Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Visiting Disney - Part III

Animal Kingdom
Tree of Life

Day two of our Disney trek was at Animal Kingdom.  Again, I was surprised at how crowded the park was.  I think this was because of what has functionally become a fall version of Spring Break, but I'm not sure.  Animal Kingdom was where I saw the most changes, and the most that I'm sorry were made.  It's always been my favorite of the parks, and it's lost something of its charm. However, some good changes have happened, and there are some really FUN things to do here!

Detail from the Tree of Life
 How can you not love Discovery Island and the Tree of Life? They have several cast members interpreting animals, which is wonderful.  They're very knowledgeable and very personable.  We loved chatting with them! There are also wonderful little paths that take off and wind around.  They're often empty, even on the busiest days, as people tend to run straight to their favorite rides or such. We even managed to get in a little smooching in some of the quiet places! Gasp!!

Kangaroo seen from one of the little trails

 After exploring Discovery Island, we crossed the bridge into Africa.  I LOVE to pretend that I'm really crossing into a small (and very crowded!) African village.

African Drummers
I love these African drummers.  They've held a special place in my heart ever since our second trip to Disney. I found one of those wonderful places to get away from the crowds and was sketching a stairway when into the courtyard they came!  I didn't realize that their "escape" was through a door right by where I was sketching.  One of them, held a pose for me for a few seconds so I could do a quick sketch of him.  How sweet!

This time, George and I were both brought into the dancing.  Fun!!  Honestly, though, I'd rather they taught me how to drum!

An Architectural Shot!
 Yep!  I had to do it!  I really love the architecture in Animal Kingdom, especially in the African and Asian areas.  I just HAD to show you this one of the "hotel" where the dancers perform.

Animal Kingdom Ride Pins
The two rides I've always loved are the Kilimanjaro Safari and the Kali River Rapids.  We didn't do Kilimanjaro for a very, very good reason!

Wild Africa Trek
Our special treat in Animal Kingdom was the Wild Africa Trek.  This is at an additional cost and you have to make reservations ahead of time, but it is SO worth it! If you don't do anything else at Animal Kingdom, do the Trek. In fact, don't do the Kilimanjaro Safari and do the Trek instead! The Trek takes you "backstage" through the Kilimanjaro route. You do have to be in good enough shape to walk over unimproved trails for a couple of hours. Lack of fear of heights is a good thing, too, which you'll understand shortly.
George suited up for the Trek
The first thing that happens, after signing release forms and all, is that you put anything that can't be tied to you in a locker.  No kidding.  This means cell phones and everything! If you want to take your camera, be sure it has some way - a wrist strap or something - of being tied to you. After putting your things away, you're fitted out in a safety harness. This will be used to be sure you don't pay any unexpected visits to certain animals.  You'll also get a water bottle to fill and keep with you, which is one of your souvenirs of the Trek. Lastly, you're fitted out with a receiver and earpiece so you can hear the guide's commentary no matter where you are.

Next you'll be taken to a small plank-and-rope bridge to try out your bridge-crossing skills. It's only about five feet above the ground, and it does sway.  You step from plank to plank, carefully avoiding the gaps between planks.  Such fun!!

After the safety briefing and instructions as to how to use the large carabiners to clip into safety lines, you go with two guides, both of whom are totally awesome. You'll start out on the Pangani Forest Trail, but you won't make it far inside.  You'll take off on a trail off to visit the hippos.

Hippo, and we're actually this close
You'll be at the top of a small cliff above the hippo pool. You clip into the safety line which allows you to get to the edge of the cliff and look down at the hippos. We had a researcher there to talk to us about the hippos.  He was as awesome as everyone else and very knowledgeable. He tossed some lettuce to the hippos, one of whom came to dine right below us.  Such fascinating creatures!

Hippo Arriving for a Snack (Not Us!)
 After spending time with the hippos, you're off on the trail again and you come to...

The Bridge!
 Okay, actually, the photos are of the second half of the bridge.  This one was taken while I was waiting my turn to cross the first half. Only two or, at most, three people are allowed on the bridge at any one time.  I don't think it's a weight consideration.  I think it's because several people will cause it to sway more, which can easily frighten the Trekkers. I discovered that it's hard to get photos from it because it does move, even when you're still.

The first bridge crosses about 20 feet over the Kilimanjaro Safari river.  The trucks are below you, but the riders can't really see you much because of the tops of the trucks.  There are "broken" planks on the bridge and it's a little dance step to go from plank to plank.  However, you're clipped into the safety line above and there's a net below just in case...

The Plank Bridge Again
The first bridge ends at a small pavilion.  One of your guides will be there to help if you freak out and to space Trekkers across the second bridge.  The second bridge runs beside the river and over the... 

Nile Crocodile
Oh yeah!  Nile Crocodiles!! We were lucky in that the crocs were out and about as active as they get (when they're not eating). Fascinating creatures they are.
After visiting the crocodiles, you hike a little further and come to the Kilimanjaro Safari road where a truck is waiting to pick you up.  You shed your safety harness (about five pounds!) and your sound system and retrieve  your camera and water bottle.  Then you load up onto the truck where there's a frosty towel awaiting you.  After the heat and all, it feels WONDERFUL!  The truck heads out to the Boma (Swahili for safe or protected place) where your snack will be served. Before  you get there, you can see all kinds of the animals visible on the Safari.  This time, though, you can stop and watch them and take photos. Here are some photos of the animals we saw.
See the Kilimanjaro truck in the back?
Probably my favorite photo!

A real elephant, not an animatronic one
At last you make it to the boma, a lovely permanent camp with bathrooms (yea!), tables, ceiling fans, and most important... Lunch!  They advertise it as a snack, but you get quite enough food for a meal, even after the walking you've done. Your nice, cold lunch comes in a two-tier pail.

Snack - Top Tier
The top tier has curried chicken salad, fresh fruit, and air-dried meats.  It's topped with a lovely, edible dendrobium orchid flower.  I put my flower in my shirt pocket and brought it home.  I put it in a glass of water and it lasted until the end of our stay.

Snack - Bottom Tier
The bottom tier has pita bread, a spicy hummus, a sushi-type roll and two spicy, yummy shrimp. The food is prepared by the Tusker House Restaurant, which is linked to the restaurants at Animal Kingdom Lodge, so you know the food is good!  Your snack is served with passionfruit / orange / guava juice, which just totally hit the spot for me!

After your snack, you load back up on the truck to visit the last animals of the day...
The Rhinos!
It's so sad how many animals are in danger of extinction by poaching.  Rhinos are valued for several things, but primarily their horns.  Animal Kingdom has re-introduced two (I think) rhinos back into the wild.  Long may they live where they belong!

Which brings me to a wonderful change in Animal Kingdom.  The first time I visited was about five years after they opened.  They were struggling at that time to be taken seriously as a zoo.  They have come so far in the decade or so since I made that first visit.  They are now a breeding zoo.  This is a major step forward for them.

Kali River Rapids
I didn't get any photos from the Kali River Rapids. This is one of my favorite rides, but for some reason, it seemed a little long in the tooth this time.  I think that was just my imagination, however, because we were so enchanted with the Wild Africa Trek, I'm not sure anything could have lived up to it.  This is one to consider not getting a FastPass. The lovely buildings that the line passes through are definitely worth seeing!  Oh, and we got turned just right during the drop and got totally soaked!  Which was just fine.  Let's hear it for quick-dry clothes from the skin out!

Expedition Everest
Expedition Everest is a new ride in the Asian section of Animal Kingdom.  We'd been looking forward to it, but both came away with mixed feelings.  This is definitely one to think about not getting a FastPass.  The approach to the rollie itself is SO worth going through.  My camera was beginning to run out of power, so I didn't get many photos.  Here's one of the "temple" area:

The Yeti "Shrine"
After going through the "shrine," you go through an outfitter's store with all kinds of wonderful things to look at.  Then you go through the "research area" for Yeti, the Monster of the Himalayas. After that, you find yourself waiting to board the train to take you up Everest.

From a rollie point of view, Everest is okay.  There's not much to see on the ride itself. It starts off like a relatively gentle train ride.  Then you climb a huge hill to see that the tracks have been pulled up and you're going to plunge down the side... except that the train stops.  Honestly, the best thing to see here is that there's apparently a place where girls take the ties out of their hair and throw them to the side of the train.  I thought about it... for about a second or two.  You stay stopped for longer than I would have thought.  Apparently, they are changing the track behind you so you don't go backwards the same way you came up.  From here for about half of the ride, you're riding backwards and mostly in the dark.  There's very little to see and you have no idea what's going to happen.  Both George and I became a little disoriented.  I think this is where he had the problem.  Strangely enough, I had it when we reversed direction and went forward again.  The ride isn't really jerky, but it's just totally uninteresting from a story point of view.  Also, this is the only time I've become a little disoriented on a rollie.  Neither of us were sick enough to want to lose our lunch, but neither of us really enjoyed the feeling. Both of us decided that we'd do the line again to see the wonderful things and then bail at the chicken spot!  (All Disney rides have one.)

Here's a little shrine on an island near the Everest ride.  You can't walk to the little island, but I love it anyway.

Maharajah Jungle Trail
I love this walking trail.  It goes through areas that look like abandoned temples and buildings in an Asian environment.  We were very close to closing time when we did this one and we fell into conversation with a very knowledgeable interpreter at the Bengal Tiger exhibit.  By this time, my poor battery was about done, so this is the only photo I got of the kitties!

And this brings me to the last changes at Animal Kingdom that I really didn't like.  When I've come here before, the background music is gentle and meditative.  Mostly, the music is now either completely gone or drowned out.  I expect the African drummers in the African section, although I swear they perform more frequently now.  I did NOT expect the Indian rock and roll DJ music blaring out from the Asian area.  It's constant - no breaks and there's a dancer performing.  She's good, but it's right in the middle of the walkway.  Argghhh!!!  It's almost impossible to get away from it.  When we've been here before, every vendor in the Asian area would greet you with "Namaste!"  That's gone now as are the wagons where you can get chai.  Oh, there's a tea vendor, but it's not the same and they will NOT serve the chai over ice.  You want iced chai, you get a frozen drink thing.  Sigh.  Not the Disney I remember.

What a full day!  Here's one last photo from Animal Kingdom.  It's the view of Everest from the bridge crossing into the African area:
Although I know it doesn't really look like Everest, it makes me want to visit the base camp of the Goddess Mother one of these fine days!

Stay tuned for the fourth (and probably last) installment of our Disney Adventure!

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