Rainforest Cafe at Animal Kingdom

So you don’t have to visit Disney World to experience The Rainforest Cafe, but why not dine with the animals before/after visiting some real ones?!

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We planned to have breakfast here, as the Downtown Disney branch doesn’t open for lunch, but by the time we got there they were just about to open for lunch, so we had a bit of a browse of the huge gift shop area before being seated at our table.

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I’m no stranger to a Rainforest Cafe, but this one was enormous! They don’t even the whole restaurant for lunch its that big.

Without a doubt, it was the best meal I had during our stay. I had Parmesan Chicken; the portion size was huge, but if I had a bigger appetite I would have eaten every last bite!

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I cannot fault anything about this place; its so family friendly, our server was great, and the chimps sat next to us were great company!

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Festival of the Lion King

In a secluded corner of Africa in the Animal Kingdom is the harambe Theater, which is home to The Festival of the Lion King.

The 30 minute show combines fabulous live singers, dancers and acrobats with large animatronic floats of your favourite characters from the film, and involves the whole family with audience participation and an open invitation to sing along!

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The theater is set up in the round (or square, in this case), with each of the four sides being allocated an animal sound to pipe up during the performance. The layout of the set also means that everyone has a great view of the spectacular Tumble Monkeys, fire dancing and, not to mention, Timon strutting his stuff around the floor; he’s such a diva..

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Unlike the smash Broadway and West End musical, the show doesn’t actually tell the story of the Lion King, it just celebrates the best songs including The Circle of Life, Be Prepared and The Lion Sleeps Tonight, but with the showstopping cast, incredible costumes and amazing sets, you’re definitely missing out if you don’t check it out for yourself!

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Finding Nemo – the Musical

Yep, you read it right, Disney Pixar’s classic tale has been brought to the stage in the Animal Kingdom!

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The musical tells an abridged version of the movie story; it skips the unnecessary to cut the show down to a manageable 40 minutes, great for restless little ones.

Its staged like the hit Broadway and West End musical The Lion King, with actors handling incredible puppets and scenery, and a total phenomenal set.

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We got a Fastpass+, which got us seats about 1/3 of the way from the stage, but the theater seating is raised and staggered, and the large characters and props mean that no matter where you seat, you’re going to be able to see.

My one (very minor) criticism of the whole show it that the songs aren’t up to Disney’s usual standard; they’re not particularly catchy or memorable, but they serve fine during the performance. I guess for those who hate having songs stuck in their head for the rest of the day it would be a relief, but for me it took a little something away..

Aside from this super minor blip, Disney have well and truly hit another one out the park. A definite must see for anyone of any age!

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AK Tips and Secrets

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°o° You can enter the park 15 minutes early, and Mickey and the gang greet you by the Tree of Life.

°o° Grab a map and schedule; there are so many unique character meets in the Animal Kingdom such as Rafiki, Baloo, Russell and Doug etc.

°o° Crowds tend to head for Kilimanjaro Safaris first thing as the animals are usually more active in the morning. That being said though, you’re likely to see animals any time of day, so if you can, hold off til the afternoon when queues will be shorter.

°o° Be sure to wear comfortable shoes; while walking is a given, AK has lots of adventurous trails to explore.

°o° If you’ve stopped off at The Rainforest Cafe before heading into the park, use the secret entrance at the back of the gift shop to skip the queues at the main entrance.

°o° At Adventurer’s Outpost, you can meet Mickey and Minnie in their safari gear. This is the only place you can see the two of them in these outfits, so is a totally unique photo opportunity.

°o° At various stations around the park, kids can receive stamps in a ‘passport’ for completing activities – collect all of them for a special prize!

°o° There are red, yellow and white pipes found on Dinosaur, each with a chemical formula on them. The formulas are actually the real formulas for ketchup, mustard and mayonnaise!

°o° See if you can spot DiVine – she’s a fabulous live act, but hard to find as she’s usually part-tree!

°o° The highway sign Route 498 symbolises the park opening in April 1998.

°o° You can squirt riders on Kali River Rapids from the bridge near the exit. Don’t feel guilty, they’ll already be soaked!

°o° If you’re a coffee addict, the Kusafiri Coffee Shop is the place to get your fix.

°o° Don’t rush from attraction to attraction, there are so many things to see as you walk around the park!

°o° You can hop on the Wildlife Express Train in Africa, which takes you across to Rafiki’s Planet Watch.

Meeting Characters in Disney World

Character meets can be a truly magical experience for everyone involved!

Make your memories more magical with these top tips:

1. Go to character meals

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A great way to meet loads of characters without having to queue or fight through crowds is to book character meals. These are available in restaurants all over the parks and some deluxe resorts, from princess meals to Mickey and friends to the Winnie the Pooh gang. They’re also great for children who tend to be a little more shy as you’re not being taken out of your comfort zone.

2. Do your research, find out who you can meet and where.

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You’ll be amazed how many characters you can meet throughout the parks, sometimes its just a case of going slightly out of your way to find them. Who are your favourites? Park maps and schedules tell you who you can meet, where they are and what time they’ll be there, from Russell and Doug in Disney’s Animal Kingdom to Mary Poppins in the UK Pavilion at Epcot.

3. Make your meetings special.

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While preparing for your Disney trip, why not have your kids make gifts for their favourite characters? Characters aren’t allowed to accept tips, but you can make their day with drawings or small handmade items; you might even get an extra minute out of it! Alternatively, why not do something different during your character meet? Ask princesses to dance with you, show Mr Incredibles your crime fighting skills!

4. Prepare a few excuses.

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This sounds bad, I promise its not! Kids are curious, and everyone knows how much they love to ask questions, so prepare a couple of white lies for why certain characters don’t speak (‘Goofy’s got a big show later, he needs to save his voice’), or why they take so many breaks (‘I think Pluto’s had a bit too much to drink, toilet time!’).

5. Get autographs

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Get yourself an autograph book, or some kind of alternative (I’ve seen people have characters sign t-shirts, pillowcases etc). You’ll be able to look back at all the characters you’ve met during your trip. Be sure to have a large pen, like a sharpie, as they’re easier for characters with larger hands.

6. Book Fastpasses

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Some characters, especially Elsa and Anna in the Princess Fairytale hall, will have a long queue time if you don’t Fastpass them (Elsa and Anna Fastpasses book out up to 60 days in advance, plan ahead!). You don’t want to take away from the magical experience of meeting your favourite characters with an hour long queue for a 5 minute meet.

7. Decide if meeting characters is something you really want to do

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Character meeting can be time consuming, so if you’re on a tight schedule and you’re not that fussed, don’t waste your time, or a place in a queue that someone else would appreciate more. For younger kids who can’t do as many rides though, characters are the true magic of Disney World.

8. Amaze yourself

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You will truly be amazed by how well characters play their part, so play along with their conversations, or test them by introducing a new topic and see how brilliantly they can cope. On my last trip, Princess Aurora offered to set me up with one of Prince Phillip’s handsome single friends!

9. Appreciate the cast members

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Characters need to take breaks, so sometimes your queue time will be lengthened as they do so. Remember that characters are real people too, so be patient with them.

10. If you only see one character, make it Magician Mickey!

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In the Town Square Theater, you can meet Mickey at his most magical. Take a trip to backstage of Mickey’s magic show, and meet the main man himself in a way you’ve never seen him before, or heard! That’s right, Mickey speaks to you! It is the only opportunity in Disney World to meet him where he can speak to you, answer questions and even show you his latest magic trick!

Tusker House

Located in Africa in the Animal Kingdom, Tusker is a fabulous themed dining experience for all the family.

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We booked for lunch here based purely on a recommendation from a friend about the quality of the food, so it came as a wonderful surprise to find that breakfast and lunch are both character meals, with Donald, Daisy, Goofy and Minnie all visiting on a break from their safari adventures.

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The food is all you can eat buffet, and the restaurant is set up like an authentic African marketplace, with scarfs and trinkets hanging from every available space, and as I was admiring this one of the cast members told me that all of the masks on one of the balconies are genuine, and belonged to Joe Rodhe, the imagineer who designed the Animal Kingdom, how cool?!

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As for the food.. Wow. The selection available was huge, with a carvery station, salad bar, curries, vegetables, authentic African recipes and a delicious selection of desserts.

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As a family, we agreed this was probably the best meal we had on our trip. It was family friendly, especially with the unexpected character visits, and the food was incredible.

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