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!

 

 

Disney World in June – It’s Going to Rain

It’s almost here!  The Epic Mother/Daughter Disney Summer Road Trip is nearly upon us.  Megan and I are in the homestretch, bags are being packed and frequently checking the Orlando weather is our favorite pastime.  It’s going to rain.  Everyday probably.  That’s Florida in the summer.  Acceptance and preparation are key to powering on through the rain and still having a fun vacation.

Disney World in June – It’s Going to RainDisney World in June - It's Going to Rain

Shoes – The beauty of driving to Walt Disney World is practically unlimited packing space.  We’re taking lots of shoes especially.  If it’s not raining in the morning, we’ll start off in sneakers (a.k.a. tennis shoes, running shoes, trainers) and switch to rain-friendly footwear we can carry with us.  I like Croc’s ballet flats and any type of comfortable flip-flops with a textured food bed for safe and comfortable rain-survival.  In the Florida humidity, if our sneakers get wet they’ll take forever to dry, so we’re bringing multiple pairs.

Ponchos – Like wet sneakers, ponchos take a long time to dry and can quickly get moldy and unpleasant if wadded up wet and shoved back into a bag.  The key is to make like a boy scout and be prepared.  We’ll take along a few for each of us.  I’ve got leftovers from previous trips to bring along that were purchased at places like Wal-Mart, Target, and Walt Disney World – like a mini poncho wardrobe. Disney World in June - It's Going to RainPark Bags – Normally, I’m a minimalist when it comes to park bags and have even been known to go bag-free from time to time.  Being prepared for the expected torrential downpour will require more supplies and a larger bag.  Megan and I can fit everything in one backpack and take turns carrying it.  Extra shoes, first aid stuff, ponchos, some hairaphernalia for repairing our ‘do’s, snacks and drinks – we’ll be set for anything!  I got a new Mickey Mouse backpack a few months back as a purchase with a purchase…totes adorbs as the young folks say, isn’t it?Comfort and, I’d be lying if I said we didn’t care, appearance.  I appreciate the value of a good cap or visor.  In particular, I’m a fan of Headsweats visors.  They come in a bunch of colors and are excellent at wicking moisture then drying out quickly.  I especially like that the underside of mine is black to reduce sun glare.  They’re comfortable rain or shine and look nice too.  Wet weather and humidity are no match for any hairstyle on me other than a ponytail or bun which work well with my favorite visor. 

We’re planning to get wet.  The weather forecast says 60% chance of scattered showers everyday we’ll be there except one (when the chance is 40%).  Sometimes being prepared makes the difference between a good time and a GREAT time.  Who knows when Megan and I will get another chance to take a Disney vacation alone together – let the fun begin!  We are ready!

What are you favorite items to pack for the rainy summer days at Disney World?

Disney World Dining – I Love Appetizers!

Given the choice between appetizer and dessert, I’m choosing the appetizer every time.  That may be hard to imagine for those of you will a sweet tooth, but I’m all about the starter!  Be it soup, salad, cheese plate, or something more exotic, the way I kick off a Disney table service dinner makes all the difference to my meal enjoyment.

Disney World Dining – I Love Appetizers!

It doesn’t much matter where we go.  My eyes are drawn to the top of the menu and the appetizer section.  I tend to avoid heavy-sounding, fried items and favor more unusual choices.  I want to kick off a good meal while not completely ruining my appetite.  Sometimes Raymond and I order and appetizer or salad (or both) to share.  In cooler months, I’m a sucker for a soup or bisque.  The perfect appetizer takes the edge off my hunger while leaving me wanting more (and I’ll have room for my entrée!).

Here are some of my favorites…

The Wave (Disney’s Contemporary Resort) – Seasonal Soup.  When I last had the soup, it was a heavenly sausage, gnocchi, and spinach concoction with a cheese crust on top.  I reproduced it at home and have enjoyed it many times since.  My friend Gaylin recently told me about another Wave appetizer called “Bacon and Eggs” (“Maple-lacquered Pork Belly with Perfect Egg and Tillamook Smoked Cheddar Grits“) and now it’s on the top of my must-try list.  I hope it stays on the menu long enough for me to get there!

Shula’s Steak House (Walt Disney World Dolphin Resort) – Sure, everyone goes to Shula’s for the beef, but before I slice into that perfectly cooked filet, I’m opting for the “Barbequed Shrimp Stuffed with Basil” (“Stuffed with Basil, wrapped in Applewood Smoked Bacon tossed in a Tangy BBQ Sauce“).  Disney World Dining - I Love AppetizersIt’s the perfect combination of flavors and the sauce is fantastic.  Share it with a friend so you have room for that steak.  Check out the full menu here.

Jiko (Animal Kingdom Lodge) – Everything’s been delicious, but the soup is my favorite.  It’s currently “Curried Butternut Squash Bisque” with Duck Confit and Quince Marmalade and I know it’s 500-degress outside right now, but you should run try it before the menu changes.  It’s SO good!!!  And the presentation is fancy too.

So much to eat, so little time…

Kona Café (Polynesian Village Resort) – There are a couple of things we really like to kick off dinner at Kona.  The Sticky Wings and the Pot Stickers.  Both are tasty options, good for sharing, and not too filling.  If you love sushi, the menu offers a nice variety.  We generally enjoy sushi as a meal versus appetizer and I’m guessing that’s why we rarely order it at Kona.

Sanaa (Kidani Village) – The famous Indian-Style Bread Service!  It’s several different flavors of naan bread served with a variety of dipping sauces that range from savory to sweet to spicy.  Fresh, exotic, and delicious.  Disney World Dining - I Love Appetizers!I can totally see why lots of folks make a reservation just to enjoy the bread service as a snack or light meal all by itself.

Il Mulino (Walt Disney World Swan Resort) – My favorite restaurant for pre-runDisney event carbs!  Starters on the menu come in a huge variety from cheeses and meats to salads, clams and heavier fare.  The most delicious item to me is the Arancini, which is “Italian Rice Balls over Spicy Marinara Sauce”.  I never order it for myself because it’s a lot for an appetizer.  Those delicious servings of rice are fried and very filling.  However, if someone at my table is kind enough to share a bite or two with me, whoa momma!  Deeeelish!

Raglan Road (Disney Springs) – Considered by many to be overrated, Raglan Road has been the source of many a delicious family meal for us throughout the years.  Their menu has a ton of appetizer options.  I’ve tried several appetizers including the dicey-sounding Crock o’ Pate (cold chicken liver spread), which wasn’t bad, actually.  The best thing (to me) by far is the “Rack of Heaven” – “Slow roasted Guinness glazed full rack of baby back ribs.” (Plenty to share.)      THOSE babies are fantastic.  Even if I’m just in Raglan Road for a drink at the amazing bar, I’ll order those ribs.  They make me happy.

Boma (Animal Kingdom Lodge) – Don’t laugh, but there’s one simple salad on Boma’s extensive buffet that stays on my mind long after I’ve eaten there.  It’s the Watermelon Rind Salad.  Sounds potentially boring and awful, doesn’t it?  It’s bright, sweet and tangy, and absolutely perfect to start off a meal full of unusual flavors.  Fear not if you or anyone in your travel party is a picky eater, Boma has plenty of dishes to satisfy everyone.

Are YOU an appetizer or a dessert fan?  Both?  Neither?  What’s your favorite part of Disney dining?  What’s your favorite dish?