ROMANTIC DISNEY: Upon a Midnight Stroll at Disney’s Animal Kingdom Lodge
If not for the allure of the savanna at night—and the opportunity to use night-vision binoculars—I would have been done for. No, I hadn’t had too much to drink—I’d had too much of too many yummy things. Boma – Flavors of Africa had bested me with so many tantalizing offerings that my willpower was overcome by a force far greater than sanity: adventure. The flavors were exciting and new: sambal and tamarind, pap and chakalaka…! The stews and soups were come-back-for-seconds incredible—and so were a lot of other things, including the variety of unique sauces (OMG, that Boma mustard…!!!) that required extensive mixing, matching and tasting. For me, at least, resistance was futile. It was my loving companion who had to have every dessert. And even with my almost nonexistent sweet tooth that easily could have stopped me before I wandered too far into the deep end of sweetness, something snapped when I saw the chef putting out the hot caramel sauce next to the steaming fresh bread pudding.
“Bread puddingggggggg…,” I heard myself say out loud in a drooling zombie voice with a cluster of strangers on either side. It was the last conscious thought I had.
By time we got back to our room, I was already in a food haze and starting to mumble things like, “The baked salmon with the almonds was so un-youuuuu-zhooo-uhlllll…. what made it so un-youuuuu-zhualll?”
Out on our balcony, I had pulled my knees up to my chest and was rocking back and forth. “Gawd, the stews,” I was having flashbacks. “The stoo-oooooo-ooze…” I drifted off.
I could feel my husband verging on damage control as he asked if he could get me anything.
“We need more chakalaka in our life. You’d think it would be more prolific just cuz who doesn’t wanna say chakalaka?” I wanted to do it all again. And I also wanted to die where I sat, glazed over on our Animal Kingdom Lodge balcony.
“I have an idea,” my spouse put on his bouncy, upbeat voice, “how ’bout we take a stroll along the savanna?”
It was instantly a good idea: the moving, the walking outdoors, the looking through night-vision binoculars…
It was more like nine o’clock than midnight, but the few people we passed were headed back to the hotel. We meandered a bit among the giant stones and stood in the central gathering area looking up at what stars we could see among the Caribbean clouds. When we came to the cul-de-sac lookout point, an African cast member conservationist was explaining to a group of tourists how the Latin names for animals tell us everything we need to know about the animal’s physical characteristics and other animals it’s related to. I, who took both science and Latin in school (don’t judge!) was nodding my head in earnest agreement while appreciating that he had the full attention of a family of five—with three of them under the age of twelve. They all seemed fascinated and eager for more, now that he had opened their eyes to this hidden-in-plain-sight dimension to the animal world. But it was time to be getting back and the expert to be packing it in.
I smiled at the group with approving eyes backed by two generations of teachers. Then my partner pointed at a giraffe in the distance and we both raised our binoculars.
“There are seven vertebrae in a giraffe’s neck,” came the voice of the African conservationist.
We had to keep from laughing, and that’s because we were remembering our Safari adventure the day before at the Animal Kingdom park: As we passed the giraffes, the driver of our “open air vehicle” had asked if anyone knew how many vertebrae were in a giraffe’s neck. I happened to be sitting directly behind him, so when I randomly guessed 149, thinking only my husband could hear me, I couldn’t have been more wrong.
“149,” the driver laughed into his microphone for all the other passengers to hear. “That would be awesome: a seven story giraffe!” I shrank in my seat. “No, in fact the answer we were looking for is 7. A giraffe has 7 vertebrae in its neck, just like humans.”
Back in the present, our African conservationist added that the giraffe’s closest relative, the okapi, also have seven vertebrae. Then he said something really interesting: On the savanna, giraffes sleep sitting up. And they’re not the only ones—so does most savanna wildlife. It made sense from a safety and security standpoint, we were each thinking (though probably I was the only one thinking that now I didn’t so much want to be a giraffe). Our African ambassador affirmed that even on the African reserve, where he’s from, it’s no different. This gave me pause for thought, so I asked, “Do you sleep upright, too?” The resulting awkward silence was short lived thanks to our guide’s supervisor reminding him that it was time to close things up for the night.
We voiced our appreciation and gratitude to our informative guide—and his supervisor—for the extra time we got, and then we went our separate ways into the darkness.
Back on our balcony, overlooking the aqua pools that had closed for the night, we toasted a good recovery from my overdose—thanks to my husband and savior’s quick thinking—and then we CSI’ed just how it had gone so wrong. Finally I was able to see the cumulative effect of my many errors—and even a road to redemption. But in the meantime, the night had been saved and our commitment to happiness reinforced and rewarded.
So, what did we learn?
There are times when Disney can seem to turn against you amidst your vacation or even a day: your favorite attraction is closed for refurbishment, your favorite quick-service restaurant discontinued your favorite sandwich, your favorite hotel bar is standing-room-only, or inclement weather preempted the fireworks. As seasoned Disney travelers, we always try to be prepared for such contingencies with fallback plans and an accepting attitude.
But this was different. This was something going so right it caused a system overload and almost a shutdown. My heart was going out to my betrothed, even as I was slipping into a food coma (which we’d later refer to as the “Boma Coma”) and turning what had been a unique and wonderful dining experience Into a potential Code Red situation. We only had two nights at the Animal Kingdom Lodge and I was single-handedly ruining one of them.
At this point, my best half could have abandoned me, berated me, lectured me, or all of the above. But instead, he stuck with me and maintained an attentive yet gentle distance. Was there anything I wanted or needed? Was there anything he could do? Should he call for a medic? As much as I was working to not push him away or shut him out, he was working to find some way to ease my discomfort. What he never did was add to it by making me feel like a bloated ball of shame for indulging in a culinary adventure.
Sometimes, being a happy couple at Disney means carrying the other in the face of adversity. It can mean forsaking a FastPass or a reservation, and it can feel as if the Disney bubble has burst and all the Pixie dust has blown away. But when you can see past your vision of Disney perfection to the person to whom your heart belongs, you’ll discover there’s a much deeper level to Disney magic: the one that’s been there all along that only required your being present.