Orlando might be land-locked, but Walt Disney World still has a beach resort in Florida – and they’re doing big things in sealife conservation.
Disney’s Vero Beach Resort, located about two hours southeast of Walt Disney World on the Atlantic Ocean, is a fairly well-kept secret. Vero Beach itself is rather isolated: north of the glamour and glitz of south Florida’s Gold Coast, and south of the cruise ships and rocket gantries of the Space Coast.
Instead of going for one of these busy tourism centers, Disney built their first beach-side resort in Indian River County, an area known as the Treasure Coast, thanks to its many shipwrecks offshore. On the east, the resort is bound by the white sand beaches along the Atlantic; on its west, a recreation area backs up to the Indian River Lagoon, a unique estuary which is home to thousands of species of marine life, wading birds, as much as a third of the country’s manatee population, and exotic flowers and trees. Nearby botanical gardens and state parks allow guests to get out and enjoy Florida’s wild side in one of its least-developed southern locales.
Indian River County’s beaches are also host to thousands of nesting sea turtles. Just north of the resort, Archie Carr National Wildlife Refuge, a 20.5 mile long stretch of beach, attracts more nesting loggerhead turtles than any other beach on Earth, as well as more nesting green turtles than any other beach in the continental United States. In keeping with the Walt Disney Company’s dedication to wildlife conservation, the resort features several sea turtle-friendly innovations, including tinted glass on all east-facing windows, and no exterior lighting facing the ocean.
The result at night is a view of the ocean that is unusually natural for a beach resort. Without lights spilling over the dunes and onto the ocean, the white sand and breaking waves are lit only by the stars and moon overhead. The lack of lighting may have been designed with sea turtles in mind, but the effect for humans is equally spectacular.
And out on the beach, sea turtle nests are identified and marked, so that guests can’t inadvertently destroy a valuable clutch of eggs. Scientists and Animal Program Cast Members are monitoring the nests, studying turtle nesting habits and productivity. Meanwhile, resort guests can participate in educational programs, viewing nesting sites, even viewing sea turtles through night vision goggles from the resort’s boardwalk, and maybe, if the timing is right, witnessing a sea turtle coming ashore to lay her eggs or just-hatched babies making their way to the ocean.
The sea turtles also benefit from marine research and rehabilitation taking place at Epcot’s marine-life pavilion, The Seas. Disney’s sea turtle conservation program, in partnership with the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, the University of Florida’s Archie Carr Center for Sea Turtle Research, and the Central Florida Marine Turtle Research Group, has assisted in creating new satellite technology to track the travel patterns of rehabilitated turtles, hoping to discover the impacts of rehabilitation methods and their rate of survival.
With all that going on, Disney’s Vero Beach Resort might sound more like a scientific research station than a relaxing beach resort. But this resort, themed to the orange groves and simple pleasures of Old Florida, has all the makings of a vacation paradise, including a Mickey-Mouse shaped pool (complete with slide), activities from Florida-themed arts and crafts to kayaking, even a spa that uses organic, eco-friendly products. Fine dining at Sonya’s, a restaurant named one of Florida’s 500 Best Places to Dine by Florida Trend Magazine, is a must on a weekend stay. And character dining, including Goofy’s Beachfront Breakfast and even a Pirate Character Dinner, add that Disney charm to a family trip.
Disney’s Vero Beach Resort is located in Vero Beach, Florida. A Disney Vacation Club Resort, rooms vary from traditional King/2-queen guest rooms, with kitchenette, to Disney Deluxe Villas (Studio, 1-bedroom and 2-bedroom villas, and 3-bedroom Beach Cottages). Rates start at $185 per night. For more information, visit disneybeachresorts.com, or talk to your travel agent.
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