“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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EPCOT: The American Adventure

Happy Fourth of July, my friends! I hope you are enjoying a day full of all things Americana–I know I’ll be relishing our sweet freedom all day, munching on chocolate chip cookies and savoring vanilla ice cream with red, white, and blue sprinkles. Throw in some patriotic songs and you have yourself a gloriously patriotic day.

I just love this country.

I’m here today to advocate for my favorite pavilion in all of Epcot. The American pavilion, home to a completely underrated show and the most beautiful entertainment in all of Walt Disney World, is a real gem and a tribute to the American people and the adventurous, innovative, and diligent spirit of this great country. I never leave the American pavilion without feeling inspired to do my part in propelling America forward into the future–the message of this entire pavilion is one of hope and pride, and I honestly can’t get enough.

There are three main activities to do at the American pavilion. First: The American Adventure is a wonderful thirty-minute show detailing events in America’s history that makes America uniquely…American. I love this show so, so much. It’s narrated by Mark Twain and Benjamin Franklin, and it’s delightfully Disney-fied. Expect charming animatronics, moving video clips and montages, and an inspiring soundtrack.

Goodness. I get chills just thinking about it. The shows run all day, and it’s a wonderful way to take a break from the stifling Florida heat. We skipped this show on our first trip (ignorance and first-time energy and excitement can do that to you), but now it’s an Epcot must-do. So. good.

The second (and my favorite) activity to do at this pavilion? Listening to the marvelous musical workings of the Voices of Liberty.

THE VOICES OF LIBERTY MIGHT BE MY VERY FAVORITE THING IN ALL OF EPCOT. YES, ALL CAPS IS COMPLETELY NECESSARY IN THIS DECLARATION OF MY LOVE.

The Voices of Liberty perform before almost every show of  The American Adventure, but check your times guide or with a cast member to receive an exact show schedule. There is also usually a board with times listed outside of the attraction.

THIS IS A MUST-DO. I REPEAT. THIS IS A MUST-DO. Make time to do this. Please. I love it so much.

They perform under the “dome” of The American Adventure’s beautiful building (see picture of building below…it’s hard to miss), and guests are invited to sit on the floor under the dome to experience their voices to the fullest. They are an acapella group that sings Americana, folk, and other songs, and I just love them with all of my heart. They are also known to sing a few classic Disney tunes, but literally every show is different. The last time I watched the show, they sang a “flag” medley, the state song of Tennessee, an old cowboy love song, and “America The Beautiful.” I’ve seen many shows, and no show is exactly the same.

Please see this. Camp out and see it. Take a break from the heat, and be prepared to be moved to tears. I often am, and it’s embarrassing but totally viable. The group is so incredibly talented, and the combination of incredible singing and patriotism can do something to you. Again, ask a cast member or pick up a times guide so you don’t miss this incredible Disney gem.

The last thing to see at this pavilion? The building itself has so many things to look at–art, quotes from famous American leaders (including the guy that drew that mouse that one time), and an entire special exhibit. The current exhibit discusses the struggles and the triumphs of African Americans, and it’s so cool. My usual routine involves experiencing the exhibit, watching the Voices of Liberty, and finishing with a showing of The American Adventure. It’s about an hour’s worth of sweet, sweet air conditioning.

I hope you take the time to experience this pavilion the next time you are exploring Epcot. It’s seriously my favorite–I didn’t even mention the food, and it’s delicious, too–and it deserves your attention and appreciation.

I might be biased. I do love America a whole lot.

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Tsum Tsum Obsessed–My Little Collection

I love Disney Tsum Tsums. Anyone who claims they don’t understand the cuteness that is Tsum Tsum is lying. Or they are just my sister, who can’t seem to understand my love for these little bean-shaped Disney plushies that vaguely resemble Disney characters.

They. Are. So. Dang. CUTE.

I only have five in my collection, but I can see how many can collect hundreds–I only had two prior to this past weekend, but when I added my three new tsums to the stack, I felt something oddly…satisfying. I can’t accurately describe it. I just love seeing my little collection sitting atop my dresser, cutely keeping watch over my room. And I want to emphasize the cute factor of these things–they are adorable. 

I’m using a lot of italics in this post, but it’s completely necessary.

Here is my little collection:


I have Donald Duck because he is my favorite (he was my first tsum purchased this past Valentines), Eeyore because he was originally a gift for my sister (her favorite character) and she didn’t really take to them like I do, Joy because my mom gave her to me as a senior night (volleyball) gift, and Dumbo and Tinker Bell because they were at my sort-of-local Disney store and they are two of my favorite characters.

I love my little stack. The next tsums on my list to get (maybe, eventually) are Jiminy Cricket, Mickey and Minnie (classic), and Sadness and Bing Bong from Inside Out because I LOVE THEM.

While I can see how people might think these things are useless, I beg to differ–they add a little bit of happiness to my room that I use strictly for sleeping and studying, two very mundane activities. No, they aren’t particularly “adult” either. I’m not really an adult, however; I’m moving to Disney World in eighty-four days, for goodness sakes. You can bet these little cuties are coming with me! They’ll be the perfect companions to stack on my dresser at the DCP and to bring to the parks for photo ops with their corresponding characters. Goodness. I can already imagine the cuteness. 

I hope everyone is having a wonderful, tsum-tastic day!

Happy Birthday, Magic Kingdom!

Happy birthday to my most favorite place in the entire world. I’m so glad that the Magic Kingdom in Walt Disney World exists–I can truly say it’s changed my life for the better. Because of my visits to Disney World, and, subsequently, the Magic Kingdom, my love for all things magical has just grown over the years. It’s grown so much, in fact, that I decided to try and be a cast member a couple years ago. I had come to love the Disney magic so much that I decided that I wanted to take a chance and try to be something that I knew could bring a little more happiness into this world. Now, in just a few short months, I’ll get to live out that dream and live just minutes away from my beloved Castle. Isn’t it crazy how life works sometimes?


None of this would have happened if I had never seen that castle or heard the classic music on Main Street or experienced the aromas drifting from the Confectionary or rode Splash Mountain more times than I could count. I wouldn’t be the “me” I am today without encounters with Mickey, Donald, Peter Pan, Alice, the Princesses, you name it. Magic Kingdom really did shape my interests–without experiencing that park, I wouldn’t be the lovable “Disney freak” I am today.

Thanks for all that you have done for me, Magic Kingdom. And thank you, Walt Disney, for dreaming up a place so near and dear to my heart. I can’t wait to help carry out your legacy come February first. 

Kaila’s Disney Tips: Character Interactions

My favorite part of any Disney vacation has got to be character interactions. Think about it–those characters you meet have stepped off of the screen and are right there, living, breathing, and interacting with you! It’s so fun; fantasy and reality feasibly intermix to create a one-of-a-kind experience.

I’m here today to give you some tips for making the most of those magical meet-and-greets:

Talk! And Talk! And Talk! 

Whenever you meet a Disney character (especially a face character) don’t be shy! They love to talk to you about anything and everything as long as it falls within the realm of their knowledge. Peter Pan, for example, doesn’t know about Universal Studios or cell phones or anything of the like. Strike up conversations and link back your topics to the movies they appear in for an extra special experience. Tell them what “kingdom” you’re from. If they are your favorite character, don’t be afraid to tell them so! Donald Duck always goes crazy when I tell him he’s my favorite. Keep in mind, furry characters must save their voice for their performances, but conversations with them can be just as fun with extra hugs and hand gestures.

Take Selfies and Candids

Capture your memories of your meet-and-greet with unique pictures! I love whipping out my cell phone and asking the character for a selfie. Last year, Peter Pan and I took the most glorious selfie, and he claimed my phone was a magic mirror.

Also, don’t be afraid to hand your phone over to a Cast Member. They’ll be happy to take pictures as you chat with the characters and will even try to capture a few candid moments. My favorite pictures are the ones of me directly interacting with the characters, goofy face and all.

Also, UTILIZE PHOTOPASS. It’s wonderful and you won’t be sorry.

Let Your Inner Disney Kid Shine 

No matter what your age, don’t be afraid to act like a complete goofball when meeting the characters. Character interactions are so magical; childlike giddiness is inevitable. There are no “cool kids” when it comes to interacting with Mickey–just go for it!

The Wait is Worth It

Don’t let the lines intimidate you when it comes to meeting the characters. It’s totally worth it, and the wait in line can even be enjoyable. I love talking to other guests when I’m waiting to chat with Alice or Tink. In some lines there are even cool things to look at. Just don’t think you are waiting in line for just a picture–meeting characters is so much more than that! You are talking to the Mickey, the Winnie the Pooh, the Cinderella–they’re celebrities! And you get to meet them! Take the time to wait; it’s so incredibly worth it.

There you have it! Some of my tips for making the most out of your character meet-and-greets in Disney World (or Disneyland). Bottom line when it comes to experiencing this type of Disney magic: have fun and enjoy the feeling you get when you’re hugging your favorite mouse.

Little me (16 years old) falling in love with my favorite dude, Donald Duck.
Little me meeting Eeyore and Tigger for the first time.
My Disney trip to celebrate my high school graduation, 2012. We love Piglet!
Best thing ever: dancing with pluto in front of the blue hat (R.I.P.) in Hollywood Studios on our latest trip, 2014.

 

Mourning the Animation Academy

Who didn’t love getting to draw a Disney character at Disney’s Hollywood Studios?! This attraction was one of my favorites, and I’m so sad to see it go. I only got the chance to draw two characters: the lovable Goofy and the classic Jiminy Cricket (one of my favorites) before Disney closed its doors.

Here’s a picture of me and the Jiminy I created during our visit last summer:

So HAPPY I was able to experience this attraction!
  
So SAD to see it go!
 
He’s just so cute!

Animation Academy was just so fun; I love the magical memories I made there. That whole building was the perfect way to cool off and meet some awesome characters, see some cool concept art, and try your own hand at creating a masterpiece. I loved meeting Sorcerer Mickey in this building; there’s something utterly magical about that blue hat.

Another one of my favorite memories from the Animation Academy was the waiting for the attraction’s doors to open. I got the chance to talk to a little girl all about her day: she was so excited about meeting Sofia the First, and she was happily talking my ear off about her experience. She was so precious and so excited. I loved talking to her and her family about their vacation. Disney families are special families–we can happily talk to complete strangers about all the fun to be made while vacationing at a Disney park.

I hope Walt Disney World considers opening back up the doors of the Animation Academy in some other location, somewhere. I loved being able to create my own free souvenir; our whole family loved it, in fact. Each one of our creations were the same but wildly different. The Animation Academy emphasized the unique quality to every piece, and it couldn’t be more apparent in my families’ creations. My grandma’s work of art was always slightly undersized, my mom’s pencil marks light yet confident, my sister’s character boldly outlined, and my own character outlined scratchily, my attempt at pure artistry.

Rest in peace, Animation Academy. Thanks for creating magical memories that I’ll never forget.

My Disney Pin Collection: “My First Visit” Edition

The very first of anything–first job, first kiss, first day of school–can be magical. A first visit to Disney World amps that magic up to an even higher degree. Everything is just so new and exciting and ideal; you’re overwhelmed with pixie dust and magical mice and real-life princesses. You get to wear the “My First Visit” button and all the cast members and characters warmly welcome you to that happy place. Nothing can beat the feeling of seeing that castle for the very first time.

My first visit was in 2009. I was 16 and had always been a Disney kid, but my obsession with all things magical was solidified on that fateful visit. I felt an overwhelming desire to never want to leave and forget all the fun I had. I didn’t even want to think about having to wait three more years until we could return.

To counter those emotions, I bought this classic pin:

 Even though my fingers are covering the lettering, it says “My first visit to” at the top and “Walt Disney World” at the bottom. It has four icons from the four different parks (including the now-gone hat from Hollywood Studios!) and Mickey Mouse exuberantly gesturing his welcome. It epitomized the giddy feeling you inevitably got when wandering the parks, gaping in awe at the icons that were sure to greet you. It was the perfect little trinket to have and to hold to remember my favorite vacation ever–Disney World was truly the first time I had ever had so much fun on a summer vacation. Any stress I ever had just melted away. All that I had to worry about was which line to get in, which snack to taste, and which show to watch.

Obviously, I loved it.

Do you remember your first visit? Did you buy anything special to commemorate the experience? Feel free to comment down below; I love hearing other Disney stories.

I hope everyone has a magical day!

 

 

 

Pretty as a [Disney] Penny

If you follow me on Instagram (if you’re not following me, click the link located at the end of my menu…good stuff, I tell you!), you’re aware that I’ve been busy getting my new apartment together. I’ve added Disney touches throughout– decor with the mouse (or any Disney character, really) just makes me so happy.

I want to show you all one piece I’m quite proud of. My sister and I made this crafty Pinterest project after collecting a plethora of shiny souvenir Disney pennies on our trip in June 2014:


My penny display is proudly hanging in my new bathroom, and it certainly adds to the mundane getting-ready experience.

I loved collecting these coppery gems. Penny collecting is a fairly cheap endeavor that is so much fun to tackle–love a certain ride, character, or resort? Just visit the many penny-presser-thingys found all over Disney property and discover little souvenirs that don’t break the bank. If you collect enough, crafting the perfect display to show them off is just another plus.

This display was super easy to make. Just find the size frame you want, construct a background out of a solid piece of scrapbook paper (I chose this pretty blue to tie in with the rest of my apartment), and super glue your pressed pennies onto the paper in the pattern you desire. Frame it up, hang it up, and viola! A pretty little penny display fit for any Disney-lover.

The best part of our penny display is the memories that emerge from the depths of my long-term memory after I steal a glance at our masterpiece. Every time I look at my display, I remember the fun I had picking out the perfect pennies to suit my Disney favorites. My sister, mom, grandma, and I had the best time finding the penny machines and cranking out the miniature works of art. We would frantically search for the coveted machines after we would step off of an attraction and clap our hands with delight at the sight of all of the options. One memory involves us getting off of Splash Mountain–dripping wet–and waddling toward the penny machine to pick out the perfect “laughing place” souvenir. We spent weeks before the trip saving our quarters for the project, and the quest for pennies was so worth it.

I hope you all enjoyed my penny project. Souvenirs are for helping you retain your precious memories–this display ensures that my Disney memories (especially from the trip in which we decided to seek out the pennies!) will never go dim.

Have a magical day, everyone!

“Bright Young Women…Sick of Swimming…Ready to Stand”

I have never given Ariel, the bright-eyed, red-haired heroine from Disney’s 1989 film The Little Mermaid, any credit. I had always thought she was a naive, love-sick teenager who changed everything about herself to be with Prince Eric. She gives up her voice–literally and presumably symbolically–to try and win the heart of the handsome prince. At first glance, she’s not independent. At first glance, she’s kind of dumb (who would give up her voice for a pretty man?!).

It’s not that I didn’t like Ariel. I just thought she was a flat character, a princess only admired for her doe eyes and gorgeous flaming hair, not for what she could do or for who she was.

I thought this until very recently, and then I changed my mind about Disney’s little mermaid. I gave her signature song a closer listen–“Part of Your World” has got to be one of the best Disney songs, and it’s all about one girl’s ambition to be something other than her norm. It’s about one girl’s unquenchable curiosity; Ariel wants to “be where the people are” and “ask them [her] questions.” She asks, “When’s it my turn?” She’s tired of waiting. She wants to experience her dream of becoming human; she’s tired of being something she thinks she’s not.

Ariel has some spunk, now. I just was always blind to this spunk.

My favorite line of the entire song is as follows:

“Bright young women…sick of swimming…ready to stand.” 

Ariel is a bright young woman. She’s sick of swimming with her the mer-people, she’s sick of conforming to something she’s tired of. She wants to be her own person and experience new things. Ariel is a typical girl in her twenties (minus the fact that she’s only 16). She’s ready to venture on her own and be part of something that excites her and scares her.

Ariel wanted to be a part of the human world before she even thought about meeting her prince. Eric just happened to be a part of the package.

I can see why Ariel gave up her voice. She wanted to be a part of the world that had seemed so unattainable; with Ursula’s help, her dream was at her finger tips. She was ready to test out her legs in untested waters (irony), and she was desperate to discover a world where she knew she belonged. She’s also not immune to questionable decisions.

Ariel, I’m sorry I underestimated you. In fact, I’m a lot like you in many ways–I love doo dads (“thingamabobs”), I’m an incessant daydreamer, and I want to experience a world where I know I can belong. I appreciate my roots, like you do, but I have a thirst for adventure as well. I also appreciate a man with dark hair and blue eyes (let’s face it–Eric is a good looking prince). I want to learn as much as I can, just as you want to learn as much as you can about the human world.

Ariel, you are awesome and a role model to boot. I’m sorry it took me so long to figure that out. From now on, I’ll take your lead and venture into untested waters, be unashamedly curious, and go after what I want with a ferocity that may seem a little questionable.

The joke’s on me, Ariel. You knew what you were doing all along.