Our final full day at Walt Disney World was a cold one at first (well cold by Florida standards, just a bit chilly by Virginia standards). We caught an early bus to Animal Kingdom and got into the park early to enjoy Donald's Breakfast Safari at the Tusker House.
Like Hollywood and Vine, we were able to walk through a portion of the park (Oasis to Discovery Island to Africa) before the park opened. It was quite nice to stroll along and enjoy some of the sights without all the crowds.
This was my first visit to the Tusker House, and I really didn't know what to expect. When we entered the main buffet area (shown above), I was totally blown away with the intricate detail put into the theming. The food offered was very similar to many other character breakfasts, but the theming of this place put it at number one for character breakfasts in my book (even above Cinderella's Royal Table). Donald, Daisy, Mickey, Minnie and Goofy are here decked out in Safari outfits. We especially had a great server, Neal, who played along with our kids and even took a few pictures for us. He was an experienced photographer and helped me get some lighting settings fixed on my camera. That was a plus!
After the Tusker House, we went back to the entrance and caught a bus to Hollywood Studios (we were just about the only ones on the bus). We had to get to the studios so early because I had a very special lunch engagement, which I'll get to in a minute.
We managed to find a fairly short standby line for Toy Story Mania (about 30-40 minutes), which gave us a chance to see the Mr. Potato Head animatronic. This is a very good and very realistic character that actually interacts with guests using Don Rickle's voice. This also leads to my one major criticism of Toy Story Mania. If you happen to get FastPasses, you don't even get to SEE Mr. Potato Head. The FastPass line doesn't go anywhere near this outstanding character.
From TSM, we quickly crossed the park and took one more flight to Endor on Star Tours and then it was time for me to go my own way. My family booked something special for me for Christmas -- lunch with an Imagineer at the Hollywood Brown Derby restaurant.
This was an awesome experience!! I had lunch with Alex Caruthers (he's on the right in the photo above), the art director for the Magic Kingdom. We sat in a special side room of the Brown Derby reserved for visiting dignitaries and celebrities. There were seven guests and Mr. Caruthers - and that was it. The eight of us slowly made our way through a four-course meal (including the infamous Cobb salad!) while we talked about all things Disney.
Mr. Caruthers told some wonderful stories about his time with Disney, including his work on the refurbishment of the Haunted Mansion, Pirates of the Caribbean and more. I was fascinated with his role as the art director for the Magic Kingdom. I thought an art director was like a head "artist," like in drawing or painting, but I couldn't have been further from the truth. Mr. Caruther's background is in photography (like me) and his primary purpose is to review the visual look and feel of anything in the Magic Kingdom, from attractions to restaurants to stores to even signs. I realized that in many of my jobs, I had been doing the same thing, I just never knew it. We talked for about two hours. This is another one of those DisneyDaddy must do's (if you can).
But my encounters with celebrities wouldn't end there. I had the afternoon to myself at the Studios, thanks to several Mousefest events. I took the opportunity to go on the Studio Backlot Tour, which was very interesting. I saw several props I instantly recognized from movies including Star Wars, Pirates of the Caribbean 2, both Narnia films and much more.
After the tour, I hustled across the park to the Backlot Express restaurant for Lou Mongello's PodFest meet. I met Lou the day before at the Mousefest kickoff event and it was good to see him and so many other podcasters. The place was totally packed!
As evening came on, it was time to again catch up with the family. Little did I know that I would be getting quite the workout (though some of it was my choice). As I got to the bus stops, the lines for the Grand Floridian and TTC were bonkers! Every guest at the MK resorts must have been at the Studios this day. I decided I would try to hoof it through Epcot and catch the monorail (of course snapping more photos along the way - like I said, it was partly my choice). I did take a moment and stop inside the Boardwalk lobby to get a shot of some of their holiday decorations, which were similar to those at the Beach Club.
About 30 minutes later, I caught the monorail and was back at the Grand Floridian shortly afterward. Who knows if my way was faster (probably not) but it was much more fun (though tiring). We changed into some more dressy clothes and went back to the Grand Floridian lobby for a PhotoPass photo shoot. This is something Disney does for any guests, with no sitting fees. They had a full photography suite (lights and all) set up in front of the beautiful tree. We had a series of shots taken - and they looked great!
The boys and I walked over to the marina to watch one last round of fireworks at the Magic Kingdom before going to bed. Our final night at Walt Disney World was coming to a close.
But the adventures weren't over just yet. Tomorrow -- Mousefest galore!