Our fourth day brought us into a whole new world for us with Disney – Walt Disney’s Animal Kingdom. Fun fact: The island across from the Contemporary Resort to the west was once the catalyst for what is now Animal Kingdom: Discovery Island. It has been closed for the last 13 years but not too long ago, some urban explorers set foot upon the island in a less-than legal manner but provided some amazing photos which can be viewed here. It’s a pretty fun, if not lacking, read. One is left wanting more from their exploration.
Well, today, we did not go to the original Discovery Island but we did head into Discovery Island – the land – at Animal Kingdom. Discovery Island is the main hub of AK park from which all lands protrude in classic Disney park fashion. Interesting that they kept that name. We hurried straight over to Asia to ascend our most anticipated Disney mountain on Expedition Everest!
This ride is by far the most amazing at this park in terms of thrill and theming. I absolutely love it and is my favorite of any of the Disney park mountains. You go forward, backward, fast, slow, and it’s just a super awesome thrill! According to friends and family, the Yeti has been inoperable for a long while. However, having never ridden it with it being operable, I didn’t notice anything strange about it and this is such a sense stimulator that one is never left wanting anything more or feeling cheated in any way.
We walked onto this ride three times in a row. We were able to take in the detail in the queue but not stop long enough to take any photos worth really posting. You walk through a base-camp on the way up to the base of Everest with some great artifacts, equipment both old and new, and a lot of strange footprints, photos, and books about the mysterious Yeti. When the train arrives to take you to the peak, you pass even more of what appear to be warning signs. Everything seems fine until you realize that the track taking you to the summit has been ripped from it’s ties and you immediately plunge backward! You encounter the creature a couple times on your trek and narrowly escape in the end. Such a thrill and an amazing attraction! We must have done it about 6 or 7 times this day alone!
My favorite part of this park was the early-morning mist that engulfed the entire park. Extra Magic Hours got us to the park at 7am on the very last day of Daylight Saving Time so it was the absolute earliest (in relative position of the sunrise) we could be at the park for the entire year. It was absolutely magical! My least favorite part? The smell — and unfortunately the mist did a lot to carry those smells throughout the park. The flamingos are largely to blame for it, I’m sure, as they’re a foul smelling bird. The early morning beauty, however, trumped any other sensory overload provided by the park.
The second attraction I was most excited for was the Kilimanjaro Safaris! We had gone to San Diego’s Wild Animal Park (now renamed Safari Park) 5 or 6 years back and were sorely disappointed by the fact that there is no safari included in the price of admission! I couldn’t believe how expensive doing a safari on par with AK’s safari was! ($130+). The Kilimanjaro Safaris is everything you’d want it to be and more!
The safari uses real vehicles to see real animals without visible (or literal in some cases) boundaries. The animals are all out and about and mingling with one another (when appropriate). We asked where the best place to sit was for photos and were told the back left side was probably the best place because your field of view is much wider. We ended up getting the entire back row to ourselves so we were able to get some incredible pics from all sides! Make sure you set your camera for a faster shutter speed as the vehicle rarely stops so you’ve really gotta snap away and sort thru the pics later!
Another great thing this park has is an abundance of walking tours. Each takes you into a different eco system with animals to all sides of you. You can really get great shots of different species in their different habitats. If you’re lucky, they’ll come right up to you or you may just see something unexpected and not necessarily on the tour.
We went to eat at Pizzafari for breakfast. Just your standard breakfast sandwich fare to get by. We snapped a cool pic while inside.
Next up was DinoLand U.S.A. which seemed to be geared toward children yet had some of my favorite attractions at the park including Dinosaur! and Primeval Whirl. Dinosaur is like Indiana Jones and the Temple of the Forbidden Eye at Disneyland Park but with time travel and dinosaurs. Another ride with a cool queue (like being at the Jurassic Park visitor center) that we sort of flew past because there were no lines. There is, however, a cool intro video with Phylicia Rashad.
Primeval Whirl is as close to Hollywood Studios’ (at Disneyland Paris) Crush’s Coaster ride system as you can get here in the states. It’s like Goofy’s Sky School but instead of always facing front, half way thru the ride, the car unlocks itself from the base and you spin on an axis while the coaster continues down the track. It’s a tough explanation and I’ll post a video and pictures soon of this attraction.
There’s so much at this park to take in the first time because it’s so unlike any other Disney park so most of the best pics we took here were on our second visit to the park later in the trip.
There are also some great shows and characters at this park! So much so that this park is maybe best done in two days because the animals’ bed times are pretty early. This park was closing at 5pm today so we had to pass on some things this day and plan to do them on a return trip because we really wanted to see the Festival of the Lion King show at Camp Minnie-Mickey as well as meet a slew of characters in their AK “garb.”
“The Festival of the Lion King” is another stunning example of great Floridian theatre! Seriously, if you aren’t landing gigs on Broadway or in Los Angeles, head on down to Orlando because this city has some incredible theatre within the WDW resort.
The Greeting Trails at AK are pretty neat because the characters are in different outfits than you’ll see anywhere else in the resort. Since it was just at the end of Halloween Time, we caught them today in their AK-appropriate halloween garb.
Meeting these characters were among the longest lines of our entire trip but well worth seeing them in their different outfits. Before the day was thru, we wanted to see “Finding Nemo – the Musical.” We had a while so we ran into a quick showing of “It’s Tough to be a Bug” inside the Tree of Life. While it’s the same show we have at DCA, the attraction’s building is among the most elaborate of any Disney Park. The theatre is below the gigantic Tree of Life with animals carved within the bark and roots of the tree. Even more impressive is walking through the root system while walking into the theatre and seeing all the incredible details!
“Finding Nemo – The Musical” is a lot like DCA’s “Aladdin…” show in terms of scale and length. It’s a full-blown musical and an impressive one at that! This could be on Broadway, it’s so catchy and well done! The master puppetry keeps the audience engaged and the cast is just incredible. There’s incredible fly-work, sets, lighting, animatronics — the works! They even tie it into the song at the end of EPCOT’s “The Seas with Nemo and Friends” which makes sense but is still a nice touch.
At the end of the show, we had just enough time to ride Expedition Everest again before heading over to the Magic Kingdom for Mickey’s Not-So-Scary Halloween Party.
Magic Kingdom has a lot to teach Disneyland Park in Anaheim about how to do Halloween! From the scarecrows in the Town Square, the pumpkins on the lamps down Main Street, the villain’s show in front of Cinderella’s castle and most importantly, the “Boo to You!” parade!
I cannot describe this “Boo to You!” parade in terms that would do it justice and since I only got to see it once, I am sure I would forget some of the greatest details like the headless horseman starting the parade off by riding along the entire parade route holding a jack-o-lantern. I’ll just focus on my favorite and most appropriate section of the parade: The Haunted Mansion scene. My goodness! It starts with the caretaker and his dog (A REAL DOG!) wandering the parade route complete with lantern-and-all!
He is followed closely by a flurry of dancing grave diggers doing a “Thriller”-style dance number with shovels as their dancing canes. Imagine a zombie Fred Astaire in Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” music video. They danced with those shovels with the greatest of ease and they would drag it furiously along the ground in time with the music shooting sparks all over the place. CHILLS, PEOPLE!
They are then followed by the hitchhiking ghosts themselves atop a huge furiously-fogging float! While cool in person, it did not provide great photos but I am telling you, the fog worked SO WELL in person. Super awesome parade and I really dislike parades. Disneyland has a lot to learn from it’s east coast relative about how to do Halloween Time.
What the Magic Kingdom has over the Anaheim resort is space. Therefore, fireworks times and vicinity is not at all a factor. Fireworks at WDW seem to go off later than Disneyland’s and in some respects, larger fireworks seem to be used all around. What I mean is when at Disneyland, we have scenes in the show where fireworks launch all around you depending on your location. At WDW, they’re actual fireworks and not just quick spurts of flame or sparklers. It’s pretty impressive when immersed in actual exploding fireworks rather than just bursts of light.
What I found lacking was the use of a large structure like the Matterhorn in conjunction with the castle. While Cinderella’s castle towers over Sleeping Beauty’s in Anaheim, Aurora’s castle plays with the Matterhorn in many ways — projections, flying characters, etc. They don’t have this luxury at WDW. So for the Halloween Fireworks show, there is no Zero, there is no Jack Skellington host (which I am totally fine with) but a rather fun narration by Corey Burton as the Ghost Host from Haunted Mansion. The lack of Jack Skellington makes for a better Halloween show, in my opinion. Yet I believe WDW cast members might disagree since most all of them that we spoke with longed for HMH. While I do absolutely love HMH, I wish the “Nightmare Before Christmas” theme stayed in that area rather than become the Halloween mascot of the park.
Other cool things for Halloween were a Jolly Roger projection on Big Thunder, one-stop-shop trick-or-treating (there were multiple stops but they were VERY generous), and the “Villains Mix and Mingle” show in front of the castle. Best part of the villains show? That it attracts other villains! We got to meet the evil step mother and those pesky step-sisters from Cinderella!
The cast members in Florida have their characters DOWN! So much fun to play wit! Usually the face characters are sort of awkward to meet because they’re your age. I think my favorite is Lady Renata in front of the Haunted Mansion. She watches over the mansion and has a sharp tongue and quick wit! We sat and watched her for about 30 minutes which she lampooned and chided the passers-by at the mansion.
I wish she’d come visit our mansion someday! Also cool were some special photo stations where you can take a picture with some Grim Grinning Ghosts.
All in all, a great time was had at Mickey’s Not-So-Scary Halloween Party. Highly recommended and well worth the entrance fee for the parade alone! Well, it was back to the hotel for the night to prepare for our fifth day. Now that we had hit up every park, the (Walt Disney) World was our oyster and anything could go!
See our full gallery from this day below!