I was lucky enough to already have a park reservation for Disney’s Animal Kingdom when legendary Imagineer Joe Rohde announced his retirement last month. After forty years with Walt Disney Imagineering, Rohde was calling it quits. If you are not aware, on a creative level, Animal Kingdom is Joe Rohde’s baby. If you have a chance to dine at Tiffins, there are countless pictures and pieces of artwork Rohde collected while researching the park. It really was his passion project. While my initial intention for the reservation was to check out the holiday offerings at DAK, I now had a second reason to be there. I wanted to pay tribute to this man who brought us the most thematically ambitious Disney park in the United States (it is probably in a battle with Tokyo Disney Sea for the world-wide title). While I am going to spend this blog talking about those holiday offerings, I will bring you one about my favorite details of Disney’s Animal Kingdom in the future.
You are bombarded with the holiday spirit the second you go through security, and you are greeted by that huge tree. With animal-themed decorations, and specially-crafted nick-nacks, it could only fit at this particular park. Underneath the tree, you find some scattered presents that include some of your favorite characters from the Hundred Acre Woods. There are wreaths and strands of decorations throughout the entrance area. There were holiday favorites playing over the speakers. These versions seemed to me, a novice in music theory, to be of an African origin. Either way, the style fits with the overall vibe of the area.
Discovery Island is where the decorations really flourish. There are beautiful wreaths and garlands on both sides of the walkway leading up to that iconic view of the Tree of Life. My favorite decorations on Discovery Island feature animals, themselves. There are box-lights bearing the images of squirrels, foxes, deer, and birds. There are also some incredible light-fixtures that are in the shapes of birds that really glow after the sun has finally set. Once darkness does fall over Discovery Island, it is time for the winter-themed projection show on the Tree of Life, which is perfect. Most of the lights start to dim, and the music starts getting louder when it is time for another random show. High-definition animals frolic on the Tree of Life, which has turned into a giant movie screen. I spent roughly thirty minutes on Discovery Island before exiting, and the show ran four times. You will not miss it, if you are intent to catch it.
The African village of Harambe is also particularly festive this time of year. The decorations appear to be hand-made of recycled materials. When I lived in Pennsylvania, we would frequent a store called Ten Thousand Villages, which featured items that were handmade in developing countries. These wreaths and lights were very much in that mold. Bottle caps and other found items were put to great use in all of these pieces. Harambe is already one of the most beautiful parts of the park, and those decorations are a nice touch.
As for Dinoland, USA, the only theme that would make any sense would be pure kitsch, and if you go in expecting that, you will not be disappointed. The dinosaur bones that greet you at the entrance to the land are wrapped in colorful lights, and a Santa hat rests firmly on the skull of that dino. There are some gaudy trees, and overall fun touches.
Disney’s Animal Kingdom may have the best “character cavalcades” since reopening back in July. With frequent boats moving around the park, you are always getting the opportunity to see some of your favorite characters or some fantastic performers multiple times per-day. Getting closer to December 25th, some of these cavalcades have adopted festive themes. The most important of these are the drummers, who travel the park while playing some holiday standards, and Santa, himself, waving at guests from the social-distance provided from the middle of the river that circles Discovery Island.
As for the treats (I know what brings the readers), there are a number available. Some of the Christmas-themed options are not available every day, or weren’t yet available until after Thanksgiving. I did not get the chance to try the Peppermint Cream Cheese Mousse at Satu’li Canteen, and the Santa Mickey Mousse at Creature Comforts. There is a Pumpkin Ice Cream Sandwich at Dino-Bites that is very popular, but I went for the Menagerie Cupcake which was available at multiple locations the day I was there. This was a mistake, for me, because it had a spice-cake center. I was not a fan. Listen, as you can see in the pictures, it is beautiful. If you like a strong spice-cake center, you will love this. It was just not for me.
I did try a holiday treat that is available at multiple Walt Disney World theme parks, and that is a slice of the Pecan Pie Krispie. I had had a Pumpkin Pie Krispie at Magic Kingdom during the Halloween-season that was good. This Pecan Pie Krispie blew it out of the water. The marshmallow flavor wasn’t to strong, or too sticky on the fingers. The pecan flavor made it seem like a heartier snack. I hope Disney continues to build off this idea. I am really enjoying these unique takes on standard treats.
Disney’s Animal Kingdom is such a gorgeous park during the holidays, but the retirement of Joe Rohde reminded me just how beautiful it is every single day. I first visited the park in 2005, and was awestruck by the theming and the detail Mr. Rohde put into every aspect. After that trip, I started watching those Travel Channel documentaries about the Disney parks, and that is what rekindled my childhood love for these parks. The best way to pay tribute to someone is to spend some time truly appreciating that person’s work. I was happy to have that opportunity in late-November.