Zoo, Disney-style

With only three personal days to enjoy on the husband’s business trip to Orlando, we really narrowed down our entertainment choices. My choice for one of those days was Disney’s Animal Kingdom.

We read some great tips in preparation for our Animal Kingdom visit on Undercover Tourist’s website (a must-read if you’re headed to Orlando!). It also didn’t hurt that I worked at a zoo for 15 years and understood that animals run on their schedule, which is not always in sync with visitor hours. Animals are usually most active when they enter their exhibits first thing in the morning, so we planned to be there when they opened at 9 a.m.

We got on the road a little later than we’d hoped, but were still on track to arrive before 9:30 a.m. Unfortunately, we realized that we’d forgotten the camera, but if we went back to get it we might miss seeing and photographing the animals when they were active/awake. We decided to forge ahead and take pics with the husband’s phone.

We went straight to the Maharajh Jungle Trek in the Asia exhibit. We checked in on the Komodo dragon then on to the bats, which were active and impressive, but I was anxious to see the tigers. We were able to see two tigers, but they were sleeping. I was a little surprised that they were already napping and hoped the other two tiger viewing areas would be a little more exciting. We saw a herd of Blackbuck and Elds Deer, then more tigers napping.  I was disappointed. Big cats nap as much as 20 hours a day, but I thought they’d be more active at least until 10 a.m.

We quickly headed over to Kilimanjaro Safaris in the Africa exhibit hoping to catch a few more animals before they began to nap.  We followed the tip from Undercover Tourist to sit on the left-hand side of the vehicle to get the best view of the animals, which proved to be true. We saw a lot! Unfortunately, the husband’s phone did not take great photos.

All we have are memories and blurry pics of addax, cheetahs, crocodiles, African elephants, flamingos, reticulated and Masai giraffe, hippos, lions, okapis, black and white rhinos, wildebeest and zebras. Not all of the animals were active, but enough to make it well worth the visit!

After the safari, we visited the Pangani Forest Exploration next door. We were greeted by Colobus monkeys and watched them for a while before checking out the duikers, which were hiding (typical).  We bypassed the naked mole rats and birds, choosing to move on to the underwater viewing of hippos (pretty neat!). We stopped briefly to see the meerkats, then onto the lowland gorillas. The zoo where I worked had orangutans (which I love!), but no gorillas, so I was very anxious to see these guys. The females and youngsters were asleep, but close to the viewing window. However, the silverback males were awake and magnificent!

The humidity in Orlando really wiped us out, but we wanted to take in a couple of rides before leaving the park. We headed back over to Asia to grab a fast pass for Kali River Rapids and ride Expedition Everest, which is basically at roller coaster. It was fun and quite similar to Space Mountain, Big Thunder Mountain Railroad, and the Matterhorn. Not too scary, but going backwards in darkness was a little unsettling.

At the end of the ride we had some time before our fast pass was good for Kali River Rapids, so we went to DINOSAUR. This wasn’t something we really wanted to ride, but it was a good choice to get out of the humidity. The entire queue is indoors and we really needed the air conditioning!

We saved Kali River Rapids for the end of our day due to the likelihood of getting wet. The husband and son went on Disneyland’s California Adventure version, Grizzly River Run, on our 2005 trip, so we were prepared – or so we thought. Seating is kind of the luck of the draw. Our “raft” had only two spaces when we boarded, so that’s where we sat. Within the first minute of the ride we were not just wet, but SOAKED! It was as if someone had poured a bucket of water over our heads, drenching us down to the skin. This is why we wisely saved this ride for the end of the day!

This was a fun day with some disappointment. Disney has a lot more money to spend on animal exhibits than most zoos, so I was expecting more. The employees stationed at the exhibits were only knowledgeable on a surface level. I didn’t see a single keeper the entire day. While it was fun, I felt it could be so much more. That said, the only thing I regret about choosing to visit Disney’s Animal Kingdom was that we forgot the camera.