Monday, February 18, 2013

Animal Kingdom: More than meets the eye

The first thing that you'll notice as you enter Disney's Animal Kingdom is the Tree of Life in the middle of the park. You cannot miss this enormous, beautiful centerpiece of the park, which upon further inspection is found to be carved with hundreds of animals. It is truly a sight to behold, and not only sets the stage for your experience at Animal Kingdom, it lends itself as a clue that there's a lot to miss in this park, if you aren't looking.

Disney's Animal Kingdom is the largest of the four theme parks, with six main areas to explore.

Camp Minnie-Mickey is set up like a wilderness camp where you can meet many of your favorite Disney friends including the Fab Five (Mickey, Minnie, Donald, Goofy and Pluto), Pocahontas, and more characters who appear on a rotating basis. This is also home to The Festival of The Lion King musical, which is arguably the most spectacular show in Animal Kingdom. It's worth making the time to see at least once.

Discovery Island is in the middle of the park and home to the Tree of Life, which houses the 3D show It's Tough To Be A Bug. Very fun and interactive, but can be frightening to small children (or anyone with an insect-phobia). Ian is our brave little guy, but his response after the show (which includes a few sprays and pokes during the performance) was, "Mommy, I didn't like that. Please can I not do it again?" So, be forewarned, if you have anyone in your party that might not appreciate the performance.

Africa houses the Kilimanjaro Safari ride, which takes you for a safari truck ride through the landscape where you can spot many species of African animals. Each ride is different, due to the migration of the animals, and early morning rides often are best for viewing the most animals before the heat of the day kicks in.

You can take a train ride out to Rafiki's Planet Watch and Conservation Station. This is the on-site veterinarian clinic for all of the animals within the park and there are a lot of fun activities to encourage conservation and education about various species of animals. There's also a great petting zoo area where our kids thoroughly enjoyed brushing the goats.

Asia is home to two of the more thrilling rides in Animal Kingdom. Kali River Rapids is an exciting water ride with unexpected twists, turns and sprays of water. Great for the afternoon or early evening when you need a quick cool-down! Expedition Everest is a fast-track roller coaster that takes you on a journey through the Himalayan Mountains in search of the elusive Yeti. You'll run into broken tracks, break-neck speeds, and racing backward through the dark mountains until you do find the Yeti--or rather the Yeti finds you! If you like thrill rides and roller coasters, this is one not to miss! Expedition Everest also offers a single rider queue, if only one member of your party wishes to ride. When lines for this ride can easily extend between 1-2 hours, the single rider queue is rarely longer than a 10 minute wait.

DinoLand USA is one of our kids' favorite areas of not only Animal Kingdom, but all of Walt Disney World. It's themed like a carnival at the time of the extinction of the dinosaurs. There's the Triceratops Spin (much like the Dumbo the Flying Elephant ride at Magic Kingdom), which is great for all ages and especially fun for the little ones that have to sit out on several of the bigger rides within the park. Primeval Whirl is a combination of a roller coaster and the spinning teacups ride. Our 7-year-old loved it, but it's not for anyone prone to motion sickness! The Boneyard is fun if you have preschool or elementary-age kids that need to climb and burn off some steam. It's a large play area with many paths that twist and turn through the playscape, so be aware of this before you send a preschooler climbing up to a slide without someone by their side. It was a bit too much for our 2-year-old, but the older three kids enjoyed it. Finally, Dinosaur is a great simulated experience of going back in time to capture  the last dinosaur before the extinction. Again, this is something to know your kids with. We knew that Lydia would not appreciate the ride, so we didn't encourage her to ride. Caroline was not a fan either, but this was hands-down Ian's favorite ride in the park!

Throughout the park are many trails and paths to discover unique animals, plant-life, and simply explore. Don't miss the rabbit trails that will take you somewhere beautiful, new and unexpected. The theming in Disney's Animal Kingdom is second to none, and if you do nothing more than take in the details of the park, you will have an amazing experience.

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