand while holding kids. Another thing I've noticed about pools at Disney resorts are the lifeguards. It's not just that they are always on duty, it's the way they're on duty. To begin with, I noticed that no single lifeguard ever seemed to be on "active duty" for more than about an hour (although I wasn't exactly standing there with a stopwatch). Good thing, too, because the lifeguards on active duty are extremely alert and attentive, constantly scanning the pool for possible trouble or (more often) people breaking the rules ("Please do not hang on the rim of the basketball hoop - Thank you", "Please come down the slide one at a time - Thank you").

The pool also has a deceptively tame looking waterslide. It's built as a tower structure on the pool's south side with the slide circling the tower and emptying into the pool. To begin with, I think Disney used their old "forced perception" trick in reverse. From the ground the tower doesn't look that tall, but once you're inside and you climb the spiral staircase in the tower to the top, you realize how high up you are. The view from there of the ocean and resort is really quite nice. Coming down the slide I was very surprised what a wild ride it is. (I wouldn't want to discourage anyone who doesn't like wild rides, so I'll point out that I usually came down the slide lying on my back. If you come down in a sitting position the ride is much tamer. Natalie came down the slide many times - usually sitting up - and had no problem.) If you go to DVBR, the waterslide is an absolute must.

One problem with the pool is that people tend to "stake out" claims on lounges early in the day by placing their stuff on them when they don't intend to use them for a while. While I found this annoying, I must admit that we did it too. If we hadn't, we would have had a hard time finding a good spot. In our defense, we got to the lounges within an hour or so of staking our claim while some seemed to go unoccupied for hours. On the other hand, there are plenty of lounges by the pool and I don't recall seeing anyone sitting on the ground for want of a lounge chair.
There are a lot of family-oriented activities available at the resort. In the pool area there is a sauna, well-equipped workout room and masseuse. Near the pool is a sandy "tot area" and a surprisingly challenging 9 hole miniature golf course with decorations inspired by the history and environment of Vero Beach (one hole has a broken ship's mast, another a cannon, another alligators, one with sharks, etc.) There is also a pirate ship called The Tiger Lilly with water spraying from its masts and a small slide. There is a sign posted nearby announcing that the Tiger Lilly is for the use of children 5 and under. Charlie was a bit dubious, but Nat loved it.
There are organized activities for the kids throughout the day. Many are informal and seemingly spontaneous (contests to see who can retrieve the largest number of plastic fish from the pool and the like) and some are more organized but still free (scavenger hunts, etc.) There are also organized activities for small children, most appeared to be crafts oriented. For a fee, there is Disney Discovery Club (2DC) for kids 4 to 10 (or possibly 12). These organized evening activities run from 6 PM to 9 several nights a week. We signed Nat up for 2DC on Monday, but she decided not to go. It's a pity, I think she would have enjoyed it.
Across the highway - and connected to the main resort complex by an underpass walkway tunnel - is an annexed area containing tennis & basketball courts and a nature trail named The 100 Acre Wood. It's a nice place for a cool walk in a wooded area. We rode bicycles over there. If you use a bike from Eb & Flo's, be sure to check it out first. I was nearly unable to ride the one I got. One word of warning: the ground had a lot of soot on it from campfires held nearby - and from what looked like burning to clear a trail - and your feet or shoes get very dirty. Leave the white pumps in your room.
We did participate in the campfire on Monday night - a lot of fun in a silly sort of way. Nat & I also participated in a scavenger hunt. I thought we did pretty well, though we weren't one of the winning teams. The home base for most of the resort activities is "Eb & Flo's", which is near the pool. This is where you get any equipment you need and sign up for various activities. Much of what they offer is free, and the things they did charge for are reasonably priced (Golf clubs for mini golf are $3, $1 for DVC members as an example).
The Restaurants:



The resort boasts 2 very nice restaurants, Shutters (pictured) and Sonya's. Shutters is casual and Sonya's is more up-scale, though far from formal. There is also a pool-side bar/snack bar called Bleacher's and a lounge in the main building with a stunning ocean view called the Green Cabin Room. As we were staying in a studio and didn't have a kitchen, we ate nearly all of our meals at one of these establishments. This increased the cost of our stay substantially, as they are not cheap places to eat. The prices for kid's meals (all that we ever ordered) at Bleacher's aren't too bad, but Shutters has your standard (read too high) hotel restaurant prices and Sonya's is a little more expensive.
Here are our thoughts on the various eating establishments:
The frozen drinks from Bleacher's are quite good, and of course the atmosphere didn't hurt. Each day they have a "drink of the day", but the only one we tried was a Citron Absolut Lemonade Slushy. The lemonade slushys - a regular on the menu - are quite good and, as you can imagine, adding vodka didn't hurt much. The kid's meals, served in a plastic beach pail, are also pretty good and actually quite filling for an adult (especially when, like us, you're having huge breakfast and dinners). All we ordered were chicken strips and grilled cheese sandwiches. They were served with fresh fruit (grapes when we were there) and quite yummy cookies.

Shutters is a wonderful place for breakfast and a decent place for lunch. The dinner menu is fairly daring - but not too - and, as is often the case with resort restaurants in general and Disney restaurants in particular, the execution was not as good as the conception. Breakfast at Shutters, on the other hand, I can't recommend highly enough. Here is a breakdown of various things we ordered from Shutters:
Breakfast
Mushroom omelet - Andie was impressed that they used fresh herbs
Eggs Benedict - A "special" (not on the regular menu). Made with artichoke hearts and sun-dried tomatoes added to the hollandaise sauce. Absolutely wonderful
Mickey Waffles - Need I say more?
French Toast - Thick slices of cinnamon swirled bread dipped in egg batter and deep-fried. My arteries are hardening just thinking about it. Absolutely awesome. The best French toast I've ever had.
Dinner:
Conch fritters - unusual and tasty.
Black bean chorizo soup - really good. One of the best things on their (non-breakfast) menu.
Caesar salad - too mayonnaise-y & heavy
Pasta dish - I forget exactly what it was but Andie called it "pretty good".
Jerk steak sandwich - Pretty good, but steak was a bit tough.
One note on the kid's meals. Charlie had a PB&J sandwich the one time we had lunch at Shutter's. The sandwich was trimmed by a cookie-cutter into three round sections strategically arranged to resemble a certain mouse. The bread was your standard white bread - except it was anything but white. Instead it was a psychedelic swirl of bright blue red and yellow. Very weird - but pretty cool. Being the thrill seeking kind of cat I am, I took a bite. It tasted like bread. Our server Chuck told us that Disney was using the bread as a new standard for all the Walt Disney World restaurants.
Sonya's:
We had reservations for Sonya's on Wednesday Night. This turned out to be fortuitous because DVC members get a 10% discount on Wednesdays. This was Andie's and my one grownup night out - we hired a baby-sitter through the hotel's guest services for the evening. Sonya's is, in reality, simply an extra dining room off Shutter's. In fact its only entrance is through Shutter's. The dining room has a more elegant feel, with dark wood and stained glass. It's still quite casual, though. You would feel equally out of place here in an evening gown as shorts and a T-shirt. The service was good and the food quite pleasing. Fresh bread was delivered to our table with an assortment of flavored butter - a nice touch. Andie had steak and I had roast duck. Normally I wouldn't dare order duck at a place like this - it's too easy to get wrong - but, after seeing them roasting on a spit on the way in I couldn't resist. I wasn't disappointed. For dessert Andie had Coconut Creme Brulee and I had an Apple Tart. Both were delicious.
Before our dinner at Sonya's we had drinks and appetizers in the Green Cabin Room, a bar and lounge on the second floor of the lobby with a magnificent view of the ocean. Mother Nature was cooperative and provided us with an absolutely stunning sunset as we enjoyed our drinks. I highly recommend a sunset drink here. Kids are allowed so if you don't have a baby-sitter you can still enjoy the view.
We also had one dinner at a restaurant in Vero Beach called Mr. Manatee's. This is a bright, fun family oriented seafood restaurant with good prices and great food. Andie has deep fried shrimp with coconut (I tried it and loved it, and I'm not a big fan of shrimp), while I had fried oysters.

The Beach:

For those who prefer their water as God intended, the beach at DVBR is quite nice as well. I must admit that we didn't really spend much time on the beach. The surf was a bit rough and, as it was late Winter/early Spring, the water was cold. With two small kids to worry about, the controlled (and heated) environment of the pool held much more appeal. One thing I will say about the beach, it's a shell collector's heaven. I've never seen a beach with so many shells. Andie and Nat amassed an impressive collection.


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