When You Wish Upon a Star

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I’ve eaten at Be Our Guest and I can now die happy.

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Okay – perhaps that’s a little more dramatic than I intended it to be, but it’s also kind of true. I headed for the Magic Kingdom on Thursday the 11th with one thing on my mind – we had reservations at Be Our Guest for dinner and I’d finally be able to enter the Beast’s castle. I mean; it’s as close as you can get to crawling inside the animated movie, right?

If you think I’m joking – I’m not. We arrived at the Magic Kingdom with scores of other people; I think this park was the most crowded of the four parks, although that may have more to do with the park being the smallest of the four. We immediately found several different photographers and snapped pictures – we’d made sure to arrive before the Magic Kingdom actually opened and so we got coffee and secured a spot for the rope drop.

It actually did a little bit of sprinkling rain right before the park opened…and the wind breaker I’d brought did next to nothing for that. Oh well. As soon as the park opened, we headed for Peter Pan’s Flight, then hit It’s A Small World After All, Voyage of the Little Mermaid and popped into Gaston’s Tavern for cinnamon rolls that were as big as our heads. And they were absolutely delicious. The breakfast of champions, to be sure.

After our breakfast, it was time to hop aboard a mine train with the seven dwarves for a quick spin around the mountain. This ride is essentially a children’s coaster, but ever the pansy of the family…the ride photos; and most importantly, me in the ride photos…it was an absolute, crack you up moment of hilarity. I won’t be sharing those photos because no one ever need see my shame – but maybe you can catch my thrilled face in the video?

Once we disembarked from our mine train, we took a spin in the teacups (the wait was only five minutes!) and then made our way over to Tomorrow Land for Space Mountain Fast Passes! Guess what guys? I also don’t really care for Space Mountain…and so I snapped some selfies while everyone else journeyed to space. We got in a trip around Tomorrow Land on the People Mover (one of my favorites) and Lindsey was thrilled when we rode Carousel of Progress…go figure, ha-ha! You just gotta do what’s you – you know?

We made our way across the park and into Frontier Land…and on to Orleans Square to MY favorite ride at the Magic Kingdom – the Haunted Mansion! The line was a 45 minutes wait, but the queue for the ride is so interesting (at least to me). There is plenty to see and the closer you get to the mansion, the eerie sounds pick up and a few years back they added interactive mausoleums as well as plenty of clever tombstones to read. As a kid I was always too scared to ride the Haunted Mansion (go figure, right?) but once I rode it…I was in love! I still can’t decide whether I prefer Disney World’s old world mansion or Disney Land’s antebellum mansion…

Are some of those pictures dark? They sure are – but you know, it’s hard to capture ghosts on film! Ha-ha! We grabbed a little lunch at Columbia Harbor House and explored around the Frontier a bit – riding Big Thunder Mountain, snapping some pictures of Rapunzel’s tower and Maximus hoofprints and of course the views around the “wild west” and staking out a spot for the parade at 3:00…

If you’re wondering – how many pictures can one person take of a parade? Well the answer would be…more than you’d imagine. I also have an outstanding amount of pictures of Cinderella’s castle near the end of this post and when we get to the pinnacle of the day; eating at Be Our Guest, well I took ALL the pictures.

All of these glorious pictures were taken as I posed myself across the top of one of the many brightly colored trash cans that line the streets of Frontier Land… And the grown adult couple to my left kept trying to edge me out of the way – which I still can’t understand because it would be different if I was blocking children, but I’m blocking no one…and you’re both taller than me…go figure…

After the wonders of the parade, we made our way over to Adventure Land and hopped in line for the Jungle Cruise – the wait time said 25 minutes but I think this ride ended up being the longest wait we had all day – a bit more than 30 minutes. We also rode Aladdin’s Magic Carpets; a ride that we have absolutely never rode before…not sure why not? We perused the Swiss Family Robinson treehouse because we didn’t have time to get in line for any other rides…

The time had come to check in for our dinner reservation at Be Our Guest – the best part of the day had finally arrived! All my Beauty & the Beast related dreams were finally coming true…now if only they would hurry up and call our names so we could go in!

There is a bridge that branches out across a stream and up to the gates of the castle and if you don’t have reservations, the closest you’ll get to the castle is the gates. I remember from our previous visit being told that reservations were required to go through the gates – and I didn’t have them. This time though; after we’d spent a few minutes taking goofy pictures of the gargoyle lining the walkway and the castle perched atop the mountain peaks, they called our name and the adventure began!

We were escorted through the gates – emblazoned with the Prince’s coat of arms and through the heavy wooden door flanked by beasts and topped with a tile mosaic that tells the start of the Beast’s story: the enchantress arriving on a cold winter’s night and offering a rose. We were told that the two creatures bearing a load on their shoulders were holding up the weight of the castle (rough life), I was handed Lumiere and we passed under the archway held up by the creatures…and into a perfect replica of the ballroom from the animated film.

The ceilings were soaring and painted with cherubs in the heavenly pale pink and blue clouds, three giant chandeliers lit the room and at the back of the room, floor to ceiling windows looked out on the mountainous landscape that surrounds the Beast’s castle…and snow was gently falling. I was in heaven y’all – absolute heaven.

The food is French cuisine that has been American-ized just a bit (imagine that, right?) and we decided to start our meal with a cheese plate and French onion soup (only Jeffrey got that)… I chose the braised beef for my meal, served with fingerling purple potatoes and it was the best meal I ate the entire time we were at Disney; and not just because I was plopped down in my favorite animated movie while eating it..ha-ha! My entire family agreed the food was some of the best we’ve had at Disney – so I’d definitely recommend trying to get reservations here.

Of course – of course we got dessert! Haven’t you ever heard of the gray stuff? It’s delicious! Don’t believe me…ask the dishes! There was a rolling dessert cart that the waiter would bring table side and show you all the gorgeous pastries that you could choose from – there were so many beautiful choices but I never wavered in my first and only choice – the gray stuff! My Dad got a strawberry cream cupcake that was heavenly and we splurged and got a fifth dessert – a triple chocolate cupcake to share.

The castle is composed of three dining areas – the main room being the ballroom; obviously. You can also sit in the West Wing, where the draperies are torn and the lightning flashing outside the windows causes the Prince’s portrait that is hanging over the fire to transform from his human face to Beastly face and back again. The rose sits on a table under it’s cloche with the magic mirror at it’s side… The third dining area is the music box room, filled with paintings of the characters around the castle and at the center of the room , a life-size music box of the Beast and Belle waltzing in their iconic costumes.

Once your meal is finished and you’ve explored the rooms, you can head to the library to meet with the Master of the castle – the Beast! You wait in the armor gallery…and of course, the armor is enchanted, so it chatters away while you wait. When we met the Beast, he was immediately smitten with Lindsey – her “Beast Mode” t-shirt completely won his heart! We snapped some pictures with the Beast before finding our way out of the castle and into the evening – a lovely end to the best meal and one of my favorite moments of our entire trip!

After our dinner, we split up – my parents wanted to see the updated Hall of Presidents and Lindsey and I wanted to stake out spots for the night time fireworks show at Cinderella’s Castle. Even though there was almost a full hour until the fireworks, finding a seat was pretty interesting and I’ll never cease to be amazed at how grown adults will wait until the moment a show starts and then elbow their way in front of you. Oh well, one of the “joys” of Disney, I suppose?

And yes – there are twenty different pictures of the castle in various states of projection and fireworks magic below. I think I actually took about fifty, so consider yourself spared from all of them…ha-ha!

Once the show finished up at 9:00, it was the long press through the crowd and back to the buses to make the way back to our resort. I love the Magic Kingdom because; as the name implies, it’s got something magical about it. I especially loved this visit because I was finally able to experience eating at Be Our Guest. It was another wonderful day of Disney vacation in the books!

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Goofing Off & Going Tribal

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Wednesday (way back on January 10th – it’s taking me a while to get these things written) was our rest day for the week we were at Disney. We did a rest day mid-way through our last Disney trip and it was so great; it’s nice to just sleep in, relax, take advantage of the things your resort and the surrounding resorts have to offer and just be chill. It was especially nice for me because my cold hit it’s peak from late Tuesday – early Wednesday.

We were able to sleep in and then we caught a bus over to Hollywood Studios, so we could in turn catch a bus over to the Boardwalk for breakfast at Tratorria al Forno.

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The Bon Voyage Character Breakfast is…a character breakfast (I bet you’d have never guessed) and allows you to meet Prince Eric and Ariel, as well as Rapunzel and Flynn Ryder. The food is fun and themed appropriately to the characters that are making their way around the room throughout your meal.

The meal starts with a cast iron skillet (Rapunzel’s weapon of choice) filled with tasty pastries themed to the films Tangled and The Little Mermaid. I narrowly avoided Lindsey’s attempt to clock me on the head with the empty cast iron skillet once we’d split all the pastries… I’m kidding. I don’t think she’d really hit me. I had the tower of pancakes for my meal and they were tasty; oh so tasty. My mouth is watering looking at the pictures!

Flynn arrived at our table and immediately turned the topic of conversation to the terrible wanted flyers that just simply couldn’t get his nose right! When the time came for a photo, he turn on the smolder! Rapunzel promised that she’d have Pascal whip us up some conditioner for our hair…and on the subject of all things hair related, Ariel said we’d obviously used our dingle hoppers to fix our hair because it looked lovely. Eric was concerned that we’d faced rough seas on our voyage to breakfast – but we assured him we hadn’t.

After the eating and character greeting were completed, my family perused the Boardwalk and Beach Club resorts but I found an Adirondack chair with a view of the dock and simply sat. It’s safe to say I wasn’t feeling so hot at that moment in time – and once we’d caught the boat and the bus back to our resort, we found a different kind of medicine at the hotel’s gift shop, I took some and fell asleep. I woke up to the sound of my family discussing perusing the grounds of our resort and I hopped up and mumbled that I wanted to go along.

This was the first time we’ve stayed at Port Orleans Riverside and it was really enjoyable. The resort is themed after antebellum homes in Louisiana bayou country; our room was actually located in Alligator Bayou! There was a river running through the resort grounds and the lobby featured a side building that had a gigantic water wheel that was constantly in motion. After wandering just a bit and taking some pictures here and there, we decided to try our hand at a four person surry bike…

Let me tell you – a surry bike is no joke. It looks like fun (it was) and it looks like it will be easy (it wasn’t) but there is a lot more work involved than you realize. We took it twice around the resort, which took about thirty minutes. We snapped some pictures as we went and it was only once we returned the bike that my Mom realized somewhere along the way her wallet had fallen out of her pocket!

We ended up splitting up and walking the surry bike trail back until we met in the middle – and we had not found the wallet. We had encountered a security guard and we shared what we were looking for with him…and shortly after we all met back up, he scooted over on his Segway to let us know that the wallet had been turned in at the office. *All the Praise Hands* Once this whole adventure was all said and done, a large chunk of the afternoon had passed and so we got freshened up (that Florida heat y’all) and hopped a bus…and then a monorail over to the Polynesian!

We decided to take part in something we’ve never done before and made our dinner plans for Wednesday night at the Polynesian, with the Spirit of Aloha dinner show. I love pretty much everything about the Polynesian resort; it reminds me so much of my trip to Hawaii after high school, and so I was more than pleased to be going to my second luau.

We were given lei and pointed to a pathway that wound through thick vegetation to the luau pavilion, tucked near the beach at the Polynesian. Our all you can eat dinner (yum!) began with soba noodles, pineapple and salad; I tried the noodles and then contented myself with eating large quantities of fresh pineapple. Yum! Our meal had pulled pork, pork  and beef ribs, smoke chicken, jasmine rice and fresh vegetables – it was all absolutely delicious but I could have personally eaten mountains of the jasmine rice and pulled pork – my mouth is watering just thinking about it! And dessert – oh my! It was a pineapple mango cake topped with whipped frosting a chocolate sprinkles. Everything was delicious!

The luau show that began during the meal was excellent – it started with a more simplified story line that followed a hula teacher who was throwing a going away party for one of her students. That portion of the show contained some singing and dancing, but after dinner the show transitioned to a more traditional luau with dances that represented all of the islands that make up the Polynesian islands. The grand finale was a performance of the fire knife dance – and while it was hard to take pictures, I did manage to capture a pretty good video!

I know with certainty what part I would not be signing up for in a luau. No thank you! It was quite impressive though! We got an Uber back to our hotel (that’s totally a thing at Disney, who knew?) and we were able to relax and peruse the gift shop before getting in an early night!

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Five on Friday

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This week has seemed longer than usual – yikes! I think it might have something to do with this being the first full five day week I’ve worked since the week of December 11-15! I had a four day week the next week, a two day week after that, a three day week after that…then a week off at Disney and a four day week. So yes, I know – lucky me! I haven’t worked a full week since mid-December. It definitely has made this week long though!

As always, I’m joining up with two of my favorite bloggers, April at Smidge of This and Christina at Carolina Charm for Five on Friday. If you’re a blogger and want to join, just write about five things that are on your mind this Friday and head over to April or Christina’s blog and link up!

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One. Weekend Plans – First and foremost I need to study! *sigh* I’ve got a test coming up next Thursday and I’ve got to hit the books! I don’t have any major finite plans beyond going to spend some time with my friend Katie and her precious baby boy, doing some studying and otherwise just being a bum! I’m considering going to catch a movie on Sunday afternoon…but I’m not sure yet. Which brings me to point two…

Two. The Shape of Water – Has anyone seen this movie? If so, what were your thoughts? I’m torn between being intrigued and thinking it will be incredibly weird…but the intrigued part of my brain is winning out. My younger sister and I discussed both going to see it this weekend…but her plans have changed. However, I think if I want to catch it I better get on it – I’m not sure how long it will be out in Northern Virginia…

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That creature just looks so much like the…creature from the black lagoon. That movie terrified me as a kid. Yikes! I just can’t decide, ha-ha!

Three. Baseball is Coming – I know what you’re thinking; I need to calm down. I can’t though – because all pitchers and catcher report for Spring Training in just nineteen days! Opening Day is March 29th, which is just over two months away and I can already close my eyes and hear the sounds, smell the smells of the ballpark. I’ve already got plans for two games and you know there will be many more… take me out to the ball game!

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Four. Loungefly for Disney/Star Wars – One of my favorite purchases from our recent trip to Disney is my Star Wars Loungefly satchel purse! I’d been wanting a smaller purse for a couple months but never imagined I’d find it at Disney World (Hollywood Studios to be exact). This bag is small in size but big in space (no pun intended) and holds everything I need. It also has an additional shoulder strap so it can be worn cross body. I am in love with it!

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There are numerous other Star Wars themed bags and they also have a Disney line too! The wallet inside my bag is also by Loungefly and is Beauty & the Beast themed, check it out! Loving my new Disney themed goodies!

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Five. Perfectly Posh Fab & Floral – My beloved Posh is dropping the new Spring catalog and new Spring items TODAY! The theme for Spring 2018 is Fab & Floral and I cannot wait to check out all the new goodies that have been added to the site. If you’ve ever been intersted in giving Perfectly Posh a try, hop on over to my site (http://NatalieSummerlin.po.sh/) and check out all the wonderful ways to pamper yourself!

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That’s all I’ve got for this Friday – I am so looking forward to 5:00 and just being a bum! I think it has something to do with the Winter, but I feel like on weekends in January…and maybe a little bit in February, I just want to snuggle up and be warm, ha-ha! I know that will change once those temperatures change – so until then, I’ll be on my couch!

Welcome World Travelers

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Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow

I’ve often thought that perhaps second to the Magic Kingdom, Epcot is my favorite park at Disney – however as I get older and with this most recent visit, I do believe Epcot might be climbing to the top of the park list. I absolutely love World Showcase – as a traveling person myself, I’ve always loved the idea of taking in a little piece of “another world” all in an afternoon.

I think my bucket list might include attending one of the many festivals that are held at Epcot each year – like the Food and Wine Festival or the Festival of the Arts (which began the day before we left…). I just really love all that Epcot has to offer and I loved (for the most part) our day spent at Epcot.

We started the day with one of my favorite rides – Soarin’ – which was once a ride that took you across California but has now been upgraded to a quick trip around the world! As a hater of flying, I’m not sure how a ride that imitates a hang glider swooping and soaring through the sky ranks as one of my favorite rides, but then again – the world is filled with irony!

We grabbed some breakfast while we were in The Land and even rode Living with the Land; which I haven’t been on in ages. The boat ride for Living with the Land certainly isn’t anything wildly thrilling or on the cutting edge, but I love riding the boat through the greenhouses and seeing all the things Disney is growing and working on at Epcot – it’s always so neat!

We popped over to The Seas and hopped a clamshell to ride Nemo & Friends, took a tour of Imagination with Figment and then blasted off into space aboard Mission Space – my Dad and I always take the “less intense” flight while my Mom and sister are always on the “more intense” mission – thrill seeker, I am not. I was the pilot on my mission and we orbited the Earth, coming in for a rough landing due to a storm over Florida…hehehe! Thankfully the pilot (hey – that’s me) had a cool head and everything turned out fine in the end!

We had Fast Passes for Spaceship Earth later in the evening and the line for Test Track was next to impossible at this point in the day (and it was only about 10:30), so we headed for World Showcase and Mexico to start our tour of the “world”.

I just love everything about the Mexico pavilion – most especially, that it’s all indoors! We hopped a boat for a tour around Mexico with the Three Cabelleros before perusing the stalls set up in the marketplace, filled with colorful artwork, trinkets and gifts. The restaurant in the base of the pyramid is one of my favorites at World Showcase; I especially love being able to sit next to the river as the boats pass in the twilight and watch the lights twinkle around the pyramid.

The Mexican pavilion had a special showcase at the entrance all about Coco and the artwork that inspired the movie – I thought the movie was excellent – so I loved seeing the models, artwork and ideas that brought the movie to life! Given that the line for Frozen Ever After in nearby Norway (did you know Mexico & Norway were so close? Neither did I…) was over an hour long, we did the slow walk over to Canada for our lunch reservations!

We arrived in Canada a little earlier than expected and so we perused the shops, gardens and the waterfall that tumbles down the mountains at the back of the area – I was especially intrigued by a book about a moose living his best life that was offered in the shop, so Lindsey and I gave it a read before popping over to our lunch stop. We’d heard so many good things about Le Cellier over the years that we decided this time around we’d bite the bullet and eat there…and so at 12:30 we made our way into the cellar for our lunch!

Le Cellier is known for it’s Canadian Cheddar Cheese Soup and I knew from the minute we scheduled the reservations that I would be getting some of that – because; honestly, I love all things cheesy and soup is one of my favorite things. I also got The Montreal 75 to sip on during my meal – and for my actual meal, I embraced all things cheesy and got the Three Cheese Macaroni and Cheese. Now – Le Cellier is known for it’s steak; it’s a steakhouse after all, but I’m not a steak eater and on this particular day, the cold I’d finally managed to catch (blegh) was taking it’s toll – so comfort food like soup and macaroni and cheese perfectly fit the bill.

From Canada we made our way through World Showcase in a giant loop – stopping of first in the United Kingdom – where we perused the Twining tea shop, looked at sweet tea pots and explored the ancestry shop before a quick stroll through the English gardens. A stop off at the Christmas tea pot for a picture and then we were on our way over the bridge and into…

France, where the first stop was posing for pictures. We made our way into the theater and watched the video Impressions de France before looking through a store; a store that led directly into the real delight of being in “France” – pastries! We pulled up chairs in the little cafe and ate our sweets before checking out a few more stores and sneaking a glance at Belle as we made our way from France to…

Morocco – where I somehow took a ton more pictures than I’ve ever taken before. Everything about the Morocco pavilion is so detailed and ornate; we made our way into the middle of a pavilion before turning right and emerging in the middle of an open air market. We checked out an exhibit on clothing styles in Morocco and my Dad announced he’d found a camel (see below)…before we moved on to another country, crossing continents and finding ourselves in…

Japan…and the gorgeous torii gate that perfectly frames Spaceship Earth in the distance. The lush gardens and soaring pagodas lined a pathway back to an almost castle-like building that housed an exhibit on Japan’s culture of cute – including all things Hello Kitty and the like. We snapped some pictures and this was obviously a point in the day that my cold medicine wasn’t doing it’s best work – see my less than amused expression? Ha-ha! From Japan we made our way to…

The American Adventure – and I have 0 pictures of our time in the America section of the park. Oops. We watched the American Dream show and I honestly fought the urge to nap in the darkened theater because again – cold medicine not living up to it’s true potential and all that jazz. I did manage to snap a great picture of Spaceship Earth across the lagoon, since when you’re in America you are directly across from Spaceship Earth! As the sun started to set, we crossed and bridge and found ourselves in…

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Italy and in the shadow of the Doge’s Palace with the canals of Venice in the distance. We had to get in a line to have our picture snapped with Italy – everyone loves the canals I suppose, ha-ha. I can honestly say with the final few countries we didn’t take in as much as we did the earlier countries; trying to see as much as possible before the sun was completely gone…we popped in and out of a few shops and took some pictures before making our way to…

Germany..with the first signs that we were making the transition from one country to the next was the gigantic model train display that sits on the edge of Germany. The town square with the statue of St. George and the Dragon and the little houses all lit up in the twilight were worth a few pictures before we were on our way to the next country, which just happened to be…

China – where acrobats were performing in the shadow of the Temple of Heaven with the dominant Paifang gate as a backdrop. We watched the acrobats for a few minutes before making our way through the gardens and into the temple where we met Mulan! Excitement! We also watched the CircleVision film on China and we ended up having a private showing – I guess at that point on the evening, no one else was interested in watching the beauty of China unfold all around them? The final stop on the World Showcase tour was…

The country of Norway, which is now filled with all things Elsa and Anna related! We were in Norway for a very short bit of time, long enough to snap a few pictures and confirm the line for Frozen Ever After was still way too long to get in – since we had Fast Passes for Spaceship Earth that would come available in just over an hour and it would take 90 minutes to board the boat that would take us on a voyage with Elsa and Anna. We ended our world tour there and made our way across the park and toward Test Track…

Lest I forget – I snapped some pictures of some Epcot wildlife earlier in the day and I don’t want to leave them off the recap; they were pretty funny, if I do say so myself.

We endeavored to get in the line for Test Track – the wait was less than 50 minutes when we hopped in and we figured we’d take our spin, go use our Fast Passes to ride Spaceship Earth and then grab dinner before Illuminations. Epcot had extra magic hours on Tuesday night and so we planned to get in Frozen Ever After once those started – you have to be a Disney hotel guest to take advantage of the extra magic hours.

It was at this point in the evening – around 7:00 – that the cold I was trying to combat really started to rear it’s head. I’d had a bit of a headache for most of the day but the medicine I was taking had kept it at a dull ache and so it was tolerable. Standing in line for Test Track, the loud music and the lights combined with my pounding head began to make me feel slightly sick and so I told my family I couldn’t stand in a line with loud music and lights for the next 45 minutes, so I’d have to wait outside.

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My family decided shortly thereafter that we could add Test Track to the the rides we’d catch during the Extra Magic Hours and we made our way over to Spaceship Earth – a ride that is much calmer and also in the dark! I still managed to make a horrible grimace when they snapped our pictures at the end and my Mom said I looked mad at the world. It was actually pretty hilarious given the context and moreso looking back – but it wasn’t as funny in the moment.

We decided to pop back over to Mexico to grab dinner and snag seats for Illuminations and while my parents ordered the food, my sister and I stalked out a table. We finally found one that had a bench and one side seat, which left three of us squished together on the bench munching on our tacos and nachos… It was at this point in the night, when my head had reached a crescendo in terms of pain and I just felt completely worn out, as I took a bite of nacho and a tear rolled down my face. I’d reached the point of no return and I had to tap out.

I tearfully announced that I couldn’t keep going until 11:00 – if I did, the headache would likely morph into something much more. This meant I’d miss out on riding Frozen Ever After and Test Track and I’d also miss watching Illuminations…but I knew staying would be a bad decision. I was so disappointed in missing the rides and disappointed in myself because all day I’d been pep-talking myself that I would be tough, stay strong and stick it out – but it just wasn’t going to happen.

My Mom and I caught a bus back to the resort where I was able to take a different medication and lie down – which dramatically helped how I was feeling. My little sister shared a couple snaps from Epcot and while the day at Epcot didn’t exactly end on a high note, as a whole it was a very fine day – dull headache and all.

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Kaltxi

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The Na’vi word for hello is – Kaltxi – and since the The World of Avatar is still quite new at Animal Kingdom, that’s the central focus of the park. The bus that picks you up to take you to the park is emblazoned with the word across the front one of the first things that greets you as you arrive at the Animal Kingdom is – well – the line for Flight of Passage.

My family got up early(ish) and arrived to the park as it opened. We assumed that because we’d arrived as the park opened, we would simply make our way back to Pandora and while we’d likely wait a bit, we would just hop in the line for Flight of Passage and take that chance to get in a ride before our Fast Passes at 5:30 that evening. How wrong we were. Oh how wrong.

We were greeted by a line that wound across the bridge into Pandora and along the walkway around the Tree of Life (the central hub of the park) and found a man holding a sign that said “End of Line”. The wait for Flight of Passage at the opening of the park was already over three hours! We decided we’d just use our Fast Passes later in the day and take the time to explore Pandora and ride the Na’vi River Journey – which also already had a line…although only a 25 minute line, not a 180 minute line.

The Na’vi River Journey is a very calm, peaceful float through the world of Pandora at night – and the line wound through foliage and caves with all things Na’vi. I have to confess, I found Pandora pretty impressive to behold. I remember when first seeing the movie Avatar, I thought that there was certainly no way anything like what was on screen could ever exist in the real world – but give Disney the task and they’ll make fantasy a reality. Waterfalls crash from high atop the floating mountains and lush, wild and completely unique plants sprout up from between rock formations and around the streams. It’s exactly like being immersed in a completely different world and experiencing Pandora was certainly one of my favorite parts of this trip.

*My shirt says “Talk Na’vi to Me” – it got tons of compliments and a Disney cast member even talked Na’vi to me!*

After exploring Pandora for a bit and taking in all the sights and sounds, we made our way over to the Africa section of the park for a late(ish) breakfast at Tusker House. We’ve had lunch here before and I loved it – and breakfast was just as good. The restaurant is styled to look like an open air African market and there is a buffet that is filled with the usual breakfast fare and has some more “exotic” options mixed in – like a potato hash made of sweet potato, raisins and coconut (which was delicious) and some kind of mash that reminded me a bit of grits…but without the gritty taste and a lot more flavor.

The breakfast was also a character breakfast, so we were visited by Mickey, Donald, Goofy and Daisy while we ate – always an interesting and often hilarious experience. We were lucky enough when checking in for our breakfast to find out that for just a bit more per person ($7) we could reserve seating for Animal Kingdom’s new night time show – Rivers of Light. It’s always worth asking about things like that – you never know what you might find out!

After finishing up our rather extended breakfast, we explored Harambe and got some pictures taken with the Disney Photo Pass photographers stationed around the area. We then hopped in line for the show Festival of the Lion King – a show that my Mom proclaims is her favorite every time we see it. She did so this time too, ha-ha! We were seated in the lion section…I think I’ve been a lion, a giraffe and an elephant..that means next time I need to sit in the warthog section!

Our first Fast Pass of the day was for Kilimanjaro Safaris – a ride I always enjoy. I’d love to go on an actual safari one day, but for now Disney’s version will have to suffice – and this time it went above and beyond! I feel like I say this each time I experience Kilimanjaro Safaris, but I don’t think I’ve ever seen so many animals as I did this time! As soon as we rounded the first corner, we spotted a black rhino lying in the sunshine and from there…animals were everywhere! We saw okapi, gazelle, warthog, lions, ostrich, African wild dogs, baboons, gorilla, antelope, flamingo, nile crocodile, hippo…and a few other animals that I do not remember the name of.

And when we rounded the corner onto the “savannah” – there were animals everywhere! Giraffe striding toward the trees, walking past wildebeest and antelope, an elephant across the watering hole. It was excellent. As always – Kilimanjaro Safaris was one of my favorite aspects of the Animal Kingdom!

We perused the African animal trek to see a few more animals and then made our way over to Asia – we had Fast Passes for Expedition Everest – which is not to be missed; for my family, at least. I will reiterate that I’m not really a huge ride person and roller coasters are NOT my thing, so I traded out bands with my younger sister and let her ride twice.

Call it cheesy or weird – whatever you want to say – I’m fine with it, but I honestly just find myself so much more interested and intrigued by the way Disney has turned a portion of the park into another world. The faux Everest sits in the fictional town of Serka Zong and Tibetan prayer flags and shrines to the creature that “haunts” the mountain surround the buildings and shops – placing you in a world completely different from the one you just came from. I absolutely love to look around and take in all the sights, sounds and little details. *nerd alert*

As the afternoon passed, we popped in to catch a showing of Finding Nemo: The Musical, which I thoroughly enjoy! If you’ve been to Animal Kingdom and haven’t taken the time to see the show – I highly recommend it! We also caught It’s Tough to be a Bug in the base of the Tree of Life and got some more pictures taken with the Disney Photo Pass photographers. If you’ve ever thought about using Photo Pass – I highly recommend it. They had a special deal in place for military members and my family took advantage – there are photographers stationed all over the parks that will take your picture, the pictures link to your magic band and sometimes…within minutes, you are able to view the pictures.

Once you are home from vacation, you activate the photos and you can print them, share them…do whatever you want with them. It’s a great way to get everyone in your family in the pictures without having to harass a stranger to take your picture, ha-ha!

Around 4:30 we headed over to Pandora again – this time for dessert at Satu’li Canteen and to finally experience Flight of Passage! The desserts at Satu’li Canteen are…well…they’re alien; as they are supposed to be! I chose the Blueberry Cream Cheese Mousse and we also grabbed a Chocolate Cake – we all agreed the Blueberry dessert was the best and was honestly a little bit more fun to look at too! I’d love to eat an actual meal at Satu’li Canteen the next time I’m at Disney – the food looked unique and delicious!

 

And then – it was time for Flight of Passage. As a self-proclaimed pansy about all things ride related, I will admit I was more than nervous about the ride…it’s a complete unknown. However – after riding Flight of Passage, I can tell you it’s the most amazing theme park ride I’ve ever experienced. When watching the movie Avatar, I can’t say I ever had ambitions to fly on the back of a banshee – but having been on Flight of Passage; what a rush! The ride functions a lot like Soarin’…but it’s like Soarin’ on steroids…

You sit astride a bike like ride seat that locks in place behind your back and legs and you’re given 3D glasses to wear – the idea behind the ride being that you’ve been matched to an Avatar for your flight on the banshee. The ride begins and you swoop, dive and soar through the floating mountains, over the shoreline, across the plains and even into a cave system…all the while the “banshee” you are seated on moves and breathes between your legs. At one point in the ride, your banshee evades a larger Ikran and seeks shelter in caves – and as the banshee catches it’s breath, you can feel the creature taking deep breaths. It’s absolutely wild and the coolest thing I’ve ever been on.

I didn’t have to wait four hours to ride – but I’d hazard that it might actually be worth it. The ride is incredible!

Once we emerged from our flight and perused the store Wind Traders (souvenirs were definitely purchased) we emerged into a Pandora at dusk. As promised, the whole world around us was lit by the bio luminescence of the night – and it was magical. Flowers shone with an otherworldly light, the trees shimmered and the mountains were illuminated with a soft glow. And yes – even the pathways lit up. It was spectacular and I honestly could have been perfectly happy just perusing the whole of Pandora in the darkness, ha-ha! What can I say – I’m a sucker for good “set dressing”.

We had dinner at Flame Tree Barbecue after hearing and reading a lot of good things about the place on the Disney Food Blog – I just got pulled pork topped french fries as a meal; I wasn’t feeling so hungry, but it was delicious. I love good BBQ and I realized only after we’d ordered that I really missed out because they had pulled pork mac & cheese! *sigh*

We made our way over to the amphitheater for Rivers of Light and the seats that we were able to snag with our character breakfast were fantastic! The show is set on the river that runs through the park and utilizes water effects, boats and lights/images projected on water screens to create a fascinating fifteen minute finale to your day at Animal Kingdom. The show was beautiful to look at and fascinating to watch – I thoroughly enjoyed it – it was the perfect end to the day at Animal Kingdom!

And one of the “special effects” provided by the Disney Photo Pass was the video taken below! Lindsey and I only had to hold the lantern for pictures, scan our magic band and within fifteen minutes – this video was uploaded to our My Disney Experience app! So cool!

We closed out our quick retreat from the park and to the buses with a stop by the Tree of Life for a quick snapshot of it lit for the night…and then it was a fairly quick wait for the bus and a return back to Port Orleans Riverside to rest and recharge!

I haven’t always been a huge fan of Animal Kingdom – but that changed this visit. The addition of Pandora is amazing and the night time show and the park being open after dark really adds a new layer to Animal Kingdom. I’ve always enjoyed visiting the park, but I really loved our day spent there this time around and I can’t wait to return again and take it in once more!

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I also can’t wait to get back on a banshee again and soar over Pandora!