Take a Walk on the Wild Side at Disney’s Animal Kingdom Lodge

And Check off a Bucket List Item

My husband is not normally a Disney fan, in fact he avoids “the Mouse” except when young grandchildren are involved, and then only in small doses.  However, when he read an article in National Geographic about the bioluminescent rainforest in the Na’vi River Journey ride in Pandora – The World of Avatar at Disney’s Animal Kingdom, and said he wanted to see that – I took immediate action.   Before he could change his mind, I checked on reservations in Orlando including the Animal Kingdom Lodge, where a room with a Savanna view was available for Father’s Day weekend.  Since he was so agreeable, I asked if he would be interested in going on a guided safari through the savannas at the lodge. He has always wanted to go on safari and I pointed out that Orlando was much cheaper than a flight to South Africa.  I checked my husband for fever and head injury, when he said “let’s go for it!” He liked the idea of being able to see animals like giraffes and zebras from our balcony.  I was excited. A stay at the Animal Kingdom Lodge has been on my bucket list since we moved to Florida in 2003.

My mouth dropped when we walked into the lobby of the Animal Kingdom Jambo Lodge, which is actually the third floor of the six-story lodge. The lobby is open to the top floor and is designed with the feel of a South African reserve lodge and is filled with African art and artifacts.  At the end of the lobby is a floor to ceiling window that opens out onto the savannas, about 30 acres separate from the Animal Kingdom Park. The hallways have viewing areas that overlook the savannas as well as the expansive pool area.

 

 

We had a savanna room with excellent viewing of giraffes, zebras, wildebeests, and other small antelope right outside our balcony.  Since we had a check-in time of 3:30 for the Wanyama Safari and Dinner, we didn’t have time to do much more than gawk for a few minutes.  We checked in at the Jiko restaurant located on the first floor of the lodge.  The safari and dinner is “family-style” with a limit of 12 people.  We were lucky, there were only six of us on this safari. Our traveling companions were a lovely family of four from Pennsylvania, two college-age young women and their parents. 

Our adventure started with a “cultural representative” from South Africa who invited us into a private dining room where he told us about his life in his country. There are 11 official languages of which he spoke 3 plus French and English – WOW! On the buffet table, there were some traditional South African snacks – breads, dips, sausage, and Moroccan mint tea – all delicious.  The dips were like hummus, cucumber/dill and a tomato based dip plus a dip with a citrus flavor. Then closer to 4:00, Jen, one of our guides, arrived and led us through the lobby to transportation, a flat-bed truck with bench seats around the three sides.  It had rained quite a bit earlier in the day, so the foam cushions were a bit damp, but soggy seats didn’t dampen our excitement for a trip into the three savannas.  Jen started off in the back of the truck with us.  Halfway through, they switched and Jared rode in the back with us and Jen drove the truck and opened the gates.  They introduced us to the animals and their personalities. I learned so much on this tour.  Both of our guides seemed to love their jobs and the animals.  They also talked about the care and feeding, as well as the breeding of some of the animals, in fact one of the opakis is pregnant.  During this 90 minute tour, we saw so many animals including giraffes, Thomson’s gazelles, ostriches, wildebeests, East African crowed cranes, vultures, and more that I’m sure I’m missing.

 

After the ride through the savannas, now back to Jiko for our family-style African inspired four-course dinner, each course with a wine pairing.  The first course was a sampling of dips and African breads similar to the reception, but this time there was a delicious special cocktail.  The second course was an appetizer sampler that included wanton or spring roll, a salad with apples, and a ravioli type pasta filled with boar and elk. The wine for this course was a crisp, delicious chenin blanc.  The third course included multiple entrees and sides including chicken, grouper, short ribs, a macaroni and cheese dish, an African grits-type dish, corn on the cob, and greens.  The wine for this course was a robust Cabernet Sauvignon, quite delicious but not overpowering.  The dessert course included three cakes: lemon curd cake, a 3 layer cake with a carrot cake base, and chocolate mousse in a chocolate shell.  For a foodie with a sweet tooth, this was heaven, though the honey wine was a bit too sweet for me. You could really taste the honey.  There was plenty of food for six people.  The wait staff was very attentive.  They even made a special entrée selection for my husband as he has an onion allergy.   This was an absolutely wonderful evening, great food and new friends. Though expensive, the safari and dinner were well worth the price, and the dinner itself could cost more than the safari fee if purchased a la carte.    If you are an animal lover and a foodie, this is the tour for you! (There’s also the largest hidden Mickey in this location.)

 

 

 

The next day, we got up early to get to Animal Kingdom Park during the resort only hours.  Disney allows guests who are staying the Disney resorts to get an early start before the parks open.  We got in line for the Na’vi River Ride about 8:45. The estimated wait time was 30 minutes. The time was quite accurate.  We came out and the time was already at 60 minutes. The bioluminescence of the river ride was beautiful.  We did not ride the Pandora Flight of Fancy.  Though it looks exciting to me, my husband doesn’t like wild rides and when we passed this ride on the way to the river ride, I noticed the estimated wait-time was 60 minutes. When we came out of the river ride, the estimated wait time was already at 150 minutes and people were waiting to get in line along the path almost to Africa.  We decided to go on the Kilimanjaro Safari ride where we also saw a lot of animals including lions and elephants. 

 

 

It was a hot day, so we decided to go back to our room, relax, and watch the animals from the comfort of our air-conditioned savanna room. We ended our day with a delicious burger in the Victoria Lounge where I had a Godiva Chocolate martini for dessert. (No counting Weight Watcher points this weekend for me!)

I loved our weekend at the Animal Kingdom Lodge.  It is my new favorite Disney resort.  Even if you are not staying at this resort, I would recommend taking the time for a visit just to see the lodge, enjoy the art work and artifacts, sit by the fire pit, listen to the cultural representatives’ talk about their countries, and have a drink at the Victoria Lounge.  They have a drink that changes colors! You can get to the Animal Kingdom Jambo Lodge by car or via the Disney bus transportation system.  

Until next time…..

 giraffe

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Misty Musical New Orleans

Our recent trip to New Orleans was gray, misty, and overcast.  After a wonderful eggs benedict breakfast at the Ruby Slipper on Magazine Street (www.therubyslippercafe.net), we went for a walk around the French Quarter. The buildings were cloaked in a gray damp fog that cast an eerie feeling over the city. It would have been a great day for one of the cemetery tours, but we will leave that for another visit.

Canal Street

A few times a year we head over to NOLA to visit Larry’s son Sean, his wife Heather, and their eight-year old daughter Riley, whom we had just picked up from a sleepover and she still had on her unicorn onesie from the party.  But hey, it’s Mardi Gras time in NOLA and costumes are always optional.

Sean heather riley

With each trip to New Orleans, we try to do something new or different.  This time we visited The Music Box Village (www.musicboxvillage.com).  It is a unique artist-built sculpture garden where each of the artist-built interactive “music houses” creates distinct notes, sounds — music.  Each house has a name and the visitors can experience the creation of their own music.  There are drums, horns, chimes, xylophones and when they are all playing together, it is a wild, joyous cacophony of sound.  One of the favorites is the Chateau Poulet where you pull on ropes that unleash sonic fans creating a high-pitched whine; the longer you pull and hold down the ropes, the faster the fans spin.  One of Riley’s favorites was the Inter-Relational Messages and Patterns – a drum set that created sounds from the bass drum to bongos.  The Bower’s Nest featured an interesting collection of chimes. One of my favorites was the horns where you pull on levers to create mellow tones.  There’s even a phone booth – remember those?

Check the website for their public hours and performances. The day we visited, there was a pop-up food vendor and a refreshment bar.  The spiked cider was warming and they were generous with the bourbon. Admission is $12.00; locals and kids 5-18 are free or donations.  The Music Box Village is located in the Bywater neighborhood where Rampart ends at the levee.  One tip – if you have a headache, you might want to save this visit for another day.  Just sayin’ — it is noisy and at all different pitches and tones.

We also visited the Chalmette Battlefield, famous for the Battle of New Orleans in January 1815.  You know the old song written by Jimmy Driftwood and recorded by Johnny Horton (it was the #1 song in 1959) — “In 1814, we took a little trip along with Colonel Jackson down the Mighty Mississip.”  Check out the Visitors Center for lots of information on the battle from the American and British perspectives.  (www.nps.gov).

Trip Details:

Where we stayed: The Wyndham La Belle Maison on Magazine Street is a beautifully restored historic building that was originally a printing press. The comfortable one bedroom suite had exposed brick walls and a kitchenette.

Where we ate: On Friday evening, we went out to Arabi and joined Sean and Heather and Larry’s brother, Joe, and his wife, Erin, at the Kitchen Table Café (facebook.com/kitchentablearabi or www.kitchentablearabi.com).  It’s a casual neighborhood café serving lunch and dinner with the focus on fresh, locally-sourced ingredients.  They have daily specials posted on their Facebook page.  I had the roast pork tenderloin which was tender and delicious.  Larry had the crispy duck special and he cleaned his plate. The chocolate hazelnut semifreddo was an excellent light finish to the meal with enough to share. They are famous for their huge, juicy burgers!  Heather says they’re delicious. The Kitchen Table Café is located at 7005 St. Claude Ave in Arabi.

For breakfast, no trip to NOLA is complete without at least one breakfast at The Ruby Slipper, which is conveniently located across the street from the hotel.  Their breakfasts are wonderful.  The Mimosa and cappuccino for me and coffee and a Bloody Mary for Larry was a great start to an overcast, drizzly Saturday. On Sunday morning, we ate at the Creole House on Canal Street (http://creolehouserestaurant.com).  I had an excellent eggs benedict made with an avocado spread on French bread with tomato and the traditional poached eggs and Hollandaise.  I will definitely go back there on another trip.

On Saturday, we also stopped into Pirogue’s Whiskey Bayou, (https://www.facebook.com/Pirogues-Whiskey-Bayou-191098534592782/) also on St. Claude across from the Kitchen Table Café. The boiled shrimp quesadilla was excellent.  This is a great little neighborhood bar to hang out, have a drink, and meet up with friends.

On Sunday before heading to the Music Box Village, we stopped for lunch at Bratz, Y’all.  (www.bratzyall.com) a new bistro, bakery, and biergarten on Piety Street.  Larry and I split a chicken NOLA schnitzel on a muffuletta bun. Delicious.  Riley’s kids meal chicken schnitzel fingers were crispy and made with real pieces of chicken, not ground up meat breaded and fried.  They serve German beers and wines.  We got an apple strudel and a small King Cake pretzel to take home.  Both were delicious.  The King Cake pretzel was a new experience for me.  It was split and had a delicious cream filling. It was iced and covered with green and purple sprinkles for Mardi Gras.  A real treat, but I forgot to take a picture.

So much for this trip to New Orleans.  What are your favorite places to visits in NOLA!

P.S.  The day we left, the skies were clear blue.

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The Architect’s Secret

I was going through old writing projects.  At a writer’s conference, we were given a writing exercise.  There were three lists and we had to choose 3 random numbers between 1 and 25.  The first list was your occupation, the second list was something you did, and the other was some secret.  Mine were: architect, covers mirrors, and leads a secret life.  Here’s the story:

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The Architect’s Secret
Charles Ames Danforth covered the gilded mirror above the sofa in his rented condominium with a sheet he found on the bedroom closet shelf. He hated big mirrors. They reminded him of what he no longer was, what he could no longer see, and the secrets he kept.
In the kitchen, he pulled the bottle of Dewar’s from the brown paper bag, opened the cap, and poured a shot into a highball glass; there was no ice so he drank it straight up. He winced at the taste. He didn’t even like it any more but he liked the way the glass felt in his hands, the coolness of the glass against his skin, and the way it made him feel. It reminded him of what he was and what he’d lost.
He swirled the golden liquid as he crossed the living room, parted the blinds on the sliding doors, and looked out at the white sandy beach. The travel agent thought she was doing him a favor by finding this beach front condo. “A great deal,” she had said. He shook his head and laughed at the irony of it. He couldn’t enjoy the sunshine but he would savor an evening stroll once the blazing Florida sun had set. That was part of his secret, his curse.
He turned from the window; the scantily clad beachgoers with their coolers and picnic baskets ignited a gnawing in the pit of his stomach reminding him that he hadn’t eaten in a long time. Charles refilled his glass, sat at the dining table, and opened his briefcase. He wanted to prepare for the meeting set for ten o’clock the next morning. He was the architect assigned to the construction on the new Towne Center. Charles had loved buildings since he was a small boy. On the inside of his briefcase he kept a postcard of the Empire State Building. His long, slender fingers skimmed across it as he thought of his family home, a huge old Victorian mansion on Long Island in New York. He didn’t remember how many rooms it had but there were a lot. His nanny allowed him to ride his tricycle up and down the long hallway when his parents weren’t home. His mother and grandmother were devastated when they had to sell the house, most of the furnishings, and move into New York City. After all, at one time, his parent’s families were members of the original Mrs. Astor’s 400 wealthiest families in New York. Charles’ family, like many others, lost most of their money in the stock market crash. The one on October 24, 1929.
Charles took another drink and smoothed out the rolled up rendering of the proposed Towne Center. This was not the type of building he wanted to construct but as the newest person at his most recent firm, he had to take the assignments as they came. His past experience was another secret. He couldn’t tell his employers that when he was 28 years old, he worked for the architectural firm of Shreve, Lamb, and Harmon, the architects who designed and built the Empire State Building. In his life, he had worked on some of the most famous structures in the world and now he was relegated to building shopping malls.
He knew the date was playing with his mind as it did every year on the anniversary he shared with the Empire State Building. On May 1, 1931, Herbert Hoover turned on the lights in the Empire State Building and on that same day in 1931, his heart stopped beating but he didn’t die. He was reborn as something inhuman. He would be forever young and handsome, never aging a day over 28, and never growing old with someone he loved. He knew he was feeling sorry for himself. There’s nothing more pitiful than a depressed vampire.

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A Practically Perfect Weekend

I recently had a practically perfect weekend.  It started off with a fundraiser on Friday evening when I toured the new Rehabilitation Pavilion at Sarasota Memorial Hospital.  It warmed my heart to see what a great contribution to the community the Rehabilitation Pavilion will be.  I saw a young man who never thought he would walk again, stand upright and walk wearing a robotic exoskeleton. Amazing! The good work and compassionate care the therapists, nurses, and physicians provide every day make me proud to work at Sarasota Memorial Health Care System.

On Saturday, I did a good deed by volunteering at the Open House for the same Rehab Pavilion. I met members of the community and patients who have benefited from the therapies provided at the hospital. This is picture of Sam Solie (right) from Sarasota Memorial’s Marketing Department and me.

Sam and Theresa_April 2017 Rehab opening

Then I went home and took a nap.  As I’ve gotten older, I’ve learned to appreciate the wonders of a short afternoon snooze.

On Saturday evening, I got to pick the movie for date night.  We saw “Beauty and the Beast,” which I thoroughly enjoyed.

On Sunday, my friend Sue and I went to the Marie Selby Botanical Gardens for the “Marc Chagall, Flowers, and the French Riviera: The Color of Dreams” exhibit.  The lavender fields and tall cypress trees reminded me of France.  There was even a painter in the garden, brush to canvas, and white floppy hat blocking the sun. The Selby House has been turned into a Marc Chagall museum and is the first botanical garden to exhibit Chagall’s work that includes The Lovers and The Color of Dreams.  After a short walk through the Banyan forest and the epiphyte garden, relaxing on a bench overlooking Sarasota Bay was the perfect place to stop for a moment and reflect on the beauty of nature and art. The sail boats were gliding across the waves as the pelicans dove into the water for their dinner and children placed flowers in the Buddha’s hands and giggled as they ran towards expansive lawn behind me. I took a deep breath, closed my eyes, and just listened to the life around me. After a few minutes, we walked on through the mangroves and decided to head for home.  Of course, no trip to the gardens is complete without a stop in the gift shop on the way to the parking lot.

 

Sue really enjoyed these pink flowers.

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My practically perfect weekend included doing a good deed, a heartwarming experience, a good movie, enjoying nature, art, and spending time with the people I love.

What is your idea of a practically perfect weekend?

If you want to see the Marc Chagall Exhibit at the Marie Selby Botanical Gardens, it will be there until July 31sthttp://selby.org/

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The Avenue Café – The Garden District New Orleans

Carol King drifting from the speakers, wooden floors, wooden tables, the St. Charles trolley swiftly glides by. A young man is working diligently at his laptop while sipping an iced coffee.  Runners stop in for a juice or water and continue on their way.  An older gentleman sits outside with a younger man, no doubt telling him about the good old days. A great place to have breakfast and people watch. 

 Where to eat breakfast in a new place.  Check out what’s nearby. Where the locals go. What does the concierge at your hotel recommend? Is that where they get their coffee or iced tea?  

The Avenue Café 1907 St. Charles Ave in Central City New Orleans is a great local coffee house.  Morning fare includes daily quiche. I had ham, cheese, red pepper that was served with a salad; lightly dressed.  Delicious.  Cappuccino was excellent.  I left with a pomegranate iced tea for my walk back to the hotel.  Delicious, healthy start to the day.

Locally owned and, according to their website, works with other local NOLA businesses for their coffee and pastries.

 

www.Avenuecafenola.com

 

 

 

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Disney Princess Weekend

My daughter Becky and I had yet another Disney first this year.  We had dinner at Cinderella’s Castle.  I would recommend this event especially if you have a child that loves the Disney princesses.  Each guest is addressed as ‘M’lady’ or ‘M’Lord’ or ‘Princess’ or ‘Prince.’  Although we were the only people there without a small child, we thoroughly enjoyed the dinner.

menu           Cinderella

As you enter the castle, which, by the way, really looks like the inside of a castle, Cinderella is waiting to greet you. The framed picture is included in the price.   There were choices for the appetizer, entrée, and dessert.  They all sounded delicious. Both my daughter and I had the steak and shrimp with the chocolate mousse cake for dessert, which was delicious.

dessert

During the dinner, all the princesses, starting with Snow White, make the rounds for greetings and pictures.

Snow white    Ariel     Jasmine

Afterwards, we saw a couple get engaged outside the castle and to top it all off, we went to the Food and Wine Festival at Epcot and enjoyed the fireworks there. What a perfect end to a perfect Disney day.

IMG_112918282020812-1_resized (2)        Epcot fireworks

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Reflections on 2012

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Happy New Year –  I’ve been thinking about what’s ahead in the new year but I’m also reflecting on the year that’s just passed.  As I’ve been browsing through the pictures of the new sites I’ve seen as well as the places I’ve revisited, the people I’ve met and those with whom I’ve reconnected, I’ve also reflected fondly on those who are no longer with us.

I was able to mark something off my bucket list.  The travel literature touts the Chicago Architectural Tour as the thing to do. www.chicagoline.com  So when I was in Chicago for a conference, I was able to arrange time for the tour.  Although it was a gray, drizzly, Fall day, I thoroughly enjoyed the tour and I highly recommend it. Another site I enjoyed on that trip was the Shedd Aquarium. www.sheddaquarium.org  In addition to the majestic beluga whales, dolphins, and jellyfish, there’s a beautiful view of the city from the balcony.

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I attended 3 ghost tours this year: Kissimme, Florida; San Antonio, Texas; and Gatlinburg, Tennessee.  They were all different and enjoyable in their own way. I had a “ghostly encounter in Kissimmee” and pictures of orbs in Gatlinburg. The Alamo at night is surreal especially if you think about what happened there in 1836. I’m looking forward to doing more tours in 2013.

Kissimmee Welcome Mural      IMG_1886   Gatlinburg Cemetary - The last stop on the tour

My husband had a first this year — we went on a cruise.  He didn’t like it much so I guess the Alaskan cruise is out.  So glad we did a trial run – a short cruise from Galveston to Cozumel.  We did enjoy the fishing trip in Cozumel. It was a great day for a boat ride though the only thing we caught was a sunburn. I’m hoping that I will eventually be able to talk him into the Alaska trip.

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One of my favorite hotels this year was the Hotel Galvez in Galveston, Texas.  It is a beautifully restored magestic old hotel.

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I had a first — I won a $90 cash out in Las Vegas on the Sex and the City slot machine. I even took a picture to mark the occasion.  I know that is probably small potatoes to most of you big rollers but it was a big exciting deal to me. Thanks to my friend Kathy Adams for filling me in on her gambling tips.

I enjoyed trips with my family.  Living in Florida, we made a few trips to Orlando.  One such trip was with my 3 of my favorite Harry Potter fans.  I also went to Epcot for the Food and Wine Festival

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In August, we went to visit our family in New Orleans and enjoyed a tour of the Laura Plantation. It was a beautiful day. We also went to the W.W. II Museum.  Both were well worth the price of entry.

Laura

In 2012, we lost 2 people who were very important to our family. My husband’s mother, Betty Michael, went to be with her husband, Mose, in July.  My good friend for 35 years, Dorothy Meyers Wray was taken much too soon the Saturday after Thanksgiving.  They are both sorely missed.  I am dedicating this entry to them.

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Stay tuned for more adventures in 2013.  Larry and I are headed to Italy.

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