April 2011 Walt Disney World Bits and Bites

Feature Article

This article appeared in the March 29, 2011 Issue #601 of ALL EARS® (ISSN: 1533-0753)

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We rummage around in our archives for this monthly feature, which indulges in a bit of nostalgia, taking you back in history for a glimpse of Walt Disney World and the Disney Company through the ages. This month, we reminisce about the opening of Disney's Animal Kingdom Lodge, at it prepares to celebrate its 10th anniversary!

Disney's Animal Kingdom Lodge, which shared the same architect as Disney's Wilderness Lodge (Peter Dominick), was "designed to evoke the spirit of Africa through its art, architecture, landscaping, recreation, dining, cast interaction and wildlife," in a project made possible through the partnership between Walt Disney Imagineering and Operations Development. (Source: Eyes and Ears, February 8, 2001.)

The new, unusual resort, which opened on April 16, 2001, with 1,293 rooms, attempted to recreate the ambiance of a South African wildlife reserve lodge. As with most Disney-themed resorts, Animal Kingdom Lodge had an elaborate "backstory": Visitors to the Lodge were stopping at an African "kraal," which had been built atop an extinct volcano. The kraal, a horseshoe-shaped building found in villages throughout Africa, was designed to protect the villagers' livestock and homes. In keeping with this theme, a natural spring was incorporated into the lobby of the Lodge and traveled outside along the side of the pool. Thirty-three of the resort's 74 acres were savanna — actually three separate savannas that were home to a variety of animals, including giraffes, zebras, wildebeest, and flamingoes.

Of the rooms, 980 were standard and 294 deluxe. With many rooms overlooking a savanna, guests were able to observe wild animals from the comfort of their balconies — a view that no other area resort could possibly match.

The resort had one premier restaurant: Jiko – The Cooking Place, a 235-seat casual restaurant open for dinner only. It also had a family buffet-style restaurant: Boma with 270 seats, serving breakfast and dinner. The quick service area, Mara, served breakfast, lunch, dinner and pool-side dining, with seating for 186. The restaurants were unique in the type of cuisine they served, and also in the wines — in fact, Jiko boasted one of the most extensive South African wine lists in this country.

In its 10-year history, the very popular resort has seen much growth and a number of significant changes. Some of the original rooms have been converted into Disney Vacation Club units, and a whole other DVC section, Kidani Village, has been added. Kidani Village, which opened May 1, 2009, also has its own savanna and unique animals, as well as its own pool and table service restaurant (Sanaa), bringing the dining options at Animal Kingdom Lodge to four. Some of the more exotic or ethnic foods at the original restaurants have changed, and items that have a broader appeal have been introduced, but the menus at Jiko and Boma are still some of the less predictable at Disney World. The herds at the Lodge have increased, as many of the animals from the original savannas have multiplied, and the Lodge has acquired a number of other species as well, most notably the highly entertaining red river hogs.

At its opening in 2001, room rates at the Lodge began at $199/night for a standard view room in value season; that same room cost you $305 during Christmas week. Today, a standard room in Jambo House (the renamed original section of Animal Kingdom Lodge) starts at $240 in value season, and soars to $430 during Christmas week.

Happy 10th Anniversary, Animal Kingdom Lodge!

Do you have photos or stories from the opening months of this unique Disney resort? Share them with us at: allearsnet@yahoo.com

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by Andrew Rossi
AllEars® Guest Blogger

When it comes to dining at Disney, the restaurants inside the theme parks tend to receive much of the attention. While there are certainly some dining locations at the resorts that are immensely popular, such as 'Ohana at the Polynesian, California Grill at the Contemporary, or Yachtsman Steakhouse at the Yacht Club, a good many resort restaurants tend to get overlooked. These are the restaurants that I like to call my "hidden gems" of Disney dining. While many guests will make reservations months in advance to get into the most popular restaurants inside the parks, there are numerous restaurants at the resorts that you can walk up to without a reservation and get seated right away. These resort dining locations may not be as well-known or as crowded as the restaurants inside the parks, but that does not mean they are inferior or inadequate. On the contrary, I have been extremely pleased with my experiences at these lesser-known dining locations, all of which live up to the high standards you would expect from any Disney restaurant. If you are looking to get away from the crowds and escape the hustle and bustle of the theme parks to have a calm and relaxing meal, there are so many options waiting to be discovered at the various resorts. Olivia's Cafe at Disney's Old Key West Resort is one of these restaurants.

Guest Blogger Andrew Rossi pays a visit to Olivia's at Old Key West:

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Steven Barrett, author of the Hidden Mickeys books and webmaster of www.HiddenMickeysGuide.com, encourages Hidden Mickey hunters to look for the three following images at Walt Disney World.

1. Inside the Sci-Fi Dine-In Theater Restaurant at Disney's Hollywood Studios, stay alert for a youngster in a spacesuit during the continuous movie reel, when the words "Calling All Boys! All Girls!" and "Giant Space Satellite Show" appear on the screen. A classic Mickey formed by a circle and two knobs is on the upper chest of the spacesuit, just below the helmet. (Thanks to Bill Iadonisi for the photo.)


2. On Epcot's Test Track, as you leave the hot room (the first environmental chamber), a classic Mickey is drawn or traced on the back side of the round thermometer hanging above you to the right. (Thanks to Bill Iadonisi for the photo.)


3. Inside the Castle Couture shop in Magic Kingdom's Fantasyland, Cast Members will show you a tiny classic Mickey on the wall. Walk through the entrance doors to the right of the Cinderella Fountain, then turn right and look up at the bronze horizontal frieze near the ceiling. You'll spot a series of arches over bushes with flowers. Go to the far end of the frieze in that center room and count back six arches to a bush with three flowers at its upper left that form a classic Mickey.


You can find a selection of past Hidden Mickeys Alerts here:

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by Emily Woesthoff
General Manager for BabyCakes NYC at Downtown Disney

This month's vegan tip takes us over to the Downtown Disney Marketplace for some filling, vegan Italian food! Downtown Disney is known for its various shopping options, more recently for its lack of Pleasure Island, and also for its restaurants (not to mention an amazing vegan bakery called BabyCakes NYC that you should totally check out next time you're in the area!). Portobello restaurant serves traditional Italian fare which is chock full of meat and cheese, as you might expect; but there are a couple of vegan gems to be found on this menu, too! For dinner, the Spaghetti Pomodoro (sans meatballs, of course) is one vegan-friendly option if you're in the mood for a simple, yet tasty pasta dish. The real go-to item for dinner, though, is pizza. Yes, pizza! The servers and chefs at Portobello are often delighted to create a special pizza option for vegan guests. Try the Margherita pizza, but swap the cheese for tons of vegetables like sun dried tomatoes, black olives, portobello mushrooms (when in Rome!), and artichoke hearts. The crust is vegan, so is the sauce, and with all of your favorite vegetables on top, you won't even miss the cheese! The favorite here, however, is the Vegetarian Wood Oven Sandwich which is featured on the lunch menu only. The sandwich features delicious eggplant puree, portobello mushrooms, and roasted peppers between a delicious, hearty bread. You'll have to ask for this option without the goat cheese upon ordering, but this simple omission offers a great lunch option that will keep you energized well into the evening as you stroll through Downtown Disney.

Missed previous Vegan Tips from Emily? We're compiling them here:

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Compiled by AllEars® Team Member Cathy Bock

In this monthly featurette, we take a look at recent comments made in the AllEars.Net Rate & Review section about a particular restaurant, resort, event, etc. This month, we examine what AllEars® readers are saying about Wolfgang Puck Express, located in Downtown Disney.

This counter service restaurant is popular with reviewers, with an approval rate of 9.1 (out of 10) and recommendation rate of 98%.

From recent reviews:

Food: "by far the BEST meal we had the entire 8 days"; "best place to eat a counter service meal in Disney!"; "food was really, really good here"; "overall food quality was incredible"; "portions were nice sized". Turkey Melt: "very good"; "my favorite". Oven-roasted Salmon: "loved every bite of it" Bacon Wrapped Meatloaf: "is amazing" Flatbread Pizza: "was great"; "all outstanding"; "spicy chicken pizza was excellent with great flavors" "pizza sauce had flavor, the cheese had flavor, and the meatball and pepper combination was awesome".

Desserts: "were good"; "cookies are great".

Service: "waiter was super attentive"; "service was really good"; "waiters do a great job"; "only complaint is they served the adults then came back about 10 minutes later with food for the children"; "noticed son's 'First Visit' pin and gave him a free brownie".

Value: "could easily share a plate"; "place is amazing on the meal plan"; "being on the quick service dining plan made this place a great value"; "for one QS meal credit, it can't be beat anywhere in the World "; "price tag is higher than other counter service restaurants around".

Overall: "can't wait to go back"; "HIGHLY recommend"; "only issue was finding enough seating inside"; "overall experience was over the top"; "a step above normal Disney counter service!"

Have you visited Wolfgang Puck Express? Share your thoughts in our Rate and Review section:

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Magic Kingdom

Disney Grad Nites: The Magic Kingdom will be hosting this year's Grad Nites on April 29 and 30 and May 6 and 7. The special evenings are private, after-hours parties for high school seniors from around the country, which means the Magic Kingdom closes early to the general public on these nights. UK-born singer Taio Cruz and duo 3OH!3 are scheduled to perform on each of the Grad Nite dates.



Epcot's Flower & Garden Festival: March 2 – May 15, 2011. Cable TV Network HGTV is sponsoring weekend appearances by its designers and landscaping experts at the 18th Epcot International Flower & Garden Festival, which runs March 2 through May 15, 2011. The lineup will include the likes of Taniya Nayak, Ahmed Hassan, Patti Moreno, Michele Beschen, John Gidding, Frank Fontana, and Vern Yip appearing at the Festival Center each Friday, Saturday and Sunday of the festival on the HGTV Stage. The HGTV hosts will deliver valuable tips to Disney guests on topics including "Mobile Gardens," "Secrets to Bringing Indoor Style Outside" and "Gardening with Kids." As part of the HGTV sponsorship, the Festival Center will open daily with presentations and Disney gardening workshops. In addition to brilliant horticulture displays and celebrity guest speakers, guests at the festival can also participate in hands-on seminars and experience innovative planting demonstrations and exhibits. Most activities at the Epcot International Flower & Garden Festival are included in regular Epcot admission. You can download the festival guide (9.5MB PDF file) directly from disneyworld.com here: http://tinyurl.com/6aena4y

Flower Power Concerts for Epcot's 2011 International Flower & Garden Festival for the month of April (subject to change):

— April 1-3 — Starship Starring Mickey Thomas
— April 8-10 — Marilyn McCoo & Billy Davis Jr.
— April 15-17 — Juice Newton
— April 22-24 — The Nelsons
— April 29-May 1 — Paul Revere and the Raiders


German Glass Artist Reinhard Herzog will be at the Germany Pavillion Christmas Shop, April 1-3. Meet renowned German glass artist, Reinhard Herzog and have one of his creations personalized with a message of your choosing, or simply his signature. Complimentary personalization with purchase of ornament.

Precious Moments Dolls Debut and Signing with Precious Moments Doll Maker Linda Rick, April 22-24 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. at Heritage Manor in the American Adventure pavilion.


Don't forget to check our Events page for current updates: http://allears.net/pl/events.htm



Magic Kingdom

The Fantasyland Forest development in the Magic Kingdom will necessitate the closure of several existing Magic Kingdom park areas in 2011. Mickey's Toontown Fair's last day was February 11, 2011. Work has now begun on transforming the area into the new Storybook Circus section of Fantasyland. During the construction, Mickey Mouse and Minnie Mouse can be found on the Tomorrowland patio, located to the right of Space Mountain, and the Disney Princesses are holding court in the Adventureland Veranda. Soon, though, the Town Square Theater and will house meet and greets, featuring FASTPASS. For more details on the new Town Square Theater meet and greet featuring Magician Mickey:


NOTE: Tinker Bell and friends can now be found in Epcot, at the Pixie Hollow Fairy Garden near MouseGear.

For more details and an artist's renderings of the new Fantasyland, read the official press release here:

Enchanted Tiki Room — Under New Management remains closed after a fire earlier this year. It is expected to reopen in June.

Disney's Hollywood Studios

Star Tours is closed for rehab. The attraction will be updated and is scheduled to reopen May 20, 2011. The new experience will be in 3-D, an all-new ride that includes many of the new worlds and elements from the more recent Star Wars movies.


Animal Kingdom

Primeval Whirl is closed and is expected to reopen in mid-April 2011.

Disney's Art of Animation Resort

Disney's Art of Animation Resort, the 26th resort at Walt Disney World, will feature family suites designed around four themes: The Lion King, Cars, Finding Nemo and The Little Mermaid. The resort will be located next to Disney's Pop Century Resort.

Disney has released a new artist rendering showing Disney's Art of Animation Resort at Walt Disney World as part of a new web page just launched on the WaltDisneyWorld.com site. On the page there are some details you may not have seen yet about this new resort, with more soon coming. Dates for booking haven't been announced, but the resort isscheduled to open Summer 2012.


Downtown Disney

LEGO Imagination Center at Downtown Disney Marketplace is undergoing an extensive renovation project that will increase its overall footprint by nearly 3,500 square-feet and add new LEGO exterior models of favorite Disney characters. During the project, LEGO Imagination Center is in a temporary "pop-up" location between Once Upon A Toy and Earl of Sandwich. The project is expected to be complete in mid-April 2011.

Mickey's Groove in the Downtown Disney West Side will close as of April 2. All of the products offered in Mickey's Groove are also available at other locations in the Downtown Disney Area. In addition, in July Orlando Harley-Davidson will be moving from Pleasure Island to the Downtown Disney West Side into the former LittleMissMatched and Mickey's Groove locations. LittleMissMatched will be moving to Downtown Disney Marketplace later this spring.


A complete list of rehabs can be found here: http://allears.net/tp/rehabs.htm

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Each month we share reports of guests at Walt Disney World and Disneyland experiencing special Magic, which we call "Magical Moments":

Sam: My family and I were at the Magic Kingdom, celebrating my 18th birthday. I was wearing a "Happy Birthday" button, and of course a princess tiara. As we were walking through Liberty Square in the afternoon, my birthday attire caught the attention of one of the cast members in the area — not uncommon at the Magic Kingdom. He approached me to say Happy Birthday, and then proceeded to ask how old I was turning and where I was from. He asked me whether I embarrassed easily, and I replied no. The cast member, who turned out to be the Town Crier, declared to all that, "On this day, 18 years ago, Princess Sam (antha, I assume?), was born in the cold and snowy state of Wisconsin!" Everyone who was passing through the area in front of the Haunted Mansion turned their attention, and the whole thing was finished with a short and sweet happy birthday song. Unfortunately, everything was so spontaneous that the event wasn't able to be videotaped. Fortunately, I don't think that's a moment I'll be forgetting anytime soon! I was so glad Disney was able to make such a major birthday so memorable!

Janet Carvalho: On one of our many trips to WDW, friends of ours came along for their first visit to the World. I had hoped to have them see my favorite parade, SpectroMagic, but unfortunately, it was not scheduled during that week. One evening as we were walking through Adventureland at the Magic Kingdom (the husbands and kids were on one of the mountains), I started to hear the parade music from SpectroMagic. I said to my friend Debbie, "Oh, listen to the music that's playing — it's from SpectroMagic. I just wish you could have seen it!" All of a sudden I realized that totally unexpectedly and unannounced, THE PARADE WAS ACTUALLY STARTING! We both ran as fast as we could to Frontierland so we could watch the parade. I was so glad that I could share this magical moment with my good friend, Debbie.

Joan Feder: When my now-teenage daughter was about 2 years old, we were having breakfast at Cinderella Castle. She was given a plate of scrambled eggs as part of the meal. When Alice came around to say hello, she noticed that Becky had not touched her eggs. Up until that time, Becky had repeatedly refused to even try scrambled eggs. Alice told her that "that would NEVER do," plopped down, placed Becky in her lap, and proceeded to dip the eggs in ketchup and feed them to her. Needless to say, Becky cleaned her plate, and scrambled eggs have been a favorite ever since!

We just bet you have a story to tell about an unforgettable moment during your Disney vacation! Please send your favorite memory for inclusion in a future AllEars® to: allearsnet@yahoo.com Thank you all for sharing!


Editor's Note: This story/information was accurate when it was published. Please be sure to confirm all current rates, information and other details before planning your trip.