“Sivako!”

Here I am, fifty-three days post Disney trip, settled into my new apartment, anticipating the start of graduate school, and I am finally, finally sitting down to write about Pandora: The World of Avatar at Disney’s Animal Kingdom.

My obvious, general thoughts first: I loved it. It was so cool. I want to eat cheeseburger pods and root vegetable chips every single day for the rest of my life.

Now some specifics. Pandora is one of the most incredible things I’ve set eyes on at a Disney park–lush, green floating mountains looming before and above you, cascading waterfalls, florescent flora and fauna. The transition from Discovery Island or Harambe to Pandora is seamless–it’s as if Pandora has always belonged to Animal Kingdom, it’s like it’s always been there.

The attractions, guys. They are incredible–sincerely two of the most advanced, immersive experiences I have ever encountered. The Na’vi River Journey was stunningly beautiful; I was only able to experience this attraction once on my trip, but it did not disappoint. If you’re a Disney fan reading this blog, you’ve probably seen countless Snapchats and video of the animatronic figure that guests encounter on this attraction. And if you’re not an avid Disney fan and just read my posts for the heck of it (thank you), please open a new tab, type something along the lines of “shaman on the Na’vi River Journey in Pandora in Disney’s Animal Kingdom” in your search bar. I’ll wait.

Good, isn’t it? Really good. Disney imaginears never fail to inspire me with their innovations.

Now. Let’s talk about the star of the Pandora show, Flight of Passage, the most INCREDIBLE attraction I have EVER been on. All caps are NECESSARY.

Minor spoilers are ahead, so skip a few paragraphs if you want your first time experiencing this attraction to be a complete surprise.

The basis of Flight of Passage is this: by linking with your very own Na’vi Avatar, you  have the ability to experience a ride on the back of an Ikran, commonly known as a banshee on the remote planet of Pandora, made famous in the 2009 feature film. You enter a “chamber” that collects some DNA data, and then you are matched with an Avatar based on the results. From there, you enter the flight room, board a flight simulator that looks like a high-tech bike, and don your “flight googles.” When the
Avatar link is complete, you are transported to the remote outreaches of Pandora and are flying on the back of your banshee. You feel him/her breathing beneath your splayed legs. You feel and smell sweet Pandorian wind as you dip, dive, and swoop. You see some of the most beautiful visuals–the floating mountains, other worldly creatures, forests, oceans, and more. The experience is truly incredible. I think I’ve used the word “incredible” fifty billion and a half times in this post.

The bottom line: Flight of Passage is the most thrilling attraction I had ever been on–I wanted to do it again and again and again and again…so on and so forth.

It’s that good.

After my ride through scenic Pandora, I had an overwhelming feeling of possibility. Anything is possible. People–human people, not superhuman Na’vi–created Flights of Passage with their own brain and will power. We, mere guests, were (are) able to experience something so amazing because someone–some people–had the gumption to sit down and figure out how to make it happen.

That notion blows me away.

One of my favorite aspects of the attraction is the smattering of Na’vi vocabulary. My favorite Na’vi phrase is the title of this post: “sivako.” In the native Na’vi tongue, this phrase is equivalent to the English phrase “rise to the challenge.” Our Na’vi guide on the attraction urges us to do just that–with a shrill “Sivako!” we dive (alarmingly and wonderfully fast) into a lush forest laden with dangers and surprises.

You passively rise to the challenge on Flight of Passage, but once you experience this attraction, you long to actively “sivako” in your daily life. Because I experienced the magnificent result of creative brain and will power of Disney imaginears and storytellers, I desperately want to make something–to write something–that has an impact on someone as Disney imaginears have made an impact on me.

In short: I urge you to make plans to experience this world in the next few years. It’s worth it. So, so worth it.

“Sivako,” my friends. I hope you rise to the challenge today and every day. In the meantime, I’ll start anticipating my return to Pandora and to my banshee, who I lovingly named Bertha. I just love alliteration.

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Disney Trip 2017: Animal Kingdom Lodge

Jambo, everyone! I hope you are having a magical day.

If you’re not familiar with Swahili, “jambo” means “hello.” I was fortunate enough to say a hearty hello to Walt Disney World for six days last week for vacation.

I was super fortunate to say jambo to Disney’s Animal Kingdom Lodge for the first night of my vacation. This DAK-loving girl’s heart was so, so happy. Remember: DAK equals Disney’s Animal Kingdom. Huge shout out to the DCP BFF (and real-life BFF, let’s be honest) for scoping out the best deal in the universe. She’s on her second college program, and she met up with me for a week of epic “staycation-ing.”

Oh my goodness, guys. We had a blast.

Disney’s Animal Kingdom Lodge, to put it simply, is the most gorgeous place on this planet. This statement might come across as a teeny hyperbole, but I don’t even care. If I ever become a Disney Vacation Club member (#goals), this resort will be my home.

I began my stay at the lodge by attempting to capture everything with my hand-me-down DSLR camera, a camera that’s been in the family since about 2006. It’s still goin’ strong, and I think it did a fantastic job documenting my stay at the lodge. You’ll find some select photos in this post, and don’t hesitate to call National Geographic and suggest me and my skill set for an all-expenses-paid African photo safari.

Ha. I kid. (But not really.)

If you’ve never been to DAK Lodge, you might not know that it doubles as a top-notch zoo. Select rooms look out onto a savannah littered with giraffes, ankole cattle, types of gazelle, ostriches, zebras, the common Disney duck, and so much more. The back of both lobbies (Kidani Village and Jambo House…we stayed in the latter), lead out onto observation areas where helpful animal guides talk about the animals and are open to discuss their own culture. Every single guide is on an cultural exchange program at Disney; they are originally from Africa and are there to work for a year or so. My mom and I once had the most incredible conversation with a guide from Botswana.

I spent a good hour or two in the observation area, taking photos of the animals and taking in the unique vibe  Disney’s Animal Kingdom Lodge embodies. I fell in love with giraffes on this trip because they ventured so close to us lucky guests. Below are a few photos I’m quite proud of. (Humor me.)

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Aren’t they gorgeous?

Because of this unique experience, I was  swayed to purchase a wooden giraffe mask from the gift shop, perfect for the Animal Kingdom-inspired gallery wall going above my bed in my new apartment. I just couldn’t resist.

After Allyssa (DCP BFF) got off work, we checked in and headed to our room.

Our room! Oh my goodness! The savannah view room was so pretty, and the details were impeccable: woven baskets hung on the creamy walls, wallpaper that resembled vintage maps, pamphlets useful for identifying animals, and so much more. Of course, I wasn’t smart enough to take pictures of the whole thing, but I did take a picture of my favorite element, the curtains. See below:

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Do see a Disney friend embroidered in the dreamy fabric? Friends from The Lion King were scattered throughout the curtains, and I internally screamed.

We ended our evening roasting marshmallows in the observation area (free for all guests; ask a cast member for times), dining at the Mara, the quick service restaurant, and watching the sunset from our savannah view room. The experience was something out of a Walt Disney World ad–the sky was a brilliant red-orange, giraffes and zebras moseyed tangibly close to our vantage point, and Allyssa and I were reunited, anticipating a busy week of park hopping. I was so happy, and I’ll cherish that moment forever.

We checked out the next morning after a wonderful breakfast from the Mara.

I never really checked out of the lodge, mentally. I’m always daydreaming about my stay at Disney’s Animal Kingdom Lodge.

Kwaherini (“Go well”) for now, friends. I’ll leave you with some more shots of the lodge–maybe they’ll fuel your sense of adventure and spark an appreciation for this beautiful planet we call home.

Maybe you’ll just call your travel agent. Either option totally works.

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To Be Determined

You know. Things really don’t ever turn out just how you thought it was going to be.

I thought I was going to be bored to tears in my college town, home of the University of Itty Bitty.  Its  population is tiny; barely over 10,ooo when school is in session. Main Street is peppered with mom-and-pops and fast food. The school was “average,” “undistinguished.” I was a Division II athlete, “lesser” than the best of the best.

I thought Animal Kingdom was going to be so-so as a  home park. I wanted Magic Kingdom; everyone does.  Classic and magical and the best of the best in entertainment. Animal Kingdom, in contrast, is new, environmental. Slightly smelly to be quite honest. I loved Disney with all my heart, but I was never sure if I loved Disney’s Animal Kingdom before my college program.

Preconceptions are stupid, my friends. I know it’s a “bad” word in Kindergarten , but they are stupid. And sucky.

The University of Itty Bitty? It turned out to be the very best experience possible. I became an English major and fell in love with writing and reading and analyzing and academia. I excelled as a college athlete, even though my version of excelling did not involve a Division I national championship. I discovered my love for autumn and authentic blizzards. My heart belongs to the miles of miles of uninterrupted patchwork views, littered only by immense wind turbines and their blades that rhythmically beat against a brilliant, red dirt-dusted sunset.

Disney’s Animal Kingdom? My goodness. It’s my home. I will always remember walking through an empty park at 7:50 in the morning, marveling at how the sun glinted off of the Tree of Life’s  foliage, how the distinct morning shadows highlighted the tree’s animal carvings. The mouthwatering aroma of Flame Tree Barbecue would overpower the stench of the birds that make the Oasis their home. Multicolored macaws noislily squawked and beat their wings, stirring the sweet humid air that forced my hair into its signature braid for six months. When the nighttime offerings began, I would park myself in front of the Tree of Life to watch it awaken.

If you’ve never experienced these awakenings, I’m here to tell you that they create just as much magic as Tinker Bell’s pixie dust.

Now that I’m home, I’m working and applying to graduate schools. As I sit down to complete applications, I notice that I’m applying to big schools with big names and little schools with little names. I realize that I probably won’t get into every school I apply to. Once this whole process is over, I must choose the right place for me. I also know that there is a possibility that I won’t have the option to choose the “right” place–there might be an “only” place.

The “right” place might not be the biggest school with the most distinguished program. But it might be. I’m not sure yet.

What I must consider from past experiences? Preconceptions are stupid. I can’t wait to continue to add to my collection of homes:

My home town.

University of Itty Bitty.

Disney’s Animal Kingdom.

To be determined.

 

Dear Animal Kingdom:

I thought I’d write a letter to my now-beloved home, Disney’s Animal Kingdom:

Dear Animal Kingdom, 

I used to not enjoy you as much as I do now. You were so hot on our family vacations. Sticky. Animal-y. All of which is fine, but I didn’t think you were “Disney” enough for me. I liked you, but didn’t love you. I used to meet characters, see a show or two, and then leave. The end. 

I’m so sorry, Animal Kingdom. I’m so thoroughly sorry that I did not appreciate you then as much as I do now. 

You started off being my “home” park in a work sense, but now I can’t help but truly feel at home when I step foot in your wild haven. The soundtrack to your different “lands”–Discovery Island, Asia, Africa, and the inside of Africa’s eatery Tusker House–have become the soundtrack of my daily adventures. The melodies get stuck in my head throughout my work and play days, but I am doing everything but complaining about it. 

Asia, you are chock-full of  beautiful scenery. The flags waving against a looming forbidden mountain (Expedition Everest) catch the sun’s light in such a pretty way–it’s a rainbow amongst a blended Asian environment, a rainbow against crumbling walls painted with intricate murals. Asia, you are also home to my favorite jungle V.I.P’s, Baloo and King Louie. I love those “kool kats” more than I can describe. 


Africa, I love you and your eclectic Harambe, a village with charm and sincerity.  A “hidden”, familiar fellow watches over your Harambe market, a sprawling little quick service area filled to the brim with inspirational words of encouragement. Africa, you are a place to head on safari, to board a truck and discover African wildlife. You are a place to purchase the sweetest treats from Zuri’s sweet shop–I recently devoured an elephant-shaped sugar cookie from Zuri’s and was just as happy as can be. You are the perfect host to the Festival of the Lion King, one of the most gorgeous shows on Disney property. In short, Africa, thank you for being awesome. 

  

 
There are so many other elements that come together to make you, Animal Kingdom, the perfect home for my work and play days. I love the characters that find their home with you, the relaxed atmosphere you boast, the macaws that fly noisily around the Tree of Life every once in awhile, the pesky squirrels that tend to crawl in guests’ strollers, the treats and food you serve, even your gift shops. I just love you, and I want to say I am so, so, so sorry for not giving you a fighting chance before my college program. You deserve the most praise and beyond, so I hope this letter is significant. 

Thank you, Animal Kingdom, for being my home away from home. 

Sincerely, 

Kaila, your Animal Kingdom convert