Disney’s Animal Kingdom- September
The allure of riding Slinky Dog Dash at night was strong. I thoroughly enjoyed my day ride and figured the lighting package, particularly during the booster section, would be quite nice. However, there were more pressing matters. When you think of rides you need to experience at night, what comes to mind? Beast, Boulder Dash, Millennium Force? For me, Flight of Passage immediately comes to mind.
From a ride perspective, there’s no difference between riding at the crack of dawn or evening. From a queue perspective, there’s a big difference. With the booking window on my buddy’s guest passes, we knew a Flight of Passage FastPass was unlikely. We did our due diligence and kept refreshing, but we struck out. So that meant either dealing with a mob at rope drop or calling Disney’s bluff on an absurdly high posted wait time at closing. The latter worked well in February, so we planned to do the same.
Until then, we had plenty of time to make a loop around the park. We started with Dinosaur. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. If I lived in blissful ignorance and had no knowledge of Indiana Jones Adventure’s existence, I’d be more impressed with Dinosaur. I am absolutely in love with the ride system. That and the layout are shared between the two. However, I think there may have been a discrepancy in the overall budget.
Indiana Jones is a 360 degree spectacle of practical effects and colossal set-pieces. The only scene devoid of theming is that brief jaunt through total darkness, but it works there because it’s not the norm. Dinosaur gets in a rhythm of showing an impressive dinosaur animatronic followed by darkness. While each passing animatronic gets more impressive, the gaps between them get longer. It’s the ride equivalent of a movie building to this awesome climax, but instead spending too much time on a side plot.
Now admittedly, Indiana Jones Adventure is an unfair standard. That ride is an 11 out of 10 and one of the single greatest attractions on the planet. To be perfectly honest, I’d take Indiana Jones over some coasters in my overall top 25. It’s that amazing. It’s impossible not to compare the two because they literally have the exact same layout and ride system. But when viewed in a vacuum, Dinosaur is still plenty impressive and better than 95% of the dark rides out there. I just know it could have been better. 9 out of 10
We did manage to secure Expedition Everest FastPasses, so we made our way to the forbidden mountain. We were a bit early, so we stalled by walking right on via the single rider line! The first third lets you appreciate the Mount Everest in all its glory and then comes out of nowhere with that backwards helix that can even make seasoned coaster riders see some grey. Then the finale has one of the most photographed drops in the world and holds its speed well as it dances around the mountain. While the back has more whip, I do prefer this one in the front to fully take in the visuals.
I probably shouldn’t like Slinky Dog Dash more. One coaster is arguably located in the most visually stunning faux mountain in the world. And the other is in a backyard. One coaster actually has some balls. The other is just a wiener. But I prefer Slinky Dog Dash. I’m not crazy though; Space Mountain is still the resort’s best coaster. 8 out of 10
I considered Kali River Rapids, but the risk of wrecking my single pair of shoes was too great. So instead we queued up for Kilimanjaro Safaris. The line didn’t look too long, but we barely moved and it was evident that not all the transits were in use. Usually I ride the safari first thing in the morning, so it was interesting experiencing it near sunset for a change. Several animals were active. Rhinos were running, giraffes and elephants were feeding, and of course the lazy sloths known as lions were doing nothing.
I remembered the ride being bumpy. It’s supposed to simulate an authentic safari after all. However, it seemed bumpier than Dinosaur. This made it quite challenging to grab many photos, but a wildebeest helped me out and tried racing alongside the transit which was a very cool sight. I’m probably a terrible person for saying this (and probably get on PETA’s good side), but I actually prefer the comedy and dry humor of the Jungle Cruise over the real safari. 8 out of 10
It was time to return to the crown jewel of animal kingdom, Pandora. I know the Tree of Life is the park’s iconic centerpiece, but I think the floating mountains are even more impressive. That’s nothing against the Tree of Life. Pandora is just that spectacular. Pictures do not do this land justice.
I missed out on Na’vi River Journey last time, but it was a must on this trip. The wait was posted at 60 minutes, but we only waited half that. When we reached the station, I was surprised to see boats with just 2 rows of seats. But I quickly realized that didn’t matter. The boats stack up to the point that the ride feels like it has an omnimover system.
Na’vi River Journey felt like the fantasy version of Living with the Land. Instead of seeing real plants that I don’t know the name of, I saw mystical plants from a make believe land that I also couldn’t identify. But the visuals were stunning and serene. I also thought the ride integrated the screens in very well without detracting from the beauty of Pandora.
Then I cannot talk about Na’vi River Journey without talking about that Shaman animatronic. Holy moly does that thing look good! The motion is so varied and fluid. It looks completely realistic if you remove the blue skin. Assuming waits eventually die down for this, Na’vi River Journey will be well worth a ride. Otherwise it could be the new Peter Pan (the dark ride I enjoy but won’t wait an hour for). 8 out of 10
We stopped for a quick dinner at the Avatar restaurant. I was conservative and went with the beef bowl, which is one of the healthiest items I have ever ordered at any amusement park. And it was pretty good too! My buddy wasn’t quite as lucky. He was feeling adventurous so he tried to cheeseburger dumplings and he was not impressed. I almost got them myself, but backed out once I found out the condiments were already mixed inside.
We made our way over to Flight of Passage only to see a 120 minute wait. We chuckled to ourselves as the employee tried to discourage as many people as possible from entering the queue. The queue was at the same point as it was in February and that wait took just over an hour. This time, the wait flew. The incredible theming kept us preoccupied, but we barely stopped moving as well. We were at the preshow in about 40 minutes. I’ll take a 66% reduction in wait time!
What hasn’t already been said about Flight of Passage? There’s no plot, but it doesn’t need one. It’s a majestic joyride through the sky, but unlike Soarin’, this one actually has some bite to it and that’s why I love it so much. For all those who have anointed Universal the king of screen based rides, Disney says “hold my beer.”
Disney’s best attractions are the ones that are immersive from the moment you enter the queue. Take Indiana Jones and Tower of Terror as prime examples. Flight of Passage is right up there. The queue seamlessly flows into the attraction, which is incredible. Everyone comes off the ride beaming and I’m pretty sure the woman next to me had tears of joy coming off the ride. This truly is one of the best rides at the resort. I honestly think only Splash Mountain tops it. 10 out of 10
Due to time constraints, I had to cut out one park during my weekend trip to Disney. No way that would be Hollywood Studios with Slinky Dog Dash awaiting me and a trip to Disney wouldn’t be complete without the Magic Kingdom. Prior to Pandora, it would have been unthinkable for me to visit Animal Kingdom over Epcot. But that single land is that much of a game changer.