Pools at Home

by Sue Holland, contributing writer

The final “class” of Disney resorts is called Home Away From Home. This group includes the Fort Wilderness Cabins, Old Key West, Villas at Wilderness Lodge, Boardwalk Villas, Saratoga Springs and Beach Club Villas. All but Fort Wilderness are Disney Vacation Club (DVC) resorts, which are as luxurious as the “deluxe” resorts but with even more space and in-room amenities.

A key feature of a resort in this class is a kitchen—guests have the ability to cook meals in their Home Away From Home, and most also have individual laundry rooms. Accommodations can be as large as 2,400 square feet, which is a far cry from the 260 square foot rooms found in the “value” resorts.

Because the Home Away From Home sections of Boardwalk, Beach Club and Wilderness Lodge share pools and recreation with the original resorts by those names, this article focuses primarily on Old Key West, Fort Wilderness and Saratoga Springs.

Turtle Pond pool at Disney's Old Key West Resort.

Disney's Old Key West Resort is the original DVC resort, which opened in 1992. Currently, the resort's main pool area is undergoing a refurbishment to include the addition of a water slide. From a distance, the slide appears it will be similar to the slides at the Grand Floridian and Polynesian main pools. During this construction period guests at the resort have three quiet pools to choose from. The Turtle Pond pool is the only quiet pool with a snack bar and video arcade, and as such tends to be the most popular of the three. All of the pools here have laundry facilities, a picnic area and a sandy playground for the children. Lifeguards have never worked at Old Key West, although once the slide is open at the main pool lifeguards will be on duty.

Main pool at Disney's Old Key West Resort, before addition of water slide.

Guests at Old Key West have a wide variety of recreation options available to them. The DVC resorts have a high number of repeat guests, who may be more likely to spend time at the resort rather than spending most waking hours in the theme parks. Most DVC resorts have a community hall, where activities may be scheduled several times daily. The updates for existing and potential members are held here, and each community hall has an assortment of games available for complimentary use by members. A schedule of activities for the week can be picked up at the front desk or at Hank's Rent and Return near the main pool area.

Picnic pavilion at an Old Key West pool.

For some, a family picnic by the pool might be all the recreation desired. Each pool has a set of picnic tables and charcoal grills available for use by guests. The Turtle Pond and main pool areas would be especially convenient, since any forgotten food or beverage items might be available for purchase from those snack bars. The picnic areas are not heavily used, so availability is generally excellent.

Old Key West has a fairly small fitness center with quite a lot of Life Fitness exercise equipment. Massages are available by appointment, although for more extensive spa treatments it will be necessary to go elsewhere. Bicycles and surrey bikes are available for rent by the hour and the half-hour, and the sidewalks within the resort are wide enough for both pedestrians and surrey bike riders. People who prefer to move about on the water will find a variety of boats available for rent. Boats can be driven to the Downtown Disney area or up to the Port Orleans Resort area. Boats cannot be docked at either of those places, however.

Playground at an Old Key West pool.

If recreation means running around in the fresh air (or Florida heat, depending on the time of year), Old Key West has a number of options. Young children can play safely on one of four playgrounds, each of which includes a large sandy area for building castles or other beach fun. A volleyball court is located near the main pool, as well as a basketball court. Lighted tennis courts can be found at the main pool area and also along Turtle Pond Road equipment is available from Hank's Rent and Return.

Community hall at Boardwalk Villas Resort.

At the Boardwalk, their community hall has free video and arcade games, which is a big hit with children and their parents. It is located right next to the quiet pool, and is also the home to movie rentals and other sports equipment. Tennis courts are nearby, as is the large themed pool area.

Quiet pool at Boardwalk Villas Resort.

The newest Disney Vacation Club is Disney's Saratoga Springs Resort—open since May of 2004 but not expected to be completely built until at least 2006. There are many similarities between this resort and Old Key West. They are both located in the Downtown Disney area and both are completely freestanding DVC resorts rather than being additions to a non-DVC resort. Saratoga Springs will be the largest DVC resort when it's finished. Guests stay in a number of buildings located around the property, with the common areas located at the center of the resort but separate from the lodging.

Main pool at Saratoga Springs Resort and Spa.

Currently the main pool and one quiet pool are open, with more planned as additional buildings get completed. The main pool is large and free form, including a zero-entry section where guests can walk into the water as if it was a beach rather than climbing down stairs. A water slide winds through the rocks near a waterfall, and there are plenty of comfortable chaise lounge chairs around the expansive deck. A pool bar (On the Rocks) nearby sells tropical drinks, and there is a water play area for young children. This area has statues of Disney characters and fountains that shoot up from the ground similar to what is seen at the Marketplace and on the way to World Showcase at Epcot.

The more secluded spa at Saratoga Springs.

People who like to soak in a Jacuzzi-type spa have a couple to choose from here. The more secluded one is located on the other side of the rocks containing the water slide. There is another one out in the open next to the main pool. Nearby is the Saratoga Springs Spa, which is one of the largest on property and home to a wide assortment of spa treatments, as well as a large fitness center. Inside the main building there is a quiet lounge called the Turf Club, which contains a pool table. Beverages and snacks can be purchased, and there are televisions tuned to whatever sporting events are taking place that day. It is an upscale yet comfortable room—not like a sports bar. Just like at Old Key West, bicycles and surrey bikes are available for rent and there is a community hall.

Larger of the two pools at Fort Wilderness.

At Disney's Fort Wilderness Resort & Campground there are two swimming pools, both of which are quite ordinary. For whatever reason, Disney chose to not “theme” these pools, unless simplicity was the theme they had in mind! They are fairly large and are still a welcome break on a warm afternoon, but there are no water slides found here. Numerous playgrounds can be found scattered throughout the campground, and there are miles of paved paths great for riding bicycles. Riding on the road can be a challenge due to the Disney bus traffic. Golf carts can be brought from home or rented here, and are a popular way to get around within the campground.

Petting farm at Fort Wilderness.

One of the more unusual recreational offerings is a petting farm full of friendly animals. Pony rides are available for young children, while older people (age 9 and up) can book a 45-minute trail ride on one of Disney's many horses. There is a small white-sand beach, a nature trail, and a full marina with a variety of boats available to rent. Fort Wilderness could easily be a vacation destination without ever entering any of the theme parks due to all of the recreation available.