Thursday, February 21, 2008

Animal Kingdom

Haven't blogged about a theme park recently, so figured it was a good time to dig into the vaults and talk about this one.

Disney's Animal Kingdom opened back in April 1998. I'm not exactly sure when, but I was able to go with my family sometime that fall. My sister & I were excited because her leg was broken (stress fracture), so she had to rent a wheelchair & that allowed us all sorts of helpful privileges. (What can I say? We're weird.)

In all fairness, the first year of any park is sketchy as they work out all the kinks.... blah, blah, blah. None of us liked it, and I'd never been back since.

Over the last couple of years I've had quite a few people tell me that the place is so much better now; I'd probably really like it if I went back..... so we decided to use our final day of our 3-days passes to go there.

Quite honestly, my opinion hasn't changed. It's not that it's a bad park - there are lots of really good things about it. Let's start there.

The Good
* Everest - the newest roller coaster. Disney is not in the business of building thrill coasters, and this is definitely not a heart-stopper. BUT, there is an awful lot of creativity here that is just a lot of fun to experience. Be sure to either Fast-Pass it, or get in the single rider line. Otherwise you will be looking at a 40 minute wait on a good day. (I think we saw 90 minutes at one point.)

* The Boneyard - the playground for the kids. The ground is that fake bouncy stuff, and there are lots of slides and fun things for the kids to climb & run around on. There is only one entrance/exit, and it is manned by a Disney cast member. (I still wish they would tag the kids & parents though. Just because a child is leaving with AN adult doesn't necessarily mean they are leaving with THEIR adult. Sigh. What a world.)

And there are fossil "excavations" you can climb on. Bird was rather fond of this one. She kept yelling "Giddyup horsey!!" (Dinosaurs are kind of lost on her.)

* Finding Nemo: The Musical - We all enjoyed this - even the kids who still haven't seen the movie. It's a very fun mix of puppets & songs & actors, and it pretty much does the entire movie. Neither child liked the sharks, but other than that they really enjoyed it.

Make sure you try and get in a little sooner than 10 minutes before curtain. We got split up (Bug & I were parking the stroller) and were almost cut off in line. It kind of felt like waiting in line for a lifeboat on the Titanic. Except that we eventually got in. Cast Members are exceptionally good at packing this theater to capacity.

* Rafiki's Planet Watch - I think this is the younger kids/hands-on version of the Kilimanjaro safari, but it is enjoyable for all ages.

First off, you get to ride a train! (Bug was swooning, if it is possible for a three-year-old boy to swoon.) I found it kind of amusing that the seats were actually benches, all facing the loading platform. It did make loading/unloading easier though.

Secondly, there is a LOT you can do there. This was a scavenger hunt at the Discovery Station (There are 6 of these throughout the entire park; they all have different stuff for kids to try), and they both enjoyed looking for bugs & woodland creatures.

You can brush goats & sheep. Bird really liked this; Bug was rather hesitant to go anywhere near the real animals!

There's also a giant conservation center where you can "hear" the rain forest, "talk" to some ecological heros, see some of the veterinary work (if you're there early), and talk to all kinds of knowledgeable experts.

You can also see some Disney characters, if you are there at the right time. We got to see Rafiki and Jiminy Cricket.

Which brings me to my next point:

* Character Greetings
Overall, I've noticed in the last few years that Disney is working really hard to make many characters available at ALL the parks - not just the Magic Kingdom. Depending on who it is & the time of year, it can still take a bit of planning & quick-footedness in order to see the ones you truly love, but far more do-able than it was when I was a kid.

There are many places in AK where you can love on the characters. In addition to Rafiki & Jiminy, we also saw Baloo & King Louie (Jungle Book) somewhere in Asia, Pooh/Tigger/Eeyore were at the Character Landing (though we didn't stop there - we've seen them in EPCOT), and we happened upon Pluto & Goofy in Dinoland.

THEN, there are 4 permanent huts in Camp Minnie-Mickey where you can see Mickey, Minnie, Donald, and Goofy. These were the shortest lines I'd ever seen at any park - 45 minutes, and we'd been through all 4 of them. Bug was asleep for all of them, so we'd just had pics of Bird, and maybe Husband or I in there (Disney is incredibly tolerant, and within reason you can take as many pictures as you want). These pathways are shaded, have fans so it doesn't get too hot, and have calm, quiet music piped in.

Mickey is Bug's favorite, though, and we didn't want to miss this opportunity. We actually had a fresh Mickey (he'd switched out a couple families earlier) who was delighted to take a photo with the sleeping Bug.

Believe it or not, we actually went back later around 5pm (after Bug had woken up & we'd eaten dinner) to see Mickey again. The lines were even shorter!! Got a nice family photo too.

* Jammin' Jungle Parade

Usually, we're too busy to watch a parade. But we happened upon the parade route about 10 minutes before it was due to start - and we managed to find a nice shady place up front to sit as well. It was your typical parade - lots of floats, music, and dancers. Bird had a ball watching everything; we woke Bug up, and he was chipper by the end of it.

* Festival of the Lion King - We had an early dinner (hey, no lines at 4:45!!), saw Mickey, Donald and Goofy again (Bug was awake), and then got in line for the 6pm show. The line for this is outside, so plenty of time for the kids to jump around & work off some extra energy.

The show itself is PHENOMENAL!! We all really enjoyed it. No scary parts to speak of.

After we left the Lion King, it was only about 6:30. Since the park closed at 8pm, we were kind of surprised to see a mass exodus of folks leaving the park. I have no idea why.... maybe they were park hopping to another park for dinner, fireworks (they don't do those at AK out of respect for the animals), later hours??? Who knows.

It did mean, however, that the kids did not have to wait to ride the Triceratops ride (think Dumbo's flying elephants or Aladdin's flying carpets). Twice, while Husband & I took turns riding Dinosaur - which was down to a 20 minute (posted, but really maybe 5-10 minute) wait.

* Dinosaur - a fantastic ride!! It is not a simulator. You won't want to do it if you have back problems, etc., but this is easily one of the best things in AK.

The Not-So-Good

* This park has shorter hours than the others, out of respect for the animals. It sort of doesn't matter, though, cause you will have done just about everything possible with those fewer hours. Less bang for your buck though.

* You still pay $11 for parking.

* Animal Kingdom is NOT very stroller friendly. Florida is naturally flat, but those Imagineers made it all nice & bumpy so it feels like the jungle safari you've always wanted to take. Personally, if I'm pushing 100 pounds worth of kids/stroller/baggage, I like the flatness! Oh well. It was my cardio for the day.

* The pathways are rather narrow. Very cute, and creates a nice ambiance, but I really don't need to feel penned in by people all day long.

* To further complicate the walkways, there are all sorts of groups that periodically appear to play music, tell stories, or other fun things. They are all very well done & fun to watch, but then you have both the performers & the audience taking up valuable walkway space.

* We ended up buying the family photo with Mickey. They have all sorts of fun things you can do, like add the date & Mickey's autograph, and it was a rather nice photo. (The photographer had taken one with my camera, but just looking at the LCD screen I was worried about the quality.). Now, these guys have really good cameras, but I think they skimp a little too much on the printing. This is Disney World - I expect high Kodak quality (especially considering the prices!), but instead got what looked like a mid-range photo printer - a little hazy.

Stuff We Didn't Do
* Kilimanjaro Safari - The Fast Passes go quickly, and we just didn't manage to get one. The standby line was always over 70 minutes (as if! with 2 young kids?!), and this closes early - before sunset.

* It's Hard to be a Bug (3D movie) - very fun (I did see it oh so many years ago), but not for kids.

* Kali River Rapids - you are guaranteed to get soaked, and we didn't want to be.

The Bottom Line
Go to Animal Kingdom if you are looking for the Complete Disney Experience. Or if you have park hopping privileges. Or if you have just had no luck with the Character Greetings. Otherwise, I think you get more for your money at Sea World or Busch Gardens.
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