Sunday, November 30, 2014

Dinner at Sanaa

While staying at Animal Kingdom Lodge (AKL), we ate at 2 of the 4 restaurants available at the resort.  Today I'm going to share with you our preference of the 2 that we visited - Sanaa.  Sometimes getting to restaurants at resorts is not an easy task on your Disney vacation.  Sanaa is one that is worth the trip in my opinion.

Location - Sanaa is located in the Kidani Village section of AKL and is the only restaurant in that part of the resort.  As this is where are room was located, this made Sanaa very convenient for us.  It's on the first floor and does feature some Safari viewing if you're lucky enough to score a table next to the window.  If you're coming from a park to have a meal here, you need to take the bus to AKL and then exit at the first bus stop which will be Kidani Village.  If you are coming from another resort, you'll need to go to a park to catch a bus to AKL.

Atmosphere - Sanaa is a perfect, family friendly table service meal without being too fancy.  I feel like some of the table service restaurants in Disney are so nice I'm afraid to take a toddler.  Here it was no problem.  I also have decided on this trip that if I'm going to pay for a table service meal or use table service credits from my dining plan, I'd prefer it to be actual table service and not a buffet.  The service was great and I much prefer being waited on during dinner than standing in a long line waiting for my food at a buffet.  The interior of the restaurant had many African touches that made the room inviting and comfortable.

Food - Delicious!  A nice change of pace from your usual park food.  I had the Tandori Chicken and it was wonderful.  The food is a nice mix of African and Indian flair and was prepared perfectly.  These flavors are a bit outside of our comfort zone, but Sanaa left us wanting more.  Our server was also great with Brody. We shared early on that he was a picky eater so probably wouldn't be interested in much of anything on the menu.  He brought Brody fruit to go with the yogurt we had packed and also brought out juice in a cool Toy Story cup that Brody loved!

Overall, Sanaa was a great choice on our vacation.  We would definitely recommend it to others and would eat there again on future visits!

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Breakfast at Tusker House

On our most recent trip to Disney, we experienced yet another character breakfast.  When in Rome, right?  Brody has always loved meeting characters and character meals have become essential on any Disney trip we take.  While Dan and I have been to Tusker House for dinner previously, this was our first visit to the breakfast.

Location -  Tusker House is located inside Animal Kingdom - tucked away in the African village of Harambe.  Once again, we opted to schedule a breakfast before park opening.  This gave us a chance to enter Animal Kingdom before the rush of people and grab some great pictures without braving the crowds.


Food - This is typically where I say that all the food on the character breakfast buffets is the same, but options at Tusker House may pleasantly surprise some.  While you will find your typical Mickey waffles and scrambled eggs, you will also find some dishes with an African flair.  The flavors were delicious and definitely not your run of the mill breakfast buffet.

Character Interaction - The characters at this breakfast included Donald, Daisy, Goofy, and Mickey.  There was music and dancing too!  On this particular day, the characters were bunched together which was not ideal, but doable.  We had been in the restaurant about 45 minutes and completely finished our breakfast before we saw our first character and then we saw all 4 characters in 15 minutes.  All of the characters were playful and great with Brody.  We enjoyed autographs and fun pictures with each and then left to have a great rest of the day at Animal Kingdom.

I feel like a twin with Donald in this picture!



Unlike some of the other parks, Animal Kingdom is light on character dining experiences.  If you have a day planned here and are looking for a character breakfast or lunch, I don't think you'll walk away disappointed.

 


Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Animal Kingdom Lodge - Kidani Village

We just returned Sunday night from our most recent Disney trip where we enjoyed a wonderful stay in a savannah view room at the Animal Kingdom Lodge-Kidani Village.  AKL is a deluxe resort and DVC property.  We rented a DVC studio using David's Disney Vacation Club Rentals.  I'll review them in a later post, but overall we were very pleased with the resort and our whole experience.



Location - If there is one criticism I read about AKL prior to our trip, this was it.  AKL is made up of Jambo House and Kidani Village.  The lodge is spread out to maximize space along the safari.  Since this resort is located adjacent to Animal Kingdom, it is at the far end of Disney property.  You have to take WDW bus transportation to all theme parks and Downtown Disney.  The bus ride to Magic Kingdom is the farthest at about 20 minutes, plus whatever wait time you have for the bus to get there.  We did find that busses ran pretty regular and we never waited more than 15 minutes for a bus at a park or the resort.  Busses were very crowded, but a plus side to staying in Kidani was that the busses came to that part of the resort first so we were able to get seats without a problem.  The people at Jambo House were not always so lucky.

Dining - AKL has some nice choices for restaurants.  Again, it's important to note what part of the resort you're staying in when considering dining options.  Boma (buffet), Jiko (signature / fine dining), and Mara (quick service) are all located in Jambo House.  Sanaa (table service) is located at Kidani Village.  We did not eat at Jiko on this trip because of having Brody with us and we also passed on Mara, mainly because it didn't seem to be the bus/shuttle ride over to Jambo house just to have a counter service meal.  We did eat at Boma and Sanaa (both will be reviewed in another post in more detail).  While I think Boma is overpriced, the food was good and a nice mix of Amerian and African flair on the buffet.  Sanaa was wonderful!  I would definitely recommend that to anyone traveling to AKL.

Theming - Bonus points here!  Where else can you see a safari out your window??  This resort is perfect for families with kids (young and old) who will love watching animals and learning about them.  It's also a very quiet and peaceful resort which was perfect for mom to enjoy some quiet balcony time while Brody and Dan napped in the afternoon.  You feel a bit removed from the Disney hustle and bustle here which can be a nice retreat in the middle of the day or at night when you return.  The lobby was a delight to see and the African artwork throughout the resort provided a wonderful touch.

Loved seeing so many giraffes each day!

More animals just passing by our room!

Lobby at Kidani Village

Rooms - We had a studio with a savannah view and loved our room.  We were located near the Rafiki elevators so not too far off the lobby (Room 7730) which was nice because some rooms have a very loooong walk at the end of each day.  The furniture and accents in the room were very well connected to the theme and everything was comfortable.  In the studio room, we had a bed and a pullout sleep sofa.  While the studios can sleep up to 4, we would probably go with a one bedroom villa once our family adds our new addition simply because the extra space with 2 kids would be greatly appreciated.  There are a few different savannah views that your room may end up overlooking.  I would recommend requesting the Sunset Savannah as this has zebras and giraffes as well as some other large animals that will be easily recognizable for any kids that may be traveling with you.

Sleep sofa in our studio.  

Overall Grade - A-

Dan and I both agree that we would stay here again in a heartbeat.  Sure the bus rides were a bit longer and the lack of a quick service restaurant at Kidani is somewhat of a drawback, but neither of these dampened our experience in the least and they were easily overshadowed by the relaxing views of the safari and watching Brody's face light up when he saw the animals from our balcony.  I think Disney travelers of every age will find something to love about AKL!

Monday, November 10, 2014

'Twas the Night Before Disney. . .

Tomorrow we leave for Disney AND I find out whether I made R3 for the Disney Parks Moms Panel!  It's a day of Disney excitement ahead and I had my creative energy flowing tonight with thoughts of Mickey and Minnie.  Below is an abbreviated adaptation of Samuel Clements Moore's classic poem that I wrote for the occasion.

'Twas the night before Disney
When all through the house
Everyone was stirring
Excited about a mouse

In the months leading up
There was so much to do
Fastpasses, Magic Bands,
and ADRs too!

A big moon in the sky
But what could that be?
Is that a hidden Mickey
Or are my eyes deceiving me?

The stresses of school and work
All melted away
"Hakuna Matata"
As Simba would say

The children were nestled
All snug in their beds
While Dole Whips and Mickey Bars
Danced in their heads

Mom and Dad had a hard time
Falling asleep
As thoughts of a fun trip
Made our hearts skip a beat

The suitcases were packed
By the door with great care
A short 2-hour flight
And soon we'll be there!


Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Nassau Port Adventure Review

When we visited Nassau on our 4-Night Bahamian cruise this past April, a beach day was not our original first choice.  However, when we found out that a lot of the food at the Graycliff Wine Luncheon was cheese and dairy based (not friendly to my husband and his food aversions), we decided to take it easy instead for the day and find a beach to chill on.  We ended up booking the Blue Lagoon Beach Day through Disney's Port Adventures page in the weeks leading up to our cruise. I was expecting Blue Lagoon to be "just another day at the beach," but Dan and I found ourselves having what can only be described as a fantastic experience that day.

We ended up leaving Nassau by boat to head to Blue Lagoon Island.  As you might expect from the title, Blue Lagoon Island is a private island that can only be accessed by about a 25 minute boat ride.  The boat ride was enjoyable and we even got to catch a glimpse of Atlantis as we zipped by on our catamaran.  When we arrived at the dock at Blue Lagoon Island, there were two options of where to go.  Some guests booked Dolphin, Sea Lion, etc. excursions and were directed to head to the aquarium side of the island to begin those activities.  We went to the beach area where there was ample seating spread out along the waterfront.  For an extra cost, you could purchase time in an inflatable water play area.  They also offered bars and stores to purchase drinks and goodies while at the beach.  Dan and I headed to the last beach chairs we could find at the end of the lagoon and enjoyed some peace and quiet away from all the hustle and bustle.




Lunch was included in the price of the excursion and the food was VERY good.  They had the typical burger / hot dog and fries as an option but also included a yummy teriyaki chicken with rice that I found wonderful.  While we were eating in the lunch pavilion, Dan noticed a trail on the other side that we decided to go explore after we were done.  When we followed the trail over the sand dune, we were treated to a fabulous surprise - a little private beach with absolutely NO PEOPLE!  This is like a hidden gem on the backside of the island.  We spent the next 4 hours on this beach and in that time only about 5 other people ever ventured over here and most of them quickly left.  For a couple looking to enjoy some private adult time - this was our own version of Heaven on Earth.

The view from our "private" beach.  Doesn't it look like a screensaver??

Overall Grade - A+:  We stayed in our own island oasis until the last boat back to Nassau.  This was an awesome day and far exceeded all of our expectations.  I would definitely recommend this to anyone looking to enjoy a day at the beach on your next Bahamian cruise with Disney.  

Saturday, November 1, 2014

What to Consider When Staying Off Property

Let's face it - Disney is an expensive trip for a family.  And staying on property can make the trip even more expensive then taking advantage of some of the cheaper hotels that are in Orlando.  But, is staying off property the right choice for you and your family?  Here are some things to consider before making that decision.

Transportation - When you stay on property, Disney provides free Magical Express transportation to and from the airport as well as free transportation to and from your resort to the parks and Downtown Disney.  If you stay off property, you'll have to think about how you will get to and from the airport and to the parks.  One of the options would be renting a car.  Car rental prices in Florida are among the most expensive in the nation and you'll also have to pay for parking at the parks and maybe at your resort.  A second option that may work for you if your hotel provides free transportation to the parks via their own shuttles, is to simply arrange for transportation through Mears or another private company to get to and from the airport.  There is a range of options that private companies provide from a communal van / bus (cheapest) to private cars / limos.  A word of caution about free transportation from your hotel to the parks though - most will likely take you to the Ticketing and Transportation Center, not directly to the parks.  From the TTC, you'll have to catch another bus to the park of your choosing.  This can make for long travel times so keep this in mind if you have small kids.  We stayed off property in 2011 with some friends at the Hilton on I-Drive and as a group of four adults it wasn't that bad to manage.  However, I don't know that I would feel the same way toting small children, strollers, and diaper bags through multiple transportation changes.

Extra Magic Hours / Disney Dining Plan - This perk is extended to guests staying on Disney property and to a few off-site hotels.  If you're a Disney novice and not familiar with it, on select days some parks will open an hour early and stay open later for guests.  It's worth checking into if you enjoy the EMH benefit.  For me, EMH are nice but would not be a deal breaker if I could save several hundred dollars staying off property.  The Disney Dining Plan is only offered to guests staying on property.  If this is something that is important to you, you won't be able to take advantage of it while off property.

FastPass+ - This is probably one of the biggest considerations right now if you are looking to score hard to get FastPass+ times.  Resort guests have the ability to begin booking 60 days in advance of their reservation while guests staying off-property can only start booking 30 days in advance.  For my upcoming trip, I began booking FP+ times at the 60 day mark and their were some I couldn't get.  I would imagine times and attractions may be limited for guests staying off property who are at a disadvantage.

The Disney Experience - This is a biggie for me.  I loved our Hilton hotel when we were there.  The pool was beautiful, food was great, room was wonderful and had a great view of Epcot.  On top of all of that, it was free with Hilton points we accumulated and we were upgraded to a suite since Dan travels so much for work and has Diamond status at Hilton properties.  However, I missed Mickey.  Again, I haven't stayed off property much so maybe other hotels have more Mickey touches then the Hilton, but it didn't "feel" like Disney.  Especially now that I'm traveling with a little mouseketeer in tow, I enjoy being immersed in pixie dust and it's not the same staying off site.

The pool at the Walt Disney World Hilton on I-Drive

So, is staying off site the right choice for you and your family?  It depends.  There are certainly plenty of options that are cheaper then staying on property if that is your number one concern.  Don't forget to calculate any extra transportation costs that you may incur though.  I'm sure we'll stay off property again in the future, but my preference is to be on property whenever possible.

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