Grand Floridian Resort Lobby’s Hosts Some Beautiful Hidden Gems

Grand Floridian Resort Lobby’s Hosts Some Beautiful Hidden Gems

The other night I was wandering around the lobby at Disney’s Grand Floridian Resort, and as I was listening to the band play I stumbled upon something that I had never seemed to notice before.

As I was admiring the amazing tiles that can be found in the Grand Floridian’s Lobby, I looked a little closer and noticed something for the first time.  Hidden in the marble and stone floors of the resort were some of my most favorite characters.  At first I only noticed the silhouettes of Mickey, Minnie, Donald, Goofy and Pluto in the entry of the lobby.  But as I was about to head out to my car, a friendly Grand Floridian cast member, who had seen me admiring the floor of the lobby, asked me if I had seen the other characters around the lobby.  And when I said that I hadn’t seen any of the other characters, he gave me a detailed tour of the lobby and made sure that I saw all the other hidden characters.  Also hidden in the lobby were Tinkerbell, Mrs. Potts, Chip, Peter Pan and Cinderella dancing at the Ball.

One of my favorite details can be found just above where you find Cinderella at the ball. If you go up the staircase, you will find in the carpet that Cinderella’s Carriage is waiting to whisk her home from her night.

I was amazed that even after all the times, and the countless times that I had walked through the lobby of the Grand Floridan, that I had never seen these hidden gems.

It was a great way to explore the Grand Floridian in a way that I hadn’t done before, and now I can’t wait to explore other resorts to see if I can find other hidden characters and gems!

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The 2012 Walt Disney World Halloween Merchandise is Out!

I was wandering around the Grand Floridian the other day and I came across some of the 2012 Halloween merchandise.  I love being in the parks during Halloween and I can’t wait for the season to start!

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Wild Africa Trek at Disney’s Animal Kingdom

Have you ever noticed people walking around the safari or near the hippos on Kilimanjaro Safaris?  Have you ever wondered what they were doing and how you could be out there getting up close to the animals?  One of Animal Kingdom’s hidden gems is the Wild Africa Trek, a special tour that debuted last year.

This tour departs several times throughout the day with the earliest tours starting before Animal Kingdom opens to the public.  The tour last approximately 3 hours.  If you are arriving before the park opens you will need to meet your guide at the front of the park and be escorted back to the tour’s starting location.  If your tour starts after the park opens, you can head behind the Dawa Bar to meet your guide.

Once you meet your guide, you will be fitted with your tour vest, which is also your harness for the first half of your adventure.  You go through some basic safety training and get to test out the practice bridge to see if you can handle the challenges up ahead.  As soon as everyone in your group is ready to go you head off with your guide into the Pangani Forest and begin your adventure.  You have short walk through the forest along the paths that the regular guests follow before you head towards the Ituri Forest.

Entering the Pangani Forest

The path that you follow isn’t paved.  You are walking on dirt and over roots.  For guest that are physically unable to take this route, there is an alternate trail that you will take with your own guide before meeting up with the main group later.  My tour had a few people who took this option.

Once you find your way through the forest, your first stop is with the hippos in the Safi River.  Your “monkey tail” that is part of your tour vest is attached to a safety bar and you are able to walk out to the edge of the enclosure and lean over to view the hippos.  I was the only one in my group brave enough to head out to the edge and lean as far as the monkey tail would let me.  It gave me the opportunity to get some great pictures.

Kilimanjaro Safari vehicle passing by
Our close up of the hippo!

After your guides share some interesting hippo facts, you head off to the daredevil portion of the tour.  Everyone is able to walk across a suspended bridge.  I thoroughly enjoyed this portion of the tour.  I can’t say as much for some of the other people in my group.  Some were scared of heights and just focused on crossing the bridge.  I took my time and enjoyed the view.  I watched as the safari trucks passed underneath and stood over the crocodiles just daring them to try to make me into their dinner.

Crossing the first of the bridges
Whoa! I hope I don’t slip and fall down there!
Stopping to take a picture
I hope they had their breakfast!

Once you’ve make it across the bridges and spent some time at the crocodile overlook, you take your last hike out to meet your personal safari vehicle.  I think our safari vehicle was my favorite part of the adventure.  Unlike the vehicles that you ride on Kilimanjaro Safaris, the Wild Africa Trek vehicles are able to stop and you are able to walk around your vehicle to get pictures of the animals.

We pulled over to get pictures of the giraffes
The baby elephants were playing

One last treat during your adventure is a small meal that is served to you overlooking the savannah.  The early morning Treks include fruit salad, cheese and yogurt, followed by fig cake, a special slaw, and prosciutto.  It was all delicious and just enough to refuel me for the rest of our adventure.

Our home away from home on the safari
Meals were served in these containers
Yogurt, fruit salad, and cheese and dried fruit
Bread, salad, prosciutto, and fig cake

We had a special, but unplanned treat near the end of our adventure.  The lions were out!  There is a spot where the truck is able to pull over and we got some great pictures of the lion. After the lions, you follow the same path as the regular safari vehicles.

Sleeping Lioness

Once you return to the warden’s post, you walk back to Wild Africa Trek meeting place.  You are able to select one of the conservation efforts represented by the animals that you saw on the Trek.  By making the selection, Disney donates a portion of your fee to the selected efforts.

I would definitely do the Wild Africa Trek again if I were given a chance.  Since I was on one of the first Treks of the day, I would like to try one of the later Treks, maybe even try to head out on the last one of the day.

One final group picture. I think we came back with everyone!

Have you ever been on the Wild Africa Trek? What was your favorite part?

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Florida Adventures: East Coast Paddle in New Smyrna Beach

I am always looking to find adventurous things to do in Central Florida.  When I first moved to the area I learned about something called paddleboarding.  Anything that involves water automatically peaks my interest!  When the opportunity came for Shelley and I to visit East Coast Paddle in New Smyrna Beach, I jumped at it.  New Smyrna Beach is about 90 minutes northeast of Orlando just off of Interstate 4, so even if you are interested in taking one of the early morning sessions, getting there wouldn’t involve too early of a wake-up call.  We were able to leave Orlando at 7 and made it with time to spare before our 9 am tour.

East Coast Paddle Boat
Cheryl and Captain Todd coming to meet us in Mosquito Lagoon!
Indian River Manatee Sign
It is amazing how much effort and love goes into protecting the manatees.

We took the Stand Up Paddleboard Eco-Tour.  To start our tour, we met up with our guide, Cheryl and our captain, Todd, at JB’s Fish Camp on the Indian River and Mosquito Lagoon.  Captain Todd pulled the boat right up to the dock and everyone in our group was able to climb right aboard.  Cheryl was an excellent guide, telling us all about the areas we would be seeing and giving us some tips on what areas we needed to avoid.  A large area of the river is actually used as an oyster farm for JB’s and there are oyster beds along the edges of the river too.  Cheryl informed us that these were areas to be avoided.

East Coast Paddle Group Photo
Shelley and I before the Paddleboarding Eco-Tour!

On our way out to the drop off location, we had our first wildlife spotting.  A dolphin!  This wouldn’t be the last spotting either.  Once we reached our destination, our boat was anchored and Captain Todd stepped out from behind the wheel to give us our lesson before we each got onto our boards.  I am an experience canoeist so I picked up on the techniques that he explained to us pretty quickly.  The most important part of the instructions included the positioning of the paddle in the water and the positioning of our hands and arms throughout the stroke.  Once you figured that out you were good to go.

East Coast Paddle Indian River
Shelley out on her Paddleboard!
East Coast Paddle on the Water
This is a shot of our group out on the water about to start the tour!

After our group pictures, we were all set out on the boards.  Cheryl went out first so she could capture our first moments out on the board and Captain Todd got us positioned on our boards one at a time.  The tour includes all the pictures they take of the day.  Cheryl sends out digital copies within a day of your tour!  When it was my turn, I climbed onto my knees on the board and paddled away from the boat.  Once I was far enough away from the boat, Cheryl told me it was okay to stand up.  That was the part I was most nervous about.  Despite the fact that Cheryl insisted that these were the most stable boards that they produced, I was still nervous about my ability to balance.  However, once I was on my feet, I was surprised at the stability of the board.  I even rocked it a little bit, just to test it out of course!

East Coast Paddle Standing Up
Here I am on my Paddleboard!

I was actually the last person in our tour to get onto a board so as soon as I caught up to the group, we began our journey down the river.  I was incredibly comfortable on the board.  With the exception of a couple times when I put a bit too much effort into a stroke, I never felt like I was going to lose my balance.

East Coast Paddle with Megan and Shelley
Shelley and I paddling along!
East Coast Paddle Group on Water
Another shot of our tour group! It was fun to share this experience with others who were just as excited as we were!!!

One of my favorite things about Florida is the wildlife and the tour definitely delivered on that front.  My favorite part of our tour was our visit to Manatee Cove.  We were surrounded by manatees who kept sticking their noses out of the water.  I admit that I was nervous that one of the manatees would try to surface right underneath my board, by I had nothing to worry about.  The manatees were close but not right underneath me.  After hanging out with the manatees, it was time to complete our tour and head back to the dock.

East Coast Paddle Manatee Cove
Getting instructions on how to paddle in Manatee Cove.

The tour we took is the best tour for beginners, however there are other tour options for beginners or more experienced paddleboarders.  East Coast Paddle offers lessons, fishing and rentals. In addition, they provide Paddle Fit classes and Yoga on Water.  I am definitely interested in the fitness classes that they offer.  In addition to the services offered on a regular basis, they are willing to create a customized tour for groups.  Just ask Cheryl about the bachelorette party that they planned during your visit!

East Coast Paddle Blanks
Its amazing all the work that goes into making these Paddleboards!
East Coast Paddle Glassing
I have my eye on a wood grained Paddleboard from East Coast…Do you hear that Santa??? 🙂

East Coast Paddle not only provides tours and lessons, but they also make the boards in their own factory.  After a morning out learning to paddleboard, Shelley and I were able to tour the factory.  All the boards are made using AutoCad (Computer Aided Drafting) Software to design the boards and they use their own 3D Shaping machine to cut the boards out of the blanks.  The boards are all airbrushed and finished in the factory to the specifications of each buyer.

East Coast Paddle Factory
It was a really great bonus to be able to see how these boards are made!!!

I had a great time with Cheryl and Captain Todd during my first paddleboarding experience.  They made the whole experience fun and relaxing, as well as a good workout.  I look forward to visiting them again and, in the future, purchasing my own board so I can head out boarding every weekend!  Make sure to visit their website and like them on Facebook.  Also, don’t forget to visit our Facebook page to see our complete album of pictures from our visit.

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Animal Kingdom Roundtable

If you know me, you know how much I love Disney’s Animal Kingdom.  I asked all the ladies here at On the Go in MCO for their opinions on the park.  Let us know what you think!

1. What is your favorite attraction at the Animal Kingdom and why?

Aurora- Safari hands down!!!! It is always a new and different view. I always learn something new. I love that some times you see the lion and some times you only hear him roaring. In all my years I haven’t heard him twice!!!!

Betsy- This is a toss up for me. For a ride, I’d definitely say Kilimanjaro Safaris since I love to see the animals in somewhat of their natural settings as opposed to a zoo. It is different every time, but always a great ride. As far as my favorite show, this is easily The Festival of the Lion King as this may actually be my favorite show at Walt Disney World. There are so many different aspects of this show I love, from the singing, dancing, fire twirling, aerial acrobatics, but my favorite is absolutely the Tumble Monkeys.

Cheryl- I love the Safari, being close to the Animals is amazing

Megan- This is tough.  I love the safaris, but I tend to get withdrawl symptoms if I spend too many weeks without seeing the Tumble Monkeys or the fire twirler.

Shalon- Expedition Everest. A great Rollercoaster that has a great back story and great queue. Even if the Yeti is forever in disco mode it’s still great to get a glimpse of him.

Shelley- My favorite attraction at Animal Kingdom would have to be Expedition Everest! I really wish that the Disco Yeti would be restored to its former glory, but with an amazingly detailed queue, cohesive story, and overall ride experience Expedition Everest can’t be beat! You can’t go to Animal Kingdom and skip Expedition Everest!

2. What is your favorite animal on Kilimanjaro Safaris?

Betsy- Wow, there are so many great animals. I love the giraffes, but I think I get most excited when I see the baby elephants. They are just so darn cute.

Cheryl- Okapi

Megan- Baby anything.  I was on the safari recently and I was able to see a baby warthog.  They’re are so cute!  For a venture off of the safaris, I love the White Cheeked Gibbons.

Shalon- Giraffe!!!

Shelley- Well first off, let me say that it would NOT be the ostriches!!! They are out to get me!!! LOL!!! But I can say that the white rhinos are my absolute favorite, because they are very graceful and powerful animals that seem to just peacefully exist on Kilimanjaro Safaris.

Aurora- Giraffes!!!!!

3. What is your favorite place to eat at Animal Kingdom?

Cheryl- Tusker House and Restaurantosaurus

Megan- Flame Tree Barbeque.  I love the ribs and the pulled pork sandwichs.  A treat that I recently found at Restaurantosaurus is sweet potato fries.

Shalon- Yak & Yeti,  if you don’t have a reservation you can usually get a seat at the bar with the exact same menu!

Shelley- I would eat at Tusker House everyday if I could!!! Their selection of food on the buffet is just exotic enough for adventurous eaters, but with the sandwich, carving station, and kid’s areas picky eaters don’t have to panic. The characters are only out during lunch, and they play games and come around just enough to make sure the little ones are happy but also have time to eat.

Aurora- Yak and Yeti quick service (Anandapur Local Cafe) I adore the honey chicken! The portions are always huge and I feel full and I love the little Orange boxes!!!

Betsy- Flame Tree Barbeque is my go to restaurant. I love the food there, especially the ribs. This is one of the best values if you are ever on the dining plan for a counter service meal. I also really enjoy exploring the different seating areas themed after different animals and how they reflect the theme of the Circle of Life. Some of the animals are featured as predators in one pavilion, but then are depicted as prey in another.

4. If you could change any area in the park, what would you change and what would go there?

Megan- Dinoland.  I can truly appreciate the theming behind the area, but it is so hot and uncomfortable there.  I would like to take Chester and Hester’s and somehow expand the Dino Institute.

Shalon- Would be nice to have a larger town of Harambe with possibly another restaurant or quick service area offering more authentic food.

Shelley- I would change the Rafiki’s Planet Watch area, because while I think it has a great message I would love to see it updated to include more exotic animals in the petting zoo, more things along the train route, and new animal exhibits.

Aurora- I am not a fan of Dinoland at all. Primeval Whirl is such a horrid ride….. I would love to see all this changed to not be so carnie ish…. The carnival games are just lame. I don’t know what I would put there… Maybe some sort of sea animal place to pet sting rays and such to tie in with Nemo.

Betsy- I am honestly not a fan of Dinoland at all. I would do away with it completely and replace it with something maybe focusing more on animals found in North America. They could do a whole section on bears and tie it in with several Disney and Pixar films if they felt the need to, like Brother Bear or Brave. Or even do bears around the world showcasing polar bears, koalas, black bears, pandas. Anything with more animals would be fun.

Cheryl- Chester and Hester area.  I’m not sure what could go there.

5. If another continent were to be added as a “land”, which one would you choose and what would be the main attraction?

Shalon- Would love to see the long rumored Beastly Kingdom with a more intense coaster.

Shelley- Oooh! This is a difficult one…I think I would love to see a South America “land” where the main attraction would be gliding coaster through a dense rain forest where the queue would showcase the diverse animals, insects, and conservation issues around saving these vanishing ares.

Aurora- I would go with a Sea something . Dolphins!!! Something to bring Nemo all tied in. I think Disney needs some kind of interaction with animals like Sea World!

Betsy- I’d love to see Australia.  I know this has been rumored for a while, but I’d love to see kangaroos, koalas, a platypus or two (hello, Perry tie in) and think it would be awesome. I know there are a couple of kangaroos in the Oasis, but think a whole Australia themed area with like and Ayers Rock climbing area and playground for kids would be fun. For an attraction, maybe something water themed, which could tie in with Nemo too. Conservation of beaches or maybe a surfing simulator 3/4D film would cool showing some of more aquatic animals.

Cheryl- Antartica , Maybe a virtual snow ride of some sort.

Megan- Definitely Australia. I think that having kangaroos would be really exciting.  And they could expand and something for the Great Barrier Reef.

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Universal’s Cinematic Spectacular

A few weeks ago, Universal Studios Orlando debuted a new nighttime show in celebration of 100 years of movies from Universal Studios.  This is one of the many new attractions that is part of Univeral’s “Year to Be Here” that are debuting in Orlando.

The new show is called Universal’s Cinematic Spectacular.  Spectacular is the right description for it.  Universal showcases several of its classic movies by featuring clips in segments of the show.  The segments vary from 100 Years of Heros to 100 Years of Horror to 100 Years of Laughter.  Some of the movies featured include such favorites as Back to the Future, Psycho, The Mummy, American Pie, and Gladiator.

The show is narrated by Morgan Freeman.  It has three water screens in the Universal Studios lagoon where the movie clips are projected.  The screens can be seen from multiple locations along the lagoon, with the most popular location being the decks near Mel’s Drive In.  In addition to the water screens, the show has water fountains, water fan screens and colorful lights between the larger water sceens.  To top it off the show includes fireworks to enhance the films and featured moments.

I was able to see the show at a preview in April and returned to see it during the opening week.  During the preview it appeared that they were testing the water screens that the movies are projected onto, however, once the attraction officially opened the preshow was full of surprises on the water screen.  I highly recommend getting there early enough to see these surprises.

A few viewing tips…

– find your spot at least a half hour before the show.  While both times that I’ve seen the show the crowds were low, I have no idea how the larger summer crowds will affect your ability to get a good view of the show.

– on windy nights, be aware of which way the wind is blowing.  The lagoon is narrow and you are close to the screens, water fountains and water fans and on windy days you will get wet.  The lagoon is surrounded by signs indicating the “splash zones.”

– be sure to have a view of the sky.  Don’t forget that the show includes fireworks around the lagoon!

If you’re not able to get to Universal soon, here is a video I took during the preview night.  I hope you enjoy the show!

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Showcase of Citrus

When I moved to Florida I made an effort to see and do a lot of the things that you can do in the Orlando area.  I stumbled across a Living Social deal for a monster truck off-road Eco-Tour in Clermont at the end of the summer last year.  It was such a good deal and the eco tour sounded fun so I got a few tickets and promptly forgot about them.  It ended up being a good thing that I forgot about them because the best time to go on the eco tour is when oranges are in season.

Monster truck

I picked a Saturday in December to take the Eco-Tour.  We got there just in time to check in and climb (yes, climb) into the monster truck before we headed off into the orange groves.  Having grown up in the northeast I had visited many apple orchards, but this was my first time on an orange grove.  It was really neat to see the trees dotted with the orange fruit, but it was even more amazing since I was riding above them!

Orange trees

 

One of the first things we learned from our guide was that the grove was one of the suppliers for Florida’s Natural orange juice and that the grove was all organic.  The tour brought us past the fields and orange groves and through a forest where our guide told us about the local plants.  Before long we were at a new large field with cows running towards the monster truck.  I was afraid we were going to hit them but these cows knew what they were doing.

Cows rushing to the monster truck

 

Cows eating oranges

 

Our driver parked the truck near a lake and we were told to pull out baskets from under the benches.  The baskets were full of oranges that we were able to toss off the truck to the cows.  They loved them.  According to our driver, they’ve tried to feed the cows other types of citrus fruits, including grapefruit, but the cows only like the oranges.  Once all of the oranges were tossed, we continued on our tour, including driving through a deep river.  Since it was December, it was too cold for us to be spotting any gators.

This old truck was just screaming "Florida oranges" to me!

After our tour we were able to go off and explore the pick your own.  With the exceptions of the pomellos, you are able to sample all of the oranges, tangerines, tangelos, and other fruit.  My favorite one that I sampled was the Orlando tangelo.  It was amazingly sweet and delicious.  Down one of the rows, I saw an old pickup truck that was just screaming classic Florida.  Of course I had to stop and get pictures.

The perfect orange

 

Sometimes you need to reach for the good ones!

Hot sauces available at the market

 

The Eco-Tour is $20 per adult and $10 per child, with group discounts available.  Entrance to the groves is free and you only pay for the fruit you take home.  Current prices according to their website are $20 per bushel and $10 per half bushel.  There is a country store where you can also pick up some homemade goods and other country goodies.

I highly recommend visiting the Showcase of Citrus if you want a relaxing day away from the parks.  The best times to visit are in the fall and winter when the fruit is in season, though they are open in the summer too.  Check out their website for more details on how to schedule a tour.

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Exploring Camp Minnie-Mickey

An often overlooked are of Disney’s Animal Kingdom is Camp Minnie-Mickey.  I personally visit it almost every time I visit the park, if for no other reason than to see The Festival of the Lion King.  I highly recommend taking some time during your next trip to visit this area.

Camp Minnie-Mickey is designed to look like a summer camp in the Adirondack Mountains.  When it is filled with park guests, it feels like it is the first day of the summer camp when all of the parents drop the campers off.  It is full of activity from the Character Greeting Trails and the other character meet and greets and Gi-Tar Dan to the always popular Festival of the Lion King.

When you leave Discovery Island and head into Camp Minnie-Mickey you begin encounter bridges and building that have a very rustic feel.  The railings for all of the bridges and the signs are all made of carved wood.  You see a special waterfall that looks like the water is coming out of a dragon’s mouth.  This may be a remnant of the rumored Beastly Kingdom.  As you proceed along the trail, you encounter Daisy with Huey, Duey, and Louie who are out on a nature hike.  You also find Mickey, Donald, Goofy and Pluto relaxing by the river and fishing.

Festival of the Lion King is inside a large (air conditioned!) theater in the round.  The theater is supposed to resemble a camp hall.  I think that if a bon fire was set in the middle of the theater, everyone would be ready to roast some s’mores.  I could probably write a whole post about the show.  The show is a live show with singers, dancers, gymnasts and even a flame twirler.  It includes live music from The Lion King and even some audience participation.

The Character Greeting areas remind me of picnic pavillions with each area being covered. The only thing they’re missing is the picnic table. During the holidays, the trails are each decorated by the respective characters and they’re decorated with a personalized Christmas tree.

You also have common areas of the camp.  You will usually see Thumper and Ms. Bunny hanging out near the exit from the Festival of the Lion.  Wandering around, like a senior camper is Gi-Tar Dan.  If you get a chance to, take a few minutes and talk to him.  He may make up a song just about you!

If you have visited Camp Minnie-Mickey let me know what you think about it.  I’ll be happy to share pictures of your favorite features in a future post!

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Celebrate Earth Day

Disney Animal Kingdom is the ideal place to celebrate Earth Day. Earth Day is the birthday of the park after all! This year the park is full of activities to celebrate the Earth. The special activities are available at Animal Kingdom from April 13 – April 22. Here are some of the activities that you can look forward to:

At the entrance to the park, you can find a large sand sculpture celebrating DisneyNature’s latest film “Chimpanzee” which comes out in theaters today.

In Asia, on the Maharaja Jungle Trek, families can play a supermarket game and learn how their purchases can effect wildlife.

In Africa, on the Pangani Forest Exploration Trail, children can identify chimpanzee tracks and clues left behind along trails in the forest.

At Rafiki’s Planet Watch you can learn fun ways to spend time in nature with your families. You can visit the Chimpanzee Research Station and take part in activities based on real conservation work.

And on Discovery Island, be sure to visit the artisans with their special crafts. You can find beautiful nature photography and lovely plants that you can take home as a memory of your vacation.

If you are not able to make it to Animal Kingdom in the next few days, you can always try out the new Disney Facebook game featuring Animal Kingdom. I’ve been playing it and I love it! Expect a review of it in the near future!

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