This Friday I took my son on a field trip to Animal Kingdom which his school sponsored. First time in an Orlando area amusement park, and I must say, I'm impressed. I have been to Disneyland, Six Flags Magic Mountain, Universal Studios Hollywood, etc., so I have a frame of reference, and Disney has really done a nice job with their Animal Kingdom park.
For starters, the place is huge, has many rides as well as places where one can see animals. Their "safari" is particularly interesting, as well as the walk one can do in the area around it and see the gorillas, birds, and other animals. The park also has some well done live action shows, of which we saw two: the Lion King show and the Finding Nemo show. The Lion King show is a circus type show, with acrobats, singers, a rope artist a la Cirque du Soleil, as well as dancers and large animatronic puppets of Simba and other characters.
Finding Nemo is a stage version of the movie, abridged, of course, but still seemed to run a good 30 minutes. The way they present the characters on stage is particularly clever. Actors hold large puppets of the various fish, sharks, turtles and others above or in front of themselves, and move the mouth and eyes with little hand levers. The action is mesmerizing, and soon you lose track of the person and fix on the puppet. Truly enthralling, and the scene with the turtle is amazing.
I must say, we had a tremendous time. My son specially loved the Mount Everest roller coaster - he made the required 44" height minimum with about an inch to spare. It was his first time at a roller coaster, and he took it like a champ. As a matter of fact, I was the one feeling dizzy after the ride. I don't know if I'm getting older, however, I felt quite off after the ride, and I've ridden many roller coaster back in my teens and twenties.
Animal Kingdom is particularly suited for younger children, maybe those in elementary and middle school. There are a lot of learning opportunities, with people carrying little cases showcasing a different animal, lots of signs with information about different animals, etc. Disney has also recently announced that they have joined forces with James Cameron to create an Avatar area within the park to showcase Cameron's vision of Pandora, the fictional planet that was the setting for the blockbuster 3D movie.
One big difference between the parks here in Florida and those in California is the weather. Southern California has the absolute perfect weather for outdoor activities, whereas in Central Florida, even in late September, is humid and hot. As you walk around you start sweating before getting to the first ride. There was also rain towards the end of the day as we were leaving, which is something that rarely happens in Los Angeles. Nonetheless, we had a blast, and we will probably go to different parks as the weather gets milder and rainy season passes.