NOTE: The events in this post and the following series all took place pre-COVID. Many of the rules and planning for a trip to Walt Disney World (WDW)have changed since my last trip. Be sure to do your own research as things change frequently right now at WDW and any destination in general.
The Animal Kingdom
After the long day at Hollywood Studios and the Magic Kingdom we took a more leisurely approach to this morning by sleeping in until almost 8:00 AM. After a shower and a quick guzzle of the Diet Coke left over from last night in my refillable insulated Star Wars souvenir tumbler (still cold!) we headed over to the food court to grab breakfast. We made sure to take our tumblers with us, of course.
I neglected to mention earlier that one of the first things we did after returning to the hotel after our first day was to purchase a refillable souvenir tumbler from the food court. We could choose the less expensive generic one of course, but we opted for the somewhat costlier (I can’t remember how much) Star Wars tumbler. These tumblers were good for unlimited refills at the Disney hotels – but not in the parks. However, it was worth taking them along in Bob’s back pack as we could refill them in the parks with water if needed. And they did do a good job of keeping the beverages hot or cold.
Today was planned to be a relatively slow day and our only fast passes were for the Animal Kingdom. High on our list was getting onto Flight of Passage in Pandora (the world of Avatar), the Kilimanjaro Safari, and one of my favorite coasters in the country – because of its theming – Expedition Everest! Little did I know as we boarded the bus to begin our ride to Animal Kingdom that Bob had a secret mission of his own in the works…(insert ominous music here).
For those who don’t know, Animal Kingdom is by area the largest park at Walt Disney World but it never feels that large to me. I think this is because much of the land is taken up by the Kilimanjaro Safari attraction and the other animal enclosures. It would be easy to say that this park was *ahem* inspired by Busch Gardens in Tampa. However, whereas Busch Gardens seems to have embraced its thrill ride side over the past several decades (do they still have the brewery in the middle of the park with free samples? That should tell you how long it’s been since I’ve visited Tampa) Animal Kingdom very much a zoo that happens to have some other attractions and shows inside it. Like Epcot, it is unlike any other Disney Park in the world. Some people claim it is a “half-day” park and I’ll be honest, I don’t think I’ve ever spent an entire day there before this trip. But if you like zoos you can certainly do it.
Expedition Everest and Bob’s Secret Mission Revealed
Our first stop was Expedition Everest. As I said earlier this is one of my favorite rides because I’ve been fascinated since I was a kid with the idea of climbing Mount Everest (not going to happen – I’d probably die on the climb to base camp) and with the infamous Abominable Snowman, aka the Yeti, of the Himalayas. The queue line for the attraction does, in fact, take you through a museum of sorts dedicated to the history of the world’s most famous Cryptid. Well, top three at least. The ride itself is also well themed and though tame by most standards has enough twists, turns, and surprises to keep everyone on their toes. The only issue I had with the ride on this day is that somehow we were not in our ride picture. I’m not sure who the people are in our Memory Keeper photo but at least they seem to be having a good time.
“Okay,” Bob said as we got off the ride, “that’s over with. Which way to Dino-land?”
“Don’t you want to wander around Asia for a bit? We’ve got time until our next Fast Past and there’s several…”
“No,” Bob interrupted me, “we need to go find Donald’s Dino-Bash.”
“Why?” I asked.
“You’ll see,” he said.
So we headed off to Dinoland. Once there Bob started looking anxious. “Do you see Donald’s Dino-Bash?” he asked.
“No, but why are you so anxious to get there?” I replied.
“Because, he might be there.”
“He? You don’t mean?”
“Yes, him. Look there’s Launchpad!”
Sure enough in a little shelter stood Launchpad McQuack from Disney’s Duck Tales. And where there’s Launchpad…
“I see him! I see him!” and I swear Bob took off in a sprint. Sure enough just ahead of us was the Holy Grail of characters – at least for Bob – the richest duck in the world: Uncle Scrooge McDuck in his full adventuring attire. Bob was ecstatic and, as you can tell by the accompanying photo, I may have been less ecstatic at least on the outside. On the inside I was just a little shocked. Bob had done what I thought was impossible – he found Uncle Scrooge. Our day was made right there. But there was much more to do.
We were off to Pandora to scope it out before our fast passes to Avatar: Flight of Passage later in the day. Passage in my opinion is the single best attraction of any park anywhere. Along the way we bumped into another character, Kevin from Pixar’s Up! and even saw a trained bird demonstration. Once in Pandora I immediately got lost – as usual. The land isn’t that big, but the lushness of the foliage and the layout of the trails make it easy to get turned around. Especially when there’s a crowd. We eventually found the entrance to Flight of Passage.
After finding the entrance and memorizing how we got there, it was off to the other side of the park to take in the Kilimanjaro Safari. The queue line here, though fitting for the attraction, isn’t very entertaining despite TV monitors that give you an introduction to the wildlife you may see on your “safari.” But the ride through animal exhibit went well and our guide was knowledgeable and I think we saw all the animals we were supposed to see. Afterwards we walked the Gorilla Falls trail and saw more, you guessed it, animals.
We had lunch at Flame Tree BBQ. I’m sorry to say that this meal wasn’t up to the standards we had come to expect and I didn’t even take a picture of it (I at it all though). The view from our table looking over Discovery River was nice and relaxing. There was an odd “whooping” noise that I had trouble identifying which was very loud – then it occurred to me. We were hearing the Howler Monkeys doing their thing, no not that thing – the howling thing, from across the river. They sounded like they were at the table next to us they were so loud.
After lunch and looking at a few more animal exhibits we ran into Kevin again – man that bird gets around – and then made our way back to Pandora for our Fast Pass time.
Flight of Passage and Dinosaur
Even with the opening of Rise of the Resistance over in Hollywood Studios, the line for Flight of Passage is always long. Even with a Fast Pass you can expect to wait an hour or so. This line seemed even longer than usual but not because of the number of people in the line, it was because of the type of people in the line. Here’s where some of my grumpiness started to manifest itself. It seems that while we were at Walt Disney World there was some kind of international cheer squad competition or festival going on. So the parks were filled with lots and lots of cheerleaders. Now, I have nothing against cheerleaders in particular. I have many friends who were cheerleaders in the past, I enjoy joining in a rousing cheer at a football game, and so on. But one thing about groups of them that you can’t fail to notice is that they like to, well, cheer. A lot. Like for an hour and a half non-stop while standing in a well themed but enclosed space that really, really echoes. If you can’t imagine what that’s like then you have indeed lived a charmed life and should count your blessings.
Despite the wait, which was made easier because the good folks at Imagineering, bless them all, realized that they should put restrooms about half way through the queue. Every ride, every where with a line longer than an hour should have these. I still thoroughly enjoyed this attraction. It is a combination of Soarin’ and a ride simulator. I don’t want to spoil it for anyone but the immersion in the world of Avatar on the back of a Banshee is so real that you feel the beast breathing as you ride!
Though it was getting late in the afternoon, and we had dinner reservations at Sanaa over in the Animal Kingdom Lodge, we had time for one more attraction – Dinosaur. Now when it first opened I liked this ride a lot, but unfortunately, I think it’s showing its age. Either that or my eyes are. Everything seemed dim or dark to me. To the point that there was a section of the ride that was just pitch black when the narration said we were supposed to be seeing meteors falling to earth. The ride still has a couple good frights though and the cars are the same kind as used over in Disneyland for the Indiana Jones Adventure – so you feel like you’re in a real off-road vehicle. And the ride picture actually had us both in it this time!
After the ride we had about two hours left to make our reservations. Just enough time to go back to the hotel to drop off our bags, freshen up and get to the Animal Kingdom Lodge for Dinner.
It is worth noting that Animal Kingdom Lodge is the most remote of the Disney property resorts and even from our hotel it was probably about a 20 minute bus ride – at least if felt that way. We arrived at the Animal Kingdom Lodge and found our way to the restaurant, with only a brief pause to apologize to a cast member who I accidentally closed the elevator door on before she could board (the elevator could only go down one floor so we waited a minute for her to arrive). She, of course, said that no apology was necessary. But having worked in the service industry myself I have to think that she appreciated the small gesture.
We arrived a little early for our reservations and were invited to wait outside on the patio if we liked to look at the animals outside. Though it was night the Lodge had heat-sensitive binoculars we could use to spot the animals out in the mini-Savannah which makes up the “backyard” of the hotel complex. Soon we were informed our table was ready and we made our way inside.
I had heard good things about Sanaa from a friend and was looking forward to an African/Asian/Equatorial region inspired meal. The decor of the restaurant is probably best described as African chic with plenty of earth tones, ample foliage, and very few straight lines.
We started our meal with what the server described as a “bread flight” (btw, appetizers are extra and not included in the dining plan) which Bob and I both thought was very good. It was simply a variety of pita style breads and a generous assortment of Indian-style sauces ranging from mildly sweet to extremely spicy. We both chose beef entrees. Mine was “potjie” inspired braised beef. Potjie is a South African dish which is traditionally prepared in one pot and not stirred. My entire main course consisted of Braised Beef, Cilantro-Coconut Vegetables, scented Basmati Rice and I recall some sort of small sausage. I thought my meal was pretty good but somehow I expected it to be more exotic in the sense that there was nothing on my plate that I could not have prepared at home.
The best part of the meal was definitely the desert. I had Serradura is a Portuguese dish which is also known as sawdust pudding or Macau pudding. It taste much better than its name might imply. Sanaa’s version is a butterscotch pudding topped with almond coffee streusel, pineapple, mango, and Breton Shortbread. I know that I finished all of this! Bob had an African Triple Chocolate Mousse that was both pleasing to the eye and the palate (or so I was told – I don’t really do chocolate and did not taste it myself).
All in all, I was glad for the meal and the dining experience.
It was still relatively early when we finished our meal so instead of going back to the hotel we decided to make our first foray to Downtown Disney – oops, sorry – I meant Disney Springs. Despite the re-branding I think Disney Springs can best be described as an upscale shopping mall. It does have several restaurants you may not find elsewhere and the world’s largest World of Disney store as well as several other decidedly Disney themed shops you won’t find elsewhere except maybe at Downtown Disney in California. If you were to compare it to Universal’s City Walk, Disney Springs is the clear winner as it’s more expansive and has a greater diversity of shopping. But, if you’re not really into shopping as entertainment I wouldn’t budget a lot of time to spend here. An evening or afternoon is plenty to see what’s what. Bob was, of course, just thrilled to be there as the accompanying picture of him at the World of Disney suggests.
Another bus trip to the hotel, a quick refill for my Diet Coke nightcap and it was off to dreamland to recover from our “lazy” day at Disney.
To be continued…
All photos by David P. Wahr unless otherwise noted.
Photos and words @copyright by David P. Wahr