Sunday, November 28, 2010

Animal Kingdom

Despite our long day at the Magic Kingdom the day before, we were up bright and early to take advantage of Extra Magic Hours at Disney's Animal Kingdom.  Entering at 8am as opposed to 9am for non-resort guests, we took full advantage of a pretty empty park.
Park Entrance
Opened in April 1998, Animal Kingdom is the single largest Disney park in the world sitting at ~500 acres.  In 2009, 9.6 million guests entered its gates, making it the 8th most visited theme park in the world. I remember being very excited to experience this park when it first opened, but felt a bit disappointed after realizing that attractions were few and far between.  When they added the Expedition Everest roller coaster in April 2006, this park's excitement value went through the roof.

Similar to Magic Kingdom, Animal Kingdom is organized into seven themed lands.  Expedition Everest is located within Asia.  It really cannot be missed as you walk through the park, since it is the tallest "mountain-like" attraction at Disney World.
Mike and Adam entering Asia on our walk to Everest
The Everest coaster takes you through what is supposed to be the Himalayas, home to the yeti.  As you wait in line, you walk through a small Asian town that has a museum dedicated to the tales of the yeti.  The line loops around to the outside as you await your turn to board the mountain train.  I had first experienced this ride in 2008 and had told everyone how great it was, so we were all pretty excited
My first ride on Everest in 2008, accompanied by my Uncle Norman and cousin Karen
The ride begins by taking the passengers up to the mountain's peak.  It provides a great photo op as you can literally see all the way to Epcot.  Can you spy Spaceship Earth below?
On the way up, you see a ransacked site that has murals of the yeti.  Eventually, you arrive to the top of the peak only to discover that the yeti has torn up the tracks.  This unfortunate circumstance actually leads to the best part of the ride, as the track switches and the train now moves backward whipping you down and around the dark cavernous mountain at a really high speed.  There is at least one other yeti sighting throughout the ride (I won't spoil it completely) and there is one good, long drop that I quite enjoy.  Everyone loved it so much that we rode it twice more.  Gotta love those Extra Magic Hours because the line was non-existant!
Round Two
Round Three, Dave and Maura got first row!
Asia also offers a few other attractions, such as the Kali River Rapids and Maharajah Jungle Trek.  There is also a live bird show called Flights of Wonder. It was a brisk 58 degrees or so this early in the morning, so Kali was out of the question.  You really do get soaked.  If you are at the park on a nice, hot day, it is definitely worth a go.  The Trek is a self-guided walk through a few animal habitats such as the Komodo dragon and bengal tiger. Since we had ambitions of a nice full day at Epcot, we didn't stick around Asia to walk the Trek or explore any further.  We did, however, leave time for a group shot in front of the mountain. SUCH a good ride!
Our next destination was DinoLand U.S.A. Honestly, this entire land is a bit of a kiddy area.  It has TriceraTop Spin, a mini-coaster and carnival games.  The best ride for adults is DINOSAUR, which takes passengers on a bumpy, off road trip through the Late Cretaceous period.  Back in 2004, Dave, Mike and I were at Animal Kingdom and it seemed fitting to recreate this shot on our way out of DinoLand U.S.A.  Looks like he's been repainted. Lol.
We did end up riding Everest one more time before we left the park for the day, but we consciously chose to skip quite a bit in order to get over to Epcot earlier.  Here are a few highlights of the rest of the park:

Oasis is the area near the park entrance, featuring a number of animal habitats such as muntjacs, spoonbills, ducks, wallabies and anteaters.

Discovery Island is essentially the center of the park and features the Tree of Life as it focal point.  It also has animal habitats for kangaroos, cranes and lemurs.  Inside the Tree of Life is a comedic, 4-D attraction called It's Tough to be a Bug! from Disney's A Bug's Life.  Discovery Island also has two of the park's largest restaurants as well as gift shops.

Camp Minnie-Mickey is essentially an area to meet Disney characters.  It also houses Festival of the Lion King, a life-stage show with dancers, acrobats and music from the movie.

Africa is home to the Kilimanjaro Safari.  Guests are in an open vehicle that drives through a large animal preserve.  The animals include giraffes, hippos, lions and elephants.  The Safari can be really cool, but it is hit or miss.  Last few times I've been on it, the animals were far away or out of sight.  Because we were afraid of the "miss", we passed this time.

Rafiki's Planet Watch is connected to Africa by a short train ride.  It provides guests with a behind the scenes look into Disney's animal care as well as an overview of Disney's animal conservation efforts.  There is also a petting zoo featuring goats, sheep, etc.

All in all, don't skip Animal Kingdom...Everest is reason enough to make some time for this park.

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