Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Animal Kingdom - Day #5 - It's NOT Just A Zoo!

On day #5, our family was scheduled to visit the Animal Kingdom.  This was a park that no one in our family had ever experienced. We had NO idea what to expect, but quite honestly we were a little worried that AK was just going to be your typical zoo. We knew how much there was to see and do in Orlando and we didn't want to waste a day exploring a just a "zoo". I have to say, I was BEYOND IMPRESSED!!!!  As was Darren. And sometimes... we are hard people to please/impress. 

At the Animal Kingdom, we were able to encounter both exotic animals and exciting adventures.  AK is one of the largest animal theme parks in the world. It's a home to more than 1,700 animals across 250 species.  Also, at Animal Kingdom, is the opportunity to explore 6 enthralling lands: the Oasis, Discovery Island, Africa, Rafiki's Planet Watch, Asia, and DinoLand.

The tree below is called the Tree Of Life! It looked so real, but it was a life-size piece of art.  A tree constructed by artists to represent all living things and the place they share in the great Circle of Life.  It stands at an impressive 145 feet tall and 50 feet wide.  
Our day started VERY early. Animal Kingdom is one of the theme parks, from our resort, that required bus transportation.  In order to make our 9:00 am breakfast reservations, we had to be at the bus stop by 7:30 am. OUCH. It is suggested that customers using bus transportation, should plan for 1.5 hours round trips (between waiting on your bus to arrive, stopping at multiple bus stops, and arriving at your final destination). It never seemed to really take that long, but from start to finish it can take very close to 1.5 hours. You also have to factor into your agenda, the time it takes to get "checked into" the park and walking time to the restaurant. If you have a 9:00 am reservation, do NOT think you can sleep in until 8:00 am. You'll NEVER make it. If you are more than 15 minutes late to your reservation, you LOOSE your spot at that restaurant. Bus transportation is NOT a punishment. FYI, Disney's bus transportation is world class: professional, on time, air conditioned, and comfortable.
Our breakfast reservation was at the "Tusker House".  This was, by far, ONE OF, my favorite breakfast eateries, if NOT MY FAVORITE.  The all-you-can-eat breakfast included traditional American fare, plus unique dishes with flavorful African influences.  As you dine, Disney Characters visit for laughs, photos and autographs. All of the characters were dressed in safari outfits. I would honestly rank this restaurant a 10 all the way around.  The service, the food, and the character dining experience was wonderful.
I LOVED that the buffet style tables also catered to the little people. This food table was right at Lilah's level and had only foods that the kids would love.  Fruit loops, eggs, and ....
...Mickey Mouse waffles. One of the kids' favorite items a Disney.
After breakfast, we headed over to our first fast pass ride, Kilimanjaro Safari Ride.  
This was certainly a "wild"life adventure.  We climbed aboard an opened-air safari vehicle and were told to hang on tight as our safari driver guided us through a tour into the African outback. Our driver was flawless. She was FUNNY and you could tell she LOVED her job.  She made the ride seem like we were in danger between the wild animals and the bumpy terrain in the road. The twins kept saying, "Is this real?" It was awesome to see a large array of animals and wildlife in their own unique habitats.  Our tour guide also gave us very interesting information about each animal and their home life. The ride was about 18 minutes long. We were all bummed when it was over.  I would rank this ride a 10 ALL THE WAY!
Some of the animals we were able to see up close and personal were...
 A Shy Hippo
He came up every few minutes for a breath.
 Swimming Elephants
Amongst MANY others...
When we got off of the Kilimangaro Safari ride, we walked through the Pangani Forest Exploration.  We walked through a "jungle forest" and embarked on a self-guided tour where we meandered along winding paths, visiting with many unique animals.  From bullfrogs to gorillas, we were in total awe of God's creatures.  I rate this tour a definite 10.  Some of the animals we saw were...
Black & White Colobus Monkey
These monkeys were very entertaining.  It was almost as if they knew they had an audience. Swimming from tree to tree or rope to rope.  
I wanted to stay and watch these guys all day. They are seriously so amazing and interesting to stare at.  Apparently, they think we are just as interesting to look at.  
 Check out his feet! They look like mine after a realllllly long stay in the bath.
This guy is like the size of almost 1.5 softballs.  
Leaving Africa and heading right into Asia, we headed towards our next fast pass ride, Kali River Rapids.
We hopped on board a 12 passenger raft and strapped ourselves in, then glided up a 90ft knoll. The kids were so excited because we had witnessed much of this ride as we walked through Asia to get to it. We saw many guests get soaked and we knew there was a strong chance we would too! The scenery on this ride was beautiful and the ride itself was just adventurous enough for our age group. We bobbed up and down, gently spinning, and slowly getting wet. Eventually, the plummet, down a 20 foot slope, is what got us very wet! I would also rank this ride a 10. I am sensing a common theme here, at Animal Kingdom...10, 10, 10.
Our final fast pass was for Expedition Everest, but we went to get on and the ride was shut down for technical difficulties.  We could have gotten a later fast pass, but we were unsure of how the rest of the day would go, so we just bi-passed it.  That was such a bummer because it looked like a very intense thrill ride. Be prepared... this happened more than once on our trip. One time, it happened after waiting an entire hour on line.  WE were NOT happy campers, but we know that Disney has our best interest at heart... safety first.

We never ate lunch. We didn't have reservations, so we just got a few snacks, offered from our deluxe meal plan. 
The only other thing we really explored this day was Dino-rama Land, but not even in it's entirety.  
Our visit, at the Animal Kingdom, felt very rushed. After being in Orlando for a few days, Lilah was passing little girls left and right, dressed up as princesses.  She really expressed an interest in doing what they got to do, so she and I made reservations at Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutique and it just so happened that the only available reservation was at 5:30 pm, in Downtown Disney. As discussed above, that meant Lilah and I had to leave Animal Kingdom at 4:00 pm, to arrive on time. We left the boys at AK and started our 1.5 hour journey to Downtown Disney. It was a special time to have with just my little girl.  I had several sweet photos of us together, but last week my cell phone's internal system crashed and I LOST every single PHOTO and VIDEO on my iPhone.. sniff, sniff, sniff.  I pray that one day my cell phone will just wake up and return my golden memories to me.  

On our way out, we spotted a Memory Makers photographer and took advantage of some of our package privileges.
I will make a separate post about Lilah's fun experience at Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutique. Finally, after reuniting with the boys, we ate at the prestigious and very upscale restaurant, on the 15th floor of our resort, called the California Grill.  
You are not even allowed on the 15th floor without VIP access. Your reservations grant you  an escort, to the restaurant, via elevator. It certainly made us feel important.  LOL! 

While waiting on our food, we could watch the chefs, in the open kitchen, or look at our gorgeous view from our table side.
 My appetizer...
 My Dinner...
 My dessert... that is NOT sugar on top, but rather salt! Interesting.  
Our bill!  YIKES. The tip alone was $50.00.  I'd have to say, this is by far the most expensive place we've ever eaten at.  We, again, are thankful for our prepaid meal plan because we walked out of there ONLY paying the $50.00 tip. To know more details about this restaurant or Animal Kingdom, be sure to read all of the captions in the photo album below. I spent a long time detailing the photos for my family (when we one day forget about this trip) and for people who are visiting AK in the future.  
After dinner, it was late.  Probably close to 9:00 pm. So, we just let the kids enjoy our resort's beach, an outdoor movie, and finally a front row seat to Magic Kingdom's firework show.  
Spotted a momma and her baby ducks during our nightly visit on the beach.
Looking back, I wish it was he and I taking a walk together.  Instead, I was resting on a lounge chair, snapping photos because I was SO FULL!!!! And I just wanted to relax.  In hindsight, a romantic walk would have been much more memorable.
This movie, which was outdoors, was a surprise.  We had no idea our resort did this for the kids.  It was a great way to calm the kids down, after beach play, even though it was about 10:45 at this point.  
The resort staff even gave the kids glow in the dark necklaces, since it was so dark out.  This was a wonderful way to end the night.
NOTHING compares to a fireworks show at Disney.  Our resort offered speakers, through our television, that actually came from the fireworks show at the magic kingdom.  So the fireworks' sounds were played through the television speaks.  Again, Disney is WORLD CLASS in the details they offer their guests. They think of EVERYTHING!
While I do NOT regret our reservation to Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutique, I do regret not having more time to spend at the Animal Kingdom, as does Darren. We have several "favorite" parks and for different reasons, but I am pretty sure Animal Kingdom was our FAVORITE park of all.  We could NOT have gone back to AK that night because as you could see, our evening was full with reservations.  However, it helped know the park closed at 7 pm, so we couldn't have gone back if our night was free of reservations. I guess the animals need a good night's rest?