We woke up on Monday morning bright and early to take advantage of Extra Magic Hours at our very first park visit - Animal Kingdom. We ate breakfast in our rooms (more on that in another post later) and were out the door shortly after 7:00 to catch our bus.
Waiting at the bus stop in front of our beautiful resort. As I mentioned in an earlier post, this is one of the big perks of staying on Disney property. Disney buses are making the rounds constantly all day and night long, and taking advantage of them is not only free - but also saves you from worrying about parking your car - and then trying to find it later. Those Disney parking lots are MASSIVE! :)
There was almost an art or a science to how I chose which parks we would visit each day, but our first one on our first morning was Animal Kingdom - for a few reasons.
I was excited to visit this one again, as the last time we were in this park was years ago and right after it had opened. They've added a few things since then - including one of our greatest memories of the trip... :)
The famous Tree of Life!
When you're up close to the tree, you can see the detail in its trunk and branches - animals and wild life of all kinds make up the base of this thing, and it's a pretty cool work of art.
We immediately booked it to the back of the park for one of the most popular attractions, The Safari.
Instead of walking through exhibits like in a zoo, you actually get to go on a "real" African safari and visit these animals in lands very much like what their natural habitat would be. It's a pretty unique experience, and one that was loved by all of us - especially my three boys. I don't know how many times I heard, "This is so cool!"
Two of the memories that stand out from this experience: as we were waiting in our short line to board our safari vehicle, a Disney cast member came over the intercom to tell us that there had been a slight delay due to animals blocking the roads in front of the safari vehicles. (Those darned ostriches). And - this picture below. They very first corner we turned and the very first animal we spotted was not shy at all about taking his morning bathroom break in front of all of us! :)
Not only do you get to ride through these habitats but the animals are SO close to you, and our driver was wonderful at taking random stops along the way to give everyone on board opportunities to take the best pictures.
Jaden's favorite - the elephants.
One of my favorite sightings - this lion napping upon the rocks.
After the safari was over, we took a walk through the Gorilla exhibits and saw some pretty cute monkeys, too.
After spending a good chunk of the morning with the animals, it was time to tackle one of our main bucket list items from this trip...
...that mountain off there in the distance.
Expedition Everest. This was a big one. A much anticipated ride and an experience that will be one of our biggest memories from this trip for years and years to come. And there are several reasons for that. This would be the most thrilling, scary and biggest ride the boys had ever been on. It would also be the first roller coaster my mom has braved in decades - since before I was even born. And - it required Cody to step far out of his comfort zone, as well. (My tough husband was not a roller coaster fan leading up to this trip - unlike me, who craves them).
This ride takes you up to the very top of the mountain with an incredible view of Animal Kingdom and surrounding Disney property, as well. But once you get to the top of the mountain, the track abruptly ends and you're left suspended to stare out over the vast land around you (and to give you plenty of time to see how high you are and to wonder what's coming next). And then suddenly the suspension ends and you are racing backwards through the mountain in complete darkness before coming to an abrupt stop once again inside the mountain... where the Yeti jumps out at you before the ride throws you forward again down one incredible hill. There is so much darkness, lots of speeding backwards and lots of unknowns at every surprising turn.
It was incredible. My mom had her eyes closed the entire time, Brandon was too stunned to make a single noise or let out a single scream, and Jaden spent the whole ride saying, "No! No! No!" over and over again in Cody's ear. And Cody? He ended up loving it so much that he, my dad and myself ended up riding it again a second time. :)
I'm so proud of them for conquering this - especially Jaden, who was definitely terrified but wanted to be brave anyway.
We made a memory on that mountain. And I'm already anxious to visit it again someday. :)
After the adrenaline had subsided and we'd all recovered from the thrill of that experience, it was time for lunch in the jungle.
We spent the rest of the afternoon trying out some more attractions - including this Primeval Whirl roller coaster that looked tame and easy but rattled Jaden's nerves a bit too much, who was the only one tall enough to ride. While Jaden rode the coaster, Brandon scored a Goofy hat from Papa Bob that he wouldn't take off the rest of the trip!
And before we move on from Animal Kingdom, I have to mention our experience at the "It's Tough to Be a Bug" show. It sounded like an easy way to enjoy some air conditioning for 10 minutes - going into a dark theater, putting on some 3-D glasses and watching the Disney bugs from "It's a Bugs Life" put on a little movie for us. Well, no one does 3-D like Disney and those bugs put on such a good show that Brandon was TERRIFIED! They spit at you (really) and jump out at you (spiders, too) and then little termites nibble at your butt under your seat cushion before it's all said and done. Poor Brandon was NOT having it, and it made him nervous for 3-D attractions the rest of the trip!
We left Animal Kingdom mid-afternoon and went back to our hotel room for an hour's rest before heading out to Epcot for the evening.
Unfortunately this was the one and only night we had problems with rain while we were on our trip, and our night was cut short much sooner than we had planned for. We did manage to visit the aquariums and see some cool fish and sharks, but then the downpour came and didn't let up all night long so we ended up eating pizza in our hotel rooms at 9:00 at night instead of watching fireworks.
Luckily we would be visiting Epcot again later in the trip thanks to Park Hopper passes. (Also a Disney vacation must).
Despite getting rained out by about 7:30 this night, we had a memorable full and fun day. But... my favorite two days of the whole trip are still to come...