Day 2 (Sunday, April 23)
The Flora, Fauna, and Food of Animal Kingdom Lodge
The return of the animals
Flowers, flowers, flowers!
Amazing African art
Eating our way through Africa
(Click on any photo to see a larger version. Click on links to see additional information or photos.)
I woke up a couple of times during the night, probably because my body is still confused about what time it is. Also, my room is near an elevator, so I occasionally hear it dinging, but it isn't bad. Overall, Animal Kingdom Lodge is one of the quietest hotels I've ever stayed in.
I had set a wake-up call for 9:00, and Mickey and Stitch gave me a ring at that time. I lay in bed for a while, then puttered around the room getting organized for the day. Around 10:30, I headed downstairs to close out my first reservation and officially check in for the rest of the week. (Read my pre-trip report if you're wondering why I had two reservations.) The desk clerk asked to see my annual pass, because I was now getting a discounted hotel rate that was only for AP holders. I showed him my receipt for the AP that I would be picking up soon, and that sufficed.
I then returned to my room, checked out the savanna situation (one bird), and tried to call my friend Nick to let him know that I'd arrived and find out when he was coming to WDW. He works at Kennedy Space Center and works in that area, so he has a WDW annual pass and comes over quite often. To avoid a lot of back-and-forth driving, he decided to stay at WDW for a few days, and booked himself a room at Pop Century. His home phone number was busy, so I decided to try again later. Worst case, I'd see him for our scheduled dinner at Boma tonight.
By now it was about 11:15, and still no animals. I began to realize that this must be the time of day when the animals are called back to the barns for their daily checkups. Sure enough, a few minutes later, the zebras strolled back into sight from around the corner of the hotel. Later in the week, I was on another side of the hotel and got the photo above, which shows the fence that separates Arusha and Uzima savannas, and the road going back to the barns. So that's obviously where the zebras were coming from now.
Next thing I knew, the Ankole cattle were running onto the savanna, followed by the wildebeest (gnus). Very fun to watch! You can see a brief movie of them by clicking on the image to the left.
You may have noticed that it's now nearly noon in my story and I haven't mentioned eating yet. That's because I hadn't. My body was just now beginning to think that it was time for breakfast. So it was downstairs to The Mara again. Well, more accurately, it was downstairs with the intention of heading to The Mara again; I got there eventually.
First, I stopped to take some photos of the creek that runs alongside the Jiko restaurant. Visually, the creek appears to start as a spring near the Victoria Falls bar, then it falls down near Boma, reappears just outside the hotel, runs alongside Jiko and around the pool, and ends in the flamingo pond. In actuality, of course, those are several separate water systems. But the overall effect is very beautiful. This photo was taken from near the pool, looking back toward the hotel (Jiko is on the left--and yes, the duck is real :-) ).
Then I headed to the Zahanati Fitness Center. (I just looked up an online Swahili-English dictionary, and "zahanati" means "health center/clinic/dispensary." So that's where the name came from!) I've been doing some simple strength training since last fall, and I promised myself that I'd try to do some during my Orlando trip.
I knew that the Grand Californian at Disneyland had Cybex equipment--the same equipment I use at the YMCA--so I was hoping that AKL would, too. They do! And not only that, they have all seven of the specific Cybex machines that I needed (plus several others). Of course, they also have treadmills, stationary bikes, and elliptical machines.
Straight off to The Mara now, right? Well, not quite. I had my camera with me, and had noticed, as on previous visits, how beautiful the landscaping is at AKL. So when I left Zahanati, I started making my way around the pool area taking closeup photos of all the flowers I could find.
Click on any of the images below to go to my "Animal Kingdom Lodge Flower Safari" page, where you'll find all the photos I took during my stay.
I finally made my way to The Mara about half an hour after leaving my room. I bought a yogurt/fruit/granola parfait and a frozen strawberry bar. I got back to my room and realized I hadn't picked up a spoon for the yogurt. So I popped all the food into the fridge. But before I headed back to The Mara, I took care of a couple pieces of business.
First, I went back out to the open area near the elevators and took some photos of the exhibits there. There are areas with educational signage and artifact enclosures throughout Animal Kingdom Lodge. It's like a museum where you can sleep over. :-) Here's a photo of one of the educational signs, this one about masks that honor animals.
And here's one of the three animal masks on exhibit in that area. This one is an elephant mask from Cameroon. (It's the same type of mask--or perhaps even the actual mask--shown in the third photo on the sign.)
Then I tried calling Nick again. Line still busy; he must have dial-up Internet access. (That turned out to be a correct assumption.) So I called the main WDW message center, told them he was arriving at Pop Century this afternoon, and left a message for him. Then I called John Hohol's hotel; he was there, so we were able to set up our plans for meeting on Monday and Tuesday.
I called John on my cell phone from my balcony, and had taken my schedule information for the week out to the balcony with me. Well, wouldn't you know that when I stood up and turned to go back into my room, I created just enough breeze that the top paper slid off the table, slipped under the railing of the balcony, and fluttered gently down onto the savanna. Damn!
I should explain that the paper didn't really make it all the way to the savanna; there's a dirt road running around the perimeter, right in front of the hotel buildings. Inside that perimeter are electric spikes that keep the animals from wandering off the savanna. The paper was on the dirt road under my balcony, so nowhere near the animals. But still, it wasn't supposed to be there.
So I called housekeeping/maintenance, and a few minutes later, some groundskeepers who were already doing maintenance on the savanna drove over in their truck. The driver got out, picked up the paper, and was able to hand it up to me by reaching up as reached down under the railing. I apologized profusely, but she was very nice and said it was no problem.
At least this incident was accidental; intentionally throwing things onto the savanna can theoretically get you kicked out of the hotel. (I don't know whether they've ever actually done it, but you sign a release when you check in saying that they can.) And you can bet that I was very careful with lightweight objects on the balcony for the rest of my visit!
By now it was nearly 1:00, and off I headed to The Mara again for a spoon for my yogurt. I should mention that in addition to having a wonderful view of Arusha Savanna, my room was superbly placed for easy access to the lobby, Arusha Rock, the pool, the fitness center, and the restaurants. I had only to walk across the hallway to some stairs (or an elevator), walk down one flight, open a door, and there I was in the pool area. It made everything very, very convenient for me all week.
I went to The Mara, picked up a complete set of utensils and some napkins in case I had another brain lapse during the week, and...well, you thought I was going to say that I went back upstairs to eat breakfast finally, right? Not so fast. :-)
I found some flowers I'd missed during the first round of picture-taking. One of them was near The Mara's patio seating area, and as I was photographing it, I was standing near a family that sounded like they were Aussies. So I turned and asked them, "What part of Australia are you from?" The father repeated, "What part of Australia?" and I thought, "Oh god, they're Kiwis, and I've just insulted them!" :-)
But luckily, he was just making sure he'd heard the question correctly, not implying that it was a misguided question! They were indeed Aussies, and I found out that the mother even works in the same Sydney suburb where some friends of mine live.
For some reason, I decided at this point that rather than returning to my room right away, I should go to the Zawadi Marketplace (the hotel's gift shop), redeem my voucher for a Magical Express pin (one of the Magical Express benefits) and see what items had been added to their offerings since my last visit. I got my pin, bought a new lanyard and plastic holder for the WDW annual pass I was about to get, bought an AKL fifth anniversary pin (the hotel just celebrated its fifth anniversary last week), and jotted down some notes about other possible items to buy later.
Okay, I know the suspense is killing you. Yes, I finally went back to my room and had breakfast! It was now 1:30 p.m. in Orlando, 10:30 a.m. Pacific Daylight Stomach Time. The yogurt parfait was good; it didn't have that sickeningly sweet jam in the middle like the one I got at Port Orleans on my last trip.
As for the frozen strawberry bar, it had mostly melted, so I poured it into a cup and ate it with a spoon. I was pleased to see that it wasn't just strawberry-flavored ice, but also had some actual strawberry chunks in it. I enjoyed my meal on the balcony while watching a cute little brown bunny munching grass on the perimeter road around the savanna.
By the way, while we're discussing food, I should mention to you coffee lovers that my room had a coffee maker and some packets of "Cafe Valet" 100% Columbian French roast coffee. So if you get annoyed with the Nescafe that I understand is nearly omnipresent at WDW, you can pay a few hundred dollars a night for a room at a deluxe hotel and drink this coffee instead. :-) (I think they also sell some Kenyan coffee in the gift shop at AKL.) Oh, the room also had packets of green and Earl Grey teas.
After finishing my yogurt parfait and strawberry slushee, I headed downstairs to the indoor firepit for the AKL lobby art tour. I'd been meaning to take this tour ever since my first stay here. (This is my third visit.) The hotel has an amazing collection of African art and artifacts, and I was eager to learn more about it. One of the hotel's African cultural representatives gives the tour each day at 2:30 p.m. The guide today was Lauren, who is from South Africa. I was the only guest who showed up today, so I ended up having a private tour.
Lauren told me that she hosts this tour once a week. She also acts as a safari guide (the folks who spend time at the public overlooks answering questions about the animals and about Africa in general), leads children's activities (there are lots of those at AKL), and works in the concierge lounge.
This photo shows one of the dresses she wears during certain of her duties. She said the design, colors, and patterns of this one had Xhosa, Batswana, and Zulu influences. By the way, the Xhosa people use a click language. Lauren said she learned Xhosa in elementary school, so she can click effortlessly. I tried it, but was only able to do it in the back of my mouth, like urging a horse to speed up, which isn't the right way to do it!
Lauren explained that South Africa has 11 official languages, plus some common unofficial ones such as Funagalore (also known as Funagalo), which developed among miners who came from different parts of South Africa and had no common language. The entire continent of Africa has 53 countries and more than 1,000 languages!
Lauren began the tour by talking about the beautiful bronze medallions that adorn the lobby floor at Animal Kingdom Lodge. They were made by a Malian artist named Baba Wague Diakite. The one nearest the front door is a large map of Africa with images of various African animals.
Speaking of the front door, there's a traditional "king's door" hanging on the wall near it. (That's the object you see in the photo of Lauren. Sorry, I didn't note which culture it's from.) Lauren said that if you got called to see the king and you were able to exit through the door alive, you were lucky. :-) So touching it is supposed to bring good luck to you. This particular one is obviously less than a century old, because one of the designs in it represents an airplane.
Our next stop was to look at two wood sculptures of antelope people. Some people in Mali still do dances to honor the antelope people and ensure fruitful crops.
The rocks in the front of this photo may not look like much, but they are stone hand axes from the Sahara Desert and date from 8500 BC! Lauren explained that stones are very valuable in the Sahara because the area is mostly sand and stones big enough for useful tools are rare.
The patinated bronze objects behind the axes are currency bracelets and necklaces from Nigeria.
This collection of woven measuring baskets is from Burkina Faso. A groom's mother makes them and gives them to the bride to help her feed her new husband properly.
Many of those objects are easy to pass by without much notice, but there's one item in the AKL lobby that's impossible to miss.
The Ijele mask from the Igbo culture in Nigeria is 16 feet high. It's amazing to think that an adolescent boy could wear this 240-lb. headdress and still be able to walk around.
Despite spending an hour and a half on the tour, Lauren was only able to tell me about a small fraction of the objects on display at Animal Kingdom Lodge. They have more than 500 items--the largest collection of African art in North America.
If you've visited the hotel, you might be thinking right about now that you didn't see anywhere near 500 items in the lobby. Indeed you didn't. That's because most of them are scattered throughout the hotel. Just walk along any of the hallways, and wherever there's a large open area (such as near the elevators and ice machines), you'll see a display, often accompanied by informative signage on a nearby wall--just as I showed earlier in those photos taken outside my room. The whole hotel is literally an art gallery.
After the lobby tour ended about 4:00 p.m., I took a few more photos before heading back to my room. Here's a photo of the "hidden Mickey" in the lobby. I think I've shown enough of the object it's in for you to find it next time you're at Animal Kingdom Lodge.
And then there are the lobby windows. As you can see, they frame a gorgeous view of Arusha Savanna.
I returned to my room and switched from sandals to sneakers so that I could use the equipment at the Zahanati Fitness Center. Before I left California, I got a printout of my Cybex settings (seat height, range of motion, weight, etc.) so that I would know how to set up each machine. (I suppose the real weight training aficionados have their settings memorized, but I don't!)
I did my circuit and was back in my room by 4:45. I watched an eland munching grass outside my room as I reviewed the photos I'd taken so far and got ready for dinner.
I headed down to Boma about 5:15; my friend Nick was already there. We were seated a little before our 5:30 reservation, at a table near the windows facing the pool. The pool itself wasn't visible; instead, we had a lovely view of palms, birds of paradise, and other attractive landscaping plants.
Our server, Jules, encouraged us to sample as many of the Boma buffet's foods as possible, so I took her advice to heart! So when you read how many different foods I tried, please remember that in most cases, there were probably only a few tablespoons of each.
My first foray was to the salad bar, where I got samples of the lavash flatbread with sundried tomato salad, field greens with mango vinaigrette, melon rind salad, and potato salad. There were also assorted fruits available, some other dressings for the greens, and kool sloai (presumably "cole slaw" in Afrikaans). All were tasty; I especially liked the mango vinaigrette and the melon rind salad.
Round two was soups. It included coconut curry chicken stew, lentil and sausage soup, crab soup, and coconut curry seafood stew. (I didn't try the mushroom soup.) I'm not usually a coconut fan, but as I suspected, these were made from fresh coconut (or maybe coconut milk?) and were very mildly flavored.
Back for a second batch of salads. This time I got spinach and quinoa salad; orange, radish, and carrot salad; apple and jicama salad; and avocado, papaya, and grapefruit salad. I also got 2-3 shraak, small (about 3" long) cylinders of a paper-thin, crisp pocketbread. The sign said they were African breadbowls for the salads, so I broke them open and spooned some of the salads into them. They added a very nice crunch to the salads.
(I was so busy eating these delicious foods that I forgot to take any photos of them. But Nick spotted this hidden Mickey in the chairs, so I grabbed a picture of it.)
Next up were the entrees and side dishes. I chose African cornbread, "potatoes with Afritude" (a Boma regular), whole spiced chicken (although I only took a couple of small pieces), roasted vegetables, and chermoula salmon. Chermoula is a Moroccan marinade, and according to the recipe the Disney folks emailed to me later (you can ask for any of the recipes at Boma), their version contains cumin, coriander, paprika, cayenne pepper, garlic, salt, pepper, lemon Juice, olive oil, parsley, and cilantro. It had spirit but was not too spicy! There were also a number of other main and side dishes that I didn't try, including beef, pork, bobotie, falafel, rice, and couscous.
Ah, the best comes last! I had scoped out the dessert table during my first trip to the buffet. Now it was time to get some! You've probably heard of Boma's famous zebra domes, which are basically chocolate mousse in a thin chocolate shell trimmed with white stripes. Well, I noticed this evening that Boma was serving Kahlua-flavored zebra domes tonight. I'm not much of an alcoholic beverage fan, but I do like a few liqueurs. As mentioned in yesterday's report, I brought miniature bottles of amaratto and Kahlua with me on the trip to spice up cocoa. (I later discovered that little bottles of Kahlua are sold in the AKL gift shop, which is a good thing to know.)
So as you can imagine, I was thrilled to see Kahlua zebra domes available, and now eagerly put one on my plate. I also took a passion fruit meringue tart, and a little bit each of banana bread pudding with vanilla sauce, coconut tiramisu, and chocolate mousse crunch pudding.
Boma's dessert table also had a new item, Mt. Everest Cake, in honor of Expedition Everest. These were miniature, apricot-flavored, pyramid-shaped cakes with snow (melted white chocolate) drizzled over the peak. They also contain Amarula cream liqueur, which is made from the fruit of the African marula tree. I passed up the other items on the dessert tables, which included a cherry crumble and a few types of cookies.
As you can probably tell just from the descriptions, the meal was delicious. The buffet price for an adult is $25.99; to my mind, it's well worth it for such interesting and high-quality food.
After dinner, Nick and I caught a bus to Downtown Disney. We first went to the Westside ticket kiosk so that I could redeem my receipt for my Premium Annual Pass. So I've got 365 days from today to visit WDW "free"! We then headed to the Adventurers Club, arriving about 9:05.
I got a Babylonia's Brew (one of the nonalcoholic drinks available), and settled in to see what would happen next. At 9:15, the maid (Sugar Snap tonight) did a show with disembodied head Beezel in the Treasure Room.
At one point, Sugar Snap was trying to find an audience member to help her, and she said in exasperation, "Who are we going to pick? We could vote. But then, we're in Florida, so that could take a long time..." Much laughter from everyone who remembered the 2000 presidential election! :-)
At 9:25, Samantha Sterling and Hathaway Brown conducted the New Member Induction Ceremony in the salon. (Kungaloosh!)
Then Nick and I attended our only library show of the evening, the Balderdash Cup. Amazingly, a rising young adventurer named Emil Bleehall from Ohio beat out six-time winner Hathaway Brown and the other club regulars. I'll bet that was a once-in-a-lifetime result! Or maybe not.... :-)
We left the AC a little after 10:00, heading off to our respective hotels. I got back to AKL about 10:45, and of course had to immediately check the view from my balcony. There were some zebras and giraffes outside.
I got organized for tomorrow, took a quick shower, and got to bed by 11:30. I had to get up a while later because the little refrigerator in my room was making noises. Tilting it different directions with a towel didn't work, so I finally unplugged it so that I could get to sleep.