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August 5, 2012

Think Outside The Parks – Part 1

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There are plenty of things to do at Walt Disney World without going to a theme park!

A couple of years ago, while we were heading home from Florida's Gulf Coast in our motor home, we stopped for a four-day stay at Disney's Fort Wilderness Resort & Campground. Our Annual Passes had expired; we each had a One-Day Base Pass. We decided that we would not renew our AP's; we would use the One-Day Base tickets to spend a day at EPCOT and enjoy the Flower & Garden Festival. The rest of the time was "park-free" and we kept very busy. In fact we were so busy with non-park activities that we added two extra days to our vacation!

It is truly amazing the wide variety of things you can do at Walt Disney World outside the parks. Carol and I are just like most Disney guests, we often get so focussed on the theme parks that we miss out on many other exciting opportunities for fun. Some of them are even free!

Let's take a few minutes to look at what you can do when you "Think outside the parks"

Let's start with Downtown Disney. This is where Carol likes to shop, shop, shop. But of course there's plenty to do without shopping. Take a free boat ride along the Sassagoula River to the Port Orleans resorts, Old Key West or Saratoga Springs. You pass some breathtaking scenery along the way. Check out all the giant Lego figures outside the Lego Store.

Lego Figures

Watch a movie at the AMC Theatre; there are 24 screens! How about bowling? Splitsville will be opening at Downtown Disney in the fall of 2012. There are always children's entertainers, shows, choirs and bands performing at the Waterside Stage near the World of Disney Store. Sit for a while at the open air amphitheatre and enjoy the show while you relax and wait for those die-hard shoppers!

Downtown Disney Waterside Stage

Disney Quest offers five floors of video games and virtual reality fun. Don't forget Cirque du Soleil . . . Carol and I have seen close to a dozen different Cirque shows and La Nouba is at the top of our list of favourites!

After you've had your fun at Downtown Disney you might want to play a round or two of mini-golf. There are two great courses, Fantasia Gardens located near the Swan Resort's Convention Centre on EPCOT Resorts Boulevard and Winter Summerland near the entrance to Blizzard Beach. Fantasia Gardens features pirouetting gators, tutu-clad hippos and dancing water fountains. Putt your way through five musical sequences from Fantasia.

Fantasia Hole

Fantasia Hole

Winter Summerland is themed as Santa's permanent off-season retreat. The elf-sized course is divided into two 18-hole experiences. One course carries the snow-clad Florida look reminiscent of Blizzard Beach, and the other has a more tropical holiday theme, with Christmas ornaments hanging from palm trees.

WinterSummerland Entrance

WinterSummerland Hole

Whichever course you choose you are sure to have a good time!

If you're a real golfer and you'd prefer a full-sized golf experience you are in luck! Walt Disney World is home to four beautiful 18-hole golf courses; the Palm, Magnolia, Osprey Ridge and Lake Buena Vista courses as well as a 9-hole course, Oak Trail. Didn't bring your clubs? Not to worry, they have plenty of rentals!

Magnolia course

Osprey Ridge course

If your interests lean more toward water sports you won't be disappointed. There are two great water parks, Blizzard Beach and Typhoon Lagoon. Blizzard Beach is themed as a ski resort which has had a "meltdown". Slalom courses, bobsled and toboggan runs are now downhill waterslides. The creek of melted snow that formed at the base of the mountain is a relaxing "lazy river" tube ride. The chairlift now carries swimmers instead of skiers and the former ski jump is the tallest and fastest water slide in the world.

Blizzard Beach

Blizzard Beach Lazy River

Blizzard Beach Pool

Blizzard Beach Toboggan Racers

The second water park, Typhoon Lagoon, is a lush tropical paradise. There are water slides galore, a lazy river and the wave pool is truly awesome. You can take a surfing lesson in the wave pool! Looking for more adventure? Try swimming with the sharks or take a plunge down Crushin' Gusher - a wild and crazy water roller coaster!

Typhoon Lagoon Wave Pool

Typhoon Lagoon Wave Pool

Typhoon Lagoon Surfing

Would you like to take a boat ride on your own? Many Disney resorts have marinas where you can rent a Sea Raycer personal watercraft or rent a pontoon boat for a family outing. The Disney property has plenty of lakes and rivers to explore! And fishing is allowed, catch and release only!

Sea Raycer

Pontoon Boat

If you like to live on the edge, how about Para-sailing? Head to the Contemporary Resort. At the marina you'll find Sammy Duvall's Watersports Centre where you can book your aerial adventure!

Parasailing

Attention NASCAR Fans: Next to the Ticket & Transportation Centre is Walt Disney World Speedway, home of The Richard Petty Driving Experience. Here's your chance to drive or ride in cars that were used in past Indianapolis 500 events. Or you can hop behind the wheel of a supercar by Ferrari, Lamborghini, Audi, or Porsche and take a few laps. What are you thrill-seekers waiting for?

Richard Petty Track Ferrari

Take advantage of Disney's terrific transportation system to do a bit of resort hopping. All the resorts feature amazing themeing and some wonderful pools, most with afternoon activities for children. Enjoy a movie on the beach at the Polynesian Resort some evening, then watch Wishes from the beach. So romantic!

At Port Orleans Riverside visit the River Roost Lounge where Yee Haw Bob performs Wednesday through Saturday from 8:30 p.m. to midnight. This free show is a foot-stompin' sing-along. You and your children will love it.

Port Orleans Riverside Yee Haw Bob

Just down the road, at Port Orleans French Quarter, Elliot Dyson performs Wednesday to Saturday, 8:30 p.m. to midnight at Scat Cat's Club. Elliot plays a mean saxophone, a bluesy guitar and sometimes adds some steel drums to the mix. You'll be singing along at Scat Cat's too!

Port Orleans French Quarter Elliot Dyson

While you're at Port Orleans take a horse-drawn carriage ride along the beautiful Sassagoula River. It's a very romantic way to wrap up a day at Disney with the special person in your life!

See the Electric Water Pageant as it passes by the Magic Kingdom area resorts. This amazing (and free) show has been running every night since October 26, 1971. It will pass by the resorts the same time every evening. Polynesian Resort - 9 p.m., Grand Floridian - 9:15 p.m., Wilderness Lodge - 9:35 p.m., Fort Wilderness - 9:45 p.m., Contemporary Resort - 10:05 p.m., Magic Kingdom - 10:20 p.m. (only when the park is open past 10:00 p.m.)

Electric Water Pageant

If you are at the Polynesian Resort at 6:00 p.m. watch the Torch Lighting Ceremony just outside the main lobby door. The short show features an authentic Polynesian dancer who does a traditional fire-knife dance, and lights the torches leading into the Great Ceremonial House. Another Polynesian entertainer completes the scene with chants and authentic drumming. The ceremony is presented each evening, Tuesday through Saturday, at 6 p.m.

Polynesian Torch Lighting

The Spirit of Aloha Dinner Show at the Polynesian Resort is a real treat. The cast of Polynesian singers and dancers will capture your attention as they tell the story of their culture with humour, song and dance. The grand finale, the fire dance, will leave you speechless.

Spirit of Aloha

Enjoy a walking tour of Wilderness Lodge with a Ranger. The "Wonders of the Lodge" tour is offered at 9 a.m. on Wednesdays, Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays. The tour focuses on the resort's architecture and how the Lodge was built. The ranger takes you outside, talks about landscaping, and then goes back inside and talks about the artwork, the metal work, the Totem Poles and the paintings.

Wilderness Lodge Lobby

Check out Animal Kingdom Lodge.

Animal Kingdom Lodge Lobby

After you have admired the amazing African artefacts in the lobby walk out the doors opposite the main entrance and you will find the Arusha Rock Savannah. There are over 100 animals grazing on three different savannahs. You can see Ankole Cattle, Bongo, Blesbok, Eland, Grant's Zebra, Greater Kudu, Impala, Reticulated Giraffe, Thomson's Gazelle, Waterbuck, Red River Hogs, White-Bearded Wildebeest, Abyssinian Ground Hornbill, Blue Crane, East African Crowned Crane, Greater Flamingo, Marabou Stork, Ostrich, Pink-Backed Pelican, and Ruppel's Griffon Vulture.

Arusha Rock

If you visit the Arusha Rock Savannah after dark you might enjoy a special treat. The African guides on duty often have night-vision glasses which you can use to spot the animals in the dark.

Arusha Savannah

Just before you return to the lobby you will see a huge fire-pit surrounded by wooden chairs. Guides light up the fire and tell African folk tales here every night at Arusha Firepit.

Arusha Firepit

You can feed flamingos at the Flamingo Pond, play wildlife games in the Sunset Lounge, decorate cookies at Boma . . . there are almost limitless things to do at Animal Kingdom Lodge. Ask at the front desk for a list of activities and times.

At the EPCOT Resort Area you can tour around Disney's Boardwalk and check out the many restaurants and shops. Stop into Beaches and Cream - even if you don't have the appetite for a Kitchen Sink Sundae you can still enjoy watching someone else eat one!

Kitchen Sink Sundae

Rent a surrey bike and tour the area.

Boardwalk surrey bikes

Watch street performers who appear throughout the day. Tour the adjacent Yacht Club, Beach Club and Swan & Dolphin Resorts. Check out the Stormalong Bay Swimming Pool shared by the Yacht & Beach Clubs. Wow!

Are you convinced yet? Walt Disney World offers just so many things to do without going to a theme park. The things I have mentioned so far just scratch the surface. There are so many more activities . . .

I have visited Walt Disney World more than thirty times and there are plenty of things I haven't gotten to yet! It's a challenge and I'm working at it!

I know, I know, you're probably thinking . . . "But Gary, you haven't mentioned Fort Wilderness!" Fort Wilderness Resort & Campground is a hidden gem. If you have not visited the campground you don't know what you're missing. As a matter of fact there is so much to do at the campground that it will be a chapter of its own.

I will cover "The Fort" in Part 2 of this blog. Stay tuned!



P.S. - I'm always looking for new subjects to blog about. Is there anything you would like to see me cover in a future blog?

February 25, 2009

Animal Kingdom Lodge Concierge Part 3

All Ears Guest Blogger Emily Owens Pickle is back - this time with a 3 part blog on Animal Kingdom Lodge's Concierge Service, the Kilimanjaro Club - Part 3.


DAY 2

It takes us at least three hours to get up, dressed, fed, and into a park nowadays. So, three hours post-wake-up we finally were able to hit Disney's Animal Kingdom. We had an excellent experience with the bus to and from the resort to DAK. The bus was waiting both times we went to board and it is a hop-jump-and a half a skip away to get back and forth between DAK and AKL.

Animal Kingdom Lodge

Animal Kingdom Lodge

Animal Kingdom Lodge

One of the reasons we opted for DAK instead of Disney's Hollywood Studios (DHS) is because of the poor quick-service offerings at DHS. I have spent more moments than I should standing in DHS scratching my ahead and tossing back and forth food ideas before finally boarding a boat and traveling to EPCOT to eat.

Incidentally, we went to one of my favorite quick-service stops, Flame Tree BBQ. Our Tables in Wonderland card works at this restaurant and the seating by the water is fantastic. The bread on my sandwich was a little soggy but besides that I can't complain.

I digress... upon entering DAK we immediately headed to Camp Mickey and Minnie so Lily could visit with some of her favorite pals.The lines were amazing! Even Mickey and Minnie were less than a five minute wait each.

Animal Kingdom Lodge

After we visited Mickey, Minnie, Chip and Dale, folks came pouring out of the first showing of Festival of the Lion King for the day and the character lines immediately tripled-I would certainly recommend heading to the characters in the morning, preferably timed while others are in shows or trying to get in a quick popular attraction before the masses come through the turnstiles.

I am not one for spending half of my day at a park waiting in line for an attraction or show but I have to say, Finding Nemo: The Musical is worth it. This show runs about four times a day at DAK and is something both children and adults should experience. The caliber of theater, stage, costuming, and performance is outstanding. This was the fourth time I have seen the show but I was immediately sucked in (and am, in fact, still humming the soundtrack three days later).

Animal Kingdom Lodge


I had only seen Flights of Wonder once before; two of our friends joined us in the afternoon and they had never been to the show. We decided to attend the last performance and I was much more impressed than I was the first time I saw the show. The main host, Eric, was more comfortable in his role than the previous host I had seen and the co-host, Joe Guano, was a riot.

It was nice to have a 'show-day' and think less about attractions; not having to cram everything into a day or two is a luxury of either living close to Disney or being able to visit often. The timing of shows and Fast Passes sometimes makes it difficult to hit more than one show and do many attractions in the same day. After our relaxing Saturday none of us felt very inclined to move quickly from attraction to attraction. We strolled, enjoyed our surroundings, and even then, the seven hours in the park still flew by.

I had heard such great things about the Royal Anandapur Tea Company that we stopped and sampled some different teas (my receipt said Joffrey's Coffee Cart so I would assume this is also one of the 'good' coffee stops). The tea was excellent-and PIPING hot!! We had to wait about thirty minutes before we could even sip from our cups.

We headed back to the lodge before going to another park and were able to catch the first of the evening appetizers. They put out the Carrot Ginger Soup from Boma-yum! They also had bite-sized bobotie, chicken wings, and variety of other samplings such as olives, heart of palm salad, and little 'nibbles'.

Animal Kingdom Lodge

We decided our daughter just wasn't going to be able to make it through 'Wishes' so we decided to reluctantly head to our car and back home. Evan's parents headed to Magic Kingdom and unfortunately we did miss Terry being called out as 'That Guy!' on the Monster's Inc Laugh Floor... darn!

So, should you make your stay Club Level? I can only speak from my experience at one resort so far but I will say this, I returned to work Monday morning relaxed and refreshed. I didn't have to pack bags of snacks, juices, milks, etc into our car and then always have a constant snack-contingency plan waiting for my daughter. We did spend less on food during the weekend than we normally would have but that did not put us 'ahead'. It was very nice to have a semi-contained area that was not our hotel room but somewhere more public where we could soak up lodge ambiance and not have to stay twelve inches from Lily the entire time.

The one big problem with staying Club Level is this: how do you not stay Club Level every time? Last weekend I traveled a road that led me to chocolate and never-ending coffee and Diet Coke... how do I come back from that? Do I even want to?

In all seriousness, I think you have to decide what's really important to you. Do you travel to WDW often? Is it really a big deal for you to fit fifty juice boxes into your luggage or arrange shipping beforehand? Do you mind a five-day vacation instead of an eight-day vacation if you can have the extra amenities? Are you a park-fiend or do you enjoy spending time at your resort? The only piece I would recommend is staying on the savannas; even if you have to cut your trip a night short. I guarantee you will feel more connected to the world that has been created at the Animal Kingdom Lodge.

It was a short trip we will treasure and it has given us an introduction to Disney's fantastic Concierge Level Service. It was also a great way to celebrate our family and spend some time just laughing and being with one another which is priceless no matter where it happens.

~Emily Owens Pickle

February 24, 2009

Animal Kingdom Lodge Concierge Part 2

All Ears Guest Blogger Emily Owens Pickle is back - this time with a 3 part blog on Animal Kingdom Lodge's Concierge Service, the Kilimanjaro Club - Part 2.

DAY 1
(CM = Cast Member)

We arrived at the front of the AKL at about 10:15 on Saturday morning. The Kilimanjaro Club podium was front and center and as soon as we arrived a CM appeared and said, 'Pickle Safari?'

Animal Kingdom Lodge

Animal Kingdom Lodge

Animal Kingdom Lodge


We were whisked upstairs where we snacked while waiting about half an hour to be checked in, which was no sweat in the comfy Club Level surroundings (and also because we weren't trying to make a park event or lunch reservation).


Animal Kingdom Lodge

The breakfast offerings were still out and there was fresh fruit (okay "half fresh fruit". I think they mixed canned and fresh cut together) muffins, pastries, croissants, coffees, teas, juices, cereals, and yogurts; it was a decent continental breakfast with some items coming from the Boma buffet downstairs.

Animal Kingdom Lodge

Animal Kingdom Lodge

Animal Kingdom Lodge

Animal Kingdom Lodge

Animal Kingdom Lodge

When I sat down with our reservation agent she handed me a personalized 'safari' packet and explained all of the resort and club amenities. I got a special Gold Key to the World Card and dorky as it is, that little touch made the trip seem a little different/special.

The check-in process was quick and painless. Afterwards we roamed the resort while our room was made ready which took several more hours. We received a call about our room around three that afternoon. I actually missed the call because I was briefly away from my phone and one of our Club CMs came running up to me concerned that we didn't know our room was ready. We headed up and gratefully dumped our jackets, purses, diaper bags, etc and animal-watched from the balcony.

Important to note: we were lucky enough to be put on the Arusha Savanna and not the Sunset (which currently does not have inhabitants due to the DVC construction next door). But we were never informed of the possibility of being sent to a non-animal Savanna view, hmm. I heard a very irate customer in the lobby of the Club lounge who I'm afraid might have had exactly this kind of nasty shock. Also, the animals on the savannas are apparently sent into the DAK park in the mornings on a rotating basis for each savanna, so we didn't see anything but birds until early afternoon both days.

That being said, for our family it was definitely worth the Savanna-view prices. There was irreplaceable comfort in being able to watch the animals together while sitting on your balcony wrapped in a warm blanket having snacks.

Our toddler was able to take out her own play animals and wander from room to balcony while my husband and I relaxed. (side note: the balcony rails were high enough that we felt comfortable enough not to hover over Lily. BUT there are two chairs and a table on each balcony and there is so much activity and excitement going on it is easy to get comfortable and distracted. Leaving an unattended young child on one of these balconies could be indescribably tragic...be careful okay?).

Animal Kingdom Lodge

Animal Kingdom Lodge

Animal Kingdom Lodge

Animal Kingdom Lodge

Animal Kingdom Lodge

Animal Kingdom Lodge

AKL has a jam-packed schedule for guests and my father-in-law was able to do the medallion rubbing in the front lobby. The CMs give you crayons and ledger size paper to use on the beautiful medallion front and center in the lobby through the front doors of the lodge.

My husband and I also did the culinary tours of both Boma and Jiko. I was a little disappointed as I thought this might be more behind-the-scenes, but understand that would be difficult from a health and safety standpoint. These tours are more a PR showing in the hopes you will book reservations at one or both of the restaurants (which you should do anyways!). My disappointment was quickly erased when we were able to sample the soups and desserts at Boma and each given the Jiko appetizer, Taste of Africa. All were delicious and I could eat a pan of Zebra Domes every day of my life.

One highlight of the AKL is the wonderful and diverse array of CMs. Most of the CMs hail from South Africa and I would encourage everyone to walk out to the Savannas and enjoy the AKL events where you will get a chance to visit with these wonderful folks. Our Boma tour guide showed us her leg which was in a very large brace; she had decided to try ice skating during this visit to the States.

After the tour we went upstairs for the evening offerings in the Club Level, which were very good; we had a choice between four different South African wines (Rose, Chardonnay, Merlot and Shiraz) as well as South African beers and non-alcoholic drinks. The buffet included meatballs and a delicious chicken soup from Boma. There were different types of chilled offerings such as olives with heart of palms tossed in vinaigrette and herbed carrots. The cheese selection included brie, smoked Gouda and cheddar varieties. I felt pretty satisfied after a healthy tasting of the offerings but my husband wanted to know where our dinner reservation was placed .

Later in the evening the CM servers put out warm cookies and a sampling of desserts from downstairs (sans Zebra Domes). The first evening all of the appetizers and desserts went very quickly-and I heard a guest ask if they could take a six-pack back to their room. Our second evening was MUCH quieter and it would be nice if possible, to plan your stay at Club Level on a Sunday-Thursday.

Relaxed and comfortable we floated downstairs by the fire pit and rocked while Lily serenaded us with Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star. I could get used to this luxury-thing. We returned to our room to find our beds turned-down and chocolates on our pillows.

February 23, 2009

Animal Kingdom Lodge Concierge Part 1

All Ears Guest Blogger Emily Owens Pickle is back - this time with a 3 part blog on Animal Kingdom Lodge's Concierge Service, the Kilimanjaro Club - Part 1.

The Last Wild Weekend - for Awhile

This year's holidays were a little disappointing. My young daughter was very sick and not only missed Christmas, but her birthday celebration as well. We ended up cancelling her birthday plans to stay at Port Orleans and visit Disney's Animal Kingdom (DAK). But readers, where one door closes, another opens".

For the past week I mulled over an impromptu trip to the World to re-celebrate Lily's birthday. We have been trying to stick closely to our budget and doing a decent job so one night seemed reasonable.

I then got a call from my mother-in-law; they are originally Texas natives who moved down to Florida about seven years ago. They have been debating with themselves over several months whether or not to move back to Texas for awhile because of some job opportunities and actually decided that they will be leaving and much sooner than they thought. Specifically, before the end of February.

I am so happy that they are going to move closer to some great opportunities but that certainly does not make everyone less sad about their moving halfway across the country. When Evan and I first met one of the first things I learned about his family was their love for all things Disney.

His parents have amazing collectibles and have been Annual Passholders for many years. It was Evan's Dad, Terry, who introduced me to an amazing Disney site, All Ears, prior to our first family trip to Port Orleans years ago. Terry took me on my first visit to EPCOT. Evan's mother, Suzette, and I have spent many mornings bunny-searching on resort properties with Lily. The list of Disney memories we have could go on and on.

Terry and Suzette have spent countless hours in the parks teaching us tricks of the trade, helping us keep Lily hydrated and entertained, and just spending time. The first few years of parenting are wonderful... and stressful. But Lily has also reminded us to see things the way a child does, and for our family Disney has been a common ground for grandparents, parents, and children (and uncles, and aunts, AND cousins) to come and very simply, have fun being with one another.

I really wanted to spend another weekend at Port Orleans where it all began. For days I clicked and refreshed and searched for any way I could find to book a room at Riverside... to no avail. I called the resort and was re-directed to reservations who (kindly) told me I would just have to wait it out for any cancellations. I started to hang up but not before the agent did mention that there was a great rate at the Animal Kingdom Lodge (AKL) in a Club Level room. I hesitated, told her that was probably a little too much to pay for a weekend get-a-way, then thanked her and ended the call, and then immediately (of course) logged onto AEN to read up on Club Level at the AKL.

Evening snacks and wine by the AKL restaurants? Jiko and Boma are easily two of my favorite restaurants at Disney; my husband and I always spend our anniversary at Jiko. I chewed and chewed my lip and then called Evan who immediately told me to book it (what?? Evan hesitates to turn on the AC in FLORIDA). I scrambled back online found another reservation (YES!), scrolled quickly past the (albeit reasonable) total (gulped a little), and clicked 'Book'.

So my family is having a final 'Hoopla!' (HOOPLA!!) to celebrate the expansion of our family two years ago and the hundreds of memories we have made throughout Disney World. I know that some folks think it's silly to spend the time we have at Disney but thanks to AllEars® we have always come away very reasonably and we aren't just buying time at a resort or rides on an attraction... When we spend a day or several days at Disney we are investing into something obviously more precious than anything else we own or will own. We are investing in each other. We are weaving laughter, imagination, memories, good food, and warm feelings into a tangible thread that runs through our family.

And you can't put a price on that.

"The important thing is the family. If you can keep the family together-and that's the backbone of our whole business, catering to families-that's what we hope to do." ~Walt Disney

Stay tuned for Animal Kingdom Lodge Concierge Part 2

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This page contains an archive of all entries posted to All Ears® Guest Blog in the Animal Kingdom Lodge category. They are listed from oldest to newest.

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