My family and I made the journey to the land of the Mouse... Mickey Mouse that is for a quick little winter getaway to some sun and warmth of Orlando. Our first few days in Orlando staying up with my mother-in-law provided the warmth and sun we were looking for, but little did we know we were in for a rare treat. WINTER in Florida. What? We went from mid 60's and shorts/swimming in pools to low temps in the 30 and highs only in the low 50's with rain. Not the best weather to visit Disney, but we made the best of it after a quick trip to the local store to buy some hats, gloves and additional layers. The weather changed drastically in the matter of a few days and when we left, the forecast was slightly different so we were not prepared at all! We divided our time in Orlando between Walt Disney World and Universal Studios (check out that post here!), but for now, I'll share our Disney experience with you!
Walt Disney World
We stayed at Disney's Animal Kingdom Lodge - Jambo House and were greeted with a beautifully decorated lobby - the combination of Christmas with the traditional African decor of this property was a great welcome to this hotel. Since we visited in January, all of the holiday decor was still up so gave us the chance to see just how well Disney celebrates the holidays. Everything is so beautiful and festive - make us want to do Christmas all over again!
We stayed in the Savannah View rooms where every day you can be greeted each day by a wide variety of animals from your rooms balcony. Unfortunately since it was extremely cold, we only saw a few animals each morning, but it was still cool to wake up, open your window and see a zebra standing there.
Animal Kingdom Park
We headed to Animal Kingdom to begin our day and we were excited to all that the park had to offer. The ultimate fast pass "get" for Animal Kingdom right now is for Avatar Flight of Passage - even after stalking the app for weeks, we were never able to secure a time, which was unfortunate. We weren't about to stand in line for over 3 1/2, almost 4 hours for the ride, so setting expectations, a visit to Pandora was going to be just fine by us since this new area of Animal Kingdom had just opened earlier this year. And let me tell you, just walking through and seeing what they've done was amazing, especially the bioluminescence effect that happens at night - just incredible!
We had never been to Animal Kingdom so we just went with the flow wanting to just take our time through the park to enjoy. The only thing we had planned was our lunch at Tusker House and our Na'vi River Journey fast pass later that night. Since Jack is too little for some of the bigger rides, like Everest, and Rob and I aren't big riders (age unfortunately has taken the love of thrill rides away - now it just leaves us with nausea!) we were find just taking our time through the park to explore and experience.
There is an amazing Wilderness Explorer program for kids and it's a scavenger hunt of sorts based on Russell’s Boy Scout–esque troop from the movie Up. Players earn “badges” (given by cast members at each station) for completing predefined activities throughout the park. Whether it was learning about a new things from deforestation to animal behaviors or "exploring" a new country. A fun option for kids and families to add something to your day.
We weren't quite sure what to expect with character dining, but let me tell you - hands down it was one of the best experiences we had in Animal Kingdom. We were seated in an area that seemed to be off the main dining area, which to be honest was a little disappointed, but we quickly learned, there is really no bad seat in the house as the characters, along with their handlers, stop by each and every table. Disney truly has figured out the art of character dining!
While we ate, we could hear the kids excitement as glimpses of Donald, Daisy, Mickey and Goofy were caught and once they came into our room, even the adults couldn't help but squeal like a child. The handlers did a fantastic job making sure each character spent just enough time (but not too much) with each table keeping the flow going and no one had to wait too long. Daisy Duck was our first visit and Jack was being somewhat shy at first. When she grabbed his hand for use to take pictures, he eventually gave her a kiss on the cheek and seemed to be in love! When Donald came through, he again was shy, but after our picture he wanted to tell Donald something so our incredible waiter ran and got Donald so Jack could tell him that he kissed his girlfriend! Since the characters don't talk, it was fun to see Donald pretend to get "mad" at Jack and gave him the old "I'm watching you" look. Later came Goofy who played around with Jack and finally the man himself, Mickey Mouse stopped by. Before we got our visit with Mickey, a little dance number went down and the kids all line up behind Mickey and staff hands out instruments so they can play along as they dance in a conga line around the restaurant. Even thought each visit is less than 4-5 minutes, it still is more time than you would normally get if you were visiting with characters in the parks, so something again that I highly recommend to do at least once. You can check to see which characters are at various restaurants all through the parks to find the characters you for sure what to meet.
Later that night, we went to the Rivers of Light water show - it was truly beautiful, but after a long day and it being so cold, we decided to call it a day and head for the warmth of our hotel room so we could be ready for our next day at Magic Kingdom!
We started out this rainy day with a trip to the Disney Polynesian Hotel for breakfast and our 2nd character dining experience and to wait out the raging storm. As I tell clients, the one thing you need to ensure you do, if budget allows, is to get in at least one character meal - whether it's breakfast, lunch or dinner, it is something that, in my opinion, is well worth the price. Like I shared from our Tusker House lunch, the interaction that you get with the characters is incredible and are memories that your families will have for a lifetime. We did the Ohana Character Breakfast and were able to have time with Lilo, Stitch, Mickey and Pluto. Similar to what we experienced at Animal Kingdom, while you eat, the characters and their handlers make their way to each and every table so you are sure to get time with each of your favorites. This time to me, is so precious. You get hugs, pictures and even some play time with the characters that you might not get if you were to wait to see them in the parks. Such a fantastic way to ride out the rain before we headed to the Magic Kingdom!