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?

 

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?

Disney World Favorite Random Details

WDW-EntranceYou know that expression (attributed to Aristotle), “the whole is greater than the sum of its parts”?  To me, that saying is never more true than when applied Walt Disney World.  There are incredible components from the tiniest magical detail (like peanut shell impressions in cement) to the enormity of a single attraction like Expedition Everest (Animal Kingdom) or Jungle Cruise (Magic Kingdom) – add them together and the whole is more – so much more!  That, I believe, is what makes Disney World infinitely more than a gathering of some hotels and theme parks – those millions of parts combine to make a destination like no other in the world.

 Disney World Favorite Random Details

Let’s talk about a few of the parts that make up the wonderful whole of Disney World.  Remember the other day when I talked about the things I think about while riding Spaceship Earth?  This is sorta like that only these random favorites were chosen from the World at large based on my vacation history – small treasures gathered through the years that add to the happiest memories and keep our family coming back for more as often as we can!Be-our-Guest-Gargoyle

Bouncy off-ramp – Have you ever noticed the exit ramp for Space Mountain’s extreme bounciness?  No?  Next time you leave the ride and you’re riding the conveyor belt, bounce a little bit on it.  Seriously!  It’s hilarious and fun and if you see me on those screens that show live video of guests leaving the ride, I’m the woman-of-a-certain-age jumping up and down.  Every time.image

Breaking plates – Is it just me or is the sound and feel of breaking plates on Toy Story Midway Mania ridiculously satisfying.  Clearly this says something about my psyche, but that is what I love most about this attraction.  So forbidden yet satisfying.  Clearly I need help.Entrance for Toy Story Midway Mania

Yeti – it’s real! – Abominable snowmen…mythical creatures or not?  Doesn’t matter!  The queue for Expedition Everest has me 100% convinced the Yeti exists.  I always wish there were a way I could take as much time as I wanted to see every single item in that Yeti museum and outfitter shop.  If the line’s being held up by someone, it’s probably me!  The footprint casts are my absolute favorite.  If you’re too scared to ride this attraction – do not miss the queue!Expedition Everest Queue Yeti Museum

Bathing beauties – I don’t get in line for Jungle Cruise (Magic Kingdom) thinking about those elephants in the water hole.  The moment I see that one happy baby pachyderm though…instant happiness!  He’s just the epitome of cute.  Every time I see him, I wish I could buy him in lawn-ornament form to take home.image

The first bite of a Mickey Bar – There are so many beloved snacks at Walt Disney World, but one stands out as my favorite for the thrill of the first bite.  Mickey Premium Ice Cream Bar – soft and creamy vanilla ice cream encased by a smooth, hard chocolate shell, shaped like Mickey Mouse.  I peel the wrapper off carefully, clutch that thin wooden stick and savor the moment when cool chocolate gives way in an audible crunch and my teeth sink into that sweet ice cream.  After that there’s no time to savor anything else since I’ve got to eat that puppy in record speed before it melts all over my hands and clothes!Mickey Premium Ice Cream Bar

Singing ‘Possums – You know the ones, don’t you?  On Splash Mountain – there are so many animals and adorable details to take in, it’s hard to see everything.  I look all around and enjoy the experience until our log floats us under those ‘possums, then I only have eyes for them and their extreme adorableness.Splash Mountain "You May Get Wet" sign

What about you?  What random details are your favorites at Walt Disney World?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

WDW Attractions – Best Lead Up

RM-Haunted-Mansion-Exterior2We’ve talked about queues, we’ve talked about favorites and today it’s time to talk about the best attractions for attention-grabbing from afar – the one’s with real curb appeal, if you will.  With some of the very best rides, it’s all about the lead up!

Some attraction exteriors offer absolutely no clue what to expect (think Soarin’, Country Bears, Space Mountain), but some attractions draw you in from far away – the theme, the park setting – long before you step into the queue, you know you’re about to experience something extraordinary!  I’m going to talk about just five today – go ahead and leave a comment if your favorite gets left out – I’ll do a “part 2” in the future!

WDW Attractions – Best Lead Up

  1.  Haunted MansionRM-Haunted-Mansion-GraveyardFrom WAY far away, the draw to Haunted Mansion is incredible!  It looks exactly the way you hope it will – Grand yet a bit sinister.  You can immediately tell the Mansion holds room after room to explore – haunted corridors, ballrooms, attic and much more!  RM-Haunted-Mansion-ExteriorThe minute you see it, you know it’s going to be the perfect combination of scary and fun!
  2. Big Thunder Mountain RailroadThe Red Rock of Big Thunder MountainThe train flies along the track – you can see the passengers raise their hands, you can hear them screaming in delight, but that’s not the primary draw.  In Magic Kingdom’s Frontierland, the whole landscape of Big Thunder that makes you eager to get inside that mountain – so out of place with the surrounding Florida palm trees and lush tropical plants.  Big Thunder Mountain is a wasteland of epic proportions and the details are mesmerizing!  Best of all, the queue at this mountain is top notch.
  3. Twilight Zone Tower of TerrorDisney's Hollywood Studios Tower of TerrorIt looks elegant and disheveled, classic but unique – first impressions are everything here in Disney’s Hollywood Studios.  Strolling down Sunset Boulevard, you can’t help but notice the tower’s façade and how it stands out.  Walk a little farther, and you’ll notice something else – the SCREAMING!  The sound will draw your eyes closer to the tower where in an upstairs window, you’ll see motion, but little else.  If you’re a thrill ride junkie, this is the ride for you!
  4. Rock’n’ Roller CoasterRock'n'-Roller-Coaster-GuitarThe location actually hurts this attraction because Tower of Terror tends to steal Rock’n’ Roller Coaster’s thunder.  You have to turn left at the very end of Sunset Boulevard to even notice the upside down Cadillac let alone the gigantic guitar, but once you see the setting, you know that for music fans and coaster addicts alike will find this the place to be!
  5. Expedition EverestRM-Expedition-Everest-ApproachIn Animal Kingdom, you can be far from Everest and still be drawn in.  Call me biased, but there’s a reason this is my favorite ride in all of Walt Disney World and one of the main reasons is that from the moment you see the mountain in the distance, you can’t help but want to be a part of its magic.  “Forbidden Mountain” is like a double-dog dare to those of us who love an amazing coaster – every single detail is beyond perfect!  Hands down, Expedition Everest has the best draw from afar of any attraction in the World.

Is your favorite “love at first sight” attraction missing from this list?  Which Walt Disney World rides grab you from afar and draw you in?Expedition Everest