Laura and Lee's 2003 December Disney Vacation

December 7-13, 2003
Part 4

Thursday - Animal Kingdom, Epcot

Today was our Animal-Kingdom-in-the-morning day. The weather was clear and beautiful but quite chilly! I was wearing my heavy jacket, though Lee wasn't quite so bundled up. :-)

We were actually up early enough that we could have gotten to AK at opening but I knew that Tusker House didn't open for breakfast until 9:30, so we arrived a little before that and went to the Safari to get Fastpasses. At that point the standby line was only 5 minutes, but we wanted breakfast before heading off on a two week safari! :-)

I was looking forward to the Tusker House cinnamon rolls...but they've changed them. They used to be really thick, but now they are a lot thinner (though they are bigger around)...they just aren't nearly as good. The rest of the breakfast menu has changed, too - Lee used to get the sausage biscuit but that's gone...instead they serve a scrambled egg and breakfast meat (ham, bacon, or sausage) and potatoes plate. It was quite a bit of food, though, and Lee said it was ok.

The line for the safari was a WHOLE lot longer by then, but we breezed through with our Fastpasses. And got our usual set of dirty looks. :-) When are people going to figure out that Fastpass is FREE and *anyone* can use it?

We had a new experience - the Cast Member who was at the entrance to the Fastpass return gave us one of the lanyards that they use to find out how long people have waited in line, and told us to give it to the CM at the loading area. We probably waited all of about 5 minutes. :-)

Our safari driver was Jonathan from Boston. Lee called his spiel the "jive version" of the safari. He was really a lot of fun - that's the most fun I've had on a safari in a LONG time. He figured out pretty quickly that we had been on the safari many times, and actually encouraged audience participation - he asked us questions several times, and we mostly knew the answers. (We didn't know how much a hippo weighs, but now we do - about 5000 pounds. He said we'd know it for next time. :-) ) When we went by the termite mounds he asked if we knew what they were and I said "Those are termite mounds - they are hard as concrete!" and he started laughing. And at other times he'd be looking in the rearview mirror and could see us mouthing the words, and he'd smile and shake his head. We saw a nice variety of animals - including a cheetah and the male lion actually up and moving! We didn't see any mandrills, though - Jonathan said that they hate him. (And when he asked us if we knew what was coming up around the corner we said mandrills, and he said we'd done this waaay too many times. He might be right. :-) )

But we weren't the only comedians on the safari - when we came to the "ancient" baobob tree he asked if anyone knew what kind of tree that was, and one of the kids said "a fake one." :-)

*** Did you know that ostrich eggs hatch in about 42 days? Though those Disney eggs have been there for almost 6 years... :-)

For once I didn't mind the lame poacher story quite so much, but I noticed that Jonathan (and the driver we'd had two days before) had both turned the radio down so that we *didn't* get so much of the chatter from "Warden Matua", which is generally more distracting than informative.

After the safari we walked through Pangani Forest. Down at the savannah overlook we talked to CM Keith for a while - he answered several questions for us, though we stumped him when we asked how much a meerkat weighs. :-) (These meerkats certainly don't seem to be at all concerned that there's a vulture perched right over their heads!) Keith used to be a Safari driver, but said he asked to be moved after a while because he didn't get enough guest interaction on the Safari. We told him our frustrations with the stupid poacher story and he sympathized and said that he's heard the same thing from a lot of guests as well as from the Safari drivers. Maybe one of these days Disney will actually do something about it...we can always hope.

*** Did you know that meerkats weigh about 2 pounds?

Keith also told us a lot about the gorillas - there are 4 bachelor males and six in the family troop. In addition to the male silverback and two adult females there are a 9 year old male and a 4 and 5 year old (females, I think). One of the bachelors is 22 years old and gets picked on a bit by the others. When we got over to the gorillas one of the bachelor males had a blanket that he was playing with...he waved it several times like he was going to spread it out on the ground, and then he took it down under some bushes and was doing the same thing...I guess he eventually got it spread out to his liking, but we couldn't really see him then.

In our typical oh-so-efficient park-touring fashion (not) we went over to Dinoland to get a Fastpass for Primeval Whirl - but they weren't distributing them, so we went back to Asia to see Flights of Wonder. There was nothing new in the show, but we did get to sit in the first row, and that was new for us! We still enjoy seeing the birds' behaviors...and for some reason the "Guano Joe" story and jokes don't wear thin and are still funny. The guy who plays Guano Joe certainly has a lot of staying power - he's been there for at least three years.

*** Did you know that the Eurasian Eagle Owl is believed to be the largest species of owl?

After that Lee wanted to see Tarzan Rocks, and I wanted to ride Primeval Whirl, so we split up. Lee said afterwards that it was the *largest* Tarzan he's ever seen, and that he drew gasps of appreciation from the female audience. :-)

One thing that was very surprising to us is that the excavation for the new Expedition Everest attraction is *very* visible from the Dinoland area...Disney has not made any attempt to put up walls or barricades with the usual "Pardon our dust" sorts of messages to hide the construction area.

Again in our efficient touring fashion we went all the way over to Camp Minnie-Mickey to see the Pocahontas training session. Just to clarify...it's the *animals* being trained and not Pocahontas. :-) They had a couple of pigeons they are trying to teach to fly to Pocahontas' hands, a porcupine whose routine they are changing a little, and a raccoon. They have been teaching the raccoon a pretty complicated chain of behaviors, where he comes out, picks up a bottle and throws it in the recycling bin, and then pulls a rope to release a "Please recycle" sign. They tried it several times, and the third time he mostly did it...the trainer said that at an earlier session he had done it perfectly and got a big reward, so now he was trying to get away with doing less, but still get the big pay-off. :-)

We had lunch at Pizzafari - that's the first time we've eaten there in quite a while. Not because we don't like it, but because we usually prefer Tusker House. My Italian deli sandwich was quite tasty, and Lee said the chicken Caesar salad was good.

We hadn't visited any of the animals on Discovery Island yet...though on the back side the capybaras were the only ones out. But they were actually both standing in the water - something we hadn't seen before. Of course they were *standing* in the water while they were *drinking* it...ewwww. We also saw the Asian small-clawed otter - that's the first time we've seen an otter in our last three or four trips. He was very cooperative - he was swimming in the water and romping around all over his enclosure - he seemed to be trying to make sure that everyone had a chance to see him. Otters are so cute...and they always look like they are having so much fun!

It was time to relax after our exhausting morning :-), so we went back the room for a while...I worked on this trip report while Lee napped. At about 4:15 we walked over to Epcot to the America Gardens theater, where we had priority seating for the 5:00 Candlelight Processional. We got pretty good seats, in the second row of the section just outside the cover, but since the weather was clear we knew we wouldn't have to worry about rain like last year!

David Ogden Stiers was our narrator and did a very good job. He was introduced as (among other talents) a conductor, and you could tell that he would have liked to be up there conducting. He sang along a little bit and really seemed to enjoy himself, and he did an excellent job on the readings - they were dramatic but not over-the-top. I still wish they would get some new music...but I say that every year. :-)

*** Did you know that David Ogden Stiers was the voice of the Archdeacon in The Hunchback of Notre Dame?

The performance got out in time for us to hot-foot it up to World Showcase Plaza for the Epcot tree-lighting ceremony. Since Cast in Bronze was NOT there this year we wondered what they were going to do. They had two members of American Vybe come up on stage followed by "some friends" - the character bus pulled up shortly thereafter and unloaded cast members from most of the World Showcase countries, plus Mickey, Minnie and most of the rest of the gang. They sang a couple of songs and then the Lights of Winter began to light up, followed by the tree. Not nearly as dramatic as Cast in Bronze, though. (Although the American Vybe singers have better voices than the woman who sings with Cast in Bronze.)

Our Candlelight Processional package included dinner at Le Cellier. Just like the last three years. Think we're in a rut? :-) As usual, we got there and they told us it would be a 15-20 minute wait. And that's about what it was. We had a nice dinner - Lee had the mushroom filet and I had the rosemary chicken. The idea of having chicken didn't really excite me (though it was good) but the salmon that I usually order came with strange things that didn't sound good at all, while the accompaniments to the chicken, cream cheese mashed potatoes and French green beans, sounded good - and they were. I had the salmon cakes for an appetizer - these had only been on the menu a couple of weeks according to our server. They were pretty good. Lee had his usual - the cheddar cheese soup. For dessert we both had the maple creme brulee. Our server was efficient and there wasn't a lot of time between courses but we didn't feel rushed at all. We were out of there in about an hour. With as busy as that restaurant is it's nice to see that they are moving people through a little more quickly, since we have had some very leisurely meals there in the past.

It was downright *cold* when we came out of the restaurant...even though we were both wearing jackets we were chilly. We did some shopping at Mousegear and then wanted to watch the Lights of Winter so we huddled up and sat on the edge of one of the planters to watch them cycle through a complete set - about 15-20 minutes. Whoever choreographed the lights to "Dance of the Sugarplum Fairy" must have had a good time. :-)

Mileage for the day: (My pedometer was NOT counting properly - we did a lot of walking around Animal Kingdom and Epcot!) 3.15 miles, 7409 steps.

Woo hoo! of the day - Our Safari with Jonathan.

Disappointment of the day - the new-but-definitely-not-improved cinnamon rolls at Tusker House.

Pet peeve of the day - the lame poacher story on the Safari.


Other Links

Part 1
Part 2
Part 3
Part 5
Epcot's Holiday Storytellers
Tigger's Christmas Carols
Holidaze with Tigger and Stitch
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Text and photographs copyright © 2003, 2004 by Laura Gilbreath. All rights reserved.

Laura Gilbreath lgil at lgil dot net
Last updated 1/1/04