We spent the first two nights at Universal, at the Portofino Bay Hotel. Generally speaking, this was a win. The hotel basically mimics a waterside Italian town, and strikes a nice balance -- atmospheric without being *too* kitschy. It has the usual assortment of touristy shops, including a relatively nice art store, and a few restaurants. It has a lovely little boat that takes you from there to the front gate of Universal (about a mile -- we walked it once), which is a pleasant way to start and finish the day.
The bed was a bit soft for our taste, but that's a minor detail. My only *major* complaint about the Portofino was the Excessively Clever Thermostat.
When we got to the hotel, we found that our room was set to 75 -- not crazy, but I live in the northeast for a reason: I can't sleep well above 74, and in Florida humidity even that is problematic. So I set the thermostat to 72 and forgot about it, until that night.
In the middle of the night, I woke up, gently roasting. Odd: I was sure that I had turned down the temp. So I got up to check it -- and as I did so, the fan turned on. Okay, I simply caught it at the top of the cycle. I went back to bed.
Fifteen minutes later, the fan has turned off again and I'm still too hot. I get up again, poke at the thermostat, turn it down to 71 on the theory that maybe its readings are wrong, confirm that yes, the fan is running, and go back to bed.
Fifteen minutes later, the fan is off again and I am now *very* awake. I get up and go to the thermostat -- and the fan turns on again.
I get the distinct impression that my room is giggling at me like a mischievous eight-year-old with a light switch.
I stand there, and about five minutes later the fan turns off. I move, and it turns back on again. I begin to realize, with dawning horror, that some idiot has wired the thermostat to a motion detector.
So I basically stand there and wiggle slowly for ten minutes or so, until the room is back at a decent temp and I can get to sleep. I repeat this process at about 4am, and by then am finally exhausted enough to sleep through the rest of the night.
In the morning we went down to the front desk, and discovered that, no shit, this is by design -- yes, all the thermostats are on motion sensors. I didn't bother to ask the nice girl behind the register *why* they do that (I would bet that it's some over-zealous ecological instinct), but she was nice enough to call maintenance and have them change the default setting in our room.
All of which is essentially a lesson in UX design, and in particular an illustration of one of the cardinal rules: Don't Lie to Your Users. If they had said upfront how this worked, and told us to call the front desk to set the nighttime temp, I would have thought it clunky and dumb, but not overly annoying. But by presenting me with a device that *seems* to work just like any other thermostat, but is programmed to actually be Much Too Clever in an important way, it left me, well, steamed.
At Disney, we decided to stay at the Contemporary Resort, one of the original Disney hotels -- neither of us had ever stayed there, and Kate is a huge Magic Kingdom fan, so being within walking distance made sense. It got a major refurbish a few years ago, so was generally quite nice: it kept the "contemporary" (now somewhat retro) flavor, while doing a good refit on all the details. Amusingly, it had what appeared to be the exact same model of thermostat as the Portofino, but without the misfeatures.
Overall, we were quite happy with it: the Contemporary is pricey, but has a lot going for it. It was good for our schedule issues -- Kate likes to get up an hour or two before me, so she could go sit on the balcony (every room has a balcony), or even wander over to the park for a few rides before the crowds got bad. The bed was firm (which we generally prefer), and while the room wasn't huge, the layout was quite smart, so it didn't feel crowded. We got the park-side view, which had the downside of facing the parking lot, but the upside of being able to see the nightly Magic Kingdom fireworks from our room.
The building itself is a fine little city. I expected the gift shops, but one benefit of having the Disney Vacation Club now attached to it is that it also has a small but real market. (Which in our case meant that we could buy water for $3/gallon instead of $4/pint in the parks.) It has several restaurants at various price points (including one of the best restaurants in Disneyworld, but we'll get to that), a couple of bars, and a big pool with a good waterslide. (I got to demonstrate to Kate how, by lying on your back and pretending to be a missile, you can get impressive speed on the slide.)
I was slightly disappointed by the HVAC: not nearly as much as at Universal, but it didn't seem to dehumidify as well as I'd like, so the room felt just the tiniest bit swampy at night. And Disney's version of Too Clever was the nightlight. We thought there wasn't one, and the front desk couldn't send us one, so we thought we had to leave on the bathroom light in order to not trip in the middle of the night. As I eventually figured out, no -- there were two nightlights in the bathroom, but they are very dim and motion-sensor based, so they're basically invisible *except* when it's pitch-dark. All of which is very sensible but very unobvious: a one-liner mentioning it somewhere would have saved us some tsurrus.
(Yes, I see everything in UX terms these days.)
And this seems to be a reasonable time to mention the Magic Bands. These are part of the serious Disney experience now: a brightly colored rubbery wristband, relatively comfortable and adjustable, that your entire vacation runs off of. Seriously: it serves as your room key, your park pass, your FastPass reservation, your credit card, everything. Far as I can tell, you can basically wander around Disneyworld wearing nothing but bathing trunks and a Magic Band, and have the full experience with few issues.
Just *how* ubiquitous it is was driven home at the Be Our Guest Restaurant, which we had lunch at in large part because, hey, we kind of had to try The Grey Stuff. You come in, place your order, wave your Magic Band at the reader to pay for it, and go choose a table from the three large dining rooms; a few minutes later, a waitress comes by and delivers your food. Note that nowhere in this process do you actually *tell* them where you are sitting -- your food just magically arrives. My best guess is that the tables have RFID readers, scanning your Magic Bands and feeding them into a routing computer.
The privacy-advocate part of my brain is just an eensy bit creeped out by the whole thing. But I have to give Disney credit for demonstrating just how *convenient* a universal ID can be when coupled with good programming...