Orlando Day 3 – Animal Kingdom

December 19, 2010 at 10:45 pm | Posted in Travel, Travelogues | Leave a comment

Everyone was completely beat by the end of Saturday.  The time change combined with all the walking took its toll on us.  We had a great sushi dinner Saturday night but decided Sunday was not going to be an early morning, get there when the park opens day. (Note that my blog entries are aimed at servicing as a resource for people who may be taking future trips to Orlando so they may see a little too detailed or critical at times to the casual reader.)

We arrived inside Animal Kingdom not until around 11 AM.  The place was pretty crowded and I was skeptical we would be able to do even 50% of the items on the original itinerary which was based on getting there at least 20 min before park opening.  The weather was about 55 degrees and all the people from warm climates were wearing thick, heavy parkas which cracked me up.  I had figured it would warm up a bit so only wore a short sleeve shirt and pants as I didn’t want to lug a jacket around if it got into the low-mid 60’s as the weather report forecast.  This would turn out to be a a mistake as it didn’t get above the mid 50’s that day and there was a light breeze but I only got chilled in the late afternoon.

We headed straight for Expedition Everest, one of my top 5 Disney rides.  It is essentially the new version of the Matterhorn. The theming of this ride is typical excellent, creative Disney.  It is a smooth roller coaster very unlike the original Matterhorn which still amazes me it is still in operation virtually unchanged since 1959! The Fast Pass return time was already 4:00 PM in the afternoon.  Considering the park was only opened until 6, we were lucky to get a Fast Pass with a return time prior to when we had to leave to go to dinner at 5.

We then walked over to Dinosaur in Dino Land.  Dino Land is pretty cheezy — probably the least favorite of any of the areas of any Disney theme park.  There aren’t any good rides (except a few for small children) and the actual theming of the ride area does not fit it well with Animal Kingdom.  It looks more like a cheezy Carnival on Disney steroids.  We were lucky the Dinosaur ride wait was only 30 minutes.  We enjoyed the ride, essentially a re-skinning of the Indiana Jones ride at Disneyland.  I’d would not wait more than 30 to 40 minutes max for this ride though.

Next everyone was getting hungry.  We had reservations at the Tusker house restaurant (a table service buffet) but the time was at 11:30 so we missed it.  Three weeks earlier I had tried to get reservations at the only other table serice restaurant in the park, the Yak & Yeti (Asian cuisine) but it was already booked and it was too cold that day to eat outside at its counter service counterpart, Yaki & Yeti Cafe. Disney handles food allergies like no other place in the world.  Every restaurant they record the allergy in the computer and at the sit-down restaurants, the chef comes to personally take the order and prepare the childs meal themselves.

We ended up stumbling upon a counter service restaurant, right next to Dinosaur called Restaurantosaurus.  It was essentially burgers and chicken nuggets.  Even the counter service though handles the allergy well.  We found out the bun in the kids burger had milk.  So Jordan had to just eat a patty, the grapes and carrots that come with it, and I gave him my fries.  Right after we placed the order though we found that the adult burger doesn’t have milk in the bun!  The difference between the childs meal and the adult meal was only $2 and the Adult patty was 3 times larger than the kids meal.  Plus the kids meal doesn’t come with fries (just grapes and carrots) but I still saw lots of plastic pails being filled up with fries so even though it wasn’t on the menu, you must have either been able to order fries separately or ask to substitute the carrots and grapes for fries. (It was refreshing to see Disney is doing their part to encourage people to battle the child obesity problem in this country by defaulting the kids meal to come with fruit and veggies instead of fries.)

This restaurant is also supposedly very environmentally conscious.  The straws are made of paper!  Never seen this before.  And there are no plastic lids for the soft drinks.  However it struck me very contradictory that they still were giving away a cheezy plastic bucket and shovel with the kids meal.  Where do you think that bucket and shovel most likely end up? In the trash!  Very contradictory.  The burger wasn’t bad though, very large and they had an excellent condiment bar.  The way to go at this restaurant would be to either order the kids meal without the bucket or if your kids don’t eat fries and drink pop all the time give them a rare treat and have them split the Adult meal with fries and a fountain drink (kids meal comes with Apple juice.)     In a nutshell, good place for a hungry burger person with lots of seating available but otherwise disappointed with their overall selection and their contradictory environmental practices.

After lunch we walked up to the Kilimanjaro Safari and as I feared all the Fast Passes were already gone.  That probably wouldn’t have helped us anyway as we had to leave the park no later than 5 to go to dinner.  So we decided to do the 50 minute wait.  I’ve always thought this ride was overrated for the wait time but it really depends on what you see (and how long you waited.)  And this time it was worth the wait.  We saw lots of animals: Rhinos, Elephants, Cheetahs, Lions, Ostrich, and lots more and I even barely manged to not freeze my butt off due to the knit black Mickey hat and scarf my wife and Mom loaned me.

By the time we were done with Kilimanjaro, it was time to head over to Everest to use our Fast Passes. As I said before, love this ride.  It is a nice smooth coaster with a twist that I won’t divulge.  Perfect for young children and Adults that typically shy away from more hardcore coaster rides and I love the theming.  This would be the ride in the park that would be worth doing right after opening in the Stand By line and get a Fast Pass also to use later for a second ride.

After Everest it was time to head to dinner.  We were lucky enough to hit the three top/main attractions in a very short afternoon visit.  We missed on on the two exploration trails (Pangani Foest and Maharajah Jungle), the Festival of the Lion King show, and the Kali River Rapids (the other ‘main’ attraction – but we wouldn’t have ridden it anyway – TOO COLD!)

For the Adult Theme Park Enthusiast, Animal Kingdom, on the surface, doesn’t seem to have much to offer.  It is better suited to families with small children in my opinion, but if it is one of those parks where some of the best things may not be their rides (the shows, animals, exploration trails, etc.)  It is like no other Theme Park and that makes it special and interesting.  With good planning though, if you arrived at opening, I think you could do this park and be out of there by 2 or 3 and have seem everything worthwhile.  So it is a 2/3 to 3/4 day park in my opinion if you do it right and stay ahead of ‘the herd.’

We arrived at Sanaa, the restaurant at Kidani Village which it the Disney Timeshare portion of the Animal Kingdom Lodge Property.  We chose this restaurant for two reasons: 1) compared to other high-end Disney Poperty restaurants it was more resonable priced since it was in the Timeshare lobby and not one of the hotels, and 2) the animals roamed right outside the windows!  When we arrived we saw a bunch of animals including several Giraffes.  Here’s a tip: Head outside the restaurant entrance there is a walkway that takes you to a viewing area that can get you right up close to the animals if you are lucky!

Sanaa is Indian-themed cuisine.  The decor of the restaurant is really cool.  All the found was excellent and as I mentioned before, reasonable prices for a Disney restaurant.  We had a really good time and at one point talked about how lucky we were that our family all gets along with each other including the in-laws to the point we can take trips like this together and have fun without any issues or people rubbing each other the wrong way which seems to be so common these days with other extended families.

Now for the highlight of the evening…  Since it was my Mom’s birthday we decided to surprise her with a cruise on a Pontoon boat just for our family to see the Magic Kingdom Wishes fireworks show and the Electric Water Pageant.  The cancellation policy was 48 hours and two days before I was watching the weather report and although it predicted mid-60’s high that day I figured being from Seattle we could handle the cooler evening temps on the boat.  Unfortunately the prediction was almost 10 degrees higher than the actual temps that day.

The boat arrived with a Happy Birthday banner and balloons. We all bundled up with blankets and towels looking like boat full of Arab Shieks.  It was pretty chilly, even for us Northerners – probably mid 40’s with wind chill, around 50 without wind.  After cruising around a bit we watched the Electric Water Pageant which was a bit cheezy but actually a pleasant surprise all things considered.  It is essentially a string of barges with light displays (like Christmas lights) that show animated sea creatures moving to the music.

We then repositioned for the fireworks show where we had a view of the castle also.  The fireworks show is really good.  And we could hear the accompanying music.  That night was Mickey’s Christmas Party which is where in the evening you can only get into the park by paying extra (close to $60 if I recall).  What you get that you don’t otherwise get at any late night in December is they make it snow on Main Street during the parade I think and there is cookied and hot cocoa around the park.  After reading about it several times, and the reports of being insanely crowded it was clear to me for that kind of money it definitely was not worth it, at least for our group.  Supposedly the fireworks are different on these nights so by being on the cruise we still got to enjoy the fireworks show without dealing with the crowds and then conveniently returned to Wilderness Lodge where we launched from for an easy, stress-free exit off the property instead of a packed ferry or monorail ride back from Magic Kingdom.

The Wilderness Lodge was amazing inside, especially with the Christmas Decorations!  All in all it turned out to be an excellent day.  Would I do the fireworks cruise again?  Yes, if the weather was warmer and the bill was being split more ways (it was pricey – but worth it for a special occasion like this coinciding with us being at the park).  But if the weather looked iffy or the group wasn’t large enough to make the costs reasonable, I’d skip it.


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