Based on all of the crowd calendars I read, we decided that the first morning of our vacation would be spent at Disney’s Animal Kingdom. Many regular WDW visitors do not recommend scheduling a FP+ during the first hours of the park opening. However, we did not want to rush to the park for rope-drop, then dash through the park to an attraction. We had scheduled a FastPass+ for Kilimanjaro Safaris from 9:15-10:15. If we really enjoyed the attraction, and the lines were short, we could ride it again. This is the way we structured all our mornings in the parks. This morning would be a test-run for our system.
We had stocked a few food items in the room for a quick breakfast. So, after a quick stop at the Beach Club Marketplace for coffee, we headed off to take the bus to DAK. The wait was not long, and the ride was fairly quick and uneventful. Before entering the park, we stopped to have our picture taken in front of the park sign by one of the Disney PhotoPass photographers. We had added Disney Memory Maker to our package. I will address the value of this added expense during my post-trip blog. For now, let me say that it was a pleasure to have our picture taken together in front of the park. We have so many vacation photos of one or the other of us, or selfies that do not include much of our surroundings.
We took our time wandering toward the back of the park. This would have been an appropriate time to explore some of the various paths heading toward Africa. We did not do this and I wish we had taken more time to discover the unique elements of this park. However, being June, it was hot and humid that morning. We did not want to take too much time getting to the attraction.
The theming of Harambe Village is very authentic to an African village, from the thatch roofs, to the aged and weathered look of the buildings, even the crumbling or missing walls left over from the occupation by the British. For some, this could seem unwelcoming. I found the theming to be part of the DAK experience; I was immersed in my surroundings. I felt as if I was in Africa, and the weather was adding to the atmosphere.
Kilimanjaro Safaris was also very authentic, although I doubt you would find all those animals in such close proximity to each other in Africa. However, that is not the point. A ‘real’ African Safari would take days or weeks, without any guarantee of seeing an animal. The Disney Imagineers have created an authentic safari experience, including creaky, old bridges and washed out roads, without any visible barriers or pens for the animals. I was surprised at just how close you get to them. The ride was often jarring, but that added to the experience.
Part of our vacation planning included designing and printing thank-you cards for exceptional cast members. These were the size of a business card. It was an idea I found on a few of the planning blogs I had consulted. Our safari driver was the first park cast member to receive one of these cards. She did an excellent job explaining the surroundings and the animals, and making us feel like we were on an African safari.
We took a walk through the Pangani Forest Exploration Trail. Unlike Kilimanjaro Safaris, this felt more like a zoo. Despite the fact that animals were situated within authentic environments, they were behind cages or glass walls. One of the silverback gorillas mooned us while bending over for a drink at a spring.
Our next FP+ was scheduled for Dinosaur, between the hours of 10:40-11:40, which is located on the other side of the park. We took our time walking in that direction. Again, it would have been nice to explore diverse areas on Discovery Island, but the crowds were building along with the heat, which kept us moving. We did stop along the way for a few shots of the Tree of Life. This was a little emotional for both my wife and me. We had heard so much about this park icon, and there we were standing right in front of it.
Dinosaur was a thrilling experience, albeit a short one. We were given the opening spiel about time traveling back in time, just before the meteors wiped out all the dinosaurs. Through special lighting effects, a jeep that bounced and jarred us through the blackness of the past, we were given a fantastic ride. This is one of the attractions that include an on-ride photo. Although you know that this world and the creatures in it has all been imagineered into reality, you do get caught up in the moment. I certainly did.
We lunched at Restaurantosaurus, which is humorously themed as living quarters for a group of young paleontologists. As quick service food goes, it was good. We each had a Chicken BLT Salad. Each quick service meal comes with dessert, and who were we to argue? I had the cheesecake and my wife had the chocolate mousse. Both were served in a glass. Our meal also included two bottles of water. You need to remain hydrated! The price of this lunch was just around $33 for the two of us, just over $15 per person.
We made our way over to the theatre to see Finding Nemo – the Musical. We had a FP+ for this production, which did get us quickly through the line, but did not give us preferred seating. The theater is large, as are the sets and characters. We are fans of the movie, and we became fans of this live-action version of the story. The characters are huge puppets controlled by actors, who also give the characters their voice. Without giving too much away, there are special effects that immerse the audience in the underwater adventure of Nemo, Marlin, and Dory. This is a must-do for all ages.
As we were leaving the theater, heading toward Asia, we decided the park was getting very crowded, and we were getting tired. We had a special evening planned for at the California Grill, so we decided to head out of the park and back to our room at Disney’s Beach Club. The wait for the bus was short, and the ride not too long.
Some consider DAK a ‘half-day’ park because it does not have as many attractions as some of the smaller parks. However, Disney’s Animal Kingdom is huge, and attractions are dispersed throughout the park, which requires a lot of walking. There are a few walking trails to explore and details to investigate in all areas of the park. It is also considered the hottest park; for some reason, the temps are always higher at DAK than in the rest of the parks. I would like to revisit this park, on a cooler, less crowded day, and take some time to study all the special touches the Imagineers included in their design of the park. There are new experiences coming to DAK, including Rivers of Light and Pandora, a separate area based on the movie Avatar.
How do you plan your time at Disney’s Animal Kingdom? Do you consider it a half or full day park?In your opinion, is Disney’s Memory Maker a good value? Has a cast member ever gone out of their way to share some extra Disney Magic with you? Do you give thank you notes or gifts to exceptional cast members?
In the next chapter of The Mature Mouse™ I will review our evening at the California Grill. If you are indeed a mature fan of Disney, a mature mouse, please use the link to visit The Mature Mouse™ store for logo merchandise. And, do not forget to consult Jennie Nowers about your next Disney vacation, and mention this blog for a free gift with your booking.