Disney and Universal
September 2015

Pre-trip
   
We had originally thought of not heading down to Disney this year; but as most of you know, any excuse is a good one. We both wanted to see the expanded Harry Potter Diagon Alley area at Universal Studios and September sounded like a great time to see it when the crowds are at their minimum. We decided to stay on site at the Loews Royal Pacific Resort for the Universal part, then switch to Pop Century, we also decided to add two nights at the Animal Kingdom Lodge Villa to see if we would like it. Kelli also decided to go to one evening of the Night of Joy to see Francesca Battistelli, MercyMe and other groups.

    We had some minor negatives on this trip but overall it was a great vacation.

 

Wednesday September 9
Friendly but Incompetent

   We woke up at 3:15 AM; Scott, our brother-in-law picked us up at 4:05 for a quick drive to LaGuardia.

    We used curb side check-in and were through security by 4:40 AM. Breakfast was at au bon pain; oatmeal and a bacon egg and cheese on a bagel.

    Our 6 AM Jet Blue plane's name was "Here's Looking at Blue Kid". We paid extra for more leg room and that made for a very comfortable flight. We landed on time and picked up a Honda Accord from Enterprise snagging a "Free Upgrade"

    As tradition and as birders, we both tried to guess what bird we would see first. Kelli guessed Great Egret and me, Cattle Egret. We were both wrong as the ponds at the airport were empty of birds. Our first bird was a Northern Mockingbird while on I-4. We did see a Wood Stork fly over the car on the way to Publix Super Market at Lake Cay Commons to get water and wine coolers.

My GPS had me take some back roads instead of I-4 which had traffic. All the lights on W Sand Lake Road probably didn't help me save anytime.

    At Publix something unusual happened that never happens in NY. The lady who checked us out offered to help take our groceries out to the car. We politely declined since our car was so close.

    We found the Loews Royal Pacific Resort which is associated with Universal Studios. I was really hoping to like this hotel, especially with the free Express Pass, easy walk to their parks and early entry. But our stay was marred by a number of issues. In short, they have a very friendly but incompetent staff. After dropping off our luggage and self-parking the car, we tried to check in. Their computers were having problems. That's not the fault of the staff, but how they dealt with it was. Since we could not check in we were unable to get our Express Passes for the parks. The front desk told us to go to one of the parks with our temporary hotel keys to guest relations to pick up temporary Express Passes. The front desk lied to us saying that guest relations were well aware of the check-in problem at the hotel and that they would take care of it. We checked our bags with bell services and headed to Isle of Adventure by boat, if we could find it. This hotel lacks clear signage and added to our frustrations. We eventually found the boat, and made our way into the park. We spent a valuable 30 minutes in the heat waiting on line at guest relations. And it turns out, they had no clue about our problem and nobody knew of the problems the hotel was having. The attendant disappeared with a manager into the back for another 15 minutes before anything started to be done. We did eventually get our temporary Express passes but it was not a pleasant way to start a vacation or a way for a hotel to make a decent first impression.

    We were hot, starving but we put the problem of the hotel behind us and started to enjoy the park. I had my picture taken with some very tall ladies and looked for a place to eat.

    We grabbed a bite at the Comic Strip Café for a couple of poor quality cheeseburgers and a soda for $22. Then it was straight to Hogsmead, to soak in some Harry Potter.

    As we entered we stopped and listen to the Hogswart School Choir with the singing frogs. I went on the Dragon Challenge coasters and rode the Chinese Fireball side while Kelli did some shopping.

    We were eager to see the new section so we took the Hogswart Express Train. This was very well done. The scenes outside the train's window featured Hagrid, the Weasley brothers, Mad-eye Moody and the Knight Bus making its way through downtown London.

 

    After exiting we stopped and watched people interacting with the Knight Bus's conductor.

    The entrance to Diagon Alley is just like the movie, you enter through an open brick wall.

    We shopped and explored a little then entered Gringotts for the ride. Kelli does not do thrill rides but here you can walk through the detailed and magical queue. She will exit before we get to the actual ride. The first room is the bank itself. There are over a dozen Goblins working behind the tall desks, all animatronic but incredibly life-like. They occasionally peer up from their work and give you a look.

    Past this the queue is full of detail and things to looks at, such as newspapers with moving images. They take a "security" picture which you can purchase later. Ours were a bit overexposed so we passed on it. There is a great elevator ride deep into the caverns and after this is where Kelli took our bags and exited the line.

    I had trouble fitting in the seat in the second row due to my bum hip and had to exit and enter through the handicap line to the higher seats in the back row. I was just able to fit, but the ride was a bit uncomfortable for me. The ride reminded me much as the Spiderman ride, but with the Harry Potter theme. It was well done and enjoyable, but a bit jerky.

    It took a few moments outside to find Kelli, I took that time to get pictures of the dragon atop Gringotts spewing fire.

    We shopped and explored. We bought a Pygmy Puff for our great niece Maddie back home. She named him Apple. I like that when you pay by credit card the wizard cashier calls it muggle plastic and to please sign for the ministry of magic.

    We were getting tired from our travel so we headed out. I did do the Simpson Ride, getting right on with the Express Pass. Things happen fast and furious on this ride and it was enjoyable to pick up new things I missed on my previous ride from a couple of years ago. I found Kelli sitting outside, near where the phone is, just outside the Quickie-Mart. When it rang we each took turns picking it up and listening. On the other end for me was Professor Frink looking for some radioactive material he lost. Kelli got Ralph looking for his police officer dad.

   

    We spent some time getting pictures around Springfield.

 

 

    We passed some early Halloween decorations of bats and jack-o-lanterns in the trees.

 

    In the Hollywood section we ran across Lucy Ricardo pitching her Vitameatavegamin and I got a great picture with her.

    Near the front of the park we met Curious George and Woody the Woodpecker.

 

    We browsed the store at the exit and I took a picture with a large stuffed unicorn from the Despicable Me movie - It's so fluffy!


It's so Fluffy!

    We took the boat back and shopped at a couple of the hotel's boutiques and tried to check in again. Things went slowly but a little more smoothly and we got an older room in tower two. Having real hotel key cards we were able to get our real Express Passes at the hotel kiosk. After our bags were delivered we rested a while then had dinner at Emeril's Tchoup Chop.

    I tried the Florida Lager to take the edge off of a stressful day. Kelli had the Korean Fried Chicken - with kim chee, spring onions, smashed potatoes, garlicky spinach and sesame garlic butter.

    I ordered the 3 Lil Pigs - Lemon grass mojo pork chop, pork belly chicharone, kalua pork manapua, maui onion salsa, pineapple edamame fried rice with chocolate mole sauce. The meal was excellent and the came to $80.41. We stopped at a gift shop to return an item Kelli brought earlier as it did not fit right, before heading back to the room.

    We watched Big Brother and relaxed in the room before calling it a night. We had a king bed but it sagged in the middle. We were so tired it did not matter.

Thursday September 10, 2015
Mythos and Minions

    The plan for the day was for me to make the most of early entry for hotel guests to Isle of Adventure, while Kelli had a relaxing morning. We will regroup and head back out to the park later and have lunch at Mythos.

    We tried the continental breakfast at the Orchid Court lounge - not much of a selection plus we had a very slow person working the register. We both opted for cereal and ate outside in the courtyard.

    Kelli stayed to relax and read while I walked to Isles of Adventure. It was a good ten minute walk in the already humid weather.

    On my way to Hogsmead you could see the new King Kong Skull Island attraction rising beyond the construction walls. I did some shopping and road the Flight of the Hippogriff coaster; getting a great look at Hagrid's hut. Then onto the Dragon Challenge, this time riding the Hungarian Horntail (the old Ice Dragon Coaster). I noticed more people with interactive wands where you can cast a spell for special effects. The locations are around both Potter areas, mainly in store fronts. This is similar to the Agent P game in Epcot, except that you must purchase a special wand.

    I headed out to the front of the park and road Spiderman, no wait with the Express pass. The Hulk was down for rehab and photo texted Kelli that I was on my way back.

    I walked backed to the hotel and met Kelli in the courtyard.

    We rested in the room a bit then took the boat to Isle of Adventure. We rode Cat in the Hat and the High in the Sky Seuss Trolley Train Ride before heading to Mythos. We had a 15 minute wait and had a nice table in one of the alcoves. Weird thing about Mythos, they have incredibly heavy chairs! They seemed to be made out of lead. If you are in need of a headache, check out the restrooms, same tiles floor to ceiling.

    For appetizer we shared the Mediterranean Meatballs - ground lamb, tomato-pepper ragù, falafel waffle, frisée salad, with mango-créme fraîche dressing. Kelli had the Mythos Signature Lamb Burger- hand-packed ground lamb with grilled onion, shredded lettuce and fresh tomato topped with feta-olive aioli served with French fries.

    I had the Crab Cake Sliders - Chesapeake crab cake sautéed and served on mini rolls, lettuce and remoulade sauce with potato salad and watermelon-tomato medley. Another great meal!

    We walked to Hogsmead and took the Hogwart Express to Universal. We stopped and watched the Street Breaks, Break dancers with some fun audience participation. They were good and worth the watch.

    We caught the last part of Beetlejuice's Graveyard Revue Graveyard Mashup, then listened to the beginning of the Beat Builders, Universal's answer to Epcot's Jamminators, they pose as a construction crew.

    We had a great time shopping in the Irish store "Rosie's Irish Imports" It's nice to have this variety in a theme park.

    I rode the Hollywood Rip Ride Rocket coaster. It starts by going straight up before plunging nearly straight down. I was on and off quickly using the Express pass. It looks a lot scarier than it is. The straight up beginning and near vertical drop didn't seem too bad but the G-forces on the very tight turn was awesome.

    The Minion ride was down so we saw Shrek 4D and really enjoyed it. Parts of it seemed new to us but we are not sure if they upgraded the show since the last time we saw it. By the time we got out, Despicable Me Minion Mayhem was back up. The two pre-shows were good. We opted for the non-moving seating for Kelli. These stationary seats are available for those prone to motion sickness and for children less than 40 inches tall; just ask an attendant what row to get in. The attraction was great without it! I will try the motion seating tomorrow. There is a photo opportunity afterwards with an oversized minion. The dance party they tout was really just the exit area to the gift shop.

    We watched Donkey, from Shrek, at the Meet and Greet for a while. He talks and interacts with the guests and was hilarious. We headed back by boat around 5:30, rested in the room before heading out to dinner.

    We decided on Jakes in the hotel and met Scooby Doo and Lisa Simpson in the lobby.

Their signature drink was $20, others were $15 and up, I stuck with soda. Our waiter was friendly and reminded us of Manny from the Modern Family TV series. We shared the Mediterranean Appetizer Platter - roasted bell pepper hummus, smoked eggplant dip, Kalamata olives, grilled flatbread. Kelli had the Burrata Cheese and Tomato Salad - fresh burrata, heirloom tomatoes, arugula, crispy proscuitto balsamic glaze, and extra virgin olive oil. I tried the Juan Tripp's Fish & Chips - battered fish, French fries, cole slaw, tartar sauce. Our entrees were quite good. Dessert was a shared Jumbo Dark Chocolate Cupcake, filled with Nutella.

 

Friday, September 11, 2015
More Incompetence then on to the Night of Joy
   
We didn't have a great night's sleep due to the sagging mattress. The bed was so bad it we laughed about it. We opted for the breakfast buffet at Islands Dining Room. We had a very friendly waitress which is a great way to start the day.

    I headed back to Isle of Adventure for early entry, saving my energy by taking the boat. My goal was to take a ton of pictures and re-ride the Minion attraction. I walked to Hogsmead and again took the Hogwart Express to Universal to be ahead of the other park's crowd. Diagon Alley was empty and I was welcomed by some witches. I got great shots of the dragon from the side and a Stewed Eel Pie in a window.

 

 

    I was able to enter Gringot's Bank to leisurely take some pictures of the Goblins.

 

 

    Back outside I saw two girls trying the demo seats for the ride. It's a tight fit. One could not fit and I saw the disappointment that she was going to sit it out while her friend rode. I quickly walked over to them and told them that they can both enjoy the awesome queue together before separating before the ride load area, just as Kelli did before. They thanked me knowing they could enjoy part of it together.

    Done with my good deed of the day I continued to explore the new area. I went down Knockturn Alley and found the darker side of the wizarding world.

   

        In other areas I found the owlry, Weasley's warehouse and a wizard restroom.

   

    I stopped at the Knights Bus to listen in on the fun interaction with guests and Dre Head, the talking shrunken head.

    I decided to ride Transformers. I again found it similar to the Spiderman ride. Finally it was back on the Minion ride. In the second room the high powered scan of the crowd revealed I was in the group that did not shower. But I swear I did! Watching the movie the seats toss and turn you in motion with the screen. Surprisingly I preferred the non-moving seats! You still get the feel of motion, but it was easier to view the screen without getting jostled about. I wonder if they could do the same with the Simpson Ride.

    I headed out and just missed the boat. The wait wasn't too bad and it turned out lucky. The next one was the maiden voyage of a new boat, Isla Nublar. The crew gave out cake to everyone onboard to celebrate.

    Kelli did a great job packing, so after I freshened up we called bell services and left the room just before 11 AM. The bell hop gave us a ticket and told us that someone else will retrieve and load our car once we were ready. I walked to the parking lot but my room key would not open the gate to leave. I had paid the parking fees when we checked in, $20 a night, and the front desk said that all I needed was the room key - NOT.

    I had to alert security by intercom and they eventually let me out after about 10 minutes. Back at the hotel entrance I stormed back in to find out what was wrong with my bill. The front desk claimed everything was fine and the parking fees had been billed to my credit card! They gave no explanation and didn't really care that I had trouble. More incompetence somewhere.
Back out at the entrance we could not find any bell service personnel. After waiting a while we took our luggage off the unattended cart and loaded the car ourselves. Thank God we were not thieves, it would have been so easy.

    Glad to be out of there and on our way to Disney, we first stopped at the Disney Character Warehouse Outlet at the Orlando Premium Outlet on Vineland Avenue. One great find was two Christmas stockings for $5 each. We later saw the same ones in the parks for $29.99.

    Next was Downtown Disney and we tried the new garage. They make it easy to find an open space directing you with signs and lights. Very convenient! We activated our Annual Passes and bought a Tables in Wonderland card at Guest Relations in the DisneyQuest building. We found bathrooms and Kelli noticed a car zooming on the lake. It was one of the new amphicars.
I needed a snack so we shared some Fantasy Fare Sweet Potato Tots at the new food truck area.

    As we headed back to the car I impulsively decided to check out a little store called Pop Gallery. What a find. I found a small old fashion crank music box that plays Stairway to Heaven. Kelli found some cute vinyl unicorns that come in blind boxes. You don't know which one you get till you open it. She brought two and I brought an extra one to give her as a present. She opened them up and got one that she was hoping for. I did the smart thing and opened my box. It was a duplicate but we could trade it for a different one in the display case.

    We arrived at Pop Century around 1PM. Our room wasn't ready but we did find out we were "upgraded" to a preferred room.

    We ate lunch in the food court. Kelli tried the Hotdog in pretzel bun but was disappointed as it was not hot, just lukewarm. I munched on some Poppin Nachos. We also brought our length of stay cups. With the 20% discount from the Tables in Wonderland card the cost went from $16.99 down to $13.59, before tax. While eating we received a text that our room 1203, was ready. We shopped a bit, then drove over to the 50's section, and unloaded the car. Our upgraded preferred room turned out to be a handicap room with king bed; but very close to the main building.
After settling in we drove over to the Contemporary for our 5 PM ADR at the Wave, one of our new favorite restaurants.

    We had another great meal starting with a Godiva Martini and a Banana Spiced Rum Martini - Captain Morgans rum, crème de banana and RumChata Cream Liqueur.

    Entrées were Grilled Colorado Lamb Chops - with barely buzzed mac & cheese, grilled asparagus and rosemary butter and Jerk-spiced Pork Chop - yucca mash and pineapple-cilantro chutney. I noticed that all the tables had a hidden mickey that was formed by the salt and pepper shakers and a candle. The TiW card saved us $15.30.

    We caught the monorail to the Magic Kingdom for the Night of Joy. We had some time before our first fastpass so we shopped in the Briar Patch before riding Peter Pan.

    We then got in line for the Galaxy Stage at 7:05 but were not let in till 7:30 to see the first set of Francesca Battistelli. Her pregnancy did not slow her down and she gave a great performance.

    We went to Talent Spotlight in the Starlight Café to see some of the local singers. Unlike the last time when I saw this in the Diamond Horseshoe Café we did not hear any particular good singers, plus since this was an eatery it was noisy and crowded. A big disappointment.

    We headed to the Castle Forecourt Stage for MercyMe. After their one hour performance we took in the Country Bears with only 20 other people. I joked with the hostess about moving all the way to the end of the row. We were going to head out but TobyMac had started playing so we stayed. We left just as they were finishing at 12:40 AM and drove back to the resort. The gate that opens away from the guard house with your room key was blocked off at Pop. Maybe for better overnight security? The guard knew we were at the Night of Joy, the parks had closed hours ago. We got to bed at 1:30 AM.

Saturday, Sept 12
Epcot and Spice Roads
   
We slept in after our late night, but still got to the food court at 9 AM. Boy! What a difference 2 hours can make. It was very crowded. Normally we would eat between 6:30 and 7:30 and the place is quiet with small lines. We stuck with cereal again to avoid the long lines but did add a cherry turnover and chocolate croissant. Pop Century's bakery is delicious.

    Back at the room we both showered. The entire bathroom floor was wet due to the handicap shower. There was a pool of water in front of the toilet that would not drain towards the floor drain. What a pain, not sure if getting the free upgrade to the preferred location is worth it.

    We headed to Epcot by car, bad luck had us parked at the end of a row. We tried for the Disney Visa meet and greet but we were too early. Now it does not start till 1 PM. We headed for the Seas with Nemo & Friends. The line was out the door! I've never seen this here. It did move but it was like this all the way to the area where they let in the fastpass riders. Then it was a fast walk right onto a clam shell.

    We explored the Seas pavilion and spent much time at the Manatee tank. They were being fed by dropping full heads of lettuce into the water. We also spent time in the area with the small tanks before heading for Turtle Talk with Crush. One of the lighted displays had all the Finding Nemo characters identified to species.

    We both did the kiosks that asked questions. You can choose Dory for 4 easier questions or Marlin for 5 harder ones. After doing well we each sent certificates via email but never did see them.

    We strolled the rest of the aquarium at a nice and relaxing pace. The dolphins were very active and we explored every inch of the upstairs exhibits.

    After shopping at the exit of the pavilion we stopped by Starbucks in the Fountain View Café for coffee, vanilla iced latte, pecan tart and lemon pound cake. We sat outside relaxing and people watching.

    On our way to the World Showcase we had our picture taken by a Photopass photographer with spaceship earth in the background.

 

    We headed clockwise stopping briefly to watch a little girl enjoy Mariachi Cobre, a traditional folk music band. We shopped in the Mexican pavilion, Kelli liked the large selection of earrings. Then rode the Gran Fiesta Tour Starring the Three Caballeros.

    In China we watched the acrobats and then the Circle-Vision 360 degree movie Reflections of China, then shopped. I picked up some incredible small little rubber animals.

    Back in Mexico we enjoyed a Churro and XX beer at La Cantina. The pond here had a few wild birds that included a Limpkin and Tricolored Heron. In the sky Kelli discovered a Hidden Mickey Cloud.

 

 

    We then did Journey into Imagination followed by Soarin' using fastpass till it was time to head over to Spice Road for our 5:55 PM ADR.

The clouds were threatening and our radar apps on our phone told us it would be raining soon. We got a table outside but protected from the weather, our plan was to take our time, enjoy the food, watch the wicked weather and just relax. We started with the Spice Road Digestive Flight - Grand Marnier, Godiva Liqueur, Frangelico and the Rice Stuffed Grape Leaves - fried capers, raisins and fresh nutmeg.  For dinner I had the Mix Grill Skewers - marinated beef and chicken, French green beans, toasted almonds, and rosemary roasted potatoes. Kelli had the Lamb Sliders - brioche, cucumber dill, mixed olives and mint tzatziki sauce served with hummus fries. I realized that we eat a lot of lamb and pork while in Florida but rarely back in New York, whether it be home or out to eat.  The storm had arrived and we enjoyed our dessert, Saffron and Lemon Custard, while watching heavy rain with some thunder and lightning. It was still raining so I ordered a Casa Beer from Morocco to give the rain time to stop. We did not get out of there till 8 PM. We left a nice tip and the rain had completely stopped. Perfect timing.

    After some shopping we watched Illuminations between Canada and the Showcase Plaza. Then stopped in Mouse Gears before heading back to the resort.

Sunday, Sept 13
Marriage Proposal - Not Us
   
We decided to sleep in and make this a resort day with an evening in the Magic Kingdom.

    On our way to breakfast a hawk was perched on top of one of the bowling pin icons. It appeared to be a Broad-winged Hawk but they are rare in Florida.

    I tried something different for breakfast, the Chicken Fried Chicken with Scrambled Eggs and House-made Sausage Gravy. I might have found a new favorite breakfast item. Kelli had the pancake with fruit and we again got a cherry turnover and chocolate croissant. They are soooo gooood.

    We spent the morning swimming in the bowling pin pool. We had a very late lunch across the bridge in Art of Animation's Landscapes of Flavor. I had my usual Tandoori Boneless Chicken Thigh with Naan Bread with roasted cauliflower and acorn squash. Kelli tried the Barbecued Pork Sandwich on a Cornbread Waffle with House-made Chips. Great home-made chips!

    We shopped in Ink and Paint and fed the turtles, ducks, sunfish and carp in the lake on the way back. I had my picture taken next to the 1960 sign, my birth year. The path along the lake has signs for each year from the 50's though the 90's.

    We headed to the Magic Kingdom by bus. We decided on riding the train around the park, then stayed on till we got to Frontier Land.

    I used fastpass to ride Big Thunder Mountain Railroad. In the boarding area a CM said she remembered me. It was the hostess from the Country Bear Jamboree. I got a front row seat all to myself, neat!

    Kelli and I have never done the Swiss Family Treehouse. If you don't mind steps this is a nice little climbing tour. It was nice to see the kingdom from a different point of view at the top.

 

    We had a beautiful sunset in the park.

      

    We rode the Tomorrowland Transit Authority PeopleMover before heading to Main Street and saw some of the Electrical Parade. We were near the corner so I ducked in for a Root Beer Float from the Plaza Ice Cream Parlor. We used our Wishes fastpasses to enter the special area for this. Most of the astroturf areas were filled so we made our way toward the front and parked ourselves on the ground using some fencing as back rests. We watched the Celebrate the Magic castle show while sitting but we did have to stand for Wishes as the people in front of us stood. But there was plenty of empty space to move around. If you like to rest sitting on the ground before Wishes, and not be shoulder to shoulder with people this is a decent use of fastpass.

    Towards the end of Wishes we saw something weird at first. A CM came crawling along in front of us with a camera, almost on her hands and knees. Then took a few pictures of a couple off to the left of us. The guy had just proposed to his girlfriend. It was nice to see it. When the park lights came on we waited to get a chance to say congratulations to them.

Monday Sept 14
Hallways that We Thought Would Never End and "An Inconvenient Pool"
   
We work up early and were at the empty food court at 6:50 AM, we knew in an hour this place will be busy and in two, it would be packed! We kept it simple again, cereal, waffle with bacon and another cherry turnover.

    We packed the car with our luggage and headed to Disney Hollywood Studios and arrived to a huge crowd in front of the security check at 9:30AM. I have never seen a crowd as big as this here. It seemed that they were being extra thorough. It took 30 minutes to get in.

    It was a nice day with less humidity and clear blue skies. After some shopping along Hollywood Boulevard I rode Tower of Terror using Fastpass Plus. The CM for our elevator was in full character and had fun terrorizing a group of teenage girls. Don't worry, they were enjoying it, screaming and laughing.

    Kelli found some shade to sit in right at the exit as I rode but had to move when people unnecessarily blocked her view to see me when I came out. We did eventually find each other.

    I grabbed a rice crispy treat from Beverly Sunset Sweet Spells on our way towards the Little Mermaid. Trust me, they are better than they look. I think I'll get one every time I go. We stopped briefly to listen to a performance that was taking place in front of the Chinese Theater.

    We watched Mermaid but they had a technical issue at the end when she didn't transform from flipper to legs. They closed the curtain and abruptly finished the show.

    Next was Toy Story Mania and we both did great. I got a cat with a score of 159,300 and 30 % accuracy, Kelli keeps on getting better scoring a Beaver, 104,200 points with 33 % accuracy.

    We were hungry so we tried the Studio Catering Company. Kelli got the Deli Sandwich, smoked ham, salami, pepperoni, provolone, creamy Caesar pesto, lettuce, diced tomatoes, Kalamata olives, pepperoncini peppers and balsamic glaze served with house-made chips. I had the
Spicy Chipotle Ranch Chicken, breaded chicken breast, romaine, tomato and chipotle ranch dressing on a ciabatta roll served with French fries. We shared a PB&J Cupcake. We were pleased with the meal.

    We ran into Mulch, Sweat and Shears and stopped to listen for a few songs, they had a good sized crowd. It is sad that this would be the last time seeing them. Disney announced that their final performance will be in October. I liked that the sound board is hidden in engine compartment.

 

    We enjoyed Muppets 3-D Vision with the out of place Constantine segment in the preshow. I am hoping the new TV series gives rise to a new set of fans.

    We were early for our Fastpasses for the First Time in Forever: A Frozen Sing-Along Celebration so we took pictures with the bronze busts around the Academy of Television Arts and Sciences Hall of Fame Plaza. I took a picture with Bob Newhart and Kelli chose Dick Clark.

 

    The waiting area for the Sing-Along is slanted and made it hard on the legs to stand. Fortunately the overhead screens shows funny commercials, the history of Arendelle, and a segment on trolls.
The hosts, the Royal historians of Arendelle were great and the show well worth seeing. We look forward to seeing it again in our next visit.

    We headed out to check in for our Animal Kingdom Villa. We were in the Kidani Village but were unfamiliar on where to park and tried to park close to the lobby. We still had to walk a little ways to check in. Our room was ready, a studio with a Sunset Savanna view, room 7964, 5th floor in the Pumbaa section.

    We dragged our suitcases to the room. We did not realize how far away it was, along a hallway that I thought would never end. We finally made it and were rewarded with Giraffes right outside our balcony. We spent a lot of time soaking up the view and the warm weather. The room was nice and it was great getting back to regular bathtub and shower. We loved the tiles of the animals in the Shower.

 

    We left for the pool just before 4 PM. It was another long walk. To get to the pool you must walk through the lobby, which I always hate and seems common with most of the deluxe resorts. Then you exit the front of the hotel passing the cars and buses dropping people off and down the driveway breathing in exhaust to get to the pool. It seems the pool was an afterthought. Once you get to this inconveniently placed pool it is nice. The slide had some really tight turns and the bar area looked pleasant as well. We only spent a little over a half hour at pool, since we have an ADR at Sanaa for dinner.

    It was another long walk back to the room to freshen up, then another long walk again to Sanaa. I counted the steps and time from the nearest lobby elevator to our room, 520 steps or 5 minutes 15 seconds!

    We were looking forward to dinning at Sanaa. It always has great reviews and I am glad to say the reviews are correct! A wonderful place to eat.

    I had a Safari Amber draft and Kelli had another Godiva Martini. We shared the Indian-style Bread Service, 5 breads and all nine accompaniments. The breads were traditional naan, garlic-ginger naan, spiced naan, onion kucha, and paneer paratha. The dipping sauces were arranged in increasing spiciness, Cucumber Raita, Roasted Red Bell Pepper Hummus, Mango Chutney, Red Chile Sambal, Tomato-Date Jam (similar to a spicy ketchup), Coriander Chutney, Garlic Pickle, Tamarind Chutney and Spicy Jalapeño-Lime Pickle. All were good. Some were even better when combined, like the Cucumber Raita with the Spicy Jalapeño-Lime Pickle.

    While waiting for our entrees a West African Crowned Crane and an antelope called a Sitatunga or Marshbuck showed up at the windows.

    I tried the Potjie (slow-cooked) Inspired Goan Seafood Curry and Spiced Lamb with basmati rice. Kelli had the Butter Chicken, with peas and carrots, rice with shallots and cucumber.

    We finished with the Dessert trio- Tanzanian Chocolate Mousse, Banana Cheesecake and Seasonal Kulfi (a pineapple frozen dairy dessert)

    The TiW card saved us $17.05 with a final bill with tax and tip of $87.99. The food was excellent and the ambiance unique. We will be back.

    We picked up some raisin bran and milk for breakfast in Johari Treasures before heading back to the room. We finished the night watching the zebras in the dark off our balcony.

   

 

Tuesday Sept 15
Our Last Full Day
   
We slept till 8 and enjoyed breakfast on the balcony.

    We walked to the bus stop and headed over to Animal Kingdom. Kelli found a Noodlee Doos giraffe in the shop before entering the park. It is a stuffed giraffe with a really long neck and short body. She wasn't sure if it would fit in our luggage, but I made sure we bought it on the way out. I'll make it fit one way or another.

    There was a line at the entrance so we used the Rain Forrest entrance and got right in. We used fastpass for Kilimanjaro Safari and had a great, informative and fun driver named Angie.
Lunch was at the new Harambe Market. We both had some delicious Spice-rubbed Karubi Ribs.

   
Greater Kudu                                                        rhino                                                                Angie

    Next was the Festival of the Lion King. One thing I noted. They asked the audience to stay put at the end till they moved all the floats backstage. I remember leaving while they were still out.
We headed to Expedition Everest but rain was threatening. I left Kelli at some seating that was undercover and raced to Everest. I felt a few drops on my wild ride and rushed back to Kelli. It started to rain just as I got close to Kelli. When I got under cover, it started pouring. Just made it!

    We had to wait a while for the rain to let up. We decided to head out but not before shopping in Disney Outfitters where we picked up some Christmas gifts.

    We always like the Dream Builder construction signs on the wall.

 

    We had a long wait for the bus, then on the way back the bus broke down between Jumbo and Kadani. Apparently this electric bus broke down earlier in the week. We were fortunate that they let us off since we were near Kadani. We walked to our parked car which was close by and drove over to Jumbo House.

    We did some last day shopping at Zawadi then ate lunch at The Mara. We split the Caesar Salad with Chicken while each of us had the Butternut Squash Soup and the Sambal Chicken Corn Chowder. We had to try the Giraffe Cupcake and the Peanut Butter Brownie. They were all out of Zebra Domes. We could not finish the salad so we brought it back with us along with the brownie.
This time when we drove back to Kadani we went to the far end of underground parking lot, and were much closer to the room.

    Kelli like the saying painted in the hallway "He who learns, teaches"

    We spent time on the balcony taking pictures of the animals and talking about our trip. It was very relaxing. We saw a local Red-shouldered Hawk hunting the savannah.

 
                                                                       Scimitar-horned Oryx

 


Red-shouldered Hawk

 

    We started to pack and found the animal guide in the room - the night before we are leaving!

    Dinner was on the balcony with leftovers.

Wednesday Sept 16
"Whole Lotta Blue"
   
Breakfast was on the balcony one last time enjoying the animals. We had a mid-morning flight and I stopped for gas at the old Hess station, now a Speedway near Hollywood Studios. Our plane was named "Whole Lotta Blue". We again paid extra for more legroom on our flight on JetBlue, but stupidly picked the first row for our seats. There is nowhere to put your personal item under since there are no seats in front of you. When we got on most of the overhead bins were full and the stewardesses helped us put away our personal items while I found room for our carry-ons. I asked Kelli if she took her valuables out of her personal bag, but she didn't. I thought the stewardesses put our items with our carry-ons but did not see them with them. After the flight took off we went to retrieve her bag but could not find it. It was not an enjoyable flight back knowing that someone might have grabbed her wallet out of her bag since we could not locate the bag. Fortunately when we landed someone found it, intact, stuffed behind a large piece of luggage. Our nephew, Kevin, broken wrist and all, picked us up and drove us back home.

Post Vacation
   
I hope Loews Royal Pacific Resort is better than what we experienced. But with the competition out there you only get one chance to make a good first impression. Lowes should speed up their refurbishment. The mattress was a joke. We even had a laugh about it. Next time, IF we do stay at Universal, we may try the Hard Rock Hotel.

    I think next time if we get a free upgrade at Pop Century to a preferred room and it's a handicap room, we may pass.

    We loved the balcony at the Animal Kingdom Lodge, but hated the long walk to the lobby. We are glad we tried the resort. If we ever go back we will request a room close to the lobby, but that is NOT even guaranteed.

    Diagon Alley and the new Minion Ride were great. It was nice to visit here when it isn't wall to wall people.

    Universal Studios counter service meals are awful, but Mythos was wonderful.

    Sanaa is a great restaurant and we will be back.

Thanks for reading. Hope you enjoyed it.

Kelli and Michael

Read more of our trip reports at

www.bochnik.com