For this edition of Best Week Ever, I was inspired by Derek Burgan‘s recent Saturday Six, in which he lauded two Animal Kingdom shows as the top live entertainments that Walt Disney World has to offer.
Though a fan of both his picks, I had not seen either selection in several months, so I decided it was time to visit Animal Kingdom again and see how these acclaimed shows are holding up.
Welcome to the Animal Kingdom parking lot! You can see Avatar construction just behind the tree line.
Always remember to take a photo of your row number so that you can find your car at the end of the day. Today we’re parked in Dinosaur 36.
The crowd waiting for the parking tram looked to be a couple cycles deep, so I started my exercise early and hoofed it to the park entrance. It was the first of many steps — 8,898 to be exact — that I’d take in my two laps around the park that day. They say Animal Kingdom is the largest park at Walt Disney World, and by the end of a visit your feet will agree!
Hope you didn’t bring a selfie stick with you! They are banned from the parks, if you hadn’t heard. People seem to be getting the message, since I didn’t see security stopping anyone with one.
The Oasis is Animal Kingdom’s semi-successful attempt at an anti-Main Street, without out any major retail shops or even a clear sense of how to get to the park’s center. But it does have one great unheralded attraction — DiVine, a costumed stilt-walker camouflaged as a giant plant.
Unfortunately, DiVine’s appearances are no longer printed in the publicly distributed times guide:
However, here is her schedule for this week from an internal cast member document. It should give you a rough idea of when her sets are.
Often her first set is before the park is officially open, when guests are allowed into The Oasis before “rope drop.” If you want to know for certain when DiVine’s next showtime is, ask a cast member near the stroller rental.
Entering Discovery Island, I was happy to see that construction walls had been pushed back in places, though plenty of work is still progressing.
Time for a show of a different kind. True to my word, I am continuing my self-destructive self-imposed task of tasting all the quick-service lobster dishes that have been springing up around Walt Disney World. This week I tried the one that struck the most terror in my heart: the $5.99 baked lobster macaroni and cheese from Beastly Kiosk.
The visual presentation leaves something to be desired, and once you peel back the solid layer of semi-burnt cheese, you find a gelatinous stew of pasta and cream that is…surprisingly not awful. This Béchamel isn’t going to win any culinary awards, but the seasoning wasn’t too heavy on the salt, and the pasta had a nice bite considering it was being kept in a warming oven for heaven knows how long.
The joke is that the titular shellfish amounted to less than a dozen tiny flakes, identifiable more by their red color than texture or flavor. I’m guessing that this is what they do with the scraps from the lobsters’ skinny legs after making all the other lobster dishes on property.
Though I was able to finish it (something I didn’t expect), I probably won’t order it again and can’t recommend the dish to others in good conscience. But I might order the slightly cheaper lobster-free version if I want a hot, savory snack on a future visit.
Luckily, while eating on the Flame Tree Barbecue patio I got a good look at the Rivers of Light construction to take the taste out of my mouth…
…with a Coconut Lychee Lemonade from nearby Drinkwallah for a chaser. The negligible amount of rum in the serving wasn’t enough to make me tipsy, but it is a refreshing alternative to soda-based beverages.
Its food may be pretty pedestrian, but they were doing elaborately themed dining long before the Leaky Cauldron.
Remember that stone arch at House of Blues I pointed out last week? The same artist, the late Mr. Imagination, also made this sculpture outside Chester & Hester’s.
Here is a line of Fastpass folks waiting to enter the Finding Nemo theater more than 30 minutes before showtime. Unless you absolutely need to sit front and center, there’s no need to spend so much time in the sun; there should still be seats available if you arrive 10 minutes to curtain.
If lemonade isn’t your drink of choice, how about a nice Yeti beer? This is being sold at a cart outside Expedition Everest, near the bridge to Finding Nemo. Be warned — it has the color and consistency of liquid chocolate, and could put you in a coma if consumed on a hot day!
Here’s some continuing construction on the former Expedition Everest Fastpass building…
…and here are some monkeys. Because, monkeys! [Edit: Ok, as a reader points out, gibbons are technically Lesser Apes, not Monkeys. But hey, I still call King Kong a monkey, so please don’t learn your zoological nomenclature from me!]
Stop to admire some of the subtle theming around Animal Kingdom’s Asia areas.
While I didn’t ride any attractions on this visit to Animal Kingdom, I did have a Fastpass+ appointment to meet Mickey and Minnie in the Adventurers Outpost.
This was my first time experiencing that meet and greet location, and though it isn’t as elaborate as the newer Magic Kingdom meet and greets, it was a big improvement over any un-air-conditioned queue.There’s some memorabilia from the Mouse couple’s travels in the waiting area and posing studio.
This Mickey and Minnie don’t speak to guests, which you’d think would help move things along. But during my visit, every family seemed to insist on taking every possible permutation of photo — whole group, singles, couples, just the kids, action shots, etc. etc. — before moving along. Even with Fastpass+, the entire process ended up taking over 30 minutes with only a dozen or so people ahead of me.
Rather than hold up the people behind me, I snapped a quick selfie and split.
Next, I literally bumped into Baloo and King Louie…
…on my way to take another look at the new Harambe Market, which has quickly become one of my favorite parts of the park.
Have you wondered what this sign means?
Here’s the secret, according to an Imagineer who helped design the graphic theming of Harambe Market. It translates from Swahili as…Hidden Mickey!
Time for our first big show of the day. Festival of the Lion King is one of WDW’s longest-running stage shows (behind Hollywood Studios’ Beauty and the Beast) and scored the top spot in Derek’s list. As you can see from the crowd at this performance it’s just as popular with the populace as with critics.
Keep in mind that the doors don’t open until about 15 minutes before showtime, and there are usually plenty of standby seats for everyone. Since the show is presented “in the round,” one section’s view doesn’t have much advantage over any other. Unless you really want the front row, there’s no reason to spend a Fastpass or show up too early for this show.
The quartet of lead singers sets the tone for the show with their preshow, and this day’s cast was terrific.
The first time I saw the show in it’s new Africa home, I didn’t fully appreciate how much the upgraded fog and lighting effects enhance the show’s atmosphere.
Sure, the set pieces are based on leftover floats from an old Disneyland parade, but they still get the job done.
And did I mention…monkeys? The tumblemonkeys’ acrobatic antics to “Hakuna Matata” are always a highlight of the show.
The fire twirling segment also gets a little hotter in the new venue.
The aerial adagio routine during “Can You Feel The Love Tonight” is another high point (pun intended).
Festival of the Lion King piles climax upon climax, with more false endings and encores than the third Lord of the Rings film. But it sure does look pretty!
Finally, it’s time for Derek’s number 2 pick, and my personal favorite live show at Walt Disney World, Finding Nemo The Musical. I arrived less than 10 minutes before showtime and snagged a single seat right near the stage, but I usually prefer to sit a little further back.
As you might have guessed from all the exclamation marks, I really love this show. The original WDW cast was absolutely the best ensemble assembled for a theme park musical since DHS’s old Hunchback of Notre Dame show — even better than the New York professionals on the cast album — but the current performers also do a bang-up job. While Lion King has familiar Elton John melodies, I love that Nemo has a witty, tuneful original score from the same composers who went on to pen the soundtrack to Frozen. And while Festival of the Lion King’s eye-popping spectacle can send a shiver up my spine, Finding Nemo’s emotional characters and plot often pull a tear or two from my eye, a rarity for any attraction.
Finding Nemo remains my number one pick, but I won’t quibble with anyone who rates Lion King on top. Let’s just be grateful both great shows are in one park!
Bonus Pro Tip: Want a bottle of water on your way out of Animal Kingdom? Cut through Rainforest Cafe as you exit, and pick up a bottle in their gift shop. They charge $0.25 less than the park, and stock natural spring water instead of filtered Dasani!
What is your favorite show at Animal Kingdom? And can you believe Seth tried the lobster mac & cheese…and lived?!? Share your comments below!