Disney World Things I Never Expected to Like

With so much to do, see, eat, and experience at Walt Disney World, it’s surprisingly easy to dismiss things you don’t think you’ll like.  Surrounded by the spectacular, it’s easy to pass up what might appear run-of-the-mill.  I was guilty of this for many years, but those days are over! I’ve finally learned that even the seemingly ordinary becomes extraordinary with a bit of Disney magic all around.

Disney World Things I Never Expected to Like

Prince Charming Regal Carrousel – It may be “just a carrousel” to many, but it has a great history, short queue (usually), fantastic location, and is just the ticket for using up a few available minutes between FastPasses.  (I wrote an entire article once about my love for the carrousel as my alter ego, Darlin’ Diva here.)

Citrus Swirl – After the Dole Whip debacle, I was still open to trying a Disney frozen treat.  While I found Dole Whips too sweet and one-dimensional (all pineapple, all the time), I found the combination of sweet soft-serve vanilla ice cream and tart orange slush to be absolute perfection.Disney World Citrus Swirl

Primeval Whirl – I wouldn’t ride it for the longest time.  It looked stupid and I thought the whirl would make me hurl, but once I braved this Dinoland coaster, I was hooked.  Surprisingly, I feel this weird attraction is a must-do at least once on every Animal Kingdom visit.Dinoland's Primeval Whirl - The attraction I never expected to love.

It’s Tough to be a Bug – Megan still doesn’t like it, but the rest of The Fam and I are fans.  It’s cute, clever, and offers 3D edutainment at its best.  Yes, it makes small children cry but I think the location under the Tree of Life, the movie posters, the combination of 3D movie and animatronic figures, Flik hosting the show…well, all of that works well to entertain me.  Plus, on a hot day, it’s a great place to sit down and cool off.

Churro – They don’t look all that exciting and I’d never noticed them before seeing the cart in Frontierland.  For years (and years) I happily passed them by, but curiosity eventually won out after hearing praises for the humble churro from fellow Disney fans.  What the heck, I caved.  One wave of a Magic Band later and I was pleasantly surprised by the cinnamon-sugary deliciousness of this conveniently portable comfort food.

Country Bear Jamboree – Like many of the items on this list, I avoided the bears for years.  I listened to the haters and thought the show would be lame and the bears would be old and mangy and the songs would be horrible.  Au contraire!  I am proud and unashamed to proclaim my adoration for every second of this unique and wonderful show!!!  Love it so much, I can hardly bear it! (Hahahaha…I crack me up!)

Extremely Crowded Christmas Week – We’ve been twice recently and once a long time ago.  Yes, it’s ridiculously crowded.  Yes, once those FastPasses are gone, there won’t be any more available.  Careful planning is required, but we don’t care.  We’re thrilled by all the extra seasonal stuff!  The decorations, the lights, the special events, the food booths in World Showcase…Christmas magic is in the air and we love it!

Mickey-shaped pretzel – After being a huge fan of the Mickey Premium Ice Cream Bar forever, I should know not to underestimate the appeal of any mouse-shaped snack foods.  Those dang pretzels are no exception.  Sure, as I’d always suspected, they taste just like any other generic soft pretzel, but the fact that they’re shaped like Mickey and that we’ve made getting them in Tomorrowland a family tradition, the love grows with every bite.

Kona Café – Resistance was futile.  We passed Kona on our way to ‘Ohana for many years without temptation.  Yes, Kona’s famous Tonga Toast was very well known to me, but I’m a savory breakfast fan, so no draw there.  When Curt Stone, host of the Geekin’ on WDW Podcast, waxed poetic about Kona dinners, I thought we should give it a shot.  That first visit did not impress. At. All. BUT, the two strike rule meant we’d have to give Kona a second chance before writing it off.  Luckily, subsequent visits were all fantastic and now Kona rates at least one meal on nearly every Disney World visit.

So much love in unexpected places!  The moral of the story is “don’t knock it ’til you try it” – I’ve been converted to an advocate of finding the sweet spot between revisiting old favorites and trying new things on every visit to Walt Disney World.

What’s on your list of Disney things you never expected to like?

 

 

 

 

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 Attractions I Love (More Than I Should)

RM-Country-Bears-HenryYou know I love a Friday Five and today’s no different.  I have, at any given time, about 27 blog post ideas running around in my head vying for attention, but this one was completely off the radar and sprung up out of nowhere!  In my Disney geek-ery, I usually shout from the mountain tops (like Expedition Everest, Space, Splash and Big Thunder Mountains) about those E-Ticket attractions that (most of) you and I find irresistible.  But what about the less popular stuff?  What makes my little heart pitter-patter among the non-headliners?  You KNOW you’ve got at least a couple of favorite rides that you have to fight for – nobody understands the passion, it’s yours and yours alone.

Disney Attractions I Love (More Than I Should)

The Seas With Nemo and Friends (Epcot) – I have no explanation other than I’m crazy about pretty much any and all omnimovers.  Combine that with how much I have always loved Finding Nemo and I’m dragging my family aboard a clam-mobile on every single visit!  There I ride, sitting on the edge of my…what…mollusk-innards?  Soaking up the tiny details and listening to the comments by my favorite Nemo characters as we glide along.  I love this thing!  Don’t try to talk me out of it.  Just get in the clam or get out of my way.RM-The-Seas-Mr-Ray

Primeval Whirl (Animal Kingdom, Dinoland U.S.A.) – About the most ridiculous attraction in all the World, right?  Wrong!  For me, it’s not too fast, not too spin-ny, not too jerky – just a big bunch of weird fun.  The vehicle is like something the Jetsons would own, the queue is akin to waiting in a cartoon.  If I could explain this ride’s magnetic draw, I’d break the spell and avoid the ridicule.  I. Cannot. Resist.RM-Primeval-Whirl-Sign

Country Bear Jamboree (Magic Kingdom, Frontierland)- I blame Curtis Stone (Geekin’ on WDW Podcast) for my semi-newfound addiction to the Bears.  I wouldn’t have made a visit to this ride ever-for-the-rest-of-my-life but for Curt waxing poetic about its allure.  If you avoid over-analysis of certain song lyrics and just enjoy the Wild-West-Saloon style of entertainment, you’re bound to notice the genius of this particular brand of Disney magic.  Seriously, I love the bears…baby Oscar in particular.RM-Country-Bears-Baby-Oscar

Jungle Cruise (Magic Kingdom, Adventureland) – Cheesy, eye-rolling, sheer perfection in pun-delivery.  What’s not to love?  From the queue’s announcements to the names of the boats to the unbelievably adorable animatronics, this attraction’s got a lot going for it.  Add comic artistry in the form of boat captain commentary and this ride is hard to beat!  No, really!  Where else on earth can you experience the backside of water?  Classic Disney fun!RM-Jungle-Cruise-Backside-of-Water

Gran Fiesta Tour Starring The Three Caballeros – I’m stealthy about this one.  I act all nonchalant about going into the Mexico pavilion in Epcot.  It’s not a family favorite, but I’m getting on this ride if I can manipulate the situation properly.  I love Donald Duck!  He’s my favorite character (in case you hadn’t heard) and I’m going to check times for possible Fiesta Donald meet-and-greets when we’re in Epcot.  Once we’ve paused at the Mexico pavilion for my moment with Donald, I’ll just casually suggest we take a small detour and hit the Gran Fiesta Tour.  Works every time.  The chances of my family reading this today are slim, so shhhhhh.  Don’t ruin this by telling them.RM-Gran-Fiesta-Tour

Now you go.  Which not-so-popular attractions are your own personal favorites?

Walt Disney World – Trying New Things

Walt Disney World ChurroOne of the best parts of visiting Walt Disney World is that there are always new things to try.  No matter how often we visit, there seems to be at least a few opportunities for new experiences.  Our recent trip was no exception.  The key is to be able to pass up some tried and true favorites in favor of the unknown – Risky?  Perhaps a little.  Exciting?  Pretty much.  Worth it?  Absolutely!

As most of you know, I’m a huge fan of Disney blogs, podcasts and Twitter-peeps!  If you want to know what’s going on at Walt Disney World, just follow a few of these folks – they have the scoop on what not-to-be-missed adventures await and which Disney treats are the most delicious.  Since it had been a full two years since our last WDW vacation – my list of new-and-exciting + not-new-but-never-tried items for last week was pretty ambitious!  I am happy to report, the Dole Whip disappointment notwithstanding, nearly everything new to me was GREAT to me!

Let’s start with food, shall we?

I’m not much of a snacker and there are tons of Disney snacks and treats our family has yet to try.  Creatures of habbit, we tend to stick with something we love as opposed to trying something new – which is weird considering how much we LOVE food adventures…aside from Disney park snacks, I guess.  We always choose either the classic Premium Mickey Ice Cream Bar or the Ice Cream Sandwich.  During last week’s park-hopping madness, we managed to break out of our snack rut (although, I’m not going to lie – ice cream bars and sandwiches were still IMG_3812consumed, just in lower quantities) and try out some of the treats other Disney fans are always praising.

Pretzels – We tried the classic Mickey and the Jalapeno Cheese pretzels (can both be purchased several places) and both were met with enthusiastic, unanimous YUMmmmms of approval!

Cronut – The Croissant Donut from the Refreshment Port in Epcot was a warm, fluffy-on-the-inside, crusty-on-the-outside, cinnamon-sugar dusted bite of heaven!  Caution:  Don’t try to share one among four people – the situation gets ugly fast.

Red Velvet Cupcake – I love the Starring Rolls Café in Disney’s Hollywood Studios!  I’ve tried the Red Velvet Cupcake at Walt Disney Worldeverything bagels and the Butterfinger cupcakes in the past and both were delish.  This time around, while buying late breakfast items (“Second Breakfast”) – Megan spotted the red velvet cupcakes (with cream cheese icing and crunchy topping) in that glass case by the check-out…you know the one…where the Darth Vader and Yoda cupcakes are during Star Wars Weekends!  Meg and I decided, “What the heck – we’re on vacation” – we bought the cupcake and had dessert with breakfast!  It was to die for.  Just PERFECT!

Roasted Pork Shank – Forget the Turkey Legs – I’ll never go back!  Gaston’s Tavern IMG_3774in Fantasyland serves up a giant, hot, meaty, smoky – did I mention giant? – shank o’ the pig that is indescribably delicious.  Seriously.  Do NOT pass up the opportunity to try one – if you like Disney’s turkey legs, you will LOVE these delectable delicacies.  Normally, I let thoughts of calories and fat grams mar my enjoyment of these types of foods – not this time, baby!  Picked the bone clean in record time with reckless abandon…worth every extra mile I’ll be running to make up for it.  OINK!

Churro – They look strange and uninteresting to me, but they sure are popular among Disney snack enthusiasts!  So last week I snagged one at the churro cart in Frontierland.  Easy to carry and eat on the fly (while heading to Main Street USA to meet up with the kids) – it was simple, yet sweet and cinnamon-y.  Like comfort food.  It’s no Cronut, but I’d eat one again sometime.

Epcot's EmpanadasEmpanadas de Queso – My friend Heather sings the praises of these cheesy little half-moons of tastiness – Heather also steered me to the roasted pork shank.  Heather knows her Disney snacks.  Over at La Cantina de San Angel (outside Epcot’s Mexico Pavilion), you can purchase these warm and tasty tidbits (they come with a side of  tortilla chips) – wash them down with a mango margarita and you’ve got an awesome lunch!

Shofferhoffer Grapefruit Beer – When I heard the guys on one of my favorite podcasts discuss the virtues of this beer (which may be purchased in the Germany Pavilion in Epcot), I was a little weirded out by the concept.  I like beer.  Raised in St. Louis – the home of Anheuser Busch Brewing Company – I know beer!  I prefer dark beer best, but was intrigued enough by the grapefruit beer concept to give it a whirl – talked Megan into it, too.  We loved it!  Low alcohol IMG_7113content combined with the sweetness of pink grapefruit juice made it less a beer than a completely refreshing beverage for a hot, sunny Florida afternoon.  Four thumbs up for the Shofferhoffer!

Now on to rides and attractions…

Of course I have to mention the Seven Dwarfs Mine Train – which deserves an entire post all on its own and I will pay it homage one day soon. Today let me just say that I’m NOT sorry Snow White’s Scary Adventure left – this new tribute to Snow and her merry band of little men is charming, clever, and suitable for everyone at least 38″ tall.  I loved the indoor/outdoor combination of beautiful landscaping and state of the art animatronics and some pretty clever special effects.  The ride in the carts is incredibly smooth – just lovely, but I must warn you – the lap bar doesn’t “click” into place as you lower it in front of you – which makes it super easy to lower it too far – you end up squeezed so tight the ride actually hurts!  Lower the bar really slowly and stop moving it when you like where it is.  Stop.

Walt Disney: One Man's DreamThe next attraction on this list is not new at all and I’m ashamed to admit…We had never taken the time to fully explore Walt Disney: One Man’s Dream at the Studios.  Shame on us!!!  First the walk-through – this features a staggering variety of actual artifacts, memorabilia (and some reproductions) from Walt Disney’s life – along with stories and information about the creation of beloved Disney characters.  It’s cool, quiet and packed with fascinating objects and discoveries.  Then there’s a 15-minute film that was SO fascinating – it not only revealed details about Walt Disney we didn’t know, but we got to hear Walt’s voice and see him as the happy, innovative, dream-chasing visionary –that was still a pretty ordinary guy.  If you love Walt Disney – do NOT pass this by.

I have to mention Primeval Whirl.  Normally we just go over to the Dinoland USA area to ride Primeval Whirl VehiclesDinosaur and then go right back to the parts of the Animal Kingdom park we understand.  I like looking at the animals (and taking a crazy number of pictures of them).  I have never taken time to explore or appreciate all the gaudy but fascinating aspects of Chester and Hester’s little roadside oddities.  I think I was a little offended by the garishly in-your-face, utter tackiness of the small-town carnival rides and midway games.  I can admit when I’m wrong…okay, rarely and with reluctance, but I have to do it now.  I was wrong to have ignored Dinoland in the past.  It’s sort of adorable in its own way and Primeval Whirl is actually a fun ride.  Fun enough to ride three times.  And make a video of.  And take a bunch of pictures of.  I was wrong.  If I can find the charm, I’m betting you can too.

I know a BUNCH of you have tried new things on your last Disney vacation!  Tell me about them!