Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Navigating the Magic Kingdom: Going Against the Flow

Going to Walt Disney World for the first time or for the first time in a long time can be quite intimidating. Many save up for years and years for their trips, hoping to squeeze in as much as they can into the span of a few days. After months of planning (or maybe no planning at all), guests arrive and can become completely overwhelmed due to the great expanse of the resort property, unable to fit in all of their must-dos.

What is a guest to do?

As someone who has visited Walt Disney World numerous times over the past 28 years, and as someone who grew up during the age of the Internet, spending countless hours watching park videos on YouTube, reading blogs, playing with GoogleEarth, and looking at photo galleries of the parks and resorts, Walt Disney World has become a second home to me. While I still need to use the road signs to navigate how to get to the different resorts or parks (because let's face it--navigating the roads of Disney World can be pretty confusing), drop me into the theme parks and I could get you to where you want to go no problem, without the use of a park map. I remember when I was in high school, sitting on the bus with a kid from down the street and literally listing off for him, land by land, each of the attractions in the Magic Kingdom. I know, I's a gift..and a curse...

Not everyone is an idiot savant like me, though. So for those of you who haven't been before, don't go very often, or don't go often enough to please you (like me), here is one of my tips and tricks to getting the most out of your time at Walt Disney World's Magic Kingdom.

Navigating the Magic Kingdom
The Magic Kingdom is the smallest of the four Walt Disney World parks, but can also be confusing due to the different lands that make up the park. Growing up, when we would travel to the Magic Kingdom, my parents always experienced the park differently than the rest of the guests and I never quite understood why: upon entering the park and arriving at the hub from Main Street, USA, we would always turn left, past the Crystal Palace and cross the arched bridge into Adventureland. This was somewhat backwards, although I didn't know it at the time, because the majority of guests, upon arriving at the hub, turn to the right and pass through the Tomorrowland Noodle Station into Tomorrowland. We would then experience the park "backwards," moving in a counter-clockwise fashion from Adventureland, into Frontierland, Liberty Square, Fantasyland, Mickey's Toontown Fair, and ending up in Tomorrowland to finish off our afternoon before doing it all again in the dark of the evening.

This is actually backwards, not only in the American train of thought, but also in terms of how Imagineers designed the park.You see, the Magic Kingdom can actually be experienced as a trip through history, if guests move through the lands in a counter clockwise fashion (and bypass Tomorrowland). The trip through western history begins in Fantasyland, which is depicted as a European feudal village. The Enchanted Forest stands on the outskirts of the castle walls with a nearby kingdoms ruled from Beast's and Prince Eric's castles off in the distance. A family of dwarfs live in the center of the forest, mining diamonds as their income. However, enter the walls of the fortified city and you find yourself in late-medieval Europe where a festival is occurring. During the later years of the middle ages, (1200s-1400s), it had become very expensive for kings to pay feudal lords to defend the kingdom, as these warrior lords, known as knights, wanted increasing amounts of land and power in return for their military service. As a result, monarchs began to look outside the kingdom for paid mercenaries and internally at a conscripted peasant army to defend their landholdings. As a result, the aristocracy of Europe no longer had a purpose and instead used their fighting skills, such as jousting and horse riding, as well as their artistic abilities (gained from a lot of sitting around and doing nothing) to participate in festivals and tournaments. As a result, as guests wander through Fantasyland, they find themselves in the midst of a medieval village enjoying a late medieval festival, complete with tournament tents and experiences located along the castle wall. As guests wander westward through Fantasyland, they find themselves passing under an overpass a part of the Columbia Harbor House and are immediately transported into Liberty Square. The theming of this area is reminiscent of early New England, shortly after European colonists set up towns on the shores of North America. However, as guests continue west, they also move through history as the building facades subtly change into those from the 1700s. The House of Burgesses and Independence Hall stand on the left, signaling the start of a movement toward separation of the colonies from their British monarch, culminating in the village square, where a series of flags representing the new states, a Liberty Tree holding thirteen lanterns, and the Liberty Bell representing freedom, all stand, symbolizing the creation of a new nation. Continuing through Liberty Square, guests come upon the Rivers of America and the steamship, representing a push westward through Manifest Destiny, America expanding toward the western unknown. As guests stroll (or push their strollers) forward, they cross a small bridge beneath which runs a (usually) unnoticed waterway, signifying the crossing of the Mississippi River into the western territories of America, Frontierland. The buildings become more rough, the landscape more dusty, as guests continue through Frontierland, until they arrive at Big Thunder Mountain, where prospectors are mining for precious metals, something that occurred in parts of the United States like California, the Dakotas, and Nevada during the mid-nineteenth century. As the path turns southwest, guests pass into Adventureland, signifying the move America took southwest geographically into places like Mexico, Hawaii, and other Pacific locations during the latter years of the 19th century. Finally, as guests pass over the bridge from Adventureland back into the hub of the Magic Kingdom, they find themselves headed out of the park onto Main Street USA, a turn-of-the-century town during the Victorian Era of the late 1800s into the early years of the 1900s. Guests who then want to continue back up Main Street and into Tomorrowland can continue the story of history, into the future that was imagined and inspired by visionaries like HG Wells and Jules Verne.

While thematically and story-wise this journey through the Magic Kingdom makes the most sense, I've always found that going into the park in the morning actually slows my day down if I experience it in a counter-clockwise fashion. Most guests rush over to Space Mountain in Tomorrowland or the Fantasyland attractions such as Peter Pan's Flight or Seven Dwarfs Mine Train, while others simply head to the right because of the tendency to head right in America based on the hand most write with or the fact we drive on the right side of the road. This means that during the morning hours until about noon, the east half of the park (Tomorrowland, Storybook Circus, Fantasyland) are generally more busy, while the west side of the park (Adventureland, Frontierland, Liberty Square) are generally less so (save for Splash or Big Thunder Mountains). As a result, I've found that I can get in some of my favorite attractions early without much of a wait, such as the Jungle Cruise, Pirates of the Caribbean, and the Haunted Mansion, prior to enjoying my lunch at Pecos Bill's around 11:30. This then gives me the majority of my day to wait in line in Fantasyland and Tomorrowland for some of the more popular attractions before park closing.

This has generally been my experience. As a teacher, I usually travel during the peak times in the summer, and his is the philosophy I've generally taken on trips with my whole family and those with just my wife. However, I'm sure there are days where this would not work as well, such as the busiest days of the year.

Hopefully this helps someone!

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Thanksgiving 2013: A Face Full of Water

It was Thanksgiving, 2013. My wife and I had traveled to Walt Disney World for a whirlwind weekend with my parents and my brother. We'd decided to skip the traditional Thanksgiving; my parents and brothers flew on a plane down to Orlando, while my wife and I hopped in the car after school on Tuesday night and made the ten-hour trek in the dark to Walt Disney World, arriving at the off-property timeshare resort around 2:00 in the morning.

My mom met us in the downstairs lobby of the condo building to let us in and we rolled our suitcases into the elevator and rode up to the eleventh floor. We followed her, squinty and in her pajamas, to the front door of the condo, where my dad met us, his curly hair a hot mess. My brother was passed out on the couch of the condo, his mouth wide open and drool hanging down his check.

We spent the next three days in three of the four parks, visiting the Magic Kingdom on Wednesday, Epcot on Thanksgiving, and Hollywood Studios on Friday, before leaving Orlando on Saturday to stop-and-go traffic along I-4 and I-95, making our ten hour drive back to Greensboro closer to fourteen hours.

On Thanksgiving, we had made dinner reservations for Tutto Italia, enjoying a meal of Fettuccini Alfredo for our meal rather than the traditional turkey-and-potatoes fare. While a fairly untraditional holiday, it was quite enjoyable wandering through the park, as it was not overly busy. We were able to ride and experience everything we'd wanted, including Soarin', the new Test Track, and Maelstrom (which I was later to learn would be my last experience on the attraction, later closing to make way for Frozen).

Midway through the day, we had made our way up to the Imagination pavilion, riding on Journey into Imagination with Figment and donning our 3D glasses for a musical trip with Captain EO. Upon exiting the show, we made our way to the jumping fountains, watching in wonder as the jets and bubbles of water jumped from pod to pod. I'd always been fascinated with these during every trip to Epcot (and EPCOT Center), ever since I'd first experienced the wonders of the Imagination pavilion back in its heyday with Figment, the Dreamfinder, and ImageWorks.

While generally pretty introverted, as a teacher, I'm often on display and performing. There were a few other families around marveling at the jumping fountains as well, leapfrogging from pool to pool. I came up with a brilliant idea.

I watched the water as it leapt from pond to pond, and walked forward, away from my family.

"Where are you going?" my wife asked me. I didn't answer. I stopped in front of one of the ponds, situating myself about three feet away from it. "Andrew!" my wife said, trying to get my attention again, thinking I hadn't heard her. I continued to ignore her. I watched the water leapfrog around the courtyard and towards me. My moment had arrived.

The water spilled from a nearby pool and leapt toward the spongy pool in front of me. As it finished dropping into the pool, the stream shot out towards me. I quickly adjusted my position...

and got drilled in the face by the entire stream of water.

Watching the leapfrogging water from a safe distance, you don't realize how much water is used for each jumping stream. It's more than you think.

My wife and mother gasped behind me. The other families around starting laughing hysterically. I turned around, water dripping off my bangs and down my cheeks. My tee-shirt was soaked. I slowly turned around to look at my family. My wife had a horrified look on her face, while my dad and brother had cracked a grin. I flickered my eyes around the small group congregated around me and smiled widely. I threw my fists in the air and yelled "woohoo!!!" This made everyone laugh...except my wife. She jumped towards me and smacked my arm. "I can't believe you!" she said, only sort of frustrated, a small smile twinkling in her eyes.

I giggled and started walking toward the restrooms on the back side of Innoventions. The weather was cool that day and I needed to dry myself off. I went in and used paper towel to soak up the moisture from my shirt. I used some to mop the water out of my hair and off my face and arms, and exited the restroom, pleased with myself. I gave everyone a good chuckle that would last the rest of the day.

Thursday, November 17, 2016

My Favorite Resort Pools

Welcome to this month's Blogorail Orange Loop. Today we are the best Disney resorts for relaxation.

Growing up, my parents realized that I got grumpy when I was tired. This especially happened during our vacations at Walt Disney World.

And when I say grumpy, I mean to say that I was a major turd. Unfortunately for my family, not much has changed almost thirty years later.

In an effort to minimize the crab-factor, my parents often took a break from the parks to head back to the resort during the hottest part of the day to rest, relax, take a nap, or spend time by the pool. We also took days off between park days to hang out at the pool.

As a result, I have many fond memories of my favorite pools on property. This list is not the standard "Top Pools to Visit at Walt Disney World!" but rather the pools that have meaning for me by being tied to fond memories. While these pools may not be as significant to you because they are my memories giving them importance, if you are like me, you will take whatever chance you can to read about someone else's experiences at Walt Disney World because it fuels your desire for all things Disney and helps to satiate your WDWWd (Walt Disney World Withdrawal, which I explain in more detail here).

One of the earliest memories I have of Walt Disney World resort pools is the pool at Caribbean Beach. I stayed at this resort during one of my first trips as a two or three year old. I don't remember much about the trip, but I do have a strong recollection of swimming with my dad in the pool while the themed structures of an old Spanish fort towered over and around the pool. Sticking out from the turrets was a number of cannons. I don't remember if the cannons spilled water into the pool or not, but I do have some sort of memory of the cannons making exploding noises, although that could be a mixed up memory of the cannons at Caribbean Plaza near Pirates of the Caribbean in Magic Kingdom's Adventureland. Like I said, I don't remember much about the pool, other than the experience and emotion of swimming with my dad in the pool. A few years back, Disney refurbished the pool and its theming, rebuilding the Spanish fort buildings. The turrets look similar, albeit some subtle changes. The cannons poking out of the windows of the turrets now spill water in a stream into the pool, and the bridge that stretched over the pool has been removed, looking as though it crumbled into the pool below. Disney also added an additional building on the deep end of the pool, housing the structure of a waterslide. Because of my fond memories attached to this pool, the refurbishment was bittersweet: the refurbished structures and theming look great, but the images attached to wonderful memories are no more, preserved only in my mind's eye and online.

Another early memory I have of a Disney pool is the pool at Disney's Port Orleans Resort. Originally opened in 1991, we must have stayed at the resort in 1992 or 1993, making me somewhere between three and five years old. This was the original Port Orleans resort, now known as Disney's Port Orleans Resort: French Quarter (Riverside would not open until 1992 and was known as Dixie Landings until the two resorts merged into one in 2001, each part becoming known respectively as Disney's Port Orleans Resort: French Quarter and Port Orleans: Riverside). The pool of Port Orleans: French Quarter (which I will from hereon refer to as simply Port Orleans because that is what it was called during my visit) is known as Doubloon Lagoon and features statues of fiberglass alligators (similar to those in the "Dance of the Hours" sequence of Fantasia) around the pool area. A large seashell serves as a band shell along one side of the pool beneath which the gators pose as playing instruments, while streams of water spray out of the tips of the shell. However, the centerpiece of the pool, and what made it most memorable to me is a large sea serpent that arches over the pool as bridges until it becomes the waterslide, guests cascading down its tongue into the pool. Mounted atop the serpent's head sits Poseidon, king of the sea, looking mysteriously like King Triton from The Little Mermaid. The official backstory of the resort's pool, when it opened in 1991, explained that due to the danger posed by the numerous alligators and snakes that frequented the ponds of the Sassagoula Bayou, the fathers of the village built a large sea serpent out of chicken wire and bedsheets to scare the children out of the swimming hole. However, over time, as the official backstory has dissipated, the pool area has become an extension of the overall theme seen most heavily in the food court of the resort, the Sassagoula Floatworks and Food Factory, which, according to backstory, serves as a manufacturing factory and storage facility for Mardi Gras floats. With this new backstory, the waterslide has become an extension of the Mardi Gras theme and has become known to be a float for the Mardi Gras parade, the music-playing gators the performers on the street corners and musicians of the festivities. As with the pool at Caribbean Beach, I don't remember much about this pool from the early 90s, but what I do remember is swimming under the arched coils of the serpent and sliding down the pink tongue slide of the creature into the waiting arms of my dad at the bottom of the slide. I also remember standing next to a pair of alligators on the path to the pool from the lobby building, one playing a banjo and the other, a drum, my parents taking my photo as I pretended to play an air-banjo. This pool became even more special to me during the summer of 2015, when my wife and I took our three kids to Walt Disney World for the first time. We stayed at Port Orleans: Riverside, as it was one of the only resorts that could accommodate the five of us for a low cost. The Port Orleans Resorts are a special breed of resorts on property: while operated as one resort with a shared management team, they can be booked as separate lodgings, similar to Disney's All-Star (Sports/Music/Movies) resorts. As a result, guests staying at one of the Port Orleans resorts can use either resort's pool(s) (pool hopping at other resorts on property is quite the no-no, as one of the perks of staying at the resort is having exclusive use of its themed pools). As a result, as guests of Riverside, we spent an evening midway through our trip over at the French Quarter, eating at the Sassagoula Floatworks and Food Factory and enjoying an hour of swimming in the Doubloon Lagoon. We enjoyed swimming under the coil bridge of the serpent, screaming excitedly as we stood under the spraying water jets emitting from the sea shell band shell, and even catching our then four-year-old boys as they came down the waterslide (sitting up like goofballs). We ended our evening at the French Quarter's pool by snapping a picture of our three children surrounding the drum and banjo playing gators, all three of them playing air-banjo, coming full-circle from my original trip to the resort.
Photo Courtesy of Melissa Knight

Another Walt Disney World pool that is near and dear to my heart is the pool over at a lesser-known Disney resort, Coronado Springs. It was at this resort, in the early 2000s, that my true love for Walt Disney World became an obsession. I was in high school and was finally starting to understand the implications of why I loved the resort so much. Shortly before this trip, I had received a burned copy (shhhh don't tell!) of the Walt Disney World Explorer CD-ROM (kids, this is a program that you use on you computer that is loaded onto a CD disc before we could download programs from the Internet) from my high school computer teacher, a fellow obsessor (looking at you, Dudka!) over all-things Disney. Being in high school, my parents gave me more leniency on this trip, and I spent the time at Coronado Springs wandering the resort alone, exploring things. I spent quite a bit of time in the lobby building, the gift shop (where I was ecstatic to find fiberglass statues and references to one of my favorite Disney films, The Three Caballeros), the Pepper Market Food Court, and the resort pool, which was centered around a Mayan pyramid. A stream of water bubbled out of the top of the pyramid and spilled down the steps of it, large sticks and logs blocking guests from climbing up to the top. In fact, I enjoyed exploring the resort so much during this trip, that shortly after coming home, I wrote a fan-fiction that took place at Walt Disney World about a teenage detective team trying to uncover a murder at a local resort, chasing down clues at the different parks and eventually catching the killer at Coronado Springs (I was really into the Hardy Boys, okay?). While the pool itself wasn't anything terribly special, one thing sticks out in my mind about this trip. I was a weird high school kid. Anyone who knew me would describe teenage-me as a dork, a nerd, a dweeb, one of those kids who would make jokes and laugh at himself. I distinctly remember large pillars, designed like an Aztec or Mayan religious statue of a chieftain or priest standing along the edge of the pool. The pillar acted as a shower for guests getting into or out of the pool. However, to add to the "fun" of the pool, designers had also created a steady stream of water that shot out of the pool side of the statue, emitting from the mouth of the statue. Because I was so weird, I thought it would be funny for me to stand at the end of the stream of water. I'm not sure if the water pressure coming out of the statue was especially high that day, but I remember the spray being so hard that it felt like it was ripping the skin off my back. Finding weird things funny, I stood in the same spot in the pool, the water drilling into my back, for a good fifteen minutes (it probably looked like I was peeing in the pool or something). By the time I left the spot, my back was a big red welt, but I didn't care, because the entire experience made me laugh. To this day, there are times when I am standing in the shower and have flashbacks to this moment of the water pounding into my back in the middle of the Coronado Springs pool.
Photo Courtesy of Melissa Knight

While there are numerous other pools that I have experienced over the years (Wilderness Lodge, Animal Kingdom Lodge, Port Orleans: Riverside), and there are some pools that I would LOVE to swim in (Polynesian Village, Art of Animation, Boardwalk), the three I discussed above are the most special for me.

And it all goes back to those happy (and odd) memories that are linked to them. But isn't that why we love Disney?
For more family road trip ideas, check out the other great posts from the Blogorail!

Here is the map of our Blogorail Orange | Best Disney Resorts for Relaxation

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Nostalgia Snacks at Walt Disney World

I am a nostalgic. And being nostalgic makes me stubborn. And stuck in my ways.

This happens all the time at restaurants. I go out to eat to a restaurant for the first time with my family and find a meal that looks appetizing to me. If we enjoy the restaurant, and we go back...I order the exact same thing. There could be forty other things on the menu that look slightly appetizing to me, but I will only order the one dish every time we go back. Take, for example, Texas Roadhouse. They've got many delightful dishes on their menu. However, I will only ever order their chicken crispers, which are a crispy, lightly-breaded chicken tender with fries. Or take, as another example, one of my favorite (and my mom's favorite--shout out, mom!) restaurants: Cracker Barrel. This is a restaurant you could get breakfast during their operating hours, as well as country fried steak, hamburgers, chicken pot pies, or roast beef. However, every time I go, I get the Chicken Tender platter, which allows guests to choose three sides and their choice of biscuits or corn bread. I always get the fried chicken tenders with fries, mashed potatoes (and butter), macaroni and cheese, and buttermilk biscuits with a Diet Coke. I could choose anything off the menu, but I always choose the same

because it is comfortable.

It's much the same way at Walt Disney World. However, once in awhile, I decide to be "adventurous" and try something new in the way of snacking. And very rarely the snacks I've tried at Walt Disney World have been disappointing to me.

Here are my top suggestions for snacks at Walt Disney World that everyone should try at least once.

Disclaimer: Remember, I'm a good Dutch boy who is a nostalgic who likes to be comfortable, so this is by no means an exhaustive list. I know that there is a ton I need to reach out and try yet, so don't judge! These just happen to be my favorites. :)

1.) The granddaddy (arguably) of all snacks at Walt Disney World: The Dole Whip. I saw online once that someone stated the Dole Whip to be overrated. This is an objective opinion of that poster. I would argue that the Dole Whip is an amazing snack that I personally go out of my way every trip to enjoy. There are two places on Walt Disney World property one can go (to my knowledge) to get a Dole Whip (or a Dole Whip float if you prefer): Aloha Aisle at the Magic Kingdom (although during my last trip in August 2015 they were being sold at Sunshine Seasons Terrace) and the Pineapple Lanai outside Captain Cook's at the Polynesian Resort. For those of you who are unaware, a Dole Whip is a traditional twist-style ice cream dessert. However, rather than the snack being a twist of chocolate and vanilla, a Dole Whip is a twist of pineapple ice cream and vanilla. It creates the perfect taste combination of tangy and sweet ice cream. A Dole Whip Float, on the other hand, is similar to a root beer float, but instead of root beer, the ice cream is suspended in pineapple juice. Guests who are crazy enough to not enjoy pineapple (such as my father), can opt to choosing a Citrus Swirl, which is identical to the Dole Whip, but substitutes orange-flavored ice cream for the pineapple. When visiting during our last trip in Summer 2015, we snacked on our Dole Whips twice: we quickly slurped our dessert at the tables between Sunshine Seasons Terrace and the Magic Carpets of Aladdin, as well as at tables overlooking the Volcano Pool of the Polynesian. I am unashamed to say that I got my daughter hooked on the delicious treat. I was also lucky enough to find that a small ice cream shack in my hometown of Grand Rapids, Michigan also sells Dole Whip desserts, which will now give me a chance to enjoy the nostalgia of fond memories when I go home for the summer.

2.)  The second treat that I enjoy when visiting Walt Disney World is the churros. My first exposure to Disney's churros took place during my second anniversary trip with my wife in June 2012. We had been staying at Disney's Animal Kingdom Lodge (when my wife accidentally almost killed a about it here) and had taken advantage of the deal of free dining by staying at a deluxe resort. As a result, during this trip, we had eaten an enormous amount of food, being lucky enough to have both an entrĂ©e and dessert with each meal. We were visiting Epcot and decided to eat at La Cantina de San Angel (the outdoor counter service adjacent to La Hacienda de San Angel across from the Mexico Pavilion). After eating our tacos and quesadillas (or whatever we ordered), we decided to choose the hot churros with the caramel dipping sauce as our dessert. We were both lucky enough to order these warm, delectable treats, each getting four or five churro sticks as part of our dessert order. I had never enjoyed a churro before. And after this experience, I was hooked. A churro is a stick of fried batter covered in cinnamon and granulated sugar, that is usually served warm and often dipped in a sauce such as caramel or cream cheese. It was delicious and now, every time I go back to Epcot, I will be getting this delicious treat. I know they have churro carts elsewhere, but the positive memory of eating them with my bride at Epcot's Mexico pavilion may hinder me from enjoying them anywhere but there.

3.) Some peoples' go-to snack at Walt Disney World or any Disney park is popcorn. People line up, especially in the international parks, to try different flavors of popcorn. However, I'm such a nostalgic that I don't even know whether Walt Disney World sells any flavors of popcorn other than butter-flavored. I'm not a huge popcorn fan at home. Even when I go to movies in the theater, I don't really care for popcorn: it gets stuck in my teeth, I usually swallow a kernel or two, and I inevitably inhale a piece of popcorn into my lungs, leading to a coughing fit and the beefy muscle man in front of me turning around and giving me dirty looks for interrupting a mushy scene of the chick flick we are watching. However, while not a fan of popcorn, eating it at Walt Disney World at least once during a trip is a requirement due to the nostalgia factor for me. When I was growing up and I would visit the parks with my brother and parents, we would always eat a big breakfast at our resort's food court or a character meal before starting our day in the parks. We would also plan on a big meal in the evening. To save money, we would usually have a snack mid-afternoon. Because a "small" popcorn was usually served in a big box (we so felt like we were playing the system), we would get two boxes of popcorn to share between the four of us and some 20 oz. of soda as a snack. We would find a spot in a rocking chair or on a step or porch of Frontierland or Liberty Square and eat our popcorn and drink our soda while we people watched. Again, I'm not a huge fan of popcorn and I'll rarely eat it (I'd opt instead for ice cream or chips for a snack at home), but there is something comfortable and happy about eating popcorn at the Disney parks, Magic Kingdom and Hollywood Studios especially, that makes me feel warm and fuzzy inside.

And there you have it. There's round one of my favorite Disney snacks. I know there are a lot more that I haven't even touched on, like a turkey leg or a Mickey pretzel or even a Mickey ice cream bar. However, these are my top three, all because they are attached to a special place in my Disney consciousness.

Monday, November 7, 2016

(Almost) Killing a Giraffe at Animal Kingdom Lodge

It was the first time my wife and I had been to Walt Disney World together.

We were celebrating our second wedding anniversary and were lucky enough to get reservations at Disney's Animal Kingdom Lodge (my wife likes animals and had never seen the resort before, so I did the romantic thing and got a room at the hotel). When we'd booked the resort, we had only been able to afford a room facing a parking lot on the front of the building. But management learned it was our anniversary and, in true Disney fashion, upgraded us to a savannah view room.

It was the day of our anniversary, and we had gone back to our hotel room to prepare for our anniversary dinner: the Coral Reef at Epcot's Seas pavilion. Neither of us were huge seafood fans, but we figured it would be a romantic atmosphere for our anniversary dinner.

While my wife got dolled up for our date night, I sat on the balcony and watched the animals from our third floor room, sipping Diet Coke out of my refillable drink mug. Because her hair is so straight, my wife likes to use hair rollers rather than a curling iron. She came out onto the balcony to look at the animals with me, rollers in her hair. We began planning out our evening at Epcot, and she turned around to face me, leaning up against the balcony, her back to the savannah. We discussed what attractions we would like to get Fastpasses for that evening (this was still in the day of paper Fastpasses before Fastpass+), when all of a sudden, a hair roller fell out of her hair and onto the savannah below us.

We both froze. We looked at each other, our eyes as large as Mickey's ears in fear, mouths agape as though we were getting ready to stuff in a Toluca Turkey Leg.

I sprung out of my chair and over to the railing (a grand total of eighteen inches), and together we leaned over the balcony to find the hair curler, white plastic end caps and brown felt spindle, lying on the savannah below.

"LOOK WHAT YOU'VE DONE!!!!" I dramatically yelled at her, terrified. When we'd checked in to DAK Lodge, we had signed an agreement saying that we agreed to help protect the wildlife of the resort, including not feeding or throwing anything onto the savannah. In my mind's eye, I pictured a giraffe, ostrich, or Ankara cattle bending over to eat this hair accessory that looked like a Swiss Cake Roll and choking to death on the hot piece of metal inside. I pictured our faces plastered all over area newspapers and national news shows, known as the Disney Giraffe Murderers. And worst of all, I pictured myself being hauled out of the hotel, our bags thrown at us from behind, and banned from ever returning to Walt Disney World.

I sprinted into the hotel room, dove across the bed, and picked up the phone. I punched the number zero, and in a moment, a sweet voice answered.

"This is the front desk!" she chirped.

"WE ARE GOING TO KILL AN ANIMAL!!!!" I wanted to scream into the phone.

However, I took a breath and cleared my throat.

"Um, I just wanted to call and let you know that my wife accidentally dropped a hair curler over the edge of the balcony into the savannah," I explained, embarrassedly. I gave the cast member our room number and apologized over the phone. She told me to stop by the desk at our convenience that evening to retrieve it and to speak with a cast member.

"Oh boy," I thought to myself, nervously.

We finished getting ready, ensuring that my wife removed her hair curlers of death from her head in the room's bathroom. We hopped on resort transportation and headed to Epcot, enjoying our anniversary dinner at the Coral Reef, riding Spaceship Earth, and wandering around World Showcase before enjoying the first part of Illuminations and the Fountain of Nations in front of Spaceship Earth.

We headed back to our resort around ten o'clock. Walking into the lobby hand-in-hand, we headed timidly over to the front desk.

"May I help you?" a young male cast member asked.

"Yeah, um, my wife dropped a hair roller over the edge of our balcony and we were told to stop by?"

"You're that guy?" the cast member laughed. He excused himself into the back room for a minute and reemerged carrying a white paper envelope with a bulge in it. I opened it to find the hair roller, slightly cracked, but in one piece and not covered in the blood, saliva, or partially digested grass dinner of a giraffe.

"Nice job," he laughed lightheartedly.

"So you heard about us?" I asked, a small smile on my face.

"Buddy, everyone knows about you two!" he laughed, excusing himself down the desk to another family.

This has become a story of legend among our family and friends, and is still being told by us, especially when we want to tease my wife. I'm sure to this day, cast members still laugh about the young couple who almost (but not really) killed an animal at Disney's Animal Kingdom Lodge.