A visit to the Animal Kingdom
The whole family heads to Orlando in 2005


From the Backpack ~ Strange and Unexpected

Normally when I post something from the archives, it involves bringing back an essay or article or such that had appeared on the In My Backpack web site and was removed during one of the updates or computer issues over the years.


This entry is a bit different though… in addition to appearing on the site, it was part of the Travel Trilogy project… or, more specifically, Strange and Unexpected: Backpack on the Road – Volume One: Florida.

And that means a couple of versions exist… somewhat specific, almost definitive versions if you will… the work that was on the site, and the chapter that was edited and potentially revised from that piece and used for the book.

This material was originally posted on April 2, 2007. It was later published in April 2013. Some minor proofreading edits and adjustments may have been made while bringing the material back to the site in this posting.

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About the park…

Ok… it technically isn’t new, but it is the most recently opened of the four Disney theme parks in Orlando.

It’s also the biggest… and the smallest. By that I mean as far as sheer territory, I believe the Animal Kingdom is the biggest of all the Disney theme parks. (I’m not going to look that up… but the safari area for the animals is the primary reason. Not only am I sure I’ve read that in several places over the years, I’m also sure without looking for confirmation that it’s true.) And yet, in several visits I have found myself able to see everything I wanted to see in just a few hours.

Now don’t get me wrong… you can spend a full day here. But…

Special shows – There are some to build into the day. (For instance… Festival of the Lion King… which may be the best show featuring essentially a stage performance with a live cast that Disney has ever done for one of its parks.) However, when it comes to fireworks or shows or specials like Spectromagic or Fantasmic, there’s nothing here. I’ve been told that this is mainly because of the animals. Fair enough. In any event, it means that you can move around pretty much at your own pace without worrying about missing the it’s-only-once-a-day, do-not-miss-it event or two. This park usually has a parade, but not a list of things for the day that need to be scheduled.

Lack of rides – Yes, there are some great rides here. But not enough to keep you busy for a full day (unless the park is packed beyond belief). Expedition Everest hadn’t opened while we were there… and that will add to the park. (I also feel this way about MGM to a degree… where the idea is mainly that it’s another one-day park.) It has some great stuff, but nothing that requires several visits during the same trip.

I’m not saying this isn’t a fantastic place to visit… because it is. It has a unique feel and it is a special place to go. Instead, I want you to understand that -- unlike for example the Magic Kingdom -- if your goal is simply to see everything that is a must-do you will have no need to spend more than one day in the Animal Kingdom during your stay.

Rides that I know Tigg and I went on, because I was there…

Kilimanjaro Safaris – I like this ride. You board an oversized safari vehicle and head out to see live animals. From zebras to lions to others, every time on the ride creates a different experience.

It’s no secret… so I’ll share… the best time to go is immediately as the park opens. That advice has been passed along to me many times, with the reasoning being: (1) It’s cooler in the Florida mornings, so the animals are more active. (2) Part two of “it’s cooler in the Florida mornings” -- this time to note that the animals are less likely to be hiding from the sun (and as such out of sight). (3) The animals are more likely to be moving when they’re hungry early in the day. (4) You’ll avoid the longer lines. I don’t know how true all of these elements are, but the advice has never failed me. I have never waited more than ten minutes to get into the vehicle, and I have often seen waits of more than an hour listed on the boards before noon and after.

Pangani Forest Trail – It’s a walking trail that’s kind of nice. I like it because of the gorillas. Could spend all day looking at the gorillas.

Festival of the Lion King – It’s not a ride… it’s a show. A very, very good show. Normally I consider the live-action shows a bit of a waste… good for the very young kids… mainly designed to get people away from the rides and out of the park’s pathways and such. Not this one. This show takes a place along with must see shows such as Fantasmic. Based, obviously, on The Lion King, Simba hosts a celebration of his friends featuring special performances from acrobats and other entertainers.

It’s Tough to be a Bug – Based on the characters from A Bug’s Life, it’s a theater-style presentation that incorporates most of your senses (sight, sound, smell) in a funny presentation. The entrance to the theater winds along a wonderful walk around the park’s central feature, the Tree of Life. Worth mentioning… this one scared Naya.

Dinosaur – Ky and Dad sat this one out. Now, judging from Naya’s previous fun moments -- noted first in Epcot with Honey I Shrunk the Audience, and just a paragraph ago here with It’s Tough to be a Bug -- I wasn’t too comfortable being put in charge of Naya on this ride. Oh, it was fine as we were getting on the ride while she was all smiles, but as a returning visitor I knew something she didn’t know… that a big dinosaur was going to come charging out of the sky at us when we arrived at the end of the ride. I also knew that unlike those other moments we had shared with her, there wasn’t an easily accessible exit from a moving ride vehicle for performing a scoop and run. So, I just kept putting my hand over her eyes here and there as we moved along. And, well… umm… oops. See, we arrived at one of the last dinosaurs, and they take a picture of the car when that dinosaur comes out. I forgot about the picture. And there we are, the whole group in a lovely shot, with my hand over Naya’s eyes.

Kali River Rapids – Is there anything better than a kid and a water ride? Kids and water... it might be the strongest attraction known to man. Yup… they were all soaked. So bad that both girls had to change out of their group Disney shirts. Drenched. Absolutely hysterical.

Rides others supposedly went on according to my notes, and I want to preserve them here, but I wasn’t on them…

Primeval Whirl – Mom, Kei and Kris went on this ride. It’s one of those free-spinning-rollercoaster-but-not-really rides.

Triceratop Spin – The grandkids, Nick, John and Dad went on this one while the girls went over to Primeval Whirl. Think Dumbo from the Magic Kingdom with triceratops cars. (You know what? I have no clue where Margaret was at this point. My notes don’t say. Everyone is listed except Margaret, Terry and me. Hmm… I do know that Tigg and I were each eating an ice cream cookie sandwich and taking pictures. She must have gone with Mom, Kei and Kris. )

Places we ate at, or food we enjoyed…

Restaurantosaurus – Basically it’s an Animal Kingdom McDonald’s. Not too bad, but when we went it was incredibly crowded.

You really need to know…

Mickey’s Jammin’ Jungle Parade – We watched it twice. (Stay with me… there’s a reason.) First, the kids were having a ball shaking hands with the characters. Second, we happened to be in the right spot.

Here’s the full story: The girls hadn’t been having too much luck with parades to this point. Loved them. Wanted to see them. For some reason though, at the Magic Kingdom, they were thrilled by the parade but no one really stopped to shake hands with them. And, of course, they noticed the characters stopping near other kids. So, I spotted something on the map and made a suggestion. We were in a corner of the park where the parade starts. But unlike the Magic Kingdom or MGM… where a parade begins in one place, ends in another, and sends everything back to the start behind the scenes… this parade goes in a full circle around the park and ends where it began. So we stayed for a few minutes after it went by and, sure enough, the parade came right by us again. If the kids love parades and want to shake hands, this was one of the perfect ways to do it. Plus, we got to sit and not really move for a few minutes in the afternoon while we were waiting for it all to come back around again.

Some unexpected fun we had…

Met the big guy… Baloo… on the way out.

Stay away from…

I can’t really say much of anything at the Animal Kingdom isn’t worth it. In several visits over the years a few attractions have been added, and I’ve avoided a few things I haven’t been interested in trying or didn’t really enjoy on previous trips. But overall almost everything in this park has been fun.

To put a ribbon on it…

Check out the shops. Yes… yes… I know. Disney is one big shopping trip. But for whatever reason, I find the shopping here at the Animal Kingdom to be more unique than at other locations around the Disney property. Seeing Pooh, Tigger and Eeyore dressed for a safari is something you just don’t find in all of the parks. Normally I wouldn’t suggest this. Between Downtown Disney, shops in some of the areas, the stores in the other parks… there are several items you will see in dozens of places. But many of the more exotic and special park items just don’t seem to be in multiple places, and the majority of those really do seem to come from this park.

Long story short… if you want something like the t-shirt of Pooh mistaking a real tiger for Tigger… buy it.

If you have any comments or questions, please e-mail me at Bob@inmybackpack.com