Celebration & Animal Kingdom

Boy, it’s been a busy, busy week since I did my St. Patrick’s Day tutorial for you! My in-laws were in town for a visit and yesterday my husband had a day off from work, so we’ve been going non-stop since last Friday.  Needless to say, I absolutely crashed last night and woke up refreshed and ready to fill you in on my adventures!

We wanted to take the in-laws to the adorable Celebration Town Center while they were in town because the hubs and I love going down there to get ice cream or a bite to eat.  This charming, downtown area of Celebration was once owned by Disney and it shows.  It is so picturesque–little shops and restaurants set around a lovely little pair of lakes, complete with walking paths, wooden bridges, and wildlife signs to help you find and identify all of the critters that call the lakes home.  For any of you who have ever seen the TV show Gilmore Girls, just imagine a little Stars Hollow set only minutes from Disney World.  FYI, Gilmore Girls is another HUGE obsession of mine, so I’m sure this reference will not be the last I make on here.

We decided we would take them to Celebration on St. Patrick’s Day to eat at the Celebration Town Tavern.  Originally started in Massachusetts, Celebration Town Tavern has New England-inspired decor and cuisine, as well as a beer menu that is sure to satisfy anyone’s taste buds. Along with their selection of draft beers, they have a 99 Bottles of Beer on the Wall menu complete with, you guessed it, 99 different bottled beers.  What a dream!  To celebrate St. Patrick’s Day in true Irish style, I had a Smithwick’s (my favorite) and the others had Guinness.  Their food menu is also quite large, focusing mainly on New England seafood dishes, and also including salads, burgers, sandwiches, steak, and some other American favorites.  The food is delicious, especially when consumed out on the large patio overlooking the rest of downtown and the lake. Oddly enough, the town was hosting a dog festival that day, so our view was blocked by multiple vendor tents, and numerous dogs trotting by all dressed up for the occasion.  It was a lot of fun for my family to watch all the pups, but I chose the seat with the view of the rest of the patio and restaurant.  I’m fairly terrified of dogs, so I saved myself from repeated panic attacks by watching all of our fellow diners that were dressed up in green for the holiday.  I guess the Smithwick’s didn’t hurt either.

Hubs & I enjoying good food and good company on St. Patrick’s Day. (On me: Ann Taylor Loft Petites Dress <similar/similar>, c&i Modern Deco Pave Ball Pendant)

Half of the menu is a map of Boston, half is a map of Florida!

Embracing the Irish in me with my favorite beer, a Smithwick’s (pronounced Smitticks)!

We enjoyed a lot of fun, family time for the rest of the in-laws’ visit, but unfortunately they had to head home early yesterday morning.  My husband had the day off, so we got up bright and early to head over to Disney’s Animal Kingdom!  We love animals and all things Disney, so we were naturally drawn to this park over all the others.  We were both first time visitors and didn’t know what to expect, but we were not at all disappointed!  Animal Kingdom is divided into seven sections: Oasis, Discovery Island, Camp Minnie-Mickey, Africa, Asia, Rafiki’s Planet Watch and Dinoland, USA.  Completely beyond any zoo or normal theme park, stepping through the gates of Animal Kingdom transports you to a world-wide adventure focused on God’s most awesome creatures!

From our research, we knew there were two attractions that we absolutely had to do, Expedition Everest and the Kilimanjaro Safari Expedition, so we headed straight to Asia to get our fast pass for Expedition Everest before heading back to Harambe Village in Africa to embark on what turned out to be only our first Kilimanjaro Safari.  This ride, if you can even call it that, is by far one of the coolest things we have ever done.  After boarding a rugged-looking safari vehicle, you are driven over 100 acres of forest, jungle and African Savanna where the animals all mingle as they do in the wild without bars or cages standing between you to ruin the authenticity of the experience.  Don’t worry though, predators, such as Nile crocs, hippos, lions and cheetahs, are kept separate from the other animals by barriers and large moats that are camouflaged well and practically invisible to the riders.  To give you an idea of the scale of this attraction, it alone is bigger than the entire Magic Kingdom.  Just as you might on a real safari, you are constantly bouncing around as the truck goes from muddy roads to rickety bridges and, occasionally, straight through the rivers themselves.  No two safaris are ever the same since the animals roam freely, occasionally blocking the dirt paths used by the trucks, so naturally we had to do this twice.  The first time we went it was still fairly early and many of the animal weren’t very active yet, but it was still fun to see all of the animals laying around just a few yards from where we sat. Our second safari was in the early afternoon, so all of the grazers in the Savanna were up and moving about.  We had two up close views of a white rhino and a giraffe that were eating just off the side of our road!  Truly a great way to safari without leaving the US!

Elephants wandering the Savanna.  It was hard to get any great pics, but there were a few baby elephants roaming around too!

I was only about 10 feet from those massive horns!

There was absolutely nothing to stop this white rhino from coming up to my side of the safari vehicle!

Of course I made it a priority to get a picture of monster Nile crocs in the river below us.

The other attraction that I mentioned was on our “Must Do” list was Expedition Everest, a high speed roller coaster through the Himalayas to get you up to base camp on Mt. Everest, but beware, your journey may be impeded by the infamous Yeti! This coaster was so much fun–with over a mile of ride inside Mt. Everest, a section of backwards track, and a not-so-friendly visit with the Yeti.  Not only was Expedition Everest a total blast, but it was probably the smoothest coaster I’ve ever experienced.  If you are into roller coasters, then this one is a must!

Lucky for you, I’m super short, so you’ve got a great view of the sign.

One more picture with Mt. Everest before we head to Africa.

For lunch we stayed in Asia and dined at Yak & Yeti, a sit down restaurant not far from Expedition Everest with delicious Pan-Asian cuisine.  Our wait was supposed to be about 30-40 minutes because we went during the peak lunch hours, but we lucked out and nabbed two seats at the bar.  Our meal, the Thai Chili Chicken Wings appetizer followed by the Bourbon Chicken, was amazing–a great break from normal park food!

We also filled our day with journeys down the Maharajah Jungle Trek in Asia and the Pangani Forest Exploration Trail in Africa.  My favorite part of the Jungle Trek was definitely the gorgeous tigers. There was one that was awake and wandered straight towards us before settling down for a nap against the wall at our feet.  He was talking a little bit and the sound was unbelievable.  I can’t even imagine how loud they get when they are trying to make noise! The Pangani Trail gave us a great opportunity to see a whole family of gorillas going about their day.

Such majestic and magnificent creatures to behold.

To get to Rafiki’s Planet Watch, a discovery center full of up-close encounters including areas where you can witness veterinary work and research being performed, you must board the Wildlife Express Train.  This short 5 minute train ride is the only way to access this part of the park, but also gives you a behind the scenes look at some of the night houses for the Safari animals.  For the animals’ and keepers’ safety, all of the Safari animals are trained to return to their houses each night when they hear the specific sound for their species.  After catching the train back to Harambe Village, we headed over to Dinoland, USA.  This has many interactive, dino-themed sections for the little ones including a dig site and a whole carnival-like section designed to tell kids the story of the asteroid that took out the dinosaurs.  We had fun walking through this section and watching the faces of the children light up with joy, but headed straight for Dinosaur, a thrill ride that takes you back in time to rescue a certain dinosaur from the late Crustacean Era.  Luckily we made it back to the present day just before the asteroid hits!  It was certainly the most fun trip back in time that I’ve ever taken!

Animal Kingdom is not only about rides and wandering the trails through Asia and Africa, but also a place to catch a few great shows.  The late afternoon Florida showers started around 3:45pm, leaving us stranded under a tree that was luckily just off the parade route! We got to catch some of “Mickey’s Jammin’ Jungle Parade”, which is always such a treat for families with young ones.  However, we saw our favorite show of the day just before lunch, when we happened to wander by a theater in Discovery Island that is home to “Finding Nemo – The Musical”.  This wonderful production captured the movie in about half a hour with the addition of song and dance to further enhance the story of everyone’s favorite clown fish.  The set design, costuming, and performers themselves were nothing short of spectacular.  I think I found my new dream job!  If ever you find your feet in need of a little rest while at Animal Kingdom, “Finding Nemo – The Musical” should be your first stop.

We couldn’t head home without stopping by the park’s signature landmark, the Tree of Life.  This gargantuan 14 story tree is the largest structure in the park and quite a sight to behold.  It is covered with countless carvings of animals of all kinds that only add to the beauty of the tree.  Contrary to what you might think at first sight, the Tree of Life is also a building and the home of the Bug’s Life show “It’s Tough to Be a Bug”!  This multimedia, 3D show hosted by the ant Flik is a fun stop for Disney-goers of all ages that teaches a lesson we all need to hear–bugs may look or seem scary, but our world wouldn’t survive without them! So head into the Tree of Life, dawn a pair of bug eye glasses and be prepared to be surprised by the little insects we overlook every day!

The Tree of Life

Our time in Florida is quickly coming to a close, but I’m glad that I could share Celebration and Animal Kingdom with you before we head out.  If you are ever in Orlando and looking for things to fill your days, you will not be disappointed if you add either of these places to your itinerary!

Disclaimer: The opinions in this post are strictly my own.  I was not sponsored or endorsed to promote any of the places or products that are mentioned here.

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