Jan 09

The Animal Kingdom Lodge

In November I had the opportunity to stay at one of the places on my Disney Bucket List, The Animal Kingdom Lodge.  The Animal Kingdom Lodge is a deluxe resort at Walt Disney World positioned near the Animal Kingdom, the primary attraction at this resort is the animals.  The resort is made up of two separate areas, Jambo House and Kidani Village and  has several savannas where animals roam free and are viewable from room balconies and general guest viewing areas. 

The view at night from my balcony
Lobby

I stayed in a Arusha Savanna view standard room with 2 queen sized beds.  The Arusha Savanna rooms appears to be the largest section of the resort (though I could be wrong) and while room rates only start at $265 a night for a rooftop view during value season, you’ll find that prices quickly rise if you want a savanna view room, which I’m guessing is the case for most people.  For a fall weekend in November expect to pay $330 for that parking lot view.  I paid $420 a night, plus taxes. 

My frame of reference for Deluxe Resorts is a stay at the Polynesian in a standard room and a stay at the Boardwalk in a villa. 

The simple things that I loved about the resort – it was simply beautiful, the rooms were accessible by hallways (no walking outside), and it had giraffes!

Themeing:
Themeing is where this resort excels.  The lobby is designed after an African lodge and it felt like an African lodge, though I guess I wont really know that until I actually go to an African lodge.  It had all the little touches you would expect and even the ones you wouldn’t expect, like giraffes in the fire extinguisher grating. 

One thing that was cute, but annoying is that the hallways were named, such as the giraffe trail or the zebra trail. It’s cute, but not effective in communicating to new guests locations. It reminded me of when I was on the Carnival Elation and the decks had names instead of numbers, highly ineffective. You’ll notice that most ships have deck number instead of names. To add to the confusion, the hallways/trails are not well marked.

The themeing was so great that at night the place even smelled like animals.  Maybe I just got “lucky” on my two nights there, but there was a definite animal scent in the evenings that wasn’t all that pleasant.

Rooms:
Rooms were well designed, they had lots of drawer space, a proper closet, 2 sinks in the sink area, which was separate from the toilet and shower (an issue I had with the Poly).  What I didn’t like was that the room was a bit small for a Deluxe Resort, significantly smaller then at the Poly and because the room was small the sitting area was next to the TV.  That’s a typical design in a Value or Moderate resort, I expected more space with a better sitting area at this resort. 

One thing that I found odd was the water pressure, it was strong in the sinks, but sucked in the shower.

Location:
Unless your an Animal Kingdom fan, the location is probably the worst of all the deluxe resorts.  You’ll need to take bus service to all parks and it’s not always a short ride.  Though, I did think the bus service was better here then at the Epcot resorts, which has 4 stops and takes forever. 

Common Areas
There are 2 restaurants and 1 quick service location at the resort.  I’ll talk about my dining experience at Boma in another post.  I did not get to eat at Jiko on this trip; but, I did eat at The Mara a couple times.  The Mara had a lot of the usual foods you would expect and a few African items too.  There were pizza’s, flat breads, couscous, chicken fingers, burgers and African stew.  I did try the African stew and it was tasty, I would put it in the good food, but not the great food category.  The thing I didn’t like was that there always seemed to be a line for food.  However, at dinner time they did bring your food to your table which made it a better experience at night. 

The Zawadi Marketplace was a fairly large and had a lot of the typically stuff you would find in a Disney gift shop, plus a few unique items to the resort too, in the African and animal theme.

Even the vending machine was themed
The last thing I’ll mention about Jambo House is the night vision goggles, they are available just off the pool area and allow you to see the animals roaming at night. This was a nice little feature if you can fit it in.  But, I found that at night if you had binoculars you’ll be able to see the animals with the ambient light in the area.  

Kadani Village
I did take a quick little tour of Kadani Village.  Although I thought the resort was about the same size in footprint as Jambo House, the lobby and shop were significantly smaller.  In this case, smaller was better, the resort had a much more intimate feel to it.  Also, the common area to view the savanna’s was smaller and had one larger viewing area instead of several smaller little spots, making it easier to see the whole savanna from one point.

Overall I really liked this resort, I particularly liked the giraffes.  I did have trouble reconciling the price of the resort with the resort offerings.  If there were no animals here, the resort would be significantly overpriced, particularly when compared to the other deluxe resorts at Disney World.  While I was able to easily say I could see myself staying at French Quarter or Art of Animation, I don’t necessarily see myself staying at this resort again unless I had a specific reason to. 

Jan 04

Travel Tip: Confirmation Numbers

Here is another Disney tip, when making dining reservations bring your confirmation numbers with you.  On my trip in 2011 I found on several occasions that the restaurants didn’t have my reservations on their screen.

I’m not sure how they do the reservations in their system, but it seems the easiest way to find them is by confirmation number.  Nope, name doesn’t help.  They need your name, phone number and first born to find your reservation without a confirmation number.  Of course now that I always bring the confirmation number with me I haven’t had an issue, which means I’ll keep bringing my confirmation numbers with me!

Has anyone else had this issue in the past?

Dec 26

EPCOT’s 30th Anniversary

October 1 was EPCOT’s 30th Anniversary, it was just luck that I was here for that since I planned this trip before I knew. The two days before I had kinda worn myself out a bit so I decided to sleep in this morning. Aside from the exhaustion I really wanted to be there for Illuminations.

When I got into the park I got my Fast Pass for Soarin and then went on line for limited edition merchandise, it was a 3 hour line. Thankfully, most of it was in the shade. At the end of the line were pins, t-shirts and that was pretty much it by the time I got there. The only thing I would have bought that I missed were the Vinylmations, thought it would have been a nice addition to my nephew’s collection, but he probably wouldn’t have appreciated since he’s 13.

In the afternoon I attended a 30th Anniversary talk with Marty Sklar it was a very interesting talk for even just a casual fan of Disney, he had a lot of great history on the Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow and Disney in general. I’ll share two intersting facts. Some of the pavillions that didn’t happen were – Africa and Iran. Iran, that would have been akward, though the images looked really cool. The park entrance was almost in the middle of Future World and World Showcase, which actually kinda makes more sense. But ultimately it came down to the agreements they had made with the CEO’s of the future world pavilions that forced them to stick with the entrance where it is.

Illuminations had a a special 30th Anniversary tag at the end. It wasn’t like the Christmas tag where there is talking guiding it, it was just a FABULOUS fireworks display. Rumor before was that it was supposed to be better then the 4th of July tag, which I’ve never seen. I have to say, it had some neat features with fireworks going across the water, but the finale was possibly the best fireworks finale I’ve seen and I’ve seen the Macy’s 4th of July fireworks from right in front of the barge which was impressive.

Dec 05

The New Fantasyland

In November I was the lucky getter of a ticket to the Fantasyland Annual Passholder review.  I had tickets for Saturday night, November 10.

The admission started at 5:00 PM, but first you needed to get your wrist band at the Ticket and Transportation Center.  I found this to be a complete pain in the butt!  I was staying on property so took a bus to the Magic Kingdom and then had to take the Monorail to the T&TC to get a wrist band and then took the boat back to the Magic Kingdom.  Of course all of the transportation was running slow adding to the frustration.

But once there everything went smoothly.

My first order of business was to get a reservation for Be Our Guest.  While waiting for the bus I heard people talking and saying that had gotten same day reservations for the restaurant so once I saw the line at the entrance to the restaurant I jumped on it and got an 8:15 reservation.  I also did the walk through of the quick service ordering area, which was really cool.  You walk through a hallway with armor, and the “knights” talk to each other.  The room where you order is a room from Beast’s Castle, which is of course the whole theme of the restaurant.

Hey, she’s kinda cute!
The room where you order during lunch

After my walk through I went to Gastons Tavern and had the La Fou drink, very tasty, but it is sweet, more of a kids drink.  The souvenier cups were kinda cheap though.  In the front of Gaston’s was Gaston himself.  I did get my photo with him while he told me what I pleasure it was for me to get my picture with him.  Very nice job!  Inside the tavern there were animal heads and anything that Gaston could think of to promote himself, very fun.  I did think the seating here was limited though, I’m sure it will be insanely crowded when this area opens for the public.

After Gastons I partook in some Little Mermaid; first I rode the Voyage of the Little Mermaid ride, twice.  The queue was well themed but I thought there might be a little more interaciton in it.  But its fine for adults with iPhones as long as you get a signal, which I didn’t always have.  The ride has the same set up as the Finding Nemo ride in Epcot, including the clam shell ride vehicles.  On the ride you go “under the sea” and go through the story of the movie.  They use a bit of video, music, and mostly animatronics or as I think of them, moving action figures.  It’s a nice ride, particularly for kids.  Though I did get a bit sick of it after riding the 4th time.  There was no line so I figured I had to take advantage of the opportunity to ride it as much as possible.

Next I waited 20 minutes to get my photo with Ariel, another nice queue but with nothing interactive.  Ariel was quite nice and even hugged me.

Finally it was time to wait in line for Enchanted Tales with Belle.  This is a very different attraction, it was fun and interactive and I think will have VERY long lines when this section opens to the public.  After waiting 30 minutes you get to Belle’s house, which is decorated in the typically well themed style that you would expect from Disney, including lots of Belle’s books.  The pre-show has 2 stages.  The first stage you are you Maurice’s work room and get an introduction to the experience.  From there you go to another room with Wardrobe.  Here a Cast Member assigns roles to members of the audience, I would estimate about 1/3 of guests are assigned a role, such as Mrs. Potts, Chip, a guard, or the beast.  Mostly they use kids, but some adults were used too.  The benefit was that anyone who participated got a picture with Belle after the show (and any little kids who were in the audience.)

The theme of the show was a surpise to Belle of telling a story, incidently the story of Bell and Beast and is narrated by Lumiere.  The guest perforformers are prompted by cast members for their parts as Lumiere tells the story and Belle acts fascinated by the whole event.  It was actually a lot of fun and well done.  It’s also a completely unique experience at the parks.

My last mission in Fantasyland was to eat at Be Our Guest.  My waiter was Chris and other then the service being on the slow side for a single person dining alone, it was a great experience.  I was seated in the ballroom section of the restaurant, which was themed after the, you guessed it, the ballroom!  There is also a West Wing (the one Beast flips out in) and another room that I couldn’t place the themeing of, but looked very nice.  One of the waitresses there said that they weren’t going to use that room for dinner, only for lunch.  I had the grilled strip steak, which was delicious and the strawberry cream cheese cupcake which was good but had a weird wrapper.

Finally, I want to say that the overall themeing of Fantasyland was very Fantasyland like.  I expected the area to be a bit bigger, but when you consider the mine ride and the enchanted forest are not yet completed, and if you add in Storybook Circus the area is actually HUGE.  I think it will be a very crowded area when it opens for quite some time and for good reason.  If you can get into Be Our Guest, I think you’ll enjoy the experience, but again I think you’ll need to get there early for lunch and you’ll need to call first thing in the morning for a dinner reservation.

Enjoy!

Nov 30

Travel Tip for Disney World

Walt Disney World has added free wifi to their parks and resorts, which is a great benefit, I can remember complaining about overpriced wired internet a year ago.  But, I want to recommend that you turn off the wifi on your devices when not using it.

I found I was often getting bumped off, or was out of range or simply needed to reagree to the terms and conditions that Disney sets for the use of the internet.  I believe this made my battery die a LOT quicker then if I was just using my 3G connection.  So if you’re sleeping or busy on rides and stuff and don’t need the wifi, I suggest turning wireless off until you need it.

Happy Travels!