Friday, November 29, 2013

Disney: Day 5

The end is nigh. We woke up Saturday morning SUPER excited to be heading to Animal Kingdom (though it is a troubled relationship, I have loved zoos for as long as I can remember, so responsible, educational zoo + theme park? Win.) but we knew that we were leaving the next day, so there was a lot spring-semester-senior year feeling accompanying the thrill.

We left early - we figured the extra magic hours would give us our best chance to see the most animals up and about, not to mention the possibility of an extra ride or two - and we got there about forty minutes before the park officially opened.

Sorry, lady - I'm sure you would have smiled if I had let you know you were in frame.

We saw a CM feeding the flamingos as soon as we walked in, and got a billion pictures in front of The Tree of Life <cue Lion King theme>, then cut to the right to walk through The Tree of Life Garden (yup) where we saw adorable tiny monkeys and ring tailed lemurs, who I caught juuuust before he started being rude:

Ladies present, dude. C'mon now.

We walked into Asia (I can't remember if I said this on the Epcot entry or not, but if I did, it bears repeating: I love being able to say that so casually: walked into to Asia. Cruised through France, then Morocco...Love it.) and decided we'd try and squeeze in a no-wait ride on Expedition Everest, which I was really looking forward to - more roller coasters, please!

Took this on the way - there's going to be a billion pictures in this entry, because it was a gorgeous day.

There were lots of folks headed the same way that we were, winding our way toward the giant mountain on the horizon - I honestly thought it was going to be a little cheesy, but it is so impressive. I understand that the park closes early for the peace of the animals, which I understand and support, but I desperately want to see the beautiful path they created softly illuminated by the string lights they have up everywhere.

I do wonder how people feel about the appropriation of  Buddhist iconography in this park - because there was A LOT. 

After winding through the queue - well done, of course, and pseudo-educational, in a History-Channel-Hitler-and-aliens kind of way - it was time to ride! Love this roller coaster, friends. LoveloveLOVE it. It gets the red ribbon for second place in my heart. I might have even loved it more, had I been able to wear my glasses and see all the fun sets along the way! (PS - I was incredibly paranoid about losing my glasses and thus my sight, especially after The Hulk at Universal on Thursday, so unless I knew for a fact that there were no loops and no lifts/drops, in my bag they went.) (additional PS - I just read that someone DIED on this ride back in 2007. Now I want to ride it again even more. Because I have a sickness.)

It was only just after nine by the time we got off (and bless Kate, but I failed to tell her that the ride went backward, which was not great for her motion sickness, so I did not immediately re-ride due to my guilty conscience) and we had a good bit of time before our first fast pass of the morning, so we wandered around, getting our picture taken AGAIN by the Tree of Life (and I got to hold baby Simba!! Thanks, Photoshop! <wink>) and Kate got to hold the key to the TRUEST SMILE. (the TRUEST smile, Kate...;)

Then, BAM - we're in Africa! Guys, it looked just like Hatari!. But with trees. (And that's not double punctuation because I missed it - the proper title is Hatari! and I kind of feel like I should capitalize all of it, too. Man, I love that movie...) Anyway, it looked just like my fictionalized, sanitized mental picture of an African village, and there were people walking around yelling jambo and I knew what they meant and I loved it.

It was aged just enough.

We decided to to a quick walk through of the Pangani (which I automatically read as Paganini and confuse myself) Forest Exploration Trail and saw the duiker and naked mole rats (which the man at the meerkat station told us people mistook for baby hippos. He said this with a straight face, but I still can't decide if I believe him or not) and of course the meerkats. We were promised hippos on the sign, but we saw none, and just barely saw some gorillas. Still awesome, even from a quarter mile away! I've always heard silverback used as the descriptor, but we saw one wearing silver sweatpants, and it was wonderful. No pictures of this trail, because they're nearly all terrible and/or uninteresting.

But now it's time for Kilaminjaro Safaris - HUZZAH! So very glad we had the fast passes for this one, as it was packed. PACKED. The stroller corral was overflowing. But we fairly well breezed through, and got to ride in the front seat! And on the outside on the left! Which obviously stinks for any animal sighting on our right, but you play the hand you're dealt and other chance metaphors.

First off, our tour guide was adorable. I am tempted to use the phrase "adorbs," not because that's a "word" I use in daily life, but she was seriously that cute. Second: so many animals!! We saw some sleeping hippos (there they were!) cohabiting with pelicans, and in close proximity to some enormous, completely, primevally terrifying crocodiles (the animal habitats were very subtly divided, which was nice but made me worry about potential Animal Planet situations. Never for very long, but it all seemed very natural). We went out "on the plains" and saw these ridiculous, concrete-like termite mounds:

I know, termites, but isn't that kind of breath-taking? Apparently elephants can use them as scratching posts. Sturdy stuff.

We came across the giraffes - on our right, unfortunately - but still! I love a giraffe. And the only thing I love more is:

A BABY GIRAFFE! I'm sorry about the lady's hair in the corner, but it was literally unavoidable if I wanted the other in the shot for scale - who does a theme park in a bouffant is what I want to know...

On we went, until we didn't; we got stopped at one point for about 15 minutes as there was an animal hogging the road up ahead (a fairly common behavior for ostriches, we were told. I believe - ostriches are jerks), but we got stopped in the BEST POSSIBLE SPOT. We spent those 15 minutes in elephant country, and there were about six elephants to our left (teehee) eating and trunk-tugging and doing other elephanty things. Couldn't have been better. And so I of course have 5000 pictures of the elephants, including what's almost a stop action sequence of the hungry one feeding itself. They're all just the best pictures ever taken (nope) and I can't delete any of them. But I'm only subjecting you to one:

From the stop-action sequence. Seriously, this guy was hungry.

Our guide finally got the go-ahead that the road was clear, so we started back up again and rolled past some not-very-pink flamingos, what I'm pretty sure was an impala (insert Supernatural joke here), some diva ostriches (seriously, jerk birds) and while all cameras were pointed right, I heard someone say, "Oh, man, look right there!" I swung around with the camera still up, and SNAP, got the best accidental picture ever (close to it, this time):

Hello, rhino! Seriously now, there's no cropping or anything in that - I turned around and there he was. Saying, please, girl - this pic is going to be AMAZEBALLS. It may have been a teenage girl rhino.

That was about the end of it - this was such a great ride. I'll speak to some of the criticism I read before we left, mainly that there used to be more of a story/plot to the ride, about evil poachers and trying to catch them. Several commentators felt that losing that part of it took away from the educational aspect of the experience, but I did not find that to be the case at all. I'm sure the tour varies from guide to guide, but ours was great and was filled with animal facts and discussed poaching and the threat it still poses and shared what the researchers there at the park are working on - it was entertaining and educational and fun and I can't wait to do it again!

One of the other must-dos I read about was the Flights of Wonder show, so we headed back toward Asia (hee - I just love it!), but our providential stall by the elephants made us late for the show (JERK OSTRICHES). Never a lack of things to do, though, so we went on the Maharajah Jungle Trek, where we saw SO MUCH - komodo dragons (I will never look at them without a shudder, thanks, Skyfall) and gorgeous bar-headed geese (and loads of other birds) and some almost-fake looking enormous bats:

I think these guys are the flying foxes - they were HUGE.

After which we walked through a perfectly beautiful enclosure, in which we saw precisely no animals. I figured whatever it was must have been sleeping and started taking pictures of the walkway, which had prayer flags crisscrossing their way from wall to wall:

More beautifulness

And then some guy tapped me on the shoulder and said, "he's over here," and pointed around the corner, through a window that I hadn't turned around to look through yet and I see:

I fought the temptation to rotate the picture and tell everyone that he was walking next to mossy wall...

Yep. Totally would have missed the tiger. If this is a video game/very different reality, I'm eaten and die.

But, hey, I'm just glad this wasn't the only tiger we saw that day.

The last little area was for peacocks, where I spent seven minutes trying to get the zoom just right to capture the one on the hill, who was hooting and screaming, as peacocks are wont to do, when some other kind stranger tapped me on the shoulder again and said, "yeah, there's one right here," and pointed under the bushes right next to the chain fence. Again: different reality or video game, I starve with no peacock to eat. I wonder if anyone eats peacocks...Anyway.

Time for Flights of Wonder! My words cannot and will not do it justice. Just go. Go and be amazed by Pogo, the Amazing Cockatiel. And she had a macaw and a chicken (yup - don't question it) and a king vulture and a bald eagle, and the one and only picture I took the whole time, a Verreaux's Eagle-Owl from Africa:

Isn't he beautiful? And SILENT.

We had to leave before the show was over, because we were already running a little late for our lunch reservations back in Africa at Tusker House. So we booked it back that way and got in line, and Kate was confused as to what we were waiting for (in fairness, I knew what we were waiting for and was a little confused by the process - a tad convoluted) and then there was SAFARI DONALD! So I got to tell one more Donald how much I loved him and you were always my favorite and I'm so excited to see you and I'm babbling and repeating myself and maybe we should just take the picture so we can go eat.

And eat we did! Well, in a bit. See, we were taken in and seated, and just happened to be lined up perfectly as the safari versions of Goofy, Mickey and Daisy were strolling through the dining rooms and headed toward our table - with none other than our friend Aaron from the Halloween party wrangling the characters! He didn't recognize us out of costume at first, but after just a second, we were chatting again and laughing like soulmates. He also told us how lucky we were - as I said, the trio was headed toward us right after we were seated, but, depending on capacity, it can take two hours for them to do the rotation. Very, very lucky. We met Mickey and Goofy, and they were of course delightful on every level (and I love the safari costumes - so cute!), but then we had our first Daisy greeting. She was a sass factory, and I adored her. (And she loved my hat. Just bragging.)

Look closely. I'm missing a leg.

Then we went to load up our plates. Mmmmm, Americanized African and Indian food! It was all delish, and hands down the best samosas I've had in my life. I only wish I had been hungrier so I could have eaten more.

We waddled down to meet Mickey and Minnie (also in safari gear - SO CUTE, guys) and then it was time for our Kali River Rapids fast pass. I was so excited, guys. Wore my quick-dry uniform that day (we did laundry while we hung out at the pool on...Thursday? The laundry details escape me - I know that bums you out. Oh! But if you held your head under in the pool, they were playing Nemo songs. Great stuff) and while there was so much blessed, blessed shade from those gorgeous trees, it was still hot as blazes out there. Like the Devil left the door open. And the people we saw getting off the ride were DRENCHED. (Including several <ahem> ladies who clearly had not thought about being on wet rides when they dressed that morning - c'mon girls, don't be like that.) Long story short: my cold-water dreams were dashed. It was fun, but I had a splash of water on my arm and I think - I think - one wet spot on my left calf. Disappointed. I don't know why we didn't get splashed, but no one on our raft got wet. (Also, all the people on our raft were awesome and interesting and kind.)

We decided to head down to Camp Minnie-Mickey (know how I was mocking some uncreative names on other days? Yeah...Also, I hope one day that it can become what it was originally intended to be and not just Avatar-land. Gag me.) and we met Chip and Dale (I hung out with Chip while Kate played with Dale - felt about right) and King Louie (who ran away from the tiger on Kate's shirt) and Baloo (PAPA BEAR! - I got a big hug for that one) and Pocahontas (I started this journey feeling bad for the talking-verboten fur characters, but in the end I hurt for the face characters - I can't imagine the challenge of staying in that character day in and day out. But at least their costumes are a bit cooler).

Papa Bear smoosh.

We stopped to look at the kangaroos and flamingos (being hassled by some duck-bullies) before we left, and were told that we HAD to stay for the parade - and I'm so glad we did. Again, I have a billion pictures I'm not going to bore you with, but the floats were just amazing - Julie Taymor inspired genius. Side note: we had seen a wedding party walking around earlier in the morning, and then saw them again, on the floats in the parade! I don't know if they just got asked or if they had arranged it somehow, but it was really neat, and I can't imagine how special they must have felt!

We made the exodus and headed back to the hotel, where we pouted while beginning to pack things up (had to have everything out of the room and checked with the Magical Express magicians super early Sunday morning), then got cleaned up for our fancy pants dinner at Jiko at the Animal Kingdom Lodge.

Please note her fancy pants. How cute are they?!

I'm going to try really hard to not veer off into food nerd rhapsodies here, so instead I'll talk about how I immediately understood how people can justify the $300+/night price tag at this resort. Wowza. I felt like Julia Roberts in Pretty Woman. Not the hooker part of it - just the fish-out-of-water part. Dinner was amazing - again, wish I had been hungrier - just amazing, and then we took a cab back to our (suddenly not quite so impressive, but still home) hotel. And promptly passed out.

For real: look at this place. If we had been there early enough to watch the animals out the windows, it would have been all over - I wouldn't ever be able to stay anywhere else. 

One more entry to go - a half size one, for our last half day in the park. <SOB.>