Disney’s Animal Kingdom – 12 Hours of Fun!

animal-kingdom-selfieI’m well aware there are certain people who do not appreciate Disney’s Animal Kingdom as a full-day park.  My family and I are not among them.  We were thrilled recently by the opportunity to spend 12+ hours in the amazingly themed, action-packed,  fun-filled Animal Kingdom.  From rope-drop to park closing, we had an amazing day and still did not see and do it all.animal-kingdom-sign

Disney’s Animal Kingdom – 12 Hours of Fun!

Pre-planning:  We booked two ADRs (Advance Dining Reservations) at 180 days pre-vacation at Tusker House for breakfast and Tiffins for an early dinner.  If, by some miracle, Rivers of Light would have come online for our trip, we were ready to turn one of these meals into a dining package.  As it turned out, Rivers of Light was still a no-show.  No matter, we enjoyed both of these restaurants and were very pleased with the choices.  We had also booked three FastPasses:  Expedition Everest, Kilimanjaro Safaris, and Primeval Whirl (Dinosaur was under refurbishment).tusker-house-breakfast-daisy

What we did for 12+ Hours

Morning:  We arrived early for breakfast and enjoyed Tusker House’s buffet which had both unique and traditional breakfast offerings.  We met Mickey, Minnie, Donald, Daisy, and Goofy – all were awesome and spent plenty of time with us for pictures.  As much as I love Donald, Goofy was extra entertaining.  tusker-house-goofyAfter breakfast, we waddled over to Kilimanjaro Safaris and visited with the friendly Cast Members there while we waited for the attraction to open.  Our group of seven and a family of three were the only ones on our safari and it was, hands down, the best experience we’d ever had on this attraction…even though the giraffes (except for one) and elephants seemed to be sleeping in that morning.  We were very excited to have an excellent view of the new African Painted Dogs!  Gorgeous!kilimanjaro-safaris-african-painted-dogsPost-safari, we explored the Gorilla Falls trail, used our Expedition Everest FastPass, strolled the Maharajah Jungle Trek, caught It’s Tough to Be a Bug, and took another safari (with FastPass) to see the previously missed close-up giraffes and elephants.

Afternoon:  We stopped by the Harambe Market in case anyone was hungry, but we only got drinks.  I guess we were still full from Tusker House.  dak-musicianWhile we were enjoying our beverages of choice, we were serenaded by a musician and it was wonderful!  He was very talented and made us feel special.  Then we explored Zuri’s Sweet Shop where we all bought souvenirs.  Zuri's-Sweets-ShopHats, toy Komodo Dragons, and stuffed African Painted Dogs were popular items with our group.  After that we hopped the train for Rafiki’s Planet Watch.  rafiki-meetingWhile there was not a lot going on in the animal care area, the Cast Members were chatty and informative, the animals in the petting area were cute, and Rafiki himself made an appearance and was very charming!rafikis-planet-watch-affection-sectionWe could have seen Festival of the Lion King instead, but Rafiki won out in the group vote and we were happy with our excursion to this seldom-visited section of the park.rafiki-teaching

As we took the train back, we noticed the sky was darkening.  By the time we exited the train and donned our ponchos, a torrential downpour was upon us and all areas of shelter nearby were packed.  I decided we should take a chance on Nomad Lounge (by Tiffins), hoping nobody else would realize it would be open.  nomad-lounge-in-the-rainYES! The place was virtually empty.  We found a table on the patio and ordered drinks and snacks which we made short work of as the rain let up and we headed back out for more fun.  nomad-lounge-snackWe wrapped up the afternoon with a series of rides on Primeval Whirl since there was no wait.  Before long, it was time to return to Tiffins for our early dinner reservation.primeval-whirl2

Evening:  Tiffins, which I will give a full review for soon, was delightful and delicious (truthfully, it was incredible)!  Once the sun began to set, we began what was the completely-new-to-us time of the day – we’d never been able to stay at Animal Kingdom so late before.  The park wouldn’t close until 8:30 and we were going to take advantage of every minute.  Kali-River-RapidsFirst, everyone (except Raymond and I) took multiple trips down Kali River Rapids (no wait).  Then we enjoyed Expedition Everest at night…amazing!everest-at-duskWe took our third Kilimanjaro Safari of the day to see the hyenas and all the nighttime effects before wrapping up this epic day by watching the Tree of Life awaken.tree-of-life-awakens

More than 12 hours after we arrived, we caught the bus back to Bay Lake Tower.  Sure, we skipped things like Finding Nemo The Musical, Festival of the Lion King and Flights of Wonder, but we rode awesome thrill rides multiple times (no wait), had all the safari experiences possible, enjoyed some fantastic food and soaked up all the incredible theming and ambiance Animal Kingdom has to offer.  When the World of Pandora opens and Rivers of Light finally launches, we’ll have to make multi-day plans here on every visit!

What are your favorite things to do at Animal Kingdom?  Are you looking forward to the parks upcoming additions?

Magical Memory Monday – Disney Touring ’til We Drop!

It was Spring, 2005.  Megan was 14 and Joseph nearly 10 – Our Disney World touring plans were simple: Do as much as possible everyday for the five days we’d be there.  We’d hit the ground running and go, go, go for 15 or more hours straight.IMG_2021

Magical Memory Monday – Disney Touring ’til We Drop!

We began in Magic Kingdom, I remember that well because we wanted Space Mountain to be our first and last ride of  the trip.  We were staying at the Contemporary for the first time and were in a garden wing which was a huge splurge for us.  We felt like the luckiest family in the World.IMG_2011

Looking back, I can still recall exactly the excitement of the attractions and the fun we had trying new restaurants and other experiences.  We’d mastered the art of taking turns at being  the runner for getting paper FastPasses and we all felt like the amount of things we saw and did each day was tremendous.  As was, and still is, a much beloved vacation tradition, we paused every evening long enough to enjoy a nice dinner in a table service restaurant where we’d talk about the wonders we’d enjoyed that day and what we were looking forward to for the next.IMG_2069

For the very last day of the trip, we’d made a reservation at the California Grill.  We spent the day at Magic Kingdom and before we walked back to our room to change for dinner, we grabbed some FastPasses for Space Mountain.  The timing couldn’t have been better.  We’d be able to enjoy our nice dinner and have plenty of time to go back to Magic Kingdom and finish our vacation exactly the way we’d planned.RM-Space-Mountain-Sign

California Grill was great!  We were seated near the window and had a wonderful time enjoying the delicious food and wonderful view.  About halfway through our entrees, I noticed our little group had gotten very quiet.  I glanced around the table.  Raymond and Megan were happily eating, but Joseph, who’d leaned his head back onto the window, was sound asleep.  I called to him softly by the nickname I’d given him when he was born, “Sonny?”  Without opening his eyes, he replied, “Ma’am?”  I asked, “We’ve still got our FastPasses for Space Mountain, are you going to be up for that?”  His eyes were still closed, but his answer was firm, “Yes, ma’am.”RM-California-Grill-View

And when dinner was over, he perked right up and we did indeed make our way back to Space Mountain.  Five days of non-stop park touring had certainly worn us out, but we wouldn’t have changed a single moment.  Our family vacation motto was born…We’ll rest when we’re dead.

What’s your favorite Walt Disney World park touring memory?

 

 

Disney Land and Sea – Trip Recap (Part One)

Disney-Dream-Sail-Away-SelfieI’m back and brimming with excitement about all the things Raymond and I did and saw on last week’s whirlwind land and sea vacation!  Today’s post is a recap of the land portion of the trip’s (mostly) highs and (very few) lows with many more details to come in future posts about specific events, restaurants, and more.

Disney Land and Sea – Trip Recap

Plans for this trip started about a year ago when I was talking with my Disney Exchange co-hosts about the great time I had during the 2015 Glass Slipper Challenge and how I couldn’t wait to do it again.  This led to Dave and I starting to plan a trip where we could all meet up and do a runDisney event together…naturally, this led Nick to talk about Nick…with specific emphasis on exactly WHY he could not, would not (with a fox, in a box) run. EVER.  Yes, he does have an actual medical excuse for being a non-runner, but we quickly wore him down and convinced him he could be a fast enough walker to successfully complete the Enchanted 10K.  Once he agreed, we would not, could not (in a house, with a mouse) let him back out.  Fast forward to February 19th, 2016.

Raymond and I got up at 3:00 am to catch a 6:30 flight to Orlando (with a layover in Dallas) and arrived around noon with a plan to check in at Bay Lake Tower, grab a quick bite at the Contempo Café and head to the race expo where we’d meet up with Nick, Dave, and Dave’s wife, Anne.  And that’s exactly what we did!  TDE-runDisney-ExpoWe had time to pick up our packets and knock around the ridiculously crowded expo for a while.  Dave was feeling crummy, so, after a while, we all went our separate ways and agreed to meet up at the pre-race area for the 10K in the morning.

Raymond and I headed to our dinner reservation at Kona Café where we had an awesome meal and made friends with the young couple sitting next to us (Kellie and her boyfriend).  They were so sweet!  Knowing 3:00 am would come quickly, we called it a night.

And just like that, the alarm went off and I sprang eagerly crawled miserably from bed feeling like I hadn’t slept at all.  The monorail was unexpectedly not running for the 10K, so I waited in the long line for a bus and amused myself by Periscoping the other people waiting with me.  One uneventful bus ride later and I was posing for some pre-race photos with Dave and Nick.  TDE-Nick-Lisa-Dave-Enchanted-10KWe headed to our respective corrals and the race was as fun as we hoped it would be.  Once I finished, I headed back to Bay Lake Tower to get ready for a fun day in Magic Kingdom.The-Disney-Exchange-WDW

Dave, Nick and I had booked FastPasses separately, but at overlapping times for Big Thunder Mountain, Seven Dwarfs Mine Train, and the Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh.  First up, Big Thunder – we had a great time and were all together at the very back of the train.  TDE-BTMRR-GroupTDE-Country-BearsWe then enjoyed the Country Bears doing their thing…after which we agreed to meet up after lunch for our next FastPass – The Seven Dwarfs Mine Train.   Turns out the dwarfs must have been as under the weather as Dave was feeling at this point and the ride was down, so we used our replacement FastPass for Pirates.

Note:  Raymond and I decided that day on the Skipper Canteen for lunch since our first visit was so delightful.  Not so much the second time around – at least not for me.  Maybe the Canteen isn’t going to be as successful as we’d originally thought.  A shame, but my food was just not very good at all.  The service was still great.

Here’s where the plans we made as a group went unfortunately awry for the rest of the weekend.  I’m sure there will be a great discussion about what transpired at this point on Episode 64 of The Disney Exchange (released date 3/6/16).  Long story short – When it came time to use our last FastPass of the day, Pooh was also experiencing technical difficulties and Dave’s flu-like symptoms were getting worse – So Dave and his family decided to leave so Dave could take a nap with a plan to meet us later.  TDE-Nick-and-Lisa-Winnie-the-PoohNick, Raymond and I eventually did get to use our FastPasses for Pooh and his Many Adventures before the three of us headed to Epcot for the remainder of the afternoon where we had a fantastic time watching Nick pose for pictures (this is seriously entertaining), meeting some excellent new friends (Hi Rebeca, Patty, Derek, and Lauren!) enjoying refreshing adult beverages, listening to British Revolution in the UK Pavilion, and people-watching.  (Unfortunately, Dave was really sick and out for the rest of the weekend.)

Photo courtesy of Nicholas Maglio

Photo courtesy of Nicholas Maglio

Nick was meeting friends for dinner in Mexico and Raymond and I had an Il Mulino reservation at the Swan that evening.  Our dinner was great – I can’t say enough about Il Mulino’s service, menu, wine list, and bonus after-dinner Limoncello.  Once again…3:00 am loomed large, so we called it a night as soon as we finished eating.

Third day in a row for a 3:00 alarm and I was ridiculously tired.  The kind of tired where you feel like you weigh a ton and are nauseous.  I carried my Cliff Bar and a bottle of water with me and felt like I was twice my age as I shuffled slowly over to the Contemporary to catch the monorail.  This would be my 8th half marathon and I’d heard the inner voice that was berating me many times before, “What were you thinking!  This is a stupid plan!  You should be sleeping!  You are too old for this nonsense!”PHM-Pre-Race-SelfieI told the inner wimpy me to shut up and tried not to look as miserable as I felt as I rode to Epcot with the other runners.  I knew from previous experience that I’d perk up as soon as the race started.  Unlike the day before, I had no Nick, Dave and Anne to keep me company, so I ate my breakfast, engaged in a moment or two of lonely self-pity, and made my way with the many thousands of other runners to the starting corrals.PHM-Pre-RacePrincess-Half-Marathon-MK

Sure enough, once it was my turn to get going, my body and mind decided to cooperate.  The weather was great and 13.1 miles suddenly didn’t seem like a dreaded chore, but more an excellent adventure.  I did take a couple of walk-breaks around mile 10, but overall felt wonderful during the entire event.  Raymond was waiting for me a few times along the course and at the finish line, which made me happy!  We spent a few minutes in the post-race celebration area before heading back to clean up…we were meeting Nick and some of his friends at Disney Springs for the afternoon – Starting at noon with pre-lunch snacks and drinks at Jock Lindsey’s Hangar Bar followed by lunch at the Boathouse where, yes indeed, we got to sit at the boat table!!!!  I’ll tell you all about it soon in an upcoming post.

Photo courtesy of Nicholas Maglio

Photo courtesy of Nicholas Maglio

Up next, Part 2!  The sea portion of our vacation aboard the Disney Dream.

 

 

 

Making the Most of One More Disney Day

 

RM-Magic-Kingdom-SelfieWhen we think back about the happiest days of our lives, we surely remember wedding days, holidays, graduation days, days when we welcomed children or grandchildren into the world.  These happy, joy-filled days usually have something in common – we know they’re coming!  We plan, we work, we save money, we cook special meals – we prepare for these momentous occasions and then hold them, near and dear to our hearts, for the rest of our lives. Once in a while, though, life hands us a day unexpectedly.  A day so special for the simple, happy hours afforded by the hands of fate, that we recognize it as the gift that it is and squeeze every moment of joy we can from one, unplanned, but nonetheless perfect day.  This is the story of one such day.

It did NOT start like any other day.  It was going to be kind of a sad day.  The alarm was set to go off at 7:00 am, we were going to pack our bags, board the Magical Express, and say goodbye to a fabulous, but tiring, long (Princess Half Marathon) weekend at Disney World.  But that’s not what happened.  The phone rang at 5:00 am.  Words cannot really describe how confused and disoriented we were when the call came in that our flight home had be cancelled due to winter weather.  We’d woken up the past four mornings between 3:00 and 4:00 am and we were uncommonly worn out – it took quite a few minutes to process the news and what we might need to do about it.  What I’m trying to say is, we had no idea in the early hours of Monday, February 20th, 2015 that we were about to have one of the happiest, most fun days of our lives.RM-BLT-Dawn-on-Bay-Lake

First things first – We had to call the airline and see what could be arranged to get us home.  In fairly short order and a couple of phone calls later, we were set for a do-over the next day.  Then we realized we’d need a place to stay for the night and a re-scheduled ride to the airport.  We decided our best option was to visit one of Bay Lake Tower’s lobby counters to accomplish these tasks.  We showered, dressed, re-donned our Magic Bands and hit the elevators.  20 minutes later, Nick at the DVC counter had us set for the day and night!  We would, miraculously, be able to keep our same room – we used our DVC points to pay for another night.  We asked and Nick found us a dinner reservation at Raglan Road in Downtown Disney.  We were set!  Being annual passholders, we then bid Nick goodbye and headed out the door for the half-mile walk to the Magic Kingdom – it was 9:30 am.RM-Nick-BLT-DVC

As we were walking, I used the My Disney Experience app on my phone to check for available FastPasses and was pleasantly surprised that I could get Haunted Mansion, Jungle Cruise, and Space Mountain fairly close together.  That’s when it hit me.  We had not a care in the world and the unexpected gift of one more Disney day before us.  It was early, the weather was perfect, and I was with my most favorite person in the world.  I suddenly realized – this was going to be amazing! With a spring in our steps and a song in our hearts, we stepped through those archways and onto Main Street U.S.A.

It’s hard to put into words exactly what emotions we experienced over the next 12 hours.  We were lighthearted, footloose and fancy free!  We did so many things yet felt as though we were taking our time and appreciating every moment.  The World was our oyster and around every corner, we discovered a pearl!

We took our time strolling up Main Street.RM-Main-Street-Horse-and-Castle

And joined the 999 ghosts in Haunted Mansion.RM-Haunted-Mansion-Shrinking-Room-PortraitThen dropped in at Grizzly Hall for a show.RM-Country-Bear-Stage2Met a sweet girl when we stopped for lunch in Columbia Harbor House.RM-Columbia-Harbor-House-CMThen we cruised waterways around the world on the Jungle Cruise with one of the best Skippers EVER!RM-Jungle-Cruise-SkipperSafely back on land we took our time enjoying the sights and sounds of Adventureland.RM-Adventureland-ShieldThe new sunglass store was doing a brisk business on such a sunny day!RM-Adventureland-Sunglass-StoreThen we got an early peek at the hub refurbishments…RM-Magic-Kingdom-New-Hub-FeaturesBefore perusing the Magic Kingdom’s Main Street shops.RM-Main-Street-ShoppingBack outside, we were treated to a song by the extraordinarily talented Dapper Dans!RM-Dapper-DansWe stopped to enjoy the beautiful warm sunny day.RM-BalloonsMoving on to Tomorrowland, we made a new friend.RM-Stitch-Meet-and-GreetAnd decided we needed a little early afternoon rest and relaxation on the PeopleMover.RM-PeopleMover-CruisingNext we opted for a little Classic Disney…RM-Carousel-of-Progress-SelfieAnd sang along with every verse…”And it’s a great big beautiful tomorrow…..”RM-Carousel-of-Progress-DadOur FastPass for Space Mountain was ready and we took a quick tour around the galaxy.  RM-Space-Mountain-Sign

Re-energized, we decided to see who could score the highest in Buzz Lightyear’s epic battle. (It was not me!)RM-Buzz-Lightyear-Space-Ranger-Spin-InteriorBefore making friends with some Main Street Cast Members…RM-Main-Street-CMsWho were kind enough to recommend an excellent spot for parade viewing!RM-Festival-of-Fantasy-Maleficent-2015Then it was off to Downtown Disney for our dinner at Raglan Road…RM-Raglan-Road-BeerWhere we, in keeping with the day, had the best seats EVER!RM-Raglan-Road-DancersAnd we enjoyed the amazingly talented performers while we ate…RM-Raglan-Road-RibsFive delicious courses!  Bread and dipping sauce, appetizer (ribs), salad, entree, and dessert (oh, that bread pudding!).  Full to the brim (haha!) we decided to check out Downtown Disney’s new hat store, Chapel Hats!RM-Hat-Shopping-Downtown-Disney RM-Chapel-Hats RM-Chapel-Black-HatDozens of hats later, final selections wrapped and ready to go, we hopped the bus back to Magic Kingdom and located the perfect spot to sit curbside on Main Street and catch Wishes.RM-Wishes-2015AND the Main Street Electrical Parade!RM-Main-Street-Electrical-Parade-Dragon

Elated but exhausted, we slowly made our way back to Bay Lake Tower.  What a day we’d had!  We could go home the next morning with the very special memories to cherish of an incredible day full of our most favorite attractions, foods, and magical Disney touches!

Little did we know that the very next day we would, once again, get one MORE Disney day which we decided to spend in a different, but no less memorable way.  I’ll save that story for another post.

Have you ever had an unexpected extra Disney day?  What did YOU do with it?