Sunday, July 24, 2016

The Wanyama Safari Experience

If you have ever stayed at a Walt Disney World resort and turned on your TV then there is a good chance that you will know that you can take a private safari at the Animal Kingdom Lodge. The Waynama Safari is exclusive to guests staying at Animal Kingdom Lodge and Kidani Village. However, a reservation is not included with your room so if you would like to partake in this adventure you will need to book a reservation: which can be done at the front desk in the lobby at check in or before your trip by phone.

For the last few trips my family has stayed at Animal Kingdom Lodge or Kidani Village. We love it. The entire atmosphere of the resort is amazing. And to top it off there are dozens of animals roaming around in the various savannas. It is like being in another world. We had taken notice of the private tours on our first stay at Animal Kingdom Lodge and when we stayed at Kidani Village a few years later we had booked our spots.

We were told to arrive around mid afternoon for a snack before the safari. We met the keeper that would be guiding us on our tour and the executive chef of Jiko. The chef explained each of the dishes that he had prepared and why they he had chosen them. Honestly, the 'snack' was more like lunch. There was so much food for just 12 people. There were also a few different drinks to sample. I loved the iced red tea. It had so much flavor and I felt rejuvenated with each glass I drank. After the reception luncheon we were guided to our safari truck.

We were lead around the back gated area by Kidani Village. This is where our keeper told us they commonly saw alligators. Sadly, we did not see any that day. We then pulled around to the first savanna. We were a little disappointed at first. We could see the animals, but we were driving alongside a giant fence. Sure, we were close to them, but we had a a better view from our hotel room. Then we came to a gate, where we entered into the savanna. The first animals we came upon were giraffes. I feel that you can't fully understand exactly how tall a giraffe is until you stand directly next to one. I felt like an ant. Our keeper, whom I had been talking with about my own profession as an aquarist, told us about the behavioral training they did with giraffes. She said that giraffes can shut off part of their brain to go to sleep at anytime, and they sometimes do that in the middle of training sessions.

As our tour went on we learned about the various breeding programs that Disney participates, their role in supporting conservation efforts, and how to tell the animals apart by the tagging/notching system that is commonly used in the ears of hoof stock. About halfway through the safari we noticed that there was a little truck ahead of us. They were keepers, and they were putting out food for the animals. By the time we ought up to where they had placed the food several animals were already there happily munching away at their dinner. It was amazing. It was so peaceful to be so close to these animals that I had only ever seen in zoos, just watching them live their lives as if I wasn't even there.

There were a few animals, mainly the ostriches, that really didn't seem to care about any boundaries with the truck and came right up to it. So many animals just walking around us carrying on their day with no cares. I felt that I was a part of their world. And our guide was able to give us first hand accounts of what it is actually like to work with these animals on a daily basis.

Since our trip was in the middle of December it was rather chilly and the sun did set fairly early. About thirty minutes before the end of our tour the sun was too low to provide enough light to take good pictures. This acutely wasn't so bad, it allowed to to view the experience without looking through a camera. However, the chill in the wind was much more noticeable. And we were rather cold by the time our safari was done.

After our tour we were taken back to Jiko where the executive chef explained every part of our meal. When you read the information for the Wanyama Safri it says that you will start with a light snack, a tour of each savanna at the Animal Kingdom Lodge and Kindani Village, and you will have dinner and a sampling of South African wine. It was more than a sampling.

With the start of our meal they brought out different breads and hummuses. That was paired with a rum cocktail. Which, I had not been expecting and was on the strong side. For those do not want alcohol, or those under 21, they offer the same drink without the rum. Then we were given our first course. Mainly smaller dishes like finger food. Lots of flavors. They paired this portion with a white wine. This was my favorite wine that night. When they brought out the main dishes I could not believe how full our table was. We had short ribs, grouper, several veggie dishes, chicken three different ways, shrimp, cornbread, and mac 'n cheese (yes, you heard me right). Of course, this was parked with a red wine. While I did like the wine, I was new to reds at the time so I thought it was a little dry. I was also rather tipsy at this time having just had a mixed drink and a full glass of white wine. The dessert was a little fancy for my liking, and it wasn't what I had been expecting. Don't get me wrong it was good, but nothing that I would feel the need to order if I had to pay for my meal out of pocket. The dessert wine that was paired was almost too sweet. But, it did make up for the last of sweetness in some of the deserts. But, much like with the red I couldn't' finish it as I had already had more than my fair share of alcohol.

Overall, it was an amazing experience. I loved every minutes of it. The only thing I would do differently is not have actually eaten lunch that day and brought a heavier jacket. For some reason I didn't think we would be outside as long as we were. We had been told that the entire experience would be around 4 hours, including dinner. But, I think it ended up being closer to 5. The luncheon was about 30 minutes, and was enough food to have fed everyone there a full meal and still had some leftover. The safari itself was about about two and a half hours and dinner was a little over an hour and a half. I did feel a little underdressed to be eating at Jiko, all the other guests were wearing nice dresses or khakis and a button down shirt, but our group looked windblown and out of place. But, to be fair we had just spent two hours in the open riding around outside.

It was an experience that I still talk about to this day nearly two years later. That was one of my favorite memories at Disney. One day, I hope to take my boyfriend so we can enjoy making our own memories together. It is a little on the pricy side, but if you break it down I don't think its that bad of a deal. If I remember correctly it was about $190 per person. But, if you think about it that isn't too bad. Dinner at Jiko is expensive and could easily run around $80 a person if you got wine and dessert. There was lunch, which I'd say would have been around $20 a person. So, that it $100 right there. $90 for a two and a half hour private safari is not that bad if you ask me. Oh, and Disney donates a portion of all the proceeds to their conversation fund. How cool is that?

I highly recommend this hidden gem at Animal Kingdom Lodge. The memories will last a lifetime.

Have a magical day!

Tuesday, July 5, 2016

Beer Cheese Soup

If you have read my previous post about the lovely food at Le Cellier then you will already know that I was really looking forward to trying the beer cheese soup for myself. After all, I have heard from nearly everyone that has tried it about how amazing it is. But, it was simply not meant to be. I could even pretend to justify ordering any more food even if I wanted to. (And let me tell you the poutine was well worth it.)

I had wanted to pick up a Disney cookbook while on my spring 2016 trip. It was our last day and I had only seen one cookbook. In previous years there were two volumes. Well, I figured that it was the only one I was going to find so I might as well buy it. While on the plane home I decided to look through the pages. And, I bet you will never guess what I sound right in the middle. Beer cheese soup. It was a sign.

The day after we got back from Walt Disney World my boyfriend and I went to a friend's wedding. The next day we spent driving around the entire seven cities area looking at rental properties we had seen online. As the day went on we were getting more and more depressed. The homes were in bad parts of town, or nothing like what they had seemed like on-line. We needed a little Disney magic to brighten the day.

So, being the lovely girlfriend that I am, I went to the store and bought everything that we would need to make beer cheese soup. I will admit, I did pause a little when I saw how much I was spending on cheese, but it was oh-so worth it. I will say this: get the good cheese. Your soup will thank you. Trust me. And you won't believe how much cheese is in this soup.

I was a little daunted by the recipe itself. Soups had always intimidated me for some reason. But, I had my boyfriend helping me so I was able to organize the chaos in my kitchen a little better. I had him prep the bacon (the smaller the pieces the better) and grate all the cheese. And that alone was well worth having help. I prepped the veggies and got the soup started. It was at this point, lets just call it the point of no return shall we, that I realized that I had forgotten a major part of the meal. I had planed on serving the soup with fresh bread. I had forgotten to get some going in the bread machine and I hadn't picked any up at the store. I didn't have time to make any and I had started on the soup and I didn't have the time to run back to the store. So, my boyfriend, being the sweet amazing guy that he is, went to the store for me. He did even better than I thought he would do. He returned with bread bowls from Panera. That's right. He took dinner up a notch.

With you soup nearly done, and smelling fabulous, he returned with bread bowls in hand. Adding the beer completed the soup. We ladled the the soup in the the bowls. Took a picture for Instagram, of course. And used the tops of the bowls to taste the first delicious bite of the cheese concoction. It was everything that I wanted it to be. It was savory. It was cheesy. It was warm. We proceed to fill up on beer, cheese, and bread. It really did make the bad day that much better.

I know that I had needed that dinner. Having spend many family vacations at Disney I would say that it is safe to say that I have the 'bug'. I was already sad and feeling the withdrawal when the arrived at the airport to go home. This dinner was not just good. It felt like we had a little bit of the parks at home with us. It was at that moment that I decided that I would try to make every recipe in the book and try to collect the books missing from my small collection.

I hope to have many more stories to share. Because, everyone knows that the Disney parks have some of the best food in the world and they put the best of the best in their cookbooks. It is something that makes me happy and helps to get me though my daily life away from the magic that is Walt Disney World.

 Have a magical day!