You’re back! That means that I didn’t scare you off in my last blog post, How To Plan A Trip To Disney World – Part 1, and you are ready to learn even more! This is all the fun stuff: what to ride, what to see and what to eat.
Before I begin telling you about our experiences at the different Disney World parks, a note about
If you have a child between the ages of 3-6, meeting the Disney characters may be high on their list of priorities. Since our first trip to Disney World was for my daughter’s 5th birthday, we tailored much of the trip around her wishes and hunting down characters was a good part of each day. I’m not going to lie; it’s a huge time-suck. The characters are very gracious and talk to, take photos with and sign each child’s autograph book. As charming as this is, as you can imagine, it takes forever.
To cut down on standing in line as much as possible, research where the characters congregate in each park and get there early (although many characters roam around, each park does have a specific character meet-and-greet place). Another good way to hit a bunch of characters at once is to attend a character meal. At any one meal there could be 4-6 characters. Allears.net has a list of all the character meals and it is recommended that reservations be made early. I’ll write more about the character meals that we attended in my next blog post.
Since we exhausted meeting many of the Disney characters on our first trip (and have the autographs and photos to prove it), my daughter didn’t express interest in talking to them again; she was happy to wave at them from afar. As for me, as long as I saw Mickey at least once, I was good (and he blew me a kiss during a parade).
DISNEY’S ANIMAL KINGDOM
This was our first trip to Animal Kingdom and our first day at Disney World, so we were anxious to explore. It’s not a terribly large park and is easily explored in one day. Like most of the Disney parks, the beauty is in the details.
RIDES & ATTRACTIONS
Kilimanjaro Safaris: This was the first thing on our touring plan of Animal Kingdom as it is one of the more popular attractions. The whole family really enjoyed the safari ride! The (real) animals are right there outside the vehicle and several times the jeep was stopped because an animal was crossing the road. There was a giraffe right next to our jeep! I really liked seeing the lions, my favorite animal. This is a must-see attraction. These animals are about 10 feet away from our jeep:
It’s Tough to be a Bug!: Disney does 3-D movies very well and this one didn’t disappoint; we all liked it. I won’t give too many details so as not to ruin it, but be sure to see it. We practically walked right into the movie and all day whenever I passed by, I didn’t see more than a 15 minute wait. But even if you have to wait a bit, looking at the carvings in the Tree of Life is fascinating.
Dinosaur: This was our first ride in DinoLand U.S.A. and I think after that my daughter was done with dinosaurs. While not really scary, the ride is mostly in the dark with roaring dinosaurs popping out here and there. It’s not something that we would ride again because my daughter didn’t like it and it wasn’t exciting or charming enough for the rest of us. But it’s worth riding at least once.
Primeval Whirl: We all got in line to ride this and my daughter barely made the height requirement. However when we got ready to ride, she refused to get on and waited with my husband while my son and I rode. It was okay; a small carnival type roller coaster with spinning as the main source of excitement.
Tricera Top Spin: A dinosaur version of the Dumbo ride at Magic Kingdom and completely harmless. My family rode while I went to check out Expedition Everest.
The Boneyard: This is a playground/climbing structure in DinoLand U.S.A. and my daughter wasn’t even remotely interested so we left without exploring. It looked fun though and gives parents a chance to rest.
Kali River Rapids: I had read that this ride gets you really soaked, so we brought our rain ponchos (I am not a fan of walking around soaking wet for the rest of the day). We were not the only ones in line with ponchos; most veteran riders had on some kind of protection. I even bought small trash bags to put over my shoes because wearing wet socks is one of my biggest pet peeves. And yes, if we hadn’t had on our ponchos, we would have gotten soaked! At first my daughter was afraid, but it isn’t scary at all and she had fun; any kid can ride.
*A tip: the “dry” compartment that is used to store your personal belongings so that they don’t get wet is in fact full of water and not at all water-tight. It would be a good idea to put your phone, camera, etc in a Ziploc bag first.
Expedition Everest, Legend of the Forbidden Mountain: I had to stand in line for 60 minutes because there wasn’t enough time to get a FastPass, but it was worth it. A good part of the line is outside, which would be brutal on a really hot day, but once the line moved inside it was really quite interesting to look at all the props in the “yeti museum”. I was nervous because you can see from the outside that the roller coaster has a big hill to climb, but I was also excited. What a blast! The roller coaster is thrilling, but in an unexpected way. And it is just so well done that I enjoyed looking at all the details – when I wasn’t screaming or laughing. This is one of my new favorite rides and I will be riding again for sure! As for kids, if they are tall enough and brave, then give it a shot. There were definitely young kids on the ride, but my kids would have lost their minds on the climb up the hill.
*If this is your kids’ first time riding roller coasters, try this: ride Big Thunder Mountain at Magic Kingdom. Was it okay? Then ride Space Mountain at Magic Kingdom. Still okay? Then ride Expedition Everest. If that didn’t break a sweat then maybe they could even ride Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster at Holllywood Studios (the biggest roller coaster at Disney World).
Finding Nemo—The Musical: In general, the shows at Disney World are great and we try to see as many as we can. We weren’t stressed to see this show, but we walked by when there was little wait and also we were hot and tired by now and could use a sit-down. Many of Disney’s theaters are built so that you will have a good view from any angle, but this was not the case in this theater and we were in the very back. I don’t know if it was because we couldn’t see very well or because we’ve seen Finding Nemo a million times, but most of us thought that this was just okay and actually boring. And it’s really too long. My son fell asleep and my husband too. My daughter didn’t seem to like it or dislike it. Maybe I didn’t like it because it’s very similar to Voyage of The Little Mermaid at Hollywood Studios – which I liked a lot – but really how many of these things can you see before they all blend together? My recommendation is to see it if you really like Nemo or just want to sit down (and get there early for a seat up front), but skip it if you are pressed for time.
Festival of The Lion King: In contrast to Nemo, this show is very high energy and really spectacular; there was no falling asleep! We did have a bit of a wait (15 minutes), but there really isn’t a bad seat, so you can even slide in at the last minute if there’s availability. This show is Disney at it’s best and in my opinion one the best things in the park, so don’t miss it.
Pangani Forest Exploration Trail and Maharaja Jungle Trek: These are “zoo walks” and basically you look at animals like you would in any zoo. Honestly this part of Animal Kingdom was not that appealing to us because we go to the zoo all the time in Atlanta and saw many of the same animals. We breezed through.
Mickey’s Jammin’ Jungle Parade: I am not a big fan of parades, but on our way out the park I happened to find a shady space for us to enjoy our ice cream and it was the perfect spot to view the parade starting in five minutes. I’m glad that we stayed because this was a really good parade with African masks and good music; it’s worth seeing.
We did not see: Flights of Wonder (my husband doesn’t do birds), anything in Rafiki’s Planet Watch or the characters in Camp Minnie-Mickey (my daughter wasn’t interested).
Flame Tree Barbeque: This was the most recommended counter service restaurant in Animal Kingdom. My son had the ribs and I had the chicken; both were very good, very flavorful, but my husband didn’t care for the pulled pork sandwich. I liked that the kids’ menu had baked chicken instead of the usual chicken nuggets.
Yak & Yeti Local Food Cafes: For a snack we had chicken fried rice and egg rolls and both were great, but the best thing there is the mango pie. Yum! It has the consistency of key lime pie, but with a mango flavor. It was so good that my son was scheming to get back there all week for more mango pies. When we finally made it back, the joke was on us when we read the package and saw that the pies are made here in Smyrna, Georgia at Kenny’s Great Pies!
The gift shops in Asia and Africa have great souvenirs from those countries. I liked (and bought) cute leopard print mouse ears for myself.
In general I have found that while shopping in Disney World, if you see something in one place, don’t expect to see it elsewhere; get it when and where you see it because you might not see it again. For instance, many of the rides exit out into a gift shop and sell souvenirs specific that ride, like pirate gear, Star Wars toys or Muppet tee shirts; it will be hard to find that merchandise anywhere else.
Get there early; the Disney characters welcome you into the park when it opens and it’s cute. See either Kilimanjaro Safaris or Expedition Everest first. Or FastPass one and see the other. It’s a good idea to ride Kali River Rapids early also or use FastPass. Other than those 3 rides, seeing the rest of the park is pretty chill.
OTHER THINGS WE LIKED/DISLIKED AND FINAL THOUGHTS
Don’t miss the monkeys on an island in Asia. If you are walking by quickly you might not think that they are real, but they are and really fun to watch.
Animal Kingdom was nice; not our favorite park, but worth visiting again if only to ride Kilimanjaro Safaris and Expedition Everest and see Festival of The Lion King. Dinoland U.S.A., in my opinion, should have been left out and instead another “country” should have been put in its place with real animals (not extinct ones). As you can see, we did a lot; we were there at 8:00 a.m. and left about 4:30 p.m., so this in an easy park to do in one day. Animal Kingdom is a nice park to just roam around leisurely. It’s very well done and very beautiful, but since we already visit the zoo so much, it wasn’t that exciting overall for us. On future trips I’m sure that we will make it a half-day tour and just hit the highlights.
DISNEY’S HOLLYWOOD STUDIOS
This was our second time at Disney’s Hollywood Studios and we were excited to go back. We all really enjoy this park because the theme of old Hollywood is so well done. Besides the great attractions, this is just a fun park to walk around. It’s easy to navigate and not very big at all; you can tour this park in one day. Also, since many of the attractions are shows, you’re often sitting down and exerting less energy. Hollywood Studios won’t leave you exhausted.
RIDES & ATTRACTIONS
The Great Movie Ride: Set inside a replica of Grauman’s Chinese Theater, it’s not really a “ride” as much as a tour of classic movie scenes. We all like this ride and it’s a must-do for us at Hollywood Studios.
The American Idol Experience: This is a new show at Hollywood Studios and our first time experiencing it. The stage looks just like the real Idol set and the audience votes for real park guests who have signed up to compete. It was fun watching the singers and voting; we would do that again.
Sounds Dangerous: We happened upon this “movie” right before the park was closing and ducked in because we had nothing better to do—and it looked intriguing. I put “movie” in quotes because really I don’t know what to call this attraction, but we all agreed that attraction is a waste of space and needs to be dismantled; it was our one disappointment with Hollywood Studios. Please, do not waste your time seeing this.
Star Tours: A favorite ride from Disneyland, this is a must-do for us. This flight simulation is just fun enough for the thrill-seekers, but not too scary for the timid riders.
Muppet Vision 3D: I’m a big fan of The Muppets and they are just as hilarious in this 3D movie as they are on the old TV show.
Honey, I Shrunk the Kids Movie Set Adventure: This is a fun playground filled with very large items (to make your kids seem small). My kids had fun playing while the parents took a rest. .
Lights, Motors, Action! Exteme Stunt Show: This is a great car stunt show for the whole family and a must-see attraction. After the show don’t miss walking around Streets of America.
*Tip: The show is outside and 33 minutes long; the front part of the audience sits in the sun while those in the back sit in the shade—plan according to your tolerance for heat.
Studio Backlot Tour: This is a walking and riding tour about how things work in the movies (like making it rain or having a set catch on fire). Eh, it was so-so. If this is your first trip to Hollywood Studios, then you should experience this attraction, but it’s not a repeat attraction.
Toy Store Midway Mania!: This is a new attraction and one of the most popular rides in the park. This was our first time riding it and now we know why it’s so popular – it’s so much fun! Even though we had a FastPass, we had a small wait and got to experience some of the waiting area, which is very fun and filled with Toy Store toys. This attraction is a most ride!
Journey Into Narnia – Prince Caspian: My family blamed me for this one because I talked them into seeing this attraction. It’s sort of a movie trailer and sort of an exhibit, but none of it is worth seeing; do not waste your time.
Walt Disney – One Man’s Dream: It’s worth seeing if you need shade, want a quiet activity or interested in learning about the man behind the dream. Skip it if you are short on time.
Voyage of The Little Mermaid: My daughter and I really liked this show, but my husband and son can’t comment because they fell asleep. In their defense, it takes place in a cool, dark “cave” and it was a welcome respite from the heat. But it’s a good show, very popular and worth seeing.
The Magic of Disney Animation: We sat through this because The Incredibles characters were waiting to be seen afterwards. It was interesting, but I wouldn’t have chosen to see it if not for The Incredibles and we won’t be seeing it again.
The Twilight Zone Tower of Terror: Besides Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster, this ride is the most intense ride at Disney World. Disney describes it as “dropping 13 stories at random, into another dimension.”
In How To Plan A Trip To Disney World Part 1, you read how my son and I were in the first group of people to ride Tower of Terror that day. Did I mention that my son doesn’t ride scary or intense rides? He sort of got bamboozled because we literally walked on the ride and he didn’t have time to freak out. He will tell you now, if he knew what he was getting into, he would have run the other way! He was literally speechless when we exited the ride. I agree; it was the most intense ride that I have ever ridden and I ride practically anything. But it was not just terrifying; it was so well done and I was really impressed! Wow!—Disney outdid themselves with this ride! If you can stand it, I encourage you to experience Tower of Terror because it’s unlike anything else.
We did not see: Indiana Jones Epic Stunt Spectaular! (we tried three times unsuccessfully to get a seat), Playhouse Disney—Live on Stage (it is for younger children), Beauty and the Beast—Live on Stage (no one was interested), Block Party Bash, HSM3 (we weren’t nearby) or Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster Starring Aerosmith (we ran out of time).
Fantasmic: Fantasmic is a nighttime show that is also shown in Disneyland, but it is much more dynamic at Disney World. Live actors, Disney characters, special effects and lasers make this one of the best things to see in all of Disney World and a definite must-see for us again and again. Truly spectacular!
We ate at 50’s Prime Time Café and we loved eating in “Mom’s” 1950’s kitchen complete with black & white televisions. The wait-staff are in character as well; our waitress made a man at another table stand in the corner because he kept putting his elbows on the table. The food is delicious—just like Mom’s. The meatloaf and chicken pot-pie were very good, but the pot roast is what you need to order—fantastic! Milkshakes and s’mores for dessert make this a yummy and very filling meal.
The shops on Hollywood and Sunset Boulevards are great; some of them are dedicated to movie paraphernalia and there’s a fun “villains” shop as well. If you ride Tower of Terror you have to get a souvenir from the the gift shop as a reminder of your survival; they have really cool “hotel” items like soap and robes.
Because Hollywood Studios is a small park, if it is crowded you feel it and lines form quickly. During the busy season it’s best to have a plan if you want to see the popular attractions. Get there early and head straight for either Toy Story Midway Mania! or Tower of Terror and Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster if you are brave (FastPass one and ride the other; they are right next to each other). Star Tours, The Great Movie Ride and Voyage of The Little Mermaid are popular too. You shouldn’t have too much of a wait for other attractions; FastPass the ones that you can and come back later to the crowded ones. Since the park isn’t that big, it’s not hard to double-back to attractions.
The rest of your touring depends on the shows that you want to see; pick up a Times Guide when you enter and plan your day according to show times. Most shows fill quickly so on a crowed day it may be a good idea to grab a snack and be in line 20-30 minutes before the show begins. However Fantasmic is a different story; during the busy season you must be at the theater 45-60 minutes before the show begins if you want a seat (there is standing room way in the back, but you don’t want to do that). There are bathrooms and food for sale in the theater, so get your seat first, settle in and then get food to keep your family distracted until the show starts. I bought my daughter a bag of cotton candy and didn’t hear a peep.
Downtown Disney is a fun place to go on your first night at Disney World or anytime you want a break from the parks, but still want some action. There are shops, restaurants, movie theaters and tons of other entertainment – too much for me to list. You can read all that Downtown Disney has to offer at allears.net. This is what we experienced:
Earl of Sandwich: This is a counter-service restaurant with really good sandwiches and excellent baked goods. Try the Earl Grey Lemonade.
Ghirardelli Soda Fountain & Chocolate Shop: The best sundaes at Disney World are at Ghirardelli! And they are huge—two sundaes were plenty enough for us to share.
World of Disney: This is a HUGE store full of all kinds of Disney merchandise: clothes, jewelry, household items, toys, Mickey ears and just about anything that you can think of. My daughter had fun customizing a princess crown, but be careful; those little do-dads add up and that $10 crown can easily morph into a $30 crown before you’re done.
TrenD: This is a new store in Downtown Disney and it is so cute! This is the place to buy your fashionable Mickey gear.
Disney Days of Christmas: I always buy a Christmas ornament every time we travel to someplace new and this store has the most beautiful ornaments and a huge selection. Each member of the family got their own ornament and we picked out a special family ornament as well.
Once Upon A Toy: I assume that it’s full of great toys, but we never made it past the Mr. Potato Head parts at the front of the store. For one price you can fill a box full of parts and we had a ball picking out all the different “outfits” for Mr. Potato Head; we left with two full boxes.
*Tips: The store employees are very good at stuffing the parts to full capacity; ask them to help you or show you what to do—there is a science to it. Also you can actually buy the parts separately for $2 each; obviously pick the biggest pieces. For more fun I hear that there are places in the store to customize a lightsaber or My Little Pony, but we never made it past Mr. Potato Head.
While my daughter and I were forging for Mr. Potato Head parts, my husband and son were at DisneyQuest playing video games. This is not your normal arcade, but a multi-level gamer’s dream. For one price you can play unlimited games the entire day; my boys played games for about five hours and had a great time. Their favorite “game” was CyberSpace Mountain where they got to create a roller coaster and then experience it in a simulator. My husband made his a little too real because he was queasy for the rest of the day.
The next blog post, How To Plan A Trip To Disney World – Part 3, is all about Epcot and Magic Kingdom. If you have a specific question about Animal Kingdom, Hollywood Studios or Downtown Disney that I didn’t touch on before, just leave me a comment and I’ll try to answer.
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