The humidity percentage and heat index have both been hovering around one hundred in Orlando, so where better to spend an “Africa hot” Best Week Ever than in Disney’s Animal Kingdom? Kidding aside, Animal Kingdom holds a special place in my heart, since it’s the first Disney park I ever got to attend before its official opening date, and it remains to this day the most beautifully landscaped of Mickey’s American parks.
Unfortunately, Animal Kingdom is probably also my least-often-visited WDW park, partly because there are only three rides there that I consider must-dos. While I love the Broadway-style shows at DAK, and the animal walkthroughs are truly world-class, it’s inevitable that thrill attractions are what I first focus on when picking a park to attend, and that’s one area in which Animal Kingdom lacks — at least until Avatar-land comes online in 2017.
Happily, there are a number of improvements coming to Animal Kingdom before then, so I headed out on an overcast Friday afternoon to explore the newest one.
My day started out on an awkward foot, as only one tram was servicing the parking lot when I arrived. By the time it finally arrived and transported me to the entry plaza, I practically had to sprint past the front ticket booths…
…Through the touchpoints…
…between the gauntlet of construction walls leading to the Tree of Life…
…past more construction walls around Flame Tree Barbecue (can’t wait for this to reopen!)…
…in order to reach my first FastPass+ destination: DINOSAUR.
But despite my uncharacteristic display of almost-athleticism, I exceeded the grace period my Fastpass+ return window by about 30 seconds. (I totally blame the slow family in front of me in the return queue.)
Luckily, when my band turned the sensor blue, I pleaded parking problems to the cast member and he took pity on me. Time for some time travel!
Oops, it turns out I didn’t need to jog or plead after all. The Fastpass+ line is actually longer than standby.
The preshow with Phylicia Rashad (a.k.a. Mrs. Huxtable) never gets old, but the projector bulb has. You can’t really tell from this photo, but the video image has become uncomfortably dim.
One difference between Dinosaur and the Indiana Jones Adventure in Disneyland (which uses an identical ride system) is that Dinosaur doesn’t offer single rider. On days like this, when the boarding area is completely empty between preshow cycles, it isn’t really necessary.
Dinosaur isn’t a bad ride per se, but every time I’m on it, I find myself wishing I was in Anaheim, being rescued from a rolling boulder by Harrison Ford instead watching 90’s-era lasers and a dino head-on-a-stick.
I think my expression in the photo below pretty much sums it up…
My issues with the ride aside, I love these cheeky t-shirts in the attraction’s gift shop.
After exiting dinosaur, I walked through Dino-Rama as quickly as possible (the only way I recommend).
On my way through, I noticed construction walls around one of the area’s carnival games.
That was nothing compared to the construction walls that stretch from outside the Finding Nemo theater all the way past Expedition Everest, concealing construction for the upcoming Rivers of Light nighttime spectacular.
With or without a working Yeti, I can’t visit Animal Kingdom without a lap on Expedition Everest.
Everest had only a 15 minute posted standby wait….
…but the single rider line was practically empty!
Walking towards the park’s Asia area, I encountered something completely new to me. In the last couple months, a pathway has been constructed from just past the Everest restrooms to the Kali River Rapids entrance.
The new path gives great views of the previously inaccessible back side of “monkey island,” home to many curious primates including the one pictured here.
It was almost hot enough for me to consider a swim in Kali’s reclaimed water, but the 30 minute wait (and the fact that I was already drenched with humidity) made me decide to pass.
Besides, by this time the skies were threatening to open at any moment…
…so I marched past the bird demonstration (which you really should stop and watch, even if you aren’t attending an entire Flights of Wonder performance)…
…to my primary destination for the day: the amazing new Harambe Market in Africa.
As a big Wizarding World fan, I don’t take this statement lightly, but in my opinion the addition of Harambe Market helps turn Africa into the Diagon Alley of Disney’s Animal Kingdom. The level of texture, detail, depth, and sense of place to the surroundings simply have to be experienced in person to be fully appreciated.
In addition to looking great, the new area has great taste. I left it to Len Testa to test one of every food on the quick service market’s African-inspired menus, but I did try a watermelon lemonade. It was wonderfully refreshing, and tasted of real melon rather than Jolly Rancher candy, but at $3.59 was way overpriced for a portion I could finish in three sips.
Speaking of good taste (or lack thereof), the most talked-about addition to Harambe is Zuri’s Sweets Shop.
People aren’t burning up social media over their impressive nut selection…
…nor the extensive rustic theming of the interior.
No, people are going crazy over crap-shaped candy. Want to know what animal poop tastes like? That’ll be $3.99, this way to the egress…
Personally, I’d rather stick with a marshmallow hippo or candy apple elephant.
At this point, the heavens opened up, and Orlando began its ritual daily deluge. Fortunately, I was just in time for my Kilimanjaro Safaris Fastpass+ appointment.
People might like to stay indoors in a storm, but the rain brings out the animals. Short of a dawn safari, the best Kilimanjaro expeditions I’ve experienced have been during downpours, and this trip was no exception.
During our “two week” excursion, we spotted nearly every major animal on the reserve, including the reclusive black rhino:
Hippos (which may or not be hungry hungry):
Giraffes (through the trees):
Monkeys (playing in the trees):
Elephants (in front of the trees):
Cheetahs (sleeping under the trees):
and Lions (just plain sleeping):
I also got a look at the ongoing construction on the savannah at the ride’s midway point, which I was told months ago would eventually be used during nighttime tours.
By the time I got back from my safari, the skies were starting to clear, and steam was rising off the wet pavement.
On my way back to the park’s entrance, I passed through the newly opened Starbucks, which has assumed the name “Creature Comforts.” As the fourth and final Starbucks to open inside a WDW park, there aren’t many surprises inside. The interior is nicely appointed, and all the usual suspects (including plenty of exclusive “You Are Here” mugs) are present for your drinking pleasure.
I took one last look around Discovery Island before I left, to inspect the omnipresent evidence of construction…
…and admire the gardens around the recently refurbished Tree Of Life, still my pick for the most gorgeous icon in a Walt Disney World park.
Finally, I’ll leave you with some food for thought: what do you think a $6 quick service snack containing “lobster” tastes like? This cart outside the It’s Tough to be a Bug exit holds the answer, for those brave enough to find out…
What’s your favorite Orlando park to explore in the rain? Do you think Seth should be forced to try the lobster mac & cheese? Leave your answers to these and other burning questions in the comments below!