Written By Teresa Goodnight

Enjoying the Animal Kingdom.

We love Disney.  It’s always fun.  It’s always crazy.  Regrettably, the age old “we can do this park hopper pass” lured us in this time.  It plagues parents on their first trip to Disney World.  There are so many parks and just so little time. Plus, with tickets ranging into the $125+ range, plus another $60 to hop parks—it intrigues those of us with the budget-friendly mindset.  What does a mouse need with all our money anyway? So, we decided to try it out.  

There are many factors to take into consideration.  First, are you spending the big dollars for the Disney properties?  We don’t.  I can get rates at really great hotels for somewhere between 50-75% of the Disney property rates. Even in fairly busy seasons, we can easily hop onto Priceline and grab a great room for between $75-150. They are always 3-star and above.  We will often spring for the 4 or 5-star hotel and always get the room for sub $200 vs $750 and up for an equivalent Disney property.  (There is a Disney property where you can camp for about $140 per night if so inclined!)  This time we tried a new Springhill suites up by Universal.  Incredibly clean and safe!  Completely brand new.  So, if you are a bit adventurous, we do suggest you live on the edge of a good deal.

Now, onto the parks.  We decided to try to hop between Hollywood and Animal Kingdom, while entertaining a 4-year old.  If you have ever been to either of these Disney locations, both are hardpressed for entertaining the family for a full day aside from waiting in line after line for a ride. (Or so this mom thought.) It depends on the age of the attendees of course.  We hopped in the car, grabbed some quick breakfast and found ourselves in a 30 minute line just to get into the parking lot.  By the time we arrived, we were already an hour and a half into the park hours.  So, if you plan to hop—we suggest getting up and heading over about an hour before the park is set to open.  Even wiser, we arrived to Animal Kingdom at 9:30 in our next attempt.  Still it’s just a long process to get in the park.

If you’ve booked your 3 fast passes per ticket holder, the day can pack in more adventure.  Unfortunately the Disney App on your phone is about as reliable as the weather in Oklahoma.  Ours was locked up the majority of the time—preventing us from being able to move the passes around as needed.  It’s much easier if you have a computer the night before.  You can log onto the website and select exactly what you would like to do.  Plus, if you are staying in a non-Disney hotel, you will be in line for fast passes after everyone there.  Nonetheless, we booked successfully for the Kilamanjara Safari trek through the open zoo-like area with elephants, tigers, alligators, hippos, ostriches, giraffes, and a whole host of other land animals.  As always, the sleepy lions and tigers were barely seen from atop the rocks (sleeping their 14 hour shifts).  The ride is a unique experience for those wanting to feel up close and personal with the animals in a somewhat natural habitat.

They also had two shows we found to be worth a fast pass (or even the wait).  Nemo’s adventure and the Lion King were both incredibly well done 30 minute Broadway-style shows.  The Nemo show was our favorite.  Characters were held on puppet-style devices next to live singers, who maneuvered their movements.  The props were just so DISNEY!  We even ran into Nemo a few minutes after it started one day, with plenty of seating available during a spring break flood of travelers. 

The Lion King was a completely different style of show.  The props were akin to parade floats although decorated with Disney-esque sophistication.  The cast of characters were African tribesmen (and women) with incredible dancing, gymnastics, and singing talents.  The characters were on the floats in the corners of the room with giant sized Lion King characters that moved and seemed to interact with the show.  Although I much preferred Nemo, my gymnastics loving dancer was equally in awe with both shows for different reasons.  I’m pretty sure she will be trying those dance moves for her next recital.

Animal Kingdom offered plenty of walking trails to observe birds, gorillas, monkeys, and all sorts of wildlife from right along the trails.  Dinoland is the premier spot for younger children.  Having been to all the parks, they all have generally the same style of children’s rides (Universal and Disney) and both are not the largest sections, but adequate.  Disneyworld, as you would expect, really leads the way in the little kid arena.  However the climbing park alone was entertaining for at least 2 hours.

If you’re paying attention to the length of the shows, a little walking plus a little line waiting—it’s pretty easy to see that unless you are a marathon sprinter, what should be a quick in and out trip can become a full day adventure.  We decided emphatically–”Park hopping is NOT the way to go.”  We were so stressed out trying to get to the good stuff before we needed to leave that we weren’t fully enjoying the time.  So, in the middle of the Lion King show, I called Disney to move our park hopper to a 2-day event.  Then, for the rest of the day, we explored in a much less stressful state of enjoyment.  There were dancers, music groups, lots of shops and plenty to keep us busy for the whole day.  Plus, we didn’t even attempt to go to the Avatar experience, which was exempt from fast passes and had lines around the block!

We finished our day at the Animal Kingdom lights and music show overlooking the lake.  The view is definitely best from the Asian side of the arena seating, but everyone could see.  Disney uses amazing lighting effects to portray animals running across sprays of water.  It was a little too “circle of life” for my tastes.  It kept giving images of animals, which felt like they were from a spiritual realm.  I don’t think it was obvious to a 4 year old, but it was definitely a “Be kind. We’re all one.” sort of message.  Having been to Disney World before, I much prefer the fireworks and the light show on the castle.

We will review Hollywood in the fall, as the four year old enjoyed Animal Kingdom so much more we didn’t head back over there.  Next day?  Yep! We went back! I’m not sure I could’ve been more wrong  about what she would enjoy.  You just never know. We still think Hollywood is the best one to link with another park if you dare.  Maybe it would be better with Epcot (unless you are going to want to do the Frozen experience or one of the new Star Wars experiences offered by Hollywood). However, we seriously FULLY vote no on park hopping.  In fact, when I spoke with the Disney crew on the phone to change our tickets—the guy said he wondered why anyone would try to hop.  He agreed.  There’s just not enough time in a day.