The Gift of DAK: A Short Tour for a Friend

Every since This Happy Place Blog started in 2011, the month of April has been dedicated to Animal Kingdom Appreciation. So here we are once again! (I know, I know… we just had Muppets but what can I say — I like themes!) Hope you’ll follow along this month for an eclectic collection of AK posts!

If Katherine had been totally upfront with me before I decided to accompany her on her Wine & Dine weekend last November, I probably would have thought twice before agreeing.

Because the truth is, except for a quick run through the park, she has not spent any time in Animal Kingdom. None. None. None.

Who was this person I was going to be spending the weekend with? In an All-Star Resort? Who was it?

I did not know. I just had to trust that my friend Katherine would follow my lead and welcome Animal Kingdom into her life. With acceptance and openness.

Maybe it helped that she was coming off an extra magic hours evening at Magic Kingdom, where we basically were the only ones in the park. We had listened to the Christmas music around the hub, she cried during “The Kiss Goodnight”, and we had Starbucks on Main Street. Even when we rolled into our room after 2 in the morning and I drank water from the ice tub because All-Star Movies didn’t provide plastic cups, she was still game to rope drop Animal Kingdom the next day. (We even snagged an early morning character breakfast reservation using our My Disney App in the wee hours of the morning so we basically had 3 hours of sleep to look forward to.)

But it was happening! And on my last semi-full day where I would leave Katherine and jump on a plane back to New York. (So sad.) Our plan was two parks and returning to the resort in time for me to catch the Magical Express. (Spoiler alert: I missed it. Second spoiler alert: I was able to get on the next one.)

Determined to show Katherine the time of her life AT THE TREE OF LIFE in Animal Kingdom, I had to truly focus on how we would spend our time. It was a mission! (Sadly one that would not include a live show though… there was just no time. But if I had a full day to woo Katherine, one of the live shows at DAK would have been a requirement.)

First up? Expedition Everest.

View of Expedition Everest November 2013

There’s nothing like riding this baby three times before you have breakfast. Katherine was an Expedition Everest virgin, and as I tell all my friends before they go on this ride with me, I scream a lot. I curse a lot. I have even made friends on the ride because of these two awesome Estelle qualities. For some reason, this roller coaster STILL scares me.

But it was fun, and there was absolutely no wait. I also love to hit the bells along the queue. (So fun even though I feel short.)

Next up, we grabbed fast passes (yes, paper ones!) for Kilimanjaro Safaris and headed to Tusker House for our breakfast with Donald and friends. I’m just going to share one picture but this is still one of my favorite character breakfasts on property, and I was happy to have a fun meal with K on our last day together.

Mickey and I at Tusker House Breakfast November 20134

After a super filling breakfast (I love that buffet), we headed over to check out the animals on the safari. Normally, I would aim toward the safari first when arriving at Animal Kingdom but because we had breakfast scheduled and only had a few precious moments in the park, I wanted to make sure we did Everest at a time I would not lose my breakfast. Good decision, right? (I’m sure Katherine thinks so… and maybe every guest in the park that day.)

Kilimanjaro Safari November 2013

As always: the trip through the safari was a gem. Tons of animals, the weather was great, and the people in the seat behind us were so excited. (Reactions are always fun to hear as a repeat guest, don’t you think?)

Our next stop was selfish on my part. I can’t go to DAK without savoring its finest delicacy.

Safari Amber Ale in Animal Kingdom November 2013

Yes. Safari Amber Ale. I had to. After stopping by the Dawa Bar (and getting carded which seriously confused me for some reason), Katherine and I took in many of the construction sights.

Construction in Harambe at Animal Kingdom Park in November 2013

This is where you point out to your friend, the infrequent DAK guest, that there are so many possibilities to look forward to in the future!

To appreciate the future, you also have to pay homage to the past. I made sure visiting Camp Minnie Mickey was on the list during this quick DAK jaunt. At this point, they hadn’t scheduled a closing date for this section of the park and I didn’t know for sure if I would be back to see it again. So we took the deep walk into Camp Minnie Mickey for Katherine’s first time and my last. (That sounds so foreboding.)

I’ll share more of these pictures in a future post, but gee, was this sad. My family and I have been visiting DAK since the first year that it opened and Camp Minnie Mickey hosted the Pocahontas and her Forest Friends show that my sister would go crazy for, and also was the first home to Festival of the Lion King — my mom’s absolute favorite attraction on property. (I may have mentioned this at least 700 times on the blog.)

Final Moments in Camp Minnie Mickey November 2013 with Katherine

Katherine sat on a bench THAT HAS BEEN DESTROYED by Avatarland and I took a picture with a Christmas tree and a beer. (Two of my favorite things ever.) I’m pretty sure we also stopped for a character moment but I think I took that picture on Katherine’s phone so I have no evidence of our time doing that. (Am I making this up, K?)

And with that, we had to sadly bid adieu to Animal Kingdom for that trip. But I was so glad we decided to spend the morning there, and that I will forever be known as one of Katherine’s first (unofficial, overtired) tour guides into the park. EEE! It made me even more excited when she told me she brought her boyfriend back to the park FOR HIS FIRST TIME on their trip in January. It was like I made a difference in someone’s life.

Have you ever made a difference in someone’s theme park life?

Well, you should because you feel all tingly and powerful! You do.

It’s the circle of liiiiiiiiife. Okay, clearly, I need to go to bed.

Katherine and Estelle selfie and Animal Kingdom

I’d love to hear about you. If you’re making a quick stop in Animal Kingdom, would do you need to see? What would impress your friends?

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A book publicist who loves writing about Disney and books, and sometimes Disney books.

7 thoughts on “The Gift of DAK: A Short Tour for a Friend

  1. On my last full trip to WDW I was finally able to admit to myself that I *love* animal kingdom. The last two trips to this park I was on my own and able to go at my own pace and truly take in the park (and Dawa Bar). Now that I’ve been there enough to know what are my must dos if I had a limited amount of time to take a new comer to this park this is what I would do:

    No time for eating a full meal! Eat breakfast before we get there. (Only if we are spending half of DAK’s operating day there.)
    Hit Kilimanjaro Safari first thing!
    With the completion of new FotLK theater if a show is starting soon take that in (FotLK is my one absolute must do for this park)
    Grab a drink at the Dawa Bar (I’m a sucker for the Mojito) this can be flipped with FotLK depending on show times.
    Now take a stroll over to Expedition Everest and hope D’vine is out to scare the crap out of my newcomer.
    Finally if there’s time take a quick spin on Dinosaur but if there’s not grab a jalapeño cheddar pretzel for the walk back to the exit!

    Now I want to be in DAK right this moment.

  2. OK, I DID go to Animal Kingdom in 1998 with my parents and sister like a month after it first opened, but we basically just waited in line for Dinosaur for two hours (FASTPASSES WERE NOT A THING YET) and then we left to go to MK.

    BUT YES THIS WAS MAGICAL AND YOU WERE AN AMAZING GUIDE! And I was happy to pass on my newfound knowledge to Marcus when we went back in January, but I still haven’t seen Flights of Wonder. And probably a bunch of other stuff, but mostly Flights of Wonder. It should be a priority for our next trip!

    AND YES THERE WAS A CHARACTER MOMENT. VERY MUCH SO. I should post those pictures, like, tomorrow. They’re AMAZING.

    Tingly and powerful. Lulz.

  3. I once went on a trip with some friends who had heard of Soarin and were patently uninterested in it (they said it sounded like a boring movie (!!!)). I insisted they give it a try. And laughed my butt off watching them duck for the golf ball, smelling the orange trees, and generally realizing what dopes they had been to poo-poo this fantastic attraction (the current state of it notwithstanding). I was proud to have made a difference in their theme park lives 🙂

  4. Hi Estelle!
    I’m not sure it made a HUUGE difference to someones Theme Park Life, but I think I had opened my husbands eyes up to the potential that a Disney Park visit/stay COULD have. So much so that in 2 years we’ve stayed on-property for a (mind boggling amount for me!) total of 14nights.
    I showed Hubs how to enjoy a Disney Park through touring, slower pace, fine dining and hotel proximity with 5nights at Disneyland Paris (Hotel New York) in Feb’13, so much so that he wanted to do it again. And we did, only 12 months later in Feb’14! Then we followed this up with our first visit ever to Hong Kong Disneyland, and a wonderful 4night stay at the stunning Hong Kong Disneyland Hotel (think Grand Floridan over looking the ocean and islands). He had even asked me to specifically play “holiday music” as he called it (Disney BGM loops/restaurant soundtracks) AT HOME after returning from the holiday over some of our dinners.
    It was my goal to show him how to enjoy a Disney Park visit other than just running to get as many attractions as we could like our previous Tokyo Disney visits, and I think it was a success far greater than I could have ever dreamed of! -Q

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