This past week my partner and I went to Disney World for our first real vacation. It was fun for the most part, though it’s not a vacation I would have chosen to go on on my own. I’m not a big Disney fan myself, but he is, and he and his friends own property at one of the resorts there, which made it a (relatively) cheap vacation. Despite the fact that I adored having a break from work and being pampered, I have to say that I spent most of the trip in deep ambivalence, mainly due to the fact that the Disney experience is so heavily consumerist. I work in public aid, and I regularly deal with people who work 2-3 jobs and can barely provide for their families, much less even consider being able to take their family to Disney. Also, though there are exceptions, the whole purpose of anything you do at Disney is to spend unnecessarily large amounts of money, which goes against pretty much every budget-shopping urge I have. If you’ve never been to any of the Disney parks, imagine having to spend movie theater prices all day long, every day, on everything you buy. As everything essentially takes place on Disney property (Disney apparently owns a large chunk of central FL), there is no way around this. Once I accepted this, though, I was able to enjoy myself.
Here’s a breakdown of our Disney experiences.
Lodging: We stay at Jambo House, considered to be one of the Animal Kingdom’s companion hotels. (“Jambo” apparently means “hello” in Swahili.) Jambo is the larger of the two AK companion hotels. Its decorations are African-inspired–lots of heavy, dark wood and geometric designs–and the rooms wrapped around a section of Animal Kingdom’s savanna. Our room was near the end of the building, about a 7-8 minute walk from the front desk. Though this was a hassle (especially after walking an average of 13K steps per day at any of the parks) it meant that we were much deeper into the savanna and we saw more animals. Our first day there was saw three giraffes, several wildebeests, and a ton of other antlered creatures (Disney states that they have 15 species of antlered creatures wandering around their savanna; I personally saw six or seven species all told.) This hotel was a good match for me, as I’m much happier looking out at a nature scene with animals. And I did learn that no matter how much you click your tongue at them, giraffes will not come over and interact with you. 😦
Our first big dinner was the night we arrived at Jambo House. We ate at the hotel’s fancy restaurant, Jiko. It was very modestly decorated but the food was great. We had seared scallops, lamb tagine, and seared elk, followed by a raspberry and almond-milk panne cotta and spicy peanut butter mousse. Much yumminess. Erik had a fancy whiskey drink of some kind and, knowing the amount of alcohol in my future, I decided to stick with a simple old fashioned.
Our first day at the parks was at Epcot for the Food and Wine festival. Epcot has some interesting presentations and rides (I’m assuming) but all we saw were the food booths. Epcot usually has ten or so countries represented at their World Showcase, complete with restaurants, gift shops, and movies. Each of these countries also had at least one food booth added for the Festival. I think there were over 50 booths this year, including a Chocolate Studio, a funnel cake booth, and several alcohol-only booths. We attempted to hit all of the booths but really only made it to about 10 of them before we cried mercy. We had the best spanikopita of our lives at the Greek booth, did a tequila flight at the Mexican pyramid, ate escargot and pork belly, and drank more over-priced mixed drinks than I care to remember. It would have been a perfect day if it were not 92F and humid the entire time (which, unfortunately, it stayed at the duration of our trip).
Second day saw us at Disney Springs, which is essentially a Disney-sponsored mall on Disney property. It was a clean, bright high-end mall with palm trees situated on a man-made lagoon. We shopped a bit but mainly ate there was well. Lunch was at Raglan Road, a very nice Irish pub (boar burger and fish and chips) and dinner was at Iron Chef Morimoto’s restaurant (hamachi, fancy ramen, and buri-bop rice bowl). Erik stocked upon his Guinness stuff and I got very tasty GF cupcakes at Sprinkles. As it was a Tuesday, we were able to use our AMC discount and watch Venom for $5 each at the movie theater there. It was a good, if long and hot, day.
Wednesday we were scheduled for the Animal Kingdom, but Erik got hit with a bad head cold and ended up staying at the hotel, which left me free to roam a large theme park that I;’d never been to before. I rose to the challenge and once at the AK, caught their free 20-min safari through their recreated savanna (cheetahs, elephants, baobab trees). (Of course, they had much longer, more in-depth safari options, but we didn’t have the $200/person to drop on them.) Then I caught their short Lion King show, grabbed lunch, explored Pandora and China, and rode my first roller coaster in at least 20 years–Mt. Everest. It was fun, if a bit cheesy 🙂 Then I wandered back to Pandora again (Disney’s Avatar-themed area) and bit the bullet to actually wait in line for their to featured rides. The first was a boat ride through the Pandoran jungle–great visuals, but not an exciting ride. The second one–which had a 1.5 hr wait–had us flying on the back of one of their pterosaurs on a virtual-reality ride. It was an amazing ride that I would have happily taken again, but unfortunately, a five-minute trip was not worth another 1.5 hours of my time. I didn’t hit any nice eateries in AK, which was great for our pocketbook but not great for my stomach. I did have the best margarita of the trip at AK though, called the “Mo’ara Margarita,” which was some kind of Pandora-inspired drink with strawberry- and blood-orange gel eggs. Unfortunately I had to grab it and run, but I found that all of these alcoholic drinks fit almost perfectly in the WDW resorts’ recycle mugs (I bought the Halloween version, of course). All in all, AK was fun and I wouldn’t mind going back, especially if we can afford the full four-hour safari.
Day Four was Hollywood Studios. We had originally planned for two days at the Food and Wine festival but this way we had just enough park tickets to give me my time at Animal Kingdom and Erik his time at Hollywood Studios for the Star Wars attractions. (Looking back on it now, I think we both agree that we should have gotten a one-day park hopper and visited AK and HS, and spent another half-day at least at Epcot.) Hollywood Studios focuses on several of the movie franchises that Disney owns. We saw the 30min long Indiana Jones Spectacular, which showed real-life recreations of several scenes from Raiders of the Lost Ark, complete with explosions, along with commentary as to how the scenes were shot. Then we did some Star Wars shopping and caught their virtual reality Star Wars ride, which was also fun (and only a breezy 45 min wait, compared to the 1.5 hour Avatar wait). We ended up at what turned out to be a restaurant called the Sci-Fi Drive In Theater. We had been expecting one of those actual movie theaters which served dinner, but this was a restaurant that served mediocre food and played a variety of short black-and-white cartoons and ads on the movie screen. It was a let down, but it was an experience nonetheless. We did a bit more shopping, and I finally found a pair of ubiquitous Mouse Ears to buy, inspired by Nightmare before Christmas (what else?).
All in all, considering it was a five-day trip to a theme park, it was a good trip. I’m fine not having to go there for another few years, though. When we do go on our next trip, I’d like to hit the AK safari as well as the High Tea that one of the resorts runs. I’m really not a fan of classic Mickey Mouse Disney, but all of the Pirates of the Caribbean stuff is at Magic Kingdom, along with some Indiana Jones material and other things I’d probably enjoy seeing, so we’d probably need to include a visit to MK. Disney Springs is really what you make of it, and we had a good time there without spending a huge amount of money. That said, if we’re visiting theme parks, I’d love to hit the Jurassic Park and Harry Potter theme parks, which are (unfortunately?) also located in extremely hot and humid FL. But first–traveling outside of the US, ideally to Norway or Iceland.