A slightly-late look at Avatarland

Hey there!  Have you heard?  Disney’s Animal Kingdom is adding a massive park expansion and theming it to James Cameron’s recent film “Avatar”.

What’s that you say?  Of course you’ve heard, because you are a Disney fan and have not been living underneath a rock for the past few months?  Ah, yes, I AM a little late reporting on this. 😉

Oh wait, what’s that from the person in the back?  You say you DIDN’T know, because you don’t live under a rock but you just don’t follow Disney news obsessively?  Ah, well then, glad to help!  So yeah.  Animal Kingdom.  Avatar.  Happening.

…Yeah.

*crickets*

NO WAIT, there’s more!  (Don’t go! I’ll stop deprecating myself now and put up some real info!)

James Cameron et al and a model of the planned expansion. (C) The Walt Disney Company.

James Cameron et al and a model of the planned expansion. (C) The Walt Disney Company.

First things first: after months of rumours and unconfirmed buzzing, Disney finally confirmed the Avatarland expansion a few weeks ago at the D23 Expo in Japan.  A short while later (still like, two weeks ago), they released concept art and a few details of what would be included in this expansion.  Here’s an excerpt:

Disney is working with James Cameron and Lightstorm Entertainment to bring the land of Pandora from the movie “AVATAR” to life at Disney’s Animal Kingdom® Theme Park.

Apparently everyone will get the chance to “encounter awe-inspiring floating mountains and wander through a nighttime jungle of bioluminescent plants that are alive with light and sound. Guests will also discover what it feels like to soar into the sky riding a Banshee.”

Bioluminescent plants.  Huh.

Bioluminscent... like THIS??  Concept art (C) The Walt Disney Company

Bioluminscent… like THIS?? 😀 Concept art (C) The Walt Disney Company

So, I’ll take a moment here to relate that I have not seen “Avatar”, nor do I have plans to.  As such I wasn’t excited to hear the rumours confirmed, but at the same time, I’m not qualified to say “That movie is AWFUL what are they thinking?!”  I will say that I have reservations about this expansion for one reason I think is legit, and even that can be argued, so I’ll just put it down here and say it’s fine by me if you feel differently, I’m just admitting my bias: I don’t think Animal Kingdom is the place to have such a major, heavy movie tie-in.  Animal Kingdom has been dedicated to the theme of Earth, conservation, and nature.  And while Pandora/Avatar do promise to keep the conservation and nature themes going, it severs the ties to our planet; it takes you out of the Earth and its history, and into a work of fiction.  Even the abandoned “Legendary Beasts” concept for DAK was based in our own historical mythology, not a recent work of fiction by a Hollywood creative team.

But, your mileage may vary. 🙂

I will also admit that if they can pull off the “awe-inspiring floating mountains” in a way that lives up to their pictures, I will be impressed enough by this to bake them cookies.

Concept art (C) The Walt Disney Company.

Concept art (C) The Walt Disney Company.

Meanwhile, the concept art and announcements actually strangely lessened my resistance. A little.  More so though, did this:

As part of the largest expansion in the history of the Park, Disney’s Animal Kingdom will also offer all-new entertainment experiences, including a new nighttime spectacular where live music, floating lanterns, water screens and swirling animal imagery all combine to bring a show to Discovery River …. The Park will introduce more nighttime entertainment as well, including live performers on Discovery Island® and a new nighttime version of the Kilimanjaro Safaris®.

New nighttime spectacular!  This is a big deal; for many years they have held off on having nighttime entertainment at DAK due to not wanting to upset the animals. (Like fireworks are OUT.)  Water screens and swirling animal imagery sounds perfect!  And live music… isn’t that a first for a Disney nighttime show?  That actually sounds really impressive!

Concept art (C) The Walt Disney Company.

Concept art (C) The Walt Disney Company.

Nighttime version of Kilimanjaro Safaris, I’m not sure of.  I just mean I need to find out what that is all about, because it’s hard for me to imagine it. I’ve done the Jungle Cruise at night, is it like that?  Is it just that the drivers will go off-script? 😉  No, I keep faith that Disney will put research into finding out what they can or cannot expect the animals to do at night and build the nighttime safaris around that, rather than building the show and forcing the animals to be out in it.  Animal Kingdom has been dedicated to its animals and I expect them to keep that up.

So, if there are new opportunities and entertainment at Animal Kingdom, I realized, that really isn’t a bad thing.  Would I like it more if it were not tied into a specific movie I don’t plan on seeing?  Yes, yes I would, but it’s not up to me to decide now is it?  And I would like to hold out hope that fun is fun and, much as I ignore Terk every time I see her walking around DAK, I can ignore any blue people. 🙂

Concept art (c) The Walt Disney Company.

Concept art (c) The Walt Disney Company.

So you know what?  I’ll probably end up OK with this. I usually end up OK with the stuff they do once I get there.  But I hope they keep the hardcore movie references to a minimum because it’s not really fair to go to a DISNEY park and be all “what, you’ve never seen Avatar??  You won’t get this then.” ;P

Construction on Avatarland will begin in 2014, and right now the expected open date is 2017!  Are you wary, or excited about Avatarland? Or mixed feelings, like me?  Leave a comment and let me know!

Wordless Wednesday: Disney Weenies and the Tree of Life

Family Pictures 1372

So obviously this is the Tree of Life at Animal Kingdom.  I love this picture and I love the way this tree is… well… it’s just so HUGE!

In case you don’t know what a Disney “weenie” is, that’s the name given to the big, easily-identifiable icons in each park. The ones where you see just a picture of them and you go “OH, that’s at Disney World!” 😀
Focused on the Magic

Thanks again to Deb at FocusedOnTheMagic.com for hosting the Wordless Wednesday blog hop!  Head on over to see more posts!

Top 5: Attractions for Young Kids at Animal Kingdom

It’s the Return of the Top 5 at Disney With Me! Well, for this week at least…

In case it needs saying, I did not design this logo; image (c) the Walt Disney Co.

In case it needs saying, I did not design this logo; image (c) the Walt Disney Co.

So as always – your kids may vary. This is based on my children’s likes, plus reviews I’ve read, my awareness of average kids’ preferences, and so forth. I’m also leaving out play yards which means the Boneyard is out, even though for the record I think the Boneyard is the best play area Disney parks offers. 🙂 I’ll tell you why I left out “It’s Tough to be a Bug” – because when I saw that with my husband, I loved it, but that sequence when the lights go out and then things drop from the ceiling, etc – that’s when the screaming started, and at least five people had to take their crying kids out of the theatre then. So I say wait on that 3D movie, and not only for 1-2 year olds.

Honorable mention goes to: all the animal/nature trails. I think these are *great* for every single person, but I’m not putting them officially on the list for two reasons: 1, it’s a lot of looking and no interacting for young kids, and two, it’s a lot of *walking* for young kids. Without something specific to hold their attention, some – not all, but some – children under five aren’t able to get a full experience out of nature trails and similar things. I think once they get older and can draw their own experience out of such attractions, it gets better and better. On the other hand, I still think the opportunity to see a huge variety of animals, at your own pace instead of the Safari’s pace, is a fantastic one for kids, so it HAS to be mentioned.

Now, the actual list!

#5: Flights of Wonder.

Just don't watch any Hitchcock movies before you go to this. (Image from Wikipedia)

Just don’t watch any Hitchcock movies before you go to this. (Image from Wikipedia)

Low on the list because I haven’t “tested” this one – we didn’t manage to catch a show on my last trip. I am reasonably certain that my children would be enchanted with this, I mean – the birds fly out over your head! I would only really worry about whether your kids like being relatively close to real live animals; my daughter is skittish about this and though she was willing, she was nervous about whether the birds would land on her. I still don’t know how she would have handled it in the actual show when they were flying around.Myself, I think this show is phenomenal – one of the best “Animal Stars” shows I’ve ever seen. Best is that they are not trained to perform tricks, they are displaying natural behaviours, just doing it on cue. And they manage to make it funny. It’s an all-around pleasure.

#4: Character Greeting Trails at Camp Minnie-Mickey (and elsewhere). I was sort of amazed by all the meet and greet opportunities. Animal Kingdom is really FULL of them and some are unexpected, like Flik. It’s neat to come out of Festival of the Lion King and pretty much stumble into a nest of characters; my daughter and I used the restrooms and when we came out Brer Rabbit was just standing there with no line at all. So she went to see him, and he started dancing with her and spinning her around, and she was giggling, and it was awesome. Then we saw all the others, and even waiting in line wasn’t hard, because the handlers were coming by and kidding around with the kids; then the characters were making us feel like we were the people they’d been waiting to see. They focused on the kids but it was really an inclusive feeling; I’m always so impressed by character greets.

I should add that this hat made her pretty popular.

I should add that this hat made her pretty popular.

#3: Speaking of Camp Minnie-Mickey, and the afore-mentioned Festival of the Lion King, here we have it at number 3!

Ladies and gentlemen, PHISH!  No, wait... What? Image (c) The Walt Disney Co.

Ladies and gentlemen, PHISH! No, wait… What? Image (c) The Walt Disney Co.

I myself am going to go on record and invite criticism by saying… I’m not a huge fan of “The Lion King”. Certain songs, certain characters, but the overall package I can skip. (Lord help me though, I do LOVE Rowan Atkinson.) However, when we went to this show last time, I was blown away. The audience involvement is high-level, the songs are so well-performed, the use of Timon & Pumbaa is perfect (and they are among the characters I really like), and hey! Tumble Monkeys! 😀 No, this was everything I liked about TLK and none of what dragged for me. My son actually slept through it but my daughter was VERY into it, and interestingly, so were both my husband and I – and he feels exactly the same about TLK as I do. 😉 Every time I’d read a review of someone saying “Not to be missed!” I’d think “Yeah, well, fine for YOU” but actually they’re right. Highly recommended and not to be missed.

#2: Finding Nemo: The Musical.

I’m going to confess here. I… I haven’t seen this. But I know for certain that, in spite of that, it’s a must-see and it’s our loss for not having seen it. The puppets alone… From reviews I have heard, they do a great job of condensing the movie into a shorter timeframe *and* add songs, and the performers are brilliant. I can’t give personal experience recommendations, unfortunately, but it slightly outranks FotLK just on reputation alone.

I'm sure this is completely how immersive it is for the audience, too.  Lots of fish. Image (c) the Walt Disney Co.

I’m sure this is completely how immersive it is for the audience, too. Lots of fish. Image (c) the Walt Disney Co.

#1: Number one for anyone I recommend this park to will always be Kilimanjaro Safaris. I honestly can’t think of anybody who should not go on this attraction; it’s super fun, you see SO many animals, and it’s deservedly the showcase of the park. IMO, having done both Kilimanjaro and Expedition Everest (which I only just got to do last trip), Kilimanjaro is my preferred choice. Everest is amazing though. But obviously it would not be on a list for young children. 😉 The setup and organization of this safari ride are expertly managed; you see so many animals that it’s really highly likely your kids will see something that excites them. Our last visit, a giraffe crossed the road right in front of us. My daughter’s favourite animals are giraffes and she still goes on about how beautiful it was. 🙂

This isn't the giraffe that crossed the road but it is a giraffe!

This isn’t the giraffe that crossed the road but it is a giraffe!

Flame Tree BBQ – A Review

It’s Review Day at Disney With Me! I’m trying not to only do restaurants but BOY there are plenty of restaurants at WDW to review. (By the way, did anyone see my Boma review before WordPress ate it? I’m not kidding, it’s GONE. I’m peeved, it was an early post but a GOOD one. Anyway.) So today I thought I’d do a counter service restaurant, so as to get a little bit of variety in.

I had researched our dining options in Animal Kingdom in advance to try to figure out what would probably be the most family-pleasing, budget-friendly, and still thoroughly delicious place to grab quick food. I chose the Flame Tree Barbeque (or as you plebes would spell it, Barbecue, but I like my fancy-pants spelling better and will stick with it, unofficial or not), because first of all, “flame” and “barbeque” in the same cluster of words makes me drool.  I have no clue why. It just sounds so… so… flamey.  And barbequed.  It’s funny, because I’m not a meat fanatic and I’m not even that big on actual BBQs but… somehow that combo hits all the right spots in my brain to make me REALLY crave it.

Uh, but I digress (I think this is one of those “don’t type hungry” moments).  I picked this counter service restaurant out because they had a good variety of options and I was definitely looking for something non-pizza, and because the reviews on it were consistently very good.  After reading the menu at AllEars.net, I was doubly sure I had picked the right place.  Chicken?  Pork sandwich?  Ribs?  I am a ribs fanatic so they had me at “hello”.  (Ironic spoiler alert: I did not actually order the ribs.  Go figure.)  The kids’ menu was good, because although my children both love mac and cheese, it’s ubiquitous at WDW and I wanted someplace with OTHER options.  Same deal with chicken nuggets.  So the baked drumstick and the hot dog were music to my ears.

So what we ended up with was a drumstick for my daughter, a 1/2 chicken for me, 1/2 ribs for my husband, and my 1 1/2 year old son shared my chicken.  My daughter didn’t finish her chicken, but that was pretty standard for her at the time.  My husband said the ribs were very good, and I tried a bit so I know it’s true.  I loved the chicken.  I ’bout died over it.  Oh wow.  I know I said I’m a rib fanatic but I’m glad I got the chicken.  (Yes, you can get a rib/chicken combo; I didn’t because I have a weird thing about getting something different from what the hubs gets.)  It did not cost that much, and I had a hard time finishing it because it was so large.  There was no problem giving my son some without me feeling short changed.  Also, the beans and coleslaw that came with it were GOOD.  I don’t consider myself a big fan of coleslaw, but when it’s GOOD, I really like it.  This was some good slaw.  Beans aren’t all that hard to get right, so I don’t have a lot to say there. 😉  Funny thing: I don’t remember having dessert.  I’m pretty sure we did but I have NO idea. According to the menu, the desserts are mousse, and I just don’t remember having any mousse.  Chalk this up to a poor memory and not to it being underwhelming, okay? *G*

We also got two conservation pins, one for each kid, and a beautiful outdoor seating area with birds wandering around on all sides.  I don’t have any pics of my own to share so rather than nip off with someone else’s, here are the results of a Google Image search for you to enjoy!  (That chicken. I’m dying here.)

If ever in Animal Kingdom, this is my first and most vehement recommendation for a dining location.  Good food, good location and good prices.  I didn’t try the chicken salad but based on the quality of the food we did have, I’m willing to bet it’s great.  I have yet to read a bad review of this restaurant. 🙂  Admittedly, it is not the ideal place for a vegetarian to dine, but other than that – go!  Enjoy!

Vegetarians: Bradley Falls and Tamu Tamu Refreshments have a few good, and not-just-cheese-pizza, options.