This weekend I went over to Animal Kingdom to test FastPass+ and to check out the former site of Camp Minnie-Mickey. I thought you guys would like to come with me! Saturday was very cold by Florida standards! The high was only 57 degrees, so I was thankful afternoon FastPass+ slots were available for Kilimanjaro Safaris. I secured our 3:40 – 4:40 time slot. Since all FastPass+ reservations come in trios, I was also assigned FastPass+ to meet Mickey and to see Finding Nemo – The Musical. Upon arriving at 2:30pm I discovered parking attendants weren’t even directing cars where to park! This suggested that crowds would be manageable. Here is what it looked like walking in:
Disney’s Animal Kingdom began exclusive use of FastPass+ on earlier this month. At that time, we updated of our Disney’s Animal Kingdom touring plans to use only FastPass+. Each plan now lists the suggested Fastpass+ start times for the attractions that will save you the most time in line, like this:
Suggested start times for FastPass+ reservations:
Kali River Rapids = 10 AM DINOSAUR = 1 PM Kilimanjaro Safaris = 4 PM
The updated plans are very efficient – the average wait in line should be under 7 minutes per step during summer for our standard 1-day Unofficial Guide Touring Plan - with more than an hour of free time available in the afternoon.
When we updated the plans, we kept track of how many times each attraction was identified as needing FastPass+. As we did for the Magic Kingdom’s FastPass+ priorities, here’s the Animal Kingdom’s chart:
Based on how much this blog has covered the ongoing FastPass+ rollout at Walt Disney World over the past year or two, you might assume every member of the Touring Plans team already has enough MagicBands to decorate their Christmas tree (I’m looking at you, Morgan Crutchfield). But since I haven’t stayed in a Walt Disney World on-site hotel since before the MyMagic+ program began, I’ve been excluded…until now. As we reported, Animal Kingdom went FastPass+-only late last year, followed by the Magic Kingdom on Tuesday, January 14, and the rest of the parks will remove their paper legacy FASTPASS machines shortly. Now that the FastPass+ service has been opened to all guests, this acknowledged sceptic took the plunge with my first Annual Passholder FastPass+ experience.
To be precise, my first FastPass+ adventure was an incomplete attempt that was unfair to judge the service by. Earlier in January, I tried using the service on one of the first days it was offered to off-site guests by visiting the kiosks outside Disney Outfitters on Discovery Island.
There was no wait, and a friendly cast member assisted me in using the touchscreen computer to enter my information and select three attractions.
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.
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!
I’m here to give a little love to one of the least frequented parts of all of Walt Disney World: Affection Section at Rafiki’s Planet Watch in Disney’s Animal Kingdom. The Affection Section is my personal oasis of calm in what can sometimes be the chaos of a Disney vacation.
Inter-species bonding at Affection Section
Rafiki’s Planet Watch is accessed only via train from a station located near the exit to the Kilimanjaro Safaris ride. The train ride, itself, is a pleasant five minute journey into the far reaches of the Animal Kingdom. On the way, you pass many of the animal keeping buildings where the four-legged residents of the park spend their evenings. You can often get a glimpse of a rhino or elephant taking a break from being “on stage.”
After the train ride, you disembark at a walking path which takes you past several small primate exhibits. Oooh and ahhh at the tamarins for a while, then continue walking to the main Conservation Station building. Inside you’ll find character greetings, instructional displays, and sometimes animal medical care taking place. Much of this is fascinating, but I find myself being drawn out the back door to where the really good stuff is: Affection Section.
Travelling to Walt Disney World from the United Kingdom requires a mammoth 8-9 hour flight, which means many, including myself, chose to spend at least 14 nights in Orlando to make the long trip worth it.
The question is should visitors, both international and domestic, follow a touring plan when on such a long trip or is it better to take a more relaxed approach to visiting the many attractions at WDW?
The first thing to consider would be what you want to get out of your vacation. Are you totally focused on Walt Disney World or do you want to visit some of the other attractions in the area such as Universal Orlando, Sea World and Busch Gardens?
Many guests coming from international destinations like to get the most out of their vacation, which means they chose to visit all of the eight major theme parks listed. Eight parks in 14 days is no easy feat, meaning it’s probably best to follow a touring plan, ensuring your time efficient on your trip.
What about if you want to focus on just visiting Walt Disney World in that time? Is it really necessary to follow a strict plan when you have so much time at your disposal?
Following a plan gives you more time to relax around the pool or at the hotel
Even when visitors to WDW give themselves upward of 14 days to make their way around the parks it’s still best to follow a touring plan.
Touring plans aren’t just good for fitting a lot into a small space of time, they also ensure that guests wait in line for as small amount of time as possible. It may seem more relaxing to spend your extra days not following a plan, but it means you may spend a lot of that time in line rather than enjoying yourself.
When I go to Walt Disney World I’m usually with people 18 and over, which means the adult 1-day touring plans for each of the four parks are ideal, or if we don’t want to see everything we’ll use the selective touring plans, which focus on the best attractions in the park and leave out the slightly less popular attractions.
My group may follow these plans for our first visits to each of the four parks then if we want to go back we’ll at least stick loosely to the plan in order to ensure that we avoid the long lines and big crowds.
Following a plan on a trip also offers other advantages. If you’ve covered all four parks with a plan then want to go back again you know what attractions are quiet at what times and when to go in order to avoid big lines.
Following a plan on my long vacations has allowed me to see so many other attractions in the Central Florida area I never would have done if I hadn’t had covered the parks so efficiently. It also allowed me to use my extra time relaxing by the pool or back at the hotel rather than stuck in lines.
Regardless of how long your vacation is it’s still beneficial to follow a touring plan for your visits to the parks and I know it’s something I’ll be doing on all of my upcoming trips.
Michael Owen is a blogger and UK resident who blogs regularly over at Theme Park Daily!
To me, dining at a restaurant with a beautiful view makes the meal taste just a bit better. Maybe it’s because I’ve lived so much of my life in snowy trundra and urban wastelands (where very few restaurants have wonderful views); or maybe I’ve just always been the type of eater who’s greatly influenced by surroundings like table location, smells, sounds, crowd level, etc.; but an incredible view from my table is something I’m willing to fight for.
So, whether you want to do some people-watching, see the Magic Kingdom fireworks or Illuminations from your table, spend your dinner spotting African wildlife, or just relax with a tranquil lookout, here are a few Disney World dining spots that I think afford incredible views:
California Grill Sunset
The California Grill in Disney’s Contemporary Resort is probably my top suggestion when someone wants an outstanding restaurant view. From the top floor of the resort, the floor to ceiling windows offer amazing views of the whole of Walt Disney World — and the rest of Orlando. Watching the sun set behind the Grand Floridian Resort, or catching the nightly Magic Kingdom fireworks show from this location, will probably be one of your grandest memories from your vacation.
Rose and Crown Pub and Dining Room
Because this is one of the most well-known “good view” locations, it’s also one of the very crowded! Guests line up nightly to wait for Rose and Crown‘s outdoor patio tables where the view of Illuminations is one of the most spectacular in Epcot, but I also suggest booking a table for lunch. Sitting outside on the lovely patio, watching the boats glide back and forth over World Showcase Lagoon, and taking in the detail of the other pavilions within your view is a wonderful way to spend a mealtime.
View of Giraffe from Sanaa Table
Sanaa Sanaa‘s casual, relaxed atmosphere and tucked-away location make it a wonderful place to detox after a hectic morning in the theme parks. But what I find enchanting about this place is that it’s the only Animal Kingdom Lodge Resort restaurant that actually has a view of the hotel’s main draw — the African animals on the savanna. Go for lunch or an early dinner to guarantee plenty of daylight, and request to be seated next to one of the restaurants large picture windows. Expect to see giraffe, zebras, Ankole cattle, African birds, and other incredible animals.
Another one of the best views in Walt Disney World, ‘Ohana‘s wall-to-wall windows give guests a generous view of Seven Seas Lagoon, the Polynesian Resort grounds and Volcano pool, and the major landmarks of the Magic Kingdom. Book a spot here when the restaurant opens for dinner at 5pm to take in the relaxing late-afternoon and evening sunlight spilling over Seven Seas Lagoon, or make an advanced dining reservation just in time to catch the Magic Kingdom fireworks and the Electrical Water Pageant!
The View From Tokyo Dining
An excellent restaurant for sushi gourmands, Tokyo Dining also offers one of the best views in Epcot’s World Showcase. During the day, look out over the World Showcase promenade and amuse yourself with some wonderful people-watching; in the evening, schedule your meal in time to see Illuminations: Reflections of Earth explode over World Showcase Lagoon.
Other great spots to enjoy the view, in my opinion of course, are Narcoosee’s, in Disney’s Grand Floridian Resort; Cantina de San Angel in Epcot’s Mexico — I imagine the new incarnation opening in the Fall will have some astounding views of the World Showcase Lagoon; and Animal Kingdom’s Flame Tree Barbecue, where you can enjoy a stunning view of Expedition Everest from the seating area.
What are your thoughts? Any additions to the list or experiences you can share about great views from Disney restaurants — and whether or not they make the meal better for you?
Not long ago, SamLand was privileged to be a guest on the world famous WDW Today Podcast. I get my WDW news fix three times a week from Matt, Mike, Mike, and Len. The show topic was the design behind the arrival experience at each of the 4 parks. Making a great first impression is one of the hallmarks of the Disney parks. So let’s try and get into the head of the Imagineers and figure out why each entrance is unique but distinctly Disney. For the fully illustrated version of this article go to Samland’s Disney Adventures.
As you know, first impressions matter. For themed environmental design, a proper introduction can create a level of comfort that allows the visitor to let go and enter the story. This idea came from Disney animated films. The reason that the backgrounds have such a high level of detail is to create a sense that the setting is real and anything that happens in the foreground is believable. Walt Disney called this the Plausible Impossible. This formula has been applied to the Disney’s Animal Kingdom arrival experience.
The Imagineers want you to leave the land of theme parks and enter a mythical tropical forest. They want you to slow down and let the environment grow on you. Create a park where the shortest path is neither the straightest line nor the best way to get from here to there.
The Imagineers’ trick is the use of contrast. They take you from a barren plain into a lush tropical forest. You go from a lifeless environment to a place filled with life. The Imagineers are trying to slow you down so you can absorb your surroundings and feel a part of the natural environment. Does it work?
Built into this park are two deep-seated design patterns. The first is the well-known fact that this park is designed to reward the visitor who takes their time. The second pattern is how the Imagineers use contrast at the entrance to hammer home the main theme of conservation.
What do I mean about contrast? As you pull up to the park notice that this parking lot is one hard, giant, treeless, hot place. Not a very inviting first impression. This is by design. You are getting your first lesion in the park’s guiding principles that illustrate the Circle of Life concept. You experience first hand what could easily be described as a lifeless place – the parking stalls. Off in the distance, beyond the edge of the parking lot is a lush forest. The Imagineers will exploit this use contrast to enhance the story and message.
As you disembark from the parking lot tram or walk over from the bus stop you will notice that unlike the other parks, you cannot see any buildings sticking up above the trees. I understand that some may argue that Expedition Everest and the thin tall cell tower that is camouflaged like a tree might be exceptions. Over time the cell tower will be somewhat hidden within the parks tree canopy. In fact, the park’s design guidelines and building code took into account the natural changes to the landscape from the start.
The design objective was to have the tree canopy rise entirely over the roofs of the buildings. The buildings would become secondary to nature. One result is that over time the iconic Tree of Life would be better integrated and apart of the landscape as it remains the same size while everything grows around it. Since the park opened in 1998, the plant material has really matured and the desired effect is taking place.
As you walk toward the front gate take some time to look down at the ground because the materials on the ground add to the story. The parking lot paving materials appear to be washed out and already cracking especially at the edges. It is as if the parking lot wants to return to nature. As you move toward the front gate you notice how the hard asphalt turn to friendlier materials. If you look closely you will see how the colors of the pavement consist of long, wavy red and green patterns. From a bird’s eye view this puzzle would reveal that you are seeing a giant mural of the Tree of Life.
In all things concerning life, there must be a balance. This is a central message throughout Animal Kingdom. And balance is best achieved when the edges are blurred and the environment is a gradient. In the field of ecology, naturalist use transects to describe the characteristics of an ecosystem and describe the changes in ecosystems over a gradient. When the Transect is severely disrupted, significant environmental impacts can be felt. Virtually every attraction deals with a disruption in the natural transect when you really think about it.
The ticket booth and gateway architecture is based on the American Arts and Crafts tradition as a demonstration on how man-made structures can seem compatible with the natural environment. Within this design tradition, the blending of indoor and outdoor space is blurred, natural materials are featured, and the machine age is shunned for hand-made.
This is not the first time Disney has used this architectural style for inspiration. Disney’s Grand Californian Hotel & Spa is also based on this style. The difference is the Anaheim resort takes the style and blows up the scale beyond any real building in that style. The gateway and ticket booths in Florida are at an appropriate scale and blend into the environment.
Once upon a time, Animal Kingdom was supposed to have three realms – animals of the past, animals of the present, and animals that only lived within our imaginations. This concept was reinforced throughout the entrance. Along with lions, elephants, and dinosaurs is the image of a dragon. The dragon would represent Beastly Kingdom, a land of unicorns and other mystical beasts. The dragon makes another appearance above the far left ticket booth.
Once past the gateway you enter a land unique to this theme park. It is called the Oasis. Functionally, the Oasis serves the same purpose as Main Street, Hollywood Boulevard or walking under Spaceship Earth; to create a shared experience that sets up the adventures that lie ahead. For this park, the Imagineers were trying to slow you down and they described the Oasis as a “cool, green decompression zone”. As people run toward the safari or Everest, this is a feat that is rarely achieved on the way in but with some success on the way out.
The pathways meander and cross under a land bridge (reminiscent of the tunnels under the train at the Magic Kingdom?) acting like a curtain until the big reveal – your first view of the Tree of Life. The wide walkway is designed to accommodate the large crowds who just stand there. From the parking lot to this point you have walked up a 20-foot hill.
Like the other Disney park entries, the Oasis funnels you through single entrance and a narrow portal to separate the real world from the fantasy world. At the end is a hub with the various lands radiating out like spokes on a wheel.
Animal Kingdom is unique. By using contrast, not only is the environmental design experience different so is the way to tour the park successfully. At every other theme park, it is the destination that matters. At Animal Kingdom the best way is to let the journey become the thing. The arrival experience supports that change and hopes you accept the challenge.
One of the many great things about going to Walt Disney World without kids is that you can take time to stop and smell the roses every once in a while. Don’t get me wrong, I’m usually up at the crack of dawn and running around all day with my friends. But every once in a while we take a little breather and get away from the hustle and bustle of the beaten path. There are several ways to escape the crowds and craziness of the parks throughout Disney property. I find when I take a break to check out a hidden gem like the Discovery Island Trails, I’m rejuvenated and ready for more touring. As a Disney dork I really enjoy taking in all of the Disney’s detail. I’ll take a look at several of these places in future blogs.
Today’s entry is dedicated to a hidden gem in the Animal Kingdom. On my last trip, my friend and I got the opportunity to explore the Discovery Island Trails. It seems like most people don’t know about these paths so they are rarely crowded, providing a nice retreat. Guests can find entry points at several points in the center of Discovery Island, the central area of the park. The paths allow you to get a close view of the Tree of Life. The tree’s bark is composed of carvings of animals all over its trunk. While it’s easy to spot some of the animals from far away, they are really incredible from these paths. You can see the details of the bald eagle’s feathers and how different creatures meld together to create the complete picture. We spent at least a half an hour just wandering and pointing out the different animals. I hope you’ll do the same on one of your next trips to Animal Kingdom.
Next week I’ll feature my favorite performance group around World Showcase…