Oct 14

Today is Extra Magic Hours at Animal Kingdom!

Here are some pictures from around the park:


The Tree of Life in early morning light, gorgeous!





Lion King topiaries were neat



You can see the plantlife is just so lush and vibrant.



Lots of fun little details add lots of appeal when you're just walking around-- there's a lot to see. Even the pavement is strewn with leaf imprints, footprints and bicycle tracks



Some clowning around was to be expected


These faces are not pleased with the camera so early in the morning

AK officially opened after we had last visited, so this park was completely new to us. We got up early for EMH, grabbed some coffee, pastries, fruit, yogurt and granola  from the Swan's cafe and took it on the road with us. We managed to eat a good amount of it as we waited for the tram to take us to the gate. I looked over at the gates that were within easy walking distance and wondered aloud why we didn't just walk over there, but we were already getting footsore enough, and standing to wait for the tram also gave us opportunity to finish breakfast.

We went straight over to Expedition Everest and rode twice in a row with hardly any wait, as fast as we could walk through the queue we were on board the train. WOW, we love this ride! As well as being thrilling, there is an amazing view of Disney property as you climb the summit. I had my eyes peeled for the Yeti but couldn't see it either time we rode. Even the dump shop is incredible!




Entering the temple of the Yeti



Just look at that view! We can see the Swalphin!



Oh no, the Yeti tore up the tracks! We're going backwardddddddsssss!



Ursula stocks up on tin pans, water jugs and breath mints



I mean really, have you ever seen such an amazing non-merch display?



I love that the CMs are open to having pics taken. Look at the "authentic" exposed wiring! 



I think this is the photo we had added to our photopass. Wish I had those pics available.

I decided not to waste time taking very many pictures of the nearly empty park in the early morning, because it did slow us down considerably when rushing to get to major attractions. I regretted it by mid morning, as AK became so packed that navigating through the crowds became difficult and there were always tons of people in the way of whatever I wanted to get a picture of. I'm not opposed to having a few random people in my shots, after all completely deserted parks are not the way we see the in real life, but things were completely obscured by wall to wall bodies at times, yikes! And there's so much in this park I love-- the distressed streets and buildings, the exposed wiring, shrines and offerings, these flourishes really added to the feel of the park and made it seem more like real places in Africa and Asia then if they had simply copied the style of the buildings and had them looking as pristine as Main Street. The park is overall just gorgeous, I think the imagineers outdid themselves!

We walked toward Kali River Rapids but it wasn't open yet. So we headed over to Kilimanjaro Safaris and waited in a short line. We were in the front row, in the wheelchair accessible seats, and got pretty good views of everything on the left side. It seemed like a lot of the animals were actually on our right side though, and they were not as easy to take pics of. My camera is not anything fancy (though I do love it and never regretted buying the Canon powershot a few years ago) so I didn't get any really good photos of animals from our rumbly, moving safari vehicle. It was fun though, and we all were pleasantly surprised.




Stitch is wearing the perfect hat for our day on Safari



These rhinos stood in the road for a few minutes, giving us an excellent opportunity to take lots of pictures





Oh my, what a view!

After finding the baby elephant we disembarked and hung out in the shade watching the gorillas for a few minutes. It was a nice day, clear and sunny, and starting to warm up.

The train ride to Rafiki's Conservation Station was slated to open in 6 minutes so we joined the longish line and were able to make it on the first train ride of the day. The station and train itself were pretty cool, but we didn't like the backstage view of animal jail, preferring instead to think that all the creatures lived in their immaculate habitats all the time, instead of concrete and steel buildings with bars.

We decided not to bother getting off the train here, and got badgered a bit by the CM. We were not the only ones that declined a visit to the stuff this section had to offer. Back to civilization!


Kali River Rapids was also open by the time we returned, and we walked through the queue farily slowly to try to absorb some of the cool atmosphere. I knew I started to get cranky though because I got irritated when Ursula asked me to take some pictures of the big cat statue. She offered me a banana and I gladly ate it. Once back in full picture-taking mode again I was glad to take several pics of the queue. We never were in this line again so those would be the only ones I'd get-- glad Mum made me get my camera out! There is a drawback to no lines-- not being able to fully appreciate the queue.


There was a modest wait on the rotating platform, then we were loaded into the giant round rafts. We gingerly put our valuables in the damp looking “dry box” in the middle, and buckled up. We knew people were supposed to get soaked on this ride, but it was warm enough that the splashes and sprays weren't bothersome at all. We watched some strangers get pretty wet but we managed to stay dry enough ourselves during the big plunge. It was fun! Stitch and I wanted to go again, but Ursula thought once was enough for her. We gave her our valuables and sent her off to find a bench. The line was so short we were able to immediately rejoin the queue right before the loading platform, we didn't have to go all the way back through the line. We got back on board a boat and rode again, but this time we got absolutely drenched! Soaking soaking wet, front and back, head to toe. I was literally wringing out the light cardigan I brought with me. There was no hope for the rest of my outfit, though. Glad we had given our stuff to Mum.





Being all wet made me cold, so I got a hot tea from the Royal Anandapur Tea Company, which took far longer than it should have-- there were only a couple people in line in front of me and their orders were pretty simple, but it still took about 15 minutes-- the longest line we'd been in all day! Mum and Stitch got some soft serve ice cream at the cool Anandapur ice cream truck. Stitchy and I positioned ourselves in the sun and went from dripping to merely soggy.


Glad I got a pic when it was closed-- once open this place was mobbed!



We did a fastpass photoshoot with a really great photographer in front of the shrine overlooking Everest. I don't have any of the photopass pics yet (hopefully Ursula does) but the previews I saw online looked really good. He arranged for us to do our first “magic shot,” with Stitch holding open her hand where a magic Tinkerbell was to appear. Something happened though and Tink didn't show up, so the photo is of Stitch looking delighted at the palm of her hand. HI-larious!


Ursula the sherpa

We headed back to Everest to use our fast passes. We got to ride in the front seats and the photo was pretty cute, so Mum decided to buy it. Stitch and I hung around the shop while she got that taken care of and we quite enjoyed the ride-specific merchandise that was in there, as well as the non-merch theming.

The Finding Nemo show was just about to start so we went in and sat down, still a bit chilly in my damp clothes. I used my mini gorilla tripod and was able to get some decent (not great, just decent) shots of the show with no flash in the low light. It was such a great show, we loved that the puppeteers were integrated with the show instead of trying to pretend they weren't there. In retrospect I think this was my favorite Disney show we saw the entire trip! Stellar! If you have to choose between Nemo and The Lion King when at Animal Kingdom, go with Nemo.








 I was almost dry by the time we left. Getting hungry too, but it wasn't time for our ADRs at Yak and Yeti just yet. We kind of trundled along with the half of the Nemo crowd heading toward Dinoland USA and spent some time at Chester and Hester's Dino-Rama. It has a fun carnival atmosphere, and while I've heard others complain that it's too much like the traveling fairgrounds they can find in their hometowns, I really liked it-- it was far less sad and grimy than any fun fair I've ever been to. We got frozen Cokes to have as we waited in the long line at Primeval Whirl. Mum was delighted by the retro paper straw. I've also heard lots of complaints about these (animal-safe paper) but lack of plastic straws didn't bother us a bit. At the Oregon Zoo they don't have lids or straws either, and I much prefer a paper straw to sipping out of the edge of a paper cup.











The wait at Primeval Whirl was one of the longest we'd been in, around 35 or 40 minutes? But it was shaded, had fans blowing, and gave us a chance to check in on our phones. Love having the internet in the palm of my hand. Mum worked on her running trip report while Stitch and I checked Facebook. There was a guy there wearing a really great Figment hat and I surreptitiously got a picture of it.


PW was fun but true to the reviews it does slam you around quite a bit. Once was enough for us. We were all starving by this point and decided to head over to Yak and Yeti early to see if they'd seat us half an hour before our reservation. There was a line about 10 people out the door, so we had to wait to even see if they'd consider seating us. We were fine with that. As we waited a woman comes along and goes to the front and asks the CM if she and her family have to wait in line. “We got a reservation at our hotel this morning and I don't think we should have to wait in line with people who don't already have a reservation.” We got our reservations six months ago, woman, you want to wait behind us? I glared at her but said nothing. The CM just nodded and she got what she wanted, cutting in front of the now 15 or 20 people in line, which is irritating. Princess.





Waiting room details-- Love that cash register!

Once it was our turn they said we could check in and wait, but it might still be a while. That was fine, it was lunchtime and things looked to be filling up. We took seats in the warm waiting room and tried to catch glimpses of the neat décor in the dining rooms. Mum gave her seat to a young woman who looked about 4 months pregnant and had a knee injury. “You should getsomething out of the deal” Ursula said when the woman thanked her. It's possible she wasn't pregnant but just had a belly, so I really hoped nothing further would be said about due dates or anything. It's mortifying when people think you are pregnant and you're just fat, I ought to know.


Interesting jade pieces. the decor was
top notch but obscured by diners!

Eventually we were seated in the upstairs dining room, we had a window view overlooking the front of the restaurant. We could see that it was getting more and more crowded out there, and we decided it would be time to leave this early entry park after we'd finished our meal.

We were ravenous, so we ordered some appetizers to share as well as entrees. We got breaded,  fried green beans, and the dim sum sampler. My family seemed to like the greenbeans more than they thought they would. I thought they were delicious, but then again I really like veggies anyhow, deep fried or not! The dim sum was good but the only one I could eat was the shrimp thing. The meat eaters reported the rest to be tasty however. We also got frozen boozy drinks. Ursula got two over the course of the meal but since I was driving I stuck with one, even though I would have loved another. They aren't strong drinks, but they are pretty large. 1 shot in 20 ounces of blended fruit juice and ice didn't make me an unsafe driver.


Dim sum sampler



Fried green beans


Tropical Thunder (?) Tasty

I got the seafood curry, which was served as a kind of stew with shrimp, scallops, clams (I think) and mussels in the shell. I'd never had mussels before, they were good. Stitch tried a couple too and liked them. Mum got pork ribs and Z got honey chicken. Both reported that what they got was delicious though not terribly Asian. My curry was so good I really wanted to save the rest for later-- I was overly full. I asked for a doggy bag but ended up tossing the leftovers. Seafood in the blazing hot sun for 2 hours just didn't seem like a good idea.

We got the cream cheese wontons as a dessert. We'd heard so much about them and they look so delicious in all the pictures. Even though we were all certainly full we couldn't miss out on a treat we'd been drooling over for months. They were good, Ursula thinks she could make them at home easily enough.

A manager came over and asked us how our meal was and we gave our waitress great accolades. I had kind of a crush on her, so our friendly table banter and “where are you from?” smalltalk felt a lot more like flirting to me. It's challenging to flirt in front of your family, but I think given the circumstances we did all right. No phone number written on the bill though, oh well.

We headed out of the park immediately after lunch, it was around 2:30 and crowded as could be. We stopped for a quick photopass with a photographer who was “extremely indifferent” according to Ursula, and we all squinted into the sun with the Tree of Life behind us. Clearly not all photographers are cut from the same cloth.

We easily caught the tram back to the car and made our way back to the hotel. We quickly changed into suits and went out to play at the pool until the sun went down. We have a bunch of underwater pics of me and Stitchers goofing around somewhere, but not on my computer. We were doing handstands for a bit then trying fun poses underwater-- the camera was a fun toy while it lasted. Ursula spent the majority of the time on a lounger reading. We ventured over to get fruity drinks at the poolside bar close to the Dolphin. I think I got a pina colada and Ursula ordered a peach something or another. Ursula was really kind and let me wear her shoes as we waited for our drinks-- I needed to use the nearby restroom but wouldn't go in without footwear, I had walked barefoot over to the bar.


Cabana Bar and Beach Club, pic courtesy of DisUnplugged

This is the life-- fruity drinks by the pool. “Go back home and clean other people's toilets and wipe butts, here we are royalty on vacation!” Ursula said, laying back in her chair.

After we got cleaned up we went to dinner at the Garden Grove restaurant. Garden Grove was a seafood buffet that night, They do a rotating buffet menu and character meal at the Swan. Even though everywhere else on Disney property that has a character meal is ridiculously packed with tons of kids everywhere, this place was quiet and relaxed.

Our waitress was relaxed and calm as she brought us our stuffed lobsters and a big metal bucket with pliers, wet naps and an entire roll of paper towels. She explained how the characters would come out to greet us and showed us where the buffet was in an unhurried tone. Usually I like to be really hungry before a buffet, and seafood buffet in particular. I wasn't starving but had worked off some of the over-full feeling from our late lunch so was happy to dig in.


Love Stitch's crazy eyes, she was thinking about clam chowder


Most of the food was really good. The stuffed lobster wasn't the finest feast ever, but we all ate some or all of it. I don't think Stitch was too taken by it. She loved the clam chowder though and enjoyed several bowls of it. The peel and eat shrimp hadn't been de-veined so I wasn't terribly enthused about that-- it ended up being a common buffet trend. Yuck. I'm trying to remember what else there was. Everything  was good, there was a nice variety. Salmon, seafood paella, several kinds of salads and fresh fruit. There were a bunch of impossibly cute and tiny desserts too, and we sampled at least one of each of them before returning for more of our favorites.






The characters spent a lot of time with us, coming over to our table more than once. We saw Chip and Dale and Goofy, but I think I missed Pluto that evening as I was serving myself. We did see him again later in the trip so I wasn't too broken-hearted about it.













You can see the decor is like a garden party with lights and lanterns hung from a large central tree

Ursula found a lobster tentacle and was using it as a toothpick. I messed around with my gorilla pod trying to get a picture of all three of us and the resulting picture was... blurry and very cleavagey. We were having fun though, laughing, feeling relaxed after our swim and the low key dinner with lots of special attention from the chipmunks. This is a quiet gem of a character buffet and I wouldn't hesitate to recommend it!

We waddled to bed stuffed and happy, ready to do battle with the weekend Food and Wine Festival crowds as Epcot the next day.