Monday, April 22, 2013

Happy Birthday Animal Kingdom!

Today marks Disney's Animal Kingdom Park's 15th Birthday!  Now while I will be the first to admit that I do not visit this park on every Disney vacation, Animal Kingdom stands out to me in some very important ways.  First, I love what this park stands for:  conservation and care of the Earth and it's inhabitants.  Animal Kingdom is not just a zoo that you visit to see neat animals (although there are some pretty amazing animal exhibits here).  The cast members and animal care staff at this park make the most of every opportunity to impart a love of animals and that we need to care for our planet.  They have such enthusiasm for the work that they do and it shows.
Second, I believe that Animal Kingdom houses two of the best live performance shows in all of Walt Disney World:  Finding Nemo - the musical and Festival of the Lion King!  Both of these shows have stirring soundtracks and incredible performers.  The puppetry in Finding Nemo is astounding!  But as much as I love the Nemo show, Festival of the Lion King holds my heart.  For some reason, even with all the fun acrobatics of the tumble monkeys, to Timon's jokes, to the amazing costumes & set changes, the performance of the Circle of Life brings me to joyful tears every single time!!  If you haven't taken the time to see these shows, please make time to do so because they alone are worth going to Animal Kingdom park.

Finally,  no matter how much I love the other parks, Animal Kingdom has to be my favorite park to photograph.  There is so much beauty here from the landscaping to the architecture to the animals.  There is something to see and something to photograph around every corner.  So with that, I will leave you with some of my favorite photos from my personal Animal Kingdom collection.  Enjoy, and Happy Birthday Animal Kingdom!!

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Epcot Evening: March trip report pt. 8(b)

After a wonderful morning at Coronado Springs, we spent our final afternoon & evening at WDW visiting Epcot.  While I made a run for Soarin' fast passes (believe it or not, there were still some that afternoon), mom and the boys headed to the Mexico pavilion and got a great outside table at La Cantina.  We had a quick bite there, and I have to say, the food was really good.  I'm not a big guacamole fan, but I loved their slightly spicy guac!  After our snack, we headed into the pavilion for the Gran Fiesta Tour starring the Three Caballeros.  Then a quick trip to Norway and the Maelstrom got Ari in touch with his inner viking!  As we left Norway and were moving on around World Showcase, we had to take a short break while the globe for Illuminations was moved into the lagoon.  It was our first time seeing the bridge up and was a really neat experience.  The Flower & Garden Festival had just begun, so we were able to view some amazing topiaries & some beautiful bonsai trees.
While waiting for the Voices of Liberty to perform at the American Adventure pavilion, we explored the Toy Story ABC garden, then moved inside to explore the pavilion exhibits.  Voices of Liberty was fantastic, and their renditions of so many patriotic songs brought tears to my eyes.  The rotunda makes the sound surround you inside the pavilion.  We also saw the American Adventure show for the first time, which if you haven't taken the time to see it, please do.  Such a cool way to experience American history.
After the show, we continued to explore World Showcase until it was almost time for our dinner reservation at the Garden Grill.  We took one of the Friendship Boats across the lagoon to Canada, then made our way swiftly back to the Land pavilion and checked in for dinner.  This was another first for us and such a neat experience.  Not only did we get to meet Chip & Dale, Pluto & Farmer Mickey, but the restaurant rotated slowly showing views of the Living with the Land ride!  The food was great too!  After dinner, we opted to do some souvenir shopping at Mouse Gears, then it was time to cash in our Soarin fast passes for one final ride.
After Soarin, we headed to World Showcase in the Canada pavilion and found our spot for Illuminations.  The show and fireworks were amazing as usual, but the smoke and ash was a little heavy, as the wind was blowing in our direction.  We opted to not fight the crowds for the buses, and took the long way around World Showcase.  Again, everything was more magical after dark.  There was nearly no-one in World Showcase at that time.  We explored a part of the Morocco pavilion that we had never even known was there!  On the way out, Ari got so tired that his legs stopped working, so mom and I took turns giving him piggy-back rides back to the bus.

Up next, our final wrap up as we headed back home.

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Hanging out at the Resort: March trip report pt. 8(a)

For our final full day at WDW, we decided to spend the morning at our resort.  We had promised the boys many times that we would take them to the main pool, so that's exactly what we did.  After getting everyone up and around and in swimwear, we took the leisurely walk around Coronado Springs on our way to the main pool.

This pool is AMAZING!  We loved the Mayan pyramid and the boys got to watch the opening ceremony and eventually sit in the waterfall coming down from the top of the pyramid ruins.  They both enjoyed swimming, but really liked the pool slide.  The theming in this area is off the charts.

It really feels as though you are in a jungle, with all the great landscaping.  We also explored the playground area a little bit.  After a few hours in the pool, we decided to head back to the room.  Once again, the walk was amazing and we spent time just admiring the landscaping, the design of the resort, and the many fountains along the way.
My one regret of this vacation was that we didn't book one more night, so that we could have had a whole day to spend at the resort.  This is a new goal for all of my vacations, to begin spending more time exploring what the resorts have to offer.


  Next up, our final afternoon/evening at Epcot!

Sunday, September 2, 2012

Hollywood Studios: March trip report pt. 7

Wednesday brought another bright and early morning, this time heading to Disney's Hollywood Studios.  We made a bee-line to Toy Story Midway Mania, picked up fast passes, then rode via standby line.  We ended up waiting approximately 20 minutes and enjoyed all the queue details.  Next, we headed to sign the boys up for Jedi Training Academy.  I've never had a problem with this in the past, but the line to sign up was so long that the only way they could get a reserved spot was to miss Fantasmic!  We opted to put them on the stand-by list and check in periodically to see if any kids did not show up.  Unfortunately, that never worked out and Ari was pretty disappointed.
We took a ride on the new Star Tours, which the boys loved, then spent some time in Tatooine Traders.  The boys got their Jedi on in a cool green screen photo, and Star Wars merch was purchased.  Up next, a visit to Muppet-Vision 3D (which had a line outside), then mom and I did the whole divide and conquer, with me taking the boys through the meet & greet with Lightning McQueen and Mater, then rushing them over to where she was so they could meet Phinneas and Ferb.  By then everyone was starving, so we hit Pizza Planet.  Again, outrageous line, and we had to split up to find a table upstairs.  After everyone ate, the boys had a little time to play in the arcade before we headed back out for the Indiana Jones Stunt Spectacular.  We had great seats near the front and both boys really enjoyed the show.  I personally am ready for them to do something new in this area - maybe even bring over the Indiana Jones Adventure ride from Disneyland - but it was fun to see the wonder in the boys' faces as the actors performed each stunt.  It must have been inspiring because after the trip was over, we were treated to stunt shows at home!  Thankfully, those consisted of some well choreographed fight scenes, no jumping off buildings!!
When the show was over, we took another spin on Star Tours, then tried one last time to get the boys into Jedi Training Academy via stand by, but as you read earlier, no success.  So after a quick drink stop at the Backlot Express, we headed to yet another stunt show:  Lights, Motors, Action.  It was packed with people, and we had to move seats a bit before the show started, but once again, we had two very excited boys on our hands.  It's funny to think about the things mom and I probably wouldn't have done if we didn't have the boys with us.  This is definitely one of the things we would have skipped.  But all those car jumps, motorcycles, jet skis, gunfire & explosions, along with an appearance made by Lightning McQueen, secret agent, added up to great fun according to Ari & Payton.
By the time the show was over, we had to get a move on to make it for our dinner reservation at 50's Prime Time.  I LOVE the themeing of this restaurant.  If you've never visited, you really have to check it out.  Every part of the restaurant, including the waiting area and bar, is decorated in classic 1950's style, from the furniture, to the tables which look like something out of grandma's kitchen.  The staff dress in period attire, and many times, refer to themselves as "Cousin."  They will introduce you to the people at tables around you and ask you to set your own table (place the silverware, etc.).  This restaurant is known for it's great comfort food but also for the fun the staff will have with you.  For example, you can get in trouble for putting your elbows on the table or not finishing your vegetables.  Unfortunately for us, although we got a great waiter, he just didn't play with us.  Thankfully we were seated in a room that did have a couple of wait staff who were totally into it, so even though we didn't get to play, we did get to laugh with others who did.  One table had a man who complained about not getting his drink refilled often enough.  Next thing you know, every server in the place was bringing him a new soda until the table was nearly full!  Then a bus boy came through and was clearing a table when he "accidentally" knocked a meatball off a plate of spaghetti.  Then came the boys' favorite moment of the meal, when he led the room in a rousing rendition of "On Top of Spaghetti."  I will say this, they have the best chocolate malt I've ever tasted!

Well, by the time dinner was finished, we were running a bit late to get in line for Fantasmic.  So we rushed across the park and down Sunset Boulevard, and walked right up to the amphitheater.  Well that wasn't a good sign - that and people near the top saying it was standing room only!  So we moved across the top, looking everywhere for seats, then finally gave up and sat at the top on some concrete slabs.  When the show started, we could barely see, and people kept standing in front of us, so we kept maneuvering, trying to find a spot where the boys could see at least a bit of the show.  We were finally able to put them in a decent spot, and decided right away that we were heading out before it ended.  Ari and Payton both said they enjoyed it, but I was disgusted.  Like I've said in previous posts, I guess I'm spoiled with going at better times of the year and avoiding these crowd levels.  All I could think was, we should have skipped this and let the boys do Jedi Training Academy instead!
Instead of heading back to the hotel aggravated, we opted to make our way back toward the Sorcerer Hat and enjoy the park at night while the crowds made their way to the buses.  We spent some time wandering through the shops & running into the Power Rangers costumes was the highlight of Payton's evening!  Then Mom made a phone call, and the boys and I explored the area near the "hub" of the park, taking night pics of The Great Movie Ride, American Idol, and just enjoying the quiet of the park and the cool night air.  We probably stayed in the park just exploring for another 45 minutes to an hour before finally heading to the bus.  By then, most of the crowd had already left and the wait for the bus was much nicer.

Next time:  Our morning at Coronado Springs!

Friday, August 24, 2012

Magic Kingdom Day! (March trip report pt. 6)

I think I've decided that the only think I really don't like about Disney's moderate resorts are the buses.  It seems like a person must either have an uncanny ability to be at the bus stop at exactly the right time, or you have to wait for quite a while.  Needless to say, on our Magic Kingdom morning, we were up and at the bus stop really early, and still had to wait too long.  We missed the rope drop ceremony, which is one of my absolute favorite ways to start the day, but we still got there early enough to be through the gates and in the park shortly after opening.  There was a lot of work being done on Main Street, so several buildings had the tarps made to look like buildings.  I'm glad Disney tries to keep it magical, but I have to say, it's just not that pretty.
After getting our picture taken in front of the castle, we headed for Fantasyland to torture my mom by making her ride "It's a Small World."  I warned her that since it was Ari's first trip, she had to ride it, but I think she was secretly hoping I would forget.  I didn't!!  Up next, The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh.  The boys had a great time in the queue, with Ari banging on the drums and Payton testing his strength against the gophers.  Of course, every parent's nightmare, the honey wall, was touched frequently.
If you haven't seen this thing, it is a neat idea in theory, but a germ infested mess in reality.  Disney created these "walls" with digital honey running down them.  If you wipe across them vigorously, you can uncover Winnie the Pooh characters.  So everyone is wiping their hands on them...yuck.  Thankfully, the line started moving fast once we reached this point, so the boys didn't get to do as much wiping as I'm sure they would have liked.  (Mom didn't care for this ride either, but if you are wondering how I got her on it, read the above about It's a Small choice Grams, suck it up!)  I also got a chance to get a few pics of New Fantasyland over the construction walls!
My favorite attractions in Fantasyland were next, Mickey's Philharmagic and Peter Pan.  I firmly believe that Mickey's Philharmagic is one of the best additions to Disney World in a long time.  The 3-D film is amazing, the extra special effects make it magical, and you get to hear some of the best in Disney movie music.  What more could you ask for?!  We had picked up fast passes for Peter Pan before riding on It's a Small World, so we were able to use those now and take a flight over London and Neverland.  I will never get too old for this ride!
We decided to move on out of Fantasyland, so Ari and Grams headed to the Haunted Mansion while Payton and I picked up Jungle Cruise fast passes and did a little shopping.  Payton isn't a fan of the Haunted Mansion and no matter how much I would like for him to love it, I just can't convince him.  Oh well, maybe he'll come to appreciate it when he's older.  We did find some great pins and Payton got a Star Wars pin set.  We met up with mom and Ari and headed to Crystal Palace for our lunch date with the Winnie the Pooh characters.  Lunch was delicious and we had so much fun watching Ari meeting some of his favorite characters.
After lunch, we moved over to Adventureland to try and use our fast passes.  The crazy thing was, the fast pass line was just as long as the regular line, so we opted to skip it and moved on over to Pirates of the Caribbean.  I guess I'm spoiled because I'm used to basically walking on this ride with no more than a 5-10 minute wait, max.  Needless to say, we were in line outside the building for that long, then slowly moved through the building.  It was nice to see some of the details, but it was hard waiting so long.  After Pirates, we made our way over to Frontierland in hopes of a ride on Big Thunder Mountain or Splash Mountain.  Big Thunder was down and Splash had a horrible line, so we opted to catch the train and take a ride around to the front of the park, then back to the resort for a rest and some swimming.

 We decided to try dinner at the Pepper Market at the resort, and it was wonderful!  It was nice to have so many options, and we had a great server who tried his best to help mom, who was losing her voice.  He kept bringing her tea and honey.

We arrived back at the Magic Kingdom just in time to get a great spot for The Magic, The Memories & You castle show, followed by Wishes fireworks.  It makes me teary every time!  We decided to take advantage of being in the Magic Kingdom after dark by spending time in Tomorrowland, which I think is much cooler at night!  We picked up fast passes for Space Mountain, then enjoyed Buzz Lightyear's Space Ranger Spin, Carousel of Progress and Monster's Inc. Laugh Floor Comedy Club.
Gotta love that intensity!!
The boys decided to get their own car for Space Ranger Spin, so mom & I battled for the high score (I got it!).  I was so proud when both boys began singing along to "There's A Great Big Beautiful Tomorrow" during our ride on Carousel.  We all laughed like crazy at the Laugh Floor.  Then it was on to Space Mountain.  Mom was nervous about riding, and I wasn't too excited myself (I've had some bad experiences on this ride, I'll tell you about it some other time).  But we soldiered on so that the boys could ride it.  Ari got the front car, followed by Payton, myself and mom.  Mom kept asking if Ari was in tight enough.  He kept saying, "I'm fine, Grams!"  Needless to say, the cast member sensed mom's anxiety and triple checked him just to make sure.  Then it was launch time.  Ari was seriously excited!  I could hear him whooping and giggling and counting down.  The ride was a lot like I remembered, and made me a little queasy with a bit of a headache.  Mom wasn't feeling too great after either.  I don't know if it's just the ride that does it though, because I always start feeling yucky as I go through the building to get to the ride.  Might be the air in there combined with the lighting that starts my downward spiral.  Who knows?  But the boys loved it and that's all that mattered.  I can say this, next trip, Payton can ride it with his dad, and I will do some shopping or eat some popcorn and wait for them outside!!
We decided to wrap up our ride experience of the night with a spin on the People Mover.  It was nice and cool and we were able to relax and just enjoy the views around Tomorrowland and of the castle.  After the People Mover, we headed back to Main Street, stopping for a photopass pic in front of the castle.  I made everyone walk nice and slow and take it all in.  The crowd had thinned out significantly, so we just enjoyed our stroll and looking in the various windows.
We were even there for the Kiss Goodnight!  (If you aren't sure what that is, check out this link:  Kiss Goodnight.

After a very magical night, we made our way back to the bus, and both boys managed to doze a little on the ride back to the resort.  Unfortunately, they are way too big to carry, so they both had to wake up just enough to get to the room and roll into bed.

So what do you think so far?  Do you enjoy the parks more in the morning or at night?  Please leave comments for me and stay tuned, coming up next is our full day at Disney's Hollywood Studios!

Monday, August 20, 2012

Evening at the Poly: March trip report pt. 5

**I know, I'm a bad bad blogger!  Before this part of the report begins, please forgive me for such a delay.  I promise to do better!  Thank you for your patience while waiting for the next part of this report.  :) **

(still Monday, March 5th)

So after leaving the Animal Kingdom with two drenched little boys, we headed back to Coronado Springs to change clothes and rest a little bit before dinner.  When it was finally time to head to Ohana, we took the bus to the Magic Kingdom then caught a boat ride over to the Polynesian Resort.  For whatever reason, the boys seemed to be getting on each other's nerves at this point.  Payton was having a hard time handling Ari's energy level, which I think was partly due to Payton being a Disney expert from all his trips and knowing what was coming, as well as not being used to having a little brother type around asking tons of questions and wanting to do whatever he does.  It was great when we finally made it onto the boat and took that relaxing trip across the lake to the dock at the Poly.  Unfortunately, when we got off the boat, the boys decided the dock looked like a runway and they needed to pick up speed.
Needless to say, Payton took a dive, and we had some tears and skinned knees, shins and hands.  We got him cleaned up and settled down, then headed in to the great ceremonial house and upstairs to Ohana.  We were a little late for our reservation, so we didn't get a table near the windows to be able to see Wishes.  I was really disappointed, but luckily the food was fabulous as always, so I did my best to just focus on that!
As I said, our food was fantastic, but one thing that I was very impressed with was the vegetarian options offered to Ari.  Even though he is a child, he was offered adult size portions and options that I would never have imagined.  And Payton ate Ari's share of the wings!!
After dinner, we made our way down to the Poly beach to hang out and wait for the Electric Water Pageant.  For someone who has been to Disney many many times, this was one thing I had never had a chance to do before, so I was super excited. 
What we didn't expect was how cold it was going to be that night.  While Mom and I huddled on beach chairs using towels we found to try and cover up a bit, the boys did what you would expect boys to do...they played in the sand.  Digging, running around, making sand angels...they went nuts!!  We tried to settle them a bit because some of the Poly guests were out there watching a movie and we didn't want to disturb them, especially since we weren't staying there, just enjoying the view.  It didn't work, so we just let them run until the water pageant began.
I have to say, I thought this show was really magical and fun.  Probably my favorite moment was when every float became patriotic.  Payton stood at attention and saluted the line of American flags.  It was so cute.  I'm really glad that I had a chance to see the Electric Water Pageant this trip!

After the water pageant was over, we attempted to de-sand the boys before heading back in to the Poly to warm up and catch the monorail back over to the Magic Kingdom.  We took our time checking out the shops and various tikis on our way up to the monorail platform and made it just in time to catch one.  Once back at the Magic Kingdom, we took the long walk back to the bus and again, made it just in time to catch one.  We were wiped out by this point, and a bit on the giddy side, so there was a lot of giggling on the way back to the room.  Both boys crashed the minute their heads hit the pillows.
Next post:  our day at the Magic Kingdom!!