Wednesday, June 18, 2014

A Day at Animal Kingdom

It was the 9-year-old’s first visit to Disney’s Animal Kingdom and my second. The reason we were going was because I needed a break from reality for a bit. We had all been going strong for a while and stress was weighing our shoulders down. We needed a time out from life and, like my mom always did when she felt that way, we hopped in the van and headed to Disney.

Well, it wasn’t exactly a spur of the moment event. We had been planning it for a month as if I knew when our breaking point was going to hit. Char had already put in for our Fast Passes and the little one was almost as excited as I was. Of course, no one is ever as excited as I am when we go to Disney.

We were warned that it was going to rain, but it’s Florida; we are always warned about rain on a daily basis. We just don’t allow it to stop us. The morning, however, was nice and we took our time wandering from animal environment to animal environment, absorbing each new and fascinating creature. I would say animal pen, but these are not the typical cages you might find in low end zoos. Disney does an awesome job of creating believable and comfortable habitats for their charges.

After snapping pictures by the Tree of Life, we ventured underneath the giant manmade tree with all of its carvings of animals to the attraction, It’s Tough to be a Bug. This is a 3D attraction with puppets and Audio Animatronics with Flik from A Bug’s Life hosting to tell us all about the importance of bugs in our world. Confronted with spiders falling from the ceiling and butterflies floating in front of our faces, we were hit with “acid” as one bug defended itself, quills shot from another and an “aroma” from another that rivaled my son’s gym bag. We even had the feeling of bugs rushing over our feet as they left the building. It was a great experience. Perhaps a little frightening at some points for very young children––and Teri––but well worth waiting in line for the rest of us.

Once we were back out under the overcast sky, it was time for lunch. I had spotted a barbecue place on our last visit, The Flame Tree Barbecue. I’m not sure why the choice of name. You would think trees in the wild kingdom would want to avoid flames, but still, the food was delicious. It also had more seating than any other Disney restaurant I had seen to date. It covered as much space as an entire attraction.

The sky was still a murky gray by the time we finished eating, but still no rain. It was time to move on to our next attraction, The Kali River Rapids. It was a water ride where twelve people climb inside the giant, round inner tube raft and prepare to drift down river, spinning and dodging spray jets and waterfalls. We went quickly through the line and were seated and strapped in place, eagerly awaiting our jaunt down the manmade river. Just as we pulled away from the wooden platform, thunder rumbled and the sky opened up with the coldest rain I had felt in a long time with the biggest drops.

We were stuck. Trapped and already in motion. We were drenched and we hadn’t touched five feet.

And we were laughing. What else could we do? The people on the raft were laughing as well and we screamed as the cold rain soaked us through and through. The girls and the 9-year-old were the ones hit by the sudden wave that crashed upon our raft at the end, but what did it matter at that point? You can only get so wet and we were already as wet as we could get.

As we neared the platform to depart, the rain creased. We could only laugh harder.

Once we were off the ride, we headed to the restrooms to wipe the excess water from our bodies. We weren’t the only ones. People had their shirts off and were running them back and forth under the hair dryers. One of Disney’s cast members was in the hallway that led to the restroom doing his best to get a handle on the excess water with his mop. It was an attempt in futility. I dried my face and arms as best as I could and went back out to wait on the girls.

From there we were going to walk the Maharajah Jungle Trek, so that the 9-year-old could see some tigers and giant bats, but the cast member at the attraction entrance said that the trail was closed. “There is severe lightening in the area and all open attractions are closed until it passes.”

My first thought was that Animal Kingdom was one giant open attraction. Were they closing it? The restaurants all had open seating. Did they stop taking food orders? Were the animals taken indoors? Did they even know they were an attraction and now in danger?

I didn’t ask any of these questions, of course. We just headed for the next attraction on our Fast Pass and hoped to find something to keep us occupied until it was time for our turn on the Kilimanjaro Safari. We took our time, enjoying the sights, and by the time we neared the other attraction that was safe to ride because the trucks had tires that grounded us. I’m not sure if that protected us if lightening comes through the windows or not. I failed Science.

It didn’t matter, because the storm passed by the time we arrived anyway. We still had time to kill, so we walked the Pangani Forest Exploration Trail. We enjoyed female gorillas, exotic birds, and hippos, the latter pooping in his water habitat and feeding the fish. Ah, the joys of nature.

From there we hopped on the safari ride. The 9-year-old had wide eyes of wonder as we drove by elephants and giraffes, rhinoceroses and zebras. I admit, I was wide-eyed, as well. These weren’t animals in cages or behind fences. These creatures roamed freely and we were able to see them up close and personal.

Our final Fast Pass was Finding Nemo, the Musical and we had an hour to kill, so I decided to explore some. There was quite a bit of Animal Kingdom we had failed to see last time the girls and I were there. Just to the edge of the Africa section of the park was one such area, so we ventured down a side path. A cast member, sitting in a booth, said we were just in time for the Lion King Show and there was still time.

“How long is it?” I knew we still had to get across the park to Finding Nemo and I wanted to get there early, because we wanted to get the 9-year-old close to the stage.

“Thirty minutes,” he answered. Plenty of time. The lights went out just as we entered and we had to feel our way along the benches, so we didn’t crack our knees. The show began as more people were ushered in and behind us sat a very talkative kid and an all-too-quiet mother. The kid was too loud and too rambunctious for a show and it wasn’t until Teri and I both turned and shot the kid and his mother a look that had them dead and buried that she finally got her kid under control. If you have not taught your child how to behave in movies, theaters, or public in general, you need to do it now before someone else forces you to do it.

The show itself was amazing. Giant puppets, gymnasts, great vocalists and Timon running around trying to lead the show. The monkeys (gymnasts) were the best part of the show with their stunts on the trampoline and bars. Their strength and agility captured the eye and would not let go. The vocalists also were equally talented as they sang songs from the movie. I would definitely sit through it again. And again.

From there, still cold and damp from the earlier shower, we grabbed some coffee, hot chocolate, and ice cream as we made our way to Finding Nemo, the Musical. We were the first in line as I wanted it and managed to get the 9-year-old right up against the runway part of the stage. Nemo’s dad even bent down and asked her if she knew where Nemo was. It made her day and happens to be the part of the entire trip that she shares the most.

If you’ve never seen Finding Nemo, the Musical, I highly recommend it. A fantastic cast of talented performers and singers who handle giant puppets as they tell the tale of Nemo and his father. It’s only forty minutes long, but it truly grips you and takes you on a delightful journey. Even the sharks made the kids laugh.

From there it was on to Expedition Everest, Animal Kingdom’s roller coaster. Well, Teri and Sarah went. Char and I felt it our duty to stay behind and watch over the 9-year-old. We couldn’t exactly just allow her to wander the park alone, right? Teri and Sarah disappeared into the tunnel and the three of us went to watch that screaming plunge they were going to take. Soon, we saw them click-clacking their way ever higher into the sky. Sarah saw us and waved. We waved goodbye, as well. A few seconds later we saw them screaming their lungs out as they plummeted down the mountain and around a sharp turn. We laughed at their terrified faces and determined we had made the right decision staying behind. They, however, came out beaming with pride that they did it. I don’t blame them.

Even with the rain and the drenched clothing, we had a blast. You would have thought we would have been miserable, and we could very well have been. However, when you’re with the right people, even a bad experience can be a great time. That’s why I love going everywhere with these three ladies. They make even a downpour a beautiful day.

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