Monthly Archives: May 2011

The Wanyama Safari at Disney’s Animal Kingdom Lodge–Post Two: The Meal at Jiko

Welcome to Part Two of my Wanyama Safari Tour review.  If you are just joining me, you’ve happened upon the best part of the tour–the meal!  In Part One I shared the details of the Safari itself.  In my opinion, each part of this tour was worth the time and money on its own.  Together they are a fantastic deal.

WARNING:  This post should not be read when hungry!

Upon returning to Animal Kingdom Lodge proper, we were escorted back to Jiko for our post-safari meal.  Much to my surprise, we were seated smack dab in the middle of the dining room.  I guess I really shouldn’t have been so surprised–after all, what better way to advertise this experience than force other diners to stare in wonder at the bounty that was about to be delivered to our table.  And what a bounty it was!  Before embarking upon this tour, I wondered if the family-style meal would be enough to fill us up as our only dinner.  I have to laugh at that now, as this was, by far, the most food I’ve ever eaten in one sitting.  Ever.

While the entire meal was chef-selected and served family style, we were still given menus so that we knew what we’d be eating.  I tried to take a photo of the menu…

…but as you can see, there was so much on it that it didn’t really fit in the shot!  I ended up taking a photo of the top half and then the bottom half, as I knew I wanted all of the proper names for the dishes (so that I could report back to you, dear reader!)

After perusing the menu I found out that the first dish wasn’t even on it!  It was an amuse bouche (a pre-appetizer, a term that, full disclosure, I learned from a Friends episode!) and consisted of a mango, mint, and quinoa salad.  It was extremely light and refreshing.  Even my mother–who would never dream of combining fruit with grain and didn’t know what quinoa was–really enjoyed it.

The next ‘course’ was a bread course, which was to be served with ‘a trio of dips’.  As you can see from the photo it was clearly a quartet of dips–but that just sounds really pretentious!

The ‘house-made naan’ was very tasty, but not as oily and warm as the naan from my favorite local Indian restaurant.  The dips, however, more than made up for it.  I know one was some sort of green olive hummus-like spread, and another had sun-dried tomatoes and peppers in it, but I don’t recall what the other two were.  I do know that I loved the two reddish colored dips, and the green and beige dips were pretty good, too.

When the parade of appetizers began, so did the pouring of the wine.  Again I was surprised at the quantity and quality of what was offered.  More than just a ‘wine paring’, the waiters kept our wine glasses full throughout each course.  The appetizers that followed were paired with  Grahm Beck Cherin Blanc Franschhoek.  I have no idea what that means, but I can tell you that it was a lovely medium bodied white, and I can tell you that the waiter refilled my glass at least once during the appetizer portion of the meal.  And yes, even with all of that food, this adds up to quite a bit of wine over the course of the evening.  I walked carefully back to the room at the end of the night!

Appetizer number one was Pannekoeke Stewed Beef Rolled in ‘Crepes’ with a Peppedew Olive tapenade.  The beef was very similar to a braised short rib, and was rolled in the most amazingly tender crepe I’ve ever had–it was more like a crepe and a pita had a baby.

It is important to note that all of the photos–with the exception of dessert–are shots of the family-style platters brought to the table.  In the instance of the beef rolls above, that wasn’t my serving (dear god, that would be insane!) that was a serving for five people.  After I explained that I have a blog and thus needed food photos, everyone was really nice about me taking a really quick photo before everyone took their portion from the plate.

Ok–now that you know that I’m not a giant pig, I can continue!

Appetizer two looked a lot like an African version of an eggroll, and was called Crispy Beef “Bobotie” Roll with Cucumber Raita, Green Mango Atjar and Honey Roasted Groundnuts.

In case you are wondering what ‘atjar’ is, I can’t tell you–but Google can.  According to Google, atjar is a type of fresh pickle made from cucumbers and peppers.  According to me it was an incredibly light, refreshing salad served on top of the raita that in and of itself was amazing.  I almost liked the accompaniments to this dish more than the dish itself!

For appetizer number three (do you see what I mean by a lot of food?) we were served a rather boring flatbread with a rather long name–Barbecue Chicken Flatbread with Apple-Jicama Slaw, African Barbecue Sauce and Four Cheeses.  It was a BBQ Chicken pizza and, quite frankly, the low light of the meal.  But really, at this point, it had a lot to compete with.  I didn’t manage to snap a photo of the entire thing before people began to dig in, but here is my own personal piece, next to the Bobotie roll…

After the two glasses of wine I enjoyed with my appetizers, imagine my shock that our ‘Intermezzo’ was, in fact, a lime and vodka sorbet–heavy on the vodka.  Unfortunately, my mother didn’t like hers very much, so I had to eat both of them.  It is at this point that things got a little…fuzzy.  Fortunately my photos are still in focus!

Speaking of alcohol, our main course feast was accompanied by Graham Beck Cabernet and was, I believe, refilled several times.  I stopped counting at that point.

The entree was really three entrees, and they all came out at the same time–unlike the appetizers, which were served separately.  They were…

Oak-grilled Filet Mignon with Macaroni and Cheese and Red Wine Sauce.

Maize-crusted Corvina with Vegetables of the Moment (which were green beans and roasted cherry tomatoes) and Tomato Butter Sauce.

Peri Peri Chicken with Crushed Potatoes, California Delta Asparagus, Mango Salsa and Onion Jus.

I regret to inform you that I was experiencing an odd aversion to the steak for some reason–perhaps looking at all of the steer on the safari?–so I did not partake in the filet, but was assured by others that it was fantastic.  The corvina–a firm, white fish–was the highlight of the meal for me, which is truly saying something.  I love corvina so I’m pretty hard to please, and this was perfectly cooked, perfectly seasoned, and sitting in a pool of coconut tomato sauce.  The roasted cherry tomatoes provided the final touch to make this corvina one of the best I’ve tried.

The chicken was better than it looked–extremely well seasoned and juicy.  But once again the side dish stole the show–the crushed potatoes had some sort of seasoning I could not put my finger on, but trust me–they were better than your run of the mill mashed potatoes.

If you are thinking ‘Finally, she’s through with the meal!’ you, my friend, are mistaken.  There’s still the dessert course!  Much to my dismay, instead of being served family style, we each got our own dessert trio.  That’s right, I said trio.  After all of that, we were expected to eat THREE desserts…and enjoy Kanu Kia-Ora Noble Late Harvest Stellenbosch, which was your standard oddly thick, overly sweet dessert wine (that, of course, I drank.)

In order from left to right, you are looking at…

-Madagascar Vanilla Cheesecake with Salted Caramel and Macadamia-Almond Toffee

-Amarula Creme Brulee with a Chocolate-layered Bottom

-Tanzanian Chocolate and Kenya Coffee Mousee with Cinnamon Mascarpone Creme.

I ended up devouring the creme brulee and the coffee mousse; sadly, I left the cheesecake behind.  However, I did very much enjoy the cheesecake’s tasty little sidekick–that triangular piece of macadamia-almond toffee.  If you think it sounds delicious, you are wrong.  It was beyond delicious.

It was well past 8pm by the time we’d finished sitting around the table talking to all of our safari-mates.  The best part about a family style meal was that we got to chat with everyone else on the safari, and had a generally great time.  Often on vacation you run out of things to say to the people you are traveling with–after all, you’ve been doing everything together for the past however many days.  This was a great change of pace for me and my mom, and a wonderful addition to an already amazing experience.

We had plans to visit Downtown Disney that night after dinner.  Needless to say, we didn’t make it.  After waddling back to our room my mother laid down on the bed fully clothed–shoes and all–and promptly fell asleep.


The Wanyama Safari at Disney’s Animal Kingdom Lodge–Post One: The Safari

For my first post-Disney with Mom post, I’ll be reviewing the Wanyama Safari offered to guests of Disney’s Animal Kingdom Lodge.  This tour was the reason we booked at Animal Kingdom Lodge (heretofore referred to as AKL).  My mom loves animals and I love food, so this tour seemed perfect for both of us.  Spoiler alert–it was perfect for both of us.  This is post one of two and covers the safari itself.  I will cover the meal in post number two. 

Our directions were simple–show up at Jiko–AKL’s nicest restaurant–by 3:45pm.  Check in was easy and came with a bottle of chilled water and this pin…

We were seated in Jiko’s lounge area briefly and told to use the restrooms–the tour was approximately 90 minutes long and included zero stops (good to know–I’ll just put that water away!)  We then met our two tour guides, walked to our tour jeep and were on our way.

The tour was being narrated by two different guides.  The first girl narrated while the other drove and then they switched places.  I wish I knew the name of our first guide…

…because she was awesome.  This is not to say that our second guide was not wonderful–she was–but the first guide was that winning combination of real, friendly, and knowledgeable.  We loved her.

The tour began on the road that connects Jambo House and Kidani Village.  We then ventured onto the savannah, following the fence that blocks off the outermost portion of the animal enclosure.  For a while I thought we’d be sticking to the fence for the duration of the trip but I was (thankfully) incorrect.  About five minutes into the tour we approached an elaborate series of gates and entered the savannah proper.  This pretty lady was there to meet us…

…please note that this photo was not zoomed in any way.  She was RIGHT THERE (so right there, in fact, that we could tell the girl giraffe from the boy giraffe…ahem…)  It was at this point that I took a bunch of giraffe photos…

…before we continued on.  What did we learn about these giraffes as we traveled the savannah?  Everything.  We learned how the one giraffe is the daughter of the other giraffe and that they need to keep them apart because they don’t get along (mothers of teenage daughters can relate!)  We learned how and why they breed them, how they house them, entertain them (yes, I said entertain), and how to tell a reticulated giraffe from a…non reticulated giraffe?  Ok, I made that last part up.  But I definitely now know what a reticulated giraffe looks like.

During our hour and a half guided tour, we encountered more giraffes, longhorn African cattle, many ostriches, and a variety of other hoofed mammals the names of which I do not remember (because I was too busy having an amazing time to take notes.  But I have lots of photos!)  We even got up close and personal with a crazy brown and white zebra…

The safari continued on in this way with the tour guide giving us crazy-detailed details about each aspect of the savannas themselves as well as each animal.  You really understood how committed each guide was to all of the animals residing at AKL.  They spoke about them as though they were pets–no, that’s not it–as though they were friends.  Add that to the vast knowledge they shared about the animals in a general scientific sense, and you have the best tour I’ve ever been on.

In addition to all of that,  we were also treated to fantastic views of both Jambo House and Kidani Lodge thanks to our unique location.  We had a zebra’s eye view of the beautiful architecture…

Say what you will about AKL–and I will say several things in later lodging reviews–but it is stunningly beautiful.  And being able to experience this safari makes a stay at AKL completely worth it.

Up next–the meal portion of the trip.  Warning–do not view when hungry!

How a Europe Trip is like a Disney Vacation

The fake Eiffel Tower, Epcot.

When I tell fans of European travel that I didn’t likeParis, a common reply is something like ‘Well then you should stick to Disney World’.  This is, in European travel fan speak, an insult.  But as I walked around Epcot on day four of my last Disney trip, I began thinking about how similar the two types of travel really are—and not just because I was approaching the little fakeEiffelTowerin Epcot’s World Showcase pavilion. 

Of course there are glaring differences—Disney is, in many ways, the antithesis of any real world location; Disney is an extremely controlled sanitized version of life.  This is why people can accurately use it as an insulting reference.  But the similarities may surprise you.  As I can’t call Europe a ‘destination’—it is clearly an entire continent—I will compare aParis trip to a Disney vacation.  But really, you could substitute in any European city or multi-city itinerary.  

-In both Disney World and Paris you will need to become accustomed to standing in lines.  Whether you are waiting to board a boat on Pirates of theCaribbean or waiting to enter the Louvre, you will be in line.  And in that line there will be cranky children, smelly people, and loud tour groups. 

-A working knowledge of the public transportation system and a good pair of walking shoes are indispensable in both Disney World and Paris.  You will be walking a lot and transporting yourself–without the aid of your own car–farther than you ever would in your day-to-day life. 

-On both trips, if you’re anything like me, you will find yourself setting your alarm every morning, possibly earlier than you do to get up for work.  And if you don’t, you will suffer similar consequences in both locations.  Sleeping beyond 8am will result in a very long line for the Notre Dame tower; doing the same in Disney World will result in a very long line—and a possible lack of fastpasses—for a number of attractions.

-It is very easy to over-plan a Disney Vacation or a Paris vacation (as is evidenced by the insane plan I made before ourParis trip last summer!)  If you are not careful, you’ll find yourself running from one attraction to the next—be it from Space Mountain to Splash Mountain or Sacre Coeur to Notre Dame—without actually appreciating the in-between time.  I learned to take Disney slowly by burning out inParis.  I wish I’d learned this lesson in the reverse order, as a return trip to Disney World is much easier (and cheaper) to do!

-Speaking of cheaper—both vacations can end up being extremely expensive.  I’ve written before of my friend who took her family to Disney World for a week and spent more than we did in Europe for a month.  Disney is very good at relieving visitors of their money.  Similarly, a flight to Europe is not cheap and the exchange rate can be painful.  But in both cases there are things you can do to cut costs dramatically.   

-Finally—and most importantly—the trip will only be as successful as you make it, no matter where you go.  If you stand in line for Pirates of theCaribbean or for a taxi at Gare du Nord and freak out and stomp your feet…well, you won’t have a good time.  Trust me.  I’ve done both.  But if you go in with an open mind and a flexible attitude, you’ll have a great trip.  I promise.

Choose My Own Adventure

Do you remember those books?  The ones that were written in second person and came with major decision to make?  If you’d like to chase after the villian, turn to page 72; if you’d like to blow up the volcano, turn to page 84.  Those books were perfectly awful, weren’t they?

But yet that’s kind of what I’m asking you, my readers, to do.  Choose my next adventure.  You see, I’m having a really hard time committing to a summer travel destination.  Perhaps I’m struggling because I’ve already fully planned–and then abandoned the idea of–a trip to Germany.  Perhaps I’m struggling because I can’t mesh my desire to save money with my desire to fly far, far away.  Perhaps it is because it is nearing the end of the school year and my brain has turned to mush.

Whatever the problem, I need help.  I’ll tell you what I know and throw out a few thoughts we’ve had and you tell me what to do–how does that sound?

What I know…

1.  This trip can’t cost thousands upon thousands of dollars.  Airfare needs to be at or less than $400 per person round trip.  I’d like to hover around $100 per night for lodging. 

2.  We have three weeks give or take a few days.  These three weeks can occur anywhere between July 20th and August 20th.  This is non-negotiable, as my husband works until July 20th, and then again on August 20th.

3.  I want to go somewhere I’ve never been.

4.  I want to go somewhere relaxing AND somewhere exciting.  These can (and should) be two different places.  I am open to the idea of two seperate, shorter trips, or one longer trip involving multiple destinations.

A few thoughts…

-We’re still kicking around the New England and Eastern Canada idea.  This would fully be a road trip.  We were thinking about shortening it and only spending 10 days or so between Vermont and Montreal, and then returning home and doing a Bermuda cruise out of New York.

-I really like the idea of Utah.  Yes, that’s right–I said Utah.  I read Desert Solitare when I was in college, and I’ve always wanted to see that part of the country.  We would fly into Salt Lake City, rent a car, spend some time around Moab exploring the parks, swing around to the Grand Canyon, and end up relaxing in Vegas (as per my husband’s request).

-A third option would be another cruise/road trip combo like the Canada/Bermuda trip but instead traveling south from here toward Savannah.  We’d do a shorter road trip and a longer cruise, perhaps leaving from a Florida port.  I’ve never done a Caribbean cruise and I’m not sure that I really super want to–but people seem to like them.  Plus–Im being totally honest here–it would be cheap.  We could do an entire 7-day cruise for the same amount of money we spent on food alone during our four days at Universal Orlando.

So…thoughts?  Anyone?  Thanks in advance!

Up next–my first post-Disney trip post!

Chosing Laundry over Writing?

It’s Tuesday afternoon.  I returned home from my last trip on Sunday evening.  I have not written one single word about my trip.  I’ve uploaded my photos and even done the laundry.  Since when do I choose laundry over writing?  What is wrong with me?

My new theory is that I don’t know how to go about writing about this last trip–a combination Disney and Universal Orlando trip–because it wasn’t really a trip.  It was a vacation.  And I’ve not gone on one of those in a while.

I did not go to Orlando to learn anything, to research anything, or to attend anything.  But I did have a great time for a number of reasons, and I do have a lot to share.  To make the sharing easier, I’m going to employ my most favorite writer’s block fix–I’m going to make a list.  That way I know what I’m writing about, you know what you’ll be reading about, and I’ll avoid one of those five thousand word posts including every detail of my trip.  You’re welcome!

In the posts to come, I will share…

-Photos from Animal Kingdom Lodge’s Wanyama Safari Tour, which included dinner at Jiko.

-Reviews of Disney’s Animal Kingdom Lodge and Universals’ Portofino Bay Resort.

-The story of how and why my mom vaulted herself across a parking lot and over a fence.

-A comparative analysis of Walt Disney World vs. Universal Studios vs. Las Vegas.

-A review of Mother’s Day Tea at the Grand Floridian’s Garden View Cafe.

-My new favorite attraction in Walt Disney World, which is in my ‘least favorite’ park.

-Tips on how to enjoy Disney Dining with a picky eater as a travel companion.

-A first-timer’s experience in The Wizarding World of Harry Potter.

-The story of how I lost my hair on The Hulk.

-Dining reviews for the flagship restaurants in each Universal Orlando Resort: Tchoup Choup, The Palm, and Bice

…and, likely, several other posts I’ve not discovered yet! 

Where I’ve Been

Have you been wondering where I’ve been? It’s not like me to go a week without posting–even when I’m traveling.

But you see, I’m not traveling. I’m on vacation! As I learned last summer, those two things are very different.

I’ll be posting many reviews when I return, but for now feel free to follow me on my mostly-pictorial real time blog, Virtual Passenger

Book Review: The 100 Best Affordable Vacations

The following is a review I wrote as part of the Amazon Vine program.  While the books are provided free of cost, the opionions are my own.  I will only post Vine reviews on this site when they are for travel books or travel related products.

This is more than a travel guide.  It is a resource full of a lifetime’s worth of unique and affordable travel opportunities.  While it does sport the number 100 in its title, the actual number of ideas presented in this book must be at least five times that.  Each ‘Vacation Idea’ is really a series of ideas, often with additional vacation destination suggestions in sidebars.  Some offer ideas of specific places to visit—such as one specific working ranch in the Midwest, or one specific shipbuilding workshop in Maine—and others string together a themed vacation.  Who would have ever thought to take a BBQ themed road trip?  But now that you’ve heard the idea, don’t you really want to go on one?

By page 31 of ‘100 Best Affordable Vacations’, I knew that this book was the travel book I didn’t even know I always wanted.  By the end, I found myself compiling a list of must-visit destinations in a spreadsheet Perhaps I have a bit of travel OCD as well? 

Upon researching many of the suggested destinations, festivals, and tours, I discovered that they are mainly undiscovered—the websites are basic, as are the rates.  This makes me even more enthusiastic about visiting as many of these locations as possible—but a bit wary to suggest this book to others.  After all, I’d prefer it if they stayed unknown and reasonably priced! 

The destinations in this book are also refreshingly unique.  From spending the night in a tree house inOregonto spending the night at the NYC Natural History Museum, this is far from your run of the mill guide to cheap hotels and motels.  In fact, I don’t think I ran across a chain hotel suggestion anywhere in this book.  Yet another reason why this is soon to become the most highlighted, most dog-eared, and the most used book on my many shelves.

But for me, the very best part of this book is the third section, a section on Educational Adventures.  Gee—that sounds like the tag line for a blog I’ve read somewhere…

It’s kind of ironic that a book billing itself as containing ‘affordable vacations’ is going to end up costing me so much money—after all, now I simply MUST visit many of these locations!