On the second morning, I headed out early again to snap some more photos. While out, I pondered my rankings for the Value Resorts based only on the look of the resort. (Once you take into account room quality, transportation, and food quality, Pop Century easily wins.) I quickly concluded that All Star Sports is my least favorite. It does have a lot of cool ‘fields’ between buildings, but few of these feature Disney characters, so they don’t really do it for me. The other three were all really close, with Movies having probably the coolest feature: the brooms from Fantasia looming among palms, but beyond the Fantasia stuff, Movies didn’t do a whole lot for me. The Mighty Ducks area seemed dated, and the Herbie area wasn’t much to my liking, either. By contrast, Music was really cool, as was Pop Century. Ultimately, I think I’d rank them: Music, Pop Century, Movies, and Sports.
Animal Kingdom was our first park that morning. Between the heat and our unfamiliarity with Animal Kingdom, this was something about which we were a little weary. Conversely, this was the one park that we hadn’t appreciated to its fullest, and maybe the Scavenger Hunt would give us the opportunity to see the park in a new light. With these thoughts swirling in our minds, we grabbed the Scavenger Hunt books, and began.
For EPCOT and the Magic Kingdom, we identified what land we’d need to visit to answer each question. We knew we were in serious trouble at Animal Kingdom, when there were several locations that none of us could pinpoint to a particular land in the park. We grabbed park maps to aid our effort, and continued categorizing. At that moment, we knew the DAK hunt would be daunting.
It was somehow determined, probably on the basis of the number of questions pertaining to Dinosaur, that Dinoland would be the place to start. Even these questions were more difficult than we anticipated, and we had collectively probably spent more time in this land than any of the others in AK. We spent far too long in Dinoland, and we didn’t even answer every question.
Things went downhill from there. We wandered around aimlessly while trying to solve a multi-part question that eventually led us to the Pangani Forest Exploration Trail for far too long. I was dumbfounded. I didn’t even know how to pronounce “Pangani,” let alone even begin to answer a question about the Trail. This was just the first of a long list of attractions at DAK that we had never experienced. To say we struggled, well, that would be an understatement.
To be fair, though, at one point we did hit a bit of a groove. We nailed a couple of 10 point questions in a row (pertaining to the seating area of Flame Tree BBQ, of all things, I think), which helped give us some momentum. By the end of the Hunt at DAK, we were actually on a bit of a roll. If we only had an extra hour in that park, I think we could have ‘mega-dominated’. Unfortunately, we didn’t get that extra hour. Instead, we approached the book-return table with 3 minutes left in the Hunt, and feverishly began scribbling answers into the book. The “call of the question” pertained to an attraction featuring ‘small creatures’ and the answer blank had two lines? It’s Tough To Be A Bug! Sure, why not!
As the final seconds ticked away, we turned in our book. The time-tested and venerable phrase ‘drop it like it’s hot’ actually may apply to how we returned our book, wanting to take every last second to answer questions, but not wanting to be penalized for a time overage.
Afterward, we stood in disbelief, our sweat-drenched clothes clinging to our bodies as if we had just exited Kali River Rapids. It was easily the most difficult park on the Hunt. I don’t think I have any experience I can compare that to for a meaningful frame of reference. It was like the LSAT or Bar Exam in that it was a test of wit with a nerve-wrecking time constraint. However, it was dramatically different in that it was a boatload of fun.
Yes, that’s right, I described it as a boatload of fun. After describing the challenging nature of the Hunt thus far, you might be thinking that you’re glad you didn’t participate. Well, despite the Hunt’s demanding nature, lack of attractions, running around in the scorching sun, and the likelihood that most teams would “lose,” it was some of the most fun we’ve had in the parks. If we only visited once per year, I probably wouldn’t want to do it, as it would take away valuable attraction-time for our vacation. However, as we visit more and more, it was something that was a great change of pace, and great fun. More importantly, it was illuminating.
Not often is the word “illuminating” used to describe a scavenger hunt. However, that’s just what D23’s Great Disney Scavenger Hunt was. Especially at Animal Kingdom. If you’ve read my previous reports, you probably know that we’re not exactly wild about Animal Kingdom. If you haven’t, the short and sweet of my thoughts is that Animal Kingdom is severely lacking in substantive content, and tries to obfuscate this with amazing attention to details; moreover, the content that it does have is far too dependent on content similar to a well-done zoo (which explains why the natazhu campaign occurred–and why public sentiment that necessitated the campaign was justified!).
The Hunt, especially in AK, was definitely illuminating. It showed us details we had never seen, and gave us a new appreciation for the parks. Animal Kingdom without question had the most details, and the authenticity of these details was really impressive. From text on worn posters around Tusker House to the ornate carvings of the food chain on the top of the seating areas adjacent to Flame Tree BBQ, Animal Kingdom’s attention to detail, and even the details within the details and the storylines executed across the details, is amazing. It really gave us a new appreciation of the park, and made us want to explore there more.
While I have to give kudos where kudos are due, the details don’t move AK from the bottom spot of the Walt Disney World parks. These worn posters became a punchline for the trip, with us joking that WDI’s largest department during AK’s construction was its “Worn Poster Department” staffing twice as many Imagineers as the next highest department. We joked that this department had a $100 million budget, and the Imagineers constantly demanded “more worn posters!” like Will Ferrell once demanded “more cowbell!”
These jokes may be half-truths. There are just so many details in AK that I would be shocked if someone of the cost of these details did not come at the expense of substance elsewhere. Michael Eisner is lauded (and sometimes scorned) for his focus on the minutiae of the parks and resorts (the book Disney War contends that he chose some of the lamps for the Yacht Club resort, as an example…something your average CEO would not do personally), but I would imagine this is one case where a more level-headed CEO might have put the brakes on Imagineering, and specifically the great Joe Rohde, who is known for his attention to detail, making sure that funds were appropriately allocated to actual attractions. Still, this is supposed to be me praising AK and conceding my new-found appreciation for the park, which I absolutely have. Both Sarah and I can’t wait to spend more time there, even if the attraction lineup is less than stellar.
With the AK Hunt complete, we collapsed on benches across from the D23 table, and paused for a moment, before regrouping. We discussed the questions with a couple other teams, and both said AK tore them apart. When discussing it with others over the course of the weekend, this seemed to be the general sentiment. It was relieving to know that we weren’t alone, but I wondered why it was so difficult in the first place!
Next, we debated where to eat. I was hoping we would eat somewhere in the park so I could use my infrared camera to grab some photos while everyone ordered food and after we ate, but I was outvoted. Well, I shouldn’t say I was outvoted, as I voted for the final choice, Sanaa, too. It just wasn’t my initial preference.
As a concession, Sarah agreed to let me go back into the park for 10 minutes and take photos while they went to get the car and bring it closer to pick me up. With that, I was off! I may have practically collapsed on a bench moments prior, but once a limited window for photography opened up, I was back, ready to rip and roar through the park!
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