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VIP Tips for Staying at Animal Kingdom Lodge

Guests can step into the heart of Africa at the magnificent Walt Disney World deluxe resort, Disney's Animal Kingdom Lodge in Orlando, Florida. Its horseshoe-curved design provides spectacular views of four lush savannas that over 200 hoofed animals and birds call home including zebras, giraffes, gazelles, kudu and flamingos.

Families can experience an African safari adventure with a touch of Disney magic right from their hotel room. As expected, it's pure magic staying at Disney's Animal Kingdom Lodge. I've always wanted to go and finally my boys and I stayed at the infamous hotel. Here are some VIP tips to making your stay even more magical.

Savanna View guest room balcony - pack binoculars! 

VIP Tips for Staying at Animal Kingdom's Lodge 

Animal Kingdom Lodge VIP Tips and Secrets

Pick the Village that's Best for You - Disney's Animal Kingdom Lodge has two villages, Kidani and Jamba House (the main resort). The main lodge has a larger lobby and more activities and dining options, but it's also more crowded. At first, I was bummed we weren't at Jamba House, but soon welcomed the more peaceful Kidani side more. Plus, as a hotel guest, you can easily access both villages via a free shuttle van, which we never had to wait more than five minutes for.

Savanna View Rooms Are Amazing, but Optional- If you're able to reserve and pay the extra cost for a Savanna View Room with private balconies overlooking exotic animals, definitely go for it. However, you don’t need a Savanna View room to enjoy the up-close animal sightings. There are several areas on the second floor of the resort near the lobby where you can view animals. They contain rocking chairs and offer views from a little higher up, which is often better for picture taking. There are also several floor-to-ceiling windows in the hallways leading to all the guest rooms. My kids had to stop at nearly all of them! Jamba House also has a flamingo area near the pool.

Savanna views from the hallways

Pack kid binoculars to make spotting the animals outside the hotel even more interactive. Although most of the animals can be viewed easily without them, my kids enjoyed feeling like actual explorers. We ordered GeoSafari Kidnoculars, which are reasonably priced and easy for toddlers to use too. You may also want to back a more sophisticated, grown-up pair for the adults in the room too - binoculars for adults.

Take in the animals at night too! - It might be time to go to sleep, but that's also when the more nocturnal animals come out. Luckily, the Savannas are given a moonlight glow for evening observing too. Look for hidden Simbas - Disney fans are trained to look for hidden Mickey's throughout the parks and resorts, but here be sure and keep your eye out for hidden Simbas too! We spotted one on our headboard and in the tile of our bathroom.

VIP Experiences Can Be Booked for Even More Animal Magic -
  • Dine with an Animal Specialist while enjoying a 4-course lunch at Sanaa restaurant in Kidani Village. 
  • Take the Wanyama Safari private tour,  where you can explore the savanna at the lodge and enjoy a fine dining, multi-course meal at Jiko, and even roast marshmallows when the sun goes down at the Jambo House Campfire! This experience features a ride in a rugged safari vehicle over an open savanna. Available for $209 per Guest. Be sure to reserve this popular experience in advance—up to 180 days prior to your visit! Guests must be 10 years of age and older to participate in the Wanyama Safari and Dinner though. 
  • Jiko Wine Tasting Explore South Africa’s distinguished varietals while sampling the complimentary tastes of exquisite cheese pairings. (Next time, I'm going to book this and the kids camp, for an adult night out.)
Eat and Sip Wine at Jiko’s. The food is spectacular and their wine list is one of the best at Disney.

Eat a Zebra Dome - This is the must order treat at Animal Kingdom Lodge. Available in the buffet restaurant Boma, this mini African desert is a combination of espresso, Amarula Liquor cake, and white chocolate ganache all rolled into one ball. You can eat as many as you want any night of the week. Just high-tail it over to the dessert table! You can also find them in the refrigerated cases at The Mara in a pack of four.

Simba's Clubhouse - Jamba House has a Supervised Children’s Activity Center for kids 3 to 12 years of age (must be potty trained though) where kids can have fun while parents enjoy an evening to themselves. Be sure and book the kids camp ahead of time by calling (407) 939-3463 or the Front Desk for additional information. The center is only open in the evening and an hourly rate of $15 is charged per child, with a 2-hour minimum.

We made a reservation for our four-year-old boys just two weeks in advance and luckily they had availability. To prepare our boys, we told them all about it ahead of time, so by the time we arrived they were eagerly looking forward to their kids night out. A kid-friendly dinner is included, so they ate there, played with trains and toys and watched Disney films. Keep in mind, you do not need to be staying at AK Lodge for your child to attend, but of course, it makes it that much more convenient.

Pools and Playgrounds - If you're with the kids, they can have fun visiting both sides for different kid-friendly areas to experience. Jamba House a large outdoor playground called Hakuna Matata Playground with two play structures -- one for younger kids and one for older kids. They also have an indoor arcade room.

Hakuna Matata Playground

Meanwhile, Kidani has a fun outdoor water play area with a splash pad, ropes area, water guns, slides and more. Both pools have water slides though, but Kidani has several. You can easily spend the day going to both pools and play areas without having to even go to the park, or at least we did.

Splashzone Playspace at Kidani Village
Grab a schedule from the front desk for a list of activities happening each day including which films are playing in their Movies Under the Stars by the Uzima Pool at night and gather ‘round as the sun goes down for a complimentary marshmallow roast by a crackling fire.

Take in the authentic art - The lodge boasts one of the largest collections of African art in the United States. I made the mistake of assuming the art in the hallways were just themed decoration, not authentic, however, both sections of Disney’s Animal Kingdom Lodge can be considered mini art galleries. There are some amazing artifacts to be found throughout the Resort, so don’t be afraid to explore, and ask a Cast Member about the stories behind the art.

VIP Tips for Disney's Animal Kingdom park:

10 VIP Animal Kingdom Secrets

Tips & Secrets To Visit Pandora At Disney's Animal Kingdom:

Tips & Secrets to Visiting Pandora at Disney's Animal Kingdom
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Winning Halloween with AtmosFX Digital Decorating Kit

It's no secret that Halloween is my favorite holiday. Lucky for me, I live on a street that takes the holiday serious as well. People decorate over-the-top like at Christmas time.

We're definitely among the ones that go all out with lights, blow-ups and homemade decorations. This year though, we are really bringing it thanks to the AtmosFX Digital Decorating Kit, the home decorating effects company that pioneers the art of digital decorating.

With this easy to install device, we can project a zombie apocalypse or singing jack-o-lanterns on to our windows. And believe me, these animated digital effects cause everyone to stop and take another look. While I love some of their really creepy options, we are displaying the singing pumpkin scenes since it's not as scary for our preschoolers. Although on Halloween night, once my twins are in bed, I think we'll switch it to the psycho with a hook one or the creepy haunted twins.

The kit includes a projector, screen, tripod stand, remote and 14 pre-loaded scenes on an SD Card including Christmas graphics too, so we'll be using it then too. You could also use the same projector to play your own videos and movies. I was really surprised at how easy it was to install, especially considering the high-quality end result that it creates. Simply plug in, hang the included screen and follow the prompts on the screen to project your desired decoration. Wifi isn't needed and there are timer settings you can use too.

If you already have a projector, AtmosFX also sells the different looped visuals separately, which you could then load onto a USB drive or play through a computer, etc. For $19.99 you can pick a theme and get several interactive scenes or purchase them individually for $5.99 each. They are constantly doing updated scenes each season so I can see myself downloading new packs too. You can also order the different gear like a screen or projector separately too through their site. 

Digital Halloween Decorations - Winning Halloween with AtmosFX Digital Decorating Kit

Disclaimer: I received the AtmosFX unit complimentary for my honest review and opinions -- and as mentioned it rocks! 
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What I learned from Irma

The hurricane that is and not my husband’s aunt Irma.

As I watched the eye of the storm go over Naples and our community on CNN these are some of the lessons learned from my first hurricane since living in Florida.
  1. Get the hell out! Better safe than sorry. I wanted to stay, but Raphael talked me into leaving the Wednesday prior. Keep in mind though at that time all the models were still saying Irma was going to hit the East Coast of Florida, which brings me to my next lesson learned. 
  2. Models don’t mean shit and meteorologists can guess all they want, but mother nature doesn’t watch the news or take in account the European model vs. the American model, it is going to do what it wants to do. It also keeps changing. Although ... it seems the European model is more accurate than all the other spaghetti lines that were being drawn on the map of Florida. 
  3. Pack more. You can replace everything but your family and pets. However, since I was dragging my feet when I left, I only brought with us some of my finest pieces of jewelry and minimal clothes. I put our important documents in a ziplock, packed my boys’ clothes, blankets and that was it. I had time though, I should have planned for being gone more than just four days, which we were! Power was off for several days so we weren’t in a rush to head back, plus traffic and gas shortages kept us away longer than expected. Thus, I should have packed smarter, better and for non-Florida weather too. Duh! As we got further away from our home I’d think of something else that was important to me that I didn’t better protect. Like the photo album of my dad and sister, which I haven’t digitized yet. We had room in the van too. 
  4. Get gas! Fill even the car you’re not taking with gas, so when you get back you’ll have enough until supplies are replenished in your area. Fill up extra gas canisters with fuel too. It’s a shame we are still so dependent on the damn stuff, but we all are! 
  5. Charge your Kindle so you can have hundreds of books on one device and can still read once all the lights are off. Nothing like escapism. I read the entire Castles Ever After trilogy by Tessa Dare on a single charge with battery to spare. 
  6. Water is essential. Fill your tubs with water in case the water supply is turned off. We prepared for this but didn’t end up needing it. 
  7. Power up every battery pack and power brick ahead of time. Fortunately, we did this. Would totally recommend a Mophie case and Pocket Juice
  8. Leave at the right time. Although I’m glad we evacuated even before it became mandatory, I would have preferred to have left closer to the storm's actual date, because after the storm we still couldn't return for several days due to traffic and gas shortages. Leaving sooner was also more costly since it required additional days in a hotel. We also drove through the night instead of the day for less traffic, which seemed to help, plus that meant more time that our kids slept through our total 35hr journey and fewer "are we there yets?" 
  9. Keep your blessings to yourself. While I do indeed feel thankful that our house was only minimally affected, not everyone was so lucky. So does that make those that suffered more not blessed? You know what I mean? So keep social posts of celebration to a minimum and maybe leave God out of it. 
  10. Don't overpack your freezer or be better about eating frozen items.  I'm all about Publix BOGO's and freezing the other item. We even have an extra freezer in our garage. It made me ill having to throw it all away when we got back home since we were several days without power. 

Any other hurricane tips? 

 My boys appear here in this video I did about the evacuation:

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Travel Essentials for Bloggers

Between blogging here, attending conferences, writing for HuffPost Travel and, I obviously find myself traveling quite a bit. Yet, no matter the destination I pack the same essential items.
Travel Essentials for Travel Bloggers

Best Travel Gadgets and Accessories

Between using Maps' location services and sharing live updates on SnapChat and Instagram Stories, even a fully charged cell phone is practically dead by midday if not sooner. So, when I travel even my phone gets a new look. Instead of having an external battery bank and worrying about carrying around extra cords in your purse or backpack, I just swap out my regular phone case for a Mophie Juice Pack Battery Case in the uber chic Rose Gold, but they have colors too. I've had other battery cases in the past that were overly bulky and hard to open, but the new iPhone 7 Mophie one is lightweight, sleeker and easy to put on and off.

Chargers, chargers and more chargers. Traveling can be rough on cords and cables, especially iPhone cables, which is why I stopped using the standard charger that comes with a device for a more durable one that won't fray, break or stop working while traveling. Kanex Apple Certified Premium Lightning to USB Cable in Rose Gold is my favorite. This premium metal material cable is built to last. It's durable yet flexible and will never fray and never tangle. It also looks really sleek and can help your cable easily stand out from others

A good book, or 100! I always make sure my Kindle Paperwhite is charged and loaded with e-books the night before I leave. While I love taking a book, I hate finishing it mid-trip and having it take up weight and space in my bag. With a Kindle at least it's lightweight, can hold up to several books, including travel guides and with the built-in light, so I can read on the plane without turning on that bright overhead spotlight.

Best Clothing and Gear for Travel 

Fabletics tights & Sanuk sandals

Fabletics Savina tights. I get so many compliments on their peek-a-boo, not your typical yoga pants. They keep me warm on the plane, yet not too hot either. Better yet, you can get two leggings for just $24 here!

My favorite shoes for travel are Sanuk Sandals, which are made from yoga mats. They look nice, feel great and are affordable too. I own 3 pairs! My feet have never blistered or hurt from these and I've walked miles in them. And don't just take my word for it, on my last press trip two other travel bloggers were wearing them too! Plus, they are lightweight and easy to pack unlike bulky sneakers.

Knomo Beauchamp Backpack is great for travel and everyday toting of gadgets. Sleek and durable, this fashionable backpack is splash-resistant and inside, has a padded laptop sleeve, keeping your computer safe and separate from your other possessions. In front, there is an easy-access pocket with two zippers; the right has an anti-RFID lining for storing credit cards and protecting you from digital theft. Another cool feature is that each bag comes with an ID number that you can register your bag and if it’s lost, the founder can return it easier. The inner lining is also red!! LOVE!

AWAY Carry-on Luggage with Built-in Power Charger - The perfect carry-on, sized up. Unbreakable, water-resistant lining and guaranteed for life. This thoughtfully designed spinner with a built-in TSA-approved combo lock and a power charger to charge your phone up to 5x (GENIUS!). Plus, includes a roll out laundry bag, mesh pockets, and 360 wheels. Best of all, it's made to fit the sizers of major US airlines, this is perfect for any traveler.

Sexy Fabletics Tights for Travel

What to Pack For a Better Sleep When Traveling

It's not easy falling asleep when you're not in your own bed or are jet lagged, so I always pack these yummy tasting Melatonin Gummies to help me fall asleep naturally. These don't cause that groggy feeling in the morning like sleeping pills do, so I can explore and not sleep the morning away.

For the same reason, I also pack a Bucky Eye-Mask, which is great for catching Zzz on the plane too. Don't just use the cheap ones that they sometimes give you when traveling, because they are often too tight and scratchy. THe best are these ones that look like a bra, but give you room to still blink comfortably. 

Travel Blogger's Travel Essentials

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Tips & Secrets to Visit Pandora at Disney's Animal Kingdom

Pandora – The World of Avatar immerses guests in a mystical world of massive floating mountains and breathtaking rides in the entirely new land found in Disney’s Animal Kingdom at Walt Disney World Resort in Florida.

It's the largest addition in the history of Disney’s Animal Kingdom. Pandora carries on the park’s tradition of celebrating the intrinsic value of nature, transformation through adventure and a personal call to action.

Based on Oscar-winning filmmaker James Cameron’s record-breaking box-office hit, AVATAR, the new land welcomes guests to the lush world of Pandora long after the human conflict with the Na’vi has ended.

Besides the beauty of the imagined alien world come to life, the highlight is the thrilling new ride, Avatar Flight of Passage, where you can soar over Pandora on the back of a fearsome mountain banshee. It's an amazing 4D ride that really transports all of your senses. It's not a roller coaster, but more like Soarin, but taken up 100 notches.

11 Tips & Secrets for Visiting Pandora at Disney's Animal Kingdom

  • The new quick-serve dining option at Satu’li Canteen offers healthy and tasty options like wood-grilled chicken over rice. You pick your protein and then select your base and your sauce. There are kids meal options too. The outside area is thankfully covered providing shade and inside has lots of tables too. I really liked the sustainability aspect with meals being served on real plates and silverware, which are then collected in bins near the garbages and washed and used again.

  • Order Your Meal on Your Phone Avoid the line to order and place your order using the My Disney Experience app on your mobile device. There is a separate line to pick up your mobile order.
  • Alcoholic beverages are served at  Satu’li Canteen too including wine. Order the green beer called "Hawkes Grog," which is definitely Instagram worthy! So is the Blueberry Cream Cheese Mouse for dessert.
Hawkes Grog (Green Beer) at Pandora Disney's Animal Kingdom
Hawkes Grog - Green Ale
  • Pongu Pongu is a drink stand selling colorful drinks. Meaning “Party Party” in the language of the Na’vi, Pongu Pongu welcomes weary travelers to quench their thirst with "bioluminescent" frozen cocktail, indigenous beers and snacks you won’t find elsewhere.
  • The Na’vi River Journey boat ride is great for kids of all ages and there's no height limit, so perfect for little ones. I'd also recommend saving this ride for the middle of the afternoon when it's hot and you're tired because you can sit down and it's nice and cool -- a great way to recharge.
  • Ride Avatar Flight of Passage WITHOUT a FastPass+ Although traveling to the front of the line is convenient, you will, unfortunately, miss a really amazing queue and won't see an incredible looking Avatar floating in hibernation. So, do ride Stand By at least once.
Avatar seen while in the standby line
  • Rub the large "Flaska Reclinata" interactive plant near the entrance of Pandora and it will spray a water mist on those walking by.
  • Also, look for the Na’vi-built drum circle, containing instruments and drums playable by all for interactive play for kids with no lines. It's located in the middle before you walk underneath the floating rocks.
  • Be sure and visit Pandora at night too. The grounds and plants light up with bioluminescent lighting. It's a whole different experience and worth checking out.
  • Speak with tour guides from Alpha Centauri Expeditions (ACE) and scientists from the Pandora Conservation Initiative (PCI), or even an eclectic expat or two! These cast members know all there is to know about Pandora!
  • There are brand-new Wilderness Explorers challenges and badges to collect in Pandora too.

Tips & Secrets to Visiting Pandora at Disney's Animal Kingdom

10 VIP Animal Kingdom Tips & Secrets

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My mom super power? Changing toilet paper rolls

Living with Boys

Being in a house with boys means I'll often sit down in the bathroom and after it's too late, I'll see this:

An empty toilet paper holder. Sometimes, they are nice and will leave a new roll sitting right next to the empty one and sometimes not at all. Ugh!

It baffles me that my husband can go and get a new roll, yet he simply can't do the next step of attaching it into place. Apparently, not having a Y chromosome makes me more capable of loading a new roll onto an empty toilet roll ring.

Never Run Out Again

Luckily, with Cottonelle Mega Rolls I'm replacing empty toilet paper rings less now since 1 Mega Roll = 4 Regular Rolls (comparing number of sheets to leading Ultra 77-ct. roll). It's the biggest Cottonelle roll ever. Simply visit your local Walmart and grab Cottonelle Mega Rolls so you never run out this summer!
New Cottonelle Mega 4-1 Rolls
We actually made the switch to Cottonelle paper and their flushable wipes a couple of years ago, so now we just look for the Mega Rolls at Walmart for extra coverage.

Even better, we utilize Walmart's Mobile Grocery Pickup and that way I don't even have to take the twins out of the car when grocery shopping, sweet! Click here to see if it's available in your area! Estero, Florida offers it :)

Designated Walmart Grocery Pickup parking spots

Extra $avings

Save $1 now on Cottonelle Mega Rolls at Walmart starting 6/28. Stock up and save!

Save $1 on Cottonelle - Stock up and Save

5 Must Have Potty Training Tools

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Adagio Teas from Around the World

Each morning, I transport to an exotic place, simply by sipping from my tea cup. Thankfully, with sites like Adagio Teas, I'm able to buy loose leaf tea from around the world with at click of a button.

Adagio tea from around the world
Adagio tea from around the world
Adagio is actually my go-to and the easiest to order from. They make it simple to understand and navigate through the different varieties and provide Facebook messenger updates on your order along the way.

The site has a large collection of teas that are broken up by the type of leaf - green, white, oolong (my favorites), chai, black tea, pu-erh and herbals/roobios.

I especially enjoy their white blueberry tea, Jasmine yin hao, and fujian jasmine pearl master blend. You can also order sample sizes to see if you like it first before ordering more.

Adagio makes a great and reasonable tea maker for those looking to get started drinking loose leaf. Simply pour in the desired amount of loose leaf tea, add hot water, brew and then put over your mug and it drains instantly into your tea cup. I have two!

ingenuiTEA maker
If you don't have a tea maker or loose leaf container they also sell their whole leaf tea in mesh pyramid tea bags. I like the convenience of these for work and travel, so I can still get quality loose leaf without toting my tea maker around.

$5 Gift Certificate

If you'd like a $5 gift certificate to adagio, simply comment here with your email address or send me an email at Tara AT tarametblog DOT com

Adagio Teas from Around the World Review and $5 gift certificate

Disclaimer: I received a gift certificate in exchange for my honest review. Regardless, I have been an adagio customer for several years. 
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SWFL Dining Review: Bonefish Grill Bonita Springs

Bonefish Grill recently remodeled their Bonita Springs (26381 S Tamiami Trail) location with warm earthy tones and a sleek interior design. We went to check it out and as always were not disappointed.
Bonefish Bonita Springs fresh new look
What I like most about Bonefish Grill restaurants is I know that no matter what I order, I'm going to have a good meal. It's consistently good.

I also enjoy their Happy Hour, which is from 4:00-6:30 p.m. EVERY DAY! Even weekends! The happy hour menu offers $4 glasses of wine and bar bites and mixed cocktails for $6 each.
Happy Hour every day at Bonefish Grill
Our favorite appetizer is the Mussels Josephine, which we order whether we make it for happy hour or not. Be sure and save a piece of bread for dipping in the buttery sauce at the bottom of the bowl, yum!
Mussels Josephine from Bonefish Grill's bar bite menu
We also enjoy, an order of Edamame which comes with Matcha Green Tea favored Sea Salt, which is so unique. Even our boys tried some of the beans.

Bonefish Grill's Edamame with Green Tea Salt
We had never frequented Bonefish with our boys before, typically preferring to keep it as a date night location or for when other adult visitors are in from out of town. This time, the boys came with us and we were amazed at how child-friendly it was. They were provided with coloring mats and crayons. Their waters came with plastic tops to prevent spills (although it ended up being me who toppled over my water, opps!) and they have a reasonable Kids Menu to select from. We went with the fried fish fingers with broccoli and fries.

A kids menu and coloring is available!
A current summer special and fresh catch is a Crab Cake Topped Wood-Grilled Atlantic, which was outstanding.
Crab cake topped wood-grilled Atlantic Cobia
There is also a Naples and Fort Myers Bonefish Grill here in Southwest Florida as well.

Bonefish Grill restaurant review in Bonita Springs in Southwest Florida
Bonefish Grill in Bonita Springs

Disclaimer: I received complimentary Bonefish Grill gift cards to facilitate my dining review. However, we paid for our drinks, overage and tip. 

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