I suppose it’s only fair to say we’ve had an absolute fantastic time in Florida. Except of course for the searing pain in my bad ankle, which was completely done being an ankle within approximately the first 10 minutes of the trip, and then screamed in bloody agony when I refused to sit the rest of the trip out. Eventually it was too swollen for shoes and so painful I couldn’t spell my own name and so stiff it lost the ability to ankle. On that day I waved the white flag – I still went to the park, but enjoyed the sit and drink part rather than the stand in line for hours on an ankle that looks less like a human lady ankle and more like a pregnant elephant’s cankle by the minute. And don’t think the hot Florida sun helped. It did not. It was blistering hot for parts of the trip, and we managed to complain not one single iota since reports from back home included ice rain, cancelled school buses, and a word being tossed around with alarming frequency this winter: snowmaggedon.
Anyway, Disney was fantastic, as you’d expect it to be. Thank you to everyone who read along with our adventures. I spent a lot of time in lines reading your posts, often out loud, which helped to pass the time quite nicely. Disney has changed a lot in the 6 years since I last visited, but the lines are still enormous. It’s possible that the tail of the line from 6 years ago was just getting toward the front this time.
‘Disney World’, as opposed to Disney Land, which is in California, is comprised of 4 parks in 2019: Magic Kingdom, Animal Kingdom, Hollywood Studios, and Epcot. There were two notable additions since our last visit. Animal Kingdom has built a Pandora, from the movie Avatar. And even though I quite despise the movie, the park was breath taking. It’s not about the rides, which are excellent, or the food, which is deliciously on theme. It’s the attention to small but measurable detail throughout – every plant, every rock. It looks like the beautiful land of the Na’vi, but tainted by the human touch, and slowly being reclaimed by nature. You could spend several hours just drinking in the visuals, and drinking the Night Blossom from Pongu Pongu (limeade with apple and pear flavors topped with passion fruit boba balls). The rides include the Na’vi River Journey, which is a dark little boat ride featuring glowing, luminescent plant and animal life from Pandora, and Flight of Passage, which is the real doozie. It can have up to a four hour wait. You read that right: four hours! That’s even longer that the dang movie, which clocks in at nearly 3. Luckily, we got the elusive fast pass. Unluckily, it was for the evening of our last day – well past my ankle’s expiry date, as you can imagine. I would have gladly skipped the ride and spent the day by the pool, but Sean was eager to ride it and had contemplated the 3+ hour wait just to ride it 3 days earlier. So we went. And even with a fast pass, expect to spend nearly 30 minutes before you get on the ride. It’s quite a trek up, up, up – and you’ll see why once you get in there. Then you watch videos from the scientists in the Avatar program, who first have to decontaminate you, and then find your DNA match so you can be matched with your own Avatar (it sounds good, but it’s just a bit of busy work). Then you get shuttled into an ante-anteroom where there are still more videos to watch. I’m positive that Jake Sully received less training than we do. Then, as you finally gain access to the ride, they warn you: the “banshee” you’re about to ride will dangle in mid-air as the floor drops away once you’re on, and the intense VR experience means that anyone with a fear of falling, or of great heights, or of dying due to either one, should not ride this ride. It would be kinder of them to warn you before your 4 hour wait, but alas, some of us found the description just a little too daunting and made a beeline for the exit, bypassing the ride completely. Luckily, there is a chicken bench for chicken shits just outside the ride. I was not alone on that bench (okay, fine, it was me and two little girls). Sean, however, chose to ride, and though it rattled him, he declared it the best ride at Disney, period.
Animal Kingdom is also home to my favourite “ride,” the safari. A huge open-air jeep takes you bumpily along the Harambe Wildlife Reserve, a 110-acre savanna dedicated to the protection of African animals, and home to 34 species of animals, including wildebeest, rhinos, elephants, lions, okapis, giraffes, and zebras.
And it’s also the home base of my all-time favourite movie, Up! You can meet Dug and Russell, you can see their show, UP! A Great Bird Adventure Show. And if that’s not enough for you, they’ve got a Wilderness Explorers interactive thing for kids. I’d heard about it prior to going and brushed it off, assuming it was mostly for Florida residents who were maybe getting a bit bored and looking for something extra at the park. I was surprised to find my two nephews, Jack, now aged 5, and Brady, age 7, so into it. You may remember from the movie Up that Russell is a Wilderness Explorer, aiming to get his “helping the elderly” badge. Kids at Animal Kingdom can traverse the park with a little guidebook and earn their own badges. There are dozens of Wilderness troupe leaders identifiable by their authentic uniforms just waiting to be approached. You do a little quest, learn a little something, and receive a sticker to paste in your booklet. The boys learned about Africa, and birds of course, and a surprising bit more. I thought they’d be too shy, and too busy with the flashier attractions, but they loved doing this.
When we visited, Animal Kingdom was celebrating the 25th anniversary (!) of The Lion King. Animal Kingdom is always home to the Tree of Life, an enormous, impressive, picturesque 145 feet tall and 50 feet wide sculpted tree featuring 300 meticulously detailed animal carvings throughout its massive trunk, all celebrating the place we all share in the Circle of Life (cue Elton John). Animal Kingdom has a wonderful Lion King show, you can meet Rafiki on Discovery Island and visit his Planet Watch to learn about animal conservation. And right now, there are special photo-ops around the park to celebrate this special anniversary on top of all the usual stuff, so if you love Lion King (and who doesn’t, you heartless bastards?), it’s a great time to go. Oh heck, it’s always a great time to go.