Monday, July 28, 2008

Disney day 4: Animal Kingdom

Day 4 meant Animal Kingdom, where we once again helped Mickey and gang open the park in grand symbolic fashion. Once the park officially opened, the throngs of people rapidly made their way to the back of the park, in selfish haste, through the narrow streets towards one of the hallmark rides of the park: The Harambe Safari tour. We decided to meander toward the ride, taking time to admire the amazing landscaping, taking photos of ourselves acting as animals in front of the Tree of Life, the park's icon, and with Turk, the playful ape-let from Tarzan. As I watched the crowd slowly move forward with the sounds of anticipation escaping from everyone's mouths, I was reminded of the start of the Austin Marathon last February. Today was going to be a marathon of a day.

Tate, J, and Turk in no hurry to see the Safari. Tate's the hairy one.

Many boarded the safari ahead of us, but our wait was both short and not unenjoyable. The safari itself was a great experience. With so much diversity in wildlife and a tour guide who plays the role right down to a simulated crossing of a rickety bridge and imploring our help to catch some ivory poachers, the "ride" felt every bit authentic. The kids enjoyed taking in all the animals, and they especially enjoyed taking numerous photos, some of which even turned out. Jenna DID, however, come to tears at one point along the ride. No, it wasn't because a Rhino charged the vehicle. No, it wasn't because she saw a lion feasting on a new-fallen antelope. No, it wasn't because she wanted to drive. It was because she wanted to take a picture with the digital camera, and couldn't time it correctly to snap pictures of the elusive male baboon, resting Wildabeasts, or capture the perfect shot of the baby Giraffe. She also didn't care much for the "rickety" bridge . . . or the poachers . . . . or the heat and humidity . . . or the bumpy roads. Other than that, the day was off to a splendid start.

J unable to figure out the digital-press button delay-thing

At the exit of the ride, there's a self-guided tour of more wildlife exhibits including birds, creepy-crawlies, apes, ape skulls, and ape poop. It was the longest exit I've ever been encouraged to walk through. The staff members along the way were typical Disney super-nice and helpful. One member intercepted my children and lead them on a wildlife mystery hunt, whereby, they learned how to track an animal by its prints, patterns left on eaten vegetation, and, of course, POOP. Did YOU know a White Rhino takes wide bites, while a Black Rhino (which LOOKS white) takes sharp, bird-like bites? Now we ALL know!

Looking at large Rhino poop through a telescope . . . Why? . . . everything's bigger at Disney.

There was only one way to top the super school of skat, and that was . . . DINOLAND, an interactive area primarily prehistoric, filled with rides, play areas, and heat and humidity that could viably cause the extinction of all patrons visiting its grounds. It was here, after several warm ups on the "Flying Triceratops" ride (you learn something new all the time at Disney), a ride that closely resembles both the "Flying Dumbo" and the "Aladdin's Flying Carpet" rides, Tate was ready for his first-ever real, big-person coaster, a ride that has its ups and downs, backs and forths, and spins all the while. He came through it like a real reluctant champ.

Having gotten all the spinning thrills out of the way, we headed to the Tusker House for our Lunch reservations. This place was AMAZING. It was an all-you-can eat table-service restaurant in Africa, in Animal Kingdom, in Disney World, in Orlando, in Florida, in the United States, but it felt every bit like an upscale African all-you-can eat restaurant. The menu consisted of many beef and pork entrees seasoned in authentic African style. There was also plenty of mac and cheese for the kids. After stuffing myself with seasoned game, and joking with our wonderful waitress Robin, I hit the desserts. Two words describe this sensory-overloading, savory experience: Bread Pudding. It was the best I've ever had, complete with hot, banana-based warm glaze. Eating a bowl or two or three of this fine blend of spices and textures was enough to make this entire trip worth it. Make sure you try it if you're ever there. Tell them I sent you. If they don't remember me, just say "the creepy guy that was eating right out of the serving line," to jog their memory.

At Tuskers. No straws in the kiddie-cups. The felt like they were drinking coffee at the local African Starbucks.

A restaurant like that needs and "All-you-can-nap-after-you-eat-all-you-can" room, but since they had none, I resorted to walking around again in the heat with a full stomach, a grin on my face, and one eye closed.

Our wonderful waitress Robin and her wonderful customer Tate.

Wandering around the park, we passed anther children's play area in Dinoland called the "Boneyard", a funny-shaped mirror that made us all look skinnier again, and several gift shops with air conditioning (and more Disney collector pins) until we ended up at Pocahontas's outdoor show. I asked the friendly attendant if they could move the show indoors, but she politely told me that it wasn't good for the animals in the show. I told her I had NO intention of being in the show. She laughed and showed me back to my seat. But at this point, with the Tusker House menu digesting in my belly, sitting was good enough. As soon as Pocahontas emerged, I thought about the bread pudding again. Pocahontas had just passed Princess Aurora on my list of favorite Disney Princesses, even if she had a painted-on Native American skin color.

By then, I wasn't the only one swooning. Tate's illness and the Florida climate (you think Disney would have that fixed by now) were getting to him, and he looked like he was about to melt right there in the sun. Because of this, and because we had a HUGE evening planned at "Mickey's (all-you-can-eat again) Backyard Barbecue," AND because we are caring, rational parents, we hurried out of the park and headed back to the resort room for a quick recovery, but not before standing in a long line near the exit where another, BETTER Pocahontas was signing autographs. Although Tate really wasn't up to standing in a long line, he ignored the comments of "that boy behind us is really a wimp" by the kids in front of us, and mustered one final, giant grin, almost as big as mine, as he posed with his li'l sis and Pocahontas. I owe him one for that one. On the way to catch the shuttle, he told me the kid's comments didn't bother him because they "didn't know how sick he was," and because Pocahontas told him "that he must have got his great looks from his father" . . . or at least that's what I heard.

Pocahontas with some kids. I know I have the camera, but notice she's still staring at ME!!

After another trip to the resort pool, this time WITH Tate and Mom, for now Tate was allowed to get his eyes and ears wet, we got ready for the most anticipated entertainment and dinner reservation of the entire trip: Mickey's Backyard Barbecue. Open only to the first 300 or so reserved guests, we drove out to Disney's Wilderness area for all-you-can-eat barbecue, and a live concert with a Dance Hall that can rival the proudest of Texas Honky-Tonks. The best part of the entire event was the free beer. That's FREE beer. Liberated from the standard price of $6.95 per 12oz watered-down draft (which I refuse to pay), on this night, all the watered-down beer I could drink was included in the pricey (but TOTALLY worth it) fee. At this point in the trip, my neck was out, and I was in constant pain so the Bud-water helped my muscles relax. I drank my share of medicine that night, but not enough to cover my pain from the fact that my son had seemed to hit an all-time low for the trip. Not only was Jenna exhausted (in fact she slept on a picnic table in the hot, hot sun while we waited for the event to begin), but Tate seemed to be on his last leg.

Einstein's Theory of Relative Comfort on display

His head was down while we waited, and once inside, another amazing Disney Cast Member (that's what they call ALL their employees) noticed him and brought him a couple of cold, water-soaked towels to comfort him (he didn't want any free beer.) I felt so horrible for my little Cowboy, but at least Jenna was awake now and enjoying the music and the hula hoops.

Tate's having a good time . . . like when he fell into hot grease

I decided to grab my shy little girl out on the dance floor where all the Disney characters were dancing to the amazing live music will all the patrons. Jenna wanted nothing more than to see Minnie Mouse. We got within inches of her, but my Jenna was so bashful and star-struck, that she just stood there frozen while I cut a rug with Minnie, Jenna's hand in mine.

Much to my surprise, because of the hospitality of the Disney staff and perhaps because of the Motrin he forced down earlier, Tate made it out to the dance floor to dance with his favorite character . . . Chip, from Chip and Dale . . . I never would have guessed! He actually got right up their with that cheerful chipmunk and shook his hips a while. My heart swelled with so much pride, that I had to celebrate with another free beer when we got back to the table. My kids were enjoying their free ice cream and taking pictures with all the characters as they came around the tables. I shared a joyful, silent smile with Shealynn across the table as the night came to a close. One can get used to the Magic of Disney. At this point, I was addicted.

Tate and J cutting a rug with their heroes

We walked the white sands beaches of Fort Wilderness in the dark before we headed home, making pictures of Mickey and Minnie in the sand. It was a moment I won't soon forget. We then wandered into a gift store which felt more like a lodge, really. We bought a few T-shirts (Tate got a "Chip & Dale" shirt, I a "Goofy") and headed back to the resort, hand in hand.

This is what it is all about. Tate and J at the end of a long, beautiful day

With a day filled with Excitement, Entertainment, Excrement, Free Beer, and having visited now all four of the amazing parks, our trip felt complete. But there were still THREE MORE DAYS AT DISNEY!!!!! Tomorrow we'd head back to Epcot and finish our journey around the World Showcase Lagoon, visiting the rest of the countries, where I would, hopefully, meet Mulan.


kwkorpi said...

bob s.,
please email me your alternate email address to my usual one at school. I'd like to know how to get in touch with you beyond having to actually talk to you over the phone. In fact, this Thursday at 11:30 at TJ's in NB, many math teachers are showing up to pig out.

The topic: How bad are Korpi's blogs

Hope to see you there!

kwkorpi said...

I almost forgot how much "fun" we had that day. You didn't mention the amazing Nemo show - those performers were incredibly talented singers, dancers, actors, and puppeteers. Animal Kingdom definitely had the best dessert (although the pineapple soft serve was a close second) and the best live show. I miss Disney World.

Anonymous said...

In case you haven't figured it out yet . . . I LOVE Disney.

It is how everyday should be in every part of the world in what is called "God's World."

--confessions of an Idyllic Disney Idealist