Disney World: Beyond Movies and Magic

We went to Disney World this year for Spring Break. Typically, we stay local for SB so venturing south to stay in Lake Buena Vista was a real treat for us. Last week, I posted my thoughts about my two favorite parks: Hollywood Studios and the Magic Kingdom. Today, I’m posting pics and thoughts about Epcot and the Animal Kingdom. Next week, I’ll wrap up my Disney posts with some final bits and pieces and advice for anyone who’s considering going.



I really enjoy visiting EPCOT (the Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow). Arguably, however, it’s the least popular park. The parking lot (especially compared to the Magic Kingdom!) was a ghost town. But in Disney parlance this just means there were gazillions of people instead of bazillions. One of the neatest areas for me is the World Showcase, which showcases the culture and cuisine from 11 different countries. It’s fun to eat there. (Germany’s Biergarten, where Oktoberfest is celebrated all year long, was a favorite of ours last time). Unfortunately, this time, we didn’t make it to the World Showcase part of the park. Instead, we stayed in the Future World part of the park.

As an aside, it’s worth noting that Epcot’s theme is “celebrating the human spirit” — a terrific theme. But the park’s execution of it seems odd. The two parts of the park, the World Showcase and Future World, seem disparate and unrelated. It’s as if the park’s attractions are the other parks’ outtakes. Each of the other parks can be summed up with a word (Hollywood Studios = MOVIES; Magic Kingdom = MAGIC; Animal Kingdom = ANIMALS). With Epcot, that word would be WORLD but since the world includes everything, the park feels a bit scattered in its mission. It offers world culture, future technology, and environmental/nature related exhibits. That’s a lot of ground to cover. But maybe I’m being unfair.

Regardless, the park is worth visiting. We didn’t do it this way, but if I could reschedule our visit to this park, I would do Future World first and then head over to the World Showcase in the afternoon and have dinner there. Okay, so that’s what we didn’t do. What did we do?


Some of you may be laughing. Who flies 900 miles to look at topiaries?! Well, I do. (Or at least, I will, if topiaries are part of a seasonal exhibit somewhere I’m visiting because, as the rest of you know, I think topiaries are really neat). I love the combination of nature, whimsy, art, and imagination.


Mission: SPACE

Ride Story: You’re an astronaut on a mission to Mars.

Ride Thrills: Depends on which level of intensity you choose.

My Take: An exercise in not tossing my cookies. I mentioned last week that simulator rides can be tough for me. Well, duh, I probably should have listened to the eighteen million different warnings Epcot gives riders about NOT choosing to be a part of the Orange Team for this ride if you suffer from occasional motion sickness. The ride has two levels of intensity: green and orange. The Green Team experiences a typical simulator ride. The Orange Team experiences a centrifuge that spins and tilts to simulate launch and re-entry speed and G-force. It’s supposed to be “authentic NASA-style” training. Uh… obviously I’ve never trained for NASA but it felt pretty authentic to me. I managed not to hurl but it took me about 90 minutes to regain my equilibrium and not feel as if my brains were scrambled after the ride. Lesson? If I weren’t already too old for astronaut training, I could probably rule that out as a career choice. Craig and the kids? Ha! They were ready for ice cream and another ride the minute they exited the building.

Chevrolet’s Test Track

Ride Story: Design your own concept vehicle and then test drive it.

Ride Thrills: There is a slight coaster feel to the last part of the test track when the car gains speed around some turns. Unless you suffer from back or neck trouble or are a small child, this ride is pretty tame.

My Take: A giant car commercial. In fact, there’s a fun interactive exhibit in the exit lobby where you really can make a car commercial based on the car you designed for the test track. I chose a deep, cowboy-type voice-over to go with my red oversized, overpowered truck. 😀 (Half the fun is designing something that’s completely opposite your vehicle type).

There are lots more attractions and things to do at Epcot. I wish we’d had more time. For my next visit, I’d love to see the Sea Base and the Land Pavilion (the fish farm and greenhouses), as well as a couple of shows (the Jeweled Dragon Acrobats and Serveur Amusant look pretty cool).


For me, Animal Kingdom can be broken down into two parts: Everest and Everything Else. Everest was my favorite ride this time. Maybe it’s because I’d never ridden it before. Maybe it’s because it featured yetis in a frozen wasteland, two things I’d been excessively thinking about over the past year because White Heart of Justice features both as well, albeit a bit differently. Or maybe it’s because the ride is just plain great.


EverestExpedition Everest: Legend of the Forbidden Mountain

Ride Story: For years, the Royal Anandapur Tea Company shipped tea through the Forbidden Mountain deep in the Himalayas, but after a series of mysterious accidents possibly involving yetis, the rail line closed. Adventurers and yeti seekers, never fear! The rail line is open once again. Himalayan Escapes, Tours and Expeditions now offers a train ride through the icy peaks and passes.

Ride Thrills: Lots! I love that I have to give a SPOILER warning for a ride, but I do! Part of the fun of riding this ride for the first time is experiencing the unexpected. So if you don’t want to know what’s in store for you, skip down to Kilimanjaro Safaris. For those of you that want to know exactly what this ride offers: the usual high-speed turns and drops, including one 80 foot plunge and several corkscrews. But the ride also “ends” at one point when the track becomes impassable. Ahead the rail line is severed. All that remains are a few feet of twisted, mangled tracks hanging off the edge of a cliff. First time riders are left wondering what’s next. The brakes finally release and the ride is reversed. Bonus: Lots of yeti sightings!

My Take: If you go to Animal Kingdom and like coasters, this ride is a must. It wasn’t as intense as Hollywood Studios Rock-n-Roller Coaster, but was probably a bit more than Magic Kingdom’s Space Mountain. It wasn’t as “jerky” feeling though and the story behind the ride is great. If your kid is tall enough to ride the ride, they’ll love it. We rode it twice.

Kilimanjaro Safaris

What’s the deal? One of Animal Kingdom’s attractions is a 110 acre wildlife sanctuary for native African animals such as wildebeests, warthogs, lions, gazelles, elephants, and antelope. Visitors can take a twenty-minute open air bus tour around the reserve.

What’s the thrill? For me, it was the giraffes. Yeah, I know they’re not as exotic as some of the other animals, but I think they’re neat. I wanna know why they couldn’t be domesticated. (Did anyone read Guns, Germs, and Steel? Are any of you biologists? What the deal with them? They look friendly enough…) 😉 😀

My take: I have mixed feelings about zoos, reserves, and sanctuaries. They’re unnatural. Florida isn’t Africa. How comfortable can an African lion really be living in Florida on 110 acres of land? On the other hand, there’s a lot of education going on in Animal Kingdom for those that want to take the time to learn. Some people don’t have the resources to take a real African safari. This tour gives visitors an opportunity to see the animals in their natural habitat (sort of). The sanctuary has also been a home for animals that are rare (okapi), endangered (white rhino), and even extinct in the wild (scimitar-horned oryx).

Rafiki’s Planet Watch

What’s the deal? Right beside Kilimanjaro Safaris is the Wildlife Express Train station, which will take you to Rafiki’s Planet Watch. This is an off site area where visitors can learn more about the care and feeding of the animals that live at the park.

What’s the thrill? Inside the Conservation Station, there’s a viewable on site research facility and wildlife tracking center (which gave the place a vague Jurassic Park feel), a vet treatment room (no patients while we were there — probably a good thing!), and an amphibian, reptile, and invertebrate display. Outside it, in the Affection Section, are various domesticated animals.

My take: I thought the Conservation Station was neat and I would have liked to have spent more time in there. But my youngest was on a beeline to the Affection Section. I kept telling her there wouldn’t be any cats but I don’t think she believed me until she saw the goats and pigs. No matter. If it has fur, she will love it and hug it and squeeze it… and it will try to eat her jeans, her shirt, her hair, her shoelaces…


Have you been to Epcot? Have I judged it unfairly? Maybe next time, with different places to explore, Epcot will end up being my favorite park. What about Animal Kingdom? Have you been there? What do you think about zoos, reserves, and sanctuaries? Have you ever been on a real safari? Lemme know in the comments! Have a great weekend, everyone!


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Jill Archer

Jill Archer is the author of the Noon Onyx series, genre-bending fantasy novels including DARK LIGHT OF DAY, FIERY EDGE OF STEEL, WHITE HEART OF JUSTICE, and POCKET FULL OF TINDER.

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