Sitting in the front seat of a safari truck, transfixed by the flock of birds sitting in the stunted branches of a baobab tree, in the peace of the African savannah, I knew we had made the right decision. Disney’s Animal Kingdom, one of the four theme parks that make up Disney World in Orlando, Florida, is a tranquil, shady haven. More like wandering through a beautiful zoo than a theme park.
Our Orlando itinerary
With a 3-day pass covering all four Disney parks, it is not easy deciding the best use of your time.
Given the magnificent zoos we have here in Australia, like Werribee and Dubbo, I thought our time might be better spent elsewhere. But Sam from The Annoyed Thyroid raved about the safari, likening it to the safari that she did in Africa, plus I’d read wonderful things about The Festival of the Lion King show.
Of course it helped that we were only here in the morning.
If I had the time and money, my ideal way to see Walt Disney World (WDW) would be to only spend the mornings at the parks. It’s quieter and cooler. Then around 1pm when it’s madly busy and very hot, retreat to your hotel pool to relax for the afternoon.
And it’s not the cost of the entry tickets which prevents you from doing this. We bought a 3-day parkhopper (you can visit multiple parks per day), but for about the same price you could get a 6-day pass, if you’re happy to stick with one park per day.
It is more having time constraints and accommodation costs. We had ten days on the ground in Orlando and I could have very happily spent six days at WDW, but what about the Wizarding World of Harry Potter and the rest of Universal? What about Kennedy Space Center? Legoland? Some time to relax would be nice too!
We jam-packed our time, with alarms set to get to parks before opening, and very late nights for the kids, and this is what we covered –
- Animal Kingdom – half day
- Magic Kingdom – two days
- Epcot – half day
- Universal – two days
- Legoland – one day
- Kennedy Space Center – one day
- Disney Springs/Moving hotels twice – one day
- Outlet mall – half day
- Pool – 3 x half days
Due to Extra Magic Hours (for Disney hotel guests only), opening was 8am. There’s no opening show like at Magic Kingdom, but the earlier you get there the closer to the front of the crowd you are for when they open the gates. They usually let you in before the official opening time – for us it was 7.50am. We had to wait maybe 20 min for a bus from the hotel, so we arrived only a few minutes before it opened.
Being woken by an alarm at the crack of dawn may not be your ideal, but it is so worth it. You get on so many rides in such a short period of time, which basically means it’s all about the fun. Not all about the long queues.
In 2 hours we went on a Kilimanjaro Safari, twice on Expedition Everest – loved that one! – and Kali River Rapids. No queues, just walked straight on.
We saw the 10am Festival of the Lion King show, then at 1045am we had a booking for our first character meal.
With our truly world-beating zoos, I was a little worried that we would be disappointed by this, but it is really well done. I wouldn’t say it was any better than Werribee, but you do see quite a number of animals in close proximity to you and to each other. It is compact, rather than the wide open spaces of Werribee, while still giving you the feeling of being in Africa on safari.
We lucked out and were given the front row of the truck. We had a rhino cross the road in front of us, saw hippos, elephants, giraffes and so much more. It was a beautiful celebration of African animals, and a lovely relaxed “ride” to start with.
This ride is now up there with California Screamin’ at Disneyland as my absolute favourite roller coaster. Smooth, great theming, and scary enough without me seriously fearing for my life. Unsurprisingly it is themed around Mt Everest and Nepal.
This was a fascinating introduction into how Disney manages to keep all its queues shaded and entertaining. These are the sort of details that they do so well. I found it very impressive. There is always something to do or look at while you’re waiting in line. And when you’re on a ride, you never see the ugly back side of other rides or into maintenance areas. The theming completely surrounds you.
On this ride the line snaked outside (undercover) past landscaped gardens, flags and bells you could ring, then inside through a little Everest museum with lots of interesting artefacts to look at. Not that we had the chance, because at this time of the morning we could walk straight through.
Despite the kids’ faces in the pic below, it was all of our favourite ride of the whole trip.
Kali River Rapids
The kids love this type of ride, so much that they had a photo of it on our trip planning board. It’s very similar to Thunder River Rapids at Dreamworld, if you’ve been on that one.
It is not so much my thing. I’m not big on getting wet. I pushed for wearing ponchos to stay dry, but it kind of ruins the vibe. If you’re going on a wet ride, it’s better to accept you’re going to get soaked and enjoy it.
Festival of the Lion King
Disney shows are seriously good. We saw Aladdin on the cruise, which was a shortened version of the Broadway one!
While this one is not the same as The Lion King stage show, it is still wonderful. The animatronics are cool, the dancing and acrobatics are sensational, and there’s a lot of colour and movement, which kept the kids enthralled.
The music was the highlight for me though. Many of the songs from the movie/stage show are included, and the performers are amazing – truly Broadway quality.
Donald’s Safari Breakfast at Tusker House
The unique thing about this meal is that you can sit at your table for as long as you like and the characters will keep coming around and will keep interacting with you. At subsequent character meals you could probably sit at your table for as long as you wanted, but the characters will bypass you after you’ve had your interaction. So you kind of feel like you should leave. Although most people have probably got heaps of rides they want to head off to anyway.
After an early start and rushing around fitting in the rides we wanted, you could find me comfortably ensconced in a corner with my very own pot of coffee. Happy mummy!
It’s a buffet, so there’s no shortage of food, and the kids loved being able to serve themselves. Particularly impressive was the head chef escorting people with allergies individually around the buffet, so that he could answer their questions and detail the ingredients.
And it doesn’t take much time inside Disney to realise that most service roles are filled by older people. They won’t let a bored teenager anywhere near you here!
Read about the rest of our trip here –
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