Saturday, March 21, 2009

Disney 2009, Day 5: Animal Kingdom, Part 1

My sincerest apologies to my readers, especially any who have slower connections. Animal Kingdom is just too photogenic! As you have probably guessed from the title, I have had to split the Animal Kingdom summary into 2 parts, mainly to accommodate all the photos. I just couldn't bring myself to cut any more pictures, which is funny since I was never a huge fan of Animal Kingdom before now. Still not my favorite, but it is sincerely growing on me!

I don't know why this is the only park it occurred to me to photograph the entrance. Since we did all 4 parks, it would have been really nice! Duh. Chalk it up to habit. I am so accustomed to seeing the other gates that it just didn't cross my mind. But I think we had only been to Animal Kingdom once prior to this, not long after it first opened, and Mom and Luke had never been, so it was a little exciting for everyone. (Also why there is more to tell for this park than the others. I don't feel like I am repeating myself from my previous trip summaries.) The animal experiences start almost as soon as you enter the gates.

We got up early this day because of AK's limited hours, and we arrived just before the park opened. Here is Mickey announcing the opening. Because we arrived just 2-3 minutes before opening, we were way in the back. WAY in the back. As in, this photo is not cropped, but I do think the 200mm zoom is full out on the DSLR. Yeah.

But that's okay. We had a plan! As I'm sure you have gathered by now, I like to have a plan before we go anywhere, especially to Disney parks. We can change the plan at any time; I'm not that uptight. But I get panicked if we just try to "wing it" without any sort of advanced plan at all. What can I say, it keeps me off the streets. Standard procedure for Disney trips is to plan a primary target for each half of the day. This ensures that we get in all of our "must do" rides and shows, but with only two primary targets (and usually 3-4 secondary targets), there is plenty of opportunity to do things as the mood strikes. But with only one day at AK, we had three primaries: the Finding Nemo show, Kilimanjaro Safaris, and Expedition Everest!

This is the view of Everest from the Nemo waiting area. Now, I suspected that Luke was tall enough to ride Everest, but since he is only 4 years old, I was not willing to put him on a roller coaster that I had never ridden. I wanted to ride it first to make sure it was okay. But I had also heard that you need to be at the Finding Nemo musical show 30-45 minutes early to get a seat because it is so popular. Even the show schedule says arrive 45 minutes early. Nemo has long been one of Luke's favorite movies, ever since he was an infant (seriously), and I had heard tons of good things about it (like it is second only to Hunchback in awesomeness). I wanted to see it, and I wanted Luke to see it. So target #1 was actually Nemo, not Everest. We would walk into the park, take the first right, go straight to Nemo, catch the 10 AM show, then send Luke and DH (who does not do roller coasters at all) to Dino Land while Mom and I checked out Everest.

So the three Gastons wait at Nemo. Mom takes our tickets and runs off to check the fast pass times for Everest. If they cover 10:30 or later, she'll get 4. Either she and I will ride twice in quick succession, or I will have the option of changing my mind and letting him ride it sight unseen. We sit. We wait for her return. I take the two above photos. I listen to the roaring trains and the terrified screams from the mountain. I sigh wistfully. I whip out the zoom lens and try to get a closer look. See the train in the bottom right of the photo below?

There is no one else around with us. I feel like we are wasting time, but we are *not* going to miss the show, and there was nothing else close enough that we could do in time to be back before 10. Mom gets back to us less than 15 minutes later with fast passes in hand (Nemo and Everest are just across a bridge from each other, just FYI). She also had some surprising news: there was only a 20 minute wait for Everest. Do we want to try and get it in before Nemo starts, so that if it is okay, we can let Luke ride right after the show is over? I really really really don't want to miss the show. But I really really *REALLY* want to ride that roller coaster! I hadn't ridden a new coaster in years, maybe since we got married (that was nearly 11 years ago). Long ago enough that I can't remember! And probably even longer ago than that for Mom, the person responsible for turning me into a roller coaster junkie in the first place. I'm dithering and indecisive, very unlike me, glancing back and forth between the Nemo sign and the mountain. Finally DH looks at us and all but shouts "GO!!" It took all I had not to run.

Everything I had heard about the theming on this ride was true. It was amazing! The first part is covered but open, like you are walking through a Tibetan village. The second part is enclosed and is meant to be a museum. That sign up there reads: "Namaste. Tashi Delek. Welcome to the Yeti Museum - Dedicated to the serious study of the scientific and cultural aspects of the mysterious creature known and revered throughout the Himalayas as the Yeti. Prof. Pema Dorje, PHD. Curator, The Yeti Museum" (I personally think it probably should have said "Joe Rhode" as curator, but that's just me.) I even took a picture that reminded me of all my knitty friends! LOL

OMG, it was awesome! I'll tell you more about it a little bit later, I promise. We walked off the ride and were back at Nemo just as they started to let people in. We could not have timed it better if we had tried.

The theater did fill up to about 2/3 capacity. And in true Disney fashion, they even had something to entertain the kids. See those bubbles behind Luke? There was a set of bubbles like that on each side of the stage. The large bubbles actually had screens behind them, and every couple of minutes, a clown fish would swim through one of them. Once it started happening, each sighting was accompanied by children shrieking, "There he is!" Or, "Look, Nemo!" It was so funny. And then the show started.

Wow. Just wow. It only took me about 3 minutes to be blown away. Is it Hunchback? No, I still think that one is better. But this one comes awfully close!

Mom and I were both afraid that being able to see the puppeteers would be very distracting, but it wasn't at all. Despite being clearly visible, you were so focused on the music and the performance that the performers just melded seamlessly with what was going on. It was amazing. I was also afraid that it would be distracting for it to be a musical when there was absolutely no music (in terms of songs) in the movie, but it was so well done!

Luke was mesmerized. I wasn't always sure if he was absorbing what he was seeing, but he was spontaneously and genuinely clapping (not just clapping because other people were doing it), and he could not take his eyes off the action. I once again used the spot exposure function on my little point and shoot (since you couldn't use a flash), and I got some great shots. Lots of not so great ones, too, but the ones that did turn out were great. Most of these are not retouched in any way other than cropping (and some are not cropped at all).

And ending with a photo of the cast and their curtain call, because they totally deserve it. WOW! If you are a fan at all of the movie or of puppetry, you have to see this show next time you go to Animal Kingdom. The Finding Nemo show alone is reason enough to go visit the Animal Kingdom park. Seriously.

But of course, there is another reason! Being that it was just across the bridge, we exited the theater and ran walked expediently over to Everest. With shoes, Luke cleared the 44-inch (1.1 m) height requirement by about half an inch (1 cm). Without shoes, it might have been close, but if they were good with it, I was willing to let him ride. And with fast passes in hand, we were good to go. Note the shadow of my hands and camera in Mom's picture. I really liked the individual lap bar set-up, and I found the seats very comfortable even for someone both as short and as large as me.


The ride starts off tame enough. In fact, I was afraid it was going to be a bit of a bust on my first ride. There is a small gentle hill and a couple of smooth curves. It definitely tries to lull you into a false sense of security. Fun, but not especially thrilling. Then you start going up the hill. You see the temple way above you, and it is just lovely. And you go up... and up... and up! Until all of the Animal Kingdom looks like this!

YIKES!! That is the Tree of Life in the center of the park sticking up near the middle there. The track is narrow at this point, and the angle of ascent is pretty steep (thus why the view picture is slanted; it was hard to compensate in a hurry), so as you look side to side, you see nothing but air and the ground far below. It is a fantastic view, really, but if you are afraid of heights at all, I suggest you not look down. It made even my breath catch slightly and my eyes bug out a bit, and heights don't generally bother me. The temple at the top is beautifully detailed, both inside and out. From there, the ride takes off. The track is broken and you slide backwards through darkness. Thankfully, I remembered a comment DH had made about Luke on Pirates of the Caribbean. When going through the tunnel that is pitch black after the drop on Pirates, Luke had reached over and touched DH's arm, just to reassure himself that DH was still there, so I reached over and gently touched Luke's arm. He gently returned the touch, so that was a good move on my part.

After a short backwards trip, you stop again in a darkened cave, and you watch a silhouette image of the Yeti destroying more track. Luke did get a little concerned at this point, but I leaned over and explained that the Yeti shadow he was seeing was just a movie, and he was okay. After that, you really don't have time to think. You just fly! There are curves and hills and a huge drop. It is so much fun! The actual animatronic Yeti, though, is pretty disappointing. Someone (I'm sorry I can't remember who it was now!) asked me if the Yeti was "on" or not. It apparently had two modes, one where it moves a lot ("on") and one where it doesn't. I hear that the movement has caused cracks in the steel frame holding it up. (Who designed that thing?! And what safety factor was used? Sheesh.) So it is rarely if ever on these days until they figure out how to fix it. I don't think it was on, but I don't know for sure. Since this was my first time on the ride, I have nothing to compare it to. I was very surprised that it was brown, though, as opposed to white or gray, and in the dark cave, it is very hard to see. I know Mom didn't see it at all the first couple of times she rode. I'm actually not sure if she ever really saw it or not. (Mom, care to chime in via comments?) It's a shame, really, considering how expensive and advanced (and impressive and scary) it is supposed to be.

Finally, you come screaming into the end gate, where you break hard (fun), but not too hard. The platform comes right up to the level of the floor of the seat, so there is no stepping up or down to get out (or in, for that matter, but I didn't notice until we got out). You just walk right out of the car. Excellent ergonomics, in my professional opinion. I don't think it will replace the Rockin' Roller Coaster as my favorite Disney thrill ride, but it's definitely right up there. Mom was so impressed, she even bought an Expedition Everest hat! (She forgot to bring any hat with her to the park, so she needed one, but it is telling that she bought one for the ride and not just a generic Disney or Animal Kingdom hat.) And Luke absolutely LOVED it! He was immediately begging to ride again. Here we are, having triumphantly conquered Everest!

We were off the ride by 11:10. That gave us just enough time to pick up some Everest fast passes for right after lunch and then book it to the Rainforest Cafe in time for our 11:30 reservations. Rainforest is technically outside the park, so you have to go through turnstiles and everything to get there. The entrance from inside the park makes you wind your way through the gift shop to find the purple elephant (where you check in). I thought we were going to have to send up a flair.

We were seated in the elephant room, just across the way from the aquariums at the entrance to the dining area. I've sat close to the animatronics before, but never this close!

That is zoomed all the way out. (Not in, out!) I actually couldn't get far enough away from it to get it all in frame. I was sitting in the chair closest to it (empty in the photo below). We asked Luke if he wanted to sit there, and he was not interested at all. I wanted to get a picture of him standing by it, and he wouldn't go near it. He had to sit Mom's lap (none of those photos turned out, shame). Here, you can see how close it was in this picture. If it had been real, it could have reached out with its trunk and touched my shoulder.

Part of the reason we always eat at Rainforest Cafe while at Disney (though usually at Downtown) is because we genuinely like the food. We even have our "usual" dishes: Rasta Pasta for Mom, Rumble in the Jungle caesar turkey wrap for DH and me (he gets fries, I get chips; only one wrap photo though), and Luke gets the kid's shrimp.

We also decided to get dessert again. At Tony's the previous day, I had originally wanted the cheesecake, but once I found out it was strawberry mousse cheesecake, I was no longer interested. Rainforest had traditional cheesecake, so Mom and I split a piece. It was very yummy, but something about the presentation baffled Luke. Check out the picture. First, he thought the large scoop of whipped cream was ice cream. An understandable mistake. But it was the mint sprig really confused him. First the picture:

When the waitress set it down, Luke says, "Eww. There's broccoli on the ice cream!" LOL

Okay, I'll leave it there for now. It is very *very* late (actually about 4:30 AM on 3/22, but I'm going to back date the post so there is only one per day), and I've put in too many photos already. There are still more to come (what can I say, just too much to photograph at this park!), but I'll save them for tomorrow.

Next up: Disney 2009, Day 5: Animal Kingdom, Part 2.

Currently feeling: too much camera clicky finger


  1. Never too much camera clicky finger! LOL I thoroughly enjoy your Disney Diaries.

  2. Indeed it is an awesome ride! You are right, I never really got a decent look at the Yeti. The speed of the coaster coupled with the bright light strobing in the otherwise pitch black tunnel made it difficult for me to get anything other than a quick sense of something large and furry. Love the hat though!

  3. I am very much enjoying reading these posts about Disney. I've been relaying some things to Matt, and we ended up spending last night looking at Disneyworld on Google maps dreaming of going when we eventually return from Denmark. I am glad that you included lots of photos too. They're fun to view, and it makes it okay for me to use a bunch in my blog... Where's a photo of Nana's new hat?

  4. Wow - great pics! I'm so impressed that Luke rode and enjoyed Everest. Alex (age 13!) rode it after much trepidation and although he did okay is thinking he needs another year to prepare for his next ride. :)

  5. That was me that asked whether the Yeti was "on" or not. I guarantee what you saw was "off". "Off" is strobe lights (and maybe minimal movement, but I don't think really any). "On" is a VERY impressive animatronic display that usually causes people to scream!! I won't say more...something to look forward to on your next trip!!


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