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Animal Kingdom 2017

Animal Kingdom 2016 was Disney Darling's most popular post last year, and it's time to do an update! DAK definitely will have t...

Monday, July 3, 2017

Souvenir Shopping with Kids

If you’re a Disney fanatic, you’ll have to fight off the urge to buy everything as soon as you step into a store on Disney property. And after working in a Disney World gift shop, I’m willing to bet that your kids are the same. The only thing worse than a kid in a candy store is a kid in a Disney store. Souvenirs are not completely necessary, but they do serve as a physical reminder of your happy vacation memories. Children will especially love a new toy to play with or a t-shirt to wear to school. But you do not have to buy every toy, or even any toy. Here are a few tips on saving money on souvenirs.

How much to spend?

You can limit your children’s spending in fun, educational ways other than a harsh “no.”

Setting An Amount
Giving your kid a Disney gift card is a great way to teach financial responsibility. Give them a preloaded gift card that they can use throughout the trip on souvenirs. They have the freedom to spend it all in one place or on one souvenir each day. Please note that this may work best with older kids.

If you do not wish to give your kid money, you can always just limit the amount of souvenirs that they buy. For example, you can set a limit of one per day, or three for the entire trip.

Earning Money
Another parenting tip is to have your kids earn the money that they spend. This works well with younger kids. They can earn money for being polite to cast members, waiting patiently in lines, getting ready to leave the hotel on time, finishing a meal, not fighting with siblings or not throwing temper tantrums. At the end of the day they can buy a souvenir with how much money they have earned.

Please note that Disney souvenirs are expensive. A small plush toy will be between $15-$30. Shirts can range between $25-50.
What to Spend Money On?

While everything in Disney is spendy, there are a few souvenirs that are less expensive than others. Consider pins and pressed penny collections.

Pressed Pennies
At 51 cents each, these are the cheapest souvenirs in all of Disney World. Pressed penny machines are scattered throughout the parks and resorts, and each one has different characters. Make a scavenger hunt or treasure hunt out of it. Searching for penny machines in the resorts is a great way to spend down time away from the parks.

Pin Trading
I highly suggest this activity for shy kids or to teach kids manners and social skills. Pin trading involves interactions with cast members. While individual pins can get expensive as they range from $10-15 each, there are great bundle deals on pins. I suggest buying a starter pack. This includes a lanyard and at least 4 pins and costs around $25. The trick to buy a pack with only one or two pins your child really wants as they will be trading away most of them. Mystery packs are also fun. Each mystery pack has two randomly selected pins. If you kid gets a pin they like, then great! If they do not like the pin in the mystery packs, they can always trade it away for one they like better. The next step is to seek any cast member wearing a black pin lanyard. Some stores even have a pin board – a giant corkboard filled with pins to choose from and trade. Some areas get very creative with pin boards. The custodial staff at Animal Kingdom has a pin trashcan. The stroller rental area has a pin stroller. The Pirates of the Caribbean cast members have pin swords.

What NOT to spend money on

Packing essentials such as hats, sunglasses, sunscreen, umbrellas, ponchos and a water bottle will save you time and money from having to purchase these items in Disney. The parks also sell handheld fans for $20, and believe me, your kids will want them.  I recommend buying some for cheaper at Wal Mart before your trip to avoid the temptation.

Another big seller at Disney World is autograph books. If your child is meeting characters, an autograph book is a must. Instead of buying an autograph book, I suggest making one yourself! It can be a fun craft to do with your child to get them excited about Disney World. I made my own. I bought a small sketchbook with blank pages from Hobby Lobby. It is small enough to fit in my purse, yet big enough to tape pictures of the characters into. I then decorated it to look like Mickey Mouse with red pain and white buttons. Your child can do something similar or make one based off their favorite character. You can use paint, jewels, glitter, buttons, scrapbook paper and stickers. And all of the supplies will most likely be less than an autograph book for sale at Disney.

When to buy it?

A strategy that some people have is not to buy any souvenirs until the last day of vacation. Most will go to World of Disney in Disney Springs, as it is the biggest store on property. The benefit of this is that it prevents kids from impulse buying. They will be much more secure and happy with their decision if they have time to think about what they really want. The downside of this is that World of Disney, despite being the biggest, does not sell everything. There are certain park specific or area specific items that are not sold at WoD. For example, they will not sell Animal Kingdom picture frames. Only Animal Kingdom has them. If you choose to do most of your souvenir shopping in Disney Springs, please keep this in mind. If you are not sure if an item is sold at World of Disney, you can always ask a cast member. They will look it up for you on the computer system.

Of course, there are certain items you may find more appropriate to buy in the beginning of your vacation. For example, Minnie ear headbands or Mickey ear hats that can be worn throughout the duration of the vacation should be purchased first. Another suggestion is to buy small toys or books to keep toddlers busy while waiting in line. Stores sell small toys packaged together in boxes or carrying pouches for easy storage.

Some parents will do their entire souvenir shopping at Wal-Mart. This is not recommended. Wal-Marts in Orlando will carry plush Mickey and princess shirts, but that’s about it. Supermarkets are great for stocking up on Disney themed clothing before visiting the parks. But if you want something that specifically says “Walt Disney World” on it, you’ll have to buy it at the parks.

What tricks work for you while souvenir shopping with kids? Comment them below!

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

News of Pandora's Opening at Disney's Animal Kingdom

I am very excited that Pandora’s opening is successful. As a DAK Cast Member in 2015, I got to see the construction and models for the land. All of my coworkers were excited, as was I. The news was eventually revealed to the public. But unfortunately, a lot of the general public seemed either angry or unenthused about Pandora. I was taken back by the response. Didn’t they know how amazing this would be? Because of the poor response to Pandora, I was nervous for its opening.

I never needed to be nervous. The response has been overwhelming. Crowds have been huge. It takes a few hours to even get into Pandora, and then another few hours to wait to go on a ride. As I write this, the wait for Flight of Passage is 4 hours. The land hits its capacity before noon.

Not only are people lining up for miles to experience Pandora, but good word of it is spreading. There seems to be nothing but praise in all the online reviews, despite the annoying size of the crowd. People are saying Flight of Passage is “the best ride I’ve seen so far at Disney” (Orlando Sentinel). Critic Matt Cabral of  Hollywood Reporter said “as anyone who's ever tried the Grey Stuff at Fantasyland's Be Our Guest restaurant can imagine, Disney has delivered on this vision with unparalleled detail and incomparable immersion”. The Huffington Post congratulates “the teams of creative people that brought Pandora to life” and says that “Pandora - the World of Avatar serves as a metaphor for the issues we face here on Earth”.

Of course, everyone knows that the best part of Disney is the hard work the Cast Members do. " A Disney World spokeswoman said Saturday afternoon, “Thanks to our dedicated cast members and talented Imagineers, we’re excited with the enthusiastic response we’re seeing from our guests who are enjoying the fun and immersive experiences of Pandora – The World of Avatar”.

I personally have not had the chance to visit Pandora yet. I might not for a while until the crowds die down (if they ever do). Have you visited Pandora? Tell me about your experience in the comments below!

Thursday, May 18, 2017

Walt Disney World Resort Summer 2017

Summer at Walt Disney World is always an exciting time. The summer of 2017 will be amazing with several new additions to the parks.

Deals and packages
Walt Disney World is offering a summer ticket and room package. The package includes a 4-night stay at select resorts and 4-day park hopper tickets. This offer is only available until July 14. Learn more about it here.

The opening of Pandora
Pandora will open May 27! This magical new addition to Animal Kingdom is not to be missed. The land will feature two new rides, a new restaurant, a bar for adults and face painting or the kids (or kids at heart). And don’t forget about Animal Kingdom’s new night show, Rivers of Light.

New fireworks at Magic Kingdom
Sadly, Wishes will not be showing this summer. Fortunately, a new show will take its place. Once Upon A Time is the new castle projection show. It will be followed by Happily Ever After firework show.

The music of Pixar
Starting May 26 is a live orchestra performing music from Pixar movies at Hollywood Studios. The performance will feature clips of the beloved characters on screen.  

Saturday, May 13, 2017

Things I Wish I'd Known For My First Walt Disney World Visit

The first visit to Walt Disney World is stressful, confusing, and a dream come true. I am not the first one to do an article similar to this. But as with most everything, everyone has different experiences. I had never gone to a Disney park during my childhood. When I was 19 years old, I was accepted into the Disney College Program. My parents drove me halfway across the country to Orlando to drop me off. We decided to visit the parks the day before check-in day. This way I could get the "OHMYGODOHMYGOD I'M AT WALT DISNEY WORLD!" out of my system before I had to appear professional inside the parks. We decided on a park hopper ticket to visit Magic Kingdom and EPCOT. We arrived at Magic Kingdom mid-morning, hopped over to EPCOT in the afternoon, and returned to Magic Kingdom in the evening. As with most people, there were definitely some things I wish I had known before my first visit. I'm sharing them so hopefully others can learn from my experience. 

Things I Wish I’d Known

MK isn’t that big
Size-wise, Magic Kingdom isn’t as big as I thought it was going to be.  My parents and I had a reservation at Be Our Guest, and I thought it would take about 15-20 minutes to get from the main entrance to the restaurant. It only took about 5 minutes at a normal pace in medium crowds. If you have never been to the parks before, it may be difficult to imagine just how big (or small) they really are. Especially if you’re bad at guessing anything that has to do with numbers, like I am. However, walking time can increase based on how crowded the park is. And it is always better to be early than late. 

Epcot IS that big
Once I saw first hand how small MK was, I thought EPCOT would be about the same size. It isn’t. It’s twice the size of MK. The pavilions on the map look close together, but it’s quite a walk around the World Showcase. My family and were worn down before we even made it halfway through the World Showcase.

Tour in a path that makes sense
Running back and fourth through the park is taxing. If you get an adrenaline rush like I did, the tiredness might not hit you until after the excitement has worn down. But your legs will be sorry. Instead of having a rough idea of a touring plan, my family just kind of ran around. Most people pick a land to start the day in and then tour either clockwise or counterclockwise throughout the park. And I can say with first hand experience, that a smoother plan makes more sense than zig-zagging around. It’s less tiring, it makes sure you get to Fast Passes and restaurant reservations on time, and it makes for a more relaxing day.

Transportation takes a lot of time
Walt Disney World Resort is huge. The parks and resorts are spread apart, so it takes a while to travel between them. If you are traveling via monorail, bus, or boat, you will have to wait in line. The busier the park is, the longer the wait will be. And then there’s also the time it takes to park your car, ride on a tram, walk through the parking lot, go through security check, and get your tickets scanned. Make sure to plan about 20 minutes for travel time, and 30 during busy times like Christmas.

Try Different Attractions
You might find one you never though you’d like. During my first trip, we stuck to dark rides and Dumbo. When I went to the parks with my roommates for the first time, I let them take the lead in choosing what to do. One my roommates who had been to Walt Disney World almost every single year since she was born wanted to see Mickey’s Philharmagic. I was hesitant about it, mostly because I didn’t know what it was. I asked her, and all she said was “you’ll like it”. And I did! Philharmagic is now one of my favorite attractions. I wish I had explored it with my family on that first visit. Of course, you wont like every single attraction. But trying something new is part of the experience.

DAK is amazing
Like most people, I severely underestimated Animal Kingdom. I skipped it my first trip, but I will never make that mistake again. DAK ended up being my favorite park. My family also enjoyed seeing all the animals and The Festival of The Lion King show on a later visit. It's a highlight for every Walt Disney World visit!

Use Fast Pass to save time
I didn’t use Fast Pass at all during my first trip, as my parents don’t really like rides. But if I had done some more research, I would’ve found out that you could use Fast Pass for some character meets and shows. Even if we had used Fast Pass on the few rides we went on, it would’ve saved us a lot more time for exploring the parks.

Bring sunscreen
Okay, so I did bring a bottle of sunscreen. But I left it in the car, thinking we’d reapply later. This was a mistake. Bring the sunscreen with you, and reapply every couple of hours. Your skin will thank you.

You can get free water
Like most people, my dad was a bit taken aback by the price of water at the parks. But you can get a cup of ice water for free at most quick service places. After we bought one water bottle, we refilled it for free at the many water fountains throughout the park. Four dollars isn’t that much of a setback, but every dollar saved at Disney counts. 

Even though there were some things I wish I had done differently, my visit was not a disaster. There were some things I did right.

Things I did right

Went With The Flow
I said before that we didn’t have a structured plan (or really any plan at all) and that wasn’t such a good thing. So this might sound contradictory. Many first time visitors will try to schedule every single second of the trip. As a Cast Member, I’ve seen more than one parent start to yell at their kids because of the frustration when their schedule isn’t going exactly right. Please don’t be that parent. A rough plan with room for flexibility is usually the best way to visit the parks. Since we were in no rush, we could do whatever struck our fancy at the moment.

Took time to explore
The best part about the Disney parks is the detail. So many people put so much effort into the theming. There’s even Mickeys on the sewer drains. It is very easy to suspend reality once you're inside the parks. You really believe you stepped into a small town at the turn of the century, or in an African village, or inside the middle of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. Allow yourself to really look around you and appreciate the park. Wander down an empty path. Take lots of pictures. Explore. This is how I discovered Cinderella’s Wishing Well in the Magic Kingdom. I saw the well on a completely empty path near the castle as we were walking from the Hub into Tomorrowland. Out of curiosity, I dragged my parents around the park to hunt for it. We found it, took some great photos with the castle and the moat in the background, tossed some coins in, and relaxed while enjoying the view. Cinderella’s Wishing Well is my favorite spot in all of Walt Disney World and I never would have found it if I hadn’t taken some time to explore.

Made dining reservations
What we based our visit around was our dining reservations. Several weeks before our visit, we made dining reservations online for Be Our Guest and Tony's. These are both table service restaurants, and both can fill up quickly. Be Our Guest in particular is very difficult to get a table without a reservation. Table service restaurants made the most sense for our family because it offered us the chance to sit down in air conditioning for an hour or so.  

Took lots of pictures
Some people may not want to "live through their phones", and I understand that thinking. But even though my dad and I took a bunch of pictures, I still wish we could've taken more. Being apart of the Disney College Program meant that I had six months to experience things without looking through my phone screen, but I only ever had ONE first visit. Not only did we take a lot of pictures, we took a lot of pictures of ourselves. There are tons of pictures online of the Cinderella Castle or Spaceship Earth. Having pictures of the people we experienced the trip was what was important.

Sunday, April 23, 2017

Hidden Mickey: History and Facts of Animal Kingdom

When most people think of Disney, Animal Kingdom isn't the first thing that comes to mind. Some people have criticized the park for not being "Disney enough" (whatever that means). But Animal Kingdom is very important to Disney. Walt Disney himself was a big believer in conservation, way before the modern movement of the 1970s started. Conservation was very important to Walt. He once said, "Landscapes of great wonder and beauty lie under our feet and all around us. They are discovered in tunnels in the ground, the heart of flowers, the hollows of trees, fresh-water ponds, seaweed jungles between tides, and even drops of water.Life in these hidden worlds is more startling in reality than anything we can imagine. How could this earth of ours, which is only a speck in the heavens, have so much variety of life, so many curious and exciting creatures?"

Walt also said, "You've probably heard people talk about conservation. Well, conservation isn't just the business of a few people. It's a matter that concerns all of us." This sentiment is the basis of Animal Kingdom. His ideologies live on with the park.

While he is now most known for his animated films, it was his True Life documentaries that gained him most critical acclaim during his lifetime. In fact, Walt never won an Academy Award for his animated films. But his True Life series earned 8 total awards. Walt was also presented with the Audubon Medal for his appreciation and understanding of nature.

When Walt was building Disneyland, he originally wanted real animals to be featured in the Jungle Cruise. Of course, that was impossible. Now there is an entire theme park that features real animals in Disney's name. And this park continues to bring to life one of Walt's many dreams.

The park benches are made out of recycled plastic.

Dinoland used to be a cast member parking lot

If you even been on the Kilimanjaro Safaris, you might have noticed big, bare baobab trees. Some of them aren't real trees at all, but are storage sheds.

DAK is the only park at Walt Disney World where the Cast Members can walk straight through the front entrance in costume. There is a way to enter the park completely out of view of guests, but it takes a while. It is more efficeint to have the Cast Members walk from their parking lot, past the resort buses, and past security check. There is a backstage entrance by the bathrooms just outside of the main gates.

Animal Kingdom was opened to the public on Earth Day 1998. The park was actually built and ready to be opened months earlier. An earlier opening would've made more money for the park. But the message of conservation was so important to the park that they held out for the Earth Day opening.

If you look at the ground outside of the entrance of the park, you will notice two different colors of pavement. It was designed to look like a tree from an aerial view.

The animals above the three ticket booths represent the animals of yesterday (dinosaur), today (elephant), and the animals that never were (dragon).

If you are ever worried about the animal's health - don't be. The animals are usually kept in the park for life. They are retired from being shown to guests on the safari or in exhibits. There is a retirement section backstage just for the animals to chill out. This is better for the animals because they are kept with the same care takers for life.

Just like any other cast member, the animals also get days off. The animals on the safari usually rotate. So you will see one group of lions on the safari one day, and then the next day that group of lions will take a break while another group of lions takes their place on the safari.

Seriously, don't feed the animals.

There is a hidden Mickey on the Tree of Life. Find the buffalo. Near the buffalo will be three black spots. That's Mickey!

If you have any dietary needs, there is an allergy kiosk on Disvocery Island that will provide you will yummy snacks and menus to the restaurants in the park.

As you enter Asia from Disocvery Island, you will notice a prayer tree. It is common in India to tie a piece of cloth to a tree. Once the cloth falls off, your prayer will have been answered. The first cast members of the park actually were the ones to tie the cloths to the prayer tree in the park!

If you do any souvenir shopping in Asia, you might notice a picture of a couple hung up in the shops. That is the King and Queen of Andapour. The picture means that the King and Queen approve of the shop, and the size of the picture shows how rich the shop owners are. The bigger the picture, the more money the shop makes! The merchandise carts have the smallest pictures while the Everest gift shop has the biggest.

A lot of the Christmas decorations hung in the park are made of recycled materials.

DAK is the only park that has two exits in all bathrooms. This is in case an animal were to ever escape into the park. The guests could hide in the bathrooms and exit to a safe place backstage.

The Cast Member cafeteria backstage is called Pride Rock, in homage to The Lion King. There is also a smaller break room near Resturantasaurous, called Castosaurous.