@imaginette Your wish is my command...
@shelmach Yay for bldg 4! I hope you get it. Preach about Cafe du Monde! Mom's family is from Houma, so I know what you mean. I completely understand what you mean about Shades. We probably won't stay there again unless Disney decides to stop doing salute to service. The Hale Koa is on our "to do" list. My wife's last duty station was Hawaii and her housing wasn't ready when she got there, so they put her up in the Hale Koa. She loved it and loved Hawaii. We want to get over there soon.
On with the show...
Thanks to everyone who has read to this point.
Day Two- Golf and Animal Kingdom
Our first full day at WDW entailed a morning/afternoon of golf and an evening at Animal Kingdom. We started the day by driving over to Shades of Green/Golf Courses. We had a breakfast reservation at Kona at the Poly, so we parked at the golf course and walked over. We got to see our first wildlife for the day when we walked past the pond. A young gator was barely visible in the water. Honestly, if you didn’t know what to look for, you would walk right past it and never see it. It looked like part of a cypress stump in the water. With that being said, we are from a part of Texas were gators are common. In fact, the county just to the east of us has more gators than people. There is literally a gator farm about 20 minutes from our house. We had to go back to Shades of Green later in the week and we saw an animal trap hiding over on the back edge of the pond. Others may have not realized what it was or why it was there, but we knew. We had eaten at Kona for breakfast twice back in March and thoroughly enjoyed it. We are/were huge fans of the pineapple and macadamia nut butter pancakes. Kona made changes to their menu after we were there and we are not a fan of the new changes. We had heard about the removal of the Big Kahuna, so we figured out how we could get what we wanted from the Big Kahuna on the polynesian egg platter. When we mentioned to our server that we were sharing and we were sad to see the Big Kahuna was gone. She said they could still do it, it just wasn’t on the menu. We modified it slightly by asking them to do just pancakes, no french toast. When it arrived, I took a bite of the ham which looked a little odd and wanted to spit it out. They have changed the ham to spiced ham, aka SPAM. UGH!!!! I get the whole Hawaiian obsession with SPAM. I’m a history teacher and my wife’s last duty station was Hawaii, so we get it. That doesn’t mean these Haoles want to eat it. We were so disappointed. I need to protein pack in the mornings and I don’t handle greasy meat well that early, so ham is my go to breakfast meat. Give me bacon later in the day and I’m fine, but unfortunately it’s not my friend in the morning. I’m never a fan of breakfast sausage. I grew up with smoked sausage for breakfast if we had sausage. My wife loves breakfast sausage, but she doesn’t like Kona’s. She said it had a funky spice blend that she couldn’t identify and the texture was off. I’ll take her word for it. The pancakes were excellent, but not worth a special trip to Kona for breakfast. We won’t be back. If you just have to try the Tonga Toast, I get it. Too much bread for us. By the way, you can get Tonga Toast at Captain Cook’s, the Poly’s quick service downstairs and it’s not as expensive.
We walked back to Shades of Green since we needed to buy our tickets for Universal. Universal has an amazing ticket deal for military families! It is basically a 4 day park to park ticket for the price of one day. You can do a 2 park ticket for Universal and Islands of Adventure or a 3 park that includes Volcano Bay. I’ll talk more about Universal later one. Back to Disney… Even if you aren’t staying at Shades of Green, you can buy tickets there if you have a military ID. After we finished up there, we headed over the golf pro shop. We had park hopper plus fun tickets and used it to play the Oak Trail 9 hole course. In short, don’t play the walking course in July unless you want to melt. The course is beautiful. The cast members were great. We were paced well. The greens were in great shape. Of course, I wouldn’t expect anything less. Holes 1 through 4 lull you into a false sense of easiness. The fairways are relatively straight and they zig zag up next to each other. Therefore, walking the first 4 holes is pretty easy. After the 4th hole/before the 8th, there’s a water fountain at what looks like may have been a beverage station at one point in time. Definitely nice to have the ability to re-wet our cool towels. Now the 5th through 7th holes, were evil. 3 mega par 5’s with insane dog legs that felt more like par 7’s. I thought I was gonna die and by that point, I had quit playing was just walking and pushing clubs on a push cart. After my wife tee’d off on the 6th, we headed down the fairway and there was an ugly crane hanging out. I said out loud, Wow! That crane is ugly and then it turned around. It wasn’t a crane, it was female wild turkey. I said, that’s not a crane, it’s a wild turkey. It didn’t run off, so I started talking to it… Gobble, Gobble, Gobble… literally. It looked at me and spread its wings and I started grabbing my phone, my wife’s phone, any phone to get a picture of it before it left. While I’m trying to open up the phone, my wife calls it over kinda making a tsk, tsk, tsk, sound and it starts coming over! I’m not looking up at that point, but she yells it’s running towards you! I’m thinking oh s@#t! I’m going to get attacked by a wild turkey trying to take this picture. It stopped in front of me and I asked it if it spoke English and it gobbled at me. I apologized to the turkey for not having a snack for it. I wouldn’t even know what to feed it anyway, but you could tell someone feeds her. She wandered off when we didn’t give her anything, but that was crazy! I was really ready to die by the time we got back to the water fountain at the 8th tee. By this point, I was pushing the cart from tree to tree trying to get some relief from the sun. We staged some shots for pictures. My wife finished out the 9th and we were ready to get into some A/C. The pro shop was running a buy one get one ½ off on shirts, so we picked up some minnie mouse golf shirts which came in handy later in the day. We headed back to POFQ to shower and cool off. Thank goodness for the refillable mugs and powerade being in the freestyle machines. They came in handy.
After getting cleaned up, we headed over to Wilderness Lodge for a late lunch at Whispering Canyon. If you have never been to Wilderness Lodge, it's worth the extra time to just go look. It’s absolutely gorgeous. I’ve been the lodges at both the south and north rim of the Grand Canyon as well as the lodge at Zion and I felt like I was back there. I can’t wait to see it decorated for Christmas. Whispering Canyon was fun. The food was meh, but the experience was great. If you’re not familiar with it, it’s a theme restaurant where they mess with you. Our server’s name was “Buttercup” even though her name tag said Lauren and she was from Chicago. She talked like the locals where I went to college in deep East Texas. Come to find out after talking to her, her dad was actually from the next town over from my college town. We understood where her fake accent came from. One of our many “small world” moments on the trip. We ordered the gold rush western chips with chili, queso dip, and fresh salsa as our app. It was okay. We are tex-mex snobs and are proud of it, but there wasn’t really another app that sounded good. Each dip on its own was blah. Layering all three on a chip was pretty good. We had the grilled chicken sandwich for our entree. The olive-herb goat cheese spread made the sandwich flavor wise. However, it turned the bun to mush as we ate it. Both of us ended up eating the chicken with our fork and knife while scraping the goat cheese off the bun and putting it on the chicken. We got the lime cheesecake to go for our dessert. It was meh as well. The lime flavor wasn’t as present as I would like. Whispering Canyon is definitely a place to eat for the experience, not the food. We wondered around the gift shop for a little bit before we headed back to POFQ to get ready to go to Animal Kingdom.
By this point, I was ready to get into the parks. We headed to Animal Kingdom about 4. Our first FP was Everest at 5, but we had to get the DAS before we went into the park. We lucked out and an AK bus had just pulled up when we got to the bus stop. Once we got to AK, we headed to guest relations to get the DAS. We walked up to the window, told the CM what we needed and she asked what we needed it for. We told her that my wife can’t stand in one place for long periods of time due to her time in the military. She proceeded to tell us that we couldn’t have the DAS because all attractions were ADA accessible and we needed to rent a scooter or wheelchair. We repeated my wife’s needs and my wife gave more detail. Walking is not an issue, it’s the standing. It takes a major toll on her knees and ankles. My wife even stated she still has shrapnel embedded in one of her knees from an IED in Iraq. My wife then presented her military ID that states she is 100% disabled. The CM still said no and I was dumbfounded. I couldn’t figure out what exactly the DAS was for if my wife didn’t qualify for it. My wife got frustrated and said let's go. I’ll deal with it. When we walked up to the tapstiles, I saw a CM in business casual clothes, so I knew he was a lead. I told her we’re going to talk to him once we get inside. I walked to two CM’s standing next to him and starting explaining what just happened. They both looked like deer caught in headlights and said let me get Nick. You need to talk to Nick. Nick identified himself as a lead CM and asked how he could help. We then explained what happened and he stated that the DAS was for cognitive disabilities, not mobility disabilities. What we did not tell the CM at GR was that my wife also suffers from PTSD and anxiety. Her mobility issues were an issue in March, but her anxiety was almost a deal breaker at Universal when Hogwarts Express broke down and we were stuck in the middle of a long queue. Her anxiety and fear of being trapped without a clear exit showed up and I had to talk her out of a panic attack. However, she doesn’t like to talk about it. When he said cognitive issues, I looked at her and apologized and said we have to tell him. She agreed and I told him what happened in March. He said well that’s a whole other story and for that reason you do qualify. I told him I understand that they had to change the DAS because people were taking advantage of it, but his CM’s needed to be clearer with guests as to what qualifies and what does not. The CM that we first spoke with was very vague and short with us. I get it, but I still felt it was rude to treat a 100% DV that way. Nick sent us to GR inside the gate. There was a line and right as we got to a CM and told her what we needed, Nick showed up with another lead to take care of us. He noticed we were still in line and jumped over to help get us on our way. He definitely made up for the girl at the window. This was our first time at AK and so far, it was not off to a great start. We grabbed a map and made a beeline for Starbucks to use 2 snack credits. I needed an iced coffee to calm me down, believe it or not. After we got our drinks, we headed to Everest. Awesome ride! Definitely my favorite coaster at WDW. We are coaster junkies.
After Everest, we headed to Pandora. Holy cow!!!! I definitely watching or re-watching the movie relatively close to when you go or you will miss so much. It is a complete sensory experience to include a lovely smell that we dubbed “flora chlora” aka floral pool water. It’s really nice. The floating mountains are amazing. We had a FP for Flight of Passage, so we headed there. They were down to only one side running, so even in the FP line it took 30 mins. We had a 6:50 dinner reservation at Tiffin’s and I knew we were going to end up missing it. I told my wife, I didn’t care if they wouldn’t take us late because we were not getting out of line and I’m glad we didn’t. OH MY GOD!!!!!!!!!!! That was hands down the most amazing ride I’ve ever been on. I think I had a huge grin the entire time. The “beast” breathing was so surreal. The imagineers really outdid themselves. You can definitely tell HP at Universal has forced WDW to step up their game. We didn’t know that FOP is a variable ride, but found out later. We stayed for the extra magic hours, but still couldn’t get another ride as the wait time was 150 minutes even at 10:30.
After we got off FOP, we headed to Tiffins and they totally understood. They sat us immediately. Dinner was amazing. It definitely made up for the meh at breakfast and lunch. For our app we ordered the apple walnut salad. It was excellent. I’m a sucker for apple cider vinaigrette and this didn’t disappoint. Tangy and sweet all at the same time and really complimented the heirloom apples and candied walnuts. For our entree we ordered the wagyu striploin and braised short rib. Yes, there is a trend developing and yes, it will continue… we ate several steaks on this trip. I dare say I liked this steak better than I did the one at Yachtsman. To me, this one had more flavor and the chimichurri was better. The rainbow carrots were cooked perfectly. I’m not always a fan of purple potatoes. I find their texture to be a bit grainy at times, but the ones that accompanied this dish were perfect. We definitely made a happy plate at this meal. For dessert we went with the sorbet tasting. We really enjoyed the one the night before and knew we were going to be out late with the extra magic hours, so we didn’t want anything super sweet or heavy. We chose passion fruit, breadfruit, and lime (I think… cut me some slack, I’ve slept since then.) They were delicious. I was leary of the breadfruit, but thought why not… It as my favorite. No alcohol with this meal as my wife wasn’t feeling it. We both had iced tea and their tea is great. It’s maybe mango vanilla, I can’t remember for sure what the fruit was. I know it was tropical and it had vanilla. If you are a fan of flavored iced teas, it’s definitely one to try.
After dinner we had a FP for Rivers of Light, so we headed over there. They had already started seating so we sped walked and still had a decent seat. The show was great. Very moving! I enjoyed it more than I was expecting. Definitely recommend seeing it if you have time. After ROL, we headed back to Pandora to get a DAS return time for Navi River Journey. We had a 40 min return time, so we had time to walk around and look at Pandora in the dark. We took a few photopass pics and they turned out really well. One magic shot included the magic seeds. Pretty cool! We practically walked right onto NRJ at our return time. Since this was our first time using the DAS, the CMs walked us through the process and it was great. The ride was awesome! Very much like the forest in the movie. I don’t want to spoil it for anyone. I purposely did not read or watch reviews before going because I wanted to be surprised and I’m glad I did what I did. After NRJ, we walked over to Pongu Pongu to get a snack. We got the pineapple lumpia, think pineapple sweetened cream cheese spring roll. It was great. Definitely something to use a snack credit on if you like those flavors. We then went into Satu’li to get a drink. I know people say don’t waste snack credits on drinks, but dang it I was thirsty. Glad we went in because 1) it looks so cool in there and 2) the Pandoran Sunrise is a snack credit. It’s tropical juices and powerade melon. I was expecting an overly sweet drink as I had read the frozen drinks at Pongu Pongu were that way, but I was pleasantly surprised. It was rather refreshing and complimented the lumpia rather well. We had a seat at the outside dining tables and enjoyed our snack. Definitely a good use of 2 snack credits. We walked back down to FOP to see what the wait time was and it was still 150 mins. Even with DAS there was no way we would be able to ride it again before the park closed, so we headed out. Cory, the photographer that had taken our picture when we first got to AK was now in front of the tree of life taking night shots so we got in his line. Of course, he had to raze us about following him around. It’s always nice to see CMs who enjoy their jobs even if we know they work at the happiest place on earth. Believe me, I know it's not all mickey bars and dole whips, but so many of them really love what they do or they are theater majors and have perfected the art of faking it! Day three will take us to EPCOT and LOTS of food!
Good lord that took a long time to write up. I've written book reviews over books I didn't read for grad school faster. It’s well after midnight now and I have to work on my classroom tomorrow, so day three will have to wait until later. Thanks for reading!