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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