Florida - September 2011

Day 11 - Animal Kingdom

Thursday 29th September

By 8:30 this morning, pretty much everyone had stirred and we were all busy getting organised for the day. The last remaining major Disney theme park that we would knock off today would be Animal Kingdom. Although not new, this is the newest of the four main Disney theme parks here in Orlando. As with all the others, we’ve been there a few times previously and we’re expecting today to be pretty touch on our feet, for this is a theme park that requires a lot of walking around over a large area.

Both Patti and Ben joint us for Breakfast at IHOP this morning and whilst Ben went back to the house for a nap before heading off to work later today, the rest of us drove over to the park main entrance. It was literally just a few minutes drive from the IHOP on HWY 192 but I still managed to get lost. Well, that’s not technically true. What happened was that I instructed the SatNav to take us there, which it did but to the employee entrance instead of the guest entrance. Re-routing ourselves around the maze that is the Disney resort area helped to burn up 10-15 minutes of time that we otherwise would have used to enjoy the park. We made it to where we needed to be in the end and after the requisite $14 was handed over, we were able to make use of Patti’s disabled badge to park in the disabled area. I’m in two minds as to whether this was really any use. Sure, it enabled us to park in the parking lot that was closest to the front entrance but this meant that we had a longer walk to the turnstiles compared to hopping onto the tram from one of the other car parks. The tram dropped you off just a few meters from the turnstiles and so we ended up having to walk quite a bit more than had we not used the disabled parking area. Just about the only benefit we got out of it was that we didn’t have to fold the buggies to get onto and off of the tram.

Although our all access tickets got us into the park, I paid for Patti’s single-day single-park ticket. Patti being the good friend that she it, I was more than happy to do this - despite the sticker shock brought on by the $94 cost of that ticket.

The heat today was blistering and we had barely entered the park and I was already all hot and bothered. A particular bug-bear of mine is that I hate to spend lots of time leading up to participating in the first theme park attraction on any given visit. In competition with so many other arriving tourists, every minute wasted is that many more people in front of you in the queues for the attractions. It seemed that various unusual delays were going to conspire against me today in such a way as to deny me rapid access to the park. We had to stop at the ticket office to buy a single day ticket; then we had to speak with guest services to change our guest services pass to reflect that there were now five members of our group; we then stopped at the electric mobility vehicle office so that Patti could pick up an electric scooter for the day; and we finally had to stop at the restrooms for the benefit of the kids. With precious little shade around, I felt like I was being cooked all the while. All of this also burned precious time that we would otherwise have used to enjoy what the park had to offer. I’m not sure if it was the park ticket sticker shock, the seemingly endless waiting around for all the above preliminaries or simply the oppressive heat of the day (or perhaps a combination of all these things) but I was definitely in a grumpy mood and it showed. I asked Sandy what she would like to do first and she shrugged her shoulders as if to say that she didn’t care one way or another and that I should make a decision. As such, I suggested that we visit the ‘It’s tough to be a bug’ attraction, as this was dead ahead of us anyway. Her somewhat irritated reply of “What, now already?!” sent me over the edge and I stormed off in a grumpy huff, pushing Joey in his buggy somewhat irritably through the throng ahead of me in the progress with just a little bit more tempo than would otherwise have been comfortable. Well, if you don’t care what we are going to do and you’re going to leave it up to me to make a decision, don’t then throw out a sarcastic comment about what my choice was then going to be, right? Anyway, my little release of anger seemed to relieve the pent up tension, as I calmed down shortly thereafter and the remainder of the day went off without any further outbursts.

And so it was that we found ourselves in the ‘It’s tough to be a bug’ attraction beneath the tree of life as our first attraction of the day. It’s a pretty neat show that makes use of 3D animation as well as various interactions with the auditorium itself, where bugs emerge from various nooks and crannies both in the ceiling and around the outer walls. Effects such as blasts of air and water that are synchronised with the on stage visual action do wonders to bring the entire performance alive for the entire audience. We were seated at the back of the auditorium. With Patti joining us today in her electric mobility scooter, we would enjoy priority entrance to all the places we visited today. We enjoyed the performance no less for being seated at the back that would otherwise have been the case. As has been the case with some of the other 3D performances that we’ve been exposed to at the various them parks since we got here, it was just a little overwhelming for Joey at a few points throughout the performance and so we had to devote at least some of our attention to ensuring that his need for assurance was adequately met throughout the show.

After the our first attraction of the day was over and done with and, once again, we had photographed the truly magnificent Tree of Life and all the carved animals from which it is comprised from just about every angle that we could, we meandered around outside enjoying the various stalls, shops and play things, as we simply slowly soaked up the atmosphere of the place. There was a performance artist with long stilts attached to each limb and dressed to look like several vines of a tree had been covered with climbing plants and this ‘thing’ moved about slowly and gracefully - stopping from time to time to simply ‘blend in’ with the surrounding foliage. It was quite captivating and Jennifer in particular seemed quite taken by it.

The heat of the day was not letting up and we did what we could to keep out of the direct sunlight wherever possible. A very welcome break from the searing heat was a trip around the Africa section of the park, where we enjoyed the safari ride through the African bush and savannah. Everyone enjoyed this and Jennifer was thrilled to see that the baby elephant was ‘saved’ from the nasty poachers. A pre-recorded ‘radio dialog’ between the safari truck driver and an ‘airborne park ranger’ portrayed the notion that we were driving the poachers into the path of the ranger’s men on the ground, by which we were saving the baby elephant from who knows what dastardly deed. When we turned the corner to reveal the ranger’s truck with the baby elephant safely recovered from the poachers, Jennifer was very pleased. She later recounted this memory as her favourite of the day.

Following the 10 minute or so safari side, we wandered through an animal trail, where we enjoyed spotted birds and visiting all manner of animals. This section of the park, like some others, is essentially a zoo but with Disney having ‘themed’ the whole experience. Disney do a good job at this and you can forgive yourself for not realising that you’re actually visiting a zoo for the most part. The next ‘zoo’ experience was the gorilla enclosure. Unlike many other zoos, Animal Kingdom does a fairly good job of not simply putting animals in cages - for the most part - and this is one of the reasons I tolerate visiting this park. Zoos for the most part are places that I don’t enjoy visiting. I’d much sooner see the animals in their natural habitat - which, in point of fact, we’ve already done in most cases anyway.

Out of Africa (no pun intended), there was a bird show about to begin so we plopped ourselves down on one of the empty bleachers to enjoy the show. Although I enjoyed seeing the various birds that they paraded in front of us, I thought the actual show itself was kind of lame. I did, however, get to be chosen to be one of two people pulled out of the crown to bring their cameras up to the front of the stage, where got the opportunity to take a snap of an owl flying towards us from the back of the amphitheatre. The narrator of the show suggested that we pull focus on a specific spot, a couple of meters ahead of us, so as to capture the shot just as the bird flew into that field of view. In the event, I hit the shutter just a fraction of a second too late. Although I captured the magnificent creature in full view flying towards me, it was out of focus.

At this point, we were starting to have to worry about what remaining sections of the park we’d still be able to squeeze in before closing time ad so we decided that Sandy would take the kids over to the Dino USA section of the park, where the kids would be allowed to roam free in the play area there. Patti and me were off to the river raft ride, where we absolutely enjoyed getting thoroughly wet. Patti remained in that area a little longer doing a bit of shopping whilst I headed over to the huger mountain attraction, where I had great fun on the Yetti roller-coaster ride. This is somewhat unique in that it starts in the forward direction, then hurtles you backwards for a section before reversing direction again to send you rushing forwards. There are some nice drops and turns and it’s a pretty decent ride for what it is.

Had it not been for me still feeling a bit hot and bothered in my wet T-shirt, I would have kept it on a little longer to allow it to dry in the baking sun but it was bothering me so I changed it with a fresh one that I’d brought with me for just such an eventuality. I joined Sandy at the play area, where the kids did seem to be having lots of fun together. It was their slightly red faces that made me realise that we had all forgotten to put on sunscreen today. Fortunately, I’m quite fastidious when it comes to ensuring that everyone has a hat on and so none of us got really burned that badly. It was nearly time for the daily parade to begin and we needed to be over by Camp Mickey & Minnie ready for the last showing of the Festival of the Lion King show before the parade got under way. Otherwise, we might not have made it over there in time owing to the fact that you can’t move about so freely once the parade has started.

A slight annoyance when it comes to the parade is how strict the staff are about ensuring that nobody steps one tow over the marled lines on either side of the parade route. I was getting quite annoyed with one particular staff member who seemed a bit too eager to enforce this rule - especially with the kids all trying to get a better view. It is, after all, for the benefit of the kids for the most part that the parade takes place to begin with so you’d think they’d be just a little more relaxed about the whole thing. The parade itself was pretty good in the end. It wasn’t overly long and several of the characters came over to give Joey a high-five and so that was nice.

With the parade over with, we made our way over to the Camp Mickey & Minnie indoor performance arena, where we thoroughly enjoyed the interactive song, dance and acrobat performances. The show lasted probably around half an hour and both Joey & Jennifer, along with many other children, were invited up to join in for the final finale to follow the performers around the stage with music shakers. The show is quite uplifting and it was a fitting end to our day at the park.

With the park closure now bearing down upon us, there was just one last opportunity for some shopping (we naturally added a few more soft toys to our growing collection) and a couple of nice photo opportunities too.

having returned the electric scooter, we made our way back to the car and we were again homeward bound. Dinner tonight was of the KFC take-home variety but that was OK, as it afforded the kids and me the chance to take a dip in the pool before the bed-time routine kicked into gear.

Just as we were getting out of the pool, we were witness to a spectacular cumulus cloud formation within which we could see bolts of lightning lighting up the clouds from within. It was really quite spectacular.

Patti is still here, still taking a little cat-nap, before heading back to Palm Coast. Whether she ends up leaving tonight or tomorrow morning remains anyone's guess at this point.

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