7 Things to Do in Walt Disney World If You Love Lions

Last month, I covered things to do in Walt Disney World if you like bears and elephants—both animals with attractions named after them (Country Bear Jamboree and Dumbo the Flying Elephant). Today I’ll talk about another animal that’s been so honored: the lion. While Simba is the most famous Disney lion, lions appear in a variety of forms throughout Walt Disney World. So, here are seven things to do in Walt Disney World if you love lions.

1. Festival of the Lion King

Simba in Festival of the Lion King in Disney's Animal Kingdom, Walt Disney WorldWe’ll start with the attraction with “lion” in the title. This show, which I talked about in my post on musical theater, is (obviously) based on The Lion King. You’ll see Simba and a variety of his animal friends. The audience is seated in four sections, each representing an animal, so ask a cast member if you can be seated in the lion section.

2. Kilimanjaro Safaris

Sleeping lions seen on Kilimanjaro Safaris in Disney's Animal Kingdom, Walt Disney World

Kilimanjaro Safaris is your chance to see real-life lions in Walt Disney World. Sometimes it’s hard to get a good photo of them because they’re sleeping, but you can usually spot a male and a female there. I’ve heard that the rock is actually air-conditioned to encourage the lions to sit there!

Male lion seen on Kilimanjaro Safaris in Disney's Animal Kingdom, Walt Disney World

3. The Tree of Life

Here’s your scavenger hunt for today: find the lion on The Tree of Life at Disney’s Animal Kingdom. Here’s a photo to help you out.

Lion carved into The Tree of Life in Disney's Animal Kingdom, Walt Disney World

4. Circle of Life

Although I didn’t count this movie in my post on elephants, I decided to include it today because Simba is the star of the show. You’ll get to see animation inspired by The Lion King accompanied by gorgeous video of real-life animals, including lions.

5. Mickey’s PhilharMagic

Marquee of Mickey's PhilharMagic in Magic Kingdom, Walt Disney WorldAs I described in my post on Aladdin, this 3-D movie is great for fans of 1990s Disney films, which include, of course, The Lion King. The scene you experience in this show is the musical number “I Just Can’t Wait to Be King.”

6. The Lion King Family Suites at Disney’s Art of Animation Resort

You can’t experience this one yet, but you will be able to soon! The family suites at Disney’s Art of Animation Resort will be opening in May, with the standard rooms following in November. In this post from the Disney Parks blog you can can get a preview of what the Lion King bedrooms will look like, and here you can see artist renderings of the exterior. I can’t wait to wander around this resort! So many new photo ops!

7. For Kids: Simba’s Cubhouse at Disney’s Animal Kingdom Lodge

If your child is the one who loves lions, there’s yet another opportunity for them: Simba’s Cubhouse. Themed after The Lion King, this activity center is for kids aged four to twelve. It’s open every evening, and you pay an hourly rate per child. In exchange, they have a fabulous experience and you can enjoy some grown-up time in Walt Disney World!

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If your lion-themed day is taking place after May 2012, it can begin the night before, because you can stay in a Lion King-themed suite! Make sure to take lots of photos in and around the resort. You’ll probably want to make Disney’s Animal Kingdom your first park of the day, because early morning is usually best for animal sightings on Kilimanjaro Safaris. Check the Times Guide when you get there so you can make the first showing of Festival of the Lion King. If you have time between the safari and the show, look for the carved lion on The Tree of Life. If not, do it after the show before heading out to the next park. You can do Epcot or Magic Kingdom next. Neither movie should have a long wait. After you’ve seen both Circle of Life and Mickey’s PhilharMagic, you can head to Disney’s Animal Kingdom Lodge. Check the little ones into Simba’s Cubhouse and enjoy an adults-only dinner at Boma, Jiko, or Sanaa.

Hakuna matata!

7 Things to Do in Walt Disney World If You Love Dragons

The Year of the Dragon began on January 23, and to celebrate, the official Disney fan club, D23, published a list of “Disney’s villainous, friendly, and little-known winged characters.” The list includes dragon characters from early animated shorts all the way up through Nessie from The Ballad of Nessie, the short that was shown in theaters before Winnie the Pooh. Many of these characters exist only in film, but some have made their way into the parks, so that’s what I’ll cover today.

Here are seven things to do in Walt Disney World if you love dragons.

1. Journey Into Imagination With Figment

I have to start with my favorite dragon, Figment. Although the current attraction in Epcot is not as good as the original, I still love seeing Figment and his upside-down house.

Figment's upside-down bathroom in Journey Into Imagination with Figment in Epcot in Walt Disney World

He’s one of the few Disney characters that originated in a theme park rather than the movies, and for that reason I hope he never leaves Epcot.

2. Elliott in the Main Street Electrical Parade

I am a huge SpectroMagic fan, but I like the Main Street Electrical Parade as well. My favorite part is when Elliott, better known as Pete’s dragon, demonstrates his ability to disappear.

3. Mushu in The Magic of Disney Animation

Mushu, the little dragon from Mulan, is not found, as you might expect, in the China pavilion in Epcot but in The Magic of Disney Animation in Disney’s Hollywood Studios. He’s the representative animated character who, along with a Disney artist, explains how animation works.

4. Maleficent in Dragon-Form in Fantasmic!

In contrast to Figment, Elliott, and Mushu, Maleficent as a dragon isn’t quite so friendly. She makes a scary appearance in Audio-Animatronic form in Fantasmic! at Disney’s Hollywood Studios.

5. Dragons in Disney’s Animal Kingdom

Disney's Animal Kingdom sign at park entrance in Walt Disney WorldThe original plan for Disney’s Animal Kingdom was that it would be a place for all animals, real and mythical. That’s why if you look at the center of the park logo, you’ll see a dragon. Unfortunately the mythical creatures (other than the Yeti) never made it into the park in any official capacity, but you still see traces here and there. In addition to the dragon in the logo, a dragon head adorns one of the ticket booths at the entrance. There’s also supposed to be a dragon-shaped fountain near Camp Minnie-Mickey, although I cannot find a photo in my archives or online. (If you find one online, please let me know in the comments.) Also, if you want to see a “real” dragon, there’s a Komodo Dragon on the Maharajah Jungle Trek.

6. Dragon Slayer Statue in Germany Pavilion

St. George Dragon Slayer Statue in Germany Pavilion in Epcot in Walt Disney WorldNow, if you love dragons, you might not like this one, but I feel like I should include it for the sake of completeness. In the courtyard of the Germany pavilion is this statue of St. George slaying a dragon. It’s OK; he wasn’t a very nice dragon, I’m sure.

7. Nine Dragons Restaurant

Finally we find ourselves in the China pavilion in Epcot. Nine Dragons Restaurant is full of dragon depictions, including a glass mural of two dragons chasing a pearl and a dragon on the ceiling in the waiting area. I’ve never eaten there, so I can’t comment on the food, but if you love dragons, there’s no better place to eat.

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I have to throw in one honorable mention here. It’s not in Disney World but in Disneyland Paris, and it’s just so cool I have to share:

This is the dragon under Le Château de la Belle au Bois Dormant (Sleeping Beauty’s Castle), so naturally it’s Maleficent. I saw it last summer, and I have to say it’s one of the coolest things at Disneyland Paris.

Now, for your dragon-themed day in Walt Disney World, you’re going to have one challenge: the Main Street Electrical Parade and Fantasmic! are both evening events, so it will be difficult, if not impossible, to do both, depending on the exact show times. If Fantasmic! is having an early show, say 6:30 or 7, you could go to that first and then get back to Magic Kingdom for a 9 or 11 p.m. performance of the Main Street Electrical Parade. If that’s the plan, you’ll probably want to start in Animal Kingdom. You can take photos of all the dragon references you find. Head to Epcot next. You can have lunch at Nine Dragons, ride Journey Into Imagination With Figment, and take photos of the statue in the Germany pavilion. Then head to Disney’s Hollywood Studios for The Magic of Disney Animation and Fantasmic! Finally, hop over to Magic Kingdom for the Main Street Electrical Parade to say hello (and goodbye and hello again) to Elliott.

Who’s your favorite Disney dragon?

5 Things to Do in Walt Disney World If You Love Astronauts and the Mysteries of Outer Space

In my last post, I talked about things to do in Walt Disney World if you love cowboys. But for all the Woody fans, there are also a lot of Buzz fans, so I thought it was only fair to give the space man his due. So, here are five things to do in Walt Disney World if you love astronauts and the mysteries of outer space.

1. Tomorrowland

Riding Astro Orbiter in Magic Kingdom, Walt Disney WorldLike the cowboys have Frontierland, the astronauts have Tomorrowland. Tomorrowland is actually designed as a space port, with the Tomorrowland Transit Authority PeopleMover as the local transportation system, and Space Mountain as the inter-galactic gateway. Other space-themed attractions include Astro Orbiter and Buzz Lightyear’s Space Ranger Spin. (I prefer to pretend that Stitch’s Great Escape does not exist.)

2. Mission: SPACE

Mission: SPACE pavilion in Epcot, Walt Disney WorldThis attraction is meant to be more realistic than those in Tomorrowland. Here, you are a crew member on a mission to Mars. The original version of the attraction was a little too realistic, with people getting sick from experiencing the g-forces, so now there are two versions, the orange more intense version and the green less intense version. I’ve only ever ridden the green version. I’m not particularly prone to motion sickness, so I think I could do the orange version, but I’ve never wanted to take the risk of being woozy the whole rest of the day. I’ll have to try it sometime at the end of the night.

3. Star Tours: The Adventures Continue

You can’t talk about space without mentioning Star Wars! The Star Tours attraction in Hollywood Studios has recently been updated with all-new scenes. The film now has 11 random segments for a total of 54 different possible ride experiences. I haven’t gotten a chance to ride this version yet, but I can’t wait!

4. Spaceship Earth

Night shot of Spaceship Earth in Epcot, Walt Disney WorldSpaceship Earth is the story of the history of communication, but along the way, there are some great references to space (in addition to the name). During the 1960s scene, you see a family watching the moon landing on television. When you reach the top, you see a beautiful starscape. On your way back down, you interact with a touchscreen in your ride vehicle to create a video about your future, and one of the options you can choose is to live in space. At the end of the attraction, you can have the video emailed to you.

5. Captain EO

Entrance to Captain EO film in Epcot, Walt Disney WorldOK, this one isn’t entirely serious, because Captain EO is really more about Michael Jackson’s dance moves than anything else, but on the surface this film is about a ragtag space crew encountering the leader of an alien planet. If you like Michael Jackson, you’ll enjoy it. If you don’t, well, it’s pretty dated. I was glad they brought it back in 2010 because I had never seen it before, but I don’t know how long it will (or should) last before being replaced. It’s fun for nostalgia but that’s about it. (Please don’t hate me, 1980s fans.)

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Your space-themed day will center on Tomorrowland and Future World, with a jaunt out to Hollywood Studios for Star Tours. You can start in Epcot or Magic Kingdom, whichever you prefer. You’ll probably want to get a FASTPASS for Space Mountain and maybe Mission:SPACE, but otherwise the queues shouldn’t be too bad. The queue for Spaceship Earth is longest in the morning as people are just arriving in Epcot, but it will decline later in the day. Over in Magic Kingdom, be sure to take plenty of time exploring the details in Tomorrowland, keeping an eye out for aliens and space rangers.

Stitch and Buzz Lightyear in Tomorrowland in Magic Kingdom, Walt Disney World

To infinity and beyond!

5 Things to Do in Walt Disney World If You Love Cowboys and the American West

In the musical Oklahoma, there’s a debate over whether the farmer and the cowman can be friends. In Toy Story, it’s whether the space ranger and the cowboy can be friends. Apparently, cowboys have trouble getting along with others. Perhaps it’s all that rugged individualism. If you’re on Team Cowboy*, you’ll find yourself in good company at Walt Disney World, where a variety of cowboy-related experiences can be found.

Here are five things to do in Walt Disney World if you love cowboys and the American West.

1. Frontierland

There’s a whole Western-themed land in Magic Kingdom, so you’re sure to feel like a cowboy. You can eat at your good friend Pecos Bill’s and practice your gunslinging at Frontierland Shootin’ Arcade. (If Back to the Future 3 taught us anything, it’s that all that time spent playing arcade games will prove valuable should you ever find yourself transported back to 1885.) If you get along with miners, you can take a ride on Big Thunder Mountain Railroad. There are lots of great Western-themed photo opportunities too. If you’re lucky, you might even catch Donald Duck in his Davy Crockett attire.

Donald Duck dressed as Davy Crockett walking past the Diamond Horseshoe in Frontierland in Magic Kingdom, Walt Disney World

2. The American Adventure

Because The American Adventure covers the history of America, there’s naturally a portion covering the westward expansion. It’s short, however, just a brief video montage between the Revolutionary War and Frederick Douglass scenes.

3. Tri-Circle-D Ranch at Fort Wilderness

If your child is the one who loves cowboys, they’ll love a pony ride at Tri-Circle-D Ranch at Fort Wilderness. When we went, only two of the kids were big enough to actually do the pony ride, but the cast members let us take pictures of the little ones on the ponies as well.

Pony rides at Tri-Circle-D Ranch at Disney's Fort Wilderness Resort & Campground in Walt Disney World

Adults and older kids can take 45-minute guided trail rides on horseback or by carriage. You can also tour the stables and see the horses up close. On this day we saw some getting a bath.

Tri-Circle-D Ranch at Disney's Fort Wilderness Resort & Campground in Walt Disney World

4. The Great Movie Ride

If you love Westerns, you’ll particularly enjoy the Western scene in The Great Movie Ride. You’ll see and hear Audio-Animatronics of famous cowboy actors John Wayne and Clint Eastwood.

If you’re lucky, you’ll also have your ride vehicle hijacked by bank robbers. Confused? The story of The Great Movie Ride is that your guide is taking you on a trip through the history of movies, but in one scene, the movies fight back and you’re taken hostage by a bad guy (or gal). Who that hijacker is can vary. Sometimes it’s a 1930s gangster, and other times it’s a bank robber from the Western scene. If you want the bank robber, tell the cast member at the front of the queue. He or she may be able to direct you to a particular ride vehicle that will experience that version.

5. Toy Story Mania!

Yes, Toy Story Mania! features both Woody and Buzz, but I’m counting this attraction in the cowboys list because of all the fun Western-themed cut-outs in the queue area. There’s the jail and wanted posters, the sheriff’s office and drawings of our hero.

Mr. Potato Head wanted poster from the queue area of Toy Story Mania! in Disney's Hollywood Studios in Walt Disney World

Drawing of Woody from the queue area of Toy Story Mania! in Disney's Hollywood Studios in Walt Disney World

There’s also a glimpse of the truth that, yes, the space ranger and the cowboy can be friends.

Drawing of Woody and Buzz Lightyear shaking hands from the queue area of Toy Story Mania in Disney's Hollywood Studios in Walt Disney World

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Your day in the Wild West of Walt Disney World will cover three parks and a resort. I’d suggest starting in Frontierland, since you’ll likely want to spend the most time there. When you’ve had your fill of the attractions and atmosphere, take the boat over to Fort Wilderness and visit the ranch. From there, you can take a boat back to Magic Kingdom and then the monorail to Epcot, or you can take a bus directly to Epcot from Fort Wilderness. Experience The American Adventure, and then take the boat from the International Gateway over to Hollywood Studios for The Great Movie Ride and Toy Story Mania! Since you’ll be getting there late in the day, the wait for Toy Story Mania! will likely be quite long, but that will give you time to spot all the Western references in the queue area. Yeehaw!

*To be fair, in my next post I’ll cover things to do in Walt Disney World if you root for the space ranger.

8 Things to Do in Walt Disney World If You Love Bears

I had so much fun working on my last post that I decided to do another animal-themed post today. That one was all about elephants; today’s is about the “bare necessities.” Yep, we’re talking about bears. So, forget about your worries and your strife and enjoy this list of things to do in Walt Disney World if you love bears.

1. Country Bear Jamboree

If you love bears and country music, have I got the attraction for you! This opening-day attraction at Magic Kingdom is corny but fun, and full of bear-related humor…

Gomer the piano-playing bear in Country Bear Jamboree at Magic Kingdom in Walt Disney World

“Corsets: Cinch like a bear-hug”

2. The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh

Winnie the Pooh floating with a blue balloon in The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh in Magic Kingdom at Walt Disney WorldNext up is the beloved Pooh bear. As I mentioned in my post on reading, I love how the book pages are integrated throughout this attraction, as we follow this bear-of-very-little-brain on his quest for honey.

3. Splash Mountain

Br'er Fox, Br'er Bear, and Br'er Rabbit in front of Splash Mountain in Magic Kingdom in Walt Disney WorldHere we have our first bear villain: Br’er Bear, who, along with Br’er Fox, is determined to catch and eat Br’er Rabbit. Lucky for Br’er Rabbit, his hunters aren’t so smart. (Note Br’er Rabbit’s location in the photo.) Br’er Bear tends to foil Br’er Fox’s schemes by getting himself caught in their own traps.

4. Duffy the Disney Bear

Never heard of Duffy the Disney Bear? He’s only been in the U.S. parks since 2010, but he’s been a popular character at the Tokyo Disney Resort for several years. My nephew has a book in which Duffy is simply called “the Disney Bear,” and the story is that Mickey’s teddy bear came to life during a day in Magic Kingdom. Duffy’s backstory has since been changed, and now it’s that he was made by Minnie for Mickey when he was going on a sea voyage (which is why Duffy is dressed like a sailor). You can meet Duffy in Epcot near the Mexico Pavilion, and, of course, you can buy your own plush Duffy to take home.

5. Disney’s Wilderness Lodge

As soon as I thought about bears in hotels at Walt Disney World, I rememberedthis totem pole at Disney’s Wilderness Lodge.

Totem pole with Mickey Mouse, Goofy, Donald Duck, and Humphrey the Bear in front of Mercantile at Disney's Wilderness Lodge at Walt Disney World

The bear at the bottom is named Humphrey and was featured in several Disney shorts in the 1950s and more recently in shows like Mickey Mouse Clubhouse. He appears on a lot of merchandise sold in the Mercantile at the resort.

Humphrey the Bear merchandise at Mercantile in Disney's Wilderness Lodge in Walt Disney World

This photo is from 2006, so the selection may be different now.

You can find out more about Humphrey on Disney’s Wilderness Lodge Fan Site. In addition to Humphrey, you’ll see representations of other bears throughout Wilderness Lodge, including in its logo. There are even bear tracks in the sidewalk near the bus stop. Some say that if you look at the lodge from the boats, it looks like a bear face, although I have trouble seeing it.

6. The Tree of Life

As you might expect, there are bears carved into The Tree of Life at Animal Kingdom, but I don’t have any photos to help you on your hunt this time. I did find this great shot on Flickr of a grizzly bear catching a salmon. Have fun trying to find it yourself!

7. Maelstrom

As I mentioned in my post on snow, there’s a scene toward the end of Maelstrom in which you encounter some polar bears.

8. Muppet*Vision 3-D

We can’t forget everyone’s favorite bear comedian: Fozzie Bear! You can see him with the frogs and dogs and pigs and chickens and things in Muppet*Vision 3-D in Disney’s Hollywood Studios.

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Wow, there are even more bear-related things to do in Walt Disney World than there are for elephants, and we still haven’t even met the bear of “Bare Necessities” fame: Baloo. (His appearances aren’t listed in the Times Guides, but you can often find him in Animal Kingdom.) We also haven’t listed any live bears; unfortunately, there don’t seem to be any at Animal Kingdom.

Still, a bear-themed day in Disney World is going to be a long one, with all four parks and a resort represented. I’d start in any park except Epcot, because Maelstrom is in World Showcase, which opens later than the rest of Epcot, and Duffy’s appearances don’t start until late morning. Your quickest stop will be at Disney’s Hollywood Studios, because you just have Muppet*Vision 3-D to see. At Animal Kingdom, you’ll want to take some time to look for bears in The Tree of Life, and if you’re lucky, you might also bump into Baloo. By mid-afternoon, you’ll want to head over to Epcot to meet Duffy and ride Maelstrom. Magic Kingdom can be your last park stop (for Country Bear Jamboree, The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh, and Splash Mountain), because from there you can take the boat to Wilderness Lodge. Spend your evening exploring the lodge and finding bear merchandise in the shop. Don’t forget a picture with Humphrey!

Who is your favorite bear on this list?