Happily Ever After Review

Happily Ever After is Magic Kingdom’s nighttime spectacular.  The show debuted in May of 2017 and typically plays once a night.  This review will cover our thoughts on this new show along with a little bit of strategy on where to watch it.

HEA blue and pink MK

I won’t try to bury the lede here, I love Happily Ever After.  The show’s pacing, soundtrack and visuals are near perfect.  On top of that, Happily Ever After is the longest firework show in a Disney park that I can ever remember.

Happily Ever After begins simply enough with narration but the projection on to the castle is already a noticeable, especially compared to the somewhat outdated technology in the show’s predecessor, Wishes.  While a little odd to not hear Jiminy Cricket come over the Magic Kingdom speakers, I like the narration throughout this show.  The opening of the show also includes the (somewhat) original song, conveniently called Happily Ever After.  Both the narration and song are strong and more modern than Wishes, while still being classic.

HEA Moana MK

Happily Ever After utilizes some otherwise little used songs throughout the show.  The Hunchback of Notre Dame, Tarzan, and Brave all have songs throughout.  These are of course mixed in with classics.  The segment featuring How Far I’ll Go from Moana is a crowd favorite and ups the ante a little bit when it comes to pyro.  This followed by playful music highlighting several films, notably Aladdin, makes for the most fun portion of the show.

The highlight of the soundtrack is a beautiful duet on Frozen’s Love is an Open Door, followed by orchestration of Can You Feel the Love Tonight and You’ll be in My Heart.  This is where the emotional punch of the show comes in.  Happily Ever After knows when to take things down a notch, which is an underrated trait in firework shows.  The pyro and projections expertly follow the music’s lead.  Halfway through this new show I was worried that it wouldn’t pack the same emotion that Wishes had but that qualm was quickly answered in this beautiful segment.

HEA tink MK

After all of the ooey-gooey feelings comes the villain portion of the show, which features some really cool visual gags.  The Pirates segment especially is interesting with the smoke lingering around the castle.  This was a favorite moment of mine.  I guess if you are a villains fan then you could argue that this segment is too short.  I would disagree as I wouldn’t want any other portion of the show to be cut in place of more villains.

HEA red smoke MK

The ending of Happily Ever After kicks off triumphantly with a stirring rendition of I Can Go the Distance.  A surprise visit by Tinkerbell is a perfect nostalgic moment, paying tribute to the shows that come before it.  We were watching this show and had a nice conversation with an older couple who visited about once a year.  The husband was excited to see the show but wasn’t one to show much emotion.  When Tinkerbell appeared though this gentleman went crazy, applauding and yelling.  As silly as it sounds, seeing him embrace that moment was one of my favorite parts of our trip.  This speaks to Happily Ever After’s ability to work for all ages, something I think Disneyland struggled with when debuting Paint the Night and Disneyland Forever.

HEA pink orange MK

When I heard that the show was 18 minutes long I was concerned that the fireworks would be toned down.  Those fears were largely unfounded.  On top of that, the projections played a heavy role in Happily Ever After.  Because of that, I recommend standing not far behind the Partners Statue in the hub.  This will give you a great view of the projections while still being able to see the fireworks.  If this spot is full then the next best would be about even with Casey’s Corner on Main Street.  The closer to the train station the harder the projections will be to see.  While the train station will offer some very fun views, I wouldn’t recommend this if it for first-time viewing.

The sheer amount of characters and films Happily Ever After highlights is impressive. These appearances never feel rushed though and the pacing is spot on.  Projections give the show the ability to go through all of these films in a fairly organic way.  The layers of the soundtrack are likely my favorite part of the show but, to be fair, I geek out about that stuff more than most people.

HEA tall MK

Happily Ever After’s plot is passable although it is more of an inspirational speech than a story.  This works for most nighttime spectaculars, as these shows generally work better as vignettes that fit a main idea than an actual show.  Happily Ever After certainly fits that bill.

Overall, Happily Ever After is one of my favorite nighttime spectacular I’ve ever seen. The show’s visuals and soundtrack work together seamlessly to pull guests through an array of emotions.  Using some unheralded songs keeps Happily Ever After from being predictable but still a classic.  This show is a must-see.

HEA finale MK

Overall Rating – 10/10

Have you seen Happily Ever After?  Let us know your thoughts and questions on the show in the comments!  If you enjoy what you’re reading here on Wandering in Disney please subscribe to the blog via email or WordPress and like our social media pages.  You can find all of those things on the right side of this page.  Thank you very much for reading, we appreciate it!

– Andrew


Disney’s Animal Kingdom Attraction Rankings

Updated to reflect the addition of Pandora – World of Avatar.  Today we continue our attraction rankings series, moving on to Animal Kingdom.  If you missed any of the series thus far check out the Disneyland, California Adventure, and Hollywood Studios posts by clicking on the coinciding park.  Before we get to the rankings, let’s quickly brush up on the rules.

  • No Meet & Greets. These are impossible to rank as each experience is unique. Also, I don’t particularly like them.
  • No Live Shows. Nighttime shows are almost always better than rides, in my eyes. Also, big stage shows are impressive and don’t fit the profile of a typical ride. I will include 3D movies though. Basically you have to physically ride or walk through something.  I’ll include walking trails at Animal Kingdom because I think they are vital to the park and are more attractions than entertainment (unlike live shows).  I won’t be including any of the Rafiki’s Planet Watch ‘exhibits’ as I don’t think they’re exactly rides or walk-throughs.
  • These are all my opinion. Lou Mongello constantly says that “every attraction is someones favorite.” While that is corny and seems a little silly, I think the sentiment is mostly true. I can’t account for other people’s memories in these rankings and will try (probably unsuccessfully) to take some of the nostalgia out of my views of these attractions. You’ll likely disagree with these rankings. Please let me know what you disagree with in the comments.

ToL ram day

Like Hollywood Studios, this post will be shorter than the Disneyland and California Adventure posts because there are fewer attractions.  Animal Kingdom has legitimate reasons for this as there aren’t many theme parks like it in the world.  The park isn’t about racing from attraction to attraction but instead is best experienced taking a leisurely pace and exploring the vast grounds.  If you’re just doing attractions at Animal Kingdom and are skipping the live entertainment (especially at night), the trails, the smaller animal exhibits and just soaking in the atmosphere, I’d highly recommend you adjust your touring plan.  While I’m sure the park isn’t for everyone, I think slowing down would make any experience at Animal Kingdom better.  That is the reason why attraction rankings at this park don’t tell the full story and I even hesitate to do this post in the first place.

With all of that being said, Animal Kingdom could use a few more attractions to ride.  Pandora certainly helped.  Another expansion, an upgrade at Rafiki’s Planet Watch or a quality replacement for DinoLand would do wonders and make this maybe the best theme park in the country.  Hopefully that comes in the future.

On to the rankings!

12. Primeval Whirl – One of my least favorite attractions in any park.  This is the roller coaster in DinoLand where your ride vehicle spins as you go along the track.  It fits the theme of the land in looking like something that could be set up at a pop-up carnival.  While fitting the theme is typically a good thing, it’s not a compliment here.  I’ve seen better looking roller coasters at the county fair.  It’s an eye sore and the ride is bad while also having ridiculous wait times.  Even more negative points are headed its way because of spinning while on a roller coaster.  No one wants that.  Kidding about that last point, sort of.  If you couldn’t tell already, I despise Primeval Whirl.

Primeval Whirl AK

11. TriceraTop Spin – A dumbed-down version of Dumbo.  Instead of elephants though there are Triceratops.  Triceratops are really cool, but that can’t offset the feeling like this could be ridden at your local fair just like Primeval Whirl.  I don’t have much against this spinner ride but the attractions take a significant jump up in quality after this one.

10. Na’vi River Journey – Pandora’s second attraction is largely a disappointment.  With having said that, there is a gigantic jump from number 11 to number 10.  Na’vi River Journey certainly looks impressive, unfortunately there isn’t anything more to the attraction.  Guests ride down a river and look at Pandora’s bioluminescent forest. There are worse things to look at but the attraction is not very interesting.  Still, this makes for a very solid top-10 in the park.

NRJ AA Pandora AK

9. Gorilla Falls Exploration Trail – This would be a near perfect trail in a zoo.  There are a ton of animals to showcase.  The trail loops around nicely and is a great length.  The animals here are interesting, blending some obscure ones with favorites.  With that being said, this attraction comes in 8th place because there isn’t the beautiful theming we see in other areas of the park.  While I think this is definitely worth your time, I don’t think Gorilla Falls transcends being anything more than a walking trail to see some cool animals.


8. It’s Tough to be a Bug! – A wild, weird 4-D movie featuring characters from A Bug’s Life.  The queue is wonderful, taking you under the Tree of Life. Loyal readers know that I’m terrified of this ride/movie.  It’s the ride I’m most scared of at Disney Parks.  No, this isn’t justifiable but I don’t go on this anymore.  All that aside, I do think this is a wacky and fun attraction that’s pretty strong overall.

Back of ToL with waterfall

7. The Boneyard – The Boneyard is a playground on the outskirts of DinoLand.  This is the best themed playground in any Disney Park and is fun to explore.  The playground acts as an archaeological dig site with bones to uncover and little tunnels throughout.  Now, if you’re on an adults-only trip then spending half an hour here isn’t advisable but I do think it’s worth walking through.  If you’re a kid or a parent with a kid, I think spending a decent amount of time here is a good option.  There’s much to explore while still offering what a standard playground offers.

6. Kali River Rapids – If the theming of the actual attraction met the standards of Kali River Rapids’ queue then this attraction would easily be in the top 3.  Unfortunately, the ride is somewhat lackluster after the significant buildup of a beautiful queue.  This river rapids ride has a few thrilling moments but the story falls a little flat, as do the visuals throughout the ride.  Still, I have a soft spot for river rides and this is still a good attraction even if it could improve.

Crazy teeth dino AK

5. DINOSAUR – With an awesome ride system and a recent refurbishment, DINOSAUR is on the up and up.  The story is pretty fun, going back in time to grab a dinosaur to bring back to the lab.  Naturally, everything goes wrong before it’s solved.  I thoroughly enjoy the attraction but it’s not without its faults.  The attraction is a little bit campy and doesn’t have the thrills that comparable Indiana Jones Adventure (in Disneyland) has.  Overall though, this is an extremely fun ride in a park that needs one.

4. Maharajah Jungle Trek – There is a pretty big jump from DINOSAUR to the top-3.  Maharajah Jungle Trek isn’t your typical theme park attraction but it is magnificent.  An animal trail tells the stories of a beautiful land that was eventually overrun with poachers.  Over time, animals and the people of the area ousted the poachers and learned to live in harmony.  All of these stories are told through sculpting and murals on old ruins throughout the path.  Intertwined with these ruins are amazing animals that you can get really close to.  The path culminates in a few great areas to see tigers.  I think this path is one of the most beautiful areas Imagineers have ever developed.  While I can understand people being more excited about thrill rides, this is an incredibly unique and beautiful attraction.

Prayer flags AK MJT

3. Expedition Everest – I always thought Expedition Everest was a great roller coaster that was a step below some of Disney’s classic mountains.  Then I rode this at night and it became one of my favorite attractions anywhere.  Mind you, this is all with an audio-animatronic in the middle of the ride that is broken.  If they ever figure out how to get the yeti in Expedition Everest working again then this attraction will be one of the best in the world.  As is, I still love this roller coaster that’s especially augmented by the queue and surrounding Asian themed area.  The prayer flags throughout Asia, the queue, and the actual ride makes the experience feel more authentic.  Many people could have Everest as number one on this list and I wouldn’t argue.

Everest pink sky

2. Avatar Flight of Passage – Flight of Passage is Walt Disney World’s newest E-ticket and is the best attraction addition there in decades.  This ride takes guests on the back of a banshee (those flying creatures in Avatar, the movie no one remembers).  The ride system is similar to Soarin’ but in a different vehicle.  Flight of Passage is certainly more thrilling than Soarin’ though.  Visually, the ride is stunning and that starts in the queue of the attraction.  This attraction boasts the best queue I have ever been in.  If you are more of a thrill seeker than animal lover then this is a pretty clear number one.

Pandora waterfall bridge AK

1. Kilimanjaro Safaris I’ve written before about Kilimanjaro Safaris and how it’s my favorite attraction that I’ve ever been on.  Not much has changed since.  The scope of this attraction that takes you to see nearly 100 different types of animals is unheard of in theme parks.  In fact, this attraction is nearly the size of some theme parks.  Kilimanjaro Safaris takes guests to see more animals than are in most zoos and does so in about 20 minutes.  It is the perfect blend of entertainment and education in a theme park ride, as the skipper has plenty of facts to go along with the sights.  On top of that, the ride experience is never the same making this one of the most rerideable (if that’s a word I definitely didn’t spell it right) attractions around.  Kilimanjaro Safaris is the flagship attraction of Animal Kingdom and has more than earned that title.

Elephant AK

Animal Kingdom has 12 attractions and 10 of them are definitely worth your time.  On top of that, there is some incredible entertainment and atmosphere throughout Animal Kingdom that’s not to be missed.  All in all, Animal Kingdom could use a few more attractions but is becoming the most complete park at Disney World.  Headlined by Kilimanjaro Safaris, Flight of Passage and Expedition Everest, the attraction lineup is very solid..

What did I get wrong in my rankings?  Let me know in the comments below.  Thank you for reading Wandering in Disney!

– Andrew

Narcoossee’s Dinner Review

Narcoossee’s is a signature restaurant at Disney’s Grand Floridian Resort.  The fine-dining restaurant sits at the corner of the hotel’s property, looking out upon Bay Lake and Magic Kingdom.  The dinner menu features steak, seafood and other east-coast inspired dishes.  Narcoossee’s does take part in the Disney Dining Plan as a 2-credit restaurant.  Discounts of 20% are available for those that have an Annual Pass or a Tables in Wonderland card.  We recently had dinner at Narcoossee’s and this review will cover that experience.

The Grand Floridian is the most upscale Disney owned resort on property.  Whether the theme is for everyone is slightly more debatable but stepping on-site here feels like a definite step up in class from rubbing sweaty elbows in a theme park.  With that in mind, Grand Floridian should be home to a popular dining scene, right?  The answer is both yes and no.

The hotel features more restaurants than any hotel on-site.  These restaurants include a counter-service, table-service, 2 signature, Victoria & Albert’s, and a lounge. All receive decent to great reviews.  The dining scene is quite crowded from a restaurant perspective but none of these places, save Victoria & Albert’s, is considered a must-do by most publications I’ve seen.  Likewise, none of these restaurant have ever been crowded when we’ve attended them.  I had always assumed for Narcoossee’s that the environment wasn’t great and the food was lacking, thus the lack of buzz about the place.  We set out for dinner here to make up our own minds.

As I said in the opening, Narcoossee’s sits right on the edge of Bay Lake.  If taking a boat from Magic Kingdom to the Grand Floridian, this restaurant would be the first place seen after getting off the boat.  If coming from the monorail then the walk is farther, although still a pleasant one.  I recommend the boat option but that’s just because I love riding boats.

Narcoossees inside

While the setting on the outside of the restaurant is quite beautiful, being right on the water, the inside is also easy on the eyes.  The tables are adorned with royal blue tablecloths that are a beautiful contrast to the warm wood tones throughout the restaurant.  Narcoosse’s is illuminated by natural light in the early evening.  While not actually open air, the restaurant gives an illusion of being outside.

Narcoossee's outside window

Part of that illusion is because of the beautiful views out the window.  We spent our meal gazing out onto the lake and Magic Kingdom.  As you can see above, the restaurant has a nice deck around it that you can walk before or after eating.  There isn’t much as far as theme in this restaurant but the views plus the beautiful design more than made up for that.

Narcoossees bread

Onto the food… As with most table-service restaurant in Disney World, we were served bread before the meal.  This was a delicious, warm sourdough loaf.  The menu at Narcoosse’s mainly features seafood and steak.  Here’s a link to the menu.

lobster bisque Narcoossees

I started with the Lobster Bisque which was delicious.  Creamy and rich with large chunks of lobster, this was one of the best iterations of the soup that I’ve ever tried.  I highly recommend this.

Narcoossees Calimari

Melissa ordered the Crispy Rhode Island Calamari and enjoyed it.  The peppers and relish gave the dish a pickled flavor to cut through the rich taste of calamari.  The calamari itself was delicious and cooked perfectly.  There was plenty in this appetizer so I’d recommend sharing this if it appeals to you.

Lobster again narcoossees

For our entrees we went with the two lobster dishes.  I had the Steamed Maine Lobster.  This was incredibly fresh and steamed to perfection.  The presentation of the dish made the lobster quite easy to pull out of the shell, no matter what part of the lobster this was from.

Lobster Melissa Narcoossees

Melissa went with the Butter-poached Twin Maine Lobster Tails.  Her lobster had a more buttery flavor, which makes sense when looking at the name.  What you prefer will likely depend on if you like a more buttery flavor and if you are more partial to the lobster tails as opposed to other parts of the lobster.  I preferred mine, as the butter starts to become a little too much for me after a while.  Both dishes were prepared perfectly.  This was the best lobster I’ve had and easily the best I’ve had on property (I think I’ve had it at about 5 different spot).

The rest of the dish included asparagus and a corn soufflé.  The asparagus tasted like asparagus, it was good but nothing out of the ordinary.  The corn soufflé on the other hand was what dreams are made of.  Seriously, Melissa had a dream about it.  This tasted like a sweet corn bread but in a soufflé form.  The corn soufflé was one of my favorite things I tasted on that trip.  Going to the restaurant just for that might be worth it.

Strawberry shortcake Narcoossees

We were full but pressed on in the name of research.  For dessert, I had this fun take on strawberry shortcake.  I don’t see this currently on the menu but I thoroughly enjoyed it.  The cake was light and the strawberry sauce was delicious.

Almond crusted cheesecake Narcoossees

Melissa ordered the Almond-crusted Cheesecake.  She enjoyed this as well.  On top of a delicious, rich cheesecake, the cherry sauce was fantastic.  The almond crust on the cheesecake gave a nice contrast to the rich taste.  I’d highly recommend either of these dishes.

Now that we’ve gotten through the food let’s talk value.  Narcoossee’s definitely surprised us with an incredible environment and amazing food but does the price measure up?  Well, this restaurant is on par with other signature restaurants.  Appetizers are between $10 and $20.  Main courses are $40 to $70, with the lobster being closer to $70.  Obviously, these are high price points but in this case you get what you pay for.  If you’re doing one or two fancy dinners on your trip then this should be in the running, especially if your family likes lobster.

View from Narcoossees

Our trip to Narcoossee’s made me even more curious as to why this restaurant doesn’t receive more praise.  While I haven’t tried every restaurant, I’d put this squarely in Disney World’s top-ten places to eat.  The environment is beautiful and relaxing, the food is wonderful for seafood eaters, and the value isn’t bad relative to the whole experience.  Narcoossee’s is one of the best restaurants in all of Walt Disney World and deserves more attention.

Overall Rating – 10/10

Have you had a meal at Narcoossee’s?  Let us know your thoughts on the restaurant along with any questions you have in the comments.  If you enjoy what you’re reading here on Wandering in Disney please subscribe to the blog via email or WordPress and like our social media pages.  You can find all of those things on the right side of this page.  Thank you very much for reading, we appreciate it!

– Andrew


August 2017 Walt Disney World Trip Report – Part 3

If you missed parts 1 or 2 of this trip report, click on the corresponding number to catch up! 

We woke up the morning after exploring Animal Kingdom and Pandora a little more rested.  Most of our Disney trips are taken at a more leisurely pace than many.  We both enjoy that pace a little more and are afforded that benefit because we travel to Disney Parks often.  So far this trip we had been going non-stop in the midst of very hot weather.  Sleeping in was nice.

Coronado Springs fountain day

In late morning we checked out of Coronado Springs, left our bags at bell services for them to transfer to our next hotel and headed to Hollywood Studios.  That afternoon we were set to check in at the Yacht Club for two nights and had the deluxe dining plan linked to that reservation.  I’ll have a full post regarding that plan in the next few weeks but for the sake of this post that plan just meant that we were going to eat a ridiculous amount of food over the next three days.  That ridiculous amount started at Sci-Fi Dine Inn Theater.

Dougnut sundae sci fi dhs

We were largely disappointed by Sci-Fi, as we didn’t enjoy our food very much.  To read our full review, click here.  Part of the problem was the time we ate our lunch.  Eating a 3-course meal of incredibly heavy food an hour and a half after waking up isn’t the brightest idea.  Still, outside of the beautiful atmosphere this was a disappointing start to the day.

Indy getting punch Dhs stunt show

After our lackluster meal we raced over to Indiana Jones Stunt Spectacular.  We had both wanted to see this show again, as it had been quite a few years since our last viewing.  On top of that, I have no idea how much longer Indy will have this space so seeing the show was a priority.  I was pleasantly surprised by Indiana Jones Stunt Spectacular.  I don’t remember enjoying the show.  While the theme of a working studio  filming stunts doesn’t quite fit in with whatever Hollywood Studios is becoming, it’s close enough to have a place in this park moving forward.  The Stunt Spectacular could use an update of some sort (maybe a new scene?) it hasn’t aged as poorly as a few other shows in this park.

Car exploding DHS stunt show

We were lucky enough to sit in the second row on the far side, even though we came in the theater right as the show started.  At first we were told that there would only be standing room but once everyone was settled a nice cast member kept finding open spots for everyone.  Quality customer service made the show that much better.

Mickey's Runaway poster DHS

There are ‘coming soon…’ posters all over Hollywood Studios, way more of these posters and construction walls than actual attractions.  This is both frustrating in the present and exciting for the future.

ToT inside hallway DHS

With that said, we spent about 6 or 7 hours in Hollywood Studios this trip and enjoyed them.  Indy, Disney Movie Magic and the nighttime spectaculars offer a nice base of shows.  Tower of Terror, Toy Story Mania and Star Tours (Rock n’ Roller Coaster to a lesser extent) offer a nice base of attractions.  Before long Hollywood Studios will be a very good park, just not right now.

Mid-afternoon saw us going to check into the Yacht Club.  We were headed to the Halloween Party that night and needed to change into our costumes.  Checking into our hotel was easy and they already had our bags delivered from Coronado Springs.  The Yacht Club review is upcoming but I’ll spoil that a little bit.  We enjoyed our stay here as much as any hotel at Walt Disney World.

View from Narcoossees

After we changed and rested for a few minutes it was time for dinner on the water.  We ate at Narcoossee’s, located at the Grand Floridian Resort.  Again, a review is upcoming but our dinner was delicious.

Our costumes for the evening were as safari drivers on Kilimanjaro Safaris.  We were planning to change into them after dinner where we were just planning to wear shorts and T-shirts.  On the way to dinner we realized that the restaurant had a dress code requiring a collared shirt.  So, we pulled out these terrible khaki button up shirts that we had for our costumes and put them on.  Feeling foolish, we entered the restaurant and were immediately seated at the far corner of Narcoossee’s.  Now, they may have just been being nice, seating us at a table right by a window that was somewhat private.  But the obvious joke was that the restaurant didn’t want other guests to see our off-putting shirts.  I wouldn’t have blamed them if that was the case.  We had a few good laughs about it during the meal.

Tigger and Eeyore Halloween

We arrived at Mickey’s Not So Scary Halloween Party right around 7.  One of my favorite parts of having an annual pass and multiple trips to the Disney Parks is not feeling the excessive need to scrap every bit of value out of park tickets.  Feeling that way makes a trip more conducive to doing what you actually want to do.

Halloween ghosts MK

As I mentioned in my review, we always have a great time at the Halloween Party.  We started off by seeing Pooh, Piglet, Tigger and Eeyore.  Disney Parks have a few of my favorite items in the world in them and Eeyore dressed as a clown is definitely one of those things.  Tigger as a pirate, Pooh as a bee, and Piglet as a butterfly certainly don’t disappoint either.

Shovels Boo to You MK

After meeting characters and grabbing some candy we found our spot for the Boo to You Parade.  I was very excited to get a spot that had the castle in the background.  Unfortunately, I left part of my brain at dinner and decided that long exposure photos would be a good way to go.  Truly have no idea what I was thinking that night.  This led to about three usable photos and the rest were frustratingly terrible.

Candy dancer Boo to You MK

This parade is a favorite of mine.  I’d be lying if I said that this isn’t mostly because of the soundtrack.  Halloween at our house mainly just means we listen to the parade soundtrack and eat candy.  I recommend the same for anyone who is an introvert on Halloween.

gold and blue streaks HalloWishes MK

For as poorly as my parade photography went, HalloWishes made up for it.  The colors really popped on the photos and I was very excited about several of the finished products.

Gold fireworks orange castel HalloWishes MK

HalloWishes is fantastic.  The Winnie the Pooh section along with the Haunted Mansion segment are some of my favorite in any fireworks show.  The perimeter bursts are jaw-dropping even if you are watching the show outside of the park.

Hocus Pocus cast MK

After the fireworks we rode Haunted Mansion, the PeopleMover, did a little more trick or treating and then finished the evening with Hocus Pocus Villain Spectacular.  All in all, Mickey’s Not-So-Scary Halloween Party was a blast.  Celebrating a holiday that resides a day before November in August was strange.  But I’ll take that trade-off in exchange for less crowds.

Rapunzel group Trattoria

We crawled into bed a little after 1 AM that night satisfied.  The next morning brought a few welcome guests!  Our sister-in-law and 2 nephews came to visit us, driving all the way from Pensacola.  First on the agenda for the day was a trip to Trattoria al Forno, on the Boardwalk, for breakfast.  In the past year this restaurant changed a well-regarded breakfast to a character breakfast.  We all found the food to be delicious and enjoyed our meal (a full review will be coming shortly).  The boys were only slightly concerned about the characters that came to the table, as you can see above.

Yacht Club from bridge

We took a short and hot walk around the Boardwalk, back to our hotel after breakfast. The views are beautiful but it was already getting quite warm for the day.  As we found throughout the trip, being out in the sun from 11-5 in August was not preferable in Disney World.  There were plenty of ways around this but on this particular day the heat really got to us.

Colton water dock

After naps were had by all in the hotel room, we hopped on a boat and then took a walk to mini golf at the Swan & Dolphin Hotels.  This was my dumbest idea of the trip.  Mini golf is great and these courses were a lot of fun.  I would highly recommend this to anyone who enjoys this type of thing on a day that you weren’t going into the parks.  With that said, don’t make the mistake of going at 2 PM in the afternoon.  The boat ride was nice, the walk was miserable outside of the company, and by the time we got to mini golf I was melting faster than the wicked witch.  These mini golf courses stay open later than the parks and, if you’re up for it, that’s when I would recommend going.  Getting back to your hotel is a small issue if going that route but Uber or the Minnie Vans are always an option.

Elephant mini golf

Again, these courses were really cool.  This seems like the type of memory that would stick out to some families too; being all together, laughing and enjoying being outside after a day spent all together can be powerful.  Just maybe not with a heat index of 110 degrees.  As it was, we only played about half of one course before calling it.

We had definitely earned a spot in the pool at this point and went there after returning to the hotel.  The Yacht Club staff was nice enough to oblige us, knowing that we had day guests with us.  They said using one of the side pools would be allowed for all of us.  While Stormalong Bay (the Yacht and Beach Club’s flagship pool) would have been preferable, I certainly understand why they don’t allow pool hopping or day guests in there.  With two toddlers, the side pool worked out better anyway.

After swimming, our visitors bid us adieu and headed out.  This was a great way to spend a day and I would highly recommend this to anyone who has family wanting to join them for the day at Disney World.  Even if they aren’t going into the parks, there is plenty to see and do.  On top of that, it might help you catch up on some rest.  The hotel staff was very accommodating in helping us on where to tell our guests to park and anything else we asked.

Chefs de France beef

We hustled off for dinner at Les Chefs de France at Epcot.  I keep saying this, but another review is forthcoming.  We enjoyed our meal and the leisurely pace of it, relative to other Disney World restaurants.  While at dinner we had the tough decision of staying for Illuminations or going back to our hotel to enjoy Stormalong Bay.  Seeing how staying at the Yacht Club isn’t often an option for us, we chose the latter and headed back to the hotel.

Stormalong Bay chairs

I love Illuminations, but we certainly made the right choice on this night.  Stormalong Bay is unrivaled by any hotel pool I’ve ever been to.  The location of the Yacht and Beach Club is second to none, in my opinion.  Even with that in mind, the pool might be the best factor the hotel has.  I never knew how much I loved sandy pool floors until swimming here.

Boardwalk night sand

After our night swim, Melissa went to bed and I went to take a few photos of the hotel and Boardwalk.  The beach is another nice thing that the hotel has going for it, although it’s better utilized during the day in the winter months.  Laying out here at night is quite romantic and one of the quieter places in all of Walt Disney World.

Lighthouse Boardwalk

This had been a very relaxing day that was conveniently smack in the middle of our trip.  Our feet appreciated the rest and we loved seeing family.  Having an annual pass and multiple trips in the last year again paid off as we just went into the park for dinner on this day and didn’t feel pressure to stay.  If I were a local, I would do that all the time. More adventures awaited and we’ll get to those in the next installment of our trip report!

If there’s any questions or thoughts about our trip report (or just anything in general) please leave them below in the comments.  Thank you for reading Wandering in Disney, if you enjoy what you’re reading please subscribe to the blog and like our social media pages.  You can do both of those things on the right side of this page.  Have a great day!

– Andrew

Mickey’s Not So Scary Halloween Party Review & Guide

Mickey’s Not So Scary Halloween Party takes place in Magic Kingdom every fall. The party is a hard-ticketed event that is not included with park admission.  Typically, Mickey’s Not So Scary runs several times a week from 7 PM (guests can enter Magic Kingdom anytime after 4 PM) to midnight.  This post will cover our review of the Halloween Party as well as a few thoughts on an ideal touring plan.

Oogie dancing Boo to You MK

I can’t say that I’m the biggest fan of Halloween.  My thoughts on dressing up are similar to Jim Halpert’s.  While candy has my absolute respect, I’m more of a savory fan.  All this led to me not really thinking twice about Halloween growing up.  When it came to Disney World, Mickey’s Not So Scary Halloween Party was a bit of an afterthought too.  Why pay extra to go into Magic Kingdom when I already have a regular park ticket?

As my Disney Parks fandom grew, I started reading and learning more about the Halloween Party.  While far from what I was most excited about, my interest did grow and eventually the dates matched up for us to be able to go to a Halloween Party.  I was pleasantly surprised by our experience and would probably recommend it, depending on your priorities.  We’ll start with the individual components that make-up the Halloween Party.

Boo to You float MK

Know Before You Go

Before we get to the main offerings of the Halloween Party, let’s get a few quick items out-of-the-way.

  • Wear a costume – While a costume isn’t necessary for the Halloween Party, it does make the whole event more fun.  Seeing what everyone is wearing and having others ask what you are is part of the fun.  No masks are allowed though.
  • No, the party isn’t scary – Nothing about Mickey’s Not So Scary Halloween Party is overly frightening.  There are moments that can be eerie, like the headless horseman or a flash of lightning, but they’re usually followed by something goofy and fun.  I wouldn’t worry about your child getting scared at all.  This is far from what Universal Studios does.
  • Most rides are open – While I don’t think this is a particularly good use of time, there are rides open during the party.  I enjoy going on the Haunted Mansion and maybe sneak in another attraction.  Otherwise, I would save the rides for an actual day at Magic Kingdom.
  • Specialty food & merchandise – If specifically themed Halloween food and clothing is your thing then there are several different places to take advantage of this.  Most shops at Magic Kingdom will have some merchandise to commemorate your Halloween Party.  Specialty food items, typically of the sweet variety, are served around the park.  Check the guide map for what is offered and where to get it.  I don’t get particularly excited about either of these but do think they are a fun addition.  The Pumpkin Mickey Waffle with ice cream from Sleepy Hollow Refreshments is delicious.
  • If there are other logistic questions you have about the Halloween Party let us know in the comments!

HalloWishes colorful MK

Unique Character Meet & Greets

This is probably the most divisive component of Mickey’s Not So Scary Party.  Not because people have bad experiences with character but because some won’t spend much time meeting unique characters while others will spend the whole night doing it.  If you love meeting characters then the Halloween Party is a potential gold mine.

Pooh and Tigger Halloween

For me, this is the least important part of the Halloween Party so I don’t spend much time here.  I do think it’s fun to meet a few characters.  Our first time at the party we met all of the 7 dwarfs.  This last year we met Winnie the Pooh and all his friends as they were dressed in their best Halloween costumes.  Jack Skellington is another character to meet, as well as a few other rare characters.

The lines for these characters can get very long so I recommend queueing for them even before the party starts.  Using that strategy and then going to see a few other characters right before the party ends works pretty well.  All of this depends on your interest in seeing characters.  While I don’t think this is the best perk the party offers, I do enjoy going to meet a few and getting a nice photo-op while wearing a costume.

MK 7 Dwarfs us MNSSHP

In the past few years Disney has been cutting back on the amount of characters out for guests to meet.  This is unfortunate and a trend that hopefully is reversed in the future.

Trick or Treat

Around the Magic Kingdom there will be candy stations for guests to go “Trick or Treating”.  When first entering the Magic Kingdom, party goers will receive a bag with some candy already in it.  You can use that bag to fill up the rest of the evening, no need to bring your own.

Alien guy Halloween MK

The only good time to visit Stitch’s Great Escape is when there’s candy inside.

This is another fun component of the Halloween Party that isn’t very high on my priorities.  To me, Trick or Treating is a fun way to get a little bit of candy while seeing the inside of a few attractions I rarely go into.  This year I went inside of Stitch’s Great Escape to get candy.  In previous years, they had stations inside of the Tiki Room.  These locations are fun to walk through.  Don’t go into the party looking to make back all of the money you spent via candy.  While guests could do this theoretically, as there’s no limit to how many times you can go to a station, having cast members fill up a bag with candy that you may or may not eat is far from the most exciting party of Mickey’s Party.  Instead I would advise to hit a few locations throughout the night.  The later it gets the less lines these places will have.  You can find all Trick or Treat locations on the guide map you will be handed at the entrance of the party.

Dance Parties

There are a few dance parties throughout Magic Kingdom during the Halloween Party.  Most notably, the Tomorrowland Dance Party will feature Sully, Mike, and Boo dancing with guests.  Dance Parties are fun to happen upon and enjoy for a few minutes but don’t plan your evening around them.  They aren’t especially unique to the party.

Sully Halloween MK

Mickey’s Boo-To-You Halloween Parade

Much of the Halloween Party revolves around this parade.  Boo-To-You runs twice a night, once before the fireworks and once after.  This is my favorite Disney parade that I’ve seen.  While there are many characters, Boo-To-You is a little more villain focused.  I don’t think the parade itself is any more extravagant than the regular Magic Kingdom afternoon parade, but it certainly has the soundtrack is fantastic, the parade is more cohesive and the rare characters are enjoyable.

Headless Horesman side Boo to You

Another place where the parade excels is the dancers in between the floats.  Whether it be the grave diggers with their shovels or the ghosts ball room dancing in front of the Haunted Mansion float, these characters are just as much fun to watch as the actual floats.

While it will certainly be more crowded, I advise guests to see Boo-To-You on Main Street.  Right as the parade begins the Headless Horseman will trot down the street.  The only place where you can see this is on Main Street.  I also like the lighting of the parade better here and the backdrop of the castle is hard to beat.  If you can find room right by the flag pole, this is a wonderful place to watch the parade.

Ghosts Boo to You MK

On top of that, I would suggest seeing the first parade.  Again this will be the more crowded option but it also affords guests to see the parade twice if it turns out that they really like it.  My typical move will be to see this on Main Street on the first showing and then watch Boo-To-You somewhere in Frontierland where I can find a spot last-minute on the second showing.  Boo-To-You is one of the main highlights of the evening and is not to be missed.

Hocus Pocus Villain Spectacular

This show, which plays in front the castle three different times throughout the party, has taken on a large following.  Rightfully so, as this is the most fun portion of Not-So-Scary.  This stage show features the Sanderson sisters from Hocus Pocus.  Before you say that you could care less about Hocus Pocus, know that I’ve never seen the movie and I love this show.  These sisters sing a few songs, flirt with Dr. Facilier (Princess and the Frog), and bring out a host of different villains to… Well, I’m not sure what the plot is.  I think they’re trying to take over Magic Kingdom but don’t really know.  I said it’s the most fun portion of the party, not the best.

MK Hocus Pocus Oogie Boogie Dr

The very best party of the show is when Mr. Oogie Boogie (The Nightmare Before Christmas) himself comes out and sings a song.  I know nothing about Oogie Boogie and don’t think I’ve ever seen Nightmare Before Christmas.  But once he steps on to the castle steps, magic happens.  He looks amazing, his song is great, and he dances like there’s no tomorrow.  While I’ve heard that he’s evil, seeing that he’s in the Villains Spectacular this seems to be the case, Oogie Boogie is the character I’d most want to hang out with.  He singlehandedly takes this show from good to great.

Now that I’ve completely oversold Oogie Boogie’s appearance, I will say that the rest of the characters are a blast.  If you have a favorite Disney villain then you’re likely to see them in this show.  The live performances are great and Disney surprisingly nailed the comedy in the show.  This is a can’t miss portion of the Halloween Party.

MK Hocus Pocus Dr Facillier MNSSHP


And of course, we have fireworks spectacular.  HalloWishes takes the retired Wishes! fireworks and gives it an evil twist.  No, it’s not very scary but the soundtrack does feature most Disney villains.  The pyro for this show is larger in quantity than any other show in Disney World.  There are also a few surprises along the way.

HalloWishes colors MK

As you may have guessed, HalloWishes is not to be missed.  This is one of the best fireworks shows around.  Combine this with the parade and Hocus Pocus Villain Spectacular and spending nearly 2 hours in front of the castle will be a fantastic use of time.


We’ve covered most of what the Halloween Party has to offer.  Now, is this a good value?  Depending on if you get a discount (annual pass or DVC) and what time of year guests go, the cost of the party can be anywhere from $70-$100+.  This is a decent amount of money for one night at the Magic Kingdom.  Let’s break it down a little further though.

Oogie Boo to You MK

Say you’re at the park for the full allotted time, 4 PM until midnight.  That’s 8 hours, which brings the ticket price to around $10/hour.  That’s not a bad deal.  Furthermore, 8 hours is around the amount of time guests spend in a park on a typical day anyway and those days don’t offer special entertainment.  When looking at the tickets in this vacuum, then the value appears to be there.

What we do have to consider is what the party may add to your vacation costs.  Instead of adding a 7th day to your park tickets, for example, is just $20 per person.  If you choose to not add that extra day and instead go for a Halloween Party then the cost is at least $50 more per person (likely closer to $70).  These expenses add up.

3 tombstones Haunted Mansion MK

I would advise against going to a different park during the day, unless you have an annual pass.  You likely won’t spend much time in that park and might wear yourself out before the big party night.  Spend a late morning and early afternoon at a water park, Disney Springs or the hotel pool.

All of these factors make me fairly indecisive in determining if the Halloween Party is a good value.  I think the party is plenty of fun and a nice way to try something different.  This can also be something that a group can bond over with costumes and going to a special event.  But, if none of what I reviewed above sounds interesting to you then I likely wouldn’t recommend it.  For me, I love the shows Disney puts on.  If you are solely interested in the rides then I’d probably save the money.  Again, this isn’t a bad value (I have an absolute blast at these parties) but might not be for everyone.

MK HalloWishes blue castle

Crowd Levels

I know many of us are constricted on when we can go to Mickey’s Not So Scary Halloween Party based on when we are taking our vacations.  But, if you have your choice then the crowd calendar for these parties isn’t hard to understand.  The closer you are to Halloween the more crowded it gets.  Now, going at the end of August has its drawbacks in that it’s hot and doesn’t quite feel like the holiday but guests can definitely accomplish more due to the crowds.

Halloween Party entrance

A Flexible Party Outline

Here is typically what my party schedule looks like:

4 PM – Arrive at Magic Kingdom, pick up goody bag, ride an attraction or two and grab a bite to eat.  Waiting until the party starts to eat can be a waste of time.  Try to eat dinner before the party starts and enjoy a relaxing late afternoon in Magic Kingdom.

6:30ish – Get in line for a character meet & greet.  Whether it be Moana, the seven dwarfs, Pooh & friends, or Jack Skellington, find some unique characters and meet them close to when the party starts at 7.  Getting in line early for some characters is essential as lines move fairly slow and can grow very long.

Eeyore blur clown Halloween

8:00 – Grab some candy at a few different places and enjoy the costumes.  Take a little walk from whatever character you’ve just seen to a few different trick or treat spots.  Enjoy some people watching while making your way to Main Street.

8:45 – Search for a place to watch Boo-To-You. Walk down Main Street and try to find a place to watch the parade.  The closer to the flag pole you get the better, in my opinion.  Find a spot, eat some candy and then watch the 9:15 showing of Boo-To-You.

Country Bear Boo To You MNSSHP

9:45 – Parade finishes, find a spot for HalloWishes.  After the parade ends, walk up Main Street and find a spot for HalloWishes.  My favorite spot is on the rise right before you hit the Partners Statue.  Enjoy the fireworks.

10:30 – Go dance, trick or treat, meet another character and/or ride Haunted Mansion.  This is the do whatever you want section.  Melissa always likes to ride Haunted Mansion and I don’t object because there’s extra fog around the area as well as some characters.  This is also a good opportunity to for photos around the Magic Kingdom.  Character lines should die down a little at this point so you could go track another meet & greet or two down.  This would also be the time to see the parade again.  Maybe you just want desserts, do whatever you want!

MK Hocus Pocus Oogie Boogie pot

11:50 – Back to Main Street for the last showing of Hocus Pocus.  Seeing the last showing of this will maximize your time throughout the party.  The show starts at midnight, won’t be very crowded and many will have exited by the time it’s over.  Once this ends soak up the ambiance or take photos for a while, slowly making your way out of the park.

Of course, this is for me and I don’t have a little one.  This is my ideal schedule but I don’t think you can go very wrong as long as you see the parade, Hocus Pocus, and HalloWishes.  Let me know any questions or thoughts on the itinerary in the comments.

Boo to you MK MNSSHP

Thank you for reading Wandering in Disney, if you enjoy what you’re reading please subscribe to the blog and like our social media pages.  You can do both of those things on the right side of this page.  Have a great day!

Question of the Week (10/8/17)

Every few weeks our writers get together and answer a Disney related question.  Here is this week’s question and answer!

ToT day DHS

Question of the Week:  Name one attraction that you want to be around forever, one that you want to receive an update and one that you think Disney should get rid of.  Answers can be from any park.

Cassie – I want Splash Mountain to be around for ever, and it never needs to change! For me, it’s the only ride that makes me scream with joy EVERY time I ride it. I think It’s a Small World needs more renovations than any other. I hate that you can see the dirty carpet and the ceiling. I notice it every time I ride it. I think they can get rid of the kiddy roller coaster in Toontown. I don’t even know its official name, that’s how little I care if this ride stays or goes.

Splash mt. night

Melissa – I want the teacups to stay around forever. I think it is so iconic and fills me with giggles every time I am on it! I think that the Matterhorn needs some updates. I think it could be even better than it is with a different track and maybe new toboggans because it is a very painful ride to go in…but it is also so great! And I would get ride of Mission Space. The idea of it is interesting, but I’m not a big fan of those kinds of simulations.

Matterhorn at night

Andrew – Keep: I was going to choose Splash Mountain as well but Cassie stole it as I was writing this… So I’ll go with Animal Kingdom’s Kilimanjaro Safaris as my pick for never-changing. Small adjustments to the plot are fine but the overall idea and the animals should never go unchanged.
Update: I would update Spaceship Earth in Epcot. I think this is a classic attraction with a very poor ending and in need of updated narration. This could help return it to the ride’s former glory.
Get Rid Of: I would be very happy if they got rid of the entire Bug’s Land. It’s wasted space and the most unpleasant spot to spend any time in.

Giraffes savannah WAT AK

Leslie – Keep: Haunted Mansion. This ride is one of my families go to rides. One of our first rides and one of our last. The joy and memories we have keep us coming back year after year whether at Disneyland or Disney World. It is also one of few attractions we will quote year round and in casual conversation.
Update: The Jungle Cruise needs an update in my opinion. Don’t get me wrong, I’m a girl who loves a good pun, but I don’t want to have the script memorized and it feels like I do. Some fresh scenes to see would be nice too. There is the Jingle Cruise which does a nice job of spicing things up but that is only during Christmas time.
Get Rid Of: I struggled to think of what to put here cause my two least favorite rides already got the axe (looking at you Stitch and Ellen) but the final decision was Kali River Rapids. I get it. The moral high ground is the route this ride takes, but I feel the whole park does a great job of explaining the dangers animals face without shoving it down our throat, then making light of it by making you forget the “carnage our waste and poaching does” by soaking you and getting you off the ride seconds later. Now removing it may be a bit extreme but it definitely needs a story overhaul for sure.

Haunted Mansion night

Now it’s your turn to answer!  Let us know what you think in the comments, along with any Disney related questions you might have.

Thank you for reading Wandering in Disney, if you enjoy what you’re reading please subscribe to the blog and like our social media pages.  You can do both of those things on the right side of this page.  Have a great day!

Pandora – World of Avatar Touring Plan

As we’ve covered this week, Pandora – World of Avatar is Animal Kingdom’s latest and greatest (well, at least top-3) land.  The scenery is one-of-a-kind and the restaurant and attractions, mainly Flight of Passage, are well worth your time.  While writing a touring plan for Animal Kingdom and every other park is on my long list of items to write, I thought I’d write a quick post on when to tour Pandora and how to go about it.  I won’t cover everything in this post so drop me a comment if any questions you have aren’t addressed.

Pandora side waterfall AK


Currently, guests have the option of getting a FastPass for Flight of Passage or Na’vi River Journey, both of Pandora’s attractions.  There is not an option to get both unless you are related to James Cameron.  This goes without saying but get a FastPass as soon as you possibly can.  The 60+ day window for resort guests is likely the only route for a Flight of Passage FastPass but if you miss out on that then keep checking up until your day at Animal Kingdom.

Pandora waterfall bridge FoP AK

As far as which attraction to FastPass, Flight of Passage is absolutely the right choice.  Na’vi River Journey is much worse than Flight of Passage and should only be considered if Flight of Passage is out of FastPasses.  No matter what time FoP FastPasses are available, I’d choose them above anything else.  The guests who are lucky enough to get one will save a large chunk of time.

When To Go

Pandora – World of Avatar is still relatively new and will have large crowds through at least the holidays.  I would guess those crowds will last for the next several years.  With this in mind, I’d recommend getting to Animal Kingdom at least half an hour before park opening and head straight to the Flight of Passage line.  This especially goes for those that didn’t get a FastPass or those that will want to ride the attraction twice (if you enjoy rides then you will probably want to).  Melissa and I showed up nearly an hour early on an Extra Magic Hour morning and we still waited in line for over an hour for the attraction.  I don’t recommend going when there are Magic Hours but this just goes to show people are getting up early for Pandora.

Pandora pond front AK

If you have a later FastPass for Flight of Passage and don’t care about going on the attraction twice then arrive a little before park opening and head to Na’vi River Journey.  Honestly, this touring plan is probably the most efficient as far as getting attractions done.  Say you have a Flight of Passage FastPass at about 4 PM.  Go do Na’vi River Journey at park opening and then most other attractions around Animal Kingdom will have short lines for the rest of the morning as the vast majority of people will be in Pandora waiting in line.  In theory, guests could go this route and still have a chance to ride Flight of Passage twice.  If you have an afternoon or morning FastPass and find yourself wanting to ride the E-ticket again then get in line shortly before park closing.  They won’t kick you out as long as you are in line before the park closes.

NRJ AA Pandora AK

I still recommend going for Flight of Passage in the morning if you are willing to get there an hour early or so but there are several options for the late sleepers.  One time I’d absolutely avoid in Pandora is late morning until lunch time.  You’ll have better luck any other time of day.

How much time will Pandora – World of Avatar take out of the day?

This is a difficult question to answer as each person has different priorities.  Here’s what I will say, I think Pandora is worth visiting at least twice throughout the day.  My ideal plan would be to go in the morning as the park opens, ride both attractions (hopefully with a Flight of Passage FastPass), quickly look around and head out for the rest of Animal Kingdom.  Then, I’d come back right before dinner, soak in the sights, eat at Satu’li Canteen and then see Pandora at night and ride attractions again if you want to.

Floating Mountain wide Pandora AK

Now, I love the rest of Animal Kingdom and this will definitely cut into your time there.  If lucky enough to have a longer vacation, I would just plan on a day and a half or two days at the park.  If taking in the sights slowly is your thing then searching through Pandora can really take a while.  I would guess the land could take upwards of a half a day to explore, eat and ride both attractions.  I know not everyone goes slow at theme parks though.  For those people I’m guessing you could have a look around, ride both attractions and eat in about 3 hours (assuming you have a FastPass or get to the park early).  Melissa and I spent roughly 8 hours in Pandora over the course of our latest trip, a week plus long, while being in Animal Kingdom for a day and a half.

Pandora drummer AK

Pandora – World of Avatar is a great addition to Animal Kingdom but can be a daunting waste of time standing in line if going at the wrong time.  But, if you follow a few easy guidelines that I’ve laid out then hopefully your exploring will go a little smoother!

Crazy plants Pandora AK

If you have more questions about Pandora – World of Avatar and when/where/how you should plan please let me know in the comments and I’d be happy to help out!  Thank you for reading Wandering in Disney, if you enjoy what you’re reading please subscribe to the blog and like our social media pages.  You can do both of those things on the right side of this page.  Have a great day!

– Andrew

Pandora – World of Avatar Review

Pandora – World of Avatar is Disney’s Animal Kingdom newest land.  Pandora is inspired by the movie Avatar and the beautiful world that director James Cameron dreamed up.  Opening in May of 2017, the land still draws heavy crowds and has long lines for the two attractions there.  This review will cover my thoughts on the atmosphere, visuals, and attractions in Pandora – World of Avatar.  Stay tuned for a post focused more on touring strategy for this land in the coming days.

Waterfall plants Pandora AK

Over the last decade, theme park lands based on movie franchises have become in vogue.  While we can and have debated the merits of these lands, there’s no doubt  that they are immersive and typically beautiful.  Every the recent lands that haven’t been based off of an IP seem to have a real emphasis on aesthetics.  In fact, I would say some of these lands have had content compromised in favor of an outward appearance.  New Fantasyland certainly comes to mind.  Diagon Alley may even fit that bill, just the aesthetic is so incredible that the compromise isn’t as noticeable.  Pandora – World of Avatar certainly spared no expense in appearance but did the land’s beauty become overshadowed by a lack of quality attractions and things to do?

Pandora plant blue AK

In short, the answer is no.  Since my blog posts have never been about being “in short” statements let’s break Pandora down into sections for the sake of this review.

Pandora’s Visuals and Atmosphere

As I said in opening, we live in an age where theme park lands are supposed to look good above all else.  Pandora certainly doesn’t disappoint there.  From the moment guests enter this new land, colors, plants and running water is always within sight.

Pandora entrance AK

All of Animal Kingdom is certainly easy on the eyes.  I’m not sure I’d use that description for this specific land.  While Africa, Asia and Discovery Island have deep earthy tones and natural greens, Pandora adds bright yellows, pinks, blues (and most other colors) to those existent greens.  This is a smart move by Imagineering as Animal Kingdom is still evident in Pandora but this does feel different from the authenticity offered in Africa and Asia.  As a planet away from Earth, Pandora is supposed to feel different and it certainly does.  Everywhere you look something pops out at you.  The area is natural beauty while still having something just a little different about it.  To be clear, I think that’s great.

Pandora flower side floating mountain AK

The centerpiece (visual weenie?) of Pandora are the floating mountains with the water fall.  While these mountains are clearly not ‘floating’ that doesn’t stop them from being stunning.  I don’t think the fact that it’s easy to spot how they aren’t floating is a problem for the land.  At certain angles these mountains can suspend belief.  At every other angle in the land they are still a sight to behold.  The waterfall coming off the mountain is one of my favorite aspects of the land.  I think the kinetic energy of running water is one of the most unheralded aspects of a theme park and Pandora certainly takes advantage of that.  Aside from this waterfall, there are streams and ponds everywhere you look.

Pandora stream AK

This is just across the walkway from the mountains.  Aside from the interesting blue color palette added, these little streams could easily be seen in any other part of Animal Kingdom.  I think this benefits not only Pandora but the entire park.  While some wonder how this new land fits in thematically with the rest of Animal Kingdom, these areas help blend everything together.  Plus, Pandora easily emphasizes the conservation and earth-friendly theme Animal Kingdom is known for.  This land is far from a problem thematically.

Crazy plants Pandora AK

Another area where Pandora excels aesthetically is blending in fake plants with real vegetation.  Clearly there were both and while some were obviously not real, the vast majority of plants were beautiful and exotic enough to make me somewhat curious if they were real enough.  Melissa and I invented a game walking around the area called “Real or Not” which is what it sounds like.

Shell pond Pandora AK

There is plenty of space to walk around in Pandora.  The land is smartly on different levels, sloping down the further you get into the land.  This makes the mountains seem taller as you stand under them and gives you a broader scope of the area while walking into the area.  This also fits thematically as the area guests are visiting is called Valley of Mo’ara.

Pandora drums AK

The drumming area is a fun place for kids in Pandora and a nice tie-in to the interactive aspects of Animal Kingdom.  The drum show that takes place here a couple of times a day also adds to the atmosphere.  Along with the drums, the area by Satu’li Canteen is the only other area of Pandora isn’t overwhelming your senses with colors and beauty.  This is by design as the area is supposed to represent the devastation caused by humans trying to take over the land.

Pandora night pink sky AK

One small misstep in Pandora is the way it looks at night.  I was very excited to take in the sights at night.  While I thought the area was still beautiful, the bioluminescence was only in some areas and the plants didn’t come through quite like they did in the day.  I don’t think the lighting here is anything great but I also think part of the problem is simply that the land looks so great in the day.  There are just so many colors to look at during the day and I think that it’s next to impossible to make that come through in the evening.  Yes, the area is beautiful at night but not quite what Disney hyped it up to be.  This is just picking nits though, I would recommend seeing the land both at night and during the day.

Pandora side waterfall AK

All of Pandora worked for me.  The area is beautiful and a nice mix of real world beauty mixed with outrageous color.  While the crowds will eventually die down, I don’t think the area will age poorly because of the beauty.  The water makes for an inviting atmosphere.  All of this amounts to a perfect place to linger and just soak in the sights.  Explore every area and path, the beauty will wow you.

Pandora Palm tree AK

The rides

While the aesthetic is out of the world (pun intended), without attractions Pandora wouldn’t be much.  Thankfully, we don’t have to worry about that.  We’ll start with the biggie. Stop reading now if you don’t want it to be spoiled!

Flight of Passage is Pandora’s E-ticket attraction.  This is a motion-based simulator similar to Soarin’.  The ride vehicle here is impressive as it imitates a banshee, which is a creature from Pandora.  Guests ride this vehicle like a bike and the banshee moves and imitates breathing.

Pandora Conservation Institute sign AK

While riding this banshee you soar through the Valley of Mo’ara.  The attraction is incredibly beautiful and thrilling.  I like Soarin’ but Flight of Passage is at a different level.  I think this is the best attraction Disney World has added since Expedition Everest (at least) well over a decade ago.  While the long lines are deterring, I’d definitely recommend experiencing this once.

Pandora waterfall bridge FoP AK

That’s without even talking about the queue which offers maybe the most beautiful views of Pandora – World of Avatar.  The outdoor portion of the queue is as beautiful as it gets.  My favorite view of the whole land is in the photo above while looking at the mountain and waterfall.  If you look the other there is a great view of the floating mountains.

Pandora cave plants FoP AK

The next portion of the queue is a bioluminescent area with plants.  This is still quite beautiful and a nice change-up to the outside portion of the queue.

Pandora Avatar tank FoP AK

After that comes the scientific portion of the queue.  The ride pairs you up with a banshee to ride.  Of course, banshees are too dangerous to approach on your own so you have to do that while using an avatar.  You do that by going through the science labs in the queue.  Sound confusing?  Well, it kind of is but that doesn’t make the visuals any less impressive.

Pandora wall banshee FoP AK

The pre-show videos for Flight of Passage is pretty dumb.  I understand that they have to connect the entire plot together but the video feels forced and awkward.  A video similar to Soarin’ would have worked better here but this tries to be a little more artistic and authentic.  I think it fails at that but it’s not enough to make the attraction worse.

Pandora FoP preshow AK

All in all, Flight of Passage is a phenomenal ride experience.

Na’vi River Journey is the other attraction in Pandora – World of Avatar.  Unfortunately, this ride doesn’t fare as well.  On the bright side this does have a very practical name.  The ride literally takes guests on a river journey.  This is somewhat of a continuation from what guests see outside throughout Pandora.

NRJ Pandora AK blue

The ride is certainly beautiful as guests float down the river and see all of the bioluminescent plants.  The transition of real props to screens in Na’vi River Journey is seamless and the best part of the attraction.

NRJ AA Pandora AK

The animatronic is another bright spot in this attraction.  This is very lifelike and amazing to look at.  Unfortunately, guests barely see this and the animatronic sings a native song out of key.

There is no plot to this attraction.  I get it, guests are just supposed to enjoy the beauty of Na’vi River Journey much like they are the entire land.  But I think it’s overkill to expect a land and an attraction of the land to have no purpose.  Make something go wrong along the river and the ride becomes significantly more interesting.  Along with that, the attraction is fairly short.

NRJ jellyfish Pandora AK

With all that said, Na’vi River Journey is absolutely beautiful.  I just don’t think the attraction is as re-rideable as some.  The attraction isn’t worth a long wait unless it’s your first time on it.

Overall, the attractions in Pandora – World of Avatar are a pleasant surprise.  Flight of Passage is a top-ten attraction in Walt Disney World and a true E-ticket.  Na’vi River Journey isn’t much but will be a fine addition once lines die down.

Pandora floating mountains AK


Both the aesthetic and attractions (along with the dining) make Pandora – World of Avatar an unbridled success.  The land is jaw-droppingly gorgeous with a top-tier counter-service restaurant and attraction.  There were hardly any drawbacks to Pandora and the area fits the rest of Animal Kingdom well.

Pandora streams AK

Have you seen Pandora – World of Avatar or have any questions about it?  Let us know in the comments if you do!  Thank you for reading Wandering in Disney, if you enjoy what you’re reading please subscribe to the blog and like our social media pages.  You can do both of those things on the right side of this page.  Have a great day!

– Andrew

Favorite Disney Stuff

Welcome back guest writer, and my brother, Matthew Long!

Months ago, Andrew asked me to write something for Wandering in Disney. I said I’d love to and asked what he wanted me to write about. He left it up to me, but suggested a Top Ten of my favorite Disney parks attractions. I love rankings and I love Disney attractions, so that seemed like a great idea. Then I didn’t write anything for a long time, because I got busy, distracted and lazy, not in that order.

Cars Land night as you go rock

When I finally decided to get down to business and started putting that list together in my mind, I kept thinking about everything I love about Disney parks aside from the attractions. To be clear, I’m defining attractions how Andrew has in past rankings posts: a ride or a show for which you have to stand in line, basically. I love rides, and I like shows, but I also love eating and looking at things and just generally wandering (in Disney?!) around seeing places.

So here’s a list of some of my favorite things to do aside from attractions. I’ll rate attractions in my next post, so look for that in 2019! For today, I’m sure some of these favorite things will be tied up in memory, and then you the reader will go try to do these and they’ll be really lame, but take this as a reminder that sometimes it’s best to slow down and discover the quieter, more subtle moments in life. Life doesn’t always have to be a roller coaster. If you want roller coasters, go to Six Flags!

MK castle and garden

One more caveat: I haven’t been to Disney World in something like eight, ten years. We were supposed to go three years ago, but we decided to have a baby instead. Plenty has changed there, so I guess just know I’m remembering it as it once was, burnished by memory into a picture not completely reliable. Deal with it!

Epcot World Showcase

This is a really broad area to start with, but walking around the World Showcase is probably my favorite thing to do in all of Disney-dom. I’ve heard it’s in need of refurbishing or a facelift in places, and a de-Frozen-ing in others, according to Andrew. There’s also the complaint that it’s stereotyped versions of the countries, which seems obviously unavoidable. You can’t put a whole country with all its nuance in a theme park. Still, I think Epcot does a great job of giving a taste of each place. Having staff native to each country is maybe the key to this working. It gives authenticity that would be hard to produce otherwise. Having food and goods specific to each country is a great touch as well. There are a few places in particular I remember enjoying. The courtyards in Morocco are a nice place to get lost amidst some beautiful tile work. I love the shopping in Japan on the bottom level. A margarita is good anywhere, but beside a giant man-made lake in a theme park version of Mexico is fun. The whole concept just makes the World Showcase a perfect place to wander around for a day, while still playing some small part in bringing more understanding and connection to our world.

Pagoda and SSE Epcot night

The River Areas

Here I’m talking about Disneyland in the Frontierland/New Orleans Square area, and Magic Kingdom in Liberty Square. The ambiance here just has a nice, slightly calmer feeling. I think this is mostly due to the river and the longer sight lines due to the river’s bend. Last year in Disneyland, we had a nice lunch at the River Belle Terrace, and it was surprisingly restorative to sit and watch the people and water from the terrace. Theme parks can be so busy and crowded, and I love anywhere that keeps me in the action but slows everything down a tick. I especially like the dusky quality these areas take as the sun goes down and the lights come up. Speaking of which…

TSI night fisheye

Night-time Lighting

Disney keeps most of their areas a lot darker at night than I would expect, and it creates more atmosphere than glaring lights would. There’s a touch of secrecy, and the shadows and duskiness create a feeling of privacy that’s kind of magical. It also makes the attractions and areas that are well-lit stand out. The aforementioned river areas are great for this, as is Cars Land, where the small desert town feel mixes perfectly with the low light.

Fantasyland Night

Rancho del Zocalo Restaurante

Staying on the lighting theme, the covered patio area at night at this Frontierland Mexican restaurant has excellent atmosphere as well. Combined with pretty tasty food in big portions, this restaurant is one of my favorites for counter-service dining at night.

Blue Bayou

I haven’t eaten here in years and don’t really remember the food. It was good, but I’m not sure it was anything amazing. I just love the concept. You sit inside a classic Disney ride, but the illusion of sitting outside on a deck by a river or swamp is completely effective. Once again, lighting is key. I guess the moral of this post is, Go to the dark places! The Blue Bayou is well worth visiting at least once. Shout out to the little alley-like walkway outside the door, where Pirates exits, too. That’s a well-designed area that doesn’t feel like it would be out-of-place in New Orleans or some other pirate-y city.

New Orleans Square night

Elaborate Ride Queues

Waiting in line is boring. Disney at least attempts to make it more enjoyable, and generally they succeed to some degree. Personal favorites include Indiana Jones, Space Mountain (once you’re inside; outside is the worst), and Radiator Springs Racers (if it’s not too hot or long).

Jungle Cruise queue

Baby Care Centers

Most of you non-parents out there probably don’t even know these exist. I sure didn’t until we went to Disneyland with our son. Both California parks, and I assume those in Orlando as well, have these little hospitality centers. You walk in and an extremely nice lady who generally looks like the world’s sweetest grandma greets you and asks what you need. They have changing stations, little kid restrooms, nursing stations with rocking chairs, and nearly any baby supply you might need to buy. There are play areas for kids, and a kitchen with a microwave and sink and high chairs to be used by all. It’s a life-saver for parents who need help or just a quiet, cool place to take their kids for a bit. Seriously, I can’t speak highly enough of these areas. They literally might be the best thought-out thing in any Disney park. Along the same lines, ride swap, for parents with kids, is incredibly great. It’s easy to use and increases parental enjoyment exponentially. Ride operators are not at all stingy about rules or restrictions with the swap passes either, much to their and Disney’s credit. Taking young kids to the parks can be exhausting, and Disney does a lot to help offset that.

The People

I’m not really much of a people person. I like people, but I’m a little shy and not terribly outgoing and like to be alone more than most. I do love being around large groups of people who are happy and excited to be somewhere though, and Disney parks easily qualify. It starts with staff, who are nearly always pleasant and happy without being over the top. Theme parks of any kind are great areas for people watching, of course. You see everything there. Some personal favorites that have lodged in my memory for no good reason:

  • A kid in his late teens, macho in a Jersey Shore way, carrying his girlfriend’s massive stuffed animal, and wearing a new Bluetooth headset solely because he thought it looked cool. It didn’t, but I admire the vibe he had going on, and would never want to replicate it.
  • Two pre-teen girls who stopped beside us to take pictures and immediately broke into these incredibly complicated and choreographed poses. I was both amazed and creeped out.
  • Two college aged girls who sat down beside my son and I while we were waiting for my wife. They chatted and flirted with my one year old son for ten minutes and I’m pretty sure would’ve taken him for the day if we’d asked. Kids in general bring out a good side of people in the parks (usually).
  • Bert from Mary Poppins. There is literally nowhere else you can run into Bert from Mary Poppins.

Pirate kid MNSSHP

Main Street U.S.A.

If I were ranking these in order, this would be top two. I think Main Street might be the key to Disneyland’s magic. The idea of walking down an idealized small town main street that leads to a castle is brilliant. The magic exists even without the castle, though. Main Street is a touchstone for simpler, happier times, an image completed by horse-drawn trolleys, roving Dixieland jazz quartets, and block-long candy stores. Main Street is transportative, even if one spends no more time there than what it takes to walk to the next land.

Main Street Plant

This list could go on forever, of course. What makes Disney parks great, in my mind, are not the rides and shows. Everywhere has those, even if they’re not quite as good. It’s the planning and execution that makes the small places lovely and never pulls visitors out of the Disney magic. We’d love to hear some of your favorite Disney places or things in the comments!

Satu’li Canteen Dinner Review

Satu’li Canteen is a counter-service restaurant in Animal Kingdom’s recently opened land, Pandora – World of Avatar.  The restaurant offers American food but is more health conscious than the typical fast food grub.  Satu’li Canteen does take part in the Disney Dining Plan (1 counter-service credit) but doesn’t accept any other discounts currently.  We recently had dinner at this restaurant and this review will cover that experience.

Pandora side waterfall AK

I know nothing about the movie Avatar.  I saw the film once when it came out 8 years ago and wasn’t fond of it then.  Even with the film not leaving an imprint on me, the theme park land does an incredible job telling a story that extends all the way to the restaurant, Satu’li Canteen.

Without a doubt the land will be known for its beauty but there is man-made devastation in a portion of Pandora that doesn’t seem to fit in.  This is the story that (I assume) the movie started to tell and the land continues to tell.  Satu’li Canteen is inside of military mess hall that was used when humans were trying to take over(?) Pandora.  All of this is fairly obvious just based on the surroundings.  This makes the restaurant less beautiful than the rest of the land but it does fit in with the theme.

Saulti Canteen ceiling

That’s not to say the restaurant is ugly.  There is some artwork hanging from the ceiling that fits in with the rest of Pandora.  I liked the woodwork throughout the restaurant, which felt somewhat organic.  Still, with the beauty of the land, it’s a somewhat odd choice to make the restaurant so generic.  With beautiful sights around every corner in Pandora, the atmosphere in Satu’li Canteen is a bit of a letdown.  This is still a perfectly pleasant place to sit down and have a meal or drink though.

While the atmosphere is slightly underwhelming, the food certainly isn’t.  Satu’li Canteen continues to fit the Pandora theme by having a very natural and healthy menu.  Animal Kingdom has always promoted conservation and a slightly different lifestyle than a typical theme park and the food here certainly endorses that.  But, if I lost you at the phrase “natural and healthy menu” then come back because the food is truly delicious.

Satu’li Canteen’s main entrée are bowls full of ingredients guests choose.  The first ingredient is the protein in the bowl and your choices are chicken, beef, fish or tofu.  The next decision to make is the base of the bowl and the choices are quinoa & vegetable salad, red & sweet potato hash, whole grain & rice, or romaine & kale salad.  The last choice is the sauce on the bowl with either a chimichurri, black bean vinaigrette, or creamy herb dressing.

Saulti Canteen chicken Pandora AK

Melissa went with chicken, quinoa & kale and the creamy herb dressing.  The chicken was juicy and had a nice wood-grilled flavor to it.  While it would be easy for the kale to get soggy, it didn’t and was a base that we both enjoyed.  The creamy herb dressing was really solid and added great flavor to the dish.  The vegetable slaw and boba balls you see on the left side of this photo comes with every bowl.  Melissa wasn’t a huge fan of this but I enjoyed it.

Beef saulti canteen Pandora AK

I went with beef, potato hash and the creamy herb dressing.  Sweet potatoes are not my thing but I loved them in here.  There was a wonderful blend of sweet and savory in this dish.  The beef was the big winner here.  The meat was tender, juicy and had strong flavor that I didn’t know was allowed at a counter-service restaurant.  While Melissa preferred her dish to mine, this was my favorite counter-service item I’ve ever tried.  This is table-service restaurant quality both in flavor and creativity.  There are plenty of great counter-service choices at Animal Kingdom but this is my new favorite.  At $12.99, I think the value here is strong.

Cheeseburger pod Saulti canteen Pandora AK

We also tried the cheeseburger pods and thought they were decent but nothing more.  I wouldn’t recommend them for adults (the bowls are a much better choice) but I do think kids would enjoy them.

For dessert we ordered the Blueberry Cream Cheese Mousse.  Not only was the dessert pretty, it was delicious.  I don’t really enjoy cream cheese or mousse but really loved this dish.  The blueberry flavor was great and mousse was rich and creamy.  This is one of the better desserts in Animal Kingdom.

Saulti Canteen mouse Pandora AK

All in all, Satu’li Canteen is a wonderful addition to Animal Kingdom’s counter-service lineup.  Without a doubt, this is a step in the right direction for those who want to eat both healthy food and quickly.  I can’t think of a better option in all of Walt Disney World that combines both of those options.  While the atmosphere could be better as it is throughout the rest of Pandora, Satu’li Canteen is still a nice place to cool off.  I highly recommend Satu’li Canteen, no matter your food preferences.  While the menu may seem a little more adventurous, I think the quality in food is as high as any other counter-service restaurant on property.

Overall Rating – 9.5/10

Have you tried Satu’li Canteen?  What are your thoughts or questions on the restaurant?  Let us know in the comments!  Thank you for reading Wandering in Disney, if you enjoy what you’re reading please subscribe to the blog and like our social media pages.  You can do both of those things on the right side of this page.  Have a great day!

– Andrew