Disney does an interesting thing when it themes resorts. In the real world, you expect certain things to happen when you pay more for a hotel room – a notch above budget gets at least a decent-sized television. Two notches above that might include wood furnishings and an extra sitting room. A few notches above that secures a maid who will turn down your bed at night and place a chocolate on the pillow. At each higher tier, the level of formality rises higher.
But at Disney, the theme sometimes dictates the atmosphere at higher-end rooms, and that describes the upscale/downscale atmosphere of Old Key West. The real Key West is a bit bohemian, with young women clad in bikinis and young men shirtless. The hot, steamy weather dictates fashion, with sandals and tropic shirts almost a uniform in the Conch Republic. It’s not cheap, but it’s relaxed.
Old Key West replicates its namesake, though with fewer drunks on the street at 2 a.m., and a bit less trash swirling in eddies between the buildings. Key West is rated “PG-13”; Disney’s Old Key West is “G.” The Old Key West lounge has tropical fishing décor but no bras or panties dangle from the ceiling. The feel is almost more Caribbean than Disney’s less-expensive Caribbean beach, a laid-back, “No problem mahn,” vacation atmosphere.
If you do go to Old Key West, however, you must enjoy steel drums and Jimmy Buffet music, or at least tolerate it well.
Disney originally built Old Key West to kick off the Disney Vacation Club, a non-timeshare resort plan that has many of the hallmarks of a timeshare; but if rooms are not booked, they become part of the general reservation system. Because it must appeal to repeat vacationers, however, Old Key West also offers one- or two-bedroom villas with kitchens, which can justify a higher dollar amount since it saves vacation dollars if you’re willing to prepare a few meals.
Like many Disney resorts, Old Key West clusters buildings in small neighborhood-like sections with semi-private small pools. The main pool, with a sandcastle-shaped slide, is located in the central hub. The plus side to this arrangement: A true feel of intimacy and “I got away from the hubbub.” The downside: It can be a hike to central services if a room sits on the edge of the resort. On the kinda plus side: Parking spaces can be reached in only a few steps from most rooms, so guests with cars can hop around fairly easily.
Old Key West also has a great location – close to Epcot and Hollywood Studios, and not far from the main artery leading to the Magic Kingdom.
Who should stay here
The atmosphere of Old Key West feels like a vacation. It has a tropical design, Key West architecture, island music, and palm trees. Simply put, it feels like Florida, or at least what new visitors imagine Florida should feel like. When a native New Yorker says, “I just want to go someplace warm,” Old Key West delivers.
Who shouldn’t stay here
People without cars may think twice unless guaranteed a room close to the central hub and Disney transportation system. Guests who shell out $300 for a room and expect fine dining and upscale amenities should also reconsider. Old Key West screams “vacation.”
Bus only to most parks and attractions. Boat service connects to Downtown Disney.
Questions to ask when bookingIf you have a car and don’t mind using it, consider a room farther out; however, even those with cars might prefer a room within easy distance of the central hub and restaurants. If traveling with kids, expect high demand for the main pool (by the central hub) and little demand for the smaller pools located near rooms. (“But mom, they’re boring.”) Also: Studio or villa? If the latter, one or two bedrooms?
Disney’s website: http://disneyworld.disney.go.com/resorts/old-key-west-resort