Wishes And Pixie Dust

Follow the journey of a Wisconsin family of 4 who relocated to the Walt Disney World area in July 2011


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Limited Time Magic: Animal Kingdom Backstage Tour

I was selected to participate in a special opportunity through the Disney Parks Blog- to view the animal care facilities behind the scenes.  I am thrilled to have been able to take part, and I wanted to share my experience here.    We were informed that this tour was not the same as the Backstage Safari Tour that guests can reserve through Disney, but offered a one-of-a-kind encounter with cast members who were directly involved with the care and training of animals.

There were nineteen people present; we were divided into two groups, and driven by van to the backstage area.   The Disney geek in me was just excited to be riding in a Walt Disney World van!  We passed the area where the new Festival of the Lion King Theater was being constructed, but in true Disney fashion it was under wraps and we weren’t able to view a lot from the road.   We had two different opportunities:  to view the lion housing area and to tour the veterinary hospital.   My group was able to view the lion housing area first.  As this was a backstage area, no pictures were allowed.

There were two lionesses and one lion in the holding area:  the lionesses were pacing back and forth upon seeing us, but the lion just continued his afternoon nap, on his back, showing his tummy!   These lions were approximately five years old, and have been with Disney for approximately two years.  The lions out on the safari were seventeen years old, so quite a bit older.  The two sets of lions are on a three day rotation:  every three days the backstage lions get to go out on the safari, and the safari lions then spend their time in the holding area.  At no time are the two male lions allowed contact with each other; there is an empty pen kept between the young lions and the older lions.

All food given to the animals are dead, because of the hazard a live animal could potentially give to the animal consuming it.   The safety and well being of the animals is of utmost concern for Disney, and we were given the example of giving a live rat to a snake who was not hungry, and having that rat bite the snake and causing injury.

One of the challenges the animal staff encounters is training the lions to do a voluntary blood draw.  There is a special cage where the lions are encouraged to enter, and a small side panel drops down to allow their tail to swish out.  The bigger an animal’s tail, the more blood vessels it contains, so access to a lion’s tail allows the staff to safely do a blood draw, to order to monitor the health of the lion.  As I mentioned before, this is all voluntary on the part of the animal, and at no time does Disney force the issue.  All desired behaviors are encouraged using positive reinforcements, such as favorite foods.   The five year old lionesses are still in the training stage, even after two years.

There are ten veterinarians on staff at Disney, to care for approximately 2,000 thousand animal at Animal Kingdom, 300 animals located at Animal Kingdom Lodge, and 3,000 animals at the Seas with Nemo and Friends.   There are times the animals at Animal Kingdom Lodge are moved to Animal Kingdom, and vice versa.    It all depends on where an animal thrives best.   At night the animals on safari are called into their holding areas with a special sound unique to their species.  However it was noted that during the summertime some of the animals would prefer to stay out, and they are not forced inside.  It typically does not take long for new animals to learn the sound and follow the path into their holding areas.   There is also a different, emergency signal that the animals learn, to come in during the day if necessary.   This is practiced once a month.   In the case of the lions, a special treat of rabbit is presented to them upon return to the holding areas.    This special signal would be enforced if bad weather was approaching, or if something came inside their pen that could be potentially harmful to the animals there.

This was the end of our tour of the lion holding area; we went back to the van and were then transported to the veterinary hospital, where we were greeted by Dr. Scott, chief operating veterinary doctor.  We were told it was a special treat to have him as our tour guide.  We were given a pin that he said could not be found anywhere else on Disney property, so if we were going to trade it, we should trade it for something big!    Here is a picture of the pin:

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We were led into the x-ray room- on the picture below the table you see supports animal weight of up to 1,000 pounds.

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The cart in the picture below is unique in that Disney is the only animal care facility that has one, mainly because it is cost prohibitive to other animal facilities and they cannot justify the expense.   The cart contains everything pictured in this room, so that it can be transported directly out to the animal.    In the past, x-rays would be taken on a sedated animal in the field, an intern would come back to this room to develop the pictures, and then more likely than not, the image would be blurry because an animal had moved at the last minute.   So then the intern would need to return to the animal, retake the x-ray again, and hope this time it provided a clear image.  Each additional x-ray that needed to be taken required the animal to be sedated for a longer period of time.     Dr. Scott stated that Disney purchased the cart, not because they’re Disney and need to have the best equipment there is, but because it provided a significant increase in the quality of care that the animals received.

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The grappling hooks in the next picture are used to support gorillas during a chest x-ray.    Older gorillas tend to have a high incidence of heart disease, and in fact, two gorillas on Disney property do have the condition.  This, of course, needs to be monitored, and one way is through chest x-rays.  Because the gorillas need to be standing up during the x-ray, and because it is impossible to support the gorillas in an upright stance while they are sedated, it is necessary to support them through the use of these hooks.

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This is a picture of a mammogram machine that is used to provide care to the animals:   not in the way humans use the machine, but on any area that requires a closer inspection.

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We were then led into the main operating room, which as you can tell from the photo is observable to park guests from inside Conservation Station.    This is where 90% of all the procedures take place; Dr. Scott stated that they do not pick and choose which animal gets treated.  It just depends on what animal needs care on a particular day.   If they strongly suspect a particular animal will not survive the procedure, then they may perform the operation in an inner room.  He stated that life and death happens in this room, and there are times when staff members need to go outside the room afterwards and talk to guests about what happened.  All procedures are performed in the morning, and the best time to be there is 10am if you wish to witness it!

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We were then taken into an inner room to view a “patient”, a turtle who had been hit by a car which cracked its shell.  We were informed that the turtle was 98% healed, but because Florida is entering cooler weather, with cooler water temperatures, they felt it better not to release her until the spring.  No pictures were allowed at this point.

Overall, it was definitely a magical experience!  A huge shout-out to Walt Disney World for allowing a few guests to see the inner magic of Disney.  As dedicated as Walt Disney World is to the safety and enjoyment of their guests, this also applies to their animal residents, and it was a privilege to be able to witness how dedicated the veterinary and animal team are to their residents.

–Jen


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WDW- Top 5 Venues for Souvenir Shopping

Disney offers a wide variety of merchandise that appeals to all who visit the World:  vinylmation, pins, plush characters, kitchen and household decor, food items, clothing, and miscellaneous trinkets, to name just a few!  I thought it would be fun to focus on the shops that do not automatically come to mind when you think Disney shopping.  This is definitely not a complete list; there are so many different shopping opportunities at Walt Disney World available to guests beyond The World of Disney. 

Go Off-Property.  If you have access to a vehicle, consider visiting one of the three Disney outlet stores in the Orlando area.  The Mouse For Less (http://www.themouseforless.com/tripplanning/travel/OutletStores.shtml#2) details these stores and provides driving information from Walt Disney World.   Target and Wal-Mart in the area also offer an expanded selection of Disney themed products at a very reasonable price—you won’t find park merchandise, but if you’re in the market for general Disney items, consider looking here first.

Bayview Gifts and Fashions (BVG) @ The Contemporary Resort.  Located on the Grand Canyon Concourse, this shop offers a wide selection of clothing, select Dooney & Bourke bags, jewelry, kitchen merchandise, gifts and assorted fudge, chocolate and cupcake snack items.

The Bead Outpost @ World Showcase in Epcot.  If you are looking for an inexpensive yet unique gift to bring back home, the jewelry sold here really fits the bill. All the beads displayed at this kiosk were originally Disney maps, which were then sent to Uganda through Bead For Life, and fashioned into waterproof beads.  You may select jewelry or bead your own, in almost any color imaginable.

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American Film Institute Showcase Shop @ Hollywood Studios.  After you experience the Backlot Tour attraction, you are directed into this gift shop for your exit.  If you are a movie or television buff, this is a great place to pick up a unique gift.

 The Shops @ The Grand Floridian.  You will discover a unique shopping experience in the main building:  there are five stores that each offer specialized items, from women’s and men’s fashions, to character merchandise, fine chocolate and candies, and beauty and bath products.

What is your favorite spot for that unique souvenir?


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Autism in the Parks

Picture the Magic Kingdom on a high crowd level day:  long stand-by lines for attractions, people pushing through areas trying to make ADRs, or FastPass times or just simply to reach that next attraction.  For most people, this proves to be a minor annoyance but to them the magic of Walt Disney World is worth the inconveniences. However, to a child with autism, this can prove to be a sensory nightmare, and a such you will not find us in the parks on a high-level crowd day.    As our Ben will tell you: “I don’t do so well in crowds”.

Children with autism typically tend to have noise sensitivities.  That child ahead of you in the queue line with headphones on?  Without the noise blocking mechanisms of those headphones, the noise would literally prove to be too painful for the child to tolerate it.   Ben uses ear plugs for such attractions as Big Thunder Mountain Railroad, Space Mountain, Mickey’s Philharmagic, Haunted Mansion (in the stretching room where people tend to scream) and Dream Along with Mickey in the Magic Kingdom; Rock n Roller Coaster, Tower of Terror, Great Movie Ride, Indiana Jones, Mulch, Sweat & Shears, Backlot Tour,  and Muppets in the Studios;  Test Track, Mission Space, Soarin’, and Candlelight Processional in Epcot;  and  Expedition Everest, Dinosaur, Festival of the Lion King, and Finding Nemo the Musical in the Animal Kingdom.    Ben considers the Studios to be one of the noisiest parks.

Enjoy waiting in line?  Well, nobody really does, but for children with autism, this is extremely hard.  We have been so thankful for the Guest Assistance Card to help Ben with these lines.  The current DAS card which replaced it has been helpful, but it does have more limitations than what we’ve experienced previously.  See our earlier post here on the DAS card.

We have been blessed to have been able to move close to Walt Disney World, as Ben has loved Mickey Mouse ever since he was a preschooler.  Mickey is such a calming force in his life.  We accept, however, that there are certain times that we are not able to go into the Parks, such as the 4th of July and New Year’s Eve fireworks.  He loves fireworks, but not the crowds.  We are not always able to attend meets, as it depends largely on how Ben is that day.  A high autism day means very little patience for waiting around, and what really is there to do with a crowd of people for a length of time?    We have found the iPhone and its numerous apps to be a valuable tool in waiting in lines, but there are times that it can only provide so much entertainment before he gets bored with it.

We are thankful to our friends who understand and love Ben for who he is.  He is an amazing child, and we wouldn’t have him any other way.


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The Place You Call Home

One of the biggest questions facing us when we decided to make the move was where we wanted to live.  We had narrowed down the city, but needed to decide between renting a house and an apartment.   We selected the apartment, and this post will talk about where we are with that.

One of our readers had commented that it doesn’t matter where you live, as long as you are near Walt Disney World.  Well, not quite.    There are a lot of areas we would never move to, even if it meant being close to the Mouse.    We wanted to live in a similar community setting as we had in Wisconsin, and while Clermont doesn’t quite fit the bill with that, it is a very nice area to live in.

Overall we have been satisfied with our apartment:  the office and maintenance staff are wonderful to work with, and it is nice to live in a place where we don’t need to worry about lawn care, or pool care or pest preventative treatments.  Over the past few months, however, we have been contemplating moving into a rental home due to a few different reasons.  We are hesitant, however, because we have heard horror stories regarding a few rentals here, and we don’t want to move from a good situation into a bad one.  It would also need to make financial sense; ie, we might pay lower rent, but we may have other expenses that we don’t here that would mean an increase in monies paid out.

So right now we’re kind of on the fence about it.  We currently have bad neighbor issues, but we’ve also had that experience when living in a house in Wisconsin, so moving doesn’t necessarily erase that issue.    We also would love more living space, as we lost approximately 700 square feet when we moved here.  We would love to find a four bedroom home here to rent, with the extra bedroom being designated as a guest bedroom/den area/craft room.    We don’t believe the electricity bill would rise significantly with more living space, as we need to run the air conditioner here more often than normal, as all our windows face only one direction, and unless its a fairly cool day, it doesn’t cool off the house significantly with no cross ventilation.

We have no regrets for moving into the apartments, as it provided security for us knowing that we had a relatively nice place to live.  Once we left our house in Wisconsin, we were technically homeless until we arrived in Florida, and that is an unsettling feeling to have, even though we knew it to be temporary.    Even if we do not make the move in 2014, we both feel that it be a change that will eventually occur, as we don’t anticipate apartment living for the rest of our lives in Florida.


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Bucket List: #51-100

This is a continuation of our post from yesterday:  another 50 items that made it to our bucket list before our move, and what we have accomplished so far.  Our comments are in blue following the line item.

51.  Enjoying the streetmosphere entertainment.    We love Mulch, Sweat & Shears at the Studios.  If you haven’t been able to catch their act yet, you must.  Go do it.  🙂

52.  Festival of the Masters    Not yet.  The weather didn’t cooperate last year.

53.  Going to the Night of Joy     We have not yet attended but definitely want to.  This is another example of the noise level being way too loud for Ben.

54.  Flower and Garden Festival     Neither of us is into gardening a lot, but we enjoy walking through Epcot during Flower & Garden and taking it all in.  

55.  Holidays Around the World at Epcot     We have not purposefully stopped and listened, but we have heard bits and pieces as we’ve walked through World Showcase.  We’ve especially heard the Norway rendition quite a bit, as we passed it on the way to Candlelight Processional.  

56.  Sounds Like Summer at Epcot         We have not attended yet.

57.  The Candlelight Processional      Last year Catie was part of an honor choir with Candlelight Processional and performed at Disney four separate days.   We also attended one time after Christmas so that Catie could see it from a non-performer point of view.  The narrators we’ve heard have been Neal Patrick Harris, Geena Davis, Amy Grant, Andy Garcia, and Jodi Benson.  This year she will be performing once, again with narrator Neal Patrick Harris.  I’m sure we will see it a few more times beside.   We consider this a new tradition for us at Christmas time.  It is absolutely beautiful and brings forth the true spirit of the season.  

58.  Finding a good Friday fish fry!   No, we’ve found a place that may have potential, Wolfy’s in Leesburg, but we haven’t checked it out yet.   Friday fish frys are just not the thing down here.

59.  Visiting the Kennedy Space Center    We went for the first time this March, and plan to go back in December when Nick and Jess visit.  It really is a place where you want to be there early in the morning and stay until close, and then you still don’t see everything.    We are looking forward to seeing the new Atlantis and Angry Birds exhibits.

60.  Riding TTA during Wishes     No, we haven’t done this since moving here.

61.  Sit at each of the Parks and take time to “people watch”     On occasion, especially when we’re at the Parks at close- it’s simply easier to let all the people pass before we head out.

62.  MLB Spring Training    No.

63.  Pick a fresh Florida orange from a tree    No, still would love to do this.  We do pass orange groves on the way to Disney and love the smell!

64.  Go swimming on a warm December day     Ben & Catie have– two years ago they were swimming in the pool on Christmas Eve day

65.  Enjoy a “work at home day” with Craig Petermann at Epcot   No, the Internet connection is not reliable enough.

66.  Take a family Christmas picture at WDW     I don’t think we have a family picture, but we do have several shots of us separately.   Something to make sure to do this year.

67.  Earn all the Gowalla WDW stamps and pins       Gowalla is no longer around.

68.  Be one of “those people” checking in all over Lake Buena Vista with Foursquare         Of course.

69.  Move in to our new apartment in Clermont     Yes!

70.  Find the best pizza places in the area     Stone Creek Pizza in Clermont, Napolis in Minneola are two of our faves.  

71.  Our first Saturday library visit to our new “home” library     Yes, and we go every Saturday, though we still prefer our library back home in Wisconsin.

72.  Stroll the Boardwalk     Not yet.

73.  Share a Kitchen Sink at Beaches & Cream with the family    It’s definitely going to happen sometime!

74.  Wild Africa Trek at AK     No

75.  Pirates and Pals Fireworks     No not as of yet.

76.  Backstage Magic Tour    No.

77.  Family Magic Tour     No.

78.  Get a haircut at The Harmony Barbershop on Main Street USA    No, not yet.

79.  The Pirates League with Ben    No

80.  Keys to the Kingdom Tour    No

81.  Walk through Fort Wilderness Campgrounds at Christmas to see the campers’ decorations     This year, maybe!

82.  See a University of Florida football game    No

83.  Stay in the Magic Kingdom until the wee hours of the morning to enjoy the peace    No

84.  Orange Bowl Parade on New Year’s Day    No

85.  Have a holiday sandwich at the Earl of Sandwich    Believe it or not, we have not done this yet.  We were going to last year, and then the place was absolutely mobbed.  Poor timing on our part- but never went back later.  Now they are available year round so there is just no excuse!

86.  Have a diabetic friendly treat at Babycakes    No not yet.

87.  Go to Butterfly World    No but I’m sure the kids would love it.

88.  Swim with the manatees     No but still think this would be awesome.  

89.  Explore Florida’s state parks    We have not been in one yet 😦   Though we did find out recently that Lake Louisa rents out cabins to stay in, so this may be a possibility in the near future!

90.  Visit the Everglades allligator farm  http://www.everglades.com/     Nope

91.  Hearing the word blizzard and knows it only refers to a waterpark or a DQ dessert!    The nearest DQ to us is in Mount Dora, which is approximately a 30 minute drive from us.  And no, we haven’t been to Blizzard Beach yet.  But yes, it is wonderful not having to worry about snowy weather!

92.  Go to Port Canaveral and watch the Disney ships leave port    No but we want to do this.  Actually we want to be on the Disney ship leaving the port……

93. Finding all of the local arts and crafts shows and fairs.    We have not done this, but there is one coming up November 23-24 in Winter Garden that we may check out.

94.  Getting to see the White Sox play in Tampa Bay.    No

95.  Being able to get more exercise by taking walks and biking the trails of Lake County year-round.    No bikes yet, I’m not sure we will as Clermont is very hilly, but we do love taking walks around the area.

96.  Enjoying the scenery of Florida, knowing that it will stay green year round, and not become brown and dead for six months out of the year.    Yes, this is nice not seeing the deadness of winter, but we do miss the autumn colors.  

97.  Enjoy a hot dog at Casey’s whenever we want one     BEST. HOT. DOGS. EVER.

98.  Sit at Cosmic Ray’s and enjoy an entire Sunny Eclipse show    You know, this was a must-do every vacation trip, but we have not been in there since we moved.

99.  Take a yearly family picture in front of Cinderella Castle.     We’re not consistent with this.

100. A family picture and mini-celebration immediately after we cross the Florida state line on our way to becoming Florida residents!  We did not take a family pic, but there was great excitement in the car from the Florida state line all the way to Clermont!

So that’s our update to our bucket list.  We could probably even make a new one, as we can think of additions to it that we didn’t include.  What’s our your bucket list?