This week on WDW ESCAPE, we’re imagining the beautiful and spectacular Asia at Disney’s Animal Kingdom!
Imagine Asia at Disney’s Animal Kingdom
This is all beginning to sound a little bit educational.
You tried to explain to the children that Asia is actually an awfully big place, and is home to an incredibly diverse array of peoples and cultures, and that is when they started to look at you sideways.
“This is supposed to be vacation,” says one.
“Yeah, no learning stuff,” the other agrees.
“But,” you try to explain while still sounding like you are having as much fun as possible, “the Disney Imagineers combined cultural elements from many places, including India, Thailand, Indonesia and Nepal to create this place, which they named Anandapur, which means place of all delights.”
They look around at the colorful buildings, the painted signs, the waving flags.
“So, is this from a movie?”
“No, it isn’t from a movie. It’s real.”
“You just said it wasn’t real.”
“Never mind what I said.” You say, feeling nostalgic for the days when they believed whatever you told them without question. “Look, that cart has roasted corn.”
Fortunately, roasted corn has lost none of its power to distract, and for several minutes you walk and snack together in peace.
You stop in front of a large, ramshackle structure, surrounded by bamboo scaffolding, as if to suggest it is a construction site in Anandapur.
A sea of smiling faces are pointed up toward the heights, leaving no question as to where the show is happening. High above, a lithe, athletic shape twists and turns through the air as it navigates a course through the structure.
Hand-over-hand it races, pursued by another, and another. The crowd far below gasps in astonishment as the animals tumble and play, looking for all the world as if they could keep up their giddy pace all day, which they almost certainly will.
“Monkeys are awesome,” says one.
“Monkeys are the best,” the other agrees.
“Actually,” you say, unable to help yourself “Gibbons and Siamangs aren’t monkeys at all. They are classified as Lesser Apes, being less advanced than the Great Apes which includes…” you trail off, hearing it yourself. “I’m doing it again, aren’t I?”
The older one laughs. “You do the Lesser Ape talk every time. It was kind of a trap.”
“But no more learning,” the younger one insists. “This is vacation.”
At that you feel your parenting hackles raise. “This is Disney’s Animal Kingdom,” you declare. “If there is anywhere in the world Magical enough to wrap up the broccoli of learning in the sweet, tasty bacon of theme park fun, this is it.”
Maharaja Jungle Trail
“Wait, I got distracted by the bacon part,” the older one says “Are we going to Flame Tree Barbecue?”
“It’s ten o’clock in the morning. Come on, I know where to go.”
“Flight of Passage?” the younger one enthuses.
“No. Well, yes, we have a fast pass at three. Right now, we are going to prove a point, and for that we are going to the Maharaja Jungle Trail.”
The younger one looks suspicious. “That sounds like both learning and exercise.”
“It does,” you agree “but the tigers are most active in the mornings.”
Because of course there are tigers here.
And lion-tailed macaques, and Komodo dragons and so much more, all along a walking trail Imagineered to build the world of Anandapur; where a hunting lodge and palace ruins have turned back to nature.
They have become enveloped in vines and new growth, which bring the treasures of the forest closer than ever seemed possible.
You step up to the Komodo Dragon enclosure, and immediately begin to read the sign aloud.
“You know that we can both read, right?” the older one says, amused.
You hesitate. “But I always read the signs.”
“Right,” he says, not unkindly “so maybe this time you don’t have to… if you don’t want to.”
You can take a hint. And he’s right, they aren’t babies anymore, and they can certainly read the interesting information on the enclosures themselves.
But will they? If no one reads it to them will they even know that the Komodo dragon is the world’s largest lizard?
You look back at the great beasts and remember that they hunt and eat deer. Yeah, you think, they’ll probably figure it out.
And so it goes along the entire trail.
The youngest spends a long time apparently trying to stare down a tiger, which goes a little better than you expected, and the oldest is apparently still fascinated by bats and apparently unaware that they terrify you, which is some pretty spectacular Imagineering on your part, if you do say so yourself.
You feel certain that both exercise and education have been achieved. Surely this will be acknowledged.
UP! A Great Bird Adventure
“Is it lunchtime yet?” is what you are asked.
It is not, but it is showtime for UP! A Great Bird Adventure, and that sounds fun, everyone agrees.
The wilderness must be explored, and Russell and Dug are on the job in this fun live show, bringing a close-up look at an amazing array of feathered friends.
Sure, there are Disney friends on stage, but there are also parrots, falcons, Harris hawks, ibis and more, and surely they must be learning something.
They even get to participate in one of the show’s interactive elements, holding up their arms like a forest for the Trumpeter Hornbill to fly through, just inches away from them. Amazing, you think, and you hear them chattering as they sit back down, surely impressed with the educational opportunity.
And maybe they are. But you see the smiles on their faces and wonder if it really matters.
The first time you brought them to Animal Kingdom they were so little, and had no idea what was supposed to happen.
You ran the show, called the shots, and made sure they didn’t miss a thing. You were Ace trip-planner, tour guide and churro distributor, all rolled into one. Maybe letting go of some of that doesn’t mean letting go of them, or of this place that you all love.
Maybe it’s worth a try, you think as the crowd erupts again in applause.
Kali River Rapids
Back on the streets of Anandapur, you let them take the lead, and you are immediately taken by the hand and pulled to Kali River Rapids by the pair of them, laughing wildly with anticipation as they walk.
You see the line of children, gathered at the bridge, blasting wildly with mounted water guns at rafts waiting to disembark. No one leaves this ride dry.
“Come on,” they insist. “There’s a whole bunch of stuff in the ride queue about logging and conservation and stuff.”
“And there’s that part of the ride where there’s been a fire… very educational.”
You are stuck and you know it, but you aren’t falling for any of this.
You have a complicated history with this ride, and they know it. No one leaves Kali River Rapids dry, but somehow, no matter where you sit, you wind up so much wetter than anyone else.
“This is going to be great,” the older one says, watching you strap yourself in.
“Very educational,” the other one agrees.
The raft releases and spins as it locks in the track up to the launch.
Somehow it happens—you spin to the left side. The left side is always the driest. You might not even get caught by the first water jet at all! Except of course you do. Somehow the ride does what it has never done in all the times you have ridden it—and the rider on the far left is soaked to the skin, and of course that is you.
As the raft rumbles to the end of it’s run everyone is wet and everyone is laughing, but you are so wet you don’t even notice the crowd on the bridge with the sprayers.
As you shake yourself off to drip-dry, you indulge in another family tradition, and ask the younger one in a loud voice if she is finally ready to take a ride on Expedition Everest.
“Yep,” she says “today is the day.”
Your face falls. This has kind of backfired on you.
You’ve been talking a good game for years, confident that your littlest one would always blink first, and she always has. But not today.
Today is the day that Everest gets conquered.
The truth of the matter is that Big Thunder Mountain is jut about the limit for you, and the thought of hurtling backwards at high speeds as you flee from an angry yeti is a little more unsettling than the bats were.
You make a last, desperate attempt to distract them with the offer of a Mickey Pretzel. With extra cheese sauce.
But it is to no avail. Today s the day, so time to Dad up.
Minutes later you are shaken and wobbly-kneed, but at least the whipping wind has left you drier. You stagger to a bench and hope that your internal organs will catch up to the rest of you soon. Your offspring are just as wobbly, but laughing, always laughing.
“Well,” you say “maybe this morning wasn’t so educational after all.”
“What?” the older one protests “I learned that you make the same little noise when a yeti is chasing you as you make when you see the bats. Just louder.”
“I learned to control the tiger with my mind,” the other one chimes in.
“No, you didn’t,” he protests.
“You’re just lucky the glass was there,” she insists.
“I learned that the Komodo Dragon has poisonous saliva,”
They read the signs.
You look at the pair of them, beaming at you in the bright sunshine.
Maybe it Is true that they’re only little for a little while, and maybe yours are not that little anymore. But they are yours, and you are theirs, and in this magical place that will always be enough.
“Come on,” you say, pointing them in the direction of Flame Tree Barbeque. “I think that it is lunchtime at last.”