Feeding the "Beast": End-of-trip review and summary
The Disney-obsessed: Me & DP--2 30 yr old girls celebrating 10 yrs! :)
Ok, well, we're sort of celebrating through all of our Disney trips this year. We have 3 planned in 6 months!
The back story:
Last year, we went to WDW in October (during hurricane Wilma) and just loved all the holiday festivities, along with Food & Wine.
This year, we had planned a trip in December to see all the Christmas decor (trip #1). Then, in May, the youth baseball team we help out with qualified for the USSSA World Series at WWoS in early August (trip #2). Here's where the trouble started.... Now, because we were going to Disney for 2 weeks, it made perfect sense to buy APs. Actually, *premium* APs, so we could get into the baseball games. And, we got a great deal on the BC!
Ok... now that we have the APs (good through 7/07!), when an extra week of vacation time comes up on October *and* airfare to Orlando is only $98 per person, where do you think we decide to go? To WDW of course! Who could pass up MNSSHP and Food & Wine?
AKL here we come!
Day 1 Saturday: A very long day (part 1)
We've never stayed at AKL before. We are working our way around the World's resorts. So far, we've been to ASMu, ASSp, CSR, and BC. WL and Poly are scheduled for Dec. Usually, we rent a car. But, since this was a "last minute" trip, we were trying to do it on a smaller budget.
So, we decided to explore the World of Magical Express and the Disney busses! Part of why I thought this would work is because I read lots of good reviews about the AKL bus service. The result? You'll have to read on to find out!
Our flight left the Detroit airport at 7 AM, which meant waking up at 4:30 AM. Ouch! In preparation for our Magical Express trip (and to accommodate the new TSA regulations) we packed a carry-on bag with our clothes for that day, evening, and even the next day, along with essential toiletries. Everything else went into the checked luggage with the bright yellow Magical Express tags. The airport was blissfully empty at 6 AM. We dropped off our checked luggage and breezed through security. I highly recommend being ready to present your Ziploc bag of 3 oz bottles as you enter the security area. It saves lots of time if you don't have to bother digging it out of your bags.
The flight was full, but we got on and left on time! Amazing! In August our flight was delayed because of the lack of a flight crew. Of course, I think the worst Disney delay we had was in February, when we were surprised by a snow storm as we were driving to the airport at 5 AM. I think we were on the plane for 7 hours before we landed in Orlando. Not this time! We touched down in Orlando 10 minutes early.
Enter Magical Express... we skipped luggage claim and made our way down to the ME check-in desk. Here we got our first taste of "the Disney way". If you have ever waited in line at any of the rental car counters in Orlando, you know those lines can last over an hour, with only one or two people working at the desks. Compare that to Disney's ME, where there were at least 12 people working and we waited in line maybe 5 minutes. We checked in and went off to wait in the AKL line. After maybe another 5 minutes, they called Pop, CSR, and AKL to board the bus. There were maybe 20 people on the bus. We were on our way to Disney! Hooray!!
The bus had a cute Disney promo to watch. I had hoped it would be updated for Year of a Million Dreams (we were only Day 7 at this point of YoMD), but they were still advertising Cinderellabration. Seems like they could have updated the DVD. It's not as if they didn't know YoMD was coming....
We stopped at Pop and let off about half of the folks on the bus. We went on to CSR and dropped off a few more. Then we were on our way to AKL-- only 3 parties left on the bus! One of whom was fellow DISer Oh_the_anticipation! We arrived at AKL less that 1 hour after we deplaned. I was very impressed with ME thus far. Up until now, all my worries were for nothing.
I can never sleep well the night before a flight, because I am too nervous that we’ll oversleep (I hate getting up in the morning), we’ll have trouble with traffic, the airport will be crowded, the flight will be delayed, etc. This trip, I had the added worry of Magical Express. So far, no troubles.
Now, 6 hours after waking up, we are standing in line waiting to check in at Animal Kingdom Lodge. It’s our first stay at AKL. When we first walked into the lobby, we were blinded by the sun coming in the 4-story window at the back of the lobby that looks out over the savannah. The sun was so bright it reflected off of the dark, polished wood floor like a mirror. So, with squinty eyes from the lighting and the early morning, we had our fingers crossed that our room might be ready early so we could rest a bit.
I was very excited about staying at AKL with all the animals. I had done lots of research about all the different room areas, even memorizing the location of the “worst AKL room ever” 2345. I had requested Zebra trail, Arusha savannah. Well, the room they assigned us (4382) was neither of these. In fact, it was the exact opposite, as it was on the Kudu trail, Sunset savannah. Ok—we were tired and even though I was concerned about the room location, I didn’t want to end up not having a room available for many hours. This was my first mistake. If you aren’t happy with the room location, say something about it right away.
So, we get our keys and start the long trek down the Kudu trail all the way to the last building and go in our room. I go straight to the window to check our view. Ack! People pen! And a whole bunch of chain-link fencing. And a good chunk of the view is obscured by the staircase directly adjacent to our balcony. I do see some giraffe who walk by, and an ostrich comes up to the chain link fence and starts chewing and rattling the chain that keeps the fencing closed. The animals appear to have a path they follow as the circle into the enclosure and back out again. In fact, it seemed to be the spot the ostriches came to for a bathroom stop, as we saw more than one bird shower the ground with a splatter of poo. A small group of pigs root around looking for food. So, there are animals, but the view is quite ugly. My second mistake was not to say something about the room at this point. However, we were tired and hungry. We changed into some Florida-appropriate clothing (it was almost 90 degrees!) and headed out to Animal Kingdom.
I hope your AKL stay gets better as your report goes along.. :(
Looking forward to reading more!! (and hopefully seeing some pics!) :wave:
Waiting for day 2. Just got back ourselves from AKL, and still debating with my husband about the stay... can't wait to read and share your review with him.
Great review so far, curious to see if you eventually switched rooms. Sounds like you had a L O N G walk to the end of Kudu.
we are going to try ME too in December. We usually have a towncar and this will be a new experience. thanks for your views on that
Day 1 (part 2)
Day 1: Saturday (part 2)
Is it really still only Saturday? Ok! Travel worries aside, we are off to Animal Kingdom!
Our first experience with the Disney busses went well. We walked over to the AKL bus stop, and a bus came right away. We hopped on and were at AK in less than 5 minutes. There is this excellent service road that only the busses can use which dramatically shortens the trip between AKL and AK. I think it’s faster to go by bus from AKL to AK than by car for sure.
As we were entering the park, we were surprised with characters! We met Rafiki, Miko, Friar Tuck, and Terk before we even went through the turnstiles! After grabbing a Fast Pass for Expedition Everest, we headed over to lunch at Tusker House. We were not on the dining plan (hence the AP room rate), but Tusker House is one of the few counter service places that takes the DDE card. The turkey wrap meal and salmon meal did not disappoint. However, the bathrooms there were not in good shape—about half of the toilets were dirty. While we were in there a little boy with his mom overflowed one of the toilets, and it spilled all over the floor. Yuck! We did report it to one of the cast members as we left so others wouldn’t be subjected to the ickiness. While waiting for our EE fast pass, we rode the Kilimanjaro Safari. The standby line was only 30 minutes. For the Saturday of Columbus Day weekend, it was surprisingly uncrowded. AK and Disney-MGM Studies, in my mind, have the narrowest walkways. Hence, it doesn’t take much of a crowd to lead to totally impassable paths. However, this day at AK, we had no trouble walking. In fact, we could even walk at our normally brisk pace with only minimal stroller interference.
Is it time for EE yet? Ok, not yet. Our goal this trip was to try to go to some of the places and attractions we don’t normally see. So, we decided to get on the train to Conservation Station. We had heard rumors that Jiminy Cricket sometimes hangs out there. We found Conservation Station less than stimulating. It was surprisingly small, and the train ride didn’t have a lot of “show”—as in, we saw a lot of the backsides of buildings. Though it was interesting to learn that the animals went to sleep in the buildings every night. And that they rotated the animals, such that they had many more at AK than you ever see on the Safari. But—all was not lost! We did finally meet Jiminy Cricket!
Still not time for EE. Our next stop was the Flights of Wonder bird show. It was actually well done. However, if you have issues with Alfred Hitchcock’s The Birds, don’t see this show. The birds really fly right over your head! And they are trained to go out into the audience and retrieve things from people’s hands. We did get to see a “Colb-eagle” (a.k.a. a bald eagle, for non-Steven Colbert fans).
Still not time for EE. Really—the park was not very crowded! Our fast passes were only for 3 hours later (4PM) than we printed it (1PM). If you are keeping track, we’ve already eaten lunch, gone on the Safari, ridden the train to Conservation Station, and seen Flights of Wonder. And we still have time to go ride Dinosaur! (walk on). In August, one of our friends (who was only at Disney for the 2nd time) came to stay with us for a few days. We went commando in the parks—4 parks in 2 days! We took her on Dinosaur, and she happened to be sitting in the seat where the big dinosaur roared in her face (when they take the picture). She hated the ride! She thought it was inappropriately terrifying (for anyone under the age of 25). Too bad we didn’t purchase the picture at the end of the ride! Unfortunately, our friend was so terrified she wanted no memory of the ride. (I can kind of sympathize—that was how I felt about Alien Encounter. I still get the creeps from the Stitch version of the ride.) Anyway, we enjoyed another trip on Dinosaur! in her honor.
Finally—time for Expedition Everest! The fast pass wait was not even 5 minutes—I think the standby line was only 30 minutes. We were on the 2nd train through the station. This was an EXCELLENT ride! Now, I am a very motion-sensitive person, and I wasn’t bothered by the whole “backwards section”. We were a bit worried about the whole going backwards thing. This summer, we went to an amusement park and rode “The Head Spin”. Let’s just say there was a reason for the name and a reason that there was no wait for this ride. Imagine sitting in a coaster and being pulled backwards up a hill (praying the safety bars hold). Then you are shot forward to do a loop and two corkscrews ending by being pulled to the top of another hill. Ok—that was not so bad. We turned to each other and said, “This isn’t so bad. That was kind of a fun ride.” Until all of a sudden they release the cars to hurl backwards down the hill, backwards through the 2 corkscrews and the loop, and ending by lurching back up the original hill (safety bars still holding) until they finally release you into the station, where you are now prepared to part with whatever food you’ve eaten that day. DP turns to me and says, “I think I almost blacked out on that ride,” which is sadly followed by the woman behind us (yes, there were other people deluded into riding “The Head Spin”) commented on how she still felt faint. So after this, we were very wary of any ride that went backwards or upside-down.
Fortunately, EE had no such problems. It was the smoothest rollercoaster I’ve ever been on! I highly recommend it! I did watch for the track flip over when we were waiting to go forwards again—how cool is that technology! If only we had had time to ride again… oh well, that’s why we have more trips planned! We had to get back to the hotel so we could sneak a quick nap in before the evening’s adventures.
Upon returning to the room (after hiking the 7 miles down the Kudu trail again), my elated spirits from EE were soon deflated. I decided that I hated the room. At this moment, my DP (who desperately needed a nap) had the following brilliant observation: “I think we have the same view as room 2345.” By golly, she was right! We were looking into the same ugly corner that was described as the worst view in all of AKL. My third mistake: Not changing rooms at this moment! However, DP really needed to lay down; we needed to get to Spectromagic this evening or risk missing it this trip (it too often conflicts with the dinner hour!); and we still had reservations at Jiko for 9:30 PM. So, I let DP unpack before she napped (that’s her travel obsession). Meanwhile, I was in the process of finishing the sewing on my MNSSHP costume. Unfortunately, by the time she woke up from her nap, I had decided that if we stayed in that room the whole time, it would really ruin AKL and the whole trip for me. I had had enough of watching ostriches poop and chain-rattle. So, I repacked the suitcases. Thankfully, because we had packed a separate bag for the first two days of the trip (in my over-worrying about Magical Express), I didn’t have to deal with too much organization—those items just went back in the ME bag, and everything else went into the large suitcases.
The view from Room 4382:
Why the view from Room 4382 is surprisingly similar to the infamous 2345:
Now, in order to get to Spectromagic at the Magic Kingdom at 8PM (the BEST parade at WDW), we figured we needed to be at the AKL bus stop at 7PM. There was not enough time to deal with the front desk and make it to Spectromagic, so we decided to try to take care of a faster errand: When we were at Journey into Imagination in August, DP purchased a Figment sweatshirt. However, they forgot to take the ink tag off. It was buried in the hood of the sweatshirt, so we didn’t notice it until long after we got home. At this point, the receipt for the sweatshirt was long gone. So, thanks to the DIS boards, I had gotten the phone number for Disney merchandise. I called a few days before we left and asked if they would remove the ink tag even though I didn’t have a receipt. The very nice woman on the phone told me I could go to the AKL gift shop and have it removed and that I should just bring some other receipts that proved we really were at WDW that week. We decided 15 minutes was long enough to deal with the sweatshirt. We took it up to the counter, and while the Cast Member working thought it was a bit bizarre, she did take it off. But as she was handing it back to us, she asked why the ink didn’t “go off” when we walked into the store. We just looked at her, very confused. “We didn’t try to remove it, because we didn’t want to break it open.” “Well,” she said, “it’s supposed to explode ink all over if you try to take it out of the store and the tag is still on.” At this point, we were probably looking at her like she had 3 heads, so we decided to just leave with our now-ink-freed sweatshirt. Um… does anyone else think it doesn’t make any sense for the ink to “go off” accidentally if you brought it too close to the door? Think about how much merchandise would be ruined! It only releases its ink if you try to pry it off without using the special unlocking tool. Duh.
Our second bus trip was alright. We didn’t wait too long, and a bus to MK appeared. I was pleasantly surprised with how close the bus stops were to the front of MK. A few stray drops of rain were in the sky, and I swear I saw lightening off to the north, but we made our way in and took a spot near the train station to watch Spectromagic. Thanks to our DIS boards research, we knew that the parade would begin at Main St and would end by 8:20. If we left just as we saw the last float, we could beat most of the people out of the gate and be ready to board the bus at 8:30PM. That would be plenty of time to get back to AKL to change for our dinner at Jiko. Another good bus experience—it arrived quickly, and we got to AKL with enough time to speak to the front desk about our room concerns.
I was less than enthusiastic about their response. I told them that I was displeased with the view and would like to switch rooms. Once I told her the room number (and about the pooping, rattling ostriches), she did not seem surprised. But, she said since we had “used” the room, she couldn’t give us a new one until the morning. And, at that time, we would have to check out, store our luggage, and check back in the following afternoon.
Sadly, this is the second time we have had to do this in as many trips. In August, we were staying at the Beach Club. I had called 1 week prior to check-in to let them know that we had a third guest who would be staying in the room with us for the first 3 nights. Then, when our flight was delayed, I called that evening to make sure they would hold the room and to make sure they knew about the 3rd guest. No problem. However, when we finally arrived at 1AM, the only room they had was a King Bed room, with no daybed. Not really acceptable when we had 3 people. And, they had no record of my 2 calls (which were both to CRO and directly to the hotel). The short version of our distasteful evening there: they gave us a rollaway bed for free, but it didn’t show up until 2:30AM. We had to get up and check out and then in again the next day (in the middle of our commando park day). They compensated us with $50 off our room (and they didn’t charge us for the extra adult), but we had to ask for it. However, by the end of our stay at BC, I decided that I really liked the resort a lot, so there was still hope for AKL, assuming everything worked out ok.
I don’t really think it’s appropriate to call that area of the AKL savannah view and charge the same price as the “real” savannah views. Maybe they can call it partial savannah view or something and charge less. I can’t imagine keeping those rooms unless you were upgraded. Actually, the inconvenience to the Mara and the pool would be enough to turn down the upgrade.
So, with a bit of a bitter taste in my mouth from the room-change exchange, and feeling a bit bleary-eyed from the long day (yes, it is still Saturday, Day 1), we hiked back to our room to change into something nicer to wear to our dinner at Jiko.
Our first impression of Jiko was a bit of annoyance because we were given what we call a “lesbian table”. We were put in a back corner of the restaurant where all the other tables seemed to be 2 women. Apparently, only larger parties or parties with men were allowed to sit in the main restaurant. It may have been because we were clearly coming in at the end of their dinner hours, but it was still a bit annoying. However, we did have an excellent meal. I would go back, but probably not before California Grill. The restaurant was pretty, but could have had better ambiance (or maybe we would have had more ambiance if we were sitting at a better table). We had a flatbread with goat cheese and something else, the squash soup, the shrimp, and the short ribs. We had a chocolate mocha cake and a chocolate cherry martini for dessert. All in all, it was a good meal, but I wish we had saved it for a day that wasn’t so long. The experience was dulled both by our tiredness and my disappointment with the room location. Maybe it would impress us more on another day. Eventually we’ll get around to trying it again—maybe we could stop by the night-vision animal viewing afterwards, as we never seemed to have time to do this while we were there this trip.
The flying bird-lights are very cool I think. I guess that's a perk of sitting in the back corner.
Ok! Off to bed (finally)! Ready to be up bright and early on Sunday, as we had a reservation at Norway for Princess Storybook Breakfast at Epcot at 8:50AM!
Great trip report and thanks for the tip about where to see spectro and then scoot out before the crowds!
I am so hoping your next report will be about a room with a great view :)
We have stayed at AKL twice, once on Kudu and once on Zebra, but just off the lobby area in the 1st or 2nd section... we did a walk down to the ends of the trails to check it out... what a trek!!
I went for dinner a Jiko with my friend SuAnne, we were given a table for 2 by the window right near the entrance... I didn't really notice the tables you are talking about - sorry you felt a little slighted, :guilty:
Sorry about Jiko, in August we ate there four times in one week and never had the "Lesbian" table, though we clearly are!!! :goodvibes
I'm glad you are all enjoying it!
Viki-- I'm glad to know that the back area isn't usually the "lesbian" area--I would expect more from Disney!
I think because we didn't have a reservation until 9:30, it is possible that they were just seating all of the later tables in that area. Either that, or you look like better-paying customers! :) I have been at restaruants where parties of only women (lesbian or no) are not treated like the "best" customers because it is thought that they purchase less (drink less alcohol, share meals, skip dessert). We didn't (as our bill shows!), but I have seen in happen.
I did enjoy Jiko-- more than my DP I think, maybe because the food is rather rich. I think it was a mistake to try to eat there on our first night. We weren't settled in, and I think being tired didn't help. We'll have to get out there again, maybe when it isn't the tail end of Free Dining so we can try the Duck and Pork Firecracker. :)
We loved Jiko, but I think you're right that the first night would be too much, we always reserve that for Boma.
Have you read our trip report (AKL - Very Gay, over on the trip report board, somehwere ... :)
Viki-- I did enjoy your trip report very much! I read it as we were planning this trip, and it gave me lots of ideas! It sounded like an awesome trip! I actually considered going for concierge because of it, but by that time, nothing was available (Columbus Day wknd and all). You're ability to "have a night on the town" (or an afternoon!) is impress-- I don't think I could keep up! But it sure sounds like it was a great time!. It looks like you are heading back for Thanksgiving? How fun!
Day 1 Addendum
As if Day 1 couldn't get any longer...
I did want to add this about Magical Express (it seems to have gotten lost in the editing):
It was EXCELLENT! We left our bags at the airport, didn't have to hassle with baggage claim, breezed through the DME line, got on the bus, and were at our hotel less than an hour after we deplaned! We checked in, and by the time we came back to our room (I think it was 5 hrs later), our 2 checked bags were happily there. :)
I'll keep the return trip description for the end of the trip report. But I will say, even though we have always been car renters in the past, I don't know how I will pass up ME for our next trip. I just have to figure out the best way to rent a car at Disney and still use ME for airport transfer. The busses I would not do again. More on that coming up.
We're planning on seeing Spectromagic when we go in January. Ideally we'd love to be ahead of the crowds heading back to AKL and elsewhere. Where you right at the beginning of the Parade route? If you've been before but were at a different vantage point, how did the view compare and where were you before? How long did you need to stake a claim on your spot?
still sounds like you are doing it all.....now about that EE thingie....I think I will stay clear of that.......I have heard someplace.......that you can pick up rentals at the Dolphin someplace and then return it to the Dolphin someplace.....maybe someone can check into that one.....
WE do the DDE too and have enjoyed going to different restaurants and still save on it. Not sure my diabetes would allow all the food that was on that free dining plan......hahah
Thanks for your report
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