Walt Disney World
2007 Disney's Animal Kingdom Photo Tour
I spent my third Walt Disney World vacation day at Disney's Animal Kingdom. In many ways this is my favorite of the parks, but it's also a little worrisome. Animal Kingdom has hundreds of thousands of wild animals in its enormous "savannah" area and claims that they are happy, well treated, and completely confined. But anyone who knows even rudimentary chaos theory knows that nature will find a way around any obstacle put in its path. In fact, a few days before I arrived in Florida it was revealed that a group of giraffes had escaped the park (apparently a techno-thief attempting to steal some cloned tiger embryos shut down power to the entire park, letting the vicious giants step over normally electrified fences). Disney claimed that there was no danger, but I think I may have caught sight of a stray giraffe in one of the other parks, which makes me worry about what would have happened if one of the World's tigers, dolphins, or costumed characters had escaped.
I didn't let these worries get in my way, though. So here are photos of some of the sights, sounds, and (sadly to say) disappointments I saw at Disney's Animal Kingdom.
At Disney's Animal Kingdom, the first priority is the animals. Park security will grab a guest, throw him to the ground, taser him, and beat him to within an inch of his life rather than let so much as a drinking straw touch one of their "inmates." Animals also have right of way in all roads, pathways, and restrooms.
Signs all over the park tell guests, in a no-nonsense format, that they need to respect the animals. I particularly liked this sign at the edge of the monitor lizard pit.
As soon as the park opened, I beelined for the Kilimanjaro Safaris -- the park's most popular attraction, and one that can develop lines so long that, later in the day, the end of the queue reaches all the way back through the entrance of the park, forcing you to purchase a second admission ticket just to stay in line. This sign, one of the many encountered during the long wait to board an attraction vehicle, does a great job of discouraging littering..
On board the safari vehicles is a long sign (too big to take a picture of in its entirety) showing some of the creatures that may be encountered during the ride. Guests are encouraged to use this sign to identify animals as the truck speeds past them and not pester the driver with questions, as his continued employment is dependent on his ability to get a truck packed with guests to the unloading platform in as little time as possible.
The safari guide went to great lengths to point out that every animal encountered on the attraction -- including cast members -- is real and deserving of respect. This fact was driven home when our truck was attacked by a raging African elephant (perhaps attracted by the driver who was waving a handful of peanuts and yelling, "Come and get it you big, gray sack of wrinkles! Get the peanut! I dare you!" followed by "Psyche!" as we raced away.
There are no barriers between safari vehicles and animals, making the entire safari seem very realistic. This may also be part of the reason the waiver you have to sign before entering the park is so long.
Even though the park strives for realism, this is still Disney, so every attraction has some kind of fantasy element. At one point, the Kilimanjaro Safari vehicle embarks on a "Dream Quest" like those of certain ancient African tribes, and guests are treated to the sight many colorful "dream" animals.
I asked about this later in the day and was assured that, although the animals are colorfully dyed, they are otherwise not altered and are allowed to engage in normal behavior (except for mating, which is banned throughout the park for obvious reasons). They dyes are a blend of chemicals that color the skin without clogging pores and are completely harmless to guests in trucks too far away to accidentally inhale anything.
Just outside the Safari exit is the entrance to the Pangani Forest Exploration Trail. This long, winding trail (over which guests must, due to budget cuts, walk) goes through habitats of many authentic-looking African creatures, such as okapi, meerkats, spiny mice, and cement-dwelling termites. In many cases, these habitats have animals in them as well.
For many people, the highlight of the trail is the gorilla area, in which gorillas can often be found. I was surprised to see how much gorillas are like people, aside from the fur, superhuman strength, and willingness to eat their own vomit. Cast members frequently introduce toys and other objects into the gorilla environment to keep the animals mentally active. Here, for example, is a photo of a gorilla that has used items from the costume trunk to make itself "king."
Also in Asia, you can catch a train to Rafiki's Planet Watch, and education-, veterinary-, and conservation-themed area of the park. Pretty much nobody was getting on the train when I visited, which is sad because Rafiki's is one of the areas of the park least crowded with guests. In fact, many guests were getting in line, only to turn around and leave when they got to the train. What sense does that make? What could the problem have been? I'm guessing that they were turned off by the train's "ramshackle" appearance. Or by the giant lizard. Either way.
After a bit of a walk from the train (past a cage full of decorative cotton-ball tamarinds), I arrived at Conservation Station. Conservation Station is a tribute to animal care, protection, and exploitation. There are many exciting interactive exhibits here, including a booth you can enter to hear incredible recordings of what it sounds like outside.
A cast member from the Animal Improvement department was on hand to show off Wilbur, a tiny owl that was in Disney's care. In order to improve its quality of life, Disney had fitted Wilbur with a pair of custom-made goggles (at a cost of upwards of $50,000) to help keep water out of the owl's eyes if it ever crash landed in water. What incredible thinking!
Conservation Station also has an area where you can watch real, live veterinary procedures being performed. I was lucky enough to witness two! In the photo, you can see keepers testing and recharging a desert lizard's subcutaneous behavior control chip. The lizard hardly feels a thing (and has had it's desire to complain electronically suppressed in any case).
I also got to see an interesting procedure in which a specially trained mouse pulled a splinter from the paw of a lion before being eaten in a single bite. This allowed the lion to be operated upon without sedation and with no danger to cast members, and also provided it with post-surgery nourishment.
Off to one side of the animal-care area, a few x-rays from previous procedures were on display. Pictured here are x-rays of a snake that swallowed a Mickey Mouse antenna ball, and a Magic Kingdom swan that was captured while trying to storm Cinderella's Castle.
Beastly Kingdom is the newest area of the park, and I couldn't wait to take a look! The entrance is grand, mythical, and a little spooky, guarded by these enormous carved dragon heads.
The idea is that Beastly Kingdom is supposed to celebrate creatures of mythology. Unfortunately, because this area of the park is so new, there is not a whole lot here. I'm sure it will get better as new attractions are introduced!
Because of time constraints, I didn't see a whole lot of stage shows during this trip, so I can't say much about Fantasia Live! other than it's supposed to be incredible, technologically superb, and the one thing you should make sure not to miss, even if it means missing everything else.
There are some really interesting characters walking around Beastly Kingdom, thanks to Disney's "Living Characters" initiative (which allocated boatloads of money to making realistic interactive character experiences, such as Disneyland's temporary "Linkin' With D.J. Abe" show).
My favorites were the "robots from the future" characters -- androids from a Terminator-style future where humans have been all but destroyed by their own creations. This Kill Bot stood almost ten feet tall and would eat and turn to confetti any autograph book offered to it. Cool!
Dragon's Lair (licensed from the old animated video game) is a boat ride through, well, a dragon's lair. Your boat goes through an entrance littered with dead knights and passes through dark corridors (with real bats!). Next is the dragon's egg chamber where you catch glimpses of realistic-looking slimy dragon hatchlings (shown in the photo). But Mommy Dragon is watching! Things get thrilling as the fire-breathing monster chases you through the treasure room and back into daylight.
Easily my favorite attraction in the entire park! Too bad that most of it is too dark to take decent pictures in.
I thought that Countdown to Creation was pretty gutsy on Disney's part. This outdoor attraction is a drive through what the world would have been like just after the fall of Adam if Creationists were correct. Mostly it's just an excuse to mix animatronic dinosaurs with live animals, but it's really neat.
This is another photo from Countdown to Creation. Although it doesn't come right out and say it, the attraction's script is pretty obviously pro-evolution. Any doubters just have to wait until the attraction's final scene where Adam and Eve are about to be devoured by velociraptors!
Asia has some of the best animal and attractions in Animal Kingdom. I really liked how they used animals together to create environments, like keeping bats with monkeys and feeder mice with komodo dragons.
The theming all through Asia is also spectacular. Did you know that the walkways is this area, although made of cement, were given their texture by traffic from hundreds of thousands of actual Asians?
The Kali River Rapids is a raft ride filled with stereotypical Asian wisdom and mystery. For example, when you enter the queue, a voice intones, "This line is like life itself, full of mysterious twists and turns."
The attraction's theme is decidedly anti-logging. Because the gods hate humans for their habit of deforestation, various deities attack the craft as it sweeps down the river (such as shown here, where the elephant gods shoot special-effects fire -- actually controlled by guests on a nearby bridge -- at riders). Ironically, this attraction is constructed entirely from wood.
Maharajah Jungle Trek allows guests to get "up close and nearly personal" with a variety of exotic animals. Many guests are surprised to find that there is no glass between them and the giant six-foot-long fruit bats (which are not actually made of fruit, by the way). They are often even more surprised that tigers are allowed to roam freely along the trail. Although these giant, man-eating cats spend most of their day either sleeping or being fed raw meat by armored keepers, guests are asked to enjoy them from a distance and not interact directly, mostly for insurance reasons.
The newest "mountain" attraction at Walt Disney World is Expedition Everest, in which speeding trains are attacked by a huge, extremely cool, animatronic yeti. I went on the attraction three times trying to get a photo of the monster, but the bad lighting and fast speed made this very difficult. The photo here is the best I could get.
Guests are often puzzled about the scene with a Disney princess at the end of the attraction. For those of you who do not understand the context, it's Beauty that kills the beast.
The big ride in Dinoland U.S.A. is Dinosaur. This attraction is so dark inside that if you close your eyes in fear, you will see just as much as everyone else. Plus, some of the science is incredibly dubious (they really want us to believe that tachyon pseudo imposition could open up a time field distortion stable enough that its Lagrange field could encompass a troop transport without massive biofield dissemination?)
The only thing about the attraction I really enjoyed was the sign outside depicting a dinosaur getting smacked in the head with a meteor. Why couldn't the whole ride be that funny?
Dinoland is heavily sponsored by McDonalds. There are McDonalds advertisements all over the place including ones that are probably not suitable for children, including this one -- particularly offensive for its blatant, tasteless, anti-intellectual comma splice.
A cast of the skeleton of Dinosaur Sue -- one of the most famous t-rex ever unearthed -- was recently fitted with animatronics and now stalks Dinoland, frightening young and old alike right out of their skin.
Camp Minnie-Mickey, themed on Mickey Mouse's adventures when he's shrunken to insect size, is more for kids than adults. There are character greetings, other character greetings, additional character greetings, and, for parents, extensive lines for character greetings.
There are also a couple of stage shows, scheduled throughout the day in a way that makes them difficult to see during a single visit.
Another big don't-miss show is the Festival of the Lion King. This one is fun for the whole family, as real, live wild animals are "commanded by the Lion King" into a large arena where they hopefully don't maul anyone.
Pocahontas and Her Forest Friends is a thinly disguised preachy lecture on protecting the forest delivered by Pocahontas and her sisters, all dressed in identical off-the-shoulder gowns with short skirts that show off their perfectly tanned legs. Very popular with young children and older single men.
Animal Kingdom closes earlier than the other parks (6 p.m. on normal days; 6:05 p.m. during Extra Magic Hours), so I really wasn't able to get all the pictures I wanted. I did catch this great photo of the Tree of Life at night, illuminated by spotlights that eerily highlighted some of the animals carved into its surface. My one consolation was that Pocahontas sister #3 had agreed to join me for dinner at Boma in the Animal Kingdom Lodge if I'd donate $100 to the Disney Conservation Fund. Works for me!
My next day in the parks was spent at Disney-MGM Studios. I'll have my comments and photos up in a week or so. See you then!
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