This is the 3rd in a series of Blogs celebrating Animal Kingdom's 10th Anniversary in April.
Part 1 shared my original trip report from the Cast Previews.
Part 2 talked about A Wild Decade celebration by the wdwcelebrations.com team.
This blog shares Anita Answer's initial thoughts about Animal Kingdom, from 1998. She was able to visit Animal Kingdom as part of the WDW Resort Guest Special Previews.
March 23, 1998 -- Animal Kingdom at last!
I had originally planned to go to Animal Kingdom (AK) at opening (7 am!) but decided to sleep in for a little while instead. At last I'm on my way zipping down World Drive and then Buena Vista with the windows down and the radio going.
I pulled into the AK parking booth, and the CM asked to see my ticket. Apparently they're enforcing the "you must buy your ticket at your resort" rule. Once in the lot, the road circumvents the entire lot to the south and you pull into the rows from the opposite side of the lot. (Are we there yet? Are we there yet? Are we there yet?) None of the rows had been numbered yet, but the section signs were up. I knew I was in Unicorn, but didn't know the row--which is very dangerous in a rental car! I fished around in my backpack for a bandanna to tie on my antenna, but all I could come up with was a clothes pin. I was off to the tram. The tram lets you off about 50 feet from the entrance.
To the left is the Rainforest Cafe, complete with man-made waterfall. The entrance itself is reminiscent of Typhoon Lagoon. Once inside, I was trying to keep one eye on the map and one eye on all the wonderful scenery, and eventually, I had to give up on the map.
You enter into an area called "the Oasis" which is full of little paths, small animals, trickling brooks, etc. This opens up to Safari Village, sort of the Hub of AK. Safari Village is brightly painted and just gorgeous, but consists mostly of souvenir shops from what I could tell. Directly in front of me was the incredible Tree of Life. You can stand and look at that tree all day, and still see something new each time. Whoever designed it is a genius.
Off to the right is the path to DinoLand and Asia, which isn't open yet. I saw some of the construction of Asia from the boat ride and from the bridge leading to it--it's going to be breathtaking.
I took a right turn into DinoLand. The first thing you see is the Boneyard--this is going to be a fun place for kids! Lots of tubes, chutes, rope ladders, and hidey-holes. A seven year-old's dream playground. The Restaurantosaurus is off to the right (serves McDonald's foods.) The theming is really nifty--it looks just like a thrown-together basecamp for Paleontologists; right down to the Airstream trailer.
Countdown to Extinction (CTX) is directly ahead on the path. You enter through what looks like a museum. Some of the displays were not yet working, though. From there, you go into a room with a replica of a (whatever-saurus.) There's a preshow here, but the lines were so short, I never did catch it on any of my three rides on CTX. From there, you go down into the next pre-show area, where you are shown a short film which ostensibly explains about your time-travelling vehicle and where you're going. From there, you go to the loading area.
The vehicles are the same as the Indy ride at DL. In several spots, the ride is in pitch black, so I assume that some of the effects aren't running yet. The ride is mechanically better than Indy, but Indy's theming is MUCH better. Maybe CTX's theming will be better once it's 100% on line, but for now it's not as good.
From there, I went on the Safari Village-to-Africa portion of the River boat ride, which oddly loads from the edge of DinoLand. There are some very cool rock formations; my favorite of which was Crocodile Falls; followed by Dragon Rocks. I'm not sure why they put the two so close together as there isn't much else to see on the boat ride.
As you near Harambe, the African village, there are some geysers like those at Big Thunder Mountain RailRoad at the Magic Kingdom. Harambe's theming looks just like a backwater African village. Most of the village is, you guessed it, souvenir shops, but there's a wonderful restaurant called Tusker House. It's kind of hidden, so you have to look for the entrance. Tusker's has a great bakery that you can access from an outside queue as well. Try the chocolate chip cookies..mmmm.
In Harambe, you enter the queue for Kilimanjaro Safaris (KS). The queue winds through the KS offices, complete with ringing phone, travel brochures, etc. The latter part of the queue sets up the lame-o poachers story via video. The safari is taken on large vehicles, which are free driving, not on a track. The "roads" are really cool--the truck tracks in the cement "mud" and even some rock paintings.
The landscaping is so incredible, it's hard to believe that two years ago this was just Florida swampland. They added hills, rocks and African foliage, and it all looks like it's been there for hundreds of years. I saw lots of animals, including giraffes, ostriches, elephants, vultures (!) and hippos on my first trip.
From the Safari, I went on the gorilla walk, which was very disappointing. Although the landscaping is breathtaking, I only saw one baby gorilla from the back and only for a fleeting second. Doh!
Next, I took the train to Conservation Station (CS) . The ride is very very boring, and Conservation Station is pretty boring as well. CS is like a very small Epcot pavilion with interactive kiosks. There is a small petting zoo with the obligatory baby goats, as well. I don't think I spent more than 5 minutes here before walking back to the train station for the return ride. I sure hope they plan on putting more attractions here, because if this is it, they're going to have a slew of cranky guests once the crowds and long lines descend!
I left Harambe, and followed the path from Africa to Asia. I stopped (yet again) to take a look at the Tree of Life from this side, and took some pictures. I had planned to hop the river boat Africa-to-Safari Village leg, but the ride was down, and no explanation was given.
Instead, I peeked at the construction going on in Asia, keeping one eye on the river boat queue house, which can be seen from the Asian bridge. I overheard two managers saying one of the boats was caught on something, and they were going to use another boat to get it free, so I figured that might take awhile and I gave up waiting around.
I decided to continue my loop of the park and headed back toward Dinoland, intending to ride Countdown to Extinction again. On the way, I spotted a beautifully painted restaurant on the banks of the river, which had carved stone animals and small ponds, waterfalls, etc. There were lots of outdoor tables so I strolled down by the water to sit and rest for a while. There, right in front of me was the stuck boat, and sure enough, another boat was ramming it over and over to get it unstuck. I watched until the boat was free at last, but they still didn't open the ride. I had just enough time to grab some popcorn and diet coke before I had to meet friends at the Tree of Life entrance.
I sat on a bench with my snack and a manager with a clipboard and a Newton asked if he could ask me some questions about the park. After he asked me the requisite questions, we chatted a bit about the park, and how wonderful this opportunity was to see it before it gets crowded. There is so much detail here--I was especially impressed with the mosaics inlaid in the sidewalks all over the park. The mosaic was the best part, IMO, of Conservation Station. The manager and I agreed that once this park filled up, no one would notice these little touches, and we were lucky to get to see them now.
I decided to see if I could get into the 1:00 Lion King show, and I almost did it...they closed the queue with only 3 people in front of me! Doh!
So, I investigated Camp Minnie-Mickey, which is very cute. It's themed like a national park a la the Wilderness Lodge. There are several character greeting areas and lots of colorful character statuettes around the area. I walked back over to Dinoland, and looked at the theming a bit more closely--still very cool! I rode CTX again, and then poked around in the shops. I played with some Dino Beanies in a giftshop, and then went to meet my friend.
My friend was waiting at the appointed place and after big hugs, we took the Safari, where we saw even more animals than I had seen earlier. We skipped the Gorilla Walk and strolled around Harambe. We took a few pictures and a passing cast member was kind enough to take our picture together.
After that, we took the now-open boat ride from Africa around to Safari Village/Dinoland. From the boat, you can get a really good look at the Asia construction going on. The boat Cast Member told us that they were going to start bringing small animals on board each boat for a bit of wildlife lore, since there really isn't much to see on the boat rides yet. The Africa-Safari Village leg had even less to see than the Safari Village - Africa side.
We debarked at Dinoland and rode CTX again. Afterwards, it was about 4:20, so we decided to see if we could get into the 4:30 show of Festival of the Lion King; the last show before the park closed at 5:00 pm. We got in with no trouble at all. The show was cute, but, hey--it's no Hunchback, ya know? ;-) all the costumes were there with the exception of 3 missing headdresses on various folks.
After the Festival of the Lion King show, the park was closing and they ushered us out of the park. We reluctantly walked back to the tram (especially me, because I knew I was headed for the airport. ;-( ) The tram took us back to our be-clothespinned vehicle, and away we went.