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Tuesday, September 10, 2019

moonlight magic at disney's animal kingdom theme park

Here ends our Moonlight Magic 2019 saga.  Our official evening at Disney's Animal Kingdom Theme Park is tale of Up! characters, dinosaurs, and MAH EHWAAAAHs.

The opportunity to experience Disney Vacation Club's Moonlight Magic event was just one of many reasons we chose August when planning our vacation this year.  For those who still need to be caught up to speed, Moonlight Magic is a Disney Vacation Club Member exclusive event that happens sporadically throughout the year at different Disney theme parks.  I'll link the post that explains more about this event, as well as how I obtained tickets, here.

For those of you who haven't read the post yet and don't have time to indulge in it right now, I'll contextualize Moonlight Magic as briefly as I can: Moonlight Magic is a popular, exclusive event, and the booking process is extremely competitive.  Reviews are generally positive, and the event is free to attend (er, included in the price of your DVC member dues).  While Moonlight Magic takes place at each of the four Walt Disney World Resort theme parks throughout the year, we were especially excited to visit Animal Kingdom, since we were eager to see Pandora at night.  For all of these reasons, our hopes leading up to Moonlight Magic were higher than they were for most Disney events we've gone to!

Let's find out how our expectations measured up to the reality of Moonlight Magic.  We attended the last Animal Kingdom date of the year, which was Thursday, August 22, 2019!

Check-In Process

A week before the party, registered guests were given an email explaining how check-in was facilitated.  Before the party began, we were allowed to check-in at either the entrance to Animal Kingdom OR at the lobby of our Disney Vacation Club Resort.  This process literally could not have been easier.  I went down to the lobby of the Villas at the Grand Floridian building at 5:30 and there was a DVC host with an iPad who had everything we needed.  After I showed him my blue DVC Member Card and driver's license, he gave me the wristbands, food vouchers, and game tickets for everyone in my party.  It was so painless!

Pictured above are our goodies for the evening:

  • Wristbands.  Like every other hard-ticket after hours event, these wristbands ensure that we are party guests and allowed to be in DAK after the park has been closed to day guests.
  • Meal vouchers.  One awesome thing about MM is that you get fed for free!  Everyone in our party was given a voucher that was good for one entree and one drink at any of the following locations: Flame Tree BBQ, Restaurantosaurus, Pizzafari, or Satu'li Canteen.
  • Game Credits for Dino-Roma's Fossil Fun Carnival Games.  One added benefit of going to MM specifically at Disney's Animal Kingdom is that each member of your party gets a ticket to use at the carnival games in Dinoland, USA!
  • One Moonlight Magic Map.  The special events map for the party told us which attractions would be open, which special characters would be meeting (and where!), where to buy party exclusive merchandise, where party-specific merchandise could be found, where to get free ice cream treats, and where to redeem our food vouchers.

Getting to Animal Kingdom/Pre-Party Fun

While the event ran from 9:30-12 AM,  DVC members with wristbands could enter DAK starting at 6:00 PM.  Since the event is only 2.5 hours itself, it's nice that members without day tickets can get 3 hours of park fun in before the park is closed to day guests!

We ended up leaving from the Grand Floridian bus stop closer to 6:00 and the buses to DAK were absolutely jam-packed.  We had to wait for a second bus to come along, but we were relieved to find another bus came almost immediately as the first one left.  It is so great to see that Disney runs extra buses to and from the DVC resorts on Moonlight Magic nights!

Because we're Annual Passholders, we made FP+ for about two hours leading up to the party.  If you do this, go in through the normal tapstyles!  Do not use the DVC wristband entry.  You'll need to scan your wristband into the park before you use any FP+ choices!  If you try to scan your MB at a FP+ location without having scanned into the park, your MDE will get locked and you'll have to go aaaallll the way back to Guest Relations to unlock it.  We almost had a catastrophe on our hands when dad tried to go in through the wristband party entry.

We went right to Pandora to use our FP+ for Flights of Passage.  This was our first time on the ride, and I'm glad we used a FP+ for it so we could avoid wasting party time in line for it!  The pre-show was waaaaay longer than it had any right to be, but I really liked the ride itself.

We grabbed some snacks while we were in Pandora, specifically the Pongu Lumpia and Night Blossom from Pongu Pongu refreshments.  These were also new to me, and I loved both of them!

Then we decided to use our vouchers for dinner.


One of the most important pieces of advice I can give anyone attending Moonlight Magic is to use your food vouchers before the party begins.  I don't know how early you're allowed to redeem them, since you can check-in starting at noon at the vacation planning booth at Animal Kingdom, but I would redeem yours starting at the earliest 5:00 just to be safe.  During the party, these lines get ridiculously long, and with only two hours of prime party time, you definitely don't want to spend almost half of that in a Quick Service Restaurant.

We decided to eat at Flame Tree BBQ tonight.  Flame Tree had the most appealing menu to us, and we were going to be in the area for our first event of the night, anyway.  The line was really long, but we got through it in about 15 minutes, and then it took no time at all for our food to come out.  Finding a table to sit down at was another battle this evening, since the restaurant was so packed.

I ordered the sampler platter, which came with ribs, chicken, and pulled pork.

It was horrendous.  Everything on this plate was dry and disgusting, but this is a Moonlight Magic review, and I can't blame Moonlight Magic for that.  We had a huge lunch, so I wasn't particularly upset about it, especially since it was free.  Next time, we will try Restaurantosaurus or Satu'li Canteen, although I'd be more eager to try Satu'li if they brought their cheeseburger pods back onto the adult menu.

As part of your ticket to Moonlight Magic, you can get free ice cream treats at Creature Comforts.  We did not indulge in these tonight (we just didn't have enough time and never got around to it), but I would assume that they taste just like every other Mickey Premium Bar and Mickey Ice Cream Sandwich you can get every other day.

Several locations remain open throughout the evening for snacks that you can purchase.  We stopped at a churro stand in Dinoland, USA, and all four of us used a DDP Snack Credit on a churro with chocolate sauce.  The churro was stale, but the chocolate sauce hid that well.

There was also a free water station next to Flame Tree BBQ!  This was extremely welcome, and we stopped her twice to hydrate ourselves before heading off to our next event.

Meeting Characters from Disney/Pixar's Up!

One of the highlights of Moonlight Magic is the opportunity to meet rare characters!  They had so many awesome friends out this evening-- Flik & Atta, Br'er Fox & Br'er Bear, Mowgli & Baloo are just a few of the characters you could have met this evening.  We decided that there were two characters M&Gs we absolutely had to go to: Dug, Russell, & Carl Frederickson at the normal Wilderness Explorer location, and Kevin across from Flame Tree BBQ.  Carl only meets at special events, and Kevin doesn't stop to take photos for formal M&Gs during the day.

We accidentally got in line at 8:30 for Dug, Russell, & Carl because we were mistakenly told they'd be out at 9:00, so we ended up waiting an hour, but we were the first family to greet them.

I love these three with my whole entire heart.  I pointed out how much I loved his "Ellie Badge," and he showed me his WEDDING BAND.  He wears a WEDDING BAND because he still LOVES ELLIE.  Did I cry?  Maybe.  Anyway, I adore these three.

We immediately went across the street and got in line for Kevin.  We got in line for her just in time, because when we walked by again 40 minutes later, her line was wrapped all the way around Island Mercantile.  She is SO much fun!  I love her squawking noises, and the way she tilts her neck.  She is the wind beneath my wind.

These were the two M&Gs we spent time on during the party, and I wouldn't have changed that.  We were well satisfied with the time we spent waiting and the quality of character interaction for both.

Attractions & Entertainment

After we were finished with Kevin, we went to our first attraction of the evening, Dinosaur.  The posted wait time was 20 minutes, but I don't think it was more than 10 before we were in the pre-show room.

Afterwards, we stopped at the Dinoland USA dance party with Chip and Dale in their cute little dinosaur costumes.  This is fun for the little ones!  And the big ones, if you're unafraid to do the cupid shuffle with Chip and Dale.

While we were in the area, we brought those two free game credits to Dino-Rama for some good ol' fashion fun at Chester & Hester's famed Fossil Fun carnival games.  We waited in the longest lines all night for these, about 15 minutes to play the game.  They're your normal midway carnival games.  There's a ball toss here, a water race there, whack-a-mole somewhere... the standards.  At $5 a game, the prices are comparable for what you'd find at your local Six Flags.  The prizes are stuffed dinosaurs, and they're rarely changed out.  I would have skipped these if we didn't get a ticket included, but since it was free, I played a round of a water race.

From there, we had about an hour left of party time, so we made our way over to Pandora, where we walked onto Na'vi River Journey.  Everyone and their mom hypes up how "Pandora looks at night," and while I was just a tad underwhelmed, the rest of the family really loved it.  After Na'vi River Journey, we left the park around 11:45 at night.

Party Merchandise

At one point in the evening, we did stop at Island Mercantile to check out that exclusive Moonlight Magic party swag!  The selection was extremely limited.  They had several shirts, hats, and travel mugs with the Moonlight Magic at DAK party logo on it, and a few DVC hats, ornaments, and the DVC Jenga game that everyone wants.  Dad and I bought a t-shirt just to commemorate the occasion, which I believe was $27.

In Conclusion...

This brings us to the end of our first experience with Disney Vacation Club's Moonlight Magic!

Let me start off by saying we loved this event!  In contrast to our Not-So-Scary experience just days earlier, it felt like there was "less" to do, but because the crowds were so light, we were able to do everything we wanted to do.  I thought we had high expectations going into the event, but we ended up having a better time than I predicted we'd have.

I only have one complaint: I desperately wish this event was an hour or two longer.  I would rather get into the park at 7 or 8 and have the party itself run an hour or two later.  Especially with a park like Animal Kingdom where it can take you half an hour to get from one side of the park to the other, 2.5 hours of party time is just not enough.  Since rare characters are a highlight that they really try to "sell" at this event, I would even argue that this problem could be remedied if they ran the M&Gs here like they do at MNSSHP: guests with party wristbands can meet the most sought-after characters before the party even begins.

Besides that one issue, we had a lot of fun at Moonlight Magic.  Enough fun that I would consider moving vacation dates (to a reasonable extent) in the future for the opportunity to do it again at a different park, though I wouldn't be too disappointed if I found myself unable to book tickets through an unlucky virtual queue draw.  We had some of the best character interactions we've ever had, got to visit some of our favorite Disney's Animal Kingdom attractions, and even got to play some Fossil Fun games, which we wouldn't have normally done!  It was a pleasant evening and I recommend it to any DVC member considering trying their luck at the Moonlight Magic virtual queue.


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