If you missed part one of this trip report, you can read it here.
Sunday morning found us at Animal Kingdom. I was excited to see the changes and construction progress that had been made since the last time I visited Walt Disney World. To my delight, you can see that progress even before you enter the park. At the Disney bus drop-off, you can peer over the fence to see the floating mountains of Pandora – World of Avatar (which will open sometime in 2017). This isn’t the type of post to debate the merits of that land but I will say that the work so far looks exceptional.
Once inside the park, we headed straight for the back as we had a FastPass for a safari ride. Before seeing hundreds of animals, we had to stop for one of these…
My wife is a cinnamon roll expert and she called this the best cinnamon roll on property. I tried it and couldn’t disagree. This not-so-little beauty is found at the Kusafiri Bakery in the Africa section of the park. This was definitely sharable (unless you go with a cinnamon roll expert) and earned hidden gem status in my eyes. Not only was in a gigantic cinnamon roll but there was caramel drizzled on top. Delicious!
I’ll never stop being blown away by Kilimanjaro Safaris. The size of the ride, the details in the section, and the immersion all take a backseat to just how close you get to the animals. There are many places to get a childlike sense of wonder at Disney Parks. This is the place where I get it the most. Knowing that I can walk 5 minutes between a gigantic roller coaster and a wide-open savannah filled with wild animals who can be 5 feet away from my eyes is amazing to me.
After our safari, we took a ride up, down and all around the forbidden mountain. More on Expedition Everest later… At this point, it was pretty clear that Animal Kingdom was looking in tip-top shape. The cleanliness of the park, along with the detail, reminded me of when I visited Disneyland shortly after the 60th anniversary celebration started. Everything looked well taken care of, new and fresh (DinoLand notwithstanding). Animal Kingdom is gearing up for a big year and while Rivers of Light has been delayed (it should open this month) the park is still on an upwards trajectory.
After lunch at Flame Tree Barbecue (review coming!) we went on Kali River Rapids and explored Asia. The new seating in this area looks great and doesn’t impose on the already beautiful area. The seating, which is for Rivers of Light, is full of detail just like the rest of Animal Kingdom.
It was fun to go to Walt Disney World with people who had never been before for a number of reasons. One of the highlights was seeing all of the park icons for the first time with them. I don’t think we take these icons for granted, but more that we forget just how impressive they all are after we’ve seen them a few times. With that being said, the Tree of Life is always incredible and I love the different angles that you can see it from around Animal Kingdom.
That afternoon we went and saw Flights of Wonder, a live stage show featuring all sorts of different birds. For one reason or another Melissa and I had never seen this show. Flights of Wonder was more of your typical zoo show, featuring different animals. There was a loose plot to it but they didn’t disguise it as anything more than a show featuring some awesome birds!
I’ll likely review the show in the future but I would say that it’s the second best show at Animal Kingdom, after Festival of the Lion King. The main actress/zoologist(?) was very charming and informative. She kept the show going and we all enjoyed it.
After the show we walked around and went on the Gorilla Falls trail. While I definitely like the Maharajah Jungle Trek more than this trail, I will never complain about getting to see some gorillas! I think guests are missing out if they don’t try at least one of these trails. They really tie the park together and add to the idea that this park should be explored and not rushed through.
I split up from my group for a while in the early evening. Why? Because they were going to see It’s Tough To Be A Bug. Also known as the most terrifying attraction in the world. While they were there I wandered around the Tree of Life and took some photos. I really like what Animal Kingdom has done with the space in Discovery Island right before the Tree of Life. The animal carvings (on top of this pair of photos) add a nice touch and kind of extend the tree out to guests.
Next on the docket was Festival of the Lion King. This show is somewhat divisive and I’m not sure why. Maybe people go in thinking that this will be a reenactment of the movie and are disappointed when it’s not? This show is more a variety show but the pacing is great, the soundtrack is fun and the performances are phenomenal.
It was time for dinner and I was anxious to try out the new Harambe Market. A review will be on the blog shortly but I thoroughly enjoyed my meal here. I also love the looks of the area, as it fits in so well with the rest of the park. These new additions to the park weren’t as exciting as a brand new attraction but they were smart and really well done.
I was extremely excited to see Animal Kingdom after dark, and it did not disappoint at all. There was festive live entertainment throughout the park, and the beautiful colors that the park shows off during the day transcend into the night. There was a great energy throughout the park at night and I could have just sat most of the night at several locations and enjoyed it.
We repeated two rides that night and they were significantly different from the day experiences. The first of those was Kilimanjaro Safaris. This was a pretty interesting attraction at night. Naturally it’s hard to see animals because it was dark. There’s some lighting throughout the attraction that helps your view. Animals on the savannah were fairly easy to spot, and that area looked nice. The hyenas and spotted dogs were fairly active which is good to see because that’s part of the reason they were added to the safari. I enjoyed the experience, as it really makes you look for the animals and kind of appreciate when you can see them a little bit more. While the overall experience isn’t as good as during the day I do think that the safari is worth your time during the night. I would recommend going right at dusk though so you have just a little extra light. I’ve also heard that the animals are more active at that point.
Expedition Everest at night was somewhat surprising in how different of an experience it was. I think the darkness helps with the surprises that are part of the roller coaster and they also help you see inside of the mountain a little easier. That experience was absolutely thrilling and one of my favorite moments of the trip.
Our final moments of the night were spent watching the Tree of Life Awakenings. These are short little projection shows that are on the Tree of Life. While they aren’t anything like a nighttime spectacular, they will be a fantastic augmentation to a nighttime spectacular. I compare them to the Kiss Goodnight at Magic Kingdom, but a little more modern and story driven. There are about five different stories that cycle through on these projection shows and I enjoyed all of them. They keep the spirit of the park and are a touching nightcap to a beautiful park.
We were going to Mickey’s Not So Scary Halloween Party the next night, so we planned for a morning at the water park. We decided to go to Blizzard Beach, which I hadn’t been to in years. We got there near opening and really enjoyed the park. If there’s interest, I would write a guide for both water parks but I’m not sure how many people care about them.
We did most of the slides that morning, as well as floated around the lazy river. We were somewhat rushed because of our lunch reservation and I would recommend planning for about 4-5 hours at the water parks if you want to experience everything. Still, we really enjoyed Blizzard Beach and I’m looking forward to going back to both water parks throughout this year.
Lunch that day was at the revamped Disney Springs. We ate at The Boathouse which has drawn rave reviews. I’ll add my own rave review in the coming weeks but I thoroughly enjoyed it. We did sit out on the water which proved to be a bit of a mistake, as it was pretty windy. Still it was a delicious meal!
We went back to the hotel not long after lunch to get ready for the Halloween Party. How was the Halloween Party? What did we dress up as? Did we eat anything? Did anyone recognize Darin’s costume? You’ll have to read the next trip report to find out! How’s that for a teaser? (Yeah, I know… Not very good.)
Thank you for reading this post. If there’s anything you’d like to see added to the trip reports, please let us know in the comments!