Walt Disney World Memorial Day Trip Report – Part 6

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On the last day of our Walt Disney World Memorial Day trip, we elected to go to Animal Kingdom. I had wanted to go there earlier in the trip, as the park was open until 8 pm over the weekend, which meant potential night photography there. That didn’t work out, so we were left with a half day in the park. We were both hoping for more time there, but it seems Animal Kingdom is often the park that draws the short straw from us, even if that isn’t our intention.

As you may know, I had a change of mind about Disney’s Animal Kingdom after spending more time than normal there last year, which I wrote about in the article “I Was Wrong About Disney’s Animal Kingdom.” That post was surprisingly popular (I think you all just like it when I’m wrong, but as Sarah will tell you, that’s fairly often) and I spoke more to the topic on the Animal Kingdom-centric podcast, Radio Harambe. While I no longer view Animal Kingdom as a half day park, it feels incomplete for me, and it’s missing that special something that I can just do over and over again to kill time.

Something like the PeopleMover, Country Bear Jamboree, or Carousel of Progress in Magic Kingdom, and American Adventure, Living with the Land, or Impressions de France in Epcot. About the closest thing Animal Kingdom has is eating Flame Tree BBQ ribs at the spot that overlooks Expedition Everest. This is probably largely because I haven’t spent enough time in Animal Kingdom to really feel an emotional attachment to anything in the park. It shouldn’t feel bad (assuming theme parks have feelings), as Disney’s Hollywood Studios is about the same for me. Although there I guess the Great Movie Ride sort of occupies that role. Sort of.

I am really hopeful that the boat ride that’s coming to AVATAR Land will fill that void. I remain in the approximately .5% of Disney fans who are actually optimistic about AVATAR Land. I’m by no means a fan of the movie (I thought it was mediocre at best), but it did have some truly beautiful environments that I think will transfer well to a theme park. This is why I’m looking forward to AVATAR Land. Like I’ve written countless times, I think ultimate quality transcends source material. Meaning, if the attractions are compelling and the land is beautiful, no one will care that AVATAR doesn’t really have a fanbase or wasn’t really that good of a movie. I’m not a fan of Cars, but I love Cars Land because the environment and main attraction are great. That’s not the best example because others love Cars, which could explain why the land is a hit. A better example is Splash Mountain. I wonder what percentage of guests have the slightest idea what the source material for it is, let alone how many have actually seen it. But I digress–I know I’m not going to change any minds with any of this, as AVATAR Land is one of those topics where you’re either ‘with us or are the enemy’.

We only had limited time in Animal Kingdom that morning and early afternoon, and that time included lunch at Yak & Yeti. Unfortunately, we hadn’t made FastPass+ reservations, so we jumped into the standby line for Kilimanjaro Safaris first thing. The posted wait was only 10 minutes…although that turned out to be more like 25. Oh well, it’s worth it.

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I’m going to level with you from the outset…this trip report installment is going to be dull. Some decent-enough photos, but nothing great, and I really don’t have much of interest to say. I had (what I thought) was a hilarious caption for a photo of a male bat, but Sarah said it was too immature and inappropriate to post. Fun police…

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One thing that irritates me about Walt Disney World as of late is the increased number of up-charge experiences. A slew have been added this year (Harambe Nights, Epcot Wind-Down, Epcot Champagne Party, VIP tour packages, Star Wars & Frozen ‘viewing’ packages, etc.), and a couple of years ago, Wild Africa Trek was the big addition at Animal Kingdom. Wild Africa Trek looks amazing even if we can’t justify its cost right.

The substance of the trek or that it costs extra money isn’t my complaint. It’s that Disney is putting effort into adding things like this that cost additional money, while not much is added to the core product. Perhaps I’m forgetting something, but I can’t recall the last completed addition to Animal Kingdom. It would be nice if, before focusing on up-charge experiences, Disney fleshed out the park a bit more. It’s sort of the same complaint that Disney builds timeshares with great speed, but AVATAR Land was announced in 2011 and is slated to open in 2017…

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If you like giraffe photos, you’re in for a real treat.

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Giraffes are by no means rare on Kilimanjaro Safaris, but for some reason I took like 50 photos of the giraffes.

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I was a bit surprised to see this Cast Member and truck just out ‘on stage’ adding feed to this location during the middle of the day. Kilimanjaro Safaris storyline has been hacked up over the years, but there still is a story to it, and this is a clear break to that.

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Moving on, we saw animals other than giraffe…

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Cheetah, lying around.

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Lion, lying around. Although lions and cheetah are much larger, you can tell they are related to house cats because they all spend the bulk of their day doing the same thing: lying around.

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Zebra. Is there any reason science can’t make regular horses look like this? Stripes may not always be in style, but I think this would be a better look for horses than just a solid color. If those huge hats are considered fashionable at the Kentucky Derby, I would think that some owners would want to make a statement by having a horse with stripes.

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The Harambe Street Party is awesome. We love the music, which really makes this area come alive.

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For some reason, this lady came up to the performer and basically started grinding on him with some bizarre dance. I hope she was just intoxicated, because that’s the only valid explanation for that type of dancing. I’m beyond awful at dancing, so I’m not normally one to judge…

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Next up was Flights of Wonder. This is a must-do for us, and unlike many shows, we think it has a ton of repeatability. Actually, I would say this, Festival of the Lion King (it wasn’t open in the new venue when we visited), and Finding Nemo: The Musical all are very repeatable. Quite the contrast to the shows at the Studios, which are mostly good, but not things I have much interest in repeating at this point.

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The birds are fun to watch and the performers are funny. It’s just a good time all around.

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Then, of course there’s the glorious 3-hour finale featuring this hero. It would make even Stephen Colbert shed a tear.

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Lunch was at Yak & Yeti. We have done the counter service at Yak & Yeti before, and find it to be pretty good (Sarah ate there again with her sister recently and loved it), but have always balked at the price of the table service restaurant until this trip.

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What really surprised me was the level of detail inside the restaurant. I know this is par for the course with Animal Kingdom, but Yak & Yeti is operated by a third party. I wonder how the arrangement for that works…does the third party foot the bill for all of the design work? I can’t see that happening. My guess is that they pay part of the cost as an initial fee, coupled with a lease for a set number of years. That’s just a guess, though.

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We were some of the first guests seated for lunch, so I wandered around and photographed as much as I could before more guests were seated. It’s pretty dark in there, but with the Sigma 35mm f/1.4 lens, this wasn’t much of a problem. Have I mentioned how much I love that lens?!

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As I said, Yak & Yeti is operated by a third party. Landry’s. I absolutely, positively cannot stand Landry’s. It’s a restaurant group with hundreds of locations and different brands, and it has been slowly gobbling up independently owned and operated restaurants over the years. Two of my favorite restaurants were purchased by Landry’s, and have since have their menus dumbed-down and their quality pretty much destroyed.

Landry’s is basically the McDonald’s of sit-down dining. I don’t mean that in the good way, either.

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For all of my disdain for Landry’s, I was surprised to find that our meals were pretty good. They were not out of this world amazing, but good food coupled with a great environment means I’ll be recommending Yak & Yeti once I write up a full review. Recommending a Landry’s restaurant?! I’ve finally lost it.

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Next, we did Expedition Everest via the Single Rider line. Did you know that going backwards on a rollercoaster has been regarded for centuries as one of the best ways to help your food settle?

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Details like this are what make Animal Kingdom great. This is, essentially, an ODV cart. Yet it’s disguised by this beautiful truck.

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For some reason, Dinosaur had a 60 minute wait. It normally is close to a walk-on whenever we visit, so I’m going to go ahead and blame this on FastPass+ (I have no clue if that’s the real reason for the long wait, but it seems like a convenient excuse.)

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Instead, we did Maharajah Jungle Trek. This is one of our favorite things at Animal Kingdom now, and the inappropriate bats have nothing to do with why we like it so much. Okay, they have a little to do with it. We are very immature. (Don’t act like you don’t chuckle when you see that…)

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If I were a bird, I would definitely want to live here.

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Since I try to anthropomorphize animals for my own entertainment, I’d imagine an intense, Game of Thrones-like situation involving the birds and their quest to rule over each of these houses.

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We ended the trip by seeing It’s Tough to be a Bug. It had been a while since we had seen this show, but it remains excellent.

After that, it was to the bus stop and back to All Star Music, where we waited for Disney’s Magical Express. All in all, and complaints aside, we really had a great trip. This was the most time (~5 days) that we had spent in Walt Disney World in a few years, and it was definitely nice to do more than just the weekend trip. Walt Disney World will always be our home resort, and it’s always good to be back home. I’m already in the midst of planning a return trip, but this time, it will just be me as I’m visiting for a photography trip while Sarah is on a mother-daughter trip with her mom. Walt Disney World is our place, so visiting without her will be a big change, but I’m also excited at the prospect of a photography-centric trip…and to see Diagon Alley.

See Ya Real Soon!

Click here to return to our Walt Disney World 2014 Memorial Day Trip Report Index in order to navigate to other installments. If you’re new to our trip reports, make sure to check out our past Walt Disney World and Disneyland Trip Reports.

For actual Walt Disney World trip planning tips and comprehensive advice beyond these quick and random tips, make sure to read our Walt Disney World Trip Planning Guide and related articles.

Your Thoughts…

What do you think of Animal Kingdom? Are you a fan of Landry’s and its trail of destruction? Share your comments on any of these things–or anything else from the trip report–in the comments!

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37 Responses to “Walt Disney World Memorial Day Trip Report – Part 6”

  1. Kevin says:

    “Quite the contrast to the shows at the Studios, which are mostly good, but not things I have much interest in repeating at this point.”

    Heresy! I shall report you to Sam the Bald Eagle for proper “eduation”.

    I agree with the sentiment about all the additional “upcharge” events recently. I’m sure glad the Christmas Processional wasn’t added in the past year or two or it certainly wouldn’t remain free. The Africa Trek gets mostly a pass from me, but the other things are a stretch for me. Particularly paying $$ for “preferred” parade viewing.

    • Tom Bricker says:

      MuppetVision isn’t a ‘show’, it’s a 3D film. At least that’s my take. To me, a show in Disney parlance means something with live performers. I guess MuppetVision qualifies if you count Sweetums, but that’s a stretch.

      I think Wild Africa Trek looks awesome and is TOTALLY justified as an upcharge experience (capacity is too low and the experience is probably too costly to have it be an attraction); I just wish Disney were doing more to flesh out the rest of that park on a more aggressive timeline.

      At this point, if Disney added something along the lines of Wild Africa Trek (except thematically appropriate for the park) to the Magic Kingdom, I wouldn’t bat an eye. I view the Magic Kingdom as a pretty fleshed-out park. Sure, there’s room for improvement, but I wouldn’t feel like the upcharge experience were coming at the expense of an unfulfilled need in the normal offerings of the park. Hopefully that makes some sense…does it?

      • Kevin says:

        That definitely makes sense, and I agree. I don’t mind the upcharge so much as I wish the imagineering/project management to bring them to fruition were devoted to other things.

        As for live performers – are you telling me that Waldorf and Statler aren’t real performers?!? Just kidding (although they are my favorite part of the show – they bring out my inner curmudgeon). In my head, I lump movies/live performers under “shows”, but I can appreciate the distinction.

  2. mike says:

    “I was a bit surprised to see this Cast Member and truck just out ‘on stage’ adding feed to this location during the middle of the day. Kilimanjaro Safaris storyline has been hacked up over the years, but there still is a story to it, and this is a clear break to that.”

    This happens almost every trip I take, but in my experience they incorporate them into the “story” as people working on the conservation, helping the animals on the savanna with this or that.

    • Tom Bricker says:

      That’s good to hear. Our driver did not do that, and it felt really out-of-place given the rest of her spiel.

      Feeding the animals and other work obviously has to be done, so I don’t fault them for that. I wish it weren’t done in the sight of guests (on Kilimanjaro Safaris–in other places I feel it actually enhances the experience), but perhaps that’s unavoidable.

    • Kevin says:

      We’ve only seen them a couple of times in many safari trips. during our last trip the truck in front of us broke down and they had to call out the pickup trucks to help move it along it’s way. Our CM driver joked about seeing the rare African Chevy.

  3. Donald says:

    AK has also grown on me a lot recently, and it’ll be nice to see how Rivers of Light and Pandora change the park (despite the fact that I’ve never seen Avatar). Your pictures of the park are stunning – even the food at Yak & Yeti looks good!

    I’ve been curious about this for a while – have you ever posted a ranking of all 11 Disney theme parks? I recall you ranking the parks some time ago (with TDS at the top and WDS at the bottom) – you even might have included the water parks above WDS. But I can’t find your ranking anymore, and I’m curious if anything’s changed for you over the past few months.

    • Tom Bricker says:

      I think I’ve ranked them in a comment to a post somewhere, or maybe in a trip report. Or maybe I haven’t at all.

      The problem is that my rankings are constantly in flux. They are also likely to offend some Walt Disney World fans; I know many people already get annoyed by how much I gush over the Tokyo parks, and I don’t think doing a rankings post would help with that. At all.

      On the bright side, with the New Fantasyland project completed, Magic Kingdom has moved up a spot. Once the Hub project is complete, I think it’ll move up another spot. I think things are *REALLY* looking up in the MK. I can’t say the same about the other 3 parks, but I think once Rivers of Light and Pandora (or whatever they’re going to call it) are complete, Animal Kingdom will skyrocket up my rankings.

      So there’s my evasive answer to your rankings question… ;)

  4. Lauren says:

    Your camera will go nuts over Diagon Alley. Its HUGE and there is so much to see there in every single nook and crannie. You’ll love it. And Butterbeer ice cream isn’t so bad either.

    • Tom Bricker says:

      I’m just generally excited for going back to Universal. Last time I was there was just after Islands of Adventure opened!

  5. Mike says:

    I figure the up charge experiences are more for the people who visit frequently. Like DVC or annual passholders. They come to the parks but may not actually buy anything (because the gift shops have the same generic Disney merch now), they cook in their villas instead of spending $$$ on full service dining options, or use their 3 FP+ and leave. The new experiences are catered directly to this group who have a little extra money to spend because they aren’t already spending a fortune to bring their family to Disney for the once every 10 year trip.

    It is easy enough to spend the extra money for Harambe nights when the Annual Pass is a sunk cost and this will be your thrid trip this year.

    • Tom Bricker says:

      I think you’ve more or less hit the demographic for these upcharge experiences, and I think many of the upcharge experiences are GOOD things that have a place in the parks for the exact reasons you mentioned.

      What bugs me is the recent focus on adding upcharge experiences, and the speed with which they are able to bring them to fruition. Should Disney really be focusing on upcharge experiences when there are so many needed improvements in the parks themselves? I think there are some serious ‘needs’ at the Studios, Animal Kingdom, and Epcot, and those things should take priority–not the addition of more DVC or more upcharge experiences. It also doesn’t feel right with the snail-like pace they move on projects that are included with the price of admission.

  6. Kayla says:

    Thanks for sharing this trip report. I always enjoy them, plus they have nice repeat readability.

  7. Aly says:

    Loved your spot on Radio Harambe! I 100% agree with your sentiments of Animal Kingdom. I love the trails, the rides, and especially Flights of Wonder (probably my favorite show at WDW) — and I HATE the DinoRama part of AK. I couldn’t have said it better: “It’s an abomination.” Let us know if/when you visit other sites!

    I’m curious…if you go to Diagon Alley, will you post a review or anything here? Or would that go on Travel Caffeine…or not at all? Just curious. I’d love to see your photos of Universal or a trip report of your experience there.

    • Tom Bricker says:

      I’m not sure what to do with Universal coverage. It WILL go somewhere–probably on both sites. Posts entirely about UOR aren’t really appropriate here, even though Walt Disney World visitors are very likely to also be interested in Universal. What I will likely do is one post about Universal here, and the rest on Travel Caffeine. That’s not set in stone, though.

  8. Melissa says:

    Not a fan of Landry’s? Have you and Sarah ever been to Morton’s in downtown Indy? (I realize there are several Morton’s, but the one in Indy is the only one I’ve been to.) My boyfriend took me there for my birthday the past two years and it is one of our favorite restaurants! We even got the membership card and are planning on seeing if it will work at Yak & Yeti. As a fellow steak lover who would gladly take on the “Every steak in WDW” challenge, I was surprised to hear that you are not a Landry’s fan!

    • Tom Bricker says:

      Funny that you mention it…Morton’s is actually one of the restaurants to which I was referring that has been ruined by Landry’s. Out of curiosity, did you ever go before 2012 (when Landry’s took control of Morton’s)? For some more info, Google: “Landry’s Morton’s.”

      I’m not saying Morton’s is bad now, but it used to be absolutely amazing. It was an enviable chain (especially the one in Chicago). Landry’s has homogenized it and taken away some of the touches that made it special. Now it’s still very good, but it’s no better than a place like Ruth’s Chris. I’d much rather eat at St. Elmo or the Columbia Club now.

      • Melissa says:

        The first time I went was 2013, so I guess I missed out! I haven’t gotten to go to St. Elmo yet, but that is actually next on our list for a nice dinner around here. And I agree with your Ruth’s Chris comparison. The two are pretty interchangable. We’ll have to check out Columbia Club too :)

  9. Kirsten says:

    I’m fairly new to your blog and I really enjoy reading your articles! I have to point out, though, that this post was laden with typos – were you tired? :)

    On the other hand, you used “anthropomorphize” in a sentence quite seamlessly and for that I will forgive you of the aforementioned typos. That is my favorite word in the English language for so many reasons.

    Thanks for another great article!

    • Tom Bricker says:

      If there were an award for most typos, I’m pretty confident this blog would win it. The problem(?) is that I write these posts while doing other things, and I never proofread them. That’s a dangerous combination. Unfortunately, I just don’t have the time to go to work, have a life, and then also dedicate tons of time to this blog. So, it’s either writing longer posts with more photos without proofreading, or shorter posts with fewer photos that are well-written. I’m a verbose photographer, so the choice for me is easy! ;)

      • Kirsten says:

        I was only pointing it out because you are such a fantastic writer, and I’ve never noticed any typos before! :) It was meant as a friendly jab, so please know that I didn’t intend to come across as rude. I love your blog and your photos, and I especially loved the article about how you were wrong about AK, because you had a lot of really great points about why it’s a wonderful park.

      • Tom Bricker says:

        Oh no, I didn’t take it as rude. I was just explaining myself, because I’m sure plenty of people wonder. Typos are common here, and that’s why! :)

  10. Holly says:

    I am with you on being optimistic about Pandora. I never even made it through the entire AVATAR movie but the environment has so much potential. I think your comments about source material are spot on. I love Splash Mountain mostly because I had these huge Disney books when I was a kid and one of them had all of Brer Rabbit’s adventures. My parents actually bought Song of the South years ago off ebay from Europe and had it converted to a US VHS. But if a controversial movie can’t diminish my love of SM and Brer Rabbit then surely a crappy movie can’t hurt a beautifully themed land (if they do it right)!

  11. Kramerica Industries says:

    Couldn’t agree more about Landry’s. I always feel ripped off at a Landry’s restaurant. I’d rather throw money out of my care window than go to Rainforest Cafe.

    BTW, love the trip reports.

    • Tom Bricker says:

      Ditto that about Landry’s. T-Rex Cafe looks neat, but if I went there I’d probably just order the cheapest thing on the menu, knowing whatever I got would be a disappointment.

      I was surprised that Yak & Yeti was actually good. Even a blind squirrel finds a nut every once in a while, I guess.

  12. Ben W. says:

    A censored, inappropriate joke about a bat that you’ve teased us with and now won’t share? I feel like this means that an “adults only” version of Disney Tourist Blog needs to exist. Maybe a separate Twitter feed? A closed Facebook group? A Snapchat account? Well, maybe not quite THAT adults only, but still…think of the fans!

    • Tom Bricker says:

      Ha, none of those things are happening…those types of groups just seem like trouble waiting to happen. About as “inappropriate” as I get is a very juvenile joke that isn’t so much adult as it is immature. It’s probably not even funny, so I wouldn’t worry too much about missing out on it.

  13. Loyal Reader says:

    Just wanted to add my voice to those who love your trip reports and enjoy your blog. I visited WDW late last year for the first time in over twenty years, and was really conflicted by the visit for the reasons you allude to in your reports. My nostalgia for the MK and EPCOT couldn’t overlook some serious deficiencies in the product. I hope Disney starts investing more into updating their Florida parks, although there seems to be little incentive to do so. The idea of Avatar land leaves me cold, but I agree with you that if the rides are great, the IP is less important.

    Anyway, thanks for the quality articles and pictures.

  14. Stephanie says:

    Love your posts! Highlight of my day! Can’t wait to see your next WDW and Diagon Alley post!

  15. Mi Mi 5 says:

    Your review touched on exactly the same impressions we have of AK. We do allow a good 3/4 of a day there every visit, and you couldn’t be more accurate in your coverage. Highlights are the entertainers, Yak & Yeti, Flame Tree BBQ, Flights of Wonder, Lion King. We saw the Lion King production pre-closing and it was fantastic. Can’t wait to see again in Sept when they re-open.
    Ambiance and change of pace are the draws at AK. You are right, it is not the attractions. Sixty minutes for Dinosaur? Those Fast Pass + things are indeed something magical to create that wait.

  16. Agnes says:

    Yes yes yes Universal please.

  17. jeffh says:

    think of the Wild Africa trek cost as a donation as most of the costs goto the dwcf .this is why it’s Considered overpriced.we have done this 3 times now and its the best upcharge attraction….we mainly do it in support for the fund

  18. Ed H says:

    Just returned from vacation at WDW. For me, AK is my least favorite park. It’s hot, humid, close and seems small. I gave it that one more try, but probably won’t be going back to AK again till Pandora(?) opens. As for the movie “Avatar”, I’m one of those who enjoyed it and feel that new park “experience” will give me a good reason to return to AK.

  19. laura says:

    I agree with you about Avatar land. While not being a fan of the movie at all, I also didn’t like Cars, and I thought that Cars land was the best thing Disney has done in years.

    I guess the ultimate question is, do we trust Disney or do we not – have they ever poured this much money into something and had it be a complete failure? I think if they’re hedging their bets this big, it will be good. As long as it has immersive theming, I already count myself as a fan.

    • Tom Bricker says:

      I think this assumes they are pouring a lot of money into Avatar Land, but no actual budget has been announced. If they do spend big, it’ll be great, I have no doubt about that. How much they will spend is the big question…

  20. Sarah says:

    Those bird houses are replicas of shrines used in Thailand. It’s where families and businesses put their offerings for the household gods each day. It’s Thai architecture in miniature. Offerings usually include flowers, sticky rice and fruit. Thought you might appreciate that extra detail!

  21. Michael Greiner says:

    The “glorious 3 hour finale” line seriously just made my morning!

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