Last summer, Melissa and I (along with our sister-in-law, Amie) decided to register for Walt Disney World’s Princess Half Marathon. Naturally, we planned a trip for the whole week surrounding the marathon. You know, in the name of research for this award-winning (still waiting on a trophy or certificate or email or…) blog and loyal reader(s). While I’ve already covered the half marathon, we’ll cover the rest of our time in Disney World in this trip report.
The downside of traveling to WDW for the Princess Half Marathon was that the week preceding that was President’s Day Week. Because many schools take a mid-winter break or people read that February was a good time to go to the parks, the week was as crowded as I’ve seen at the park. Our last trip was in November and started the day after Thanksgiving. Crowds during President’s Day weekend were at least equal to those crowds and might have been even worse. This also made airline prices skyrocket.
Luckily, we found a decent deal out of Seattle, our home airport, to Tampa. Flying into Tampa is a solid option for those that can’t find a good deal into Orlando. The drive time from Tampa International to Disney World is just over an hour, slightly longer than Magical Express from MCO but not enough to really factor in. One downside is that you will have to rent a car this way, and that’s what we did. After taking a red-eye flight and arriving in Tampa around 6 AM, we picked up our rental car and drove to Port Orleans – French Quarter with a stop for breakfast and to get a case of water along the way.
The original plan was to check into French Quarter, drop off our bags and the rental car, ride some attractions and then come back once our room was ready. That plan went out the window pretty quickly because neither of us slept much on the plane. We walked around the resort for a few minutes before heading to the lobby. Melissa ended up going to the front desk and asking if any rooms were available to check into and shortly after they got us into our room. The customer service in every hotel we stayed at this trip was exceptional.
After sleeping for a few hours, we headed out to return our rental car at the Dolphin Hotel. There are several areas in Disney World that do rental car returns. We prefer the Swan and Dolphin because of the easy access to Epcot or Hollywood Studios. Because of the holiday weekend, our rental car was slightly more than it generally costs but it came in at just under $100. That made saving the $100/ticket well worth it to fly into Tampa.
We grabbed a salad from the Boardwalk Bakery, a decent option for a counter-service lunch. Melissa and I shared a chicken and apple salad that was quite good and something I’d happily get again if we were looking for something light. It was a beautiful day outside, right around 80 degrees with cloud cover and a nice breeze, so we ate outside looking across the Boardwalk. That was a place we returned to often during this trip and has become one of my favorite Disney World areas.
Our original plan had called for going to Hollywood Studios that day. That original plan was slept through though and we were eager to see Festival of the Arts at Epcot. We were both still fairly tired and waiting in line didn’t sound appealing so we stayed away from attractions as ride times were crazy throughout the entire weekend.
Outside of seeing Impressions de France, we walked around and enjoyed Festival of the Arts offerings. I’ll have more thoughts and details on Festival of the Arts in the next few weeks but, in short, we loved it. On that Saturday, we walked around the booths that showcased artist’s work and watched several artists who were painting. It was a beautiful day, especially relative to the hotter days that were coming later in the week, so walking around World Showcase was extremely enjoyable. The sidewalk art (one piece is in the photo above) near the front of World Showcase was another highlight to Festival of the Arts.
Epcot was a frequent destination on this trip and we were still fairly exhausted so we went back to the hotel, as I wanted to eat dinner at Sassagoula Floatworks & Food Factory, French Quarter’s counter-service restaurant. We ordered way too much food but enjoyed the meal for the most part. We’ll have a review up shortly.
One of our goals for the trip was to take it relatively easy so that we’d feel okay running the half marathon the next week. With that in mind and still feeling tired from our flight, we decided to just stick around the hotel for the evening. We went to the hot tub and walked around to take some photos. It’s a beautiful resort and I’m glad we took some time to soak in the ambiance.
The next morning we woke up and went for a run, as we wanted to continue training and get acclimated to the heat. Frankly, it didn’t go well. We were aiming for a 6 mile run and both ended right after 4 miles. The heat was a lot to deal with after coming from 30 degrees and 3 feet of snow at our house. 85 degrees and humidity were a little too much to handle. It all ended up okay and we were fairly happy with our performance during the half marathon but those training runs were brutal.
Our reward for running in the heat was California Grill’s Brunch at the Top. The reward was well worth the uncomfortable run. I’ve already reviewed the brunch so I won’t elaborate much here. It’s one of the very best meals at Disney World and if you are looking for a special meal then go there. While the cost is slightly prohibitive to make it a regular occurrence, I’m already dreaming of going back.
Stuffed to the brim, we headed to Animal Kingdom for the rest of the day. Arriving at the park in the early afternoon, as opposed to the morning, was a nice change. We found the animals in the Oasis (the entrance to the park) to be much more active and it was nice to take a leisurely pace through that section. The Oasis is gorgeous but most people, including me, speed through it to get to the main section of the park. Next time you’re there I highly encourage a slow walk through the short paths the area offers.
The animals were very active in that early afternoon, as were the crowds. We stuck with our “Don’t Wait in Lines” plan and did a good amount of walking around, taking in the sights. Here are a few of them.
After enjoying some unique views around the Tree of Life Gardens, we went to Harambe (Africa) and watched the acrobats perform. Harambe constantly has live performances but I’d only seen the acrobats perform a few times over the years. They are very fun to watch and are good at getting the crowd involved. Before long, our FastPass for Kilimanjaro Safaris was active. Here’s a quick look at our safari that afternoon.
Seeing the baby giraffe (2nd photo) for the first time was fun. All of the animals were active and it was an exciting ride through. Animal Kingdom as a whole looks really good right now with minimal construction walls and beautiful landscaping. Kali River Rapids was under refurbishment while we were there (and will be until March 23rd) as was a small section of the Tree of Life Gardens but otherwise everything was fully running.
The park’s animal trails are an essential aspect of Animal Kingdom, especially when it’s busy. They are a quiet respite from the crowds and a nice way to see animals in beautifully designed habitats. Gorilla Falls Trail is gorgeous, especially the final habitat with the gorillas. Here’s a few photos from our walk through.
From Gorilla Falls in Africa we walked over to Asia (Anandapur) for the other animal trail, Maharajah Jungle Trek. We passed some smiling rocks along the way. They embody the small details that give Animal Kingdom amazing character.
After seeing more animals, Melissa got in the single rider line at Expedition: Everest. We were set to use FastPasses on it right after but she wanted a double ride and I have limits when it comes to roller coasters. Instead I went and watched the monkeys swing around.
Right before Melissa got to the front of the line, Everest shut down temporarily for due to technical issues. We were both okay with that as it gave us a FastPass for it later than night, our preferred Everest riding time.
We took the short walk from Asia to DinoLand and were met with this beauty.
Donald’s DinoLand Bash is (I can’t believe I’m going to say this) kind of awesome! There isn’t much substance to it but seeing classic characters dressed up as dinosaurs is surprisingly enjoyable. I mean, you can see that from the photo above. Believe it or not, the weird dance party wasn’t the reason we were in one of my least favorite lands. The reason was much worse. We were there to ride TriceraTop Spin. It was the last attraction we’d never gone on in Walt Disney World and it was time to rectify that.
It was fine.
This duck asked for its photo taken and I obliged.
We had a little time before our Flight of Passage FastPass so I walked around and took photos while Melissa shopped. If you haven’t already figured it out, this trip report may be more photo based than others. Our slow pace isn’t the most interesting thing to retell. I’ll certainly add some opinions on touring plans and the current state of attractions but Animal Kingdom is a fairly simple park to talk about right now. It looks amazing and is running the way it’s meant to. As always, it could use another attraction or two but it’s a great park. Here’s more photos.
My intention was to take a few sunset photos of Animal Kingdom. That isn’t the easiest thing to do in some vantage points. It’s certainly possible if you catch the park on the right night or find a good angle, but the sun sets in a weird corner of the park and it wasn’t easy to capture on that night. The sunsets and skies were prettier as the week went on.
We walked over to Pandora to enjoy a few views in the daylight before settling in Nomad Lounge for something to drink.
Nomad Lounge is one of the most relaxing spots in Walt Disney World. Attached to Tiffins, Nomad Lounge has couches and over-sized chairs to relax in. Melissa and I both love the tea they serve there and a few of their cocktails are similarly excellent. It’s a perfect spot to take a break and have something cold to drink.
After a quick rest, we rode Flight of Passage with our FastPass. The attraction remains one of our favorites in Disney World although it may lose a tiny bit of novelty with multiple rides. Beauty and thrill persist regardless of how many times you have been on the attraction though.
Once we were off the ride, the park was near closing time. We took advantage of being in Pandora – World of Avatar and I took some photos. I finally got a few of the land at night that I’m proud of.
Pandora grew on me at night this trip. Perhaps slowing down and walking all the way through it at closing helped. The lighting features are quite a bit different from most other lands in Disney Parks but I think that’s done purposefully. Animal Kingdom having longer night hours is great but there’s not enough time in the night to explore it all. I’m glad we spent that evening in Pandora.
We closed the night by taking in the final Tree of Life Awakenings before exiting. The colors came through pretty well in the above photo and it was a beautiful cap to an excellent day. We went back to the hotel and shared a little bit to eat. Brunch was so filling that we hadn’t eaten anything since. After I took a few more photos before we went to bed.
It was an excellent start to the trip and I’m glad we set off on the slower pace. At times we start really fast at Disney World and do as much as we can. We were mindful of not doing it this time around, as we wanted to relax a little more. It paid off near the end of the trip. We’ll pick up the next installment by switching hotels and spending the day in Magic Kingdom!
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Categories: Trip Reports