Disney’s Animal Kingdom – Quietest Little Corner

If you’ve been to Disney’s Animal Kingdom, you’re probably very familiar with Gorilla Falls Exploration Trail and the Maharajah Jungle Trek.  Were you aware there’s a third and often ignored trail?  There IS!  And I’m here to tell you, when the crowds get crazy, it’s a great place to escape!

Disney’s Animal Kingdom – Quietest Little CornerDisney's Animal Kingdom - Quietest Little Corner

We’d been to Animal Kingdom dozens of times and still did not notice the Cretaceous Trail in DinoLand U.S.A. until last December during Christmas week when the park was so crowded we could barely move.  Raymond, Joseph and I were working on our Wilderness Explorer badges when two of us became distracted by unusual flora.  As I’m rarely distracted by any type of plant life unless it’s edible,  I wasn’t even a tiny bit curious.  Not wanting to get left behind however, I followed the guys into the trees and found myself on the Cretaceous Trail.  And we were alone.  Thousands of people in every other section of the park and we’d discovered peace and quiet!  And some other stuff, too.

The Cretaceous Trail is short and has no live animal exhibits.  It exists to teach guests about the plants and animals alive today that survived (or can be traced back to) the Cretaceous period.  It’s short and seemingly unpopular.  The beauty of this area is the soaring, unique landscaping.  Once brought to my attention, I had to admit, the trees and shrubs and whatnot were pretty cool.  There are also some dinosaur figures here and there and benches available for folks looking for a place to rest.Disney's Animal Kingdom - Quietest Little Corner

Why visit the Cretaceous Trail?  I’ll give you five great reasons…

  1. Your baby is asleep and you’d like to keep it that way OR you want to let a little one stretch their legs in a crowd-free area.
  2. You love unusual plants.
  3. You need a break from people.
  4. You’re an aspiring paleontologist.
  5. You’re dragged there by family members while you’re trying to earn Wilderness Explorer Badges.

Have you been to the Cretaceous Trail?  If not, it’s close to the pillars for Dinosaur, so next time you’re over in DinoLand, you should take a minute (literally) to check it out!

Dark Side Challenge – April Disney Vacation Plans

In just a few weeks, we’ll be headed to Walt Disney World for a short, action-packed adventure.  We may be there for only three days, but we’ve built quite an itinerary!  With so much to look forward to, it feels like my countdown calendar is moving backwards.  Making things worse is fickle Mother Nature and her indecision about which season to embrace.  Feels like winter one day, spring the next, back and forth until everyone’s sneezing from either a cold or pollen allergies.  All of it has me staring at my suitcase wondering if it’s too soon to pack.

Dark Side Challenge – April Disney Vacation Plans

We chose our travel dates purely for the Dark Side Challenge.  The Star Wars 10K and Half Marathon will be Joseph’s first runDisney events and I couldn’t be more excited for him.  After he spent fall and winter of 2015 running with me as I trained for the 2016 Glass Slipper Challenge, then stayed home with Junior while I went to Disney World, I promised him I’d take him with me this year.  With just a couple of long training runs remaining, we’re ready.

Dark Side Challenge - April Disney Vacation Plans

Springtime in Disney World!  It’s been years since we’ve visited during Epcot’s International Flower and Garden Festival and we have missed it so much.  Weighing heavily into our plans, Epcot’s going to be where we spend most of our non-running time.  Since Nick and Dave from the Disney Exchange (and their wives) will also be at Disney World, we’re doing our best to coordinate our schedules for a get-together.  The weekend looks like this:

Friday mid-day – Arrive, grab lunch at the Grand Floridian (staying in the Villas) and head to the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex to pick up our race packets.  Based on past experience, we’ll be there a whole lot less time than it takes to get there.  The race expo is always too crowded to enjoy browsing the booths.  I gave it my best shot last year and still walked away empty-handed.  There’s a lot of cool merchandise, but my patience won’t last long enough to actually purchase anything except a beer.  Once we’ve got our packets, we’ll head right back to the bus and make our way to Magic Kingdom.

Magic Kingdom – We’ve got late afternoon / early evening FastPasses for Seven Dwarfs Mine Train, Big Thunder Mountain Railroad, and Space Mountain.  Between FastPasses, we’ll squeeze in what we can.

Late Dinner at Narcoossee’s – The last time Raymond and I ate here was late December, 2015 and our experience could not have been better.  The food and service were both excellent.  One of the things we liked best was that our server encouraged us to step outside on the deck to watch Wishes while he held our entrees back to keep them warm.  Nice touch! I’ve scheduled our reservation for 8:30 with Wishes at 9:00 so we can do it again.  After that it’s off to sleep.

Here’s where our plans are a little squishy.  Saturday morning we’ll need to be at the 10k’s starting line well ahead of the 5:30 am start time.  Unlike the previous runDisney events I’ve done, this one starts on Floridian Way rather than at Epcot.  I’m sure we’ll have to take a bus to the starting line, but don’t have a clear idea about how long that will take.  Once the official race course and event guide have been published, hopefully we’ll know more.  The race ends at Epcot and we should be making our way back to the Grand Floridian by 7:00 am to clean up and have breakfast.Epcot View

Epcot all Day!  Sure we’ll be a little tired, but for not rushing around, sampling plenty of snacks and having our group meet-up, Epcot is perfect!  We do have a little lunch reservation we’ll duck out for at Beaches & Cream (our first time there!) and then we’ll be right back for more Flower and Garden action.  We have late afternoon FastPasses for Frozen Ever After, Spaceship Earth, and The Seas with Nemo & Friends.

Il Mulino Dinner – As per our pre-Disney-half-marathon tradition, this amazing little Italian eatery at the Swan is where we’ll order giant servings of carbs and pretend we don’t have to get up super early and run 13.1 miles.  Last year while we were enjoying our Il Mulino dinner before the Princess Half, Joseph (home with Junior) texted us, of all things, a video of him playing Bella Notte (from Lady and the Tramp) on an antique accordion he had purchased earlier that day.  (Sometimes Joe’s love for both music and antiques collides.)  It was perfect and one of my happiest Disney vacation memories.  It’s a shame he can’t pack that thing and bring it along to serenade us in person this time.

Running to the Dark Side!

Sunday morning Joseph and I will put on our epic matching Star Wars shirts (nope, not kidding – had them custom printed just for us) and two great things will happen:  I will not be running 13.1 miles alone (I can’t tell you how much this means!) and Joseph will get to experience first hand how incredibly amazing runDisney half marathons are.  I’m excited to hear what he has to say about the course and all the surprises along the way.  Post-race we’ll meet up with Raymond and enjoy the after-party for a few minutes before we head back to our room to clean up.

Epcot and Animal Kingdom.  We are absolutely ending the day at Animal Kingdom, but if we have time, we’ll make a quick dash to Epcot for lunch around the World.  At Animal Kingdom we have two FastPasses scheduled before dinner – Kilimanjaro Safaris and Expedition Everest.  We’re eating Dinner at Sanaa in the Kidani Village section of Animal Kingdom Lodge.  Joseph’s going to love the bread service!  Then it’s back to Animal Kingdom park for Rivers of Light.

That’s it.  Then we go home.  I’m hoping we’re not trying to do too much.  At the same time, I’m hoping our scheduled plans will be enough to make our three days feel much longer.

This will be the shortest Disney vacation I’ve ever taken.  How about you?  Would you (could you?) go for just three days?

 

 

 

 

 

Disney World Bound? Under Versus Over Planning

Like Goldilocks and the Three Bears, finding the just right when planning a Disney World vacation can be challenging!  With all there is to see and do, it’s easy for seasoned Disney vacationers to imagine the horrors of under planning.  For the uninitiated or infrequent visitor, knowing how to plan appropriately can be highly intimidating.  Again – So much to see and do!

Disney World Bound? Under Versus Over Planning

Under Planning – This plan is too small.

I understand a low-key, go-with-the-flow vacation mentality.  If you dream of drifting through quiet days in a tropical paradise, rethink that decision to visit Disney World.  It’s huge, often crowded, expensive and requires at least a little bit of planning.  Some advance research is advised.Memory Maker - Rafiki

Luckily there are many books and websites like Tips From the Disney Divas and Devos, All Ears.Net, Your First Visit, WDW Prep School, Disney Tourist Blog, and more.  These sites offer a variety of perspectives on how to plan a successful Disney getaway.

At a bare minimum…

Review Park Attractions – You can’t do it ALL, but you can do a lot.  Pick some attractions in each park that you think your family will enjoy.  Check out point-of-view videos on YouTube to get an idea of a particular ride’s scare-factor.  Prep for vacation by letting your little ones watch these videos.  They’ll have realistic expectations about what’s going to happen – for many children, this preparation makes trying new attractions less scary.  If you’ll be staying on Disney property, 60 days pre-trip book those FastPasses (like ride reservations to skip the long lines) for your top must-do choices.  Off-property guests can book up to 30 days in advance.Memory Maker - Tower of Terror

Review Restaurants – (menus are always available at Disney’s site) and please, make some Advance Dining Reservations (ADRs) for at least a couple of places.  Popular restaurants like ‘Ohana (Disney’s Polynesian Village Resort) and Be Our Guest (Magic Kingdom) and many Character Dining experiences book up way in advance.  You can always cancel up to 24 hours before your dining time with no penalty.  Please!  Better safe than sorry.

Over Planning – This plan is too big.

Four parks, Disney Springs, Advance Dining Reservations, FastPasses, special events, nighttime spectaculars, Memory Maker – What do you need, what don’t you need.  Are you planning too much?  I’ve been guilty of over planning.  Once you get the hang of ADRs and FastPasses, it’s easy to try to cram too much in and leave little for spontaneous fun.

When Megan and Grant honeymooned at Disney World, they had the Deluxe Dining Plan and made a ton of dining reservations.  Later, Megan felt they’d have been much better off with fewer meals booked.  They often felt like they were rushing around to fit attractions in between dining reservations.  They got to experience some fantastic meals, but the travel time to and from restaurants really cut into their vacation.Yellow Monorail / Walt Disney World

I’m a fan of park-hopping and will often plan a morning at one park with no FastPasses, get there at park-opening and go, go, go!  Then hop to the park where I’ve scheduled our three FastPasses before moving on to a dinner reservation, usually at a resort.  This plan maximizes the attractions we get to ride/see, but is not relaxing and leaves little room for simply soaking up the amazing Disney details.  Classic case of over-planning.

Too busy for Memory Maker.  If you’re prone to over planning, you may want to skip the Memory Maker photo package (currently $149 purchased 3-days in advance of your trip / $169 regular price).  We’ve found that planning time for pictures is critical or Memory Maker can be a waste of money.  If you’re rushing to a FastPass or dining reservation, you won’t stop and wait for a Disney photographer.Memory Maker Buzz Lightyear

Making plans that are just right for your family depends on what’s important to you.  A successful Disney vacation takes at least a little advance prep, but trying to do too much can lead to a less-than-relaxing experience.

Have you been guilty of planning to little or attempting to do too much?  What’s the best planning tip you’ve learned?

Disney FOMO is Real – I’ve Been Stricken

Google FOMO and the simple definition displayed says it all.

“noun: FOMO

  1. anxiety that an exciting or interesting event may currently be happening elsewhere, often aroused by posts seen on a social media website.”

Therein lies my problem.  FOMO clearly afflicts people of all ages…including middle-aged Disney fans who have been obsessively watching all things World of Avatar on the internet.  My April Disney vacation is too soon.  My November Disney vacation is sooooo far away!  Pandora is finally opening in May and I want to see it!!!

Disney FOMO is Real – I’ve Been Stricken

It’s not like Animal Kingdom’s newest land is suddenly showing up after a few months of preparation.  The first announcement of Pandora’s imminent arrival was made in early 2011.  That’s SIX years ago.  Six years of speculation, starts, stops, controversy, rumor, and (for some) excitement.  Construction began in 2014 and, by bits and pieces, we’ve learned the details of exactly how Pandora will make its place in Animal Kingdom.  At long last, the time has arrived – May 27, 2017 – and I won’t be there.  New rides, restaurants, shops, exquisitely themed and amazingly detailed, and I’d already booked April and November before the opening date announcement was made.  The internet is full of ride details and food pictures – constant reminders of what I won’t be seeing anytime soon.

What’s a girl to do?

I have a plan, of course, and a willing cohort.  Megan and I have been talking about a mother/daughter getaway forever, so I filled her in during our usual Sunday visit.  In short order we had vacation schedules verified, 42 vacation club points booked (Saratoga Springs), and a route planned.  Since we have always flown to Disney World, this driving thing will add a different aspect to our trip, but Meg and I are pretty stoked.  We have virtually unlimited packing space for the first time ever and can bring important things like breakfast foods and wine.  As many pairs of shoes as we want!  Once we arrive at Disney World, we’ll have three whole days to explore Pandora before heading home.  Our first summer road trip, just the two of us, and we couldn’t be more excited.  See you in June, World of Avatar!

Have you suffered from Disney FOMO?  What new Disney World attractions are you looking forward to most?