11th Annual Spring Training Trek 2007

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2007 Trek Gallery

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 the pathways.

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 inedible fruit).

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 mountain. 

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 before sunset.

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 decision...

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Revised: 03/24/07.