Animal Kingdom Archives

April 29, 2018

A Path Less Traveled

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Last week at Walt Disney World I spotted a family wearing matching t-shirts. Mom and the kids all had shirts that read ‘Best Day Ever’ but Dad’s shirt read ‘Most Expensive Day Ever’.

It’s sad, but true; Disney is an expensive vacation destination . . . but last week Carol and I enjoyed a real bargain at Disney’s Animal Kingdom. We went on the ‘A Path Less Traveled’ tour that is being offered for a limited time as part of the Animal Kingdom 20th Anniversary celebration.

The tour combined the best elements from a few ‘behind the scenes’ tours we’ve done in the past, so we knew from the moment we booked it that we were in for a good time.

Here’s how Disney described it on their web site:

Disney Web Site Description

That’s a whole lot of entertainment for $59.00; it really is a surprising bargain from Walt Disney World. There’s even a discount available for Annual Passholders and Disney Vacation Club members!

On Wednesday April 18th Carol and I stopped at the Curiosity Tours kiosk at 10:20 and checked in for the first part of the ‘A Path Less Travelled’ tour.

Curiosity Tours kiosk

The cast members on duty gave us our pre-printed lanyards and instructed us to meet at 10:30 near the entrance to Kilimanjaro Safaris. That was just a few minutes away so we hung out and chatted with our tour leader, Heather.

At 10:45 sharp our group was all assembled so Heather led us to the Rafiki’s Planet Watch train.

Heather at the train station

The Elephant barn


After our ride to the Conservation Station she took us backstage to food receiving and preparation area. We were not allowed to take any pictures while we were backstage.

Several cast members in the food preparation building enthusiastically described their jobs. They use three ring binders filled with menus as they prepare specific rations of food, often they have an individual menu for each animal. The daily diet is usually packed into Tupperware dishes and delivered to zookeepers who take it to the animals.

They took time to explain the foods they use as ‘enrichments’ to train the animals or reward them for good behaviour. The elephants really like peanut butter so it is used in their training; tigers like the scent of cinnamon so it is sometimes sprinkled on their food as a reward. Other ‘enrichments’ included Kellogg’s Mini Wheats, honey and a number of other surprising food products you probably have in your home.

When I spotted a box of tea bags I asked about them . . . Did you know that gorillas really enjoy a nice hot cup of tea? Yes, they drink it out of cups!

I immediately developed a mental image of a massive gorilla fist holding a delicate china cup, with the pinkie finger sticking out ever-so daintily! Wouldn’t that be a sight to see!

We left the food building and crossed the parking lot to hear about Disney’s Purple Martin Project. There were three tall posts along side of the cast parking area, each holding a pod of about twenty gourd-shaped nests for Purple Martins and dozens of the birds were swarming around the nests.

One of the posts had all the nests lowered and one of the project experts, Jason, explained the program to us as he passed around one of the gourds. It was a real nest from the lowered pod and it had some martin eggs in it.

As each of us looked at the nest and passed it on, Jason shared some interesting statistics about the Purple Martin project; it all began as part of the Flower & Garden Festival when people were urged to ‘make your home a habitat’ for martins.

Sample Purple Martin houses

The project took a huge step forward in 2005 when it moved to Animal Kingdom under the watchful eyes of the zoologists.

There are now eleven towers in five locations around Walt Disney World. There are Purple Martin houses backstage at Animal Kingdom, EPCOT, Port Orleans Riverside, Saratoga Springs and a new one in front of The Magic Kingdom. Each nest is examined regularly, all fledglings are banded and migratory patterns are carefully studied.

An astounding 50% of the Purple Martins born at WDW return there from the rainforests of South America to nest and, of those who return, 50% return to the same nest where they hatched. Jason was enthused by the resounding success of the project, and described how determined they are to expand it across Disney property.

From the martin nests we carried on, across the parking lot, to the Veterinary office, laboratories and clinic. Several of the animal care experts explained the animal’s medical care procedures, the species management projects and breeding programs, and we met a Flemish Giant Rabbit. His name was Fluffywick or Fuzzywig . . . Fluffy-or-Fuzzy something! Fuzzy was plagued with ear infections and his condition was resolved with surgery, his ear canal was removed, leaving him with one floppy and deaf ear. It doesn’t seem to have slowed Fuzzy down at all; he was a great performer, very well trained and cute as a button. Carol wanted to bring him home!

The first part of our tour ended at 12:10 p.m., we hung around talking with Heather for a few minutes then looked at a few of Rafiki’s displays in the Conservation Station.

Carol and a life-sized gorilla image

We met a lizard named Skittles!


After a nice lunch at Yak & Yeti we slowly wandered back to Harambe, Carol shopped a bit while I waited near the Curiosity Tours kiosk to check in for part two of our ‘A Path Less Traveled’ tour, the 3:00 p.m. Caring For Giants tour.

This was the third time on the Caring for Giants tour for Carol and the second time for me. Our guide once again whisked us backstage and we boarded a bus to the elephant berm where we met Mel, one of the elephant experts.

Mel explained the elephants habits to us

She told us all about the elephants, their names, traits, habits, personalities and quirks.


Lungelo from South Africa talked about the challenges faced by elephants in their home environment and the steps being taken to ensure their survival.

Caring for Giants.jpg

Caring for Giants

Caring for Giiants

We heard some fascinating information that we hadn’t heard on previous tours and our hour with the giants went by far too quickly. We caught the bus back to Harambe and picked up our treats, a cold drink, Mickey pretzels and cheese.

The third and final part of the package was VIP seating for the 8:00 p.m. Rivers of Light show. It’s a visual feast, an intriguing mix of color, water, animation, live action and music. The need for environmental responsibility is clearly and very powerfully presented in a highly entertaining way.

Rivers of Light

Rivers of Light

What a magnificent way to end a superb day at Disney!

The tour made our day very enjoyable, but we still had time to do a few of our favourite things! In the morning, before we first checked in, we wandered the trails around the Tree of Life to see the creatures that live there.

After our trip back to the Elephant berm we took a trip with Kilimanjaro Safaris, enjoyed a Yeti encounter at Expedition Everest and saw a launch from Cape Canaveral.

Expedition Everest

SpaceX Launch from Cape Canaveral

Yes, it was a very full day for us!

If you want to enjoy the ‘A Path Less Traveled’ tour you will have to act fast, it’s only offered until May 5th. If you’re an Annual Passholder or a Disney Vacation Club member be sure to ask about a discount!

Read about other 'Behind The Scenes' tours HERE.

February 25, 2018

Disney’s Wild Animal Kingdom

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Disney’s Animal Kingdom theme park is going to celebrate its 20th birthday on Earth Day, April 22, 2018 and Carol and I are planning to be there to join in the festivities.

As Carol started making plans for the trip I spent a few minutes reflecting on our first visit to Disney’s Animal Kingdom. It was in November 1999, about a year and a half after the park opened. Carol and I were both very excited to see the new theme park we had read so much about. We are both animal lovers and we were mesmerized by all we had read about the Tree of Life and those amazing animal carvings.

It was also our very first trip to Walt Disney World with each other. Carol was a seasoned Disney veteran; she had been to Walt Disney World fourteen times before we went together. I was a mere rookie with only four previous trips under my belt.

The brochures describing the new park really piqued our interest. The Tree of Life, the safari ride, the exotic lands, it all sounded so interesting! Here are a few panels I pulled from that old brochure; click on the image to see a larger version.

Brochure Highlites

From the time we first passed through the entrance gate we were captivated. Nothing disappointed us; Disney’s Animal Kingdom was everything we expected and more.

Carol and the Tree of Life

Joe Rohde, the Imagineer who was in charge of the design and construction of Disney’s Animal Kingdom, had done an amazing job!

Yes, back in those early years we heard all of the negative comments:

“It’s just a zoo; we have one of those at home. Why would I waste a day at Disney by going to a zoo?”

“It’s a half-day park; there’s not much there.”

I suppose that if your idea of enjoying a theme park is rushing from one thrill ride to the next . . . well maybe you’re right. There wasn’t much there for you in the earliest days.

But it was never like that for Carol and I. It became my ‘second-favourite’ park almost immediately. The Magic Kingdom will always hold the number one ranking for me, just because it was my first Disney Park, but Animal Kingdom is next in line. For Carol it’s different – Animal Kingdom is number one for her.

We love wandering the side trails on Discovery Island to spot the animals there.

Saddle Billed Stork

Kangaroo and deer on a Side Trail

It’s a treat when we can get a close-up view of the animal carvings on the Tree of Life.

Tree of Life 1999

Animal Carving

Animal Carving

If those otters across from Pizzafari are out playing I just lean on the railing and wait . . . Carol can watch those critters for hours!

“Miss our FastPass for Kilimanjaro Safaris? I don’t care, I’m watching otters!”

Did you notice the title of this blog? “Disney’s Wild Animal Kingdom”

That’s what the park was called throughout the design process and during construction. The original logo design looked like this.

Wild Animal Kingdom Logo

Shortly before the park opened ‘Wild’ was dropped from the name and the newly adopted logo was the one still in use today.

Animal Kingdom Logo

Hey . . . what the heck is that dragon doing in the logo?

At the official park opening ceremony on April 22nd 1998 Disney CEO Michael D. Eisner said, “Welcome to a kingdom of animals . . . real, ancient and imagined: a kingdom ruled by lions, dinosaurs and dragons; a kingdom of balance, harmony and survival; a kingdom we enter to share in the wonder, gaze at the beauty, thrill at the drama, and learn.”
Dragons again . . . Hmmm?

Let’s look back to an article from the Winter 1995 issue of The Magic Years Newsletter. Click on the image to see a larger version that you can read.

Magic Years Newsletter Winter 1995

When this article was published the Animal Kingdom Park had been under construction for several years and it was still referred to as ‘Wild Animal Kingdom’.

The description of the park talks about the Tree of Life as well as three ‘major sections’ dealing with real animals, mythical animals and extinct animals. The ‘real animals’ are the ones we see today all through the park and the ‘extinct animals’ are the ones we see in Dinoland, USA. Look back to the two logos . . . the triceratops represents the extinct animals.

The dragon in the logos was intended to represent Beastly Kingdom, a land which would pay tribute to ‘mythical animals’ such as dragons, unicorns and griffins. One of the planned attractions was a roller coaster named Dragon Tower and another was called Quest of the Unicorn, but alas, Beastly Kingdom was never built.

When the park opened in 1998 a hastily-built Camp Minnie-Mickey occupied the space which had been set aside for Beastly Kingdom and construction of the area devoted to ‘mythical animals’ was rumored to be part of an expansion planned for 2003.

Of course since Camp Minnie-Mickey has now been transformed into Pandora, it is unlikely we’ll ever see a Beastly Kingdom.

Here is the park map from our first trip in 1999. Click on the image to see a larger version.

1999 Animal Kingdom Map

Did you notice that the island where the Tree of Life stands was still called ‘Safari Village’ in 1999?

As I mentioned earlier, Carol and I were instant fans of Disney’s Animal Kingdom, but for many others that wasn’t the case. Attendance didn’t meet the company’s forecasts or expectations and it wasn’t long before năhtăzū began to appear in ads for the park.


This series of terrific television adds was designed to convince Disney guests that Animal Kingdom was năhtăzū (Not A Zoo) but that it was much, much more than a zoo.

In our minds it was certainly more than a zoo! Carol and I enjoyed the animals . . . the Kilimanjaro Safari ride, the Pangani Forest Trail and the Maharajah Jungle Trek. But there was so much more than animals for us . . . the Festival of the Lion King Show, the Conservation Station, Tarzan Rocks, and the chance to see and hear about African and Asian cultures.

For Carol and I it was definitely năhtăzū!

Over the years a few new attractions were added and attendance slowly began to climb.

Mickey’s Jammin’ Jungle Parade made it’s debut October 1, 2001 as part of the 100 Years of Magic Celebration and ran until May 31, 2014 when it closed to make way for construction of Pandora and many new Avatar themed attractions.

Jammin Jungle Parade

Jammin Jungle Parade

Jammin' Jungle Parade

Expedition Everest officially opened on April 7, 2006. This thrilling roller coaster takes guests on a high speed trip through Disney’s tallest mountain, which of course is a replica of the world’s tallest mountain, Mount Everest.

Expedition Everest 2013

Expedition Everest

For some reason I cannot fathom, Carol loves Expedition Everest. She claims that she doesn’t like roller coasters and will not ride Rock ‘N Roller Coaster or Space Mountain. She does ride Big Thunder Mountain Railroad and the Seven Dwarfs Mine Train but ‘Everest’ is her favorite!

Expedition Everest

She can only handle it once, so I usually ride with her, then take a second ride using the single rider line. It moves very quickly!

The Yak & Yeti Restaurant opened in Anandapur on November 14, 2007.

Yak and Yeti Exterior

2007 Yak and Yeti

It’s a terrific place for lunch or dinner. Carol and I often stop for lunch at Yak & Yeti’s quick service counter.

Egg Rolls

We each order egg rolls and share an order of fried rice. It’s just the right amount for the two of us and there’s always a shaded table available in the outdoor seating area behind the restaurant.

By 2016 plenty of folks had decided that Disney’s Animal Kingdom was more than a half-day park. Over 10 million guests visited during the year.

Carol and I took part in the 10th Anniversary Celebration on Earth Day, April 22, 2008. Stay tuned for a future blog where I’ll talk about those 10th Anniversary Celebrations and some of the newest attractions that have been added.

February 18, 2018

Do Hippos Like Country Music?

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In November 2003 Carol and I were exploring one of the little side trails that surround the Tree of Life on Discovery Island when we spotted a cast member tossing fish to one of the saddle-billed storks. Every time the stork stepped onto a small square of plywood on the ground inside the fence he was rewarded with a tasty herring.

Saddle-Billed Stork

As we watched, the keeper explained that this was a technique that made the stork comfortable with the plywood. Once a month, when it’s time to weigh the bird, they just place a scale under the board and stand by with some herring! Easy for the keeper and non-threatening for the stork!

Just a few days later we went on a Backstage Safari Tour. Our vehicle stopped briefly beside one of the elephant barns; as we watched an elephant play in the big outdoor enclosure beside the barn one of our guides explained how the animal experts use a similar reward and inducement process to train young elephants to lift their legs and push their feet through the fence so that the keepers could examine their soles. Elephants are big beasts and they are tough, but they are prone to foot problems so their feet are checked regularly. It's also a very good area to draw blood in case the veterinary staff need to run tests. Elephants are trained at an early age to present their feet so that regular examinations can be completed using behaviors which seem ‘natural’ to the animals. Sorry, I don’t have a picture, no photos are allowed when you’re backstage!

We heard plenty of other interesting stories as we toured the veterinary building. We watched as they x-rayed the wing of a fruit bat; they held the sedated bat and extended the wings . . . wow! Those bats are huge!

We visited the food preparation area where all of the meals are prepared for each animal, big or small. Cast members have binders full of menus, each page in the binder is the menu for one of the animals, and they carefully pack each item on the menu into a plastic container, or a bucket, or a box. There was an amazing variety of food being packed into those containers, grasses, meats, fish, worms, insects . . . we even watched as they prepared a bucket full of herring which would soon be lunch for that saddle-billed stork.

The guides told us some very interesting stories about the animals, and described a few little tricks they use to keep the animals out in areas where guests in the park can see them. Have you ever wondered why the lions spend so much time on top of those rocks they call the kopje?

Lioness on kopje rock

According to our guide there are two reasons, first there are a couple of ‘climate-controlled’ rocks to make the lions comfortable. If the weather is hot the rocks are cooled, if it’s a cool day the rocks are heated.

The second reason they stay on top – behind one of the rocks, where it cannot be seen by guests, there is a steel post driven into the ground. A frozen treat is chained to the post; as the treat melts the lions can wander over and enjoy a snack. I don’t know exactly what they use as a treat, but our guide referred to it as a ‘bunny-sicle’.

When we returned home after that trip the Winter 2003 issue of Disney Magazine was waiting in the mail. I was really surprised to read an article titled “All Creatures Great and Small” by Lisa Stiepack. I couldn’t believe the coincidental timing of the article, so soon after our tour! Lisa described her experiences as she spent an entire day with Disney Animal Behavior Specialist Chris Breder. The two ladies toured the entire park, interacting with the animals and their keepers and handlers. A lot of the ‘inside stories’ and animal behavior facts we heard on our tour are included in Lisa Stiepack’s article.

Let’s take a closer look. Click on each picture to see a larger version which you can read.

Disney Magazine Winter 2003-04 pg 36

Who would have guessed that the Okapi like their yams cooked with allspice?

Disney Magazine Winter 2003-04 pg 37

Gorillas like oranges so they are used to help train the animals. When the gorilla goes to a designated spot the trainer tosses him an orange.

Don’t try this at home kids! Please don’t throw things at the gorillas!

Disney Magazine Winter 2003-04 pg 38

The elephant handler, Bruce, refers to the elephant’s food as browse. I had never heard browse used in that context so I checked the dictionary . . . sure enough . . . NOUN: tender shoots or twigs of shrubs and trees as food for cattle, deer,etc.

Disney Magazine Winter 2003-04 pg 39

Did you know that the Nile Monitor Lizard is named Barney and he loves to play in the waterfall?

Disney Magazine Winter 2003-04 pg 40

There’s that saddle-billed stork standing on his board while Kim tosses him his lunch. We saw those two just a few days ago!

Disney Magazine Winter 2003-04 pg 41

“What do you do for a living?” “I brush monkey’s teeth at Walt Disney World.” Yes, that really is a thing!

And the tigers . . . when they curl their lips and stick their tongues out in a very exaggerated fashion they are saying, “I really love your cheap perfume.”

Disney Magazine Winter 2003-04 pg 42

That cute and cuddly Marabou Stork is named Wallace.

Disney Magazine Winter 2003-04 pg 43

Giraffes don’t like paper clips. I did not know that!

Carol and I have taken many Disney tours over the years and we’ve never been disappointed. They always put a little bit of ‘extra magic’ in our vacations.

I’m not sure the Backstage Safari tour is still offered, I can’t find any reference to it on the Disney web site, but there are plenty of other tours available. Check online or stop at the Curiosity Animal Tours booth near the entrance to Kilimanjaro Safaris and book whatever tour appeals to you!

Curiosity Animal Tours

Oh yes . . . I almost forgot to answer that question. Do hippos like country music? I don’t know for sure, and I’ve never seen one at the Grand Ole Opry, but Jay, who manages Disney’s rhino and hippo barns, says definitively that they do. That’s good enough for me!

February 5, 2018

The stories behind Disney's Animal Kingdom, which turns 20 in April


The entrance to Disney's Animal Kingdom theme park. [Walt Disney World]

Around this time last year, I was searching for an idea for my next blog. With the opening of Pandora: The World of Avatar at Disney's Animal Kingdom looming in the spring, I figured it might be a good idea to write something on the history of the park.

I've always had a special affection for Animal Kingdom. I was in attendance when the park opened on April 22, 1998, and over the years, I've come to truly appreciate its impact on guests, as well as its powerful message of conservation.

And then it hit me. Animal Kingdom will be celebrating its 20th anniversary in 2018. Suddenly, the idea of writing a just blog on the park didn't seem enough. As I began going through the literature I had acquired during the opening-day festivities, the idea of writing a book on Animal Kingdom began to take shape.

As I'd often do whenever I embarked on a project of this magnitude, I contacted my go-to Disney guy, Marty Sklar. He was thrilled that I was taking on the project and then, as usual, he went the extra mile for me, providing contact information on a dozen or so folks who were involved in the planning, development and design of the park.

I spent the rest of the spring and summer interviewing most of the people Marty had suggested ... fascinating people with equally fascinating stories to tell. One of the last interviews I conducted for the book was with Marty himself, in early July, just a few weeks before he died.

When we spoke, Marty was truly excited that I was able to contact his former colleagues, like Kevin Rafferty, Paul Comstock, Rick Barongi and Zofia Kostyrko, all of whom had made significant contributions to the design of the park. Zofia proved to be especially helpful during the process, offering rare insight into a project that helped shape her career. She also was extremely gracious in providing a foreword. And there was, of course, Joe Rohde, whom I've met on a number of occasions during the various expansions seen at the park over the past two decades.

Paul Comstock, right, Animal Kingdom's lead landscape architect, poses with Disney Legend Marty Sklar during the park's opening day, April 22, 1998. [Courtesy of Paul Comstock]

The book, titled Disney's Animal Kingdom: An Unofficial History, was released by Theme Park Press on Jan. 21.

In putting the book together, I learned some pretty amazing things about Animal Kingdom's journey from concept to completion.

For instance, I found out from Paul Comstock, Animal Kingdom's lead landscape architect, that the site selected for the park was not the company's first choice.

"There were a couple of options of the table for corporate," Comstock said. "One of them was a piece of property that was south of Osceola Parkway, which is now the city of Celebration. I remember being totally enamored with the huge oaks that were on the Celebration site, but it really had some de-watering problems, in terms of the amount of water that was on the site that would come to the surface of the ground."

When they visited the barren field that would eventually become Animal Kingdom, Comstock felt as if they had struck gold ... or at least sand.

"When we saw that open cow pasture while riding in a four-wheel drive Suburban and got stuck in pure white Florida sugar sand, I said, 'This land will support a park. If we can sterilize the native plants so we have a clean palette, we'll be able to grow anything we want to in here.' The dry sand means there's drainage, the key to building any landscape."

The site also afforded proper "sun orientation" for the park.

A rhino walks freely through the Kilimanjaro Safaris attraction. [Ginny Osborne]

The Celebration site, according to Comstock, "is facing the wrong way. When you'd be driving on the Osceola Parkway, you'd be driving into the sunlight. The way that Animal Kingdom is oriented, you enter and the sun arc is behind your back, so it illuminates the trees, the structures, the Tree of Life, all the waterfalls.

"All those things are positioned in the right way for the sun arc. If you look at all the other Disney parks, except for Hong Kong, they're all positioned where the light shines on the castle as you walk down Main Street. The sun rises in the East and either goes behind you or overhead. It's never in total shadow, so that you always have that Kodak moment."

Among his many contributions to the park, Comstock helped design Kilimanjaro Safaris' stunning savannah. "Disney was the first to 'build' a realistic savannah," he said. "We put four million plants out there representing 3,000 species."

While Comstock concentrated on the foliage, it was Rick Barongi who was largely responsible for acquiring all of the animals who live and roam freely throughout the 500-plus acre property. Barongi also worked closely with Comstock and his fellow landscapers in making the savannah as animal-friendly as possible.

In a roundabout way, Barongi also was responsible for the placement of one particular animal on the park's spectacular icon, the Tree of Life.

"I knew [renowned primatologist] Jane Goodall very well and I invited her out to see the Tree of Life when it was still under construction," Barongi told me. The two climbed up onto the scaffolding surrounding the tree and walked around it several times, viewing the hundreds of carved animals on the massive trunk.

Rick Barongi, Director of Animal Project Development, stands next to the carved figure of David Greybeard, at the base of the Tree of Life. [Courtesy of Rick Barongi]

"This is wonderful, Rick. Really amazing," she said. "But there's no chimp."

The next day, Barongi contacted the Tree of Life's lead sculptor, Zsolt Hormay, and asked him if there was still enough time to add another animal to the trunk. "Sure. Which one?" was the response. The next day, Barongi gave Hormay a photo of Jane Goodall's favorite chimp, David Greybeard.

A month later, Barongi returned to the Tree of Life for a stunning surprise.

"At the entrance to the theater, at the base of the tree, is this huge figure of David Greybeard, bigger than life, with his hand stretched out," Barongi said. With that as inspiration, "we did a plaque dedicating it to Jane Goodall. The day we opened, Michael Eisner presented it to her and it just blew her away. That story to me is so special ... there's one animal on that Tree of Life that's based on a real animal. It was all because of Zsolt. So I made sure Jane got to meet Zsolt on opening day."

When Michael Eisner gave the OK to build Animal Kingdom in early 1980, a small group of Disney Imagineers met in what became known as "the funky trailer" in the Disney Studios' parking lot to hash out ideas and concepts. One of those designers was Zofia Kostyrko, who had previously worked with Joe Rohde on The Adventurers Club in Pleasure Island.

Zofia Kostyrko poses for a photo with Marty Sklar during the opening of Disney's Animal Kingdom. [Courtesy of Zofia Kostyrko]

One of the most important tasks for the design team was to embark on a series of boots-on-the-ground research trips around the world, trips that spanned nearly a decade, and gave the Imagineers incredible insight into a world they were hoping to replicate.

"The research trips were essential for the sake of authenticity because when you design any space, you need to design a kind of kinetic feel of it and you also need to understand the texture of it, the smell of it, the light of it, all of these things to make it look authentic," Zofia said.

"We went first locally to zoos across America, and everybody thought that it was a joke that Disney was stepping into the world of animals, because nobody believed that we were going to take it seriously. But we knew that animals are not just entertainment, they are very emotional to a lot of people."

The trips became broader in scope, to Canada and then to Europe. Finally, the group traveled to Africa.

"The first really big trip we took was to Kenya," Zofia said. "And it was an absolutely insane adventure with all kinds of stuff going on. It was really rugged. There was one flight, I think it was to Tanzania, the plane was so small I had to sit on someone's lap. And I don't think we were able to take all the luggage. There was a place in Tanzania that became inspiration for the baobob tree in the African queue."

Zofia, who was one of the lead designers for Conservation Station, also told me a little secret about the park. Inside the small temple that's located near the entrance of Asia [near the Rivers of Light amphitheater], the original design team placed a time capsule, filled with sketches and other memorabilia from their years of work in shaping Animal Kingdom.

Roy E. Disney, left, observes as a team of Animal Kingdom veterinarians performs surgery on an animal. [Courtesy of Dave Bossert]

These and other equally compelling stories can be found in Disney's Animal Kingdom: An Unofficial History. One of the many interesting things I learned was the influence Roy E. Disney had in kick-starting the park project. It was Roy E., of course, who first made his mark in his uncle's company by producing many of the True-Life Adventure films made in the 1940s and 1950s, films that ultimately fueled Disney's decades-old commitment to protecting and preserving our precious environment.

In speaking to the Imagineers who worked on the park, as well as many family members and friends who have enjoyed it for the last 20 years, it was obvious that Animal Kingdom holds a special place in most everyone's heart.

To that end, the final chapter of the book contains comments, observations and recollections by a broad spectrum of folks [including AllEars' Deb Wills!] who truly believe that Animal Kingdom is a special place, with unique experiences around just about every bend ... an environment where young and old alike can both learn, be entertained, and ultimately be inspired to be better stewards of the land and the creatures who inhabit it.

June 5, 2017

Pandora reaffirms Animal Kingdom's commitment to animals, great, small and mythical


The head of a Na'vi was on display near the Windtraders souvenir shop inside Pandora: The World of Avatar. [Cavrel Silvera]

With the opening of Pandora: The World of Avatar, all eyes are on Disney's Animal Kingdom theme park. And well they should be. The new land is everything it was hyped to be ... and so much more.

After walking through the totally immersive land recently ... after seeing the magnificent floating mountains; experiencing the frenetic, almost free-falling excitement of Avatar Flight of Passage, as well as the serene, colorful and mystical Na'vi River Journey ... Disney's creative staff has finally fulfilled the promise it made more than 20 years ago when the park was first conceived.

It has given us a land devoted to the world of mythical creatures ... while reaffirming its commitment to all animals great and small, as well as the environment.

I remember the first time I learned about Animal Kingdom. It was during a break between shows on The Disney Channel. The year was 1995 and the announcer told us about a fourth Disney park in Florida that was due to open in 1998. At the time, they called it Wild Animal Kingdom. This new park would tell us the story, as only Disney can, of the intriguing world of animals ... be they living, extinct or mythical.

Little did I know then that Disney's creative team had been exploring the concept of this new park for more than five years. Little did I know how much work, how much research, how much thought was going into the planning of what would become perhaps the most unique theme park on the planet. It would be zoo-like, but definitly nah-ta-zuh.

Beginning in 1990, a small team of Disney Imagineers, headed up by the incomparable Joe Rohde, traveled the world on a number of expeditions in an all-out effort to craft a park that was real, that was unique and that was authentic. The team included landscape architect Paul Comstock; concept show writer Kevin Brown; designer Zofia Kostyrko; associate producer Patsy Tillisch; concept architect Tom Sze; show designer John Shields and show producers Kelley Forde and Ann Malmlund.

Giraffe and zebra roam freely on the savannah at Disney's Animal Kingdom right after the park's opening in 1998. Zebras have since been moved to another section of the park. [Walt Disney World]

Comstock, Animal Kingdom's principal landscape architect, visited 37 states in America and 28 foreign countries in his quest to bring back rare seeds and plants, foliage that would create lush forests and a stunning savannah, as well as feed and nourish the permanent residents of the park. In total, Rohde and his small band visited Kenya, Tanzania and Zanzibar in 1990; Thailand and Nepal in 1993; Bali, India and Bhutan in 1994; Mexico in 1995, and East Africa in 1996.

The backbone of Disney's Animal Kingdom was and always will be, animals. But dealing with live animals is an arduous task, one that's labor-intensive and requires a complete and total level of commitment. When your average theme park closes at the end of the day, the lights are turned off, the gates are locked and everyone goes home. The hundreds of animals living at Animal Kingdom need care and attention 24/7, 365 days a year. Where other theme parks employs street sweepers and technical personnel overnight, Animal Kingdom has that, plus veterinarians and animal caretakers tending to everything from hippos to elephants to crocodiles.

From the beginning, Disney was committed to doing this new park the right way. An advisory board of renowned animal experts and zoologists was formed, giving Disney's creative team a decided edge when it came to attaining that goal.

"A lot of people out there tried to stick a knife and make a hole in [the park], trying to point a finger at the Mouse," Comstock said about those early days during the park's development. "We had to be clean and above board on everything."

They also had to learn a lot about animals, plants and the environment. For instance, some plants can be toxic to some animals. "There was a tree that grew naturally on the Animal Kingdom property that could kill a black rhino, even if he ate just a few leaves," Comstock said. Needless to say, those trees were removed.

About a year before Animal Kingdom opened, it began acquiring animals from accredited zoos around the country. They were brought to the property to familiarize them with their new surroundings. During that time, just about every species was taught to respond to certain sounds, which means when an animal hears his or her sound, they dutifully return to their specific backstage area.

A giraffe "splays" its legs as it drops down to get a drink of water. [Dorene Splitstone]

Once there, they receive food, care and, if needed, all-important medical attention.

Dr. Scott Terrell, who is director of Animal and Scientific Operations for Disney, has been on staff at Animal Kingdom since 1997. He's an expert on every animal on property; talking to him is educational and reveals an incredible level of commitment shown by the park's behind-the-scenes staff. We had the pleasure of chatting with him in Harambe Village during the recent Pandora press event. He possesses an encyclopedia knowledge of the animals, as well as a compassion and commitment to their well being.

"Zebras require a lot of attention, especially their hoofs," he said. "They’re basically horses, so we have to make sure their hoofs are really pristine, so they get a lot of attention. In order to work with them, we have to anesthetize them. They take a lot of work, as do our rhinos. Rhinos are so critically endangered, especially our black rhinos.

"We’re not in a breeding situation right now, but we pay a lot of attention to our female rhino, particularly if she were to breed someday. There are so few left, maybe 5,000 black rhinos and 20,000 white rhinos remaining in the world. The poachers have almost decimated their populations, all for the horns. A typical horn cost about $80,000 U.S., on the black market, so that’s several years’ income for a lot of people. There was a tragedy in Paris several months ago where several criminals broke into a zoo and took the rhino. There have been incidents where people have broken into museums and stolen the horn. We have pretty good security here, though."

Indeed, Animal Kingdom, all 500-plus acres, is the ultimate gated community. "The entire park is fenced in," Dr. Terrell said, "in large part to keep out predators, both animal and human. We also have cameras on all the fences."

There are 23 crocodiles on property at Disney's Animal Kingdom ... all boys, according to Dr. Scott Terrell. [Chuck Schmidt]

Staffers who work with the permanent residents of Animal Kingdom have to be on their toes at all times. "There’s always something new going on. We have a little social issue with our crocs going on right now," Dr. Terrell said. "They’re all boys. We have 23 boys, and boys will be boys. They’re always fighting. They actually have features so they can be self-identified. When they came to us they were all about four feet long, now they measure up to 11 feet long and weigh about 750 pounds. They’re trained to shift backstage as well and we have an area that they voluntarily go in to so we can treat them. We have a CAT scan that’s big enough that they can fit in it. They get as good care as we get, sometimes better."

As we talked with Dr. Terrell, several birds flew overhead. "Those are our macaws. They’re free flight and occasionally, they go on 'vacation,' but most of the time they do come back and they get a reward when they return. That’s really the way zoos should be going, where animals display natural behaviors."

Breeding is a welcomed byproduct of caring for the animals in the park.

"Tigers can be very difficult to breed," Dr. Terrell said. "If a male and a female don’t get along, they’ve been known to fight with one another, sometimes to the death. Fortunately, our male and female tigers are on pretty good terms.

"We recently had a baby elephant born here. Stella is up to 600 pounds, but she can’t quite feed herself yet. She actually won’t feed herself for about two years because she’s practicing using her trunk. She’ll be on mom’s milk until she’s about 5, but she’s always practicing how to use her trunk. She was about 240 pounds when she was born on Dec. 14. She’s been a pistol.

"And we just had 40 baby otters born on Discovery Island. Their big thing is to learn how to swim. The moms love water, but the dads don’t, so every time the moms put the babies in the water, the dads pull them out. Otters don’t know how to swim, they have to be taught by their parents."

The real Dr. Jackie Ogden, who recently retired as vice president of Animal Sciences at Animal Kingdom. [Walt Disney World]

Dr. Terrell let us in on a little secret about the Avatar Flight of Passage attraction in Pandora.

In the queue, "you'll see a scientist whose name is Dr. Jackie Ogden. That’s actually an homage to the woman who was vice president of Animal Sciences here for many years who recently retired. When they took Jackie to Flight of Passage and walked her through the queue and she heard her name, she actually broke down and cried."

July 6, 2016

Animal Kingdom Date Night

By Guest Blogger Kay Belin

Over the years I have been asked many times about where can parents, grandparents, and couples go at Walt Disney World for a fun "date night". Disney has many superb dining options and lounges throughout the property but I think I found something that will offer you more then just a good meal.

The Animal Kingdom park has evolved to offer evening hours, new dining options, special shows and entertainment. My husband and I had a quick trip to Disney this past week and we decided to visit the Animal Kingdom to check out all the new offerings. It ended up being one of the most enjoyable, relaxing evenings ever spent.


We started the evening with dinner reservations and we opted for a dining package for the new restaurant, Tiffins. The dining package includes a three course dinner and reserved seating for the 9:00pm Jungle Book Show. This park has needed another table service option for a long time and Tiffins fits this need. It is a place where you will want to walk around and see the decor and all the details that were used to make it very authentic. There are three dining rooms with different themes and decorations but all three share the same menu.


One of the highlights is the big and beautiful Nomad lounge available to all guests whether you are there for dinner or not. There is comfortable seating inside and out and a fun and extensive drink menu.


Dinner was very relaxing and service was superb. Portion sizes for the most part were adequate and the flavors and uniqueness of the choices were excellent. Although our dining room was full we never felt crowded and the noise level was low making conversation easy which is always nice when out on a date.


After dinner it was time to stroll the park. This was probably my favorite time of the evening as we were drawn by the music being played in different locations. African dancing and songs were being enjoyed by many guests. It was easy to add a smile and move your own body to keep in time with the rhythm. The shops were open and it was an excellent time to browse or purchase as the crowd levels were lower in the evening.


You can simply walk and enjoy the atmosphere or head to some of the many attractions that are open in the evening. One of the most popular will be the evening Safari adventures. Watching the animals as the sun begins to set is exciting and many of them will be waking up from their day long naps and moving about. If you are looking for something more exciting then head to Everest where you will truly get the best view of a sunset in the park as you climb the mountain.

We were not interested in hitting the attractions but did notice that wait times were very short so it didn't seem to be necessary to have FastPasses at this time.

We gave ourselves plenty of time to head to the seating area for the Jungle Book show. For the dining package guests it is directly across from the Finding Nemo show entrance. For the FastPass guests the seating is across from Everest. We were told to be sure and get there by 8:30pm as at 8:45pm they will open all sections up for standby guests to fill. There were cast members who were interacting with the guests which made the time go by quickly. There are handicap areas in the first rows for wheelchairs and ECV's and they will direct you to that area when you arrive. I will share a word of caution about the seating. The benches are hard and quite hot. It will be like sitting on a rock that is out in the open sun all day. So come prepared and have something to sit on and it will make it much more enjoyable.


The Jungle Book show is something that was pulled together when there was a delay to their premiere show, Rivers of Light. I watched with little expectation but we thoroughly enjoyed every aspect of it. Every guest will have a good view, the sound was not too loud, and the entertainment was fun. This show is not necessarily the best Disney has produced but it certainly was a fun way to enjoy an evening. The water images were not clear and if you had not seen the Jungle Book the images would be hard to understand. But whether you have seen the movie or not the entertainment was fun. My favorite part of the show were the three fire twirlers....what an amazing group of talented cast members. And I don't want to forget the incredible dancers and singers who participated.


As we exited the show area we again felt the draw of music and found an entertainer playing near the Flame Tree Barbecue. In a matter of minutes the Tree of Life came to life with its own new story of projections and lights. It was magical and a perfect way to end our evening in the Animal Kingdom Park.

We found this a perfect "date night" opportunity but it doesn't have to exclude the families. There are so many different things to do in this park to fill an evening between signature dining at Tiffins to authentic street entertainment to an exciting show. The crowd numbers were well handled so it didn't feel like you were among the masses. And it was interesting but all the guests seemed to be in a more relaxed mood then at many of the other parks in the evening. You can add excitement by enjoying attraction rides or you can just walk and enjoy the ambiance and sunsets. I am confident we will be heading back to an evening in the Animal Kingdom park on our next visit.

February 17, 2013

Nicholas – The King of Expedition Everest

Gary Cruise banner

Have you ever received an e-mail that just warmed your heart?

Have you ever read an e-mail and thought, "That's what I mean! That's what Disney Magic is all about."

I got one of those e-mails just a few weeks ago. It came from my friend John Ames who is a Travel Agent/Vacation Planner with Mouse Fan Travel. John received it from one of his fellow Mouse Fan Travel agents, Nancy Swope, and Nancy received it from her client Trena.

Trena was telling Nancy the story of her son Nicholas and his amazing feat at Expedition Everest.

There's just no way I could tell the story as well as Trena did, so here is the story in her words, the same words that made me think, "That's what I mean! That's what Disney Magic is all about."


When we visited Walt Disney World in January 2011 for Nicholas' 12th birthday, he ended up riding Expedition Everest 33 times in one day. It took him from park opening at 9:00 a.m. until about 2:00 p.m. He mainly worked the single rider line, with a few fast passes thrown in for good measure.

As soon as we told Nicholas we were headed to Disney for his 14th birthday, he said, "I'm going to beat my record. I'm going to ride Expedition Everest 50 times!" I tried to convince him that 34 times would beat his record and be good enough, but he was having none of that!

So, on the morning of January 21, 2013, Animal Kingdom had Extra Magic hours and opened at 8:00 a.m. and, yep, we were at Expedition Everest ready to help him achieve his goal of 50 times in one day.


Eventually the cast members working the ride realized he wasn't joking about riding it 50 times in one day as they saw him again and again (as they rotated through their positions). I was keeping a time log of every time Nicholas got off a ride so we would not get confused.


We were getting fast passes as quickly as we were allowed and really had to rely on those this time around as the single rider line was at a 20 - 30 minute wait time by mid-morning.


The morning manager on duty, Holly, heard about what Nicholas was doing and came out and gave us four anytime fast passes to use. Later a few of the cast members gave us swap passes to use as fast passes. Then a Season Passholder family of four saw my time tracker and asked what I was doing. When they heard the story, they said if we were still at the ride when they came by on their way out of the park, they would get us 4 fast passes to use. So, 45 minutes later we had 4 more fast passes for Nicholas to use.


When Holly went off-shift, she came to tell us good-bye and assured us she would let the next manager know about Nicholas. Actually, everyone knew Nicholas by name at this point :-)

Nicholas was making great time, averaging 8 - 12 minutes per wait/ride. Then we ran out of fast passes and his wait/ride time was more like 25 - 30 minutes.

It was about 2:45 p.m. - he had just completed ride #42 and was waiting in line to get on the next train, when the ride shut down. We later learned that two of the monitoring computers disagreed, which brought the ride to a screeching halt. They even had to walk folks down off the mountain.

We waited around for a bit hoping for some news when Michelle (the afternoon manager on duty) came to get us. She, along with Bill (the afternoon supervisor), explained that they were going to get the ride back up and going, and when they did, they were going to personally make sure that Nicholas made his goal of 50 rides in one day. The four mechanics on duty came out to have their picture taken with Nicholas and promised they were doing everything they could to get the ride back up and going.


Just before 4:00 p.m., Expedition Everest was back up and running. Bill (a supervisor) and Don (a cast member) personally escorted Nicholas to the last train car (his choice) each time he finished a ride.


Several of the cast members stayed after their shift ended because they wanted to ride #50 with Nicholas. As Nicholas was waiting to take his seat for ride #50, Bill announced to all those within hearing that Nicholas had been riding Expedition Everest all day long and was now going to take his 50th ride of the day. Folks started cheering and clapping for him and even taking his picture!!!! And, as you can see from the photo below, Nicholas had three cast members ride with him to celebrate his 50th ride in one day!!


When he got off the ride, everyone was cheering.


The cast members, supervisor and managers gave him a T-shirt and they all signed it. They also gave us the picture of his 50th ride.



The next day, we headed back to Everest because Nicholas wanted to get a few of the early morning cast members to sign his T-shirt. He was like a celebrity! All the "new" cast members had already heard about him and made a huge deal over him.

Only at Disney!


Isn't that a great story!

That's the kind of story I like to tell when my friends ask, "Why do you keep going back to Walt Disney World?"

Nicholas met a lot of very caring cast members that day. So many different people pitched in to help him live his dream; to help him achieve his goal . . . the cast members loading the ride cars, their supervisors and even the mechanics!

It is that kind of caring cast members that sets Disney apart from other theme parks. And it's infectious; The wonderful attitude of the cast members often brings out the best in park guests too. This is what keeps so many of us coming back again and again.

Aaah - that's Disney Magic!

Special thanks to Trena and Nancy for sharing this wonderful story. Congratulations to Nicholas on an amazing achievement. In my opinion he's the newest Disney super-hero!

Nicholas, if you and I should ever meet at the park I would be honored to ride Expedition Everest with you . . . but only once!
That's my limit.

July 22, 2012

These Are A Few Of My Favourite Disney Things


What is your favourite park at Walt Disney World?

What are your "must-do" rides or activities?

What are the things you only do once in a while?

Main Gate

One of the greatest things about Walt Disney World is the diversity of experience you can enjoy there. With the four theme parks, two water parks, golf courses, hotels, campground, scores of restaurants and all the surrounding attractions there is virtually no limit to the things you can enjoy.

Many of our friends who, like Carol and I, are frequent visitors have established some favourite attractions and activities, things they "must-do" every time they visit Walt Disney World.

Here's my list of favourites. Let's start with my favourite park, the Magic Kingdom.

Magic Kingdom

Why does this park top my list? Well, it's the classic, the first Florida park. This is where I first took my children in 1977. It is chock-full of good memories and will probably always be my "special place"! I remember the huge grins on both my daughter Michelle and son Steve's faces as we rode Dumbo together all those years ago. They loved It's A Small World and Peter Pan's Flight.

Peter Pan

About two years ago my son Steve took his family and they stood in line for 90 minutes to see Peter Pan. His comment? "What a hokey ride . . . why did I stand in line an hour and a half for that?" It will never be hokey for me because I'll always remember Steve's reaction when we rode it together in 1977. Peter Pan is one that Carol and I ride every visit.

The Haunted Mansion and Pirates of the Caribbean are two more that we never miss.



These rides are not "hi-tech" like some of the newer attractions but they still transport me to another world or another time. As I ride I sing along with the 999 happy haunts and the scallywag pirates. "Yo-ho, Yo-ho, a pirates life for me!" As we pass through Adventureland we are always compelled to savour a cold treat. Carol heads to Sunshine Tree Terrace to pick up a Citrus Swirl while I scoot to Aloha Isle for a Pineapple Float. We meet in the middle somewhere and try to achieve simultaneous brain-freezes.

We take a spin with Buzz Lightyear almost every trip.


This ride brings out the worst in us. We become ultra-competitive, each trying to outscore the other as we blast Emperor Zurg into the next galaxy! It's great fun!

We enjoy many of the other rides as well but we don't feel compelled to enjoy them every time we visit. Once in a while is good for most of them. Of course, Wishes, the fireworks spectacular, is a "must-do" as well. We try to position ourselves at the back of The Hub, near Casey's Corner to get the best view of the show with Cinderella Castle in the foreground. That leads me to the one other snack we always stop for . . . a Casey's hot dog. Yum!

Many will probably be surprised at my second place ranking. Disney's Animal Kingdom ranks second for me. Why? Well, it's all about the animals.



Both Carol and I love seeing the animals. We walk all the back trails around the Tree of Life to see and photograph things most visitors miss. Hint: If you walk these trails at noon you will often see cast members feeding the animals and the animals will be front and center for you. There are plenty of photo-ops around noon on the Tree of Life Trails.

Kilimanjaro Safaris is an irresistible draw for us. We sometimes ride it twice, once in early morning and then again just before the park closes. Hint: You can get better pictures from the back row of the truck, but be prepared for the bouncing! It's the bumpiest seat!

Lion at Coppies

Carol is not a fan of roller coasters; she does not like the upside-down experience, but for some reason she really enjoys Expedition Everest. I don't understand why, but I'm glad she does. We ride together once and that's enough for her. I sometimes go directly to the single-rider line and take another spin.

Expedition Everest

After coaxing for a while I finally convinced Carol that coasters are smoother and less stressful if you raise your arms and stop fighting against the rocking and shaking motion. Once she tried it she agreed with me and now she often rides with her arms in the air. The only problem is that she cannot stop giggling when her arms are up. So if you see a woman on Everest, arms in the air and giggling like crazy - that's Carol!

Flights of Wonder is another great show we always enjoy. It always surprises us how many people walk by and skip this awesome performance. The need for conservation is delivered in an entertaining and inspiring fashion. Carol has co-starred in the show four times.

Flights of Wonder

When they ask for volunteers in the owl segment she is always up and waving her hands. Another regular stop is at the gibbon habitat near Kali River Rapids; we love to watch them swinging around their island. If you ever hear them calling to each other you will never forget the experience!


If we have lunch at Animal Kingdom it is almost always egg rolls from the quick service counter at Yak & Yeti; try them - they're great!

Third for me is EPCOT. This park is all about education . . . but the learning at EPCOT is all bundled up in a package of fun so you really don't notice. Educators need to look into this to see how it's done . . . learning can be fun!

Our first "must-do" is the very first attraction, Spaceship Earth.

Spaceship Earth

History, communication and science in one easy lesson; we seldom miss it. Another regular is Soarin'.


I like the hang-glider ride more than Carol does, but she humours me and rides along with me. It all evens out when I stifle my yawns as I wander through Germany's Der Teddybar shop with her.

We always look for Off Kilter, the celtic rock group who play beside the Canada pavilion, we both enjoy them.


When I hear the Jamitors or The British Revolution I stop to listen while Carol dashes off to shop. Our interests aren't always the same but there are so many things to do that we can both enjoy ourselves at all times.

Dining at EPCOT is great, there are so many good restaurants, but our favourite is Canada's Le Cellier. We seldom miss having dinner at Le Cellier.

Last, but certainly not least is Disney's Hollywood Studios. This is also a wonderful park full of many terrific attractions, rides, sights and sounds. I love the "Streetmosphere", the many street entertainers who put on such entertaining shows.


I can sit and watch them again and again, which works out well because Carol can shop again and again!

Studios is home to the newest ride at Walt Disney World, Toy Story Midway Mania. Similar to Buzz Lightyear it's a giant video game that places you in the middle of the action. We try to ride Toy Story several times each trip if we can.

Toy Story Potato Head

We don our 3D glasses and turn into shooting demons, each of us once again striving to totally annihilate our beloved spouse. "I am not your mother . . . break those plates!"

We both enjoy the Tower of Terror and after riding it Carol generally heads down Sunset Boulevard to explore the Villains in Vogue shop while I head to the single-rider line for a spin on Rock 'n Roller Coaster.

Another "must-do" at Studios is a trip to the Animation Courtyard and a visit with David Rippberger, the Disney Ink and Paint artist who works in the Animation Gift Shop. David creates the hand painted animation cels which Carol collects and we like to visit with him to keep abreast of what's coming up next.

Our final irresistible lure at Studios is a relatively new discovery for us. Italian sausage in a bun at Min & Bill's Dockside Diner. We shared our first sausage in a bun about a year ago . . . as soon we bit into it we agreed we would never share one again. They are just too good to share! Don't miss this delicious lunch treat.

Of course no vacation would be complete without a trip to Downtown Disney. I always take my book along and find a spot to sit while Carol shops.

Days of Christmas Store

I read and people-watch while she scours through the Art of Disney Shop, the Disney Days of Christmas Shop and of course Disney's Pin Traders. Once she has worked up a good appetite she joins me and we head directly to the Earl of Sandwich.

Earl of Sandwich

This place has elevated the simple sandwich to an art form. Wow they're good! We often get back to "Earl's" several times during our stay!

There is so much to do outside the parks that I may make that the subject of another blog sometime. For now I will just mention two more of our favourite "non-park" things. First is dinner at 'Ohana in the Polynesian Resort . . . we never miss it. Great food, great location, great value! If you time it right and get a window table you can watch the Wishes fireworks extravaganza from your table. They pipe in the soundtrack too!

Second is a camping favourite, if we're staying in our RV at Fort Wilderness Resort and Campground we head to the beach at the campground a few evenings during our stay. There is a nice little patio beside the dock and we relax at a patio table as we watch Wishes. They pipe in the soundtrack here as well and as an added treat the fireworks are reflected on the waters of Bay Lake. It's a terrific place to watch the show with no crowds! Shortly after Wishes is over the Electrical Water Pageant sails past . . . what a great way to end a day!

So those are a few of my favourite things! There are so many things to do at Walt Disney World that it just never gets stale for us and I doubt that it ever will!

What are your favourite things?

May 1, 2012

Tusker House offers Disney character meals with a taste of African cuisine


Tusker House's dessert bar is the first thing you see -- as it should be -- in the Harambe Marketplace.

Tusker House at Disney's Animal Kingdom is home to Donald's Dining Safari Breakfast and Lunch, the only character meals at that Walt Disney World park. Recently, I was invited to experience the lunch buffet, which features African cuisine, as well as plenty of American favorites.

Our experience began after we checked in at the outdoor podium. There is a large, shaded waiting area with tables and even a bar for those seeking adult beverages. It's definitely one of the nicer waiting areas, though you don't have to be eating at Tusker House to sit there. It's open to anyone in the Harambe, Africa section, which also has a snack counter on the opposite side from Dawa Bar.

When our party was called, we were led around the corner to a queue to have our pictures taken with Donald Duck. As with all Disney character photos, guests may take their own photos in addition to the ones snapped by the Disney PhotoPass photographer. A photo package that includes one 6 x 8 in a decorative folder and four 4 x 6 prints plus a character-only stock photo will be brought to your table during the meal. It's about $31 if you choose to purchase it. These photos also can be added to your Disney's PhotoPass account after purchasing the prints.

The Disney characters visit guests in four dining rooms.

Inside the restaurant, our hostess explained the concept of the Harambe Marketplace, which features quite a few short buffet lines. She stood in front of the dessert lines (yes, plural!) during her talk, and suggested that diners can even eat dessert first. The children in our party took her up on that, and I feel certain my kids would do the same, especially when they saw the chocolate-frosted donuts with colorful sprinkles.

For those of us who decided to eat our vegetables first, there were numerous salads, many with African-inspired flavors. As the main course, guests could choose from carved sirloin or pork loin, curry and rotisserie chicken and salmon, plus a selection of stews. And, of course, there were many side dishes. Vegetarians, there is a buffet just for you, too.

Kids can choose from white or wheat bread when making their own PB & J sandwiches. Chilled applesauce is on this bar, too.

The kids' buffet had a lot of the usual crowd favorites, but there were two fun additions -- corn dog nuggets and a table to make real peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. The PB&J bar was a nice touch, especially when so many Walt Disney World kids' meals come with Smucker's uncrustables. The young and the young-at-heart are invited to choose items from the kids' buffet. (See a complete menu at the AllEars page

Daisy Duck strikes a pose.

In between your trips to the numerous buffets, Disney characters circulate through the four dining rooms, meeting families at their tables. Donald stays outside, but Minnie, Mickey, Daisy and Goofy greet guests inside, posing for photos and signing autographs. They each patiently allowed our party to take multiple photos, and Daisy really was funny -- striking pose after pose, like a model. One character also leads the kids around the room in a makeshift parade, complete with handheld instruments.

Lunch prices vary slightly depending on the season: Adults are $27.68 to $31.94; and children ages 3-9 are $15.97 to $18.10. (Tax is included; gratuity is not.) A standard, non-alcoholic beverage is included in this price. Admission into Disney's Animal Kingdom is required. These prices are typical of character lunches at Disney World.

Well-known Disney Imagineer Joe Rohde and his infamous earring are celebrated with these Tusker House decorations.

I would recommend Tusker House to those guests who love to try different foods and flavors, or those who already have a taste for African cuisine. And all the Disney character meals have one great advantage in common: They allow diners to meet many Disney pals in such a short time, which clearly saves time waiting in individual lines.

See the AllEars resource page to find out where all the Disney World characters dine.

Disclosure: As an invited media guest, my lunch was paid for by The Walt Disney Company. Opinions expressed herein are solely mine and do not reflect the opinions or policies of The Walt Disney Company or its affiliates.

July 13, 2010

Taste of Africa Street Party

by Guest Blogger John Kurowski

On Friday, July 9 the first official Taste of Africa Street Party kicked off at Disney's Animal Kingdom Harambe Village in an attempt to heat up summer nights from now until July 24. The event promised "Eats, Drinks, and Culture" according to the in-park signage. A special guide map for the event informs guests that, "Our festival celebration brings nations from all over Africa together into the streets of Harambe." The descriptions and materials for this event hint that what's in store will be very close to a mini version of Epcot's ever popular International Food and Wine Festival.



Marketing for the event was relatively low-key as I overheard many people attending the party say they did not know about it beforehand, or they just happened to stumble upon it. Earlier in the day, I found a guide map sitting at the cash register station at Pizzafari Restaurant but it was not offered to me by the cashier, nor did she engage in any conversation about it when I picked it up and started to read it. I noticed a manager walking around from table to table with the guide encouraging people to stick around for it. Later, someone told me that he saw the guide maps located at the Tip Board but they were in an inaccessible spot and he actually had to ask the Cast Member if he could have one.

There was an announcement right before Mickey's Jammin' Jungle Parade stepped off made by the DJ/Announcer of the event, informing guests in that area that in a little while the streets of Harambe Village will turn into a street party. (Regular visitors to American Idol Experience will surely recognize the announcer.)


The party kicks off after Mickey's Jammin' Jungle Parade returns to Harambe Village for its daily encore. Just before the gates close on the last performers and the crowd begins to disperse, the stilt walkers about-face and come back down the street while a new, live, soundtrack is supplied by the band Wassalou -- playing right on the street.


Meanwhile, the entire parade cast (who have sneaked backstage around Tusker House) charge up the street from the opposite direction riding bicycles, waving flags, dancing, and playing percussion instruments. The instruments are then passed to the guests and everyone is invited into the street to join the celebration.

This start had much energy, the kind of entertainment Disney is famous for! I was amazed for all the people I saw coming into the area too. I have seen Mickey's Jammin' Jungle Parade numerous times before and I always preferred to watch as it makes the trek back to Africa as that portion of the parade tends to be less crowded and makes for a more interactive experience with the performers and characters. Unfortunately, most of the crowd were there simply because they were following the parade from Asia/Discovery Island and a good number of those people left the parade at that point and headed over the bridge towards the park exit.

The house band, Wassalu, were a delight throughout the whole evening. They are a musical trio that would be intermixed with cultural dancers and singers throughout their sets. The African-inspired music played ranged from traditional (Pata Pata), to contemporary (Paul Simon's You Can Call Me Al) to Disney (Selections from The Lion King and its spawned album Rhythms of the Pride Lands). During breaks the DJ would take over and play some other African tunes, which he would tend to teach guests the artists name and what the words they were singing meant in English. As opposed to other music-based events this summer, such as Disney's Hollywood Studios Rock and Glow Party, the volume of the music is not intrusive and actually provides a great soundtrack to the event as well as compliments the entire theme of the party overall.



Each quick service food location reopened during the kick off festivities with a "Featured Festival Menu." Taking its cues from Epcot's International Food and Wine Festival, each item was priced as a sample. The portions were generous for the price and great for sharing. Disney foodies might not find any of the foods available here that unique as most of them are already regular staples on other Disney menus, namely Tusker House, Boma, and Sanaa. Each location offers two-three different food options, all listed on the guide maps and on special Festival Menu signage located in front of each venue.




Wine enthusiasts will definitely want to check out the Beer and Wine Walkabout, located in the Tamu Tamu courtyard. Guests can buy a wristband and passport to sample 4 of the 12 wines available or the 4 different African beers.



The courtyard is separated into five different sections. Three representing different South African wine regions, one for beer, and one for juice. The South African wine regions are Paarl, Cape Town, and Stellenbosch. Each station has four offerings, each wine station offers two white and two red wines, while the beer station features two beers from Ethiopia, a beer from Morocco, and one from Kenya. Then Kenyan beer, Tusker Lager, is available throughout Disney's Animal Kingdom as well as Disney's Animal Kingdom Lodge.


On a crowded night this area could end up congested and rather unpleasant. On the first night it was relatively empty the entire night. There's not much seating to offer either.

The other drink offers exclusive to the street party are in the usual Africa watering hole, Dawa Bar. In front of the Dawa Bar a cast member demonstrates how sugar cane is juiced using a juicing mill which is then collected into a pail.



The Dawa Bar still serves its full bar menu as well as two Featured Festival Drinks, a Sugar Cane Mojito and a Sugar Cane Sweet Tea Cocktail. Both drinks are very sweet and served with crushed leaves. The mojito has a sugar cane stick with it as well.


The other drink available for the party is a Mango shake. A nonalcoholic, sweet treat that is served at Tamu Tamu. This proved to be very popular among the guests, as not only were guests enjoying it throughout the night but also the DJ was making many comments about it on the microphone.



Besides the cooking demonstrations and sugar cane juicing there were two other cultural offerings. One was the Harambe School that usually takes place during normal operating hours while guests are exiting Kilimanjaro Safaris or Rafiki's Planet Watch. This takes place behind the Harambe Fruit Market. The cast members staffed there tend to give little facts about different African animals, with trivia questions geared towards children.

The other offering was a mask maker, who had various masks in the forms of African animals. These masks are very intricately designed and highly detailed. The artist told me that she works for the company that sells the masks in the Italy pavilion at Epcot and once the festival is over these masks will be sold there as well.


With park closing at 7pm, the DJ took the microphone again as Wassalu was playing to kick off the event finale. Live performers came running back into the streets of Harambe waving large colorful banners, which were then used for guests to run under them, like an African version of London Bridge.


The music then quickly turned into Wassalu playing the now famous song Wavin' Flag by K'naan, the song that served as the theme to the 2010 FIFA World Cup games.


The DJ bid everyone good night and each food venue closed up shop, forcing everyone to make its way to the exit.

It was rather unclear to me what Disney was expecting from this event. For the amount of managers on hand to witness what the first official night was like, they were clearly hoping for some strong results in revenue.

However the only tables to enjoy the food are in the Tamu Tamu courtyard, between Tamu Tamu and Tamu Kibanda, and behind the Harambe Fruit Market it does not offer much optimal viewing for the main street. The mood at the event is a good mix between energetic and relaxing as you have roughly three hours to enjoy it at your own pace, similar to the Osborne Family Spectacle of Dancing Lights at Disney's Hollywood Studios. Also, Disney's Animal Kingdom is usually criticized for being too hot, especially in the summer, and seeing how this is an event that's held all outdoors, except for a few fans placed here and there, the air can get stifling on humid nights.

I would like to see A Taste of Africa make it as a hit and get extended longer into the season and beyond as I did have a good time sampling all its culinary and potable selections as well as the interactions with the people working the various stations. A manager that I spoke with said that this was a test to see how the turnout would be and maybe once they get their systems in place, more advertising and a better word of mouth will make this an event that will help Disney's Animal Kingdom lose its stigma as a "half-day park" that many critics deem it to have.

EDITOR'S NOTE: The Taste of Africa street party is running nightly until July 24 as a limited test run, with the possibility of being extended. The party begins each night immediately after Mickey's Jammin' Jungle Parade, and runs until the park closes, even on Extra Magic Hour evenings.

June 8, 2010

Animal Kingdom Youngsters - Part 3

Sharon Sipple returns with the 3rd and final part of her photo blog of the Animal Kingdom Youngsters.

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Western Lowland Gorilla

The gorillas are the main attraction on the Pangani Forest Exploration Trail. Did you know that when Animal Kingdom opened in April 1998, this trail was named Gorilla Falls Exploration Trail -- it was renamed a few months later.

On February 19, 2010 a baby western lowland gorilla was born in Animal Kingdom. The baby belongs to the gorilla family group which includes first-time mother, Kashata, father Gino, and two other females, Benga and Hope. Mother and baby are generally seen in the first gorilla viewing area which is under cover and behind glass.

Most gorilla mothers keep their offspring close for several months while the baby adjusts to the environment. In addition, gorilla babies typically nurse for approximately 12 months and may be weaned between the ages of four and five. (Read more on the press release issued when the baby was born.)

These first photos were taken in March 2010.

Western Lowland Gorilla
Canon 50D, ISO 640, 1/250 sec, F11, 400mm

Western Lowland Gorilla
Canon 50D, ISO 500, 1/125 sec, f14, 400mm

Western Lowland Gorilla
Canon 50D, ISO 1250, 1/160 sec, F7.1, 275mm

These photographs are from May 2010.

Western Lowland Gorilla
Canon 7D ISO 1000, 1/160 sec, F7.1, 100mm, +.3EV

Western Lowland Gorilla
Canon 7D ISO 1000, 1/160 sec, F7.1, 170mm, +.3EV

Western Lowland Gorilla
Canon 7D ISO 1000, 1/160 sec, F6.3, 275mm, +.3EV

Western Lowland Gorilla
Canon 7D ISO 1000, 1/160 sec, F5.6, 400mm, +.3EV

Western Lowland Gorilla
Canon 7D 1250, 1/100 sec, F10, 135mm

Western Lowland Gorilla
Canon 7D ISO 1250, 1/100 sec, F10, 285mm

Western Lowland Gorilla
Canon 7D ISO 1250, 1/100 sec, F11, 190mm

Western Lowland Gorilla
Canon 7D ISO 1600, 1/80 sec, F5.6, 400mm

Western Lowland Gorilla
Canon 7D ISO 2000, 1/125, F5, 200mm

Western Lowland Gorilla
Canon 7D ISO 2000, 1/125, F5, 135mm

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In case you are wondering.....

The equipment I used to shoot the images are a Canon EOS 50D and a Canon EOS 7D camera, a Canon 100-400mm L (low dispersion) series lens, and a Canon 17-85mm IS (image stabilization) USM (ultra-sonic motor) lens.

I normally do not use a tripod or monopod to shoot.

The key to successful shooting of the animals while on safari is to be able to get shutter speeds fast enough to stop the action. I normally shoot at a minimum of 1/320 of a second. In order to do this, you often must increase your ISO settings. With the 7D, I am able to comfortably push my ISO to 4000 and get great images with very little digital noise. I will caution you that while some cameras will allow you to push the ISO to 3200 or 6400, you must be careful. Depending on your equipment, pushing the ISO too high can result in an unacceptable level of digital noise.

Prior to shooting something important, experiment with this in a low light situation either around your house or somewhere else where the images are not 'once in a lifetime' images.

I hope you enjoyed the blogs on Animal Kingdom Youngsters. Feel free to leave your comments below!

Hey, see this little green button? Well, it allows you to share this blog with your family and friends quite easily. Give it a try; it's pretty neat!

June 7, 2010

Animal Kingdom Youngsters - Part 2

Sharon Sipple returns with Part 2 of her photo blog of the Animal Kingdom Youngsters.

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In this blog I will share photos of young elephants and giraffes that you can find on the Kilimanjaro Safari ride.

Reticulated Giraffe

Giraffes are the tallest animal in the world and can grow up to 20 feet tall. Although they look graceful as they move about the savanna, they can weigh as much as 2,500 pounds. Despite its length and flexibility, the neck of the giraffe is too short to reach the ground. In order to drink, the animal must awkwardly spread its legs wide so its head can reach the water. (Field Guide to Disney's Animal Kingdom Theme Park)

These male giraffes were born one week apart in October 2009. Their names are Bolo and Bruehler. (You can learn more in the Press Release issued when the babies were born.)

These photos are from March 2010.

Canon 50D, ISO 1000, 1/500 sec, F14, 190mm

Canon 50D, ISO 1000, 1/500 sec, F14, 190mm

Canon 50D, ISO 800, 1/500 sec, F10, 300mm

Canon 50D, ISO 800, 1/500 sec, F10, 250mm

Canon 50D, ISO 1000, 1/320 sec, F20, 330mm

Canon 50D, ISO 1000, 1/200 sec, F20, 300mm

Canon 50D, ISO 1250, 1/500 sec, F14, 100mm

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I have often been asked how I can capture such great shots. The elephants and giraffes were taken while on Kilimanjaro Safari. As many of you know, it is not easy to get good pictures while on a moving vehicle. The other challenge is that some of the animals, such as the Gibbons monkeys are pretty far away. Lastly, the animals do not always cooperate. You must have patience and be willing to try multiple times, and at different times of the day. You never know what you may get on a given adventure.

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African Elephant

As you ride along the Kilimanjaro Safari and pass the Flamingo Pool, you'll soon be in Elephant country!.

Moyo gave birth to Tsavo in 2008, the fourth elephant born at Animal Kingdom. Tufani, who is Moyo's first male calf, was born in 2003; Kianga, a female, was born in 2004; and Nadirah, the youngest female, joined the herd in 2005. All remain on the savannah at Disney's Animal Kingdom. (You can learn more in the Press Release issued when the baby was born.)

African Elephant

African Elephant

African Elephant

African Elephant

African Elephant

African Elephant

I hope you enjoyed this blog on Animal Kingdom Youngsters. Feel free to leave your comments below! Be sure and check back tomorrow for Part 3 of my blog, Animal Kingdom Youngsters!

Hey, see this little green button? Well, it allows you to share this blog with your family and friends quite easily. Give it a try; it's pretty neat!

June 6, 2010

Animal Kingdom Youngsters - Part 1

Hello. I am Sharon Sipple and have been doing photography for over 20 years. My specialties are entertainment and animals.

I am an avid Disney fan and travel to the World about 4 times each year. During each trip, I end up spending a majority of my time in Animal Kingdom. It is a fascinating place, being that every visit is different. On my most recent trip, I worked with Deb to cover the D23 Flowers and Fireworks event and the Polynesian Luau.

Sharon Sipple

Deb asked if I would be willing to share some of my animal pictures with everyone. We thought it would be fun to share pictures of some of the younger members of the Animal Kingdom family. Over the last 2 years, there have been at least 7 babies born at Animal Kingdom. So let's get started....

Black and White Colobus Monkeys

This group of monkeys are found just inside the entrance to Pangani Forest Exploration Trail. Their diet consists of leaves, buds, seeds and fruit and in the wild (Kenya) are found mostly in trees. They are hunted for their fur, but today, their existence is more threatened by the destruction of forests. Unlike other monkeys, Colobus monkeys have no thumb. (You can read more in the Press Release issued when the baby was born.)

At birth, the Colobus monkey is all white and they get their black color later on. The two photographs below are the same infant, one taken March 2009, the other in August 2009.

The first photo was taken March 2009.

Black and White Colobus Monkey
Canon50D, ISO 200, 1/80 sec, F9, 300mm, +.3EV

The next photo was taken in August 2009.

Black and White Colobus Monkey
Canon 50D, ISO 1000, 1/160 sec, F5.6, 375mm, +1.7EV

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White Rhinoceros

The white rhinos can be found on the Kilimanjaro Safari ride.

These photographs are of the now, 6 month old, baby white rhino who was born Sunday, Jan. 17. The mother, Kendi, is an 11-year-old white rhino, who gave birth to her third baby after a 16-month gestation period.

The baby is the eighth white rhino born at Disney's Animal Kingdom; her mother, Kendi, was the first. (Read more in the Press Release issued when the baby was born.)

A few interesting facts (Field Guide to Disney's Animal Kingdom Theme Park):
The white rhinoceros is not white at all but slate gray to yellow brown.
They can weigh between 4,000 and 4,500 pounds!
The white rhino can ward off any predator, except for humans.
They feed mainly on grasses.

These photographs are from May 2010.

white rhino
Canon 7D ISO 800, 1/400 sec, F7.1, 115mm

white rhino
Canon 7D ISO 800, 1/400 sec, F7.1, 210mm

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White-cheeked Gibbon

The white-cheeked gibbons are located in Asia, just outside the Kali River Rapids.

This endangered white-cheeked gibbon was born Feb. 2. The male and his mother, Melaka, are bonding well according to the animal experts who oversee the daily care of primates. You can see him and his baby's two sisters, Suki and Tuyen, in their habitat.

One fascinating fact about these animals are the way they change color. Adult males are black with white cheeks and adult females are a light tan/gold color with a patch of black on the top of their head. However, when both male and females are infants, they are the light tan color of the mother. Around six months, they both turn black, like the males. Then, when the female reaches maturity, she turns back to the light tan/gold color. (Read more in the Press Release issued when the baby was born.)

The first three photographs were taken March 2010.

White-cheeked Gibbon
Canon 50D, ISO 400, 1/320 sec, F7.1, 310mm, +.3EV

White-cheeked Gibbon
Canon 50D, ISO 400, 1/320 sec, F5.6, 400mm, +.7EV

White-cheeked Gibbon
Canon 50D, ISO 400, 1/320 sec, F7.1, 400mm, +.3EV

The following photos were taken in May 2010.

White-cheeked Gibbon
Canon 7D ISO 1000, 1/250 sec, F10, 400mm

White-cheeked Gibbon
Canon 7D ISO 1000, 1/250 sec, F9, 330mm

White-cheeked Gibbon
Canon 7D ISO 640, 1/200 sec, f8, 310mm

White-cheeked Gibbon
Canon 7D ISO 640, 1/200 sec, F6.3, 400mm

I hope you enjoyed this blog on Animal Kingdom Youngsters. Feel free to leave your comments below! Be sure and check back tomorrow for Part 2 of my blog, Animal Kingdom Youngsters!

Hey, see this little green button? Well, it allows you to share this blog with your family and friends quite easily. Give it a try; it's pretty neat!

February 21, 2010

Yak & Yeti Photo Blog - Animal Kingdom


One of my favorite restaurants to dine at when I visit Disney's Animal Kingdom Park is the Yak & Yeti. I am a creature of habit when it comes to restaurants. If I find something I like, I tend to keep going back for more.

There are a lot of other wonderful eateries at Animal Kingdom, but I always seem to find myself making reservations or popping in for an unplanned meal at Yak & Yeti. This is partly due to my preference for table-service dining over counter-service. At Animal Kingdom, that distinction narrows the choices down to two restaurants. I'm not counting the Tusker House since technically you serve yourself from a buffet there. And while I do enjoy the Rainforest Café quite a bit, it can be time consuming to walk to and from the entrance of the park for a meal; especially during Peak seasons when the park is more crowded.

I planned my most recent visit to the Yeti well in advance as I was ironing out the details of my recent trip to Walt Disney World. When I decided which days I would be visiting certain parks, I was on the phone with Disney Dining shortly thereafter making my Yak & Yeti reservation on Animal Kingdom day. I have never had a problem securing a reservation for my preferred meal time here. Mind you, I have never had dinner at Yak & Yeti. All of my meals have been during lunch hours.

I have been frequenting the restaurant since it opened, but when I first heard about its' construction I was a bit skeptical about the location. Yak & Yeti is located just across the bridge as you enter Asia from Discovery Island.

Bridge into Asia

Naturally since it is Yeti-themed the restaurant would need to go in Asia. Close proximity to the attraction housing its' namesake, abominable snowman also made sense. The addition of Yak & Yeti also fulfilled the need for another full-service restaurant in Animal Kingdom. Being the only restaurant in that area of the park also helps to disperse traffic from the other eateries.

I still wondered if the placement of a restaurant between several live-animal based attractions and exhibits would detract from some of the mystique surrounding them. As the months passed and the exterior of the building began to take shape, I was more confident that a spot next door to Flights of Wonder was not totally out of place. I am something of a purist when it comes to my love of the Disney parks, so I tend to over-analyze every little change. As you can see in the photos below, the building fits in perfectly.

Yak & Yeti Exterior

In keeping with its continental surroundings, Yak & Yeti is fittingly Asian-themed. The first time I saw the inside of the restaurant, I felt as if I had walked into a tavern in the Himalaya Mountains.

Yak & Yeti Waiting Area

Yeti Guarding the Lobby

Yak & Yeti Entrance

Yak & Yeti Looking toward Exit

You may get the feeling you are being watched. ;-)

Yak & Yeti Lobby Statue

They have a full-bar for weary travelers wishing to just stop in for refreshment from their hike. Even the furniture here is rich with detail. Notice the elaborate armrests of the barstools.

Yak & Yeti Bar

Yak & Yeti Bar

Seating is split between two levels, with various museum quality artifacts likening the décor to that of a shrine. It looks as if the villagers have gathered their family heirlooms in the hope of giving reverence to the Yeti inhabiting nearby Everest Mountain. Take a walk around the restaurant before or after your meal and check-out their amazing collection of relics.

The main dining room near the entrance is decorated like a temple. Other areas of the lower level have a similar vibe. They are dimly lit and have a sedate feel. Tables are nicely spaced apart, as you can see in the view from above.

Yak & Yeti Main Dining Room

Yak & Yeti Main Dining Room

Yak & Yeti Main Dining Room

Yak & Yeti First Floor Dining Room

Yak & Yeti Lower Level Dining

Yak & Yeti First Floor Dining Room

Yak & Yeti Statue Greeting Diners

It is possible to burn off part of your caloric intake here just by trekking the staircase to and from the upper level.

Yak & Yeti Staircase

Yak & Yeti Stairs

An elevator is available for those not wishing for an aerobic workout as a preface to their meal. Even the elevator area is decorated with cool memorabilia and trinkets.

Yak and Yeti HallwayTo Elevator

The seating areas upstairs are brighter and more festive. Each room is uniquely colored. Could this be symbolic of something?

Yak and Yeti Upstairs Dining Blue

Yak and Yeti Upstairs Dining Gold

Yak and Yeti Upstairs Dining Green

Yak and Yeti Art

If your party should happen to be seated upstairs, I recommend requesting a table by the windows. They offer great views of Anandapur.

Yak and Yeti Upstairs Dining Near Windows

In my experience, service here has always been good. I have found the Servers to be attentive, friendly, and able to answer any questions I have had about the menu. As is the case with most restaurants on-property, they will check to see if your party is on the Disney Dining Plan upon introduction. While they do not currently accept the Tables in Wonderland card, Annual Passholder discounts are available.

Whenever I dine at one of my favorite Walt Disney World restaurants, I try to order at least one item that I haven't had before. I tend to be far more adventurous in my restaurant dining when I know the outcome rests in the hands of Disney Chefs. This practice has served me fairly well thus far, with only a few misfires. Yak & Yeti is not Disney-owned. Landry's restaurants own and operate the Yak & Yeti, Rainforest Café, and T-Rex (located at Downtown Disney).

In keeping with this mantra I tried something old and something new on this visit. My meal began with a favorite, the Won-Ton soup ($4.99). It's served with a side of crispy, fried Won-Tons.

Yak and Yeti Won Ton Soup

For my second course I chose another favorite, the Pot Stickers ($7.99). These wrapped dumplings are filled with pork and available two ways: either steamed or seared. I chose to have mine seared. This entails cooking the outside of the Pot Sticker at a high temperature which gives the outer layer a caramelized, crunchy texture. They're served with a tangy soy-lime dipping sauce and sprinkled with spring onions and diced tomatoes.

Yak and Yeti Pot Stickers

The appetizer choices also include Seared Ahi Tuna, Pork Egg Rolls, Lettuce Cups, and Wok-Fried Green Beans (pictured below - $6.99).

Yak and Yeti Wok Fried Green Beans

From there on I was in previously uncharted territory. I decided on the Shaoxing Steak and Shrimp ($24.99) for my entrée. It was absolutely wonderful, and would have been enough for two people to share. The skirt steak had a nice, char-grilled flavor and was decoratively speared around a bed of brown or jasmine rice. Skirt steak is a flat cut of beef renowned for its flavor. It is also known for being tougher than other cuts of beef. I did not find that to be the case at all. It was flavorful and tender. The shrimp were skewered and tempura-battered. The chili plum dipping sauce was sweet and went perfectly with the shrimp and rice.

Yak and Yeti Shaoxing Steak Shrimp

While all of the menu items do have an Asian-influence, there is a broad variety of choices. Seared Miso Salmon, Duck with Anandapur Glaze, Lo Mein, Crispy Honey Chicken, Maple Tamarind Chicken, and the health-conscious Mandarin Chicken Salad (pictured below - $13.99) are just a few of them.

Yak and Yeti Mandarin Chicken Salad

After this fabulous meal I was so full I thought I would need to be carried out on a gurney. In the name of research I still ordered dessert. I opted for the Mango Pie ($6.99), which had a consistency similar to pudding encased inside of a shortbread cookie crust. It was finished off with whipped cream and raspberry sauce. Notice the tiny leaves of mint that garnish the pie. I thought that was a nice touch. This dessert was cool and refreshing. I could see it being the perfect treat on a hot summer day. While I would definitely order it again, the cream cheese filled Fried Won-Tons remain my favorite dessert here.

Yak and Yeti Mandarin Mango Pie

Yak & Yeti is a triumph for Disney's Animal Kingdom. The theme is perfectly executed, with delicious food that lives up to the standards one would expect from a Walt Disney World restaurant. There aren't any over-the-top thunderstorms or meteor showers to remind you where you're at. One look at the foreboding Yeti standing guard near the entrance and you'll feel as if you are in the foothills of an "expedition". Clean those plates, your adventure awaits.

Related Links:

Yak and Yeti Menu

Yak and Yeti Kid's Menu

Reader's Rate and Review Yak and Yeti

jeffo.JPG About Jeff: I'm from South Central Pennsylvania, where I work for a Media Publishing Company by day. My first visit to WDW was at the age of 2, and I have been back around 35 times since then. I often travel solo to WDW, as well as with family. I make good use of my Annual Pass, and trek to Orlando about 5 times per year to visit my favorite travel destination and pursue another hobby of mine - photography. My favorite resort is the Polynesian, but I have stayed at all of the WDW resorts at least once. In fact, my favorite aspect of visiting the Walt Disney World Resort is trying out the different Resorts and Restaurants. I enjoy sampling different foods that I normally would never try at home (such as Escargot at the France pavilion).

June 24, 2008

Our Great Gorilla Adventure at Animal Kingdom

Hello! Amanda here again.

This week I wanted to share with All Ears® readers Norwood's and my great gorilla adventure at Disney's Animal Kingdom. While at the Animal Kingdom Park the other day we walked the Pangani Forest Exploration Trail (Africa).

We knew that a person who took the trail had the chance of seeing a Gorilla or two but that morning we were quite lucky to see five different Gorillas.

The first one we saw was cuddled up under a rock sleeping. ..

Gorilla Pangani Forest Exploration Trail Disney's Animal Kingdom

The next one we saw outside and he appeared to be stretching.

Gorilla Pangani Forest Exploration Trail Disney's Animal Kingdom

As we moved along the trail we came to the exhibit where the Gorillas can come up to the glass. When we arrived there were two (a male and a female) just hanging out right there.

Gorilla Pangani Forest Exploration Trail Disney's Animal Kingdom

The male Gorilla was quite a ham, he loved the attention that the people on the other side of the glass were giving him. He would roll on his back stick out his tongue as we all clicked away.

Nearing the end of the trail we ran into one more male Gorilla. He was sitting out in the open watching all the people watch him and snacking on some leaves. Here are some shots of the last guy, who was also very photogenic.

Gorilla Pangani Forest Exploration Trail Disney's Animal Kingdom

Gorilla Pangani Forest Exploration Trail Disney's Animal Kingdom

It was an amazing morning. All the previous times we have been to Disney we have never encountered so many Gorillas.

Many say that in the morning you have a better chance of encountering the Gorillas. So the next time that you are in Animal Kingdom you might want to plan to see all the animal exhibits in the morning and ride the rides like Everest in the afternoon or evening.

Have a Disney Day!

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About Animal Kingdom

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

Baby Care Centers / First Aid is the next category.

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