If you missed the first installment of this trip report, click here to catch up!
Having experienced one of the hottest weeks of the year in Orlando during our June trip, returning in mid-November was quite a change. Instead of a seven straight days with a heat index over 100, we were headed back to the hotel (after a morning in Animal Kingdom) to exchange shorts for jeans and to grab a few extra sweatshirts. While Melissa worked for a few hours, I walked around Coronado Springs and took some photos. Having a pool empty as opposed to full of people wondering who that creepy guy is with the camera makes taking photos more fun. Thanks weather!
Eventually I headed back to Animal Kingdom about an hour before Melissa, with the purpose of taking more Christmas photos. I didn’t make it far because Discovery Island was filled with puppets! Our Disney World Christmas Guide has already spent quite a few words on Merry Menagerie so I won’t dive in too deep here. This new addition has been an absolute hit and was my favorite Christmas offering that we experienced. Enough with the words, just soak in how adorable these things are.
It’s good to see a low-budget addition be such a hit. That’s not because I’m cheering for Disney to be frugal or anything. To me it shows that guests enjoy quality and practical entertainment. In the age of virtual reality and screens, people still appreciate something they can reach out and touch. That was evidenced by countless kids running up to these animals and hugging them and plenty of adults walking up to pet what amounts to pieces of wood.
If part of a theme park’s goal is to suspend disbelief then Merry Menagerie achieves just that. Not only were these animals treated as if they were real by guests, but it gave all of Discovery Island this beautiful winter wonderland quality. I’m hoping that this Christmas addition will become a holiday tradition in Animal Kingdom for years to come.
After about an hour Melissa, Darin and Mackenzie joined me. Yes, I walked around with those puppet animals for about an hour. I have no shame. We had a late dinner reservation so we decided to go grab a drink and snack at Nomad Lounge. This is one of our favorite places in Animal Kingdom, showcasing the Imagineer’s adventures in a very relaxed setting. The iced tea is delicious as are the rest of the drinks we’ve tried and the small plates are pretty ambitious and tasty.
We had gotten a FastPass earlier in the day for Dinosaur so we walked over to the attraction, meeting this strange fella along the way. Apparently this is Launchpad McQuack, a character in Duck Tales and the 90’s Darkwing Duck. Darkwing Duck is on Disney+ and is… Weird. Enjoyable but weird. Launchpad McQuack is cooler in person than on the show, showing off a wonderful sense of style and a real zest for life. As someone who doesn’t love meet & greets, I’m all for these seemingly random characters being around. I know Mr. McQuack kind of fits into Donald’s Dino Bash but that’s a stretch. I’m here for it though.
Once we escaped some Dinosaurs and a giant asteroid hitting Earth, we walked around Dinoland for a bit. Santa Saurus in the land’s shop is a nice touch. Wouldn’t want him coming down my chimney! I will use this joke in every installment of the trip report. Dinoland is best at Christmas time, as the bright lights and weird costuming fit in well with the theme. After a while, the other three went and rode Everest five times in a row via the single-rider line while I went back to my Christmas picture taking mission.
Animal Kingdom is one of the few parks I prefer during the daytime. Much of that is due to the animal trails and safari, the heart of the park, being open. The place is also so lush and beautiful that it’s easier to soak it all in during the day. That said, nighttime at Animal Kingdom is different than any other park thanks to the lived-in virtues of these lands.
While most Disney Parks are boisterous in their lighting, albeit beautiful, Animal Kingdom has a minimalistic approach when it comes to lighting, generally not offering any more than what the ‘citizens’ of that land would need. That design choice fits in organically with the park’s design, an excellent choice that expands to the seasonal decor. Animal Kingdom sticks to story over everything and the park is better for it.
Walking around Harambe that night was incredibly peaceful, I think I saw two other people in the half hour I was there. The weather was a little chilly and I was running around with my camera, partially to stay warm. It was all kind of perfect and a nice way to say goodbye for a few years to one my favorite parks.
We watched a few of the Tree of Life Awakening vignettes before catching a bus to Polynesian for dinner at Ohana. Dinner was pretty good but slightly disappointing as far as Ohana goes. That didn’t sully our exceptional Animal Kingdom day though, as the Christmas additions at the park are wonderfully done.
The next morning saw us up early and meeting our friends for some morning drinks at Oga’s Cantina in Hollywood Studios. While we enjoyed our first time at Oga’s in Disneyland, I liked this experience more. If given the option, I definitely recommend standing at a table rather than being tucked away at a booth. Oga’s is one of the best parts of Galaxy’s Edge, grab a reservation and enjoy the detail.
After our drinks and a cinnamon roll, we walked around Galaxy’s Edge for a while, enjoying Dok-Ondar’s Den of Antiquities again as well as other sights from the grandiose land. I like the statues in the photo above, they rest of right outside of the antiquities shop.
Before long we went through our FastPasses for the day, starting with Star Tours and ending with Tower of Terror. Muppet Vision was mixed in along the way. Sadly, one of the Statler and Waldorf figures had his head going almost completely sideways. For Darrell and I, the visual was really funny. For those that hadn’t seen the show before, they were probably incredibly confused. I told a cast member as we left about the issue and they somehow had no idea that it was going on. It was pretty strange.
Next came a ride on on Tower of Terror so that my friends could laugh at my fear. An excellent ride nonetheless. Hollywood Studios holding the pinnacle of Imagineering at Walt Disney World from both last generation (Tower of Terror) and seemingly this generation (Rise of the Resistance) is definitely a point in the park’s favor.
Melissa and I exited the park and decided it was time for our inaugural ride on the Skyliner. You can read my full review of this new transportation system at that link. In short, it’s an excellent addition to Walt Disney World and one that will stand the test of time.
We rode the system to Art of Animation and then walked through the lobby there before catching a bus to Disney Springs. I don’t think I like white Christmas trees.
That drawing of Simba is nice though. We did catch an exciting bus to Disney Springs!
Even the inside of this bus was updated, being a little more roomy than the typical Disney World bus. My new motto for complimentary Disney World transportation is “Avoid buses if possible but if you do ride one then try to make it a bus with Figment on it.” Catchy, right? I might use it as the site’s new header.
We went to lunch at Wolfgang Puck Express in Disney Springs. A review is coming but this is one of the best counter-service restaurants at Disney World, at least in terms of cuisine.
From there we walked over to the Christmas Tree Trail, just a few steps away. There are around 20 Christmas Trees, all decorated to match a Disney movie or attraction. This is a fun walk through but I’m split on if it’s worth someone’s time. If you’re already at Disney Springs and enjoy Christmas then, by all means, go for it. If you’re not already in the area and don’t have a ton of time at WDW then I don’t think I’d recommend making a special trip.
We headed back to the hotel for a few minutes to grab some warmer clothes and get a few more photos of the new lobby and grounds. I’ll have an updated Coronado Springs review before long, but I think there are pros and cons to the changes made. I like the updates to the original resort, as seemingly everything got a new coat of paint and the rooms are much nicer now. The tower itself robs the resort of some personality. While not an eyesore, it also looks generic relative to the rest of the hotel. The resort still has beautiful grounds to walk around and remains a great moderate hotel. Here are a few photos.
With mugs full of hot chocolate, we headed out for a night at Magic Kingdom.
We arrived just before sunset and hung out on Main Street before watching A Frozen Holiday Wish. I wasn’t a huge fan of this show that leads to the castle Christmas lights being turned on. Elsa, Anna, Kristoff and Olaf are there to welcome guests and it all feels a little bit wordy. Kind of hypocritical I guess since this site isn’t exactly known for brevity. Once Elsa is supposed to light up the castle, there’s a pretty long spell of projections before the lights turn on. While the show isn’t my thing, the castle lighting up is absolutely gorgeous and worth waiting around for.
Once the show ended, we met back up with Darrell and Mackenzie and walked to Country Bear Jamboree and Pirates of the Caribbean. The crowds weren’t as bad as I expected that night so getting on a few attractions wasn’t too difficult.
After our rides we went over to Cosmic Ray’s for dinner. None of us thought it would be good but I wanted to review something I hadn’t on the blog before and the others were nice enough to go along. Despite Sonny Eclipse’s best attempts, our meal was awful. I did enjoy watching that alien play on his keyboard though.
Completely unsatisfied with our meal, we went and stood in the cold for a while, saving spots for Happily Ever After. There isn’t much more to say about the fireworks that I haven’t already said. It’s a phenomenal show with a perfect soundtrack. If rumors about a new nighttime spectacular for the 50th anniversary are true, I’ll miss this show dearly.
With the park open pretty late, it was time to get in some rides as seemingly everyone left the park after the fireworks. We went through about five rides in an hour, including the Teacups, PeopleMover and Jingle Cruise. All of the other nights of our trip saw Magic Kingdom closing at 6 for the Christmas Party so others had the same idea of staying late and getting in as many rides as they could. Still it was a successful night.
Once the park had reached closing, I left the group to take photos. I broke my self-imposed rule that night of not just taking photos of the castle and Main Street. Generally, I think that’s overdone and I can’t really add anything of value that hasn’t already been taken. While that’s still true at Christmas, the castle is too beautiful to pass up. Here are some photos.
Eventually I walked up Main Street and met Melissa. It was about an hour and a half past closing time at this point and we were one of the last few people in the park soaking in the view of the Christmas tree before heading back to the hotel to sleep for a few hours.
We’ll pick up part 3 of the trip report the next morning with California Grill brunch and a trip to Epcot!
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Categories: Trip Reports