Sunday, March 22, 2009

Disney 2009, Day 5: Animal Kingdom, Part 2

Where we left off: We had just finished lunch at the Rainforest Cafe at Animal Kingdom, including dessert of cheesecake with whipped cream and "broccoli." Hee-hee!

Now, normally at this stage of the game, we would head back to the hotel for a nap, but not this day. Because of the animals, the park is only open limited hours, especially in the evenings. It is rarely open later than 5 or 6 PM, except for Extra Magic Hours (EMH). Extra Magic Hours, if you don't know, are additional park hours granted only to Disney resort guests (i.e. people staying at Disney owned hotels). There are Morning EMH hours (one hour before opening for general admission) and Evening EMH (3 hours after park close for general admission). Again, since we usually stay off properly, this is not a perk that we routinely get to participate in. And, each will always be busier on its designated EMH day than it is on a non-EMH day, so I usually try to avoid EMH parks whether staying on property or not. But for Animal Kingdom, I had made an exception. I knew we only had one day (most likely), and I knew there was plenty we wanted to do.

We had also made the executive parenting decision to skip a nap on our AK day. Why? Because even though the park was open until 8 PM for resort guests, all of the *shows* stopped running before 5, as did the Safari and the Conservation Station train. Other than rides, most of which Luke could not ride, what did that leave for us to do? So why bother with the EMH? Because I didn't want to go all day until 5 and then be forced to leave and *then* try and find dinner. By choosing to go on an EMH day, we could do any of the things that closed right up until 5, then as the other guests were leaving, we could eat dinner, then ride some of the open rides or leave. At least with Evening EMH, we would have the option. (Are DH and I the only ones geeky enough to think "emergency medical hologram" every time they see the abbreviation EMH?)

So instead of heading for a nap, we headed right back into the park, straight for Everest. Used our fast passes that we had picked up before lunch and got on. It was still just as fun! We picked up one more set of fast passes for Everest (3:40-4:40 return time, I think), I stuck them in my wallet, and we headed across the park from Asia to Africa. Primary targets 1 and 2 had been achieved. Time to knock off #3, Kilimanjaro Safaris. (I know, I know, you want me to stop yapping and show you come pictures!)

Once upon a time, Kilimanjaro Safaris was *the* Animal Kingdom ride, the one that you went straight for the minute you walked into the park. I think they finally have enough things to spread out that crush of people more now, but it is still very very popular, and we didn't have fast passes. I think the posted wait time 45 minutes, but the do give you things to do in queue, like see some animals. I couldn't believe it when this bird turned and looked right into the camera. So striking!

The queue moved quite well, and we boarded the vehicle in about 35 minutes. Mom was responsible for the wide angle views and photos of closer things (like Luke in the vehicle). She had a 4x wide angle zoom on her point and shoot that Dad bought her just for the trip.

I had the anti-shake big zoom lens on the DSLR. It *starts* at a 3x zoom, so there was no way for me to get a picture of Luke. I did get some good close ups of the animals, though.

I loved that this nest was so close to the vehicle path. The zoom lens is barely out, if any at all. No idea what kind of birds these were, but they were just doing their thing, not 10 feet from the vehicle. BTW, that blurry thing on the bottom left is *not* my finger. (The lens was too big for that to even be possible.) It is actually the bill of DH's hat. The vehicles "shake, rattle, and roll" so much that it is hard not to get in someone's way. I really dislike the fact that they feel the need to have a "story" for this ride. You are tracking some poachers as you go through the reserve. The radio interrupts periodically, and at some point you "have to" chase after them. I'd really rather spend a little more time looking at the animals; they are simply amazing all on their own. I don't know anyone who does the Safari to chase poachers; we just want to see the animals. Like these!

And Mom and I were both fascinated by these trees. I forget what they are called (can't look for animals, take pictures, listen to the guide, *and* take notes all at the same time), but there are several of them along the path. They are huge! Easily 8-10 feet in diameter.

It was really hard to whittle down the pictures for this one. I'm leaving lots of things out, going for the impressive shots. Like these. When I rounded the corner, I could not believe our luck!

But we were luckier than I knew. Look closer at the elephant on the left. She seems to have some extra legs there. As we drove slowly past, we could see what she was protecting on her other side.

And I just like this shot of all the flamingos.

There was more big game to come.

If that's not the laziest good-for-nothing lion I've ever seen, I don't know what is! It was in the mid-80s, it was around 2 PM. I think I was just jealous since, on most days, we would also have been napping right then.

Luke really seemed to enjoy the safari, but he was clearly crashing as we got off. It had been a good 2 hours since we had finished lunch (not started, but finished). One of the things I dislike most about Animal Kingdom is the lack of covered places to sit. Up until recently, there were few indoor restaurants at the park, and no "sit down" places. That has changed just in the last 3-4 years, but most places are still counter service with only outdoor seating, some covered, some not. I'm all for authenticity, but I need my air conditioning, thank you. At least it was only in the low to mid 80s. Can you imagine what it would be like in August in Orlando? I'm melting just thinking about it. We did find some covered seating with ceiling fans, and that was good enough. We all consumed some calories, then headed back to Asia. We passed this drum area on the way out of Africa.

Now keep in mind that we are about the white-est people I know. No rhythm or soul whatsoever. I saw a t-shirt years and years ago that read, "Certified Caucasian: Do not place on dance floor." That pretty much sums up my entire family and should probably be extended to "do not allow on drums," LOL! Luke still can't clap on beat, though he is getting better. So all things considered, I think he did pretty well!

Photo Sharing - Video Sharing - Photo Printing

And we stopped for our group shot of the day in front of the Tree of Life, the symbol of Animal Kingdom, much like the castle for MK, Spaceship Earth for Epcot, and the hat for Studios. It is really something else to see!

I know it is really hard to tell in that picture, but you may have noticed it in the shot of Mickey from the previous Animal Kingdom post. Can you see the trunk of the tree? Here, try this one:

See the carvings? Let's put that zoom lens to work, shall we? How about now:

Those are slightly different angles (note the owl change sides). What does the zoom lens full out get us?

And why have all those megapixels if you aren't going to use them? This is cropped from the same photo above, top right.

As you have probably guessed, I am rather amazed by the tree. I have been ever since the first time I saw it. During that trip to the Animal Kingdom, we actually got to walk around it up close. The Tree of Life and the Lights Motor Action stunt show are the two things that convinced me to borrow my father's DSLR in the first place (and to be willing to haul it around at the parks; that thing is heavy!). All of these photos were taken from across the river. I had hoped to walk the trails around the base of the tree this visit, but we just never made it. I was sad, but it will be at the top of the list (okay, behind Everest and probably Nemo) for our next trip.

Our next stop was my #1 secondary target, the Flights of Wonder bird show. (I am kicking myself for not remembering to photograph the sign out front!) DH and I accidentally stumbled onto this show during our previous visit, and I absolutely loved it. I have been looking forward to taking Luke to see it for years now. I hoped he would love it, too. They bring out all different birds that are trained to perform tricks (based on natural behaviors). They do not capture these birds in order to train them. Most are not able to live in the wild for various reasons. Many of the birds fly out and over the audience at their introduction. This is the "total luck, no skill involved" shot of the trip:

Parrots are well known for their ability to mimic, both animals and humans. They said this one has the most amazing mimicry skills they have ever seen. Supposedly, he can sing 7 different songs! Not perfectly in tune, but definitely recognizable. He sang Yankee Doodle Dandy and something else I am forgetting right now.

This one flew over to a woman and took a dollar (actually a $20 bill) from her hand. This shot is of it flying back to return it to her.

And this one took it's little toy lizard there and slammed it to the ground. This is how it kills its prey and eats in the wild, but it was still pretty funny to see it attacking this toy.

I needn't have worried. Luke was having a ball!

Now take a look at this one:

It's pretty big, at least 2 feet tall (0.5 m) to the head with a wingspan of at least 6 feet (2 m). They had let several birds fly out over various sections of the audience, but this is the one that flew directly over our section. The advice from the lady on stage: "Don't duck. It will only fly lower!" I think it nearly touched Luke's head as it flew over (seriously):

Some birds in the show don't even do tricks, they're just brought out for you to see. They serve instead as ambassadors for their species. And boy, is it worth it!

This bald eagle has a permanent wing injury and cannot be returned to the wild. She was just stunning. As the show ended, they brought out a couple more birds, including this owl, who was similarly amazing.

Now the owl plays an important part in the next segment of our story. It was sort of the catalyst, so to speak. The show was over, and they had invited everyone up to the front to get a closer look at the birds if we wanted to. Luke and DH went to one side and Mom stayed sitting on the bench. I took both cameras and went to see the owl. Snapped some shots, got back to our seat, packed up everything (or so I thought), and left for our last ride on Everest.

We arrived on the far side of Asia and began divesting ourselves of unnecessary hats and backpacks, handed them all over to DH, and were ready to join the fast pass line. I had the fast passes in my wallet, remember? So I reach into my pocket. No wallet. "Honey, do you have my wallet?" No, you never gave it to me today. "Mom, did I put it in your backpack at any point?" No, not there either. We tear apart all camera bags and backpacks and pockets. Nothing. I *know* I had it at the bird show, because my point and shoot camera was sitting on top of it at some point. Apparently, I had left it on the bench at the show. I took the DSLR and the point and shoot with me to go see the owl. I had probably left just the wallet sitting there. Mom was sitting a good 10-15 feet away from it, and she was probably watching Luke and DH, so someone easily could have thought that it was abandoned or lost. There was no reason to connect it to Mom. Please please please please please let someone have turned it it! Mom offered to run back and get it while I waited at the ride with Luke. She was already gone by the time I realized that it was *my* wallet and not hers, so it was entirely possible they would refuse to give it to her, even if they had it. Duh!! I figured she would call or text if she needed me to come. I pulled my cell phone out of my pocket, held it in my hand, and waited. I'll let Mom tell the next part of the story in her own words, since she's the one who was actually there.

I ran back to the Flights of Wonder venue. As I approached I saw a Disney security guard standing in front sort of looking out at the crowd gathered for the parade. I realized I couldn't just walk into the closed tent, so I approached him to explain my dilemma. "We were at the last show here, and my daughter left her wallet. May I please go inside and look for it?"

Where is your daughter now? "She has gone up to the Everest ride." What's her name? "Erin Warren. I can text her and have her come back here," I said, afraid you might already be on the ride! Then realizing my mistake, I jumped in quickly with "Erin Gaston. Erin Warren Gaston." Boy he will never believe a word I say now, I don’t even know my own daughter's name! [Erin's note: I found it funny she still answers that question with my maiden name, 11 years after I got married, LOL! And my license actually does say "Erin Warren Gaston" on it.]

"Do you have a picture of your daughter?" I thought it an odd question until I spotted said wallet tucked between his chest and the clipboard he was carrying. I didn't let on that I knew he had it. Usually I have [Erin's] photo in my purse, but I had pared down to the bare essentials for the trip and, no, [the] photo didn't make it into that category! "No.... Oh! Maybe on my camera!" and I start scrolling through the photos. Yes, there are several with [Erin] about 1/8th of an inch tall in the far back of some of the pictures of Luke playing the drums. "That's her in the back," I say lamely.

"Do you have a close up of her?" Well, no, "but I have pictures of my grandson," I say laughing in that proud grandmotherly way. "You want to see him?" I ask, as if he was a friend from high school I just ran into!

"Yeah, I'd like to see him!" So we scrolled through pictures of Luke playing, walking, smiling. "I recognize him" the grinning man said, "I saw him in this wallet." And he pulls the wallet out from its hiding place.

Thank you, Lord! "Yes ma'am, you said the right words right there. I was just about to leave to take it to Lost & Found when you came up and asked me. A few more seconds and I'd have been gone." I thanked him profusely, tucked the wallet in my backpack and took off for Everest, never before so happy to have been interrogated by security!

My cell phone dings with a text. She has my wallet, and a good story to go along with it. Clearly, someone up there likes me! Thank goodness I had put the fast passes in it, or who knows how long it would have been before I noticed it was missing. It also means that I need to remember when I travel to put a card or something in there with my cell number on it that says to call that number if found. Lost and Found could have called my home number on my license, but we would not have gotten that message for several more days. Good grief! I never ever do things like that, especially at Disney. It was just a sign of how tired we were all getting. We had done 5 hard days at Disney. Even Luke had complained after the Safari that his feet hurt, and I've never heard him say that before. He walks everywhere, just as much as the adults. More, really, since he has to take more strides to keep up. He does not use a stroller at all. He has refused to sit in them pretty much since he could walk. He gets the occasional shoulder ride from DH, but that's it. Even with naps, we were clearly weary.

By popular request, a picture of Mom's Everest hat, taken after our return.

We did our last ride on Everest, then decided to call it a day. It was about 3:45, but there were no other shows that we had time to catch from where we were. We just headed out of the park. And we ran right into, you guessed it, the parade! Why do these things feel the need to follow and torture me?! Every other park has their afternoon parade at 3. I thought we had missed this one, but no. AK's parade starts at 3:30, and ends near the front gate. Argh!! We ended up cutting around Dino Land (where I picked up a "Tigger, is that you?" tote bag), and then through a store that seemed to put us out downstream from the end of the parade. We very slowly trudged out to the car in the hot brilliant sun, drove back to the hotel, and collapsed on the beds.

Since the original plan had been to eat at the park, I had no idea what we were going to do now for dinner. Maybe room service? Then I remembered one of the vouchers included with our travel package: a $15 food voucher for Planet Hollywood. Two packages (us and Mom), so two vouchers. Seems a shame to waste $30 in free food, right? We rested up for a bit, had some refreshments, and then left for Downtown Disney.

I don't recall if I had ever eaten at a Planet Hollywood before or not. If so, it wasn't the one at Downtown. (We did eat at the Orlando Hard Rock Cafe, though, long before the Planet Hollywood was ever built.) We arrived around 5:30. I was afraid that they would be busy, but we walked right in and were seated immediately.

I don't know if you can tell from the picturs, but we were seated in this sort of stone tower thing. It had a ceiling, one door opening, and 5-6 sides, some with windows. It was weird. Cool, but weird. People kept walking by and looking in at us, obviously trying to figure out if we were anyone special for being seated there. Nope, it just happens to be where they put us! I forgot to take pictures of our food. We had the zucchini chips as an appetizer (I thought they were okay; fried pickles are better, IMO). Luke got pizza that was topped with provalone instead of mozarella (yum!), and he ate 2 of the 3 breadsticks I ordered (which I expected). DH got the fajitas, I got the shrimp alfredo with linguini, and Mom got the crab cakes with mashed potatoes and veggies. No dessert this time. Luke was about to fall over by the time we left (no nap, remember), and the rest of us were dragging, too. It wasn't even 7 PM, but there would also be no nap the next day, so we turned in for an early night.

Next up, Disney 2009, Day 6: Sports Day.

Currently feeling: done with exotic animals for now


  1. Wow, how lucky about your wallet!

  2. Leaving the wallet is totally something I would do - so glad you recovered it so quickly! :)

  3. Great photo's, I think the tree is a Baobab.

    That was really lucky about your wallet


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