Friday, August 11, 2017

Disney World: Rating the Rides - part 1, Animal Kingdom

My husband had a conference just outside of Disney World in Orlando this summer, so naturally our family decided to take advantage of his travel and add on a family vacation at Disney prior to the actual conference. We got a 6-day pass, so our plan was to spend one day in each park, then let the kids decide which parks they wanted to revisit. Before I pass along our review and commentary on the rides in Animal Kingdom, our first park, let me give you a bit of background on our family members:

Dad: Athletic, fast walker, not bothered by heat or rain, not a big fan of spinning rides or roller coasters but willing to ride on them. Loves water rides and rides that tell a story. Prefers to plan out each park visit in relative detail. Designated navigator.

Mom: Likes to take things a bit slower and play it by ear as to what everyone is in the mood for. Doesn't mind rain but not a fan of severe heat. Likes roller coasters and fast rides, but also loves slower "sit and watch" rides. Designated backpack packer and carrier.

Buddy: Son, age 7-1/2. Likes mild roller coasters but not a fan of dark or scary rides (although usually game to give things a shot). Pretty high-energy but hates rain, despite being a big fan of water rides. Not a fan of extremely loud rides or shows, but fascinated by most live performances. Tall enough to go on all rides.

Peanut: Daughter, age 6. Fearless, willing to go on anything once (but occasionally not twice). Rarely scared by rides but loves pretending to be scared. Loves meeting characters, especially princesses, enjoys live shows and parades. High energy but a tendency to melt when hungry. Tall enough to go on all except a few rides.

And now, on to the review of Animal Kingdom!! Rides and attractions are in alphabetical order.
You can find a map of the park here.

The Boneyard: This play area for ages 10 and under looks like an archaeological dig complete with dinosaur skeletons. There are also climbing structures, tunnels, and several covered slides. Large fans keep the area relatively cool, and parents are welcome to perch on the various levels. A good spot to go when the kids need to run around and burn off some energy while Mom and Dad sit for a bit.

Dino-Rama: Basically a carnival midway for little ones, the games at the Dino-Rama are among the few adventures in the park that cost extra. However, there are a few fun freebies such as a funhouse mirror and an old-fashioned car cutout to have your picture taken in that are worth a wander past.

Dinosaur (must be 40" tall): Riders climb aboard a futuristic Jeep and pass through a time portal into pre-history. Animatronic dinosaurs roar and move toward the riders; noise and darkness can be a bit intense for little ones, but braver souls should find it an exciting adventure. Buddy was a little freaked out but Peanut thought it was great fun. It was probably Dad's favorite ride in the park.

Expedition Everest (must be 44" tall): One of the more rugged roller coasters at Disney, this ride takes you on a wild trip through the Himalayas, only to arrive at a stretch of broken tracks which causes the car to reverse, spotting the shadow of an angry Yeti in the process. Great for roller coaster fans, with several high hills and not too many curves, but fairly dark. Buddy was just on the verge of not enjoying it, mostly due to going backwards in the dark. Peanut and Mom both found it to be great fun despite much screaming during the actual ride. It was one of the most intense rides we rode - but in a very good way. It's well worth getting a Fast Pass for if you're a coaster fan.

Festival of the Lion King (stage show): If you love the movie "Lion King," or if you enjoy musical theatre, dance, or acrobatics, you'll love this spectacular production. Combining live vocalists, dancers, gymnasts (trampolines! trapezes! rings!), and even a fire baton twirler, all in elaborately detailed costumes, with larger-than-life animatronic animals, this full-scale production is a feast for all the senses! There's no bad seat in the house, but the auditorium fills up quickly so arrive a little early to be sure you get in.

Finding Nemo, The Musical (stage show): This visually stunning production features live actors manipulating giant, brilliantly designed puppets (think the Lion King stage musical) and a number of characters flying on harnesses. The plot is a complete but shortened version of the movie, so don't miss it if your kids are fans. Even if you're not a theatre fan, you can't help but be impressed by the puppetry and theatre magic. I highly recommend adding this to your schedule.

Gorilla Falls Exploration Trail: This walk offers amazing closeup views of Animal Kingdom's troop of gorillas, as well as hippos, meerkats, zebras, and many kinds of tropical birds. At our visit, there were several juvenile gorillas who romped adorably with each other and with the adults. The advantage to this trail is that you can loiter as long as you like at the viewing areas, or zip through quickly, adjusting to your own family's preferences and current energy level. The trail had quite a few shady sections, but there were a number of sunny spots that were brutally hot, and not a lot of places to sit, so plan accordingly.

Kilimanjaro Safaris: This is by far my personal favorite ride in Animal Kingdom, as it provides a relaxing overview of many of the live African animals in the park. Hop into a large safari truck driven by a narrator who provides both factual information ("a group of zebras is called a dazzle") and funny commentary. Early morning and dusk are the best times to see animals while they're active. Animals you can expect to see include black rhinos, white rhinos, crocodiles, zebras, hippos, giraffes, water buffalo, Thomson's gazelles, okapi, flamingos, wildebeest, African wild dogs, lions, cheetahs, and more. I highly recommend taking this ride at least once during your day at Animal Kingdom - in the morning to set the tone for the day, and later in the day as a long sit-down ride that lets everyone relax and catch their breath. Definitely worth getting a Fast Fass for.

Pangani Forest Exploration Trail: Similar to the gorilla trail, this trail lets you wander at your own pace while looking for exotic birds, fish, and hippos, including from an underwater viewing area.

TriceraTop Spin: Basically the same ride as the Flying Dumbos at Magic Kingdom, this ride sits two riders in each dinosaur car, and it spins around and allows the riders to control how the car rises and falls. A really easy low-key ride and a sure hit with the littlest adventurers, but not too annoying for the bigger ones. But avoid if your kids are all over the age of about 8 or 9.

Other rides and attractions worth checking out:

Avatar Flight of Passage and Na'vi River Journey: Since no-one in our family has seen the movie Avatar, and since it was sure to be hugely crowded, we skipped the Pandora section of the park. If you really want to catch these rides, be sure to grab a Fast Pass early on, or try heading straight to these rides when the park opens or - even better - first thing during a Magic Hour day when the park opens an hour early for those staying at Disney resorts. Otherwise you're looking at a 2-3 hour wait time.

Flights of Wonder (live animal demonstration): Get a closer look at a number of wild bird species and see what they can do. Curious kids will enjoy seeing these magnificent (and often funny) winged creatures. We missed seeing this show this time, and I genuinely did miss seeing it.

It's Tough to Be a Bug! (stage show) - We didn't see this show this year, but have gone in the past. Based on the Pixar film "It's a Bug's Life," this 3D show immerses the audience in the adventure, even squirting you with water and releasing a gentle stink when a stink bug sprays. It can be a bit intense for really little ones, but most likely enjoyable for the whole family.

Wildlife Express Train: Trains leave every few minutes and travel on a loop between Rafiki's Planet Watch and the Africa section of the park. Use it to travel from one side to the other or stay on for a relaxing loop.

In general, this is a park you'll love if you love zoos. If you're looking for a series of exciting, energetic rides, this probably won't be your favorite. If you're visiting multiple parks, this is a good one to fit in between some more exciting days, as it's much more low-key than some others. There are lots of places to wander along and look at live animals, so plan on walking a lot but at a relaxing pace. Since there are fewer air-conditioned rides and shows than some of the other parks, be sure to pack water or stop frequently at the water fountains throughout the parks, and I highly recommend bringing (or buying at the park) a spray fan.

Have fun!

If you're planning a Disney vacation, let Stacey Trask make your life easier!

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