Trip Planning

Disney’s Animal Kingdom Backstage Tales Tour Review

by on June 25, 2015

Earlier this year, Disney discontinued two of their behind-the-scenes tours at the Animal Kingdom (Backstage Safari and Wild by Design) and replaced them with a new tour called Backstage Tales. The new tour a mashup of the two, weighted heavily with Backstage Safari experiences. If you’ve previously been on Backstage Safari, consider yourself covered.

Bird food

Bird food

A key difference between the old tours and the new is a change of the participation age limit. Backstage Safari (which, not surprisingly, took place backstage) had an age requirement of 16. Wild By Design (which was an on-stage experience) had an age 14 requirement. The new Backstage Tales allows guests as young as 12 years old to participate. I took the tour with my 15 year old twin daughters.

Disney used standard-sounding boilerplate language when they described why the tour was changed — something along the lines of “due to guest feedback and demand.” While I’m sometimes suspicious of the real motivation behind comments like that, I can assure you that when answering questions on the Disney Parks Moms Panel, we did indeed get many questions from guests requesting behind-the-scenes educational experiences for their younger children. The reduced age requirement is terrific news for budding veterinarians and zoologists who want an early look at the inner workings of animal care at the park.

The tour consists of seven parts:

  • Introductions and Getting to Know You
  • Visit to the Aviary (Pangani Forest Trail area)
  • Visit to the backstage rhino and elephant habitats
  • Break time and snack, with presentation by animal care specialist
  • Visit to the animal nutrition center
  • Visit to the backstage area of Conservation Station, including an animal operating room
  • Visit to the backstage komodo dragon habitat

IMG_5619

Introductions and Getting to Know You

This tour starts early, 7:30am. While younger teens will enjoy getting to see the backstage areas, they will almost certainly NOT like the early hour. Theoretically, you should be able to get an “early character meal” bus from your resort to the Animal Kingdom, but I wouldn’t risk it. If you’re going to take this tour, plan to get to the park with your own car or via a taxi or Uber. Also note that the food cart outside the park gates may not be open when you arrive. You should grab breakfast at your hotel prior to leaving for the tour.

Guest check-in takes place just outside the park gates, toward the left as you face the park. There’s a bit of housekeeping when you arrive. Adults must sign waivers for themselves and any children in their care. Also, IDs are checked for adults. All guests are issued name tags and audio headsets that make it easier to hear the guide’s narration.

Your guide will introduce him or her self, giving a brief synopsis of where they’re from and their history with Disney. They will then ask the guests to introduce themselves, giving their name where they’re from, and some other bit of information. On various tours, I’ve been asked to tell my favorite Disney character, my favorite ride, my favorite animal, or what I’m looking forward to about the tour.

Screen Shot 2015-06-17 at 11.08.07 AM

Once the business is out of the way, guests pass the park gate touchpoints using their admission media. (I was going to say swipe their tickets at the turnstile, but that’s so 2013.)

Visit to the Aviary (Pangani Forest Trail area)

The first stop on the tour is at the Pangani Forest Trail aviary. Along the way, the guide will share stories about the history of the Animal Kingdom park. Some of these are the same as what I encountered when I took the Wild By Design tour in 2014. Photography is allowed on the AK park paths and in the aviary, which is a public space.

At the aviary, we were greeted by a bird care specialist. He discussed the nesting and feeding habits of many of the species housed at the Animal Kingdom. A highlight for several guests was an opportunity to feed the birds by tossing mealworms to them. Guests who chose to do this were offered gloves, if they wanted to use them. The mealworms made our group extremely popular with the birds, making this a terrific opportunity to get photos. The feeding also made it easier to see that all the birds at the aviary are banded with identification tags. We learned from the keepers that every bird is located and counted every day.

IMG_5640

Visit to the backstage rhino and elephant habitats

After the aviary, we slipped behind the scenes and boarded a van to take us to the rhino and elephant barns. Before getting in the van, we were asked to put away our cameras. Most folks just slipped them into their bag or pocket. I was wearing a large DSLR and just put the lens cap on, which seemed to satisfy the guide that I wasn’t covertly snapping pictures.

At the rhino and elephant barns, we were met by a large mammal specialist who described some of the training the animals receive to facilitate their medical care. We were also welcome to ask as many questions as we wanted about life on the “savannah,” work at the Animal Kingdom, animal breeding, or anything else we could think of. The barns are spartan and much more zoo-like than the wooded areas that guests see inside the park. Backstage it’s mostly iron and concrete. The animals are given some “toys” and distractions, but the barns are primarily a business area. While at the barns, we did see elephants backstage getting cared for, but all the rhinos were out for viewing in public areas. This will vary daily depending on the needs of the animals and the facility.

IMG_5646

Visit to the backstage area of Conservation Station, including an animal operating room

When you visit the public areas of Conservation Station (the building in Rafiki’s Planet Watch at the end of the Wildlife Express train ride), you may see animal care specialists performing procedures on creatures from behind a glass wall. On the Backstage Tales tour, you get to go into one of those rooms and see the medical equipment up close. We learned about the different types of tools used to examine different size species and got an overview of the areas of expertise of the cast members that work at the Animal Kingdom.

During our visit, we happened to see part of an examination of a sedated fennec fox. This is one of my daughter’s favorite animals, so she was in awe. You may or may not see a live animal procedure during your tour, depending on the needs of the facility.

IMG_5628

Visit to the animal nutrition center

After another brief van ride, we stopped at the stop animal nutrition center. This is almost like the kitchen for a large restaurant. There are delivery bays for fruits and vegetables — from the exact same vendors that provide human food for the parks. The produce must meet the same exacting specifications as the food for the guests. We also got to see storage areas for hay and specially prepared pellet-style nutritional supplements for some specials. Additionally, there were freezers for the meat fed to carnivores.

The main room of the nutrition center features several work stations where staff have “recipe books” with precise measurements of food to be delivered to each animal each day. These were “plated” into individual storage containers for transportation to the feeding stations throughout the park.

A particularly interesting area was a shelf full of enhancement items to make the food more interesting for the animals. This included things like jam, peanut butter, and ground spices, which are periodically added to some animal foods to keep them interesting.

Break time and snack, with presentation by animal care specialist

Near the nutrition center, we visited a classroom area in the backstage education building. We were given an opportunity to use the restroom. Then we were provided with snacks (rice krispie treats) and given souvenir metal Animal Kingdom water bottles, which we could fill from a bottled water cooler.

While we snacked, we were visited by a conservation specialist. Our specialist spoke primarily about Disney’s efforts to support the wild sea turtles near the Disney Vacation Club resort in Vero Beach, Florida. We learned about turtle reproduction and migration patterns. This talk didn’t have much to do with the Animal Kingdom park itself, but it was a good opportunity to learn about Disney’s dedication to conservation issues, and to get out of the heat for a few minutes.

Visit to the backstage komodo dragon habitat

Our final stop was the backstage habitat of the Animal Kingdom’s komodo dragons. We watched a dragon trained to be step onto a scale to be weighed. When the dragon performed the desired behavior, he was rewarded with a “fuzzy,” a frozen baby mouse. The behaviors of the dragons, and all the animals, is completely voluntary. They are rewarded for compliant behavior, but they are never punished for non-compliance.

At the dragon habitat, as at every stop, we were allowed to ask as many questions as we wanted about animal care and behavior, Animal Kingdom operations, or staff training. The Backstage Tales tour is particularly nice because it’s one of the few behind-the-scenes opportunities for guests under the age of 16. If you have a child interested in a possible career in animal care, this is a unique chance to see what their future might be like. In my opinion, the price is reasonable for the amount of time and personal attention you get from the professional staff.

IMG_5637

The Details

  • The price is $90.00 per person, plus tax. All ages pay the same price. Disney Vacation Club, Annual Pass Holder, or Disney Visa Holder discounts may be available. Inquire at time of booking.
  • Theme park admission is required and not included in the price of the tour.
  • There is a 48 hour cancellation policy. You will be charged the full price of the tour if you no-show or cancel less than 48 hours before your tour.
  • The tour takes place from 7:30am to about 11:15am daily. The tour may not be conducted during holidays and during special events.
  • The tour takes place substantially outdoors, rain or shine. Come prepared for the weather.
  • Open to guests ages 12 and up. Guests ages 16 and up will need to provide photo ID. Children under age 18 must be accompanied by a paying adult.
  • Reservations must be made in advance, over the phone. Call 407-WDW-TOUR (407-939-8687).
  • Photography is not allowed during backstage portions of the tour. You make take photos during the on-stage portions of the tour.
  • Meet outside the gates to the park 15 minutes prior to start time.
  • Guests are given audio headsets to better hear the guide while walking through the park.

Have you been on the Backstage Tales tour? Is this something you’re considering for you or your kids? Are there any questions you have? Let us know in the comments below.

  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • Google Plus
  • Pinterest
  • Print

FAQ Dining with Kids on Disney Cruise Line

by on June 24, 2015

A common refrain on Disney cruises is, “If you see it, eat it.” It’s no secret that, for many guests, a key attraction of cruising is the food. This holds true for kids as well as adults. Just the thought of the unlimited ice cream available on the pool deck is enough to send some kids begging you to book another voyage. Here’s everything you need to know about dining with kids on Disney Cruise Line.

All the Mickey waffles you can eat on the Disney Fantasy

All the Mickey waffles you can eat on the Disney Fantasy

THE BASICS

What type of restaurants are on board the Disney ships?

Much like the Disney theme parks, there are five main classifications of dining venue on board the Disney ships.

  • Counter Service. This is the equivalent of the quick service venues in the parks. You walk up to a counter, ask for your food, a cast member hands it to you, and you take it yourself to a table. The counter service restaurants are primarily located in a cluster on the main pool deck of each ship. Typical offerings include pizza, small sandwiches, burgers, hot dogs, fresh fruit, chicken fingers, etc. You’ll also find fountain soda dispensers and soft serve ice cream dispensers nearby. All these items are included in the cost of your cruise. There are additional counter service windows located near the theaters on each ship. These counters offer packaged snacks like M&Ms, fresh popcorn, and canned sodas. These items are not included in the price of your cruise.
  • Rotational Dining. This is the equivalent of the standard table service restaurants in the parks. You are seated at a table and presented with a menu, a server takes your order, brings your food, and clears it when you’re done. With the exception of a few specialty beverages, the cost of these meals is included in the price of your cruise. There are three rotational dining venues on each ship. These are also known as the main dining rooms (MDRs).You will “rotate” through the three main dining rooms on different nights of your sailing. The longer your voyage, the more times you’ll experience each restaurant. But don’t worry about getting bored, the menus change nightly.
  • Buffet. While the buffet-style restaurants in the Disney theme parks hew closely to the table service model, the buffets on the ships are more like a cross between a food court and a school cafeteria during the breakfast and lunch hours. The buffet location will operate as a table service location for dinner service. With the exception of a few specialty beverages, the cost of these meals is included in the price of your cruise.
  • Cafe and Lounge. This is the equivalent of a Disney World hotel bar, or the in-park Starbucks (though they don’t serve Starbucks coffee). Each ship has several cafes, offering specialty coffees and teas, and lounges offering primarily adult beverages and soft drinks. None of the beverages here are included with your cruise, but there are snack-size food items at these venues which generally are included.
  • Adult Dining. This is the equivalent of the fancy signature dining restaurants at Walt Disney World. On the Disney Cruise Line ships, these restaurants are restricted to guests ages 18 and up. The adult dining venues are Palo on all four ships, plus Remy on the Dream and Fantasy.

Additionally, you’ll find that room service (in-room dining) is available for all staterooms on the Disney ships.

Read the rest of this entry »

  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • Google Plus
  • Pinterest
  • Print

Changes to 2016 Walt Disney World Magic Your Way Packages

by on June 22, 2015

magicyourwayDisney has shared details with travel agents for 2016 Magic Your Way packages. Magic Your Way is any package that includes a room at a Disney-owned and operated resort, the Swan or Dolphin, a Good Neighbor hotel, or a Disney Springs area hotel; and park admission. Packages can be booked through your travel agent or the Walt Disney Travel Company. This also includes all dining plans, which have their own extras. Thank you to Sue Pisaturo at Small World Vacations for the heads up.

Let’s start with the good news: The vouchers for mini-golf have been increased from 2 per room to 4 per room, and are good for play before 4PM at Fantasia Gardens and Winter-Summerland. If you’re an Annual Passholder, remember you get a discount on admission already and it’s good all day and night. Also, under the category of things that make you scratch your head, MYW packages now include 4 vouchers for one day admission at ESPN Wide World of Sports. There’s really not much to do there if you’re not participating in a sporting event. If you have made the trip out, let me know in the comments. Every time I go out there to see what’s up, there’s nothing going on. If your tickets include the Water Park Fun and More option, you already have the option for ESPN WWoS admission, so there’s no real benefit for you unless you’re using all your entitlements for water parks, Oak Trail golf, or DisneyQuest (while it lasts, see below) already and somehow still have time to visit Wide World of Sports too.

Read the rest of this entry »

  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • Google Plus
  • Pinterest
  • Print

Typhoon Lagoon Cabanas: Mixing Luxury and Fun

by on June 9, 2015

© Sarah GraffamNow that Disney World has kicked off the Coolest Summer Ever, what better way to join in the fun than by cooling off at a Disney water park? And if you are looking to take a day of fun to the next level, what better way to experience the ultimate in cool than by renting a water park cabana? My family recently spent a day in a cabana, or “Beachcomber Shack,” at Typhoon Lagoon. If you are considering taking the same plunge, here’s what you need to know.

What You Get

A Typhoon Lagoon Beachcomber Shack provides your party with a comfortable place to call your own for the day, plus plenty of amenities. Upon check in, everyone receives a wrist band that allows access into the private area for cabanas. A Disney Cast Member then walks you to your shack, explains the amenities, and answers any questions about attractions and activities in the park.© Sarah Graffam

Read the rest of this entry »

  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • Google Plus
  • Pinterest
  • Print

Family Fun Aboard The Disney Wonder

by on June 6, 2015

Disney Wonder in AlaskaHave you already booked a cruise on the Disney Wonder with your kids or are you just thinking about one? For a parent, one of the biggest concerns about cruising with children is whether there will be enough family fun and entertainment to occupy the kids during the voyage. Rest assured, Disney Cruise Line has got you covered!

In part one of this two part series, I shared details about the youth clubs that are available on the ship and in today’s part two, I’ll cover the family fun you can enjoy together. Let’s face it — your kids may not wish to visit the youth clubs; some kids just prefer to hang out with the family. I’m so glad my boys are still at an age that they willingly spend time with me, and I soak up every minute I can get! In the blink of an eye they’ll be all grown up, so I want to enjoy as much family fun as possible.

During my family’s Alaska cruise on the Disney Wonder, my kids went to the youth clubs the first evening and when my husband and I had brunch at Palo. The rest of the cruise we filled our days and nights with tons of family fun. So let’s take a photo tour of the fantastic options offered aboard the Disney Wonder — and remember you can click on any image to get a better look.

Read the rest of this entry »

  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • Google Plus
  • Pinterest
  • Print

FAQ: Disney World to Disney Cruise Line Transfers

by on June 4, 2015

You’re going a Disney Cruise AND you’re going to Walt Disney World – lucky you!

Land/sea combination Disney vacations are quite common; They’re a nice way to balance the frenetic excitement of a theme park visit and the mellow relaxation of a cruise. Here are some things to think about as you plan how to get from Part A to Part B of your vacation.

Should I take my cruise first or visit Walt Disney World first?

In the Unofficial Guide to Disney Cruise Line, we recommend that guests experience the land (WDW) portion of their land/sea trip first. A visit to the parks is typically more tiring than a cruise (thus, the common refrain “I need a vacation after that vacation”). Most guest enjoy having the rest and recovery time that a cruise provides.

IMG_1278
OK, I’ll go to Walt Disney World first. How do I get from the airport to my hotel?

If you’re going from Orlando International to a Walt Disney World resort hotel, use Disney’s free Magical Express service.

From Disney’s perspective, there’s no difference in transportation procedure between a Disney World vacation and a land/sea vacation starting at Disney World. At this point, use Magical Express and pretend that the Disney Cruise Line (DCL) portion of your trip does not exist. This is particularly important to heed when you’re getting your luggage ready for transportation. If you’d like to have your bags transported by Disney from the airport to the hotel, then use the yellow Magical Express luggage tags. DO NOT put the DCL tags on your bag now.

Is there a charge to get from the airport to my Disney World hotel?

Read the rest of this entry »

  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • Google Plus
  • Pinterest
  • Print

3 Things to Like (and Hate) with Disney’s Tiered Ticket Price Proposal

by on June 3, 2015

WDWPricingSurvey

Click to enlarge

A recent Disney Parks survey outlined a new idea that Disney World was considering for its theme park ticket prices. The new system assigned a color – bronze, silver, or gold – and a price to each day of the year, based on how crowded the park was likely to be that day. Here are sample prices for the Magic Kingdom for one adult, for one day, without park hopping:

  • Bronze for below-average crowd days, at $105 per day
  • Silver for average crowd days, at $115 per day
  • Gold for above-average crowd days, at $125 per day

Like the current pricing structure, the proposal indicated that Disney would charge more for one-day admission to the Magic Kingdom than for Epcot, Animal Kingdom, or Disney’s Hollywood Studios.

In addition, the proposal specified discounts of 5% per extra day for multi-day tickets: a 2-day ticket costs 5% less than two separate 1-day tickets; a 3-day ticket costs 10% less than 3 separate 1-day tickets, and so on, up to a 45% discount for a 10-day ticket versus 10 separate 1-day tickets. Ticket prices for children ages 3-9 are 10% less than for adults, and park-hopping was also available.

After presenting the price calendar and table, Disney asked whether you would have:

  • Visited on the same dates with the same ticket
  • Changed the dates you visited or the number of days you bought
  • Bought an annual pass

There are a few things to hate about the proposal; I’ll get to those shortly. But having thought about the proposal for a while, here are 3 things I like about it:

1. It’s more fair on days when a park closes for capacity constraints The Magic Kingdom reaches its peak capacity on a handful of days each year. When this happens, arriving guests are prohibited from entering the park until enough people leave the park, usually a few hours later.

Read the rest of this entry »

  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • Google Plus
  • Pinterest
  • Print

Youth Clubs Aboard The Disney Wonder

by on June 3, 2015

Disney Wonder In AlaskaHave you booked a cruise on the Disney Wonder with your kids or are you just thinking about one? For a parent, one of the biggest concerns about cruising with children is whether there will be enough fun and entertaining things for the kiddos to do during the voyage. Rest assured, the Disney Cruise Line has got you covered! In part one of this two part series, I’ll share with you the information you’ll need to have a magical cruise with your kids aboard the Disney Wonder. In this article, we’ll take a look at the youth clubs available on the ship and in a second article posting soon, I’ll give you details on fun activities for the entire family to enjoy together. So let’s get started!

Read the rest of this entry »

  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • Google Plus
  • Pinterest
  • Print

Keeping Children Involved While Visiting a Theme Park

by on May 31, 2015

Picture from my disposable camera from my Disneyland trip-1989

Picture from my disposable camera from my 1989 Disneyland trip (I am on the right).

 

Let me start by saying that I do not have children of my own, nor do I travel anywhere with children. So, you’re probably wondering what makes me qualified to speak on the subject? Well, I do have one major qualification: I use to be one of those theme park children.

Even though I did not go to Disneyland a lot as a child (it was too expensive for my family), I did visit other Southern California theme parks quite often — specifically Knott’s Berry Farm and Universal Studios Hollywood. My parents managed to teach me a lot about planning, having fun, and cherishing each experience, so below are the four strategies that I would like to pass along to you to help set up everyone in your family for a happy theme park experience.

Read the rest of this entry »

  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • Google Plus
  • Pinterest
  • Print

10 Ways the TouringPlans Blog Can Help You Plan Your Disney Cruise

by on May 21, 2015

Are you thinking of trying your first Disney Cruise?  Are you a skilled Disney Cruise Line Veteran who doesn’t need no stinkin’ help from anyone?  Well we can help!  Even if you don’t think you need it!  TouringPlans blog posts have a little something for everyone.  I’ll prove it!  Keep reading!

1. Should You Go On a Disney Cruise? – That’s the first question to ask right?  Should you go?  Will you like it?  Are the kids too young? etc. etc.  Well if you’re a Disney fan, I gave you 10 Reasons right here!  Savannah loves Disney and she agreed in this article.  Chances are that if you’re reading this blog post, you are a Disney fan, but if you’re not, look at this blog post for 10 reasons to try one.  Derek joined in with 6 reasons of his own to try a Disney Cruise.  Kristi wrote a blog post specifically geared towards people that hate cruises!  Laurel and I both added thoughts on why Disney cruises are fun for adults and couples with no kids.  Erin wrote two blog posts for parents thinking about a Disney cruise, one about whether your children are old enough and one that compares a Disney cruise to summer camp!  If you haven’t figured it out by now, the answer to #1 is an unqualified “yes.”

2. Choosing a Ship – Now that you’re convinced, you need to choose a ship!  I compared the four ships in this blog post.  Dani gave us a photo tour of the re-imagined Disney Magic, and I wrote about the changes shortly after they were complete.  Laurel recently broke down the awesome changes coming in the fall to the Disney Dream.  There’s no bad choice here, but maybe one that’s more right for you.

Read the rest of this entry »

  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • Google Plus
  • Pinterest
  • Print