DISNEY’S ANIMAL KINGDOM
As promised, here’s a posting on our experiences at Animal Kingdom in Orlando! If you’d like to see a general overview of our 2-day Disney World hopping experience as well as a list of the other theme parks, click here.
This Florida-unique park was a highlight for both of us, and was my husband’s favorite of the four parks. When we went in, we were quite taken by the impressive Tree of Life (home to 300 different animals carved into it!).
We got more coffee at Starbucks (every single theme park had a Starbucks, which was a sight for sleepy eyes) and ventured over to Africa. Seeing that the line for Kilimanjaro Safaris was only 10 minutes on Standby, we sprinted over and hopped on a tram. I highly recommend this ride as you get to see a variety of animals in their Harambe Wildlife Reserve—we saw antelope, cheetahs, elephants, hippos, rhinos, ostriches, zebras, giraffes, flamingos, gazelle and more!
After the safari, thunder began rumbling throughout the park, and we dashed over to “Festival of the Lion King” just in the nick of time to escape the rain. This show is a fun one for both adults and kids alike, and is filled with singing, dancing, fire and colors. This is also a great way to escape the heat and rest your feet!
After the 30-minute show, we left the indoor area to discover that the park was flooding—literally. Crowds of people shrieked and flocked out of Animal Kingdom as quickly as they could. We realized our puny sweaters couldn’t hold off the rain, and we purchased two ponchos at a stand. Umbrellas were sold out throughout the park.
Laughing through the rain and sloshing through ankle-deep water, we decided to make the most of the experience and continued exploring the park. We made our way through to Asia, found some beautiful birds and stared at tigers and Komodo dragons.
After this, we wandered through Dinoland U.S.A., Discovery Island and then (of course) Pandora – The World of Avatar. If you can, definitely see this area in both daytime and nighttime. During the daylight hours, Pandora looks like a beautiful rainforest escape. During the night, it glows purple and blue like the alien planet it’s meant to be. As the newest part of the park, it is no doubt the most breathtaking and unique.
We had a Fast Pass for Expedition Everest, but the ride got rained out, so we walked around Animal Kingdom until the storm let up enough for us to go back. If your Fast Pass is unusable during your ticketed time due to weather or mechanical issues, they will let you either go back when the ride is working again or use the Fast Pass on a comparable attraction. Once we made it we had so much fun on Expedition Everest, and I definitely think this one is worth a Fast Pass—especially as an Orlando-only ride.
After exploring, we took a free shuttle from the park to the Animal Kingdom Lodge for our 8pm dinner reservation at Jiko – The Cooking Place. This unique and delicious restaurant is entirely inspired by South African cuisine, and boasts the largest selection of South African wine outside of the country itself. Our server was from South Africa and had amazing recommendations and a pleasant demeanor. She was also very knowledgeable about the foods I could have with my gluten allergy, and even checked to make sure the whiskey in my South African Old Fashioned was corn-based without me even having to ask her! Such great service.
Undoubtedly, this was the most unique meal we had our entire time at Disney World. We started off with a charcuterie plate consisting of Smoked Rabbit Salumi, Smoked Chicken Rillettes, Duck Prosciutto, Elk Sausage and Accoutrements.
My husband got the Mrouzia-style Moroccan Lamb Tagine, and I opted for the 18-hour braised Botswana-style Seswaa Beef Short Rib. My dish was the favorite for us both.
For dessert, we selected the Kilimanjaro—a delicious but not-too-sweet compilation of Tanzanian Chocolate Mousse, Pistachio Financier, Pink Peppercorn Meringue, Cacao Nib Crunch and Ras el Hanout Pineapples. The wine here was also exceptional. The hubby got a red wine flight, and the flavors of each were so full and delicious in their own special ways.
After dinner, we headed back over to Animal Kingdom to take advantage of our Extra Magic Hours in Pandora.
Nighttime in Pandora was stunning. We headed over to the Na’vi River Journey, which had a fairly short line (15 minutes) and was a pleasant, relaxing experience. Then, we went for the main attraction: Avatar Flight of Passage. If there is any remote possibility you can get a Fast Pass for this one, DO IT. Even with our special Magic Hours which only permitted hotel guests to stay in the park late, we waited in a 2-hour long line. To be sure, though, it was worth it. Without spoiling too much, it’s a truly remarkable ride that makes you feel like you’re soaring through the sky.
By the time we finished everything and made our way back to our hotel room at Disney’s Coronado Springs, it was 2:30am. 17 hours of park-hopping and 20 hours later, we were exhausted and ready to crash for a busy next day for the next two parks: EPCOT and Hollywood Studios.