Learn some new jokes on the Jungle Cruise

I remember being an 11-year-old riding the Magic Kingdom’s “world famous” Jungle Cruise for the first time: was the skipper for real? What possessed him to spout off corny jokes the entire trip down the great rivers of the world? By age 17 I’d wizened up. No way was it coincidental that all the Jungle Cruise guides had a penchant for comedy. And, by the time I was a honeymooner, finally had a soft spot for the witty spiels and classic commentary. Indeed, the jokes and puns are likely why we ride it.

It’s not the for animals, for sure. Don’t jump on the “Amazon Annie” or the “Irrawadddy Irma” expecting to see exotic species populating the jungles you cruise through. At least, not live species. These are of the Animatronic variety, but they manage to entertain and lend themselves to the skipper’s spiel. (And yes, I took the above photo myself back on my very first cruise in the early ’90s.)

Have you heard the latest about “Dr. Albert Falls” and the backside of water? Have you had the chance to attend the “Republican National Convention” (aka the elephant herd)? Did you get to meet the “uninvited guests” (monkeys) trashing the safari camp? Oh, and don’t miss all the jokes about the zebra at the “Hard Rock Cafe”!

With each new ride comes new punch lines to take home!

Location: Jungle Cruise is located in the Adventureland sections of both Magic Kingdom Park, Walt Disney World Resort and Disneyland Park, Disneyland Resort.

Touring tip: If you visit during the holiday season, be sure to ride the “Jingle Cruise” for new jokes, gags and scenery!

Count characters in bloom at Epcot’s Flower & Garden Festival

I don’t garden or tend flowers, don’t cultivate a single square foot of my property, and certainly neither of my thumbs would be mistaken for green. Instead, I’d rather get that green fix at Epcot’s International Flower & Garden Festival. It’s all the beauty of gardening without the hours toiling away in the yard and the inevitable disappointment when the local rabbit population decimates my veggie plot.

A recent springtime trip to Epcot found our sunny days filled with lush gardens, explosions of color, favorite Disney characters in bloom and — very important here — the delicious outdoor kitchens that sustain us throughout our touring. We made our way from Future World to World Showcase checking off the character topiaries on our Garden Passports — which made for a fun activity for the kids and a cool souvenir as well. Here are some of our favorites (clockwise from top left: The Three Caballeros hot pepper garden in Mexico, Phineas and Ferb at Agent P’s World Showcase Adventure kiosk in Future World, the Seven Dwarfs in Germany and the new FIgment sculpture near Spaceship Earth.).

After the sun goes down, the topiaries and many gardens are lit so you can still seek them out as you nosh your way around the outdoor kitchens and take in some tunes from the Garden Rocks concert series. And, of course, Mickey and pals are there in full bloom to bid you good night as you head out after a full day in the park.

Location: The Epcot International Flower & Garden Festival runs from early March through May each spring at Walt Disney World Resort. Admission to the festival is included in your theme park ticket.

Take a drawing lesson at Animation Academy

I have a thick folder dating back many years containing a charming collection of Disney characters my children have drawn me. Secretly, these are my favorite works of art to receive from them. It’s been awesome watching the characters evolve over time from masses of colored scribbles to something (or someONE) I can instantly recognize. No surprise, they thought it was the coolest to be able to take their first drawing lesson at Disney California Adventure’s Animation Academy.

Disney animators are on hand at the attraction to guide families through a crash course in drawing Disney characters. The class is about 20 minutes in length, long enough that adults can pick up some good tips from the rough stage of a drawing to the clean-up, but short enough to work with young attention spans. We had two young artists in the studio that day ages 6 and 8 who came home with impressive sketches of a certain Disney VIP. Be sure to check the Animation Academy schedule board outside the building to find out if your favorite character is featured.

I’ve heard the pros can even work wonders with folks like me that can’t even passably sketch…regardless your skill level, you’ve got yourself a unique and free souvenir.

Location: Find the Animation Academy in the Animation Building, Hollywood Land section of Disney California Adventure, Disneyland Resort. Two to three characters are drawn each hour in classes lasting 20-30 minutes each.

Hitch a ride on the Main Street Vehicles

Cruising down the Magic Kingdom’s main drag in one of the Main Street Vehicles  requires some departure from our usual traffic patterns. Like many families, when we enter the park in the morning we’re on a mission. Usually it’s to seek out a favorite attraction to avoid waiting in a long queue later. The vintage vehicles that tool along Main Street have always been more of a part of the backdrop for us than a mode of transportation. More like colorful props that lend authenticity to a turn-of-the-century scene.

However, if you’ve got some time to spare and are in the nostalgic mood to take in the details of Main Street USA in either the Magic Kingdom at Walt Disney World or at Disney, there is no better way to travel than by one of four vehicles:

  • horse-drawn trolley (as pictured above)
  • jitney
  • early fire engine (also above)
  • open-air, double-decker omnibus (pictured below)

 Hop on board for your trip down memory lane!

Location: Find the Main Street Vehicles on their-one way trip down Main Street USA at Magic Kingdom Park, Walt Disney World Resort and Disneyland Park, Disneyland Resort.

10 Things for Tweens at the Edge Youth Club, Disney Wonder

The Edge youth club on the Disney Wonder for ages 11-14 is the perfect getaway for tweens to meet new friends, hang out, and get some much-needed time alone with kids your age! From a recent awesome experience, I can tell you about my top ten reasons to go here:

1. Heroes vs. Villains: This is one of the big group activities done every day in Edge. At the beginning of the cruise, you split into two teams, and the game is on! Throughout the cruise you participate in activities such as dodgeball, trivia, and singing contests. The team with the most activities won by the cruise’s end is the champion (our team won, 6-5!).

2. The other fun activities: From Gaga Ball to trivia, from riddles and games to singing competitions, there is no end to the entertainment at Edge. I must have stayed out till midnight every night playing these games. Which leads me to mention…

3. Late-night hours: Usually, Edge operates until 1AM, so you can stay up late during Heroes vs. Villains. A huge sacrifice on your counselors’ part! Just make sure to let your parents know what time you’ll be rolling in. And speaking of those parents…

4. Liberation (at least for a little while!): If you want a little independence on your cruise, this is probably the best spot to go and hang out with kids your age. No little brothers, sisters or parents allowed here! Just you, your counselors, and the other members of Edge. However, there is an open house at the beginning so your family can have a long (and jealous!) look around.

5. Meeting new pals: Edge provides a huge chance to meet and interact with new friends. Challenge them to a game of NHL 17, play a board game, or do crafts with them. One of the best ways to get to know people is through Heroes Vs. Villains, where you’ve got to discuss strategy with your teammates.

6. Video games: Doesn’t every teen need them? Edge features giant sceens equipped with all the latest games, my personal favorite of which was Mario Kart 8.

7. Proximity to Eye Scream: Be sure to ask your parents, and if they grant permission, Edge is right across from Eye Scream, an all-you-can eat ice cream palooza! I used to go out and grab a cone every so often. Chocolate, anyone?

8. Prizes: Not a big draw, but if you win certain games, you can win cool prizes, such as Edge sunglasses and Disney Cruise Line backpacks!

9. The secret hideout on Castaway Cay: On Castaway Cay, Disney’s private island in the Bahamas, there is a secret teen/tween hideout featuring volleyball, soccer, Ping-Pong tables and more in this extravagant extravaganza! Plus, your club goes together to the Pelican Plunge waterslide area, and In-Da-Shade Games, where you can play shuffleboard, pool, basketball, and more.

10. Finally, a shout out to the cool counselors: These guys are what keeps Edge alive. Without them, there would be no Edge. They are extremely kid-friendly and nice. Hard to pick favorites, but mine was Mitch. We had a nickname for him, but that’s another story.

Location: Find the Edge youth club on all four Disney Cruise Line ships – Disney Magic, Disney Wonder, Disney Dream, and Disney Fantasy.

Saying farewell to Ellen’s Energy Adventure

We’re all in agreement that Ellen’s Energy Adventure is a bit of a dinosaur. The education on the origins of energy Ellen DeGeneres receives in her time-traveling trip with Bill Nye the Science Guy was fresh, what, 20 years ago? Not even a magical Disney makeover is going to save this stale show from the chopping block.

That said, our four children have grown up with Ellen, Bill, “Stupid Judy” and the rest of the Jeopardy crew —  and will be sad to see them go. Also, dinosaurs! Mom and Dad grew up in the era of the original Universe of Energy attraction, which consisted first of some “totally uncool” film footage. We didn’t mind sitting through it, though, to get to those dino dioramas! The dioramas still stand for the current generation and include a trip through primeval swamps filled with prehistoric species.

Energy, you may “make the world go round”, but that may not be enough to save your spot at Epcot.

Location: Find Ellen’s Energy Adventure — while you still can — in the Future World section of Epcot Theme Park, Walt Disney World Resort.

Team up for a game of Mission: SPACE Race

[This post was written by Junior Mouse Holiday contributor Andy, a master at Mission: SPACE Race.]

“And the winner is…………TRITON!!!!”

If you have heard this, you have probably played Mission: SPACE Race. Mission: SPACE Race is a highly interactive game situated with other hands-on activities at the end of the Mission: SPACE attraction in Epcot. When playing the game you are assigned to one of 2 teams on a ship, Triton or Orion. Up to 56 people can play at one time.

Once the clock starts, the game is on! There are modules on each team where you must fix “problems” on your spaceship. These usually involve tapping a few buttons on your module to fix the problem. Once you fix it, you get a different colored gem-like power source that is sent to the “command center”. There are four buttons in the command center that control hands, one for each color, red, blue, yellow, and green. These pick up their corresponding gem color, and place it in the “problem area” to solve it, and make the ship go faster. On top of that, once the ship solves enough problems, your ship gets a boost, which the commander activates.

Unfortunately, this gives your ship more problems! There is a halfway point in which the leader is announced, but after that, the teams go right back at it! After another minute or so, the teams stop, and the winner is announced. Teamwork is essential, and so is lots of players, so the game will not start until there are enough. Good luck, and may the best team win!

Location: Find Mission: SPACE Race at the exit of the Mission: SPACE attraction in the Future World section of Epcot Theme Park, Walt Disney World Resort.

Spend a day on Castaway Cay’s family beach

Sunbeams on placid turquoise water, soft white sand under the feet, and a day stretched out ahead with nothing much in particular to do. It’s a dream come true in March for a family that hails from the snowy state of Minnesota. This island paradise, known as Castaway Cay, is an exclusive retreat for guests sailing aboard Disney Cruise Line. We spent a wonderful, relaxing day on Castaway’s family beach recently, much needed after months of cold weather. The kids were happy paddling around on inner tubes ($10 rental on the island), collecting shells (for pictures only!), and playing in the sand. During a relatively uncrowded cruise, we had no problem snagging lounge chairs to kick back in – not that our little ones allowed us to do much dozing in the sun.

MH castaway cay family beach

We felt completely comfortable allowing our nearly-9-year-old son the freedom to move between the beach and the nearby “In Da Shade” game pavilion. I’m still scratching my head as to why he was so taken with unlimited free games of pool and shuffleboard when the lagoon was beckoning, but that’s Andy for you. When the sun grew stronger he finally meandered his way to the water. The lagoon is clear and relatively shallow; lifeguards stationed at several points out in the water add an extra measure of safety for kids swimming and snorkeling. Not far out from the shore is a wooden play structure with bridges and ropes to swing from.

When it comes time to refuel, Cookie’s BBQ is just a short stroll from the sand (and the meal is conveniently covered by the cruise fare). In a cool, covered pavilion we devoured all we could eat of ribs, hot dogs, salads and soft serve for dessert. So the toddler dripped half her cone down her chin? The outdoor showers came in handy for more than just rinsing off the sand!

Location: A stop at Castaway Cay’s family beach in the Bahamas is included on select Disney Cruise Line itineraries.

See the species soar in Flights of Wonder

It’s such a joy when we cross off some rare attraction on the to-do list for the first time. In the case of a recent fall trip to Disney’s Animal Kingdom, we finally made it to the Flights of Wonder show! The show had never been a priority, though I had read nothing but positive reviews.

Flights of Wonder begins with introductions to tour guide “Guano Joe” — you couldn’t miss his name because the bird trainer was obsessively addressing him by it. Apparently Guano Joe has an avian aversion and the trainer has made it her business to ease his fears by introducing him to a bevy of exotic species. Macaws, an African gray parrot, a crowned crane, a great horned owl and others came out to visit, perform tricks and in some cases even came swooping out over the audience to the back half of the theater. It is the trainer’s hope that by teaching Guano Joe (and us, the audience) about bird habits and behaviors, we will come to see them in a friendly and fascinating light. There is an underlying theme of conservation of the birds’ habitat throughout the show.

The ample theater is outdoors, but covered, which makes for a welcome break from the midday sun. And it’s scenic — the Caravan Stage is set against the backdrop of temple ruins that, according to Animal Kingdom’s backstory, were once part of the rule of a great Maharajah. The ruins have become the playground of these majestic birds.

Our kids loved the birds. They wanted to get down closer to the stage after the show to meet the various species. If you can spare the time, linger to take photos and ask questions of the trainers to gain a better understanding of the birds.

Location: Find the Flights of Wonder show performed multiple times daily in the Asia section of Disney’s Animal Kingdom Theme Park, Walt Disney World Resort.

Hunt A Pirate’s Adventure: Treasures of the Seven Seas

[This post is a contribution by Junior Disbird Andy, Disney interactive games enthusiast.]

Arrgh, mateys! Captain Jack Sparrow be requestin’ your help.

Find the skull with crystal eyes in an idol, or find hidden gold in a fish tank! Make a pirate skeleton emerge from the depths of the water! All of these adventures and more await you in A Pirate’s Adventure: Treasures of the Seven Seas.

Located in Adventureland at the Magic Kingdom, this exciting interactive game involves scouting out a boatload of pirate mischief. Embark on different adventures: Blackbeard, The King’s Ransom, Guardian’s Curse, Haven Defense, and Heads, You Lose — where you go to find the aforementioned skull. But don’t make the mistake of thinking you are the only pirate on this quest. You must escape from the British Navy and Captain Barbossa and his crew while trying to find the treasure!

Each of these missions take about 20 minutes to complete, and you have up until 30 minutes before the park closes to finish. Plus, you can stop and start at any point in the day, and even pick up the next day! Oh, and a special bonus – after you complete all the adventures, you get a special card signed by Captain Jack Sparrow himself!

Happy treasure hunting, fellow pirates!

Location: Play A Pirate’s Adventure: Treasures of the Seven Seas at Magic Kingdom Park, Walt Disney World Resort. There is no separate admission charge to play. Use your MagicBand or park pass to obtain mission supplies at the Pirate’s Adventure post in Adventureland – and the souvenirs are yours to keep!