Disney 2017 Trip: Day 5 – Animal Kingdom

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The fifth day of our vacation was the last park – Animal Kingdom! I’m a big animal fan, when I travel I often find the local zoo and try to go, so I had been looking forward to this day.

We started our morning by driving to the Animal Kingdom park. I will say that is probably the biggest downside of staying in Animal Kingdom Lodge – it’s not walkable to anything, even the Animal Kingdom park. We had snagged a FastPass for Kilimanjaro Safaris for the first time slot. I know a lot of folks think using a FastPass right when the park opens is a waste, because there are often short waits, but I wanted to be sure we’d get on the Safari as soon as possible since animals tend to be most active at dawn and dusk. It was amazing! This is a relatively long ride (over 20 minutes I believe) and we got to see so many animals, including the cutest baby hippo and a slightly less baby, but young, giraffe. I love this ride. I can’t imagine going to Animal Kingdom and not doing this ride.

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Following our Safari we went to Tusker House for late breakfast/early lunch. Our original reservation was for 10:35 and they do the food swap around 11 so that would have been perfect; we ended up switching out reservations for one at 10:15AM that was part of the Rivers of Light dining package. I think this was worth it, but we were sort of lingering to get some lunch food and I did feel a bit bad about that. Tusker House is super well themed, and it’s so fun to see Mickey, Goofy, Donald, and Daisy in their safari gear. It is a buffet; highlights for me included the unlimited jungle juice (so good!), roasted red potatoes, chicken curry, corn dog nuggets, and the mickey waffle. My partner also had some ham he said was delicious.

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After brunch we walked around and took in some of the wonderful trails. We found our way to Expedition Everest, taking plenty of PhotoPass pictures along the way, and rode with our second FastPass of the day.  I really like this ride! I was surprised at just how thrilling it was. After plenty of walking around (this park is huge and there’s so much to see!) we were a bit hungry, so we grabbed a Dole Whip with Rum. They don’t mix this for you, so we ate a bit of Dole Whip from the top of the swirl then mixed it up with a spoon. Wow this is great. We have since emulated this at home with to-go Dole Whip from Nando’s and rum we have at home. Whoever at Disney decided this was going to be a great idea was 100% correct. So refreshing and delicious.

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After our boozy Dole Whip we were still hungry, so we split a mac and cheese cup from Eight Spoon Cafe. We watched Flights of Wonder, which is a fun and informative show. We wandered around Pandora so we could experience during the day. It. Was. Crowded. Rightfully so, it’s beautiful. But if you have a lot of anxiety in crowds this was not just a normal Disney level crowd, it was packed. I assume Toy Story Land is probably like this now, and I’m sure Star Wars Galaxy’s Edge will be like that when it opens. Just something to consider if you know you have anxiety!

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We then headed to Nomad Lounge for late lunch/snack. There we each got a drink. I had the leaping lizard, it was sweet and light. I don’t know if I would order it again because there are so many amazing choices and I’d like to try something else, but if you like fruity drinks you will enjoy this. We shared a chicken satay and it was SO good. This is all we got at Nomad Lounge and honestly given how amazing the chicken satay was I wish we ordered more food. Next time I definitely want to try more of the food offerings.

After Nomad Lounge we headed back to our hotel for the afternoon nap. We headed back to the park and we were lucky enough to get FastPass for Avatar Flight of Passage at the 60-day window. It was at 5:15PM so we weren’t able to book a 4th FastPass for the day, but it was worth it. It was a very fun ride. I don’t love Avatar, so I don’t think I was as swept up in it as some folks may be, but even knowing I don’t really enjoy Avatar this was a really great ride. I would not wait 2 hours for it, but I am glad we got to do it. We had been keeping an eye on the River Journey ride all day, it never dipped below a 70 minute wait. We wandered around Pandora as the sun was going down and the world was lighting up. It was beautiful. Still insanely crowded.

After Pandora we went to DinoLand USA. So cute! I wanted to ride Dinosaur, but it was a 45 minute wait so we skipped it. We wandered over to the Tree of Life and watched the nighttime projections. So fun! There’s so much to see going on with the Tree of Life during the day and the night. I could have stared at that tree for much longer. But alas! It was almost time for Rivers of Light. So we headed to Flame Tree BBQ and picked up some of the BBQ Fries. We took our fries over to Rivers of Light, got our seats thanks to the breakfast dining package, chowed down on our BBQ fries, and then the show began. Rivers of Light was a very beautiful show that highlighted nature and animals of course. It utilized projections onto sprayed water much like in Fantasmic, as well as some pretty interested floating lit up boats. I am super glad we saw it, but I wouldn’t wait a very long time in line to snag a seat. Whenever we return to WDW if the show hasn’t changed we may just skip it.

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After Rivers of Light the park had emptied out quite a bit. We drove over to Hollywood Studios briefly and grabbed a PB&J Milkshake to go from the Tune-In Lounge because I was just dying to have it! And my partner grabbed a BB-8 mug we had been eyeing since the first day and I bought a Tigger mug for my best friend. If you are a peanut butter fan this milkshake will not disappoint. I still think about that milkshake.

Overall, a great day at Animal Kingdom! This park is huge so don’t underestimate how much walking you’re going to do. Even by Disney standards we walked so many steps! What’s your favorite part of the Animal Kingdom?

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Disney 2017 Trip: Day 4 – Epcot

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Of course the Magic Kingdom is classic Disney, but my partner and I were probably most looking forward to Epcot. Neither of us had been to this park since we turned 21, and Epcot seems like one of the most perfect places within Disney World to almost get away from the “Disney” factor. The World Showcase is truly spectacular.

We hoped/planned for our Epcot FastPass+ selections to be Test Track, Mission: Space, and Spaceship Earth and that worked out perfectly. We got to the park around opening, not in time for “rope drop”, but since most of World Showcase doesn’t open until 11AM anyway being there super early wasn’t particularity important for us.

We got some PhotoPass pictures in front of the tree and wandered our way back to France. I got in line to meet Belle while my partner went into Les Halles Boulangerie & Patisserie. We then indulged in the bacon cheese roll (“Roule Lard et Fromage”) while the line moved along. Belle was in her Christmas attire – so beautiful! EPCOT_WSFRN2_20171214_407143890788

After eating it was time for our FastPass rides. We essentially were able to do a ride, go back to meet a character, then back to do a ride, etc. This worked well for us, but it was a lot of walking! We met Snow White, who taught us to pose like princesses, Mulan, Anna and Elsa, and Alice! Something about meeting princesses in Epcot instead of MK is so much less stressful. Maybe just because it never felt quite as crowded. I had dressed up as Alice for a prior Halloween and showed her, it’s always amazing talking to the characters in such an interactive way.EPCOT_WSUKPROMCHAR_20171214_407153853003.jpg

We ate lunch at Coral Reef. We originally had Via Napoli reservations, but after Warwick Davis was announced as the narrator for the Candlelight Processional we decided we wanted to do a dining package for that. We ended up choosing Coral Reef based on available times. The atmosphere is amazing. Getting to dine next to that HUGE tank is so peaceful. You really don’t feel like you’re in a crowded Disney park anymore. It didn’t seem like there was a “bad” seat in the whole restaurant. We weren’t right at the tank but certainly still had a great view of all of the creatures swimming past. The package meal came with an appetizer, entree, and dessert. For the appetizers we got the crab cake and the grilled octopus, both were quite tasty. We both got the steak entree with a side of potatoes. This was good, but definitely not as good as the steak we had enjoyed at Mama Melrose. I suppose if you go to Coral Reef it makes more sense to get a seafood entree. The desserts here were killer though, truly oustanding. I got a key lime tart and my partner got the Bailey’s and Jack Daniels Mousse. Dang. I would go back here just to eat the desserts. Do they do takeaway for desserts? Because that would be worth it.

After lunch we went back to the hotel for a midday nap. When we returned to Epcot we just explored World Showcase to our hearts content. We heard some holiday tales around the world, and I finally found a PhotoPass photographer who could put Pascal on my head! This was my goal magic shot. I don’t look super cute, but I’m still so thrilled this happened!

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We did the Wine Walk and explored France, Germany, and Italy, got chips and guacamole as well as a tequila flight at La Cava Del Tequila in Mexico, and ate the nudel gratin from Germany, which was maybe the best thing I ate all trip. The Candlelight Processional show that came with our dining package was a 6:45 start time, so we went over there around 6:15. The line was already pretty dang long! Even if you have guaranteed seats you may want to get there pretty early. We found most rows with lots of open seats contained 1 person who was saving the entire row for their family. Frustrating, but what are you going to do?

The Candlelight Processional itself was lovely. I am not religious, my partner grew up Jewish, so we definitely aren’t the target audience. But we both had a wonderful time. The choirs they use are so talented. It was honestly so lovely. I’m not sure I would pay to do it again, but I am very glad we did it once.

After the processional we had a bit of time to wander around, but essentially were just killing time until the Frozen Ever After Dessert Party at 830PM. We found they did let us in a bit early – I’m not sure how early they would let you, but we got there around 8:15. This is seated, and since there were only 2 of us we shared a table with another couple. There were loads of drinks and desserts there. The stand outs for me were the eclairs and mini tarts for food and the margaritas for drinks. Being seated right on the water we had an amazing view for Illuminations. This nighttime spectacular is being retired! So I am extra glad we paid the money to get the perfect experience. It’s also really nice to have a reserved seat and be able to eat/drink through the show.

After the show we waited for 15-20 minutes then headed over to Frozen Ever After! I have never ridden this since the Frozen overlay and I truly love Frozen. It was so cute! I was so happy. I was definitely singing along. I did *not* expect to get wet though, and it was kind of a chilly night, so be prepared to be a bit uncomfortable as you walk back to your transportation. It was pretty magical leaving the park after getting to ride the Frozen ride, as hardly anyone was left. It was so empty and quiet, and since it was night everything was lit up (and probably extra so for the holidays). If you have a good camera and understanding of photography this would be an ideal time to take some amazing low light pictures. And even though the park was nearly empty there were still PhotoPass photographers out!

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We never did find time to meet Aurora from Sleeping Beauty, and I think you could spend a full week just in World Showcase and continue to notice new amazing details, but overall our day at Epcot was almost perfect. We got so much done and ate some of the best food we had all trip. I think Epcot is my favorite park!

Disney 2017 Trip: Day 1 – Hollywood Studios

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Our first real day of our Disney 2017 trip!! After Day 0 we were so excited to move to the Animal Kingdom Lodge where we were staying in a Disney Vacation Club Kidani Village Studio we booked via renting points. We drove to the Kidani Village check in area from the Park Inn hotel, which didn’t take too long. After checking in and dropping our bags off we headed for Hollywood Studios!

First things first – food! It’s pretty much always food for me. We stopped by Sweet Spells (which has since closed) for a carrot cake cookie. This was massive. My partner and I split it and I’m glad. I LOVE carrot cake, but dang I don’t know if I could eat that much of one sweet treat first thing in the morning.

After doing more research on the offerings at Hollywood Studios I came to learn that the Frozen Sing-A-Long Celebration was probably not going to be as grand as I had hoped, so rather than book a FastPass+ for that as I had planned we changed our strategy. We ended up getting FastPass+ for Star Tours first, Toy Story Mania, and Tower of Terror all ending before 12:30PM. Note that this was before Toy Story Land opened, so obviously a completely different strategy would be required now.

I LOVE Toy Story Mania. I don’t think I have ever ridden it before. The lines for standby wait times were insane, but dang I think that ride is a blast and was totally worth it. We also had a lot of fun on Tower of Terror. My partner enjoyed Star Tours a lot; I however get motion sick pretty easy from these 4D type rides so that was not my favorite. I’m not sure I would do it again honestly.

We also purchased MemoryMaker so we stopped frequently to get pictures from the PhotoPass cast members. The park is so adorable during the holiday season. There were also a ton of really fun Magic Shots that were such a lovely surprise. Most of the time I didn’t even have to ask for them, the cast members just did it! The weather was unseasonably cold though so we were quite bundled up! I brought a light fleece jacket, but in retrospect I wish I had brought my long puffer coat. I had originally planned on wearing capri length leggings, a t shirt, and sandals. In the end I wore jeans, sneakers, a cami under a tank top, a zip up sweater, and by night my fleece jacket and scarf as well. I actually ended up buying that scarf as well as a pair of gloves from Uniqlo on our Day 0 at Disney Springs. While I wish I had just packed ones I already owned I think it was a smart decision and I got a lot of use out of them.

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After riding our FastPass+ rides, wandering around, and watching a bit of the Jedi Training session, we headed off to Mama Melrose for lunch. I was so glad I was able to pretty easily change our original reservation at Hollywood and Vine over to Mama Melrose. We booked the Fantasmic dining package and made sure to get our moneys worth. I normally would never eat this much in a single meal, but hey it’s vacation! I had the calamari starter, the steak with potatoes, and everyone gets a mini dessert trio. My partner started with the mozzarella with tomato and basil, then had the salmon main dish. Honestly everything was really good, I was very impressed. The worst part was the desserts – I didn’t particularly find them to be great overall. One was a small lemon cheesecake with passion fruit pearls and that was excellent. The other two were fine but nothing to write home about. I really enjoyed Mama Melrose. It was fairly quiet, service was paced perfectly, and honestly that steak was delicious.

After lunch we managed to score FastPass+ for Rock and Roller Coaster for later in the day. After riding that we would have ridden everything! We met Olaf at the Celebrity Spotlight, met Buzz and Woody together, had a great view of the March of the First Order, and had an awesome first and slow/easy paced first day. Unfortunately we did not catch the Indiana Jones Epic Stunt Spectacular, which is probably the only non-food item I am sad to have missed.

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We also snacked our way throughout the rest of the day rather than a traditional meal. We went to the Brown Derby Lounge for a sit down and lovely people watching. I had the margarita flight trio, which was spectacular. Later on we stopped in to the Tune In Lounge and I drank a Mowie Wowie and we split an order of the Deep Fried Herb Garlic Cheese and Onion Rings. I still think about the deep fried cheese puck. Warning – do not eat this if you don’t like garlic. They aren’t kidding around with the garlic, and it’s amazing. We also had spiked hot chocolates from Dockside Diner – I had cherry bourbon and my partner had salted caramel Bailey’s, again both were amazing.

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We did some window shopping around the park. Hollywood Studios was an awesome place to do this since it really wasn’t that crowded. And finally we ended our night with Fantasmic! Which I loved. I think that show is perfection. I know people say it’s dated and could be revamped, and sure that’s true, but I honestly really enjoyed it and I’m glad we did a dining package to get priority seats.

Hollywood Studios was the perfect day 1 choice! I’m sure once Galaxy’s Edge opens up that will be a different story, but for our 2017 trip I think Day 1 went off pretty well.

Disney 2017 Trip: Day 0 – Disney Springs & Resorts

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Our pre-Disney day! Arriving in Florida and non-park exploring. Let the magic begin.

We flew down on Southwest on a Sunday, arriving at about 3PM. I was too chicken to wear my Disney ears on the plane, so I put my hair up in small buns to mimic the feeling. A miracle happened and Southwest had recently sent out free drink vouchers, so we each had a happy time drink on our short flight. We landed at MCO and went to get our rental car from Hertz. I booked a room for Saturday night at the Park Inn by Radisson Resort & Conference Center Orlando, which is pretty darn close to the Animal Kingdom Lodge. We dropped off our stuff, hit a Target for some water bottles and snacks (think breakfast bars, snack size cheez-its), and then went to explore the glory of Disney!

We were starving so we headed to Disney Springs and made a pizza at Blaze. I know Blaze is fast casual and probably not that impressive to locals, but I had never had Blaze and it was amazing. I would definitely go again. If one opened up near my home I would be a regular for sure. My partner and I decided to split just 1 pizza so we could keep eating more fun things at other places. We checked out a lot of stores, including of course the World of Disney, and I bought a MagicKeeper and lanyard from Pin Traders.

We wandered over to Jock Lindsey’s Hanger Bar and after perusing the menu just asked our waitress if they had a side of fries we could have. It turns out they had these amazing off-menu fries that were doused in a chimichurri-esque sauce but also with lots of bacon and cheese and garlic. SO GOOD. I also drank a Singapore Sling, which I enjoyed a lot, but definitely not as much as I enjoyed those fries.

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After our time at Disney Springs we wanted to go check out some of the resorts. I had originally planned on potentially making it out to the All Stars for some gelato, but time was running short so we had to get our priorities straight. We parked over at the Polynesian Resort and headed straight for the Tambu Lounge. It was not at all crowded! Maybe because it was a Sunday during prime park hours? But I was so surprised to just find a seat. Being the pineapple lover that I am of course we had to order the Lapu Lapu. And I loved every minute of it! Although I do wish it came with a fork/knife combo so I could eat more of the pineapple once the drink was gone.

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After wandering around the Poly we took the monorail over to the Grand Floridian and again found a seat very easily at the bar of Mizner’s Lounge. Here I enjoyed the Grand Cocktail as well as the cheese plate. One of the cheeses was a three cream brie that I still think about.

I absolutely loved just walking around the monorail resorts and having drinks and small bites. It was such a lovely way to start our trip. I didn’t want the pressure of going to a park on the day we were flying, but I wanted to start those Disney magic feelings as soon as possible. This definitely achieved that!

After our wonderful adventure we retreated back to the Park Inn. We were only staying there for one night, then moving over to the Animal Kingdom Kidani Village DVC studio the next day. Monday was our first park day, so we didn’t really want to spend the money to stay in a Disney hotel the night before. Thus we booked the Park Inn on Hotels.com. It was very inexpensive (I believe around $62 total). While the online reviews were decent, a “good” rating on Hotels.com, I will never stay here again. Generally everything was fine, you could tell it wasn’t the nicest place overall, but my main gripe is the beds. The beds were rock hard. They were horrible. I am old enough to where I need a good night’s sleep to enjoy something like a full Disney day. At home I have a 3 inch foam topper on top of my pillow-top mattress, so I like a semi-soft bed. This bed was akin to sleeping on a fluffy carpeted floor. It was. Horrible. And maybe we’ll stay in a non-Disney hotel the night before our Disney trip starts again, but it won’t be that one. The location was amazing though as it was very close to the AK lodge, which was the driving factor in booking it. So considering how inexpensive it was I suppose you get what you pay for! But buyer beware.

Dole Whip outside of Disney!

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RED ALERT!! This is not a test.

I first discovered Dole Whip as a small child during a family trip to Hawaii where we visited the Dole plantation. I’ve been a lover of pineapples (the fruit as well as the image for decor/fashion) for a very long time. We’re talking over 20 years. Thus, dole whip is easily one of my favorite treats.

It’s also so alluring because my entire life I thought you could only get the perfectly smooth vegan treat in Hawaii or at a Disney property.

Dang do I have news! I recently dined at a Nando’s Peri Peri Chicken, a fast casual chain, in the Washington, DC area. The chicken is great, don’t get me wrong, but what really caught my eye was the unlimited Dole Whip in the dessert section for $2.95.

It’s the real deal Dole Whip. My best friend and I both had multiple servings. And it’s bottomless! Enjoy as much as you care to eat! The best part if when you are feeling close to done if you dine in, get a coffee cup to go, fill with Dole Whip, take back to your place and add some rum to replicate what is one of my favorite Disney treats.

I am lucky enough to have 2 Nando’s locations pretty close to where I live so you can be sure I will be enjoying many Dole Whips (and Dole Whip with Rum) to ease my Disney cravings.

Nando’s is in the US around Washington DC, Virginia, Maryland, and Illinois. Check the menu of your local Nando’s to see if you can get that oh so illusive Dole Whip treat!

What’s your favorite Disney treat you crave year round when you aren’t in the parks?

Disney planning: Animal Kingdom

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For our Disney 2017 trip we planned for 1 day at Animal Kingdom (even though we were staying at the AK lodge!). We had been hearing such AMAZING things about Pandora and were so excited. Although I’m really not a fan of the Avatar movie and my partner is lukewarm about it, the immersion factor from all of the pictures and vlogs we were saying couldn’t be beat. I also love animals. Almost everywhere we go I try to go to the closest zoo. So it sounds like a perfect park!

Unfortunately the two rides in Pandora cannot be booked in advance via FastPass+ for the same day, so we did have to make a sacrifice. How do you handle touring Pandora? Read below to see our thoughts and plans!

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Disney Planning: Epcot

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In our Disney 2017 trip we planned on doing Hollywood Studios day 1, Magic Kingdom day 2, Universal on day 3, then on to Epcot for day 4. This was our first trip to Epcot since my partner and I were both 21+ so that’s obviously exciting. Read about my general plan for Epcot below the cut!

What’s your must do at Epcot?

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