Hi, Everyone! Welcome to the Best Week Ever here at Walt Disney World! This week we’re spending a blustery morning at Animal Kingdom, making a rare trip to Universal Orlando for a behind the scenes tour, and visiting Epcot to enjoy the Food & Wine Festival. So who’s ready for a super fun week? Let’s get going! 🙂
I’m always a fan of visiting Animal Kingdom in the rain because the animals love a good shower. However, this weekend was a bit of an exception. Normally rain passes quickly here, but Saturday morning it looked like there was no end in sight! Even the animals seemed to be hunkered down for the storm. The entire first half of the safari all we saw was a sleeping rhino! The poor driver, he kept rattling off facts, but you could tell he was having a tough time. Luckily, a group of giraffes came to our rescue, and the safari improved from there.
Lots of female elephants were out. They love the rain, and I was hoping to catch one taking a bath, but they were all above water munching on some breakfast. Want to see how cute they were? Well, you’ll have to click to read more!
See? Wasn’t she worth it? Such a pretty girl! Our safaris guide actually mentioned that the youngest female elephant currently at Animal Kingdom is eight years old. I could have sworn there were younger calves there and a baby born just in 2010. Maybe the baby was relocated? Or maybe our guide was misinformed.
The icing on the cake was driving by the lions. You can’t tell from the photos, but there was still steady rain falling the entire time. I was thrilled to see the female lion (below left) out, even though she looked pretty miserable. Then we turned the corner and saw the king of the jungle in all his glory! Despite the rain, he was out to stare at the passing safari vehicles. Remember, you can click on smaller photos to get a better view.
After our safari the rain picked up, and we started dashing back towards the front of the park. On the way, I noticed a new animal pen just outside the Africa gates (below left). From the enclosure it looks like it could be for the cotton-top tamarins. It still isn’t occupied, but I’ll keep an eye out for you. On the right you can see a new Jim Shore figurine for sale in the gift shop. The Africa gift shop has become noticeably filled with Lion King merchandise, especially higher end art. This is now the only location in the park you can really buy paintings.
Back toward the front of the park, I found more new Jim Shore figures. They’re both fall or Halloween themed. It’s nice to see more seasonal merchandise in the parks. Look how pretty Minnie is in her orange dress! 🙂
Just one last, little shopping update for this week. Meet Halloween Duffy! This is the smallest Duffy I’ve seen: I don’t even know that he was even 7 inches tall. At $20 he was pretty pricey for the size. I know everyone doesn’t loves Duffy like I do, so I was excited to see something new and seasonal for him! It shows that Disney World doesn’t seem to be giving up on Duffy any time soon.
After some shopping the rain was even worse. We gave up on outdoor activities and decided to book a tour at Universal Orlando to see behind the scenes of a few haunted houses. I don’t like the Halloween Horror Nights event, but I love seeing how things work, so I was interested in this tour. If you aren’t, then please skip ahead to the Food & Wine Festival coverage below.
We don’t currently have passes to the Universal parks, but that was fine for the Unmasking the Horror tour we’d selected. This tour gives a rare, lights-on look inside three of the haunted houses at the Halloween Horror Nights event. I’ve wanted to try this for years, and I’m excited to share it with you! We met outside the park and were shown to an air conditioned space where we could wait in luxury:
Before I jump into the tour, I have to mention that Universal is wonderful to its guests. I’ve never had an experience that wasn’t stellar in the its parks. The only reason we don’t invest in passes is because their rides (and events) are intense. We both suffer from motion sickness and find that we don’t do as much while we’re there. But the value, quality, and experience at Universal are second to none! If you’re tougher than we are, you should absolutely try it.
Speaking of intense, I tried to not include anything too yucky from my tour, but Halloween Horror Nights is really scary. Below are the first house we visited and the most frightening photos. This is Roanoke – Cannibal Colony, and it’s just what it sounds like. These photos are just from the entrance before getting into the house. It was just more gory from here, so let’s move on to the next house…
Next was The Walking Dead. This house picks up exactly where the house last year left off and takes you through the details of season four. It was amazing to walk into a room that really looked like the jail from the show. Even with the lights on, it was obvious how much love and care went into the design and construction of this space. If you look at the shower in the below right, you’ll see that there is a shower head mounted, and there was a drain on the floor. In the dark these are details that nobody would ever notice but you really appreciate it when the lights are on.
Moving on in the house, below left is a tribute to both the American Werewolf in London and Silent Hill houses. Apparently, they were both built on the exact same maze layout, and Silent Hill beat out the other house to be featured a year earlier. Below right is a label that was printed before they caught the error and used anyway. Who would notice in the dark? Also in this room were labels featuring the names of event designers and an amazing wall of walkers that pushed out towards guests. I wanted to show it, but man those guys look gnarly!
Below left is a mirrored room with no less than eight mannequins dressed as walkers. We were told that this room is also staffed with upwards of seven scare actors. The trail to walk through the room is so narrow, and the mirrors are so disorienting! I can’t imagine doing this in the dark! On the below right you’ll see a scene from the finale of season four when the group arrives in Terminus. We were told that Universal only has a three year deal with AMC for the house, so it’s yet to be determined if the adventure will continue next year.
The final house we toured was Alien vs. Predator, and if anything ever made me want to visit Halloween Horror Nights, this is it! Wow, this house is amazing. It really felt like I was walking right onto a movie set. I would love to see the hallway on the below left all lit up with effects in the windows on both sides. Below right is what the alien puppets look like. The most fun we had all day was “talking” to the alien. The puppeteer was very nice and helpful with questions. I asked if he could hold still for a moment so I could use a slower shutter speed and got a, “Cheese!”
Below is my final photo and the only predator during the daytime tour. The detail was crazy in this and every other room! You may also notice if you look closely that there are little strings hanging everywhere in the room. Well, that’s in every house and actually called “stuff in face.” It’s designed to distract you and give you the feeling that things are touching you. We encountered cloths, animal furs, and who knows what else we had to touch and move to maneuver the houses. I asked our guide if that stuff ever gets washed, and he laughed. With thousands of sweaty guests walking through these houses every night, you do the math. There isn’t enough Lysol in the world!
I absolutely recommend this tour to those who like horror but don’t like anyone in their bubbles. I’d like the night time event if the scare actors didn’t get so darn close to you! It certainly isn’t for everyone, and if that isn’t your cup of tea, then better things are ahead. This weekend marked the beginning of the Food & Wine Festival at Epcot, which at our house is better known as “spend as much time at Epcot as possible” season! 🙂 We made a quick evening trip to try a few things and meet up with fellow Touring Plans blogger, Angela Dahlgren. How cute is the sign this year?
Of course, our first stop was China to get our absolute favorite dishes. Pictured left are the Chicken Potstickers at $4.00. Pictured right, is my all time favorite Black Pepper Shrimp with Sichaun Noodles at $5.50. It doesn’t feel like the Festival has really started until we get these each year! What are your favorite dishes? Are there any you’d like us to try and feature here? Let us know in the comments below.
Below left is the Mango Green Tea with Popping Bubbles; it’s pricey at $6.50, but I had to get one. Bubble tea is one of my favorite things, and it’s only available at Disney during the festival. Below right is the Chilled Coffee, featuring Godiva Chocolate Liqueur, my hubby’s annual favorite drink. At $7.50 I was feeling a little less guilty about my bubble tea! This drink can be found in Belgium. On our way there we noticed that the cheese booth has been replaced by Singapore this year. I assumed it had just moved, but after reviewing the Festival Guide, it looks like it’s just gone! Farewell, magical land of cheese. We will miss you.
Below left is the Belgian Waffle with Warm Chocolate Ganache and Whipped Cream. It’s a bargain at $3.50! We strolled on to France because I’ve been dreaming about that amazing orange macaroon from last year. I was heartbroken to see it’s gone this year! How disappointed was I? Well, I demanded that we explore all of France hunting for one. It ends up they’ve been at Les Halles Boulangerie & Pâtisserie all year long. For just a little over $10 you can get the collection pictured bottom right. It’s the perfect shareable size!
The Chase Lounge is back this year in the American Pavilion. It’s a really nice amenity for Chase cardholders. Upstairs is air conditioned with free Coke Freestyle machines and room to lounge and relax. This year there are televisions set up to play Disney Infinity. There’s also a bar with the shortest line in the park. It’s nothing exotic, but it’s a nice perk. Here is what the lounge area looks like:
You might have noticed the window in that video? Well, it has an amazing view out into the park (below). Also, a cast member was distributing wristbands for VIP viewing of IllumiNations. I didn’t ask for one since I knew we’d be in a different area at that time, but I’m excited to try it soon. This lounge also distributes wristbands for seating at the concerts so be sure to get there early and ask if you’re interested.
Speaking of the concerts, Jo Dee Messina was there to kick things off this weekend. Here is a quick clip of her concert:
The crowd just loved her! But, before I knew it, the time had come to walk Angela back to the International Gateway and watch the fireworks. I know I’ve shown IllumiNations several times, but I wanted to give you a look at what the Frozen fireworks look like from Epcot. I hope this is an idea that continues. Especially with the Studio Backlot Tour closing, Disney really needs a draw at Hollywood Studios. This video was taken looking over the water at France:
So there you have it, our first visit to Food & Wine Festival for this year! I want to thank you for reading along with me! I hope that if there are any dishes you’d like to see next week you’ll let me know in the comments! We’ll certainly be back noshing our way around the World Showcase.
That’s everything for this week. Now let’s see what you can expect if you’re visiting next week.
Crowd Calendar: It’s still so deliciously slow at the parks! I love this time of year. Keep your Touring Plans loose and enjoy it, it won’t last. 😉
Weather: Temperatures are still flirting with 90 but staying mostly in the high to mid 80’s. You should absolutely be prepared for rain every day. It normally comes and goes quickly but there are always anomalies like last Saturday where it just rains for hours. Be ready for it!
Remember: This is a big week for Disney extinction. Off Kilter, Spirit of America Fife & Drum Corps, Mo’Rockin’, and the Studio Backlot Tour will all be leaving us. Maelstrom won’t be far behind, as it’s closing October 5. It’s a sad week, but soon enough we’ll have new openings to talk about and hopefully some new favorites.
Here’s my top tip for this week: Don’t rush at the end of the night. When it comes to Disney I tend to be in a hurry all the time. There’s always something I can do to maximize time and do just a little more. At the end of the night, why rush out with everyone? I like to mosey my way out of the park. This week I decided to take you with me for a slow walk out of Epcot. If you’d like to see a slow stroll, check it out here.
Do you have any news I missed or any requests for coverage next week? I’d love to hear from you in the comments below, and thanks so much for reading! I’m wishing all of you the Best Week Ever, until next time!