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May 6, 2016

Animal Kingdom Walk About - 5/5/16

Deb's Digest Blog

It was such a beautiful morning in Orlando, temps in the 60s, low humidity and blue skies! I had to go walking in Animal Kingdom! I arrived at the park about 8:35 am.

As I pulled up to the toll plaza I noticed the Preferred Parking Sign (additional $15 for resort guests or Annual Passholders, $35 for everyone else). Ever since they announced the preferred parking in March, I have never been told about it or asked if I wanted it at any park Toll Plaza. Same held true at Animal Kingdom.

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I parked in Dinosaur 34 and had a clear view of the Preferred Parking area.. looked empty to me.

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A frequent site these days as you walk into Animal Kingdom are the cranes working on Pandora: the World of AVATAR.

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There was a decent crowd considering the park had not officially opened yet. The security check did extend back some. However, according to friend, by 10:00 ish, it was backed up to the gift shop.

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I love wandering through the Oasis. I noticed that once again, the anteater was missing and the sign covered (as it has been for some time now). I did find an Animal Keeper in the area and inquired. She told me the anteater has been moved backstage so the construction noise doesn't bother it.

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Wandering over to the Scarlet Macaws I was in for an unexpected treat. Two cast members were walking around the tree and placing special "browse" in the holes for the macaws. Then they returned to their cart and brought out the 2 birds. They gave them peanuts (in the shell) for a treat.

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Coming up the hill I saw the Tree of Life... this never gets old!

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From here I wandered over to Pizzafari and the blocked off area leading to AVATAR. On the right you can see Tiffin's restaurant being built.

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My favorite Discovery Island Trails are closed and under some kind of construction. I hope the birds and animals will return. Missing the Galapagos Turtle, the African-crested Porcupines and the painted storks. Anyone know what's going on in this area?

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Since I couldn't get a last minute, or actually any FP for the Safari, I headed to the Pangani Forest Exploration Trail. One Okapi was out grazing...

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One Hippo was actually close to the viewing window :)

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The Meerkats were hiding but the Zebras were out and about, including the camera shy baby.

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Swung by the Harambe Market but it was too early for lunch.

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Then it was off to Asia! The Caravan Stage and Flights of Wonder show are open again. I kept missing the start of the show but was told it is pretty much the same thing as always.

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Here's a couple photos of the Rivers of Light seating areas:

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Walking "deep" into Asia I noticed a sign has been added for the lantern festival:

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Now in the Rivers of Light area, this is one of the gates that will allow folks to enter the seating area:

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Walking further I found what appears to be the wheelchair seating area. I will say this area concerned me because it looked like you won't be able to sit in the wheelchair and see much of the show, unless you are tall. But, since it is closed, I couldn't walk into the section and actually see for myself. Hope I am wrong.

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Here is another area a bit further down that might be wheelchair and/or standing room?

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At the Upcountry Landing, Baloo and Louie have new signage since I saw them last.

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Nice lunch at Flame Tree with friends from the west coast and soon it was time to head back home. Here is a panoramic view of the Discovery River and seating area for Rivers of Light.

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As I walked back to my car, I again passed the Preferred parking area (1pm) wasn't but a couple cars inside, maybe.. hard to tell.

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Here's an exclusive look at the Rivers of Light that I filmed during the April media event. It is from the middle of the show:


Thanks for reading. Hope you enjoyed the walk about.


May 26, 2016

Preview: Disney Vacation Club Member Lounge

Deb's Digest Blog

Today I attended a preview of the new Disney Vacation Club Member Lounge that's opening as part of the DVC's 25th anniversary celebration. This lounge is in the Imagination Pavilion in Epcot at Walt Disney World and can be accessed through the pavilion's merchandise store.

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The lounge opens on June 6, 2016, and will operate from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. daily through the 25th anniversary celebration, which will last through the end of this year. Disney Vacation Club Members will need their membership card as well as ID to enter. A Cast Member will be at the bottom of the stairs (there is also an elevator) to check in you and your party. I believe a member can bring in five additional guests. If the lounge is at capacity, you can leave your cell phone number, and they will text you when space becomes available.

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The lounge will be staffed by a DVC Member Services Cast Member who can assist with any vacation planning you need for either your current trip or a future one. They can make dining reservations and assist you with FastPass+ and My Disney Experience. There will also be a representative from RCI to answer any questions you may have about other destinations and exchanges.

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The lounge has charging stations with plugs and USB ports for your mobile devices, or you can use one of the iPad Pros that are available. Complimentary Disney Guest WiFi is available throughout the lounge.

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There are also two computers stations and a printer if you need to check email or print a boarding pass.

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There is a kids' area showing Disney animated shorts on TV (similar to what's available in your DVC villa), as well as two Disney Infinity machines.

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The beverage area has a Keurig machine and three Coke Freestyle machines, which offer more than 100 different soft drink flavor combinations.

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After we had a chance to look around the lounge, Ken Potrock, Senior Vice President and General Manager of the Disney Vacation Club, spoke about the DVC 25th Anniversary Celebration, mentioning a few things that we hadn't heard before.

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"We have long wanted to have a lounge for members in a theme park," he said. "As we began planning the 25th anniversary, we thought, 'What we could do to make things very special for our members?' "

"Special events are our way of celebrating our members and a way for us to interact with our members," he continued. "We already had two exclusive parties for our members at the Magic Kingdom. This summer we will have special events at Typhoon Lagoon. We will be having a special event for our members in California later this year and will share details at a later date."

Potrock noted that later this year there will be a private showing of Aladdin on Broadway in New York City for DVC Members. Tickets for this event were offered at a reduced price. DVC will also continue to offer Member-Only trips on Adventures by Disney and Disney Cruise Line.

He also talked about the new DVC Personal Vacation Advisors that will be available to members planning their trips. You'll now be given the specific extension number for your Persal Vacation Advisor, which will allow you to speak to the same person each time you call.

Potrock also spoke of the success of the DVC website's overhaul, and promised even more changes for the coming year, reiterating that the overall goal was, "We want our members to feel special and valued."

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Here's another look at the DVC Member Lounge:

As a DVC member, I was excited to check out this new space. It will be a nice respite from the park, especially on hot days.

DISCLAIMER: I was an invited guest of the Disney Vacation Club and our preview of the lounge included lunch, but my opinions in this blog are my own.

May 30, 2016

Review: Tiffins at Animal Kingdom

Deb's Digest Blog

Friday, May 27th, was the grand opening day for the Nomad Lounge and Tiffins restaurant in Disney's Animal Kingdom. I'll have a separate review on the Nomad lounge in a few days, but the bottom line is we LOVED the Nomad Lounge! This review will cover Tiffins.

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The word "tiffin" means a midday meal or type of container used to carry food while traveling/trekking. Accordingly, the restaurant Tiffins celebrates the art of traveling. Drawings, photographs and notepads from the Imagineers who worked on Animal Kingdom can be found in the restaurant.

First, and perhaps most importantly, the decor, theming, lighting, music, artwork, and woodwork in this space are absolutely stunning. As we walked into Tiffins I got chills similar to when I first stepped into Animal Kingdom in 1998. The place is breathtaking and there is so, so much to explore..

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We spent an hour enjoying the Nomad Lounge until our reservation time at Tiffins. Even the check-in podium is beautiful, with artwork and placards that begin your transformation from theme park-goers to trekkers.

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There are three dining rooms, each with its own unique theme.

** The Grand Gallery - Indigenous artists from around the world have lent their talents to Disney's Animal Kingdom. This gallery reflects on some of the folk influences that have led to the design of the park.

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*** The Safari Gallery - Imagineers and animal scientists have explored the towns and savannas of eastern and southern Africa to collect the details that give rise to Harambe. These artworks represent the translation of our overseas adventures into the experiences of Disney's Animal Kingdom.

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*** The Trek Gallery - Imagineers and animal scientists have traveled throughout South Asia, from Bali to the Himalayas to create the world of Anandapur. These artworks represent the translation of our overseas adventures into the experiences of Disney's Animal Kingdom.

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As we were escorted to our table there was much to look at and explore. The Grand Gallery has a full wall representing Rivers of Light. The 3D artwork is beautiful. The centerpieces are five wood-carved totem poles that were relocated here from another area in the park. Can you remember where you saw these before?

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The background music is perfect, soft the way it should be in a signature restaurant. We were able to enjoy the music and talk in normal voices instead of shouting.

Tables are nicely appointed with dark woods, comfortable chairs, silverware, a wine glass and the Tiffins' napkin.

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The menu is presented in a beautiful leather travel journal, continuing the storyline perfectly.

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In reviewing the food we tried to keep in mind it was opening day (although there had been soft openings with Cast Members), which always means tweaking needs to be done. At the same time, given the price point (and no discount) we reviewed the experience accordingly. As a signature restaurant, we compared it to other Disney top tier restaurants such as California Grill, Flying Fish, Citrico. It is important to note that the Tiffins menu is all day, with the same prices for lunch and dinner. This is my one huge complaint.

Our server, Bob, was excellent. We explained that we wanted to sample a number of items and wanted to take our time. He was most accommodating. To begin, we decided on two appetizer courses, an entree and then dessert.

As we contemplated what to order, Bob brought us the bread service (you can purchase Tiffins Signature Bread Service for $10). The pomegranate foccaccia came with a dipping sauce of molasses and oil. We both enjoyed the bread a lot. It has a mild South African flavor like you might find at Boma or Jiko.

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Linda ordered the Lobster-Popcorn Thai Curry Soup - lime-basil emulsion, popped sorghum $13.00. The presentation was wonderful, the bowl arrived with two lobster pieces and the lime-basil emulsion. The server then poured the soup into the bowl.

The soup was tasty and had quite a kick that hit the back of the throat. The flavors of the lobster and popcorn were present. Only order if you like spicy hot foods. Linda does and recommends this.

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I began with the Archaeologist Salad - Spring vegetable variations, pumpernickel soil, champagne vinaigrette $12.00. I did inquire as to the nature of the pumpernickel soil prior to ordering and it was explained that pumpernickel croutons were grated. Again the presentation was beautiful. I loved the champagne vinaigrette, and thought the salad was light and flavorful, although the portion was on the small side. The "soil" was under the greens so I initially thought perhaps I should mix them together. Glad I only did a forkful of that. I felt it took away from the delicate salad.

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Three wine flights are available; Aromatic Whites, Silky Reds and Robust Reds. I love red wines and especially love the South African wines. I was disappointed that the wine flights and the wines by the glass offerings were so heavily South American wines instead of South African wines. Not sure how I missed the full wine list so I can't comment on that, but I did.

Linda ordered a glass of South African Spice Route Chakalaka ($11) (a favorite of ours). I ordered the Silky Reds Wine Flight ($21). It included a 3-ounce pour of the following red wines: Pinot Noir Alot Limay Select, Argentina 2014, Pinotage Painted Wolf The Den, South Africa 2013, Tempranillo Altocedro Ano Cero, Argentina 2012. I enjoyed the three wines with my appetizers and entree.

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For the next appetizer course, Linda ordered the Blacked-Eyed Pea Fritters - Zhough, Yogurt, Peppadew Puree $11.00. The three fritters are lightly breaded and fried, accompanied by spicy peppadew puree and tangy Zhough yogurt (both had heat). The fritters, while delicate and tasty, needed the accompaniments. We both liked them well enough.

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I chose the other salad on the menu Roasted Beet Salad - Goat cheese crema, walnut granola, sun-dried cherry vinaigrette $14.00. Roasted beet salads have become a favorite of mine and I have ordered them in a wide variety of restaurants. Once again, the presentation was beautiful, with yellow and red roasted beet chunks with green leaf garnish on a light wisp of crema. The granola was a bit sweet and crunchy. Unfortunately, as with the Archaeologist Salad, I felt the serving size was very small.

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For entrees Linda ordered the Hoisin Glazed Halibut - Forbidden Rice, steamed bok choy, turmeric sauce $42.00

As a picky eater, I had a difficult time deciding on an entree. I considered the chicken but am not an couscous or olive fan. I considered the pork but was concerned the sauce would be too spicy. So, I opted for the Wagyu Striploin and Braised Short Rib - Rainbow carrot, roasted Peruvian potatoes, chimichurri $53.00.

We felt the entree portion sizes were perfect.

We each took a bite of our entrees and looked at each other -- the food was lukewarm at best. Our server was apologetic and asked if we wanted fresh entries prepared. At the price, yes, we did. He explained it would take some time and we said we totally understood that. As an "apology" for the entree issue we were served an intermezzo sorbet of Passion Fruit and Kulfi.

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Once our entrees arrived again, we were both anxious to try them. Linda said her halibut was indeed hot. Sadly, my Wagyu beef striploin was lukewarm once again. The short rib, however was closer in temperature to what it should have been.

Linda enjoys halibut, a mild, flaky, white fish. The portion size was comparable to what she's had elsewhere and it was cooked perfectly. The halibut sat on the Swiss Chard, which had the Forbidden Rice inside, placed on the turmeric sauce. Again, great plating! Where it fell short for Linda was the super sweet Hoisin glaze, although others may love it. The sweet glaze helped balance the bitter Swiss Chard, but overpowered the fish. Linda had never had Forbidden Rice before, and found that she didn't care for it -- but it may be your favorite.

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My Wagyu Striploin and Braised Short Rib was a disappointment. Neither of us cared for the Wagyu striploin. I have enjoyed Wagyu burgers before but I have never eaten the strip. I can't really give a fair indication of the quality; just that neither of us liked it. I was surprised by the looks of the braised short rib. What I am used to is basically a nice "chunk" of falling apart beef that is quite tender and tasty. The Tiffins version was different and I'm not even sure how to explain it. Hopefully the photos will show you. In my opinion, it was good, just not great, especially for $53.

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Time for desserts. The menu arrived in a similar leather bound "travel journal." There are several coffee options, including two press pots. For those looking for a sweet beverage for dessert there is also the Mustang Coffee, which is Crown Royal, brown sugar, butter, and organic Columbian coffee ($9.50). There is a nice selection of loose tea, five dessert wines and of course, dessert.

Linda chose the Lime Cheesecake - almond-sesame tuile, green tea sponge $10.00 and I ordered the South American Chocolate Ganache - caramelized banana, cocoa nib tuile $12.00.

The cheesecake itself was very creamy and tasty, and the almond-sesame tuile was a nice accompaniment. The sponge "crust" and topping, however, are just not our thing. We have had a similar sponge on desserts at Morimoto Asia in Disney Springs and didn't care for that either.

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The chocolate ganache was very good. The chocolate was deep, rich, creamy and powerful; just like I would expect it to be. The accompaniments blended nicely together. Linda didn't care for it, but she is not a ganache fan.

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Particulars

Cost: Let's break down the per person cost, including only one appetizer each:

Linda's meal (appetizer, entree, dessert) came to $64 before tip and tax. Add $11 for the glass of wine, which brought the total to $75. A tip for excellent service at 20% ($15) brought her lunch to $90 plus tax.

My meal came to $77. Adding the wine flight of $21 brought it to $98. Then I added a 20% tip for excellent service ($20), which brought my lunch total to $118.

WOW! This is a very expensive lunch!

Discounts: At this time Tiffins only offers a discount for Cast Members. It is two entitlements on the Disney Dining Plan. Ther are currently no discounts for Annual Passholders, Tables in Wonderland or Disney Vacation Club.

Dining Package: You can purchase a dinner package that includes reserved seating for the new show Jungle Book: Alive with Magic. The price doesn't really save you any money but it does allow you to avoid standby lines for the show. The package includes your choice of appetizer, entree, dessert and non-alcoholic beverage at either lunch or dinner. The Dining Package is $67 for adults, $32 ages 3 to 9, plus tax and gratuity.

Are advance reservations needed? At this time, lunch walk-ups for groups six or fewer shouldn't be an issue. Dinner, on the other hand, especially with the Jungle Book: Alive with Magic package, will probably keep Tiffins busy, so reservations are highly recommended.

Bottom Line
On a scale of 1 - 10 (my rating first, then Linda's)

Theme 10 / 10
Service 10 / 9
Food presentation/plating 10 / 10
Food Quality 8 / 8
Lunch Value 4 / 4
Dinner Value 9 / 8
Overall Experience 9 / 9

We enjoyed our experience, but this really is way too expensive for lunch in our opinion. Lunch specials would make things more affordable. Given the all-day menu, dinner would have been the same price as lunch.

Some items on the menu are vegetarian and several can be made vegan.

Tiffins is beautiful and the cast members are knowledgeable. It is refreshing to have a dining experience of this caliber inside a theme park. Only time will tell what the evening ambiance will be like at a crowded Tiffins with families and folks who may have spent the day in the park. We hope to return at some point in the future.


Check out the full menu and photos!

Leave your review of Tiffins and read others!
PS We absolutely LOVED the Nomad Lounge and look forward to returning there soon! Review coming in a few days.

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About May 2016

This page contains all entries posted to Deb's Digest in May 2016. They are listed from oldest to newest.

April 2016 is the previous archive.

June 2016 is the next archive.

Many more can be found on the main index page or by looking through the archives.