With two parks down and two to go, our Walt Disney World (WDW) vacation was halfway over. But it was far from the end and we were going to keep up the pace until we got on the flight home. Day Three was Gabriella’s pick and she chose to go to Disney’s Animal Kingdom. She is a huge animal lover and her perfect day back home is going to either the Reid Park Zoo in Tucson or the OdySea Aquarium in Scottsdale (at age three, without any pressure or influence from me, she wants to be either a veterinarian or a dolphin trainer).
Tip#1 (already?): To reiterate this tip from a previous post, this should have been a rest day. I should have booked the resort for an extra night and we should have used this day to rest and enjoy the resort amenities in the middle of our vacation. Having repeated that, time to get on with the park.
So the day started off good for the girls because they got to sleep in. After getting up early for the past three days, they got to wake up on their own, watch cartoons (Disney Junior, of course, especially after just seeing all the characters at Hollywood Studios), and eat breakfast in bed (for those keeping score at home, I definitely did not get to sleep in early, because that just does not happen anymore). Anyways, the girls appreciated it and were very well rested for their big day at the “Disney Zoo.”
And then the cold hit. Of all the days at WDW, this was the only one that did not bless us with beautiful weather. Even though wearing shorts may have not been the best idea for me, the girls were bundled up did not suffer too bad (Elaina put on her warm coat immediately after the above picture was taken). So here comes Tip #2: Regardless of the weather report or the time of year, prepare (and pack) for both hot and cold days at WDW. While we never needed the umbrella that I brought, it would have been terrible if it rained and we did not have it on hand.
Animal Kingdom Tip #3: FastPass is essential here because it will get you on at least one of the four attractions that have very long wait times, which are Avatar Flight of Passage, Expedition Everest – Legend of the Forbidden Mountain, the Kilimanjaro Safaris, and the Nav’i River Journey (each one had wait times between an hour and an hour and a half throughout the day). Since they had not seen the movie that two of the rides were based on (Avatar) and they were both well below the height requirement for the other (Expedition Everest), the choice of which one to FastPass was pretty clear for Team Calkins. And if that was not enough, I knew that this was going to be Gabriella’s favorite attraction in the entire park (it was, and by the end, it was only topped by Belle’s Enchanted Tales at the Magic Kingdom for best at WDW).
But we still had about 30 minutes to go until our FastPass window opened up, so we walked along the Gorilla Falls Exploration Trail until then. Unfortunately, it was too cold for most of the animals and they stayed indoors for most of the morning. Gabriella enjoyed the Hippopotamus exhibit, which was her favorite animal until she saw a Rhinoceros up close at our local zoo (“Daddy, it’s a Hippo with a horn!”). We only saw a glimpse of a Western Lowland Gorilla for a minute or so, but at least it was a very large silverback, which the girls appreciated. Other than that, all the animals stayed indoors to keep warm; given the cold weather, I cannot blame them at all.
So by the time we finished with the trail, our FastPass window had opened up and we hopped onto the Kilimanjaro Safaris. And I cannot say enough great things about this attraction. First, even though I had explained it to them no less than a dozen times, the girls did not realize that they were going to be in an actually safari truck. They thought that it was going to be just another slow-moving ride that happened to have animals to the left and ride of it. So they were happily surprised of this (should not have been new) development. And they also thought the animals were going to be animatronics, just like the Jungle Cruise. They were certainly happy to be mistaken. The first animals that we saw were about a dozen giant Nile Crocodiles. Elaina turns to me and asks, “Dad, are those all robots?” No, Honey, those are real. All of them. Gabriella either seemed to know better or had a more active imagination, but this seemed to perk Elaina up a little bit. The last piece that made this attraction amazing is that right above your seat there is a giant board that has a picture of every animal on the safari and their names. This made Gabby really excited at the prospect of seeing all of these animals and she kept referring back to it throughout the tour. And the girls got to see some of their favorite animals along the way: Rhinos for Gabby and Okapis for Elaina.
Since Day One, the girls have been asking me to get their faces painted. Unfortunately, so far we had been unable to find anywhere that did it (I was certain that would have Dias de los Muertos face-painting in the Mexico Pavilion at Epcot, but alas, I was wrong). As soon as we got off the Kilimanjaro Safaris, there was a face-painting stand right in front of us. And since it was at the beginning of the day and bath day for the girls, it was perfect timing.
Of course, Elaina chose to get her face painted with a unicorn on it (if it had to be an animal, was there any doubt?), while Gabriella went more traditional with a Zebra (which, for some reason, she kept calling a Giraffe all trip, even though she knows the difference). The face-painting was an absolute win, as the girls loved it and it helped to keep a Dad promise that I made two parks ago. Plus, it seemed impossible at the time, but because we were at the Animal Kingdom, their cuteness factor went up even higher.
So while the Maharajah Jungle Trek was nothing special (we saw some fruit bats and am almost certain I saw the top of an Asian Tiger’s ear), the girls did enjoy getting to hold a really nice map to view during the walk. Afterwards we went to our next FastPass destination, Finding Nemo The Musical (Note: You do not need to waste a FastPass on this attraction, but the Animal Kingdom has limited attractions that needed it aside from the aforementioned ones). While this seemed like it was going to be hit or miss, the girls absolutely loved it. And, of course, we got a popcorn refill right before we went in (by now that thing is definitely paying for itself). They sat down throughout the entire production, which was about 45 minutes, and actually wanted to come back to see it again (“Um, I know this is your vacation, but no.”). The girls loved the songs, the giant characters (Bruce and Crush were huge!), and that a lot of the dancing happened throughout the theater and not just on stage. And if that was not enough, there were moments in the show where bubbles came down from the ceiling, which they obviously enjoyed, because kids. I was shocked at how good it was and highly recommend it, especially for little ones.
After a quick lunch consisting of pizza, macaroni & cheese, yogurt, and chocolate milk, we headed on over to DinoLand U.S.A., a dinosaur-themed section of the park. While this area has two very fun rides, Primeval Whirl and DINOSAUR, the girls did not meet the height requirements for either, so I guess better luck next year. But it had two areas that the girls thoroughly enjoyed.
The Boneyard is a giant play area with rope climbs and numerous slides. They spent quite a while playing around in there, and since there is only one entrance/exit (which was manned), I could sit down, relax, and let them run amok for a while.
The other fun part about DinoLand U.S.A. is that it has a carnival area with multiple games and small rides. The girls enjoyed playing a game where they threw Wiffle balls at different colored cups, with both winning stuffed dinosaurs (because we needed more stuffed animals; the final tally acquired on the trip was nine).
As far as meeting characters, Disney’s Animal Kingdom seemed to be less populated (or less interesting) than the other parks at WDW. The girls were really happy to meet Mickey and Minnie (FastPass!), but could not find many others just walking around, and the ones that they did find did not appeal to them (I mean, there was Flik, but I did not even know A Bug’s Life was still considered canon). They did get to see Russell and Doug though during the UP! A Great Bird Adventure show, which was mildly amusing for them (the characters, not the show; they absolutely loved the show). We also did not get a chance to participate in the Wilderness Explorer activities to collect badges throughout the park, as we only found out about it as we were leaving (hey, there are bound to be a few gaps in my park research). It looked like fun, but the girls were pretty tired by the time we got on our bus.
While I have stated before that I wished we had a resort day in the middle, because we got back from Animal Kingdom relatively early, we still were able to enjoy some of the amenities of the resort. The big one that the girls wanted to do was Movies Under the Stars, which is exactly what it sounds like. I mean, it makes sense that your children would want to go all the way to Walt Disney World to watch Disney movies. Unfortunately, due to the cold weather, they brought the event indoors. But the girls liked this better, because it turned the event into Movie and Coloring, as the girls ended up coloring Disney-themed magnets while watching Aladdin. And since we still have those magnets on our refrigerator (all 15 of them), we can chalk this up as a win.
The girls and I went to bed a little early and that closed out another great day at WDW. One more day to go, and in my opinion, we saved the best for last: Magic Kingdom (well, kind of, since we had already park-hopped over there twice already). Thanks again for checking in on us and I will post our final (park) day in the near future.