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Backs of Shirts Just as Important as Fronts!

Backs of Shirts Just as Important as Fronts!

Opening Magic Kingdom

Opening Magic Kingdom

Sunday, January 20, 2019

Williams Family: Up Close With Rhinos

In the Fall of 2018, Disney's Animal Kingdom announced a new tour--Up Close With Rhinos.  Have already experienced Caring for Giants, we were intrigued by this new one-hour tour.

With a cost of $40 per person, we booked right away and got a 15% Annual Passholder Discount.

The tour is offered daily at 11:00 am, last approximately 60 minutes, and is limited to 16 guests.

 Guests are directed to meet at 10:45 am at the Curiosity Animal Tours kiosk which is located on the left side of the sidewalk just prior to the entrance to Kilimanjaro Safari.

We arrived at the designated time, completed the paperwork--waivers.  Since the boy was not yet 18, we had to sign a waiver for him, giving him permission to be on the tour.  As for age limits, the tour is designated for ages 4 and up.  Children under 18 must be accompanied by a participating adult.

The tour is coined a "hopeful" tour as it is designed around a hopeful interaction with a rhino.

There were 14 guests in our group.  We were guided out the gate, across the parking lot, and loaded into a passenger bus that holds 16, hence the tour limit.

We drove around the perimeter of Animal Kingdom, specifically Kilimanjaro Safari.  We could see the night barns for several different animals that are found on the safari.

Our guide was very helpful and told us about how the animals respond to different sounds/signals to return each night.  We also learned that the animals have choice to stay on safari all night and would be called again in the morning for breakfast.  We learned the animals who choose to do this return tired in the morning.  The reverse is also true, the animals have a choice to go out each day.  One rainy, cold day several rhinos decided that their warm barns were where they wanted to be!

Once we arrived at the rhino area, which is also near the large cat area, an electronic gate was opened for the bus to drive through and we were about to disembark and walk with guides to the rhino barns.

Much time and effort was spent explaining rules for our safety.  There were certain colored lines we could not cross and were expected to follow all directions.

We got a close up look at the rhino barns.  They are heated, have various toys, have padded areas, and are cleaned daily.  The rhinos are rotated throughout various rooms in the barns, as some are larger than others.

On our tour, we learned about Duncan, a young male rhino who recently joined Animal Kingdom in the hopes of breeding.  He had only been with his brother previously, so female rhinos were somewhat foreign to him.  He had a large outside area and had been out to the safari a few times.  When we saw him, he was in the barn area so that Helen, an older female rhino, could socialize him and show him the ropes.

It was Helen who we got to see close up.  Her trainer was using a whistle, hand signals, and food to ask her to come closer to the gate so that we could have turn petting her.  And, she let us!

After a few moments up close, we washed her hands, and were able to ask a few more questions.  The trainers and guides were very knowledgeable and patient with our questions.

Soon, it was time to board the bus and make our way back and re-enter Animal Kingdom near the kiosk.  Our lanyards were returned for re-use, although we got to keep the nametags.

This tour was definitely a highlight of our trip.  In addition to having a unique experience and learning more about rhinos and conservation efforts, it was refreshing to leave the park crowds momentarily all while being well taken care of with the tour.

Click here for the official site for the tour.

Sunday, January 13, 2019

Storybook Dining at Artist Point With Snow White--Our Review


On December 16, 2018, Artist Point, a Signature Dining destination at Disney's Wilderness Lodge re-opened as Storybook Dining with Snow White.

We had an Advanced Dining Reservation for 6:00 pm on December 26, 2018, ten days after their re-opening.
Getting to Disney's Wilderness Lodge is relatively easy.  There are boats from Magic Kingdom, The Contemporary Resort, or Fort Wilderness and buses from all other theme parks.  We took a bus from Disney's Animal Kingdom.

If you take a bus, you'll walk up the path and into the lobby near the store.  If you do this, you are directly across the lobby from the Artist Point check-in desk.  If you come into the resort lobby via the main doors, walk through the lobby and turn left just before the windows.  If you are coming by boat, as you enter the main building, walk up the ramp and you are right there--the check-in podium for Artist Point will be at the top of the ramp.

Reservation check-in podium

Ramp down to the walk-way to the boat launch on the right.

Ramp into the restaurant.  Bathrooms on the left just at the top of the ramp before entering Artist Point.

We arrived prior to our reservation--Disney recommends giving your party 90 minutes of travel time, which we do, and therefore sometimes arrive early.  Artist Point opened at 5:00 pm and we were seated shortly after, although our reservation was for 6:00 pm.
When we sat down, our table had a tree in the middle that is used for presentation and lovely red napkins with apple napkin holders that have the character signatures on the reserve side to take home.  We moved the tree to the side of the table so that we could see each other over the table and talk.
The menu has a leather cover, similar to Tiffins at Disney's Animal Kingdom.  We were using 1 table service credit each for the meal from the Disney Dining Plan.
The story of the restaurant.

Character signatures on the apple napkin holder to take home.

The appetizers were served on three plates that exactly fit in the canopy of the tree that was in the middle of our table, but we moved.  Know that the tree spins, but is heavy to move--the weight stabilizes the tree.

We were eating winter squash bisque with a caramel lollipop, Hunter's Pie that included chicken and black truffle with a stone fruit preserve in the jar, and wicked shrimp cocktail.  The winner was the squash bisque.  The boy ate all of the shrimp in the cocktail.
Since an adult beverage is included in with the Dining Plan for those over 21, the husband ordered the Enchanted Apple with Skyy citrus vodka, DeKupyer pucker sour apple and white cranberry juice and I ordered The Antidote with Bacardi Gran Reserva Maestro, agave, ginger beer.  The Antidote tasted like cough syrup so I took the husband's drink instead.  He didn't like The Antidote either, so they took it back and he ordered a Dead Rogue's beer, which hit the spot.

The boy ordered In the Clouds, which can also be an adult beverage.  The small water glass was placed on the table with pink and blue cotton candy sticking out of it.  The waiter had a science beaker--think potion--of blue liquid that he poured over the cotton candy making it dissolve.  The beaker was empty and the small water glass was half-full of a blue colored liquid--$4 for that one!  


Shortly after we ordered our meals, Snow White appeared at our table, but not before the fanfare.  Click here for the video.
While we waited for our food, I noticed that the banquette seating extended all the way to the wall on both sides of our table--that's the neighboring table in the photo above.
And even though there was seating, there were no tables!  I asked our server if the tables and seating were the same before the re-theming to a character meal and he said "yes."  What a terrible waste of space!  Not to mention, our table was wobbly!

The boy ordered the Cottage Seafood Stew with shrimp, bay scallops, mussels, tomato, fennel.  This was a difficult meal to eat as the mussels had to come out of the shells and the shrimp had to have their tails cut off.  He had a few bites and gave up.
The husband and I ordered the Royal Prime Rib Roast with horseradish mashed potato, hay smoked carrots, popover, jus.  The "jus" was brown gravy that was covering up the raw meat.  The husband said that the cow was alive when we sat down.  

Our server did not anticipate our needs by providing us with steak knives and we had to ask for them.  I took one bite and realized that the meat was very under cooked and asked for it to be cooked longer.  So did the husband.  Our plates were taken away and returned with the meat turned over and more brown "jus."  I couldn't stomach it. 

We now had the attention of two servers--the one we started with and the one who we asked to bring us steak knives.  They could tell we weren't going to eat the meat, but I did try the other items on the plate--the carrots were very good.  They asked if we wanted something else and we declined.  I regret not allowing them to try.  At this point, our opinion of the restaurant and meal had already been formed.

Another sticking point, literally, was that the syrup used to coat the glass to make the cinnamon and sugar stick to the outside rim of the glass of my drink was running down the stem of the glass.  Every time I picked up the glass for a drink, my hand would be sticky.  I did tell our server this so that he could pass it on to the bar tender.
Grumpy was the next character, and last, to come to our table.  We were told when we checked in at the podium that Dopey "had worked all day and would not be joining us."


Dessert arrived at our table on the plates that fit on the top of the tree.  Selections included Miner's Treasures with green sponge cake, chocolate gems, and buttercream icing, Fairy Tale Gooseberry Pie, and white chocolate-apple mouse center "Poison" Apple.  We all tried all three and had no favorites.
Next our server donned white gloves and brought the black box (all smudged with fingerprints) to our table to serve us The Hunter's Gift to the Queen which featured crackled maple popcorn, ganache heart.  This was a tasty way to end the meal.

After paying our bill we made our way to see The Queen.  A Photopass Photographer was with her and he scanned our MagicBands after taking our photo.  



A stop at the restroom after we left Artist Point also told me that it was in need of an update/repairs.  There is another restroom just left of the main entrance into the lobby at Wilderness Lodge as well as one at the bottom of the ramped hallway that leads to the sidewalk that takes guests to the boat pier.

As an aside, I asked our server if he had worked at this location when it was Artist Point, before the transition.  He told us that he had worked there, for several years.  And, that in the transition, only  one new member of the restaurant team was hired as most members took the 3 week furlough (code for unpaid) while the restaurant was re-themed.

Pros:
  • Location.  Wilderness Lodge is a Deluxe Resort that just underwent additions of Villas, Studios, and Cabins.  Adding a character meal to this location made sense as all other Deluxe Resorts, including the new Four Seasons at Golden Oak, have a character meal on site.
  • Characters--the characters featured at Artist Point are rare and not easily found.  Snow White appears at EPCOT and in various Disney Princess meals in Magic Kingdom and EPCOT.  The Queen and Dwarfs are typically only seen at special events, parties, and parades.
  • Price for the meal is $55 per person 10 years and up and $33 for children ages 3-9.  With the meal including appetizer and dessert the price comes in at a value. Beverages, adult or otherwise, are extra and rack up the total amount which is considered for tipping.  Our bill was $202.00.
Cons:
  • Food.  We're not sure who this restaurant plans to serve, but with it being a character meal, children and families will be attending, yet the menu doesn't seem to cater to those tastes.  There wasn't one item that we left the restaurant wanting more.  In fact, we had another reservation for our trip in March and it was the consensus to cancel the reservation, which we did.
  • Service.  Time wasn't the issue, but lack of anticipation.  Example, needing the steak knives or not realizing we had a sticky drink glass.  We did appreciate the offer to fix our food and again, I regret not letting them try.  There just wasn't anything else on the menu that was appealing or we would have ordered it the first time.  
  • Lack of characters.  Not having the full set of characters to meet was disappointing.  The description of the restaurant indicates that guests will meet Snow White and a few dwarf and forest friends, plus a visit by the Queen.  Not sure who the "forest friends" are as we did not see any.
  • Bathrooms adjacent to the restaurant need updated.
  • Space wasted with banquette seating that doesn't have a table and the beautiful windows are not featured at night as the restaurant faces East.  And, the menu features liberal use of possessives-singular and plural.
Our recommendation--try, but with caution--and don't put this restaurant in ahead of any favorites.  It's the hottest reservation on Disney property right now, but there were empty tables all around us when we were there.  Not sure if some tables are held for the Wilderness Lodge guests to walk-up and get a table.  

This location, if it's going to be a character meal, would be a fabulous location for a breakfast.  The beautiful windows would be on full display in the morning.  That's our two-cents worth.

Let us know your experiences!

Sunday, November 11, 2018

Anticipation, Another Holiday Season, And New-To-Us Experiences



We're getting set for the adventure of yet another Walt Disney World vacation.  It's our third Christmas at Walt Disney World, but definitely, not our first time traveling during the winter holidays.  Traveling at that time of year is something we have never regretted. . . it's all about anticipation and memories!

Often, I am asked about why we travel during the winter holidays.  My first response is that we can.  All three of us do not have school or work.  The other reason is I want to avoid that "let down" feeling after the presents are opened, after days, even weeks of build up and we're looking a pile of wrapping paper and a kitchen full of dishes.  Our first Christmas day spent at Magic Kingdom, I looked at the husband and said, "I haven't had that let down feeling yet."  And, I didn't. . . the entire trip.  We know our fun means that others may be missing time with family and friends and we make sure to thank them regularly.

Our 10-night stay at Pop Century this year allowed us to schedule some special tours and events: Up Close With Rhinos at Disney's Animal Kingdom, Yuletide Fantasy Tour which begins and ends at EPCOT, and UnDiscovered Future World which is also at EPCOT.

Last holiday season we took the Behind the Seeds Tour.

We're also trying four new restaurants:  California Grill located on the top floor of The Contemporary Resort, Storybook Dining at Artist Point located in Disney's Wilderness Lodge, San Angel Inn which is inside the Mexico Pavilion at EPCOT--you know the one that overlooks the volcano and is perpetually nighttime, and Enzo's Hideaway at Disney Springs.  We had a reservation for Enzo's when we first started planning our trip, then cancelled it and have made another reservation, but on a different day than originally planned.  While all of them are new and exciting to us, we are definitely looking forward to California Grill.  Our reservation is for 6:00 pm on Dec. 30, which sounds like a regular reservation.  Disney enthusiasts know that the Magic Kingdom has 4 sets of New Year's Eve fireworks.  Two on Dec. 30 and two on Dec. 31.  The first blasts are scheduled for 6:30 pm on December 30.  We'll be watching the fireworks at California Grill!  Have you ever seen fireworks that explode into the shape of a number? We have!  And, it's the "countdown" fireworks at Magic Kingdom. . . 10, 9. 8, etc.
Williams Families Dec. 2017
Something else that is new-to-us this trip, is planning with another family--a Williams Family!  We've had our MyDisneyExperience accounts linked since the summer and have discovered the trips, traps, and joys of co-planning a Walt Disney World vacation.  Our plans include Christmas Eve lunch, Candlelight Procession, and dinner, and Christmas Day lunch.

Two Williams Families--are we related?  No.  Friends who enjoy Disney, who are parenting boys, and have Todds!  Our December 2018 trip isn't the first time our visits at Disney have overlapped, but this time we're more purposeful.

With Fastpasses selected and dining reservations made all we have to do now is wait and enjoy the anticipation.  Well, pack and wait!