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Coffee vs. your Disney vacation

Save money and time by making GOOD coffee in your hotel room. It's not impossible.

Do you have a morning routine?

Does it involve coffee?

Did you know coffee could RUIN your vacation?

I might---might---be exaggerating. I'll let you decide.

Picture this (scenario that actually happened).

You groggily swim into consciousness. It's 6:00a.m., on vacation! You don't get up at 6 normally, you're no morning person!

Out your window, the Magic Kingdom castle awaits. And a high in the nineties with 300% humidity (I might be exaggerating, again... just a little).

This is WHY you're up at 6:00a.m. You won't make it until noon. It'll be back to the room for a nap and the pool.

You've got to make the most of those cooler morning hours. Be there when the park opens and go, go, go.

That means getting everyone ready and out the door. You still can't see straight, though. You need coffee!

Only problem? There's no coffee in the room (or no good coffee) and the hotel restaurant doesn't open until 6:30. No big deal, until you discover it's 7:15 and it'll take at least 20 minutes to get to the restaurant, wait for coffee, and get back!

Blast this coffee addiction, particularly the part that requires palatable coffee!

You now have a choice.

  • Go get coffee. Be late getting into the park. OK for you, not for your (young) children who can't manage the extra waiting that will be involved once your planned schedule is scrapped (bye-bye FastPass+).
  • Get coffee in the park. Which is the same as being late because the wait there is never short. Same problem with said children not being able to wait.
  • Go without coffee, have a headache, be grouchy---your day is shot until you get sufficient caffeine and you now have the ability to ruin everyone else's day with your foul mood.
If you aren't a regular coffee drinker or if you'll drink anything called "coffee," this may not sound realistic to you.

If you need your coffee and it better be good, this is probably a scenario you've experienced, although maybe without the theme park repercussions.

If you want:
  • packable ideas for making good coffee in your hotel room, 
  • ideas to save money over buying coffee every morning on a trip,
  • any other reason you'd need coffee gear to go, 
this post is for you!

Are you a coffee snob?

I wasn't sure what to call this post. "Travel Gear for the Coffee Snob." "How to Make Drinkable Coffee in a Hotel Room." There were a number of choices but all of them involved terms that were incredibly vague.

I don't want to mislead anyone so this post is about coffee making supplies you can easily travel with when the hotel coffee maker just won't cut it.

I don't consider myself a coffee snob but I think anyone that is happy with the average hotel coffee maker would consider me one. On the other hand, I suspect any self-proclaimed coffee snob might not be happy with some of my suggestions. I'm somewhere in the middle and so are my suggestions.

If you are a coffee snob, let me recommend this post about travel coffee kits for coffee aficionados. I don't require this level of coffee perfection every day, but if you do, someone's got you covered.

Let's get started.

Why make coffee in your hotel room?

Why are you even worried about making coffee? It's usually not that hard to get coffee in a hotel lobby or to go buy it. You can absolutely do that. But if I'm talking about a Disney World resort, there is no coffee in the lobby. It's likely a walk to where you buy coffee.

I have two young children (under six). I used to have no problem getting coffee in some way. Now it's just one more thing to do.

If I'd drink just anything, it wouldn't be such an issue. I tried the coffee you can get in your refillable mug (the fastest type you can get) on this trip just to make sure how I felt about it. Ugh. Not an option for me.

If you will drink anything called "coffee" there are two best options for you at a Disney World hotel.
  • If you are on a dining plan or choose to buy a refillable mug, get coffee in your refillable mug at the resort (this also is the fastest option if you eat breakfast at your resort, regardless of mug status).
  • Make coffee in your room. I believe all on-property resorts now have a coffee maker but don't forget about things like milk and sugar (or anything else you consider "essential" for coffee). The milk often ends up being my problem because we usually hit the restaurant on the way to the parks and I never manage to get milk to the room.

Since I can't palate the quick-service coffee, that means buying coffee from the actual coffee shop. In our resort, that meant where they serve espresso drinks, some resorts don't even have that option. This is the part that makes it a minimum 20-minute trip to get coffee. There's the walk, and there's a wait in line (just like at a Starbucks) and possibly another walk.

But I was prepared. And you can be, too.

Do I Need a Kitchen/Microwave/etc.?

These solutions are options I've used on various types of trips including business trips at various levels of accommodations (from college dorms to the Hilton). The only thing consistent was I had power, usually I didn't have a kitchen, sometimes I had a microwave.

If you're an average business traveler, these might be nice options so you can make good coffee faster than getting it elsewhere (I've given up hope of ever getting coffee in the hotel coffee shop during a conference, not a morning person, never going to get there early enough).

I know staying on-property at Disney can be a lot different (when it comes to coffee) than the average business trip accommodations. If you need your caffeine, you don't need the surprise on a family vacation of being unable to get it---or spending money on something you hate.

Note that you shouldn't assume your Disney World Resort hotel has the same inclusions as a similarly priced hotel. I have seen mixed answers (even answers given one-month apart) about whether there are coffee makers in the lower cost ("value") resorts and you shouldn't assume you'll have a mini-fridge.

If it is going to make a difference (I consider how long it takes to get coffee makes a difference in my schedule!), verify with your resort. If milk is your only issue (i.e. whether you have a fridge), your resort's quick-service food court/restaurant may be near where you'll catch the bus. This means you can either buy milk or grab creamer "on your way." You should see a theme here.

If getting your morning joe matters/makes a difference, you need to plan ahead.

It comes down to a matter of money and time. At a Disney World resort, it's faster and a lot cheaper to make coffee rather than run to the quick-service food area (and much faster than running to the coffee shop). If you're talking about staying one night at a Hampton Inn, grabbing coffee in the lobby is probably a better idea for anyone except the most discerning.

Below are my favorite ways to make coffee in my hotel room, depending on what's easiest.

Choices, choices, choices

I've tested these solutions out for you, several over years and various types of trips. Here's the thing, there isn't ONE answer for everyone. So this isn't a ranked list. Read through and figure out what will work for you (and if you travel a lot, you might want to have several solutions available, my choice for Disney isn't the same as for all my business trips).

My Perennial Favorite

The Pour-Over Cone

Available in Plastic, Metal, or Porcelain.

  • Pros: Portable and eco-friendly.
  • Cons: Requires both a coffee receptacle and a water receptacle (not "included") and requires harder to find filters.
Most of my life I've made coffee this way. This is what my mother has used my entire life so where I started and where I've returned every time I need to make a change. It's easy and makes good coffee.

The downside is needing to boil water (so this could be a deal-breaker in some hotel rooms). There is also the con of needing two receptacles, a mug and something to heat your water in (a kettle or another mug to microwave the water). I really don't like microwaving water in a paper cup like you find in many family-centric hotels nowadays. Two ceramic mugs and a microwave will work just fine, though.

Also, it does require a filter, either a paper filter or a permanent filter. I tried a permanent filter and I didn't like it. One of the things I like about making coffee with the cone is there are NO dregs left in the bottom of your cup. This seems to only be with the paper filter, though.

Most of the metal cones appear to have an included metal filter so not my first choice. Also, on vacation/travel, you really want to just toss the paper filter with the grounds and quickly rinse the cone, not rinse a filter until it's clean.

I want to mention some of the eco-issues of using a cone as they can be pros or cons depending on your priorities.

You can consider paper filters a con, it is a daily waste product from this method of brewing (and a minor additional expense). However, it is compostable and makes clean-up super easy (I use my coffee grounds as fertilizer on my plants and the paper filters make it easy to keep the grounds without a lot of clean-up).

For those of you concerned with eco and health issues of the traditional plastic cone, it is available in metal and porcelain/ceramic. I wouldn't fly with ceramic cone (except as a carry on). They crush your luggage and this wouldn't be that portable if it had to be wrapped a lot.

Speaking of which, it's so portable because you can put a bag of ground coffee (as in just what you'll need) inside the cone when you pack it so it's taking up very little space.

This isn't a second rate way to make coffee which is why it's a perennial favorite. I can make my everyday coffee this way so it's certainly acceptable on vacation.

(There is also this plastic version for carafes or thermoses. Many of the standard cones have trouble sitting on a carafe, never tried a thermos but here's your solution. This special carafe/themos version won't work on a mug, including a standard travel mug.)

The Best Coffee I've Ever Made

When first preparing this post, I came across this option. It's similar to one of the options I used to suggest (that item is no longer available on Amazon so I removed it not knowing where you could get it).

AeroPress Coffee and Espresso Maker

Initially I didn't know how well the AeroPress would work but since then I bought one (mainly out of curiosity) and it's the best coffee I've ever made at home!

It is portable but not as easy to clean-up as the pour-over cone. It involves several parts but all pack into a small zipper bag (mine came with the bag but I believe it is also sold without the bag so consider if that's something you want, I recommend it if you plan to travel since there are multiple parts and you could get a mess just tossing them anywhere).

Make sure and try this at home before using it to go. It has very specific instructions which you can fudge a little depending on how picky you are. You can read review to pick up tips.

You will need to heat water and like the pour-over cone, you need to have the AeroPress on your mug when you start pouring water over your coffee.

The New-comer

I'm not sure of a generic name for this type of coffee making device.

Zevro Incred'a Brew
  • Pros: No filter needed, can use one mug for heating water and coffee.
  • Cons: No filter is harder to cleanout. Only available in plastic.

I have two devices like this for making loose tea. I LOVE them. So I decided to give the coffee making version a try. I thought it'd save me taking filters with my cone plus let me brew the coffee a bit before letting the coffee drip through.

As soon as I made the first cup I realized it would be a pain to clean out on vacation. However, at home I can fill it up with tap water and go dump the water and grounds on a plant. So this might not be an ideal travel solution but it's viable in general.

I am considering trying it with standard round coffee maker filters (which you may have provided if you have a kitchen and coffee maker). Also, I'm treating this like a pour-over cone with a valve on the bottom. I think it's meant for you to add hot water and let the grounds sit (you use boiling water with a cone).

Note that it drains insanely slowly so you are best off treating it like a cone. The plus is it holds more water than a cone so you can add the mug's worth of water at once which you can't do with a smaller (#2) cone.

Because this uses a valve, the plus is you can heat your water in the same mug you eventually put under this device. I've had zero drip-issues (and the same goes for my similarly designed tea brewers which are two different brands---so no problems across three different brands).

My Solution to Disney World Coffee

So this is an update. Since I first wrote this post I've changed how I make coffee in the room. There is a big caveat to this, though.

We drive to Disney World. If you fly, this is possible but impractical.

I actually take my Nespresso machine.

I got a Nespresso Essenza Mini by DeLonghi (I got the bundle with the frother but I don't always take the frother when I travel---but I can!). This machine is small enough it is worth taking for the convenience. It is less work than all the loose coffee options both in preparation and clean-up.

This is not the cheapest way to make coffee but I've found it makes much better espresso than I could make from an espresso machine (I wasn't paying hundreds or thousands of dollars for a machine that would work sufficiently).

There are sooooo many types of Nespresso machines. I didn't buy a mini to travel with but it turned out to be so small, it works great when I'm driving somewhere. I buy decaf capsules so I can enjoy an actual cup of espresso in the afternoon/evening as well as having regular capsules for my morning coffee so this can really make a vacation feel relaxing.

I certainly wouldn't suggest buying a Nespresso machine just for travel. I had bought an espresso machine, for only slightly less, the year before. I had waffled back and forth between it and a Nespresso machine but I had been burned by my Keurig (the espresso machine was supposed to replace it). I decided to go with a loose coffee machine.

That was a mistake. The espresso machine I got was harder to clean than was practical for me (the frother in particular). It also didn't make acceptable espresso. It was great for lattes and cappuccinos, but there wasn't a decent crema for straight espresso.

Turns out those Nespresso capsules are great. The downside is the cost (versus loose coffee and even K-cups). Unlike K-cups, Nespresso capsules are recyclable. They are metal and you can get a recycling bag (for free) to ship the used capsules back (for free) to be recycled. It's still cheaper than a trip to your fancy coffee shop, though.

If you're considering a Nespresso machine, getting a small one (with no small parts that stick out and could be broken) can provide you with a travel coffee solution, too. You don't have to get the exact version I got, there are several that are a similar (or smaller) size so you can pick other features that might matter to you.

More Coffee On-the-Go Choices

French Press

  • Pros: Can make great coffee
  • Cons: Messy

I have never been able to make great French press coffee. I don't know why. Because of that, this isn't a method I personally use when travelling. I find the mess completely prohibitive, too.  Essentially the clean-up is like the "new-comer."

However, it's possible to use a French press when you travel (get a metal press so no chance of breakage). If you know how to make great French press coffee, why not enjoy it when you travel? Not yet familiar with this? You will need to be able to boil water, not just heat it.

Stove-top Methods

  • Pros: Maybe what you do at home
  • Cons: Requires a stove

Stovetop percolators or espresso makers are an option if you have a kitchen. In particular, if you have a kitchen, a stove-top espresso maker can give you options for some "nice" evening choices, too, whether after-dinner drinks or maybe affogato.

Don't try these for the first time while on vacation!

Electric Coffee Makers

  • Pros: Plug-in convenience
  • Cons: Not meant to be easily portable

Do I really need to suggest bringing your own coffee maker? I hope you've thought of that.

I know I've found many hotels are switching to the excessively cheap single cup makers where you put a filter pack in a flimsy drawer. That's why I've bothered writing this post, that rarely makes decent coffee.

There are smaller electric coffee makers and K-cup machines that can do a better job. These often use a mug rather than a pot which is the hardest part to transport. Even if you aren't super picky, this is something to consider if coffee on a trip is an issue for you.

Can a Little Extra "Baggage" Be What You Need

As a last note. I have a lot of sinus issues so I've found if bringing an electric kettle is possible, I should. I can then use it to steam my head if sinus congestion strikes (it often does when I travel due to the change in pollen and I drink less water while travelling).

Most of the convenient travel options are only made inconvenient by lack of a way to boil/heat water. Think about if a kettle might help you. I can fit my #2 cone and the coffee inside my ideal traveling kettle (the college favorite "hot pot," better for steaming sinuses, too). I then stuff socks and other small clean items in any remaining space and usually have no problem fitting everything. If this won't fit, it means none of my choices will.

Choose Your Coffee Making Solutions

You've got a selection of options to consider. Why spend too much time and money getting coffee while traveling if you don't have to?

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