Reading through Disney blogs and listening to podcasts as religiously as I do, you quickly get used to a plethora of opinions. Some of them are awesome; some of them, not so much. I try to be pretty open-minded when it comes to anything and everything you can nitpick about regarding the theme parks (hey, I can be a nitpicker too) but one of the proclamations that makes my heart hurt every time I hear it is this: Animal Kingdom is a half-day park.
It’s baffling to me. Over the weekend I was discussing this belief with my parents, who I traveled to WDW with the first year that AK opened. My mom said something that rang true: there wasn’t TOO much to do in the beginning. We were also newer Disney park visitors, the rush-rush-rush kind. We would definitely visit AK once a trip, but unlike all the others, we wouldn’t make it a point to return. But after the opening of Yak & Yeti Restaurant (a family favorite) and Expedition Everest, we generally don’t think twice about stopping in for multiple visits.
I just don’t get it. Some can wax poetically about all the details (hidden and not) in every single theme park, but can’t spend eight hours hanging out in Animal Kingdom – a park that is all about slowing down and savoring the details? What? I refuse to let all this negativity get to me anymore. I have decided to make it my mission to go through a typical 8-hour day of touring a park that has become near and dear to my heart. (This coming from a girl who isn’t very naturey and was never a big lover of animals – I’m kinda afraid of them.)
So get ready to feel the Animal Kingdom Appreciation! (Picture a Kermit YAY right here!)
I’m not much of a stickler for time (just ask my husband, I’m always running 5 minutes late) but this is one park that I arrive at BEFORE park opening so that I can catch the festivities. The actual skit has been altered over the years but it features Mickey, Minnie, Goofy, and Pluto getting ready for their “wild day” in the park.
It’s become an AK tradition to visit the Safari as soon as I get into the park. The attraction gets pretty busy and what better way to kick off your day than in the savannah? The amount of animals you are going to see varies from ride to ride, but it’s awesome to 1) never get the same experience twice and 2) not know exactly minute for minute how your ride will go (as compared to Snow White’s Scary Adventure or something).
At this point, you’re pretty hungry. (The husband and I sometimes get iced coffees and pastries outside of AK before the rope drop… mainly so I don’t get a lovely caffeine-withdrawal headache.) Donald’s Breakfast at TH has become one of my favorites. For a couple like us, it does get overrun with kids, which could get annoying. But I like seeing the characters dressed in their safari gear, and I can’t get enough of my ultimate obsession, JUNGLE JUICE. (No, it doesn’t have alcohol in it… although, I love that idea.) It’s orange + guava + passion fruit juices all lovingly mixed together. It’s not a breakfast unless I’ve had about 6 glasses. While the food is pretty standard for a buffet breakfast, TH gets another gold star from me for the décor. It’s so detailed and you could really take a lot of time to peruse it all.
Pangani Forest Exploration Trail
A perfect way to digest in AK is to explore the trails. Located in Africa, the Pangani Trail features hippos, gorillas, naked mole rats, and those adorable meerkats. There is a lot to see and read on this trail, with a few cast members who are there to provide info and answer questions about what you are seeing (or not seeing). My favorite? The gorillas. I swear they are such drama queens; sometimes I feel like they are posing for the cameras.
There’s so much to see on your walk to Asia. You can bang on some drums like a pro, find a great photo opportunity on the other side of the Tree of Life, and even hang out with some of your favorite Disney characters.
So even though I’ve been on this ride enough times not to be scared anymore, I still am. I’m scared a lot. I shout a lot of four-letter words. (This is how I make friends with people.) So if you are all good and ready after a fabulous breakfast, go and find that Yeti everyone is talking about. While most might suggest getting a fast pass, I find you miss out on many of the best details while rushing through the FP line. So walk on the ride the first time, and then get a fast pass on your way out to ensure another ride on this scream-fest. (For me, at least.)
To this day, I’m still astonished by the amount of detail included as you walk through the queue and await the ride. I can’t help but picture the Imagineers seeking out such particular pieces and arranging them all just so.
If your eyes aren’t squeezed shut right at the beginning of the ride, as you climb higher and higher (I’m normally okay at this point), be sure to look to your left and right and you’ll see some pretty familiar landmarks. (That’s the best.)
Note: I always lose my voice on this ride. Like the time my husband made me go on it 3 times in a row. I was wondering if it was too early for a Safari Amber ale. (It was.)
Did you pick up your fast pass?
Flights of Wonder
There’s evidence I’ve seen this show on past trips with my parents, but for a while I was sure I saw it the first time with my husband. Nope. I don’t know why I don’t remember it. It’s a sweet and funny show that educates you about all different kinds of birds without you even realizing it. There’s audience participation and a tour group leader that reminds me so much of my theater director from college.
What’s the Weather?
If it’s warm out, I would take this opportunity to go on Kali River Rapids. Getting soaked on this ride is never a sure thing, but if you are anything like my mom you want to be prepared. (I’ve mentioned this before… she used to wear a bathing suit under her clothes and throw her summer dress into the “dry basket” before the ride would start. (We made fun of her every time.) If you can take enough time away from worrying about how wet you are going to end up, there are many gorgeous details to look at along the way.
Maharajah Jungle Trek
Before we take an early afternoon snack break, let’s check out my favorite trek in the park. I’m pretty positive I never did this on my earliest trips to AK but it’s a staple in my plan now. Dragons, bats (my favorite), tigers, birds (peacocks!), and more. Again, this spot is just as detail-oriented and I could stare at those silly tigers forever. (Even if they are sleeping… they do that a lot.)
BREAK TIME! I’ll be back in a few with the middle part of our day.
Are we having fun yet?