Walt Disney World Vacation – Animal Kingdom

After coming off of our best day so far on our vacation, we were headed into our third day at the parks and would be visiting Animal Kingdom. It was bound to be a little bit of a drop in excitement compared to the Magic Kingdom, but none of us were prepared at how far that drop would be. But we kept our heads held high and tried to make the best out of it.

And even before Encanto hit Disney Plus, they were already in love.

One of the biggest take-aways from our last vacation was the desire for a rest day in the middle of our trip to enjoy the resort facilities, including the pool, splash pad, and maybe take in some miniature golf. Because we were visiting during the holidays (and outside of the military pricing discounts for the resort and tickets), the trip was a little more expensive than I had previously budgeted. This means that some things had to get adjusted or cut. We changed our park hopper tickets to single-park only tickets, which we would not have used anyways, and we had to cancel the rest day. It was certainly not the end of the world, but it did mean we had to carve out some time elsewhere to rest and enjoy the resort.

“Yes, Gabby, this is what old people did before the internet.”

As per my WDW daily battle rhythm, I woke up early in the morning to complete our Genie+ routine. Even though Animal Kingdom is not recommended by most for a Genie+ purchase, I was okay with spending an additional $45 to make sure my girls had a great time, as we probably were not coming back for another three years. After we got ready, the girls headed to the lobby to mail off their postcards to their mother. While I bring my own stamps, purchasing Disney postcards on Day 1 to send to family is always a great choice, especially since the girls can both write now.

Even in Pandora, the “Peace” sign seems ever-present…

On the bus ride over to the park, the girls decided that they wanted to go on Avatar Flight of Passage as their “rope drop” ride and that we would try to get both Expedition Everest and the Kilimanjaro Safaris with a Lightning Lane pass (while Expedition Everest was normally not a Lightning Lane option, we got notified the day before that the policy had changed for the day we were going, so that further supported why I purchased Genie+ for Animal Kingdom). Seemed like a good choice given the wait can get to be well over two hours long, so when the park opened, I picked them both up and then jogged about a half a mile with one on my shoulders and the other in my arms.

Four guesses on which days we went to WDW parks…

And yes, it was difficult, but that is what I signed up for in being a Dad: physical pain and exhaustion just to make your daughters happy. Although I am not a particularly heavy eater, even on vacation, I definitely had my fair share of sweets this trip. But I had absolutely no problem burning off those calories. On average, I take about 6,500 steps a day; at Walt Disney World, I was averaging around 24,000 a day. And most of that was carrying a 45 lb. niña on my shoulders. No wonder I was sore when I got back to Arizona.

We get it, Gabby, you are so tall!

The line to Avatar Flight of Passage immediately swelled and we kept following the crowd to the end. And kept following. And kept following. At one point, I actually thought we were going the wrong way, but thankfully, I did not stop going with the crowd. By the time we stopped, we were very, very far from the entrance and I was a little concerned, especially given I had more or less jogged the entire way there. Thankfully, the line started moving fast. Really fast. Apparently they had not even opened the entrance to the ride yet when we arrived, so it moved very quickly after a few minutes. After about a 25 minute wait, we were inside the building and took in the sights of Avatar.

Still waiting for the Jurassic Park / Avatar crossover film

And this was one of my self-admitted oversights that I should have planned for. About half-way through the queue, Elaina asks me “So, Dad, what movie is this ride from?” Facepalm. I completely forgot to add Avatar to our pre-WDW watchlist. Oops. I spent the next ten minutes explaining to them what the movie was about and how ride is connected to it. I showed them pictures of what a Na’vi and a Banshee looked like, and then we saw an Avatar of the former and a skull of the latter inside the building. Pretty cool queue line, but not so interactive for the girls.

The level of detail they put into this queue is just spectacular.

But once we got to the pre-ride video, things took a pretty hard fall. In the video, to instill a sense of realism into the riders, the cast member / scientist talked about us being connected with our Avatars, which was a little too real for Elaina. While I certainly tried to calm her down, half of my brain was thinking “What can I do to make her okay?” and the other half was thinking “After getting to the end of that wait, are you kidding me?” While a cast member offered to watch Elaina so that Gabriella and I could go on the ride (Gabby was too young to ride alone), it was not the right time to be away from her, so I made the decision to pick her up, hold Gabriella’s hand, and simply walk out the exit.

This is a recreation of “Sue”… and any fan of the Dresden Files knows exactly what I am thinking right now…

To say that I was frustrated would be a major understatement, but I could not be angry with her. The video scared her and I just needed to let her know that everything was going to be alright, awesome rides or wait times be damned. It was a rough choice, but it was the right choice. It did not mean I had to like it though, and I was definitely not happy about it. Since most of the park still seemed to be in line for Avatar Flight of Passage, we walked right out the exit and onto the Na’vi River Journey. Nothing like a peaceful boat ride through Pandora to calm everyone down, and it was exactly what Elaina needed. After picking up two more Disney Babies, we headed over to DinoLand U.S.A. to take in some of the rides while we waited for our Lightning Lane window to open.

Elaina is casually looking up, Gabriella does not like loud noises, and I look absolutely terrified for some reason.

While the girls ran around the Boneyard play area for about ten minutes, they wanted to go on some of the dinosaur-themed rides, but almost all of them were closed. The Virginia Reel ride, Primeval Whirl, had been dismantled and TriceraTop Spin (Dumbo the Flying Elephant, but with dinosaurs) was closed. The girls were pretty disappointed, but thankfully, DINOSAUR was open and had no line, so we quickly hopped on it. I did not remember this ride very much, but it was terrifying. It is basically the same type of ride as Indiana Jones Adventure at Disneyland, but it is extremely loud and most of the ride takes place in pitch darkness, two things that kids are not particularly fond of. So while Elaina thought it was “just okay,” Gabby was clutching my arm the whole ride, sometimes burying her face in my chest due to all the loud noises. Interesting theme, but the execution was a little too intense for children.

Always start with the ears

Since we were all traumatized from DINOSAUR and I was still a little frustrated from before, we did what any normal family would do in that situation: Go to a bakery. We all got our Mickey-shaped cookies and devoured them, giving us a much-needed boost. Unfortunately, we were let down a few minutes later when we were notified by a cast member that face-painting was closed indefinitely due to the pandemic. The girls had been looking forward to this activity for months, only to be let down. This is where I started agreeing with the girls, in that this just did not feel like WDW, or at least did not feel magical.

At least someone is having fun

And even though this was not a terrible day, by any means, it certainly brought up a question that I had been dreading since EPCOT: What happens if the girls are no longer having a good time? Previously, I did not care what I had to go through to make sure the girls were having fun. Take my money, my energy, my sanity, so long as the girls are good, but I just did not know how to cope with all of us being miserable. And there was definitely a couple hour stretch at Animal Kingdom where we were cold, hungry, and miserable and nothing was either open (food or rides) or making us happy.

Final mountain and in the first row: Jackpot!

Thankfully, our Lightning Lane for Expedition Everest came up and the dark times quickly were in the past. The girls absolutely loved it. Elaina got to sit in the front row (Gabriella could not, as she again had to sit by me) and got the thrill of the cold wind on her face for most of the ride. And this completed our tour of the four peaks of WDW. Now we just need to buy the t-shirt. Even though this was the only ride that we secured at Animal Kingdom using Genie+, the girls and I all thought it was worth it.

Who would have thought they would have steam buns and sweet potato chips on Pandora…

After that peak (no pun intended), we decided to have lunch before heading back to the resort. Elaina had been eyeing one of the desserts on the outside menu and told me that she would eat anything to get it. She chose the Chinese steam buns and destroyed them.

Gabriella ate more Mandarin oranges on this trip than I care to remember

And Gabriella surprisingly ate most of her meal. She is a very picky eater, so WDW was a little difficult to find items that she would eat, but she usually got to choose the restaurant, as Elaina and I could always find something.

Someone ate all her lunch!

Elaina ended up getting the dessert she begged for, which turned out to be chocolate mousse. And she destroyed it as well, but making sure to tell me that my cookies were better. Thank you.

Sight of the 2021 Fly-by Incident

As we were heading out of the park, we stopped by The Tree of Life to take in a bird show. And Gabriella almost got taken out by a macaw. She was on my shoulders when all the birds scattered from the rocks ahead of us. While it was all part of the show, it scared the heck out of both of us and Gabby started crying. Even though it pained me to do so, we needed to leave, and ending up leaving without a family picture by the tree.

“Just keep swimming, just keep swimming.”

By now you are probably wondering, where in the heck were Grandma and Papa this whole time? They slept in, and by the time they were almost to the park, we were done and headed back. We wanted to stay to at least see them in Animal Kingdom, but the macaw kept that goal from happening. Either way, we met back up at the resort later, so it was fine.

“Paddle faster!”

The girls and I went to the pool, where we went down the slide and swam around until the water started to get a little cold. Given this was one of the main reasons that we chose this resort, I felt we got some pretty good use out of it. After Grandma and Papa got back, we all went to Disney Springs to grab dinner. We ended up eating at Cookes of Dublin, an Irish restaurant famous for fish & chips. While the food was pretty darn good, they initially got Papa and I’s order wrong, so it felt like the day was just continuing on as it had been.

Not the best day, but both of us are still smiling

As a final send-off to our less-than-stellar day, we stopped by Sprinkles to grab a cupcake. As a cupcake enthusiast (of course it is a thing) and having been to the original in Beverly Hills, I was pretty excited to have another one. I ordered a Sprinkle Cupcake, pointing to the picture of the Sprinkle Cupcake on the menu with vanilla cake, white frosting, and rainbow nonpareils. When we got back to the room and opened our treats, they had given me a chocolate cupcake, with chocolate frosting, and chocolate jimmies. Swing and a miss, Sprinkles. We all just had to laugh about it, because it was a perfect metaphor for the entire day. But that is how it ended, with Grandma, Papa, and I laughing about how almost everything had gone wrong, yet we were still having a good time. Because that is the mentality you need to have, especially on vacation, as it can always get worse. Always. I was keeping my head high, and for once, not just for the girls. Tomorrow was Hollywood Studios and nothing was going to stop the girls and I from having a great time at Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge and Toy Story Land.

Except maybe mechanical failures, but do not tell her that

Thanks for checking in on us.

Cheers!

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