Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Satiating the Mouse: Day 3, Animal Kingdom, French food, hitchhiking ghosts

In the velvet blackness of an African night - at the hour before dawn when the land is full of dreams - a lone voice heralds the new day. As the red disc of the sun rises, the one voice becomes many until the Pride Lands echo with song. The distant mountain floats above the mist. Vast herds move across the golden plain, and the heavens come alive with storks and doves, kingfishers, and flamingos. [nod]

Let's see us some critters. We'll be eating them by nightfall.

Animal Kingdom opens at 9 AM today, so we grabbed breakfast at the hotel, and while Kim headed back to the room to get her cell phone, Krys and I tried to play Space Invaders on a circa-1982 cocktail table arcade game, she ended up loading Qix instead. I used to be good at it -- I still beat her -- but it was over pretty quick.

Onto the bus, and we arrived just before 9; they'd already opened the gates. I think they open the gates 60 minutes ahead of time to allow people to shop, then open the main park at 9. Disney's all about giving you opportunities to give them money.

When the ropes dropped, we slowly sauntered our way to the Kilimanjaro Safaris. I wanted to hit this first for a couple of reasons. First, the guidebook we used said that this tends to be the fullest ride at the park. Secondly, and more importantly, my experience at Point Defiance Zoo has shown that the animals tend to more active the earlier in the day you go.

The ride was very similar to the tram tours at Northwest Trek, except instead of buffalo, there's exotic horned deer-like critters. And lions, elephants, zebras... pretty much the whole cast of The Lion King. There's also an annoying storyline pasted on about tracking down some wildlife poachers; by the end of the trip, I was rooting for them to get away with the baby elephant so that the next group of riders wouldn't have to suffer through it.

We then headed over to Expedition Everest and got some fastpasses, then rode on the Kali River Rapids. Twice. It's very similar to the Grizzly River Run at california Adventure, although a bit shorter. The buoy-shaped raft you're in lazily spins its way along the river, so when you reach the big, wet fall, you don't know if you're going to be on the much drier uphill side (facing down the fall, as I was the first time through) or on the completely drenching downhill side (facing up the fall, as Krys was the second time through).

Next, we hopped the train to Rafiki's Planet Watch, which, sadly, was little more than a typical zoo interpretive center plus a petting zoo. Yawn.

"Finding Nemo: The Musical" was supposed to premiere today, but the nearby readerboard didn't have any showtimes listed. I asked a nearby ice cream vendor, and he said that they were secretly doing trial runs of the show, and that the next show would be in 20 minutes. We got in the surprisingly full line (guess it wasn't much of a secret), and enjoyed the show. The great puppetry and fun quick pacing made it, IMHO, the best show we saw all week.

Immediately after, we wandered over to the Festival of the Lion King show. I'm sure it would have been a better show, if Nemo hadn't already spoiled us. It was a very different style of show, a theater-in-the-round performance with audience participation and a circus-like atmosphere, as opposed to Nemo's traditional stage/performers/audience structure.

Krys and Kim didn't want to ride Everest, so Kevin and I headed there while they checked out Dinoland. Everest was probably my favorite ride -- who doesn't like roller coasters that end in mangled track and fling you backwards? -- and the fastpass line was short enough that we rode twice (using the ladies' passes the second time).

For some reason, I can't remember where we had lunch this day. At this point, Kim was a bit tired, Krys wanted to go swimming, and we were kind of bored with Animal Kingdom. Really, maybe we're spoiled, but if you were to combine Woodland Park Zoo, the Point Defiance Zoo, and Northwest Trek, then toss in a few shows, you'd have Animal Kingdom. Definitely not a full days worth of stuff to do here, which is why they closed it at 5 PM, but we were out of there by 2.

With our dining plan structure, we realized we'd need to find another two table service meals somewhere. I called the dining reservations line from my cell phone as we waited for the bus, and asked them, "Can you find me a table service meal at Epcot tonight, somewhere other than Germany?" They got a table for us in France, 6:45 PM. C'est parfait!

We bused back to the hotel, and while Kim napped, we played in the pool. As the shadows got longer and the air got colder, we bailed out after about 45 minutes, changed into "nice" clothes, and played in the hotel arcade until 4:30.

Krys is a gambler like her old man, and spent most (all?) of the $5 I gave her on ticket-dispensing machines. She's got a good sense of which machines return the greatest EV (in tickets per credit), and when she was done, she got three pocket dart guns and a giant pixie stick. Not $5 worth of loot, but maybe $5 worth of loot and entertainment. I spent most of my credits on the World Poker Tour pinball machine. No trips to Tampa, like last time, so this was my poker fix for the trip. I won a few credits, and left one on the machine when it was time to go. (I also returned to play it later in the trip, and broke the right outlane rail, spinning the metal bar into the launch lane. Oops. I warned the operator about it, and he said he'd shut it down to avoid damaging the table, but I noticed it was still broken and running the next day.)

Back on the bus to Epcot, we leisurely make our way to dinner. Wow. The four of us each get a different appetizer, and we share. I'd had escargot before, in high school French class, but the other three hadn't. It's very much like clams, which makes sense, if you think about mollusk meats. Krys shared her cheese plate, which among the selections, had a very good smooth goat cheese, and a harder, white cheese from Normandy. For dinner I had a fruits de mer skewer, and we went with the waiter's wine recommendations, with Kim drinking a nice burgundy with her steak, and I enjoying a wonderful sweet rosé -- and I generally don't care for wine. We then split and shared rich chocolatey desserts. As a bonus, I got to use my rusty college French (badly mispronouncing vanille) without fearing being ostracized from the country.

After dinner, we waddled around a bit more, playing in the red phonebooths in England (not quite a TARDIS, but they'll do) and chatting about home with a BCer in Canada. Near closing time, we hopped the monorails to Magic Kingdom, where we rattled with around with 999 ghosts and then, finally, visited the hall of presidents. The doorman who greeted us as we entered the "muesum" area had to have been older than Reagan, and his gaunt Riff Raff-like appearance and painfully slow movement leads me to believe he's in about the same state of health (tangent: when Reagan died, we learned the news when we saw the flag at half staff in Disneyland's town circle). As he gave the spiel about what we were about to see, then waved the doors open, he hardly moved. After the show, Krys asked me, "Was he an animatronic, like the presidents?" No, I don't think so, but I can see how you might think that. Maybe he was the skinny ghost who follows us home.

Back to the bus, back to the hotel, too late for a late night snack, so into bed for the night.

Next: Entering Narnia's wardrobe.

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