Wednesday, January 28, 2015

2015: The Year of the Science Museums

A little over a year ago, my family went to the Perot Museum of Nature and Science in Dallas (see this post). It's a big museum with lots to see, and something we think our kids will appreciate even more as they get older.

So a few weeks ago, we received some information in the mail on a museum membership. At $110 per family, it would pay for itself if we visited the Perot museum just twice this year. So we wondered if we would go enough to make it worthwhile. We enjoyed ourselves last time, but the museum is kind of far from us and parking is a pain and not plentiful (at least on the day we went).

The Perot Museum, Dec 2013

As I was looking at the Perot museum membership information, I saw that it included reciprocal entry into other science museums across the nation that are members of the ASTC Passport Program (Association of Science - Technology Centers). And that is what eventually sold me on the family membership to Perot!

I realized that based on travel we have already booked in the next year, we will have the opportunity to visit 5 other museums with our Perot membership cards:

The Bishop Museum in Honolulu:

Volcano Eruption Display at the Bishop Museum
The Denver Museum of Nature and Science:
I haven't been here since I was a kid!
Daytona Beach Museum of Arts and Sciences:

Orlando Science Center:

So many trips to the Orlando area, but never to this place!

And the Astronaut Memorial Planetarium and Observatory near Cocoa Beach:

I can't guarantee that we will visit all 5 of those museums on our trips this year, but we will definitely hit a few of those combined with a few visits to the Perot. Will we get sick of visiting science museums? Maybe. But I hereby declare 2015 as the year of the science museums!

Do you have a membership at the Perot Museum or another one? Have you used your membership at reciprocal locations when you travel?

Friday, January 23, 2015

Disney Without Kids? Part 3: Epcot

I went on a short trip to Disney World without my husband and kids. In case you missed the beginning:

Part 1: Kidani Village
Part 2: Sanaa
Part 3: Epcot

Sunday morning came, and we were well-rested.  I woke up at 6 a.m. (5 a.m. Dallas time!) because I had gone to bed so early the night before. We wanted to be on a bus to Epcot by 8:30 a.m.

We both brought some stuff from home to eat for breakfast in our room (oatmeal, nutri-grain bar) and I supplemented with a cheese stick I bought from the mini-mart in the lobby.

This is the two of us on our balcony before we left for the day:

We made the trek downstairs to the bus stop and a bus for Epcot was pulling up just as we were walking up. We made it to Epcot by 8:50 a.m. and the gates were already open. I should mention that the weather was beautiful for all 3 of our days here...sunny and in the low '70s.

We had 3 Fast Pass + reservations: Spaceship Earth 9:10-10:10, Disney character photos 11:20-12:20, and Test Track 2:15-3:15 p.m. For more info on Fast Pass +, see this blog post.

Since we had some time to spare before our Spaceship Earth time, we headed straight for Test Track and walked right on in the single-rider line. I hadn't been on that ride since it was refurbished in 2012.

Next, we headed to The Seas with Nemo and Friends ride and looked around the aquarium. After that, we did the Living with the Land boat ride and then Journey into Imagination. No lines for any of these! Soon it was time for our character photo op, then back to Spaceship Earth, then Ellen's Energy Adventure. We had accomplished all of the rides we wanted to hit before lunch with virtually no lines! (We chose not to ride Mission Space and Soarin'....I vow to never ever ride Mission Space again since I got really sick on it, and I've been on Soarin' a lot and it was the only ride with a sizable line).

As we moved into the World Showcase area, we passed by these cadets from The Citadel:

And we stopped by Club Cool to sample some free coca-cola drinks from around the world:

Our photo with Mickey:

Some garbage-can drummers in Future World:

We had a lunch reservation at Chefs de France in the France pavilion in the World Showcase section. I've eaten there twice before, and it is delicious. I had a quiche and salad, and Beth had a crepe filled with ham/cheese/potatoes. But the best part was the dessert!

We had a really nice leisurely lunch. It lasted 2-3 hours! Then we started to explore the countries, one by one. This is the section of Epcot that I feel like I haven't enjoyed as much since I've had kids because they just don't have the attention span or the reading ability to enjoy all of the entertainment and education available in each country.

We watched the movie in France, Impressions de France. Since Beth and I had both been to France, it was cool seeing the places we've been that were featured, and drool over some places we'd like to visit again.

We also watched these jugglers/gymnasts in France:

And in Morocco, we listened to this Moroccan band play while some guests danced along:
We spent quite a bit of time in Morocco looking through the shops and viewing a small museum with necklaces and body adornments.

We spent some time in Japan looking at a folklore vs. anime museum display. By the time we got to Italy, we were starting to get tired.

But we couldn't throw in the towel without listening to the Voices of Liberty in the U.S.A.:

And then we went upstairs to see the theater show:

We stopped to get a quick drink and snack, and I snapped this photo of Future World and the remaining countries:
Mexico is my favorite Epcot country, so we went inside and waited for the Gran Fiesta Tour boat ride. That was our longest line of the entire day, but it was only 10-15 minutes.

Inside Mexico

We decided to head back to Kidani Village and skip the fireworks. It's hard to tell from this photo, but there are stars that light up on the ground at night:

And one last shot of Spaceship Earth as we left, around 6:00 p.m.:
We had a fabulous day at Epcot! I spent time at places I wouldn't normally linger on with my kids. That said, I did miss my kids terribly, and I would often see something that I'd call out that my kids would have loved.

We were exhausted from standing and walking most of the day. We ate back at our resort (Beth ordered room service, I picked up something from the mini-mart). We saw a lot of wildlife in the savannah that evening.

The next day was our departure day already! Beth had to get on the airport bus at 10:30 a.m., but I had an evening flight that had me catching a 4:30 p.m. bus. So I took a different bus to Downtown Disney first.

I ate at Earl of Sandwich (I actually had a coupon for a free sandwich there that you can get if you join their club. The coupon is good for a month--thanks to a tip I read on the Disboards.)

I really wanted to ride in this balloon called Characters in Flight. I hear the views from the top are spectacular! I've tried to ride this during 3 separate trips, and each time it has been closed due to high winds like it was on this day. As I left on the airport bus later that day, I saw it had started running. There's always next time!

After I returned from Downtown Disney, I still had a few hours to kill. So I read a really good book at the pool. And I took one last look at the savannah before getting on my bus. (One last selfie on the savannah, because I love the way the sun looks in this photo).
So that was my quick trip to Disney without my husband and kids. I am looking forward to returning there this summer with my family to a new (to us) resort and meeting up with a large group of people for an organized reunion. We also plan on visiting some places outside of Disney World on our next trip for a change. Adventure awaits!

Have you taken a trip to Disney without your kids? Would you do it again?

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Disney Without Kids? Part 2: Sanaa

Link to Part 1: Kidani Village

Part 2: Sanaa

We arrived in the lobby of Kidani Village shortly before 5:00 p.m. We could hear the staff of the Sanaa restaurant singing and playing music to signal the restaurant's opening.

We didn't have a reservation, but were told there was room for us. We waited outside in the savannah viewing area until our buzzer went off. Sanaa is in the rounded part of the building on the lower level, with large windows that face the savannah.

We were seated after just a few minutes. The restaurant is described as "African cooking with Indian flavors."
We lucked out and got a table right by the windows. I ordered a drink called the Striped Lemur, and it was really good. I noticed the entire restaurant was full about 20 minutes after we were seated.
This bird kept coming by to see what we were eating:
On the advice of our server, we ordered this bread sampling platter with 3 different kinds of naan bread and 9 dips:
A few of the dips were super spicy, but we found a few favorites.

We split this lamb slider appetizer:
And some tandoori shrimp:
Overall, this was a great dinner at Sanaa. The view was outstanding. The food we had was maybe a little too strong on curry content, but we figured every now and then we should stretch our palate with different flavors.

After dinner, we went back outside to the savannah viewing area. The fire pit was going, and a cast member was handing out night-vision goggles to view the animals. That was cool!

Our dinner lasted a few hours, and by this time it was after 8:00 p.m. We decided against going to Downtown Disney and instead we wanted to find a hot tub for the evening. So we went back to our room to change and then walked to the pool area only to find that the pools and hot tubs closed at 8:00 p.m. Major bummer! One of the cast members said that the hot tub by the fitness center might be open, so we soaked in that for a while and nobody kicked us out.

Ahhhhh.......peace, serenity. What a relaxing trip this was turning out to be!

We went to bed early since we were both wiped out from traveling and because we would be getting up early to go to Epcot in the morning.

So did I enjoy Animal Kingdom Lodge more this time than I did in 2002? Well, yes. But I think the biggest difference was having a savannah view. We saw a lot of animals from our balcony during the day and night. I don't think I would stay at Animal Kingdom Lodge (either side) without a savannah view again.

Kidani Village was so quiet and peaceful. In the late afternoon, many people were out on balconies viewing the animals. And it was soooooooo quiet. I had a chance to hang out at the pool on my last day, and the pool area was also very quiet and laid back with soft African music playing. It was almost impossible to tell we were even at Disney World.

However, while I think this was a great resort for my girls' weekend, I don't think it's a good match for my family. My kids are very loud and boisterous and I feel that a few of the other Disney resorts that have a more festive atmosphere are a better fit for us. It's totally my personal opinion about the  vibe of the resort compared to others.

Next up: Epcot

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Disney without the kids? Part 1: Kidani Village

I've been to Disney World several times as an adult before I had kids. But last weekend, I went to Disney World WITHOUT my 3 kids.

This trip was actually my husband's idea. Last year, he had knee surgery and couldn't walk or drive for 6 weeks. It was a very stressful time for me taking care of him and the kids by myself. After that time period was over, he suggested I reward myself by going on a girls' trip. And so I persuaded a friend from college to meet me at Disney World for the weekend!

I know some of you are probably thinking that it's a terrible thing to go to Disney World without my kids...but they have been there before and we will be going again in the summer.

My friend and I both had Southwest miles to use for flights and we shared a Disney Vacation Club deluxe studio at Animal Kingdom Lodge--Kidani Village.  We planned to visit only one park--Epcot.

I flew Southwest out of Dallas Love Field on Saturday morning. The art gallery now displays a history of the airport. If you are flying out of Love Field, definitely check it out. It was amazing to see how much people used to dress up for air shows!

Upon landing in Orlando, I made my way to the Magical Express area and got on a bus within a matter of minutes.

The famous Walt Disney World sign at the entrance:
Kidani Village was the first drop-off. Let me begin by saying I stayed at Animal Kingdom Lodge back in January 2002 when it had only been open for 8 months, and I didn't really like it. We had booked a treehouse villa at a different resort, but at the last minute we were told our reservation changed to Animal Kingdom Lodge. I was a Disney cast member at an office in California at the time, so maybe that is a reason we got bumped. Anyway, we were assigned to rooms that faced the parking lot, and when I passed by the lobby viewing area on different occasions throughout our stay I didn't see many animals. I thought the hotel lobby was noisy and dark and I just didn't care for the resort that much.

But fast forward to this trip, we wanted to rent points to stay in a DVC studio. Since we only thought about this 4 months before the trip, Animal Kingdom Lodge--Kidani Village was the only place with availability. We rented points from a DVC owner for a savannah view studio for $180 a night. That is a great deal, since normally a savannah view room at Animal Kingdom Lodge sells for over $400 a night and even on a 30% off special runs over $300 a night.

So did I like Animal Kingdom Lodge better this time? I will elaborate more on that in Part 2 of this trip report.
The lobby was a lot smaller than the main part of Animal Kingdom Lodge were I stayed in 2002 (which is now called Jambo house). And kinda dark.

The check-in desk:
This is a map of Animal Kingdom Lodge. We had room 7456, which is in the horseshoe of buildings facing the Sunset Savannah.

I looked out the back of the lobby before heading to our room and already saw some animals!

At the back of the lobby were several sitting areas, with rocking chairs on the deck outside:

As I walked to our room, I noticed the hidden Mickey's in the hallway carpet:

And finally, after walking through 6 buildings, our room!

A Mickey towel was on the bed:

The room had a queen-size bed and a sofa bed:
Here is a pic of the sofa bed at night. I slept on it, and it was quite comfy!
Another pic of the room:
The room had a mini-kitchen with a refrigerator, microwave, toaster and coffee maker. There were also paper plates/bowls etc. in the cupboards.
And the bathroom:
Notice the hidden Mickeys on the carpet?
And in the furniture?
There was an animal spotting guide in the room which explained all of the animals in the savannah:
I went out on the balcony and saw these giraffes:

I also saw some zebras and other animals. After about an hour, my friend Beth arrived from Kansas City. We gawked at the giraffes for a while, and then decided we would try to eat at the resort's restaurant, Sanaa.

So we headed to the lobby area of Kidani Village:

Up next: Part 2--Dinner at Sanaa