Summer is in full swing here in New Mexico. This is the first year I’m home with both kids during the summer and it’s….. a lot. Fun, yes. Fulfilling, mostly. But a lot. I thought I’d fill the days with productive house cleaning and fun DIY projects for the kids, but mostly there’s been a lot of video games and movies. There was one science project that involved water, clear nail polish and construction paper, but it didn’t really work out. So I think we were all grateful the other week when my husband suggested a quick afternoon at Tinkertown.
Tinkertown Museum is located in Sandia Park, about twenty minutes from Albuquerque, which means it’s 10 degrees cooler, which is very welcome in the 100 degree heat we’ve been having. It started as a traveling exhibit of wood-carved figures and dioramas, with antique toys mixed in here and there. It’s now a rambling museum of oddities.
I love bringing the kids here. It’s small enough that I don’t worry about them getting lost or separated, and there’s something new to discover every time we go. They love exploring here. Pushing buttons to bring the dioramas to life, pumping quarters into the old carnival machines, putting messages in bottles.
The outside of the museum is as fun as the inside. With hummingbirds diving at all the feeders, and a mini western town to wander through. In the gift shop there’s stick candy and fancy soaps. My daughter gets a grab bag for a couple dollars and my son gets a glider in the shape of a butterfly.
It’s always good to get out of the house, go somewhere. Somewhere a little cooler preferably. And off the beaten path. It was a relaxing afternoon.
AKA: Why Animal Kingdom Lodge is the best hotel ever…. unless you’re my mom.
Sigh. Last year my family and I were at Disney World, celebrating my mom’s sixty-fifth birthday and having an awesome time. This year, my family and I are deep cleaning our house. Which is great, I love getting the house in shape, but I’d rather be at Disney World. But since I’m not, I’ll take a break from all the cleaning to reminisce and write about Disney World.
Today I thought I’d talk about Animal Kingdom Lodge and why it’s an awesome hotel for some, but not all. I was blown away by the hotel, and would gladly stay there any time. My mom, on the other hand was a little underwhelmed. Since I’d rather end this post on a happy note, I’ll start with why my was less enthusiastic than I was.
My Mom’s Cons:
Animals 😦 Sad but true, my mom was underwhelmed by the animals at the Animal Kingdom Lodge. I chalk this one up to reality not meeting expectation. I’ve talked a bit about the importance of expectations before, and my mom is a good example of being disappointed when expectations aren’t met. To be fair, the promotional pictures for the hotel do quite a good job of upselling the animal experience. My mom was expecting it to be more naturalistic, like you are waking up in Africa and can see savannah for miles and miles. In reality, you see other hotel room balconies, a well worn road that the keepers use, and (if you’re looking close enough) feeders and barriers.
Crowds 😦 Okay, so usually when we stay at Disney World we stay at Old Key West Resort which is the largest resort at Disney World in terms of square footage, and has the least amount of rooms. Which means it’s a sprawling, spread out, very quiet resort. Animal Kingdom Lodge has much more of a bustling hotel feel to it. My mom prefers the quiet hotels.
Location 😦 Animal Kingdom Lodge is a tad further from the parks (besides Animal Kingdom), and the only form of transportation is bus which gets tiresome. Especially after staying at the Grand Californian Resort at Disneyland the year before last. Walking from your hotel directly into the park will spoil you pretty quick.
Animals! I was blown away with the animal encounters! I was expecting to see the occasional zebra, or oxen in the distance, but we saw so many animals throughout the day. There was one ostrich that would keep coming by our balcony, strutting her stuff, I loved starting the day, drinking my coffee, watching her do her thing. And the animals are all over the place. Tortoises and birds outside the window of the restaurant, flamingos by the pool, if you are an animal lover (or have an animal obsessed kid) the animals are a lot of fun.
Food! Everyone in my family agreed that the food at Animal Kingdom Lodge was delicious. The hotel has a signature restaurant (i.e. fancy), a buffet, a more casual sit down restaurant, a quick service restaurant, a lounge, and two pool bars that also serve a limited menu of food. And the food was goooood. There is a great mix of safer options (hamburgers, chicken nuggets, etc) and more adventurous, African inspired dishes. The best dish I had there was also the simplest, the bread service at The Victoria Falls Lounge. The lounge is a fun place to grab a drink, located between two floors, and overlooking the buffet. It was a nice place to unwind after a busy day of traveling. Listening to the African drumming didn’t hurt either.
Activities! This right here is why I’d go back to Animal Kingdom Lodge over and over again. The resort offers a whole slew of activities. It’s great for people who want to do something besides the parks. Most of the activities are geared towards kids, but there are several for adults only, some of which include wine ;). A lot of the activities were educational as well which I appreciated. My daughter actually chose to hang out at the hotel over the parks an afternoon or two, so that she could take part in more of the activities. She helped make enrichments for the animals, learned about conservation, how to track animals in the wild, and about Africa itself, she got her face painted by two sweet women from Kenya, and got to decorate a cake. All of these were free activities that added an extra layer to our stay.
In my humble opinion, Animal Kingdom Lodge is a breathtaking resort that is great for families who don’t want to spend all of their time in the parks, and don’t mind the extra hustle and bustle. It would be a waste to stay there and not explore all that it has to offer. Gorgeous pools, artwork around every corner, rocking chairs in quiet nooks for watching the sunset over the savanna, it has so much to offer. I can’t wait to go back some day!
Out on the water. The sun was setting, turning the clouds into a watercolor painting. All you could hear were the birds, the water slapping the side of the boat. The Magic Kingdom, with its thousands of visitors, fast rides and colorful parades felt miles away. And yet, there was Cinderella Castle, right in front of us.
Last year my family celebrated my mom’s sixty-fifth birthday with a trip to Disney World. We usually visit Disney World every two years, but I wanted to make this trip extra special. So I set out to combine our favorite things to do at Disney World (favorite restaurants, fast passes for can’t miss rides, etc.) with brand new experiences.
In particular, I wanted to surprise my mom with one big experience as our present to her. So on the third night of our vacation, around dinner time, we left Magic Kingdom and headed over to The Polynesian Resort. This was our first time visiting the Polynesian, and oh my gosh, I want to stay there! The place is gorgeous! And I’m dying to spend a day at their pool! After getting a little twisted around, we found what we were looking for, Trade Sam’s Grog Grotto.
Trader Sam’s Grog Grotto is a tiki bar, but it’s soooo much more than that too. The whole bar, which is very small, leading to a wonderfully cozy feeling, is filled to the brim with treasures. You never know when a volcano might erupt, a tropical storm might arise, or a giant squid might lend the bartenders a helping tentacle. I ordered an Uh-Oa, and well, just watch what happens. (Not my video) Seriously, Trader Sam’s is like being a part of a Disney ride, with booze. And those drinks? Delicious and strong! I love keeping the glasses as souvenirs too.
After our drinks and a bite to eat, we headed to the pier. We waited by the little kiosk that listed prices for water equipment and activities. There was another family there too, they were also surprising someone for their birthday ;). The pier was full of small boats that would fit about 8-10 people. Some of the boats had banners that read “Happy Birthday!” and balloons. My mom looked confused.
Our skipper came to meet us, introductions were made, life vests were put on the kids, and we were led to one of the boats with a birthday banner. We said goodbye to the other family, who was getting on their own boat with a banner, and we told my mom what was going on. For her birthday we had gotten a private boat to take us around Seven Seas Lagoon. At the end, we would find a spot on the water to watch the fireworks at Magic Kingdom.
My mom’s face lit up like a little kid’s. This was definitely not what she had expected. We got situated, and we were off. Our skipper (who was awesome, but whose name I can’t remember) told us to help ourselves to the provided snacks and drinks. There was a nice selection of bagged chips and cookies, and some Mickey shaped crisped rice treats (yay!). The drinks were sodas and water bottles. When I made the reservation I had mentioned that my mom was sensitive to gluten and soy, so I was happy to see two boxes of allergy friendly cookies and brownies for her.
Our skipper (let’s call him Tom) usually didn’t do the fireworks cruises, he usually stuck to fishing excursions. This meant that he was incredibly knowledgeable about the animal and plant life around and in the lake. Since we were a boat full of nature lovers, this was perfect. For about an hour, we made our way around the lake. Learning about which birds were native, and which were introduced.
Tom told us about the different hotels we passed, and the unique architecture of The Contemporary Resort. He showed us the remaining remnants Discovery Island and River Country (Disney’s first waterpark) and the island where Walt Disney had planned to build his house. For a Disney nerd like myself it was heaven. For the non Disney nerds on the boat, it was a relaxing boat ride with family and a nice change of pace from the go go go of the first three days of vacation.
We watched the sunset and Tom found a good spot to watch the fireworks. I was a little nervous about the view when I made the reservation. The fireworks show had just been updated to include more projections on the castle, and I was worried we would be missing out on this part of the show watching from the water. There was no need to be worried. I was surprised at how well we could see the castle. The boat was equipped with speakers so we were able to hear the music that went with the show as well.
The fireworks was an amazing show. For twenty minutes we oohed and ahhed, my son slept through the whole thing. We clapped at the end, but Tom wasn’t done yet. He moved our boat closer to the Grand Floridian and stopped. There we got to watch the Electrical Water Pageant. Imagine parade floats mixed with Christmas light displays. Or, take a look at Disney’s website for a better description. When that was over, Tom made his way back to the Polynesian. Our private fireworks cruise had come to an end.
This really was one of the best nights I’ve ever had, at a Disney Park or otherwise. It might be cliche, but it was magical. There’s really no better word to describe it. There are so many different experiences at Disney World, it can be hard to pick and choose. I’m so glad we chose this one, and I would absolutely do it again for a special celebration. Here are a few reasons why it was such a good choice for me and my family.
Cost: A Lot of Bang for your Buck
I know, I know. A private cruise? At Disney? It must’ve cost an arm and a leg, right? It was actually one of the most cost effective experiences I looked at. When planning our trip I looked at behind the scenes tours, scuba diving, safaris, like I said, there’s a lot you can do at Disney World besides rides. Renting a private boat was one of the cheapest routes for one simple reason: it didn’t charge per person. I was traveling with a large party of four adults and two kids. At the time, it cost us about $350 for the fireworks cruise. Most tours, parties, even cruises, usually cost about $60-$80 a person.
Privacy and Quiet Time
I’ll never forget the time my brother took my mom to a Teppen restaurant. She was aghast at having to sit next to a stranger. At the same table! It’s not that she’s unfriendly, she just doesn’t enjoy forced mingling. At least, that’s what she says. 😉 Needless to say, when I was looking for something special to do, I knew she would appreciate something that was just family.
Fun For All
I was traveling with, how should I put this, an eclectic group. Everyone was very different and had different interests. The fireworks cruise had something for everyone. There was the relaxing boat ride for my mom and brother, great photo ops for my husband (all the photos in this blog were taken by him, check out more of his photography here), Disney facts for me, the Disney nerd, and fireworks and snacks for the kids.
We All Like Boats
Yeah, don’t book a fireworks cruise if you don’t like boats. 😉 But if you do like boats, and you want more information, here’s the link to Disney’s page on specialty cruises.