As I write this, J and I have just returned from an amazing family holiday to Florida. We spent most of our time exploring the wonders of Disney World including Magic Kingdom, Animal Kingdom, Epcot, Hollywood Studios, Blizzard Beach and Disney Springs which has given us incredible memories to treasure forever.
Animal Kingdom was the Disney park I was most excited about visiting before we left home. Partly because it is the only one I haven’t been to before and I was looking forward to seeing how Disney does zoos, but mostly because J absolutely loves animals. He has always been a wildlife lover and I couldn’t wait to take him on the Animal Kingdom safari as I knew he would be over the moon to see all the African animals, especially his favourites – rhinos and crocodiles.
When we first arrived at Animal Kingdom we headed straight for the Tree of Life on Discovery Island, which has spectacular animal carvings all around it. As we walked around the impressive tree, we tried to spot as many animals as we could. J also enjoyed watching the ducks on the river and getting splashed by the waterfall as we walked under it. Apart from the Tree of Life, Discovery Island also hosts some great character meet and greets. We met safari Mickey and Minnie here as well as Timon, Baloo and King Louie. You can also meet Dug and Russell and Pocahontas.
Once we had meandered around the Discovery Island pathways, we headed to Africa, the section of the park where the Kilimanjaro Safari starts. Africa is a hub of activity and the first thing to catch our attention as we crossed over the bridge was a funky drumming band. J was fascinated by their colourful clothing and cheerful music. As we moved on, we spotted a man carving animals. He worked quietly in his own creative bubble as flocks of tourists passed him by or stopped to admire his wares. We made a few purchases including a giraffe that J picked out for himself.
On the way to the Kilimanjaro Safari fastpass queue, we drooled over the African fruit market’s produce which included juicy oranges, huge strawberries and fresh pineapple. On the truck, there is a driver who offers some interesting commentary and a sign with all the animals you could potentially see. J loved finding the animals on the sign after seeing them on the safari. We went on the Kilimanjaro Safari three times and each time we experienced something different. The first time we saw lots of elephants and rhinos, which J loved, but the lions were sleeping. The second time we saw plenty of giraffes and hippos and the lions were more active. On our final Animal Kingdom safari, it was raining and we saw most of the animals being active. The lions in particular were strolling around and jumping between rocks and daddy lion roared and yawned. That was my favourite safari. One of the best aspects about the safari was that I felt like I was in the middle of Africa not at a Disney attraction. There was no obvious sighting of a gate or fence to be seen. It has been very cleverly constructed to give as authentic as experience as can be had in Florida.
The Kilimanjaro Safari isn’t the only fun to be had in the African section of Animal Kingdom. There is also Gorilla Falls walk. This popular self led walking trail guides visitors between different animal exhibitions including the popular gorillas. J was very excited at the prospect of seeing gorillas and off he sped. First up are some little monkeys who were swinging high up in the trees, then we headed to a hut which housed a range of small creatures including the American Bullfrog, which is huge and Mole Rats which J could have spent hours watching. We then saw some tropical fish and birds outside before walking inside another hut. Here I expected to see more small creatures or maybe some birds but instead there was an underwater viewing window and straight ahead was a sleeping hippo. It was such an impressive sight and one of my absolute favourite experiences of the trip. How often do you get to see a fully submerged hippo after all? The hippo can hold his breath for between 8 and 10 minutes. I wouldn’t want to be in a kayak above him when he emerged.
When we reached the gorillas we managed to squeeze in a gap to see them as there were so many people bunched in front of their enclosure. The baby gorilla was trying to get his mummy’s attention by rolling down the hill and jumping all over her. He was being very amusing and seemed to respond to the laughter of the onlookers. When we moved on to see the silverback male gorillas, J took one look into their eyes and decided it was time to leave in a hurry.
Rafiki’s Planet Watch is reached by boarding the Wildlife Express Train in Africa. J really enjoyed the train ride, which passes by the sleeping quarters of some of the safari animals including the elephants and rhinos. Rafiki’s Planet Watch has an indoor education centre which is great for slightly older children, but J rushed around the information boards and exhibits looking for more animals. You could meet Doc McStuffins and Rafiki up here for a photo, but J wasn’t so keen so we headed to the Affection Section petting zoo. Here J was able to meet goats and pigs and give them a brush. We had expected him to be a little hesitant but he picked up a brush and got started straight away with a huge smile on his face. This was another highlight for J as he loved interacting with the animals so closely.
Africa is also home to the Festival of the Lion King, which hubby and I would have loved to see, but J finds the Lion King film scary and the music coming from inside was very loud so we decided to give it a miss and head into Asia for UP! A great Bird Adventure instead. This bird show was so cheesy it made hubby and I cringe but J loved it so much we dragged ourselves back for a second viewing at his request. The birds fly so close to the audience that you get a great sighting of them. J particularly enjoyed watching the parrots fly to the corner posts near the stands which we were sitting in. He also loved the Toucan and found the chickens very humorous.
Hubby and I decided to go on the Kali River Rapids while in Asia. I was a little apprehensive as the ride warns you that you are highly likely to get wet. The ride was quite gentle with one slightly larger drop and I really enjoyed it and would happily have gone again. We certainly all got wet though. I have since read on another blog that out of the 12 seats, 10 seats will get splashed and 2 soaked. I think I was sat in one of the soaked seats as I was pretty drenched when I left. Luckily, it was so hot and sunny that I was dry before we had reached the next attraction.
There is another self-led walking trail in Asia called the Maharajah Jungle Trek. This walk offers a close up view of the Animal Kingdom’s tiger population. J is a huge fan of tigers; one of his first ever toys was a V-Tech tiger and he has loved them ever since so again he was very excited to go and find them. However, he hadn’t walked very far when another animal stopped him in his tracks – a Komodo Dragon. J was absolutely fascinated by the creature and just stared mesmerised. When I told him it was a Dragon I think it became even more magical for him and he talked about the dragon enthusiastically for the rest of the holiday, so much so that my mum treated him to a Komodo Dragon figure to bring home. When we reached the tigers, we had the pleasure of seeing mummy tiger and her two cubs up close as they were sat in a shady spot close to the viewing area. They were very inactive though in the heat, so it may be better to visit the tigers either early in the morning or nearer dusk.
Moving from Asia, we headed into DinoLand USA. This was an area I didn’t expect to spend long in because J is terrified by dinosaurs and won’t have anything to do with them but there are some good character meet and greets in DinoLand USA, including Goofy, who was the only main six character we had yet to meet. While looking around for Goofy, J spotted the TriceraTop Spin ride and kept asking to go on it. Now considering he usually refuses to go on any ride that has height we were rather surprised but keen to make the most of it so all thoughts of Goofy were put to one side and onto the ride we went. J loved it! He laughed and squealed with glee. The queue was so short that he queued back up for a second ride straight away. We were delighted as this opened up more ride options for us.
We found Goofy over by the Dinosaur rollercoaster opposite Dino-Sue, a reproduction of a Tyrannosaurus Rex skeleton found in South Dakota. He was so tall that J was at first a little intimidated by him, but once I picked him up he found Goofy very amusing and decided that Goofy was his favourite character for the rest of the day. We also visited dino Donald who was in the little alcove next door and enjoyed meeting him too.
Animal Kingdom has a play area for younger children called The Boneyard. This fantastic park has a big sandpit with a dinosaur fossil for the children to ‘discover’ using the provided buckets and spades and lots of slides for the children to play on. J could easily have spent a good hour or two in The Boneyard playing.
On our third visit to Animal Kingdom, we finally made it to Pandora. It was quite impressive and beautiful but it only consists of two rides so it is fairly small. We had a fastpass for the Na’vi River Journey which is a sedate and rather short boat ride through a bioluminescent rainforest. Yes, it was very pretty and quite relaxing, but it certainly wasn’t worth the standard queue time, which as I currently write is apparently 85 minutes long. The two Pandora rides have created quite a buzz but personally I could quite happily have missed this one and not felt that I was missing out.
Animal Kingdom was a huge hit with both J and I and we have a lot of very happy memories to treasure forever.