Friday, April 21, 2017

Wild Africa Trek--Kicking It Up at Animal Kingdom

I am an adventure seeker, and I’m lucky that my niece has enough of my wanderlust that she is up for just about anything.  On one of our most recent trips to Walt Disney World, I wanted to kick things up a bit and try something really special so we donned our closed toed shoes and set on the Wild Africa Trek for three hours of an up close, behind the scenes look at the animals of the Animal Kingdom Park Harambe Reserve.  

We were introduced to our friendly and knowledgeable guide and after a few safety instructions we were on our way!  The hike was easy, over sometimes uneven ground, through the woods to each of the animal enclosures.  You are each fitted with a vest and lock into an overhead zip system so that you may get as close to the animals as possible and still be safe. (Those hippos were still a little scary!)  Next, it was on to the suspension bridge where we made our way over the crocodile habitat, and then boarded a private safari vehicle. 

The private tour of the savannah was my favorite part.  The driver is able to pull right next to each of the groups of animals as your guide tells personal stories about their personalities and lives.  I was pleasantly surprised that the groups are small (only 7 of us) which allowed us to ask questions and each get a good look at everything. 

After a full morning of animal encounters, we were ready for a break, so we headed to the pavilion high on the hilltop in the middle of the savannah for our traditional African inspired meal. Described as a snack, the offering was enough to fill us up but not as large as your typical Disney portions.  

Our trek was in the morning, and we both enjoyed each of the offerings which used African spices and were delicious. Even picky eaters can find something to eat in their snack tin. There were plenty of tables, and binoculars were also provided so that we could continue animal watching and taking pictures.  With our intrepid adventure coming to an end, we were both inspired by the splendor of nature and ready to share our journey with the rest of our party, who had decided to go for a leisurely breakfast instead.

Know Before You Go: Photographers are located along the way and a download of all the photos is included. Participants must be 8 years of age or older and at least 48 inches tall.  

Comfort with heights is also a must. The tour is rain or shine but will be held in case of lightning. A separate ticket to the park is required.

Our totally fun group!
Jill Pope is a Disney travel planner with Wishdrawals Travel along with her sister Julie.  

Since she didn't start visiting Disney until well into her teens, she has now made it her mission to experience as many Disney Destinations as possible and is currently working her way through many the Disney Cruise Line itineraries. And while she loves traveling with her family, she also loves girls trips and has taken the phrase "never grow up" to heart.  

You can reach Jill via email for assistance planning your next Disney vacation!

Friday, April 14, 2017

A Delicious Review of Palo on the Disney Wonder

Take a step in the doors of Palo on deck 10 of the Disney Wonder, and you feel as if you are in Italy right in the middle of the ocean. We had a party of 6 and were seated in our own room; they might have heard we are a loud bunch!

Our reservation was at 11am, and everything was set and ready-- beautifully set up I might add. For brunch you have the option of both an a la carte buffet and a hot menu. Our server was Roberto, and he was from Italy. Between his accent, knowledge of the true Italian food and culture and the mosaics on the walls, it was a perfect setting.

Friday, April 7, 2017

Another Look at Aulani, A Disney Resort and Spa

The beautiful resort of Aulani is situated on the beaches of Ko 'Olina on the island of O’ahu.  This amazing location gets you away from the crowded beaches of Waikiki but has all the beauty that makes Hawaii an ideal location for a tropical getaway. 

View of Aulani from the Ocean

Many people aren't familiar with Aulani or what it is like, and we often get a lot of questions about Aulani as families determine the best vacation for their family.  

After touring Aulani, A Disney Resort and Spa as a travel professional and staying as a guest, I am going to answer the most common questions we get.

The Olelo Room - An upscale lounge
 inspired by the Hawaiian language.
Does Aulani feel like Disney? 

Yes! Imagine a Deluxe Walt Disney World resort with the incredible attention to detail that Disney puts into everything—the flowers, the smells, the artwork, and the décor—and put it in Hawaii!

Disney Imagineers worked with local artisans to take the rich traditions, nature, and culture of Hawaii and incorporate that into every aspect of the resort. Now add amazing pools, waterslides, Disney characters, classic Disney treats and amazing entertainment for the family, and you have a truly Hawaiian paradise with the Disney flair!

Love visiting with
Mickey AND Minnie!

Will we meet Disney characters? 

Yes! Character breakfasts and dinners are a wonderful opportunity to meet some of your favorite Disney pals in their Hawaiian-wear, of course! But characters also appear at scheduled times throughout the resort and sometimes pop up where least expected!

Meeting Moana
Is there enough to do to keep everyone in my family happy?

Absolutely! I would need pages and pages to discuss all there is to do, and no two days are alike at Aulani. Let’s start with the amazing pools, waterslides, lazy river, interactive splash zone, saltwater snorkel lagoon, and beach. You won’t feel like you are at a water park though. Aulani is beautifully designed so that the waterslides shoot out from the inside of a man-made volcano.
Shooting out of Tubestone Curl into
the Waikolohe Stream
Ka Maka Grotto 

The lazy river makes you feel like you are floating along the sugar plantation irrigation canals and through the beautiful natural rock formations of O’ahu. Paddleboards, boogie boards, and snorkel gear are available for rent at Makiki Joes on the beach, and sand toys are available complimentary to Aulani guests.

Aunties Beach House
On top of all the resort has to offer, there are also daily pool parties, storytelling, Auntie’s Beach House for the kekei  (children) ages 3-12, special teen activities, an amazing spa that even offers teen and family spa treatments, Disney movies nights, the Pau Hana Community Hall room with varying daily activities and Ka’wa’a, a luaua at Aulani.

Looking to get out and explore the island? Aulani offers planned excursions all over the island to include zip lining, dolphin encounters, catamaran trips, snorkeling, helicopter tours, and cultural experiences. You can also conveniently rent a car for the day from the lobby and head out to explore on your own.

Shave ice with "ears"
How is the food at Aulani?

Well, it’s Disney, so of course it’s amazing and exceeds expectations. Let me start with one our favorite Hawaiian treats—shave ice! Most tourists who visit Hawaii head to the North Shore to the famous Matsumoto’s for shave ice, but there’s no need when you are staying at Aulani because life does not get better than a shave ice with Mickey ears!

Sunset from 'Ama'ama

There are several great dining locations, too! At ‘Ama’Ama, eat Oceanside in Aulani’s open-air upscale dining location with live music and magical sunsets. The menu boasts Hawaiian fare with a modern twist.

At Makahiki, enjoy a character breakfast or a “Menehune Mischief” dinner (select nights) with an amazing buffet sure to please every appetite in your family.

Casual dining is also available poolside at the Ulu Café, Off the Hook, Mama’s Snack Shop, and Wailana Pool Bar. You can also enjoy a bar menu and live Hawaiian entertainment nightly at the ‘Olelo Room.

Turtle at Paradise Cove

Is there anything around the resort that we can do without renting a car? 

Yes! Ko ‘Olina is a series of four man-made lagoons with resorts on most of them. You can explore the other resorts along a beautiful trail that rims the lagoons. Play golf at the gorgeous Ko ‘Olina Golf Club or check out the excursions available at the Ko ‘Olina marina. 

You can also walk to the natural lagoon of Paradise Cove where you will often see sea turtles and maybe even a monk seal which are only found in Hawaii! There is also a wonderful luau available nightly at Paradise Cove. There are even a few shops in a nearby marketplace along with a local favorite restaurant, Monkey Pod. In that same plaza, you will find an Island Country Markets (ABC Store) with some grocery items, alcohol, and souvenirs at  reasonable (for Hawaii) prices.

Beach Chairs at Aulani
Casablella on the beach
Is it crowded? 

Yes and no. Like all things great with Disney, some things are popular and crowded. The pools are amazing and, therefore, get busy! You’ll want to get there early for the best chair selection, but I will say that the Cast Members by the pool do an excellent job of preventing chair hogging!

Private pool-side cabanas

If you “save” your chair for too long, in your absence, they will remove your things and open the chair for another guest. Cabanas are available to rent as well as Cassablellas near or on the beach if you want to be sure your “spot” is there for you all day. Beach chairs are ample, and although the beach is not private (there are no private beaches in Hawaii), you will not feel crowded. Getting a great table for the live music at the ‘Olelo Room, however, is nothing like getting a table at La Cava in Epcot! Lines for characters are generally only a few minutes long, and the overall feel of the resort is not crowded.

The view from our 15th floor ocean view room.  You can see
the outline of the lagoon that Aulani sits on.

When is the best time of year to go? 

Any time. No, really! The average high in Hawaii is between 80 and 89 degrees. I generally say that every day is 84 degree and sunny—it really is! We got rain once last week and tend to get more showers rolling through in the winter, but the weather is amazing all year! You will see Disney crowds fluctuate as at any Disney property—higher in the summer and any time the kids are out of school. Prices will follow accordingly. The high surf you see on the Billabong Pipe Masters, Vans Triple Crown, or the “Eddie,” do not affect the tranquil shores of Ko ‘Olina. These lagoons are on the south shore which experience much smaller surf and are sheltered making it an ideal place for families to swim and snorkel and give stand-up paddle boarding a go!

Is it Disney? Or Hawaii? Will it feel like an authentic Hawaiian vacation?

 Uncle at Mo 'olelo fire pit
 It really is both. You will have the attention to detail we all love about Disney, but you will learn about and experience the Hawaiian culture, too. Be sure to join “Uncle” (the term can be used for any Hawaiian elder you wish to pay respect to) at the Mo’olelo fire pit to talk “story” and learn some of the amazing folktales of the Hawaiian people. Talk to the Cast Members in ‘Olelo who all speak the native Hawaiian language. Enjoy the Hawaiian performers, ask about the artwork around the resort, and attend the cultural demonstrations they have. You will learn so much about the Hawaiian culture and grow an amazing love for the people of the island.

Heather is a military wife and the mom of one awesome boy and a pretty fabulous girl! 

She's completed multiple vacations to Disney World and on Disney Cruise Line as well as visiting Disneyland and Aulani, A Disney Resort and Spa! She is currently a resident on the island of 'Oahu. Contact her at to start planning your family's next magical vacation!