Disney Extra: Why Grand Gatherings Can Mean a Grander Time!

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By Noelle, Librarian Extraordinaire

Sooner or later, it seems that everyone takes their kids to Disney World.  This August was my turn to take my 8 year old daughter along with a group of 8 others (total of 5 adults and 5 children) to the Happiest Place on Earth.  Sure, there are the great rides and shows that can easily take up all of your time.  But one great “extra” gem at Disney World was the Safari Celebration Dinner at Animal Kingdom which is one of the special Grand Gathering events available to groups of 8 or more.

The Safari Celebration Dinner is run twice per week at Animal Kingdom and happens when the park is closed for the day to the rest of the general public.  We attended a Sunday evening event.

Can You Make a Sound Like a Zebra?

We checked in at 5:30pm while the park was still open (time may change at different times in the year when daylight is in shorter supply).  After everyone arrived, we moved into the arena where the Flights of Wonder bird show is regularly held and we were divided into small groups of 20 or less people.  Each group was given an animal to imitate—we were the zebras—and a guide assigned just to us.  The guide (ours was Eric) gave each of us a special Safari Celebration pin to wear.  We were informed that the pin was only available to us and were not for sale elsewhere.  For those who collect the Disney pins, this was a big coup.  Eric also asked our names and if anyone was there for a special reason, for example, a first visit, a birthday, an anniversary, et cetera, and noted down the information.

After an introduction, each animal group was called separately and lead by our guide to a safari bus.  The safari is the same one that you can take at the park normally across the savanna.  But due to the later hour, the temperature was cooler and the sun was lower and many more animals were out.  Even the guide exclaimed that these were the most animals he had seen all day, and my Disney-seasoned companions agreed that it was the best safari they had ever gone on.  We saw lions, hippos, crocodiles, rhinos, giraffes, gazelles, and many many more animals on the 30 minute ride.  Eric’s information and bad jokes were entertaining and informative.  My daughter remembered some of his information about the animals and repeated items back to me days later.

Eating the Safari Celebration Way!

Upon return from the safari, our guide lead us to the Tusker House restaurant we would be eating at.  We had our own table reserved and the table was adorned with artesian breads and different salads.  A waitress took our drink order and then we were free to head to the buffet.  This was easily the most varied and best food I had all week at Disney World.  There were curries, rices, couscous, spiced vegetables, roast chicken, pork tenderloin, beef tenderloin and many other wonderful dishes.  There were plainer items for the kids, including peanut butter and jelly sandwiches for the pickier eaters.  You could eat as much as you liked and the wait staff kept your drinks filled.

While we ate, three musicians dressed in African attire played percussion instruments.  After everyone had eaten some, everyone was invited up to dance.  Many of the children got up in a line and did some fun and simple dance moves.  Then it was announced that two Disney characters from the Lion King would be available to meet in an adjoining room, while a couple of live animals would be outside to meet with handlers to answer questions.  My daughter and I went to meet Rafiki and Timon and got autographs and photos.  Then we went outside where she pet a spiny-tailed lizard and learned about a tarantula.  When we got back inside, it was time for dessert, which was a sumptuous chocolate cake as well as some small non-chocolate treats.  Then everyone who had a special event that they had mentioned to the guide was announced and highlighted.

The Tree of Life—Up Close and Personal

Finally, when we had all eaten our fill, we meandered off through the park to get back to the buses.  As we crossed the last bridge, one of the park workers said, “Do you want to see the real Tree of Life?” and pointed out over the bridge into the trees where hundreds of white water birds had come to roost for the evening.  It was a fantastic sight to end our evening with.

My entire party thought that the Safari Celebration Dinner was a fantastic experience.  You do have to make reservations for the event, which you can do well in advance of your visit to Disney online or by calling the resort.  Like everything else at Disney, there’s a good-sized cost of $70 per adult and $35 per child, but our group agreed it was worth every penny.

There are other Grand Gathering specials you can attend, including a breakfast one, and two that are centered around the fireworks at Epcot and the Magic Kingdom.

So if you are planning a trip to Disney and have a group of 8 or more with you, be sure to investigate what specials you can round up as a Grand Gathering.  It will certainly make those memories that Disney boasts of!

NoelleNoelle has been a children’s librarian for over 15 years. She’s also been a student teacher, worked as an online account manager, worked in a pet shop and as a supermarket checkout clerk, and as a dishwasher and fry cook. She is the proud mom of a beautiful daughter. You can read more of Noelle’s book reviews at Rave Reviews Log
Noelle can be reached at “Noelle @ DadDoes.Com”

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