Disney Vacation – Next Week!

My plans for Labor Day Weekend involve packing!  We’ll be off to Orlando next Friday and sail from Port Canaveral on Saturday.  Right now we’ve got our eyes on Hurricane Irma and are hoping she moves right on along before the Fantasy sets sail.

Disney Vacation – Next Week!

We’re staying pre-cruise near the airport.  Since we have already booked three more visits to Disney World during the next 8 months, we don’t have the DVC points to spare for one night.  We’ve stayed at this hotel before another cruise and it worked out well.  Initially, we thought we’d just hang out at the hotel and be well rested and ready to go on Saturday.  Ha!  No way could we be that close to Disney World and stay away.  Plus, there’s that new promotion for DVC members that offers a 30% discount at certain restaurants for dining before 6:30 pm or after 8:30 pm (through September 30th).

Our plane lands around noon and once we’ve gotten our luggage and checked into the hotel, we’ll be taking some form of transportation to Animal Kingdom. (We are still undecided what to use, suggestions welcome!).

Of course we couldn’t get a FastPass for Flight of Passage, but Raymond will still get to explore Pandora for the first time.  Our afternoon consists of Asia first – FastPass for Expedition Everest.  Pandora second – FastPass for Na’vi River Journey.  Finally, we’ll use our last FastPass for Kilimanjaro Safaris in Africa.  Between FastPasses, we’ll have time to wander at our leisure.  I’m certain we’ll make a stop at the Dawa Bar for a refreshment.  Once we finish the safari, it’ll be time to go.

We’ll be wrapping up the evening with an early dinner (6:00 pm) at Jiko.  We love that place!  Eating early to take advantage of the special discount will give us plenty of time to relax and enjoy our dinner without rushing.  By 8:00, we should be ready to head back to our hotel and call it a day.  The next morning we’ll be on our way to our first sailing on the Disney Fantasy.

I’ll be taking tons of pictures and will have much to report when we get home.  Our Eastern Caribbean itinerary should look like this (Irma, be gone!):

Day Port Ashore Onboard
1 Port Canaveral, Florida 3:45 PM
2 At Sea
3 At Sea
4 Tortola, British Virgin Islands 7:30 AM 5:45 PM
5 St. Thomas/St. John, US Virgin Islands 7:45 AM 4:00 PM
6 At Sea
7 Disney Castaway Cay 9:30 AM 4:45 PM
8 Port Canaveral, Florida 7:30 AM

Tomorrow I’ll be back with the details of our port excursions, dining plans and all we’re looking forward to on this trip!

Have you sailed on the Fantasy?  What did you enjoy the most?

 

Disney Character Dining – Chef Mickey’s Versus Tusker House

Looking for a character dining experience at Walt Disney World?  Love Mickey, Minnie and the gang?  You have two choices:  Chef Mickey’s (Disney’s Contemporary Resort) and Tusker House (Disney’s Animal Kingdom).  Which one should you choose?  Both take one Table Service Credit on the Disney Dining Plan, both are similarly priced (Tusker House is slightly less expensive).  Both provide excellent character meet-n-greets with great photo ops.  Let me see if I can help you with a few pro’s and cons.Meeting Minnie at Chef Mickey's

Disney Character Dining – Chef Mickey’s Versus Tusker House

Chef Mickey’s Pros

Not in a Park – No park ticket required to meet the Fab Five in air-conditioned comfort.  Mickey, Minnie, Goofy, Donald, and Pluto (dressed as chefs) make the rounds while you eat.  Because you don’t need park access, Chef Mickey’s is a very popular first and last day choice for many guests.

Easy to Reach from Magic Kingdom – Walk or grab the monorail!  Start the day with breakfast at Chef Mickey’s before heading to Magic Kingdom or take a break for a meal later in the day.

Pluto Fans Rejoice – If Pluto’s your favorite, Chef Mickey’s is a fantastic way to get a meet-n-greet with this lovable pooch.

Chef Mickey’s Cons

Very Basic Fare – Read:  Mediocre food.  Unfortunately, Chef Mickey’s popularity is more about the location and characters than the actual culinary choices.  If you’re picky and/or prefer pretty bland, meat-and-potatoes (or pasta) dishes, this may be a solid choice.  If you want more diversity in buffet choices with a few slightly more adventurous flavors, this is not the place for you.

Loud and Crowded – Big open spaces often full of screaming children.  It just seems crazy noisy to me all the time with lots of distractions.  Goes with the character-dining territory, I know, but Chef Mickey’s is extreme.

Tusker House Pros

Preferred by my Twitter Friends – In a recent Twitter poll I conducted with the simple question, “Which do you prefer?” and a choice between Chef Mickey’s and Tusker House, Tusker House won big (75% to 25%).

Convenient on an Animal Kingdom Day – Tusker House is a fun way to start the day and also a wonderful break for lunch or dinner.  Mickey, Minnie, Donald, Daisy, and Goofy make the rounds dressed in their safari attire.

Delicious Flavors of Africa-inspired Dishes (plus plenty for less adventurous eaters).  I wanted to try everything, but had to settle for about a dozen different things to taste before I couldn’t eat another bite.  Our whole group of seven (included varying degrees of pickiness) walked away happy when we had breakfast at Tusker House one morning last year.

Daisy Fans Rejoice – She’s pretty special and if you want to meet her in a park, the lines are often very long (and cut off quickly).  In Tusker House, you’ll have her complete and undivided attention for a few minutes…very sweet!  I love her long eyelashes!

Tusker House Cons

Need a Park Ticket to Dine – Maybe because you have to enter Animal Kingdom to dine at Tusker House it makes it easier to get a reservation there than at Chef Mickey’s.  Seems to me demand is always higher at Chef Mickey’s.

Buffet Area gets Congested – This is basically due to nobody listening to instructions, but it happens anyway.  The hosts and hostesses explain up front that the design of the buffet is to encourage guests to walk up and help themselves to whatever looks delicious.  In reality, nobody does that, everyone forms lines.

Are you a fan of character dining?  Have you been to both Chef Mickey’s and Tusker House?  Which did you prefer?

 

 

Disney’s Animal Kingdom – Caring for Giants Tour

We were looking for a special little something extra to add to our Walt Disney World vacation.  And we found the perfect thing!  For $30 per person ($25.50 with a DVC discount), guests at Disney’s Animal Kingdom can spend an hour backstage learning about Disney’s herd of perfect pachyderms and much, much more.

Disney’s Animal Kingdom – Caring for Giants Tour

Megan and I knew we’d have an entire day, open to close, to spend in Animal Kingdom.  For a relatively small investment of time and money, we scheduled the Caring for Giants Tour at 3:00 pm on June 26th.

Due to a summer thunder shower that moved through right at our scheduled tour time, we were delayed 30 minutes and joined the next tour group.  Had it not been for the storm, the two of us would have been the only ones on our original tour.  As it was, we were with just one other family, so our group was small and we could hear and see everything very well.

The tour begins near Kilimanjaro Safaris.  We were given name tags in a lanyard before being led backstage to a tour vehicle (a van).  After a short drive during which some of the areas like barns and fences were discussed, we arrived at a backstage area behind the savannah where elephants can usually be seen on the safari.

We climbed a flight of stairs onto a viewing platform and met our guides.  One an animal care expert and the other a cultural representative from Africa.  From the animal care specialist, we learned a bit about the elephant herd in Animal Kingdom and some general elephant facts.  The African cultural representative taught us about elephant conservation and how Disney helps with efforts to reduce conflict between farmers and elephants in Africa.Caring for Giants Caring for Giants

As we were listening to the guides, the herd’s matriarch, Rafiki (Swahili for Friend), made a loud, deep rumbling noise.  Apparently this was Elephant for “come to me now!”  What an amazing thing to see!  Elephants running from every direction to surround Rafiki.  One trumpeted loudly and the “event” was over as suddenly as it began.  Shortly afterwards, a beautiful elephant with very long legs caught our eye and we asked about her.  Her name is Kianga which is Swahili for Sunshine. Caring for Giants Caring for Giants

The tour was fun, informative, and an excellent way to break up our Animal Kingdom day.  Megan and I both highly recommend this experience!

I’m full of questions!  Do you love elephants?  Does Caring for Giants sound like something you would enjoy?  Have you already taken this tour?  What did you think about it?

 

Who Would Love Disney’s Flight of Passage?

Let’s talk (more) Pandora, okay?  I recently shared an overview of Megan’s and my experience in Animal Kingdom’s newest land.  Now it’s time to get to the very best part – Flight of Passage!  With a height requirement of 44-inches, this ride is intended for everyone in the family from about age six.  Is it a perfect attraction for everyone?  Just about!Who Would Love Disney's Flight of Passage?

Who Would Love Disney’s Flight of Passage?

We rode Flight of Passage using the standby queue and also rode with a FastPass.  The standby line weaves through several different rooms, gradually becoming more heavily themed as guests make their way to the heart of the ride.  Unlike some of Disney’s newest queue innovations, this one has no interactive elements (that we noticed).  While I didn’t enjoy the queue nearly as much as I do the one for Expedition Everest, the final area of the line is VERY cool and worth waiting for…if the wait isn’t longer than about an hour.  We waited 90+ minutes and were pretty bored most of the time.  FastPass holders skip all of the standby – including the super interesting, well-themed parts.  Who Would Love Disney's Flight of Passage? Who Would Love Disney's Flight of Passage?My suggestion:  If the line’s not too long, the lead up to the actual attraction adds certain immersive details that enhance the experience…if you like that sort of thing.

The “pre-ride show” is very detailed and includes instructions for actually experiencing the attraction.  During our first ride, I missed some of the finer details.  Don’t be like me!  Pay close attention to things like the particular avatar you are linked to and you’ll be even more amazed.Who Would Love Disney's Flight of Passage?

Riding a Banshee

When you finally take your place on the ride vehicle (think motorbike or jet ski) and are secured in place (not nearly as restrictive as Rock’n’ Roller Coaster), you’ll be facing an industrial-looking wall.  As you wait for the final link to your avatar to be complete (you can see this happening on a screen on your vehicle), you may wonder (like we did), “What the heck?  What kinda good attraction has you staring at this wall?  Why do I even need these 3D glasses?” and then prepared to be delighted and amazed!  The wall simply vanishes and you arrive on Pandora.

I can’t describe it to you, but will tell you my impression.  Flight of Passage involves all of your senses.  You can feel the banshee breathing, beating its wings, jumping into the air.  You can see, feel and smell the Pandoran environment as you explore the planet with your leader.  Megan and I both exited the ride in complete amazement!  She wore a huge, unending grin – punctuated with an occasional delighted laugh.  I know I was walking along in jaw-dropped awe.  At one point, Megan took my hand and let me along…I was that stunned!

After that first ride, I could remember so clearly the sights, aromas, and feelings I experienced.  I could not remember a single sound…not one!  After that one time, I recalled the experience as being completely silent, yet I knew it couldn’t have been!  And I believe that’s a testament to this attraction’s outstanding design!  Sensory overload in the very best way!!!Who Would Love Disney's Flight of Passage?

As with most of Disney World’s magic, I don’t care to know anything about the technology involved in allowing me to visit another planet and ride on the back of a flying animal there.  I just want to do it again!  More immersive than Soarin’, less motion-sickness-inducing jerkiness than Star Tours, no unexpectedly scary elements like Tower of Terror…yet much, much more thrilling than any of them, in its own unique way.  Unless your little one is easily scared by new experiences, I can’t imagine anyone not loving Flight of Passage.

If you’re headed to Walt Disney World to experience Pandora for the first time, I recommend Flight of Passage as the top must-do experience in this land.  While we were waiting in the standby line, Megan and I chatted up the folks around us…those who’d ridden Flight of Passage already were unanimous in their feelings about this attraction and overwhelmingly said, “Best ride EVER!”  As much as I love my favorite Disney World attractions, I’d be hard pressed to disagree.

Go! Ride! And let me know what you thought of Flight of Passage when you get back.