We find ourselves at Animal Kingdom.
Remember that you can take a bus from Magic Kingdom directly to Animal Kingdom and Hollywood Studios, rather than having to transfer at the Transportation and Ticket Center. Prior to Magic Kingdom opening in the morning, they do offer buses from the Transportation and Ticket Center to Animal Kingdom and Hollywood Studios at the bus charter lot.
Animal Kingdom bus stations. The Art of Animation and Pop Century bus stops are now right next to each other, making it easier to hop on whichever comes first should you not mind the 10ish minute walk in between the two,
The restaurant is also accessible from inside the Park near the entrance.
Only a small portion of the availability is doled out to Disney online at DisneyWorld.com. If you don’t see a reservation at a convenient time online, call the restaurant directly at 407-938-9100. Call 407-827-8500 for the Downtown Disney Rainforest Cafe and 407-828-8739 for Downtown Disney T-Rex. In addition, Landry’s offers a “Select Card” that includes priority seating, in addition to other perks.
The restaurant also offers a large bar area just inside the entrance with open seating.
Overall, Yak & Yeti inside the Park has better food, so there isn’t much of a point to head to Rainforest if you’re just going to sit at the bar, away from the majority of the animatronic dinosaurs and other shenanigans:
The restaurant is very loud, very dark, and very fun for kids. If you don’t have a Rainforest back home, you may want to consider it. With all the construction at Downtown Disney, getting to Animal Kingdom may also be easier. The restaurant usually seats guests through 50 minutes after the Animal Kingdom theme park closes. Should you exit after regular Disney bus service has concluded, a cast member will direct you to an empty bus that will take you wherever you want to go. We were actually last out of the restaurant and a cast member was there waiting.
Rainforest doesn’t offer a Tables in Wonderland discount, but does give 10% off for up to four entrees per Annual Pass you can cough up.
We started with a $16.99 appetizer sampler advertised at the table, featuring mozzarella sticks, chicken tenders, southwest egg rolls, crab dip, guacamole, marinara, coconut curry sauce, and chips.
It reminded me a lot of freezer night growing up when mom would stick a pan of Costco frozen food in the oven and that’s about the quality you can expect. It’s a decent spread, but nothing is likely to impress.
We are joined by Craig and family, whom you may recognize from the forums, as well as the photography section and past meals. Craig ordered the China Island Chicken Salad – Crisp greens tossed with grilled chicken breast, potato sticks, sesame seeds, carrots, rice noodles and scallions. Tossed with our China Island salad dressing – $16.99. It’s a huge, fresh salad piled high with stuff and a thick slice of bread on the side. He thoroughly enjoyed it.
Check out Disney’s menu page for a full list of the 10+ entrees available at Rainforest. They really go out of their way to cater to their primary clientele – the kids. We’ve got macaroni and cheese and mashed potatoes here. The joys of youth.
Lisa ordered the Rainforest Natural Burger with a slice of cheese – Blend of mushrooms, water chestnuts, onion, carrots, brown rice, whole grain oats, red peppers, black olives and spices, sautéed and served on a toasted bun with lettuce, tomato, fresh guacamole, and you choice of side – $12.99. This was surprisingly terrific with a hearty, homemade patty in between fresh vegetables and a toasted bun. This is the best vegetarian burger we’ve run into on property and approximately 4,000 times better than the Black Bean Burger served at Restaurantosaurus for only about three more dollars.
A side of Golden fried chicken tenders served with your choice of Buffalo sauce and blue cheese dressing or BBQ sauce and ranch dressing – $10.99 in this case with honey mustard dressing served in a cute little paper bag for some reason. Similar to Disney’s, if not a bit more crunchy.
Knowing full well it would likely be disappointing, I ordered the Jungle Steak and Shrimp – Enjoy our 7oz. char-grilled Flat Iron steak topped with steak butter and paired with our tender Shrimp Scampi and our Caribbean Coconut Shrimp. Served with your choice of a side – $26.99. This barely met my low expectations. The steak was too salty and the shrimp suffered from far too much batter and no dipping sauce.
The shrimp scampi was a heart attack in a dish with a few shrimp bathed in butter and garlic. The Caribbean rice could have just as easily come out of an Uncle Ben’s microwavable pouch.
We were celebrating Craig’s daughter’s birthday. And there’s only one way to do that, with the Sparkling Volcano – Enough for three or more! A giant rich chocolate brownie cake stacked up high, served warm with vanilla ice cream, creamy whipped topping and topped with caramel and chocolate sauces – $15.99. For some reason I have not captured the immense size of this thing I don’t think, though the scoop of ice cream on top is roughly equivalent to the size of Courtney’s head. And there’s a lot more underneath. Easily enough for six people to share for about $2.50 a serving. It’s otherwise chocolate cake and vanilla ice cream doused in chocolate sauce. A fun and memorable dessert that you don’t have to eat out of Mickey’s pants.
As the website has always recommended, give Rainforest a look if you have kids that would enjoy the atmosphere and don’t have a Rainforest at the mall down the street. Stick to the less expensive burgers and salads. Adults might consider a meal in the bar on the way in or out, but I think Yak & Yeti is better on the food and drink front.
There’s also a lot of merchandise…
A lot of stuff.
You don’t actually have to exit the restaurant and go back around to the main entrance. Animal Kingdom has a separate entrance accessible through the gift shop.
An old trick is to head through the gift shop first thing in the morning and instead enter the Park here, where there is rarely anybody else waiting. Cast members begin staffing the entrance at 8:45am, just before guests are allowed into the Park most mornings. If you arrive around 8:25am, which is smart, you should have your choice of an empty Mickey reader line and thus, no reason to try Rainforest’s. If you arrive closer to 8:45am, you may want to give the Rainforest entrance a shot, particularly if cast members have already pulled people from other lines to populate the Mickey reader lines originally meant for guests eating breakfast at Tusker House. Remember that a set of Mickey readers is used for Tusker House breakfasts and early Wild Africa Trek users. Around 8:40am, those Mickey readers are used for regular guests entering the Park. Hanging around those Mickey readers at 8:45am approaches is smart if you arrive late to big lines because you can easily queue up before other people have a chance to move over. Rainforest doesn’t start serving breakfast until 8:30am, so you don’t have to worry about anybody finishing up breakfast and heading out before Park open.
Walls more or less surround the Tree of Life and the entire walkway around Discovery Island as Rivers of Light construction ramps up.
Walls here run down to It’s Tough To Be A Bug toward Asia and up through Africa.
Some of the walls closer to Africa have come down as the new cotton-top tamarin exhibit is open.
The tamarins have not yet been moved, but when they are, it means one less trip to Rafiki’s Planet Watch to see them.
For a while, Mr. Kamal’s on the walkway that connects Africa and Asia served “Boneless Buffalo Wings,” which were just Disney chicken nuggets bathed in one of three sauces from a jug.
That changed about 18 months ago when vegetarian options replaced the “wings.”
The food was “on display” sitting out at the ordering window, looking about as appetizing as you’d expect from something sitting outside in Florida for 8+ hours. It looks like the value is virtually nonexistent on the $9.49 Falafel Sandwich with a pita and four small-ish falafel pucks inside.
I instead opted for the $5.99 Samosa with Mango Salsa. While this picture is largely useless, it “feels” artsy with the background blur, even if it tells us nothing about what it is we’re talking about.
I am not familiar with the samosa, but having enjoyed a mimosa or two in my day, figured it couldn’t be too far off. While these were prepared well with each samosa lightly fried and stuffed with potatoes, peas, and an Indian curry seasoning, I did not personally care for the flavor profile whatsoever. The exterior had a nice crunch, but the thick potato filling and one-note curry flavor didn’t really complement it. The mango chutney is similar/the same as what’s served at Victoria Falls and Sanna over at Animal Kingdom Lodge and provides a sweet and slightly spicy component. Altogether I think the value was there even if I didn’t enjoy them myself.
Not previously pictured is the Asian Noodle Salad with a nice peanut flavor. While tasty, the price point is awfully high for the portion.
I’m not sure we’ve taken a good look at New Harambe, the location of the Festival of the Lion King.
Keeping track of showtimes is easy. One per hour beginning at 10am and ending one hour before Park close.
Lion King does offer FastPass+ with a return window of 10 to 30 minutes before showtime. So if you’re headed to the 3pm show, your return time will be 2:30pm-2:50pm with standby let in right around 2:50pm.
I opted to use FP+ for the sake of testing purposes.
There are no reserved seating sections, but FP+ users are let in first to populate the first few rows of three of the four sections.
FP+ is largely useless here in my estimation. I arrived 35 minutes early only to find about 100 people already in line in front of me. Maybe 150 people with FP+ arrived behind me. Had I arrived at the same time in standby, I would have been towards the front of that line and found a similar spot in my choice of sections, instead of being routed over to elephant.
A few shots from the show:
Festival of the Lion King is a fantastic show that should be part of any touring plan. Arriving 20 minutes before the show of your choice is a good bet to guarantee good seats. You may also opt to try for a 4th FP+ in the afternoon after using your initial allotment of three. If you have no interest in the thrill rides like Everest, DINOSAUR, Primeval Whirl, etc. then you may elect to use one of your initial three on Lion King to lock in a convenient show time. The first and last shows are usually the least crowded, though I recommend the second-to-last show because it will give you more time after to enjoy short waits at the major rides. If you saw the 6pm show with a 7pm close, you wouldn’t be out and over to Asia until about 6:45pm, with only 15 minutes to try to ride Everest or Kali River Rapids.
Speaking of FP+ priority, this is what we’re looking at according to the Animal Kingdom Cheat Sheet:
Priority is based on a few things in order of most important to least important:
- Availability: Reserving in advance the attractions with the fewest number of FP+ distributed. Attractions that offer fewer opportunities are more desirable and are far less likely to be available as a 4th FP+. This is why character meet and greets and low capacity attractions are often prioritized. While you won’t see the Mickey and Minnie Meet and Greet advertised on any billboards, it distributes far fewer FP+ than high capacity rides like Everest and Safaris.
- Time savings. Prioritize the attractions where FP+ will save you the most time in line. That’s why Safaris, Everest, etc. with high wait times are prioritized over rides like Primeval Whirl.
- What FP+ gets you and what you’ll potentially miss by using it. This is why most shows are prioritized lower than rides. At Lion King, there was no reserved section and had I simply gotten in standby at the same time, my seat would have been similar or even the same. Thus, Lion King FP+ gets you very little for one of your three precious slots. This is also why some rides like Dumbo and Winnie the Pooh, with their interactive queues, are prioritized lower than other attractions with similar waits and FP+ availability. Nobody wants to wait for 20 minutes at Tomorrowland Speedway in one of those boring switchbacks with the sun overhead and the stink of exhaust all around, while a 20 minute wait at other attractions with air-conditioning and interactive elements are more pleasant.
- Other intangibles. For example, not only does Kali enjoy the longest waits when temperatures are high, but waits are highest in the afternoon when it’s most desirable to get drenched. Thus, locking in Kali in the afternoon is a high priority should you wish to experience it. This also goes back a bit to the Tomorrowland Speedway scenario above.
One note is that “priority” doesn’t necessarily mean “you should book it.” If you have no desire in Kali or meeting Mickey, then simply skipping down the list is what you want to do.
Looking over wait times on this particular Thursday, October 16th:
Animal Kingdom is not recommended, but it does offer a look at basically average crowds with highs above 80 degrees. You’ll notice that the average waits in the last column line up exactly with the priority above.
- Kali River Rapids has the longest average and peak waits.
- The Mickey and Minnie greet has the same average wait as Kilimanjaro Safaris, but it distributes far fewer FP+ and is thus, more desirable. While peak waits are lower, they also rise faster in the morning and don’t drop off as far at night.
- Kilimanjaro Safaris has similar FP+ distribution to Everest, but average and peak waits are far higher. It also closes prior to dusk, which means lower distribution than Everest in the fall when the Park might be open until 7pm or 8pm but Safaris stops operating as early as 4:30pm.
- Everest has longer average waits than the other two rides and is prioritized because of it. Waits are also short before 10am and in the last hour of operation.
- As temperatures drop and people want to get soaked less and less, waits in turn drop. On Saturday October 5th, when the high was 76 degrees, Kali’s average wait was the lowest it had been since late February. Still, it’s prioritized over other rides because most people will still want to ride in the afternoon when temperatures are highest and those times are the hardest to get.
- DINOSAUR waits have skyrocketed under FP+. Prior to implementation, seeing waits over 40 minutes was virtually unheard of. Now it’s the norm. Still, averages and peaks are lower than the other rides and it enjoys a monster capacity with more likelihood that it will be available as a 4th FP+ option. The ride is also usually a walk-on in the final hour, at least as long as rain hasn’t shut down most everything else.
- Primeval Whirl waits peak much lower than any other ride, in addition to seeing the lowest average of the rides that accept FP+.
- Lion King is prioritized over Nemo because shows are more likely to sell out.
- Virtually no benefit at Nemo where shows rarely sell out and taking advantage of FP+ means arriving 30+ minutes early anyway. Arrive at the same time in standby and you would assuredly get into the show with a similar seat.
- It’s Tough To Be A Bug shows virtually never fill to capacity and FP+ only gets you into the general waiting area for the show with everyone else. If Bug shows are filling to capacity because it’s December 28th, then you have far bigger problems anyway.
Back to Harambe. Bathrooms down on the far left are popular immediately after the show and deserted otherwise. If you “need to go” immediately after a show, heading to the bathrooms closer to Mombasa Marketplace in Old Harambe may be wiser.
Construction continues on what is expected to be another walkway that connects Asia with Africa and probably ultimately Avatar Land, in addition to offering more shopping and potentially more food.
Over to Rafiki’s Planet Watch for one of our twice-a-year visits.
It takes between zero and seven minutes or so for the Wildlife Express to arrive – the only way to and from Planet Watch. I can’t imagine visiting when this extended queue would be needed.
The six or so minute ride is pleasant enough. Train cars are generally around 30% full. Head to the last car down to the left or the second to last car down on the right to find the fewest other travelers. The last car section on the right is where you’ll have the cast member hanging out the window and barking at people to sit down and is best avoided.
Not a whole lot to see most days, but it does give you a moment to ponder whether Disney regrets building a zoo where they have to take on the cost to care for 1,500+ exotic animals at a theme park that sees lower attendance and shorter operating hours than Hollywood Studios, which operates with five rides and shows that haven’t been refreshed since 1989.
The tamarins in their current location.
Also on the walkway is one of the major Wilderness Explorers signup areas:
The interactive game sends kids (or adults) around the Park completing tasks, learning, and interacting with cast members. Like Agent P World Showcase Adventure at Epcot, it’s a good way to engage kids in areas of the Park that they may otherwise not have interest. The game runs from 10am through Park close.
Planet Watch is a nice air-conditioned respite from the rest of Animal Kingdom, The great majority of people don’t bother coming out here. And they’re not necessarily missing a whole lot…
Chip and Dale meeting outside with virtually no line.
Affection Section is closed for refurbishment through November 7th. There is actually a show back here called “It All Started With a Mouse,” scheduled daily exactly one time at 11:30am and not in any way advertised on the Times Guide.
It’s probably not worth going out of your way for. More details: http://disneyparks.disney.go.com/blog/2014/06/it-all-started-with-a-mouse-at-the-new-animal-experience-at-disneys-animal-kingdom/
Animal encounters are scheduled throughout the day during the closure.
Inside you can meet Rafiki.
Live veterinary procedures take place at Rafiki, usually before 11:30am and usually not on Wednesdays.
If you or the kids have an interest in talking with the veterinarians, you may want to prioritize a visit over here around 9:30am when the train starts operating.
There are a few more interactive exhibits and various animals to look at.
Protip: If anyone ever asks you how you know a snake isn’t poisonous, tell them it’s because they’re holding it. This may prove less helpful in the wild, but there are only 500,000+ unaccounted for poisonous snakes inhabiting Florida so I don’t know when that advice would come in handy anyway.
An interesting exhibit on elephants and honey production.
Poor Gi-Tar Dan having trouble drumming up business after his move from Camp Minnie-Mickey.
About all we can see of the new walkway/shopping district behind walls in Africa.
The Dawa Bar, in its new location a little further forward, is far more popular than the old iteration. Unfortunately, the drinks are all pre-made there now a la La Cava.
Disney brought Dole Whips over to Tamu Tamu Refreshments shortly after they saw how many alcoholic versions sold at the 2013 Flower and Garden Festival at Epcot.
$6.25 with Dark or Coconut Rum.
Despite rumors to the contrary, I do enjoy the occasional cocktail, but didn’t care much for the flavor profile of dark rum and pineapple Dole Whip. The rum is pretty harsh against the subtle pineapple flavor. $2.26 otherwise buys you about a half ounce of rum underneath your reconstituted-from-a-powder treat.
It’s artsy because it’s tilted.
Yak & Yeti is the quick service in Asia. With temperatures dropping, sitting in its outdoor seating area is more comfortable.
Its menu is really the only one that saw any major changes at the end of August:
The Teriyaki Beef Bowl replaced the Beef Lo Mein, probably so they don’t have to worry about making noodles anymore. The Couscous wrap is new as well.
The Souvenir Cup. Yak & Yeti was also advertising a Chicken Curry “daily special” that looked conspicuously similar to what Tamu Tamu served for a few months earlier in the year.
The $8.99 Roasted Vegetable Couscous Wrap – Roasted Vegetables and Couscous wrapped in Lavash Bread with Lemon Herb Yogurt Sauce with an unadvertised side of grapes. I think you’ll see more and more items arriving with unadvertised sides as Disney is tired of people ordering entrees without the sides to save $2. You’d have a hard time convincing me a dozen old grapes are worth two bucks. You can always ask if sides are involved.
It’s a sizable roll-up. The fresh lavash bread is not unlike a thick flour tortilla and doesn’t have much flavor on its own.
My wrap was short on anything other than sizable couscous pearls, consisting of only a couple thin slices of onion and the occasional small bite of red pepper, in addition to a couple beans.
What basically amounted to a tzatziki sauce on the side didn’t do a whole lot of good. Try to dip and the couscous spills out. Try to open the wrap and you’ll likely tear it. The yogurt sauce did add another dimension of flavor to the wrap, which otherwise tasted of yellow curry. Overall, this is a decent vegetarian option and unlike just about anything else you’ll run into at Disney World, but I’m not sure it’s compelling.
Walls surround the waterfront from the Yak & Yeti area all the way around past the Theater in the Wild where Nemo takes place.
For Rivers of Light seating construction.
Asia in front of the ice cream truck.
Asia toward Everest.
Across from Everest.
Down toward DinoLand.
Across from Nemo.
Looking up in the other direction toward Asia from DinoLand.
We’re likely a solid 18 months away from Rivers of Light debuting, meaning these walls are probably not going anywhere anytime soon.
The walls are not necessarily the end of the world, but they do distract away from what the Park really has going for it, which is its “natural” beauty.
Trilo-O Bites just outside of DinoLand was operating, something you don’t often see.
Flame Tree serves turkey legs now.
Disney Outfitters expands to make way for Creature Comforts’ closure, which is expected to host the Park’s Starbucks.
On the other side.
Even snack carts are behind walls.
Rusell and Dug to the left of It’s Tough To Be A Bug.
Bug reopened after a lengthy refurbishment to the excitement of ummmmmm nobody.
Some of the nets around the Tree of Life have come down as several of the Discovery Trails reopened:
Much of the netting is around the walkway to It’s Tough To Be A Bug.
Outside the Park, it looks like the new parking lot is largely paved.
While Avatar Land construction is down to one standing crane.
Inside the Park, you can’t see much of anything regarding Avatar. It’s all off in the distance beyond this wall. The Pizzafari patio seating is expected to be walled off shortly for additional construction. Avatar Land is otherwise years off.
Should see Studios and a general Epcot update later this week.