After grabbing a quick bite to eat while basking in our good fortune at getting an Avatar fast pass, we made the quick drive over to Animal Kingdom.
While we were really excited for Avatar, we were even more excited for the park in general as it was the first time either of us have ever been there. As we pulled into the massive parking area, Everest came into view along with the floating rocks of Pandora (which look really funny from the parking lot).
We hopped on a tram and made our way up to the gate, filled with anticipation. Right from the start, this park has a really cool vibe and it wastes no time getting you fully immersed in the theme.
After sorting out an issue with our tickets at the gate (my ticket never wanted to scan when we were park hopping but each time it they just called someone over and got it to scan in like 30 seconds. Weird, but obviously a non-issue) we made our way in and were immediately greeted with some great animal exhibits.
This park really sucks you in right from the get-go and it's honestly pretty amazing. I found it really odd that a park that's designed to handle massive, massive amounts of people has these 2 small paths right near the entrance that everyone funnels through that goes by some small animal exhibits but it clearly works from a practicality standpoint while also being a really neat and immersive area. It must have been tough for Brit, but we didn't spend too much time looking at the animals and actually pressed on pretty quickly on our... (sigh) expedition to Everest.
We had a plan, but it was admittedly tough to stick to. From the second I walked through the gates, I was in love. I've seen Disney Parks, I've seen Universal parks, I've never seen a park like this. We love rides, we love animals and we love theming and this park absolutely excels at every one of those categories. It's like Busch Gardens Tampa on steroids.
One thing that really blew my mind was the monkey(??) habitat in Asia. We saw those awesome, massive towers with ropes and were blown away. They were really awesome looking, but it wasn't until later that we noticed a monkey up there and realized it was an actual functional animal habitat. The entire place was so brilliantly planned out and so stunningly beautiful that I feel like my jaw dropped as soon as I walked through the gate and it stayed there for the duration of our visit.
I could have spent the entire day looking at theming, but I kept forcing myself to continue walking and a minute or two later, Everest came into view.
I really never thought I'd see the day that I was writing a trip report and had to stop and ask myself... "Do I sound like a Disney fanboy right now?". While I've always had a great time at Disney Parks, I've never been one to sip the Kool Aid. I love Magic Kingdom and Epcot but this was the first time I ever got to see first hand what could happen when Imagineers were able to build a brand new, ultra modern park on a massive budget and all of a sudden I "got it". Every inch of this place was loaded with awesome details. Even things that initially looked sh*tty were (upon closer inspection) theming that was put there to look sh*tty on purpose. Busted smoke alarm? It's busted on purpose. Fake bugs? Check. Stickers slapped on to things that ended up being stickers for fake things that fit the Disney storyline? Check. It's almost absurd how much thought and care they put into this place. I was honestly almost unable to process it at the time, and in a way I still am.
I often found myself stopping to look at things and had to keep reminding myself that there was a coaster we needed to ride. Eventually though, we finally made our way to the Expedition Everest queue which may now be my favorite queue for any coaster anywhere. The queue was basically the same as the rest of the park, loaded with detail at every turn. I honestly didn't even mind standing in it and it actually made you forget you were even standing in a line. There were actually some instances where the line moved and I was almost disappointed. Luckily I forgot about that when (in seemingly no time) we were directed to a car and started rolling out of the station for our first-ever ride on Expedition Everest.
********SPOLERS... oh, wait. Everyone in the world had already ridden this except me? Ah, right...
The first portion of the ride is actually really cool. While it's not highly themed, the coaster is built into the terrain so it doesn't really have to be. Well okay... it's probably the other way around. The terrain is probably built into the coaster because Disney has some major F*ck you money and they made it rain with this ride.
After dicking around on the ground for awhile, the ride climbs the lift and starts racing around the mountain. The section off the lift is really cool as is the reversing section but I think the thing that really surprised me the most was the backward section of the ride. It's REALLY disorienting and intense for a Disney ride. For a second there I had a serious case of vertigo. Eventually though, we dipped into the scene where the mummy rips up the track and you drop into what's actually a really solid coaster (Disney or otherwise) and end by flying past a Yeti that (let's be honest) is super cool and I don't give a single sh*t if it doesn't move. THAT's what people have been bitching about for a decade? You're moving so fast it hardly matters anyway. Come on...
Seriously... we're used to Magic Kingdom coasters but this thing doesn't mess around. It's honestly one of the best coasters I've ever ridden and MIGHT be my favorite ride on WDW property*.* Splash Mountain, Haunted Mansion and Flight of Passage give me pause and I STILL haven't ridden Tower of Terror because I suck. lol
Again... I'm sorry. I feel like this report sucks because I just loved everything and it sounds like Disney paid me to write it. Disney totally sucked us in this time. Animal Kingdom though... omg. I'd say that we were "amazed" when we got off of Everest, but basically we were just in a constant state of amazement for the entire day so that seems like an unnecessary statement.
I already had a new favorite Disney park and so far we had only been on one ride and hadn't even stepped foot into Pandora which (by all accounts) was the most visually impressive part of the entire park. Luckily that was about to change... after a quick pit stop and a few wrong turns, we finally made our way over (pausing at the tree to take a picture in my new favorite park in Orlando... notice I said "my favorite" and not "our favorite" because let's be real... unless the Navi River was full of Orcas there was no way Brit would ever go THAT far.
We meandered around a bit more, checking out some street performers (that really help create an amazing vibe for the place) and finally, as it started to get dark we made our way into Pandora.
After winding around for a bit, we finally turned a corner and were greeted with giant floating islands, waterfalls and bio-luminescent...ness that's just complete and utter sensory overload. I know there was talk about how long this project took, but you can easily see where all of that time went once you step foot into this insane, alien landscape.
I'm sorry... this sh*t is insane. This park was already the most stunningly beautiful park I had ever seen in my life, but Pandora made the rest of the park look almost normal by comparison. They created an awesome, totally surreal alien landscape but somehow blended the natural, Florida foliage in beautifully. That sounds like a direct contradiction, but Disney really blew our minds here.
We wandered around for a bit just taking it all in. I have a ton of pictures but I won't even bother sharing most of them since I had my old crappy iPhone 5 on this trip and they just didn't do it justice at all. This is seriously the only park where I've ever felt like I could spend an entire day walking around without riding a single ride and have an awesome day. First of all they have animals, but second of all there are so many layers to the theming here that you could probably go there every day for years and still keep finding new things. Pandora was just the icing on the cake, but it was some damn amazing icing.
We walked around for awhile longer because we really couldn't help ourselves but finally remembered that there were actual rides there and we had a Fastpass for one of them. It's actually kind of tough to find the entrance to either ride since neither of them feature prominent signs, but honestly I can't really complain about that. Imagineers had to make a call between having giant signs that didn't fit the theme but helped people get around easier or coming up with a more immersive solution that made navigation slightly more difficult and I think it's actually cool that they went with the latter. After a minute or two we found the entrance and scanned in so I guess it can't be that big of a deal. I found the entrance and I'm an idiot.
The ride was posting a 120 minute wait and as we walked in we could see a giant sea of humanity standing under a cool thatched roof that covered the queue. While it was pretty, I'm certainty glad I didn't end up spending 2 hours standing in it. A lot of rides feature minimal waits even with Fast Pass (fine by us), but we were surprised when in about 2 minutes we scanned in a second time and were immediately directed to a boat.
Personally I really, really loved this ride. It's basically an extension of the land outside and it's appeal comes from the sheer beauty of it and not because there's any one moment on the ride that's particularly amazing aside from the one animatronic. As a collective though, it's great.
As we got off, we did hear a lot of bitching from the people behind us (and the same thing ended up happening the next day). My take is that it's a really, really good ride BUT it seems like one that people seem to appreciate more as a walk-on. Objectively I guess I could see why. It's a gorgeous attraction but it doesn't have any big, "wow" moments. Had I waited 2 hours I'm not sure what my opinion would have been. As it was, we loved it. Also, that Navi song is insanely catchy and it was stuck in our heads for the remainder of the trip. Better than Small World I guess.
As we exited River Journey I quickly scrolled through the app again and (after a few refreshes) grabbed Dinosaur. This was a ride I knew pretty much nothing about going in so I was pretty excited to see what it was all about. We made our way over and (it turned out) the Fastpasses didn't matter anyway since we basically walked right onto a vehicle.
Basically you get on a Jeep that bucks around wildly while avoiding animatronic dinosaurs. The ride is actually pretty thrilling and has a strong "Universal before their new found obsession with screens" vibe to it. This ride flat out kicks A$$. I've since found out that it's often compared with a similar ride with the same ride system in California which may explain why it's not talked about all that often and honestly that's a shame because this ride on it's own is brilliant and it seems to be often overlooked when talking about Animal Kingdom.
We were given the option to stay on and re-ride and it was tempting but we only had about 15 minutes before park close and we wanted to hit Primevil Whirl in-case it rained the next day. We sort of expected a walk-on but we saw a decent queue and a posted 30 minute wait. On a whim I opened the app and about 5 refreshes later... hey, would you look at that? We reserved it and walked right on.
We count credits sort of, but we do it within reason. For example... we would happily waste some time at Animal Kingdom riding something we could ride at Fun Spot, but there was no way we were going to queue up for both sides of a spinning wild mouse on our Disney vacation. One is enough. Lol
I'll say this, they made the ride look really nice with tons of fun and purposefully tacky details and sound effects. They also have it timed perfectly so that as SOON as one train clears the lift the next train enters the lift block not even half a second later. They really did everything possible to maximize the capacity on this thing.
As for the ride, it's definitely the tamest spinning mouse I've ever been on. I totally get why, but the spinning on these things is often absolutely insane and it was pretty minimal here. The ride is fine, but the Rockstar coaster at Fun Spot blows it to hell. When you're saying that about a ride at Disney World I guess I can see why people might consider it a problem. Personally I think they did a nice job with this thing and Dino Land as a whole is a blast
After our Primeval whirling (or lack thereof), we slowly started making our way up to the exit. It was a little after 8:00 and the park was closed for the day, but luckily Magic Kingdom was open until Midnight and we had planned to meet up with Robb and the gang over there. On the way, I popped open the app and saw that he had reserved some Fastpasses so I tried to link them up.
By the time we left Animal Kingdom, walked to the car and got to the monorail platform it was only about 8:40 so we were looking at a solid few hours of Magic Kingdom fun. As we approached the monorail, a family of five flagged us down and asked if we were only 2 people. Unsure of why, we said yes and they handed over 4 paper tickets. We weren't exactly sure what they were, but apparently they were single use Fastpasses good for any ride at Magic Kingdom. Holy crap! That's awesome.
We thanked them a ton and made our way up to the monorail. Paper Fastpasses? I didn't even know they were still a thing but we felt like we hit the lottery. Kudos to nice people. Nice people are the best.
About 15 minutes later we had made our way around the lake and scanned into the park (once again, after a supervisor came over and through some weird Disney magic, made the light turn green since my pass wasn't having it). We met up with Robb and the crew right inside the gate and slowly made our way through the sea of humanity on Main Street.
We had planned to pretty much go with the flow and do whatever, but everyone asked where we wanted to go and I think we ended up with Frontierland. On the way, we told Robb about the paper Fastpasses and he explained what they were, and once we got to Liberty Square they all stopped at Mansion with it's posted 60 minute wait and told us to go ride it.
We hesitated since we were the only ones with Fastpasses, but they assured us that they didn't care at all and they would meet us once the ride was over. We objected for awhile but after being told again that they KNEW we wanted to ride it (I mean... yeah, lol) and they were mostly just hanging out because they come to MK all the time we caved and got in line. Wow that's crazy nice! Like I said earlier, nice people are the best.
As for the ride... obviously it's garbage. Awful. Not good at all.
Haunted Mansion is a brilliant attraction. Depending on the day I probably go back and fourth between that and Splash Mountain as my favorite ride at Magic Kingdom but on this particular day, Splash Mountain was down for refurb so Mansion it was! Every time I ride this thing I see new, cool details. It's an awesome ride, and the fact that it's so old and the effects are so simple makes it all the more impressive.
We got off the ride and found the group waiting for us and we made our way over to Big Thunder. They had all reserved Fastpasses and I tried, but ours were a bit later (though they did overlap). Everyone was fine with waiting, but Robb called us forward in the group and nicely asked the cast member if they could link them up. Since the people that work at this park (and every Orlando park) are the best in the business, they happily said yes and we scanned in. How cool! Disney was totally sucking us in this trip. Little gestures like that go such a long way towards making sure their guests have the best day possible and when you're used to regional parks it's awesome to see.
While in line, we all grabbed our phones and started refreshing constantly. It probably looked like a Pokemon Go raid but it was actually just a group effort to see what we could find Fastpasses for. Luckily, one of us (Spoiler Alert: It was Robb) scored Space Mountain which was pretty impressive given our huge group. He didn't get everyone, so I kept trying but eventually he grabbed the phone for a second and managed to score an overlapping Fastpass. Awesome! He was on a roll that night. Too bad we weren’t in Vegas.
This system is amazing. I can see how people could be frustrated with it at first (I was part of that group), but once you get it set up and use it for a day or two there can't be a person alive that doesn't love this thing. At 8:00 on a Saturday night we got a Thunder Mountain Fastpass (which was like our millionth Fastpass of the day) and then while in the Thunder Mountain line at 10:00 ON A SATURDAY we got Fastpasses for NINE PEOPLE to ride Space Mountain that same night. And the system is free! We were loving it.
When we approached the Thunder Mountain greeter, everyone told us to go in first and ride the back since it was the best (again... super nice). We did as we were told and a few minutes later were treated to an insane, airtime buffet of craziness that we never would have expected from Thunder Mountain. I always loved this ride (who wouldn't?) but that was easily the craziest ride we had ever had on it. Wow!
We got off the ride (still in disbelief at that crazy ride) and made our way across the park to Tomorrowland. Along the way, everyone stopped to point out some hidden mickeys, take pictures and show us some cool little details around the park.
We still had some time to kill before we could ride Space Mountain, so we decided to throw an impromptu peoplemover party (which is preserved forever in the form of a TPR Live Stream. As you can see, Robb made sure they really turned the LIMs on full blast for us
PS: Apparently I don't know how to wave. It took me a second to realize it was a video and not a photo. Don't mind me. I'm dumb.
The Peoplemover is a really cool attraction. The way it's designed into the other attractions in Tomorrowland is really cool and it makes the whole area look really cool while simultaneously being a really nice little ride. Actually, I had a much more favorable opinion of Tomorrowland as a whole this trip. While it looks like it can use an update during the day, once the lights come on it looks like an entirely different place. We enjoyed our thrill ride around Tomorrowland and when we finally collected ourselves and got our bearings after being subjected to the insane G forces that Robb had documented in the video, it was time to ride Space Mountain.
As you may remember from my last Disney report, I love Space Mountain. It's definitely the most thrilling coaster at the Magic Kingdom and unlike the others it's not afraid to throw you around a little bit either. When we got to the platform, Robb sent the (as he put it) smaller members of the group to their own "Millennial Rocket" and then informed us that they we should take the back because they were front loading our rocket and "we should probably get ready to fly". A final word of warning before we departed into deep space...
"Oh, and the camera is to your right in the first tunnel. Don't disappoint us.
Yeah... that was insane. I legitimately felt like we were going to fly off the tracks and die. It's weird to say this about a Disney ride, but Space Mountain is just so wonderfully shady that despite the fact that it only goes 27 mph it manages to convince you that you're going to die. It provides tons of air, violent transitions and crazy moments and it's an absolute blast of a ride.
We were laughing the entire time.
Unfortunately after surviving our journey to outer space, park close had finally come around. On our way out, Robb asked if we wanted to partake in "Starbucks and grass" which was a bit of a tradition for them. I was about to inform him that while I would love some Starbucks, we didn't smoke weed... much less in the middle of the Magic Kingdom
but I eventually put two and two together and realized that they meant grabbing some Starbucks and sitting in the grass near the castle and hanging out for awhile.
It was actually a really nice way to end the night... hanging out with a great group of people and watching the "kiss goodnight" which is apparently a thing that the park does on the castle which I suppose is a nicer nickname than "The now GTFO of the park" show (just kidding, Disney really doesn't care what you do. They're more than happy to let you sit around at the end of the night which is honestly pretty awesome).
Overall we had a fantastic day, and that night at the Magic Kingdom may have been the most fun we've ever had in a theme park. It seemed like everyone in the group was completely fixated on making sure we had the best possible time even though we had never met any of them before (aside from Robb who we had known for a solid 22 hours at that point). I can't say enough great things about that group or that night and by the time we finally left the park around 1:00 in the morning I was totally sipping the Disney Kool Aid
Seriously though... we can't thank you guys enough.
Up next: Disney Day Two! Animal Kingdom, Magic Kingdom and Flight of Passage!