Trip Report | The 'Secret Bonus' Trip - Animal Kingdom, Magic Kingdom & Dinner at Liberty Tree Tavern



Animal Kingdom


It's somewhat of a tradition of ours to visit Animal Kingdom on our first day, and seeing as we were awake early because of the jet lag and there were extra magic hours this morning it seemed to make sense to get to the park as soon as we could and try and ride Flight of Passage! It was the first time we'd intended to use the EMH and also our first time using the Disney busses so when we walked down to the bus stops to find a whole crowds of people doing the same thing we were a bit surprised. The line for Animal Kingdom was already nearly full and got much longer after we'd joined.


We thought we'd left plenty of time to get to the park in time for the start of EMH but after waiting for the bus and then boarding we'd be cutting it fine. There were a lot of people in line behind us who were going to have to wait for another bus to arrive. Once we were on board it didn't take long to get to the park and the bus dropped us off right at the entrance (obviously that's where all the buses drop you off, but I thought it worth mentioning this time as we'd only ever driven to the parks before and had to walk or take the tram from the parking lot).

Of course beginning the end of November the Christmas decorations were already in full swing with a huge tree decorated with animals masks and other Africican inspired decoratins towered over the entrance plaza. Once we were inside the park we followed everyone else heading left past the tree of life towards Pandora - The World of Avatar. 

Pandora



To get into Pandora you have to cross over a bridge and it was here that castmembers were directing everyone who wanted to ride Flight of Passage to get in line on the right. It's a little deceiving as it would lead you to think the line was ridiculously long as it snakes around the Valley of Mo'Ara before you even enter the regular Standby line, but we later found out that the full extent of the Standby line wasn't in use. I didn't mind this much at all as it gave us time to approach Pandora slowly, taking photos as we walked, and lead us down different pathways. It really is stunning, and even more so with fewer people crowding around (everyone was in the line with us!) and the sun coming up. 



We started low in the Valley looking up at the floating mountains, snaked around a few little bridges over the streams before crossing under the mountains and into the entrance for the ride. From there we started upwards past the waterfall until we were almost level with the mountains themselves. It was a great opportunity to view the landscape from every possible angle.





There was one major downside though. I assume the cast members use the line this way in order to process everyone and board the ride as quickly as possible but while we trekked all around the Valley of Mo'Ara once inside some of the queue locations were roped off. 'Why's that a downside?' you might ask, 'You're getting on the ride quicker!' Well instead of walking around the lab, and seeing the lifesize Avatar in the tank in the process, we skipped along to the lines waiting to board! After waiting for nearly an hour, we didn't get to see the Avatar! Thankfully, the ride itself more than made up for that. 

We were taken in small groups into a screening room to be matched with our Avatars, then lead into another screening room to talk about flying the Banshees (or Ikran as the Na'vi call them), then onto the ride. I won't go into too much detail, but it's a very similar concept to Soarin' except you're riding a Banshee, not a glider. It feels so much more than that though, and while for the first couple of seconds I was a little 'I don't see what the fuss is about' by the end I was completely blown away, and by the collective 'Awwwwh' when it ended, so was everyone else in our group.


After finishing up on Flight of Passage we were thinking about riding Na'vi River Journey but the line was already long as it seemed everyone else had also decided to head over there after riding! By this point we were starving (it was already past lunchtime back in the UK and we hadn't eaten anything yet today) so we set about getting breakfast. I only had one thing on the brain which was the Colossal Mickey cinnamon roll which I knew we could get a Kusafiri Bakery. I'd never been there before but we walked over to Africa and I spotted a tiny window with a podium and small line of people in front of it, barely sign posted at all! 

We ordered the bun and an iced french vanilla coffee to share ($11.68 + tax), and by the time we'd been served (which really wan't long) there was suddenly a much longer line of people behind us - good timing! We sat nearby next to the Harambe Fruit Market fresh fruit, healthier choices and the usual pretzels. The cinnamon roll was really good, from the pictures I'd expected it to be bigger and flakier (more of a pastry than a bun) but I obviously have eyes bigger than my stomach because it was definitely big enough for both of us, slightly doughy, warm and covered in icing and syrup. The iced coffee was also very sweet, so much so I wasn't sure if we'd finish it after the first sip but as it turns out we soon became addicted to it's creamy, sweet caffeinated goodness. 


Satisfied from our delicious breakfast (and probably already trying to calculate when we could have it again...) it was time to ride the Kilimanjaro Safari, conveniently located right next to where we'd been sitting. I think I said it in my last trip report but I've been growing to love the safari more and more. I think as an adult it loses a little bit of the 'magic' from when you were a kid as you begin to notice more of the imagineering but I've started to really appreciate the guides that tell you all about the animals, especially since they've dropped the 'story' element to the ride. (Don't worry guys, Little Red is still OK!) I also don't mind seeing the Wild Africa Trek tour crossing the rope bridge over the crocodiles, or seeing the safari vehicles out in the Savannah, for me it actually makes it seem more of an immersive adventure rather than a standalone ride.





Seeing animals is always captivating because they're unpredictable so no ride is every exactly the same even if you see the same animals you did the last time. We got excited to see the lion up and moving, around instead of being asleep as usual, only for him to, ahem, mark his territory on the tree in front of us! From there we headed over towards Dinosaur which we had a Fastpass+ for. We still had some time to kill before we could go in so we decided to take a spin on Primeval Whirl.

With only two of us we took a side each which was a big mistake. With much more room behind the lap bars we were both shunted around by the ride so much more than if we'd cosy-ed up together. It's not the spinning of this ride that gets me, it's the constant braking and being slammed into the bars! As we were coming off we spotted Santa Goofy and Pluto walking past, I presume taking a break from their photospot (which had quite the line) and obviously up to some mischief, they even stopped to play some hoops in the midway games.


By now we could get in line for Dinosaur much to my dismay. It was down for refurbishment on our last trip so I lucked out of having to ride it then! I impressed myself by keeping my eyes open the whole time and didn't find it as disorientating as I remembered as usually find the darkness, flashing lights, bumpiness and loud noises a little hard to bear. I think during the refurbishment they might have added more lighting but I'm not 100% sure. Dare I say I may have even enjoyed the blast in the past! (Though if we could take a trip back to the Cretaceous era without having to endure an imminent meteor shower, that'd be great too - thanks Doctor Seeker).

We headed out through Chester and Hester's Dinosaur Treasures where we had a bit of browse and tried to get some WiFi signal so we could move up our Fastpass+ for Expedition Everest. We succeeded so instead of having to find something to do for an hour or so we were able to check in by the time we'd walked around to Asia. Last trip we rode it at the front a few times but this time we happened to get the back and it did seem faster that way. As a rollercoaster it's not too wild not too tame but the imagineering can't be beat. If only Joe Rhode would get the yeti audio-animatronic working again...


After riding we had another scan of the Fastpass+ and were able to move our Na'vi River Journey to an hours time, however there was also one available for Flight of Passage which we were sooo tempted by. In the meantime we decided to take a stroll around the Tree of Life trails seeing as they'd been closed on our last visit and it seemed like a good way to get away from the crowds.


There are a few small animal enclosures around the tree, mostly closer to the main paths, but we spent most of our time spotting animal carvings on the trunk. So many different creatures reveal themselves when you look at the tree from a different angle. The grizzly bear catching fish by the stream is one of my favourites!



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We had just enough time to get some lunch before our Fastpass+ so of course we opted to try the new Satu'li Canteen in Pandora. Walking back into the Valley of Mo'ara was completely different to when we walked in this morning. The empty valley we'd followed the line throughhad been replaced by crowds and we had to find our own way around. I think I'd completely missed Satu'li the first time but it's actually right next to the gift shop that Flight of Passage exits through with one of the remaining RDA machines out front.  They offer mobile ordering here which we'd planned to take advantage of and since forgotten about, luckily as it was still early the lines weren't too long and as you can't sit down until you've got your tray of food there were plenty of tables.   


Food here it a little different to your usual Disney Quick Service fare with the main choices being a Satu'li Bowl (made up of a beef, chicken, fish or tofu with a base of your choosing) or Bao Pun style pods with either a curry or cheeseburger filling. We opted for an adult portion of the Cheeseburger Pods with vegetable crisps and a kids protein bowl with beef and brown rice. The pods are a soft dough filled with ground up cheeseburger, it tastes just like a McDonalds one with an overly gherkin flavour. For that reason they weren't my favourite, if I could order one with no gherkin I would, but Harry really enjoyed them. The Satu'li bowl was also good with tender peppery beef but the kids base of brown rice made it a bit bland so next time we'd definitely get the adult size and pick a more flavourful base ($19.48 inc. kids water bottle + tax).



After lunch it was time for our Fastpass+ so we skipped the huge standby line and boarded the boats at Na'vi River Journey. It's a slow moving boat ride much like 'it's a small world' or Gran Fiesta Tour, without the catchy music, so it's a very familiar concept. The boat takes you on a short cruise through the forest where you can see all sorts of bioluminescent plants and animals building up to the giant audio animatronic Na'vi Shaman singing at the end. I'd heard the ride had left a lot of guests disappointed but going in having seen it in vlogs are chatted about online I thought I'd be able to appreciate it for what it was. I still walked out a little disappointed though which surprised me. Some of that is because the ride is very short (the other boat rides I mentioned are actually quite long) but it's also largely because the landscape of the Valley of Mo'ara itself, and the experience on Flight of Passage, is so well done that being inside on the river journey doesn't do it justice. The Shaman however is phenomenal with her lifelike movements, it's just a shame the ride doesn't have the same depth. 



Back at Pop Century



As we'd ridden all the rides we'd wanted to today (we weren't in the mood for getting soaked on Kali River Rapids nor taking in one of the shows) it was time to go back to the resort for a nap and a swim. It was fairly quiet out by the computer pool and I paddled my feet for a little bit while Harry swam before he took a nap on one of the loungers and I imported some of our footage onto the MacBook. For December it was still warm enough to be out in a bikini but cooler in the shade so the towels were useful doubling up as blankets. After we'd relaxed and changed we stopped at Everything Pop! to refill our resort mugs and pick up some snacks before getting the bus to Magic Kingdom for dinner. I got 'The King' whoopee pie which was chocolate cake/cookie pies with peanut butter frosting and candied bacon ($4.99) while Harry got a regular rainbow cookie ($3.29)



Magic Kingdom




As we arrived at Magic Kingdom the Move It Shake It Dance Party was on it's way back in so we stopped to see the floats go back with the characters doing their thing while we picked up some new Sorcerers of the Magic Kingdom cards. It's a little bit of a running joke of ours that whenever we're on Main Street the floats seem to be going past! We then ducked into the Emporium to have a look around before finally walking out onto Main Street and getting our first proper look at the castle! It looks absolutely beautiful in the golden hour light, it's probably my favourite time of day to see it.




Once we'd taken some photos we headed right into Tomorrowland which is our favourite area of the park to do one of our favourite rides, the TTA Peoplemover! It has a certain magic at this time of day when it's now dark out yet but all of the lights are starting to come on. I love looking down on everything and thinking about what we're going to do next.




We didn't have long to linger around as our dining reservation at Liberty Tree Tavern was fast approaching. Ideally we would've fixed our plans a little better as we weren't planning on staying until the Happily Ever After fireworks that night in favour of getting to bed and getting up early again, but it was the only reservation we were able to get and we knew we wanted to eat there as part of our pre-Christmas festivities. We ate there on Christmas Day in 2013 with my family, and we still talk about that meal today, particularly the juxtaposition of eating a delicious roast dinner in the middle of a theme park. We took a leisurely stroll from Tomorrowland through Fantasyland which was now quite dark and I spotted people waiting in line to get a photo with the lantern from Tangled but as we weren't sure how we'd have to wait we decided to leave it for another day.





Liberty Tree Tavern

Frustratingly, once we'd checked in at the restaurant we waited, standing in the lobby, for about 40 minutes before our name was called for our table. It was very busy with lots of other families waiting for their tables too. The restaurant is colonial themed and for dinner serves a traditional Thanksgiving feast so it's likely, being right after Thanksgiving and before Christmas, that it was probably peak time to visit. Thankfully because the menu is a set meal served family style it wasn't long before our bread and salad was brought out and we could start eating! The soft sweet bread rolls are served with a whipped maple butter and I had to restrain myself from eating more of them because they were so good and I needed to leave room for the main course! 

After we'd each eaten a small plateful of salad we were brought a platter of meats, beef pot roast, turkey and pork with stuffing, macaroni and cheese, mashed potatoes, green beans and gravy. It doesn't sound like much but it is delicious and as it's all-you-care-to-enjoy our server brought more of anything we wanted - mostly meat, mac & cheese and green beans. We were so stuffed afterward we didn't think we'd be able to manage dessert at all but of course our server brought it to us anyway. It was a skillet with a chocolate chip cookie base smothered in vanilla ice cream. Again it doesn't sound (or look when it's half the ice cream has melted out of place atop the hot cookie) that impressive but it must've been good because we, how couldn't eat another thing, demolished it all in next to no time! We both thoroughly enjoyed this meal but having said that it's not a place we'd rush back to unless we visited close to Christmas again. It's just a bit heavy going in a hot Florida theme park. ($74.55 + tax & tip) 




After dinner it was time to ride Big Thunder Mountain as we'd managed to score a Fastpass+ for it and as it had been down for refurbishment on our last trip we were really looking forward to it. Riding it in the dark was so much fun (don't rollercoasters always seem faster in the dark?!) and the refurbishment seemed to have improved some of the mine effect, although it might just be so long since I'd ridden it that I'd forgotten them. By now it was getting close to the time for Happily Ever After so we decided we'd better make our way out or else get stuck in the crowds and have to wait in long bus lines to get home. As we were walking past Tom Sawyer Island there was an announcement played over the speakers stating that there was only limited viewing spots lefts on Main Street and advising guests to find spots in Fantasyland or Frontierland to watch! As it turned out by the time we'd made it to the Pop Century bus stop the fireworks were about to start and we all looked up, captivated, as the bus arrived. I was a little sad not to be staying and watching them but with the jet lag and early start I knew it was better to get out before the crowds and get to bed!





Steps: 20,178
Total Cost  - $113.99 + tax
Read about the day after: Day 2 - Epcot & Hollywood Studios


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