Ah, Tuesday. The Plan: Get up at our usual time, breakfast at the Ice Cream parlor and be ready to hit Animal Kingdom at the 9:00 opening. Easy-peasy, right?
At 8:30 we finally left the villa. While on our way to breakfast, we decided that since Kayla is awake and happy, we should go ahead and do her star. Gotta eat first though, in part because Dad had waaaay too much strong coffee on an empty stomach. Everyone but Kayla is dragging a bit because we haven't fully recovered from the heat at Sea World. So on to the ice cream where there is also a small breakfast bar. Jason and Emily immediately order ice cream. Jason goes with orange sherbet because orange is a breakfast food. Emily takes the healthy route with strawberries and bananas on her scoop of chocolate. After a few minutes the novelty is gone and they ditch the treat for more traditional fare. Don't ask me why, but the eggs and bacon here are better than at the Gingerbread House. We take our time over the meal and then it's time for some pictures with the rocking carousel horse.
Heading back to the castle, we put another volunteer on the trail of Maddie's star - this time it's successful and we spend at least 15 minutes trying to get a decent picture of it.
Mission accomplished, we focus back on Kayla's star. Gina wrote Kayla's name across the middle and then put the first initials of each family member on the points.
We know exactly where to look tomorrow when we go admire the Star Fairy's work! We dawdle around a bit more and let the kids ride the carousel while I chat with a volunteer from Maryland. We've met a lot of people here, but still no one who is native to Florida. Seems to be par for the course in my experience.
Eventually we make it back to the villa where we grab the tickets and autograph books, then head off to Animal Kingdom just two and a half hours behind schedule. So glad I'm not devoted to an itinerary or I'd be out of my mind by now.
We're following the GPS, but either they never built a serious access road to AK, or we're going in the back way. Eventually we come across the entrance to the park. Finding the handicap parking is easy and we get a spot so close to the gate that the "Find your car in a multi-acre parking lot" app I downloaded is useless. It's a shame, too, because "Carr, Matey" puts a pirate theme over your GPS waypoints. You don't park; you "Drop Anchor". Pirates over ninjas any day! So we take 4 or 5 steps to the security tables and stroll right in. I don't know if we picked a really good week to be here, or if AK is just not a popular park, but there were no crowds. All day, magic GKTW button or no, there just weren't any lines worth noticing.
As soon as we got through security we stopped for the sunblock slathering party, then headed for the entrance gates. Off to the side we saw a character from Lion King, the meerkat.
We haven't seen that movie in years and couldn't remember his name so we decided to skip the meet and greet. We needed to hit the restrooms before going into the park, and when we came out Timon (that's the guy!) was done and his escorts were bringing him back in. We were on a head-on collision! Suddenly, Timon stopped. We stopped. Autograph books came out, flesh was pressed, photos taken, hugs freely distributed. The whole while, the escorts were chasing off other families saying "I'm sorry, this is a private meeting." Today's Wish Magic: Timon's precious time! Kayla was smiling all along, Emily came out from behind me and Jason told Timon all about our trip and where we're from and anything else that came to mind. This kid will never get a security clearance.
Eventually Jason let the poor guy go and we made it into the park. Jason and Emily got maps and led the way. As we strolled along doing a bit of sightseeing, I noticed the sign for the Lion King show. A quick time check showed that we had about 20 minutes to the next showing so we figured now was a darn good time. As we approached the entrance we were waved over to the wheelchair entrance. This turned out to be typical. Long before we ever figured out how to approach an attraction, a cast member had already made us, opened a path and was waving us over with the biggest smile they could find happily spread across their face. It was like old friends had shown up and now the party could really start.
The show is awesome. Gymnasts have got to be the most underrated athletes in the world. All a football player can do is run and knock down other players, but gymnasts are amazing. Near the end of the show some of the performers come out into the seats and play around with the audience and they kept coming back to Jason and Emily while Timon kept flirting with Kayla. I'm really liking the Disney entertainers.
From here it was on to the safari! Again, we were spotted and sent to a special loading area, where we sat in the first two rows behind the driver who chatted up Jason and Emily - but mostly Jason. The ride is a lot of fun, and you see a wide variety of animals while watching for some poachers that have been seen in the area. It turns out that Jason actually knows more about animals than I gave him credit for. He must be paying attention on those trips to the zoo. Kayla happily rode along on this bouncy truck ride, laughing and giggling at all the activity. I'm amazed she's still awake, but very happy about it. So far we've done well selecting rides and shows she enjoys.
Next up is the train ride to Rafiki's Planet Watch. The train is really cool looking from the platform, but on board it's just another tram ride. Planet Watch is mostly an education center and a petting zoo with goats and sheep. I don't know what it is about Kayla, but any time we go to a petting zoo, the goats are drawn to her. Never fails.
We had another character encounter here - Pocahontas spotted us before we saw her. Putting those Indian skills to good use, she nearly caught us by surprise and we had a nice long visit with her.
I'm glad we didn't skip it and wonder what we missed, but I think we may have been able to spend that time a little better since we had such a late start.
When we finished up Planet Watch, we really had to eat or we were going to pass out. Appearing from no where, a cast member asked us if we needed anything as we stood and tried to decide where to eat. She said if we wanted to see the parade, she had a spot set aside for us! Unfortunately, we only had about 20 minutes before the parade started and we couldn't wait much longer for food. We did find time to let Emily dance with another cast member though.
Tusker House is where we ended up, and it was probably the best meal we've had since we got here. Good thing, too, because $90 is a bit much for a buffet. As the parade finished it's loop and headed back past the Tusker House again, we settled up and headed out. We caught the last few minutes of the parade and there in the middle of it all is Timon again! And again, we are noticed and recognized! I never thought one cast member would have to spend all day in that costume, but they must do exactly that. He couldn't step out of the parade to hug Kayla, but he did come to the ropes and pantomime a hug for her. I really think I may have a new favorite character!
The next big ride on our list was Kali River Rapids. We got there a bit after 4:00, so with the park closing at 5:00, this was our last activity here. The FastPass sign where we entered showed a 10 minute wait. I'm sure the 10 minutes was due solely to the distance you have to travel to get to the loading area! That was the longest ride-specific walk we've had so far.
Once we got where we were going, they pulled one of the rafts into a little bay where it could be segregated and held firmly and we could take our time transferring Kayla. Having the time pressure off is a relief. Jumping to the head of the line is one thing, but holding up the entire ride for everyone else is just not something I enjoy. One seat had a solid arm that came down in front of Kayla so she had that to lean on in two directions and me in the third. Sit down, buckle up and off we go. The rafts seat 10 and 4 of us were on one side while Jason sat opposite. Poor weight distribution alert!!!!! It's only a 5 minute ride, but Kayla couldn't have been wetter if she'd fallen out of the raft. I wasn't much better and neither were Gina and Emily. Jason got splashed a bit. Kayla was again laughing and giggling, enjoying getting tossed around. Emily's favorite part was the drop that soaked me and Kayla. Thanks sweetie. I love you too.
As we came back to the loading area they let us go around again and this time added two more couples to our raft. Jason was still sitting on his own. By the end of this go-around everyone but Jason was completely saturated. He kept pointing to a little spot on his shirt, insisting that he got wet too. So on the exit I grabbed him and hugged the little bugger as thoroughly as I could then got Gina and the girls into it too. We got him as wet as we could, but he was still the driest of the 5. The park was closing at this point, so we headed to the shops and the exit.
Leaving the park, the GPS took us out of the flow of traffic and down another secondary route again. I still couldn't figure out why it kept directing us to less-traveled routes, but I am beginning to suspect the rental company set the options to avoid tolls. If that's the case, no sweat. It just seems weird that TomTom usually follows very direct routes in my experience, and this one knows all the insider info. For anyone taking their own GPS unit, check for this setting, as it will save you a few dollars over the course of a vacation. The routes don't seem to be significantly longer or shorter than the better known toll routes, either.
Meanwhile, back at the villa, it was swim party time! We changed out of our wet clothes into dry swim suits and made our way to the pool. Classic grill-out food served poolside while a comedy improv troupe gave us a show. Nice time, and a great way to unwind. I got to spend a lot of time in the pool with the girls for a change. Kayla was soon cold, as was Gina, so while Jason entertained himself I got some much-needed quality time with Emily. We splashed and teased and just had a good ol' time playing in the water and she made some progress towards getting more comfortable in the water. She still doesn't want her head or face in the water, but she stopped clinging to my neck in fear. This time next year I'm sure she'll be a fish.
The improv show made heavy use of audience participation and both Jason and Emily got turns on stage. Jason got to fill in the blanks in a live-action MadLib and Emily got to provide sound effects in a super hero skit. The performers loved her laugh so much that they made "Giggle" a super power!
This has been our earliest evening yet, and we got them all in bed by 9:00. Tomorrow the plan is to go to Magic Kingdom. I'd like to be there as early as we can, but you saw how that went today. We have to be back by 9:00 because Mrs. Clayton, the GKTW Village First Lady will be coming to tuck them all in for the night.