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"Goodbye, Jean-Luc, I'm gonna miss you. You had such potential. But then again, all good things must come to an end."
- Q, Star Trek: TNG

Disney With Kids, Part 2: Magic Kingdom, Animal Kingdom

by Ken Newquist / November 26, 2012
Cinderella's Castle in Disney World. Credit: Ken Newquist

My family and I went to Disney World in October 2012. This is part 2 of my 4 part series looking at the trip. Read Part 1: Downtown Disney, Epcot, Hollywood Studios.

Magic Kingdom

We arrived at the Magic Kingdom just before it opened and got to see the show that opens the park. We then raced to the back of the park and were the second family on Pirates of the Caribbean. The kids had just watched the trilogy inspired by the ride and were eager to check it out. Unfortunately it didn't live up to their expectations; the kids don't much like dark, scary rides, and while Pirates is pretty tame, it does open with solemn words from a spectral Blackbeard and there are times when you're plunged into complete darkness.

The big hits in the Magic Kingdom were Splash Mountain -- a flume ride -- and Big Thunder Mountain -- a basic roller coaster. I was surprised how much the kids liked these -- Splash Mountain culminates with a sizable drop, and Big Thunder Mountain has lots of twists and turns, and I was expecting them to be apprehensive. Instead they loved both of them. Big Thunder Mountain had the added infamy of ending prematurely; the ride broke down just before we entered the final turn, and staffers had to come and lead us off the ride. The kids clearly thought that moment added to the adventure.

Speaking of adventure we had fun exploring Tom Sawyer's Island, which was also high on the kids to-do list. They loved the rope-and-plank bridges, the old fort, and the winding paths. As you might expect, the island's signature cave scared them; it fell too far along the "dark and scary" spectrum.

Mickey's PhilharMagic did well with the kid contingent. It helped that we'd recently seen most of Fantasia, so the kids had some good reference points for the show. In it, Donald Duck dons Mickey's magical hat from Fantasia and triggers a madcap race through a half-dozen Disney films as he tries to get it back.

I think that was the point when we realized just how few Disney movies NeutronLad had seen. While StarGirl has watched most of the classics -- including Aladdin, Toy Story, Beauty and the Beast, The Little Mermaid, etc -- she was often scared by them. As a result when NeutronLad came along, we never even bothered watching the films because we knew StarGirl wouldn't like them. The downside? Well, NeutronLad has gaping holes in his Disney knowledge base, a fact that became more and more apparent as we watched PhilharMagic and realized he wasn't getting the references.

I don't think he needs to be brainwashed with all things Disney, but there are some movies, particularly Aladdin and Toy Story 2, that I think he'd enjoy.

My favorite part of the Magic Kingdom was the Electric Parade. The electronic music and glowing spectacle instantly took me back to my own childhood and watching it with my own parents. The kids loved it, and it was well worth showing up early to snag good street-side seats.

In another throwback to my childhood we visited the Hoop Dee Doo Revue in Fort Wilderness. We stayed in Fort Wilderness four times when I was a kid, and while some things had change -- there weren't any more lake front beaches -- the old wooden buildings remained.

We took the long way to get there, starting at Epcot, taking the monorail to the Magic Kingdom, then taking another to the Contemporary Resort (the big hotel that has the monorail running throw it). From there we caught a boat to Fort Wilderness. The kids loved it all: the monorail, the boats, the hotel, and finally, Fort Wilderness itself.

The kids enjoyed the Hoop Dee Doo Review; as was expected a lot of the jokes went over their heads, but they loved the singing and dancing and the buckets of fried chicken and ribs that the waiters brought to our table.

Animal Kingdom

Animal Kingdom hadn't been built when Sue and I were last in Disneyworld, and we were looking forward to exploring it. It's a big park, with an animal safari, several nature path exhibits, a dinosaur park, and "Circle of Life" live show. At the center of it is the Tree of Life, a towering artificial tree with all manner of living, mythic, and extinct animals carved into it. The kids pointed it out whenever they caught a glimpse of it, which wasn't as often as you might think.

Unlike the other parks, Animal Kingdom is dominated by its flora. The trees grow tall there, and block line of site around the park. Once you're deep into one section, it's hard to see another or even the iconic Tree of Life (unlike say, Cinderella's Castle or Spaceship Earth). It also felt hotter and more humid than the other parks, but that could be cause a) temperatures were hitting the low 90s and b) we spent a lot less time in air conditioning.

Our first destination was the Africa and the Kilimanjaro Safaris. The safari consisted of oversized trucks that took us on a half hour tour of various African habitats. We saw hippos, lions, elephants, giraffes, antelopes, and a host of other animals. The kids soaked it all in. They weren't as awestruck by it as some of the other rides, but it's a more laid-back experience so that's not surprising.

Afterward we went to Rafiki's Planet Watch where we saw a number of smaller animal exhibits and a animal training show in which an African porcupine demonstrated a variety of tricks. We then headed over to Asia and the Maharajah Jungle Trek where NeutronLad was thrilled to see the tigers. We flirted with going on Animal Kingdom's signature roller coaster, Expedition: Everest. NeutroLad had been talking about going on it for two days, and while I wasn't thrilled at the idea -- the roller coaster goes forwards and backwards, which my inner ear doesn't like -- I was willing to go on it with him.

Fortunately he backed out at the last minute after seeing the ride. Not because he was scared you see, no it was because his front tooth was really, really lose, and he was concerned he might lose it on the ride.

We skipped DinoLand U.S.A. and its myriad thunder lizard inspired attractions, mostly because StarGirl was apprehensive about them and NeutronLad just isn't that into dinosaurs. Instead we went to the Festival of the Lion King, a live show inspired by the Broadway musical of the same name. This was easily the kids' favorite attraction at the park, though the animal tours were close seconds.

Their least favorite attraction was It's Tough to Be a Bug!, which is located inside the Tree of Life. Inspired by Pixar's A Bug's Life, it's a "4D" film that included three dimensional videos coupled with in-theatre effects. Some of those effects scared the kids -- in particular the bugs stampeding across the back of chairs to get out of the theatre -- but Sue and I enjoyed it.