Wednesday, October 03, 2007

The Off Season is OVER!

I headed out to the Animal Kingdom this morning, as I've had a hankering to ride Kilimanjaro Safari and Expedition Everest. Having been spoiled by uncrowded parks and miniscule wait times, I was hoping to get in two or three safari rides and as much Everest as I could handle. I also like to ride Dinosaur if possible, and when I'm feeling particularly masochistic I take a spin in Primeval Whirl.

Today I also wanted to walk the nature paths in Africa and Asia. Africa's star feature is gorillas, but I actually had myself more primed to see the meerkats. Somehow I became a fan of "Meerkat Manor" on Animal Planet; I tried to avoid it, but those beady-eyed little rodents sucked me into their soap opera world like a furry, irresistable whirlpool. Since there is a meerkat gang at AK, I like to visit them in person every now and then. Asia's star feature is the tigers, although their fruit bat habitat is rather interesting too.

Little did I realize that I'd made a grave error in planning. I know that the off-season is pretty much over, but if I get to the park early I can usually get in quite a bit of activity before the restless, sweaty hoardes descend. Unfortunately, I failed to realize that AK was the early entry park today. That means that Disney resort guests were able to go in an hour before the official opening time...and apparently they had turned out in droves.

I headed directly to the safari, where I normally grab a Fastpass, then catch a ride in the standby line, which is usually no more than 20 minutes at opening time. Then I do my Fastpass ride, grab another Fastpass, and head to Everest for a mini-marathon. When dizziness overtakes me on the roller coaster, I do my last safari ride and leave. Usually I managed to fit Dinosaur in on the way out.

Unfortunately, today the standby line was already horrendous, and the Fastpass return time was much later than usual. I grabbed a Fastpass and killed time on the exploration trail. The meerkats were out and about, grubbing around for food. Just like on TV, one of them was stuck with sentry duty while the others foraged and gorged. The silly little critters don't realize that there aren't many predators to worry about in the safe confines of the Animal Kingdom. No gos hawks, puff adders, or king cobras like the poor Whiskers clan as to deal with in Africa!

I watched them for a while, then checked out the gorillas. They were all busily chowing down on breakfast. Finally it was Fastpass time, so I headed over for my safari ride. I got another Fastpass, but the return time was so late that I knew it would be nearly impossible to work into my schedule. I'd have to content myself with only one round of Kilimjaro.

Thankfully it was a good round. All of the animals were out and about, including the elusive cheetahs. They are my personal favorites, but they're always way back in the bushes, staying just out of human sight range. Today they were just barely visible, lying in the shade.

In the lion habitat, the big male was actually on the move. That's rare; whenever I see him, he's usually sprawled out on his rock in a feline coma. Today he was walking around and roaring, and it was quite a sight.

I also saw the usual assortment of critters: black rhinos, white rhinos (including a baby), warthogs (although it always seems to me that they should be in with the meerkats; after all, Timon and Pumbaa got along so well), zebras, ostriches, flamingos, giraffes, gnus, mandrills, elephants, various hooved cattle and antelope, crocs, hippos, and goodness only knows what else. Why go on a real African safari when I can head down Osceola Parkway and spot droves and droves of critters?

Next I went to the Conservation Station via the train, hoping to kill enough time to use my next Fastpass. Even though I did the "sounds of the rainforest" booth and wandered around a bit, it was still too early. I resigned myself to skipping my second safari, since I knew that I wouldn't have time to hike all the way back after riding Everest. By then, it would be time to head home for work.

Oh well, at least I'd get in a few roller coaster rides...or would I? The standby line was supposedly 40 minutes, although seeing the snake of people running past the entrance I think that was a bit optimistic. I joined the singles line, which was longer than I had ever seen it. Worse, it was loading like molasses. By the time 35 minutes had passed, I was just boarding a train. You know the park is crowded when singles is almost as long as standby!

Since it had taken so long, I didn't have time to ride it again. Instead I hustled off to check the Dinosaur line. Normally it's 10 minutes tops, but today the line was out the door. I debated on whether it was worth it, but finally I decided to grab a ride. Fortunately it moved pretty quickly, so I was done in plenty of time to get to work.

As I worked my way out of the park, I marveled at the massive crowds and the insane wait times. When I noticed that "It's Tough to Be a Bug" had a posted wait of 90 minutes, I knew for sure that the off season was done.

On my way to the car, I got my traditional iced coffee. There is a little kiosk on the way where I always get iced tea or some sort of fru fru coffee drink. As I left, I was amazed at the stampeding herd of humanity that was still making its way in.

I sighed, realizing that if AK was this bad, Epcot and the Food and Wine Festival must surely be a joke. Granted, early entry draws more people than usual, but so does the festival. Since World Showcase doesn't open until 11, that means that the waiting pack usually situates itself at Soarin'. No more grabbing a Fastpass, doing a standby ride or too, then gettung yet another Fastpass on the way to use the first one. If you're not one of the first on, the standby line quickly grows to immense proportions, and the Fastpass time ticks forward so rapidly that it makes you dizzy if you watch the clock.

Oh well, the off season was fun while it lasted. I suppose that I can't complain, as many people would give their eye teeth to be able to drive off spontaneously for even one ride on the safari, Everest, and Dinosaur. I just need to reset my expectations and shift them from power riding to primarily people watching. In the meantime, I know that Christmas (and the brief pre-holiday off season teaser) will be here all too soon.

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Tannerman said...

We were fortunate to enjoy the off-season during a trip in September. Of course, it was also really hot, so not sure that was the better end of the deal!

Tammy said...

Great blog. We'll be down in November to stay at my cousin's condo for a few days. Don't you, as a resident, get to do early entry into the parks? I thought with the town being Disney, you would. Keep up the greats posting.