This is only my third day at the Disney parks and I’m exhausted. I’ve read on multiple Disney fan forums that the average World visitor clocks about 10-15 walking miles per day — and I expect I’ve done much more, trying to appraise every attraction (and eatery). When I arrived at Animal Kingdom this morning, the parking attendant waved me into row 33 of the Dinosaur lot. “Well that’s easy enough to remember,” I said to myself, “since 33 is also my age.” Unfortunately, I was subjected to the mnemonic “Dinosaur 33! Dinosaur 33!” for the entire tram ride over to the main entrance. Which just made my already achy bones feel bullied and old.
Animal Kingdom is phenomenal. What impressed me most was just how close you can get to the animals on the Kilimanjaro Safaris (a must-do) without a glass partition. In fact, I’m impressed by just how close you can get to anything at Disney World without a glass partition.
(I still can’t believe I sat three rows away from Billy Ocean at Epcot’s American Gardens Theater.)
Since I’m traveling by myself, I’ve been afforded many opportunities to observe patrons without seeming intrusive. There’s the good and the bad and the downright strange (a father explaining in earnest to his middle school age child that “you’re not really traveling between countries in World Showcase, the real countries are much bigger”). All of this watching has reaffirmed my consultant’s belief in one cardinal rule: that some park activities must be sacrificed for the sake of sanity. When being at Disney World stops being fun, then it’s time to reevaluate your approach. Today at Flights of Wonder, I overheard a mother turn to her wheelchair-bound son and say, “After this bird thing, we’ll hit the Rapids, then Finding Nemo, and then we can go home and cross this off our list.” When you start to resent your touring plan and guidebook, you’re cranky and more prone to heat exhaustion. You might begin hallucinating. I was desperate to make it back to Expedition Everest and ride it before the next Lion King show but also cut across the park and get a Kilimanjaro Fastpass — breathe! — when I saw this Kids’ Discovery Club sign and thought it was for Starbucks:
Like, I was going crazy, people. I just stood aside and stared for awhile and wondered why Starbucks had replaced their mermaid with two child naturalists. When I finally came to, disappointed that I couldn’t get a Venti latte, I realized how hard I’d been pushing myself to conquer the parks.
Take the time to stop and smell the topiary. Appreciate a mountain view for more than a few minutes.
Animal Kingdom, like Epcot, has an educational bent. But so many families zip through trying to see and do everything, that enriching particulars get lost. I can’t tell you how many parents misidentify animals or urge their kids to “hurry up, they’re just gorillas.” The conservation theme is certainly not subtle at Animal Kingdom, but I think there’s something to be said for ignoring a Fastpass appointment in favor of learning more about the tamarin monkey and deforestation (especially since Disney can make any environmental factoid more palatable).
Now onto hits and misses:
Flights of Wonder, a 30-minute outdoor stadium show that showcases a ton of bird species, might be my favorite Disney attraction. The birds themselves are entertaining, but equally so the script (funny and appealing to adults without devolving into an series of bad puns, like The Jungle Cruise). During the pre-show, the audience gets to interact with Bao the owl. Today her trainer asked us if we knew why she was named Bao and I answered “For Scott?” but no, apparently Bao stands for Big Awesome Owl.
(It’s really hard to photoshop the redeye out of owls.)
If you catch the show within the next 40 years, chances are you’ll meet Groucho the singing parrot (he’s expected to live into his sixties). Groucho is exceedingly skilled at mimicry, with a repertoire of seven songs. He appeared to love performing…
just like this other guy I know!
Sorry, enough with the Billy Ocean. I was just so. close. to him.
Maharaja Jungle Trek is another must in my book. It’s a self-paced nature walk through the wilds of Asia. You’ll be treated to the biggest bats of your life and swimming Bengali Tigers. I caught this particular tiger moving on tape right as the little boy beside me had pronounced the lazy animal simply dead, and if you listen closely, you can hear him saying “Maybe he’s not really dead!”
Tip: if you’d like some quiet exploration time, go on the Maharaja Jungle Trek or the Pangani Forest Exploration Trail during Mickey’s Jammin’ Jungle Parade.
At some point in a future blog post, I’ll address age-appropriateness for Disney rides. For now, let me just say that Dinosaur in Dinoland scared the pants off of me. This motion-simulator dark ride transports you back to the Cretaceous Period, right when an asteroid destroyed most of life on Earth. Even though you’re on a noble mission to rescue an Iguanodon dinosaur from extinction, lines like “They’re not going to make it!” and a overhead lunging meat-eater at the end made me wonder how a little kid of a sensitive and bookish nature (read: me at seven) would hold up on this one.
Finally: those who have known me for even a short amount of time are aware of my intense fear of snakes. Why only a few weeks ago, I refused an invitation to a backwoods cabin to see Jupiter at its brightest in 47 years because my friend let slip the phrase “copperhead boots.” So it was no small feat that I even mustered up enough courage to look into the blood python tank at Animal Kingdom. I left the park proud of having kinda sorta confronted an irrational childhood anxiety (no, Rebecca, baby garter snakes can’t hatch in your bedsheets!) and headed towards Epcot, pumped for an evening of coconut shrimp stew and Billy Ocean.
Imagine my surprise when I encountered this at my Epcot turnstile:
Let this be a lesson that no amount of planning, or worrying, or perhaps even scrapbooking, can provide total control over your vacation. After I stepped on its tail in the dark and screamed, a Disney cast member very kindly stood by the snake as a kind of makeshift containment. She then warned off others by indicating the snake with a two-finger point.
Stay tuned for a full report on Hollywood Studios, where I’ll be auditioning for American Idol and trying not to trip
on a baby gorilla.