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Well Disney friends, we are getting so excited in this household as we have begun the countdown until our next Disney vacation. We began hashing out our lists. We have the “must-do”  and ”could live without”  lists.   I won’t tell you which list Animal Kingdom was on but I figured I’d pull this article out of the closet for those who missed it. As you’ll read, I LOVE Aninmal Kingdom. Let me know what Disney Parks will make your must-do list on your next trip.

Let me start this right off by saying that Animal Kingdom is the park at the top of my favorites list. Yes, there are times when you visit and sadly the array of beasts out and about is dismal. But, many more times are the fantastic encounters with many a furry friend. I could just get lost watching the gorillas interact with each other. I can’t tell who is sizing who up, us or them. My son Jacob will tell you he enjoys watching them eat certain things they ate once already (check out his article under the Kidz Corner tab). Me, I will always be in amazement gazing at all the primates – so many species. The lemurs and cotton-top tamarins could keep me entranced for hours - that is until reality sets in and the family is tugging at me to move on.

On our most recent visit, the kids were thrilled because we finally had time (ok, made time) to trek over to DINOLAND U.S.A. You see, it is not my favorite area of Animal Kingdom. Wait, I have to back up,  it WAS not my favorite area…that has now changed. It’s moved up a couple rungs on my ladder. I had a blast chasing Cait and Jake around in the Boneyard area. The tunnels, the slides, the nets, the caves – I just loved it!!! Oh I bet  we covered every square inch of territory playing hide and seek and sliding and running. Please, please, if you have not done so in the past, go there with your kids. (The grown up one too).

One caveat is that they both wanted to play all the “wonderful” carnival type games while we were in Dinoland (quickly overruled by Dad once we found out the extra cost to play them). And of course it didn’t help that we chose the picnic tables centered in the carnival area to sit and have our packed lunches. Oh well, life is full of lessons to learn though right?  Well, I cured the anti-carnival game hum-drums with a well recieved trip back to the Boneyard after lunch. Sometimes you have to stop and give yourself over to an new experience to find those special magic places that hide  in all the parks at Disney.

Until next time…..Melissa

Ok, so who hasn’t heard of the whole phenomenon of Disney’s Pin Trading?!?! Well it doesn’t matter if you have or have not become familiar with it to read about our adventures. I’m going to to tell you our experience with it and would love to hear about yours!

Well our first of several trips to Disney World was in 2007. It was during this visit that we noticed all these kids (aged 2 to 99) wearing these lanyards with a ton of “wicked cool pins” – words of my then 6 year old. Jerry and I could not find any logical reason why we should not take part in this adventure so of course we dove right in full steam ahead by getting a lanyard and some pins for Caitlyn and Jacob.

We continued to collect pins everywhere throughout our first park visits to each of the parks. Jake was especially attached to a pin in EPCOT that featured the saying “where the Magic Lives” on the inside. He specifically asked me to get an up close photo of this beloved pin. The mom in me wanted to get the blue goo off his fingernail from the science experiments in Future World but that was not in the cards. Did you notice I still had to justify to you why his nails weren’t clean?!



Everything was going oh so well with this new pin collecting and trading. It was so adorable to see the kids ask various cast members to trade. “Mom, you come up with me and I’ll ask.” I try to teach confidence and say, “If you want to trade, you have to ask.” Any bets on whether or not I accompanied…of course I gave in…they were so young. That has changed over time though.

Next stop – Animal Kingdom. Have you been on the Kilimanjaro Safaris and heard the announcement to put your belongings in those cleverly appointed mesh pockets? Jake heard it and followed directions. Love those pockets to hold your belongings on a bumpy ride until …. Until your child gets off without grabbing said belongings and you walk half a mile back through the entrance trail and young child expresses how he left his lanyard in said pockets. Yes my friends this is sad and very true!!!!

Disney World Cast Members did everything they could – they radioed the tour guide and proceeded to check the vehicles for Jake’s cherished lanyard with about $100 worth of pins on it. No, it’s not about the money but that hurts. No luck. It’s gone. Just when I was losing hope in humanity, Dolly, a valuable asset to Disney World, had overheard our conversation with Jake trying to calm him and and ourselves too. Dolly asked us if we had seen The Festival of the Lion King yet. Look for Dolly at the trains, she’s still there, she’s not going anywhere. You see Dolly truly, truly loves her job. Really to her it’s not a job. It’s a pleasure.

Later that afternoon, we enjoyed the most magical moment ever – thanks to Dolly – she gave us a pass to stand at a special entrance only to skip the long line and be ushered to front row seats, FRONT ROW to see Festival of the Lion King. Cait got to be the elephant and we all sat mesmerized by the visions in front of us. I still cry every time I hear that song…Nants ingonyama bagithi baba (There comes a lion)…hear it? Dolly also gave a certificate for Jacob to use toward the purchase of a new starter set. She is her name…a doll.

Back at Fort Wilderness, we continued to look for the pins to replace the one’s Jake was still missing. He told the cast member at the store of his plight. She didn’t just express her sorrow as she patiently listened to Jake’s tale, she came after us as we walked down the sidewalk exiting the store. She gave him some of her pins and the pins of other cast members in the store – these were all special pins with hidden Mickey’s on them.

These days we just get a pin from each park and from the Fort Wilderness Resort and our lanyards stay home. Our frenzy to collect and trade has not vanished, we just simplified. Many times in life it’s the simple things that matter. These cast members did something that was simple and natural to them but it was so immense for us. We will always remember their kindness and compassion towards Jacob and his tribulation.

I have a funny story to share about the Kilimanjaro Safaris tour. We had heard so much about the amazement we would feel while viewing these wonderful creatures that inhabit Animal Kingdom. So with Jerry taking the pictures on the digital camera and me recording the entire venture, guess what – I can barely recall what I saw without the assistance of our media! It’s funny to share the story of me with one eye in the little viewing cup of the camcorder quickly peeking away sporadically. Just imagine the scene from Christmas Vacation when Chevy is trying to look out of that round white vent in the attic – back and forth, back and forth. Jerry can’t recall thoroughly enjoying it either because he was trying desperately to capture just the right shot.

We decided that on our next safaris tour that Jerry would take only the ideal photo op – you know, the mama and baby, the colossal yawn that reveals a substantial set of teeth or the new addition to the Animal Kingdom family. Fast forward to the day we make our next visit to Animal Kingdom. Ummm…did we miss the memo that said we would have some unfortunate luck and the animals weren’t feeling to outgoing today?! Sadly, the kingdom of animals was sparce. So, what do we decide for our next visit??? Jerry skips the picture taking altogether and we just enjoy the safaris tour.

Listen to the frequent visitors that give advice on Animal Kingdom. I am NOT a Debbie downer, but seriously, on our most recent visit, we experienced that arctic cold front that remained along the east coast for weeks. Again, missed opportunity. For future reference, if you pay attention to the weather, which I’m sure you will, hit Animal Kingdom on the warmer days and you will have an amazing Kilimanjaro Safaris tour. Take some pictures or video, but take it in as well. Animal Kingdom will always be my favorite park – through warm and cold.

Plan ahead. Decide ahead of time what your priorities are and make a plan of action.

  • Get to the parks early! It’s amazing, particularly in busy season, how many of the popular rides you can knock off before half the “World” gets out of bed.
  • Take the time to rest in the middle of the day. Stay at one of the Magic Kingdom or Epcot resorts, allowing a return in the middle of the day for a nap or dip in the pool.
  • Call exactly 90 days prior at 7 AM Orlando time for priority seating if breakfast at Cinderella’s Royal Table in the Magic Kingdom is tops on your child’s list. The only way you might get away with sleeping in and booking a bit later for this highly coveted character breakfast is if you are traveling in extremely slow season.
  • Come prepared for an afternoon shower during the rainy summer months even if the sky looks perfectly clear in the morning. Rent a locker to store your raingear and circle back if skies start to look threatening. However, if you’re caught unprepared, just about every store in the parks sells inexpensive rain ponchos.
  • Use Fastpass, Disney’s free, nifty timesaving device. It’s offered at all four theme parks and is a great way to save hours of waiting in line. Just insert your park pass in one of the machines located at each individual Fastpass attraction and receive a ticket printed with a designated one-hour window in which you may return and enter a special line with little or no waiting.
  • Pre-arrange priority seating, Disney’s answer to dining reservations, by calling 407-WDW-DINE. On arrival you’ll receive the next table available for your party size, thus saving hours of frustration and waiting.
  • Allow plenty of time to reach the theme parks each morning. It’s easy to miss your breakfast priority seating if you don’t allocate enough time.
  • Be spontaneous. If something catches your eye, even if it’s not on your daily list of things to do, stop and explore. If not, you could miss something wonderful.
  • Realize the limitations of your children. If they’re tired, take a break. If their feet hurt, get them a stroller (forget that they outgrew one years ago). If a ride scares them don’t force the issue. Such precautions will make your day and the day of other park visitors a lot less stressful.
  • Bring pagers, 2-way radios, or cell phones. If your party plans on splitting up, they are a perfect way to keep in touch (see the Travel Insider article that reviews two-way radios and their practical range).
  • Wear broken-in, comfortable footwear. Better yet, bring two pairs and rotate them. Nothing is worse than blisters on your first day and then nursing them for the remainder of your vacation.
  • Most importantly, slow down and enjoy the magic. Resist the urge to see everything at breakneck speed. You can’t possibly cover it all, so think of this as your first trip to Disney, not your last. There will be time to pick up all the things you missed on the next go-round.