Disney World February 2012 Trip Report Part 3

As we left the Studios, we debated whether we should walk back to Boardwalk first to grab our coats, or if we should just go to Disney’s Animal Kingdom straight-away and come back before heading to the Magic Kingdom for the evening to grab our coats. As we walked past the Animal Kingdom bus stop, I noticed a pretty large crowd gathered. I suggested that we wait there for five minutes to see if a bus would show up, and if one did not show up during that time, we’d walk back to Boardwalk. This worked out wonderfully, as a bus showed up about 2 minutes after we did.

Our reason for going to Animal Kingdom that day was because the park was open until 8 pm, a rarity, and I had very few good nighttime photos of the park. For that matter, I had very few good daytime photos of the park. We also had been meaning to visit Disney’s Animal Kingdom since the previous May when we uncovered a lot of details we had never noticed during the D23 Destination D Scavenger Hunt. Due to other purposes for our trips in October (40th anniversary and Food & Wine Festival), December (Reunion and D23 Magic & Merriment), and New Year’s (NYE festivities at the parks offering them), we had yet to fulfill this intention.

We arrived at 2 pm. This meant we had more time to explore the park than we had ever spent there consecutively. Usually we arrived first thing in the morning and were gone by noon or 1 pm. Mostly by coincidence, the weather had been overcast or rainy for all of our previous visits, making it difficult to take good photos (at least in my style). However, this day was beautiful, and I immediately started going wild with the camera while Sarah went to get Kilimanjaro Safari FastPasses.

I wandered all around the Tree of Life taking photos, trying to find interesting vantage points along the somewhat hidden wildlife trails in the area. I used my neutral density filter and a couple other lenses and managed to capture several shots with which I was pleased.

We actually wandered around and did this for nearly an hour, and we had a lot of fun exploring the park and taking photos. While I was otherwise occupied scouting out the details around Kali River Rapids, Sarah saw two monkeys either being a little overly friendly or having some sort of bizarre “more than friends” encounter. She took a lot of photos of the exchange, and even after reviewing the photos, I’m not quite sure what was going on. I will say that I imagine that Disney will likely end up with additional monkeys if they keep those two monkeys together!

After a bit more wandering, it was time to use our Kilimanjaro Safaris FastPasses. The Safari can be hit or miss, but our previous time on it, at sunset with D23 in December, was an absolute hit. In fact, I have so many good (still waiting-to-be-edited) photos from that Safari that I set my camera down for this Safari. Sarah snapped some photos and I did take a few shots once I noticed that the lions were out.

Towards the end of the attraction, our driver was commenting on a baby rhino. That rhino’s ears must have been burning, because the little guy (relatively speaking, of course, as I think he weighed like 57 times as much as me) decided he’d come get in front of the Safari vehicle and pose for photos. The driver tried several things to get him to move, and then began radioing his base. Apparently it’s a big issue for animals to obstruct the vehicle path. This makes sense, as it probably backs up the attraction queue, but none of us on the vehicle minded. We were all quite amused. The rhino finally moved, our safari saved the elephant, and was then “cut short.”

Our visit to Kilimanjaro Safari was only a few days after Disney announced that it was removing the Little Red storyline from the Safari to add more zebras. Normally, I would scoff at the notion that Animal Kingdom is removing Audio Animatronics in favor of more real animals (the balance is already skewed too heavily in favor of the real thing), but in this case, I applaud the decision. Since the more violent elements of this storyline were removed, it feels like a contrived after-thought. Actually, the storyline has always been a bit anti-climactic, as you see all of these beautiful real animals and then are presented with a garden-variety AA. Disney’s Animal Kingdom does need more Audio Animatronic based attractions, but mixing them into an attraction featuring such beautiful real animals has never seemed like the best course of action.

After Kilimanjaro Safari, we did something that we had never done: Rafiki’s Planet Watch! When we boarded the Wildlife Express, there was a very ditzy couple next to us in line. In listening to their very loud conversation as they waited, I knew they’d be disappointed by the train. They were expecting some sort of Big Thunder Mountain-esque ride. I could have butted in and informed them that this wasn’t the nature of the attraction, but if you just randomly line up for attractions without knowing what they are (or reading a park map to find out), you deserve to end up in the middle of nowhere at a petting zoo and nature center.

When we arrived at Planet Watch, they were a bit taken aback. They asked a few people what had happened, and finally discovered that there would be no thrills on this ride. They stayed on the train and headed back to the station. That’s the last we ever saw of them, although I would hazard a guess that they later were confused when they visited Epcot and discovered that Spaceship Earth had absolutely nothing to do with golfing.

Sarah was enamored with the petting zoo at Rafiki’s Planet Watch, although she was a bit saddened to see three pot-belly pigs that were out of their cage and clearly were not too thrilled about the attention they were receiving from little kids. They were trying their darnedest to get back into their pen, and when a Cast Member finally opened the gate to let them in, they darted back inside. I am hardly “anti-zoo,” as I think good zoos can be great centers for teaching youth about the importance of conservation and wildlife, but I really don’t like to see things like this. My perception of Animal Kingdom is that it’s normally a great environment for animals and that the Cast Members there are truly dedicated to the park’s message, but clearly these little guys were not happy with guest interaction.


We wandered around inside Planet Watch for a while, examining the various exhibits and talking to Cast Members about spiders and other things. They were all very knowledgeable, which was great. I wish we would have showed up earlier in the day when demonstrations were taking place, as I think that really would have made the place interesting. Unless we visit for one of those demonstrations, I think this is a “one and done” for us until we have kids. We’re from the Midwest, so petting goats and pigs really doesn’t impress us, and the inside is sort of a dead-zone at the later hour when we visited.

For dinner, we decided to do Yak & Yeti counter service. We were going to eat in the actual restaurant, which we’ve never done, but the prices scared us away. It’s not that they were terrible, but we already had plans to dine at Bistro de Paris and Hollywood Brown Derby that trip, and doing another moderate to expensive table service meal was out of the budget.

Instead, we ate at the Yak & Yeti Counter Service. The food wasn’t exactly reasonably priced here, either, and I would have much rather eaten at Flame Tree BBQ, but we really needed to expand our horizons in Animal Kingdom. Sarah ordered the Beef Lo Mein and I ordered the Asian Chicken Sandwich. I was disappointed to find my sandwich wrapped up deli style with a bag of Sun Chips as a side. I harp on presentation at Counter Service restaurants, and maybe others don’t see why, but this is a big deal to me.

At Sunshine Seasons, my sandwich would have been served on a plate with real sides, instead of “real world” chips. It also would’ve been cheaper than the $9.99 price here. The sandwich itself was actually pretty good, but I wouldn’t eat there again with the much more unique experience of Flame Tree BBQ in the same park. Sarah’s Beef Lo Mein was over-salted, but the portion was fairly large. For $10.99 and no side, it should be pretty large! Overall, we were very underwhelmed by this location. Not everyone agrees with our assessment, so YMMV.

When we finished eating, it was decision time. Would we catch Finding Nemo: the Musical, or photograph the sunset. With the sunset occurring 1-minute before the start time of Finding Nemo: the Musical, it’d be incredibly difficult to do both. Of course, us being us, we tried to do both anyway, taking photos throughout Asia just as the sun was starting to set before booking it to the Theater in the Wild about 3 minutes before Nemo was set to begin.

As we entered, Cast Members were herding everyone to the left, where the seating was almost entirely filled in. We would have been seated near the back had we gone this direction. Beginning with the party behind us, guests were instructed to go to the right. We asked if we could go to the right, too, and the Cast Members let us. There were some people on this side, and the first 20 or so rows looked full. Thanks to my hawk-like vision, I noticed a few open spots in the second row. We walked down there and filled those spots. I was shocked at how good this location was. Only the small row (sometimes used for parties accompanying wheelchairs) was in front of us (not in use) and once the show started, I moved down to this row as it was apparent that no parties who might need it would be using it.

The view from here was AWESOME. Much like World of Color being best experienced from the front row, Finding Nemo: the Musical is best experienced from the front row. I don’t have enough superlatives to describe the show from there. I’ll let the photos do the talking.

After Finding Nemo: the Musical, it was off to Dinosaur. This area is notoriously dark, which would normally put a damper on nighttime photography. After all, what’s the point if there isn’t cool illumination on the subject? Then I noticed the beautiful stars and decided that I could use the darkness to my advantage. So I set up for a minute-plus long exposure and captured some star trails. I thought it was fitting given the nature of the attraction.

This was our first time experiencing Dinosaur since Indiana Jones Adventure. While they are starkly different despite using the same ride system, and I still enjoy Dinosaur, it’s disappointing to see how much better the ride system was utilized (and earlier!) at Disneyland. Dinosaur is a fun attraction, but it doesn’t hold a candle to Indiana Jones Adventure quality-wise.

It was drawing ever-closer to 8 pm, so I headed over to Expedition Everest to set up for some shots. After taking a few photos, I noticed that Everest only had a 10 minute wait, and also had a single rider’s line open. Sarah wanted to warm up in the shop anyway (mind you, we didn’t have coats and it was chilly, even by Midwest standards!) so I did the ride once myself as a single-rider. It was a walk-on. Instead of going into the shop, Sarah documented the details of the queue. It’s such an awesome queue.



I was floored by how awesome Everest is at night. I informed Sarah that it was the best attraction I had ever experienced at night (I forgot about TTA when I said this—so it’s actually the second-best), and implored her to give it a try. She didn’t want to get sick, so she didn’t, but encouraged me to ride again. I did, and this time took a few photos along the way. Cool nighttime experiences like this make me more excited for Avatar Land, which will likely extend the park’s normal operating hours.

The park was going to close soon, so we rushed around and captured some more photos before calling it a day at Disney’s Animal Kingdom. With the exception of Asia, it didn’t seem like there was a lot in the way of interesting nighttime photo subjects. My theory is that this is because the walkways are really wide (making it hard to get more than one building in the frame without a lot of dead space) and the buildings are all mostly short (again, leading to a lot of dead space). I could also be entirely wrong, and just not familiar-enough with the park to know the best nighttime photo spots. In any case, we plan on going back here at night the next time we are able. It was wildly fun (lame pun intended).

From there, it was off to BoardWalk to get coats for Magic Kingdom!

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21 Responses to “Disney World February 2012 Trip Report Part 3”

  1. Laura B. says:

    The first time I ever rode Everest was at night. We went back to AK the next morning to experience it in the morning. I have to say night time was fantastic!!

  2. Rachel says:

    I love that nighttime “end of the track” photo! I’ve always wanted to take pictures on Expedition Everest (or any moving ride for that matter) but I don’t trust myself to hold on to my little point and shoot!

  3. C-J. says:

    Glad you enjoyed the Park at night! We loved Expedition Everest much more at night since you can’t see all the structural parts of the ride within the mountain when it’s dark.

  4. C-J. says:

    Glad you enjoyed the Park at night! We loved Expedition Everest much more at night since you can’t see all the structural parts of the ride inside the mountain when it’s dark.

  5. Melissa says:

    Outstanding photos! I’ve never seen Animal Kingdom at night but I hope I get the chance one of these visits.

  6. Steph says:

    I have never been on Everest because I can only take mild roller coasters, but seeing your pics of the queue make me want to try everest. And the night pics look great!

    I understand peopl ehave a difference of opinion and I’ve never eaten at the Yak and Yeti quick serve (or maybe I did…but it wasn’t that memorable). I do have to say though, that I don’t recall the prices being too expensive and I’ve had multiple great meals in the actual restaurant. Just saying. :)

  7. Melanie says:

    I agree that Yak and Yeti quick service isn’t all that great. I’ve had it once, and while I thought the food tasted ok, it was definitely not worth the price you pay for it. I can get almost 3 meals out of $9.95 entree that comes with an egg roll and soup at a really good local Thai restaurant. This is also why I think the sit down Yak and Yeti is not worth it either. I don’t think they have anything out of the ordinary or extra special that makes it worth paying double or triple what you would at a regular good Asian restaurant. Flame Tree is the best! LOVE their fruit plate! We usually split the chicken plate and the fruit plate between 3 people and think it’s plenty of food.

  8. Don Livingston says:

    I need to shoot some pics of the Everest Queue. It’s my favorite of all the parks. I’m usually a fan of Disney Counter service but Yak & Yeti is just downright bad. In fact, I would say that Yak & Yeti and Pizzafari are the two worst counter service spots in the resort. Thank Goodness for Flame Tree!

  9. Susan says:

    Can I just say again, i recently stumbled upon your blog and I am beyond obsessed. I love love love your NEMO pictures. It is my favorite thing to do at AK but I have never gotten up that close!! Keep up the good work.

  10. Kelly says:

    I swear I recognize the faces of the Nemo cast. We’ve only ever watched from the 2nd level above the walkway. I never dreamed being that close could be so good. Enjoyed the perspective!

    The lighting at AK at night is very sparse in some areas which could also add to the expanses of dead space for you. On one hand the lack of lighting seems like it could be problematic (I’ve witnessed parents who lost their children in those dark, crowded walkways) but on the other hand, if there were a lot more light it would detract from the overall ambiance. You’re in the Animal Kingdom. When it’s dark in the wild it’s just dark. Right?

    Enjoying the ride, Tom. I find myself reading less & less WDW reports these days. Time is short and I’m more interested in reading other things. Your perspective continues to pull me in and lend a far-from-typical look at the World.

    I can’t wait to see what you do with a Disney Cruise adventure!

  11. David says:

    I know this is a family-friendly site, but I couldn’t help noticing in the photo of Sarah hugging Rafiki that he looks a little too pleased to see her!

  12. sami says:

    oh my goodness! these photos are AMAZING!!! It’s like being there! Great Great Great work guys!

  13. Lisa says:

    Gorgeous pictures as always!!! Love reading your blog.
    Wishing I was in WDW !!!

  14. Jeff Lynch says:

    Tom –

    I have never been to AK because I never thought I would enjoy it. I have to honestly tell you that YOUR PICTURES and this trip report have convinced me to go to AK the next time I go to WDW. You really made it seem like a place I would enjoy exploring the way you and Sarah did. THANK YOU for finally making AK click for me and making me feel interested in spending a day there. Prior to reading your trip report, I always just thought it was a zoo experience and here in Chicago we have two great zoos so I never understood the appeal. I hope someone at Disney knows that your excellent reports are convincing people to go to parks they never would have otherwise if not for the adventures of you and Sarah!

  15. Marie says:

    I worked at Rafiki’s Planet Watch during my college program and thought I would give you some advice on how to really take advantage of your time there! It is one of WDW best kept secrets. While working there I got to narrate the surgery of a baby gorilla to hundreds of people. The baby had broken her arm and a pediatric team from celebration came in and surgically put a plate inside her arm to fix it. I saw hundreds of daily check ups and other surgeries. There are about three each day from nine to noon! A cast member is there to answer questions, give information, and explain more on Disney’s commitment to conservation. Every hour on the hour they have an animal keeper bring out an animal for a live demonstration and frequently pettings are allowed. They also actively raise money for Disney’s world wild conservation fund. For only $1 you receive a pin, the best part is that Disney even matches your donation! Those rainforest booths tucked behind Rafiki are also special. The audio booths play sounds actually recorded in the rainforest and it is narrated by grandmother willow. Its inspiring. There are dozens of hidden mickeys hidden in the beautifully painted animal portraits. Around noon you can hope to be the lucky couple, or family, taken behind the scenes of the research center. The people giving those tours actually work for Disney on very important research projects. Ask a cast member around 11:30 if a group has been chosen, it might be your lucky day and they will let it be you! You would receive a pin not sold in stores and a certificate. To ease your pain on the petting zoo, those workers love those animals. When a goat sees their personal trainer they will run to them with so much excitement. They are VERY well loved and taken care of. There is an old sheep there who is blind. He is given lots of love, follows trainers by their voice, and is kept with his family and friends rather alone in the barn. Every employee inside the conservation station is filled with stories and information actively helping move forward Walt’s passion of conservation.Take the first train out at 9am. wait by the vet window for their schedule and choose a procedure to watch. Ask the cast member any questions that come to mind. Go to the desk in the middle of the room and find out what theme Disney is educating guests on that month, from backyard habitats to birds of prey, they are knowledgeable! Also, Disney holds many events at Rafiiki’s. Go on earth day, or cotton top tamarin day, for extra fun. It is a very unique place, and for someone with clear respect for walt and all things Disney, I encourage you to spend a long morning there, and then maybe after experiencing all it has to offer, your review will encourage more people to go see it!

    • Tom Bricker says:

      Wow, thanks for the thorough response and all the information. Next time, we’ll have to make sure to get there early!!! Thanks!

  16. Liz says:


    Hope you never tire of hearing how much we all come to love and appreciate not only the trip reports but the absolutely stunning photography. I am fairly new to your blog, but do so enjoy reading.

    Quick question that peaked my curiosity here. My husband and I do not go on any thrill rides for we both get extremely motion sick, but I know we are missing out on much of the disney magic. When you mentioned in this post that Sarah photographed the queue, it got me thinking, could we go through the queue and not ride the ride, kind of like a baby swap for adults? My sons ride and we usually just wait for them in the gift shops, but if we could at least see the queue that may be interesting for us. Which brings me to my next question, which queues in your opinion should we try to do this?

    And I promise one last question, since we don’t do the thrill rides, with the old fast pass system, we would just get 4 tickets and then my sons could either ride twice in a row, or we would use them for another ride. With the new system of FP+ can we still do this especially with the limits in DS and Epcot on the thrill rides. I have reserved FP+ for the boys on one ride and for myself and my husband on another later in the day, I was just going to give them our wrist bands to ride, will we be able to?


    • Tom Bricker says:

      Yes! You absolutely can just go through the queues. As for which ones, hmmm…let me think about that and do an article on it!

      No, you cannot do what you used to do with the new FastPass+ system–at least not to my knowledge.

      • Liz Faulkner says:

        I just check on the Disney Mom’s site and it does look like I can give my magic bands to my sons to use the fastpass+ on it. I will try next month when we are at Disney and report back

        Thanks again Tom for all of the great information and beautiful pictures, I do so enjoying reading about your trips, you have even peaked my interest in visiting the other parks, I have always been a die hard WDW visitor.


  17. Devin says:

    Ok, I have to ask about the pic from Rafiki’s Planet Watch. “Feces with the Species?” Am I missing something?

    PS: I looooove your site. I would consider myself a knowledgeable Disney veteran when it comes to many WDW trip related subjects but you guys knock it out of the park. You have been so much help in planning our upcoming December trip!

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