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December 29, 2014

Animal Kingdom - Walt Disney World Construction Update

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Contributing photographer Jason of disneygeek.com sends us these photos.

In December I spent at week on the East Coast at Walt Disney World. If you follow my regular posts from Disneyland you know I enjoy looking at what changed and is changing around the parks. AllEars asked me to share some of the construction pictures I took as I explored Walt Disney World. This four-post series will look at Animal Kingdom, Magic Kingdom, Disney Springs, and the Polynesian Village Resort and feature a subset of my pictures. If you would like to view more from this trip here is my trip summary with links. This part takes a look at the projects at Disney's Animal Kingdom.

Approaching the park you can see a couple of cranes above the tree line where work on the Avatar area is progressing.

Animal Kingdom at WDW Construction Update

As the bus pulls in you get a glimpse of the construction. Not much is visible yet.

Animal Kingdom at WDW Construction Update

Walls are up on Discovery Island as work is done to widen the walkways.

Animal Kingdom at WDW Construction Update

The old line board is gone and the area is open now.

Animal Kingdom at WDW Construction Update

Out in Africa, Harambe is expanding. Not much is visible from this area. (This is taken from near the pretzel stand.)

Animal Kingdom at WDW Construction Update

A closer look reveals little.

Animal Kingdom at WDW Construction Update

This wall is at the end of the walkway past the Harambe Theatre, by the restrooms. Beyond it will be a walkway to the Avatar area.

Animal Kingdom at WDW Construction Update

Near Pizzafari on the former walkway to Camp Minnie-Mickey, another wall blocks the Avatar project.

Animal Kingdom at WDW Construction Update

You can read more about the AVATAR land project and see some artists' renderings HERE.

Between Flame Tree BBQ and Dinoland there's a project under way, too.

Animal Kingdom at WDW Construction Update

Earth is being moved around to create a viewing area for the Rivers of Light show.

Animal Kingdom at WDW Construction Update

Walls are up around most of the lagoon. This stretch is between the Theater in the Wild and Dinoland.

Animal Kingdom at WDW Construction Update

Some of the wall/tarp is more festive near Expedition Everest

Animal Kingdom at WDW Construction Update

Animal Kingdom at WDW Construction Update

Animal Kingdom at WDW Construction Update

A general renovation under way in the gibbons habitat in Asia.

Animal Kingdom at WDW Construction Update

Animal Kingdom at WDW Construction Update

A better look at the Rivers of Light work from the Flame Tree dining area.

Animal Kingdom at WDW Construction Update

Animal Kingdom at WDW Construction Update

Animal Kingdom at WDW Construction Update

A couple days later, new trees in the Harambe expansion.

Animal Kingdom at WDW Construction Update

A look at the project from the Wildlife Express

Animal Kingdom at WDW Construction Update

Animal Kingdom at WDW Construction Update

Animal Kingdom at WDW Construction Update

Pangani Forest Trail had the aviary and hippo area blocked off. This wall is at the outlook.

Animal Kingdom at WDW Construction Update

The Harambe expansion from the bridge.

Animal Kingdom at WDW Construction Update

A better shot of the wall from the other day, without the rain.

Animal Kingdom at WDW Construction Update

To close out, several shots of the Rivers of Light project:

Animal Kingdom at WDW Construction Update

Animal Kingdom at WDW Construction Update

Animal Kingdom at WDW Construction Update

Animal Kingdom at WDW Construction Update

Animal Kingdom at WDW Construction Update

Not much is known yet about the Rivers of Light show, but you can read a little about it and see some concept art HERE.


Hope you enjoyed this look at Disney's Animal Kingdom. For additional photos and details from this trip you can check out the full Trip Update I posted on my site, http://disneygeek.com Also be sure to follow me on twitter @disneygeekcom for pictures from the parks.



March 31, 2012

Disney Fantasy Maiden Voyage - Day 0

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Our Fantasy Maiden Voyage trip actually starts with a short trip to Walt Disney World...if we have to fly all the way across country we might as well visit the parks!

This time we are staying at Animal Kingdom Kidani Village, in a savanna view studio. We figure what's the point of staying at Animal Kingdom if you don't have a savanna view? We are overlooking the Sunset Savanna, though these next few photos were taken from the Sunset Savanna Overlook outside Sanaa.

Disney Fantasy Maiden Voyage - Day 0

The Sunset Savanna has zebras, and they are bullies. This ostrich is all riled up because the zebra on the left had just charged at it, even though the ostrich was minding its own business and not bothering the zebra.

Disney Fantasy Maiden Voyage - Day 0

We had dinner at Sanaa. It was really a wonderful dinner, and our server, Rico, was really good, and we had a lot of fun with him.

Disney Fantasy Maiden Voyage - Day 0


The towel animal in our room was a butterfly, and the card says: "A family is like a forest, when you are outside, it is dense, when you are inside you see that each tree has its place." Yeah, I have family members like that... ;-)

Disney Fantasy Maiden Voyage - Day 0

Despite the three hour time difference we managed to go to bed and get to sleep at a reasonable time, and were up this morning in plenty of time to make it to Animal Kingdom a little before it opened at 9:00. We got Fastpasses for the Safari - knowing that now that the rules have changed, we would actually have to be back BEFORE our Fastpass window expired. We did a quick ride on Expedition Everest - that'll give you an adrenaline rush and wake you up in the morning!

We usually have breakfast at Pizzafari, but this time we tried Tamu Tamu instead. Lee had the breakfast flatbread, with egg, cheese, and ham, and I had the yogurt parfait. The flatbread was not what we expected - instead of flat and baked, it was folded in half like a sandwich, and the contents were only barely warm. It tasted ok, but I think we'll go back to Pizzafari. The yogurt parfait was about what I expected, except that I was hoping for fresh berries and got strawberries in syrup - ick. Mushy and way too sweet.

Once we got on the Safari we had a LOT of delays...we'd move a bit, then stop and wait and then move some more. What normally takes 20 minutes took about 40 minutes. We think some of it was because of animals on the road - this giraffe was right next to the road, and was checking out all of the trucks as they drove by. Gave us a really good look at him/her, though!

Disney Fantasy Maiden Voyage - Day 0

But the delays had really affected the lines - the Fastpass line was all the way back to the entrance and then into Harambe! And the Standby line was way out into Harambe, also, and was at least an hour.

Disney Fantasy Maiden Voyage - Day 0

We went looking for animals - no otters in sight and the lemurs and cotton-top tamarins weren't cooperative. Got this view of the Tree of Life, though - there are lots of different animals depicted in this section!

Disney Fantasy Maiden Voyage - Day 0

On the Maharajah Jungle Trek we saw this unusual bird - the Bar Headed Goose. It can survive at higher altitude than any other animal on the planet - it migrates over the Himalayas and flies at altitudes of 30,000'!!! Climbers on Mt Everest have reported seeing them - and in this case seeing a flying goose was not just a symptom of oxygen deprivation...

Disney Fantasy Maiden Voyage - Day 0

I don't remember what kind of deer these were, but there was quite a herd of them on the Jungle Trek - there were 4-6 others that aren't in this photo.

Disney Fantasy Maiden Voyage - Day 0

The main thing I wanted to see today was the Flower and Garden Festival at Epcot - we used to get to that almost yearly, but we haven't been in quite a while now.

Disney Fantasy Maiden Voyage - Day 0

So from Animal Kingdom we took a bus to the Epcot Resorts, and went into Epcot via the International Gateway - which brought us in right at the UK. The topiaries of the characters from Winnie the Pooh were right there.

Disney Fantasy Maiden Voyage - Day 0

As was the very colorful Twinings Tea Garden.

Disney Fantasy Maiden Voyage - Day 0

For lunch we had Fish and Chips. This squirrel really wanted to help us with some of our lunch...he was cute, but we didn't feed him. :-)

Disney Fantasy Maiden Voyage - Day 0

The Canada Pavilion has the Victoria Gardens, "inspired by the spectacular Butchart Gardens". Inspired yes, but as I was just there last May, right before our Disney Alaska cruise, I can tell you that this just doesn't compare with the real thing.

Disney Fantasy Maiden Voyage - Day 0

It was a picture-perfect day at Epcot - sunny and in the 80s, but not really humid, and there was a nice breeze most of the time. Really nice to be outside most of the time.

Disney Fantasy Maiden Voyage - Day 0

I'm not going to show you pictures of all of the topiaries, but will share some of them. I guess this is American Gothic Mickey?

Disney Fantasy Maiden Voyage - Day 0

The Mexico pavilion had their traditional, but always lovely, orchid display. These were so pretty! I took lots of pictures - there were so many beautiful colors and patterns! But I'm only going to share a couple of them here.

Disney Fantasy Maiden Voyage - Day 0

And there were several "orchid trees" that had been beautifully decorated with orchids.

Disney Fantasy Maiden Voyage - Day 0

I thought this field of flowers outside Akershus was very pretty and colorful.

Disney Fantasy Maiden Voyage - Day 0

And the topiary pandas at China were really cute!

Disney Fantasy Maiden Voyage - Day 0

This topiary dragon was very impressive. The spines on its back are pineapple plants with pink pineapples...the Festival had several displays with pineapples that were unusual colors.

Disney Fantasy Maiden Voyage - Day 0

The German train village was decorated for the Flower and Garden Festival and it had some miniature topiaries...and some zombie villagers. :-) (I hope when the Agent P adventure replaces Kim Possible that they don't remove the zombie villagers!)

Disney Fantasy Maiden Voyage - Day 0

We had a chance to catch a set of the Voices of Liberty. They sang one song I hadn't heard before: Strike up the Band. Their closing number was a really moving version of You'll Never Walk Alone, which I've only heard once or twice before.

Disney Fantasy Maiden Voyage - Day 0

Alongside the American Adventure was the Toy Story Alphabet Garden. I really enjoyed this.

Disney Fantasy Maiden Voyage - Day 0

A large Lotso topiary was in the center.

Disney Fantasy Maiden Voyage - Day 0

Around the rest of the area were pots with letters in them, and in the pots were plants whose names began with that letter. (I though they kinda cheated on Q and X, though.) M was marigold and milkweed.

Disney Fantasy Maiden Voyage - Day 0

There were a couple of lizards hanging out on the sign. :-)

Disney Fantasy Maiden Voyage - Day 0

The Lightning McQueen and Mater topiaries were in front of Japan, which I thought was an odd place for them. I guess it ties in with Cars 2, though.

Disney Fantasy Maiden Voyage - Day 0

The Giant Apostle's Iris was very popular this year, and we saw it in lots of different places.

Disney Fantasy Maiden Voyage - Day 0

Cinderella and Prince Charming were in front of France.

Disney Fantasy Maiden Voyage - Day 0

The second time we went past Canada, Off Kilter was performing. Though Jamie, the bagpiper was missing, and they had a violinist instead. They still sounded good, but it wasn't quite the same.

Disney Fantasy Maiden Voyage - Day 0

Bambi, Flower, and Thumper are in Bambi's Butterfly Garden. This is much bigger than it used to be, though it didn't seem like there were as many butterflies. Or maybe they just weren't as concentrated since it was a larger area.

Disney Fantasy Maiden Voyage - Day 0

Lots of beautiful flower beds!

Disney Fantasy Maiden Voyage - Day 0

We also went through the Pixie Garden. This is Fawn and her animal friends - there's a deer, a bear, and a cougar in this photo. (And in the background is a balloon that Tinker Bell built. But since pixies can fly, why would she need a balloon?)

Disney Fantasy Maiden Voyage - Day 0

My camera battery went dead at that point, so I don't have any photos from the Festival Center or the front of Epcot. It was about 5:00 when we caught the bus back to Kidani - we actually had good luck with buses today, and pretty short waits.

For dinner we walked over to Mara at Jambo House. It's not really that far - less than 1/2 mile. After dinner we went to the Arusha Savanna Overlook. There were a LOT of animals out there - we saw oryx, wildebeest, waterbuck, crowned cranes, a giraffe, and this Patterson's eland came over to where we could get a good look at her.

Disney Fantasy Maiden Voyage - Day 0

And tomorrow we'll be on the Disney Fantasy for her Maiden Voyage! You can be sure that @AllEarsDeb and I (@AllEarsLaura) will be tweeting from the ship while we are in port...Let the Fantasy begin!


October 23, 2011

Epcot Food and Wine Festival - October 2011, Part 2

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Friday, October 21 - another beautiful but chilly morning in Orlando! We decided to take a trip to Animal Kingdom - our second favorite WDW park (after Epcot). We had just missed a bus, but caught one less than 20 minutes later, and there were only 5 of us on it! Too early for the Blizzard Beach stop, so we went straight to Animal Kingdom.

Epcot Food and Wine Festival - October 2011, Part 2

It was still Extra Magic Hour, so we needed to show our room key to get into the park. There were a fair number of resort guests there! We did our usual drill - get Fastpass for the Safari, and then have breakfast. We miss getting breakfast at Tusker House now that they have turned it into a character meal (grumble, grumble). Pizzafari is the only counter service breakfast option, and I was very happy to see that they have expanded the breakfast menu since I was last here.

Lee got the Bounty Platter, which included scrambled eggs, bacon, sausage, biscuit, potatoes and two sticks of French toast. He said it was very good, but it was on the expensive side - $8.29.

Epcot Food and Wine Festival - October 2011, Part 2

I had what I think is one of the best bargains at Disney - the oatmeal with apples, raisins and brown sugar, for $2.79. At that price I was expecting a pretty small cup, but it was a large cup, and covered with chunks of fresh apple, golden raisins, and Craisins. They didn't overdo the brown sugar, either. It was really yummy, and very filling - I'd ordered a fruit cup along with it, but I really didn't need that.

Epcot Food and Wine Festival - October 2011, Part 2

We stopped to have a look at the otters before going back to our safari - there were two of them chirping and running around and playing in the water. Otters are SO cute - if they don't put a smile on your face there's something wrong with you! They were moving too fast for me to get a good photo, though.

It was still a cool morning, so we didn't see as many animals on our safari as we sometimes do, but some of the views that we did get were outstanding. Our driver actually stopped the vehicle several times which allowed us to get much better photos. We saw more giraffes than I have ever seen before - there were six, of two different species.

Epcot Food and Wine Festival - October 2011, Part 2

And we saw an entire family of mandrills, including mama carrying a baby. (On the bottom on the far left - there was another young one, too, that you see in the center.)

Epcot Food and Wine Festival - October 2011, Part 2

Another baby that we saw was a baby elephant and his mother - our driver said he is about a year old.

Epcot Food and Wine Festival - October 2011, Part 2

There were three cheetahs - one of them was up and moving, but the other two were sitting in the center of their enclosure with their heads raised so that we could see them! That was the best view I think I've ever had of them.

Epcot Food and Wine Festival - October 2011, Part 2

At the Flights of Wonder show we saw a different "Guano Joe" than we have seen before - he was very good. We have to laugh at how they talk about "exotic birds" and then have chickens running around on stage. :-) But they do have a lot of interesting birds, though we didn't see my favorite, Sluggo the lizard-smashing sureiama, this time. Poe the raven came out twice - first he stole Joe's flag, and then he returned and took the stick, too! ;-)

Epcot Food and Wine Festival - October 2011, Part 2

The Maharajah Jungle Trek was disappointing - despite the promise of the sign we didn't see the "dragon" (too cold) or the bats (too cold), and only two of the tigers (probably not too cold for them - they were just lazy that morning).

Epcot Food and Wine Festival - October 2011, Part 2

We just missed a bus back to the Epcot Resorts (literally - we watched it pull away) and then had to wait 15-20 minutes for another one. I'm still not sure why they have only one bus stop for all five Epcot resorts, but whatever. This was one time that I missed not having a car - we almost always drive to Animal Kingdom.

We'd hoped to meet up with some of our friends from the RADP (rec.arts.disney.parks) newsgroup at Epcot, but only a couple of them were able to make it - but we had fun wandering around with them and trying some more foods.

Epcot Food and Wine Festival - October 2011, Part 2

I don't think I mentioned this before - something new that they are doing this year is a Food and Wine "passport" (since this year's theme is "Passport to a World of Flavor") - it's a small pamphlet and inside is the menu for each food booth and a space for the custom stamp from each booth. And it's FREE! No purchase necessary at the booths, either - they were happy to stamp them at the registers, and I saw a fair number of kids who were just collecting the stamps. They had them available at most of the food booths, so you could start anywhere. I was having fun getting them - by the end of the day on Friday we had visited (and purchased from) 24 of the 29 food booths. (We won't talk about how much money we put onto the F&W gift card to do that...)

Epcot Food and Wine Festival - October 2011, Part 2

We took a short late afternoon break back at our room to get off our feet and change clothes before the 3D Dessert Discovery event that night. Back in Epcot we met a couple of friends for "The Orchestra" concert - featuring "former members of the Electric Light Orchestra". Really, that's how they introduced them! We found that very funny. It was an ok concert, but I was surprised at how short it was - it started right at 5:15 and ended promptly at 5:45.

Epcot Food and Wine Festival - October 2011, Part 2

It was Friday night and the crowds had really picked up at Epcot - lots of locals coming in for the evening, I guess. It was a very nice evening - not as chilly as the previous night. Before eating a bunch of dessert we wanted some food, so we revisited a couple of our favorites - the lamb slider from New Zealand and the chipotle chicken sausage with polenta from Canada.

The 3D Dessert Discovery event was held in the World Showplace (which will always be Mil Vil, aka the Millennium Village, to us), and ran from 7:00 until 8:30, though it also included a reserved viewing area for Illuminations afterward. It was $55/person. I'll have a full review on the AllEars web site later, but in brief, it featured a number of stations with different desserts, as well as cheese, fruit, bread, and even some "savory" items like a ham and prosciutto platter, cranberry polenta, and a chocolate chile muffin. There was quite a selection of dessert beverages like port, late harvest wines, sweet sparkling wines, and liqueurs available as well.

Epcot Food and Wine Festival - October 2011, Part 2

It wasn't overly crowded, and we found several empty "standing" tables, and there were unused places at some of the regular tables, too.

Epcot Food and Wine Festival - October 2011, Part 2

At 8:30 they started walking us over to our viewing location for Illuminations, which was World Showcase Plaza between the two gift shops. We think that's the best viewing location for the show, since you can see all of the country pavilions from there and you're fairly close to the flame barge and the globe.

Epcot Food and Wine Festival - October 2011, Part 2

They had given us cardboard 3D type glasses when we walked into the dessert event - but they were really "Mickey" glasses, which turn a light source into Mickey heads. People were wearing them for the fireworks and really giggling and cheering about it - it really did look pretty cool. I took a photo through the glasses, so you get some idea of what it looked like.

Epcot Food and Wine Festival - October 2011, Part 2

It was a very nice evening and we had a good time. I was disappointed that there wasn't more chocolate, but we enjoyed the desserts and the wines.


Saturday, October 22

It figures, just as we've adjusted to this time zone, it's time to go home. Another beautiful day in Orlando, but still only 53 at 8:00 in the morning! It wasn't as windy today, though, and it warmed up a lot faster.

We got everything packed, left our bags with Bell Services, and went over to the Dolphin, where we met Deb Koma and her husband and Jack Marshall and his daughter for breakfast at Fresh. They don't seem to have quite the food selection that they did the last time I ate here several years ago, but it was still good - the roasted potatoes were especially tasty. The line for made-to-order omelets was rather long, but most of us did that anyway. Lee enjoyed the Mickey pancakes, too.

Epcot Food and Wine Festival - October 2011, Part 2

We said goodbye to everyone (though we'll see them again in December at the December to Remember events), and went into Epcot, even though we knew it was going to be very busy. I still had six more stamps to get in my passport! Since we were at the back of the park moving forward the lines were still short/non-existent at the places I needed, China, which was the last one, and closest to the front, had the longest line. Of the last six stamps we only got food/beverage at three of them, but we had just come from breakfast so we weren't that hungry. (Note what the cast member is doing behind Lee. :-) )

Epcot Food and Wine Festival - October 2011, Part 2

We hadn't been to the Food and Wine Festival in a couple of years, and there were some things we noticed this year that seemed to be helping to improve the flow of people.

A lot of the booths that expected long lines had queues set up to try to keep people a little more organized.

Epcot Food and Wine Festival - October 2011, Part 2

A few of the very popular booths, like Australia, Canada, and Craft Beers actually had lines on two sides. We found that the line on the end closest to Future World was the most crowded, and if you went to the other side it was a lot shorter.

Today, when it was so busy, they had a cast member at the front of many of the lines that directed guests to the next available register.

Something that I understand is new this year are these utensil kiosks - press a lever and it dispenses a fork, spoon, or knife. I think they hold a lot more utensils, and certainly seem to be a lot more efficient than the bins of utensils they have had in the past.

Epcot Food and Wine Festival - October 2011, Part 2

We went back to the Festival Welcome Center where I got the final "completion" stamp in my passport. There was nothing extra, though.

Epcot Food and Wine Festival - October 2011, Part 2

I needed to renew my Premier passport, and the only place that you can do that is at Guest Relations at one of the theme parks (or Downtown Disney in Florida). There was a long line at Guest Relations, but fortunately they had people working the lines and directing people who could go to a regular ticket booth, or to Guest Relations inside the park (which had more people working) and that helped...but still, we were in line for 20 minutes. It took a while, but I finally got a new Premier passport, with an expiration date a year from when my old one was going to expire, instead of a year from today. The Premier passports are a great concept, but even after almost two years they still have some problems - I still don't understand why we can't renew them by mail or on-line like we can with the other annual passes. And I have commented many times on how they don't scan at the registers for their discounts. It will be interesting to see if mine works at Disneyland the next time I visit - and whether or not they still have a photo on file for me, or if I will have to get a new one taken.

Epcot Food and Wine Festival - October 2011, Part 2

When we went back into the park Epcot was still very busy. We wandered through Innoventions east and west, and saw the Fountain of Nations shooting water high into the air.

Epcot Food and Wine Festival - October 2011, Part 2

It was getting to be time to head back to the Boardwalk for our pickup by Magical Express, so we left. World Showcase was VERY crowded, and lines at the food booths were very long. Lee said that for a change it was actually a relief to be leaving Epcot! We had time to stop along the Boardwalk for chocolate milkshakes and a slice of pizza.

The bus, or MOTORCOACH, as the driver informed us, picked us up promptly - actually a little bit early. We were the last stop, so went straight to the airport. We had a very entertaining motorcoach driver, so that made the trip go quickly. Once we arrived at the airport it wasn't very crowded, and getting through Security didn't take long at all.

We had a really good trip - it would have been nice to have another day at Walt Disney World, but we had time to do just about everything we wanted at the Food and Wine Festival.

Thanks for following along - I'll have a couple of food blogs coming - one on the Dream, and one on the Food and Wine Festival.


February 19, 2011

Wild Africa Trek - Animal Kingdom

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A relatively new offering from the Walt Disney tour department is the Wild Africa Trek, taking place over at Disney's Animal Kingdom Park. I had the opportunity to experience it, and survived to tell the tale.

The tour is offered six times a day, currently--three times before noon, and three times after. Some people feel that, as with the Kilimanjaro Safari, mornings are a better choice because it's less hot and the animals are more likely to be restive. My normal disinclination to do much of anything before noon*, combined with a desire to see what the tour provides for lunch drove me to take the 12 o'clock session. The price of the tour is $129 for the rest of this month, after which it will increase to $189, and thereafter fluctuate depending on the season.

Check in for the tour is 30 minutes prior to the tour time at a clearly marked desk near the Dawa Bar in Harambe. They give you safety waivers to sign, and while one half of your brain is saying "wait, does this say my surviving relatives can't sue even if I die through total negligence?" the other half of your brain is saying "HIPPOS! CROCODILES! WOO!!" So you sign.

A happy CM then leads you over to a relatively nondescript gate that leads off to a small trail. As you start walking down this unmarked trail into wilderness, you might turn around to remark to the CM how rustic it all is, to find that they, in fact, did not follow you through the gate, and that you are essentially now just wandering around on your own, hoping that the trail doesn't lead straight to the carnivore feeding pen.

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Shortly thereafter, you reach a small station where lockers are provided for anything that can't be tethered directly to you (they provide clips for point-and-shoot cameras, while neck straps for larger cameras are acceptable.) You are discretely weighed, presumably to make sure you don't meet with an Indiana-Jones-type accident on one of the suspension bridges, and then outfitted with a fairly heavy vest that has a number of pockets, clips, chains, and a water bottle with your name on it. Another short march away takes you to a small test suspension bridge, where they watch you cross and ascertain whether you're the sort who's likely to panic and have to be dragged off.

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At this point, the Trek begins in earnest, as you are introduced to your two excellent and chipper guides (ours were Danna and Maria,) one of which appears to be the lead, and the other the photographer. A stroll through Harambe is next, with a quick informational stop at the sausage tree.

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Continuing on, the guides then lead you through part of the Pangani Forest Exploration Trail with stops at the Colobus Monkeys and the gorillas.

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After that, the tour veers off the regularly traveled paths, and you make your way through a rather tight pathway, where vegetation is so close in, you need to hold the branches back to pass through. Eventually you hit one of the special stops on the tour: The Hippo Pool.

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The back of your vest has a heavy chain coming out of it that typically rests over your shoulder and clips on to your front. At any of the near viewing areas or the bridges, you are required to unclip your chain and hand it over to one of the guides who then clamps the free end onto a guidewire. This enables you to get as close as you can to the animals without the guides having to worry about you taking a header into the hippos. You can totally lean straight out with all your weight on the chain without worrying about it breaking.

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Although I had heard earlier reports from people that the hippos didn't come out for them, the CMs throw watermelon and lettuce into the water so they are heavily incentivized to appear.

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I understand they're only dangerous if they're wiggling their ears and blowing bubbles.

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When everyone has had their fill of hippo-gawking, you move on to the next highly publicized area of the trek, the suspension bridges.

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One thing you might bear in mind is that the real bridges are far longer and higher than the training bridges, spanning both the hippo pool and the crocodile pool. The slats on the bridges are irregularly placed, as if random ones had broken off, leaving large gaps that need to be stepped/jumped over.

There is a net directly under the bridge to support you if you happened to misstep--actually, when they initially said there was a net under the bridge, I had a vision of a large tightrope-walking net far beneath, where you'd just have to lie, barely out of reach of the crocodiles, until people could fetch you out, if you fell. Apparently they went for the less-dramatic route.

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Once on the other side of the two bridges, you again get to stand (clipped securely in place) over the crocodiles and observe while they dream sweet dreams of clumsy tourists and broken nets.

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After that, the on-foot portion of the tour is basically over, and they load you into a truck to take you on out to the Savannah. This part mimics the regular Kilimanjaro Safari ride with the exception that the driver is periodically able to pull over for pictures or extended viewing.

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Ultimately, you are brought to an observation deck where a cute multi tiered lunch box is presented to you, along with a flask of "Jungle Juice," and you get to sit and eat and listen to the Ankole Cattle moo while surveying the whole Savannah.

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The lunch was very good, featuring selections from Tusker House--prosciutto, chicken salad, melon, shrimp, salmon, and sun-dried tomato hummus. The three melon balls were exceptional.

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The whole deck was beautiful with an indigenous feel--they're not kidding when they say they have the nicest bathrooms in all of East Africa.

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After about 30 minutes, it's time to get back on the truck again, with some more animal stops when the wildlife cooperates.

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Eventually the truck brings you back to the unloading area for the Safari, where you return to your original outfitting station and trade in your vest for your locker contents. They give you your water bottle, a PhotoPass card and a discount code for a free photo CD, and you are relased back out into the wild of Harambe again.

In Review:
Most reviews on this tour that I've heard say that they liked the first part, with the walking, and the third part, with the eating, but were kind of meh on the middle, with the driving. I would tend to agree with this. Not only does the drive mimic the same drive as on the Kilimanjaro Safaris, but in some ways it's actually worse, as the truck they drive you in has seating way less comfortable/roomy/suited to sightseeing than the usual jeeps. The tour truck has "U"-shaped benches, much like the Jungle Cruise boats, and just like the Jungle Cruise boats, everyone is facing inwards, making it almost impossible to get a good look at anything unless you can swivel your head around 180 degrees, or unless they stop the truck to let you stand up. Our group had twelve people, of which three were children, and the seating was frankly, a little cozy--I can't imagine how close you'd have to sit together if you had a full group of large adults. Additionally, they only stop where they have areas to pull over, so some of those areas that you barely get a glimpse of on the regular safari? You still barely get a glimpse of them.

The tour is fun but the price is steep. Most people agree, I think, that at the current price of $129, it's probably worth it, particularly if you were going to purchase the Photo CD (list price is $149.) Unfortunately, as the tour guides told us, "you'll never see it this cheap again!" If they were to replace the middle driving section with some other "active" segment, or even just give more time to eat at the platform, I think it would be a better bargain. The metal water bottle they give you is a nice touch, but is totally blank--it seems reasonable to think that they might print "Disney's Wild Animal Trek" or something on the sides in the future.

The other issue is whether the nature of the tour limits its audience: The bridges seem long enough and high enough to deter people concerned about such matters, but are likely to be a little tame and Tom Sawyer's Island-y for anyone used to outdoor activities. If they could offer an alternative route that ziplined over the same area, or possibly let you actually hang over the ledge at the hippo/croc viewing areas, I think that could considerably boost the appeal.

Recommended: People who really, really like animals; people who like to try anything new at WDW; people who enjoy mild exertion; people already planning on buying the PhotoPass CD; people for whom money is no object.

Not Recommended: People who think they're going to get up close and personal with the animals; people looking for extreme thrills; people who hate walking; people who dislike heights.


*OK, it sounds bad, but I'm from the West Coast! When it's 8am at WDW, it's actually 5am for me!

December 10, 2009

Holidays at WDW - Day 3

It's been another long day (it's after midnight right now as I'm starting to write this!), so we'll see how much I get done tonight...you may get a "Part 2".

So...another morning...another animal-free savanna. Sigh.

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It was another beautiful day - except for a rain shower as we drove from the airport to the resort on Monday night the weather has been beautiful, with highs close to 80, and still warm in the evening, too.

We decided to take the bus to Animal Kingdom rather than drive...in hindsight that was a bad idea because between the wait for the bus (saw 2 MK buses and 3 Epcot buses in that time, though Studios was worse off, with no bus at all!), loading an ECV, and the extra stop at Jambo House, it was 45 minutes from the time we arrived at the bus stop until we were at Animal Kingdom. Yikes. But we saw my RADP friend Brian - he got on the bus at Jambo House, so we chatted with him on the ride to Animal Kingdom.

They only serve breakfast at Pizzafari until 10:30, and we thought we were out of luck since a cast member was taking the breakfast sign inside when we got there, but the nice ladies at the cash register said "oh, no, come right ahead!" Whew. And as a bonus we got a coupon on our receipt good for 20% off merchandise at Island Mercantile until 12:00 p.m. It was good at places in other parks, too, like MouseGear, and the Emporium, but there was no way we were getting to any of those by noon! We took a quick shopping trip - I found a shirt I liked, but Lee didn't see anything. LOTS of people had those coupons, because Island Mercantile was busier than I have ever seen it.

Animal Kingdom itself seemed very busy to us - the standby lines weren't bad, but it seemed very congested - lots of people around.

We stopped to see the otters on our way back to the Safari ride - there were two of them out. One was swimming laps, and I guess the other one was coaching from the island - he was certainly sitting up there doing a lot of chirping! So cute...I love otters.

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We had gotten Fastpasses for the safari ride before breakfast, so we got through the line pretty quickly, though the standby was listed as less than 30 minutes. Saw a fair number of animals - quite a few on the savanna, and mostly on the near side rather than the far side, which is unusual in my experience. They called these white rhinos...but they looked red to me. :-)

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Normally we walk the Pangani Forest Trail after our safari, but there were tons of people headed there so we passed it by and went over to Asia to the Maharajah Jungle Trek instead. We expected that the tigers would all be sleeping, but several of them were up and active - that was a very nice surprise! We knew that there were six, all females, but learned that they are 12 years old, and some of them don't get along very well. Which isn't really surprising in a family of six females...We saw two of them over in the viewing area that you see from the suspension bridge - I've never been able to see them from the bridge (not that close, at least) before. I could inundate you with tiger pictures, but I'll just share this one: My, what big teeth you have!!!

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We wandered over to Dino-Rama (20-minute standby for Primeval Whirl). I'd never noticed the way that this brontosaurus(?) looms over the area...good thing it looks friendly!

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There was a character greeting area there that I don't remember seeing before, so I don't know if it's just for the holidays or not.

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Over at the Tree of Life we discovered a path that I don't think we've ever been on before! Some very nice views of the Tree looking up, but there's an awful lot of scary big-toothed critters carved into the roots in that area.

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At the end of the path (which came out behind the tattoo stand) there was this strange-looking fish - it's called a Paroon Shark-Catfish - I think you can see why. It's pretty big - close to 3 feet long, I think.

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It was about 1:30 and we headed out of the park - we had a late lunch scheduled at Sanaa. Fortunately the bus ride back was quick and efficient - Kidani Village was the first stop. It sure is a looooong way from the bus stop to our room, though.

We had the last lunch seating at Sanaa. The restaurant wasn't full, but there were a pretty good number of parties there. We got a window table which was great, because the windows in Sanaa look right out onto the savanna, and the animals come to within 10-15 feet of the restaurant! We saw giraffe, zebra, wildebeest, and Ankole cattle while were were eating - two of the zebras were in view most of the time, and the giraffes went by two or three times. It was really cool! Of course, it helps that they feed them in front of the restaurant - a keeper came by and dropped off some hay and most of a banana tree while we were there.

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Lunch was really good - I'll write up more of a review eventually, but we both really enjoyed what we had, and I'm sure we'll be back here again in the future. We had an excellent server, also. She performs in the Cast choir for the Candlelight Processional, and we talked about that a little bit, since we would be seeing it later in the evening.

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Made a brief stop back in our room, and in all fairness I have to say that there was an okapi and several waterbuck on our savanna. And when we returned tonight there was the herd of impala and a couple of waterbuck. Of course you couldn't really see them in the dark, but they were there. Though it was interesting that it was so quiet that we could hear them as they wandered around and chewed on grass.

Then it was off to Epcot, where we were doing the new Holiday D-Lights tour. Mike Bachand has already written a terrific blog about it which you can read HERE, so I'm not going to go into much detail, except where our tour differed from his.

We also had Mark as one of our tour guides, and he was really good - very knowledgeable about a lot of the techy stuff that we like. Our other guide was Dena, who also did a fine job, but not so technical.

As Mike stated, we started off by visiting the Decorating Support building which is over near the Magic Kingdom. I thought our next stop would be Magic Kingdom, but instead we went over to the Studios to see the Osborne Lights. When I asked Dena about that she said that the Studios was closing early, at 7:00 (the tour actually got underway a little after 5:00), and so they had to take us there early.

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They pointed out the "black cat" that's in a different place in the lights each year - it was a Halloween decoration that somehow got thrown in with all of the Christmas lights (there are about 5 million of them now, most of them LEDs), but the Imagineers decided to put it up anyways. :-) I guess last year it was an alley cat...this year it's a cat on a hot LED roof. :-)

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I felt we were rushed getting through the lights, though - we only got to see one performance of the dancing lights - they were starting Trans-Siberian Orchestra's Christmas in Sarajevo (which is one of the musical number we use with our lights at home) as we had to leave. :-(

Our early stop at the Studios unfortunately meant that we missed the lighting ceremony for Cinderella Castle at Magic Kingdom - it was already fully lit by the time we got back there. I was disappointed in that. We also got caught by the SpectroMagic parade, so that was going on in the background when we were trying to listen to what Mark had to say - even with our earphones that was a little difficult. The castle was this funky orange color for most of the time we had a really good view of it (which seemed much more appropriate to Halloween than Christmas!).

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Of course after we had to get out of the way of the parade it started changing colors again...

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Lee picked up a few lighting tips that he wants to try on our roof "ice" lights at home, though.

As Mike talked about, we finished up the tour at Epcot with the Candlelight Processional. I think we had better seats than he did, though - our tour was only 26 (full capacity is 40), so they put us closer to the stage, and not so blocked by trees. Andy Garcia was the narrator, and he was pretty good. His favorite song is also one of my favorites - They Rejoiced with Exceeding Great Joy. He tried to get them to perform it a second time. :-)

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We really enjoyed the tour, though I felt gypped because we did not get to see the castle lighting. Seeing it already lit wasn't really that special. But we both felt that for the price ($179/person!) the experiences should have been a little more exclusive/special - we were pushing through the crowds at the Osborne lights with everyone else, though at least we had reserved seating for the Processional.

The tour ended not long after the Processional - they took us out of the theater and took back our headsets and gave us our pins (limited edition of only about 250!), and then strongly encouraged us to watch Illuminations - especially the holiday finale. Though Mark wouldn't give us exact numbers, he said that there are as many fireworks in the four-minute finale as they are in the rest of the show!!! I believe it, though...that last 30 seconds is insane.

Anyway...we found a decent spot to watch it. Both Lee and I noticed that the images on the globe seem a lot more clear and distinct than we've ever seen them - and we were here at the end of October, so I'm not sure what's changed since then.

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The holiday finale...WOW. That's really all I can say. I think that is my very favorite thing about the holidays at WDW. It blows me away every time I see it - and I have seen it a number of times over the years. I can't believe the number of fireworks they shoot into the air - as I said before, it's just insane. As we've often said: "Nothing says 'peace on earth' like shooting off a bunch of explosives!"

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Wow...I actually did finish this - and it's still only about 10:00 - west coast time, that is.

Tomorrow we're moving from Kidani Village to Boardwalk Villas - it'll be nice to get back there again. I think we'll try to see the Osborne Lights again without feeling so rushed, and definitely will be seeing Illuminations again!!!

By the way...for those of you who have submitted comments - thank you, I'm sorry that I haven't replied and gotten them published yet, but I'll get to it as soon as I can. I'm glad you are enjoying the blogs!

January 23, 2009

Disney Cruisin' - Day 1 and 2

We're not actually cruising yet, but we are at least in Florida, so we are that much closer!

We left San Diego this morning at the very civilized hour of 9:30. We usually have crack of dawn flights which require us to get up at 4 a.m. - instead we got up at our usual time and still had time to eat breakfast and read the paper before we left home.

Of course the disadvantage is that we didn't arrive in Orlando until 7:30 p.m. - which meant we didn't get to go to a park at all tonight.

We used Disney's Magical Express bus service for the first time to get us from the airport to the resort. It was quite easy - we put the DME luggage tags on our bags when we checked them with the airline this morning, and then all we had to do was wander out to the DME desk at the Orlando airport and get on the bus they pointed us to - Disney takes care of picking up the bags and delivering them to our room. The bus was completely full (we couldn't get seats together!), but was only making two stops - Pop Century and Animal Kingdom Lodge. Most of the passengers got off at Pop Century. We were at the hotel about 90 minutes after we got off the plane, so that's not too bad. Our bags arrived in our room at 10:40 p.m.

Apparently Animal Kingdom Villas has gotten the memo from Boardwalk Villas, and our studio is almost allllll the way at the end of Kudu Trail - about as far as you can get from anywhere. :-) (We always seem to get the rooms at Boardwalk that are at the end of the hallway.) We are on the 5th floor overlooking the Arusha Savanna - we've been on Uzima Savanna the other times we've stayed here, so I am looking forward to seeing our view in daylight!

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After we quickly checked out our room we made the long trek back to the lobby to get something for dinner. It was about 9:00, but fortunately Boma was still open. There weren't very many people there and they were able to seat us right away. We always enjoy dining here, but tonight was especially nice just because it was so empty! Our server said it had been a very slow night. Boma is usually extremely noisy, and you can hardly hear yourself think, but tonight it was much more pleasant. We enjoyed the wide variety of foods on the buffet - I had a watercress salad and a tomato and goat cheese salad that were new to me, and both yummy. I missed my roasted vegetables, though, but there was an excellent rice dish, and the Marrakesh couscous was also good. For dessert, in addition to the zebra domes and chocolate mousse crunch Lee and I both tried the cocomisu (tiramisu with coconut), and that was really good.

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Empty Boma

It is COLD here - in the 40s when we arrived, and supposed to get down to 28 tonight. Brr. But it's supposed to be 75 tomorrow. I hope that's right!

Ok, it's now Friday afternoon - I wrote the preceding last night after we arrived. So I'll add in Day 2's activities, as well!

We had no place to be at any particular time this morning, so we attempted to sleep in. The screaming baby at 7:00 didn't help, nor did the exercise class that was apparently going on in an open area of the hallway at about 8:15. Oh-kaaaay....

It was a beautiful day outside, though still chilly (~42 at 9:00). The animals didn't seem to be too anxious to be out and about, either - we could see a couple back in the trees, but nothing close.

On our way down to The Mara for breakfast we could see Kidani Village out of one of the big windows - that's the new DVC Resort that will be opening in a few months. We are looking forward to our first stay there later this year.

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After a quick breakfast we stopped at the Disney Cruise Line desk to check in with them before we headed out. Since we are not on one of the Land/Sea packages we can't actually check in yet and get our stateroom key and all of that, but they still needed to take our information for our transportation to the port tomorrow - like knowing what room to come to tomorrow morning to pick up our bags! Which we have to have packed and ready by 8:00. The bus to the ship doesn't actually leave Animal Kingdom Lodge until 12:30, though. We were a bit concerned about that, but the ladies assured us we'd still arrive in plenty of time to be on board the ship well before 3:00. I guess we'll find out for sure tomorrow, but you'd like to think that Disney has this down to a science.

We took the bus to Animal Kingdom after that. That has to be the shortest bus ride between any resort and theme park here at Walt Disney World. Lee needed to get a new Annual Pass, so that was our first order of business. We plan to be back another three times this year.

Animal Kingdom was really not crowded at all. The weather had warmed up enough that it was very comfortable in the sun, but still cool in the shade - I wore my polar fleece pullover all day, but Lee was ok in shirt sleeves.

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Lee noticed that the Lesser Flamingos near the Tree of Life had what appeared to be some much brighter pink feathers than usual.

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After we got a Fastpass for the Safari we went over the Flights of Wonder show - on the way we saw DiVine putting on a show.

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Flights of Wonder was quite enjoyable. They had a bird we hadn't seen before - a sulphur-crested cockatoo named Pogo, who did all kinds of crazy movements when given some very subtle physical and verbal cues. He'd spin around on his perch, flap his wings and shake his head, ruffle his feathers - it was really fun to watch. And they had my favorite - Sluggo the Black Legged Seriema - who slams a plastic lizard to the ground multiple times. (Not that I have anything against lizards, but Sluggo does them in with such verve and enthusiasm!)

At the very end of the show when they bring out lots of different birds, one of the handlers had one we hadn't seen before - a Bateleur eagle, which is found in North Africa.

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We went on a really excellent safari after that - for a change many of the animals on the savanna were actually near the place we enter the savanna rather than where we exit. We even saw a baby giraffe - though from this photo you can't really tell how small it is in comparison to the adults who were nearby. Our safari driver was very good, and very enthusiastic - his name was Alex. He even made the lame parts fairly interesting.

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Next was the Pangani Forest Trail. One of the hippos was actually laying up on the bank of the pool in the sun. The researcher there told us some things about hippos that we didn't know:

1. Hippos forage up to 6-1/2 miles at night.
2. Hippos can run 18 miles per hour!
3. A hippo's mouth opens 150 degrees - it can bite a 10' crocodile in half.

We went to Expedition Everest after that. We hadn't gotten a Fastpass, so we used the single rider line - we only waited 10 minutes or so. For lunch we decided to try the Yak and Yeti counter service place - it's never gotten very good reviews (though it's usually classed as mediocre and not bad), but we thought we'd see what we thought. I definitely go with the "mediocre" label - we get better Chinese food at the grocery store near us.

The entrees are served in a large "Chinese takeout" container. I had the honey chicken, which had rice in the bottom of the container, then some broccoli and carrots, with the chicken on top. Lee had the kung pao beef, which also had rice on the bottom. and then the veggies had been stir-fried with the beef. He said it didn't have a lot of flavor - even though he picked two pretty good-sized pieces of chile pepper out of it. Both of them were nice and hot and fresh, though. Probably the best part of lunch was the two iced teas I got from the Tea Company stand that's across from Yak and Yeti. They had quite a selection of hot teas, and three different kind of brewed iced tea. Lee had the raspberry and I had the "traditional" black tea. They were both very good.

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We wandered around a little bit after that and visited some of the other animals around the Tree of Life before heading out of the park. There still weren't very many people in the park. The bus back to Animal Kingdom Lodge was sitting at the bus stop when we got there, and left soon after, so our timing was good.

When we arrived back in our room I went out to the balcony to see what animals might be on the savanna this afternoon. I was not disappointed - there were 4 zebras I could see under the trees, and a giraffe came cruising by soon after. There were a couple of East African Crowned Cranes visible in the distance, as well as a Roan Antelope.

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I caught one of the zebras doing its best "dead zebra" impression. :-)

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It has been fun to sit here and look outside periodically and just see how the animals have moved around. We've seen two different giraffes, several ankole cattle, and a blesbok and a greater kudu.

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Tonight we're headed off to Epcot to wander around and see Illuminations - which is at 8:00 and not 9:00.

And now we're back from that. It was another chilly evening, though not as cold as last night. The night before we left San Diego, since I still had room in my suitcase I threw in a polarfleece pullover and an extra pair of pants - and now I'm really glad that I did that!!!

It was strange going into the front entrance of Epcot - we are so used to coming in the International Gateway since we usually stay at Boardwalk Villas. Also strange was that there were no decorations whatsoever at the front of the park - we almost always come during the holidays, or Food and Wine Festival, or Flower and Garden Festival, so there are special decorations, but not this time.

Though Animal Kingdom was not busy today, apparently Epcot was - at 7:00 at night the standby line for Test Track was 60 minutes and Soarin' was 90 minutes. Wow.

We had dinner at Sunshine Seasons food court in the Land - mainly because it was inside! Though they have a nice selection of food, and after Tangierine Cafe it's probably our favorite counter service place at Epcot.

After that we wandered around Future World and World Showcase, taking some pictures.

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It seemed strange for Illuminations to start an hour early (normally it's at 9:00), and there were quite a few people waiting for it up towards the front of World Showcase, though the crowds thinned out as we got back to one of our favorite spots near Germany, where we only had to stand behind one row of people, and most of them were sitting down.

Illuminations is always a great show!

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It was Extra Magic Hours for resort guests from 8:00 until 11:00. We decided to take a ride on Spaceship Earth. Disney has stopped giving out wristbands during EMH - now they have Cast Members at the entrance to the attractions checking resort ids. We saw several people turned away because of that.

We were quite surprised when we got out of Spaceship Earth that the line was much LONGER than it had been when we got in it! Guess a lot of people decided to take advantage of EMH and ride it.

There was nothing else we really wanted to do so we headed back to Animal Kingdom Lodge. We need to get most of our packing done tonight since they will be picking up our bags at 8:00 tomorrow morning to transport them to the ship.

The cruise starts tomorrow (Saturday) - in 24 hours we'll be on the ship!

November 16, 2008

Epcot Food and Wine Festival - Days 7-8

(This is what happens after you get home from vacation - it takes a long time to get back and finish that trip report!)

So Tuesday we started our day at Animal Kingdom. A cold front had moved in and the weather had turned chilly, even though it was sunny - the high was 63 that day, and it was breezy, so it felt very cool.

We sent Lee to get Fastpasses for the Safari while Jim, Sherry and I had breakfast at Pizzafari. It's not Tusker House but it's not bad - and they still have the giganto cinnamon rolls that Tusker House used to have. It was nice and warm in there, too. :-)

After breakfast, once again we headed off from Harambe on our two week safari. And once again those blasted poachers messed it up for us. Sigh.

We had a really excellent safari, though - Jim and Sherry were really good luck on this trip! A great variety of animals and many of them available for photographs. We saw this mama and baby elephant...awwww.

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Lots of animals on the savanna, too, and several rhinos, and we could even see three cheetahs! I've never seen them sitting up the way they were - unfortunately I was on the wrong side of the jeep and didn't get a photo. But we also saw the lion posing majestically - he was actually awake!

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Our friend Kenny collected our Fastpasses when we went through the line for Expedition Everest - it was fun to see him. Sherry and Jim were sitting behind Lee and me, and Sherry saw us with our arms up and yelled "You're crazy!!!" :-) She managed to keep her eyes open on the second ride, though.

We said goodbye to Animal Kingdom and went back to the Boardwalk and on to Epcot for a last day of eating around the world. I think it's really best to visit the Food and Wine Festival during the day on weekdays - it's not nearly as crowded, as you can see from this photo.

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Sherry had requested another meeting with Crush, so we headed off to the Seas pavilion. Went in through the gift shop so we didn't have to do the clamshell ride again. We had to wait a few minutes for the show - Sherry amused herself by playing one of Mr. Ray's quizzes. The show was fun - I think this Crush didn't have the accent down quite as well, but was a little better at the improvisation. He went over to a little girl and asked her name, which apparently freaked her out and she started crying and went to find her parents. He looked up and said "I totally did not mean for that to happen". Duuuuuuuude. :-)

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I wanted to visit the Festival Center (over in the old Wonders of Life pavilion) so we went over there. It's sad to see everything shutdown in there.

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We wandered around looking at the gift shop items, and I had a glass of the Prosecco (a mildly fizzy wine - not as bubbly as champagne). It was a little dry for me - I prefer the Martini and Rossi version.

There were no food or wine demonstrations going on while we were there - in fact there were no food demos at all that day. They had some nice areas set up for them, but with everything so close together I can see where it would get noisy, as Deb Koma and others have commented.

Outside one of the demo areas they had this paper display set up - I thought it looked neat.

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Oh, one thing that struck us...before we left we went to the restrooms...notice anything different about this sink?

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If you said "You have to turn it on yourself!", DING, DING, DING - give yourself 10 points! It was very odd to see that - I hadn't had to turn on a sink in a public restroom all week - even the airport restrooms are automatic now. Speaking of which...Disney should find out who supplies the automatic faucets for the Atlanta airport and change over to those - they put out a really nice stream that doesn't splash all over the place like too many of the Disney ones do.

Let's see...we took Jim and Sherry into Club Cool, but we couldn't get them to try Beverly. Lee even tried saying how good it was, but they read the description, and got to "bitter" and said "No thanks!" :-)

So then it was time to do some more eating around the world again. Lee tried the Spicy Beef Empanada from Chile, and he enjoyed that.

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Then we popped into the Mexico pavilion to take a ride on "it's a small mexico"...I mean the Gran Fiesta Tour. We'd warned Jim and Sherry that it was pretty lame - they vaguely remembered the old version from their trip 18 years ago. Apparently it was a much rougher voyage than usual, because someone in the boat in front of us got seasick - we got stuck and had to wait within sight of the dock for about 5 minutes while they cleaned that up. That boat was taken out of service! Ewwww.

We kind of wandered around World Showcase trying various things - some that we'd had before, and some that were new. I tried the Durban Spiced Chicken on a Skewer with coconut milk-infused root vegetables, which was pretty good - though I can't say I tasted the coconut milk!

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I wanted to try the three-cheese plate at The Mouse Catch, but they were out of the Dorothea cheese from Holland, so I had the Asiago from Italy and the Manchego from Spain instead. (They had these same cheese selections in the Festival Center - but they were more expensive there!)

Since it was still a chilly day, Jim thought the idea of something warm, like the Seafood Gumbo sounded good. Warm *and* spicy. :-)

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I got another lamb slider from New Zealand - that was one of my favorites. Lee and Jim had some more beer from the Sam Adams booth. We saw Miyuki, the candy artist in Japan. She wasn't nearly as animated as usual - it looked like she wasn't feeling well. :-( Her creations were still beautiful, though.

It was still chilly, and the sun was going down so we headed inside to see The American Adventure. Always a good show. For dinner we went to the fish and chips place at the UK, though I had to go to the beer place next to Rose and Crown to get my favorite Woodpecker Hard Cider. British Invasion was performing and lots of people were watching so there was no place to sit - we walked down to Off Kilter's stage and used the benches there, since they weren't performing that day.

Jim and Sherry decided to head back to the room after that to get out of the chill, while Lee and I made another trip around World Showcase. I wanted to try the Milk Chocolate Creme Brulee in France. They had a chocolate creme brulee several years ago that was awesome. Unfortunately this one didn't measure up - I couldn't taste any chocolate in it at all. Very disappointing.

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On our way around World Showcase I also bought a cheese plate from Ireland - it comes covered with plastic wrap, and I thought that would make good airplane food the next day (and it did, though I took out the chutney before I traveled with it!).

It was getting too cold for me, too, so we also headed back to the Boardwalk. Since I'd been so disappointed with the chocolate creme brulee, I consoled myself with a piece of chocolate mousse cake from the Boardwalk Bakery. That was MUCH better! :-)

Wednesday morning we had to get up and get to the airport early enough that going to a park was out of the question. We thought we'd have a nice breakfast at Spoodles instead, since we'd enjoyed the one earlier in the week. We had a pretty awful server, though. First we didn't see him for almost 10 minutes, and then once he showed up at our table he put his pad down on the edge and basically said "Whaddaya want?" (He didn't actually say that, but that's pretty close.) No "good morning, sorry for the wait" or any kind of pleasantry. We had to point out to him that we only had two coffee cups on the table and he sort of stomped off to get two more. Now, he *did* have several tables at once and he seemed a bit overwhelmed, but still.

Fortunately the kitchen was efficient (and fortunately it was not our server in charge of delivering our food to the table!), so that part went ok. And once the people at two of his other tables left he was a little more attentive and pleasant. Still not Mr. Personality, though. I had the waffle and Lee had the French toast, and I think Sherry also had the waffle and Jim had "The Italian" - two poached eggs on top of toasted focaccia with Italian sausage, tomatoes, peppers, onions, parmesan cheese, diced potatoes and fresh tomato sauce.

One our way back to the Boardwalk we stopped at the lobby to get our boarding passes - unfortunately they weren't able to give Jim and Sherry the passes for the third leg of their flight, but we got ours ok. It would have been very easy to check our bags, too, but we weren't quite finished packing by then, but we'll keep that in mind for the future - it would be very nice to go to the airport and just head straight for security. Especially since I've seen the bag check lines be *really* long. Fortunately we didn't have that problem this time.

Our flight was about an hour earlier than Jim and Sherry's, so we said goodbye to them at the Delta counter where they were still trying to get their boarding passes straightened out, and went to our gate. We had a good flight home - we had a newer 757 on the Atlanta->San Diego flight, and I was able to play trivia again. I didn't have much competition this time, though, so after posting several high scores I retired. :-)

It was a great trip - we survived the Tower of Terror 13K, got to do Toy Story Mania 4 times, ate our way around the world, had a great time at Mickey's Not So Scary Halloween Party, had two animal-filled safaris, had great dinners at Jiko and Marrakesh, enjoyed at lot of good wines at City Tastes - Spain, Soared over California, talked with a turtle, and had a blast sharing a place we enjoy so much with good friends.

Oh, by the way, I found my watch - it turned out that it was in my trick-or-treat bag! When stuff started flying out of the basket and the bag towards the end of Space Mountain I was grabbing in the dark and throwing what I thought was candy into the bag. Well, obviously I grabbed my watch and an AA battery and threw them in the bag, but didn't find them until I opened up the candy bag a couple days after we got home. :-)

October 28, 2008

WDW Food and Wine Festival Week - Day 5

(Yes, I know this is a day late, but those people we're with have been keeping us SO busy that I haven't had a chance to blog!!! :-) )

After our late night at the Tower of Terror 13K, we didn't get up very early on Sunday morning. It was almost 10:00 by the time we got moving - we thought we'd go to the Boardwalk Bakery for breakfast, but the line was huge, so then we thought we'd try the Bellevue Room in the hotel, but all they had left were 3 muffins, a banana, and a few containers of Sugar Pops.

Sooo...we headed to Animal Kingdom, hoping we'd get there in time for breakfast. Just outside the park entrance Jim spotted the coffee/pastry stand, which had NO line, and we picked up some coffee beverages and some pastries. They had a really nice cinnamon roll.

Jim and Sherry wanted to see It's Tough to be a Bug - it's been a LONG time since I've seen a line for this, but we were backed up a ways into the queue. We still got into the next show, and they enjoyed it - Sherry didn't even scream too much. :-)

Next we took them back to Kilimanjaro Safaris, and had one of the best safaris we've ever had - there were lots and lots of animals. One of the giraffes was *right* next to the road. The driver turned the sound way down on the "Warden Wilson" stuff, too, and downplayed the poacher stuff, which we really appreciated.

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After the Safari we caught one of the gorillas taking a nap. :-)

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And took a quick turn into Pangani Forest Trail, where the keepers were doing a training session with the Colobus monkeys. They were presenting different body parts to the keepers on command, and getting rewarded with various treats. It was pretty interesting to watch.

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We had a late lunch at Tusker House - we had not been here since it was converted from a counter service restaurant to a buffet. When we saw Jack the other day he'd told us it was "Boma without the soups", and since Boma is one of our favorites, we were hoping it would measure up.

And we all really enjoyed it. I thought the variety of food was actually better than I've seen at Boma the last few times I've been there. The Marrakesh couscous with roasted vegetables was outstanding - I had two servings of that. Lee and Jim really enjoyed the prime rib.

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I *was* disappointed in the desserts, though - they had a chocolate lava cake, but it wasn't very good at all - tasted like a boxed cake mix with Hershey syrup. The coconut macaroon was not bad, and Sherry and Lee enjoyed the pecan bar.

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Still, overall it was an excellent meal, our favorite of the trip so far.

We wandered over to Dinosaur to use our Fastpasses - the ride stopped for a while but eventually we got on. They thought that was fun, too.

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We were going to the Halloween party at the Magic Kingdom later that day, and Sherry had decided to get her face painted as part of her costume, and found a place in Dinoland to do it. (We wanted to do Primeval Whirl, but it was closed for rehab! :-( )
The lady did a really nice job - I've never seen anyone do the face painting before - it was fun to watch the process. And it actually held up VERY well, and still looked great 9 hours later!

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We left Animal Kingdom and I came back to the room to do finish some laundry, iron my costume, and take a short nap, while the other three went into Epcot to deal with some last-minute costume details for Jim and Sherry. That plus Jim and Lee needed a Samuel Adams beer fix. I think they are determined to try every beer at the Sam Adams booth before we leave.

The Mickey's Not So Scary Party started at the Magic Kingdom at 7:00 - we left the room about 6:30, and only waited a couple of minutes for the bus, so that worked out well.

Don't we look cute in our costumes???

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Once inside the park we got our wristbands (and they WERE checked by CMs several times early in the evening) and trick-or-treat bags and headed off for the Haunted Mansion. All of the CMs get to wear ghastly makeup for the party, and they look really cool. Sitting outside the Mansion on the lawn was one of the guests from Master Gracey's ball inside - she said she needed some air. :-)

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We hadn't had dinner yet, so we grabbed a quick bite at Pecos Bill's. It was nice to have additional tomatoes from the toppings bar to add to my chicken wrap! It was ok, but a little too much dressing - and waaay too much wrap and not enough filling.

Just down from Pecos Bill's we found an excellent front-row spot to watch the Boo to You parade. I really love this parade - after Tapestry of Nations, I think it's my favorite Disney parade ever. I used the movie mode of my camera, and was able to get a fairly reasonable photo of the Headless Horseman - he goes by so fast!

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There's just so much fun stuff in this parade, like the characters in costume, and the chicken "singing" Ghostriders in the Sky, and especially the Haunted Mansion segment, with the caretaker and his bloodhound, and the ghostly dancers, and, my very favorite, the zombie gravediggers shovel and drill team.

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Love the Villains, too - "It's Good to be Bad" is a very catchy little tune!

Speaking of the Villains...after the parade we rode Big Thunder Mountain (always way more fun at night!) and hit a couple of treat stops on our way to the Villains Mix and Mingle show at the castle. That was a rather surprising show - the music and the dancing were rather more, uhhh...suggestive, than we expect from Disney. Lee had the best line about the show: "Who knew that Maleficent had boy toys?" :-) Whew...is it hot in here???

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Since it IS a Halloween party, it was nice to see the Villains get their due, and this particular show had elements to appeal to the big boys and girls, too!!!

Quick break at Mrs. Pott's Cupboard for ice cream (where Lee's root beer float truly ranneth over - we'd never seen a root beer eruption but that's what happened as the ice cream sank down into it! :-) ) And then it was time to scope out a spot for the fireworks. Which it turned out we really didn't need to do very early - even when the fireworks started there was plenty of empty space. (I think this party was NOT sold out, and not as busy as the one we attended last year, which was very nice! It also didn't rain on us at all like it did last year.)

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What can I say, I LOVE the fireworks show, too.

Next up was Buzz Lightyear's Space Ranger Spin. After doing Toy Story Mania, this ride, with all the little red dots that look all alike so that you can't tell which one is yours, was a lot more challenging, but we still enjoyed it.

Since Sherry was made up as Tigger, we HAD to go on the Pooh ride. And hit a few more treat stops on our way back to Frontierland to see the second parade. (See? I like the parade so much I wanted to see it again!)

It was just as much fun the second time. We went to Pirates of the Caribbean after the parade, and then over to Space Mountain. Space Mountain turned out not to be a good idea...the ride had stopped and the line was fairly long so we ended up waiting a lot longer than I'd planned. Towards the end of the ride some of the stuff I was carrying in my basket came out - I thought I'd gotten it all before I got out, but on the way out of the ride I realized my watch was missing. Told a CM and they checked for it but didn't find it. So now I have a Lost and Found report out on it...hopefully it'll turn up.

Unfortunately between the long wait for the ride and then me losing my watch it was after midnight and the party was over. We were pretty tired, though, and ready to head back. Just outside the park there were CMs with treat bags handing out Ghirardelli chocolate squares - I got in two different lines to get those. :-)

Fortunately the bus was already at the bus stop when we got there, and it wasn't packed as we drove back to the hotel.

A few random observations about the Halloween party.

This is my favorite of the Disney parties that I've attended. It's such a fun atmosphere - the Cast Members seem to be having a wonderful time themselves. We saw a lot of guests in costume this year - there were some very elaborate ones, too! We saw a Cinderella in a beautiful ballgown, and a really excellent Jasmine and Aladdin, and even Clopin (from Hunchback of Notre Dame) complete with the puppet on his hand.

I mentioned the CMs in makeup at the Haunted Mansion earlier - there were also other "ghostly" surprises...like some ghostly singing miners in Frontierland, and a ghostly river pilot on the riverboat (which is not called the Mark Twain here, but I don't remember the name.) I have photos, but I'll have to get post them later.

The party was a lot less crowded than the one we attended last year - even though the weather was a lot better this year (it rained on us last year and we missed the second parade). I'm guessing it's partly because our party did not have a discounted advance purchase price, making it a little less attractive to local residents. It was great for us, though - shorter lines for the attractions and at the treat stations.

While I think the Halloween Party at Disney's California Adventure has better decorations, Mickey's Not So Scary Halloween Party has the parade and the special fireworks show that make it really an outstanding event. We all had a wonderful time.

October 26, 2008

WDW Food and Wine Festival Week - Day 4

Day 4

(I won't be including all of the events of today because the major event is the Tower of Terror 13K, and that's not until tonight - and I can guarantee I won't be blogging about it right after I get back to the room - the stops will be shower and bed - in that order!)

We all agreed last night that we were going to sleep in this morning and get up whenever. So it was quite a leisurely morning - we finally got out of here about 10:30 and went to Coronado Springs, where Lee and I needed to pick up our registration packets for the 13K.

First we had breakfast at the Pepper Market, though. It was almost 10:45 when we arrived and there was a short line to get in, and they stopped serving breakfast at 11:00. So they were trying to finish up breakfast while they were trying to set up for lunch - it was kind of a mess. And there were quite a few other people who were also breakfasting late!

Pepper Market is kind of a food court idea, with different stations serving different foods. Only instead of paying as you exit out towards the seating area, instead you pay as you exit the seating area after you've eaten. To do that they give each party a ticket, and at each station they stamp your ticket to show what you got. Of course a problem with this is when you want to get things from different stations, but you only have the one ticket - we ran into that.

It's an interesting concept...but I don't think it works very well. The permanent signage is all for their regular lunch/dinner menu, and even though they gave us a menu which showed which stations had which breakfast items, we didn't have that with us when we actually went to get food. They had breakfast signs for some items, but not for others. We were milling around trying to figure it out, and so were a lot of other people. Since it was late, they had run out of some breakfast items (like bacon) and had shut down others (like eggs cooked to order). And as I mentioned earlier, they were trying to switch over from breakfast to lunch, and that made things even more chaotic. Though the breakfast/lunch thing worked out well for Jim - instead of breakfast food he was able to order Kung Pao Shrimp! It looked very good - very nicely cooked and presented.

Another thing they do that I don't like is they tack a 10% gratuity onto your bill, even though YOU are the ones doing all the work getting your food - the servers simply take and serve your drink orders. (Though ours had to work a little harder because I spilled a puddle of syrup on the table - she was very nice about it, though.)

As for the breakfast...it was ok, but I was surprised at how expensive it was - we paid more for breakfast this morning than we did for our table service breakfast at Spoodles on Thursday - AND the food was better at Spoodles. AND we got a 20% discount there with the Disney Dining Experience card - or "Tables in Wonderland" as I understand it is now called. (When we were at Spoodles with Paul and Ilene the other morning, Paul, in his very best announcer voice, called it "Tables in WONderland" and I still crack up when I think about that.)

The packet pickup for the race was just down the hall from the restaurant in the convention center - it was a much nicer set-up than they had for it last year when it was at one of the clubs at Pleasure Island. They had plenty of very nice volunteers to help - it really wasn't very busy at all. We spoke to a man who is involved in staging the race, and he said they took at least some of last year's guest comments into consideration this year - though apparently adding character presence to the race wasn't one of them. :-( So sounds like it'll still be a rather boring race. Oh well.

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(Does the carpeting in the Coronado Springs convention center area mess with any one else's eyes like it does mine? That small reddish-orange pattern starts moving if I look at it very long...)

After that we were off to Animal Kingdom - we were planning a short day since we (or I) wanted to rest up this afternoon and NOT be on my feet all day, and we wanted to show Jim and Sherry something different. They had never been to Animal Kingdom before since it wasn't built when they were last here in 1990.

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A Festival of the Lion King show was due to start in about 15 minutes so we went there. Had no problems getting a seat, though the theater was well over 3/4 full. I hadn't seen that in a while, and had forgotten how good it is. The Tumble Monkeys are still my favorites, though Lee and I both thought that the pair of "bird" dancers were the best we'd ever seen. (The guy is the same one we've seen for years, but his partner was either better or they worked better together.)

It had turned into a beautiful sunny day, but had really started to warm up a little too much for my comfort. We wandered around a bit in the shade of the Tree of Life to show Jim and Sherry some of the animals on the tree and some of the (real) animals that live around it.

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Over in Asia we walked the Maharajah Jungle Trek - there were quite a few more people than we usually see, but not too many animals, though we did see three sleeping tigers. And we learned a lot about bats from the CM at the bat exhibit - like the fact that bats have no ankles so they can't stand up. So if they fall on the ground they are quite helpless - they can't just stand up and fly away. Instead they have to use their "elbows" to crawl on the ground until they get to something they can climb up to reach a height where they can fly away.

The park seemed fairly crowded to me - lots of congestion on the walkways and standby for Everest was 50 minutes. We went to Everest and asked for our friend Kenny who works there - he hadn't expected to see us there until tomorrow. :-) We had a short visit with him (he WAS working, after all!) and then took a ride on Everest - Jim and Sherry really enjoyed it. I'd warned Sherry in advance that the backwards-in-the-dark thing really messes with your head, and you think you're going upside-down even when you're not. Unfortunately the Yeti wasn't working - we only saw him with the strobe light effect. :-(

We got some ice cream at Anandapur Ice Cream - I'd told Sherry that I thought it was the best soft-serve in the parks. She thought it was very good. Unfortunately because it was so hot it was melting really fast - I didn't get a chance to eat it slowly and savor it as I like to do. And though I was careful I still got a drip on my (black) shorts - though at least the chocolate ice cream missed the white t-shirt! (Lee had a root beer float, so he didn't have the same drip problems.)

We exited the park the long way, going past Dinoland, because we wanted to show Jim and Sherry most of the park (haven't gotten to Africa yet, though!) And now we're back in the room resting up for tonight.

Jim and Sherry are planning to have dinner at the Brown Derby at the Studios. Lee and I are eating light - we picked up a couple of sandwiches at the Boardwalk Bakery (the multi-grain bread they use in the sandwiches is excellent!) and had part of those, and will have a little more later.

Ack! We're not going to get to Epcot at all today!!! We are waaay down on our Eating Around the World quotient for the week...this is day 4 and we've only done it once!

Added Sunday morning: We finished the Tower of Terror 13K in 1:27:27. I was hoping to finish in less than 90 minutes, so that was good. Weather was MUCH better than last year, and not so humid or warm, though still warmer than I like. And there were characters!!! Between miles 4 and 5 we had lots of villains - Frollo and the Evil Queen, Maleficent and Cruella, Smee, and Captain Hook. That was fun! There was a little more entertainment along the way - it was definitely an improvement over last year. We're glad it's over, though. :-)

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 8, 2008

My Bonus Trip to Walt Disney World - Part 3

Lee decided he was going to stick around the room for a while this morning and do work stuff - he had a bunch of email that had come in over the last couple of days that he was working through. And since he *is* working this week, unlike some of us...

I showed him where the Riverside Mill & Market (aka the food court) was located, and asked him to pick up a cinnamon roll for me - they have really yummy cinnamon rolls here! Flaky and cinnamony and not too much frosting. I went out and walked/ran for 45 minutes. It was a little warmer and much more humid this morning than yesterday. Whew.

I called Lisa Berton about 9:30 to find out where she was, and left a message. Lee was still working when I left. I decided to let Fate decide where I would go, and took the first bus that showed up, which happened to be to Blizzard Beach and Animal Kingdom. (I had no wait for the bus, and in fact had to hustle a bit to catch it!).

Expedition Everest was my first stop, since I have a friend who is working there now. Unfortunately he had just gone on his break, so I rode Everest using the Singles line. That was quick, and in fact the Standby line was only 20 minutes at that point. It's still a great ride...and I still feel like I'm going upside-down during the backwards, in-the-dark part. Very disorienting, but not unpleasant. I wandered over towards Theater in the Wild - it was 10:30, but people were already lined up for the 11:30 Nemo show! That's a bit extreme, I think...the park wasn't *that* busy.

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Lisa called me and I arranged to met her over at the Magic Kingdom, and then I went and found my Cast Member friend. He was working, of course, so it was a short chat, but it was nice to see him! Lee and I will probably get over there on Friday (Lee reallly likes Animal Kingdom) and we'll see him again then.

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I sort of let Fate decide my next step, too...since I was going to the Magic Kingdom I actually had three bus choices: Grand Floridian/Wilderness Lodge, Transportation and Ticket Center, and Polynesian/Contemporary. The latter arrived first, so I took it. I was the only one on the bus until we stopped at Blizzard Beach and picked up two other people. The first resort stop was the Contemporary, so I walked to Magic Kingdom from there. And took this picture of the under-construction-tower-which-everyone-knows-is-a-new- DVC-resort-but-Disney-won't-confirm-it.

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Met Lisa outside the Exposition Hall, she'd been taking photos for AllEars and her photo blog. She wanted to take some more in Fantasyland, and she needed a model, so I got drafted. :-) We went to Dumbo - and this was yet another "first time" experience for me on this trip - I'd never ridden Dumbo at the Magic Kingdom before. The line was about 25 minutes, but we were chatting and the time went quickly. I got the same color Dumbo that I had at Disneyland on Sunday - the bright blue one.

And there were these two Wild Animals in a cage near the ride...

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We got Fastpasses for Pooh (even it had just at 30 minute Standby) and had lunch at Cosmic Ray's. I had a veggie burger and made good use of the toppings bar...the sauteed onions were especially good.

It was not quite time for our Pooh Fastpasses, and I'd told Lisa that I liked the Buzz Lightyear ride, so she suggested that. It had less than a 5 minute wait. As we got to the last turn in the queue we noticed Dream Team members with a stack of what looked like lanyards...but they weren't handing them out yet. Darn. Once we got off the ride we went around again, and they were handing them out, so Lisa and I got Dreamed!

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We won a pass for an event tonight called Magic Kingdom Special Park Dream Time Event. On the back it says:

Congratulations!

Have you ever dreamed of staying in a Disney park after closing time to experience the magic just a little bit longer?

Well, that dream is about to come true during tonight's Special Park Dream Time Event - created just for you as part of the 2008 Disney Dreams Giveaway.

Join us in Tomorrowland at MAGIC KINGDOM® Park just after the Park closes for the Special Park Dream Time Event kick-off.

(There's a whole bunch of conditions and disclaimers, but I'm not going to type those.)

To be honest, I was expecting it to be a Dream Fastpass, so I didn't ask if I could have one for Lee. When we got off the ride I saw a Cast Member at the Photo counter who had several in his hand, and I asked if he knew where I might be able to get one for my husband, who wasn't with me. So he just handed one to me. I think I probably could have gone to Guest Relations, but it was nice to not have to do that!

So now the question was: What exactly had we won? It's not very specific. Lisa asked a Cast Member at a Photo kiosk - he didn't know, but he called someone. That person didn't know either, so he called someone else, and was told that it was Tomorrowland only, and only for an hour after park closing. I guess we'll find out more tonight. Lee and I had talked about going to MK tonight anyways, to see the Wishes fireworks, which I really enjoy. And *they* don't get canceled frequently like certain fireworks shows in California which shall remain nameless.

I left after that - Lisa was going to go photograph "it's a small world" - which is something I've never done at Magic Kingdom, because I refuse to do it. :-) Besides, I'd promised myself some pool time today!!!

I was surprised to see that Port Orleans - French Quarter and Port Orleans - Riverside had separate bus stops. The French Quarter bus was already there, and since there was *no one* in line for the Riverside bus I figured I'd just missed it. Besides, it's a nice walk between the two along the Sassagoula River. (Nicer when it's not close to 90 outside, though.)

Our room is in Acadian House, and only 50 yards or so from one of the quiet pools. There weren't very many people there, but I discovered there are no towels there, either - you had to go to the main pool on Ol' Man Island to get them. That's a bit inconvenient! I was headed that direction anyway since I was going to use my refillable mug (refill #4 for those keeping track - Lee used it for coffee this morning) to get some iced tea.

I had some nice sun and reading time, and went in the pool to get wet, but the pool was so warm that it wasn't very refreshing - I cooled off more from evaporation when I got out of the pool than I did when I was in it!

This will probably be it for my blog entry today, since with the MK event tonight I'll be getting back a little too late to blog tonight, especially since Commando Lisa wants me to meet her bright and early at Epcot tomorrow. Of course she's going to this thing tonight, too... :-)

Let's see...I did 3.6 miles this morning, and an additional 6.3 miles up until now. Not quite up to the 12 I did yesterday, but there's still tonight!

November 18, 2007

Animal Kingdom - You "Otter" See This!

One of the things we love about Animal Kingdom is taking time to watch the animals, whether it be the tigers and bats on the Maharajah Jungle Trek, the meerkats, gerenuks and gorillas in Pangani Forest, the cotton-top tamarinds or lemurs around the Tree of Life, etc.

One of our very favorites, though, is the otters. And this last trip they put on quite a show for us! There were three of them, and they were romping and frolicking all around their enclosure - swimming around their island, running through the grass, and even posing, all three together, on the end of the island by the viewing area. They make the cutest little chirping noises, and they were doing a lot of that. I love otters - they always look like they are having fun!

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Another special animal sighting this trip was one of the hippos in the underwater viewing area on the Pangani Forest Trail. It was doing hippo aerobics - underwater laps around the pool. We'd see it pass by the glass, and then about a minute later it passed by again as it completed another lap. I don't think I've ever seen a hippo in that pool that was doing anything other than sleeping before this! It's really amazing to see how gracefully they move in the water.

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The siamangs and gibbons in Asia are often really entertaining to watch, too. It's a lot of fun to watch the parents and the babies playing together. This trip we saw two of the siamangs going hand-over-hand on the ropes between two of their towers. That was really cool to see!

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So next time you're at Animal Kingdom, take a few moments to watch the animals - you never know what you might see!

November 1, 2007

Walt Disney World - What's New?

New to us, that is - since we haven't been here since last December. That's one of the things we really enjoy about Walt Disney World - it seems like every time we're here there's always something that's new, whether it's a new attraction or exhibit or live entertainment group.

Contrary to what you might think we aren't just eating around the world, though in the first four days of our trip it seems like that's about all we did (well, there was that little 8 mile run on Saturday night...) We did actually get out into the parks and try a few new things that weren't food-related.

Our first night here was Extra Magic Hours at Epcot, so in addition to eating, we had the opportunity to see all the new (to us) things at Epcot. First was the Gran Fiesta Tour in the Mexico pavilion. While I don't miss the annoying street vendors at all, I do miss the narration in the first section when you were floating by the pyramid, and they talked about the ancient civilizations. Now it's basically "it's a small mexico" with the Three Caballeros. My favorite part was something Lee pointed out to me - the "it's a small mexico" kids whacking away at a Donald Duck-shaped pinata. :-) I'm not sure it's really an improvement over the previous version, but in any case it's not something we'll be in a hurry to do again any time soon.

We also visited the Epcot 25th Anniversary Gallery behind Club Cool. (We recognized the room - it's where they originally held the Segway Training sessions!) We had the exhibit all to ourselves, and enjoyed seeing the concept art and the original costumes and the various models. If you're interested in more information, as well as lots of photos, see Linda Mac's excellent blog entry on the Gallery, which is HERE.

At The Seas with Nemo and Friends we rode the clam-mobiles. We had done this before, but I hadn't seen it since I'd ridden the Finding Nemo Submarine Voyage at Disneyland, which employs similar technology in producing the visuals of Nemo and Friends in their underwater environment. I think it's much better here at Epcot - especially the section where the Nemo gang appears to be out in the tank with the *real* fish. The clam-mobiles are also a lot more comfortable than those cramped submarines!

What was new since our last visit was the new (and much bigger) theater for Turtle Talk with Crush, though the show itself isn't very different. We lucked out and arrived just as they were loading the theater for a show. Crush always makes us smile. Awesome, dude. :-)

At Disney-MGM Studios (or is it now Disney Hollywood Studios?) we did a couple of new things - saw the Jedi Training Academy on its new and permanent stage - though it was the same Jedi Master we'd seen 2-1/2 years ago. And we watched Mulch, Sweat, and Shears on the Streets of America. They're a "Rake n' Roll" band working as landscapers while they wait for their big break. They put on a good show, performing songs by the Rolling Stones, Eagles, etc.

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During Mickey's Not So Scary Halloween Party on Tuesday night we had a chance to do the two new things at the Magic Kingdom - and we were glad for the excuse to get out of the rain, too. I'm not enough of a Haunted Mansion aficionado to recognize many of the changes that were made during its recent rehab, but we noticed the creaking of the stretch room as it starts to stretch, the glowing eyes in the wallpaper, the glowing footprints overhead, and Madame Leota's floating crystal ball. And of course the creepy bride in the attic, with the husbands disappearing from the wedding portraits. Nicely done.

The Monsters, Inc. Laugh Floor Comedy Club was fun - I'd heard some not-too-positive reviews of it, but we enjoyed it. (I have to say that there were members of the audience who seemed to be enjoying it a little TOO much, though - both kids and adults. At any other park I'd blame it on alcohol, but since it was Magic Kingdom during the Halloween party I'll attribute it to sugar overload.) Like Turtle Talk With Crush, this show also features real-time animated characters who can interact with the audience. (Disney is getting a lot of mileage out of that technology!) Most of the jokes are pretty corny but it was fun - and part of the fun is laughing with the audience members that they pick on and show up on the big screen. There are some truly awful puns, though.

Today (Wednesday) we finally made it to Animal Kingdom. The only new thing that I'm aware of there is a new spiel for Kilimanjaro Safaris - I'd heard they eliminated at least some of the annoying elements. The entire "Warden Wilson Matua" recording is different - it sounds like it could be the same voice, but I can't tell. That silly Miss Jobson, who doesn't realize that Thompson's gazelles are called "Tommies", is gone, though - as is the whole "Tommie" thing, which I always thought made Wilson sound like an idiot. No more Big Red and Little Red either - just a baby elephant that the wardens found which had gotten separated from his mother. But Wilson is still chasing poachers, and towards the end our mission (which we weren't even given a choice to accept!) was to help drive the poachers towards him. I have to say that it was less annoying than the original, but I still wish they would offer a poacher-free safari. We DID learn something new from our driver, though - elephants frequent the red clay pits because they rub their tusks in the red clay and then eat it - it gives them extra minerals, apparently.

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Coming up...More Food and Wine Festival, our thoughts on our first stay at Animal Kingdom Villas, and Mickey's Not So Scary Halloween Party - not necessarily in that order. So many things to write about, so little vacation left!

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About Animal Kingdom

This page contains an archive of all entries posted to Salute to All Things Disney but Mostly Disneyland in the Animal Kingdom category. They are listed from oldest to newest.

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