Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Animal Kingdom or Animal "King-dumb": Part One

When I started planning this second trip to Disney World, Animal Kingdom was the first theme park that I included in our itinerary.  Since we'd skipped this park on our last trip, I naturally wanted to make it a priority this time around.  Nevertheless, I was a little hesitant.  During my research, one thing became clear: people either love Animal Kingdom or they really dislike Animal Kingdom...and I wasn't sure which side we would fall on.

Although it is a Disney World theme park, Animal Kingdom possesses some distinct differences from the other three parks (Magic Kingdom, Epcot, and Hollywood Studios).  For example, while Animal Kingdom does feature some headliner attractions (most notably Expedition Everest and Kiliminjaro Safaris), there's seemingly not a whole lot to do at this park (at least on the surface).  Many people therefore assume that Animal Kingdom can be enjoyed in half of a day.  However, as I started designing our Animal Kingdom touring plan, I quickly realized that this assumption is false.  Although Animal Kingdom does only have a handful of rides, this park is home to three incredible stage shows: Festival of the Lion King, Finding Nemo: The Musical, and Flights of Wonder.  Furthermore, Animal Kingdom features countless hidden gems (including two animal trails, a conservation station, the magnificent Tree of Life, and knowledgeable Cast Members who are always ready to answer questions about the animals that can be spotted throughout the park in their native habitats).  Finally, Animal Kingdom is home to a highly-rated (but little-known) character meal; for lunch or breakfast, guests can dine with Daisy Duck and her friends at Tusker House in the Africa section of the park.  To complicate matters, Animal Kingdom closes earlier than all of the other theme parks (usually around 7:00pm, but sometimes as early as 5:00pm).  Consequently, trying to fit all of our "must-see" attractions (and the character meal) into a touring plan rapidly became a challenge.

So, I buckled down and came up with a comprehensive touring plan that would allow us to enjoy Animal Kingdom to its fullest...or so I thought.  And, during the morning, the plan worked beautifully.  We hit most of the headliner attractions and saw Festival of the Lion King with little to no wait.  Then, it was off to Tusker House for lunch.

Tip Time: If your kids are old enough (and if you're not surprising your kids with your Disney vacation), get them involved in the planning process.  Since we always add the Disney Dining Plan to our vacation package, we start by letting each child pick one sit-down meal.  My daughter, Sadie, is a HUGE fan of Daisy Duck.  Since Animal Kingdom's Tusker House is the only place where guests can actually dine with Daisy, selecting a character lunch at this location was a no-brainer for her.

Lunch with Daisy at Tusker House -- our #1 favorite character meal
And what a memorable meal it was!  Character meals are always fun, and they are a great way to "stay ahead of the crowds"; instead of wasting time in long lines to meet your favorite characters in the parks, these meals provide an opportunity to spend time with characters in a more intimate setting...and no waiting in line!!  In terms of food quality, however, character meals are hit-or-miss.  Fortunately, Tusker House was a huge hit!!  Tusker House features some of the most interesting African-inspired food options at any Disney World buffet (of course, there's also a kids' buffet with child-friendly staples).  The characters really take their time with guests, and kids even get to participate in a musical parade with their favorite furry friends!  Jack and Sadie had an absolute ball marching around the restaurant with the characters; Daisy even convinced Grandma to join the fun!  We all agreed that this was, hands-down, our favorite character meal of the trip.

Hangin' with Mickey at Tusker House
After a very successful morning and a memorable lunch at Tusker House, we were ready to head back out into the theme park and finish up my touring plan.  After only 30 minutes, however, it became distinctly apparent that the afternoon's plans were not going to be executed as smoothly as the morning. 

Next Up: Our Angst-Filled Afternoon at Animal Kingdom

Meredith McCutcheon
Disney Specialist, Ginger's Getaways
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  1. This is the park I've been most interested in, having been to the others. I'm looking forward to Part II.

  2. Hi Joshua! I hope Part Two is helpful. Honestly, I really like Animal Kingdom. It's just a different animal (pardon the pun) from the other parks. I can't wait to visit it again, even if I have to go all by myself!!

  3. Thank you for the wonderful review of Tusker House! I just booked lunch for my family there in May!