Date of Trip: June 2010
Planning began in February for our week stay, and if you go via air and stay within Walt Disney World (WDW) you must do some planning to decrease frustration. WDW offers the Magical Express for transfers from MCO to your accommodations, along with bag handling; most other charge for this service, Disney does not. You must make sure all details are handled before you fly….Tags for luggage, Magical Express vouchers, and advance online check-in will ensure a smooth transition from airport to your room. Do not forget to make your dining reservations as well, as table dining availability is very spotty to none once you arrive.
We arrived at MCO via Southwest, which was an uneventful flight, what Southwest is noted for…on time flights, friendly staff, free bags! This was our grandson’s first flight and first Disney trip, so of course he was thrilled with each aspect of the flight. We marched through the airport and onto the bus ride (Magical Express) to Disney without any hitches. Our bags are transported directly to resort with the transfer service, a great plus! Within 20 minutes of touchdown we were out the door and on our way to the resort. The bus had an entertaining video that provides information needed to arrive with knowledge of what to do, how to do it, all through the Disney characters known so well world wide. Not one “where are we” or “when do we get there” from our 7 year old grandson, only a captive audience in awe of what was in store for the week.
After a short 45 minute ride, yes short as we forgot about the time watching Mickey tell us what was awaiting us, we arrived at the Animal Kingdom Lodge. We were staying at the main lodge called Jambo House. Upon arrival we were greeted by a drummer welcoming us to the lodge, a nice touch for the African themed resort. With the words “Welcome Home” we were ushered into the lodge and to the online check-in desk. Everything was ready, our keys which are also our park admission access, and our dining plan along with any extra charges for merchandise, etc. No signatures, card swipes, nothing just welcome and your packet is ready, as was our room. We were escorted to our room, shown how to access the concierge level, given a short tour of our room and location of pool and restaurants.
We headed to the Mara restaurant for lunch, the poolside quick service eatery. Food was quick to the table and OK in taste, typical fare burgers, chicken nuggets and “flat bread” pizzas. The other two restaurants; Boma the African themed buffet was open for breakfast and supper, Jiko the fine dining venue only opens for supper. On to the pool which is large, has a small slide, two hot tub “spas”, poolside bar and children’s play area. The Mara is very close to pool area…on 1st level, along with Boma and Jiko. The main lobby is on 3rd level, along with the Savanna overlooks.
OK, we had the deluxe dining plan and left Disney with 10 meals and 12 snacks un-used. For the minimal difference in price, the ability to eat sit down was well worth to us. We also had concierge access, so a couple of our breakfasts were eaten there. I was concerned we would run out of dinner credits early, as several of our meals were 2 credit meals, but we had credits to spare and no one went hungry. Note about the dining plan…each diner get choice of appetizer or salad, entree and a desert. If you choose both appetizer and salad but no desert, still one credit will be deducted. Some will ring up and see what happens to total credits, others are stickler to adhere to what the plan dictates. We ate Boma’s x2 for Breakfast, Tusker’s House in Animal Kingdom for the character b’fast (2 credits), Pizzafari after our sunrise safari booked thru concierge services (why I chose concierge level, you must be concierge level to be able to access this special excursion). Lunch on Tuesday was Cinderella’s castle (2 credits) for the “princess lunch” otherwise we ate snacks or counter service short orders in the parks. Our big meals were Jiko at Animal Kingdom Lodge, Tuttiano in Italy at EPCOT, Mama Melrose at Hollywood Studios, Crystal Palace in Magic Kingdom (Character meal), Chef Mickey’s at Contemporary Resort (Character meal), Ohanas’ at Polynesian Resort and Yachtsman’s Club at Yacht Club Resort. The absolute best meal was Ohanas, followed by Jiko, Tuttiano and Yatchmans. Ohanas is very similar to a Brazilian grill with set menu of bread, appetizers, salad, sides, desert and that great grilled meat on skewers…chicken, steak, pork and shrimp.
Included in the vacation price were our “Park Hopper” tickets which allowed access to the parks, water parks, and all transportation. Most days we would enjoy one park in the morning, back to resort for rest & pool and a different park after supper. Our mission for son and grandson was to ride as many roller coasters (RC) as possible. Our fast pass (FP) access was used to take advantage of each park’s high energy rides. Plan your park visit around what attractions you are interested in riding and start early. Fast passes are gone by mid afternoon on popular rides. When you get the FP, note the time on the bottom of the FP of when you can get the next one, usually 30 minutes apart. So you obtain FP & ride as you make your way across the park. Most days we had 4 FP for use….so son & GS was able to ride twice, as we would use all of our cards to get the passes.
Knowing these rides are based on a height requirement, we have measured monthly to chart progress and know where he was height wise. 48″ was the mark to meet and at 51″ he was good to go on all of the park’s coasters. Rock ‘n Roll RC in Hollywood Studios was considered by our group as the best and fastest. Expedition Everest was a close second (the only one hubby & I road) in the Animal Kingdom with third place being Big Thunder Mountain in Magic Kingdom’s Frontier land. Each RC was ridden a minimal six times with Expedition Everest a G-force filled nine times for each of them.
Evening entertainment was always special; Sunday night we experienced Illuminations at EPCOT, a 30 minute laser light, fireworks and cool watercraft props with images displayed digitally which begins at 9PM. Viewed from any spot around the world showcase lake, we chose a spot located between Canada and the exit to the expo area, which allowed easy exit after the show. Monday night we watched the electric light parade at 9PM followed by the firework show at Magic Kingdom which started at 10PM. Several evening was spent at the lodge cooling in the pool and reheating in the spa tubs.
We had a wonderful time experiencing Disney through the eyes of a 7 year old. The Animal Kingdom Resort is a beautiful resort where the animals are front and center, maintained by a premier team of animal specialists. This was seen first hand with the Sunrise Safari we were able to experience as concierge level Animal Kingdom guests. The safari is booked through the lodge concierge service, an additional fee, and a memorable excursion. You gather in the lobby with the curator for the Animal Kingdom. He escorts the group through the back lot where the animals are housed, fed and provided medical care. You are treated to the working knowledge of how they obtain, breed and medically treat the exotic animals. After you tour the back lot area you board the safari buses at the Kilimanjaro Safari Ride. Instead of the canned program ride…the drivers are directed by the curator who provides details of each animal you are viewing. The ride is about an hour, 3x the normal drive through. After the tour is completed, you are escorted to the Safari Pizza restaurant for an extensive buffet of African specialties as well as American fare. The tour is well worth the time and the extra dollars. Be sure to book a concierge level room to be able to book this tour.
Our last day at WDW was the last Star Wars Weekend, so Hollywood Studios was all things Star Wars. Storm Troopers all over the park, Darth Vader photo shoots and bounty hunters and sand people stalking the patrons, great fun for everyone in the park.
Our week was full of wonder, learning experiences, exhaustion and frustration with the huge crowds of people. Even with the required rides to access the parks, the experience out ways the negatives. The Animal Kingdom lodge is the furthest resort from the core parks and requires more travel to access the fun. What you gain from the travel is a quiet escape with a wonderful view into the lives of animals and the culture of the people called Africa.