Florida Trip Part III: Animal Kingdom

When we first started planning this trip, one of the reasons we decided it would be worthwhile to even go to Disney was the Animal Kingdom.   While we debated how much Jasper would get out of the rides at the Magic Kingdom at his age, we knew without question that he would LOVE the animals and Dinosaur attractions at the Animal Kingdom.

After we booked the trip I had a phone conversation with my friend Dawn who lives in Florida and had recently taken her 5 and 2.5 year old to Disney and she clued me in to the fact that it was already so damn hot in Florida (I seem to have gotten amnesia about the weather despite having lived there!) and said that when it’s that hot, the animals on the Safari don’t come out or do much.   That kind of burst our bubble a bit and we almost decided to skip the Animal Kingdom, but I’m so glad we didn’t..I don’t think Dawn was wrong, we might have just gotten lucky but we saw plenty of Animals. But, I include her words of wisdom here because I think that it’s worth noting if you go when it’s really hot, either the time of year or time of day may effect how active the animals are, so it’s definitely worth keeping in mind!

The first thing I noticed about the Animal Kingdom is how lushly it’s landscaped. With the exception of “Africa” and “Dinoland” it’s downright jungle-like with tons of tree canopy, fake lagoons etc.  I mention this not only because it’s beautiful, but because that means there is SHADE. Blessed shade!

If I had known, we would have planned it better and spend the first day (90+ degrees with no clouds or breeze) at the Animal Kingdom and the second day (85 degrees, some clouds and a nice breeze) at the Magic Kingdom where there is pretty much no escaping the blazing sun.

When we arrived, we headed straight towards the Safari ride to get a fast pass. On our way we passed Lilo & Stitch. Jasper had only seen the movie once (on the plane ride here!) but he fell hard for Stitch, so he was really excited to see him. In fact, he kept saying he wanted to tell Stitch that he was a bad boy!



Lilo & Stitch

Taken by a disney fauxtog. It's very out of focus!

While we waited for our return time for the Safari ride, we took the little train ride to Planet Rifiki which has what they call the “Affection Section” where the kids can feed and pet the animals:


on the train to affection section

It turns out that there was no feeding going on, but they did have brushes so the kids could brush the animals’ coats. Jasper thoroughly enjoyed this, though he desperately wanted to throw the brush for some reason!





Planet Rifiki also has various indoor exhibits including windows where you can watch the vets working on the animals. We actually got to see them doing a rare check-up on a tiger!

The downside to the Affection Section was that the outdoor part was hot and dusty, so we didn’t stay too long. We hopped back on the train and got on the Kilimanjaro Safari.

I would say that the Safari is the main attraction at the AK, so it’s worth getting a fastpass for to avoid the long wait time.

We were seated in the very back of our “Jeep” which was great for pictures!




The MAJOR downside to the Safari was that the ride was bumply. EXTREMELY bumpy, like I was kind of afraid my camera was going to slip out of my hands! Unfortunately, the rough ride really didn’t sit well with Jasper who clung to my dress like this the whole time:


Poor little guy!

After lunch at “Pizzafari” we headed over to see the Finding Nemo show, which was a  musical theater performance designed by Julie Taymor (who did Lion Kind on Broadway etc).   It was without a doubt one of the highlights of the trip.. the music was great, and the staging was simply GORGEOUS!




They also had a performance of Lion King, but we opted not to see it because Jasper hasn’t seen that movie, so we weren’t sure it would hold his attention.   Which brings me to a thought about going to Disney in general: It seems that the enjoyment factor is in direct proportion to the child’s exposure to Disney movies.  For example, we only thought to download Finding Nemo for Jasper in “preparation” for this trip. As a result, he REALLY enjoyed this show as well as the Finding Nemo ride at Epcot we saw that night.   As I said, the Animal Kingdom also has a Lion King show and also a “Bug’s Life” attraction that is really popular but Jasper hadn’t seen either of those so we skipped them.  I have really mixed feelings about kids and movies/TV in general, but if you are not conflicted about it and headed to Disney keep in mind they will probably enjoy it more the more Disney movies they’ve seen!

After the Finding Nemo performance we had hoped Jasper would fall asleep in his Stroller.. which he did, so we headed STRAIGHT to Africa to a bar we’d spotted earlier. Side note: Inexplicably, the Magic Kingdom is a totally “dry park”.   The pyschology of NOT offering a relaxing adult beverage to parents that have been schlepping theirs kids around Disney all day is lost on me, but it made us REALLY appreciate Epcot and the Magic Kingdom for the presence of bars!!  Jasper slept for about a total of 10 minutes because his cough was so intense that it was waking him up so we had to leave the bar and ultimately decided to leave the park even though it was mid afternoon.

We had decided early that morning to upgrade our tickets to “park hoppers” so that we could have dinner in “Mexico” at Epcot that night and see the Nemo attractions there and possibly the fireworks. But, in order to have a pleasant evening we knew we needed Jasper to have some  semblance of a nap, so out of desperation we went back to our resort and hopped in the car to go pick up the PBK headphones we needed to get from the Millennium Mall.  Even the car ride failed to put Jasper to sleep though, so we headed to Epcot with a super-duper Crankenstein on our hands.  At that point though, he WAS completely exhausted, so he fell asleep in my arms on the bus to Epcot!

Too bad he missed the entrance because we were there during the HGTV sponsored flower festival which meant there were gorgeous sculpted flower characters everywhere like this Woody at the entrance:


We strolled the sleeping Jasper inside and Jeff wanted to go to England to the Pub for a pint while Jasper slept, but the clouds that had been such a relief from the sun earlier in the day finally conspired to rain HARD.  We literally had to make a run for it and finally made it to England’s Pub, which turned out (not too surprisingly) to be too rowdy for a sleeping child.. so we kind of hung out in the back part of the restaurant until it cleared up enough to venture outside.

Jasper woke up as soon as we did, and we were treated to this view over (Germany?)


We headed over to Mexico where we took the boat ride while we waited for our table and had an OK meal (the Mexico restaurant is all about the ambiance!) After dinner we went over to the “Seas” pavilion for the Nemo ride which Jasper really enjoyed and then took a look around the inside which is part aquarium!

One of the little exhibits had two sea horses who decided to have a little hug:


How sweet it that? I had no idea that seahorses like to cuddle!

As we were leaving the Seas, the fireworks show was just starting.. turns out that my mommy instincts were right on and Jasper wanted nothing to do with the fireworks. On our way out the gate we passed the character station and Jasper say Goofie and Minnie through the window and wanted to say hi. The guard at the door informed us that we were two minutes too late, so we left with a disappointed toddler :(

That actually informed our decision the next morning to stay at the parks one extra day.  We realized that Jasper who had been so excited to go to Disney and see Mickey hadn’t even seen Micky!  Since we had already upgraded to park hopper the day before, we just upgraded our park tickets to 3 day from 2 day and figured we’d go back to the Animal Kingdom in the morning and maybe hit Epcot and Magic Kingdom via monorail briefly before leaving for Marco Island that afternoon.

The reasoning behind going to Animal Kingdom was because they have an area called Camp Mickey & Minnie which has an area they call “the character trail” where you can always find the characters stationed in a mostly little woodsy area.  This is a much better way to make sure you meet your favorite characters rather than try to follow the confusing and sporadic schedule at the Magic Kingdom!

So, Jasper was finally able to meet Mickey!!


And then, because his “trail” is sort of hidden next to the chipmunks, we went to see Donald who’s line is always short:



Yes, even I finally made it into a picture! The staff photographers are quite bad (the few pictures I saw were really out of focus!) but they will use your camera to take a picture of you too, which is really nice if you think about it since it obviously eats into their sales.

After the character trail we headed over to “Dinoland” which we had completely missed our first day at AK.  Once jasper saw the flying dinosaur ride, he insisted he wanted to go on it, though its essentially the same ride as Dumbo and he enjoyed it about as much (which is to say not very much!) mostly due to the sun:


It was HOT and SUNNY and our little stubborn child wouldn’t stay under the sun shade of his stroller and was complaining constantly about the sun/brightness. Out of desperation we finally bought him a Safari hat and some how got it through his thick skull that if he wore the hat the sun wouldn’t be in his eyes.   I mention it because that hat makes an appearance later in Marco on the beach and also because if your child doesn’t like hats/sunglasses I’d advise you to try to get them used to it if you plan on going to Disney!

Back to Dinoland.. there is this GIANT playground structure that has various stairs, slides and a giant shaded sandbox where the kids can dig for dinosaur bones. Jasper LOVED this area and it made me realize that with all those fancy rides, he actually gets as much out of a good playground ;)





At this point, despite our ambitious plans to try to go back to the Magic Kingdom/Epcott we had a very tired and cranky and still sick child who fell asleep in my arms on the people mover on the way back to our car! So we took the opportunity of his nap to start our 4 hour drive to Jeff’s dad’s on Marco Island.

Poor little guy really needed a good nap, he slept for 2 hours in the car!

This post concludes the Disney portion of our Florida trip so I just want to mention some of the highlights since some of you asked yesterday:

1) Small World
2) Jungle Cruise
3) I totally forgot to post about it yesterday, but Jasper LOVED the Monster’s Inc. “Laugh Floor” show in Tomorrowland despite the fact that he’d only really seen part of Monster’s Inc once. It was really cute and he was clapping/laughing right along and it’s VERY clever the way they incorporate the audience into the show. Plus it’s AIR CONDITIONED! I highly recommend it.
4) Buzz Lightyear Space Ranger Spin (I didn’t love it, but Jasper did.)
5) Finding Nemo show at the Animal Kingdom
6) Character Trail at Animal Kingdom
7) Finding Nemo ride at the Seas at Epcot (and Aquarium area).

These are the things we didn’t see that we WOULD have gone back for if we’d had more time that afternoon:

1) The Bear Jamboree
2) Mickey’s Philharmagic
3) The Imagination! pavilion at Epcot

And the #1 one thing I couldn’t live without…

The WDW Magic Guide app!  It has maps, wait times, dining guides, park hours and more.  Worth every penny and more of the $4.99 price tag and more.

Tomorrow will be the final installment about our visit to Marco Island and Jasper’s first time seeing his “Grandpa Falerni” since he was 5 weeks old!

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ariana says:

Karen, I didn’t have to do anything but expose correctly for those Nemo shots – the colors etc were so vibrant because of the dramatic lighting, costumes etc!

Karen says:

Thanks so much for all the tips! I wish my vacation photos looked like this–your photos from the the Nemo show look like they belong in a Disney brochure!

esther says:

oh yes, my eric’s hair gets much lighter in the summer, too. his is about the same color as jasper’s now, but lighter when he was an infant and as i said, in the summer time. not frizzy, though, either. i have naturally curly hair so i definately hear you on taming those curls! i lived in florida, too- i left it curly there all the time, did not bother straightening it at all…

:) :)

Nealy says:

Love these pictures…and love your blog. Thank you for all of your photography tips- I really, really appreciate it.

Also, would you by chance care to share how you get your photos to have such vibrant colors? Any favorite photoshop tricks or actions that you used on these pics?

Thanks! :)

ariana says:

Hi Nealy! Thank you :) I will definitely be posting about some of my photography and editing tips for these pictures, probably the next post I do after the final “chapter” about Marco Island!

ariana says:

LOL Esther, no, just wash and air dry! Actually, after his last hair cut I thought it looked a little flat so we tried putting a tiny bit of gel to spike up the front but Jasper didn’t like that much. He’s just blessed with great hair, curly in the humid months (and Florida obviously) but not frizzy like mine gets! Its actually amazing how much his hair changes in curl and color from winter to summer.. even from just the one week in the sun it was noticeably lighter!

esther says:

great photos, ariana!!!

this is a bit off-topic but i’ve been meaning to ask you on jasper’s hair. it’s absolutely gorgeous. i mean, handsome! one of my twins’ hair is also getting wavy/slightly curly–do you use anything in jasper’s hair? or just wash and dry?

thanks! esther (twinkies born just 5 days after jasper)