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Disney's Animal Kingdom Archives

May 31, 2016

First impressions of new Awaken Summer entertainment at Disney's Animal Kingdom

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As you probably know by now, Animal Kingdom’s nighttime activities were launched this past weekend over the long holiday weekend. My family and I made two evening visits to the Walt Disney World theme park to experience the new entertainment. Here are my first impressions and some tips if you, too, are planning a trip to Animal Kingdom.

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Tree of Life

I was really looking forward to seeing the projection shows on the Tree of Life, and they did not disappoint. Each show starts with fireflies awakening animals carved in the trunk and culminates in the tree bathed in a rainbow of colors as it fully awakens. Disney describes three of the four shows this way: “Witness a graceful young doe embark on a thrilling cross-country journey. Behold love blossoming between 2 hummingbirds. See a spry fox spreading gifts of love among the denizens of a wintry forest.”

Tips: Each show is less than five minutes, but there are no published times to avoid huge crowds waiting on the main walkway. The shows take place after sunset, which is about 8:30 p.m. this time of year. That means you have about two and a half hours to view the various shows. If your timing doesn’t mesh with the Disney’s, know that there is likely to be one last show right before park closing at 11 p.m.

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The Jungle Book: Alive With Magic

Perhaps the most anticipated component of the Awaken Summer entertainment is “The Jungle Book: Alive With Magic” show that takes place twice each night in the new outdoor theater on Discovery River. The show was created in less than two months when it was determined that Rivers of Light would not be ready for its opening this summer. The Jungle Book: Alive With Magic features Indian-inspired, pop-style arrangements of the movie’s hit songs “Trust in Me,” “Bare Necessities” and “I Wanna Be Like You” and a lot of Bollywood-type dancing on multiple stages, plus water screens showing scenes from the movie and some special effects on the surrounding trees. It’s an upbeat show, but it is different from other nighttime entertainment at Walt Disney World with only one shot of pyro at the end (so as not to disturb the park’s animals). Though I know reviews have been mixed, my family and I enjoyed the show. My daughter loved the dancing, and my son and I couldn’t tear our eyes away from the fire twirlers who entered on barges toward the end of the production. I did dislike waiting so long -- just as I do with Fantasmic! at Hollywood Studios – to guarantee that we had a decent seat.

Tips: You’ll want to get a FastPass+ reservation or reserved seating with a dinner package for The Jungle Book: Alive With Magic for the best seating and to avoid standing for more than an hour in the standby queue. Seating opens for those with FastPass+ and dinner packages at 7:30 p.m., even though the tickets say to arrive at 8:25 p.m. We arrived about 8 p.m. and still got great seats.

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Kilimanjaro Safaris at night

Kilimanjaro Safaris is my 13-year-old son’s favorite attraction at Animal Kingdom, so he was excited to have the opportunity to experience it at night. Despite the fact that Imagineers had designed an artificial sunset for the savanna, many park-goers naturally have questioned whether they would be able to see animals at night both because of the low light and the bedtimes of various species. The answer is: yes and no. Our trek departed at 9 p.m. and we certainly did not see as many animals as we do during the day. However, we did see plenty of animals because of various dim spotlights, and it was an interesting change to see which animals were huddled together to sleep and which were loners. We even saw a baby giraffe and its mama grazing. My children thought it was really cool to ride on the safaris after dark, and I suspect they are not alone. There’s something extra special about being at Walt Disney World at night, and Animal Kingdom is no exception.

Tips: Don’t waste your time trying to take photos at night; just sit back and enjoy the experience. Our driver didn’t even pause during the trek, so it was nearly impossible to get a good shot. If you can only ride this attraction once, you’ll see more if you go during the day. But if you are going to be at Animal Kingdom at night, give the ride a try for a different experience.

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Discovery Island Carnivale

The Discovery Island Carnivale is a street party that takes place across from Flame Tree Barbecue, and it’s an interactive experience for children and adults alike. The Viva Gaia Street Band takes to the stage, while dancers and stilt-walkers in brightly-colored costumes create a party atmosphere. After an initial dance, they invite guests to join them and hand out colorful streamers to kids. The dancers lead everyone through some simple but high-energy steps and then finish off the set with one big conga line.

Tips: There are no official published times for Carnivale at this time, but it appears to take place at half past the hour every hour beginning at 6:30. We saw parties at 7:35 and 8:40. I’m not sure if they continued after that. There was a PhotoPass photographer circling the street party to capture images, so if you participate, be sure to ask for a PhotoPass card so you can add the photos to your My Disney Experience account.

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Harambe Wildlife Parti

In Africa, near the Kilimanjaro Safaris, the Harambe Wildlife Parti kicks off several times each night with the Burudika Band in Harambe’s Old Square. Different performers join the band in the space in front of the stage, and guests are invited to gather around and watch. We saw the Harambe Village Acrobats, who climb into man-made pyramids and break away into spinning, tumbling towers. Other performers include Muziki, a drumming stilt-walker; Karibou Sisters, who perform elegant dance, acapella songs and acoustic party music; and Harambe Soccer Meerkats, who engage guests in pick-up games and entertain with their skilled moves.

Tips: Want to enjoy the lively music and rest your tired feet? Take a seat in the adjacent Dawa Bar, outside Tusker House restaurant, where you can order a drink if you want. My kids love the Jungle Juice Slushies from the Mahindi snack stand across the plaza. Made with guava, passion fruit and orange juice, the drink tastes like frozen version of the popular P.O.G. juice served at O’hanas for breakfast. Also nearby is Tamu Tamu Refreshments, which serves the famed pineapple Dole Whip -- with or without rum.

Tiffins restaurant and The Nomad Lounge

Deb Wills and Linda Eckwerth dined at Tiffins, Disney’s newest signature restaurant located inside Animal Kingdom, on Friday, its opening day. They stopped by the adjacent The Nomad Lounge for a drink, too.

Here’s a look at the new Discovery Island Carnivale and Harambe Wildlife Parti:



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May 23, 2016

Times and tips for Awaken Summer entertainment at Disney's Animal Kingdom

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Last week, Walt Disney World gave us a long list of dates for summer openings and when reservations can be made for all the new attractions. This came on the heels of the first wave of openings at Disney Springs, so I’m sure I’m not alone when I say I had to break out the calendar to plot everything my family and I want to see and do in the coming weeks.

We’ll be joining the crowds this weekend for the many new experiences debuting at Animal Kingdom. We have a loose plan about how to see and do everything, but, of course, it’s all new, so we’ll have to be flexible, too. Still, it’s fun to not have every moment planned out sometimes, isn’t it?

Here are some things to keep in mind, if you’ll be checking out Awaken Summer events at Animal Kingdom, too:

** Beginning Friday, May 27, the theme park -- natazu! –- has extended hours from 9 a.m. to 11 p.m., and that includes every day this Memorial Day weekend. The longer days take place through Labor Day, Sept. 6.

** During the extended hours, many attractions will be open, including Kilimanjaro Safaris, Expedition Everest, Kali River Rapids and DINOSAUR. FastPasses for these attractions are scarce for the opening weekend of Awaken Summer events, which already is busy because of the holiday, but don’t give up. Guests’ plans change, so check My Disney Experience frequently. Also, you always have the option of braving the standby queues!

** On Friday, there are three new entertainment offerings – and none of them require (or even offer) a FastPass. Here’s what you can expect with the Tree of Life awakenings, Harambe Wildlife Parti and Discovery Island Carnivale:

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Animal Kingdom’s iconic Tree of Life, which can be seen from different locations around the park, will light up at various times as “flickering fireflies magically appear and awaken the wondrous animals spirits carved into the tree’s towering trunk” in a projection show. There are several different shows throughout each evening: “Witness a graceful young doe embark on a thrilling cross-country journey. Behold love blossoming between 2 hummingbirds. See a spry fox spreading gifts of love among the denizens of a wintry forest.”

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The Harambe Wildlife Parti kicks off at 4:55 p.m. when Afro-Pop musicians the Burudika Band take the stage in Harambe’s Old Square. The band usually performs during the day but will become part of the evening entertainment for Awaken Summer. Additional 30-minute sets are scheduled at 5:55, 7:30, 8:50 and 9:45 p.m. In Harambe Marketplace, guests will find other entertainment: Muziki, a drumming stilt-walker; Karibou Sisters, who perform elegant dance, acapella songs and acoustic party music; Harambe Soccer Meerkats, who engage guests in pick-up games and entertain with their skilled moves; and Harambe Village Acrobats, who climb into man-made pyramids and break away into spinning, tumbling towers.

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Discovery Island Carnivale is “an exuberant dance party to end the day and welcome the night.” It begins each day at 3:45 p.m. with the first performance of the Viva Gaia Street Band. (Additional 30-minute sets are at 4:25 and 5:15 p.m.) This Caribbean street party is “bursting with cheerful music and spectacular costumes that take inspiration from the living creatures of the air, land and sea.”

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** Friday also is the first official day for Tiffins restaurant to open its doors inside Animal Kingdom. Diners at the eatery will enjoy African cuisine with waterfront views – and a hefty price tag. Disney lists the price range at $35 to $59.99 per adult for this signature restaurant. The theme is travel – “including photograph collages, paintings and sculptures inspired by actual notes and field sketches of the Imagineers who created Disney’s Animal Kingdom park.” The adjacent The Nomad Lounge features small plates and a selection of beer, wine and mixed drinks at prices easier to swallow -- $15 to $34.99 per adult.

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** Beginning Saturday, May 28, Animal Kingdom introduces “The Jungle Book: Alive With Magic” show along Discovery River at 9 and 10:30 p.m. each night. This show uses the space on the river and outdoor seating designed for the “Rivers of Light” show that has been delayed. According the official description, “Come along as impressions of the film’s iconic characters take you on a journey following Mowgli’s exciting, perilous and sometimes hilarious jungle encounters. Watch as barges teeming with jubilant singers, Indian musicians and colorful performers take to the waters and enhance the tale with music and song—while fellow players join in from nearby river banks. And thrill to the breathtaking sight of light displays and massive water screens projecting imagery from the blockbuster film!”

** At this time, it looks like the only character meet-and-greets that occur during the nighttime hours take place at Character Outpost with Mickey and Minnie.

AllEars.Net team members will be covering the opening Awaken Summer at Animal Kingdom this weekend. Tell us what you’d like to know in the comments, please.



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July 16, 2015

UPDATED -- Review: Animal Kingdom's Harambe Market

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If you are a repeat visitor at Walt Disney World, chances are you have favorite foods at each of the theme parks that you can’t wait to sink your teeth into again. For my family and I, a visit to Animal Kingdom usually means a meal at Flame Tree Barbecue. We like the food there well enough, but part of our enjoyment of that restaurant is also the shaded seating overlooking the lake in front of Mount Everest. But, a new quick-service restaurant that opened last month has us rethinking our tried-and-true routine.

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Located in the Africa section of the park, Harambe Market mimics the atmosphere of an open-air marketplace and serves dishes that would be considered African street foods. My family and I recently tried some of the offerings and were pleased with what we sampled. And, when we found the perfect shaded table, we enjoyed the atmosphere of the market, too.

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Our experience began as we approached the area near Kilimanjaro Safaris at the back of the park. Yes, this is a trek from the front of the park, but we thought it was worth it. And, of course, if you’re already in the park, it’s not such a hike. Just keep this in mind if you’re planning on going to lunch first before your day’s activities in the park.

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Harambe Market is colorful, loud, and, when we arrived at 1:30 p.m., it was busy! By the time we finished standing in line, found a table and ate, it was 3 p.m. and the place had cleared out. I suspect the crowds were there in full force because of the novelty of a new eatery and the start of the summer season at Walt Disney World, but it never hurts to avoid peak meal times if you want to skip the lines.

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Although there are four shop windows advertising different menu items, know that you can pick any line to order from the entire menu. You do not need to stand in separate lines. The queue for the ribs – on the far right when looking at the storefronts -- was the shortest on the day we were there and it offered the most shade. Also, on the day we were there, cast members were at the front of the lines, handing out menus for customers to browse before they got into the lines.

Your choices include:

** Kitamu Grill: Skewered chicken and a kebab flatbread sandwich

** Famous Sausages: Corndog made with a South African boerewors sausage dipped in curry-infused corn batter

** Chef Mwanga’s: Spice-rubbed Karubi Rib paired with green papaya-carrot slaw

Each of these service counters offers a kids version of the main dish. For the chicken and ribs, it’s just a smaller portion with kid-friendly sides. For the sausage station, it’s a traditional corn dog instead of the sausage. A Kids Snack Pack with yogurt, apple slices, carrot sticks, Goldfish crackers, apple-cinnamon bar and choice of small lowfat milk or small water is also available.

** Wanjohi Refreshments: Craft draft beers like Safari Amber Lager; six South African wines by the glass, The Starr of Harambe frozen drink with Starr African rum and mango puree in a souvenir mug, red Sangria with Van der Hum tangerine liqueur, and non alcoholic tangerine lemonade or fountain beverages like Sparberry from Zimbabwe. (My husband loves a good IPA and he highly recommended the I-4 IPA from Orlando Brewing.)

For dessert, all the counters serve a coconut custard in a chocolate tart shell.

For complete menu details, including prices, see our AllEars.Net dining page.

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For our meal, my family and I tried the Karubi Ribs and the Boerewors Sausage Corndog. The guys tried the ribs, which are served with green papaya-carrot slaw on top and a cucumber and tomato salad on the side. Predictably, my 12-yer-old son did not like the slaw, but both he and my husband raved about the ribs, which are kind of like the variety they often order at Flame Tree Barbecue. This dish is a little spicier, but they both said they liked it equally as well, if not better than the other Animal Kingdom ribs.

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My 10-year-old daughter and I were tempted by the African version of a corndog for lunch. I thoroughly enjoyed the unexpected flavors of the sausage and the curry-infused corn batter and certainly would order it again. The sausage is served with a roasted broccoli and tomato salad that has a light and tasty dressing. My daughter, however, would have been happier with the traditional corndog that is offered on the kids menu.

Both the ribs and the sausage are served in generous-size portions – more than enough to be filling for one person or possibly two less-hungry patrons. Don’t make the mistake of thinking this marketplace is serving appetizer-size portions, as is done at kiosks during Epcot food and beverage festivals. If you want to sample several dishes, plan accordingly!

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I recently spoke with Animal Kingdom’s chef de cuisine Albert Youngman about how foods were created for Harambe Market -- specifically how he and his team chose flavors that would be palatable to guests who might not be accustomed to typical African foods.

“The earth tones of the flavors and the actual flavors that come from the cardamom and the coriander and cumin and things like that are very much tasted in all of our food [at Harambe Market], but it’s not overdone to where it’s offensive to our guests,” Youngman said. “So, we tried to get a balance with the food. So, you take the African corn dog, for instance. People sometimes are scared of curry, right? Curry means hot. But [the corn dog] is not really hot. It actually has more of an earth tone and a sweetness to it and we incorporate it with our sweet corn batter that helps that flavor kind of mend together.”

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On a second visit to Harambe Market for a media event, my family and I sampled the skewered chicken, which we missed the first time, and found it to be rather plain, not offering the interesting flavors of the other foods we’ve come to enjoy there. Still, Youngman said it is the most popular item at Harambe Market – both for adults and children. Perhaps that’s because it’s not a culinary risk for most people. Yet, this is exactly the place to try something new, he said. “If you just go out of your element a little bit, I’m sure you’ll enjoy it.”

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At Harambe Market, guests seat themselves at the outdoor tables. Because of the crowds, we started at a table that was in the sun. When an umbrella table emptied, we jumped at the chance to sit in the shade, which definitely made our experience more pleasant. The marketplace is, of course, creatively decorated and the Wildlife Express train to Rafiki’s Planet Watch passes by in the back on a regular schedule. Disney officials have said that live entertainment eventually will be offered in the marketplace, as well.

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During the media event, I also spoke with Imagineer Emily O’Brien, who was the lead designer for Harambe Market. You can read about how the new restaurant was developed and what it’s like to be an Imagineer here.

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Last month, Zuri’s Sweets Shop opened across from Harambe Market. This African-themed shop is the first dedicated consumables store, said Steven Miller, Walt Disney World Merchandise Communications Manager. It features three new lines of goodies: one based on “The Lion King,” one inspired by the bold and colorful African Kente cloths, and one that celebrates African spices and flavors. Miller talks to me about the tasty treats in the video below:

We found Harambe Market to be a fun – and tasty – addition to the quick-service restaurants at Animal Kingdom. The African flavors offer guests exciting alternatives to the traditional sandwiches, salads, burgers and fries that we’ve come to expect at counter-service restaurants at Walt Disney World, and there are enough kid-friendly choices to please the little ones.

The trek to the far corner of the park might be a far one from the front gates of Animal Kingdom, but, based on our recent dining experience, the journey there is a rewarding one if you’re looking for good food in a uniquely themed atmosphere. But, just as you would on the savannah grasslands west of Nairobi, try to find a nice shady spot to enjoy your lunch unless you want to end up feeling as baked as the Chef Mwanga’s special.

Enjoy this video of the Harambe Market:

DISCLAIMER: I was a guest of Walt Disney World for my second visit to Harambe Market. The first visit was at my own expense. This did not affect my story; my opinions are my own.



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December 4, 2014

Is runDisney's Expedition Everest Challenge on your calendar?

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As Orlando residents and longtime annual passholders, my family and I have experienced much of what Walt Disney World has to offer. One thing we have not tried, however, is runDisney races. That's about to change, though.

My husband has enjoyed running for many years, and recently our 12-year-old son has expressed as interest, too. I attempted to register them for the Family 5K at the Marathon Weekend in January, but I wasn't quick enough. Deb Wills had the same trouble, as well, unfortunately. We both were surprised to learn that many of the races that weekend sold out in hours!

So, our family regrouped, and my son decided he wanted to make his running debut at the Expedition Everest Challenge on May 2, 2015, at Disney's Animal Kingdom. Registration opens to the public at noon on December 16, but one of the perks of being an annual passholder is being able to register for runDisney events in advance. For this particular race, Disney passholders could begin registering at noon on Dec. 2. By that evening, though, the passholder spots were full.

I'm told that most runners attempt this particular race in teams of at least two people. That's because the challenge is more than just running a 5K - as if that wouldn't be enough of a challenge for some of us! After the runners finish the required 3.1 miles, they tackle an obstacle course and then a scavenger hunt. Upon crossing the finish line and collecting their medals, they can join a post-race party in Dinoland, U.S.A., which is included in the entry fee. The party features a DJ, and food and drinks can be purchased. Expedition Everest is open, as are Kali River Rapids and the rides in Chester and Hester's DinoRama.

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Team members have to be at least 9 years old, and if one team member is younger than 13, he or she has to be participating with an adult. The Expedition Everest Challenge is one of the few runDisney night races. It starts at 10 p.m., and the post party continues until 2:30 a.m.

This is the 15th year for the Expedition Everest Challenge, and it appears that it will be the last. The official runDisney page describes the 2015 race this way: "Take a final run on the wild side and uncover the mystery of the clues! Get your bragging rights as one of the final runners who faced the Expedition Everest Challenge before it's too late!"

Runners on various public message boards have speculated that this will make the Expedition Everest Challenge more popular, so be prepared to get online quickly on Dec. 16.

Registration will be available at runDisney.com. The race costs $125 per person or $240 for a two-person team. Entry fees include the challenge with Disney characters, a short-sleeve tech shirt, personalized race bib (if registered before March 3), a finisher medal, post-race refreshments, and the after-party festivities in the theme park. Friends and family members can purchase tickets to the after-party event for $49 for adults and $25 for children ages 3 to 9. Prices increase after March 23, 2015.



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June 4, 2013

Wilderness Explorers opens at Disney's Animal Kingdom, Inspired by 'Up' movie

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Animal Kingdom's newest attraction, Wilderness Explorers, is built around a theme from the Disney-Pixar film "Up." One of the main characters in the 2009 animated movie, Russell, is a Wilderness Explorer, which is a fictional version of Boy Scouts. As Russell is working to earn his final merit badge, he gets caught up in an elderly man's drama and ends up traveling on an unexpected journey.

Now Walt Disney World's newest theme park has developed a Wilderness Explorers program that encourages kids to learn about specific areas of their world by earning merit badges, similarly to how the group functions in the movie. The Wilderness Explorers attraction at Animal Kingdom, which debuted June 1, is open to all guests, though the materials are geared toward kids ages 7 to 10.

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With both of my children in the target age range and involved in real-life Scouting, our family was eager to try the new attraction this weekend. To get started, we visited the first troop leader post, which is located just over the bridge on the edge of Discovery Island. (There are other starting points in Africa, Asia, DinoLand U.S.A. and Rafiki's Planet Watch.)

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Troop leaders initiate kids by teaching them the Explorer call, which has three hand gestures and corresponding vocals: "The wilderness must be explored!" with hands framing a view; "Caw Caw" with hands shaping a bird; and "Roar!" like a lion (or other large beast) with paws up and out. They also say the Wilderness Explorers' Motto, which is a short pledge to be "a friend to all, be it plants or fish or tiny mole." Like real-life Scouts, kids earn their first badges after mastering the group's mission statements, and they receive a handbook outlining the other merit badges they can earn and a sticker to wear in place of "uniform."

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Wilderness Explorers can complete 30 additional badges -- which actually are stickers placed in their handbooks -- in any order or timeframe they choose. They don't have to be finished on the same day.

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In several sections of the park, multiple badge locations are grouped together, making it easy to complete related badges together. For example, six Wilderness Explorers stations can be found at Rafiki's Planet Watch. Here's a plan: Ride the Wildlife Express Train to Rafiki's Planet Watch, stop to earn the Habitat badge on the walk to the Conservation Station. Once inside, learn about Animal Nutrition, Veterinary medicine and Recycling to earn badges, which are requirements for the Conservation badge. Step outside into the Affection Section, a petting yard, and earn the Hand Washing badge after visiting the animals. Be sure to check the map in the handbook indicating locations for each badge to plot your course.

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Habitat badge


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Animal Nutrition badge


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Veterinary badge


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Brushing animals before earning Hand Washing badge


Some badges are more interactive than others, and that certainly affects the interest levels of the kids participating. My children really enjoyed the Animal Find badge, which challenged them to find 22 specific animals anywhere in Animal Kingdom during their day. When we stopped at the locations for the Asian and African Culture badges, they were taught a foreign-language phrase and were less enthusiastic about those experiences. Overall, my 8-year-old daughter was more excited about the Wilderness Explorers attraction than my 10-year-old son. She was happy to learn at each station and wanted to complete as many badges as possible. My son, on the other hand, was embarrassed to wear the Wilderness Explorers sticker and thought many of the exercises at the stations were too easy for him.

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African Culture badge


Wilderness Explorers has replaced the Kids' Discovery Club program, which featured six learning stations throughout the park. Those stations, such as one where kids dig for fossils and then assemble a color-coded dinosaur, have been absorbed into the new program as badge locations.

Wilderness Explorers is included in regular admission to Animal Kingdom. The attraction opens at 10 a.m. daily, one hour after the rope drop.


April 23, 2013

Disney's Animal Kingdom Celebrates 15th Anniversary on Earth Day

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On Monday, Disney's Animal Kingdom celebrated two festivities -- Earth Day 2013 and the theme park's 15th anniversary.

The day began with an opening ceremony at the Tree of Life that featured Josh D'Amaro, Vice President of Disney's Animal Kingdom, and Dr. Jackie Ogden, Vice President of Animals, Science and Environment, as speakers. Because this was open to the public -- and held before rope drop -- it garnered quite a crowd as fans gathered to celebrate and park-goers waited to be let into the rest of Animal Kingdom. The highlight was a performance of The Lion King's "Circle of Life."

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Of course, the day featured special anniversary merchandise, including free commemorative maps and buttons to all guests. The line to purchase items such as T-shirts, Vinylmation figures and pins at Creature Comforts stretched to two hours at one point. Didn't make it to the anniversary party? One T-shirt design is available at DisneyStore.com through Thursday.

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Disney's Wildlife Conservation Fund offered an anniversary button to all those who donated $1 or more to the charity. Disney matches all donations to the fund at 100 percent.

Animal Kingdom also hosted artists and photographers who specialize in landscapes and nature designs, and their work was available for purchase on Earth Day. And what birthday would be complete without a cupcake? This cute Worms & Dirt confection is for sale all week at Kusafari Coffee Shop and Bakery and Isle of Java.

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Throughout the park, visitors were able to learn more about Disney's conservation efforts with special displays. Perhaps the most fun for younger guests, though, were the five Party for the Planet stations that helped kids learn about various aspects of conservation and planet stewardship through hands-on activities.

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In Asia, the booth was located at the end of the Maharajah Jungle Trek. Kids were invited to "shop" at a store and asked to find the items that are most Earth-friendly. At the end, cast members explained how to choose "green" products to make a difference for wildlife and nature. In Africa, at the Pangani Forest Exploration Trail, kids followed five simple clues to learn how to identify animals in the wild. Of course, one was dung, which had the children around us laughing. No surprise there since bathroom humor always is a hit among the younger set.

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Rafiki's Planet Watch hosted the other three Party for the Planet stations, and they were inspired by Disneynature films. Outside the building, guests could learn about flying creatures ("Wings of Life"). One neat tip a cast member suggested was to place a light under a sheet to attract bugs for observation. And she demonstrated devices to capture and study crawling insects, too. Inside, kids could play a computer game that helped them understand behaviors of cheetahs and lions ("African Cats"), and another tactile game to learn how chimpanzees create tools from objects they find in nature ("Chimpanzee").

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Along the way, kids were invited to address postcards to friends and family and drop them in mailboxes, and Disney would take care of mailing the cards for free. Also, kids who completed the activities at each station were given a prize, and, together, the five prizes formed a wildlife tracking kit.

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For a theme park that has spent the past 15 years promoting the safekeeping of the planet and its inhabitants, Monday's Earth Day events certainly were a natural fit.

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April 20, 2013

15 things for families to love about Disney's Animal Kingdom

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If we've heard it once, we've heard it numerous times: Many first-time Walt Disney World guests think that Animal Kingdom is nothing more than a glorified zoo. In fact, the misconception was so common in the theme park's early days that the Mouse, himself, ran ads for Animal Kingdom proclaiming it was "natazu."

Since the park opened 15 years ago, though, there have been additions large and small that have made the park what it is today -- a place where guests can enjoy world-class entertainment and see and learn about the animal inhabitants of the Earth. In honor of Monday's anniversary and Earth Day celebration at Animal Kingdom, I offer 15 things that kids and families love to do at Disney World's newest theme park.

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1. Kilimanjaro Safaris -- Guests of all ages enjoy this open-air ride through an African-style savanna, and its often-long lines are a testament to its popularity. Some fans were upset last year when the ride was modified to remove the Little Red poacher story, and others were excited about the announcement of zebras to the viewing areas. We recommend riding this early in the day to see the greatest variety of animals.

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2. Expedition Everest -- Thrill-seekers won't want to miss this heart-pounding coaster that takes riders backwards in the dark and down an 80-foot drop at speeds up to 50 miles an hour. This is an intense ride to escape the Yeti, but kids who love it, like my daughter, will ride it over and over again. Riders must be 44 inches tall. Be sure to get a FastPass to avoid a lengthy wait.

3. Festival of The Lion King -- The beloved story of Simba and Nala, along with Pumba and Timon, is retold in a live production with energetic music, mesmerizing choreography and amazing acrobatics. The 30-minute show repeats multiple times each day. Although there has been no official announcement, it is widely believed that the Festival of the Lion King Theater will be moving from Camp Minnie-Mickey to the Africa section to make room for the new Avatar land of Animal Kingdom.

4. Kali River Rapids -- Cool off with a whitewater rafting trip through Asia. There is nothing to be scared of on this ride -- unless you don't want to get wet! If you somehow manage to make it to the end unscathed, don't congratulate yourself too soon; kids and adults can trigger sprays of water from the bridge overlooking the rafts. Riders must be 38 inches tall.

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5. Flame Tree Barbecue -- This is my family's top pick for lunch because of the tasty food and the outdoor terraced seating. Choose from ribs, chicken, turkey, pork sandwiches and a delicious salad at the counter-service restaurant. Then, find a shaded seat near the reflecting pool or at the bottom of the winding trail to see (and hear!) the Expedition Everest riders. Years ago, a boat would carry Mickey, Minnie and their friends past some of the seating areas, which was a fun surprise for the kids, who would love for that feature to return.

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6. Tusker House -- If you're looking for a character meal, Tusker House is the place for you. Donald Duck and his friends greet guests for breakfast and lunch as they enjoy a number of buffets with African foods and American favorites. The kids buffet and the dessert bar shouldn't be missed. Dinner is served without the characters. (You can find my lunch review here.)

7. Wildlife Express Train -- This open-air train with seats designed to face outward can be an attraction in itself for young kids. It leaves Africa every 5 to 7 minutes and takes passengers to Rafiki's Planet Watch, which feels like a whole other theme park. Along the way, guests will get glimpses behind the scenes of some of the night-time shelters for the animals.

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8. Affection Section -- At Rafiki's Planet Watch, kids can visit this petting yard where they are invited to brush goats and pet other animals under cast members' supervision. This is a fun, hands-on area. As a parent, I appreciate the well-stocked hand-washing station that guests are strongly encouraged to use on the way out.

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9. The Boneyard -- This huge play area in DinoLand U.S.A. features multi-level slides, tunnels and nets for climbing. Plus, there is a fantastic dino dig area where kids can unearth bones. This play area has features that appeal to kids of all ages and has long been a favorite for my own children. A cast member mans the single entrance and exit so kids cannot leave without their parents.

10. TriceraTop Spin -- Take a ride on the prehistoric version of Dumbo The Flying Elephant. This ride operates the same way, allowing riders to control its vertical movement so they can see the nearby sights and lights.

11. Finding Nemo -- The Musical -- Guests can take in a Broadway-style show during their visit to Animal Kingdom while they relive the story of Nemo and friends. This amazing show is well worth making time for. With the announcement of a sequel to the popular Pixar movie, we have to wonder if we'll be Finding Dory at Animal Kingdom, as well.

12. It's Tough to Be a Bug! -- Housed in the root system of the iconic Tree of Life, this 3D show is made for kids who don't mind the dark -- or a few surprises. My own children do not like this attraction, because of its intensity, but we know plenty of visitors who consider this a must-do on each trip.

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13. Character greetings -- Favorite Disney characters come out to meet guests daily at Animal Kingdom, but it's also fun to see the hard-to-find characters, such as Pocahontas and, occasionally, Jiminy Cricket.

14. Mickey's Jammin' Jungle Parade -- This whimsical parade, which takes place at 3:45 p.m. daily, brings beloved Disney characters together with a larger-than-life tribute to their animal friends. A holiday version of the parade is shown for most of November and December each year.

15. Rainforest Cafe -- One of two Rainforest Cafe restaurants at Walt Disney World is located outside the gates of Animal Kingdom. Like its other locations, this one offers the trademark sights and sounds of the jungle, plus a large gift shop. The atmosphere is a fun way to cap off a day at Animal Kingdom.

April 9, 2013

How fans can be Kingdon Keepers for a day at Walt Disney World

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This weekend, my 10-year-old son set out to be a Kingdom Keeper at the Magic Kingdom using the self-guided quest in Birnbaum Guides 2013 Walt Disney World edition. We didn't encounter any villains, but we did have fun with a new challenge in a favorite theme park.

For those not familiar with the term "Kingdom Keepers," it comes from a popular series of books by the same name from author Ridley Pearson. The Kingdom Keepers are students who protect the theme park from Disney villains, known as Overtakers in the books.

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In 2011, Disney Youth Education Series (YES) launched the first Kingdom Keepers Quest, a self-guided tour that Pearson helped design to create an immersive experience for the series' fans at Magic Kingdom. Because that program also has educational components -- such as building skills in problem solving, creativity, language arts, mathematics and critical thinking -- it is offered to groups of students.

Fans who weren't visiting the Magic Kingdom with their schools, though, were disappointed and had no such opportunity -- until this year's Birnbaum Guide was published. So, what can fans like my son expect from the individual self-guided quest?

"[The quests] are all me, so they're the same feel," Pearson told me recently. "I think that because of space limitations, they're certainly truncated. " They may be a little more difficult in YES, but those take 3 to 4 hours, and this one takes, maybe, an hour and a half."

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Don't be fooled, though. Birnbaum's Kingdom Keepers Quest is not simple -- at least not for a fourth-grader and his mother. We didn't have any difficulty finding the various locations in Magic Kingdom that the clues describe, but some of the codes and word play took multiple readings to decipher. This was especially true of the first quest in the set of five. Fortunately, you can solve the quests in any order and then put the clues together for the final answer, so we did skip the first one and save it for the end.

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Embedded in each quest are passages from "Kingdom Keepers: Disney After Dark," the first book in the series, which hint at some of the answers. And, if you have a smartphone and download an app, there are extra goodies you can unlock in the Magic Kingdom to help entertain and guide you through the quests. I don't want to give those surprises away, but the ones we saw were pretty darn cool. Plus, smartphone users can tackle an additional Expert Challenge Quest.

Can't get enough Kingdom Keepers? You're in luck. Disney Youth Education Series currently is testing a new quest for school groups at Animal Kingdom that will launch soon. Individual fans will get their own Animal Kingdom quest in the 2014 Birnbaum Guides for Walt Disney World, which will be released this fall.

"I'm just finishing now a new [Birnbaum quest] for 2014 that is four pages of Magic Kingdom and four pages of Animal Kingdom," Pearson told me. "I think we'll build that out as the years go forward."

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In the meantime, fans can meet Pearson this week when he appears at Walt Disney World to sign copies of the latest book in the series, "Kingdom Keepers 6: Dark Passage," which was released April 2. For details on these events and more about what's in store in the next Kingdom Keepers books, please see my earlier blog post.

January 8, 2013

The many great reasons to visit Disney World in January

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In Orbitz's annual travel index, Orlando has been named as one of the "Sure Bets for Great Deals in 2013." This designation comes in large part due to the expansion of New Fantasyland at Magic Kingdom and great deals year-round at the Disney World hotels. So, in light of that news, let's take a look at why visiting Walt Disney World in January makes sense.

** As Orbitz mentioned and many theme-park fans know, some of the best deals can be found for Walt Disney Resort vacations because travel typically slows after the holidays. With the exception of New Year's, marathon and Martin Luther King Day weekends, the room rates are considered value prices. Pair that with an incentive deal, and a trip to Disney World may be within your budget. Disney recently announced an up to 30% resort discount for select dates, February - June.

** Because the kids have gone back to school, and it's not yet time for the staggered spring breaks, the crowds tend to be the lightest of the year in January. Sure, the parks may have shorter hours, but if your wait times are significantly reduced and you're able to experience all the attractions, that leaves you more time to explore the nightlife at Disney World outside the parks. Parents may want to book the kids club and have a night out to themselves.

** If your family believes there can never be too much Christmas magic, you may be in luck. Most holiday performances continue into the new year -- some for days and some for the week. And the Christmas decorations usually stay up through marathon weekend.

** Speaking of runners, the Walt Disney World Marathon -- a fun and prestigious race -- takes place in Orlando in January. But even if you are not a serious runner, that weekend can be a fun experience participating in shorter races, such as the family 5K, which can be walked. There are even races for kids, which means the whole family can start a new year of health and fitness together. With marathon weekend upon us (Jan. 12-14), the events are sold out for this year, but families still can have fun cheering on the runners.

** This week notwithstanding, Orlando's weather typically is cooler in January, lending itself to hot chocolate in the parks or beside a hotel's roaring fire while wearing those jeans and long sleeves. It's a nice change from the sweltering summer experience. Visitors also might find the campfires for roasting marshmallows at their deluxe hotels more palatable.

First-time visitors or guests who want to see specific attractions should be aware that because January is a slow period at Disney World, many refurbishments are scheduled then. Be sure to check the AllEars.Net list of closures if this is a concern for you. Ultimately, though, the tradeoff of missing a few attractions for better prices, fewer visitors and cooler weather may just be worth it.

January 1, 2013

Where to find healthy, tasty salads at Walt Disney World

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It's January 1 and time for all those New Year's resolutions to kick in. For many of us, among our annual promises is one to eat healthier and/or lose weight.

Admittedly, this can be tough when you're visiting Walt Disney World. And, if this is your once-in-a-lifetime vacation, it's understandable that the calorie content of your meals and snacks is not your top priority. For some, though, eating well continues on vacation. It's always a bonus to get home and find you haven't gained weight, right?

Because I live in Orlando and am fortunate to visit The Most Magical Place on Earth frequently, I want to find foods that fit my dietary needs without feeling like I am being deprived while visiting a theme park with my family. For me, this means mostly quick-service foods with protein and a lot of vegetables, limiting the carbs and sugar. More often than not, I end up eating salads.

To that end, here are some of my favorite salads in the Disney parks that are available at counter-service restaurants (for the most part), are comparatively inexpensive, and are more interesting than a basic garden salad.

Magic Kingdom

In the summer of 2011, Columbia Harbor House in Liberty Square at Magic Kingdom added several healthy dishes to a menu that was heavy on fried foods. That's when the Broccoli Peppercorn Salad was introduced to the menu, replacing the BLT salad.

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Broccoli Peppercorn Salad

It contains mixed greens, garden vegetables (including peas, corn and carrots), chicken, broccoli, bacon and Parmesian tossed with a creamy Peppercorn dressing." What the Disney description doesn't tell you is that the grilled chicken also is served warm on the salad, and there is a generous amount of protein for the $8.19 price. I really love this salad and usually have it when I'm at Magic Kingdom. A bonus: Columbia Harbour House is located close to New Fantasyland.

If I am looking for tasty salad at a sit-down restaurant in the Magic Kingdom, I choose the Chicken Strawberry Salad at The Plaza restaurant. It contains fresh garden greens, grilled chicken breast, fresh strawberries, Gorgonzola cheese and is tossed in a white Zinfandel vinaigrette dressing for $14.99. It's also filling, which is key when you're limiting what you eat.

Animal Kingdom

For many, a trip to Disney's Animal Kingdom is not complete without a meal at Flame Tree BBQ. The counter-service restaurant not only serves up delicious barbecue favorites, but it also has unique outdoor dining with terraces that overlook fountains, foliage and even Expedition Everest. (Many years ago, an open-air boat also shuttled Disney characters around the lake, and diners on the lowest terraces could exchange waves while dining. We miss that!)

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Barbecued Chicken Salad

My longtime favorite here is, you guessed it, the Barbecued Chicken Salad for $7.79. However, the ingredients were changed last summer, and it doesn't have quite the same appeal for my taste. The thin slices of chicken still are coated with the restaurant's signature spice rub, but garbanzo and pinto beans have been added, as well as tortilla strips, to the salad. I liked the previous version better, but this still is a good option for healthy dining, in my opinion, and others might find it more tasty than I do.

Epcot

Talk about making the tough choices! Forgoing all the great food at Epcot is not my favorite thing to do, but I have found a salad that makes healthy eating not quite as painful. Sunshine Seasons in Future World's The Land serves a Roasted Beets and Goat Cheese Salad with honey sherry dressing for $7.89. I don't care for beets, so I always ask if I may substitute grilled chicken, and my request has been honored. (Sometimes there is a charge for the additional protein, though some servers consider it an even trade.) This salad also contains a generous portion of nuts, which helps make it satisfying.

Hollywood Studios

The Brown Derby at Hollywood Studios is known for its famous Cobb Salad, but I found this Disney theme park to be the most difficult in which to find a good salad at a counter-service restaurant. After experimenting with several salads -- including the Asian Salad (which has since been replaced) at ABC Commissary and the Fairfax Salad at Fairfax Fare -- I finally hit the jackpot at Backlot Express.

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Cantaloupe and Cucumber Salad

This restaurant, located near the Jedi Training Academy and Star Tours, now offers two interesting salads, though only one has protein included. The Southwest Salad with Chicken includes mixed greens, crisp corn tortilla, black bean relish and cilantro vinaigrette with hefty chicken strips for $8.49. The Cantaloupe and Cucumber Salad offers chopped romaine, red onion, tomato, green peas and Zinfandel vinaigrette for $6.49. I prefer the Cantaloupe and Cucumber Salad, but it definitely is not as filling without some protein.

If you have a favorite salad, please tell us about it in the comments. We'd also love to hear your tips for eating healthy when you're visiting Walt Disney World.


September 20, 2012

It's easy to be Finding Nemo at Walt Disney World

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If you or your children enjoy Nemo and his ocean friends, Walt Disney World offers plenty of opportunities to visit his Big Blue World. And, with the recent theatrical release of the 3D version of the film, now is the perfect time to dive right in and continue to experience the joys of the film.

We are in the middle of the limited-engagement theater release of "Finding Nemo 3D." If your children, like mine, were too young to see this Disney-Pixar classic when it first was released in theaters in 2003, now is your time to experience this colorful marvel on the big screen. The 3D effects really enhance an already wonderful movie. (This version is expected to be released on Blu-ray and DVD on Dec. 4.)

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In support of the movie, Disney Publishing Worldwide has released two apps -- Finding Nemo: Storybook Deluxe and Finding Nemo Interactive Comic. In the storybook app, young readers will experience the story with a special set of effects, including underwater sounds, the ability to create bubbles and a Whale Chat with Dory. Like other Disney storybook apps, this one has different reading levels and allows kids to record their own voices reading the story. There also are new versions of kid favorites such as finger-painting pages, games and puzzles. Finding Nemo: Storybook Deluxe is $6.99 and is available on iPhones, iPads and iPod touches.

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Finding Nemo Interactive Comic is aimed at older kids, ages 7 to 12, because it's an advanced interactive graphic novel. It includes concept drawings by Disney Pixar artists who worked on the original film, sound effects and even step-by-step drawing lessons. Finding Nemo Interactive Comic is $1.99 and is available on iPhones, iPads and iPod touches, too.

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Planning a trip to Walt Disney World? There are several ways to visit with Nemo. The new Art of Animation Resort opened in May, allowing guests to feel like they have stepped into the movie. The Finding Nemo family suites are aptly themed and cleverly designed. From plastic coral chairs for the dining table to bathrooms fit for Bruce and friends to the school-of-fish artwork, every detail recalls "Finding Nemo." The Big Blue Pool, or main pool, has larger-than-life statues of many of the characters, and even offers music underwater, jellyfish figures that drip water, and a splash pad where Nemo's friends shoot water. In the restaurant and lobby, guests will find concept and landscape art from "Finding Nemo."

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At Epcot, The Seas with Nemo & Friends pavilion is the place to be. A ride by the same name takes guests on Marlin's journey to find his son as they travel under the sea in clam-mobiles. Much of the dark attraction projects the animated characters on the aquarium, but there also are some very cool effects, such as the moving jellyfish and riding the EAC with Crush. Outside the pavilion, guests will hear the sea gulls chirping "Mine! Mine! Mine!" and there is a great photo opportunity with statues of Nemo and friends.

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While inside The Seas pavilion, guests also can interact with the popular surfer sea turtle at Turtle Talk with Crush! This attraction uses 3D animation and allows Crush to talk back and forth with kids in the audience. During the 10-minute show, Crush tells jokes and performs some on-screen acrobatics.

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At Disney's Animal Kingdom, guests can experience a 30-minute Broadway-style show called "Finding Nemo - The Musical" at Theater in the Wild. This amazing performance showcases talented actors, singers, dancers and acrobats who use large, colorful puppets and animated backdrops to retell the story of "Finding Nemo." It also features the original song, "Big Blue World," which was written for this show and also can be heard at the end of The Sea with Nemo & Friends ride. "Finding Nemo -- The Musical" offers the only opportunity for guests to meet the Nemo characters; performers may bring their puppets back out to the stage after the performance and talk with guests.

When "Finding Nemo" was released in 2003, it was an immediate hit with filmgoers and critics alike. Its compelling storyline of parenthood resonated with family audiences, as did Nemo and Marlin's epic quest set against the timeless theme of loss and redemption. As with most all Pixar films, its visual beauty on the big screen was, and remains, unrivaled. Now, some nine years later, fans can continue to experience the film's characters and themes here in Orlando.

Just keep swimming. There's no telling what you might see.


August 23, 2012

What families need to know about free Wi-Fi at Disney World's Magic Kingdom

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Finally! Walt Disney World has responded to the requests of so many guests who, like me, are tethered to their electronic devices. Earlier this month, free Wi-Fi became available at the Magic Kingdom.

For those of us who rely on Internet service with our smart phones and tablets, this could mean a boost in the ability to upload photos, videos and other dense data. Who doesn't want to share their memories in the making while they're visiting the Mouse? It's hard to resist in this era of constant status updates and tweets.

Be aware, though, that the new Disney Wi-Fi is not a guarantee of better connectivity because the bandwidth that's available depends on the number of users in your corner of the theme park. It does seem to help, though. On a recent visit to Storybook Circus, my family found the upload speeds to be slow in the crowded Casey Jr. area. On past visits, though, we often couldn't connect at all with our cellular service until we walked away from the splash pad and closer to the Dumbo The Flying Elephant attraction.

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For my family, perhaps the best thing about the free Wi-Fi is that it allows my husband and I to better keep in touch with our kids by texting them on their iPods, which need Wi-Fi for texting. We don't think they need smart phones at their ages, but they are getting old enough to venture out from us in small ways, such as going to a nearby bathroom or kiosk, and it's comforting to have a way to contact them. (I realize many parents would not allow their children out of their sight at the busy Disney theme park, but my children have grown up there and know the lay of the land.)

Texting doesn't take a lot of bandwidth, of course, so its functionality is more reliable than than that of uploading photos or video chatting, for example. Being able to use the free Wi-Fi at the Magic Kingdom gives our family another communication tool and my husband and I some peace of mind.

Walt Disney World has said it expects to offer free Wi-Fi at Epcot, Hollywood Studios, Animal Kingdom and Downtown Disney by early 2013. All Disney World hotels have been upgraded to offer the complimentary Internet service.

July 17, 2012

Tips for helping your kids start pin trading at Disney World

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My son and daughter have been trading pins at Walt Disney World for almost four years now and the excitement of it hasn't dulled. As a parent, I think it's a fun hobby for them, and it adds a bit of excitement to our trips into the theme parks. I'd like to share a few tips we've learned along the way, in case pin-trading is something you're considering.

First, be aware that Disney does have some basic rules for pin trading:

** Teach your child to ask to view a cast member's pins. Do not grab at lanyards.
** Pins must be metal and represent a Disney event, character, location or icon, and be in good condition.
** There is a limit of two trades per guest with the same cast member.
** No money can be involved in the trade.
** Cast members with green lanyards can only trade with kids ages 3 to 12.

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Allowing your child to approach the cast member while you listen is a great way for them to learn and practice social interaction skills in a safe, controlled environment.

The start-up costs for pin-trading may seem expensive if you're buying for more than one child. This activity certainly can be pricey for the serious collectors. But if you're just trading for fun, there are some ways to lower expenses.

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First, you'll need something to display your pins. Many guests choose lanyards, which typically are the least-expensive option. You can purchase them in just about any Disney World gift ship, or perhaps you already received some as part of a Disney promotion. For example, Disney Cruise Line gives lanyards to returning cruisers and Disney World passholders received them one year as well. Another option is a soft album, and these come in various sizes and prices. The smaller ones actually have straps and can be worn as a bag or purse.

My children have multiple lanyards -- one for pins they want to save and one for pins they are willing to trade. After losing a few pins that were near-and-dear to their hearts, we invested in the locking backs -- about $10 for 10 backs. Now, though, I almost wish we had bought the more expensive album-type bags because I think they would allow easier access to the pins -- no locking backs needed -- and there would be less opportunity for loss because of the zippered closure.

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The other big expense is the pins themselves. Pins in the parks start at about $7 and increase in price. This can add up quickly if you want to give your child a handful to get started. You can purchase a starter set, which contains several pins and a lanyard. Those prices begin at about $30.

But, if you're not picky about the design, many guests recommend purchasing pins on eBay for the best deal. Typically those lots contain anywhere from 25 to 100 pins, making the average cost less than a dollar per pin. Don't need 100 pins? Perhaps you can split the lot with friends. Be aware, however, that some of these sellers are offering scrappers, which are pins not authorized by Disney and cannot be traded on property.

Guests who are really into pin trading look forward to an annual event at Epcot that is just for them. This year's "Disney Trade Celebration 2012 - Mickey's Circus" takes place from 9:30 a.m. to 6 p.m. on September 7 and 8. Event admission is $120 per person plus Epcot admission, and registration has opened. For all the details, check out here.

Also, Downtown Disney Marketplace's Disney's Pin Traders is continuing to host monthly events with Disney Design Group artists. Artist Adrianne Draude, who is behind the creation of a number of Walt Disney World pins, will be meeting with fans and signing pins from 5 to 7 p.m. on July 27, August 10, and September 28. (Be sure to subscribe to the AllEars.Net newsletter for all the latest news of special pin-trading events.)

For answers to many other questions, check out Disney's official pin-trading site, and please share your pin-trading tips and experiences in the comments.

June 14, 2012

Ideas for celebrating Father's Day at Walt Disney World

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It's not too late to plan a fun-filled Father's Day weekend at Walt Disney World -- and there are even some last-minute bargains to be had. From traditional pastimes in the most magical of locations to experiences created only by Disney, dads are sure to appreciate their happy day at The Most Magical Place on Earth. Let's consider some of the things most dads enjoy - fast cars, sports, beer and spending time with their loved ones.

Cars

If your dad or husband is into fast cars, visit the Walt Disney World Speedway and let him get inside a NASCAR-style stock car for three laps with a professional driver. Ride-alongs through the Richard Petty Driving Experience start at $109 and do not require reservations. Looking for a splurge? Put him behind the wheel, starting at $449. (My husband, who is not a NASCAR fan, has experienced the ride-along and was surprised by how much he enjoyed it.) By booking ahead of time at 1-800-237-3889, you can get the ride-along for $59 for Father's Day. Also, any drive experience qualifies for a second one at half off, if booked in advance this week.

The Exotic Driving Experience -- allowing guests to drive supercars by Ferrari, Lamborghini, Audi and Porsche -- is new to Walt Disney World Speedway this year. It is not available on Father's Day, but you can purchase a ride for later in the month by calling 855-822-0149. Prices range from $169 to $419. (Read more about these thrilling experiences at http://allears.net/btp/petty.htm)

Is your man more comfortable in the stands? Make sure you visit Disney's Hollywood Studios and watch the "Lights, Motors, Action! Extreme Stunt Show" that is performed multiple times each day. This is a fun look at what it takes to film stunts, and there are plenty of surprises along the way. FastPasses are available for the 40-minute show.

Golf

Men who love to golf can choose from five courses on Walt Disney World property: Disney's Palm and Magnolia, Lake Buena Vista, Osprey Ridge and Oak Trail. Last year, Arnold Palmer Golf Management took over the operation and maintenance of the courses. (Greens fees for the 9-hole Oak Trail are included in Disney World premium annual passes.)

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If you want to spend time with the man of your family while he enjoys the game, why not try Disney World's family friendly miniature golf courses? Winter Summerland, located adjacent to Blizzard Beach water park, has 36 holes of wonderfully themed putting greens. Fantasia Gardens, located near the Walt Disney World Swan and Dolphin hotel, offers putting greens and a par-3 course. Cost is $12.52 per 18 holes for adults and $10.39 for ages 3 to 9. Passholders receive a 50 percent discount. Also, the second round on the same day is half off for all guests.(AllEars has more details about the courses here and here)

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Drinking around the World

Dads who want to sample alcohol of different origins might want to consider an adults-only afternoon or evening at Epcot. With eleven countries represented in the World Showcase, there are quite a few options. Among the perennial favorites: La Cava del Tequila inside the Mexico pavilion for unique margaritas; Sommerfest in Germany for an Oktoberfest beer; Les Vins des Chefs de France cart in France for the Grand Mariner Orange Slush and the Grey Goose Citron Lemonade Slush; and the Rose & Crown Pub in the United Kingdom for various ales and lagers that can be combined.

Not going into a theme park on Sunday? There are many Disney hotels and restaurants that house cool lounges and bars. The Disney Food Blog gives us a list of the Top 10 here.

Family time

Maybe Dad's biggest desire for his special day is to make some unique memories with his children at Walt Disney World. At the Magic Kingdom, fathers might enjoy watching their daughters be transformed into the princesses of their dreams at the Bibiddi Bobiddi Boutique. He also might like to see his sweet little girl change into a menacing pirate at the Magic Kingdom's Pirate League.

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Others might like to share their love of trains with their kids, learning more about them through Disney's "The Magic Behind Our Steam Trains" tour at Walt Disney World (ages 10 and older).

Perhaps dinner and a show about fatherhood would be just the ticket. If so, "Finding Nemo -- The Musical" is a Broadway-style performance daily at Disney's Animal Kingdom sure to entertain everyone in the family. Nearby, Flame Tree Barbecue offers the traditional favorite meals with outdoor terrace seating, and it gives Dad a break from manning the grill for a change. (See the menu here.)

These are just a few - and, granted, stereotypical - ideas, but there are so many more possibilities for celebrating Father's Day at Walt Disney World. With your imagination and all that Walt Disney World offers, you can create a very special day.

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About Disney's Animal Kingdom

This page contains an archive of all entries posted to A Mom and The Magic in the Disney's Animal Kingdom category. They are listed from oldest to newest.

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