Saturday, 30 April 2011

Animal Magic!

Go to visit Mickey Mouse in Florida and you’ll get up, close and personal with some very different wildlife...

Chocolate brown eyes stared dolefully at me as he chewed lazily on a piece of grass. I sipped my drink and gazed at him across the balcony. 

‘I don’t think I’ve ever been so close to anything so beautiful,’ I murmured. But I knew there was a wild streak in him too – especially when he started nuzzling up to a pretty female who strolled up on the longest legs I’d ever seen.

My husband thought she was a looker too, but I wasn’t jealous. I was in awe. 

I’d never been within six feet of three giraffes, zebras and a herd of antelopes before. And certainly not as I slurped a cocktail in my hotel. 

But this wasn't just any hotel. This was our first night inside the heart of Disney in Florida, and our new neighbours were the inhabitants of Disney’s Animal Kingdom – and they were magical.

It was like having a David Attenborough documentary being played continuously outside our window. Luckily, we were on the second floor – the perfect height to go eyeball to eyeball with the giraffes and watch them galloping from one tree to another to strip it of bark, their favourite snack. 

Every morning we pulled back the curtains to discover another animal surprise awaiting us. 
Thankfully, we’d been given a printed drawing of every possible species that could be beyond the balcony so we could identify them all when our little boy demanded: ‘What’s that?’

Having our very own nature reserve made it hard to tear ourselves away from the five-star Animal Kingdom Lodge. So it made sense to spend our first day at the Disney theme park of the same name, and go on a real safari to spot the Big Five. 

We came face to face with a (luckily) sleepy lion, a herd of elephants including a real-life baby Dumbo, more Giraffes, zebras, hippos, wildebeest, and crocodiles. ‘Is that Simba?’ our son, Deme, demanded as he watched the giant lion yawn. ‘Where’s Scar?’ 

He didn’t have to wait long to come face to face with characters from The Lion King. The entire theme park seemed inspired by the hit film, and Simba’s side kicks Timbon and Pumba were waiting back at the hotel to sign autographs and pose for photos. ‘I’ve seen you in your film,’ Deme announced when he cuddled them. ‘Do you know Mickey Mouse?’ 

We decided to stick with the wildlife theme and head off to SeaWorld the next day. It was scorching in Orlando – even though it was raining and below freezing back home – and we laughed as we handfed dolphins (they felt so rubbery) and stood, amazed at the hulk of the polar bears. 

Nothing could ever beat the spectacular performance of Shamu, the killer whale. We sat in the front row for the must-see show. It’s splashing! ‘I’m wet,’ our son giggled. But we’d read about Shamu’s love of drenching his audience beforehand, and so came prepared with a change of clothes. For Deme, at least. We forgot about us, but soon dried in the Florida sunshine.

Not so, when I pretended to be brave at Magic Kingdom the next day and ventured on Splash Mountain. There’s a clue there in the name, but I hadn’t imagined we’d get quite so soaked. I could have entered a Miss Florida Wet T-shirt content afterwards. Instead, the other unfortunate visitors to Disney World got a glimpse at my mismatching underwear. 

I shouldn’t have worried. Everything you could ever want is on sale at Disney World, so I soon bought an entire new outfit – including Mouse ears – and looked for the next scary ride. Deme is big for his age, but the really terrifying (and exciting) rides have height restrictions. But he made it onto all.

Luckily we didn't have to queue as we had FastPass with our 7 Day Premium Tickets. Instead of wasting time, queuing at the rides, we simply put our tickets into the machine and were given a time to come back so we headed straight in. 

It meant I didn’t have time to get nervous and spent a lot of time yelling: ‘Ohhhhhhh noooooo, let me off,’ while my family laughed and held their hands in the air. My husband added to the torture by insisting on buying pictures of us on every scary ride. They all looked the same – them calmly smiling while I screamed, white faced and gripping on with all my strength.  

Thankfully, there are plenty of rides that are exhilarating without fear – like Epcot’s fantastic Soarin’, which takes you flying in a glider across the globe, and TestTrack, where you check out car safety at speed. 

Afterwards, we strolled around the world (literally), and stopped off in Italy for a plate of genuinely delicious pasta washed down with the finest wine from Tuscany.

It was time for a rest and so we spent the next couple of days soaking up the sun by the swimming pool back at our hotel. There was plenty to do. Deme and I shopped in the store there and he went to Simba’s club (or was that cub) house every afternoon to play and do activities with the other 4 – 12 year olds staying at the hotel.

At night, we headed to Downtown Disney where we could feast in the jungle at the Rainforest café, or shop until our son dropped in the dozen of different stores.  There’s even one shop which is dedicated to Christmas Disney-style all year round.

Our final park to explore was Disney-MGM Studios. We watched The Beauty and the Beast live on stage, oohed and aahed at the dazzling stunts in Lights, Motors, Action! Extreme Stunt Show. Deme was fascinated by the dangerous manoeuvres performed by motorbike and car stunt drivers, including setting themselves on fire and performing spectacular jumps. ‘I want to try that on my bike,’ he announced when we left. Fortunately, it was thousands of miles away, and still had stabilisers.

Then we came face to face with the most important person in my four-year-old's life – the red Power Ranger. He was posing for photographs with the other Power Rangers along Streets of America and Deme met them all. Twice. 

Afterwards, we made his holiday by buying him a Power Rangers outfit from the shop. He wore it around the park, the hotel and even on the plane home. 

‘When are we going to DisneyWorld again?’ Deme asked as we took off. Alexio and I didn’t need time to think about it. ‘Soon,’ we both answered. After all, we did have a wild time.

Getting there
Walt Disney Travel Company is offering 7 night packages at Animal Kingdom Lodge including direct flights with Virgin Atlantic from £1,320 per person.* Alternatively, stay 7 nights at Animal Kingdom on an accommodation only basis from £563† per person. Add Disney Park Tickets and receive 14-days for the price of 7 for all 2011 arrivals from £220 per adult. Book through Walt Disney Travel Company on 0870 24 24 900, or book online at

* Prices based on 2 adults sharing a Standard room at Animal Kingdom Lodge for 7 nights departing on 5 September 2011, return economy class flights on Virgin Atlantic from London Gatwick to Orlando International and free airport hotel transfers aboard Disney’s Magical Express.
† Prices based on 2 adults sharing a Standard room at Animal Kingdom Lodge for 7 night stays between 17 Jul – 29 September 2011.
All holidays are subject to availability.

1 comment:

  1. Ms. Jones,

    I am the editor of The Lions' Den, the yearbook of Henderson High School in Henderson, Texas. We came across your picture of a lion when we did an Internet search for lion images. We would really like to use this picture in our 2011-2012 yearbook. May we have your permission to print it? Please email my yearbook adviser, Alisha McGee, at

    Thank you,
    Hannah Leitner