June 13-18, 2012
Steve Me, my own self.
Barb The better half.
Animal Kingdom Lodge Jambo House
Actually, there wasnt much planning done for this trip. In April, MousePlanet received an invitation from Disney World to a Golden Oak media event to take place June 13-15, 2012. While Id like to think that it was my superior journalistic talents that caused them to select me for this trip, it likely was due to the huge Cars Land grand opening in Anaheim that sucked up all the A talent. Everyone who is anyone in the Disney online community will be at Disneyland so that leaves little ol me to cover this gig in Orlando.
My first thought was to bring Barb along, add on a couple of days and make this a brief, impromptu vacation. As with many of these opportunities, we first had to deal with finding care for my dad. Unfortunately, it was right around this time that Pop took a significant turn for the worse, health wise. He was 96 and classified as home hospice since last summer but he was in reasonably good health for much of that time. Sadly, his turn for the worse had him declining rapidly over a week and he passed away in early May. While its a very sad time, we tried to celebrate his long life rather than dwell on his passing. That always sounds a lot easier than it is.
At any rate, for the first time in a very long time, we were free to travel without arranging care for children, parents or pets. Disney took care of my travel arrangements and we booked the airline travel for Barb. She would join me on Friday, June 15 and wed fly home together. Barb sits for our grandchildren two and half days each week (Wed-Fri) and she decided not to fly down with me on Wednesday. The media event would have me flat out from Wednesday night through Friday morning and, rather than park tour solo, shed fulfill her grandmotherly duties.
The Disney folks had sent me a preliminary itinerary back in May. Just before the departure day, they sent the final schedule (just a few changes) and very graciously invited Barb to tag along on a few of the events specifically a luncheon, a dinner and a special event Friday at Animal Kingdom. Barb declined and stuck to the plan. Had I known what was in store for us, I might have coerced her into coming early.
Day One, June 13, 2012 My sensitive area gets some attention
I had set the alarm for stupid:30 and, as is my habit, woke up way too early at 1:53 am. Sigh.
I had loaded the luggage last night so we left for the airport at 5:35 and arrived without incident at 6:00. I kissed Barb goodbye and told her Id see her Friday. What will she do without me? Its been a long time she was alone in our house.
Inside, it took me all of two minutes to check my single bag. I headed off to the Security area and joined a very long line. I asked a CM there (sorry an employee) if they were giving something away. Its unusual to see this large a crowd at the Albany Airport so early in the day.
They put those full body scanners in Albany last year. Ive been through them once and had to endure a pat-down in the ribcage area when the scanner showed something which they admitted might be a wrinkle in my shirt. This time it showed something a bit further south. I was asked to remove my wallet from my hip pocket, which I did. The agent then said hed have to pat me down in a sensitive area. He used the back of his gloved hand and run it up and down my right buttock (why do I think of Forest Gump when I say that?). It was the most action Ive had in weeks and I could sense he was a little flush after that experience. He found nothing (excepting my rock-hard glutes, of course), wanded my hands and sent me on my way. Somehow, I felt cheap and used but still made it to the bench to redress myself (shoes and belt) and recapture some of my dignity.
I had almost 90 minutes to kill before the flight so I opted for breakfast at McDs a Sausage McMuffin and an orange juice. Ive said this before but breakfast is about the only meal I can take here. Really, their burgers are downright pathetic. Unfortunately, this McMuffin was a huge McMistake. I had some gastro-intestinal uneasiness the rest of the day (uneasiness - hows that for being tactful?).
Our children had given us Kindles (one reader, one Fire) as combination Mothers/Fathers Day gifts. Barb is using the Fire predominantly as a $200 Scrabble game. The idea here is we often read the same books so, with a single Amazon account, I can get the same books on both devices. It also gives Barb a way to check email, surf the web, watch video, etc. for which I use an iPod Touch. Ive done a lot more reading since I retired last December and right now its Stephen Kings 11/23/63. Its the first King novel Ive read in a very long time but it does have my interest.
I spent some time reading then boarded with an A42 Boarding Pass, secured the old fashioned way by logging in 24 hours before the flight. I have four complimentary drink coupons from Southwest so I asked a flight attendant if I could get them for future consumption. Most of my flying is done early morning and Im not much of a drink and fly guy anyway. Nope. You cant take alcohol off a plane. Really? Why? That doesnt make a lot of sense but who am I to argue?
We hit a little turbulence over South Carolina but, otherwise, the flight was uneventful. I snagged an aisle seat in the exit row for the additional leg room. A guy boarded after me and took the window. The flight wasnt full and we had no one between us. This guy settled into his seat, buckled his belt, pulled a hat down low over his eyes, slumped in the seat and promptly fell asleep. He stirred once in mid-flight and shifted to one side then woke up as we landed. With all my heart, I wish I could do that: fall asleep in Albany, wake up in Orlando. Its the closest thing to the Star Trek Transporter there is!
We landed right on time at 10:45. As I descended the escalator to Baggage Claim, I saw a guy holding a sign that said Stephen Russo and some cryptic code after my name. I introduced myself to Dor, my Town Car driver. My bag was about the fifth off the carousel. Dor grabbed it and wheeled it down one level and out to the parking (not rental car) garage and off we went.
Typically, Town Car services will offer a quick grocery stop but only if you request it in advance. I hadnt but asked Dor if we could make a very quick stop for some beer. By now, you all know my preference for a cold one on the balcony and my reluctance to pay Disneys price-gouging $35 for a 6-pack. I even suggested a Hess station on property. Dor thought a 7-11 en route would be better so he stopped and I scored a 12-pack of Yuengling for $12.20. I later learned that at Animal Kingdom Lodge, they were once again discounting the 6-pack, like the old days. It was $5.50 for a single can and $15 for a 6-pack. Pricey, but not outrageous for a resort. I also learned later in the week that a relative of mine had purchased a 6-pack at OKW for $40 so this discounting may not yet be property-wide.
As you near the Animal Kingdom Lodge, off to the right you can see Expedition Everest, then the Tree of Life, then this ugly skimpy tree thats taller than everything else in the landscape the cell tower disguised as a tree. Just who are they fooling with that?
We were stopped at the Jambo House guard shack and Dor flashed his sign with my name on it. The guard smiled at me and held up a blue card and said something I couldnt hear. Im not sure what that was all about but when we pulled up to the door, a CM came over and welcomed me by name. A bellman asked if I needed help but I just had the one rolling suitcase and a backpack so I said I was fine. The CM escorted me inside, informed me that since my last stay here they were now operating a continuous shuttle between Jambo House and Kidani Village, and secured my welcome package (the Russo Safari) from a front desk CM. I had done the online check-in. All this took 3 minutes which was great but my room wasnt ready.
I retrieved my camera from the backpack then stored everything with Bell Services. What to do? I called Barb from the lobby then just walked around a bit, checking out the hotel and the savanna. It was hot and humid and what I really wanted was to get into my room, unpack and freshen up. I thought about heading to a park but figured there would be enough park time later and Id rather be here when I get the text that the room is ready.
I took my time and walked out by the pool, then into the Mara for lunch. I ordered the African Stew and grabbed a bottle of water. As I was approaching the register to pay, my pager went off so I walked to the pickup counter. There, they informed me the stew was almost ready and would be just a few minutes. Uh, OK so why did you set off my pager?
Eventually, the stew was ready and I found a table. I had hoped to read during lunch but left the Kindle in the backpack doh! I entertained myself reading email and some Facebook and RADP on the iPod Touch while I ate and answered the questions of the two 3-year olds that kept coming over to my table.
I went back up to the lobby after lunch and retrieved the backpack so I could use the Kindle. I also brought out the laptop to update notes. I have way too many electronic devices (and Im carrying a charger for each of them) but they suit my use normally.
At 2:00, I decided to head to Kidani but first re-checked the backpack with Bell Services (apologizing for my indecisiveness). I went outside and caught the shuttle in just a couple of minutes. I had some fun with the female driver asking if she ever took a wrong turn. After 100 round trips per day, she indicated she had the route down. She also said its not a bad gig on a hot day shes sitting and its air-conditioned.
I walked around Kidani a bit and into the shop there. Im starting to see more resort-specific and DVC merchandise in the stores. Here I found a great looking golf shirt. Its a Nike in Kelly green with Disney Vacation Club Member on the chest. Its moisture-wicking and stops UV rays and I want it. Its $49.95 and I ask the CM if I can get an AP discount. Sure. Except my AP is in my handy-dandy Disney-wallet (business card case) safely stored in my backpack back at Jambo. Not getting into a room and getting organized is costing me. In my best Schwarzenegger voice I tell the CM, Ill be back.
I caught the shuttle back to Jambo same driver. Just as I walked in I received the text that said room 4325 is ready. I stopped at Bell Services and gave a young lady my ticket. She said Ill meet you there with your bags so off I went.
The room had 2 queen beds I was hoping for a king but this will be fine. I also had a view of the Arusha Savanna and, in the distance, the top of Kidani. I quickly took a few photos while the room is still pristine and before I rock star it. I was surprised to see a gift from the event organizers a hidden-Mickey shaped wicker basket loaded with fruit (apples, oranges and kiwi), assorted chocolates, chocolate truffles (YES!), crackers, brie and cookies. That was really appreciated and my mind was already working on how I would get this large wicker basket into my luggage.
I unpacked quickly and set up laptop. The free WiFI is a nice touch but I found it to be more troublesome here than the (free for DVC) wired connection. I could usually see the network from both laptop and iPod but sometimes could connect from only one, the other, or neither. Once I could get no connection in the room so I went to the lobby and connected easily. They may need to boost their signal strength a bit.
Finished, I took a cold Yuengling out to the balcony and sat for some animal watching. Apparently, the people in the rooms on either side of me know each other because they were conversing freely from their balconies. At one point, they each peered around the corner of the balcony and saw me sitting there smiling and saying, Hi. I could sense a bit of embarrassment but I was barely listening to their conversation there was no juicy gossip.
I saw some birds and lazy cattle it was hot out there. By around 4:30, the giraffes and an ostrich came around for dinner. Our first media event was a dinner at Jiko tonight at 5:45. I grabbed a shower and dressed in my Sunday-best business casual attire which was suggested in the itinerary.
Before I left the room, I tried to turn on the TV but got nothing. I played with the remote a bit, assumed it must need batteries, and called down for maintenance to take care of it.
I have a character flaw. That doesnt surprise you, does it? OK, I have many but one in particular is Im always early. If you ask me to meet you somewhere at 12:00, Ill be waiting for you at 11:50. Ive had this affliction my whole life and learned to live with it its much less difficult than those who are habitually late for everything.
I took up a spot outside Jiko at 5:30 and spent a few minutes playing Words With Friends on the iPod, which in my case should be called Words With Family. At 5:45, I moved around the corner and found a small group conducting introductions. I met the organizers of the event: Stacey Thomson of Disney Publicity; and Megan Verardi and Mike Slatin of Fleishman-Hillard, the Public Relations firm contracted by Disney for Golden Oak. They would become our chaperones for the next 40 hours or so. They were great to deal with and talk to, provided a ton of answers to our questions and did their best to keep us moving and adhering to a very tight schedule.
We were ushered in to a private room near Jikos entrance (one I hadnt noticed in two prior visits) for an impromptu cocktail party. The room was set up for about twenty at two tables. Servers were milling about pouring wine (two whites and two reds) as we mingled and got to know each other a bit.
By my reckoning, there were 16 media types in attendance. I was seated across from Jack Spence of AllEars and Ive been reading his great stuff for years. Jack and I were the only ones representing the traditional Disney-themed Web sites everyone else was a blogger or Webber with a theme of luxury travel. Some came from as far away as Brazil and the UK several were US based. Much of the conversations pertained to what its like to summer in Versailles or which Four Seasons resort was better (London or Paris). Jack and I quickly bonded and most of our conversations were Citricos versus Narcoossees or have you noticed the face on the gravedigger in the Haunted Mansion is the same as the bottom guy on the pole in the Jungle Cruise? We spent the next two days tossing out a lot of did you know? tidbits. Some we knew and some were new so we both learned a lot and had some fun in the process.
With my penchant for being early, I naturally have low tolerance for those who are late. Of course, one couple strolled in at 6:15. I cannot understand how you can show up 30-minutes late to an event scheduled to begin at 5:45. They explained their tardiness with an apology and We got so caught up watching the elephants on the savanna. Elephants? At the Animal Kingdom Lodge? Really?
We also got to meet Page Pierce (Director of Real Estate for Disney) and Marilyn Waters (an Imagineer involved in Golden Oak). The seating was pre-arranged and I wound up sitting between Megan and Marilyn and across from Jack so it was great conversation and the opportunity to ask tons of questions. It also gave Marilyn the same opportunity she was very curious as to the types of questions we regularly see from our readers (Most relate to dining, resorts, parking, FastPass, etc.). We also had a spirited conversation about Horizons and a review of several WDW restaurants. Fun.
Now the dinner. First Ill say that I probably drank a bottle of wine by myself. It seemed every second sip was a reason for a server to refill my glass. The service here was top notch as was the food. We got to order from an abridged version of Jikos regular menu. We were each given a sampler plate of three appetizers, a soup or salad choice, a choice from four entrees (beef, chicken, pork or seafood) and another sampler of three desserts. The appetizer sampler included:
Inguday Tibs in Brik (Mushroom, spinach, and cheese in crispy Turision filo with apple and curry vinaigrette;
Crispy Beef Bobotie Roll with cucumber raita, green mango atjar and honey-roasted groundnuts;
Dry-cured Ahi Tuna Biltong pickled hearts of palm salad, crispy pappadam and smoked mackerel Aioli.
We were all given a sampling of another appetizer, Grilled Wild Boar Tenderloin, which was actually very good.
Next was a choice of the Jiko salad or a Summer Mushroom Consomme. Then the entre choices of:
Grilled-marinated Berkshire Pork Loin - with Tanzanian "grits", wilted heirloom mustard greens, tomato preserves, mustard jus
Oak-Grilled Filet Mignon - with sweet corn risotto, roasted mushrooms and South African Cabernet Reduction
Sikhumbuzo's Peri Peri Chicken - with Herb-Crushed Potatoes, French Beans, Mango Sambal, and Onion Jus
Maize-Crusted Lake Victoria Perch Vegetables of the Moment and Tomato Butter Sauce.
In our little group we had one of each (mine was the filet) and everyone declared their meal to be excellent. The dessert was a sampler of Lime Scented Crme Brulee, Vanilla Rooibos-Tanzanian Chocolate Cake and Madagascar Vanilla Cheesecake all also excellent.
This dinner, as in my prior two visits to Jiko, was superb (but couldnt hold a candle to what was in store for us tomorrow night hows that for a tease?).
After some great conversation, and too much wine, we broke up around 9:30. I headed back up to the room and found it had been invaded. Keep in mind that Ive been staying predominantly on DVC points since 2000 so Im no longer used to daily housekeeping service. Both beds had been turned down with more than ample chocolate left on the pillows. Tucked partly under the sheet were a room service menu and a brand spanking new TV remote. I pointed it toward the TV and pressed Power and nothing.
I fiddled with things a bit and peeked (as best I could) behind the armoire to ensure it was plugged in. I should also mention that there were no visible buttons on the flat screen and it was tightly wedged into the armoires opening, leaving no room around it at all.
I called Maintenance and, in short order was visited by a technician who said everything was in working order and it was probably a loose connection behind the TV and would require an Engineer. Deep sigh here. They were very busy but he called for one and in 15 minutes he showed up. He used his fingernails to pry the right side of the TV away from the armoire so it swiveled a bit, and re-attached a cord behind the TV. He indicated this often came loose after Housekeeping cleans.
So the TV now worked and, after a fun filled day of too much food and wine, I watched a little news, left a wake-up call for 5:30 (the CM responded Oh, you poor thing) and turned in.
Things I Think I Think I think Ill stay away from McDonalds for a good long while. I think its very hot here 90s and high humidity and Im not sure what that will mean for park touring but will find out tomorrow. Ive not visited WDW previously in June, July or August so this will be telling. I think I like getting the VIP service of the Town Car, turn-down service and a wonderful, catered dinner not to mention the gift basket. I think I could get used to this.
Day Two, June 14, 2012 They could have told me it was seven courses
Im up before the wake-up call comes and brewing a single cup of coffee in the provided Cuisanart. Its like a Keurig but uses filtered pouches of coffee rather than the K-cups. It has a right and left reservoir so you can brew 2 cups at once. I have to resort to powdered creamer so I make the mental note to buy some Half-and-Half when I return tonight. I step out on the balcony and enjoy my coffee with two giraffes and a couple of wildebeest. Theyre on the savanna, not the balcony. Where else can you nah, youve heard me say that too many times.
The schedule has us meeting at the front door at 7:30 for transportation to Golden Oak. Im there at 7:20 and find Jack Spence is there and he admits to suffering from the early-bird affliction. Naturally, several people are late (theres a pattern developing and we board the bus at 7:45). This bus seats about 30 people (theres 20 or 21 of us total) and must have just come out of the shrink wrap the leather seating has that new car smell.
Golden Oak is at the northeastern end of the property approximately 3 miles from the MAGIC KINGDOM. We make it to the Welcome center and, as we enter, were greeted by servers offering iced coffee, hot coffee and water. We take up positions around a topographical map of the area and Page Pierce gives a high-level overview of the program and entertains questions.
We next ventured out on a walking tour of three nearby homes. Theyre all completely constructed and furnished as models. We roam from room to room, taking many, many photographs and asking questions. We probably spent 90-minutes touring here. For some of the highlights, you can read my article on MousePlanet (www.mouseplanet.com/10024/Golden_Oak) or visit the official Web site at www.disneygoldenoak.com. Ill also try to include some of the photos in the link at the end of this report.
Ill summarize by saying these homes epitomized luxury and offered some features I had never before seen. A walk-in closet the size of a bedroom with a special closet for ties was one. The use of todays technology was prolific. Something that interested me was that each home offered a two-car garage with a third, slightly smaller garage door nearby. That was for the golf cart.
Back on the bus and we were driven out to one of Golden Oaks neighborhoods. There are four: Kimball Trace, Silverbrook, Carolwood and Carolwood Reserve. We visited Carolwood Reserve which has the largest building lots at acre and will be home to the most expensive and largest homes (approximately 7,000 sq. ft.). Along the way, we could see some of the Four Seasons resort construction which is coming along nicely.
The final tour was held in a single story home of 5900 sq. ft. There were a few more Disney employees here joining us for a buffet breakfast, spread from the kitchen (assorted fruits and cold cuts) to the patio (omelet station and traditional breakfast items including Mickey sausage). We also met and were able to ask questions of the builder here.
This is where I noticed a wall item labeled LaunchPort so I asked the builder about it. You can plug in a laptop or tablet (USB connector? I didnt flip it open.) to program entertainment, lighting or security features. He offered that you could then take an iPad to the patio and, if the doorbell rang you could check the front door camera from your iPad and, if needed, open the front door for a guest. This is not groundbreaking technology but I love the way it was seamlessly integrated into each home.
As we concluded the tour and breakfast, we gathered in the ample living room, and were introduced to four of Disneys official Tour Guides. These are the folks that are used to usher celebrities around the parks and are also available to the unwashed masses like me for the bargain price of $300 per hour with a six-hour minimum. Theyre distinctive in white shirt, plaid vest and dark blue skirt or pants although Im not certain Ive ever seen one in the parks.
These folks introduced themselves and gave a little background of their time with Disney. We then split up to join them in one of four identical beige Chevrolet Suburbans for our trip to the parks. This was, in my estimation, giving us a taste of a resident perk (complimentary transportation to the parks) and a private tour guide, something the wealthy may employ. From my perspective, it was a gift-wrapped horse and I wasnt counting teeth.
As we left, we were given a small bag of mixed nuts for a snack and a small mister to fight the heat. I will say it took several of us more than a few minutes to figure out the mister had to be pumped before it would spray. I watched one fellow fumble with it for minutes and, as I was about to show him how its done, his wife giggled and shooed me away with Let him suffer.
Jack Spence and I quickly followed Melony to her vehicle and we joined a caravan of Suburbans that brought us backstage at Epcot. I was not allowed to take photos backstage but Ill offer a few quick observations:
They take security VERY seriously, evidenced by the hinged metal ramps that are raised preventing entry until youre approved;
Backstage at Epcot actually wasnt too bad presentation-wise Magic Kingdom, not so much;
All the Food and Wine Festival booths are grouped together in one area giving a look of the carnivals in town;
Frances Eiffel Tower looks pretty pathetic from the rear;
Some buildings are actually themed from the rear as well (the American Adventure actually looks pretty good).
We parked and were ushered in the back door near Soarin. After a quick restroom break, our Guides ushered us into the FastPass queue. They have the ability to FastPass any attraction that offers it but must join the regular FastPass line. Soarins Standby queue was 90-minutes and we were on in about 15.
Back outside to the Suburbans and a quick drive around to the front of the park still backstage. We entered in an area near the restrooms and walked to Spaceship Earth where we joined the regular Standby queue (30 minutes). Theres no FastPass at Spaceship Earth so even a Tour Guide cant get you on the ride any sooner.
Backstage again for another quick drive to the Wonders of Life pavilion. We were brought upstairs to a private lounge and greeted by a guy in red pants, jacket with tails, Mickey ears and a headset. He announced that Beyonce and her entourage had arrived and then asked for a security check on the guy in the blue shirt that would be me.
The room had two lighted topiaries of Mickey and Minnie, 4 large tables with beautiful centerpieces of multi-colored roses and a colorful hidden-Mickey shape, a piano player playing Disney tunes and four buffet stations. We were greeted with servers holding trays of Arnold Palmers (iced tea and lemonade).
Again this was VIP service at its Disney-best. One of the stations had the strangest thing Ive ever seen. A CM was mixing various soups in test tubes. The flavors were Salad, Hot Yukon Gold and the like. You made a request, he mixed it with ingredients from a hand-held contraption with multiple nozzles, and then you downed it like a shooter. And it did taste like salad.
The other stations were more traditional and featured tenderloin sliders (excellent I went back for seconds), lobster aioli salad, tacos, fruits, vegetables and much more. While we were eating, our MC (the guy in the tails) twice peeked behind a curtain to tell someone to hold down the racket.
Eventually, the curtain was open to reveal a kitchen, signed with Golden Oak Bakery, manned by Mickey, Minnie, Donald, Daisy, Goofy, Pluto, Chip and Dale. They introduced dessert with a dance number, led by our talented MC. Once the show was over and dessert served, all eight hung around for pictures and autographs. It turns out that this is one of the events Barb was invited to attend and, indeed, one of our group had her two children there with her. What a treat for them.
I managed to sneak to a corner of the room and call Barb mainly to gloat and let her know what she was missing. She forgave me.
After lunch it was back to the Suburbans for the ride to the MAGIC KINGDOM. On this trip, Jack and I used the time to interrogate Melony on what its like to be a Tour Guide. I learned that one of her celebrities was Brian Urlacher someone she didnt know and was shocked to see how much attention he drew in the parks. For that reason, many celebrities are kept backstage as much as possible. To become a Tour Guide, a CM spends a minimum of six months in Guest Relations. It requires getting at least 80% on a 150-question test (sample questions include the opening dates for all Disney theme parks). Before the written test, however, is the killer you must back into a parking space and parallel park a 16-passenger van.
We again entered from backstage and walked through to Tomorrowland where we were FastPassed into Space Mountain. Next up was a walk through Fantasyland. I learned the new Little Mermaid ride is actually ready but theres no way to get the guests back there yet. Along the trip, Melony was stopped several times by random guests with questions (how do I get to Dumbo, where are the nearest restrooms). Im not sure I could be as graceful as she during these constant interruptions. One guy actually looked at me first and asked, Do you work here? I was wearing the large name tag on a lanyard which may be why he thought that. I wanted badly to respond, Yes, but directed him to Melony instead.
At this point, the hot and humid day had picked up some ominous clouds and gusty winds. Jack is local and is used to this so he checked Doppler on his iPhone and let us know the storm was north of us but heading in our direction. We were making our way toward Haunted Mansion and stopped by the Pinocchio Village Haus when a few of the ladies asked for a restroom break. While we waited I felt the first few drops begin to fall.
When we finally regrouped, we quick-stepped to the Haunted Mansion and just made our way under the canopy when the skies opened. It poured and I learned there are several holes and imperfections in the canopy that let in a steady stream of water. When the CMs asked us to fill in all the available space, the crowd diverted around these areas.
I rode with Jack and we spent the ride with a lot of Didja know? I thik we each learned a few things. When we exited, the sun was peeking out and the rain was little more than mist. Great timing.
Some of our group requested, and received permission for, a trip to DHS. These were folks making their initial (or one of very few) trips to the parks. A few of us were anxious to get back to the hotel for some much-needed showers and a change before dinner.
I got my shower and a change of clothes and I watched more heavy rain and wind on the savanna. It was amazing how little effect torrential rains had on feeding giraffe. We were meeting at 6:30 out front and thankfully, our bus was pulled up under the entrance it was absolutely pouring. Again, we waited about 15-minutes on the bus for one couple the same couple that was late last night and this morning. See a pattern developing? This time it was We were told the wrong time I swear! even though we all got the same package with the same itinerary.
Tonight was dinner at the Chefs Table at the Contemporary something I didnt know existed. (Ive since learned it can be booked through Disney Events for groups up to about 20 I have no idea of cost but Im betting it aint cheap.) That is to be followed by a Wishes fireworks cruise. Our hosts were expressing concern about making the cruise due to the inclement weather. The bus took us to the Contemporary and then pulled in under the entrance to the Convention Center. We entered and walked down a long hallway as a group and were greeted by two servers offering orange juice.
We met up with Stacey, Page and a few other Disney folks One was a Banquet Manager) and were led down a few more hallways. We were in the bowels of the Contemporary grey walls and concrete floors, unfinished ceilings, not very attractive. We were then greeted by two more servers offering champagne flutes filled wither, champagne. We were then ushered into the kitchen.
This was every bit what you would envision a kitchen in a large resort hotel to look like. Lots of stainless steel and white-smocked and hatted chefs milling about. I counted nine seven chefs, a sous chef and a head chef all for us. In the open area in front were two tables, angled like a chevron, each seating ten. The tables had lighted patterns that changed colors during the meal (something I initially thought was caused by my prodigious wine consumption).
We were seated and treated to what is possibly the best meal Ive ever had or at least the most unique.
First the service. We had two servers who were superb. I had no sooner picked up a fork for my salad when another fork would magically appear to replace it before I had the opportunity to spear my first tomato. Water glasses were kept topped off with sparkling or still and wine was brought with each course. My only gripe is I wish they had told us up front it was to be seven courses so I could have paced myself.
Ill do my best on the blow by blow (and I have photos) but some of this blends together in my mind. As each course was delivered, the head chef would come to the head of the table and ask what we thought it was. He would then describe the ingredients, how it was prepared and tips for enjoying it (Take each item individually then put a little of each on your fork to see how the flavors interact). Then a young lady would step in and describe the wine that was served with each course, its characteristics and why it was chosen to complement the food.
Ready? Here goes
Course 1: Popcorn soup with added caramel and a sugar stick. A cluster of popcorn on the side with caramelized caramel (is there such a thing?). This was accompanied by champagne. A lot of folks were curious as to how Popcorn is liquefied. I was actually more incredulous as to why someone would try. Ah, well. Someone had to be the first human to eat lobster so The soup was actually quite good and tasted just like popcorn.
Course 2: Wine infused watermelon with prosciutto and goat cheese. Try each alone then mix them together in a single bite. Excellent and served with a chardonnay.
Course 3: Cobb salad with bleu cheese gelato dressing. This salad offered crispy pastrami to replace croutons. This was also served with a chardonnay. Yes, thats bleu cheese gelato which a lot of people wanted to know how to make. We were encouraged to mix it around liberally to keep the salad cold until finished. It worked. I dont recall the wine served with this course.
Course 4: Lobster tail, a scallop and basmati rice. There were some herbs mixed in there as well but my memory has faded. Served with a very nice Riesling.
Course 5: Chicken with shallots, garlic and herbs and micro-celery and dumpling stuffed with something I cant remember. This was served with a Cabernet Sauvignon.
Course 6: Back to seafood with Grouper. It was served with a turnip, roasted beet and a very tasty truffle cream sauce. Sea beans from the ocean were used for saltiness (interesting and yes, they were naturally salty). I dont recall the wine served here.
Course 7: Braised short rib and asparagus with a blueberry reduction sauce. The wine served here wasnt a wine at all but a Blue Moon Belgian White Ale with orange slice. Yes, a beer instead of wine for this course and, if I must say, an excellent choice.
Course 8 (given to us as we exited): A Contemporary hard plastic water cup, with straw, filled with iced coffee and Baileys Irish Cream. We also received a silver metal latched food tote with Chefs Table at the Contemporary and the date printed on one side and Golden Oak on the other, filled with candies and mini-pastries.
To say we waddled out would be an understatement. Everyone there was effusive in their praise and appreciation for such a fine meal with such exemplary service. My own score card shows at one point I had three glasses of wine and a beer in front of me (got the photo as evidence) a personal best. But were not done yet.
We exited to find the rain had stopped and the skies cleared. I could see stars overhead but still noticed a bit of lightening albeit way off on the horizon.
We boarded three pontoon boats at 9:15 and cruised Seven Seas Lagoon before taking up a spot, amidst about a dozen other boats, for the 10:00 showing of Wishes. We chatted with the captain who gave us some Disney trivia and we enjoyed the fireworks.
Back to the Contemporary and on to the bus for the trip home to the Animal Kingdom Lodge. I did remember to pick up the Half-and-Half before heading to the room.
I was back in the room and tucked in nicely by 11:30.
Things I Think I Think I think Im going to hate it when this party ends. I dont think Ive ever eaten this well or enjoyed so many perks before and getting this at Disney World is Nirvana for a Disney fan. I think Im sorry Barb missed out on those two events yesterday she would have loved both. I think now I have a large wicker basket and a metal container to somehow fit into my luggage for the trip home. I think I may need to fast for three days when this trip ends.
Day Three, June 15, 2012 Barb gets here and whats an Amarillo?
Im awake at 4:18 and up at 5:00. Today we meet out front at 7:30 and the same group is late again.
We rode our bus to the Animal Kingdom and entered the park normally as guests would who had an early breakfast reservation. We walked back to Harambe and were led into our breakfast area. Theres an area thats I believe is just a place to sit and rest across from the Tusker House and near the shop. The entrance was curtained off for yet another breakfast buffet with omelet station.
Most of us complained that 12 hours wasnt enough time to work up an appetite after last nights gorge-fest so we went a bit lighter than usual. As we were winding down, one of the African performers appeared with a drum and proceeded to enlist audience members for an impromptu jam session. Of course I was chosen to play the cowbell. I swear I heard Christopher Walken in the back yelling, Ive got the fever! More cowbell! If its still up, you can get a quick video at: http://yfrog.com/n5hmlmz
After breakfast, we were able to board Kilimanjaro Safari for the first ride of the day. I was expecting the Sunrise Safari which actually stops, lets the guest stand for photos, etc. This just went a little slower but I did get pretty good shots of both the male and female lions. I also noticed the Little Red story is now officially dead the guide now just mentions that poachers had used the broken gate.
Again, some of the group chose to stay in the parks while others headed back to Jambo, me included. I bid farewell to Jack Spence as he was headed home. I enjoyed spending time with Jack hes very knowledgeable and has done tons of research for his articles so hes loaded with lots of little known facts about the World. Thats unlike some other writers who tend to write off the top of their heads or other body parts and shall remain nameless.
I caught the shuttle to Kidani and bought that DVC shirt. It was the last one there in my size and I did score the AP discount of 10%. When the CM asked what she could do for me, I replied that she could give me the shirt as a birthday gift. She chuckled and continued with the transaction while the other CM readied a Birthday button for me. I think I broke her heart when I told her I was only kidding and it wasnt my birthday.
Back to Jambo and I found the room hadnt yet been cleaned. I logged on to Flightaware.com and found Barbs plane is running an hour late. Thats when I noticed earlier texts from Steph that said Barb was stuck on the plane at the gate because of an equipment issue.
She did call when she landed and had made her way to Magical Express. I waited a few minutes then went outside to wait for her bus. I had lots of people trying to help me I must look lost when Im sitting on a bench waiting. At one point, a young lady in African garb asked if she could sit next to me. I said, Sure and soon regretted it when she began drumming on her African bongo-type drum thing. Its enjoyable from a short distance right next to me, not so much. Soon, she was accosted by children for photos so I made room for them on the bench and used that for my escape.
I saw Barb exit the bus so I crossed to meet her and take her one carryon bag. As we approached the door, the greeter CM welcomed us as Mr. And Mrs. Russo.
How did you know who I am?
Mickey tells me everything.
Im certain she got the name from the Magical Express list, saw me waiting for her and put 2 and 2 together but suppose I was Javier, the pool boy, and we were carrying on with an illicit affair?
We hit the room and unpacked her few things. Barb hadnt eaten yet so we decided to head to a park for lunch. We caught a bus to the Animal Kingdom and decided on Pizzafari. We each had the personal pizza, Caesar salad and water. They take TiW here so we got the 20% discount. It always pays to ask.
We took in Its Tough To Be a Bug. We were stopped at the CM station just as the doors closed so we had to wait the full 8 minutes for the next show. That wasnt a long wait but it can get pretty claustrophobic in that pre-show area especially when its hot and sticky. Our show was fairly crowded but everything was in good working order and we enjoyed it.
We thought about sticking around for the 3:45 parade so we wandered back to Harambe and found some seats in the Dawa bar. The parade started somewhere over in Asia and we got tired of waiting and left before it reached us.
Were leaving Harambe and the parade is somewhere well behind us. The CMs have a rope up preventing anyone from coming down the walkway into Harambe until the parade passes. A woman, acting as the spokesperson for her group, is giving a CM an earful because shes not being allowed past. My choices are wait an hour for the parade or walk an hour in the other direction? My thoughts were: OK, lady. First, the parade wont take an hour to get here more like 10 minutes. Second, it wont take you an hour to walk around the other way more like 10-15 minutes. Third, this happens every day. Would you like Disney to make an exception just this once, for you, so you wont be inconvenienced by your lack of planning? Sheesh! She followed us out of Haramb and her gums didnt stop flapping the entire time. I pray to all that is good and holy that, if she complained to Guest Services, they gave her nothing more than an explanation.
Back to the room for a quick power nap. When we woke, we stepped out on the balcony and saw several giraffe and zebra on the savanna. There was this god-awful noise coming from somewhere off to our right. I expected a sick T-rex or something. It turned out to be several idiots on their balcony roaring at the animals presumable trying to get their attention. To what end, I have no idea Im betting they didnt either. Id like to camp outside their room and at about 3:00 am, start making those sounds for them.
We had a reservation at the Sci-Fi Dine-In Theater at 7:00 so we headed out to DHS at 6:10. As we walked back to the restaurant, we noticed Star Tours had a Standby wait listed at 10 minutes so in we went. That 10 minutes was really the time needed to walk through and be placed in line for boarding. We both like this new version and rode 9 times back in January. We were fairly certain we saw all the alternative scenes except the opening seen with the probe droid (we saw Vader all 9 rides) and the visit to the Wookie planet we got both on this ride.
We checked in at Sci-Fi at 6:50 but werent seated until 7:15. Several groups that came in after us were seated before we were and I was about to mention this to the hostess when we were called in.
We were hitchhikers and sat behind a mom, grandmother and small child. Ive long been a proponent of the Sci-Fi, debating those who dislike the food. Stick to the basics was my mantra and the food is fine. This time, I thought it was less than good. Barb had a Turkey Sandwich on multi-grain that was very good. I ordered a grilled chicken sandwich (with watercress, vine-ripened tomatoes, mayonnaise, and drizzled with balsamic vinegar on a caraway salted bun) and we both had the cucumber salad as a side. There was nothing wrong with my sandwich it tasted fine but it was impossible to eat as a sandwich. The dressing had the chicken sliding around on the bun so a bite would sometimes only yield bun. And its too dark in the place to rearrange the sandwich. I finally just took of the top bun and tried eating it open-faced with a fork and knife. Unfortunately, its served in a wire basket so it difficult to cut and once I sliced into the paper bottom I was drizzling mayo and balsamic dressing on to the table and basically making a mess. Next time, Ill stick to the burger.
Barb had a Vanilla shake while I learned they no longer offered the raspberry iced tea so I went with Pomegranate Lemonade. Meh.
After dinner we rode Star Tours twice as a walk on. We saw the droid both times and the Wookie planet once. We had thought about sticking around for a Fantasmic! Show but we were both a little tired so we decided to head back.
Its funny but were so used to staying at the Boardwalk and walking back from DHS that the bus stops are very unfamiliar to us. We found the Animal Kingdom Lodge stop and a bus was along in just a few minutes. It stopped at Blizzard Beach on the way. It was about 8:45 and the water park had been closed for some time. There were no riders there so the stop seemed a bit silly. I wonder if there isnt some way they can monitor the bus stops at the water parks to avoid this waste of time and fuel?
We stopped and had a drink at the Victoria Falls lounge. Barb asked for an Amaretto on the rocks and the bartender immediately asked, Disaronno? A few minutes later, a woman walked up and what I heard was, An Amarillo, please. A Texas liqueur? I was curious. The bartender must have heard Amaretto because he again asked, Disaronno? The woman was confused and repeated her order the bartender was confused and asked again. It wasnt until the second bartender stepped in with a bottle of Amarula an African coffee crme liqueur (think Baileys). I had never heard of it and, apparently, neither did our bartender even though it was stocked there.
After one drink, we headed off to the room and bed.
Things I Think I Think I think visiting in the summer means its very hot and humid but the restaurants and buses are very cold almost too cold in some cases. Its silly to carry a jacket or sweater but theyre needed in some locations. And, yes, I realize its not technically summer yet but I think it qualifies. I think this short trip will include very little park time and attractions and probably more pool time than were used to. I think I enjoyed the media event immensely (how could I not?) but Im looking forward to a little relaxation and down time.
Day Four - June 16, 2012 Bus problems and cousins
Im up at 6:00 and notice theres only one coffee cup. Housekeeping must have taken the used one from yesterday but forgot to replace it. I call down to the Front Desk and soon someones at the door with three more cups.
A word about the phones here My experience at Disneys resorts is that the phones all have a series of buttons giving you direct access to Housekeeping, Maintenance, Front Desk, Dining, etc. Not so here and Im not sure if its Jambo, Animal Kingdom Lodge or now property-wide. There are fewer buttons and the only one to be used in the hotel is Front Desk and they seem to take your issue and contact the appropriate parties.
To date, I havent had to use the buses here very much Ive been spoiled with getting picked up at the door in air-conditioned buses and SUVs. Today, I join the regular riff-raff and it brought back ugly memories of my one stay at Saratoga Springs. We were planning to head to the Magic Kingdom. When we got to the bus stop at 8:10, there were probably 15 or so people already waiting. One of them was asking the CM (the bus on demand guy) about the next bus and he indicated it should be along any minute. From that exchange, I took it that they had been waiting for some time.
By 8:28, I had counted five buses for DHS, three for AK, one DD and two Epcot. Not a one for Magic Kingdom so, when that second Epcot bus pulled in, we jumped on. Im not sure how much longer those folks had to wait.
On the bus, we formulated a plan to hit Epcot for Soarin and breakfast, then hop to the MAGIC KINGDOM. Park hopping is not usually our style but, as I mentioned, this trip wouldnt be typical. Hopping here would also involve a monorail ride which, I maintain, is an attraction.
At Epcot, we endured a lengthy wait at the turnstiles not enough of them were open (in my opinion) and it just seems that way too many people struggle with the finger scan. We really need a better way. I watched as a dad lifted his 3 (?) year old daughter to have her scan her finger. Is this new? Are they now scanning the children as well?
We didnt get to Soarin until 9:15 and the wait was already at 20 minutes. I first grabbed two FastPasses then we entered the Standby queue. We were on the ride in about 15 minutes.
We exited and hit Sunshine Seasons for breakfast. I had the breakfast platter and Barb just grabbed a bagel. Our timing was great as we finished just in time to use our 10:20 FastPasses.
Now, everything Ive read since they began enforcing FastPass return times indicates that a FastPass will be honored 5 minutes early and 15 minutes after the end time. We entered the FastPass queue at exactly 10:15 and I told the CM we were a bit early. She said shed let it go just this one time only. I guess that must be their marching orders to discourage entering outside of the stated hour.
After the ride, we exited and walked up the stairs. Do you know that wide aisle that winds around the upper floor to the entrance/exit in the Land pavilion? We had an extreme version of the Wide Walkers blocking us. Five people from the same group were spread across the entire aisle and they were all, er Pooh-sized. And they strolled. Ambled really very slowly. We had no chance to pass until they, thankfully, pulled into the Circle of Life Theater.
We hopped the beam (monorail) to the TTC and joined a fairly large crowd there for the trip to the MAGIC KINGDOM. At the TTC, I caught a glimpse of the Avenger monorail (Avengerail?) but couldnt get a good photo it had departed before we got up top.
Our only real goal here was to ride Big Thunder Mountain Railroad. On our last trip, it was down for a lengthy refurbishment and I wanted to see how it looked now that everything was working again and it had a fresh coat of paint. We walked up Main Street and stopped at the tip board where we learned Big Thunder Mountain Railroad was down with technical issues. Ah, well. Plan B was a walk through the Castle (the Move It, etc. show was going on in the forecourt) and a stop in to see Mickeys Philharmagic.
Mickeys Philharmagic was very crowded for the first time I was held outside the pre-show area but only for a few minutes. While in the pre-show, I also saw my very first Tour Guide. As I said, I never noticed them in the parks before but, now, I may be more in tune with identifying them. She was a young girl with a family of four two small children: a boy about five and a girl about three. She was spending a lot of time keeping the kids entertained as we waited. Im pretty sure thats a job thats not for me.
After Mickeys Philharmagic (which we always enjoy), we took a tour of the sort-of-new Fantasyland. Casey Jr.s Splash & Soak Station had just opened yesterday so we strolled over and I took some photos while some children got very wet. Parents take heed bring a change of clothes for the kiddies here. The Beast Castle looks to be about done and the rest is coming along nicely.
We finished our tour at the train station in what used to be Toontown and, because of the heat and the fact a train was arriving, we rode it to the front of the park.
We exited the Magic Kingdom and found a waiting Animal Kingdom Lodge bus and were soon on our way. We changed quickly and went to the Uzima pool. I like this pool but think I prefer Kidanis. Its just a tad smaller and I like the water features there.
We found a couple of lounge chairs at the end of a row and in the sun. We proceeded to bake on one side until done, then dip in the pool for some basting, flip and bake the other side repeat until done.
As I mentioned, it was hot and the CMs were hosting a lot of games for the kids by the pool. Some were interesting like Guess the author of this Disney film quote. Others were just loud. After about two hours, I felt I had reached the appropriate shade of medium-rare and we retired to our balcony for some animal watching and cocktails, water, brie and crackers.
After showers and a change, we headed out at 4:30 to Epcot for our reservation at the Rose and Crown. We were a few minutes early so we stopped in the pub for a Stella Artois (Barb) and a Black and Tan (me). We found a good spot to stand at the bar and we were enjoying the Hat Ladys singing and piano playing. I know she used to play at the Comedy Warehouse but I couldnt recall her last name. I knew her first name was Carol but a trip through the alphabet didnt help so I asked her. Carol Stein (Stine?) and I immediately slapped my forehead.
Our reservation was for 5:45 so at 5:40 I went outside, checked in and was given a pager. Back inside and the pager went off in about 5 minutes. We were brought to a table for two, outside, right on the water. I hesitated for a second because it was a bit hot and sticky outside - but there was a nice breeze on the water and it was actually very comfortable there. We carried the remainder of our drinks with us.
We had a lovely young Scottish girl waiting our table and Ive forgotten her name. Barb had the Pork Duo (grilled brisket with mushroom ragout and braised pork with mashed potatoes and red wine sauce) and liked it a lot. I thought about the Fish & Chips but our server talked me into the Cottage Pie (Ground beef, onions, carrots and mushrooms, creamy mashed potatoes and cheddar). Also very good and we enjoyed this meal, the view, the breeze and a very friendly duck and squirrel who joined us occasionally.
After dinner, we shopped for a bit for Beatles stuff in the UK and wound up in the Twinings Tea shop. I dont recall where but Im almost certain I heard or read that its pronounced Twinn-ings (short I), rather than Twine-ings (long I). Barb disagreed so I asked a CM. He was diplomatic and said both pronunciations were acceptable but it was Twine-ings. Dammit! I still think he was wrong even with his British accent.
We wandered over to the America Gardens Theater and caught a full set of Hotel California an Eagles tribute band. They were pretty good and we found some good seats off to the left up close with an unobstructed view. At one point, their lead guitarist wandered in our direction, walked atop the wall and stood about 6 feet from me while jammin with two female CMs. Its downright hysterical to watch these two girls dancing to the Eagles while wearing their colonial garb.
We noticed a Minnie tattoo on the leg of a young lady about four seats down from us OK, I noticed it. At any rate, I managed to zoom in for a surreptitious photo.
When the show ended, we grabbed a couple of coffees (sigh, Nescafe) in the American Adventure. Then we strolled World Showcase arguing about how long its been since weve seen the film in China. Barb thought it was recently but was proven wrong when we saw it and neither of us could remember anything about it except the Great Wall. Ill bet its been 10 years since the last viewing.
It was now about 8:50 so we walked around to the UK and found a pretty good spot for Illuminations in the area to the right of the Fish & Chips shop. We enjoyed the show but the wind was carrying the smoke back toward Crescent Lake so we caught the edges of that.
My cousin, Frank, and his wife, Patti, were here and we had made arrangements to meet them for drinks at the Belle Vue Lounge in the Boardwalk. We walked over and immediately noticed that the beautiful breeze in Epcot was non-existent on the Boardwalk and it was noticeably hotter and very sticky there.
We met Frank and Patti, grabbed some drinks and found a table outside on the balcony. I thought Frank told me they were staying at the Boardwalk which is why I suggested the Belle Vue to meet up. They were curious why I suggested it because they were staying ay Old Key West. They thought it was just because I liked the Belle Vue. Ah, well. We had some great conversation (and two more rounds) before calling it quits at 11:30. We each grabbed a taxi back to our respective hotels and called it a night.
Things I Think I Think I think this was a nice relaxing day a little parks, a little pool, a little Illuminations. I think there was a real problem with Magic Kingdom buses this morning. Ive not noticed this in two previous stays at Animal Kingdom Lodge but one was only two days and the other we had a rental car. Hopefully this was an aberration. I think it was fun visiting with Frank and Patti today. Theyre as big Disney fans as we are and really love their time here. I think I should pay closer attention when they tell me where theyre staying.
Day Five - June 17, 2012 Sanaa and some amorous cattle
Im up at 7:00 and I make some coffee and get ready for my Southwest check-in. I was too cheap to pay the $10 each for Early-Bird Check-In so I need to be there at precisely 8:55 to ensure were not both in center seats. We have separate reservations so I opened two browser windows and figured Id check in Barb first, then me. I wound up with A32 for Barb and A36 for me not bad.
Oh Happy Fathers Day! This one is a bit bittersweet for me. I received some nice email and texts from my children. As I mentioned, we celebrated when they were all at our house two weekends ago sort of a combination Mothers / Fathers day.
We called home to wish our grandson, Christopher, a happy 3rd birthday. The celebration is actually set up for next weekend.
We headed to the bus stops at 9:00 and got there in time to see a Magic Kingdom bus pulling away. Uh, oh. I hope this isnt a repeat of yesterday. Not to worry, the next one was along in about 15 minutes.
We were at the Magic Kingdom and through the turnstiles at 9:35. We heard a train arriving so we hustled upstairs and rode it to Frontierland (Ive never spent this much time on the train ever). We rode Big Thunder Mountain Railroad with a 10 minute wait really just a walk through the queue. It seems the jury is out on this with about half the people saying the ride seems smoother with the other 50% claiming no real difference. We kept that ratio as I thought it was noticeably smoother while Barb said she could feel no change.
We stopped for breakfast at the Sunshine Tree Terrace but they had no breakfast items. Im certain they used to carry muffins, juice, etc. but I guess thats changed. Not to worry, its off to the Main Street Bakery for two egg and cheeses croissants and some orange juice.
Nourished, we walked up to Tomorrowland for a ride with Buzz (15 minutes). I crushed Barb with 319,000 points to just over 99,000. We next hit the TTA/Wedway for an enjoyable spin around Tomorrowland maybe its not having our eyes adjust from the bright sunlight but it seems much darker inside Space Mountain.
At this point, we decide to leave the Magic Kingdom and make our way out through the Tomorrowland Terrace. We see a woman holding an iPhone and taking a photo of another woman whos holding a small bird in both hands. Shes bringing the bird up to her lips and kissing it. Sheesh! Let the poor thing go!
We shopped our way out looking at lots of stuff but buying nothing.
We had a lengthy wait for the bus here about 25 minutes. We hit the room for a quick change and then went to the pool for a repeat of yesterdays bake, baste and flip routine. When I came out of the first dip in the pool, an attractive young girl in a very skimpy bikini was lounging in the chair on the end my chair. I thought long and hard about how I would handle this until I realized she had simply moved a chair from somewhere else next to mine. We exchanged greetings and I lay down to bake some more while trying to appear nonchalant as I leered lecherously (dontcha just love alliteration?). Dont think less of me or think of me a dirty old man. I didnt really leer as much as sneak the occasional peek. OK, yes, Im a dirty old man I just need to come to grips with it.
After a couple of hours, I sensed I had picked up the aroma of grilled brisket so we decided to hit the pool bar. If anyone recalls, Barb had her first Long Island Iced Tea at the Saratoga Springs Pool Bar two years ago. She had two, got hammered and expressed shock when she learned there was no iced tea in the drink. Anyway, it seems the Long Island Iced Tea is now her go-to drink at Disney Worlds pool bars but shes maintaining a one and done approach a good move considering shes kind of a lightweight when it comes to consumption. I had a Sam Adams lager.
When our drinks were finished we decided on some animal viewing time from our balcony. We werent disappointed as there was lots of variety out there: giraffe, zebra, ostrich, Thompson gazelles (gazelle, actually, we only saw one and theyre Tommies, Tommies. No one calls them Thompson gazelles.), Ankole cattle, etc.
We had a reservation tonight at Sanaa (first time for us and its been highly recommended). We showered, dressed and headed out around 5:00. We stopped first at the Concierge desk to ask to have our Boarding Passes printed. A very nice CM in what was possible the ugliest sports jacket ever was happy to oblige.
We rode the shuttle up to Kidani and checked in for our dinner reservation at around 5:40. We were shown to a great table next to a window and we both marveled at how close this seemed to the animals on the savanna. At one point, a Crowned Crane came right up to the window to watch us eat. Barb has always chastised me for taking too many animal photos here and at Animal Kingdom. Tonight, she was the one that kept reaching for the camera.
The dining room here is not large but is decorated nicely with inlaid tables, colorful lighting fixtures and large comfortable chairs.
We shared the Indian Style Bread Service- choosing Naan, Onion Kulcha, and Paneer Paratha. The Accompaniments we chose were Cucumber Raita, Garlic-Ginger Pickle, and Roasted Red Bell Pepper Hummus. Everything was good but I was partial to the Naan and the Hummus.
For entrees, Barb had the Tandoori Chicken and proclaimed it very good. I chose form the Slow Cooked in Gravy, Simple and Well Seasoned choices and picked the Spicy Durban Chicken and Braised Short Rib both were excellent.
We washed our entrees down with a glass of Cabernet Franc (me) and Reisling (Barb). We were a bit too full for dessert but weakened at our servers urging and shared the Banana Sundae and two coffees (NOT Nescafe thank goodness).
Sanaa had come with high recommendations from lots of people and it didnt disappoint. Well certainly return here maybe for lunch next time.
We spent some time out by the fire pit we were able to get very close to some passing giraffe and wildebeests so additional photos were required. We eventually made our way out and back to Jambo House via the shuttle. We spent the rest of the evening on our balcony. The savanna had three giraffes eating, two zebra, and three Ankole cattle. At one point, two Ankole cattle took up a spot just below our balcony and began er, getting amorous. I couldnt get a good look but I think they were both male (I know one of them was, anyway) not that theres anything wrong with that. At one point, one had its head down while the other licked his neck. I said, Hey, Barb. She said, No.
We went inside, packed up our stuff and watched the end of the US Open on the tube. Somehow, I was able to get the large Mickey-shaped wicker basket and the Contemporary glass and lunch-tin into our single suitcase.
Things I Think I Think I think this was another nice relaxing day. I think I like Sanaa a lot. I think short trips kind of suck and its too soon to be heading home.
Day Six, June 18, 2012 Home again.
Were up at 4:30 for coffee, showers and packing up the remaining items. We have a Town Car coming at 6:55 for our trip to the airport.
I checked the door at 6:20 and there was no receipt. I tell Barb we should leave now and Ill stop at the front desk to ask them to print it. We gather up our bags, I open the door and theres the receipt. Great timing.
We make it to the lobby at 6:40 and take up a spot on a sofa. Barbs checking email and I decide to head outside. Just as I come through the door, I see a Town Car pull up. I walk to the drivers side and I see he has an iPad in his lap. Hes now changing the extra-large font readout from Pendleton to Russo so I knock on the window and introduce myself.
He follows me inside where we collect Barb and our bags and make the uneventful drive to the airport. We checked our bags with a Sky Cap and make it through security almost unscathed this time. I was asked to, again, remove my wallet. The only thing in there is ID and credit cards so Im not sure what the issue is. Next time, I may stuff it in a carry-on but I hate to lose control of it.
Breakfast today is at Au Bon Pain I gave McDonalds a very wide berth. Our flight was on time and only half full. It was mostly smooth but the pilot issued a lot of warnings for the approach into Albany. High winds, flight attendants seated early, etc. but it turned out to be not-so-bad. The passengers did, however, applaud after landing (What do you do if you crash? Boo?).
Our luggage came off very quickly, we found our car, make a quick stop for some grocery essentials and we were home in time for lunch.
This was a short, but needed, diversion for us. I keep telling Barb that as airfare is increasing, we need to start taking longer trips, not shorter ones.
There have been only been a handful of times when Ive been at Disney World representing MousePlanet. On most occasions, I just have the benefit of interviewing an Imagineer about a recent attraction. On one other, we scored a free Hoop Dee Doo Revue and a tour around Fort Wilderness.
This time, they pulled out all the stops. We were treated as VIPs from the time I arrived until the last Safari. I can only guess they were offering us a taste of what its like to travel in luxury which would support the makeup of the media group as I mentioned the majority were bloggers for luxury travel.
Nevertheless, I thoroughly enjoyed it. Its nice to be pampered every once in a while if only for a few days. Im sorry Barb didnt have a chance to experience it but that just gives me more gloating material.
While on our own, we enjoyed the Rose and Crown, where weve dined before, and Sanaa, where we havent. Well be back it was that good.
Our next trip is scheduled for early December to see some of the Holiday things again Osborne Lights, Candlelight Processional, resort decorations, etc. It was planned as a full family trip but now looks like it will be Barb and me with daughter Michelle, her husband and our two grandchildren.
Daughter Stephanie and her husband, Paul, were scheduled to come but she learned recently that shes expecting in early January and wont be able to fly. Stephen and his bride were also on the list but shes now gainfully employed as a school Guidance Counselor and will need to stick to school breaks for vacation. Well be planning trips with each of them in the not too distant future probably with a new grandchild or two (twins run in Pauls family). UPDATE Hot off the presses Stephanie just returned with her first sonogram pictures theres only one. But Im fairly certain s/hes wearing Mickey ears.
You can view some photos at:
Until next time, thanks for reading.