Toy Story Land First Impressions

My first thought upon entering Toy Story Land in Disney’s Hollywood Studios was that pictures don’t do it justice.  My second thought was yikes!  I expected crowds like those we first encountered after Pandora opened, but the close quarters in Toy Story Land felt much, much worse. I’m not usually quite so claustrophobic, so maybe the addition of tons of colorful toys contributed to the feeling of being penned in. 

What we loved

The bright colors and clever theming did not disappoint.  Packed with details, Toy Story fans are sure to be pleased.  As we’ve come to expect from Disney, everywhere you turn or look offers something new to discover.  We visited twice, once in the morning and again at night to get the full effect.  Due to scheduling constraints we were only able to enjoy two attractions: Toy Story Midway Mania (always a must-do) and Slinky Dog Dash – which was charming and worthy of a FastPass or (maybe) a 30 minute wait.  We also enjoyed breakfast at Woody’s Lunchbox (review coming soon).

The Green Army Men

These guys are always fun.  When on maneuvers, they’re adorable!  Being entertained by the Green Army Men is an added dose of Disney magic.  We were delighted to see characters out and about.  The crowds though!  Which brings me to…

What we didn’t love

Toy Story Land is new, so we were expecting crowds.  We weren’t expecting crowds at a standstill.  The land’s layout does not ease crowd movement and instead seems to exacerbate the problem.  There’s only one way in and out.  There’s no gift shop or indoor restaurant seating to provide any kind of relief.  For sure, this is not the place to hang out when a summer storm blows in.  At 11 acres, this land covers just one acre less than Pandora, but feels much smaller to me.  Again, maybe it’s all the toys.

There’s no doubt the two new rides will continue to attract families in the long run.  The height requirements are 32” (Alien Swirling Saucers) and 38 inches (Slinky Dog Dash) which earn high marks on kid-friendliness.  My recommendation is heavy FastPass usage and plan to visit this area either early or late in the day.  Again, with no indoor spaces available, the heat’s going to be brutal. 

Have you visited Toy Story Land? What were your initial thoughts? Planning to visit? What are you most looking forward to?   

Visit Rafiki’s Planet Watch in Animal Kingdom

Yesterday I shared some highlights from our last trek on the Gorilla Falls Exploration Trail.  Today, staying with the Animal Kingdom theme, I want to give a shout-out to Rafiki’s Planet Watch.  Our family once tended to ignore this section of the park, but lately rumors have been swirling about possible changes (including the potential  demise of Rafiki’s area) which prompted us to give it another visit.  Turns out, there’s a lot to love!  If you’ve never been or if it’s been a while, here are five great reasons to…Rafiki's Planet Watch

Visit Rafiki’s Planet Watch in Animal Kingdom

Relaxing Train Ride – Getting to Rafiki’s Planet Watch involves one of the coolest modes of transportation at Walt Disney World.  The Wildlife Express offers an open-air train ride in outward-facing seats which makes for a relaxing and scenic ride to and from this area of the park.  Since this section typically opens later in the morning, mid-morning and mid-afternoon are great times to visit (between FastPasses).Wildlife Express to Rafiki's Planet Watch

Rafiki Himself – Sometimes there’s a queue to meet this wise sage of Africa and sometimes you can have your picture made with Rafiki with no wait at all.  He’s one of the more entertaining and playful characters in Animal Kingdom and will gladly teach you the art of meditation or give you an autograph.Rafiki's Planet Watch - Meeting Rafiki

Veterinarians at Work – Last month (January, 2018) we had time to spare and decided to either see Festival of the Lion King or visit Rafiki’s Planet Watch.  Raymond, Joseph and I were shocked when Megan piped up in favor of Rafiki’s.  We know how much she loves the Lion King show, but she’d had such a great experience on her last visit to Rafiki’s, she wanted to go again.  Joseph’s always up for anything that involves science and animals and that day, we were not disappointed!Rafiki's Planet Watch - Veterinarians at Work

A warthog was on the operating table when we arrived and a knowledgeable Cast Member was on hand to answer questions about what we were seeing.  The warthog’s immediate need was a broken hoof that needed to be shaved down/reshaped after a mishap cause a piece to break off.  Secondary to this was a known dental issue, so a dentist had been called in to cap a bad tooth.  Rafiki's Planet Watch - Warthog DentistryWe were fascinated and could, thanks to a strategically placed camera, watch the dentist at work.  Not every visit involves such cool veterinary care in action, but we lucked out that day.

Cast Members Have Time to Talk – The Cast Members at Rafiki’s Planet Watch seem to have more time to answer questions and explain scientific displays, animal behaviors, and veterinary treatments than they do in other Animal Kingdom areas.  Outside at the Affection Section, Cast Members can tell you individual animal’s names and histories as well as fun details about a particular animal’s personality.

Science and Live Animals Abound – There are tons of great learning opportunities all over Animal Kingdom, but Rafiki’s Planet Watch offers a unique opportunity to see, hear, and touch live animals while learning about both the animals in Animal Kingdom and those in the wild who benefit from Disney’s conservation and research efforts.

For as long as it lasts, Rafiki’s Planet Watch will remain one of our favorite places in Animal Kingdom.  It’s usually less crowded and much more slow-paced than just about anyplace else in the park.  The interesting displays, animals to pet, and veterinary work make every visit interesting and educational.

Are you a fan of Rafiki’s Planet Watch?  What keeps you coming back?

Who Would Love Disney’s Festival of the Lion King?

One person in our family considers Festival of the Lion King a must-do Animal Kingdom attraction and insists on trying (usually unsuccessfully) to include it on every visit. Poor Megan!  The rest of us are kind of meh about the Lion King show and it’s probably due to getting burned out in the early years when she’d beg to see it twice a day.  (She has powerful persuasion skills and was the sweetest child!)

Who Would Love Disney’s Festival of the Lion King?

Having pretty much shunned the Festival of the Lion King for the past couple-few years (as we say in these parts), I promised Megan when we took our Mother/Daughter Disney trip back in June we could see her favorite show. I was so excited we were going to see Pandora, I think I was unusually agreeable.

So, once we’d ridden Na’vi River Journey and Flight of Passage (twice), it was time to make good on my promise. We were off to the Harambe Theater, which is conveniently located just past the Dawa Bar (had to stop, Pandora made us thirsty). We didn’t have to wait long outside the theater before we headed in to find a seat (Tip: don’t use a FastPass for this attraction).  It was wonderfully cool and dark as we made our way up the aisle in the closest section to perch on the bleachers.  I’d forgotten about those seats.  Luckily, the women in our family come “standard equipped” with good seat cushions.  Still pretty uncomfortable.  So much for trying to squeeze in a nap.

When the show started, I quickly realized it was much better than I remembered. The Tumble Monkeys had a much smaller role than they’d had in the past and didn’t perform the acrobatics I’d seen them do before, but the singing and dancing was fantastic!  Who Would Love Disney's Festival of the Lion King?This show does an amazing job of including the audience throughout its entire 30 minute duration.  I’d forgotten how great the costumes are and how talented the performers…I owed Megan an apology for a few (slightly) negative comments I’d jokingly made pre-show.

I asked Megan to share her thoughts on why she loves Festival of the Lion King so much and here’s what she had to say…

“I love the stunts like the fire twirler and the monkeys. The dancing is fun to watch and I enjoy the choreography (mainly when the two birds dance).  I love the singing and I think Disney does a really good job of finding people who will sing the songs really well live (like “Be Prepared”) and I’ve always thought the floats with the giant moving and talking animals were a pretty cool touch.”Who Would Love Disney's Festival of the Lion King?

We noticed families with children of all ages enjoying Festival of the Lion King’s clever mix of circus-style performance, musical numbers, characters and audience participation. It’s a winning combination!

Have you seen Festival of the Lion King? How do you feel about it?  Who in your family loves this show?

Magical Memories – When Expedition Everest Opened

Sometimes we need the kind of getaway that only a Disney vacation can provide.  While I treasure the memories from all our family vacations, one trip in particular stands out in my mind as being especially cherished for several reasons.

When Expedition Everest Opened

Spring Break, 2006.  This vacation was unusually important to our family.  In December, 2005, we’d been terrified by a potentially serious health scare.  After a series of tests followed by a lymph node biopsy and a seemingly interminable wait for lab results, we found out that Raymond did not have cancer and was, in fact, perfectly fine.  Weeks of worry through the holiday season had taken a toll on all of us.  By mid-January, I knew we needed a Disney vacation as soon as possible.  The Disney Bubble beckoned.  As a family, we needed to regroup, recharge, and regain our equilibrium.  December had been incredibly stressful and we badly needed to shake off the lingering aftereffects.  The fastest I could manage to get us to Disney World was by Spring Break.

Megan was 15, Joseph 10 and they got along exceptionally well (and still do). While he’s a thrill ride junkie and she’s in love with all of Disney’s live shows, they compromised well enough that year for each to do and see everything they wanted.  We were completely blown away by Animal Kingdom and could not believe our good fortune when we found out that Expedition Everest was in soft-opening status.  We snagged FastPasses and also used the standby line which seemed to us an Imagineering marvel – such detail!  So incredibly entertaining and is still today my favorite queue at Disney World.  I remember when we boarded the tea train for the first time how tiny all the plants were on that first segment of the ride.  All in neat rows, we could tell they’d just been planted.

As we climbed the Forbidden Mountain and took in the view, we had no idea what to expect.  When we came to the broken tracks, flew backwards, saw the Yeti’s shadow and heard the Yeti’s “voice”, we were completely and utterly amazed by the perfect combination of thrilling ride and amazing details.  Then we saw the actual Yeti in all its glory!  Huge, entirely covered with brown dreadlocks and with an enormous simian arm that reached right out and took a swipe at us…we were in awe!  The experience was unforgettable – we’d found the YETI and we wanted to get back up that mountain immediately to see it all again!Expedition Everest Queue Yeti Museum Expedition Everest Train Platform Gear Animal Kingdom's Expedition Everest

We rode multiple times that day and again later in the week.  Thanks to some kind strangers who gave us four FastPasses for Everest on their way out of the park, Megan and Joseph used all four to ride twice more.  They ended up riding this newest, most wonderful ride a total of seven times before we went home.

Disney magic has always worked wonders for our family, but Spring Break, 2006 is a particularly remarkable example.  Never had we needed a vacation more and our favorite vacation destination did not let us down.  As the week ended, we found ourselves soothed and tired (in a good way).  We were ready to get back on track with our busy lives when we got home.

Is Disney World your happy place?  What Disney vacation stands out most in your memory?