Tuesday, March 23, 2010

It's NOT a Zoo!

Lions and tigers and bears - oh my! Well, not really...more like the Yeti, dinosaurs and bats...among other things that can all be found at my most 2nd-favorite park at Disney World, the Animal Kingdom.

The Animal Kingdom is really amazing - and yet, it often seems to go unappreciated by many. I think part of this is misconceptions - some people think of it as "just a zoo" - and it is so, so much more than that. It is NOT A ZOO! There are hidden treasures everywhere - and the park is just waiting to be explored by the adventurous and those willing to stop and take the time to appreciate it all - by meandering down paths and exploring the nature all around you.

We probably spent most of our time last week at the Animal Kingdom - we'd go there in the morning, or later in the afternoon - breaking it into smaller chunks of time and allowing us to really dig deep into the park's "lands".

One of the lands to be explored is DinoLand U.S.A. - where we imagined that we were paleontologists studying the beasts from long ago that mysteriously disappeared from our world forever.

Daughter and I love the dizzying ride, "Primeval Whirl" - or as we like to call it, "Primeval Hurl."

This is NOT a ride to ride right after you've eaten a big meal - think of the Mad Tea Party teacups on a roller coaster. We waited about 25 minutes to go on a 2.5-minute ride - but it was well worth it, as we laughed and shrieked every time we spun and whirled - and thankfully, didn't hurl. Hubby refuses to ride this - he hates spinning rides. Well, he missed out on a lot of fun - that's all I have to say on the subject!

Daughter and I on Primeval Hurl....

Our other favorite ride in DinoLand is the thriller, Dinosaur!

This is a popular ride - so we would try and utilize our FastPass options here - but sometimes, we'd just tough out the standby line, which would average around 25 minutes. One time, we had a Fastpass for 1:30 p.m. We arrived at the gate at 1:26 p.m. - and the Castmember wouldn't let us get in line...he made us stand there and wait four, agonizingly long minutes. It's not like the line was tremendously long at that time - heck, there was no line - but I guess "David" was just doing his job. Another group of guests showed up at 1:29 pm for their 1:30 Fastpass - and he made them wait, as well. We found it rather funny, actually.

Anyway, once we were FINALLY on the ride, we'd load up into our "Time Rover" vehicles and go back in time - where we would bounce and jostle through a jungle of terrifying, life-size, animatronic dinosaurs...a lot of this ride is in the dark, with extremely loud noises - and so it can be a little intense for some. You KNOW a ride is intense when Disney takes your photo while on it - and in this case, they snap your picture as you're being confronted by a life-size, bellowing, hungry, man-eating T-Rex...I guess they want you to see what you look like when you're completely terrified - a little sadistic, if you ask me.

Anywho, we had ridden this so many times, we knew exactly when the camera would go off, so we would ham it up in the photo - and I think in this case, we deserved an Academy Award for showing "terror":

There's a "Dumbo"-like ride, TriceraTop Spin - which we didn't do because we find it rather dull...we also skipped the 30-minute show, Finding Nemo - The Musical. This was simply a time factor on our part - I've heard good reviews about the show, although it is rather long. There's one show in Animal Kingdom that we don't miss, which we'll discuss later - and so this show got punted. Maybe on our next trip - who knows?

On to the next area - Africa. Because of my phobia of flying, this is probably as close to the "real" Africa as I'll ever get - and so I always make the most of my visits here! And actually, that's not too far off - of all the lands in all of Walt Disney World, Africa is the one that most closely resembles the real thing - true fact. EVERY building you see here is an EXACT replica of an existing building in Africa, right down to the cracks and crevices! Amazing, huh?! I love the detail that the Imagineers have put into this wonderful land - called "Harambe", the Swahili word for "let us all pull together". I think it really means, "let us stick as many people into one area as humanly possible and see a virtual roadblock as it is so crowded, no one can move - not one muscle."

Because...Africa has a tendency to get crowded. Very, very crowded. This land is best visited in the early morning when the park first opens - and before the crowd swells...as it can become jammed with people, strollers, electric scooters, and - shudder - children. Hot, hungry, tired, smelly children. I'm just sayin.....

The time period in this land is 1961...which actually signifies the year the Republic of Kenya began its road to Independence. That's just an FYI so you can appreciate the surroundings - and realize why everything looks a little dated. Now you know the rest of the story!

So - our favorite ride in Africa (okay, honestly? It's EVERYONE'S favorite ride in Africa - the line gets LONG - up to 90 minutes!) is the Kilimanjaro Safari. We boarded a safari truck to explore 100 acres of African habitat with lions, giraffes, crocodiles, ostriches, gazelle, watusi (I love saying that word!), and many other animals... It's amazing to me how Disney really has you believing you are TRULY in Africa on a safari - you really lose the sense of being in Orlando, Florida at a theme park.

The animals are somewhat controlled, but they truly dictate where the magic will be found - each and every ride is different, depending on the animals' behavior and location for that particular ride.

The Pangani Forest Exploration Trail is a nice, relaxing stroll - and is probably the only "zoo"-related exhibit in the park. We don't always do this - only if we have "extra" time and need to slow down a bit - but this trip, we made sure to do it, as there is a brand-new baby gorilla here born just a month ago. Mama Gorilla was holding the baby in her arms - just as we hold our own infants - and it was too, too cute. I really didn't get a photo, as we were behind a glass viewing window, so - use your imagination. Think "cute, cute, cute" - combined with, "Awwwww......that's SO sweet!" - and you'll have your own picture of the baby gorilla.

Now - on to the next land, Asia. On our last trip, several years ago, the big ride was Kali River Rapids - one of those water rides that absolutely drenches each and every one of you.

That's a fun ride on a hot, humid day in August - not so much on a rather cool day in March...and so we skipped it.

Disney's gotten smart and is now selling ponchos right before you get into line (heck - what line? NO ONE was riding this - even with ponchos!) but we still didn't want to take a chance of being cold and wet.

So - we, along with every other person in the park - headed to Animal Kingdom's number-one ride: Expedition Everest. This is Disney's newest "mountain" thrill ride that takes you up a 199-foot-tall Forbidden Mountain on the way to Mount Everest. There's an encounter with the Yeti -

- and then you go flying - backwards - through the dark - and then down several steep drops and sharp turns....at one point during the ride, you literally run out of track - which can be a little disconcerting!

I. love. this. ride.

However - so does everyone else. The line can easily get up to 2 hours long. So - we would first grab Fastpasses whenever we could - and then we would utilize the Single Rider line. This line had us waiting, at the longest, 25 minutes - much quicker than the normal queue. It didn't matter to us if we were sitting together - half of the ride is in the dark, so you could be sitting next to George Clooney for all you know - but it DID matter to us that we ride it...over and over and over again! And this is what we did. Ride it over and over and over again.

I actually managed to snag the very first car on two separate rides - so now I am a proud member of the "Front Row Club" - and it was well worth it!

A view of the drop outside the mountain - the screams can be heard all over the park...

I'll be honest, though - the very first time I rode this, I was a nervous wreck. I do NOT like roller coasters - and this looked terrifying. My eyes were squeezed shut the entire time I rode it - I saw nothing. No Yeti. No details. Nothing. By the end of our trip, I was riding it with my arms up in the air the entire time - shrieking with laughter and adrenaline. It was awesome.

So - word of advice. Don't let fears of roller coasters stop you from riding this ride. It is truly amazing and you'll love it. I guarantee it. Seriously.

The last attraction in Asia that we enjoy is the Maharajah Jungle Trek - and it's because of one word: tigers. 'Nuff said. (Although the bats are pretty cool, too - be sure to check them out!)

A few other miscellaneous rides and attractions in Animal Kingdom that we enjoy:

The 3D-show, It's Tough to Be a Bug - is not to be missed.

We like wandering our way down through the queue and studying the carvings in the Tree of Life...amazing details...The actual bug show is funny - with some great effects - but it can be terrifying to small children. We had a 3-year old sitting behind us who began screaming when the first bug made his appearance at the beginning of the show - and she didn't stop screaming and shrieking until the show was over. Kind of ruined it for everyone sitting around her - so parents, PLEASE pay attention to the Disney warnings before taking your children into shows or on rides - they're there for a reason!!!!

Here's daughter - before the show - with her special 3D "bug eyes":

The Festival of the Lion King show is our favorite live show at Animal Kingdom....it has wonderful music and wonderful singers, dancers and acrobats that put on a very good show.

Any seat in the theater is a good seat - they're all good - and we usually watch the show before we leave the park for the day. It's close to the exit, which makes it convenient - and saves us from a little bit of walking.

As far as dining, we enjoy Pizzafari - where you don't have to get a pizza. Remember that things are not always the way they appear at Disney....

Daughter & hubby enjoyed huge chicken cesaer salads, which were pretty tasty:

I enjoyed a delicious hot, Italian sandwich:

And because we were wearing our "Happy Anniversary" buttons, the Disney castmember threw in a little Disney magic for us: a beautiful, blue cupcake with Mickey sprinkles!

And there you have it...a quick review/travel journal of Animal Kingdom. The AK is big...very big...and so the best tip I can offer is to have a plan. I about died when we arrived one morning at the AK, and while we were walking to the entrance, I overheard a young lady in front of us ask her partner, "So, what is this place? A zoo? Are there any rides?" I shook my head, thinking, "Oh, honey - you are so going to be surprised...and you're so going to miss out on a lot of fun stuff."

Because - if you don't have a plan - you'll spend most of your time getting lost, or standing in long, long ride lines - and that's never fun. Know what you want to ride - send someone to get Fastpasses, if available - and know what shows you want to see and when they're showing. Utilize the Single Rider Line, if you can - it goes much quicker than regular Stand by. Spend the rest of your day walking and strolling and taking in the beauty around you.

And say hi to the Yeti for me....cuz I just know you're going to love him....like I did.




kat said...

Now I want to go back to Disneyland :) Looks like you had a great time.

Aunt Juicebox said...

We didn't get to spend much time in Animal Kingdom when we went, but I did love that Dinosaur ride! We went to that first, on a day when it opened an hour early for people who stayed on the property or whatever, and got right on 3 times in a row! So much fun. That's also the park where the bird pooped in my hair. On my birthday.

Drama Queen said...

Kat - we had an awesome time; even with crowds, I think of the alternative - that I could be at home, working - and so crowds or not, a day at Disney is always great!

AJ - I'm glad you liked the Dinosaur! ride, too - it's one of our favorites! And only you would get crapped on, on your birthday no less! That's not funny....but it really is. :)

Thanks for stopping by, ladies!