by Christine Koubek
There is something fitting about Disney taking its design inspiration of “health, history and horses,” from one of America’s earliest resort communities — Saratoga Springs, N.Y. The pace is different here at this sprawling resort. Less park frantic and more “let’s take a stroll,” which is similar to how high-society folks like the Vanderbilts and Rockefellers holidayed in Saratoga more than a century ago, and certainly how vacationers enjoy my former hometown now, lounging at a spa, strolling through Congress Park’s gardens and watching thoroughbreds race.
In typical Disney fashion, they’ve transported a bit of Saratoga’s flare (sans the horse racing) here to Florida, via Victorian architecture, lovely fountains, a Saratoga Race Course starting gate that looks just like the real thing, plus beautiful paintings by renowned artists of Saratoga’s most beloved sites, past and present.
While adults appreciate Disney Saratoga’s emphasis on history and health (through the spa), children love the horse-related fare, from the jockey silks to the row of framed portraits of Disney’s own famous horses, like Toy Story’s Bullseye and Mulan’s horse Khan.
This campus-style resort (similar to the Old Key West property) was once home to Disney’s training institute. The main buildings were renovated and additional ones added for the resort’s opening in 2004. Today, Saratoga Springs Resort & Spa offers 1,320 units spread out over 107 acres, plus one of only two spas available at a Disney resort. In addition, the property is home to Disney’s largest resort fitness facility, making it a popular choice for guests of Disney’s marathon and other running events. Saratoga Springs Resort also is home to Saratoga Springs Treehouse Villas.
Disney’s Treehouse Villas offers a unique opportunity to live in a treehouse, kind of like the Berenstain Bear family from the popular children’s book series. Nestled in natural forest glens, these 60 three-bedroom treehouses opened in June 2009. Each treehouse villa is elevated 10 feet off the ground on pedestals and beams designed to blend into the forest environment, however, there is no roughing it here, which is why Disney folks call the experience “glamping.” These posh woodsy villas are a far cry from camping. Each one has cathedral ceilings, comfy beds, granite counters in the kitchen, flat-panel TVs (try hooking that up in a tent), and an elevated deck. In fact, spend one evening on the deck listening to the rustling leaves and gazing at the stars and you’ll feel like you’ve discovered one of quietest places in Disney World.
While the resort is fantastic for that treehouse living experience, keep in mind that it is removed not only from the parks, but from restaurants, kids activities and Saratoga’s main pool as well, since those are located a good 10-minute walk away (or short drive). Pathways, boat and bus service connect the treehouse villas to Saratoga Springs Resort & Spa, and there is a bus stop for transportation to the theme parks. In addition, the staircase only access to villas adds an extra challenge for those still carting strollers and car seats.
Our Editor Loves
- One-, two-, and three-bedroom villas with full kitchens
- Play area for kids and multiple pools
- Spacious suite accommodations
Rooms & Rates
There are four villa types at Disney's Saratoga Spring's Resort & Spa, studio, plus one-, two-, and three-bedroom villas. Unlike other Disney villa properties, pricing here is based strictly on size, not view. Studios sleep four with one queen-size bed and a full-size sofa, TV, DVD, a wet bar with an under-counter refrigerator, microwave, coffee maker, toaster oven and a porch/balcony. The studios average 365 square feet.
One-bedroom villas also sleep four, however, there is a private master suite with a king bed and whirlpool tub, plus a fully equipped kitchen, full-size washer/dryer and a queen-size (vs. full) sleeper sofa in the living room. These villas average 710 square feet.
Two-bedroom villas sleep up to eight and offer everything that the one-bedroom offers with the addition of a second bedroom with two queen beds. Two-bedroom villas average 1,075 square feet.
Three-bedroom Grand villas are quite different in layout, spanning two floors and accommodating a maximum of 12 guests. The master bedroom has a king bed and roomy bathroom with whirlpool tub, and two additional bedrooms each with two queen-size beds, plus a queen sleeper sofa in the living room, four TVs, a fully equipped kitchen, large dining area and suite entrances on both floors. The only thing missing from Saratoga's Grand Villas is loft furniture -- something that had been added into the design of the newer Kidani Village villas over near Animal Kingdom Lodge. Three-Bedroom Grand Villas average 2,349 square feet.
Treehouse Villas are each octagon shaped and Adirondack-themed, sleeping up to nine adults with two bathrooms. A master suite has a queen-size bed and a cool master bathroom with open spill faucets and a whirlpool tub and shower in one glass enclosed area. A second bedroom has a queen bed and a third has bunk beds dressed in squirrel and deer bedspreads. Each bedroom has its own flat-screen TV so you might want to take the remote to help younger ones resist the TV temptation at night. Villa living areas have stone floors, floor-to-ceiling windows, cathedral ceilings and a queen-size sleeper sofa, sleeper chair in the living area, dining room and open kitchen with oak bar and dark granite counters and black appliances. A laundry area has a stacked washer and dryer and a large private deck with charcoal grill is located right outside the villa door.
While requests cannot be guaranteed, it's worth thinking through location preferences and noting them before booking at this campus-style resort.
The Congress Park section offers three benefits: beautiful views of Downtown Disney (especially at night), lovely park bench sitting areas along the water, and a short walk to Downtown Disney along the lakeside path. However, this area's pool is more basic (and without a pool bar) and there is a longer walk to resort eateries than walking form the Grandstand or Springs sections.
Advantages of the Grandstand area: short walk to the main resort and its own unique horse racing themed pool; yet a longer walk to Downtown Disney.
Request The Springs section for rooms closest to the lobby restaurants, store, game room and main resort pool. The Paddock section, while a good walk to main resort amenities, will have a brand new horse-themed pool with interactive kid's area opening summer 2011.
Washers and dryers are available in the pool building at each leisure pool. Vending machines for laundry supplies are also available. Dry cleaning and laundry service is also available through the lists and bags in guest room closets. Housekeeping service daily for villa guests not booked through Disney Vacation Club. Pack n' plays can be found in a closet in each villa. Highchairs and bed-rails are available upon request.
A really peaceful, comfortable, beautiful resort. Don't believe the reviews that say it's too big to walk around! It is easily manageable and nothing is too far. Bus stop to parks and pool with snack bar on our doorstep. Less than 5 mins from main building. Two bed villa was enormous and extremely comfortable. Decor is nice and completely acceptable (fresh paint), and while I can understand why some comment on the age of the furniture it is well looked-after and not shabby. Our housekeeper told us all rooms will begin refurbishment in June, so even this will not be an issue in near future. Current sofa bed a little hard but very study and not creaky. Turf Club restaurant has beautiful patio and food delicious. Healthy options readily available. The dining plan is a MUST if you can get it (especially if thrown in - what a saving!). Staff extremely pleasant, helpful and welcoming. Disney really do have customer service mastered. From the moment we arrived, everything was so easy and just worked! Magic Bands plus the App have revolutionised the Disney experience. Very impressed. Didn't want to leave.
Overall great resort, the check in process was extremely efficient and the staff was outstanding. The food and drinks were overpriced. Stayed in a one bedroom, clean but the appliances in this unit need updating.
Unlike other Disney Vacation Club properties, Saratoga offers several pools to explore. High Rock Spring Pool, located just beyond the Carriage House terrace, is the resort's hub. This main pool includes a Donald Duck themed splash area for tots and a 126-foot waterside that zooms past waterfalls and beneath a bridge where fellow siblings can watch and cheer (or heckle) slide goers. Two whirlpool tubs are built into faux rocks adjacent to the pool. And, like so many other Disney resorts, poolside movies are offered at night. Monster's Inc., G-Force and Enchanted were just a few of the G- and PG-rated offerings during our stay.
In addition, several family games are held at High Rock pool over the course of a week, from Name that Tune to Wii games, Goofy Bingo, Disney Trivia and Water Relays (check the Recreation Activities Schedule for days and times).
While the High Rock has a slide, be sure to check out the pool in the Grandstand section of the resort. This horse racing-themed pool area has a large starting gate-themed splash section, a large pool, whirlpool tub and pool bar (known as The Backstretch). The Congress Park section is home to a quiet leisure pool with fountains. A fourth pool with slide and pool bar is scheduled to open summer 2011 in the Paddock section.
Playgrounds can be found near the pools in the Paddock and Congress Park sections of the resort. The Win, Place or Show Arcade -- adjacent to the High Rock Pool deck -- offers family favorite video games, pop-a-shot basketball and an air hockey table, too.
Stuff and fluff your own pillow, make a bead bracelet and paint-a-ceramic bank are a few examples of Community Hall's kid-friendly activities (see the monthly activity guide for times and associated fees, if applicable). Community Hall is activity central, not only for craft activities, but for ping-pong, foosball, and a variety of board games as well. Open daily from 9:00 a.m. to 10:00 p.m.
Horsing Around Recreation Rentals
Rent kid and adult bikes, or a four-seat surrey (sans fringe on top), then pedal around the resort paths. Rentals are available hourly or daily, while surrey rentals are available for 30 minutes. (Disney Vacation Club members receive a small discount on all rentals.) The shop is located near High Rock Springs Pool and also offers DVD rentals (gratis to members, small fee for guests), basketball, tennis and shuffleboard equipment (all complimentary) are available from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m.
Guided fishing excursions are offered three times daily, Call 407-WDW-BASS to make reservations.
Boat ride to Downtown Disney
Even if you like to walk, take the striped blue-and-beige boats from Saratoga's boat dock for a ride to downtown Disney. Kids who sit near the front sometimes get to ring the bell, and the views, especially at night as you approach Downtown Disney, make this trip as good as a theme park ride, only free.
Unique to Saratoga Springs Resort is the spa, one of only two spas at a Disney resort (the other is located at Grand Floridian). Kids age 4 to 12 can choose from a 25-minute facial, manicure, pedicure or massage. A 2.5-hour Mother & Daughter package is available and includes facials, mystical forest therapies and a choice of pedicure or manicures.
Located near the lobby, this is the resort's eat-in or take-out eatery and market. Here you'll find bagels, breakfast items, salads, flatbreads, and sandwiches, plus a mini market with the things a family needs to stock a villa kitchen.
Turf Club Bar and Grill
The resort's upscale restaurant, and while not one of Disney's well-known eateries, the place was fantastic for a peaceful and delicious family meal on the porch overlooking the golf course and waterways. The restaurant offers burgers, ribs, seafood and one of the best French onion soups I've had at Disney. The adjacent Turf Club Lounge is a fun place to hang out before or after dinner for a game of pool.
Sassagoula Pizza Express
Delivers baked-to-order pizza to your room from 4 p.m. to midnight (407-934-5787).
Nearby Downtown Disney offers oodles more choices, from a Rainforest Cafe restaurant, to Earl of Sandwich (gourmet sandwiches) and the T-Rex Cafe. Leave room for cocoa and dessert at Ghirardelli Ice Cream & Chocolate Shop.
Planning & Tips
All about the Extras
Checking in at Disney is always a festive event. I overheard little girls greeted as "Princess" and our boys' jaws almost hit the floor when a greeter approached and unrolled a strip of stickers as long as each son is tall.
Saratoga's 3,000-square-foot fitness center is the largest resort facility at Disney World. The center includes treadmills, elliptical, regular and recumbent bikes, and stair climbers, as well as a weight machine circuit and free weights. Use of the health club is free to resort guests and those purchasing a spa treatment.
But don't just stay indoors. Jogging maps detail a .8 or 1.44 mile path through the resort and are available at the concierge desk in the lobby; or, better still: jog to and through Downtown Disney in the early morning for good views minus the crowds.
A great perk for all Disney resort guests are the "Extra Magic Hours," that allow guests to take advantage of shorter waits for their favorite rides each day when one Disney theme park opens an hour early or stays open up to three hours after the official park closing. Check the weekly schedule when you arrive and plan!
The Art of Smart Timing
The best prices and shortest waits at Disney are during the Value seasons: January to mid-February, mid-July to late-September, and post Thanksgiving through mid-December. Conversely, weekends and holidays are the busiest and most expensive times to stay at a Disney Resort, with New Years and the Christmas holidays typically the priciest.
Getting There & Around
Families can get by without a car thanks to Disney's Magical Express Service. This service, complimentary to Disney resort guests, allows families to check their bags at their hometown airport, bypass baggage claim at Orlando International Airport, and take Disney's comfortable motor coaches to their resort. Luggage is delivered to the room after check-in. The service must be booked in advance and is not available with all airlines (check with a Disney agent when you make your reservation).
Once on property, boat service and a walkway connect Saratoga Springs Resort and Downtown Disney. Bus service is available from each section of the Saratoga resort to the parks as well as within Saratoga's 'neighborhoods' via the Downtown Disney bus.
Note: A car saves time both in getting to and from the airport and between the resort and the parks. For those driving (or renting a car) the resort is approximately 26 miles from Orlando International Airport.
For Mom and Dad
Take the boat to Downtown Disney for dinner at Italian trattoria, Portobello, followed by a Cirque du Soleil show. For Cirque tickets call 407-WDW-SEAT.