A magical vacation … Happily Ever After

What a way to end our vacation! After dinner at Sanaa, we boarded the bus to Magic Kingdom and arrived just in time for the fireworks show, Happily Ever After. I think it’s Disney’s best evening show … and so much more than fireworks. They have really outdone themselves with the animations they are able to project onto Cinderella’s castle. I don’t know how they do it. Pictures can’t do it justice.
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Heading for home in the morning, where it looks to be 19 degrees tomorrow … it was about 70 degrees warmer than that here today. Oh well. Spring will come soon, I hope!

 

A magical vacation … Animal Kingdom again

This morning we set out for Animal Kingdom again. We first took the train to Rafiki’s Planet Watch. Along the way, you can see various animals in their pens who are taking a break from the safari. Today we saw rhinos, an elephant, and an ostrich.

Once you arrive, you can visit the affection section to pet sheep, goats, and other domestic animals. Always a favorite stop for my husband.

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Inside the building, you can view snakes, frogs, and other reptiles.

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You can also sometimes see veterinarians working on an animal. On one trip, we saw a tiger getting a root canal. This time, a Komodo dragon was getting an ultrasound to find out why she was having trouble laying eggs.

They’ve also added a new drawing class taught by a Disney animator. We missed the start of the class but were able to watch on the big tv screens. I believe they were drawing a hyena.
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After a quick lunch, we used our fast pass to get a good seat at my favorite show in all the parks: Finding Nemo, the musical. If you’ve seen the Lion King on Broadway, it’s a similar concept in that the performers are using puppets while they sing, dance, and do acrobatics. I think I’ve seen the show 4 or 5 times now, but each time I marvel at it.

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A magical vacation … where to stay at Walt Disney World

This is our last full day in Florida. Which seems like a good time to reflect on our stay. Previously, we’ve stayed at the Beach Club or Yacht Club, both of which are on a small lake by the back entrance of Epcot, along with the Boardwalk, Swan, and Dolphin resorts. The convenience of those resorts is very appealing to us. We can walk or take a boat to either Epcot or Hollywood Studios. We can take the monorail to Magic Kingdom. Which means we only have to rely on the Disney busses for trips to Animal Kingdom or Disney Springs.

For this trip, our favorite resorts were already fully booked, so we had to look elsewhere. We ended up deciding on Animal Kingdom Lodge.

The downside of Animal Kingdom Lodge is we’re reliant on the buses to get anywhere, and we’re further away from most parks, so sometimes the bus ride can take up to a half hour, not counting waiting for the bus to come. And at the end of the day, buses are packed and you could end up standing for the entire ride … not something I recommend with tired feet.

However, the upside of staying here is you get to see animals all the time: outside your window, while walking down the hall, dining at Sanaa, and at the look out off the lobby. We love seeing the zebras run and play! We’ve certainly taken a more relaxed approach to our vacation by staying here. Plus, two of our favorite restaurants are here: Sanaa and Boma.

Here are some of the views we’ve had outside our windows.

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A magical vacation … Magic Kingdom and Epcot

I will be the first to admit, while Magic Kingdom is the prettiest park, it is my least favorite at Walt Disney World, mostly because it always seem to be the busiest with thousands of strollers and crying children. But we always try to put in an appearance. Today we started there.

Many people know there’s a statue of Walt Disney with Mickey Mouse in front of Cinderella’s castle. But did you know there’s also a statue of his brother, Roy, with Minnie Mouse at the front of the park?
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After wandering a bit and riding a ride, we had lunch at Be Our Guest, the Beauty and the Beast themed restaurant.  The inside is designed to look like different rooms in the Beast’s castle. The theming was very good; the food was okay, but I don’t know that I’d go out of my way to eat there again. But the only way to see the inside of the restaurant is to get a reservation to eat there. The mosaic “window” is spectacular.

We saw a couple shows and the Dapper Dans before heading back to the room to rest and refresh. Then it was on to The Flying Fish — on the Boardwalk behind Epcot — for supper. This seafood restaurant has always been a favorite of ours, although prices have increased significantly since we last visited. The food and service, however, are excellent. I had the seafood pasta that came with lobster, shrimp, and scallops. So good!

After supper, we headed back to Epcot where we caught the Disney on Broadway concert with Ashley Brown and Josh Strickland. When we visited NYC a few years back, we actually saw Ashley on Broadway when she originated the role of Mary Poppins. She has a fantastic voice. Josh originated the role of Tarzan on Broadway. The concert was very well done. We stayed for the new fireworks show before calling it a day. Logged about 17,000 steps today and I’m feeling it!

A magical vacation … Disney Springs

Yesterday, we decided to avoid the weekend crowds at the parks and headed to Disney Springs to browse the shops, take in the sights, and have some lunch. Disney Springs has really expanded over the years. It seems like years ago it was a few Disney stores, some restaurants, and nightlife. But it is so much more now. Big name retailers like Coach, Vera Bradley, Zara, Lucky Brand, and more take up a whole new shopping area. And there are activities for everyone, from bowling to movies to shows, balloon rides, and more.

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We stopped for a light lunch at PaddleFish, a delightful seafood restaurant.

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We had a table right by the water and enjoyed watching the amphicars “drive” by. So after lunch we decided to find their launch spot and see if they were really just boats or if they could also drive on land. Guess what, they do both! And to turn the car around on the launch site, they drive it onto a big turn table, park it, and then move the turntable. The car doors even open — those must be remarkable seals on the doors!

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Other things worth mentioning are Sprinkles cupcakes (with their cupcake ATM machine), the Ganachery (decadent handmade chocolates), the 3D statues at the Lego store, and a random topiary of Mickey Mouse.

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After a nap for my husband, we headed to Le Cellier in the Canada pavilion in Epcot for the most wonderful dinner. Try the maple creme brûlée … it’s delicious! Then we used our fast pass to ride Soarin’ before the park closed. It doesn’t sound like we did very much, but it was an exhausting day — according to my FitBit, over 16,000 steps!

 

A magical vacation … Animal Kingdom

Yesterday, Animal Kingdom had Extra Magic hours for resort guests, so we headed out early to take advantage of some time in the park before it got too crowded. The last time we were here, Pandora (based on the movie Avatar) was not yet open. While we arrived at the park only 5 minutes after it was opened for resort guests, by the time we got back to Pandora, there was already a 75 minute wait for Avatar Flight of Passage, the very popular thrill ride. Instead, we took the calm Na’vi River Journey, which was very beautiful and only had a 10 minute wait. We then wandered around Pandora to soak up the atmosphere and marvel at the engineering of the floating mountains. By the time we left, the line for Flight of Passage wound around the walkway into Africa with an anticipated wait time of about 2 hours. If you want to go on that ride, definitely book your fast pass a couple months in advance.

Meanwhile, we headed to Africa, where we only had a 15 minute wait for the Kilimanjaro Safari. We definitely took the safari ride at the perfect time. I don’t remember ever seeing so many animals up and about during our previous rides. We even saw the male lion walking about and emitting small roars, while every other time we’ve taken the tour we’ve been lucky to spot him sleeping.

We then trekked the Gorilla Falls Exploration Trail where the gorillas and other animals were out in force. We took a break to watch Up: A Great Bird Adventure, a remake of their bird show with characters. The highlights included a parrot singing Old McDonald Had a Farm. He actually had pretty good pitch, but took a few liberties with the lyrics.

While we were in Asia, we wandered through the Maharajah Jungle Trek and managed to catch a glimpse of one tiger sleeping … those tigers can be pretty illusive!

For lunch, we headed back to Pandora after placing our food order in the My Disney Experience app on our phones. Once we arrived at Satu’li Canteen, we simply clicked on a button in the app to indicate we’d arrived and then picked up our food. They do a variety of bowl dishes with your choice of meat, base, and sauce. I had the hearty salad with wood grilled chicken and creamy herb sauce, which was delicious. For dessert, we split a blueberry and lemon cheesecake that was certainly the most colorful dessert I’ve had in a while.

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On the way out of the park, we watched a keeper hand feeding spoon billed storks, in an attempt to keep the local birds and ducks from eating all their food, I’m sure. After a long nap, we headed to Jambo House for the magnificent buffet at Boma. And yes, the chocolate banana bread pudding was just as good as I remember it! Good thing we’re averaging about 14,000 steps per day!

 

A magical vacation

It’s hard to believe, but it’s been 3 years since we’ve been to Disney World in Orlando, Florida. We left our house yesterday at 5am to catch our flight south … and then sat in the plane for 2 hours waiting to be de-iced. Which meant we missed our connecting flight from Chicago and had to be rebooked on a later flight. But 11 hours after we left home, we finally arrived at Animal Kingdom Lodge, our home for the next week. From our balcony, we have a wonderful view of the animals on the savannah.

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Today, we decided to visit Epcot. We started at The Seas, where we watched divers feed the large rays. Then we headed to the France pavilion in the World Showcase for breakfast while we waited for the rest of the Showcase to open. We went to the Beauty and the Beast sing along after breakfast, before shopping — and snacking — our way around the world. The Japanese pavilion is always my favorite place to shop … they have such an unusual selection. Today I found shoelaces made from kimono fabric. I had to buy a pair for fun, in addition to origami paper and unusually flavored gummy candy.

After making our way around the showcase, we took the new skyliner to check out the Riviera Resort, which just opened a couple months ago. We found an archway at the resort with incredible mosaics, including one of Cinderella’s castle.

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Afterwards we headed back to Epcot for an amazing French dinner, complete with chocolate tart. We were going to stay for fireworks, but were too worn out to even walk back to the front of the park. So we hopped on a boat to Disney’s Hollywood Studios where we caught a bus back to our resort.

Tomorrow, we’re on to Animal Kingdom to check out Pandora.