J JamesGames.com Disney's Animal Adventure

Disney's Animal Adventure

By: James Oppenheim | Created: 2012-09-30 21:27:54 | (Updated: 0000-00-00 00:00:00)
I was recently brought down by Disney to take a look at the progress on the new Epic Disney 3DS. (We'll have more about that soon.) While there I got a chance to try out a few of my favorite space rides at Epcot and Disney Hollywood Studio (formerly MGM Studio). The surprise highlight of the park adventure, though, was Disney's Animal Kingdom, a combination zoo and roller-coaster theme park. I was skeptical of the concept. After all, like many kids my formative Disney experience was on the Adventureland ride where animatronic hippos charged at our "boat" only to be "shot" by the guide. Could Disney actually mix live animals and theme parks into a fun and even educational experience? The answer is absolutely!

I've created a photoblog of our Animal Kingdom adventure here. You'll be amazed at how close you get to the animals!

Entering into the park is so different than any others in Orlando. You pass through a man made forest of bamboo trees that immediately creates a more pleasant experience than the cement and asphalt that typifies the other parks. The first "exhibits" you see are live animals, mostly birds in attractive natural-looking environments.

We immediately headed down the path toward "Africa". Here we boarded high wheeled trucks similar to the kind you would take if you were on a photo safari in Africa. Each row seats four; to be honest, the middle seats don't have nearly as good views of the wildlife. And, because the animals are sometimes on the left, sometimes on the right, your view might be past three other people.

The guide/driver was informative as we drove through areas containing giraffes and other wild animals. In some cases the animals are separated from the vehicle by cleverly disguised moats, but the impression is that you're actually in close proximity to the lions, elephants, hippos and other animals of the park. Part of the park was under construction on our trip, making way for zebras to be added to the mix.

This ride was actually more interesting and felt like we were closer to the wildlife than in other similar rides I've taken at the Bronx and San Diego zoos. It was enjoyable enough that we wanted to ride it more than once to get different views and different animal sightings.

There is also a walking tour that shows off other species in the park. The family of Silverback apes was particularly thrilling. They seem to have a relatively large and humane area in which to live. The male is kept separate from the female and babies, but because of clever layout of the park appears to share the same area.

Just as the hippo provides one of the most memorable parts of the old Jungle Cruise ride at Disneyland, the real-life hippo at Animal Adventure is quite wonderful. Because the watering hole that it lives in has a glass wall you can see the hippo above and (mostly) below the water line. In fact, the first few minutes I looked for it underwater I thought it was a rock with two birds perched on top. But then, slowly it moved, pushing its head up above the water to breath. The size and power of the hippo, as well as its natural camouflage stimulated conversations between parents and children who suddenly lost interest in the rides, and just stood watching in amazement.

The walk takes you through other environments as well, including a nicely stocked bird refuge.

Of course, Disney wouldn't be Disney without rides and there are many of them to try after you've seen the animals. The most memorable for me, and one of the most intense in the park is the roller-coaster based on the Himalayan mountains. Think of this as the Matterhorn mountain on steroids! Not only do you go up and down, you go backwards, too, sometimes in the dark. Like most park rides in the Magic Kingdom, this one will rattle you a bit back and forth, but looks much worse than it is. The big plunge at the end is really over before you know it started and gave a good laugh.

Of all the parks, this one was the most fun and certainly the most "educationally" stimulating. It really has something for elementary school kids and adults alike. Highly recommended.