Resorts Archives

April 29, 2016

Snack Counter at BoardWalk's Screen Door General Store



I was walking along the BoardWalk last week and stopped in at the Screen Door General Store, just to grab a few seconds of air conditioning before continuining on my walk to the Walt Disney World Dolphin. To my surprise, I was greeted by a long bakery case, filled with cookies, candy apples, fudge and more.

"That wasn't here before," I thought.

But apparently I was thinking out loud, because the cast member behind the counter answered me, "We've been here just about three weeks."

I guess it makes sense -- the BoardWalk's other purveyor of sweet treats, Seashore Sweets', closed a few weeks ago, possibly to make way for the addition of a lounge for the currently-being-renovated Flying Fish Cafe.

The new counter is located near the Screen Door's refrigerator cases, right when you first walk into the store. In addition to the bakery items, there are also slushy machines selling frozen fruit punch and a few other drinks.


On offer are a variety of things to make your sweet tooth sing: rice crispy treats, caramel and decorated apples, cookies and fudge. Most of the cookies seem to be on the Disney Dining Plan, available for a snack credit. The candy apples are not on the Dining Plan, as they cost a bit more ($10.99 each).





The cast member couldn't tell me if the addition was permanent, although I suspect it might go away once the new Ample Hills Creamery, coming further along the BoardWalk in the space next to the ESPN Club, opens.

In the meantime, though, if you're looking for goodies, you know where to go!

July 29, 2011

Untamed! Lunch with an Animal Specialist at Sanaa


When I was staying at Animal Kingdom Lodge back in May, I found out about two programs at the resort that were news to me. Jiko, the table service restaurant at the Lodge's Jambo House, was offering a weekly South African wine tasting (more on that in an upcoming blog), and Sanaa, the hidden gem of a restaurant at the Lodge's Disney Vacation Club extension, Kidani Village, was hosting what it called the "Untamed" lunch, also weekly, with a Disney Animal Specialist.

When Deb Wills and I returned to Animal Kingdom Lodge just a few weeks ago, we decided to stay out of the beastly heat of the theme parks for a while to take advantage of these special experiences.

We arrived at Kidani Village well before the 11:30 a.m. program start time, after taking the short shuttle ride over from Jambo House. (If it hadn't been 90 degrees already, we would have walked, but ugh, the humidity was killer!) Since we had time before the restaurant even opened, we walked out the downstairs back exit of the resort and watched some of the animals on the savanna. They were surprisingly active given the heat of the day. Zebras, giraffes and a few other hoofed animals were browsing, giving us up-close and personal views. That's one of the nice things about Kidani Village -- the savanna there was definitely designed so that you feel a little closer to the animals than you do over at Jambo House.





After a few minutes of melting in the increasingly hot outdoors, we headed back inside to await our lunch appointment.

Cast members at Sanaa set the stage for the experience by performing a brief ceremony at the restaurant's entrance to announce its opening at 11:30.


To keep the experience intimate, the Untamed lunch is limited to 12 participants. Luckily for us, there was only one other couple in attendance that day, so we were treated to a VERY personal experience. (By the way, I'd love to give a shout out to our tablemates, whose names I thought I had written down -- but apparently I didn't. So sorry! But it was great to meet you and share the lunch with you both!)

We were ushered to a table set apart a bit from the main dining area, close by a window, so we could view the animals as we dined. The table was beautifully set, with an array of condiments already displayed to get us in the mood.



Before we got started, Chef Bob came out from the kitchen to greet us and speak a little bit about the food we were about to enjoy.


If you've never dined at Sanaa you're in for a real treat, especially if you happen to like trying more exotic cuisines. As Chef Bob explained, Sanaa employs many East African traditions and serves food that is clearly influenced by Indian flavors. But if you think Indian food means spicy, and that perhaps you won't like it, think again. Yes, the food relies on spice, but spice doesn't necessarily mean hot -- in this case it means flavorful. In fact, when you see the word curry, what that's really saying is that the food is well seasoned, and bursting with flavor. Sanaa serves several curries as part of the Untamed lunch, and you really ought to give them a try. But if you don't want to, or have other dietary concerns, don't worry -- they are able to accommodate you, as long as you give them enough notice.

After explaining about the kitchen's cooking methods, Chef Bob introduced our first course -- the bread service, which was to be eaten with many of the condiments already on the table. There was red pepper hummus, garlic pickle and cooling cucumber raita as well as several different chutneys: mango, mint and tamarind. The breads included (from the top down in the photo) crispy pappadum (made of lentil flour), paneer paratha (a doughy flatbread filled with cheese), onion kulcha and naan (a puffy plain bread brushed with clarified butter called "ghee").


As we dove in to the starters, our Animal Specialist, Steve Metzler, introduced himself and the program began in earnest. Steve, whose title is assistant animal operations manager, has been with Disney for more than 10 years, starting way back when Disney's Animal Kingdom was new, as a Kilimanjaro Safari driver. He eventually went on to help open Animal Kingdom Lodge, and then worked for several years on the development and opening of Kidani Village. Today, Steve's position is basically that of assistant curator for all the 220 animals at the Lodge (110 mammals, 110 birds). He not only supervises the animal keepers and works with veterinarians, he also is involved in taking care of everything from the tiniest detail to major problems. Last year, he even had the chance to travel to South Africa as part of an exchange program.


"I am, amazingly, doing what I wanted to do," he said. "I always wanted to work with animals since I was little -- it's a dream job."

Steve went on to illustrate to us just how perfectly suited to this job he was, regaling us with tales of aggressive zebras and successful breeding programs, and explaining the difference between reticulated and Masai giraffes. He also shared tips on how to see more animals at the Lodge -- vary your schedule from day to day, walk around and look from different spots, and don't forget to look from the stairwells at Jambo House.

Steve talked, too, about how they attempt to mix animals that guests expect to see (the main attractions like zebras and ostriches) with less common species that might give a little extra special "magical moment" like the red river hogs, and of the unique challenge of maintaining what amounts to a 24-hour-a-day operation.

"Animal Kingdom Lodge never closes," he pointed out. "Guests want to see the animals when they are in their rooms, so we have to work around that when we want to restore the habitats, or care for the animals."


As lunch progressed (first with a sampling of three Sanaa salads, then with our entrees of shrimp in green curry sauce and chicken in red curry sauce), we learned more about the different habitats at the Lodge, and how certain animals don't get along with others -- even within the same species. Steve also talked about how the animals are trained to come in from the savannas voluntarily. They learn if they come inside when they hear the percussion block, they will get the "jackpot" -- their main meal for the day. This allows the keepers to examine the animals in a controlled setting, and perform any vet-type procedures that may be necessary, without having to chase the animal around the savanna. Steve also explained how the philosophy at the Lodge differs somewhat from that of Animal Kingdom.


"We don't want to replace Animal Kingdom," he noted. "We're the place you STAY when you go to Animal Kingdom, not instead of. Here at the Lodge we talk more about how we manage the animals -- we don't mind if you see the equipment or the pens, for example."

One of the things that struck me during our lunch is the emphasis Disney seems to place on making sure that the Lodge experience is as good for the animals as it is for the guests who stay there. Steve spoke at great length of the challenges of striking that balance between what's responsible regarding the animals with what the guest wants to see.

"We can't just keep these animals to show," he explained. "We need to be actively breeding them, and doing what is best for them. And it has to be sustainable -- we have to make it happen."


After a wonderful trio of desserts from the Sanaa menu (Chocolate Cake, Orange-Sesame Cake with Passion Fruit Kulfi, and the absolutely to-die-for Chai Cream, center in the photo), Steve took us outside to conclude the program and introduced us to one of Kidani Village's residents -- a critically endangered radiated tortoise from Madagascar, named "Chappy" after one of Sanaa's chefs.




Currently, Steve said that the Untamed lunch, which is only about two months old, is hosted mostly by managers who work with the animals, but that eventually animal keepers and possibly veterinarians will be joining in. That will only enhance what is already a stellar program.

Yes, I said stellar. The thing I always ask myself after I attend a special program like this is, "was it worth my time and/or money?" In this case, I have to answer myself (and is it wrong that I answer myself?) with a resounding YES. The food at Sanaa is outstanding -- I've always thought so, and truly believe this restaurant is one of the best-kept secrets at Walt Disney World. But more than just enjoying a wonderful meal in an amazing setting -- I mean, where else in Florida can you watch zebras and giraffes out the window while you dine? -- the Untamed lunch gives you the opportunity to discuss in-depth what it's like to work with the animals at Disney World. The hour and 45 minutes we spent with Steve fairly flew -- I could easily have stayed longer.

Whether you're an animal lover, or a Disney lover, or just looking for something off the beaten path while you're on your Disney vacation, the Untamed lunch has something to offer. Plus you not only learn about Disney's conservation efforts, but you have the satisfaction of knowing you are also contributing in some small way -- a portion of the cost of the lunch goes to the Disney Worldwide Conservation Fund. And while the format of each lunch will be similar, the opportunity to talk to a different animal specialist each time lends this experience a high "repeatability factor" -- that means I would do it again, without hesitation.

The Who, What, Where, Whens:

As I said earlier, these luncheons are held Wednesdays from 11:30 a.m. to 1:15 p.m. at the Kidani Village restaurant Sanaa. A four-course menu is served. (Special diets can be accommodated; request at time of booking.) Cost is $49 for ages 10 and up, $29 ages 3-9 (with a special kids' menu). Price includes tax, gratuity and a $5 contribution to the Disney Worldwide Conservation Fund. Only 12 participants per lunch. To make reservations call 407-938-6922; select Option 3 and leave a message.


May 19, 2011

New/Renovated Rooms at Port Orleans Resort


Today was Day 2 of the Walt Disney World 2011 Resort Showcase, during which Disney is shining a spotlight on their newest and upcoming resort hotels, as well as new features of older resorts, here in Orlando, California and Hawaii.

I was most excited today for the tour of Port Orleans scheduled for after lunch -- we were promised a sneak peek at the recently announced "Royal Guest Rooms." These new accommodations continue in the trend of theming rooms to a particular story -- similar to the pirate-themed rooms Disney World introduced at Caribbean Beach Resort in 2009.

Our tour actually began in the reception area of Port Orleans French Quarter, which is celebrating its 20th anniversary.


After touring the main area, we were led over to the pool, and learned about the resort's recreation activities.


We were finally shown a few of the resort's just-renovated rooms.

One of the biggest changes is that the rooms now feature two queen beds, instead of full beds. Flat panel television sets have been added, and the quality of all the furnishings, like bedspreads and draperies, seems to have been upgraded -- they even have accent pillows on the beds as an added touch.



In the bathroom area, the pedestal sinks have been replaced with a single, double-bowled vanity, which provides more counter space. All the fixtures, tubs, shower heads, etc., have been replaced as well.




We were also shown a renovated accessible room. This is one type of the ADA-compliant rooms -- French Quarter has 25 like the one we saw, which feature grip bars in the bathroom area, and special emergency lights to alert hearing impaired guests of an incident.





French Quarter also has an additional 50 accessible rooms that have wheel-in showers, with hand-held sprays.

The renovation of all of the rooms at French Quarter was completed last month. Renovations will begin on French Quarter's sister resort, Port Orleans Riverside, in June. To learn more about that project, we quickly rode over to Riverside.

When that renovation begins, work will start on the new Royal Guest Rooms -- there will be 512 rooms in the Magnolia Bend area of the resort converted to this new theme. (The remaining rooms in Magnolia Bend will retain their theme, and will be refurbished as well, as will the rooms in the Alligator Bayou section of the resort.)

Imagineer Eric Jacobson greeted us at the model room in Riverside, but admonished us that no photos were allowed -- there may still be some fine-tuning to the concept before the rooms are finalized.

But we were allowed to see the room ourselves and ask as many questions as we wanted.

As they are now, the rooms are based on the following story: Princess Tiana (from the film, Princess and the Frog) has invited her other princess friends for a vacation, and each of the invitees has brought a gift that has a place somewhere in the room. As soon as you enter the room, you'll find a letter from Tiana embedded in the table. Scattered around the room are the gifts -- gold faucets in the bathroom that came from the film Aladdin, a hassock that resembles the dog footstool from the Beauty and the Beast. The bedspreads and draperies are in royal blues and golds and some of the the furniture is gold-trimmed. One of the most impressive aspects of the room are the beds' magical headboards, which light up and feature special effects. You have to see them to appreciate them.

Unfortunately, though, you won't be staying in these rooms until April or May 2012. (Editor's note: Other Disney reps have quoted me a timeframe of January 2012. Keep your eyes open for a definite date, hopefully soon!) You will however, probably be able to start booking the rooms by late September or October of this year. Pricing for the rooms is expected to be somewhat higher than a standard Port Orleans room, but actual rates have yet to be determined.

I have more to tell about the Health and Wellness suites at the Contemporary, and the latest news from Aulani in Hawaii, but that will have to wait -- it's late now and tomorrow is another big day, including my first time doing the new Wild Africa Trek in Animal Kingdom!

May 18, 2011

New Art of Animation Resort Details


I'm here in Walt Disney World this week for the 2011 Resort Showcase, during which Disney will be spotlighting their newest and upcoming resort hotels, as well as new features of older resorts, here in Orlando, California and Hawaii.

At the event's welcome dinner, which was held in the Grand Floridian's grandiose Convention Center, I was drawn to a display showing a series of artist's renderings for the new Art of Animation Resort, due to open May 2012.


I learned that the Imagineers have been working hard to find ways to bring the guests into the story of this heavily themed resort, which will feature larger-than-life icons, similar to those found at the All-Star Resorts and nearby Pop Century.

One of the ways they will do this is by employing different scales with the figures scattered around the buildings.


For example, in the Little Mermaid section, guests will view icons such as the giant-sized King Triton, as though they were the size of tiny Sebastian the Crab. Therefore, Triton will be 35 feet high! Similarly, in the Finding Nemo themed area, figures like Crush the sea turtle will be scaled as though their onlookers were the size of the little clownfish Nemo -- Mr. Ray, who's only about 6 feet in the mock-up in the photo above, will also be 35 feet high in the finished resort. In the Cars section, though, the scale will be much closer to 1:1 -- so that you will feel that you could actually get in a vehicle and drive off.

Other elements bring the story to life as well -- in the Finding Nemo bathrooms, for example, your shower curtain will feature the sharks from the film. In the Little Mermaid rooms, the decor will reflect Ariel the mermaid's penchant for collecting her "thingamabobs" and "whatsits".

Here are some official Artists Renderings of the new resort:





I'm hoping to learn more about the Art of Animation Resort as the week goes on, and the Health and Wellness Suites at the Contemporary. I'm even getting a sneak preview of the recently announced Royal Guest Rooms at Port Orleans tomorrow, so check back with AllEars.Net's Blog Central!

November 16, 2010

Gingerbread House at Grand Floridian


Each year, the lobby of Disney's Grand Floridian Resort and Spa hosts a magnificently festive creation -- a 16-foot-tall gingerbread house baked with 1,050 pounds of honey that takes more than 160 hours to decorate.


I had the chance to see the house the other day as it was
near completion. Here are some photos taken from a variety of angles. Note the detail -- can you spy Tinker Bell in one of the windows?

I only wish I could share the delicious, spicy aroma with you! It was heavenly!









The Gingerbread House opened to the public yesterday, November 15, and is now open daily from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m., selling gingerbread cookies and other holiday confections.

June 24, 2007

Photo Updates from Walt Disney World

All Ears® Team member Jack Spence was roaming the parks recently, and sent in these photos.

First, an updated view of the space that once was occupied by the North Garden Wing of the Contemporary.

Contemporary Resort
Larger Version Here.

Next the Haunted Mansion entrance, closed for rehab!

Haunted Mansion entrance
Larger Version Here.

Finally, a new figurine for sale at the Watch Shop on Main Street in the Magic Kingdom.

Pirate Figurine
Larger Version Here.

May 17, 2007

A Quick Weekend Trip Report

AllEars Team Member Anita Answer files this report:
Just back from a quick Mothers' Day weekend trip to the World, and wanted to share a couple of things:

flower and garden festival

New Fastpasses: Saw them at the Safari and Everest. They're about 1/3 bigger, on heavier stock. The issue date is BIG now, so no cheating! The new FPs also reference the pass you used to get them, and have a ref number printed at the bottom as well as bar code on the sides. I think this foreshadows some other changes coming to the FP system in the near future, but I'm not really sure yet what they may be.

New Show at the Safari: First ride on the Safari on Sunday morning was the old show (Miss Jobson, Wilson, Big Red, Little Red, Shifty- eyed Crocodiles, etc.) I asked an area coordinator when the new show was starting as I thought it already had. He said there are 3 shows right now as they phase the new one in: The old one, the new one with a recorded spiel, and one where the driver does the whole thing. He asked if we wanted to check out the new show (Uh, let me think...YEAH!) and he back-doored us back onto the ride and made sure we got a truck with the new show. By the way, the trucks now have 2 extra rows on the back and a canvas roof. Anyway, back to the new show. Miss Jobson has been made redundant, Wilson has had a voice transplant and now sounds like Mr. Bean imitating Wilson. I was on the floor of the truck I was laughing so hard. It's unintentionally hilarious. What can I say? I'm easily amused.

In the new show, the driver handles most of the spiel now, and the poacher/dead elephant story has been relegated to the back page, with more emphasis on the animals now. Bottom line, the old show was silly and probabably needed some work. The new show is just...blah. The animals are spectacular as usual. Several times during the ride, we were eye to eye with rhinos, giraffes, and ostriches.

Saw the new Monsters, Inc. show. It was not an E Ticket, but not as bad as I had been led to believe. I thought it was cute. The audience interaction was very funny and entertaining.

Saw the new Three Caballeros ride at Mexico. Also cute and well done, but the boat goes too fast for you to catch on to what's going on in the story. You may have to ride it a few times to figure it out.

New queueing in Rock 'n' Roller. The queue is completely different from the entrance to the load zone now. There are three lines: Stand- by, Fastpass and Single Rider. The pre-show area has been rebuilt. The upper tier is now much smaller and for Fastpass guests. The lower tier is larger, and for Stand-By guests.

I rode Everest 12 times on Sunday. This is not my personal best, however, which is 29 times in one day during the first day of previews.

Saw the Nemo show again, and they've changed Crush's human's costume. I liked the old one better (dreds, board shorts, sandals). Now he wears one of those body suits the other puppeteers wear, and it's kind of a washed-out mottled khaki. Now it looks like there's another turtle riding on Crush's back. I thought it looked odd. Bring back the original costume, please?

Went to have lunch with friends yesterday (May 15) at the Yacht Club Galley and found it closed and under rehab! The hostess told me they had only found out at 2:30 on Friday they were closing. They'll re-open on May 23. Meanwhile, lunch is being served at the Yachtsman Steakhouse. The menu is the same. Lots of changes happening to the World's restaurants these days!

Stayed at Shades of Green for the first time and it was pretty much a bust. Although the resort is absolutely gorgeous and the rooms are huge, pretty and spotless, the restaurants were awful, and the guest service was worse. I started my stay on Saturday at lunch in Evergreens where I had an entire glass of iced coffee dumped on me by the server. Did she apologize? No. Did she offer to get me a towel to clean up? No. She didn't offer a free drink to replace the one I was now wearing, and in fact I had to ask for a replacement drink four times from two servers before I got it. Some of my clothing was ruined and my capris were soaked through to my skivvies.We didn't have a room yet, so it made for an uncomfortably damp coffee-scented afternoon. It did not set a good tone for our stay.

Although SoG is located right next to the Poly, it's impossible to get anywhere easily without a car. It's also impossible to park at the TTC and try to get back to SoG without going about 20 miles (slight exaggeration...) out of your way unless you know the Super Secret exit that will not put you on World Drive going south. I knew it was there, but could not find it at 1:00 am Sunday morning in the dark. After three loops around the parking lot, I gave up and went all the way down World Drive and turned around and came back. Frustrating, since you can see the
resort, but you can't get to it! By the way, it costs $5 a day to park at SoG, and your park parking is not covered. Parking is also in a garage, and the rows are so narrow you can't back out without doing a five-point turn.

Yesterday, they left our bill on our door. We opened it and noted that they had charged the wrong rate. We also noted that there was a room service charge we did not make. Then we noted we had been given the next room's bill! So...downstairs my friend goes, which was ok since she had to pick up a package we had delivered from Epcot. The front desk was less than helpful and had to be begged for a new printed copy of the bill. The desk clerk seemed unconcerned about privacy and identity security issues (at a military hotel!? ) and told her not to worry about who might have her bill. The the clerk then rolled her eyes at my friend as if it was all her fault!

Now it was time to get the package...which they had lost. Nowhere to be found. They said if they found it they would call and she could come get it! Uh, no! Shouldn't they mail it at their expense since they lost it? They finally found it and called, shortly before we were due to leave for the airport. "It was sent over to Saratoga Springs. You can pick it up there." Why did they send it to SSR? Needless to say, we both agreed that no matter how inexpensive it was to stay there or how lovely the resort was, we would never ever- did I mention NEVER?- ever stay there again. DND (Definitely Not Disney). It remains to be seen if the package ever makes it home.


The Flower and Garden Festival has certainly been pared down this year! The grounds are stunning this year, but the "Festival" part is lacking. The Odyssey Festival Center contained a demo area, a display of arrangements and about 3 vendors. We kept asking if we were missing the rest somehow, but were assured this was pretty much all there was. Outside, there were some kiosks along World Showcase Plaza, and that was about it. They extended the show, and then got rid of 1/3 of it? That didn't make sense to me, but I'm not in charge of Epcot Special Events either.

Yak & Yeti - Second floor is taking shape, but still no roof. I don't think they're going to make that July 2007 deadline for opening. Had a "Farewell To Tusker House" breakfast on Sunday. Goodbye, old friend...

The Magic Kingdom Noodle Station is open 5pm to 9 pm daily. El Pirata in the Magic Kingdom has been open for lunch.

Apparently, the exhorbitant shipping costs did not go over well with guests and shipping costs are back to normal again. I didn't experience this personally, and I'm just repeating what my friend told me she learned when she bought something at Downtown Disney and had it shipped home. YMMV.

Saw the Animal Kingdom Lodge models and chatted with the sales people. I loved the layout, and especially the master bathroom in the new bigger 1 br. (there are two full bathrooms and the unit sleeps 5!) I did not like the general decor, however. Animal prints and dark woods are not to my taste. By the way, the dining table only seats 4, but the unit sleeps 5. Guess someone didn't think that one through?

Davy Jones

Saw Davy Jones on Sunday! We were so close to the stage we could almost touch him. Woohoo! For a 61 year old man, he sure looks good! He can also sing and dance just as well as he could when he was 21. Amazing. Can you believe the Monkees TV show is 40 years old? Special guest was his sister Hazel, sitting two rows behind me. He sang a Swing song for her, and a young couple began swing dancing near the back. He called them up on stage, but they didn't hear him as they were concentrating on their dancing. He walked all the way out into the audience and brought them onstage, then brought his sister out of the audience to dance with him. It was a really nice moment, and nice way to end my Epcot visit.

Now it's back to reality until my next trip.

Read Anita's Weekly Column!

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