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September 27, 2008

The Real Wilderness Lodge

We recently returned from a week at Yellowstone National Park - an
Adventure by Laura as opposed to an Adventure by Disney. :-) It
was a terrific trip - all of you going on the Adventures by Disney trip with
Deb Wills next August will have a great time, I'm sure!

One of the places we stayed was Old Faithful Inn...and while I'd read
that the design of Disney's Wilderness Lodge was inspired
by Old Faithful Inn, I wasn't quite prepared for the reality! It
was really uncanny in a lot of ways. (Though I might have felt
more like I was in Florida if the high outside hadn't been 45
degrees!)

Here's an exterior view of both hotels:

The Real Wilderness Lodge

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And the lobby:

The Real Wilderness Lodge

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The Real Wilderness Lodge

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Artist Point restaurant and the Old Faithful Inn dining room:

The Real Wilderness Lodge

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The Old Faithful Inn was beautiful and had a lot of atmosphere, but Wilderness Lodge is a WHOLE lot more comfortable. We were staying in the original part of the Old Faithful Inn (called "Old House") and our room was small and dark, and had only two small (and very dim) overhead lights. It was almost impossible to read in there. We had a sink but no bathroom - those were across the hall. No TV or phone either, and what's even worse - no internet! :-)

(If you're interested in seeing more photos from our Yellowstone trip,
I've put an on-line photo album HERE.
Just click the "View Slideshow" button. It was an incredible place!)

May 11, 2008

My Bonus Trip to WDW - Part 5

You can blame commando Lee for the fact that there was no blog entry yesterday. Since it was his only day to play in the parks he made the most of it - we got a short afternoon break back in the room, but that was it.

We started our day with a three mile walk around the resort area - it was warm and muggy already. After breakfast (and after he did some work stuff) we drove to Animal Kingdom. It was a lot more crowded than when I was there on Wednesday - the standby lines were double what I experienced.

After we got Fastpasses for the Safari we visited the Maharajah Jungle Trek. Where we learned the first of several new things that I learned that day: Never get into a staring contest with a Komodo Dragon. They only close their eyes to sleep or to protect them from the sun.

The tigers were doing what tigers do best - sleeping. Though at least they were sacked out right up against the windows of the viewing area so people could see them.

Over at Expedtion Everest we asked for our CM friend - and of course he was on his break. A nice CM went and found him, though, and we had a brief chat before he had to go back to work. Lee and I went to see the Flights of Wonder show. Which we've seen many times, but we still enjoy it. There was a new (and much younger) actress playing Guano Jane this time. And even a few new jokes and puns. We also saw some different birds - instead of the crow who usually does the dollar bill schtick, it was a parrot. And this particular parrot was fairly new, and hadn't mastered the part about returning the money - he kept putting it back into the trainer's pocket. :-) Eventually Guano Jane had to take it back, doing her best flapping her arms bird imitation. Which was pretty scary, actually.

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And here we learned a second new thing...there was a grackel who had taken offense at some of the birds in the show and was dive-bombing the owl and the Harris hawk when they were out - even though they were much larger than he was! The trainer said this behavior is called "mobbing", and the birds do it in defense of their nesting areas. It didn't seem to bother the larger birds very much, though.

The standby line for the Safari was approching an hour - we're used to zooming right on with Fastpasses, but even the Fastpass line was backed up quite a ways. Once we got to the point where the Fastpass and Standby lines merged it stopped completely, since there were no jeeps showing up! After about 10 minutes they finally announced that there was a "wildebeest migration on the savanna" that had delayed the jeeps. One finally showed up...and then there were no more for another 10 minutes. It was definitely the longest I've ever waited for a safari when I had a Fastpass!.

The safari itself was just ok - not as many animals as we sometimes see, though quite a few on the savanna. Where we learned something else that was new - the male sable antelope are darker, almost black, while the females are the lighter brown color.

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In Pangani Forest the four gorillas in the bachelor troop were all out and moving around - that was quite a treat to see all of them!

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One of them picked up a branch and carried it around before sitting down to strip the bark off and eat it.

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Before we left the park we rode Everest (where our friend collected our Fastpasses!), and then had ice cream from the colorful truck there. It was melting pretty fast on such a warm day! I think they have the best soft-serve in the parks.

Back at the room we relaxed for a little while and made a late lunch out of the cold pizza Lee's coworkers had insisted we take the night before. I went through some photos and we took a short nap before leaving again around 5:00 - this time we took the bus.

We didn't have to wait too long for the bus and soon were on our way to the Studios. We noticed that the pre-recorded bus spiel that plays automagically when you get close to the park still talks about the Stars and Motorcars Parade, which is no longer running. Oops.

I'm not quite sure why Lee wanted to go to the Studios, since it's our least favorite park, but it was his day to do what he wanted. Lines here were pretty minimal - posted 10 minute standbys for Rock 'n' Roller Coaster and Tower of Terror. Though the queue for Rock 'n' Roller Coaster completely stopped moving not long after we got in it - no explanation as to why, but after 5-10 minutes it started moving again and we rode with no further incident. We were starting to think we were a jinx! (Why does everyone feel like they have to run their hands over those glass doors at the ride's entrance? Does anyone else find it as annoying as I do?)

After we'd twisted and turned on the streets of L.A. and made a visit to the Twilight Zone, we walked around the park a bit, and rode Star Tours, which only had a 5 minute wait. As we headed out of the park there were a lot of groups of kids coming in - there were signs posted for some kind of Disney-Josten's Grad Night event. Even though it was 7:00 by then the sun hadn't gone down and it was still quite warm. Very different than the weather in California where it just doesn't stay hot all afternoon and evening!

We walked to Epcot from there - it had Extra Magic Hours that night and would be open until midnight. And besides we'd only walked about 8 miles so far that day. ;-) It seemed very strange to be walking past the Boardwalk and not going into it, though.

Once inside Epcot we got our Extra Magic Hour wristbands and caught Off Kilter's final set of the evening and got dinner from the Fish and Chips shop in the UK pavilion. They seemed to have changed the brand of malt vinegar they use - it didn't have much of a bite to it at all. We sat on a curb and listened to British Invasion while we were eating. They performed several songs from Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band. I think British Invasion has been performing together longer than the Beatles did.

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After the show an AllEars reader (who noticed the logo on the shirt I was wearing) came over to talk to me for a few minutes. Unfortunately I forgot to ask her name, but if she's reading this, it was nice chatting with you!

Over in France we got in line at the Patisserie to get something for dessert before Illuminations. We both had the chocolate mousse, which was pretty good. There were a lot more people in the park than when we were here Monday night, but we still found a spot in our favorite area near Germany, and the people in front of us obligingly remained seated on the ground for the entire show!

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Most people were headed out of the park but we went into the Seas pavilion and rode the Nemo ride. Man, that is a looooong queue!!! Fortunately it was pretty empty, and we just kept walking all the way to the loading area. The ride is cute - I liked the starfish that's up against the glass at the end who talks to you - one of her comments was something like "I saw 18,352 people yesterday!" Lee wanted to "talk turtle" so we went in to see "Turtle Talk with Crush", and that was fun, as always.

From there we Jouneyed into Our Imaginations. And watched the fountains outside, which were very pretty at night.

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At 10:30 at night Spaceship Earth actually had a line, though it was only a few minutes long. There were several people in line with us who did NOT have wristbands, but the CMs weren't checking, and let them on anyways (we noticed that at Imagination, also). So much for a "Resort Guest Only" event...Once we got on the ride we discovered we'd apparently managed to break another ride...though we could hear Judi Dench's narration, the rest of the audio soundtrack was silent. So no music or instructions, and it was sort of eerily silent when Judi Dench wasn't talking.

The computer in the Project Tomorrow area wasn't as good with its facial recognition this time and we had to tell it which photo was ours. A photo I would have included here, but it doesn't seem to have been emailed to me - which is what happened with the first one, too.

It was almost 11:00 by then, and we were tired, so we headed to the bus stop. The Port Orleans bus was there, but there was a line - I thought there was no way we'd get on but we did - and there were even 10-15 people who got on after we did. Standing room only of course, but it's a pretty short ride. We were back at the room about 11:15. Kind of a long park day for us, though! But it's all Lee's fault. :-)

We walked about 13 miles yesterday.

So today was departure day...sigh. We went to breakfast at Boatwright's. Lee had the Sweet Potato Pancakes and I had the French Toast. The French Toast was actually *real* French toast, made with thick slices of French bread. Of course then it was battered and deep fried and coated with sugar...but it was really good. :-)

Since we only had carry-on bags I suggested we get our boarding passes printed at the resort. This took a lot longer than I thought it would because of some problems with people ahead of us in line, and Lee was grumpusing at me for wanting to do it. But I looked like a genius when we got to the airport and the Continental check-in line was insanely long.

By the way...I was not real happy with Advantage Car Rental - they are off-site and we waited over 15 minutes for the shuttle to the airport - and there were people ahead of us that had waited longer than that. They couldn't get everyone who was waiting on the bus, either. They said that they only had two shuttle buses. Not good.

Some final thoughts...

It was very nice of Lee to take me with him to enjoy myself while he worked - thank you, dear. :-)

Though I missed being within walking distance of a theme park, I really liked a lot of things about Port Orleans Riverside. It's a lovely setting, and the paths around the resort are nice for walking/running - just not quite long enough. Lee and I thought there should be a path all the way along the river that connects it to Old Key West, and then to Saratoga Springs and Downtown Disney. The room was comfortable, though it was very inconvenient to have the outlet for the internet connection behind the nightstand rather than over next to the table. And I could've done without the annoying sound of the turbo-toilets flushing overhead - we were on the bottom floor, and one night I think I heard it 8 times between midnight and 7:00. The bus service was good - I never waited more than 10 minutes, and usually it was less than 5 whether I was at the resort or a theme park.

The Food Court was great, though - SO much better than anything available at any of the DVC resorts. There was really quite a selection with all of the different stations - you could order an omelet made-to-order at breakfast, and pasta and salads made-to-order the rest of the day. There were sandwiches and pizza and grilled items available, also, and I already raved about the turkey dinner. The bakery section was pretty good, too - the cinnamon rolls were especially delicious. And I thought the prices were very reasonable, also. And I enjoyed using my refillable mug. :-)

It seemed to be a good time to be at WDW, at least from a crowd standpoint. Mid-week (Monday-Thursday) the crowds were minimal - even at Magic Kingdom. The weather was pretty good, too. Not even a hint of rain, and the heat/humidity was not too bad, even for this wimpy southern Californian (though it got progressively warmer as the week went on and by yesterday afternoon I was starting to drag.) It is very nice not to even have to think about carrying a jacket at night, though!

I enjoyed the displays of Epcot's Flower and Garden Festival - there were a lot of topiaries that were new to me. Though I was disappointed in the Rose Walk this year - there didn't seem to be as many rose bushes, and not as much of a variety of roses, either. I enjoyed the Flower Power concert I attended. And I really wish our trip had been one day longer - I could've seen Davy Jones (I hear he puts on a great show), and we could've gone to the Toy Story Mania Annual Passholder Preview. Oh well...it'll be opening in California next month.

Speaking of Flower and Garden Festival...AllEars reader Susan tells me: "As part of the Flower and Garden Festival trolls have been hidden all through Norway." So that explains the ones that I noticed. I'm glad that I haven't just been unobservant all these years! :-) Thanks for the information, Susan!

It was really cool to get "dreamed", and to be able to attend the "Special Park Dream Time Event- event at the Magic Kingdom!

As usual, I didn't have nearly as much time to relax as I thought I would...though every day it was my plan to be back at the resort by 2:00 I never made it - though I came close on Thursday. There's just never enough time to do everything.

Thanks for reading!

May 6, 2008

My Bonus Trip to Walt Disney World - Part 1

I'm blogging live from WDW - and a couple of months ago I certainly didn't expect to be here right now!

Lee is attending a conference for work at Coronado Springs, and back in January asked me if I wanted to come with him. But I had work commitments - at that point in time we had the roll-out of a new system scheduled for the beginning of May, so I knew I wouldn't be able to go. But in March we found out that it had been delayed, so yippee, I could come along, too!

So I get to be a conference spouse and play in the parks while Lee works all day. It's a tough life. :-) The Flower and Garden Festival is going on at Epcot, which is one of my favorite events. If you've seen any of my trip reports you know that I love flowers. And the topiaries and bonsai and other garden displays around Epcot at this time of year are very nice.

We're staying at Port Orleans Riverside - the only other time I stayed here was December of 1997 when it was still called Dixie Landings. We're so used to staying in DVC resorts that this is going to be a little different, though the main thing that's going to be so shocking to me is that I can't walk to a theme park. We usually stay at Boardwalk Villas, and I'm very spoiled by being within walking distance to Epcot and the Studios.

As this trip approached I found myself looking forward to it and getting more excited about it than my "usual" WDW trips - I think that's because it was an unexpected bonus. It's also very unscripted - apart from getting together with Lisa Berton I have NO plans at all, so I'm free to indulge whatever whim takes my fancy - I can wander around and amuse myself or maybe even relax a ittle bit. Relaxing on vacation...what a concept. :-)

So...we've arrived and checked in - we're in the Acadian House in the Magnolia Bend area. Very few cars in the parking lot - we're not sure if that's because the resort is empty (hard to believe) or if there's just not as many people renting cars these days, and instead are relying on Disney transportation to get them from/to the airport and the parks.

It's our first night, so of course we had to go to Epcot! We didn't get there until almost 7:00, and first thing we had to do was get a new Annual Pass for me, since mine expired in November. It's very nice having the DVC member discount on that - saved us about $100!

Our first stop was Spaceship Earth, since we haven't seen the new version of it. I've seen a lot of less than favorable reviews of it but I thought that it's not that bad, and actually some of the narration made us chuckle - like the reference to the first "backups" provided by the Jewish and Middle Eastern scholars. We thought the whole interactive section at the end was kind of fun, though I can see that it would get old quickly. We ended up vacationing in spaceships in the future, as you can see below. Though the coolest thing was when we went to email the postcard to ourselves, and the face recognition stuff actually picked out our correct photo all by itself!

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The games down underneath looked fun - we played the "shuffleboard" energy game, and Lee tried the game that tested his reaction time, memory, and hand-eye coordination. It's a lot harder than it looks!

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And Lee wants me to point out that we were riding attractions at Disneyland yesterday and at WDW today.

On the way into World Showcase we passed the Stitch topiary - the first of many that I will photograph this week. :-)

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Since today was Cinco de Mayo we HAD to stop and get frozen margaritas at the stand in Mexico. It was really a very nice evening to be outside in shorts and t-shirt - while I wouldn't want to be doing vigorous exercise, it was quite comfortable for walking - even walking at our (fast) pace.

We had dinner at our traditional first night spot - Tangierine Cafe. They no longer have the Shawarma sandwiches, but I think the wraps are just as good. I had a chicken wrap and Lee had the lamb platter. We sat outside where we could hear Mo'rockin's last performance of the evening - could even see a bit of them.

And of course it's not a first night at Epcot if we don't watch Illuminations! There weren't too many people in the park, and we got a pretty good spot in Norway about 5 minutes before the show started. We love that show.

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Afterwards it was very strange to be walking out to the *front* of the park...normally we're walking out the International Gateway! There's a lot more people who go out the front! :-) And we saw a number of Cast Members wearing Mickey gloves who were saying good night and waving goodbye to people as we left.

So tomorrow...who knows what I'll be doing tomorrow? There's a good chance Disney buses and theme parks will be involved, though. :-)

November 10, 2007

Animal Kingdom Villas

We're DVC members and spent the last three nights of our trip in the new Animal Kingdom Villas (AKV). We have not stayed at Animal Kingdom Lodge in quite a while, but we get over there just about every trip to have dinner at Jiko or Boma or both.

Back when they first opened up AKV for reservations I booked a Savannah-View Studio for three nights. Check-in on Tuesday afternoon was easy, and since it was a bit after 4:00 our room was ready. We were in a room along the Zebra Trail on the 5th floor, overlooking the Uzima savannah.

The room was gorgeous but a bit dark - that seems to be the major complaint about the decor. Since the DVC rooms at AKV were converted from existing hotel rooms the studios have no closet - that's now the location of the kitchenette. So instead there's a big wardrobe - half of it contains the vacuum cleaner, ironing board and iron, and the other half has a closet pole and hangers. Not a lot of closet space, but it worked ok for us. I think it would be pretty cramped for four people, though.

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The queen-size bed is tall with a lovely dark wood headboard. We found that the bed creaked and the sheets were too stiff (starched?) and rustled any time either of us moved. The mattress was fairly comfortable, though - not too firm and not too soft. In the other half of the room is a sofa which pulls out into a queen-size bed, and a table and two (very heavy!) chairs, and two wooden footstools/coffee tables.

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I found the bathroom a bit cozy - it has an extra-wide door on it, and I had to stand against the tub to be able to open the bathroom door. It's a nice big tub, though, with a curved shower curtain rod. And the border of the shower curtain has little hidden mickeys in it - those were cute.

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We found our room to be very quiet - we never heard anyone on the other side of us, though we could hear those annoying stupid people who yell in the hallways and/or let the kids run wild and yell in the hallways.

We didn't have a very good room location as far as savannah-viewing went - our room was on the inside corner with the "people corral" (used in the event the building has to be evacuated) right behind it. It looked across the savannah towards the other wing of the building - we could see the viewing area that's near the pool. It also never had a lot of animals on it - there was almost always at least one eland on it, though - it seemed almost like they had decided it was "their" part of the savannah, and the other animals stayed away. We did see several giraffes cruise through at various times, though. One evening there was also a bontebok and an impala, but never groups of animals. We know they were on the savannah because one afternoon we went all the way to the end of the hallway and out onto the external stairway, and we saw a number of Thompson's gazelles and impala, two of the giraffes, several bontebok and some other antelope-type creature I couldn't identify. But they were on the far edge of the savannah and not the main part that was viewable from the majority of the rooms.

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And there were these animals, that I didn't recognize:

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We were somewhat disappointed in the food selection at The Mara - the last time we were here, they had some more interesting/exotic food items available for lunch and dinner. This time it was mostly the regular food court fare - pizza, burgers, chicken caesar salad - though they did have homemade soups and an "African stew". I was also disappointed that in the grab-and-go section the 4 piece assortment of zebra domes and chocolate mousse crunch was gone - now it's just zebra domes. Though I found out why when we ate at Boma - the chocolate mousse crunch is just a bowl of chocolate mousse now, and not those little individual servings with the crunchy chocolate cookie on the bottom (and the cookie was my favorite part!).

Boma and Jiko did not disappoint, though, and still remain our two favorite restaurants on property. We had a lovely dinner at Jiko on Halloween night - the restaurant had lots of empty tables and we enjoyed a nice leisurely dinner. Boma the next night was as busy and noisy as it always is - but we were dining with friends and enjoyed the company (not to mention the food and desserts!) despite the atmosphere.

I was very impressed by the bus service - we never waited more than 10 minutes to catch a bus either to or from the parks, and usually it was less than that! We came back from Epcot one afternoon and were the only two passengers on the bus. Though one thing that annoys me...the walkway to the Animal Kingdom Lodge bus stop goes right by a smoking area - I had to hold my breath every time we went past it. Bleah.

Sooooo...Animal Kingdom Villas gets a big thumbs up from us - good thing, since we bought points there and will be staying there over the next 50 years or so. :-) Since the current rooms were converted from existing hotel rooms, I AM looking forward to the opening of the Kidani Village units which are being built in a separate building with its own savannah. They should be a little larger and better laid-out.

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