Beyond the Vacation Kingdom of the World: Disney's Vero Beach Resort and Spa

by Tom Richards, contributing writer

For most Disney guests at the Walt Disney World Resort, a Disney vacation means unique resorts and most of all, theme parks. There are, however, several Disney Resorts to visit that are not located near one of Disney's world famous parks.

After the popularity of Disney's Old Key West Resort, the first of the Disney Vacation Club resorts that opened in 1991, plans for more resorts came to fruition. One type of Disney resort—the "standalone" resort—was part of the plan from the inception of the Vacation Club. The result: Disney's Hilton Head Island Resort and Disney's Vero Beach Resort (and much later, Disney's Auluni Resort in Hawaii).

The original mission of the Disney Store was to take a little bit of the merchandising philosophy of quality service and unique experiences outside of the theme park berm; likewise, the standalone resorts offered opportunities for Disney to apply the high standards of theming, guest service, and attention to detail to a variety of resort locations.

Disney's Vero Beach Resort and Spa is located approximately two hours southeast of Walt Disney World. This unique resort manages to combine two distinct vacation mindsets: the laid-back feeling of a classic Florida beach resort, and the charm and whimsy of a Walt Disney World Resort. Let's take a closer look at this interesting destination beyond the Vacation Kingdom of the World.

A Unique Disney Design

The resorts at Disneyland and at Walt Disney World are unique in that each is themed to a specific time period, idea, or location. Disney's Vero Beach Resort is no different. According to Disney's official travel blog, Vero Beach is "located on Florida's Atlantic Treasure Coast" and captures the "old-fashioned charm of Florida—the way it used to be."

Both of these ideas—old-fashioned charm and the treasure coast—play out in wonderful design elements throughout the resort.

The look of the resort is particularly appealing. Unlike so many mega-resorts that mar the coastlines of too many beach locations, Disney took a decidedly different approach. Vero's architectural style is a blend of the traditional turn-of-the-century beach resort (not unlike Disney's Yacht and Beach Clubs, but on a much more intimate scale) with a decidedly Floridian feel, especially in the artwork and the décor of the guest rooms. The use of tile, light-colored woods, soft pastels, and inviting patterns is not unlike the overall decorating scheme found at Disney's Old Key West Resort.

The exterior of the buildings is covered in warm tan siding. This might sound bland, but the color and the texture of the wood resonate with different shades during differing times of the day. The green gabled roofs and green wooden shutters pull the buildings down and connect them with the lush greens of the landscaping found throughout the property. The scale of the buildings is also intriguing. Disney might have built large towers here, but instead choose to build a modest multi-storied inn and several two-story bungalows that hug the coast rather than intrude upon it.

The lobby is open and inviting. Guests enter through a large covered veranda and are greeted with warm paintings of sea turtles (an ongoing motif here) and an open four-story space filled with picked oak paneling and inviting sitting areas. The spa, restaurants, shops, and lounges are all conveniently located off of this central space. This is not one of Disney's massive resorts—like, say, the Boardwalk Resort at Walt Disney World—where guest rooms are oftentimes miles from resort amenities. Indeed, Vero is a place where, after a day or so, you will recognize the lifeguards, have the same waitress day after day in the restaurant, and come to know the resort staff by name.

Just outside the lobby, an expansive porch invites guests to pause and enjoy the small green lawn just past the walkway, admire the dense, lush vegetation, and listen to the calming sounds of the surf pounding on the beach.

The guest rooms in the inn are large and comfortable, much like those found at Old Key West. The pastel-colored designs of the bedspreads, pillows, upholstery, and curtains give you the odd feeling that Blanche, Rose, or Dorothy of The Golden Girls might suddenly appear. After a brief adjustment to this rather odd notion, the rooms are very well-planned and comfortable.

Disney's Vero Beach Resort also offers spacious accommodations ranging from one- and two-bedroom suites to separate bungalows that sleep up to eight people. Like most of the Disney Vacation Club Resorts, these rooms were designed for guests planning a lengthy stay.

For design, layout, and decorating, Disney's Vero Beach Resort earns a 10 out of 10. It is one of the loveliest beach resorts we have ever experienced.

A Beautiful Location

One of the most attractive aspects of this resort is the feeling of being away from everything and everyone. With a few very minor exceptions, the sightlines at Vero are uninterrupted. When standing on Disney's stretch of beach, there is nothing to block the incredibly expansive view of the Atlantic, and when walking the beach, Disney's Vero Beach Resort is flanked by similarly designed buildings and inns. There's a feeling of continuity that is very comforting.

Speaking of the beach, unlike Disney's Hilton Head Resort which requires a brief, complimentary shuttle to the beach, Vero Beach is literally a short walk down a pier. The sand is clean and the sound of the waves is soothing. Disney offers umbrella rentals and other amenities to enhance your beach time.

The beach and the secluded feeling of being away from it all also earn a high score of 10 out of 10.

Recreation and Spa Services

Because there are no them parks nearby, Disney's Vero Beach Resort seems to offer even more activities and recreational opportunities than the typical Disney resort. There is a wonderful pool (shaped like a very familiar Disney mouse), a thrilling water slide, a children's splash area (charmingly named the Tiger Lily and themed to a pirate ship complete with water cannons), a hot tub, and a nine-hole pirate themed miniature gold course. There are also the requisite fitness center, arcade, and steam room. There are also other amenities—a basketball hoop, tennis courts, a soccer field, a volleyball court, and a fishing pier—accessed through a walkway built under the highway.

In addition to these recreational opportunities, Vero Beach offers a complete program of various activities ranging from arts and crafts to natural learning programs aimed squarely at families. Our kids were much too interested in the ocean and the pool to take part in many of these programs, but the ones they joined were highly engaging. For example, one rainy afternoon the lifeguards and other activities directors played board games with the kids in the main lobby. There is a very entertaining and highly interactive sing-along and campfire (my kids loved Natalie and Sebastian who entertained us with songs), and the nature exploration classes—focusing mainly on sea turtles—were educational and engaging.

For grown-ups, Disney offers a complete spa at Vero Beach. The front desk staff is also more than willing to offer suggestions for sight seeing in the area, for restaurant recommendations, and for helping guests with driving directions.

For its many offerings of interesting things to do, Vero Beach rates a 7 out of 10.

Dining and Merchandise

There are four dining locations at Vero Beach: Sonya's, Shutters, Bleachers, and the Green Cabin Room. Sonya's is an intimate, upscale dining akin to Victoria and Albert's at the Grand Floridian Resort or Le Cellier Steakhouse at Epcot's Canadian pavilion. Sonya's menu focuses on seafood. Shutters is a family restaurant serving reasonably priced and tasty breakfast and dinner. It offers some interesting specialties: the meatloaf over blue cheese mashed potatoes is filling and the oatmeal French toast (with a hint of citrus) was a favorite. Warm atmosphere and unique items make this a winner. Bleachers is an outdoor counter service location that offers the usual fare, with some healthy alternatives likes salads, turkey sandwiches, and fruit. This location is closed during inclimate weather such as thunderstorms, so be prepared.

The resort's lounge, named The Green Cabin Room, is located on the second floor of the main building and offers some of the same lunch menu items as Shutters—so if a storm hits, you can enjoy a meal in this lounge area charmingly named after a room found in the 1618 Spanish galleon, the San Martin. According to legend, the wreck of this ship is located just offshore. There's a wonderful deck overlooking the ocean just outside of the Green Cabin Room. Be sure to take a look.

There is only one shop here, the Island Grove Packing Company, but it's a good one. This convenient stop offers food and toiletries offered at most sundry shops. It also stocks the same toys and home accessories as every other Walt Disney World merchandise location these days, but there is a fine selection of resort specific merchandise here as well. T-shirts, jackets, towels, hats, magnets, and key chains bearing the Vero Beach Resort logo are all available here. Many incorporate the sea turtles in their design. There are mugs featuring a very retro-cool Mickey hitting the beach, as well as several Larry Dotson prints of Vero Beach's inviting shoreline with the Disney resort in the distance.

Dining options score a 9/10 and the merchandise location earns a 7 out of 10.

Disney Details

There are many examples of the legendary "Disney details" here as well. As guests arrive, they are greeted by a topiary version of the Tick-Tock Crocodile from Peter Pan. If you can overlook the fact that is actually made of vinyl leaves rather than live plants, it offers a fun photo opportunity. In a thoughtful nod to Disney audiophiles, a hidden speaker plays the "Never Smile at a Crocodile" song from Peter Pan in a little known recording by actor Henry Calvin, most famous for his role as Sgt. Garcia in Disney's Zorro television program from the 1950s.

Inside the resort, the "Atlantic Treasure Coast" theme is exploited with pirate cannons, authentic antiques (particular noticeable in the Green Cabin Room), and in the play areas surrounding the pool. Artwork featuring sea turtles is also prevalent throughout the resort, and Disney offers educational programs and, during certain seasons, sponsors excursions to nearby turtle nesting grounds. Keen-eyed guests will notice the large marks on the floor of the lobby. One story claims these marks were made by sea turtles leaving the shoreline, while another story claims that they were made when the large pirate cannon was wheeled into the lobby area.

For subtle Disney touches throughout the resort, Vero Beach earns a 8 out of 10 for Disney details.

Final Thoughts

Disney's Vero Beach Resort and Spa is an interesting mix of Disney and Florida. Because the resort is actually themed to the state of Florida, Vero Beach feels more like Florida than many of the Walt Disney World Resorts that transport guests to another time and place. Another difference between Vero Beach and Walt Disney World lies in the cast members. The Vero Beach staff is just as friendly and just as helpful as any found on property, but there is a definite local feel here. These people are Florida people (as opposed to the countless seasonal employees at Disney World), so their attitudes and way of life are reflected in the resort's atmosphere in a genuine, tangible way.

It's calm at Vero Beach. There's lots to do, action everywhere, the bustle of guests enjoying the resort's amenities and taking part in the many activities; and yet, there's the serenity of the crashing waves of the Atlantic, the tropical beauty of the lush landscape, and the thought that tomorrow will be another day just like today.

A very pleasant thought at a very pleasant place.