Day 3 – Animal Kingdom / Epcot
Having never been to Animal Kingdom (the park opened in 1998), I was eager to get inside to check out what’s been billed a world-class zoo and theme park. I mean, you can’t go wrong with monkeys. I assumed there would be monkeys. Animal Kingdom “is the largest single Disney theme park in the world, covering more than 500 acres” [Wikipedia], acres I could only hope were filled with a variety of simian species.
We got inside pretty early, and the morning light added another layer of atmosphere to the already lush and pulsing-with-life environs. There were some serious, spiritual, communing-with-Earth-type vibes flowing. Pictures don’t quite do it justice, but the views of “Mt. Everest” in the distance were pretty spectacular.
The other landmark tying the different areas of the park together is the mammoth “Tree of Life” on an island in the middle of it all.
The tree, every inch laden with huge carvings of various members of the animal kingdom, repeatedly draws your attention as you’re walking down the criss-crossing paths within the park. Close up, it’s even more impressive.
Thoroughly awed by the landmarks, we still hastily made our way to the “Africa” section of the park to get a spot on the most popular attraction, the Kilimanjaro Safari. Not sure what to expect, I was thoroughly impressed by the trek through Disney’s animal preserve. This is the real deal. Aboard gas-powered safari trucks, we followed a dirt road through the savanna and got glimpses of every animal you could hope to see if you’d actually gone to Africa. Giraffe, rhino, warthog, cheetah, lion, hippo, crocodile, elephant, flamingo…the list goes on. Disney’s done a great job here, even moreso when you hear from the driver that the park is used for actual student research and conservation efforts. Kudos.
My first thought upon seeing this sign in the safari truck? EAUEUAEUAEUAEUH!!
Three people will laugh at this.
Throughout the ride, the driver shares information about the park and was able to point out every animal within sight, with so much quickness and accuracy that I have to think there’s a spotter cluing them via radio earpiece. The driver also has radio communication with “Wilson,” a local park ranger hunting poachers. Yes, poachers somehow broke into Disney World to hunt wild animals. Our truck, named “Simba-1,” remains stuck in my mind because Wilson yells it out approximately 342 times during the drive. “Simba One! Be on the lookout for poachers!” “Simba One! You should see plenty of animals up ahead!” “Simba One! I’m not feeling too well after that Kentucky Fried Chicken I just ate!” “Simba One!” “Simba One!” “Simba One!” “Simba One!” “Simba One!”
Any animals we didn’t catch on the safari tour, we did get a look at on the walking tour another area of the animal preserve, adding to the tally tigers, gorillas, bats, peacock and a whole mess of other critters too numerous to name.
If I had a complaint, it’s one you’ve undoubtedly guessed. A deplorable lack of chimps.
We later took a train ride to another section of the reserve area devoted to more kid-friendly animal interactions (e.g. goats and ponies) but of interest along the way is the “backstage” portion of the animal reserve. Reminiscent of Jurassic Park’s holding cells and electric fences, the park animals apparently retire at night to their holding cells. The elephant building looked large enough to hold a tyrannosaur (no velociraptors sighted but how long will it be before Disney starts construction on a real Jurassic Park?).
Other highlights from the day:
- An energetic African gentlemen put on quite a show for passing tourists. We passed him again hours later and he was playing a xylophone with feverish intensity, making me wonder if that level of energy is in his genes or if he’d just consumed seventeen Red Bulls.
- The Lion King stage spectacular, featuring all your favorite characters from the Disney classic, had Melanie squealing with delight (she did a lot of delightful squealing this vacation). Speaking of squealing, each of the four audience sections inside the theater were assigned an animal by the cast members, and we were fortunate enough to be tagged as giraffes. Our sole responsibility was to collectively utter the sound of our designated animal, and I can only describe a giraffe’s vocalizations as “hysterical shrieking.” Right up our alley.
- The “Dinosaur” ride features a video introduction hosted by a former “Suddenly Susan” actor who I’m relatively certain killed himself a few years back — feel the magic!
I found the egg-eating mammals to be “magic,” as only small, furry rodents can be.
- Having not learned my lesson after Splash Mountain the day prior, I forced Melanie to board the Kali River Rapids ride, proceeding to get soaked from head to toe.
As previously mentioned: chafing.
- We hit up the Expedition Everest ride twice, craving as much yeti excitement as we could handle, as you can clearly see below.
The coaster takes you through the giant Mt. Everest replica we saw off in the distance that morning, and takes its riders in and out of the mountain. There’s a portion at the top where the coaster stops before rolling backward into the mountain, and while stalled you get some breathtaking views of the other Disney parks off in the distance. Alas, no pictures were taken by yours truly, as I felt capturing a blurry shot of the Epcot golf ball wasn’t worth risking the yeti eating my camera.
Having maxed out our animalistic urges for the day, we exited Animal Kingdom and headed back to the hotel to change before once again venturing back to Epcot to consume more food & wine to get our passports stamped. We’re gonna get that completion stamp if it kills us. More or less dead on our feet by the time we got back into Epcot, we were re-energized upon learning Boyz II Men was mid-concert in the American pavilion (this “re-energization” allowed us to drink three more beers and eat another four pounds of food).
Too good to be true! We capped off the day with another round of IllumiNations before calling it a night. Day 3 and we’re already drained and in need of scooters…or maybe a wheelchair.