Our favorite hotel inside Walt Disney World is Animal Kingdom Lodge. We have traveled all over the world and have enjoyed stays at a number of resorts and with only a few exceptions, besides Animal Kingdom Lodge, have we really considered the resort the actual destination.
The Animal Kingdom Lodge is truly unique. Disney has made ever effort to offer the guests of this hotel a real taste of Africa. Most of the rooms look out on the savannah where you regularly catch sightings of giraffes, zebras, wildebeests and any number of exotic birds. The hotels grounds and decorations offer a genuine sense of being in Africq.
The two main restaurants Boma and Jico take great care to provide an authentic taste of African fare while still provide a refuge for more traditional pallets. In addition staffing at the hotel also brings in groups from Africa, usually for a year contract, to provide guests with insight into the cultures and environments of their home countries. During a stay you will find a number of special events from lectures to night-vision sessions watching the animals.
In addition Animal Kingdom Lodge is also a deluxe resort with the additional benefit of being located inside Walt Disney World with all it has to offer. Unfortunately it is also one of the highest priced hotels on the Disney property with a standard room normally priced between $500 and $600 a night – still a lot cheaper than going to Africa.
For restaurants the family offering is Boma, a buffet restaurant offering a selection of “tastes” of Africa. Jico is the fine dining experience featuring food with an African heritage and a wine list of exclusively South African wines. There is also Sanaa next door at the attached Kadani Village Villas offering a menu of Indian cuisine while gazing thru windows onto the savanna.
We have a secret when eating at Walt Disney World. Hidden in the lower level of the Dolphin Hotel in the Boardwalk resort area is the Picabu Taqueria. Looking like a snack bar – fast food venue the Taqueria custom builds some of the best tacos you’ll find anywhere. Featuring grilled skirt steak, fresh fish, pork carnitas and Adobo chicken with a large selection of add-ins in either hard or soft taco shells. Three large tacos for around $10.00 and well worth every penny. They also offer Burritos and Bowls. Do yourself a favor and check it out.
Open for both lunch and dinner you do have to seek this place out. The Dolphin is easily reached from the Boardwalk area and is only a short walk from the second entrance at Epcot or a walk down a canal from Disney Studios. Come in the main doors at the lower level of the hotel and take the hall to the left.
If you are a guest at a Disney resort you will have to bring cash or a credit card as the Swan and Dolphin are not part of the Magic Band system.
Beyond the Parks there is a whole collection of experiences and things to do at Walt Disney World. Some are designed for all ages and some just for adults. Some are available year round and some are special events. Most require reservations that need to be made way in advance.
Here are a few selections to consider when you get “parked out.”
Hoop-Dee-Doo Musical Revue at the Fort Wilderness Camp Ground is one of the longest running and most popular dinner shows at Disney. A great evening for the whole family.
YeHaa Bob Jackson at River Roost Lounge ( ). If you are staying at Riverside or Port Orleans try to catch Bob’s show in the lounge. Bob usually performs to standing-room-only crowds, so try and get a spot early. There is piano playing, comedy and of, course, sing-along.
An evening at Disney Springs. Evenings at Disney Springs usually feature a number of free shows and concerts and a Strolling Piano (yes a strolling piano act that motors around the Springs). Plan on dinner, some shopping and fun.
Eat with some characters. Pick from a number of restaurants featuring breakfast, lunch and dinner with the kids’ favorite Disney characters. Check with your hotel for locations and reservations.
Take the family bowling at Splitsville ( ) over at Disney Springs or
Have dinner or lunch with a movie at the AMC Dine-In-Theatre also at Disney Springs.
Every evening the Boardwalk Resort area features a series of entertainers that include jugglers and magicians. Along with the performers you can enjoy funnel cake, ice cream, pizza, margaritas, popcorn and carnival games.
The Boardwalk area also offers some adult fun at Jellyrolls Dueling Pianos (one of our favorite things to do). There is non-stop music, a full bar and free popcorn (admission is $12.50, higher on some nights like New Years Eve).
Again, for the grown-ups, is the Atlantic Dance Hall also at the Boardwalk. Dance the night away to selections from a DJ at an iconic Atlantic City boardwalk dance hall.
Go over to the Animal Kingdom Lodge for animal viewing and narrative by naturalists. At night they pass out night-vision goggles on the viewing patio. Relax around the fire-pits with a drink (both outdoors and in the lobby). Spend a little time looking at the exhibits in the lobby and strolling around the grounds.
Play Fantasia miniature golf at two 18-hole courses based on Disney’s classic animated film Fantasia. One designed for family fun and one for people with some serious skills. The complex is located near the entrance to the Swan Hotel.
Watch some fireworks. Find a location with a view of the evening fireworks. For the Magic Kingdom there are a number of good locations
around Seven Seas Lagoon. Some of the restaurants offer tables sited for watching. Over at the Boardwalk you can catch the Epcot fireworks from the bridge between the Boardwalk and the Yacht Club resorts or on the Boardwalk down near the Atlantic Dance Hall. There are also a couple of locations on the Boardwalk where you can catch a glimpse of the Magic Kingdom fireworks across the lake.
In addition to the four theme parks and the two water parks, the people at Disney World have added a few seasonal park specials and premium events. One of the most popular is “Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party” which is a special evening admission ticket to the Magic Kingdom on specific nights over the holidays. Similarly, there is “Mickey’s Not So Scary Halloween” at the Magic Kingdom in the Fall. You can purchase tickets through the Disney web site or at Disney Stores.
Epcot has two seasonal events that do not require special tickets. (Entry is included with your Epcot ticket.) Both festivals tend to be much busier on weekends then during the week as there are more lectures and demonstrations during that time.
The “Food & Wine Festival” in the fall, usually runs from early September to mid October. The festival has the look and feel of a street fair where you can purchase sample foods from around the world as well as a number of featured wines and beers. In addition there are cooking demonstrations and lectures. The other event is the “International Flower & Garden Festival” usually running from early March to late May. This festival is all about flowers, featuring sample gardens, topiary, lectures and demonstrations. Weekends during this festival also include music concerts.
There is also a selection of dessert parties around “The World” including:
Celebration at the Top – Sip, Savor, Sparkle
Ferrytale Fireworks: A Sparkling Dessert Cruise
IllumiNations Sparkling Dessert Party
Pirates & Pals Fireworks Voyage
Star Wars: A Galactic Spectacular Dessert Party at Disney’s Hollywood Studios
Tiana’s Riverboat Party
Fireworks Dessert Party at Tomorrowland Terrace
They all require reservations well in advance, some also require park admission and all have a fee involved.
For an up-to-date listing of special events around Walt Disney World click HERE.
Years ago one of the sure things to expect when the family visited Walt Disney World was spending a lot of time waiting in line. Probably the biggest limiting factor in the number of rides you could take in was the length of the wait lines. Disney was one of the first innovators in reducing this time. Initially the FastPass system used your admission ticket once you were in a park to allow you to schedule a ride or two. Even this system greatly increased the number of rides you could fit in but there have been a number of upgrades since.
While the newest FastPass is again an incremental improvement it is becoming really important that anyone planning a vacation or just a visit to Disney World understand how the system works. If you don’t take the time before your trip you could end up riding a lot less rides. Because FastPass allows people to schedule rides weeks in advance it also makes getting onto a ride the day of a visit a bigger challenge
How To Use FastPass+
There are different ways to make Fastpass+ reservations that depend on where you are staying and what type of ticket you have. In order to make FastPass+ reservations you must have park tickets or a purchase confirmation number. Before you begin you need to decide in advance as to what parks you will visit and on what dates. You will also need names and ticket numbers for everyone traveling with you.
If you are staying at a Disney resort: You can make your first FastPass+ ride reservations 60 days in advance of the hotel reservation date. Once you have made your first reservation you can add ten days to the sixty to make FastPass+ selections in other parks. Also before you start making FastPass+ reservations you should investigate Extra Magic Hours for parks during your stay. That information will help you plan which parks to visit on what dates.
Staying at a non-Disney resort you will be able to make your FastPass+ reservations 30 days in advance.
Before you begin you should have an internet connectable device and we would recommend that you use a smart phone for easy use inside the parks. Download the Disney World App. Next set-up a My Disney Experience account so you can make and record FastPass+ reservations. The only way to make Fastpass+ reservations before your trip is to use your account at the My Disney Experience website. You will also need to provide an email address and be sure to use one that you can access on thru you Disney World App thru your portable device.
If you are staying at a Disney Resort at Walt Disney World you will be issued a MagicBand for each guest in your party. The band looks like a bracelet or watch and uses a battery to communicated with a number of devices around “the World”. Before you arrive you will probably be asked for your choice in color but without making a choice it will be gray. The bands have your name printed inside and not to miss an opportunity Disney stores and gift shops also sell decorations that can be added to personalize the MagicBands. With a MagicBand you can link it to My Disney Experience and add reservations (both current and future) along with park tickets and FastPass+ reservations. Wearing the MagicBand you can open your room door, charge meals at Disney restaurants and food concessions and go shopping at Disney stores that are charged back to your hotel account. You can use them to enter the parks (provided you have synced tickets to your account), identify your account to Disney photographers, and use FastPass+. You can manage your MagicBands on you’re my Disney Experience on line both now and for the future. The MagicBand is set-up where you provide a pin number for all money transactions and just like a card based passkey you can restrict charging privileges to certain members of your group.
Because all purchase transactions on a MagicBand require a pin the process is pretty secure. Even if you lose a band someone would still need you pin to use it for shopping or meals. There is however a possible concern around this remarkable system. Disney has capitalized on a phenomenon that the credit card industry has understood forever. People generally spend more money when using a credit card rather than spending cash. The MagicBand takes advantage of this characteristic in a big way and other than knowing that there has been a spending cap agreed to on your hotel account, it is very difficult to confirm the charged balance on your account. The only way we are aware of is to check at the hotel Concierge desk.
Walt Disney has also made a big promotion for meal plans associated with your room reservation. There are a number of different levels, naturally at different prices. These meals are also recorded on you account and accessed again using your MagicBand.
When you eat at a full service restaurant you will get a receipt that shows how much service was used and how much remains. Unfortunately for a full accounting you will again need to check at the hotel Concierge desk.
Our primary criticism with this completely integrated system that includes The WDW App, the My Disney Experience website, MagicBands, park tickets and FastPass is the inability to check the money and meal plan balances. It would seem a reasonable approach to give you access thru the WDW App?
Before you plan a trip to “The World” it might be helpful to understand the transportation systems. The basic drive in and spend a day at a park is pretty straight forward. Get inside The World and follow the signs to the selected park. Pay about $20, park and take the transports to the park entrance. Beyond that the options are many.
Magic Kingdom Transportation Center
First each resort has its own parking and usually when we visit, after check-in, that’s where the car stays. If you are staying at one of the resorts near the Magic Kingdom (The Contemporary, The Polynesian, The Grand Floridian) you are on the monorail loop that stops at each resort and the Magic Kingdom entrance along with the “transportation center”. You also have New York style ferries that travel back and forth from the transportation center to the Magic Kingdom entrance. There are also smaller boats from each of these three resorts that sail across Seven Seas Lagoon to the Magic Kingdom entrance. Each resort also has a bus stop with service to each of the parks and Disney Springs running about every 15 to 20 minutes. There is also the option of switching monorails at the station and going over to the main Epcot entrance. Also in the Magic Kingdom neighborhood are the Wilderness Lodge and the Fort Wilderness campground, that along with busses also have boats over to the Magic Kingdom entrance.
There are a few resorts that have regular boat service to Disney Springs. They include Saratoga Springs, Port Orleans & Riverside. Saratoga Springs is also close enough to Disney Springs for a nice walk along the trails around the lake.
There is boat service in the Boardwalk area with stops at Boardwalk, Swan & Dolphin, Beach Club and Yacht Club resorts with short trips to the Disney Studios Park and Epcot. There are also sidewalks that will take you from these hotels to The Disney Studios Park and Epcot.
The remainder of the resorts rely on the bus system to get around. Regarding the bus system, you can take a bus from almost all hotels to the six parks (2 water parks) and Disney Springs but you cannot take a bus from one resort to another unless they share the same route. To go from one resort to another you will have to go to a park bus stop or Disney Springs and switch to a bus going to the other resort. Another word of caution, normally, if you are a resort guest you can drive to other resorts and park. Unfortunately in busy periods they will restrict parking to only guests of that resort so you may get turned away.
It has recently been announced that Walt Disney World will be starting a dedicated taxi service soon to provide rides between any location inside the “World” for a flat fee (one report says $29).