Welcome to day three of our Disney World trip! The morning dawned sunny and lovely warm. Above, you can see us grinning like idiots against some weird mural backdrop. Why are we doing so, you may ask? Well, read on, dear friend, read on...
My outfit for Animal Kingdom day was a pair of comfortable leggings, and the altered Flower Crowns & Disney Bound Girl shirt I bought from TeePublic. I wore this with another pair of flower crown mouse ears I made for the trip.
Below, I posed with the shrine near our favorite AK ride, Expedition Everest. The shape of the shrine mimics the shape of the ride/mountain.
You may note my footwear changed today too. I have to give a shout-out to my new pair of Croc ballet flats. I spent a lot of time trying to find a pair of shoes I could wear in the parks with dresses and skirts that wouldn't kill my feet, would actually give me some sort of support, and would still be cute. I finally tried a pair of Croc flats...the Kadee style to be specific...and I had no issues this trip. Of course every day I had sore muscles from all the miles and miles of walking I am unaccustomed to, but I had no severe pain, debilitating back aches, or exhaustion that prevented me from doing anything I wanted to do this trip (like I've had on every trip in the past). However, I did think it was a smart idea to take this opportunity to change up my footwear and give myself a change of pace.
We went on the Kilimanjaro Safari first thing in the morning, as we do, and then walked over to Expedition Everest. It's always so worth it to us to wait for the front car.
Again on a bridge near our favorite AK ride, there was a photopass photographer, so we got these shots.
At this point, we were trying to think of things we've never done in Animal Kingdom yet, and agreed we should try the Dinosaur ride. Look how thrilled we look at this exciting attraction. (meh)
Finally it was time for our third Fast Pass of the day, priority seating for Finding Nemo: The Musical. Last trip to Disney was the first time we'd tried priority seating for this, and Tom got us seats in the very front row, right next to the part of the stage that juts out. "Those aren't good seats to see the stage overall," you might say if you're familiar with the musical. But Tom loves seeing the actual performers work the puppets, make expressions, act out everything etc.
This is Tom's favorite show on all of Disney World property, and arguably his favorite thing in all of Disney World, period.
A week or two before our trip, I had lamented to Tom that although I'd bought him Christmas gifts, I still didn't feel like I'd found him his "big gift" for the year. He has plenty of things he really wants on his Amazon wish list, but I always like to find at least one big unexpected thing for Christmas each year. He said "well, we're going to Disney...maybe you'll find something there." This triggered my inspiration. Although I knew it was extremely rare, I did know it was sometimes possible to meet the cast of Finding Nemo: the Musical. I knew this because there was a beautiful blog post I'd read about the mom of a daughter with a limb disability getting to meet the cast, and I'd also seen Kenny the Pirate post a photo of his family meeting the cast. But I had never seen any other photos, and the little girl had a special reason to meet the cast and Kenny has contacts in the parks. I knew it was unlikely, but I did my research, asked a few friends, and came prepared. The only challenge would be to get the opportunity to ask without Tom being there.
We arrived a little before our Fast Pass time, and one family was already sitting on the curb by the entrance to the Fast Pass area for the next showtime. Tom handed the backpack to me and announced that he was going to go find a bathroom. There it was. The opportunity. I peered over at the entrance and saw everyone was wearing the same sort of uniform except for one guy who was talking to a park security officer. I walked over to the guy, smiled, and said "I know this is unlikely, but I also know sometimes Disney magic requires that you ask. My husband's favorite show in all of Disney is the Finding Nemo musical, and I haven't found him his big Christmas present yet. Might there be any way for us to be able to meet the cast after the show?" The manager, or so I assume he was, admitted that he would just have to ask the cast. But he warned me that the middle show is a difficult one for meets, since there's a fast turnaround time to the next performance. I thanked him for trying, and he asked if I had a Fast Pass. I affirmed, and he said he'd find me in the audience before the show started to let me know.
With butterflies in my stomach, I walked back to the curb to discover that in the literally five minutes I'd been gone, about ten more people had joined the Fast Pass wait queue. How would I explain this to Tom? He came back from the bathroom with a look of confusion on his face. "What happened?" "I had to ask a cast member a question, I'm so sorry." "What did you have to ask?" "Just something." I could tell Tom was disappointed to have lost some ground in the queue line, and confused as to why I was acting so weird.
Very soon after they opened the line and we were able to sit right outside the theater to wait for the doors to open. Tom sat on the curb by the theater, and kept asking me if I wanted to sit too, but I remained standing, looking around. I didn't want to sit in case the manager came back to find me, but of course I couldn't say that to Tom. The doors to the theater opened and we all went inside. Tom got his favorite seats, of course, since not everyone would want seats that close to the stage for the performance. But I continued standing, looking back from our seats. Tom wore a puzzled look on his face. Finally I saw the manager standing at the top of our section, waving me over. I practically ran up to him.
"After the show is over, immediately leave your seats and go to this exit," he said, gesturing to a specific exit. "A cast member will be there waiting for you."
"Does this mean we get to meet the cast?!" I said excitedly. He nodded.
"I'm going to hug you now. Is that ok?" He nodded again, bemusedly.
I danced back to our seats, grinning like an idiot. And finally got to tell Tom what was going on.
"I knew something was up when you started hugging that guy," he said. "But oh no...of all the things, I'm wearing a Lion King shirt!" (Lion King is the other stage show at Animal Kingdom. But hey, YOU try to find a Finding Nemo shirt for an adult male. There are some, but none are very cool looking or unique/creative. Trust me...I know. Ever since this experience I've been trying to find one to get him for Christmas, and there just aren't any) He was excited, but nervous.
The lights went down and the show started. Have I mentioned how much I love this stage show as well? When I'm at work and doing a bookdrop shift, sometimes I'll play the soundtrack on my phone. So as the performance started, I was smiling and singing along to every song. At a couple of points, the characters performed to Tom and me. I figured they must have been told where we were in the audience.
As the final characters were taking their final bows, a cast member came up to our seats and gestured for us to follow. We raced across the theater as the cast sang one last version of "Go With the Flow," and were taken backstage right behind the theater. We were standing there as the cast exited the theater door, and they came right up to us, shaking our hands, smiling enthusiastically. Several complimented me on my ears, and Marlin commented that he'd noticed me singing along in the audience. Tom told them how embarrassed he was to be wearing a Lion King shirt, but that it's tough to find Finding Nemo shirts, and they laughed. I told them how remarkable it is for us to watch a performance, because they are not only performing the puppets, but using their expressions, acting, singing, whole body to create the story. The whole thing passed in a blur, but we didn't feel rushed. We felt blessed.
We posed for a couple photos. One of the cast suggested Nemo stand in front of Tom to block the Lion King on his shirt. LOL
One more silly shot of all of us, which became my favorite photo of our whole trip. It's now the background on my phone and laptop.
After the cast left, and we were escorted back to the park proper, we were both pumped with adrenaline and excitement. We went to sit and eat our lunch, and I immediately posted the photos to my Facebook and a couple of Disney groups. In some of the comments, some other Disney World fans observed that they ask every time they go if they can meet the cast, and it hasn't worked out yet. So this was true Disney Magic at work here.
Side note: before we left the park that day, I left a service fanatic card for the manager. It's only courteous when a cast member goes above and beyond for you to leave a thanks and possibly get him some credit in the company for what he has done.
It was hard to imagine anything else topping this experience. We had done most of what we wanted to do at Animal Kingdom, and it was only 3:45 or so. Part of me really wanted to see the new projection shows on the Tree of Life after dark, but that would mean finding things to do at AK until dark, and we'd rather spend that time elsewhere. So we took a couple more photos....
...and hopped on a bus to the Magic Kingdom.
When we arrived, we realized that it was a non-event night at MK. Meaning...there was no ticketed Christmas party that required all other guests to leave at 7. During the times of year that there are special event nights, the days that the Magic Kingdom does NOT have a party are notoriously more crowded, since people would prefer to have more time at the park.
This was the most crowded, insane day at MK of our trip. The lines for *everything* were insane...Haunted Mansion, 50 minutes. Mine Train, two hours. Enchanted Tales with Belle, 50 minutes. We decided to watch the Muppet performance, which didn't require a wait time at all. We lucked out and got to see the performance we hadn't seen on our first day. (they perform two different shows)
Mickey's Philharmagic had a 20 minute wait, so we went and watched that. But all the wait times were just so crazy, we decided to just *be* in the park for a while. We walked around, taking our time, visited the Emporium again, and took photos of the beautiful castle at dusk.
After it got dark, we had a photographer take our picture with the castle...
And the guy very smartly then had us turn around, so he could also get a photo of us from the opposite direction with Main Street and the tree behind us. Nicely done, sir!
By this point, my dogs were barking a bit, so I suggested we hop up to the train station at the front of the park. There was a little cubby corner that was unoccupied, so I sat on the floor with my back against the cubby, and looked out on Main Street.
For the next half hour or so, this was my view. I people-watched, listened to the Christmas music and the train whistle, and just relaxed. Tom found an outlet inside the depot and charged his phone, so I was out there alone for a while, just taking in the atmosphere.
When it was time to go, I had Tom take a photo so I could remember this wonderful, magical and zen moment at Disney.
Right before we had to go, a photopass photographer appeared right next to us up at the train station, so we got one more photo in the Magic Kingdom that night.
We boarded a bus for Fort Wilderness, and went to the Trails End Restaurant to meet our friends Jeff and Denise of MouseSteps for dinner.
It's funny, because this is the second trip where we've had dinner with them, and it seems like each time we have our best dining experience of the trip with them. This was no exception. The Trails End buffet was insanely delicious, full of comfort food like fried chicken, roast, ribs, potatoes, and the best mac and cheese I've had in ages. Dessert was strawberry shortcake, and the dinner conversation was delightful. Both Jeff and Denise made me laugh pretty hard several times.
After dinner, we walked along a few of the camp loops where people park their trailers/RVs. Some people stay here for months on end, and they all decorate their camp sites for Christmas like others decorate their houses. There were several really impressive displays.
It got late so fast, and they kindly dropped us back at our resort, where we passed out in bed immediately, eager for the next day.
Next, day 4 of our trip, a resort-hopping morning, followed by Mickey's Very Merry Christmas Party: the best ticketed event experience we've had at Disney yet!