"Around here, however, we don't look backwards for very long. We keep moving forward, opening up new doors and doing new things...and curiosity keeps leading us down new paths."
---Walter Elias Disney

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

A Is For......Animal Kingdom Lodge

My great friend and fellow Disney freak, the lovely and talented Jen, has begun a "blog challenge" on her own page. She is writing a blog a day, one for each letter of the alphabet. Sounded like a fun idea and a good way to get me in the writing habit, so here I go copy catting right along. Welcome to....

A is for Animal Kingdom Lodge.

It was a pretty crappy year for us, 2009. We decided we needed a little magic in our lives and it had been way too long, three years, since we'd visited Disney, so we determined to get there, one way or another. A week-long trip was out of the question, we just didn't have the money, but after growing up in Pennsylvania, we felt that we were now, in North Carolina, close enough to make a weekend visit to Walt Disney World. Heck, it was only 9 hours away. That's cake for us, we drive all over at the drop of a hat. So, we gathered what money we had and booked two nights at All Star Movies, planning to spend one day in the Magic Kingdom. We were very cost-conscious. This was the year that Disney gave a free day of park admission on your birthday, and we had enough points on our Disney Visa to buy a second pass, so all we needed was our two nights lodging and one park ticket. Very frugal, we thought. Then we got an offer in the mail for discounts on rooms at Disney resorts. The discounts grew as the resort "level" increased. It was something along the lines of 10% off Values, 25% off Moderates and 40% off Deluxe resorts. Frugality flew out the window. When would we have the chance to stay in a Deluxe resort? We who could only afford a two day visit in the first place! We crunched the numbers and convinced each other that we were silly to not take advantage of such a great deal! We are very good at convincing each other to do things we both want to do. So, after the requisite hemming and hawing, Lisa, best wife in the world (and the recipient of the Birthday Free Ticket, by the way), called the Disney reservations line and asked about changing one night of our stay to the Animal Kingdom Lodge. She mentioned the discount notice we'd received in the mail and was told it had expired. Sadness. But Lisa says, it doesn't say here it is expired yet. The reservation lady asked what the discount was, punched a few keys, and told us that no problem, they would honor a 40% discount for one night at the Animal Kingdom Lodge. Hooray! We booked the cheapest room they had, which still at 40% off stands as the most expensive hotel room we have ever paid for, and commenced patting ourselves on the back.

After a fun, and at least to us relatively short, drive down to central Florida, we rolled into the Animal Kingdom Lodge feeling like quite the high rollers. Disney's deluxe resorts are really very cool, very immersive and very, well, deluxe. We had seen the lobby on our last trip when we ate at Boma (which starts with a "B", hmmmm.....) so while we were of course impressed, we weren't surprised. We checked in and got assigned a room as far from the lobby as it was possible to go. We were in the wing to the left as you face the front of the resort, all the way at the end, on the third floor. No problem, we said, we did ask for the cheapest room and we don't mind a walk, and after all, we are only staying one night. From the map, I saw that our room looked out at some open area rather than a parking lot, and beyond that, the new Animal Kingdom Vacation Club Villas. It sure would have been cool to have a "savannah view" room, but with all the animal viewing locations throughout the resort, we didn't think we'd be missing too much. And those rooms were WAY beyond our means.

"Our" giraffe
We walked into the room and fell in love with the decor. Everything was very African, of course, but it was Disney African! Lisa was already having a very magical birthday weekend. We opened the drapes to our balcony to check out the view and what do we see, but a giraffe! A real giraffe, wandering about just outside our room! It was so cool, to have the "cheap seats" and still have an animal to look at. Looking out, I also noticed a low building surrounded by a high fence. Some kind of maintenance shed, I thought, placed where the higher paying guests wouldn't have to see it. No problem, I don't mind a maintenance building at all. We wallowed in the coolness of our room for a while, then off we went to the pool. The pool at the Animal Kingdom Lodge is huge. It has several hot tubs and a bar. It has a platform from which one can view giraffes and gazelles and gnus and flamingos and such.  Aren't those people who are paying for those "savannah view" rooms silly, we thought, look how much we, in the cheap room, can see right at the pool! We decided after swimming and then dinner and then more swimming that we all very much needed Ghirardelli milkshakes, so off we went to Downtown Disney for the first Stites Family Midnight Milkshakes. After our treats, we bussed it back to our resort, hiked to our room and settled in for a night's sleep with dreams of a day at the Magic Kingdom dancing before our eyes.

Gnus and something else :-)
The next morning, at first light, before the alarm goes off, we hear an awful racket outside.  Some sort of bird is making a horrible sound, like half belch and half retch, and it is LOUD. We laugh it off as some strange Florida thing and start moving around, as we are intent on making rope drop. While Lisa and John hit the bathroom and wipe the sleep away, I decide to take a peak outside and see what the day looks like. Maybe "our" giraffe will still be there. I pull back the drape, open the door and slide outside. And I am struck completely speechless. If you know me, you know how unlikely that is, but this did it. There, right outside our room, was what I figured had to be the resort's entire collection of critters. There were herds of gazelle and gnus and other hoofed things I didn't recognize. There were ostriches wandering all over. The bird that woke us up turned out to be even more beautiful than its song was ugly. And "our" giraffe had found a bunch of friends, and they were happily munching away on trees RIGHT THERE!!!!! I gathered myself after a minute and told Lisa and John  to come here, RIGHT NOW! They sort of wandered over to see what crazy dad was up to and then saw for themselves and were struck as speechless as myself. Let me tell you, three dumb-struck Stiteses is not something that happens. Ever. But this did it. We couldn't move. We kept seeing new animals. There was no noise except for the ones the animals made, so we heard them snort and snuff and we heard to sound of ostrich toenails on sidewalk, something I didn't expect but will never ever forget.

Ostrich toes on the sidewalk
The critter buffet
We figured out after a bit of watching that the building wasn't a maintenance shed after all, it was the breakfast house for all these animals. The giraffes eventually went over and tried sticking their heads over the fence to snack. We saw a person emerge every so often and open a gate for a herd of some creature and then let them out to replace them with another herd of a different creature. It was fascinating. And we were in the cheapest room in the resort. I have to wonder what the people on the savannah side saw that morning. I sort of believe all their "view" was belly up to the buffet a short stone's throw from me and the family.

The giraffes hoping for a meal
We missed rope drop. And didn't regret it one tiny bit.

1 comment:

  1. I love your commando assault on the Animal Kingdom Lodge. Just goes to show, there's Disney magic EVERYWHERE :)