Caring For Giants Review at Disney’s Animal Kingdom

Caring for Giants Disney's Animal KingdomCaring for Giants is a tour offered at Disney’s Animal Kingdom giving you a closer look at the elephants.  The cost of the tour is in addition to your park admission, but read below why I think it’s a great value!

My sister Becky is a huge fan of the elephants. Over the years she has tried multiple times on Kilimanjaro Safaris to capture the perfect picture of a baby elephant to no avail. We haven’t figured out if we are moving through the area too quickly or her photography skills are the issue (I think it’s the latter), but it’s been a challenge! When she heard about this tour, we had to try it. It might be the only way for her to capture the elusive photo of a baby elephant.

We arrived at Animal Kingdom and checked in next to Kilimanjaro Safaris. We were warned that there was no bathroom breaks on this tour, so best to visit the facilities before we left.Stella Baby Elephant Animal KingdomThere were 8 of us on the tour and we boarded a bus back stage to take us to the viewing area. The driver gave us a lot of information about how the animals are protected and the fencing around the enclosures backstage. We were amazed to see fencing that wasn’t related to the savannah and the explanation made sense – the fencing is to keep the native Florida Wildlife out of the savanna.

When we arrived at the viewing area we realized that we were on the other side of Kilimanjaro Safaris and could see the attraction vehicles passing in the distance. The first cast member told us about how they care for the elephants and some of the rituals they have with them.Elephants Caring for Giants

The second cast member that spoke to us was a cultural representative from Zimbabwe. While she had only been working there for 3 weeks, she did a fantastic job of telling us about the research being done by the Disney Conservation Fund.   She shared details about one of the projects where they found a solution that allows farmers to protect their farms without harming the elephants. It was fascinating; I could have listened to her for hours.Caring for Giants Elephant

Aside from the great information from the cast members, we got some fantastic views of the elephants! We were told that the views really depend on the elephants; they are free to roam around and may not stand in the ideal spot for your photos.   This is important to recognize that Disney allows them the freedom to do as they please. We were lucky to have so many come around, it was the first tour of the morning and they tend to be more active.

Caring for Giants Stella

My sister with baby Stella in the background.

Caring for Giants was worth every penny of the $30 we paid for it. We spent an hour with some fascinating cast members and of course – the elephants. We loved the tour so much that we’ll be adding this as a regular ‘must do’ on our trips. Not only did my sister get a picture of a baby elephant, she got one WITH a baby elephant!

 

 

 

FastPass Crackdown – Cheaters Will Be Cheaters

7DMT Magic KingdomFastPass+ at Walt Disney World is a free service that allows you to effectively schedule up to 3 attractions in advance to avoid the long standby lines. If you stay at a Disney resort, you can make your selections 60 days in advance of your trip, if you’re staying offsite it’s 30 days.

FastPass+ was always a fair system, free to everyone with a valid park admission. Unlike those “other guys” who offer a paid service to skip the lines, Disney has a limit to how many FastPasses are available per hour for each attraction. At the other parks, if you have paid for this service you can skip the line on the same attraction all day if you would like. Imagine that – 100 people all skipping the line multiple times on the Hulk. How long do you think that standby line will be? For those who don’t pay, it can be a substantially longer wait than it had to be. Your ability to experience the attractions is directly tied to how much you were willing to pay.

At Walt Disney World, everyone had a fair shot at a FastPass for the big attractions – that was until a loophole was found.

MDE FPIt has been reported that people were using the in park kiosks to book FastPasses with expired tickets or tickets that were not used to enter the park. They were ‘borrowing’ annual passes to book extra FastPasses and taking away the availability from other guests. This ‘fair system’ was being abused by those who thought they were entitled to a better experience than everyone else – until Disney found out.

Disney has begun to crack down on these scams and are enforcing a validation process. Cast Members who are working in the FastPass line will be able to see if the guest used a valid ticket to enter the park that day. If they didn’t, they will be sent to the standby line.

Disney is reportedly locking the My Disney Experience accounts of those who book a FastPass without a ticket being used to enter the park.

Magic BandI think it’s great that Disney is addressing the issue and cracking down on this. How long before they start cracking down on all the fake resort and dining reservations?  Time will tell!

 

 

Avatar Flight of Passage Review at Disney’s Animal Kingdom

Pandora Flight of PassageAvatar Flight of Passage was an attraction that I was determined I had to try. The reviews said that it was not good for those with motion sickness and it could be intense, but I had to experience it at least once. Since I had the opportunity to visit during a preview before the official opening, I went straight over to Flight of Passage and there was no wait. I stood for a second, took a deep breath and thought, “I guess I’m doing this!”

Here are my thoughts on the new Flight of Passage at Disney’s Animal Kingdom.  It’s an overview of my experience with some information you should know before you go, but without too many spoilers!

The queue was impressive – but long

The outdoor portion of the queue for Flight of Passage is gorgeous. You’re walking slightly up hill and have a perfect view of the floating mountains. There will be some great pictures and selfies taken from this line!

Once you leave the outdoor area, you enter in to something that looks like a cave. You will be happier in here since there is air conditioning and shade from the Florida sun. As the cave transitions in to the building, you’re able to see paintings, a bioluminescent mining area and of course – a real Avatar. I had seen the Avatar on many different online videos, but I didn’t appreciate the size or details of it until I had seen it in person.

 

 

While I didn’t have a wait for Flight of Passage, it struck me as I was walking through this queue how long it took me to get to the end. It seemed like quite a long walk with the capacity to hold VERY long lines.

The claustrophobia

Nearing the end of the line, you enter the first of 2 pre-shows. The first room is where you are matched to your Avatar. It is primarily a video with some special effects, but the room felt a bit small to me. I was glad I was the last one in and had some space behind me. We were in there a few minutes when we moved on to the next briefing – the vehicle seating system is explained and you get your 3D glasses.

The vehicle

I don’t like feeling ‘trapped’ anywhere and this was my biggest fear for this vehicle. I am the person who sits at the end of the row in a movie theatre to avoid feeling like I can’t get out. Knowing that things would come and encapsulate on this attraction had me very nervous. I straddled the vehicle like a bicycle and leaned forward towards the support in front of me. I chose to leave a little bit of space between the support and myself and prepared myself for the various restraints that were coming. As the restraints were activated, I heard the man beside me gasp a little. The man had leaned so far forward that the restraint at his back was way too restrictive and a cast member had to come and adjust it.   I was happy with the amount of space I had and didn’t feel closed in with the back restraint at all. Maybe it’s because I had my legs out in front of me as opposed to at the side, but I didn’t even feel the ones on my legs at all. I did notice that this might be quite restrictive and uncomfortable though for my Pooh-sized friends. There is a test vehicle outside of the attraction for you to try before waiting in line.

 

The flight

Once the ride started I was in awe. Disney has created an attraction where I really FELT like I was flying on the back of a Banshee. It wasn’t just the sights, sounds and smells, but when my Banshee took a break on a branch of a tree, I could FEEL it breathing underneath me. The scenery is breathtaking and colorful, it seemed so real! There is no comparison in my mind to Soarin or Star Tours – this attraction made me forget that I was sitting on an attraction vehicle with 3D goggles on. I was transported, and I flew on a Banshee.

 

The motion sickness

Pandora 2I feel sick on Star Tours and have never made it back on Mission Space since it opened; I was worried about Flight of Passage. I went first thing in the morning, took some motion sickness pills and didn’t eat anything before the ride. There were a few moments where the Banshee took some sharp turns and some drastic drops where I had to close my eyes. Closing my eyes for a second or two really helped, especially when were flying through some tight spaces. I do think the cool breeze on my face helped me avoid overheating that happens when I’m nauseous. I really didn’t feel sick at all, I suspect that might have had something to do with the pills I took.

 

The 4 things you need to know:

  1. The queue has been designed to hold lines of up to 4 hours inside. The wait will be long.
  2. There is a lot of walking for the queue as well as upon exiting. Be prepared for inclines and stairs, especially if you have trouble walking.
  3. There are moments that those who are prone to motion sickness or claustrophobia will struggle, but they are short lived.
  4. Love or hate Avatar the movie (I didn’t love it), this attraction is among the best on Disney property and you should experience it once. I know I will be back to try it again.

 

My only criticism, and it’s a big one

Winnie the PoohSurprisingly, this attraction is not friendly to certain body types or guests with mobility issues. Given that this is new, I would have thought that Disney would have invested in making sure that more people could experience it – not less. One of the things that I don’t like about that ‘other park’ is that they have attractions that are not suitable for my Pooh-sized friends. I have always maintained that having the test vehicles out in front of their attractions is both humiliating and degrading to those who want to try them before lining up. Couldn’t they put them around the corner out of plain view of the masses of people? Who wants to try a vehicle in front of a bunch of people to see if you’re too fluffy to fit? I have always thought that was a big difference between Disney and the other guys, until Disney did the same thing with Flight of Passage. I think it’s terrible that a good portion of the population wasn’t accounted for when designing this attraction. I only hope that Disney makes the necessary adjustments to the attraction to accommodate more people, and once again set itself apart from the other parks.

If you want to see a good video of the queue – check out this video from our friends at Pure Magic Vacations!

 

 

Have you experienced Flight of Passage? What did you think?

 

Yak & Yeti Dinner Review at Disney’s Animal Kingdom

Yak & Yeti Animal KingdomIf you have read my blogs before, you know that I’m a bit of a picky eater who loves desserts. As I get older, I find that I’m a little more adventurous with the restaurants I will try, which is of great delight to my travel companions.   After eating at the Coral Reef in Epcot and having to order the seafood pasta without the seafood, I realized that there is always something on the menu for me anywhere at Walt Disney World.

This time the adventure led us to the Yak & Yeti at Animal Kingdom.   We would normally grab lunch at the Flametree BBQ and be gone before dinner, this time we were staying late to see the Rivers of Light. We made dinner reservations at the Yak & Yeti and I was looking forward to trying a new place.

Yak & Yeti InteriorWhen we arrived I realized that I had walked past this restaurant every visit and never paid much attention to it, little did I know how gorgeous it was inside.

The restaurant holds the story of Arjun, a rich merchant who has fallen on hard times and has turned his home in to the Yak & Yeti hotel. The artifacts that are displayed throughout are ones that Arjun collected during his travels of Southeast Asia.   There is more to the story that you can read when you arrive, but the last line “It is a place to immerse yourself in a culture that is mysterious, exotic and exciting” describes it perfectly.

Yak and Yeti Dining RoomDining at Walt Disney World can sometimes be as much about the surroundings as it is the food itself. We enjoyed looking at the artifacts and taking in the surroundings, we were hopeful the food was just as good. We reviewed the menu and made our choices.

 

Becky and Lorraine both ordered the Malaysian Seafood Curry. They both raved about this dish and couldn’t believe how much seafood there was. I can tell you there was about 5 minutes when they both kept “finding” seafood in it even when they thought they couldn’t eat
another bite.Yak and Yeti Seafood Curry
Ron had the Kalbi Steak & Coconut Shrimp. He said that it was delicious and even loved the wasabi mashed potatoes and the vegetables.Yak and Yeti Steak and Shrimp

My choice for dinner was the Korean BBQ Ribs. While I’m normally not a big fan of ribs (I don’t like to bite meat off of a bone), I thought I’d give it a try and I wasn’t disappointed. The meat was so tender that I could use my knife and fork; the meat literally fell off of the bone. The serving was so big that I could share some of it with the others and they all agreed it was amazing.

Yak and Yeti Ribs

When the dessert menu came, we didn’t think any of us could eat another bite. Then I saw it – the Chocolate Pudding Cake with raspberry sauce. I had to try it, it sounded like a chocolate lovers dream – and it was! Yes, it was really rich, but if you like chocolate like I do, you don’t want to pass this up.

 

The Yak & Yeti was a great choice for dinner that night, and will be a dining reservation we will make again!

Have you eaten at the Yak & Yeti? What did you think?

 

 

Disney’s Express Transportation Option

Disney Express TransportationI am a big believer in the Park Hopper option on your Walt Disney World tickets. Having the flexibility to visit more than one park in a day can really enhance your Disney vacation. I like to park hop to catch a show or have a dining reservation without being ‘tied’ to one park for the whole day. We can enjoy the morning Extra Magic Hours at the Magic Kingdom and still be able to catch Fantasmic at Hollywood Studios at night.

 

For those of us who like to park hop, there is a new service designed just for us.

 

Here are 5 reasons I loved Disney’s Express Transportation option:

1.  Backstage Access

The bus stops in each of the 4 parks are inside of the park, backstage. Once on board the bus, you are treated to a view behind the scenes while you exit/enter the parks. No photos allowed though, but you can enjoy the view. For those of us who love all things ‘behind the scenes’ – this was a real treat.

 

2.  No security

With the bus dropping you off backstage at your desitnation – there is no need to go through security again! No need to get in line to have your bags searched again. Avoiding those security line-ups are a big plus for us.

 

3.  Time savings

Without going through security and having a bus that goes directly from one park to the other, we saved a ton of time.   We left Epcot one evening and was in the Magic Kingdom in under 30 minutes. It was a great way to maximize our time that day!

 

4.  No crowds

It may have been just our luck, but it really wasn’t crowded at all. I think we used the bus 6 times during our visit and the most people (in addition to our party) was 4 people. There were a few trips where we had a bus to ourselves!

 

5.  Good value for the price

We opted for the 7 day pass and found that it was a good value for the time savings and convenience. We did a lot of park hopping and used the service to our advantage. I’m not sure that the single day ticket at $19 USD is worth it, but the 7 day at $29 USD definitely was.

 

Other things to know before you buy:

You can purchase your express transportation tickets while on property – you can’t purchase in advance.

Buses depart approximately every 30 minutes.

Express Transportation is available each day from 10:00 AM until park closing. Make sure you find out when the last bus is scheduled to your destination.

Check in locations:

Animal Kingdom ExpressMagic Kingdom park – next to the exit of Buzz Lightyear’s Space Ranger Spin

Disney’s Animal Kingdom park – next to the entrance to Kilimanjaro Safaris

Disney’s Hollywood Studios – the courtyard in front of Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster

Epcot – the east side of Spaceship Earth

For more information, see Disney’s official website here.

The only problem that we had with the Express Transportation was timing. With the last bus at ‘closing’ for the park, it made it difficult to enjoy the night time show at Hollywood Studios and catch the bus to Epcot for Illuminations. There were two nights where the last bus didn’t arrive when they said it would. Of course they were still testing the service and I expect they will work out some of these issues in time.

When we used this service outside of the last bus of the night, it worked like a charm. I will definitely be using this service again and I can’t wait to see what improvements they have made for next time.

Will you try the Express Transportation? Do you think it is worth the price?

 

5 Things That Irritate Me About Disney

WDW CarouselWith so many people posting things about Disney every day, it is hard to know what’s legitimate.  I have found articles, blogs and web pages who claim they are ‘Disney Experts’ with inside information that is completely unreliable.

Here are my top 5 irritants about Disney spam:

1.  Random blogs who post they have the best ‘tips’ for first timers, with incorrect information

It’s amazing to me how many people post blogs offering advice on a Walt Disney World vacation and then give information that is just plain wrong.  I recently had a friend forward a blog to me asking if she should purchase the ‘front of the line fastpass option’.   She said she was more than willing to pay the extra money toalways skip the lines instead of the fastpass option I had told her about. The answer was quite simple – I hadn’t told her about the option to purchase the ‘deluxe fastpass’ to skip the lines because Disney doesn’t have one!

2.  ‘Win a Free Trip to Disney’

This one is really annoying and very easy to fall for.  There are a ton of ‘fake’ Disney Facebook groups and pages offering free tickets, free trips and free merchandise.  I have stumbled on these when I see my friends ‘sharing the post for a chance to win’.  How do you know which pages are real? The real page will always have a blue check mark on it – meaning it’s verified.  Once you know what you’re looking for – these scammers are easier to spot than you think.

3.  Disney Facebook Groups

I know, this one is a touchy subject…(that I address in another blog). I belong to many of these groups too – but you have to know how important it is to take the information in there with a grain of salt. Some of these groups have thousands of people jumping at the chance to comment and advise you on your Disney vacation. Some posters really are knowledgeable and give good advice – but others have taken 1 trip to Disney and have crowned themselves “Disney Experts”.  Here are some of the comments I’ve seen that left me shaking my head:

  • Do you need reservations at Be Our Guest? Answer from a “Disney Expert” – “No, it’s a quick service at lunch – just walk in”
  • I know what I’m talking about… I’ve been going to WDW since 1968!  (Ummm.. Walt Disney World opened in 1971)
  • “Trust me, I’ve sailed on all 5 of the Disney ships and gratuities are included in the fare you see online” (They currently have 4 ships… and no – gratuities are not included!)
  • “Don’t worry – just put your selfie stick in your bag, they won’t know you have it” (I guess this expert has never gone through the back check?)
  • “If you yell ‘Andy’s home’ all of the Toy Story characters will lie still on the ground” (just an FYI – they do NOT do this)

4.  The crazy Disney rumor mill!

I admit – sometimes I get caught up in the excitement of the rumors.  I love to think about the ‘what ifs’ and hope that they are true. Sometimes it is fun to speculate what might be happening!  While most of them are harmless, sometimes I think they go a bit too far. There are social media/websites (who shall remain ‘anonymous’) that will create hype about things that can impact a guest trying to book a vacation.  They start they hype about ‘free dining months before anything comes out and it causes people to second guess their dates and decisions, waiting for that ‘amazing deal’ (that can be added to an existing booking in most cases). Last year social media created such a frenzy for free dining that people missed out on the room promotion (which was a really good one!) waiting for free dining.  When free dining was announced, it wasn’t the resorts they had hoped for and they had missed the room promotion which in some cases was cheaper!

5.  Canada vs. US

So much of the Disney community live in the US and most of the posts from them are specific to US travellers. Canadian travellers don’t always recognize that what is being posted does not apply to them. For example, some of the Disney promotions are available to Canadians long after they have expired them for US bookings.  Passport requirements always create confusion for Canadians after they have read info in a US posting about what they need on a cruise.  This is why it’s so important to find a Canadian Ear Marked travel agency that can advise you.

The moral of this story? Make sure you’re getting your Disney information from a reliable source.  If you read something online – take it with a grain of salt and verify it with a trusted professional.  Don’t be scammed, and don’t be fooled.

 

 

Be Our Guest Breakfast Review – Worth The Price?

Be Our Guest Magic KingdomI love Be Our Guest restaurant at the Magic Kingdom, I think it’s one of the best themed places on property.  It really does make you feel like you’re right inside the movie and that at any moment, Belle and the Beast could take a twirl right there in the ballroom.

But what about the food?  It is a restaurant after all…

I have done dinner and lunch many times and always enjoyed the food, today was my second time doing breakfast and I have to say, I was very underwhelmed.

We were handed our menu outside and we debated what we would order.  My sister and I both decided that we were fairly hungry and got the same thing – the Feast a la Gaston.  It was scrambled eggs, bacon, chicken sausage, roasted potatoes and fresh fruit.  A similar offering to what I had at the Contempo Café the day before.   It came with a drink, but to my surprise the cast member said they did not offer bottled water – so we settled on a milk and a hot tea.  (The menu online says they have water – but this cast member said they didn’t).

The total cost was $51.12 USD for the two of us.  We were okay with that, we knew it was going to be a good breakfast so it was worth the splurge.

We took our seats in the dining room and waited for our breakfast to arrive.   Thanks to our Magic Bands – the cast member would find
us wherever we sat and bring our meals.  There are 3 distinct dining rooms to choose from, the Grand Ballroom, the West Wing and the Castle Gallery.  We have eaten in the first two multiple times so we choose the Castle Gallery for breakfast.
When our meal arrived, we were a little ‘underwhelmed’ by the presentation.  It was a rather large plate for the food that was on it.  The eggs were well cooked (which is good since I don’t like runny eggs), but the bacon was a little
lightly done for my liking.  I have never had chicken sausage before – and I can safely say I won’t again, I really didn’t care for that.  The potatoes were potatoes – nothing spectacular, but okay.

I like pastries generally, but this pastry dish didn’t blow me away.  There was a croissant, apple danish, a couple of mini muffins and a chocolate croissant.  We tasted each one for research purposes of course, but definitely weren’t fighting over them.

At the end of our breakfast we both agreed – we wouldn’t be doing breakfast again.  Maybe the food at lunch and dinner is so good that our expectations were too high?  Don’t get me wrong, we love the atmosphere of dining at Be Our Guest and ANY meal is a good opportunity to see inside this incredible theming in the Magic Kingdom.    If you were going for the food, I would recommend lunch or dinner and skip breakfast reservation.

 

Disney Parks Live Streaming – 4 Reasons I Love It

Main Street Electrical Parade

Disney’s Electrical Parade

The #DisneyParksLIVE streams have been such a welcome addition to Disney’s social media presence.  Here’s my top 4 things I’m loving about it!

  1. I get to sit on my couch on a Sunday night and watch the Main Street Electrical Parade!  How cool is it that instead of thinking about my dreaded work week ahead, I get to sit here and watch my favorite parade!
  2. I get to tweet and chat with other Disney fans on Twitter.  It was so much fun during the Star Wars Fireworks live stream that I could connect with Disney fans all over the world, and a few from Toronto too!
  3. I have the chance to see some things live, as they happen!  I was at work the day of Princess Elena’s Royal Welcome at the Magic Kingdom but I got to watch via my phone on a break!
  4. I feel like I’m still experiencing some magic – even though I’m at home.  If I can’t be there, at least I can escape for a few minutes and feel like I have a front row seat!

Visit their YouTube Channel for some past events and keep an eye on the Disney Parks Blog for future ones!

How much fun are you having with the live streams?  Have you watched them all?  Comment below and let us know what you think!

 

It’s about time! Disney’s FastPass+ is enhanced

Beginning on April 10th, Disney’s FastPass+ system is being enhanced (finally!) to make it much more flexible for us when we’re in the parks.

The two big changes:

1. We can now book fewer than 3 selections at a time.  This is great because sometimes I just want to book the 7 dwarfs mine train and don’t want to select my other two.  Once before I randomly selected the additional two and when we went to change those, we accidentally deleted the mine train!

2. We can now book a new fastpass when we’ve used our first 3 all via the app!  The app will allow you to book additional fastpasses one at a time.  For example, once you’ve used your first 3, you can book a 4th.  Once you’ve used the 4th you can book a 5th.  Depending on the timing of your fastpasses – you could be maximizing your time in the parks really efficiently!   This makes it so much easier than finding a kiosk to grab your next one.

I’m excited about these changes and updates.  I wonder if Disney will hold some of the fastpasses and release them later in the day to accommodate the number of people who will be booking them after they’ve used their first 3.  This would be a great way for them to control the crowd flow in the parks.

Is this something that will make your Walt Disney World vacation experience better?  Comment below and tell us what you think!

 

 

5 Things To Do When It Rains At Disney

You’ve saved your money, booked your trip and headed to the most magical place on earth.  You get up in the morning and get ready for a full day of adventure when you see the weather report – RAIN!  Oh no!  What to do?

1.  Grab a poncho and keep going.

If you haven’t thought to bring one from home, it’s okay – Disney sells them everywhere!   A little rain never hurt anyone, and most times it’s so hot that I’m happy for a little shower to cool off!

2.  Visit the indoor attractions

There are many indoor attractions at Walt Disney World that still operate during rain.   From the Pirates of the Caribbean at the Magic Kingdom to Star Tours at Hollywood studios – there’s always lots still operating!

3.  Check your My Disney Experience

When attractions are closed – often times they will notify you and give you the option for a different attraction.  You can also check the wait times for some of the nearby indoor attractions.

4.  Visit a resort or shop

If you’re at the Magic Kingdom, it’s a great time to head over to the Contemporary Resort, Grand Floridian or Polynesian resort to check things out.  During a light rain shower it’s the perfect time to check out some of the resorts nearby.  If you feel like shopping, you know there’s a gift shop nearby!

5.  Sit tight

Grab a drink, and wait it out.  Florida rain showers are often quite short, even when they appear to be intense – they can pass over in minutes.  While watching all of the people scramble to leave the park, you can think about all you’re going to enjoy without the crowds when the showers are over!

 

 

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