Caring for Giants Tour at Disney’s Animal Kingdom Review

elephant tour animal kingdom

The Caring for Giants Tour at Disney’s Animal Kingdom is a one hour tour that is offered at ten different times throughout the day. The cost is $30 per person and is definitely a fun experience for everyone. All proceeds from the tour go directly to the Disney Conservation Fund.

The group is small (about 12 guests at a time) so it’s easy to ask whatever questions you may have, as well as getting a great “up close” look at the elephants.

The group is led by the animal specialists who provide for the care of the African elephant herd at Animal Kingdom. They gave a great look into their day-to-day responsibilities and provided fascinating information and facts about the elephants.

An African cultural representative shared stories of the conservation efforts by Disney for preservation of the wild animals in their country. Throughout the tour we were able to get a super close look at the elephants! 

What I Liked Best About the Tour

This is an ideal tour to take with young kids, teens or even just adults. Children as young as 4 years old are allowed (of course, all children must be accompanied by an adult). The educational experience partnered with seeing the elephants up close is amazing.

The cost is not overly expensive. At $30 per person, it is well worth the cost for the experience.

We learned all about the herd that lives at Disney’s Animal Kingdom and how the herd interacts with each other. We even got to see a baby!

The timing is ideal. At one hour plus the 15 minute prior arrival window, the time doesn’t interfere in a huge way with your day. I booked the first tour in the morning. Since the kiosk and return spot from the tour are right next to Kilimanjaro Safari, I also booked a FastPass for the safari ride to coincide with the end of the tour.

Current Tour Schedule

Know Before You Go

  • You will be approximately 80 to 100 feet away from the elephants during this experience.
  • Please keep in mind that this is an outdoor experience. Be sure to check the weather forecast and dress appropriately, including wearing comfortable shoes.
  • No cameras, video equipment or cell phones may be used while backstage. However, photography is allowed and encouraged in non-backstage areas.
  • Guests under 18 years of age must be accompanied by a participating adult (18 years of age or older).
  • Guests must be 4 years of age or older to participate.
  • Please check in 15 minutes prior to start of experience at the Curiosity Animal Tours kiosk, located across from the Kilimanjaro Safaris attraction entrance. Late arrivals may not be able to join the experience.
  • Itinerary, content, duration and availability are subject to change without notice.
  • You will forfeit the entire price of this experience if you no-show or cancel within 2 days of your reservation.
  • For information about service animal policies for this experience, please call the Guest Animal Experience team directly at (407) 938-1487.
  • Non-transferrable wheelchair guests may remain in their wheelchair throughout this experience; however due to limited capacity onboard the backstage transport vehicle, all accommodation requests should be confirmed by calling (407) 938-1487.
  • Guests using an ECV must leave their mobility device onstage where they will retrieve them upon conclusion of the experience. Guests must walk by themselves, or be assisted by a member(s) of their party in a courtesy wheelchair to participate in this experience.
  • This experience visits outdoor areas containing common allergens such as dust and hay, as well as biting/stinging insects.




The Ups and Downs of a Visit to SeaWorld Orlando

I was provided with free admission to SeaWorld Orlando for the purposes of this review. All opinions are my own.

seaworld orlando pros cons

I recently visited SeaWorld Orlando for a day. This is the first time I have visited in about 25 years so I knew the park would be totally different from what I remember. I was looking forward to seeing all that SeaWorld offers.

Here is some advice for enjoying your day at SeaWorld!

Arrive early. If you want to have the opportunity to see all of the shows during the day, it is best to arrive at opening. You won’t want to miss any of the shows and you’ll want to space them out throughout your day. Each show runs several times throughout the day and you will want to space them out so that you can enjoy other attractions. 

Purchase a refillable sports bottle or cup as soon as you arrive in the park. Well worth the cost especially in the heat. When you purchase the refillable sports bottle or cup you are allowed refills throughout the park all season for .99.  They range in price from $7.99 (for a basic cup) to $16.95.

Eating at SeaWorld

Be prepared if anyone in your family has food allergies. Since we visit WDW often and my daughter is able to eat very easily throughout WDW property, I never considered her food allergies when we set out for SeaWorld. Now that she is an adult and I don’t have to monitor her food I sometimes am more lax than I should be. If someone in your family suffers from food allergies visit guest services right inside the main entrance as soon as you arrive to get an Allergen Information Card. This card contains information on where you can eat based on your dietary needs, as well as a chef card for you to fill out. 

To be honest, I was very disappointed in the allergy food meal process here. After obtaining the information at guest services and speaking to the employees, my daughter wasn’t comfortable eating at any of their dining spots. According to the card we received she could have only eaten at one restaurant in the park, which recommended reservations (that we couldn’t get). They have no separate facilities or practices to avoid cross contamination. Since her allergies are life threatening, she decided not to eat at any of their facilities all day instead snacking on pre-packaged chips. I was also disappointed in the cost of these snacks – a 1.5 ounce bag of Lay’s Chips – the size you would put in the kid’s lunch box – just under $3. (I found the cost of all food at the park extremely high).

Directly from the SeaWorld site:

SeaWorld Orlando’s Designated Allergen Friendly Location is Sharks Underwater Grill®. Although all of our meal facilities are prepared to assist you with your allergen needs, Sharks Underwater Grill has been designated as the most fit restaurant to serve your special meal. With trained chefs and full service dining, Sharks can offer you a variety of safe options for your dietary needs!

Note: This is a full meal, table service restaurant which was just not what we wanted mid-day for lunch. We would have eaten there if we knew in advance that we needed a reservation so that my daughter could have eaten. It was poor planning on my part that I assume was because of being used to WDW food allergy practices which make it easy for my daughter to eat.

SeaWorld does allow you to bring in special dietary foods if necessary. Again, poor planning on my part. I should have brought food for her to enjoy her day.

Another disappointment when it came to food – my granddaughter wanted a hot dog. Off we went to Captain Pete’s Island Hot Dogs. Well, the hot dog was delicious, however, on the children’s menu there is no hot dog. The only hot dog they offer is a HUGE, foot long, really fat, hot dog that my granddaughter, grandson and I shared. The food was delicious and fresh but not at all kid friendly.

If you plan to spend the day at SeaWorld where you will be having several meals, I would highly recommend the All Day Dining Deal. It is well worth the cost and you will definitely get more than your money’s worth. The cost per adult when purchased in advance online is $35 (plus tax) per adult and $20 (plus tax) per child (higher if purchased in park). The All Day Dining Deal allows you unlimited visits to each participating restaurant once per hour. You are given a wristband which is valid for 1 entrée platter, 1 additional side item and 1 soft beverage or iced tea. Wristbands MUST be worn at all times and shown at each restaurant or food kiosk. Considering what I paid for lunch alone, this deal is outstanding! My lunch purchase was only for one adult and two children (10 yr. old and 1.5 year old) since my daughter couldn’t eat. The cost was close to $30 for one hot dog platter, one PB&J Crustable and drinks.

The Shows

For me, it was all about the shows. Not only are they entertaining and amazing, they are also educational. If you will be spending a day at SeaWorld – DO NOT MISS any of the shows!

Dolphin Arena

Watching each one I had several thoughts about the bad press that is sometimes associated with the creatures at SeaWorld. What I saw at each show (and attraction) was trainers with a true love, understanding and respect for each of the animals. Animals with a true love for the trainers. A mutual respect between trainers and creature.

Everyone should know that SeaWorld is the largest system of rescue and release for marine life in the country. They do it voluntarily. They do it at their own cost. Rescuing one sea turtle can cost thousands of dollars. SeaWorld has the largest and most technologically advanced system for marine life rescue.

Clyde and Seamore Sea Lion Show

The government controls rescues and releases because the animals that SeaWorld rescues all fall under federal jurisdiction. All marine mammals are covered under the Marine Mammal Protection Act of 1972, and some, as well as sea turtles and some birds, are covered by the Endangered Species Act. The procedure for rescuing an animal goes something like this:

  1. Someone calls in a sick or injured animal to the National Marine Fisheries Service/NOAA
  2. NOAA examines their volunteer network in the area, and asks a facility to assist in the rescue (facilities CANNOT intervene without government approval.)
  3. After either rescuing the animal, NOAA will either request immediate relocation/release or order it sent to a particular facility
  4. Once the animal has been properly rehabilitated, NOAA will inspect and determine if said animal meets the protocol for release.
  5. If the animal is not suitable for release, NOAA will determine the permanent living situation for that animal

I know it’s the marine life at the parks that everyone associates negativity with. I saw nothing but kindness towards each and every animal. Should they live in tanks? Well, that’s a debate for a different day. However, most of these animals know nothing else and there is a good possibility they wouldn’t know how to take care of themselves. They are all treated very well with kindness and love.

Show Tips: Arrive early to get a good seat.  Decide whether or not you want to get wait. If you don’t want to be sure to bypass the “splash zones.” I highly recommend carrying a beach towel all day. The seats in all of the arenas are metal and get really hot in the Florida sun. You can spread a beach towel across your area for your family to sit on. Be prepared for the heat in the show arenas. There is plenty of seating in the shade up higher in the stands.

Rides and Attractions

If there are little ones in your family, you will definitely want to stop at Shamu’s Happy Harbor. All of the attractions here are for the kids, including Shamu Express, Swishie Fishies and Seven Seas Railway.

The entire family will love Antarctica: Empire of the Penguin and Dolphin Nursery, and the Sky Tower which is a 400 foot tall tower that provides a gently rotating 360 degree view. For the more adventurous, don’t miss Kraken Unleashed, Mako, Journey to Atlantis and Wild Arctic.

There really is so much more but our day was full. I would say you definitely need more than one day to fully enjoy and experience all of SeaWorld Orlando.

Overall, we had an awesome day (aside from the allergy food) and we will definitely head back to SeaWorld again and will be better prepared for our next visit. The park is beautiful, the employees are outstanding and helpful and the shows are phenomenal. The marine life inter-action was a big hit with my grandchildren and the shows were fabulous.




Best Gluten Free Eats at Walt Disney World

My daughter suffers from a life-threatening wheat allergy (one of many allergies) so must be gluten free at all times. We have always found Walt Disney World to be the best place to vacation because of her food allergies. For Celiacs and others who refrain from consuming gluten there are few better vacation destinations than Walt Disney World. The Cast members are well informed and understanding. If you have a reservation at a table service restaurant, note that you have a gluten restriction on the reservation. Even if you don’t, the chef will happily address your concerns before preparing your meal. There are few substitutions that can’t be made. Many surprising dishes are made gluten free by request, including fried foods and pasta.

gluten free wdw

Within Walt Disney World there are some places that for one reason or another, you should definitely pay a visit to if you are on a gluten free diet:

Erin McKenna’s Bakery NYC

This is a gluten free, vegan and kosher bakery located in Disney Springs. This is the place for gluten free/sensitive guests to get their fix of a variety of baked goods, including donuts, cupcakes, cookies and brownies. Erin McKenna’s Bakery also distributes goods to Animal Kingdom and resorts around Disney World including Beach Club, Art of Animation and Animal Kingdom Lodge.

Raglan Road and Cookes of Dublin

Also in Disney Springs is Raglan Road, an Irish pub that is very accommodating. They also have an attached quick service spot, Cookes of Dublin. Some of the best gluten free substitutions in Disney World are right here. Among them are the fish and chips and the most amazing onion rings. No trip is complete for my daughter without a trip to “Cookes!”

Gluten Free Fish and Chips at Cookes of Dublin

Gluten Free Onion Rings at Cookes of Dublin

Yak and Yeti

It’s Probably no surprise that Animal Kingdom is one of the best places to find food that is just naturally gluten free. The menu is extensive. They’ve got Salmon, Sweet and Sour Chicken, Tofu Tikka Masala, just to give an idea of range. The most popular item among the majority of guests is probably the Kobe burger. You don’t have to worry about eating a burger patty wrapped in lettuce, either. They use Udi’s buns.

Jungle Navigation Co. Ltd. Skipper Canteen

In-keeping with a similar cuisine type as Yak and Yeti Jungle Navigation Co. Ltd. Skipper Canteen has a versatile allergy friendly menu. While most items on the menu are gluten friendly, be sure to note what allergies are listed below each menu item just to be sure. Virtually every entree is free of gluten except for the Crew Stew, but the must try is the ‘”Tastes Like Chicken” Because it Is!’  It’s breaded in a gluten free batter and fried to crispy perfection.

Gluten Free Fried Chicken at Jungle Navigation Co LTD Skipper Canteen

Nomad Lounge

Back at Animal Kingdom there is one special spot. The Nomad lounge has a very gluten friendly menu and can easily make the minor substitutions necessary in some cases. For example their cheese plate is phenomenal. There is a very small bread component that can be easily done away with. Nomad Lounge is not on this list because of it’s fantastic cheese (or the Tempting Tigris). It made the list because you can actually get Churros here. That’s right, Churros! I saved the best for last. No more salivating at every cart you pass and wishing upon a star, because the biggest staple in Disney snack history is finally available sans gluten!

Do you follow a special diet? What are your favorite “go to safe” special diet snacks at Walt Disney World? My daughter’s is the popcorn!

 

 




Grammy’s Guide to Taking a Toddler Grandchild to WDW WITHOUT Mom and Dad!

Grammys Guide Toddler WDW

Yes, that’s right – without Mom and Dad! I just returned from a week at Walt Disney World with my 10 year old granddaughter and my 17 month old grandson. Was I nervous going in? A little bit. I’ve been taking my granddaughter without her parents since she was about 5 years old but this was my grandson’s first trip without mom and dad. It was actually much easier than I thought it would be. At 17 months old it was his third trip and we just had to go – he needed a haircut and Grammy gets his haircut at Harmony Barber Shop in the Magic Kingdom!

My granddaughter is experienced at Grammy trips to WDW and knows how to make sure Grammy gets the perfect pictures!

I spend a good bit of time with my grandson on a regular basis which makes taking off for a week with him in tow a bit easier.

Here’s my best advice for getting the most out of Walt Disney World with  your toddler grandchild in tow:

Road Trip! WDW or Bust!

Plan Your Travel Bag

Be sure to have everything you need for your travel days – diapers, wipes, sippy cup, snacks, extra outfits, a few toys, and of course, the favorite blankie!. It doesn’t matter how you will be traveling – plane, train or auto – you will need all the same things. We drove from South Carolina. The ride normally takes me about 6.5 hours. With Seamus in tow it took about 8 hours since I stopped to eat at a Cracker Barrel instead of just driving through as I normally do when I’m alone. The trip is almost as important as the destination.

Don’t Over Plan Your Days

Strict and tight schedules don’t always work well with a toddler. I know he gets impatient waiting for meals so I didn’t over plan lots of sit down restaurants. I only planned one breakfast at Chef Mickey’s for our first morning and one dinner at Sci-Fi Dine In at Hollywood Studios. I planned Chef Mickey’s because on his last trip in February (at 13 months old) he was very leery of the characters. I wanted him to get used to having the characters come near him before we waited in line in the parks in case he would still be shy around Mickey.

Mickey did get a High 5 – but that was about it!

To be honest, Sci-Fi was a mistake on my part. I knew my granddaughter would enjoy it but didn’t consider that he would want to climb from front seat to back seat while we were waiting for our food. I thought like an old lady instead of a toddler when I made that reservation! Sci-Fi Dine In was not at all a good choice. Plus, it is on the dark side in this restaurant which also didn’t work well.

Quick service is definitely the way to go with a toddler. Waiting for table service meals just didn’t work for me. As wonderful as dining with the characters can be, some toddlers just don’t do well sitting and waiting. They can see the characters in the parks not while they are hungry waiting for food. I found he enjoyed them much more that way. The quick service spots all throughout Walt Disney World Resort offer more than enough options for full meals and won’t have your toddler waiting for their food.

Expect the Unexpected

Poop happens! and when it does – it really does. My daily park bag dedicated to baby things consisted of diapers, wipes, bib, 2 extra outfits for him along with his sippy cup, sunscreen and a hat. I also included little containers of cheerios and animal crackers for snack emergencies. He’s a big water drinker so I also included 4 or 5 frozen bottles of water to keep his cup full throughout the day. I didn’t use his normal diaper bag. I actually used one of those small, square zippered packs that people use to organize inside their suitcase. It was the perfect size to fit in the basket under his stroller and held everything we needed for the day without having a huge diaper bag to contend with. We had several days where we didn’t need his extra clothes but we also had several days that we did.

My grandson loves music so even though we were on our way to another attraction, when he saw the Main Street Philharmonic Band he became so excited we had to stop and watch – and watch – and watch – and watch. It didn’t matter where we were heading, he wanted to watch, so we watched. An unexpected stop that is now a wonderful memory!

 

I didn’t FastPass the Tea Cups but while we were walking by he was very interested in watching them and there was only a 5 minute wait so we jumped on. I’m so glad I did! I would have never planned for a 17 month old to go on this attraction but he loved it and within seconds realized how to spin the cup and make Grammy dizzy.

Go with the Baby Flow

I let him sleep until he woke up each day, except for the first morning with the Chef Mickey breakfast reservation. Between the heat and the excitement, a little one gets exhausted. He was going to bed each night a couple of hours later than his normal bed time. He did nap in the stroller during the day and when he was napping I either found a shaded bench to relax myself or did any shopping I wanted to do so that he was in air conditioned stores while he slept. (We also used his napping times to eat some snacks we didn’t necessarily want him to have!)

Never wake a sleeping baby!

I made FastPass+ reservations for afternoon hours since I wasn’t sure what time we would arrive at the parks each day and I only made FastPass times for attractions I knew he would love based on his previous visits.

Keep applying sunscreen so you don’t end up with an unhappy toddler. I re-applied every two to three hours.

When he reached the end of his day, we left the parks so he could get a bath and get to bed. Don’t push your toddler grandchild to do more than they can do because you are excited to see them experience something. I was fortunate that we only had one toddler melt-down in seven days – and it was basically my fault. Fortunately it happened at the end of the day getting ready for bed. It was the only day he didn’t nap in the stroller and he was so over-tired he just couldn’t cope with Grammy wanting him to take a bath and settle down. If I had thought about it more clearly I would have left the park a bit earlier once I realized he never napped. He could have taken a little power nap on the ride back and would have been in better shape.

Riding the WDW Railroad

When I realized his favorite rides were the parking lot tram, the monorail and the WDW Railroad, we took several rides on each just so I could see him giggle! Animal Kingdom and the safari was his favorite park for some reason and now each time we see an elephant or tiger on TV or in a book he looks at me and says “Mickey!” 

Overall, it was a perfect week spending time with my grandchildren. Would I do it again – ABSOLUTELY! As he gets older, the trips will get easier. 

 




#TasteEpcot – What’s New for the 2018 Epcot Food & Wine Festival

My favorite Epcot festival will have lots of new (and some returning) fun this year! The Eat to the Beat Concert line-up is finalized and has added some new headliners too! I like to visit Epcot at least 2 or 3 times during the festival and can’t wait for this year’s to get going!

The aromas and flavors of more than 30 global food and beverage marketplaces, plus a full menu of new offerings such as “Sunday Brunch with the Chef” series, will welcome guests to Epcot during the 23rd Epcot International Food & Wine Festival, Aug. 30-Nov. 12, 2018.

food wine festival
Photo Credit: WDWNews.com

Throughout the celebrated 75-day event, guests will have a chance to meet their favorite celebrity chefs, try a new Food & Beverage Pairing in the Festival Center each Friday through Sunday, and get their gourmet groove on at nightly Eat to the Beat Concert Series shows. The first of five popular Party for the Senses events will kick off Sept. 22 in the park’s World ShowPlace Events pavilion.

One of America’s top food festivals since 1996, the Epcot dine-around extravaganza will surprise guests with new and inspiring sips and bites throughout the park’s World Showcase and on into several Future World venues.

Here’s the latest festival buzz:

  • The NEW Taste Track global marketplace featuring specialty croissant doughnuts (add gelato for an extra-sweet treat) joins dozens of popular returning marketplaces. For a fourth year, global marketplaces will extend into Future World to offer brand-new taste sensations. Disney chefs are in the kitchen whipping up delicious new bites like Butternut Squash Ravioli with brown butter vinaigrette, Parmesan cheese and pumpkin seeds at The Wine & Dine Studio; Charred Chimichurri Skirt Steak with smoked corn cake, pickled vegetable slaw and cilantro aïoli at Flavors from Fire; and New Brunswick Slider, slow-braised beef brisket “pot roast-style” on a potato roll with horseradish cream, crispy fried onions and pickled vegetables on the side at the Hops & Barley
  • The NEW “Sunday Brunch with the Chef” series in World ShowPlace will kick off Sept. 2 with Top Chef All-Star Richard Blais and continue on select Sundays through Nov. 11 with a lineup that includes Jamie Deen, Tiffani Thiessen, Masaharu Morimoto, Buddy Valastro, Art Smith, Geoffrey Zakarian, Carla Hall and Alex Guarnaschelli.
  • Eat to the Beat concerts – 225 shows in all – will rev up the America Gardens Theatre stage three times each night with new musical acts including Vertical Horizon, Sheila E98 DegreesMercyMe and Glass Tiger, along with returning festival favorites spanning a broad range of eras and genres from rock and pop to rhythm and blues. Here’s the full line-up:
  • August 30 to 31: Blue October
  • September 1 to 3: Tiffany
  • September 4 to 5: NEW! MercyMe
  • September 6 to 7: NEW! Glass Tiger
  • September 8 to 9: NEW! Tauren Wells
  • September 10 to 11: Postmodern Jukebox
  • September 12 to 13: NEW! Vertical Horizon
  • September 14 to 16: Baha Men
  • September 17 to 19: Plain White T’s
  • September 20 to 21: Living Colour
  • September 22 to 23: NEW! Sheila E
  • September 24 to 26: Sugar Ray
  • September 27 to 28: David Cook
  • September 29 to 30: Jeffrey Osborne
  • October 1 to 2: NEW! Jim Belushi & The Sacred Hearts
  • October 3 to 4: Everclear
  • October 5 to 7: Mark Wills
  • October 8 to 10: Air Supply
  • October 11 to 12: NEW! Anderson East
  • October 13 to 14: Smash Mouth
  • October 15 to 16: NEW! 98 Degrees
  • October 17 to 18: 38 Special
  • October 19 to 21: The Devon Allman Project
  • October 22 to 23: Kenny G
  • October 24 to 25: Billy Ocean
  • October 26 to 28: Starship featuring Mickey Thomas
  • October 29 to 31: Hanson
  • November 1 to 2: NEW! High Valley
  • November 3 to 4: Taylor Dayne
  • November 5 to 7: Boyz II Men
  • November 8 to 9: The Hooters
  • November 10 to 12: Big Bad Voodoo Daddy
  • The grandest of the festival’s don’t-miss tasting events, Party for the Senses at World ShowPlace, will welcome acclaimed chefs and vintners Sept. 22, Oct. 6, 13, 20 and Nov. 10 to showcase creative bites and palate-pleasing sips with sensational live entertainment.
  • “Mix It, Make It, Celebrate It!” hands-on workshops Wednesdays and Thursdays will offer new opportunities for guests to interact with visiting chefs, bakers, mixologists and other pros. Event hosts and topics will be announced this summer.
  • Popular TV chefs and other culinary icons will entertain guests and inspire their palates at festival seminars and other events. Just a few of the big names on tap are Robert Irvine, Maneet Chauhan, Jet Tila, Shaun O’Neale, Keegan Gerhard, Dan Pashman and Rock Harper.

Throughout the festival, park guests can pair wines, beers and cocktails with savory and sweet dishes as they stroll the park and let their complimentary festival passports be their guide. As guests explore, they’ll find something for everyone in the family:

  • A “Ratatouille”-inspired adventure is back as Chef Remy encourages families to play together during Remy’s Ratatouille Hide ‘n’ Squeak scavenger hunt. This year Remy is hiding in all new locations!

Other returning favorites include:

  • The complimentary Back to Basics weekend series offered in the Festival Center will share epicurean tips and tricks from the pros. Book and bottle signings by some of the world’s top vintners will be available, and The Chocolate Experience: From Bean to the Bar, hosted by Ghirardelli, will offer guest samples.
  • Culinary Demonstrations and Beverage Seminars will offer daily learning and tasting sessions at the Festival Center. On select Saturdays, Cheese Seminars will be a fromage fan’s delight.
  • Eat to the Beat Dining Packages and other Specialty Dining and Pairing events will be on tap at a number of Epcot participating restaurants. Bookings for special programming and premium festival events is open now.

Included with Epcot Admission

Back to Basics series, book signings, Eat to the Beat concerts, Festival Passport and all attractions and park entertainment are included with regular Epcot admission.

Special Programming by Reservation

Party for the Senses grand tasting events, signature dinners and other special wine and culinary programs require reservations and separate event admission. Guests can call (407) WDW-FEST (939-3378) to make reservations and find more details at TasteEpcot.com.