Wednesday, March 21 2007
Good morning and welcome to Day
5 of the 11th Annual Spring Training Trek 2007!
You may have noticed these reports
are coming in a little slow. That is because of really
long days, starting early in the morning and ending very
late. Plus, I am not as young as when I started this
crazy thing 15 years ago in West Palm Beach, or when the
Braves and I first arrived in Disney 10 years ago.
Today began with a wake-up call from Mickey Mouse at 6am.
I had an early Disney's Wild By Design tour date at Animal
Kingdom at 8:30am. As it turned out, I was the only
one in the tour group so it was a very personal and
informative 3 hours.
We started out by walking up the
left side of the Oasis. Animal Kingdom is the only
Disney park that does not have a main street-style entrance,
as Imagineers wanted to create opportunities for discovery.
Each path leading to Discovery Island contains views of
different animals in natural habitats. The path itself
is up hill to force guests to take their time. The
concrete pathways contain leaf and footprints of the
vegetation and animals on display in that area, and chance
from location to location.
Discovery Island is home to the
Tree of Life, a huge tree constructed of concrete in six
pieces with over 300 animals carved into its massive trunk.
The 12" leaves are of a Disney-invented plastic that never
loses their luscious green color. Despite all the
weather and storms since the park opened in 1998, the tree
has lost only a few leaves. Discovery Island is also
the first signs of civilization, with gateways to Dinoland
USA, Asia, Africa and Camp Minnie-Mickey.
We headed into Dinoland USA.
Word is that the Dino Institute began an archeological dig
there when dinosaur bones were found, but Chester and
Hester, carnival operators, refused to leave. They
developed a partnership where interns from the Institute
would come to the carnival for relaxation after a hard day
of identifying bones. In fact, fossils can be found in
Next we walked to Asia, dwarfed by
the latest attraction, Expedition Everest. The
roller-coaster is actually attached to a separate structure
from the mountain itself, and many aspects of the attraction
were brought back from Imagineers' own trips into the
Himalayas, including brass and gold plated items in the
temple and the 34 expedition backpacks (the number of seats
on each train) stacked by the loading platform. The
queue line takes adventurers past a mountain climbing gear
store and a Yeti museum, piled with authentic items and
fabricated stories. The realism even extends to the
soot on the ceiling from the train's smoke stack.
As the park wasn't officially
opened yet, I got a fast pass and we continued our trek
through Asia. We looked at the prayer trees with
ribbons signifying prayers, and bell chimes representing
prayers answered. We walked through the Maharajah
Jungle Trek, getting special attention from cast members who
talked about the bats, the tigers and how their habitats
were designed to balance both their natural environments
with making them visible to passing humans. We also
saw construction of the Yak and Yeti, Animal Kingdom's first
table service restaurant, scheduled to open in late 2007.
We continued our walk to Harambe,
Africa, which like Anandapur is not a real village.
But unlike Asia, the African village was based on the
architecture of a real location which Disney keeps a closely
guarded secret. Rafiki's Planet Watch was
originally called Conservation Station, but was the least
popular attraction, despite a betting zoo and the ability to
watch Animal Kingdom's veterinary services at work.
They changed the name to the highly recognized character and
the educational enclave, accessed by a train which faces
only one direction so as to hide the parking lot on the
other side, became instantly more popular.
We walked through the Pangani
Forest Exploration Trail with more conversations with cast
members discussing the breeding issues with the silverback
gorillas (I got to see the female who had been recently born
before my 2001 trek, now six years old), not to mention
learning about the hippos and other animals along the way.
The tour ended with the identification of upside down trees
(made from concrete) and sausage trees (real, but with an
For lunch I stopped in at Pizzafari
on Discovery Island for a Chicken Caesar salad Quick Service
mean on my dining plan. A snack had been included in
the tour at Tusker House on our arrival in Harambe so I did
not want to overdo it. Now it was time for the real
action to begin. I headed back over to Asia and
steeled my stomach to ride Everest. With FastPass in
hand and having dismissed the excuses, I took my seat on the
train. The ride started out easily enough, with some simple
dips and rises. Then we got on the big track that
pulled the train up through the temple and into the
Drawings on the temple walls warned
against the Yeti, but we went chugging along anyway.
Until we reached the peak and discovered the tracks had been
ripped up. Sliding backwards into the caves, the train
stops suddenly and a shadow of the Yeti appears on the cave
walls, angrily ripping up more track. The train began
moving forward again, exploding out of the mountain and
nearly straight down before curving sharply back up into the
mountain for a close call with a real life and death
encounter with the Yeti. The ride was a lot of fun,
and will be even more so next time when I open my eyes.
After another walk through the
Maharajah Jungle, it started to warm up so I decided to cool
down by taking a ride down the Kali River Rapids.
Having learned from past experience (you will get wet; you
may get soaked), I picked up a plastic bag from a souvenir
stand to stash my shoes, socks and other items I wanted to
keep dry. I made my way through Africa back to
Discovery Island to Dinoland. Twice actually, as I had
thought I had a FastPass for the Kilimanjaro Safari
but apparently lost it, and was too late for the
mid-afternoon performance of Finding Nemo: The Musical (the
theater was filled up 15 minutes before show time).
But I made it for the late
afternoon show, which retells the Nemo story using
performance puppetry in the same vein as Broadway's The Lion
King. The show is relatively new, and there were some
kinks to be worked out, but it was a fun production with
neat effects weaving in live action and animation.
Making my way around to Asia again, the stand-by line was
short enough for a dusk ride on Everest (the colors in the
sky were amazing), followed by a return trip to Africa where
I was able to sneak in two Safari rides before the evening
cut-off. Even though this was an Extra Magic Hours
night, the animal-based attractions were being cut off
Heading back to Dinoland, I took in
Hester and Chester's Primeval Whirl and then Dinosaur
(formerly known as Countdown To Extinction before the
animated movie came out), and then trekked back one more
time to the Himalayas where I grabbed my Sherpa gear one
last time for a trip up the mountain. At night, almost
all of the ride except the special effects features were in
the dark, adding an additional element of excitement.
But by this time I was dog tired and it was time to come
down off the mountain and head back to the resort.
Who made the choice to see the Finding Nemo musical instead
of Mickey's Jammin' Jungle Parade and does not regret the