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February 2, 2011

A Birthday To Remember! (Part 1)

I'm not one for celebrating birthdays... at least not my birthdays. I tend to view aging in a very negative light, so my preference is to just ignore the process and hope it will return the favor. So far, that hasn't really worked out the way I hoped, but I keep trying. Last month, I turned 35. I decided to be very "un-me" and actually acknowledge this milestone. I wasn't sure what to do for the event - a million ideas ran through my mind, but nothing ever really entered the planning stage. Life's been busy and planning an "all about me" event just wasn't my top priority. Then came the loss of Aunt Kay. I shelved the idea of the birthday extravaganza. On the night of the 21st, Gino and I were chatting about my birthday. He said that he was originally going to do something and surprise me, but that he was afraid to proceed now in light of our family's tragedy just a few days before. He didn't know if I was up for celebration and he didn't want to appear insensitive and offend my family. I respected that and appreciated his consideration so much. I let him know that no one would have held it against him and in fact, they probably would appreciate his efforts to distract me, since I couldn't make it home to be with them during the services that weekend, but I certainly understood the difficulty of his position. We decided we'd try again and do something in the next couple of weeks... all the while, I wasn't completely aware of what it was that he had originally planned. We also decided to visit the Disney parks over the next couple of days just for some fun time. He told me to get all of my homework done for the weekend so that I didn't have it hanging over my head.


The next morning, we headed out to spend the day at Disney's Hollywood Studios (probably my favorite WDW park). As Gino drove through Disney property, I was busy playing with my FourSquare app on my phone, paying no attention to what was going on. We parked and when I got out of the car, I looked around and realized we were not at Studios. In fact... where are we? That's when Gino and the kids let me in on the surprise. We were at the Animal Kingdom Lodge. Gino had booked a room, savanna view, the night before. This was my ultimate Disney dream!
The moment of realization

I have to admit, the Lodge was even more amazing than I ever dreamed it would be. I had been there before for dinner at Boma, but I had never really explored the Lodge itself. It was simply beyond words! We had the chance to wander the grounds for a bit, while we waited for our room to be ready. All the while, I kept telling myself "Wow, I'm really here! This is happening!" For three days and two nights, my dream was going to be my reality!
Then, the real adventure began. We were assigned a room on the 4th floor and it was like walking into another world! All of the Disney touches blended perfectly with the wild African theme...
But, the very best part of the room was the balcony! Savanna view, baby!! I really was quite content spending a great deal of time sitting out there, just watching the giraffes, zebras, and more go about their daily life in a truly natural environment. I took hundreds of pictures, of course. Day and night, I found myself returning to that balcony and just soaking it all up!





One of the greatest things about Animal Kingdom Lodge (and really, most of the Disney hotels, in fact) is something that is often overlooked due to the lure of the parks... on-site activities located right at the hotel. I do understand that most hotel guests are coming from out of town for a limited stay at the Disney Resort. We have the rare advantage to hold annual passes, so we can do the parks anytime. This made it much easier for us to decide to just soak up the hotel's amenities and avoid the parks completely. For this, I am grateful!
Schedule of activities at the Lodge... most free!
 The kids enjoyed many cultural/animal themed activities. For each one, they received a bead added to a necklace.
 Sierra made me a birthday cookie at a cookie decorating event.
And they took advantage of the face painting event as well.  

This was just the start of an amazing getaway! So much more to explore and discover. Many more surprises planned. We hit a couple of snags along the way, but in true Disney fashion, the day was saved by a phenomenal AKL Cast Member.

STAY TUNED FOR PART 2... Animal Kingdom Lodge pools, character dining experiences, boating on Bay Lake and Disney saves the day when things go wrong!