When you’ve visited the “Most Magical Place on Earth” as many times as my wife and I, you get into a routine of experiencing the newest attractions followed by long-time favorites that have lasted the test of time. Even with Walt Disney World growing at rapidly increasing pace over the past 3-5 years with a handful of new major attractions since our last visit in October 2017, it can still be difficult to fill a 6-day itinerary without obsessively repeating favorites (through we did ride Flight of Passage 5 times in one day and could have rode a 6th time via FP if our son wasn’t “bored” of the ride at the end of the day). My wife and I always try to seek out something new that we’ve never done before at WDW, be it a behind the scenes tour, a once in a lifetime meal at the Victoria & Albert’s Chef’s Table, or staying in an upgraded room like a Savanah-view room at Animal Kingdom Lodge, we’ve always found something to do during our WDW trips that is different and unique from a previous visit. When you win your WDW admission tickets from your local baseball team (thanks to the World Series Champion Washington Nationals), it frees up some money to do some more expensive experiences that we wouldn’t normally do on our typically value-conscious vacations.
While we did splurge on a Happily Ever After Dessert Party on our most recent trip (mostly because we didn’t want to invest the time into staking out a good spot to view the show after our last visit resulted in us watching from an obtuse angle on the Tomorrowland Bridge), but that upcharge event wasn’t particularly noteworthy in my opinion. I did think it was a decent value (though it’s more expensive now that alcohol was added to the menu for adults starting on February 1, 2020), but it’s really nothing more than a pay-to-play for guests that neither have the time nor patience for camping out for the nighttime show.
What I want to detail instead is our experience on the Festival of the Lion King Tier 1 Dining Package. The package on the surface doesn’t really sound like much, especially if you’ve seen Festival of the Lion King show more than a couple of times. The mainstay theatrical performance at Animal Kingdom has long been a favorite of ours, and has inspired dozens of knock offs at theme parks around the world (see Katonga at Busch Gardens Tampa). However, the show hasn’t changed much even after the theater was moved in 2014 to accommodate Pandora the World of Avatar. Even when the show was in its debut season, we never found the time and patience to arrive early enough to the theater to be seated near the front. Even in the times when we’ve used FastPass to watch the show, we would never arrive early enough to be seated closer than a handful of rows away from the floor. The Festival of the Lion King Tier 1 (there’s also a Tier 2 that I’ll detail later) Dining Package gives guests FRONT ROW seating for the show while arriving just minutes before it starts. Front Row seating also guarantees direct interaction with the performers and participation in the show as Zach got to represent the Giraffe section and (with some prep from his smart, experienced parents) was able to accurately mimic the sound of our section’s animal when asked. He also got to join in the show’s finale and parade around the theater with the performers.
Sitting in the front row of the show means that you can practically reach out and pick the bugs off the Tumble Monkeys,
feel the heat of the fire dancer,
and admire the beauty of the avian acrobats as they fly above the stage.
You can also see some of the technical aspects of the show that are difficult to see from further back in the theater. For instance, I never noticed that the fog that fills the theater throughout the show is actually pumped in through drains in the floor, not from the stage.
Also, the different acrobatic apparatuses are quite complicated to set up, though the cast and crew make it look surprisingly simple. Watching this show from up close without having to queue up an hour or more before the performance alone was worth the cost of the experience. However, there’s more to the experience than a front row seat to the popular, long-running show.
After the show was over, a Disney CM came to us, and escorted us out of the theater to the second part of the experience. We were about to take a private trip on the Kilimanjaro Safari. Since we had arranged for the experience on the last day of our trip, we had already done the safari twice, but this time we would get an exclusive version of the safari that veers from the standard story drivers traditionally tell. We boarded a standard safari truck with 9 other guests and 2 animal experts that not only knew tons of facts about the animals, but also about the attraction’s design elements. While we took the same route that the standard safari takes, we were told about some of the “tricks” on the safari. Some of these we knew, such as the fact that the termite mounds noted by drivers are just concrete and plaster shaped to look like the iconic towers dotting the savannah.
However, we were given some interesting tidbits that we didn’t know about the safari as the truck stopped at strategic spots along the way where we could see “behind the curtain” of different animal exhibits.
Guests that don’t know a lot about zoological exhibits and theme park attractions would probably be wowed by details revealed during our safari, but even an experienced and knowledgeable guest like myself picked up a handful of new facts about the park’s hallmark attraction. For instance, until the WDW solar farm was completed, the flamingo pond was the largest “hidden Mickey” on property (after the Walt Disney World Speedway was demolished of course), which I can’t believe I never noticed before – and now you won’t be able to un-see that either.
The safari part of the experience is still the standard length that you would get from standing in the regular line (or FP+ line), and is not an off-track or truly behind the scenes experience, but the information and ability to ask questions (as well as the truck actually stopping to get good photos of the animals) is about as close as you can get to being back stage without paying for a uber-expensive VIP tour.
When the safari was over, we were given an opportunity to ask any additional questions, and went on our way to further explore the park.
Did I mention that this was a “Dining Package”? Oh yeah, because the final part of this experience is a meal at Tiffins. For us, we made our dinner reservation for the park’s signature restaurant for later in the evening, but guests can make their meal reservation for any time the restaurant is open. However, what we found when making our reservations is that while you have full control over the time that you eat, you do not have control over the performance of the show you must attend (with the safari always occurring immediately after the show). In researching this experience, there didn’t seem to be any rhyme or reason as to which show time you were assigned, so if you’re interested in booking this experience, I recommend trying multiple times to find a meal time and show time that best fit your schedule. We had initially booked this experience for Wednesday with a lunch reservation at Tiffins that was paired with a 5 PM performance of the show, but that would have made hopping to Magic Kingdom later that evening to see Happily Ever After a very tight schedule. Instead, we moved our reservation to Friday at Tiffins, which was paired with a 3 PM show time.
We had dined at Tiffins during our last trip in October 2017 as part of the Rivers of Light Dining Package. Similar to our last experience, the Festival of the Lion King Dining Package offers a pre-fixe menu where guests get a choice of appetizer, entrée, and dessert along with a choice of beverage (21 and over can choose from the beer and wine menu). Guests are also served a “welcome toast” of champagne as part of the pre-fixe meal. The one drawback is that children are relegated to the kid’s menu, so if you have a young, adventurous eater like our son, he can feel a little slighted by the more limited and less interesting kid’s menu.
For our appetizers, Zach got the veggies with dip, while I got the Thai curry mussels, and my wife ordered the charcuterie board. The mussels were really good, but the real star of my dish was the broth. It was so good that I had to ask our server for a spoon so I could savor every last drop of this succulently spicy liquid.
While the charcuterie board bared some resemblance to the one we had at Jiko at the beginning of our trip, there was enough variation of the individual items that set this one apart from Animal Kingdom Lodge’s signature restaurant.
For our entrees, we deliberately chose different items than we ordered during our last meal at Tiffins. That wasn’t difficult for me since the duo of venison is no longer on the menu, so I chose the intimidating whole-fried sustainable fish, which was yellow snapper on this occasion. My son also went with fish (he ordered the shrimp off the kids meal last time), which was grilled grouper. My wife, who ordered the braised lamb on our previous visit, requested the surf and turf this time. All three dishes were home runs, though my son would have preferred some sauce or veggies mixed in with his side of rice. The forbidden rice served with my fish, however, was heavenly with a sweet yet savory backbone that paired perfectly with the protein. My fish was a bit of a bear to eat, but I only ran across a few pin-bones that I was unable to spot.
My son’s fish was completely devoid of bones, which should be expected from a kid’s plate, and it must have been good, because it was gone before I even got halfway through mine.
My wife’s steak was expertly prepared to medium rare with only the potato pave missing the mark. Perhaps some additional demi-glace ladled on top of the potato or a different preparation of the starch could improve the dish slightly.
For dessert, my son ordered the strawberry short cake with marshmallow cream. The addition of marshmallow here was the star, and distinguished this from your run of the mill berry/cake dessert.
I requested the cheese board, which is what my wife ordered for dessert on or last visit to Tiffins. For me, the star of this dessert is the preserves to pair with the salty blue cheese.
Meanwhile, my wife ordered Tiffins’ signature dessert, The Lion King, which is a caramel mousse with a chocolate brownie and strawberry-mango sauce with the famous silhouette painted on it. In the end it’s a really fancy brownie, but the visual appeal along with the salty caramel mousse elevate it to its signature status.
If we had ordered each of our selections individually as part of a standard dinner at Tiffins, we would have spent about the same amount of money as what the Festival of the Lion King Tier 1 Dining Package cost, which is $99 for adults and $49 for children 3-9. That’s where the real value is here, because not only do you get a wonderful meal at one of the best restaurants in all of Walk Disney World, but you also receive front row, participatory seats at one of the best theme park shows of all time, and an exclusive in-depth safari experience. As I noted earlier, there is a Tier 2 Festival of the Lion King Dining Package that is slightly less expensive ($74 for adults and $29 for kids), but the show seating is not in the front row, nor does the experience include the safari, though the pre-fixe meal at Tiffins is the same. I was really impressed with this unique experience. While we had experienced each of the individual aspects of the package, the little touches in each portion to make them special and unique truly plussed the experience. If you really like the Festival of the Lion King and are interested in a nice meal at Tiffins while you’re visiting Disney’s Animal Kingdom, I cannot recommend this dining package more highly.Tweet