Magical Memories – When Expedition Everest Opened

Sometimes we need the kind of getaway that only a Disney vacation can provide.  While I treasure the memories from all our family vacations, one trip in particular stands out in my mind as being especially cherished for several reasons.

When Expedition Everest Opened

Spring Break, 2006.  This vacation was unusually important to our family.  In December, 2005, we’d been terrified by a potentially serious health scare.  After a series of tests followed by a lymph node biopsy and a seemingly interminable wait for lab results, we found out that Raymond did not have cancer and was, in fact, perfectly fine.  Weeks of worry through the holiday season had taken a toll on all of us.  By mid-January, I knew we needed a Disney vacation as soon as possible.  The Disney Bubble beckoned.  As a family, we needed to regroup, recharge, and regain our equilibrium.  December had been incredibly stressful and we badly needed to shake off the lingering aftereffects.  The fastest I could manage to get us to Disney World was by Spring Break.

Megan was 15, Joseph 10 and they got along exceptionally well (and still do). While he’s a thrill ride junkie and she’s in love with all of Disney’s live shows, they compromised well enough that year for each to do and see everything they wanted.  We were completely blown away by Animal Kingdom and could not believe our good fortune when we found out that Expedition Everest was in soft-opening status.  We snagged FastPasses and also used the standby line which seemed to us an Imagineering marvel – such detail!  So incredibly entertaining and is still today my favorite queue at Disney World.  I remember when we boarded the tea train for the first time how tiny all the plants were on that first segment of the ride.  All in neat rows, we could tell they’d just been planted.

As we climbed the Forbidden Mountain and took in the view, we had no idea what to expect.  When we came to the broken tracks, flew backwards, saw the Yeti’s shadow and heard the Yeti’s “voice”, we were completely and utterly amazed by the perfect combination of thrilling ride and amazing details.  Then we saw the actual Yeti in all its glory!  Huge, entirely covered with brown dreadlocks and with an enormous simian arm that reached right out and took a swipe at us…we were in awe!  The experience was unforgettable – we’d found the YETI and we wanted to get back up that mountain immediately to see it all again!Expedition Everest Queue Yeti Museum Expedition Everest Train Platform Gear Animal Kingdom's Expedition Everest

We rode multiple times that day and again later in the week.  Thanks to some kind strangers who gave us four FastPasses for Everest on their way out of the park, Megan and Joseph used all four to ride twice more.  They ended up riding this newest, most wonderful ride a total of seven times before we went home.

Disney magic has always worked wonders for our family, but Spring Break, 2006 is a particularly remarkable example.  Never had we needed a vacation more and our favorite vacation destination did not let us down.  As the week ended, we found ourselves soothed and tired (in a good way).  We were ready to get back on track with our busy lives when we got home.

Is Disney World your happy place?  What Disney vacation stands out most in your memory?

 

Disney’s Pandora – Thoughts on Na’vi River Journey

When I’m at Walt Disney World, I talk to strangers.  Lots of times, strangers talk to me.  It’s kind of a joke in our family and after all these years, is rather expected.  I think conversations strike up easily in queues and shops and on Disney transportation because I look happy all the time when I’m at Disney World.  (In real life I’m pretty sure my usual RBF is a bit off-putting.)  No matter the reason for all the chitchat, on our last visit I asked a bunch of people what their thoughts were about Pandora and the two attractions there.  Let’s talk about Disney’s newest boat ride!

Disney’s Pandora – Thoughts on Na’vi River Journey

Pandora’s boat ride encompasses most of what you’d expect – dark, cool, bunch of clever details, animatronic figure, interesting sounds/background noises.  What it lacks is a story.  The ride is a tour of Pandora at night.  And that’s pretty much it.

When Megan and I took our one and only Na’vi River Journey, I kept pointing to all the things I recognized from Avatar (the movie).  Used to my tendencies, Meg did not complain, but politely indulged in my need to redirect her attention by back-handing her in the arm and whispering “look!” every few seconds about something I found super interesting.  She’d smile and nod.  She loves her mom a lot, I can tell.

Anyway, after the ride was over, I had the opportunity later to ask a few people here and there if they’d ridden Na’vi River Journey and what they thought about it.  I asked people in line for Festival of the Lion King, in the loooooong queue for Flight of Passage, and anyplace else I could start a friendly conversation without seeming creepy. The results of my casual poll were this:  Those who’d seen Avatar tended to like the new boat ride well enough.  Those who’d never seen Avatar mostly thought the River Journey was meh.  Here’s where the lack of a story hurts this attraction, I think.

All that being said…if you want to maximize your enjoyment of Pandora, and Na’vi River Journey in particular, try to catch Avatar before you go.  Even if you don’t care for the movie, you’ll at least be able to recognize and hopefully appreciate all the work the Imagineers put in to recreating Pandora.

Have you been to Pandora?  Did you see Avatar before you went?  Did you think being familiar with Pandora helped you enjoy it more?

Disney’s Animal Kingdom – Caring for Giants Tour

We were looking for a special little something extra to add to our Walt Disney World vacation.  And we found the perfect thing!  For $30 per person ($25.50 with a DVC discount), guests at Disney’s Animal Kingdom can spend an hour backstage learning about Disney’s herd of perfect pachyderms and much, much more.

Disney’s Animal Kingdom – Caring for Giants Tour

Megan and I knew we’d have an entire day, open to close, to spend in Animal Kingdom.  For a relatively small investment of time and money, we scheduled the Caring for Giants Tour at 3:00 pm on June 26th.

Due to a summer thunder shower that moved through right at our scheduled tour time, we were delayed 30 minutes and joined the next tour group.  Had it not been for the storm, the two of us would have been the only ones on our original tour.  As it was, we were with just one other family, so our group was small and we could hear and see everything very well.

The tour begins near Kilimanjaro Safaris.  We were given name tags in a lanyard before being led backstage to a tour vehicle (a van).  After a short drive during which some of the areas like barns and fences were discussed, we arrived at a backstage area behind the savannah where elephants can usually be seen on the safari.

We climbed a flight of stairs onto a viewing platform and met our guides.  One an animal care expert and the other a cultural representative from Africa.  From the animal care specialist, we learned a bit about the elephant herd in Animal Kingdom and some general elephant facts.  The African cultural representative taught us about elephant conservation and how Disney helps with efforts to reduce conflict between farmers and elephants in Africa.Caring for Giants Caring for Giants

As we were listening to the guides, the herd’s matriarch, Rafiki (Swahili for Friend), made a loud, deep rumbling noise.  Apparently this was Elephant for “come to me now!”  What an amazing thing to see!  Elephants running from every direction to surround Rafiki.  One trumpeted loudly and the “event” was over as suddenly as it began.  Shortly afterwards, a beautiful elephant with very long legs caught our eye and we asked about her.  Her name is Kianga which is Swahili for Sunshine. Caring for Giants Caring for Giants

The tour was fun, informative, and an excellent way to break up our Animal Kingdom day.  Megan and I both highly recommend this experience!

I’m full of questions!  Do you love elephants?  Does Caring for Giants sound like something you would enjoy?  Have you already taken this tour?  What did you think about it?

 

Who Would Love Disney’s Flight of Passage?

Let’s talk (more) Pandora, okay?  I recently shared an overview of Megan’s and my experience in Animal Kingdom’s newest land.  Now it’s time to get to the very best part – Flight of Passage!  With a height requirement of 44-inches, this ride is intended for everyone in the family from about age six.  Is it a perfect attraction for everyone?  Just about!Who Would Love Disney's Flight of Passage?

Who Would Love Disney’s Flight of Passage?

We rode Flight of Passage using the standby queue and also rode with a FastPass.  The standby line weaves through several different rooms, gradually becoming more heavily themed as guests make their way to the heart of the ride.  Unlike some of Disney’s newest queue innovations, this one has no interactive elements (that we noticed).  While I didn’t enjoy the queue nearly as much as I do the one for Expedition Everest, the final area of the line is VERY cool and worth waiting for…if the wait isn’t longer than about an hour.  We waited 90+ minutes and were pretty bored most of the time.  FastPass holders skip all of the standby – including the super interesting, well-themed parts.  Who Would Love Disney's Flight of Passage? Who Would Love Disney's Flight of Passage?My suggestion:  If the line’s not too long, the lead up to the actual attraction adds certain immersive details that enhance the experience…if you like that sort of thing.

The “pre-ride show” is very detailed and includes instructions for actually experiencing the attraction.  During our first ride, I missed some of the finer details.  Don’t be like me!  Pay close attention to things like the particular avatar you are linked to and you’ll be even more amazed.Who Would Love Disney's Flight of Passage?

Riding a Banshee

When you finally take your place on the ride vehicle (think motorbike or jet ski) and are secured in place (not nearly as restrictive as Rock’n’ Roller Coaster), you’ll be facing an industrial-looking wall.  As you wait for the final link to your avatar to be complete (you can see this happening on a screen on your vehicle), you may wonder (like we did), “What the heck?  What kinda good attraction has you staring at this wall?  Why do I even need these 3D glasses?” and then prepared to be delighted and amazed!  The wall simply vanishes and you arrive on Pandora.

I can’t describe it to you, but will tell you my impression.  Flight of Passage involves all of your senses.  You can feel the banshee breathing, beating its wings, jumping into the air.  You can see, feel and smell the Pandoran environment as you explore the planet with your leader.  Megan and I both exited the ride in complete amazement!  She wore a huge, unending grin – punctuated with an occasional delighted laugh.  I know I was walking along in jaw-dropped awe.  At one point, Megan took my hand and let me along…I was that stunned!

After that first ride, I could remember so clearly the sights, aromas, and feelings I experienced.  I could not remember a single sound…not one!  After that one time, I recalled the experience as being completely silent, yet I knew it couldn’t have been!  And I believe that’s a testament to this attraction’s outstanding design!  Sensory overload in the very best way!!!Who Would Love Disney's Flight of Passage?

As with most of Disney World’s magic, I don’t care to know anything about the technology involved in allowing me to visit another planet and ride on the back of a flying animal there.  I just want to do it again!  More immersive than Soarin’, less motion-sickness-inducing jerkiness than Star Tours, no unexpectedly scary elements like Tower of Terror…yet much, much more thrilling than any of them, in its own unique way.  Unless your little one is easily scared by new experiences, I can’t imagine anyone not loving Flight of Passage.

If you’re headed to Walt Disney World to experience Pandora for the first time, I recommend Flight of Passage as the top must-do experience in this land.  While we were waiting in the standby line, Megan and I chatted up the folks around us…those who’d ridden Flight of Passage already were unanimous in their feelings about this attraction and overwhelmingly said, “Best ride EVER!”  As much as I love my favorite Disney World attractions, I’d be hard pressed to disagree.

Go! Ride! And let me know what you thought of Flight of Passage when you get back.