Disney’s Pandora – World of Avatar – First Impressions

When I was growing up as a city girl, 12 acres was a lot of space.  Having spent the last (almost) 30 years surrounded by Louisiana farmland, 12 acres now seems pretty small.  It’s about the size of 9 football fields and also the size of Animal Kingdom’s new land.Disney's Pandora - World of Avatar - First Impressions

Disney’s Pandora – World of Avatar – First Impressions

Exploring Pandora was the basis for our Mother/Daughter Disney Summer Road Trip and we made sure we’d have plenty of time to see and do everything this new area has to offer.  Okay, except the face painting.  We’re not exactly into face-painting (unless you count Snapchat filters).  Add the June Florida heat and face painting was definitely off the table.  Aside from that, we managed to at least sample all Pandora had to offer.Disney's Pandora - World of Avatar - First Impressions

What we noticed immediately was that in Pandora, there’s a lot going on.  The land is wild and overgrown around a collection of worn down buildings and abandoned equipment.  Lush and colorful landscaping, water features, and pathways surround Pandora’s attractions, gift shop, restaurant and beverage counter.  Nothing feels mass-produced.  In fact, the accessories and decorations are decidedly handmade.   There are a variety of interesting lanterns and light fixtures that add to the natural feel of the area.  Plants unique to Pandora are interspersed with more recognizable foliage.  In the Disney way, large and small details work in harmony to create a stunning effect.Snail in Pandora

Aside from the amazing visual impact, Pandora offers guests a symphony of sound.  The abundant waterfalls create a constant background for the unfamiliar sounds of what I’m guessing are the (unseen) insects, birds, small and large animals of Pandora.  This particular detail, the unusual sounds, enhances the impression of being on a foreign planet.  It’s pretty darn cool!  There’s also a drum circle with several different drums and other percussion instruments for guests to play and those sounds add even more depth to what guests hear in Pandora.Drum in Pandora

Enjoying the luxury of having lots of time, Megan and I took a leisurely approach on our explorations.  We were able to meander along the different walkways and bridges.  Looking up and down as we walked along, we thought the floating mountains looked most impressive from the area directly beneath them and managed to locate at least one Hidden Mickey.  We rode both the Na’vi River Journey and the Flight of Passage, we had breakfast in the Satu’li Canteen, tried the green beer from Pongu Pongu, and gave the Windtraders gift shop a good bit of our attention (and money).Pandora Magic Shot

Pictures don’t do it justice!  Pandora is a feast for the senses and did not disappoint.  Fans of Avatar, the movie, are sure to be pleased by the overall experience and fans of Animal Kingdom should be satisfied by the new land’s conservation and preservation messages.  If you haven’t seen Avatar, I recommend you watch the movie before you go to Pandora if for no other reason than to appreciate how the Na’vi people, plants and animals from the movie are duplicated in the land.

Have you been to Pandora yet?  What did you think about the area’s details and attractions?  What do you want to hear about next?  Na’vi River Journey?  Flight of Passage?  Let me know and I’ll get right on it.

 

 

 

Disney Summer Road Trip Recap

The Epic Mother/Daughter Disney Summer Road Trip has come and gone.  800 miles to Walt Disney World for four park days and home again.  Did we have a good time?  Oh, you bet we did!  After all the planning and anticipation, we couldn’t have asked for more.

Disney Summer Road Trip Recap

We shared our plans in this post a few weeks ago.  When we hit the road at 8:00 am sharp on June 24th we were excited about our girls-only adventure.  We had our favorite Newk’s chicken salad sandwiches and plenty of drinks in the cooler.  Those snacks I’d bought at the Japan Pavilion back in April were within easy reach in the car.  We had a new podcast recommended by my friend Kelly about Unsolved Murders queued up in iTunes.  Suitcases, rain gear, GPS directions…we were ready!

The weather was great for the drive down.  In Mississippi we saw Lightening McQueen and Mater by the side of the road!  We thought this was both hilarious and appropriate so we stopped for a picture.  After that, it felt like we were on The Autobahn!  Nobody in Mississippi or Alabama seemed to care about the speed limit at all and we had to go kinda fast to keep up with the crowd.  We never once saw any troopers or other law enforcement watching for speeders…vastly different than in Louisiana.

I figured 9-10 hours of shared driving would be the maximum we could handle on day one.  I’d booked a room at the Hampton Inn in Lake City, Florida for Saturday night.  We could get a good night’s rest and tackle the last 2 1/2 hours of the drive on Sunday morning.  Everything went exactly according to plan.  I’d had a recommendation from someone on a Facebook forum to stop in Tallahassee for ice cream at Lofty Pursuits.  We cheered ourselves on by looking forward to stopping there for an afternoon snack and were delighted with the restaurant’s huge menu and quirky décor.  Guinness ice cream is a thing and it is spectacular.  I had warm chocolate ganache on mine, Megan had hers in a cone.

Our room at the Hampton Inn was perfect with super comfortable beds.  After polishing off the last of our sandwiches, we sipped wine and watched a couple of episodes of Outlander before turning in.  Hey, girl trip means we get to do girly stuff.  The next morning’s drive was a breeze and before long we’d arrived at Saratoga Springs.  Our studio was great and very close to a bus stop.  Full review coming soon.

As per our plans, we spent Sunday afternoon and evening in Magic Kingdom with a quick dinner break at the Wilderness Lodge’s new Geyser Point Bar and Grill.  We capped off the day with Happily Ever After and loved it!

Monday was my favorite day of the trip.  We left Saratoga Springs at 6:30 am and didn’t get back until 11:00 pm.  We spent all that time in Animal Kingdom and had a blast!  I’ll write individual posts with more details about Pandora and the Caring for Giants tour, but those were both amazing.  We had FastPasses only for the Na’vi River Journey in Pandora that day with a FastPass to experience Flight of Passage booked for the next morning.  You cannot get FastPasses for both on the same day.

We watched the wait time for Flight of Passage throughout the day and it quickly became 250 minutes before declining during the afternoon hours.  After Caring for Giants, we decided that if the wait time got below 100 minutes between then and our Rivers of Light FastPass, we’d wait in the standby line so we could ride Flight of Passage twice on this trip.  Normally, we will not wait longer than 30-40 minutes for anything except our most favorite attractions and only then if absolutely necessary.  While we were enjoying our Flame Tree Barbeque dinner, Flight of Passage’s wait got to 90 minutes and we had just enough time to do it.  I’ll tell you all about in another post soon, but we were so happy we got in that long line!!!

Tuesday we split between Animal Kingdom and Epcot.  We got to eat lunch at La Cantina de San Angel in the Mexico Pavilion which we hardly ever get to do because we’re the only ones in our family who love Mexican food.  It rained quite a bit that afternoon, but we were prepared.  We rode out the worst of the storm listening to Voices of Liberty in The American Adventure rotunda.  They are so talented and put on a wonderful show!  Once the rain let up a little, we made our way back to Saratoga Springs and then on to our dinner at Paddlefish in Disney Springs that night.

Wednesday we split the day between Disney’s Hollywood Studios and Epcot.  The weather was gorgeous and the Studios didn’t feel as crowded as usual.  We did all our favorite attractions, saw all the characters in the Star Wars Launch Bay, and had time to enjoy a cold beer before we headed to Epcot.  By 4:30, it was time to get back to our already-packed car at Saratoga Springs and head back to the Hampton Inn in Lake City for the night.

The drive home on Thursday was a lot more challenging than on the way down.  We left extra early since we’d seen a sign outside of Lofty Pursuits that they were now serving breakfast.  Strawberry pancakes and coffee…delicious and just the fortification we needed.  We’d been averaging 5 hours of sleep a night since Sunday and were exhausted.  We drove through what felt like a monsoon for hours along the Florida panhandle.  After we got through Mobile, things got better and we made it home safe and sound with lots of souvenirs for Raymond, Joseph, Grant, and Lyndsey.

Success!  We had an excellent trip and accomplished all we’d set out to do.  Plus, we now know about literally dozens of unsolved murders around the world.  Megan and I took on the challenge of a 1600 mile drive to have a mother/daughter adventure.  We rarely get much alone time these days, so having each other’s complete and undivided attention while enjoying our favorite vacation destination was like a dream come true.  And we’d do it again!

 

 

2017 Star Wars Half Marathon Weekend in Review

Last weekend’s trip to Walt Disney World was brief but packed with fun.  I’ve got so much to tell you, I thought I’d start with this post full of my impressions of the best and not-so-great aspects of our visit.  I’ll follow up with posts on the Star Wars 10K and half marathon and a restaurant review or two.  Here’s the scoop…

2017 Star Wars Half Marathon Weekend in Review

We arrived mid-day Friday.  Our plan was to get to the Grand Floridian (stayed at the DVC Villas), drop off our luggage, grab a bite at the Gasparilla Island Grill (underrated quick-service), then rush over to Wide World Of Sports so Joseph and I could pick up our race packets for the Dark Side Challenge.  This part went off without a hitch.  I was very excited to see Richard (famous greeter at the Grand Floridian) looking well.  If you seen him, say hello and he’ll say, “Welcome to the Grand!”  I love that he’s in his 90’s and still enjoying his job so much.

We wanted to spend a few minutes shopping at the Expo if possible and, thanks to the event buses running often, mission accomplished!  I’d booked Magic Kingdom FastPasses starting at 4:30 (or thereabouts) for Seven Dwarfs, Big Thunder, and Space Mountain and we arrived in plenty of time!  We even managed to squeeze in Pirates and PeopleMover as well.  Dinner was at Narcoossee’s and the 8:30 dining time was my first error of this trip.  WAY too late to eat before having to get up at 3:15 a.m. the next day.

Before dinner, we managed a quick glass of wine in Mizner’s Lounge.  Joseph had never heard the Lobby Society Orchestra play before and they sounded especially great that evening.  We were wishing we’d had more time to relax and enjoy the music.  On the way to Narcoossee’s, we spotted a rather large dark-colored snake on the sidewalk.  As I’ve mentioned before (here), Joseph has an affinity for reptiles.  I wanted to take the snake’s picture, Joseph wanted to pick it up!  Raymond and I, at the exact same time, realized what was about to happen and quietly said, “Don’t do it!” just about the time the snake decided to slither off into the bushes.  I did mention to the hostess that some guests might be alarmed if Mr. Snake decided to move back onto the warmth of the walkway.

Dinner was excellent as was our view of Wishes during our meal.  As we headed to our room to catch what sleep we could, we noticed and Cast Member and a gentleman in a suit holding a flashlight searching for the snake – or at least making sure it stayed off the sidewalk.  Our room (studio #1428) was the biggest disappointment of our stay.  There was no split bathroom, just a plain bathroom with a tub/shower combo.We didn’t even know such a room type existed!  Made getting ready take much longer for the three of us as we are a decidedly anti-bathroom-sharing people.  The room overall was lovely, but felt like a plain hotel room.  If you’ve seen DVC studios at Disney’s Polynesian Village or Bay Lake Tower, you can appreciate how disappointed we were.  There’s a split bathroom at the Poly and Bay Lake Tower’s kitchenette is so large, there’s extra room (with a counter and mirror) for getting ready.

Watch for a full report on the Star Wars 10K in the next few days.  Let me jump straight to our post-race activities…

At 180-days out, I’d booked a reservation for lunch at Beaches & Cream (Beach Club) and then cancelled it the day before we left home.  I should not have done that.  The recently opened Polite Pig in Disney Springs seemed just our type of place and we all wanted to try it.  Arriving at Disney Springs around 10:00 a.m., we had about an hour to shop before the restaurant opened and we were among the first in the door.  The atmosphere is neat and the employees were perfectly polite.  But, in spite of our love for barbecue and smoked meats, we were (all of us) disappointed in our food.  Such unanimous agreement is practically unheard of!  I ended up feeling sorry we didn’t get to try Beaches & Cream.  Next time we visit the Polite Pig, it’ll be for the bar instead of the food – our beers were very delicious and their drink menu is vast.

After lunch we were off to Epcot for the Disney Exchange Podcast Meet-up!  Nick, Dave, and I, (and our families) were excited to see friends of the show and spent an hour visiting and laughing a LOT!  We felt very humbled and special to have listeners willing to interrupt their Disney vacation to spend time with us.  Thanks especially to “Aunt Sandy”, Dave J., Victoria, Olivia, Linda, and Phillip (a.k.a. Duke).  After the meet-up, Raymond, Joseph and I headed off to use our FastPasses.

Frozen was down, so we used our first FastPass for Soarin’ followed by Spaceship Earth (we got stuck for a couple of minutes by the garlic hat guy and it was great!).  Our last FastPass went unused (Nemo) when we realized how nice it would be to go back to our room for a few minutes before dinner at Il Mulino – our now-traditional-pre-half-marathon-go-to restaurant.  If you are not on the Disney Dining Plan, I urge you to give some of the Swan and Dolphin’s restaurants a try!  This was our fourth visit to Il Mulino and our experiences have all been consistently excellent.

Immediately after dinner, we got back to our room as quickly as possible and were out as soon as our heads hit the pillows!

Sunday morning, there was that little matter of the Star Wars Half Marathon.  (Full review soon.)  Raymond was waiting for Joseph and me when we finished the race and the three of us, along with Dave and his wife, Anne, enjoyed a few minutes of the post-race party before getting on with the rest of our day.  Animal Kingdom was on the agenda and by the time we got there, a bad case of “hangry” had struck so we decided to grab some small plates at the Nomad Lounge.And ended up staying for three hours once Nick and Dave (and their wives and friends) found out where we were and joined us.  If you haven’t been to Nomad Lounge, go!  It’s about as perfect a place to relax as exists on Disney property.  The beverage selection is great, the food is yummy, and the atmosphere is tranquil.  Unbelievably, we left Nomad Lounge and spent a few more minutes together at the Dawa Bar.

Eventually we needed to excuse ourselves in favor of FastPasses for Kilimanjaro Safaris and Expedition Everest.  We strolled along the Gorilla Falls Trail between attractions and then caught a bus for Animal Kingdom Lodge’s Kidani Village section for dinner at Sanaa.  We were early and spent time out on the savannah overlook sitting in rocking chairs and enjoying the lovely weather.  Sanaa’s manager was kind enough to find us a table about 30 minutes before our reservation and we were delighted to introduce Joseph to the restaurant’s famous bread service.

To wrap up the day, we met our Disney Exchange friends back at Animal Kingdom for Rivers of Light.  It was our first time to see it and typically, Raymond, Joseph and I had completely differing opinions about this new show (more on that at a later date).  By this time, even with all the rest and relaxation, the trackers on our Fitbits had passed 20 miles for the day.  It was time to turn in so we had enough energy to squeeze in a last little bit of Disney in the morning.

We were awake and busy packing by 6:15 a.m.  We had breakfast scheduled at Kona Café (another tradition) followed by one last FastPass in Magic Kingdom for Space Mountain at 9:20.  Our ride to the airport was scheduled to pick us up at 11:00 a.m.  Dave met us in Magic Kingdom and we had time for a last ride around Tomorrowland on the PeopleMover before blasting off into Space.  It was time to go.  One last bit of pixie dust found us as we went back to our room for our luggage – Cinderella’s horses, carriage and footmen were on the path around our building and we got to see them up close as they passed by.  Then we found ourselves leaving Walt Disney World behind to get home for some much needed rest!

For a very short 72 hours, we had an amazing (exhausting) time!  Joseph completed his first runDisney events.  Nick, Dave and I managed (finally!) to have our first podcast meet-up.  Family, friends, and LOTS of Disney magic all around…we could not have asked for a better time.

Disney World Last Week – Trip Recap

Social Media Buddies, you cracked me up!  Some of you were polite about our Christmas week at Walt Disney World plans and some of you were brutally honest (my kind of folks!) and wanted to know if we were CRAZY!  Yes, a little crazy perhaps, but Christmastime at Disney World is magical.  And crowded.  Boy, was it crowded.

Disney World Last Week – Trip Recap

As with any visit to our favorite vacation spot, this one was packed with tons of Disney magic, lots of fun, and some extra-special Cast Members.  There were a few disappointments, some self-inflicted, but overall we had a great time.  Here’s the lowdown on the best and worst of the trip…

Best Moments-

Having a Tiny Christmas Tree – If Raymond and Joseph thought I was out of my mind for packing a tree, lights, garland, and ornaments (including Disney characters, thanks to my friend, Debbie), they were kind enough not to say so.  Having that little tree in our room made me indescribably happy.  I turned on the lights every evening and it added just the right Christmas touch.

Christmas Morning in Magic Kingdom – The weather was perfect, the Cast Members were incredible, and as the sun came up, we were so happy to be there.  We rode Peter Pan, Little Mermaid, and Big Thunder before breakfast at Be Our Guest.  After that, we used our three FastPasses and were gone by early afternoon to enjoy the rest of the day away from the crowds.

Hugs from Cast Members – I made a point of thanking the various Cast Members we encountered on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day for being there to make our holiday celebration possible. Some were clearly surprised and just said an enthusiastic “Thank you!”. Others took time to ask where we were from and before long, we were hugging!  This, more than anything else, put the Christmas magic into this vacation for me.

Voices of Liberty – They’re spectacular any time of the year, but this was the first time we’d heard them sing Christmas and Hanukkah songs.  We were so glad we’d made the time to enjoy this must-do in World Showcase’s American Adventure.

Touring The Decorations – Some folks might refer to this as the Monorail Loop Pub Crawl, but in December it’s called the Tour of Christmas!  The trees are gorgeous and the smell of gingerbread is in the air.  Everything sparkles. Bonus: during mid-to-late afternoon, the lounges are practically empty.

Notes of Welcome – We were greeted by special cards in Kona Café, California Grill, and Tiffins (where we also received some peppermint bark candy).  This was unexpected, unnecessary, and made us feel incredibly special.  Nice touch, Disney!!!

Meeting Peas and Carrots – If you don’t know Carmen and Brian and their fun and informative vlog, you’ve been missing out! They were exactly as charming and fun at they appear on YouTube and I was thrilled to make their acquaintance when we happened to be in Epcot at the same time.

Best Food –

Kona Café – Always a solid choice! We love the atmosphere at the Polynesian and while Kona may be easier to get into than ‘Ohana, the food is no less delicious! We enjoyed dinner on arrival day and breakfast later in the week after sleeping in – what a luxury!

California Grill – The view from our table-by-the-widow was perfect. Our server was awesome and the ever-changing menu a delight!  Thanks to my sister, Sandy and brother-in-law, Joe, we had a Disney gift card we used for an extra special Christmas dinner. From start to finish, complete with three courses, delicious wine and after dinner drinks with dessert, our experience at California Grill was perfect.

Tiffins – Remember last time we went and how much we loved having Kile as our server?  Miraculously, we asked for him again and he was there!  This place is outstanding for Animal Kingdom fans like us and Kile knows everything from the artwork to history and food particulars. Again, we had a magical, memorable dinner and will definitely return as soon as we can.

Jiko – What can I say? We’ve never been disappointed. Plus Animal Kingdom Lodge is gorgeous any time of the year and especially at Christmas.

Morimoto Asia – Raymond and I couldn’t wait to take Joseph here since the experience is right up his alley.  Addicted to Food Network, lifelong fan of Epcot’s Japan pavilion and adventurous diner, this restaurant was made for our only son.  Went exactly as we’d hoped it would and we all enjoyed our lunch tremendously.

Best New Experiences –

Candlelight Processional (dinner package) – We chose breakfast at Trattoria al Forno which was wonderful in spite of the restaurant staff being incredibly short-handed. The atmosphere is cool and the food quite tasty. At about 6:15 that evening, we got in line for the show and found seats in the center about half-way back. Cal Ripken, Jr. offered a fine narration and the singers and musicians were fantastic.  Would we do it again? You betcha!

Express Transfer – While this special, optional service is currently in the testing phase, for park-hoppers like us, it was worth every penny of the $24 per person up charge for the week we were there!  One we added this feature to our Magic Bands, we were set! Slip out one park, board the bus and slip right into the next park…all behind the scenes!  Saved so much time and walking!

Wilderness Explorers – Sure it’s for kids, but I talked Joseph into doing this Animal Kingdom activity with me and we really enjoyed the adventure!  (Full review with lots of details coming soon.)

Jock Lindsey’s Outdoor Seating – I’d never even noticed it before, but Raymond had and suggested we try it out.  There’s lots of space which includes tables and chairs on a boat named “Reggie”.  Of course that’s where we wanted to sit. And what a treat it was! Awesome server and great beer selection.

AMC Dine-In Theater (for Rogue One) – There’s nothing like this movie-and-a-meal experience available anywhere near where we live.  This was such a fun way to combine lunch and a show at Disney Springs.  We loved Rogue One and thought everything from the characters to the scenery, costumes, effects, and storyline were a perfect fit (and tribute) to the original movies.

Disappointments/Regrets

Citricos – This was not what we were expecting after our last visit.  The service was not nearly as good as on our last visit even though there were plenty of empty tables around us.  The real problem was that something bad must have happened in the kitchen and the unmistakable taste of soap was in my and Joseph’s entrees.  No, we didn’t send them back, but we should have.  We should have at least complained.  My only excuse for not doing either of those is that we weren’t very hungry and were particularly exhausted that day.  I just wanted to get out of there.

Wild Africa Trek – This one’s on me.  I should have done more research.  I’ll do a whole review on our experience, but overall I was disappointed in what we got for the splurge.  It was certainly not all bad, just not what I’d hoped for.  One of our guides was really snarky and that’s probably my number one complaint.  We felt the tour was geared mostly towards children and better for families with little ones.

Jingle Bell Jingle BAM Dessert Party – The idea of this is nice, but I wish I hadn’t spent the extra money.  The food and beverage offerings, meeting with Santa Goofy, and viewing area for the show were not worth what we paid.  We did appreciate the nice seating area that kept us out of the cold weather that night and the complimentary hand warmers were a nice touch.  We’ve always wondered and now we know – dessert parties are not for us.

AbracadaBar – We finally made it here on our way to dinner at Flying Fish.  I’m glad there’s a lounge option other than the Belle Vue at the Boardwalk now, but this spot is no Trader Sam’s or Jock Lindsey’s.  It’s a great place to hang out pre-dinner, but I wouldn’t go out of my way to visit again.

While visiting Walt Disney World for Christmas is not for the faint of heart, there’s plenty of extra Disney magic to be found!  With a little extra planning and patience, a wonderful time awaits!

If you’d be interested in full reviews or additional details about anything mentioned here today, please let me know. Have you spent Christmas at Disney World?  What was your experience like?