Opening Day at Disneys Animal Kingdomor How I convinced myself to get up at 4:30 a.m. and like it!
Upon advice of cast members, I managed to get myself on-property by 5:30, past the parking gate by 5:40, and in line by 5:50. I anticipated that Disney would be merciful, especially as the crowd was threatening to outnumber the substantial security force present, and we were admitted promptly at 6 a.m., a full hour before the promised time.
I had visited AK a month earlier, during cast member preview days. Because of circumstances and my host that day, I missed several things. I caught most of them in the next hour. All day, I never felt obliged to wait more than 10 minutes in line, except for the stage shows which require 30 minutes.
I heard that the parking lot was full and closed by 7 a.m., and that the turnstiles were locked to non-resort guests by 9 a.m. Perhaps 15% of the parks capacity of 22,000 seem to have been media, with rows of booths for radio stations, and several areas roped off and lit for TV standup.
In addition to Disneys own survey crews, several media crews were interviewing random guests, as well. I had a pithy comment prepared about Walts desire to have live animals on Disneylands "Jungle Cruise" in 1955 having finally come true, but probably because I was ready, I wasnt invited to interview.
I took two trips each through "Its Tough To Be a Bug" and "Countdown to Extinction". Good shows both, although CTX seems to have a few bugs of its own yet. My jiggle limit lies somewhere between "Big Thunder" and "Space Mountain", and Id say this was closer to the latter, but still okay by my standards. (OTOH, I turned down an invitation to ride a third time. YMMV.)
"Kilimanjaro Safari" is going to vary in results according to the whim of the animals. Best advice: go very early, and also late.
"Gorilla Falls" should always have some animals on view, but since its a walking tour, interesting activity tends to clog the pathway and limit interaction with the hosts and hostesses.
I saw all three stage shows, and rate both "Journey into the Jungle Book" and "Festival of the Lion King" among the best of their sort Disney has done. The Jungle Book cast I saw today wasnt as impressive as those I saw last month (without costumes), and I miss Kaas big scene which was cut for time, but with three or four casts, some are always going to be better than others. The Pocahontas show at "Grandmother Willows Grove" was a big step down. It was fun to watch a few animals run across the stage, but the writing was poor and rather pedantic.
While there has been a derisive thread on rec.arts.disney.parks lately about "Plant Kingdom", I have to say I am most impressed by the landscaping. Without taking anything away from the substantial animal exhibits, the grounds are simply stunning for a freshly opened park.
There are six times the number of plant species as animal, and they are every bit as well presented. Ive heard that backstage tours will start in JuneIm waiting for the horticultural tours!
While there is no table service restaurant in the park (Rainforest Cafe is outside, and their service is distinctly undisnical), there are some substantial offerings among the counter service spots. I skipped Donalds Breakfastosaurus, but the buffet looked inviting when I peeked. I lunched at the Flame Tree Barbecue on their combo platter: decent BBQ to my taste, but I know thats often a matter of where youre from. Tuskers has an ambitious menu that even includes prime rib; I supped there on a "bread bowl" chicken salad whose onions and peppers outweighed the chicken, and the bread, while substantial, was in no way used as a bowl. The Safari Amber beer was quite potable as well.
I spent the whole day at the park -- 14 hours in all. Will this be a full days entertainment for you and your family? Well, it depends.
If you go expecting "rides" youre likely to be done in two hours. If you consider stage shows as well, make it four. However, if you are willing to slow yourself to match the pace of this most relaxed of the parks and take the time to meet the animals on their own terms; if you are as enthralled as I by the wonderful carvings not just on the Tree of Life, but on every building, lamppost, and sign; if you are the sort to notice and appreciate a conversation with a cast member from a foreign country or the way they made the concrete pathways look like muddy dirt paths with leaves and sticks in them; then you can indeed blow an entire day here.
I dont know if the Animal Kingdom is going to become my favorite of the four major parks, but its already got the Studios beat and Epcot would be next on my list if it werent for the variety and quality of dining options there. I plan to go back often, and expect to enjoy this very different sort of park each time I do.
If you have any questions about AK, please let me know. An extra excuse to go visit and find out is always welcome.
Bruce also has a Disney-themed web site that you might enjoy. The URL is http://www.magicnet.net/~bmetcalf/disney/. A link is provided, but you'll have to use the return button to get back here (since no direct return link is at Bruce's site).