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WDW Day Two: Animal Kingdom

Thursday, April 17th 2008 was the day me and my parents explored Disney’s Animal Kindgom. Although we got off to a late start due to a mysteriously un-set alarm, it ended up being very eventful full day and we wound up doing everything we set out to do. After a filling breakfast at the downtown Kissimmee Denny’s, we took the 10:30 a.m. shuttle into Walt Disney World. Our first priority upon entering AK was getting the “forgotten tickets” issue from the day before resolved. Luckily the employee we talked to cheerfully issued us refunds for the lost day on our three-day passes — Jonathan in Animal Kingdom Guest Relations, thank you very much for saving us a lot of heartache!

Dinosaur Ride Photo, Disney’s Animal KingdomAlthough we entered Animal Kingdom later than anticipated, that turned out to be all right since I intended to skip some of the more popular attractions and concentrate more on exploring the various areas. The first place we hit was the popular and relatively new Expedition Everest roller coaster, in order to secure Fastpasses for later in the day. This involved walking through the Asian area of the park, which was beautifully themed to look like a crumbling Asian villiage in the Himalayas. It was even hot, humid and crowded — exactly like the real Asia! We then walked to the silly Dinoland U.S.A. area to ride on the Dinosaur attraction. The vehicles for this bumpy ride were modeled on the oversized jeeps in Disneyland’s Indiana Jones ride, only this time you have to travel back in time to retrieve a dinosaur. It was frenetic and fun, a bit on the short side, and the many areas where riders are plunged into complete darkness made me even more uncomfortable than the huge dinosaurs that keep popping out at you. My parents had a blast. Once the ride was over, I bought one of those overpriced photos that they sell you at the end. In the photo, I’m the goofy looking guy sitting upper left.

Since trumped-up carnival rides don’t interest me much, we didn’t explore the rest of Dinoland, USA. Instead, we hightailed it back to Asia and went through an animal exhibit called the Maharajah Jungle Trek. What was interesting about this part weren’t so much the animals (much of whom were sleeping or hiding) but the gorgeous theming of the trail. It was made to look like an ancient temple with statuary and crumbling walls covered in murals. The other guests seemed especially annoying, elbowing their way to find the best viewing spots, but I enjoyed snapping pictures of things others were basically ignoring. That done, we went down the Asian walkway to catch the park’s daily Flights of Wonder bird show. At this point I noticed how the park, nicely designed as it was, was not made to handle high-capacity crowds very efficiently. Smaller than usual walkways, humidity-enhancing extra vegetation, and a crucial lack of shade add up to an unpleasant experience. Luckily we found a small respite at Flights of Wonder. This was a cute ‘n corny comedy show with a wide variety of birds, wrapped up in a superficial conservation message (something that pops up often at AK). Still in Asia, we took a break at the Coke stand which (yet again) was subject to some amazing theming.

Newly hydrated, we decided to trek over to the other side of the park to catch the Festival of the Lion King show. This was an impressive and grandly entertaining spectacle with a huge, energetic cast. If the show wasn’t quite Broadway caliber, it does beat anything seen on a cruise ship — and the family audience ate it up. I captured a bit of the show where huge floats get rolled out and posted it on flickr.

After this we decided to explore the area around the park’s “weenie”, the Tree of Life. Though the tree isn’t an attraction per se, several understated animal habitats and trails snake around the tree’s base. The parents and I spent a long time just gawking at the tree itself, which is intricately carved with animals in its base. A cast member walked by and aptly remarked on how guests just can’t stop looking at it. Later on, mom and dad searched for a guidebook on the carvings — in vain. Apparently Disney can stock about a million pieces of “Princess” merchandise in their shops, but no simple Tree of Life guidebook exists!

It was getting time to head back to Asia to honor our Expedition Everest fastpasses. This attraction definitely lives up to its “E Ticket” status. We ended up getting on in less than five minutes, with me and dad sitting in the front row of our runaway train. This was a quick and bone-rattling ride, climaxing in a view of an animatronic Yeti (which buzzed by too fast for me to really notice it). We had an intense time, and at the peak of the ride I had some time to look out and marvel at how massive the Walt Disney World property is — acres and acres of trees with bits of hotels and such in the distance.

With a 3:00 p.m. parade about to rumble through the park, I decided to get to AK’s African section to find out if we could get fastpasses for the park’s other E-ticket, Kiliminjaro Safaris. It turned out the attraction ran out of fastpasses for the day, so we just decided to go on it anyway. The other alternative was trucking to the park’s other side to see the last daily performance of the Finding Nemo show. We decided to stay put, a good decision since the queue was at most about 15 minutes long (just long enough to call Christopher at work!). The safari was tons of fun. I’d heard that it was better to catch this ride earlier in the day when the animals were more likely to be active, but that turned out to be no problem at all. There were dozens of animals out and I snapped a ton of photos. This was basically a Disneyfied African safari with a throwaway storyline relating to poachers. Me and my parents agreed it was the highlight of the day. After this we explored the Pangani Forest Exploration Trail, which does for African critters what the Maharajah Trek did for Asian creatures. I thought this one was more enjoyable and better put together than the Asian trail, even if the theming wasn’t quite as strong.

The day was winding down and there really weren’t any other rides I was interested in, so we got a little (disappointing) shopping in and departed the park a half hour before its 7:00 p.m. closing. I always wanted to see the nearby Animal Kingdom Lodge, so we decided to catch a convenient bus over there for some dinner. The main building opens up to a gorgeously designed vaulted lobby with African accents everywhere (even on the floor!). I was hoping to see the fake savanna which hotel guests can see from their room balconies, but when we made our way outside only a huge and noisy pool could be found. This was one of the few times I wished I’d planned better, since we could have made early reservations for the lodge’s delicious looking African buffet Boma. Instead, we made our way to the cheaper counter service restaurant near the pool and had to make due with typical burgers and fries. It was here that I noticed most of the guests were either British or South African. All in all, Animal Kingdom Lodge was a nice place to visit but I wouldn’t want to stay there (too many kids).

Since the shuttle back to the hotel wasn’t due for a couple of hours, we did some further exploring, taking a bus from AK Lodge to a bustling Magic Kingdom. I wanted to check out the super luxe Grand Floridian Resort, so we waited for a boat ride. In a bit of bad timing, a loud and obnoxious white trash woman got in line behind us and started arguing with her teenage daughter. We ducked out and tried to take a monorail to the resort, but there weren’t any available at the time. Trudging back to the boat dock, we found that obnoxious white trash woman left on the previous boat (or maybe she was fed to the alligators). Finally we got onto a much quieter boat; it was an excellent ride. On the Grand Floridian: what a beautiful resort. This is definitely where I’d want to stay if I won the lottery. All white buildings facing quiet courtyards, done up in understated faux turn-of-the-century elegance. Like the AK Lodge, the Grand Floridian opens up to a huge and impressive lobby filled with sitting areas containing overstuffed chairs and soft lighting. We made our way up to the second floor lounge to enjoy drinks while a live band played Disney tunes in jazzy arrangements. Seeing a couple dressed in evening attire, my mom at first was hesitant to go in with us looking like sweaty, dirty tourists — but she relented and we had a good, relaxing time. I sipped on my first Mai Tai, one of the best drinks I ever had. The resort was wonderful, and even more importantly it was a nice break from the crowded family-energetic atmosphere everywhere else in WDW. The visit was a pleasant capper to the evening and left us rested for the bus shuttle ride back to our comparatively spartan hotel. Next stop: The Magic Kingdom.

Animal Kingdom photo montage

4 Thoughts on “WDW Day Two: Animal Kingdom

  1. I’m on pins and needles waiting for your Magic Kingdom run down. Your pictures are great… especially the Dinosaur Ride souvenir photo. I’ll have to scan mine and send it to you. It’s pretty amazing seeing all those bug eyes and terrified faces.
    We just booked our Disney vacation for this September… we’re actually staying at the Animal Kingdom Lodge. The hotel’s two restaurants: Boma and Jiko are both amazing. We’re doing a free dining plan special that week where we’ll pretty much be eating for free. No better place to become an obese American than at Disney World!

  2. Send me that Dinosaur photo, Andrew! Where do they take the it, anyway? Probably where you see that last, biggest dino. I’m so jealous that you’ll be staying and dining in AK Lodge.

    The Magic Kingdom photos have been uploaded on my flickr account, I should have a recap posted in the next few days.

  3. The drawing surrounding my photo is not as exciting as yours… but check out the expressions of my fellow riders:

    I think the camera flashes when you see the very last scary Dinosaur. What a freaky ride! I couldn’t even keep my eyes open the first time we rode through. I can’t imagine how scary it would be to a 5-year-old.

  4. Too funny!

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