Tag Archives: Swan Hotel

Disney World Vacation 2017: Day 1 Animal Kingdom


Day 1 in the parks was at Animal Kingdom on 12/27/2017.

We were blessed in that most days we went to the parks we took advantage of the extra magic hour. Animal Kingdom and Epcot don’t have the extra hour every day, but Cheryl planned our days to take advantage of this.

We woke up around 5:00 a.m. at the Swan Hotel, got ready, and jumped on the shuttle bus to Disney’s Animal Kingdom.

We didn’t wake up in time to eat a breakfast before the 7:00 a.m. magic hour. So, we ate some mixed nuts that I brought in my pack. Disney allows you to bring in food and drinks.

When the gates opened we scanned our Disney Magic Bands and our finger print. This allows Disney to link your band to you in case you lose your band.

We had a Disney FastPass+ for Dinosaur, Expedition Everest and Na’vi River Journey. We didn’t care to ride the 3D Flight if Passage, so we headed to It’s Tough to be a Bug and then to Kilimanjaro Safari.

On the way to Its Tough to be a Bug, we walked around the base if the Tree of Life. We really enjoyed It’s Tough to be a Bug. The 3D effects were great and the seats and theater brought you into the show with squirting water, moving seats and strategically placed blowing air vents among other things. This included smells that were incorporated.

After It’s Tough to be a Bug we headed over to Kilimanjaro Safari. You actually sit in a real safari type tall jeep. This was an experience to be close to the animals. The animals were great, but not any more special than the St. Louis Zoo or Tulsa Zoo.

After the Kilimanjaro Safari we stopped in the Africa park section at a quick service food cart for a breakfast of cheese, fruit and soft pretzels. We had a Swan Quick Service dining gift card. It was not exactly like the normal Disney dining card, but it worked at all the Quick service dining locations. It may have worked at the other dining locations, but we didn’t try.

I love soft pretzels.

Then we journeyed over to the DinoLand USA section of the Animal Kingdom park.

Here we jumped on Primeval Whirl before using our FastPass+ on Dinosaur. We got on fairly quickly, but as we got off the Primeval Whirl the line was getting long.

Disney World 2017 Animal Kingdom Dinosaur

Both of these rides were fun. Not thrilling like a big coaster but exciting to ride.

After these rides we stopped by the Boneyard play area. This was a multi-story playground with a dinosaur bone dig site theme.

Next we traveled over to the Asia area of the Animal Kingdom park around Expedition Everest.

Disney does the scenery around the parks to a grand scale. The rides are not as thrilling as other parks, but the experience is a big deal. Expedition Everest was one of those areas. The ride was good but the landscaping and scenery were awesome. This is one of the bigger rides though and you will have a couple of heart drops. The pictures don’t do a great job of showing the grand scale of the mountain scenery. It was big. These shots were from a long distance.

Disney World 2017 Animal Kingdom Expedition Everest

We decided to leave the Asia area and head back over to Africa for lunch. We had noticed some enticing options over there earlier.

On the way to the Africa area we were blessed again by noticing a short line at Flights of Wonder. We walked right in to the start of a show. The birds were trained well and flew from each side of the audience to the other. We found out that this was one if the last shows for this attraction. It will be replaced in 2018 by an Up movie themed bird show.

After the show we saw a monkey exhibit on the way to Africa from Asia.

We ate lunch at Harambe Market. All the food we ate was delicious. I had chicken tikka masala. Jamie had the grilled chicken skewer with papaya slaw. We both had a side of corn and black eye pea salad. Addison had the kids ribs and Stephen had the sausage which was coated like a corn dog with a curried corn batter.

Then it was snack time for the kids. A Mickey shaped ice cream was in Addison’ s mind. I was saving my sugar limit for cinnamon sugar coated pecans later. Stephen went for a Minute Maid frozen lemonade.

Since we didn’t really plan each park day outside of our FastPass+ times, we took in an area at a time mostly. With the exception of the extra magic hour were we jumped on the most popular rides before everyone else arrived.

We stayed in the Asia area and jumped on the wildlife express train which took us to Rafiki’s Planet Watch and the Conservation Station.

We saw several animals and there was a petting zoo called the Affection Section. We also saw the doctors performing a procedure on one of the park animals (duck). The park had many animals including exotic birds that simply flew or waddled around the park.

Doc McStuffins was also there at the Conservation Station.

After riding the train back to the Africa area we headed over to the Pandora area. But not before I stopped by and picked up some cinnamon and sugar coated pecans on the way.

The Pandora area is themed to be like the movie Avatar. It is beautifully landscaped and the structures are enormous.

We looked around at scenery and at the shop. In the shop you can actually have a 3D model if your head created and transformed into a Na’vi creature. That is expensive so we didn’t do it.

At this point our feet really hurt and the early morning wake up was catching up to us.

After shopping we relaxed a moment before we walked over to the Na’vi River Journey and used our FastPass+.

The wait times on the rides after about 9:00 a.m. during this Christmas week were over two hours so you should either use the extra magic hour or FastPass+. These rides are not worth waiting two hours for. They are beautiful and well thought out. But I would wait max 45 minutes if I didn’t have a FastPass+. Your time is better spent enjoying the other park views and experiences like street shows.

We did just that after the Na’vi River Journey. We watched a street show called Swotu Waya Na’vi Drum ceremony. This was a neat show which also allowed audience participation.

After leaving Pandora we headed up to the Discovery Island area. There were many good shops and food options in this area. We bought Addison her Minnie ears here and a pin for each park for keepsakes. We all also picked up a free First Time visitor button at the checkout register.

As we were leaving we noticed another street show starting. It was the Discovery Island Carnivale with street dancers, musicians and stilt walkers. The audience was encouraged to join in and Addison happily joined in.

After the first Carnivale show we went over to the Flame Tree restaurant and had some great BBQ. Another band played on the stage while we ate which added to the experience.

By the time we were done, the next Carnivale was starting and Addison did some more dancing.

After the Carnivale ended it was dark. We had brought some LED glow sticks with us to hang on our packs, so we pulled those out. They ended up being the same color as our Magic Bands so we were color coded.

At this point we headed up to the Tree of Life for the nighttime awakening. This was an amazing light and projection show utilizing the big tree as the screen. It was amazing. The animals seemed to come to life on the tree.

After watching the first showing we headed back over to the Africa area to watch the Festival of the Lion King. We didn’t have a FastPass+ but we took a chance thinking that folks would be wanting to see the Tree and other outside night shows as it had just gotten dark. Well we were blessed again and made it into line and into the next show only waiting about ten minutes. The line had been over an hour all day so this was special.

After this show we were really tired and decided to leave before the fireworks show at ten. But I did hear it is a great show. We were out of the park by 8:30 and beat the crowds to the buses.

If I could add one thing to this day, I would have walked back through Pandora after dark.

Disney World Vacation Christmas 2017 – Planning and Arrival Day

We took our first family trip to Disney World this year between Christmas and New Years day (12/26-12/31).

If you know anything about Disney trips you’ll know that this is the busiest time of the year for Disney World. 

This December marks my fifteenth wedding anniversary and my son’s thirteenth birthday. Let’s go to Disney. 

My daughter turned ten in June and we wanted to go before the kids were too old but also at a time that they would remember the experience. This anniversary and birthday acted as the catalyst for the trip.

True to our family trip planning style we didn’t decide to commit on going until November. 

Jamie and I thought about other trips without the kids, but we never could settle on anything. Then on November 10th I reached out to Cheryl Daniel on recommendation from a fellow church member (Tracy). Cheryl helps plan Disney vacations.

Now I knew it was a long shot to get a good hotel at this late date, but I didn’t want a low budget hotel. I had looked on the Disney website and didn’t see any good rooms. 

I wanted this experience to be a great memory for my family. It would possibly be the only trip to Disney for us before our kids are grown. 

So, I contacted Cheryl with my request and started praying for our trip to be safe and joyously memorable. Well, ask and you shall receive.

Cheryl started planning and found us a room at the Swan hotel! She was amazed it was available for four nights. All other high end rooms on the Disney resort were booked for those dates and she was surprised anything was left with it only being forty five days before Christmas.

The Walt Disney World Swan Hotel was a fantastic hotel. The hotel had all the amenities you can think of. The beds were awesome and the showers were hot. An in-room safe and refrigerator were convenient, and it provided two sinks in the standard two queen bed room. 

Since the Swan hotel is on Disney, it had a free shuttle or boat to each park and we could use the extra magic hours and FastPass+. This proved to be instrumental in getting on all the rides we wanted to do at the parks since only three FastPass attractions could be planned in advance, and the parks were packed after about 9:00 a.m.

Cheryl booked the room and helped to quickly plan out the best day of the week to visit each park and get FastPass for the best rides that were available. She set everything up for us in the MyDisneyExperience app. 

This app helped us stick to our plans and add to our park plans including rides, shows and character experiences. 

The app had a map of everything on the Disney World property in great detail. It will even navigate you to attractions and rides within each park on foot. (This MyDisneyExperience app was very handy to help find the fastest route from one ride to the other during the extra magic hour.)

Some rides didn’t have FastPass remaining since we started planning late. So we would need to hit those rides during the extra magic hour from 7:00 – 8:00 a.m. that only Disney park hotel guests could use.

My wife talked to our church friend (Tracy) the next day and she was amazed that we found a room too. She had previously thought we were going to be planning for December 2018. 

Now the plan was set. Except it wasn’t fully. The week before we left for our trip I decided to add another night to the trip so that we could rest before our drive back. I called Cheryl. We couldn’t add another night at Swan. But since it was just going to be a one night stay and arriving after 10 p.m. we picked a value resort room at the Disney Pop Century Resort. (This Pop Century room in the 60s section was not as nice, but they are remodeling. The resort itself did have many amenities but not quite as luxurious as the Swan.)

Time to roll. We left from my parent’s house near Mobile, AL. We arrived at Walt Disney World in the late afternoon due to traffic issues on I75 in central Florida. We also unexpectedly hit toll roads along the way.

We unpacked the car and headed to a 7:15 p.m. character dinner that we had scheduled at the Garden Grove Restaurant at the Swan.

After dinner we went to Wal-Mart to grab a couple of last minute necessities for our first park trip the next day. 

We each brought a draw string pack in the parks each day with a bottle of water, a snack, and extra phone batteries. Disney does not mind you bringing in food or drinks, and you keep your bag with you on each ride.

When we got back to the room I set up our Magic Bands.

We each had our own Disney Magic Band which we linked to the MyDisneyExperience app. The App links your tickets, Disney hotel rooms and FastPass+ reservations to the Disney Magic Bands. 

The bands use RFID to allow you into the park and onto the FastPass+ rides. You can even pay for your food with them if using a Disney dining plan. Another cool feature is that you can scan the bands under your pictures on the monitors taken on some rides and the pictures then show up in the app.