Disney World- Animal KIngdom
Disney Excursion- Animal Kingdom
Friday- February 3,2012- Bonita Springs, Florida
We arose early on this sunny day in early February. We were off to Disney world today. We readied for the day, finished packing our bags and then set off North on Route # 75. The traffic was surprisingly heavy up through Sarasota and on towards Tampa. Lots of folks had weekend excursions planned.
East of Tampa, we turned onto busy Route # 4, a super highway that runs from Tampa northeast to Daytona. It too was busy with traffic. We passed through Lakeland and Winter haven and soon came upon our exit, Osceola Parkway southwest of Orlando, the entrance into the magical world of Disney. There are four major Disney theme parks here in Orlando and a large “downtown area” with shops and restaurants. Disney has about a score of different resort and hotel areas housing many thousands of rooms. We were headed for the “Pop Century” resort area. It is a collection of ten three-story hotels decorated on the exterior with pop icons from the 60’s, 70’s, 80’s and 90’s. A very large cafeteria and reception building sits in front of them and a large pool commands their center. We were going to meet up with Niece Michelle McGinnis, her husband Terry and two boys Mason and Avery. They were on a marathon visit to Epcot Center today and wouldn’t arrive back at the Pop Century until after midnight.
It was 1 O’clock in the afternoon and we were early for check in. We parked in the crowded visitor’s lot and walked into the cavernous reception area. The lines for checking in and out were slight. People sat with their bags waiting for buses and taxis to take them to the airport. Others waited for their rooms to be made ready. Mary had already checked us in, on line, so we got into a much smaller line and were taken care of immediately. Disney is all about making its guests happy. The pleasant clerk checked us in and said that our room was ready for us, a pleasant surprise. We got our room keys picked up our car and drove over to the building #10 parking area. The signage is good here and through out all areas of Disney. The Park copes with many languages every day and tries to make its directions as intelligible as possible.
Our first floor room was small but comfortable. We unpacked our gear and settled in. Then, we took a walk through the complex towards the main cafeteria where we settled in for lunch. Seven serving areas provided various selections for meals. You then walked through the cashier areas to pay for your food and sit in one of the huge dining areas. In that it was mid day, the traffic was light. Later in the day we would see the enormous hordes that descended on the eatery. With 2,800 rooms in the complex, a lot of hungry people pass through here daily. We enjoyed our tuna sandwiches with chips and decided that after lunch we would catch a bus for the "downtown area” of Disney, to browse the shops and enjoy the afternoon.
Just outside the reception area, are six different bus stops for the passengers waiting to climb on board. Each bus took you to a different destination. Our bus to downtown arrived a few minutes later. We boarded it for the twenty-minute ride through the complex to “Downtown Disney.” The area had expanded from the last time we visited. It now consists of over seventy shops and restaurants, surrounding most of the shores Lake Buena Vista. A water taxi was available for rides from one end of the complex to the other, a distance of about a mile. A Ferry service also carried guests up a nearby canal to the Port Orleans and Riverside hotel areas. Each has their own dining complex as well.
We walked through the crowded shopping areas admiring the many gift shops, boutiques and restaurants. “Bongo’s,” “Rain Forest Café,” “Paradiso 37” a few bars and any number of small cafes and food stands vied for customers. Disney gift stores and other boutiques did a brisk business. During the evening hours, this venue is packed wall to wall. Downtown spilled into the “Market Place” and finally the “West Side.” Here there are several theaters, a large sphere that houses the Circ du Soleil acrobatic show venue and a bowling area. Large groups of school kids walked by us, some wearing the same colors for easy identification. You could hear the flavor of many languages all around you. Spanish in particular seemed to predominate. Perhaps because in the Southern Hemisphere it is summertime and most schools are out for the year.
It was a bright sunny afternoon as we walked back through the complex of shops. We stopped for a time ant a large amphitheater and listed to a high school choral group from Cincinnati, Ohio. They were animated and alive in their performance, the full vigor of youth in their shining eyes.
Near the bus stop areas, and behind the Rain Forest Café, we found and boarded the water Ferry that would take us up to the Port Orleans complex. We sat in the ferry and enjoyed the surroundings. We passed by one of the Disney Golf courses and waved to the duffers on the elevated tee. A whole complex of upscale hotel rooms were undergoing renovation along the shores of the canal. A “Tree House” area provided large rooms in circular buildings for large families visiting the Park. Daniel, our ferry captain, was a font of Disney information and corny jokes. He was one of the 66,000 local area residents who worked full or part time “for the Mouse.”
The Ferry stopped first at Port Orleans and let off a few passengers. Then, we motored up to the “Riverside” complex, where Mary and I got off. There is a good-sized cafeteria here a small hotel and a gift shop. We bought some decent coffee and sat in rockers on the hotel porch, watching guests walk and bike by us. It was a bucolic afternoon on a small river in Disney.
The afternoon was waning and we were tiring as well. We walked back down the River to the Port Orleans area, where we reboarded the ferry for the ride back to Downtown Disney. There, we stood in line for the bus that would take us back to the Pop Century resort. The ride was brief. Traffic was building on the area roads with the Disney shift changes and the influx of arriving guests.
At the Pop Century, we browsed the gift shop, picked up a few snacks for the evening and then repaired to our room. It was early evening but we were tiring with the day. We enjoyed a glass of cabernet and read our books. ( “Honorable Mention” - Robert Macomber). A PGA golf tournament was on television. The sand man came early for us this evening.
Saturday- February 4, 2012- Disneyworld, Orlando, Fl.
We were up early on this cool February morning in Disneyworld. We prepped for the day and then met the Mc Ginnisses for breakfast in the cavernous cafeteria of the Pop Century resort. It was 7:30 A.M. and the crowds were just beginning to form. We hadn’t seen Michelle, T and the boys since spring of the previous year when we had stopped in Altoona on our way North from Florida. The boys were getting taller and more mature.
We chatted over breakfast, catching up on family matters and events of the last year. Then, we walked out front and got in the line for the bus to the “Animal Kingdom.” Mason and Avery had done a yeoman’s task of researching and planning the day’s adventures. We were looking forward to enjoying the day with them.
The bus picked us all up and we drove through the Disney grounds towards one of the more interesting venues in the complex, that of Animal Kingdom. The resort area centers around “Discovery Island.” An enormous ten-story high “ tree of life” catches your attention first. It looks real enough and draws attention from all of the surrounding areas. Several restaurants and many kiosks help sustain the multitudes as they walk through the park. Connecting bridges from the central island link up visitors with “Dinoland,” the Mt. Everest roller coaster, the “Asia experience,” “Rafiki’s planet watch,” “Afrika,” “Mickey’s jammin jungle,” and “camp Mickey and Minnie.” Descriptions of each would take forever, so suffice it to say that there are amusement rides, gift shops, musical theaters, and all manner of animals on display. It was to be a fun filled, nine-hour experience that we much enjoyed.
Our first adventure was in the wild Africa preserve. We boarded motorized safari vehicles for the 30-minute ride through an African veldt . We watched in awe a whole cavalcade of wildlife drift by us. Black Rhinos stood in the field and hippos submerged in the river, along with giraffes grazing the tree tops in the veldt. Crocodiles floated by in the streams, as exotic bird life rested in the trees or flew overhead. The enormous baobab trees speckled the savannah. Their enormous girth, dotted with a thin crown of leaves, eminated from the huge arm-like branches. Cattle, Thompson’s Gazelles and Antelopes munched on the grass idly as we passed by in our lumbering safari vehicle. We could see a few lions secreted in a large rock out cropping. We wondered how they kept all of the animals from eating each other in the confines of the park. We were to learn later that each animal responds to a set of auditory cues and is lured towards a backstage enclosure to be fed and housed for the night. The process takes three hours nightly to “tuck them all in.”
The African elephants are graceful as they amble through the high veldt. The cheetah, the ostrich and an enormous white rhino just stared back at us blankly, perhaps wondering what an exotic species we were in our noisy and metal conveyance. A patch of pink caught our eyes as we drove past a flock of colorful Flamingos in a small pond. They are beautiful to watch as they spread their pink-tinged wings.
The radio on the safari vehicle had included a constant chatter from a supposed African Park Ranger, who was warning us of animals on the loose and poachers in the park. The ride concluded as we herded a group of poachers into the arms of a Park Ranger. It was interesting and fun.
Next, we detoured to the biggest attraction for the boys. In the distance we could see the enormous recreation of Mt. Everest. It is the big roller coaster ride in the Park. Not fond of heights, we waited near a small waterfall as the McGinnises made their way to the coaster. After a time we watched them all come screaming down the front of the mountain, at a very high rate of speed, cornering the track amidst a small stream, the occupants red-faced and screaming with delight. The boys decided to do the ride again so we sat in the sun and enjoyed watching the crowd stroll by as the boys rocketed through the mountain again. The delighted screams of the youngsters on board was auditory testimony to the rides popularity.
We were joined at this point by Terry from Tampa, a Pharmacy school pal of T’s. He had his two small boys, Dylan and Dallas with him. They spent the day with us and share our adventures.
“Finding Nemo” in Dinoland was next on our line of March. Inside of a considerably large theater, we sat with hundreds of others and watched a very professional live musical of the story of the wayward fish that gets caught in a net and then escapes back to his father. The boys knew the story cold. It was all new to Mary and I. The characters were played by actors holding large exo skeletons of fish, sharks and other crustaceans in a fun filled musical. We much enjoyed the performance.
The major attraction in “Dinoland” is the Dinosaur roller coaster ride. We all lined up and were seated on 12 person coasters for a ride through a darkened cave of outsized dinosaurs that snarled out at you as the ride rounded a corner. The dinosaurs were realistic and nasty looking as they lunged at us, scaring the very young on the ride. It was very fast paced and interesting.
It was nearing noon and the boys were getting hungry, as all young people do. We found the nearby Pizzafari restaurant. The place is set up to distribute large amounts of pizzas and salads to the hungry. We all got in line and were served a personal sized pizza with a salad and a custard dessert and a bottle of water. We sat as a group and enjoyed the pizza lunch. Though a bit heavy, the food was fresh and delicious. We marveled at Disney’s ability to do so many things correctly for so many people, without much of a fuss. They get my award for order, neatness and quality of service.
After lunch, we walked over to the Minnie and Mickey huts. Here, the famous characters, in full costume, are available to meet park visitors and have their pictures taken with them. The small children stood agog at seeing the characters up close. Even the boys were smiling as they met and talked with the characters. We had several group photos taken. This is a new service in the park worth mentioning. Professional photographers are available all throughout the park. They take whatever scenic venue pic you wish with your own cameras and then with their’s. Then, they scan your park pass. The pics will then be held on line for you to choose those that which you wish and have printed. It is a nice service for families and groups.
From the character rondevals, we walked to the nearby “Lion King” Pavilion. The huge rondeval held hundreds of us while lively performers, holding the outsized exoskeletons made famous in the musical “Lion King,” danced and sang lion king theme songs. “”"Hakuna Matata” from the musical was a favorite, as the talking warthog, colorful birds and other outsized animals all competed for our attention. Dancers, singers and actors entertained us for thirty minutes in a professional repertoire that you might see on Broadway. It was fun for all of us.
The boys had done a great job of laying out our line of march, in a contiguous fashion, so that the attractions we saw were close to each other, minimizing waster walking time. We walked across the small bridge to the Tree of Life. We walked through a facsimile of its giant root system, all carved with the visages of many animas and entered a small theater. Here, we put on our three d glasses for the show “Tough as a bug.” The animated show featured bugs and how tough they have it with man always trying to exterminate them. We were treated to the smell of a stinkbug spraying us, the mist from another bug and small butterflies flitting around our head via the three dimensional glasses. We even had the lights go down and a few hundred spiders descend on us from their ceiling hidey-holes. It was fun to enjoy the technical animation and color of the show.
After the bug show, the boys wanted to go back and ride the Mt. Everest Roller coaster. We walked through the growing throngs to the ride, enjoying the warm sunshine of an 80-degree day in Disney. The ride was crowded but the boys managed another two scream filled rides through and down the mountain on the giant coaster. Mary and I watched the crowds stroll by in all of their color and diversity. Many languages caressed our ears from the visitors from many lands.
We were all tiring, but still had things to do. It was nearing 3:30 P.M. and the day was waning. We lined up along the parade route and waited. A colorful cast of characters, from the various musicals, walked by on stilts and dressed in colorful costumes, waving to the visitors and delighting them with their out sized and exotically colorful costumes.
A train ride from Harambe station took us through the Rafiki’s planet watch, but the park closing was nearing so we didn’t get off to view the avian life exhibits and backstage cages of the park animals. Perhaps next time, we will see them.
The crowds of people all around us were streaming to the park gates as we approached 5:00 P.M. We had time for one last ride. We walked back to Dinoland and rode the coaster through the dinosaur tunnels once again, marveling at the realistic animated dinosaurs that threatened us all along the ride.
We were all tiring with the day, as we walked back towards the entrance for Animal Kingdom. The McGinnises had made reservations for us at the “Rain Forest Café,” at the Park’s entrance. All nine of us were seated in the forest-like interior. Monkeys, birds and other animated creatures screeched and moved in mechanical rhythm as we sat near the raindrops dripping down into the wall nearby. It was crowded and noisy with animated visitors. We talked with the boys about their schooling, sports and futures as we waited for dinner. The food was pretty good, and the service pleasant, as we ate and reviewed the day.
After dinner, we walked through the huge gift shop, buying a few souvenirs of Animal Kingdom and then made our way out of the park. We bid goodbye to Terry and his sons, Dylan and Dallas, and then made our way to the bus stop for our short ride back to the Pop Century resort. It had been a fun and interesting day but these safari people were tired. We said goodbye to T, Michelle, Mason and Avery and promised that we would visit them in Altoona when next we drove through the area. We made our way \back to the room where we settled in to watch the PGA on t.v read our books and retire. It had been a long day.
Sun. February 6, 2012- Disney World, Orlando, Florida.
We were up by 5 A.M. The Mc Ginnises had already boarded a 4:45 A.M bus to the airport for the flight back to Altoona. We showered, packed our bags and drifted over to the cafeteria to buy a few things for breakfast. It was pandemonium inside. Thousands of the little visitors swarmed every possible eating site. We managed to snag a few bagels and cups of coffees and swim through the throng to the exits. Wow, do they ever pack them in that place. It was time to go.
The ride back was uneventful. We drove Rte, 4 east to the exit for rural route #27 South. We followed it through the central spine of Florida, before picking up rte # 29 near Lake Okeechobee. Then we drove through Labelle and on to Ft. Myers where we drove Rte #75 to Bonita Springs and home. It had been a nice three-hour drive. We were glad that we had gotten time to see and spend time with the McGinnises in such a happy venue.
Bonita Springs, Florida
Joseph Xavier Martin