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Last week I mentioned that I’d just finished my family vacation, and I talked about the family dinners we had on that trip. This time around I thought that I’d talk about what it’s like touring as an older family ranging from their 30s to late 70s without any kids. My family has never been very big or extremely close knit, and we tend to handle each other best in small doses – especially on vacations where we have a get in, maximize the trip, and get out as quickly as possible mentality. It’s not that we don’t love each other, or that we don’t get along, but rather that when you take a group of highly opinionated folk, like my family, and stick them in a room together for any period of time… well… you’ll see fireworks the likes of which you’ve never seen at Disney and I’ll leave it at that.
Each year my parents like to plan to travel with my wife, Cheryl, and I to Walt Disney World during the month of October. I think this is in large part because they are attracted to the Epcot International Food & Wine Festival and all that it has to offer them. They are older, and the highest impact rides they’ll get on are the Kilimanjaro Safari and Maelstrom. So there is a lot of value to them in walking around and spending several hours eating & drinking whatever they like around the World Showcase Lagoon. Their favorite park is Animal Kingdom, again because there’s plenty to see and do just walking around.
My brother, Craig, who tries to join us each year, is quite opposite (in more ways than one). All he wants to do is either be moving or riding or eating. If he could have no downtime in the parks he would be perfectly happy and content. When we stop he’s the first one to say to me, “can we just leave them here and go ride something?” – “them” being my parents. To him stopping is for eating or sleeping. His favorite rides are Everest and the Tower of Terror – the latter of which I’ve seen him bend down on one knee and propose to after riding. Like many, Animal Kingdom is the park he’s spent the least amount of time in and he’s been looking for a chance to explore it more.
We decided to head to Animal Kingdom on our first day. We felt that with an abbreviated day it made the most sense and would make for a good start to the trip. I had a plan mapped out roughly in my head, but knowing full well how these things tend to work with my family it was a loose and flexible plan – one could be adjusted quickly as needed. The basic idea was to make sure my brother got to do some things he’d missed on his last trip, and to all go see Festival of the Lion King together as a family.
We’d arrived a little later then planned, and just missed a showing of Lion King so it was already time for the first adjustment. Cheryl called it and we headed to Dinoland. Usually I prefer to tackle Animal Kingdom clockwise, but backing up seemed best – my parents wanted to wait a bit before going on the Safari. This worked well for my brother who has a strange attraction to Phylicia Rashad that keeps him coming back to Dinosaur, and he’d never before ridden Primeval Whirl. In the end, he wasn’t real thrilled with it as he bruised his arm – even though coasters are his favorite, I don’t think he’ll be rushing back to it.
After meeting up with my parents who skipped out of both rides to go shopping, we back tracked to have lunch at Flame Tree Barbecue. I had the Smoked Turkey Breast Sandwich as I was craving some protein, but didn’t want to go the BBQ route. As I mentioned last week my stepdad was excited to get himself a free birthday cupcake here. While this is a popular stop for eating in DAK, usually I don’t stop here because I find that being stalked by the avian population is not a fun way to spend my meal.
Trying move my family along never works when they’re eating, so we missed another showing of Lion King. Adjusting yet again we moved on to the Kilimanjaro Safari, and I was very happy to get some dance time in as we passed the music group outside of the Dawa Bar and Tusker House. This trip through the Harambe Wildlife Reserve is among my most favorite ever. We got to see a ton of animals (okay maybe several tons) as almost everything was out and moving about – even the Cheetahs. I was especially excited to get a nice, long look at the new Addax that were recently added. They are a gorgeous species with their white summer coats and long twisted antlers.
From there it was time to hire a Sherpa and head up to the top of Everest. Leaving my parents at the Dawa Bar, Craig, Cheryl and I headed over to Asia. At my brother’s request, he and I waited to ride in the front row – in prior rides he had ridden in the middle and the back row. The Yeti was in his usual immobile state, but it was fun none-the-less, and Craig had a blast. To me, it’s probably the highest impact ride in WDW due to the backward motion – Tower of Terror, Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster, Mission Space, and the Mountains play out as much tamer rides by comparison. On the big climb to the top through the Yeti Temple, people often miss the view. If you look to the left you can see the other three parks. This is one of my favorite views in all of Walt Disney World.
After Everest, we picked up my parents and finally headed over to the Festival of the Lion King. Even though I’ve seen this show dozens of times before, I still took 150+ shots with my iPhone during it, plus some videos of the Tumble Monkeys and the Fire Dancer. The action and movement is almost non-stop – you can tell it’s designed to keep the audience’s attention, but also to have enough going on that there’s good reason to come back and see it again. Because I was still celebrating my birthday I got called up by Kiume to introduce my section and demonstrate my elephant trumpet. I asked him if I could try on his gauntlets, but he declined. It’s a completely beautiful and mesmerizing show – in fact, I feel that second only to the Safari this is the must see attraction in Animal Kingdom.
For our final stop we walked through the Tree of Life admiring the carvings – I always find it fun to rediscover them each time I visit. If it were up to me the tree would be the Eighth Wonder of the Modern World. It’s one of the most remarkably Imagineered objects in any Disney theme park. The effort and detail of the design is something that has always fascinated me. Where else can you see an Ankylosaur hanging with a Pelican.
The trail through the Tree of Life ends at It’s Tough to be a Bug. For this 3D movie you wear “goggles” that make you honorary bug. This allows for the show’s host Flik to take you into the world of bugs and show you a few of his friends. It’s a very entertaining to look at things from the perspective of a bug, and the personification of the bugs is fantastic. My favorite is Chili the tarantula who is voiced by Cheech Marin. His purported ability to never miss combined with his constantly missing his target, and the comedic timing of the character makes me love this show every time I see it. Like most who have seen the show before, I know enough to lean forward at the end.
At this point we finished up our time in Animal Kingdom with some shopping, and then we headed out of the park to check in at our resort. Overall, I like that Animal Kingdom really does a great job with keeping a diverse group like my family occupied and happy at all times. My brother got in his favorite attraction in the park, and got to try out 3 attractions that he’d never done before. My parents got their Safari and show. And Cheryl and I got to enjoy all or most of it (she doesn’t ride Everest). It was a really great day.
What about you? What’s traveling with your family like? What are your and their favorite rides and attractions? Do you like what Animal Kingdom has to offer you? Your family? What do you like best about Animal Kingdom? Worst? I’ll see you at the Mandir Pagoda.