We started out in the Animal Kingdom Park. We picked that one for our first day for 2 reasons:
1. The new Expedition Everest Ride - I had heard it's a GREAT roller coaster and I couldn't wait to check it out
2. It's soooo different than any of the other theme parks and I had seen TV shows about it and couldn't wait to see it!
So, we hopped onto the Disney bus and headed straight there - and once we got there, we headed straight for Everest!
I think I forgot to mention that I went to Florida with my buddy Gnugent. We travel so well together - we like a lot of the same things. So it's always so much fun to go places with him.
So here we are with the mountain in the background - this was our first view of it. Isn't it impressive? It's huge! The theming in the Animal Kingdom park is phenomenal, so the walk to Everest felt like we were walking through a Nepalese village. There was even a shrine to the Yeti - complete with offerings left in hopes of safe passage.
I got a kick out of this sign:
As you approach the mountain, you walk through a village full of shops to help you buy provisions for your trip:
The line for the Expedition Everest ride is also really neat. It's set up like a museum, where you see all sorts of interesting facts about animals that live on the mountain, about other expeditions that have gone before, and about the legend of the Yeti..... The mysterious creature that protects the mountain. There are even artifacts from a previous expedition that mysteriously vanished....
So, what did I think of the actual ride? I think I may have been anticipating it a little too much, because it wasn't as exciting as I expected, but it was FUN, and the special effects, especially the audio-animatronic Yeti, were amazing! We only got to ride it once. We had a fast pass to ride it again, but it broke down by the time we went back to it, and we never saw it running again that day.
Another really neat feature of the Animal Kingdom park is the Tree of Life. This is right in the middle of the park and it's the icon for that park:
It's really interesting to just sit and look at the Tree of Life. There is soooo much to see! Everywhere you look there are animals carved into the tree - but so cleverly that they're almost hiding. We walked around and around the tree just looking at all the different animals - and every time we looked at a spot, we'd see something different. It was really fascinating.
The rest of the park, of course, was also great. It's divided up by continent and there were areas where we could see the animals from each continent, and of course the shop/food areas were themed for that part of the world too. It's really, really well done and I would have liked to spend more time there. One thing I will say - between the plants and the water for the animals, and it just being Florida - well, it seemed even MORE humid in that park than it did in the rest of Orlando. We may have just been there on a beastly day (and it was a beastly day), but I swear the atmosphere of that park was thicker than anywhere else we went!
One of my dreams is to take a safari in Africa, so naturally one of my favorite parts of the park was the "Kilimanjaro Safari" attraction. You loaded onto a safari vehicle with open sides and took a trip out into the Savannah. We got to see all sorts of animals roaming free in various habitats: Giraffes (my favorite!), zebras, hippos, flamingos, gazelles, gnus..... And lots I can't remember. Oh - and the lions were very cool! There's even a little adventure on the ride as you pursue poachers through the park. Fortunately, we chased them away!
All in all, it was a neat park. I know it's considered a "half day" park (like California Adventure is at Disneyland), but I think I could come back time and time again if I lived closer. The rides were great and the atmosphere was amazing (if humid!). I highly recommend it.
Also - make sure to go over to the Animal Kingdom Lodge, which is the high-end Disney hotel themed with this park. It's amazing! I saw on a TV show that they even brought in workers from Africa to thatch the roof and the effect is stunning. Inside there are artifacts from Africa, including this ceremonial mask that several people get inside to perform a dance. You can go out on a balcony and see animals roaming right up to the hotel (there are strategically located feeding stations there to encourage them to come that close). And we had dinner at the restaurant "Jiko". Ohhh.... I'm drooling just thinking about it! The food is based on the cuisine of Africa and everything we had was unbelievably good. They also have the largest selection of South African wines that can be found outside of Africa. We tried a couple and I can say I'm a fan :-) (But I'd swear they are stronger than our California wines because I had a nice buzz off my one glass for a couple of hours!) I think I'd fly back to Florida just to eat at that restaurant again. It's definitely a "must try" in my book!