Walt Disney World Trip 2016 Day 3: Animal Kingdom

Read about Day 2 HERE!

You can find your atmospheric music here to better enjoy your reading experience!

I had never done rope drop at Animal Kingdom until my trip a few weeks ago. Actually, I've barely been to Animal Kingdom at all. In 2000, it was our final day, and we pooped out around 2pm because it was way too hot. In 2010 my friend Michelle and I did all the things we wanted to do in the evening hours on our arrival day. And in 2014 I accidentally arrived on an Extra Magic Hours day...and I wasn't a resort guest and couldn't enjoy it!

My goal was to get as much out of the day as we could, and avoid the pitfalls of the Animal Kingdom; i.e. the heat and the long walks.

They opened up the Oasis area which leads to the Tree of Life about 15 minutes before the park opened. If you really wanted to explore, you could. However, most of the people were taking their places at the Hub area in front of the Tree of Life. One branch moved to the left and took people to Kilimanjaro Safaris (of which we had a FastPass+ reservation). The other branch moved to the right and took people to Expedition Everest.

Mom and I were ready and rarin' to hit Expedition Everest, the best attraction in Animal Kingdom. Dad was going to take his time getting there, since he wasn't going to ride it.

Our great driver on Kilimanjaro Safaris - her husband is
a Jungle Cruise skipper!
The "official" opening of the parks took place in a pretty cool way. Suddenly out of nowhere, a flock of macaws swoops by and lands on a circular platform in the middle of the path. They've been trained to fly to that platform for feeding time. The cast members were underneath feeding them as the opening welcome was piped over the audio. And when the cast members finished feeding, they stepped off the platform, and the macaws knew they could take off again! Their takeoff was the sign for the park to open, and they really fly close over people's heads!

Mom and I did a pretty fast walk to get to Expedition Everest, which is at the back corner of the park. But when we got there, it was closed! We were still waiting and wondering what to do when Dad sauntered up. There was no set time for opening the attraction, so we decided to walk over to Africa and use our FastPass+ reservation on Kilimanjaro Safaris.

Animal Kingdom is a very large park, and walking from one area to another takes time. I do enjoy the background music that you can find in these walkways, though.

Kilimanjaro Safaris produced a plethora of animals for our morning ride, thankfully. You can see some of our animal sightings below:

After the Safari, we settle down in Africa to wait for the second showing of Festival of the Lion King. The Tam Tam Drummers of Harambe were performing, and I enjoy watching them - they really get into the music and are very fun! We sat in the seating area of the Dawa Bar, scrolling though our
Kilimanjaro Safari pictures. I grabbed us some more water, and while I was looking around I stopped at Kusafiri Coffee Shop and Bakery and bought the three of us a Mickey cinnamon roll! It was huge and was slathered in icing, which made it even more delicious.

Once we finished, we got in the queue for Festival of the Lion King. Most people will tell you that doing the FastPass+ for a show isn't worth it. Well, if you want good seats near the front, doing FastPass+ is a good idea. We didn't use it, and were up in the second-to-last row of seats. There isn't a bad seat in the house if you're of average height, but it would have been nice to have been a teensy bit closer.

Regardless of our seating, the show was fabulous, as usual. It's a very well done show, and the performers all look like they're having a great time!

When I looked at my phone's clock, I realized that there was a chance that we could see the 12:00 show of Finding Nemo: The Musical. The catch was that, once again, the two shows were at opposite ends of the park. But we decided to give it a shot.

We didn't race to the theater or anything, but we didn't saunter, either. As we got into the queue area, some cast members were coming out of the theater, and we guess they were going to close the queue line because the theater was full. We snuck in right at the last minute!

Since we were in at the last minute, we didn't find 3 seats empty. Dad sat up in the upper section, Mom managed a seat in the front row of the back section, and I was up in the front.

(By the way, we had kept track of Expedition Everest, and by 11:00 it was finally up and running. It had been a good idea to not wait in line!)

Finding Nemo: The Musical is probably my favorite non-nighttime show in all of Walt Disney World. The music was done by the same couple that did the music for Frozen, and it works really well with the plot of Finding Nemo.

I immediately start crying when the overture kicks in, and then I can sit back and enjoy the rest of the show. I don't know what it is about that opening - I guess it's the combination of the waiting, the loudness, and the beautiful music that gets me.

Spot Mom! (Hint: she's right in front!)
The puppets and actors don't just stay on the stage - they also come out into a center stage and also go in the aisles! Mom lucked out with her seat - there were a few actors that were right in front of her!

After that stellar show, we all found each other and decided to head out of the park. Even with the unfortunate closing of Expedition Everest, we had accomplished the other three must-dos of the park, including two shows! So we decided to celebrate that with lunch at Downtown Disney.

Er, sorry. It's called Disney Springs now.

I had driven to Downtown Disney back in 2014 to meet my friend Rachel for dinner, and it was a mess. The road was torn up and both sides were down to one lane, and you had to park your own car way across the street. It was just bad.

This time, all of that construction was done, and it was gorgeous! Now Disney Springs has two huge parking garages, which have numbers on each level saying how many spots are available on that level, and then numbers saying how many spots are available in each row, plus there's a light above each space, and if it's occupied the light is red, and if it's not it's green! It makes parking there (and it's free!) easy to do.

Disney Springs is really beautiful, too. The week before they had opened up the Town Square area, which had formerly been where all the nightclubs were. Now there were upscale shops and some pretty snazzy new food kiosks. When I saw the word "poutine," I knew what I was going to eat for lunch that day. There was no wait, and the poutine was freshly made and delicious.

My parents decided to go to Earl of Sandwich, which was a great decision. I would have definitely eaten there if poutine hadn't been calling my name. Mom had tuna salad, and Dad took my recommendation of Italian. Neither was disappointed. (It's the bread.)

Mom and I did a little shopping in the area. Mom bought a few items for her granddaughters (my oldest niece got a Minnie Mouse doll, and I saw in pictures that she was thrilled to bits!) and I bought myself a new towel set. There is a store devoted to all things Disney kitchen, and I would buy the whole store, if I could.

We had some issues with our MagicBands at some of the stores. Dad was looking for a nice Disney pin to put on his hat, and he also offered to buy my 2016 trip pin for my collection. But when he tried to use the MagicBand, it didn't accept it! Mom also tried it in World of Disney, and it didn't work! Fortunately for us, this was the only time we had a major issue with the MagicBand not being accepted.

Although I wanted to explore the newer areas a little more, my parents were tired and were looking to get back to the hotel for a break. So I postponed my excursion for another trip.

Mom and I decided to hit up the Big Blue Pool instead of the normal Little Mermaid Pool. The Big Blue Pool was up by the main building at Art of Animation, and it was larger and had more entertainment. They even had a snack stand there!

It was incredibly crowded, but what would you expect from a pool in the summer? We enjoyed watching some of the kids dancing with a cast member and shooting hoops with her. We enjoyed even more the Mickey bars we purchased from the snack stand. I could say we purchased it to make sure our MagicBands were working. To our appetite's delight, the MagicBands worked!

View of Everest from Flame Tree BBQ Seating Area
At dinnertime, we took the rental car back to the Animal Kingdom. (I guess I didn't mention it earlier, but we drove to Animal Kingdom and Disney Springs that morning and afternoon.) We parked a bit further away, but the tram took us up to the front of the park.

We weren't quite hungry for dinner yet, so we did It's Tough To Be A Bug first, which is a 3-D show inside the Tree of Life. I don't think I'd seen it since 2000, and it wasn't great, but it was a good way to kill time.

I knew exactly where we would be eating dinner: the Flame Tree Barbecue. It was near It's Tough To Be A Bug, and served up some delicious barbecue. We split a Ribs, Chicken, and Pulled Pork Sampler, which included beans, coleslaw, and cornbread. Since we'd had such a big lunch, this meal was perfect to split between the three of us. And it saved us money!

The best part of Flame Tree Barbecue, however, is its seating area. If you aren't directed there by a cast member, or don't look hard enough, or don't know already, the seating area looks nonexistent! But when you look behind the restaurant, there are five or six different sections of seating, and a few of them go right up to the edge of the lake, with Expedition Everest clearly seen on the other side. It's shady with a great view. We even had some winged creature eat with us! (No, we didn't feed it.)

I was delighted to find that the queue for Expedition Everest was down to 25 minutes, so while Dad went to get a Mickey bar of his own, Mom and I went around the lagoon and got in the queue!

The queue for Expedition Everest is very immersive, so waiting in it isn't a huge deal. First you go into an equipment shop for your trip up Everest. Then you enter a museum that talks all about the Yeti that is said to dwell in the Forbidden Mountain. They even have the remains of a campsite that was seemingly attacked by the Yeti and left no survivors. (All fake, obviously.)

My mother enjoys roller coasters, but she'll still keep her hands firmly on the seat in front of her. But with my many trips to Cedar Point (thanks, Matt!) I have turned into a hands-in-the-air, eyes-open kind of enthusiast! Both of us enjoyed Expedition Everest, but in our own ways. (As we were going up the mountain, we both spotted Dad down below waiting for us to finish!)

Our final highlight of the night was going to be the new nighttime show called The Jungle Book: Alive with Magic. Back in January, we thought that we would be able to watch a show called Rivers of Light, but due to technical issues, the opening of that show was delayed, and a story based on the recent version of The Jungle Book was introduced instead.

While we waited for the show to start, we walked around Dinoland U.S.A., which looks incredibly tacky and unconnected to the rest of the park, but once you understand the backstory, the area takes on a whole new meaning! I explained it to Mom and Dad as we were walking around, and they appreciated it more, but they didn't appreciate that the area wasn't built in a way that they couldn't figure it out for themselves!

Our FastPass+ window opened for The Jungle Book: Alive with Magic, and we found some pretty good spots. The nighttime show takes place on the lagoon/lake that is between the front of the park and Expedition Everest. For a long time it was just a lake. Now it has purpose!

We sat around for about an hour, but I was able to leave the area and get us some ice water, so it wasn't like we were stuck or anything. Everyone was keeping an eye on some clouds to the east, where lightning was flashing. Fortunately, that storm stayed in its place and didn't disrupt the show. There was some wonderful Asian Indian music that was played, which I really enjoy, but Mom doesn't. (She thinks it's too repetitive.)

I would say that The Jungle Book: Alive with Magic is very similar to Festival of the Lion King, except the performers are all on barges that get moved into place at the beginning. Plus, if you don't know the story of The Jungle Book, or haven't seen the recent movie, you might be a little lost. My parents and I had all seen the newest movie before we went on this trip, and we agreed that seeing that helped us appreciate the show even more.

There were dancers positioned in front of each audience section, and there were three main singers on the main barge. Each soloist sang a different song, from "Trust In Me" to "The Bear Necessities" to "I Wanna Be Like You." There were also water screens at certain times that showed parts of the film.

I personally liked the show, and my parents did, too. Yes, it wasn't as spectacular as Fantasmic!, but it was entertaining.

Before we left the park, we witnessed another new feature that had just been introduced less than a week ago: the Tree of Life lighting. Every 15 minutes or so there are projections on the Tree of Life that tell a story. It's only a few minutes long, but it's fun to watch. We watched the story of fireflies falling in love! (Aww!) At the end, the Tree of Life is lit up in a variety of colors. I think I heard there are four or five different vignettes that are shown throughout the night.

We got onto a tram and made our way back to our rental car and back to Art of Animation. We needed to get our bodies ready for our first real challenge of the trip: spending the day at the Magic Kingdom without a break! Read about Day 4 HERE!

Dad's Animal Kingdom Top 3:
Bronze - Kilimanjaro Safaris
Silver - Festival of the Lion King
Gold - Finding Nemo: The Musical


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