Jun 152016
 

A trip to Disney can be overwhelming for small children. Each day that we are in Disney, I prepare a small gift for  my grandchildren from a Disney character. Along with the gift is a personalized letter telling them just what they will be doing THAT day in the parks. (Submitted by Annette F.)

Best of Be Our Guest Podcast

BOGP Logo 300x300x72Each issue we will feature a snippet of what you could learn by listening to the Be Our Guest Podcast. Be sure to check back each issue for more fun.

Episode 1026 – Rikki’s Summer 2016 Kick-off Trip, Part 1

Mike and Rikki sit down today to talk about Rikki’s recent Memorial Day Weekend trip to Walt Disney World!   We talk about the return of the “old” Soarin. Also, we discuss many new experiences over at Disney’s Hollywood Studios.  Finally we have an in-depth review of Tiffins, the new signature restaurant at Disney’s Animal Kingdom Park.

The Be Our Guest Podcast is hosted by Disney lover Mike and co-hosted by fellow Disney aficionados Pam and Rikki. The show covers everything from listener experiences to questions about how to make the most of your dream trip to the world! We hope you will join us each week as we share our love of all things Disney and we hope you will share yours as well.

The BOGP family has members from all over the world and we hope you will join us!

Listen to us every Monday, Wednesday and Friday at Be Our Guest Podcast!

May 182016
 

SafariPinnable

Kilimanjaro Safaris is one of the most popular rides at Disney’s Animal Kingdom, but if you haven’t yet tried this attraction, here’s some information about why you shouldn’t miss it the next time you visit Walt Disney World.

Walt Disney was always interested in wildlife, and while he was still alive, wanted to create an attraction where guests could ride through the habitats of different animals. In fact, the original Jungle Cruise attraction was meant to be filled with real animals rather than the animatronics which eventually made their way into the scenes. However, at that time, there was no way the imagineers could find a way to safely create such a scenario.

Ultimately, the idea came to life when Kilimanjaro Safaris was built for Disney’s Animal Kingdom. The ride takes guests on an eighteen to twenty minute jungle trek through a 110 acre wildlife preserve, which is filled with more than 30 species of African animals. In fact, the space consumed by Kilimanjaro Safaris is so large that the entire Magic Kingdom could fit within this one attraction. This space not only allows the animals to have a large habitat to roam within, it also creates a fully immersive experience for guests to feel as though they have been transported to Africa itself.

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Guests are loaded into a large open air safari truck with many rows of seats. Above each row of seating is a chart of animals that you may see along the way along with the name of each animal. Children may enjoy matching up the animals they see with their proper names. The driver of each vehicle provides guests with a running commentary as to what animals are visible throughout the attraction and where you can get the best view of them.

One of the best parts about Kilimanjaro Safaris is that you never have the same ride experience twice. Depending on the time of day, weather conditions and temperament of the animals, you may see different animals each time, or the same animals may be doing different activities or hanging out in different locations. I highly recommend riding this attraction in the beginning of the day, especially in the summer months, because some of the animals tend to get lazy once the Florida heat is in full force.

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There is no way I could mention all of the animals within this attraction, but some of the favorites include hippopotamus, rhinoceros, giraffe, okapi, alligators, lions, and ostrich. All of the animals are kept apart from potential predators/harm through invisible barriers, so the guests do not see things like gates or cages. It is an amazing feeling to seem so close to a lion, though in reality, the lion’s perch is surrounded by a large unseen mote.

Some animals, like the cheetahs, can be difficult to spot, but others are hard to miss. For instance, the flamingos roam in full visibility on their own island. They have their own surprise though- the flamingos island is shaped like a giant hidden mickey. Towards the end of the attraction, guests have the opportunity to see the elephant families, usually with a baby elephant or two in tow. This is always my favorite part to see. However, younger animals can be found in many areas of this attraction, and your driver/guide will usually point them out. Whether you want to spend the ride taking photos or just enjoying the scenery, you will not want to miss this unique ride experience.

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One of the nicest things about this attraction is that it’s safe for all ages to ride together. So it fits the quintessential Walt Disney principle that families should be able to enjoy things all together. The ride is wheelchair accessible as well. Kilimanjaro Safaris normally runs from park opening to sunset each day, though Disney World recently announced that evening safaris will begin soon. This new version of this attraction puts the savanna into an eternal sunset and Guests will be able to see animals unique to this safari. I look forward to the opportunity to see this attraction in a whole new light.

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What is your favorite part of Kilimanjaro Safaris?

Dec 302015
 

By Rikki Niblett

2015-11-08 17.43.51

2015 was a crazy busy year for Walt Disney World, however 2016 looks like it’s shaping up to be even more exciting. There are a lot of great things that those of you planning trips for the new year should look forward to that will make your vacation even more eventful. Here are my Top 5 things you should expect to see at Walt Disney World in 2016.

  • Construction at Disney’s Hollywood Studios: Ok, this first one is going to be more of a warning than anything else. One would expect 2016 will be the year of the construction wall at Disney’s Hollywood Studios. A good chunk of the park will be closed off to Guests as Disney prepares for Star Wars Land. (And we still don’t 100% know what’s going and what’s staying…we could still lose a few more attractions along the way.) So, be prepared for lots of walls and long waits for attractions that are there. As a silver lining, the new Star Wars stuff is pretty cool and is a good diversion to enjoy while visiting the park.
  • Soarin Around The World:  Announced at this year’s D23, Soarin Around the World will take guests on a journey to far-flung lands, where they will fly above some of the world’s most unique landscapes and man-made wonders, including the Great Wall of China and Monument Valley. No time table has been announced on the official opening date of this attraction, but it is expected to be open by the summer.
  • Frozen Ever After: For those who love Frozen, this attraction is for you! The attraction which takes place in the former Maelstrom building, will take guests through the world of Frozen, past Troll Valley and Grandpappy Troll, then past Olaf singing and ice skating, past Anna, Kristoff, and Sven, and yes, even through the infamous “Let It Go” scene with Elsa. Guests will also visit Marshmallow and the Snowgies too! This attraction is slated to use the latest AudioAnamtronic technology, and it will be interesting to see it when it’s finished. (Which is rumored to be late spring/early summer.)

Disney Springs

  • Disney Springs: The multi-year expansion is almost done! In 2015, we saw the opening of quite a few new restaurants, including The BOATHOUSE, Jock Lindsey’s Hangar Bar, and Morimoto Asia. We also saw the inclusion of many new shops in The Landing. In 2016, the remaining restaurants and shops will open, including The Edison, Frontera Fresco, Homecoming: Florida Kitchen and Southern Shine, The NBA Experience, Lily Pulitzer, Tommy Bahama, UGG, PANDORA, Sprinkles Cupcakes and more! There will be plenty of great new options to choose from. Disney Springs really has seen a renascence and I look forward to the future enhancements.
  • Rivers of Light: This upcoming Disney’s Animal Kingdom nighttime spectacular is going to be a sight to be seen. The show, which will take place on the Discovery River in between Discovery Island and Expedition Everest, will feature a pair of mystic hosts who have come to the river and are bringing with them the gift of light. During the show, the hosts will journey from the shores to lantern vessels and will present dances of water and light to summon animal spirits. It seems like it will be an experience like no other and it is expected to debut in the spring of 2016.

See! There’s a ton going on a Walt Disney World in 2016! Now, of course, this is just a start of what guests can expect for 2016 and I’m sure as the year goes by, we’ll get a ton of new updates on other great attractions, shops, and restaurants we’ll also be able to experience in the parks and resorts. What upcoming attraction are you most looking forward to?

Apr 222015
 

By Teresa Pitman

Flint

If you haven’t been to Disney’s Animal Kingdom for a while, you’ll be in for a little surprise next time you go. Two little surprises, actually: in the past year, two new gorilla babies – both boys – have been born into the gorilla family troop that guests see when they follow the Pangani Forest Exploration Trail.

Baby Cory was born in August, 2014, to a new female who had joined the troop. Disney works with the Association of Zoos and Aquariums in determining which males and females from all the zoos in the network should be permitted to mate, to reduce the risk of genetic diseases in their offspring. This female came from the San Diego zoo.

In September, baby Flint was born. He already has a big sister, four-year-old Lily, who is naturally very curious about both babies but also a little put out that her mother has less time to play with her. (Human parents, recognize anything here??)

I had my first chance to see them when I visited WDW in February of this year, and I was completely charmed. Cory’s mother demonstrated how effectively her baby can cling to her body as she moved quickly around their living area. Flint’s mother came and sat by the window as she carefully checked him over, lifting up each little arm and leg to make sure all was well; Lily then joined them and she and Flint played a kind of peek-a-boo game over their mother’s back. Gino, the big silver-backed male and father of Lily, Cory and Flint, took up a watchful position nearby.

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It’s a rare opportunity for visitors to be able to observe a gorilla family in relatively natural surroundings. In the early months, the mothers keep their babies close to them all the time. Once the baby is able to move around on his own, she’ll still keep him close by, but he’ll begin to interact more with the others in the troop.

Like human babies and toddlers, the gorillas like to play with toys. I’ve watched Lily drape a blanket over her head and run around looking like a Halloween ghost, or pile rocks and twigs in a bucket, then dump them out again. Once Flint and Cory are more mobile, they’ll be provided with toys, too.

Dr. Jackie Ogden, Vice President, Animals, Science and Environment, Disney Parks, told me in a recent interview about some of the gorilla conservation work Disney is involved in. Ogden’s graduate research was on gorillas so they have a special place in her heart. Disney has partnered with others to build a gorilla sanctuary in the Democratic Republic of the Congo for orphaned or rescued gorillas with the goal of preparing them to be released back into the wild.

“The community is very remote, but the local people are very enthusiastic about the sanctuary. Most of the staff working there are local,” she says. Not only are the gorillas in need of help are cared for, but there is also an emphasis on education for the community, and of finding alternative sources of work and food that doesn’t involve hunting or harming endangered species.

“Our gorillas here in the park are helping their cousins in Africa,” Ogden says. “Guests are encouraged to donate to conservation causes or purchase items made in Africa.”

Disney received re-accreditation by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums in March 2015. Ogden quotes from the Association’s report on the Disney Parks blog:

  • “The level and commitment to animal care sets the gold standard for our community. Veterinary, nutrition, training, browse program and enrichment programs are state of the art.”
  • “The keeper staff is professional, passionate and engaged.”
  • “Overall safety culture is extraordinarily strong across the organization, and staff training exceeds all expectations.”
  • “Disney’s Animal Kingdom staff has been successful in making conservation a key value of The Walt Disney Company. The current positive impact and future potential of this change cannot be overstated.”
  • “New interpretive programs, including Wilderness Explorers and Wild Africa Trek, add both breadth and depth to program offerings.”

As an animal-lover, knowing that Disney is providing good care to all the animals – not just the gorillas – makes me enjoy my visits that much more. If you go soon, be sure to say hello to Cory and Flint for me. And take the time to chat with the cast members in the area – I promise they will have some entertaining stories about the gorilla babies to share with you.

 

Jan 282015
 

Eating Vegan in Animal Kingdom

 

By Teresa Pitman

In the months before Disney’s Animal Kingdom opened, there were rumors that all the restaurants in the park would be vegan, out of respect for the animals that would be living in the park. You can’t imagine the excitement in my mostly-vegan family when we heard that! We dreamed about enjoying black bean burgers, lentil soups and tofu stir-fries in our favorite vacation spot…

That dream soon ran into reality: those were only rumors and the restaurants that were eventually build include mostly meat-based options.

Don’t worry, though – you’re in Walt Disney World! You will be able to find vegan options that you can enjoy as you visit the animals and prepare to flee from the Yeti.

Here are some of my favorite options:

Snacks:

Animal Kingdom has some excellent vegan snack options.

Stop first at the Gardens Kiosk near “It’s Tough to Be a Bug.” This colorful booth has both vegan and gluten-free snacks (including items from the much-missed Babycakes. Ed. note: Babycakes will be returning to Disney Springs soon, in the form of Erin McKenna’s Bakery NYC.). The Cast Members there can also give you information about other dining options. The menu changes from time to time, but usually includes treats such as vegan ice cream (Tofutti), vegan doughnuts, cookies and cupcakes (from Babycakes) and hummus with vegetables. Stuff a few of the packaged items in your bag and head off to enjoy your day.

Near the entrance to the Kilimanjaro Safaris, you’ll find a fruit and vegetable cart. The foods offered do change from time to time, but you can usually find containers of grapes, apples, bananas, cut-up celery and carrot sticks, etc. This vendor also sells vegan soft pretzels with mustard sauce. So good.

My other favorite snack is available at several locations: the chocolate and nut-covered frozen banana. These are wonderful on a hot day! Some of the ice-pops are also vegan (ingredients are listed on the packages, so just ask to see them).

Counter-service:

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Sadly, the counter-service options in Animal Kingdom are limited. At Tamu Tamu refreshments, for example, your only option is the Fruit Salad. The Quinoa salad – which looks so promising, since it even includes tofu – actually has feta cheese mixed in so it is not vegan. And it comes pre-mixed so they can’t prepare it with the cheese left out.

And the black bean burger at Restaurantosaurus? Not vegan.

Mr. Kamal’s kiosk has recently added a vegetarian menu – so recently that I haven’t had a chance to check it out. I understand, though, that the falafel dish (minus the sauce, which contains dairy) is vegan. I would guess that the edamame is as well. I believe the samosas are the same as the ones at Tusker House and not vegan.

You can also get pizza with vegan cheese (Daiya) at Pizzafari.

So, moving on…

Table-service:

Tusker House. Let me say it again: Tusker House!! I love this place. It is like a mini-version of Boma, with great theming and characters to visit your table. The buffet menu varies, but there are generally a good number of vegan options, and I have found the chefs to be VERY accommodating and helpful in preparing vegan versions of some of the items for us. I enjoy the spicier African flavors as well. Fruit is usually the only dessert option, but the chefs can often bring out some vegan ice cream for you (and hey, didn’t you pick up some treats when you were at the Gardens Kiosk?).

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Another option is one that many people don’t think of: Rainforest Café. Located at the entrance/exit to Animal Kingdom, this restaurant has a vegan burger (they call it the Natural Burger) that isn’t anything special but will fill up your tummy after a long day in the parks. You also get to enjoy the jungle décor and occasional storms. I like the bar, too, where the stools have tails and zebra stripes.

The Yak and Yeti restaurant has a Vegetable Lo Mein that can be made with tofu. The noodles have egg in them but you can ask them to substitute rice or rice noodles. You can also ask to substitute tofu (since they have it lying around in the kitchen anyway) for meat in any of the meat dishes. The Maple Tamarind Chicken with tofu replacing the chicken is good, and I’ve heard rave reviews of some of the other dishes with tofu replacing the meat. Just make sure that the chef knows you don’t want any dairy or egg in the sauces, either.

One more possibility, if you find yourself wanting more dining options: take a quick bus ride (or drive your car) to Animal Kingdom Lodge, just a short distance away. There you can eat at Boma, Jiko or Sanaa, all excellent restaurants with an array of vegan options and chefs who will happily prepare something special for you.

As you can see, there are quite a few options that are available for vegan diners. I hope this guide helps you in your dining experience.

Apr 162014
 

By Teresa Pitman

disney with dexter 206We were barely settled in our seats, the host of the show just getting started, when a tour guide wandered in with his little flag on a stick waving over his head. I confess that I groaned just a little. I was feeling a little fed up with tours after a whole passel of teenagers raced in front of me to get in line for the bus that morning.

But I quickly realized that the “tour guide” was just part of the show – the hilarious part. He professed to be afraid of birds, and his lack of knowledge about our feathered friends meant he could ask all the questions we were wondering about but felt too embarrassed to share.

The show? Flights of Wonder, shown several times a day at Disney’s Animal Kingdom in a large shaded theater. You might have zipped right past it on your way to Expedition Everest  – and hey, I understand the lure of the Yeti – but you might have seen a cast member or two standing outside the entrance with an owl or hawk perched on one person’s wrist or flying between them. Go ahead – stop for a few minutes and watch this preview, then head on in, find a seat on the benches, and prepare to enjoy yourself.

The theater is under a canvas roof so it is shaded on sunny days and there are large fans to help cool things off in hot weather. The seats are all low benches and the theater is sloped upwards from front to back so everyone has a good view of the stage.

disney with dexter 208Each show is a little different, as the show’s host introduces a variety of birds who perform what look like tricks, but are really just natural behaviors done in response to cues from the host (and rewarded with treats). One bright little bird, for example, stole the “tour guide’s” flag and then returned for the stick. (There were some cheers when that happened, mostly from me – I am not fond of those flags!) A small parrot sang an incredibly clear and pitch-perfect version of “How Much Is That Doggy in the Window?” and got a round of applause from the crowd.

These birds (while highly entertaining) are just the warm-up. The real audience-pleasers are the larger birds of prey who fly from the stage to another handler at the back of the disney with dexter 223audience, sometimes just inches over the heads of the guests. Just feeling the wind in your hair as the birds’ wings pass over you is a thrill. Another bird flew into the audience to take a dollar bill from a guest’s outstretched hand, and later returned it to the same person. Pretty impressive given the size of the crowd.

As the birds impressed us with their abilities, the show’s host explained why birds are important and what we can do to protect them. Vultures, for example, may not look all that cute and adorable but they play a vital role in getting rid of the carcasses of animals that have died. With each new bird that appeared on stage, our bird-fearing tour guide got a little braver and near the end was actually feeding a bird or two out of his hand.

disney with dexter 213 (2)One part I especially enjoyed was when three women were invited up onto the stage to take a photo of a bird who would be released from the back of the theater to fly towards them. The host played up what a great opportunity this would be to get a close-up of a bird in flight. Of course, what these unsuspecting guests didn’t realize was that the bird would fly right at them – as though he was going to land on their heads – and only swoop up onto the ledge behind them at the last moment. The expressions on their faces were priceless.

At the end of the show – with the tour guide now transformed into a bird-lover – the host and other handler wait with some of the birds who have entertained us to answer any questions and pose for photos. They were very knowledgeable and provided a great opportunity to see some of the birds up close – especially for the little kids.

I’ve seen other bird shows, but I have to say Flights of Wonder has all of them beat. The tour guide makes it funny and entertaining, and having these magnificent birds soaring overhead is definitely awe-inspiring. For a change of pace in your busy park day, take half an hour and get to know some of the beautiful birds that share our planet.