Why go to a Disney resort if there's no theme park attached?
Simple. Disney's new Vero Beach resort in Florida -- the first Disney resort minus Mickey and Minnie -- is also minus the madness.
Kids aren't screaming everywhere you turn. Parents aren't racing to beat the crowds at Dumbo. Baby strollers don't nip at your ankles.
Disney's Vero Beach Resort is relaxed.
And, like all Disney hotels, it's themed to the extreme.
The Vero resort, which opened this month, "is a return to old Florida," says Maureen Nicolace, a marketing representative.
The outside is muted -- beige, tan and dark green -- while the inside is more old Florida, with green wicker rockers and a chandelier made of hurricane lanterns.
And, of course, the details are beautiful -- in the tradition of the Grand Floridian Beach Resort and Yacht and Beach Club resorts at Disney World.
My fourth-floor inn room was charming, with a dormer ceiling and a colorful fruit-and-ribbons motif. From the balcony, I could see both the ocean and the pool -- a deal of a view for just $99 (the grand opening rate).
On opening weekend, the resort was packed with local residents. Some were suspicious of Disney's intentions. (The 115-room inn and 60 vacation villas sprawl across prime beach property -- and there's room to grow.) Others came ready to plunk down $9,400 for an interest in Disney's time-share Vacation Club, which includes the Vero resort.
L Opening a resort on the beach was smart business for Disney.
Yearly polls of Disney World resort guests found that nearly half head to the beach before or after they visit the theme parks.
"So many of our guests lead stressful lives," says April Talbot, sales manager of training for Disney Vacation Club. "They want to be in our world."
Their world in Vero includes the kind of things parents love: a nine-hole miniature golf course, a "kids' wet deck" with a shipwreck and cannons that shoot water, a playground and a pool slide.
More things parents love: a bar and snacks by the pool (this snack bar has a baseball theme).
And then there's the crucial question every vacationing parent asks: "Do I have to get up from my lounge chair to watch my kids?"
Answer: no. From one spot, you can see kids at the pool, playground and golf course. If you're really lazy, you can send kids ages 6 to 12 off on supervised activities. (A half-day camp for the under-6 set is being planned.)
Or, you can rent bikes and get your golf clubs at "Eb & Flo's" rental emporium. And if you want to play basketball or tennis, you can walk to the courts in the safety of a tunnel.
Two restaurants -- themed, of course -- are open to the public. Sonya's is a fancy steak and chops place. Shutters is the family restaurant, with an open kitchen and rotisserie and a seafaring theme.
The bottom line on Disney's first ocean-front hotel: There's much more for kids here than there is at most beach resorts.
But there's less to do than at Disney World.
And that's the best part about it.