Saturday, March 1, 2014

Animal Kingdom with a (Almost) Toddler

Baby O is a huge animal fan so we suspected that we might end up spending a full day at Animal Kingdom. We arrived right as the park opened (Extra Magic Hours again, thank you very much!), toured around, grabbed lunch, Husband and I took Baby O to the hotel for nap while the rest of the group explored, and then we met back up with them later in the afternoon. A note about Animal Kingdom's hours: the park often closes earlier than the other Disney parks because the animals need their rest so be sure to confirm park hours before you show up too late in the afternoon! Even if the park itself is open, some of the animal-themed rides may be shut down for the day so just plan ahead!

Can you spot the lion? Our tour guide did - he is snoozing
on top of the center rock!
The highlight of Animal Kingdom is the Kilimanjaro Safari. This is a ride in a real off-road vehicle that travels though various animal habitats. It is a bumpy ride, so hold onto any children you may bring. In fact, I think they actually asked that small children not sit on the outside of the vehicle! Because Disney tried to build habitats, rather than just a zoo, you might not get to see all the animals, but the tour guides are really great at spotting partially camouflaged animals and pointing them out. Ours was also good at speeding around the corner if she spotted something out in the open!

Not surprisingly, this is a really popular ride and will most likely warrant a Fast Pass unless you want to wait a while. Even with our Fast Passes, we stood around for a few minutes waiting for them to load and unload the vehicles. It's totally worth it though and a must see for visiting Animal Kingdom.

While we waited for our Fast Pass appointment, we checked out Rafiki's Planet Watch, which is in the back of the park. The entrance is right near the entrance to Africa where Kilimanjaro Safari is so we didn't have to venture too far which was nice. The train takes you out to a nature trail area with a path to a conservatory and petting zoo!

Baby O is a big fan of looking at animals but we learned here that he really wasn't a fan of touching them. He wasn't doing a ton of talking during our Disney trip (only 22 months), but he very clearly shrieked "no goats!" when we tried to get him to stand in the same hemisphere as a goat! Luckily a very sweet and helpful Cast Member was on hand to warm him up to the animals a bit and by the end he even managed to gently pet a few!
"Okay, maybe goats"
The petting zoo also had some pigs and larger animals which were kept in pens (only the goats and pigs were wandering around). Inside the conservatory were a few other animal as well as exhibits that would interest older kids. In the summer, it's a nice place to cool off and use the bathroom. The train ride was a big hit, although the Cast Members were a little grumpy about letting us take a picture (they didn't like that we were standing to reposition ourselves. I guess they are concerned about people falling off the train and getting eaten by the animals next door at Kilimanjaro Safari?)

We bypassed Camp Mickey and Minnie and Discovery Island and made our way to Dinoland U.S.A. Baby O immediately spotted the Triceratops Twirl and it peaked his interest. This ride is basically Dumbo but in Triceratops form. Husband and Brother-in-Law rode the Primeval Whirl (height requirement of 48 inches) and both agreed that it was painful. Apparently it was very herky jerky and the seats had no padding.

Dinoland also turned out to be a great place to meet some characters. I had made an autograph book for Baby O and had the idea that we'd take pictures of him watching the characters sign autographs and put the pictures in the book as a souvenir. Baby O kind of didn't care about the autographs but he had fun being near the characters (not too close, and certainly not by himself, but near). Well right outside the Triceratops Twirl exit, we spotted Santa Goofy and Pluto! The line weaves a bit so it can look deceivingly shorter than it actually is, but Husband and I waited while Baby O was entertained by his entourage out of the line. Then when it was close to our turn, they passed him over to us.

After meeting Santa Goofy, it was time to eat. The restaurant that I had circled and double-starred in my guidebook was Flame Tree BBQ, which is at Discovery Island. Obviously the draw here is the barbeque ribs and pulled pork sandwiches. There is additional seating if you follow the jungle paths so you can feel as if you are really eating out in the wild! Seriously every single resource I found said how great this restaurant was.

Sadly, I got outvoted and we went to my number two choice: Restaurant-a-saurus. This is not to say that Restaurant-a-saurus wasn't tasty, but it just wasn't the recommending dining option at Animal Kingdom. The appeal of Restaurant-a-saurus is the toppings bar. You order your burger or chicken sandwich and then go to a huge toppings bar to select any number of toppings: standards like lettuce and tomato to more gourmet choices like sautéed mushrooms. The kids meal came in a cute plastic bucket, which sadly did not make the cut when we were packing at the end of the trip. The inside of the restaurant has a bit of an elaborate backstory going on (something about a group of students who went off exploring), but the jokes were a bit over Baby O's head and it was a nice day outside so we sat at a picnic table outside. There is a big camper attached to the building which is also seating, but people don't realize it so you might be able to snag an indoor seat on a hot, crowded day.

Disney Dining Plan Tip: One thing to note about the Disney Dining Plan: there is no distinction between a child dining credit and an adult dining credit. Our meal plan gave each person one snack, one counter service meal (entrée, dessert, and drink), and one table service meal (at a sit down restaurant) per day. Children under 3 years old do not need a dining plan. So at Restaurant-a-saurus, we used one of our counter service meals to buy Baby O's lunch (rather than shelling out $7). Also, Brother-in-Law wanted a light lunch so he ordered a kids' meal and used one of his own counter service credits. Alternatively, if you have a 5 year old who is a big eater, order an adult meal for them, rather than something off the kids menu. Disney has no way of distinguishing who is ordering or eating which meal: they are all coded the same way.

Another dining option I had written down was Kusafiri Coffee Shop (near the Kilimanjaro Safari). The draw here is that they brew "real" gourmet coffee. On the meal plan, they take a snack credit but the portions are huge. Some of the highlights are: Elephant Ears, White Chocolate Elephant Cupcake, and Paw Print Brownies. The downsides are that there is limited seating and no shade. I included it as an option in case we were on the other side of the park and Baby O needed food immediately!

Our group did most of its Asia exploring while Baby O was napping. The grandparents took in Finding Nemo: The Musical which they thought was great. We met up with them at the Flights of Wonder bird show. If your child likes birds, this is neat to watch as the birds fly and swoop through the audience. The banter between the show "host" and a tour guide that shows up is funny and kept the adults chuckling. The line at Expedition Everest was also short enough for our group to ride a few times. After Mission: Space Orange at Epcot, I was a bit wary of thrill rides, but Brother-in-Law assured me that this one was not too wild. The best way to describe it is as comparable to Big Thunder Railroad at the Magic Kingdom, but at one point you briefly travel backwards and while in the darkness a yeti appears. I admit that I squealed at this point! The height requirement is 44 inches.

This is the day that we had our biggest issue with Disney transportation and it is worth mentioning. Husband said he'd take Baby O back for nap but then wasn't sure he could handle the stroller and all Baby O's accessories on his own. I said I'd go back with him and suggested we take the car. No, Husband thought the bus made more sense so off we went to the bus stop. We managed to just miss a bus pulling away and had to wait nearly twenty minutes for another one. Once we got on the bus, it first pulled into Blizzard Beach! Apparently due to low traffic, the Animal Kingdom bus was not a direct one back to the Art of Animation Resort! What should have been a ten minute trip turned into nearly thirty minutes! Unfortunately at that point we were back at the hotel without the car so when it was time to return, we had to go through the same rigmarole and stop at Blizzard Beach a second time. This was definitely a day I wish we had just taken the car!

We left late in the afternoon to rest up a bit before our dinner reservations that evening. Older kids might find more to do here to warrant a second trip, but our one day spent at Animal Kingdom was just enough for Baby O. We got to see some animals and he got to ride on some rides too. Next time, we're definitely eating at Flame Tree BBQ though!

1 comment:

  1. I have been enjoying all of these recaps and making notes for our visit in a few months! :)