Observations from Animal Kingdom: Sunday, December 15, 2013

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Date: December 15, 2013
Weather: High 70°F, low 45°F
Crowd Level: 3

With temperatures cooling off for a bit, I decided to head to Animal Kingdom. The park tends to get very close when it’s hot, and the cooler weather was welcome even though the sun was in and out all day. I admittedly don’t spend a lot of time in this park, as it’s my least favorite, but I wanted to see the Christmas decorations and get a feel for the changes that are happening around the park.

First things first: the Christmas Tree. Animal Kingdom’s version is outside the entrance touch points and is a pretty cool sight. I’m a big fan of the animal ornaments mixed with snowflakes.

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Look for the possibility of some congestion at the entrances and FastPass+ kiosks this week starting the 18th as Animal Kingdom tests FastPass+ for day guests. Lower crowd levels in general should keep things fairly smooth, but it is something to watch for.

Once inside, I started on a tour of the shops. The shops at Animal Kingdom all seem so big and airy, and I really like the outside theming. And, you know, Christmas decorations!

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After my son dragged me out of the shops, we stopped at the Wilderness Explorers shack to pick up a new guidebook. If you haven’t tried Wilderness Explorers yet, be sure to do so. It’s a really fun adventure for kids of all ages that helps you explore the park and make it a full day of fun. I tested the game when it first came out and had a lot of fun, even on my own. You’ll receive a fun illustrated guidebook with a series of “badges” (awesome stickers) to earn at locations all over the park. After learning the secret handshake, you’re off to learn all about different animals and the conservation effort that starts with you! We have found that each time we play, we meet different cast members who are all incredibly enthusiastic to share what they know and what’s special about Animal Kingdom. I really can’t say enough about the experience.

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Our first badge was the Flamingo badge, one of my favorites not only because of the gorgeous animals, but also because there’s some very cool information to be learned in earning your badge.

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We headed down to Camp Minnie-Mickey to check out some of the snack changes at the food vendors. On the way, we spotted some friends. The nephews have always been my favorites, with their hilarious hijinks, and there’s never a bow too big for a hiking hat, I always say.

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The Camp Minnie-Mickey area was decorated with a whole bunch of great Christmas additions, including these character trees.

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We didn’t get a chance to check out Festival of the Lion King because we were hoping to catch the parade, but if you’re going to be visiting Animal Kingdom before January 5, be sure to make time to see it; the show closes on January 5 for six months or more so that it can be moved to its new theater.

The park was relatively uncrowded until we got back to Africa, where the crowd levels picked up a bit around Kilimanjaro Safaris and the entrance to Pangani Forest Exploration Trail.

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We decided it was a good time to stop for a snack after making it through the crowd, and we picked Kusafiri Coffee’s Lion Cupcake (see menu). It was a great cupcake, but we didn’t even make it through half. It’s incredibly dense devil’s food cake with vanilla buttercream, dark chocolate shavings, and a white chocolate lion pop that would have been a snack in itself. Get a fork. You’ll need it.

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By the time we finished snacking, it was time to find a good spot for the parade. The parade route travels counter-clockwise from the first-aid station past DinoLand, Asia, and then Africa. While you might have to wait a bit for the parade to get to you, finding a spot in Africa is a great bet because there tends to be a big pileup in Asia, with not as much room marked off for viewing. If you haven’t seen Mickey’s Jingle Jungle Parade, be sure that you do. It’s an exciting mix of Festival of the Lion King and a more typical character parade. The narrower paths of Animal Kingdom and smaller crowds allow for direct character interaction, too, which makes it a neat experience.

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Once the parade had jingled by we made our way through Asia to DinoLand, U.S.A. When you have a ten-year-old boy, you try to stay away from things that look like giant arcades, and it seemed like I wasn’t the only parent who had that idea. I made it by with a, “Gosh, we have to get to dinner!” Food wins when they’re growing.

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We ate dinner at the Rainforest Cafe and had a meal that solidified my opinion that the restaurant is good for drinks and appetizers and not much else. Thanks for reading and stay tuned for more observations posts directly from Walt Disney World. Until then, keep it magical!

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Posted on December 19, 2013

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