This three-part series covers my family’s vacation at Walt Disney World in Orlando, Florida in December 2017. Such a trip is the best Christmas present I could ever ask for! Read Part I about EPCOT here.
Our first day at Disney World was jam-packed. Even though we were exhausted from traveling, I’m really proud of us for going for a full day. Animal Kingdom was next, but I always find that the second day is always the hardest because that is when the tiredness really starts to hit you. Consequently, we scheduled in some rest and relaxation. But first, play time!
Today we had extra magic hours in the morning, from 7-8am. I guess I hadn’t done all my research because we got there with the intention of heading straight to the new land of Pandora, but that area of the park was still closed. Turns out they gradually open up different areas of the park. We quickly decided to enjoy a lot of the rest of Animal Kingdom without the crowds. Sure, that decision meant we could not enjoy Pandora as much, but we had a wonderful time elsewhere.
This area was completely empty, which we enjoyed so much. We first went to DINOSAUR, one of my dad’s favourite rides. I remember as a kid being terrified of the giant T-Rex. Who am I kidding, I’m still a bit terrified of that thing. My dad and Victor are sensitive to spinning rides so they took a break while the rest of us went on TriceraTop Spin and Primeval Whirl. These are cute little rides that I always enjoy squeezing in between more intense rides.
Our first FastPass of the day was Expedition Everest – Legend of the Forbidden Mountain at 8:10am. This is probably one of my all-time favourite rides from Disney. It is the first ‘big’ roller-coaster at Disney World and it is just so smooth. There’s also a fun twist, which I won’t reveal here but don’t miss out on this one! We also went on Kali River Rapids, my favourite water-related ride in all of Disney.
With some time to kill before our next FastPass, we ventured to Discovery Island. I always enjoy walking around the giant tree. I feel like you can’t go to Animal Kingdom without seeing It’s Tough to be a Bug! It’s iconic, it highlights a lesser-known Pixar film, and it’s just a lot of fun. Plus, the tree itself is an amazing piece of work with animals carved into the ‘wood’.
Next up was the land of Africa. We were getting a little hungry so we stopped for some snacks. I had a Mickey Mouse Pretzel, but there are definitely sweeter options around like the ones found at Zuri’s Sweets Shop. Look at those elephant shaped treats!
Now, this is one attraction that our family has never been able to go on before. Kilimanjaro Safaris has been around forever, but we were never able to get in at a good time. This time, with our FastPasses, we finally made it! You board an open-air vehicle for an 18-minute ride through the ‘African savannah’.
The Harambe Wildlife Reserve is 110-acres big and is dedicated to the protection of African animals. There are over 34 species of animals! As exemplified by the reserve, Disney’s Animal Kingdom dedicates a lot of its time and effort into the conservation of animals which just warms my heart. They help with species re-introduction programs, like the reintroduction of white rhinos in Uganda. Disney also conducts species breeding programs and is essential to several animals’ survival plans.
I adore animals (who doesn’t?), so I was over the moon to even get a glance at some of these beautiful creatures. Obviously this is not a robotic attraction so it is a bit random what animals you see. We saw gazelles, wildebeests, elephants (eee), rhinos, crocodiles, lions, giraffes, and hippos.
We had been checking the Disney app all day long to see if the lines for Avatar Flight of Passage would reduce at all, but nope! If anything the lines just kept getting longer and longer. Alas, we did not get to try out this ride. In hindsight I’m pretty astonished at the wait times. I’ve been to Disney World five or six times, and never do I remember a wait time of 3-4 hours! Nonetheless, we explored the area and wow what a great little universe. The place is decked out in Jurassic-type flora.
Once we got to Pandora we explored the area a little bit before we used our FastPass for Na’vi River Journey. We still had to wait in line for quite a long time, but the FastPass definitely helped. This might have been the biggest disappointment of the day. I’m curious to see if other park-goers feel the same way. The ride is beautiful, a river journey through the land of Pandora. But, there is nothing else to it — no story, no memorable characters, no message, nothing. I feel bad for those people who waited in the non-FastPass line only to ride a boat for 4.5 minutes.
For lunch we ate at Satu’li Canteen. Having heard great things about this place, I’m so happy to report that it did not disappoint! I love the refreshing meal choices, and also how unusual it is. It is a great experience for families to have by illustrating that park food doesn’t have to be burgers and fries all the time!
After lunch we decided to go back to the hotel for a nice, long break. It is really important to schedule some rest into the itinerary otherwise Disney can really burn you out. Let me tell you about our adorable hotel.
Because we booked our vacation so last minute, my mom and I were incredibly concerned with regard to the availability of hotels. We knew we wanted to stay on the Disney resort because we wouldn’t have a car. But, we also wanted to keep the budget low as we were about to go on an epic Disney Cruise! These two goals usually don’t go too well together. But, after a ton of research, we ended up choosing Disney’s Art of Animation. The hotel has an emphasis on animation, focusing on four films in particular: The Little Mermaid, The Lion King, Cars, and Finding Nemo. Each film has its own area on the resort. I love how it’s two Disney and two Pixar films. And of course, they are some of the best movies!
This was surprisingly a very difficult to decision to make! Which themed room would we choose? The Little Mermaid was quickly eliminated because those rooms are not Family Suites. We took a vote and Finding Nemo won. This ended up being a great decision because its the closest area to the entrance and it was recently renovated.
We didn’t spend a whole of time exploring the resort itself, but it is a lot of fun! There are two pools, one in the Finding Nemo area and one in the Cars area. The Big Blue Pool is the largest of any pool in WDW! My favourite outdoor area was the Cars area, and their darling Cozy Cone pool. I adore the movie, so walking around and hanging out with all the characters is a dream. You first run into Flo and Ramone.
Flo: Oo Ramone, mama ain’t seen you that low in years!
Ramone: I haven’t seen a road like this in years!
Lightning McQueen: You know, I’ve really missed you Sally.
Sally: Well, I create feelings in others that they themselves don’t understand, and blah blah blah blah…
Mater: McQueen and Sally, sitting in a tree, K-I-S-S- uh… I-N-T!
Lightning McQueen: Great timing, Mater!
Sarge: Will you turn that disrespectful junk OFF?
Fillmore: Respect the classics, man! It’s Hendrix!
And my personal favourite characters, the Italian duo of Luigi and Guido.
Luigi: My friend Guido, he dream to give a real racecar a pit stop.
Once a couple hours had gone by, we were back up and ready to go exploring. As per my mom’s request, we went to Disney Springs for the rest of the day. This is probably the biggest change to us. We knew Downtown Disney like the back of our hands, but when we walked into Disney Springs we barely recognised the place. Downtown Disney underwent three years of renovation and in the mean time they added 150 new tenants, two parking structures, and a near-doubling of the mall area. Disney Springs has four distinct areas: The Marketplace, The Landing, Town Center, and West Side. The Town Center was the biggest news to me because it’s a basically a huge outdoor mall with brand names everywhere. I’m still not sure how I feel about this expansion, but my mom was loving it!
For dinner we headed to the Marketplace where Rainforest Cafe is located. This was mostly for old time’s sake, as we used to go here at least once each Disney vacation. I think this experience encapsulates what Disney is to my family. It’s about nostalgia and reliving good memories.
After two full days of Disney experiences, now it is time to head over to Universal!