Final Day – Disney’s Animal Kingdom

Animal Kingdom

Animal Kingdom

Our short vacation at Disneyworld was coming to an end, and we spent our last day at Disney’s Animal Kingdom.  It is one of the largest animal theme parks in the world, home to 1700 animals and 250 different species.  We were very impressed by this park, opened since 1998, as it really focuses on conservation and education.  It had less of that traditional “amusement park” feel to it.

The iconic symbol of this park is the Tree of Life, which is a sculpture 145 feet tall and 50 feet wide.  It has 325 animals carved into the tree.

Tree of Life

Tree of Life

Can you spot the animals is this photo?  You may need to double click on the photo to blow it up, but there are dozens of animals in just this section alone.  You can spend a lot of time walking around the base, and seeing something different each time you look.

animal carvings

animal carvings

Our group started out the day with the excellent 30 minute Broadway style show, Festival of the Lion King.  The music, performers and costumes were fabulous.  Part of the “homework” that Karen and Al made us do was watch the Lion King movie before we went, so we would have a better understanding of the show.  We would recommend using one of your three allotted FastPass selections for this show.

the gang

the gang

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There are many animal exhibits scattered throughout the park, and we stopped to view of few of the many species of ducks on display, such as these Indian Spot-Billed Ducks

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And this very popular “duck”, which had a long line of people waiting to see her!

Daisy Duck

Daisy Duck

We headed over to the Tree of Life to see the “It’s Tough to be a Bug” 3-D film, which is in a studio underneath the tree.  The interactive movie was a lot of fun, even if you find bugs to be a little creepy.

There are many other outdoor exhibits featuring many species of birds from around the world.  This Victoria Crowned Pigeon was a favorite of mine.  I love the big “crown” of hair.

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DSC_0636 (1)The area also contained a popular exhibit on bats.  We saw two species on display, the Giant Flying Fox, which is one of the largest bats in existence. They can have a wingspan over 5 feet.  This guy was a bit of an exhibitionist!

covering the "privates"

covering the “privates”

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To get an idea of the size of this bat, they had a common fruit bat in the same exhibit.

fruit bat on right

fruit bat on right

After lunch, and with a great deal of hesitation on my part, I did agree to go on Expedition Everest – Legend of the Forbidden Mountain.  The ride goes straight up into a mountain, and then you go around inside the dark, and backwards, before coming out and dropping down the mountain.  You are supposed to see the Yeti monster, but I had my eyes closed most of the ride, so I just have to take everyone’s word about the monster!  Many of the reviews of this ride describe it as the best roller coaster in Disney.  I just know there was a lot of screaming going on this ride, and it wasn’t all by me!

Expedition Everest

Expedition Everest

The highlight of the day was going on the Kilimanjaro Safari.  You board an open top vehicle to explore African animals in a natural setting on 110 acres.  The narrated ride is very bumpy, to simulate the roads that you would travel on a real safari trek.  There is no guarantee of what animals that you will see, as they may or not be active during your trip.  These are just a few photos of the animals that we saw.

Safari vehicle

Safari vehicle

African Elephant

African Elephant

Hippopotamus

Hippopotamus

Giraffe

Giraffe

African scenery

African scenery

Mandrill

Mandrill

Greater Flamingo

Greater Flamingo

African Lions

African Lions

Zebra's

Zebra’s

??

Addax

And unlike the other parks where you can stand in long lines to meet the characters, the animals “go wild” in this park, with an afternoon dance party with the characters.  I think the ‘moms’ had the most fun during this impromptu dance session by the characters.

line dancing

line dancing, to the left, to the left…

animals gone wild

animals gone wild

 

Because of the animals, this park has the shortest operating hours, so we still had a few attractions that we did not have time for.  We headed back to the campground to feed the dog and get ready for our morning departure.  We did make it over to one of the hotels for a quick meal, followed by this excellent Mickey cupcake.

yummy!

yummy!

It was a great way to end the short but busy week at Disneyland.  We can’t thank Karen and Al enough for being our tour guides, and to their friends and family for letting us be a part of their week.

Thanks for putting up with a few too many Disney photos!

Quote for the Day: “Animals don’t lie.  Animals don’t criticize.  If animals have moody days, they handle them better than humans do.” – Betty White

 

 

 

 

 

Day 3 – Magic Kingdom

 

Our busy week at Disneyworld continued, as we headed to the Magic Kingdom via the ferry shuttle from Fort Wilderness.  Our Fastpass rides were not until the afternoon, so we did our best to see as much as we could before meeting up with the rest of our party.  This was our first daytime visit to the park, and it certainly had a different vibe than our nighttime visit.

Main Street

Main Street

There is a lot of construction going on around the park.  You can see some green walls to the left, and there is a green box in the lower middle of the picture.  Apparently that box is covering up a statute of Walt Disney and Mickey Mouse. Some of the construction was recently finished, so we are looking forward to seeing the changes when we go back to the Magic Kingdom for a visit in March (trying to take advantage of our annual pass before we leave Florida!).  You can also see a crane behind the castle, as they were taking down their Christmas decorations and doing a few minor repairs.

Cinderella's Castle

Cinderella’s Castle

up close

up close

And it would not be Disney, without a huge parking area for strollers!

lots of strollers

lots of strollers

Or lots of balloons for sale!

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Since we had seen the 3D film Captain EO at Epcot, Al and Karen recommended we see Mickey’s PhilharMagic, which is another 3D movie to get an idea of how far 3D technology has improved since the 1980’s.  We loved the movie, and recommend this for all ages.  The 3D technology is impressive, and the wait time for this attraction was only 10 minutes.

We wandered over to the Liberty Square section of the park, to view the replica of the Liberty Bell, and check out the Hall of Presidents, which contains artifacts from a number of former Presidents, as well the story of the United States, complete with Audio-Animatronic figures of every single President. It was a very informative and impressive display of the technology that Disney perfected back in the early 1970s.

Liberty Square

Liberty Square

replica of Liberty Bell

replica of Liberty Bell

After lunch, we met up with the rest of our group, and headed over to the Big Thunder Mountain Railroad, for our first FastPass ride for the day.  As far as roller-coasters go, this one is pretty mild, which made it a very enjoyable ride for me.

an 'easy' roller-coaster

an ‘easy’ roller-coaster

Next up was Splash Mountain, which you may want to use as one of your three FastPass options, as this can have a long stand-by waiting line.  This is a log flume ride, so you will get a little wet, or in Al’s case, a lot wet!  (he was in the front row of the ride!)  These are some photos of our group, although not everyone went on the ride.  And the young man in the front row with Al was not with us.  And yes, I did put on my raincoat for the ride!

ready for splash down!

ready for splash down!

If you double-click, you can see the photos better.  Dan and I are in the 2nd row, I have my hood up!

Fred hanging on to his hat!

Fred hanging on to his hat!

Al was pretty soaked, and Fred never lost his hat!

all smiles!!

all smiles!!

We had some time to kill before our next FastPass ride, so everyone headed out into different directions. Al, Karen, Dan and I went over to see how long the wait would be to get on the Pirates of the Caribbean ride.  It was close to the 3:00pm daily parade, so there was not too many people in line, so we were able to see that attraction.  Although we didn’t notice anything wrong on our boat ride (you won’t get wet on this one), Karen and Al commented that ‘things were not working right’ and after we exited the ride, we heard the announcement that the ride would be temporarily shut-down.  So we will have to go back on this in March, to see what was not working.

We quickly headed over to Tomorrowlands, on the other side of the park, to go on Buzz Lightyear’s Space Ranger Spin.  This is another shooting arcade game, similar to Toy Story ride at Hollywood Studios, but it is not in 3D.  We thought the Toy Story ride was better.  There were several other attractions in the Tomorrowlands that we plan on seeing in our future visit.  This is also the area that has Space Mountain, which is an indoor roller-coaster ride that has been around since 1975.  We did not go on this, and maybe will consider it for a future visit….maybe if Dan can talk me into it!

We headed back over to the Liberty Square area for our last FastPass ride for the day, the Haunted Mansion.  You sit in what they call a ‘doom buggy’, and go through various rooms in the mansion.  Personally, I found this boring.  There was a long wait to get on this, so I am glad we didn’t have to wait in line for this.  But I have no interest in going back to this ride.

Haunted Mansion

Haunted Mansion

180 days before our visit today, Al’s sister Ginny set her alarm for 5:00am to make reservations at Be Our Guest Restaurant at the Magic Kingdom.   Apparently this is the most popular restaurant on Disney’s property, and very difficult to get into for dinner.  Disney allows advance dining reservations up to 180 days ahead of your visit.  So thanks Ginny for doing this!  In preparation for this dinner, Karen loaned us a copy of her Beauty and the Beast DVD, so we would understand the story, and the various rooms in the Beast’s Castle.  If you are going to dinner here, I would recommend seeing the movie as well.  It does add to the experience.

The Beast's Castle

The Beast’s Castle

The dinner was excellent, and we appreciated the fact that Disney knows you have been in the park all day, so there is no dress code for such a formal meal.  Even though the Beast was all dressed up!

meeting the Beast

meeting the Beast

And here is our entire group: Fred, Al, Jim, Kathy, (Judy behind my head), myself, Sue, Denise, Bill, Karen, Patty, Dan and Ginny.  We were happy to be ‘adopted’ into their family!

our group

our group

After an excellent meal, with our belly’s full, we headed back to the campground to make sure Makena’s belly was also full!

As with the other parks, there is really not enough time to see everything, unless you just run yourself ragged from the time the park opens until it closes. And since we already knew we would be back, we decided not to wear ourselves out (we did that enough at Amazon!)

Quote for the Day: “Life itself is the proper binge.” – Julia Child

Day 2 – Hollywood Studios and IllumiNations Fireworks

 

Hollywood Studios

Hollywood Studios

After an excellent buffet breakfast with our lucky crew of 13 at the Wave resort, we headed over for our first experience at Disney’s Hollywood Studios.  There are 8 different sections to this park, and even with our best efforts, we were not able to see everything in this park.  This park offers several attractions that are 20 – 40 minutes in length, making it difficult to see everything.  But the shows we did attend, were excellent.

Each Disney park has a ‘signature’ building/attraction, such as Cinderella’s Castle in the Magic Kingdom, or the sphere at Epcot.  The Studios used to be the Sorcerer’s hat, but this is all that remains of the hat.

a disappearing hat

a disappearing hat

I have no idea what will go up in its place, or why it is being removed.  If anyone knows, please feel free to add a comment.  The map of the park does not even mention this display, and simply has a blank spot on the map in its place. There is a topiary design outside of the park that shows Mickey with his hat.  Since I never saw the movie, I am not really sure what the broom thing is next to him.

Mickey the Scorcerer

Mickey the Sorcerer

The first section of the park is a recreation of the shops along Hollywood Boulevard.

Hollywood Boulevard

Hollywood Boulevard

We ventured over to see the Indiana Jones Epic Stunt Spectacular, which is a 30 minute live action show to demonstrate how movies are made and stunts are performed.  You can do a FastPass for this attraction, but the show seats several thousand people, so it is not always necessary.

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stage set

stage set

The show begins with Indiana Jones rappelling down a rope, and running across while dodging stakes jutting up from the stage.

ouch!

ouch!

After this scene is complete, we can see how they clear out the set, with the next stage set brought in by tractors for the next shoot.

removing the walls

removing the walls

The next scene is put in place and there is a fighting scene that goes across the top of the buildings.

scene # 2

scene # 2

The final scene has a lot of pyrotechnics.  It was a very enjoyable show.

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After Indiana Jones, we headed over to the Pixar Studios area, to ride the Toy Story Midway Mania.  We had FastPass reservations for this ride, and I would highly recommend using one of your three choices on this attraction.  It was a blast!  You go through a 4D arcade game, shooting at toy story characters. This is a great ride for all ages and abilities.   Here is Karen and her friend Patty, all set for the game.

ready, set, shoot!

ready, set, shoot!

Waiting in line for the ride is fun as well, just looking at how they have decorated the walls, with our favorite board games growing up!  Candyland on the wall, and a checkerboard on the ceiling.

remember these games?

remember these games?

And the giant Etch-a-Sketch was doodling out puzzles.

I had one of these

I had one of these

Outside, the Pixar area continued the theme of the popular games we played as kids.

DSC01743 (1)And who can forget the plastic green army men?  They even have the melted shoes on this guy. (if you played with these army toys, you will understand that!)  Karen and I had to stop for a photo.

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Next up, we headed over to The Great Movie Ride, which is an easy 22 minute tram that takes you through the sets of various movies.  It was very enjoyable, but I’m still trying to figure out why they have a disclaimer that it may be frightening to children.

And speaking of frightening rides, we headed over to the very popular (use your fastpass) Twilight Zone Tower of Terror, where you go up in an elevator, and it randomly drops you down, then shoots you back up, and drops you down again.  The ride is always a different experience, because you never know how many floors you will drop or shoot back up (it is all in the dark).  And when it shoots you back up, the doors open, and you are just staring out into the park.  That is the part I had a problem with!  I would go on this again, now that I know it’s is not “that bad”!

a fun ride

a fun ride

They also have the Rock N Roller Coaster at this park, but you can’t do both with the FastPass.  That coaster apparently goes upside down, and bangs you around a lot, according to Al and his cousins.  If you like roller coasters, then you would probably like that one instead of the Tower ride.

We headed back across the park to get in line for the Lights, Motors, Action! Extreme Stunt Show, which is currently performed twice a day.  You get a behind the scenes look at how they perform and film car and motorcycle chase scenes.  The outdoor stage for this attraction seats 5,000 people, so you probably won’t need to use your FastPass for this.  The show is about 40 minutes long, and was very interesting to watch the great stunts.

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After the stunt show, we wandered through a street set of New York City, and a painted wall of San Francisco.

New York City set

New York City set

San Francisco

San Francisco

Our final FastPass reservation of the day was on Star Tours – The Adventure Continues which is a fun 3-D motion-simulated space flight with characters from Star Wars.  Disney also has this ride set so that each ride is a different experience, so you never know what to expect.  This way you can go on this ride multiple times, and still have a different experience each time.  It was certainly a fun for all ages ride.

After a full day where we still did not get to see or do half the things in the park, we headed back to the campground to feed and play with the dogs.  Al and Karen then took us  to Disney’s Boardwalk by Epcot where we ate dinner, and walked over to Epcot to view the nightly IllumiNations: Reflections of Earth show. This is a laser light show, along with fireworks that you can view anywhere along the World Showcase.  Here are a few photos that turned out from the show.

glowing globe of Earth

glowing globe of Earth

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Quote for the day:  “Cinema should make you forget you are sitting in a theater.”  – Roman Polanski

 

 

 

 

 

Our first rocket launch

I’m interrupting my Disney blogs, to bring you news of our first rocket launch.  After several delays, the SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket launched the Deep Space Climate Observatory (DSCOVR) satellite into orbit.  This satellite was a collaboration between NASA, NOAA and the U.S. Air Force.

We have never seen any type of rocket launch before, and were very excited to have an opportunity to observe our first one, launched from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida.  We were visiting with Dan’s parents at the time, in New Smyrna Beach, which is about 25 miles north (as the crow flies) from the space center.  So our photos are a bit limited of this sunset launch.  My in-laws have seen several nighttime launches, and stated they are quite spectacular.  The space center is set to launch another rocket in March, so we are hoping it will be a nighttime launch.

If you want to see the official video of the launch, click here for the You Tube link.

These are the photos we were able to get on the beach.  It’s amazing to think that “little glow” was over 25 miles away!

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The rocket will be positioned almost 1 million miles from Earth, and should reach its destination in approximately 110 days.  This satellite will be used as a solar observatory, and will replace the aging ACE satellite.

Quote for the day:  “I think we are at the dawn of a new era of commercial space exploration.”  Elon Musk (founder of SpaceX)

 

 

Disney after Dark!

After a busy first day at Epcot, Dan and I took the complimentary shuttle boat ride from Fort Wilderness to the Magic Kingdom for the evening.  Karen and Al, along with his cousin Bill, would be taking a later boat over and joining us for the parade and fireworks.  This would be our first visit to the Magic Kingdom.  And needless to say, we were immediately lost without our tour guides!

boat ride from campground

boat ride from campground

Upon arriving on the grounds, we had no idea what to see or do, and actually had to get a map!  We promptly texted our ‘tour guides’ to see when they would be arriving, and they were on the next boat over…whew!  Even though it was only 6:30, people were already lined up for the 8:00pm Main Street Electrical parade, making it difficult to wander through the crowds to see anything.

We quickly became overwhelmed as we had no idea what to see or do, so we found refuge in a gift store and waited for the rest of our party.  When you live in an RV, it’s easy to avoid buying souvenirs, as we have very limited space.  But it’s always fun to look, and Disney seems to excel in merchandising.  You will see I am wearing neon mouse ears in the photo below.  These were a gift from a former co-worker, Katie, from her honeymoon in Disney!  She was happy to know they made “the cut” when it came to deciding what to pack in the RV!  Thanks again Katie!

Disney after Dark

Disney after Dark

Karen, Al and Bill quickly found us in the gift shop, and then we headed out into the park and they gave us a quick explanation of the six different themed areas of the park.  Since we would be returning to the Magic Kingdom on Wednesday, this gave us a brief overview of the areas we needed to see during the day.

Cinderella's Castle

Cinderella’s Castle

We wandered around the Main Street, USA area for a while, taking in all the sights and sounds before heading over for coffee and dole whips (a fresh pineapple dessert).  Then we headed to Adventureland to stake out our parade route.  There was nobody there before parade.  We thanked our excellent tour guides for again leading us in the right direction…away from the crowds.  No sense standing 10 deep in line at the Main Street area, when we can have our own personal space in another area.  Once it was close to the 8 pm start time, the area quickly filled up, but we had our front row spots.

The Main Street Electrical Parade is a 20 minute parade of floats and characters covered in LED lights, with music playing across the parks loudspeakers.   I love parades, and this was very enjoyable, and a must see item at the park.  Tinkerbell leads off the parade.

Tinkerbell

Tinkerbell

beautiful floats

beautiful floats

let the Magic begin

let the Magic begin

Alice in Wonderland…not sure why she is on a mushroom.  Someday I will see that movie!

Alice in Wonderland

Alice in Wonderland

magic mushrooms?

magic mushrooms?

ladybugs and butterfly

ladybugs and butterfly

 

Lot’s of Disney characters were in the parade, so it was fun for me to try to figure who they were.  Some were obvious.

Pinocchio

Pinocchio

I thought this was Puff, but Karen told me this is Pete the Dragon!

Pete the Dragon

Pete the Dragon

Captain Hook & Peter Pan

Captain Hook & Peter Pan

Cinderella

Cinderella

Fairy Godmother

Fairy Godmother

Behind Cinderella’s pumpkin coach, was a float with Prince Charming, hanging out with her step-sisters, who were having a lot of fun.

Prince & step-sisters

Prince & step-sisters

They were followed by his majesty’s court, and the clock turning midnight.

midnight?!

midnight?!

Snow White was roaming around the crowd.

Snow White

Snow White

Followed by the dwarfs.

can you name them?

can you name them?

The last float in the parade was a patriotic tribute to the United States, complete with bursting “fireworks” and a bald Eagle.

final float

final float

a very long float

a very long float

After the parade, we headed over to the main street area to watch the fireworks, formally known as Wishes nighttime spectacular.  I was expecting a basic fireworks show, but this was an excellent light show displayed on Cinderella’s Castle, with an appearance by a flying Tinkerbell followed by fireworks.  No matter how tired you may be after a day at Disney, this is well worth staying for.  The castle is constantly changing colors during the show. It’s hard to take photos of fireworks, so these are the best I could get from the show.

Wish Upon a Star

Wish Upon a Star

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Wish Upon a Star

Wish Upon a Star

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It was a great way to end a long, busy day seeing two of the four parks.  And it was just day one!!  Stay tuned for more of our busy Disney week.

Quote for the day:  “There is something you must always remember.  You are braver than you believe, stronger than you seem, and smarter than you think.” – Winnie the Pooh