Our Disney World Experience: Animal Kingdom Lodge

This is part 3 of what I think will be around a 6 part series on our Disney World trip.  We took our trip in November 2015.  The first two posts talked about the park experiences, and since this was the centerpiece of the trip, that was split into two posts.

This is a review of our hotel, and we stayed at the Animal Kingdom Lodge.

Disney’s Options

Disney breaks their on site lodging options into three different options: Budget, Moderate, and Deluxe.

  • Budget – With these rooms, you get the basics.  When my wife and I did a quick trip to Disney World in 2008, we stayed at a budget resort.  That lived up to its name.  It was no frills, small, and really is a place to sleep.  It was not somewhere where you’d plan on spending a lot of time otherwise.
  • Moderate – Never having stayed at a moderate resort, I can only go by the description that they are for the value minded who want more amenities and some additional room, and would have to be the most ideal choice when you have more than two people to a room if you don’t want to be too cramped.
  • Deluxe – These are the higher end properties where Disney tries to go beyond giving you a place to stay, and making it a true ‘experience’.  Bigger rooms, more perks, and great attention to detail are the themes throughout.

Choosing And Re-Choosing Our Options

We initially had planned on staying at a moderate resort.  I believe we were going to stay at the Port Orleans Riverside resort.  It’s a huge resort that people like and had some amenities that I know my wife liked, one of which I think was a fold out bed or some other option that would let the kids sleep apart and my wife and I to sleep together.

After we booked, Disney offered a free dining plan with a stay at some resorts.  This basically means that they would pay for you to eat if you stayed at certain parks.  Our moderate resort was not included, but the Animal Kingdom Lodge was included.  Now, without a meal plan the Animal Kingdom Lodge never would have been within our price range, but even though we ended up paying more out of pocket, we decided to make the leap.

So, we contacted our travel agent and made the change.

Choosing Room Type

Not only did we upgrade the hotel but we decided to splurge on the hotel room.  My wife had saved for the trip for over two years, and we really wanted to make this a ‘once in a lifetime’ trip.  We decided to pay a bit extra for a Savannah View room.  Essentially, Disney built the hotel with rooms that are adjacent to a controlled savannah area, and you have the opportunity to see all kinds of different animals.

My kids are huge into animals right now.  They love trips to the zoo and so we knew that this would be a big hit.

The Rooms

The room was definitely a huge improvement over our previous on-site experience at a budget resort.  It was probably twice as big.  It had two big beds (Queen size, I think), that were very comfortable.  The room was decorated with a wilderness theme and was not at all gaudy but very tasteful.  The room was clean, as were all of the common areas.  The lobby area was magnificent with a huge lodge themed common area, an indoor fire pit, and comfortable seating throughout.

mb-2015-12-aklodgeThe bathroom sink area was nice.  The room with the toilet and shower was cramped, and the lighting was a little lacking, but that was our only minor complaint, and something we learned to live with.

The room was equipped with a flat screen TV, 32″ I believe, a desk, two chairs, and a balcony.  Finding drawer space for four of us to unpack was challenging, they could have used a bit more.

The Savannah

I really didn’t know what to expect but I was really impressed once I saw the Savannah area.  I’m not exactly sure how it works, but we saw a huge variety of animals.  This included zebras, giraffes, wildebeests, a variety of birds, and quite a few others that I’m sure my son could name off.  On top if that, they were often very close, probably 30′ away. It was very relaxing to get up in the morning or come back and have a little down time and watch the animals.  With the days being short, we missed out on some evening time, and by the end of the trip, the novelty had worn off a bit for the kids, but it was definitely a really cool experience.

The Pool

One thing we looked forward to was relaxing by the pool, either on days off or after spending time at the park.  It was a very nice pool and the kids really enjoyed the pool and water slide. Most days it was sunnier while we were at the parks, and cloudier in the evenings.  This meant that the pool time wasn’t as warm as we’d have liked.  But, that’s not why we were there, so really that was a minor complaint.

Service

The people that worked there and that helped us were very nice and accommodating.  Our room was always cleaned to our satisfaction, with the only minor issue being that we had put our bathmat into the dirty towel pile, and found that they had put it back over the tub instead of giving us a new one, but we called down and specifically asked for a new one.  I won’t go into the why’s but we have two young kids, and well, sometimes things happen 🙂

Quick Serve Restaurant

Every resort has a quick serve restaurant where you can get meals and snacks throughout the day.  We were not impressed with the experience we had in 2008 at the value resort, and were hoping that the experience would be better here.  While it was slightly better, unfortunately, it was still a disappointment to us.

It’s pretty obvious that Disney knows that if you’re eating at the quick serve, you’re doing so out of convenience and not for a ‘magical’ experience, and it shows.  The options were rather limited, the lines to order were huge (most of the time between 5-8pm it was about a 20 minute wait), and another wait to get your food.  It was telling that the checkouts never, ever had a line, simply because everybody was jammed up waiting for their food.  The food itself, well it was OK but with the limited options, by mid-week when we had a dinner without plans, we looked at any other options except the quick serve place, as we just couldn’t take it anymore.

Overall Experience

Even though the quick serve was not up to par, it is what it is and it’s definitely not what we’ll remember about our stay.  We really enjoyed our stay here.  The upgrade to deluxe certainly provided our family with extra comfort, experiences, and satisfaction for our trip.

We have talked about another trip in the future.  This would likely be around 2 years from now.  Our thought is that we’d probably try out a moderate resort.  If we do this, we would  complete the trifecta for staying at each of the resort types!

Stay tuned for the remaining posts about our Disney World trip, with the next to publish in early 2016!

Readers, have you stayed on property at a Disney resort?  What were your highlights and thoughts?  Please share your experiences.

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Our Disney World Experience: Hollywood Studios and Animal Kingdom

Here’s my second post about our recent Disney World trip.  Our first post talked about two of the four parks, Magic Kingdom and Epcot, and since there was so much to talk about there, I decided to write another post about the other two parks, Hollywood Studios and Animal Kingdom

I’ve got a few more posts coming about many of the other elements of the trip, with thoughts on our hotel, dining, transportation, and a few more.

Hollywood Studios

This was the third park to open at Disney World, I think in the late 1980’s.  It doesn’t seem very big in comparison to the other parks, so it was pretty easy for us to complete most everything in under a day.  We spent a morning and afternoon here, and got back to the hotel for some pool time, and didn’t feel like we missed anything.  My wife and I did go back just by ourselves for one ride.

Tower Of Terror

This is the signature thrill ride for Hollywood Studios, or at least it’s usually the image that adorns any branding with it.  As it’s a very tall ride, this makes sense.  There’s one thing, I refuse to ride it!  I’ve written in the past about how I have been more and more affected by thrill rides giving me nausea as I’ve gotten older, and while I ventured on every other thrill ride, this was one that I steadfastly refused to go on.  I did go on once in 1999, when I was down for a work seminar, and stopped at a couple of the parks, and absolutely hated it.  My wife and kids did go on.

Both of the kids initially said that they didn’t like it, not because of the drops, but they didn’t like how scary it was (it’s Twilight Zone thememed).  My 4-year old daughter later changed her mind and wanted to ride it again, but we never got a chance to go back.  My son doesn’t like ‘creepy’ things, so he had no interest in riding it again.

Hollywood Rock ‘N’ Roller Coaster

This has always been a ride I’ve thought fondly of, and I was excited to ride it again.  This was one ride that we wouldn’t consider our kids for (our daughter is too little, anyway), because it goes upside down a few times, and I think might be a little too much.  However, I absolutely loved it.

My wife and I went on a date night and actually stopped at this park specifically so we could ride it, so imagine how bummed we were when we went up and found that it was closed for ‘technical issues’.  (I have a theory that someone got sick on the ride, but nobody would confirm it).  Luckily, it opened up about 45 minutes later and we were able to make it with a minimal wait.  They assigned us the front car, and it was awesome.  I would have gone again had we had time!  This is the smoothest thrill ride I’ve ever experienced.  Not once did I feel thrown around, which is what leads me to my typical nausea.

Toy Story Mania

This is the ride with the longest wait time at the moment, at least when we were there (the Jedi Training hadn’t opened yet, but I expect that will hold the title once fully ramped up).  It’s a shooting game, where your car rides around and stops at various points and you have to shoot at targets to rack up points.  It’s very similar to the Buzz Lightyear game at Epcot.  The game is fun but I would never wait the 90 minute lines if you don’t have Fast Pass.  With our Fast Pass, we waited about 10 minutes, which was about perfect.

Star Tours

This is a pretty fun ride where you board a Star Wars spaceship, and you go on an unexpected mission with CP30 and R2D2 at the helm.  You make a bunch of twists and turns through ‘space’, all of which is on a big screen in front of you (Spoiler alert: You don’t actually go anywhere, but it’s a simulation).  I thought it was a lot of fun, as did my wife and son.  My daughter said she didn’t like it, and come to find out, she thought it was real.  She actually thought we were flying through outer space, and was a little freaked out!

Great Movie Ride

This is a ride where you go through and see a lot of history about movies as they’ve unfolded over time.  It sounds pretty relaxing and fun.  While it is both of those things, they added some thrill parts to it.  We made sure to warn our kids that it was just make-believe.  There is a very ‘bad person’ who come and hijacks your car, taking over the tour guide responsibilities.  It was a fun ride though younger kids should probably sit in the middle.

Frozen Sing Along

My daughter loves Frozen, so this was a huge hit for her, and honestly was fun for all of us. They narrate the show with jokes and such that both adults and kids can get a kick out of, and the singing is of course a huge hit.

Animal Kingdom

This is a great park for anybody that loves animals, and definitely fits the bill for my son.  He loves animals, fish, and dinosaurs, so this park had everything for him.  We all had a great time!

Expedition Everest

This is their major thrill ride, and it’s a lot of fun, as you spend time going backwards.  We actually knew this and warned my son about this (my daughter was too small), and as such he loved it.  Some friends of ours that were down there didn’t know about this element, and her daughter was taken so much by surprise that she cried the rest of the ride.  So, it was good that we warned our son, because he ended up going on it three times!  It’s a lot of fun, with a few scares but nothing too wild if you’re prepared.

Kilimanjaro Safaris

The safari ride to go through and see actual animals like you would see in the safari is pretty cool.  Our kids jaws dropped being so close to zebras, giraffes, elephants and other animals.  This is a definite must-mb-2015-12-animalride, and they try to make it entertaining as well.  The guide makes a big difference, as we had one really good and fun guide and one that was sort of meh.

Dinosaur

This is another thrill ride, where you go on a ‘time travel’ adventure to go bring back a dinosaur.  Of course, you happen to be going moments before ‘the big’ asteroid crashes into Earth.  You know, the one wipes dinosaurs right off the planet!  It’s a lot of fun, though very much in the dark.  This made it a little bit scary for my son.  He doesn’t like ‘creepy’ things.  While we had fun, this made it a little edgy for him.

Primeval Whirl

This is a run little thrill ride that spins you around in circles as you go through the various hills and twists and turns.  I was surprised that it has the same height requirement as the much bigger Everest and Rock ‘N’ Roller Coaster.  This ride seems tame by comparison to those, but I guess there are reasons.  One thing to note is that the spinning around varies with each ride experience. Our first ride spun us 2-3 times.  But our second experience featured many more spins, probably over ten!

Festival of the Lion King

This is a 30-minute live show where they do circus type performances all centered around the Lion King, and of course all of the popular songs are well in play.  This was a great way to sit down, relax, catch some air conditioning, and enjoy a very fun show.  It’s a great show for all ages, and being that Lion King is my favorite Disney movie, this was one I was not about to miss!

Kali River Rapids

This is a water ride and it comes through as advertised.  Out of the eight people in our boat, six got fully soaked.  My son sat next to me, and he got the worst of it.  I barely got wet.  It feels good on a nice hot day.  Beware, they do not let you take your shoes off.  This is likely to keep things moving quickly in terms of getting off the boats.  This means that if you plan on riding, you might want to bring along some flip flops.  Plan on changing in line.

Both parks were great and between the four parks, we had no problem filling 7-8 days worth of time.

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Our Disney World Experience: Rides at Magic Kingdom and Epcot

We did it!  We finally completed our Disney World trip.  I had written about how we were planning a trip to Disney, along with some follow-ups along the way, and we finally completed our trip last month.

I want to share our experiences and thoughts, but since we did so much, I’ll do multiple posts.

Today is our first post.  Here I will talk about two of the four parks, concentrating on some of the rides and attractions. I’ll try to do a post every week over the next few weeks.  Hopefully this paints a full picture of our trip when all are complete.

Magic Kingdom

The original park and by far the most popular, Magic Kingdom remains the iconic experience of Disney World.  I checked some unofficial attendance history, and Magic Kingdom far exceeds that of any of the other four parks, and with good reason.

It’s awesome!

We spent various parts of at least four days there, and there was always something to do.  We repeated a few things, mb-2015-12-wdwcastlebut between all of the activities, rides, characters, and everything else, we still didn’t get to anywhere near the full list of attractions, though we did hit some more than once.

Some Favorite Magic Kingdom Rides

  • Barnstormer. The Goofy themed thrill ride was our kids first introduction to a ‘roller coaster’ type ride.  Since it’s so short (only about 30 seconds), it was a perfect introduction.  We figured if they didn’t like it, at least it wouldn’t last long.  As it turns out, there were no worries!  Our kids had a blast, and we quickly found out that the more thrilling, the better!  We went on this ride multiple times.  Though it’s short and sweet, it was one of our favorites.  My son declared this his favorite ride.  That’s saying a lot.
  • Mine Ride. Another thrill type ride, and much longer. In fact, this one seemed to slow down at least twice to let you think that you were done, only to have it pick back up.  Lots of twists and turns but nothing jarring. My daughter said that this was her favorite.
  • It’s A Small World. This is one of the most iconic Disney rides.  It’s much different (and better) than it was when I last went on it in 2008.  They definitely modernized it, made it a little more informative, and a little less repetitive.  It’s a very cool ride!
  • Pirates of the Caribbean. This ride has been modernized to bring in the Johnny Depp characterization.  It was a lot of fun…the second time we rode it.  The first time we went on, the boat that we got in (it’s a floating ride) had about 3 inches of standing water.  We ended up with soaking wet feet.  It must have been a fluke. When we went on again, the boat was bone dry, so the first time was obviously some sort of glitch.
  • Space Mountain. My daughter was too little for this one.  So, we decided to split up.  I got to take my son on this one.  He loved it!  It’s definitely still a classic and worth a wait in line.
  • Dumbo. One of the classic rides has been improved with a recent expansion of the Fantasyland area.  There are now two Dumbo’s, which doubled the capacity.  This is a classic ride that appears brand new, so you get the best of both worlds.  Very fun!
  • Under the Sea. This is a newer ride that tells the story of the Little Mermaid.  It was a very relaxing ride and done very well.  We really enjoyed it!
  • Railroad. On our last full day, we decided to do a marathon day.  Thus, we found ourselves  at the park nearly 14 hours.  At one point, we needed some downtime, so we got on the railroad and went around the park.  This took about 25 minutes.  It was made a bit more lively due to a frog that had come aboard, and was busy hopping around the outside of the car, not caring that the train was in motion.  One acrobatic frog!

We did so much more at Magic Kingdom, but these were some of the better highlights.

Rides At Epcot

We only spent one day at Epcot as a family.  We had originally planned on a half day addition, but ended up cutting it back, and nobody complained at all.

It’s a great park, but it’s huge.  It’s really two parks in one.  The nations and the learning areas could each be their own park.  So, plan accordingly!

There are a number of great things to do and see:

  • Test Track. Here you spend some time designing your own concept car during the first part.  Then you move along and take it for a ‘test drive’.  It’s a lot of fun, and the kids loved both elements.  This can get very busy.
  • Soarin’. This is one of my favorite rides.  You are taken through various parts of scenic California as if you’re flying.  You swoop in and through the Golden Gate Bridge, the mountains, the deserts, the beaches, and so much more.  It’s thrilling and relaxing at the same time.  I understand that Disney will be giving it an update soon.
  • Spaceship Earth.  No trip to Epcot would be complete without a ride inside the iconic Epcot ball.  It’s not a thrill ride, but very informative and fun.  The kids had a great time.
  • Mexico Ride. A few of the ‘countries’ have their own rides.  We stopped in for the Mexico ride, and I was honestly surprised and not in a great way.  While it was meant to be ‘fun’ with the Three Caballeros (featuring Donald Duck), I thought it was kind of tacky.  In fact, it was close to borderline offensive…and I’m not Mexican.
  • Living With the Land.  This was a floating ride.  On it you learn a lot about the Earth and ecosystems and how they fit together.  You also see science at work with things that Disney does and research that is going on.  It covers how humans can grow food and such without being invasive to animals.  It’s very educational for all ages.

Both parks were awesome and we had a great time.

Come back next week for the reviews of the other two parks, Hollywood Studios and Animal Kingdom.

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Disney World Planning. We’re Less Than 2 Months Away

A few months back I wrote about how we had made the decision to take a family trip to Disney World later this year.  Well, most of the year has passed and we’re now less than two months away from taking our trip.  I’ve been bad with updates (a whirlwind summer with mostly great weather has a way of doing that), but wanted to check in with some updates and observations!

So, let’s take a look at how things are shaping up!

We Splurged

The first thing that I have to admit is that we made a change of plans that increased our budget and is a big splurge.

We decided to go with a deluxe resort which includes a ‘free’ dining plan.  This raises the cost of our total trip.  We’re OK with that, though.  Here’s why:

  • This is a rare trip for us. If you’ve been reading my blog you know that most of our trips are local.  A trip to Disney is something we’ve been thinking about for five years.  After, it’ll probably be another five years before we go again.  My wife knows people that go down there every year, sometimes multiple times!  Since we don’t do that, we felt OK with the extra costs.
  • Our kids LOVE animals. We are staying at the Animal Kingdom lodge, and we have a room where we’ll see animals right outside of our room.  Many reviews state that you walk out on your balcony and you can see zebras or giraffes or other animals.  Our kids could go to the zoo every day, so we know they will love this element as well as the cool themes within the room.
  • My wife;s  business supported the cost.– I mentioned in the original article that my wife had decided to fund the trip with money made from her Etsy shop, and even with the change we were able to do so, as her business did better than she’d projected at the end of the day.  So, while it certainly would have been great to have that extra money, we’re 100% fine with having the same amount of money at the end of the trip as we would have with the original projections, and getting what we hope is an awesome trip.

Travel

I’d been following airfares before the trip, and was happy that we got what appeared to be a great deal.  I’m mb-2015-02-disneysomewhat obsessive and have been tracking the fares ever since, and we appear to have booked with the single lowest fare available since we started tracking.  Our flight is the ideal flight for the time of day, and is about twice as expensive as what we paid for it.  The flights on either side of the time are still 20% higher.

We are also looking forward to avoiding having to pay for luggage costs as we paid for it with a Delta American Express card.

One thing of note, they did adjust the schedule a bit so that we’re leaving (and arriving) about one and a half hours earlier than when we’d booked.  We’re cool with that.

Planning Is Nearly Complete

Because we’re on the Disney meal plan, we had to plan out our schedule pretty tightly.  We had to pick what park we wanted to be at on which day, as we made reservations on certain days for different restaurants.  My wife did a lot of research on what restaurants have the best characters present and some of the ‘must see’ places, and we were lucky enough to get things planned almost exactly as she wanted.

We later were able to book many Fast Pass reservations, which also ties into our schedule, and allows you to get on rides with a lot less wait time versus standing in line.  You’re only allowed a certain number per day, so my wife did a lot of reading up on what rides and attractions would be the hardest to get into that our kids would enjoy, and so far, it looks like we have a good plan.

It’s Looking Busy…But That Could Be A Good Thing

We chose our time with one of the reasons that it is typically a less crowded time, as it happens to fall before Thanksgiving and Christmas, which is when things often pick up.  Because of the different promotions (including the meal plan), it appears that the crowds will be pretty heavy.

But, that could actually be a good thing.  Why?

Because one thing that often happens during less crowded weeks is that Disney will offer pretty short hours for many of the parks.  When reservations indicate higher crowd levels, they’ll expand the hours, which they have started doing. This will give us flexibility to either enjoy the parks longer, or take some time in the middle of the day to return to the hotel, rest, and head back out.  With much shorter hours, this wasn’t looking like a possibility, and this worried us, as our kids (and let’s face it, the grown ups) need their rest.

We Told The Kids

We’ve been planning this for a while, and this past weekend we finally told our kids about the trip!  My wife wanted to tell them far enough in advance that we could show them information about the park and start getting them used to the idea of rides, and really increase their excitement level.  We also want to make sure to prepare them for the idea of a plane ride, as my daughter has never been on one, and my son was on one when he a year old, so it’ll be a new adventure for him, as well.

My wife came up with some great ideas:

  • We got some balloons with Mickey on them.  We put them into a box that was taped shut.  When the kids opened the box the balloons floated out.
  • Mickey Mouse wrote them a letter telling them that they were coming down.  He wrote about some of the great things that have been lined up for them to do.  This includes the hotel, the parks, and some of the restaurants.
  • There is a ‘How Many More Days’ picture frame.  This has a piece of glass in front where we change the number each day with a dry erase pen.  Now the kids look every day to see how many days left!

Thanks To The Planner

If you’ve read through all this, by now you may have noticed a theme.  How many times have you read the words ‘ My wife’?  Answer: A lot.  She’s been amazing and has pretty much single handedly planned (and of course paid for) the entire trip.  She’s great at planning things that turn into wonderful memories.  Her attention to detail is amazing and will be so wonderful for our family.

So much love and thanks to her for all the work!

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