[Cue the dramatic music]
In a world of theme parks, one man must complete a journey. He must leave no stone unturned, no alley unexplored, no fly unzipped. In this breathtaking conclusion to the epic series to seek out new lands and new civilizations, Parkeology travels deep into the jungles of Disney’s Animal Kingdom, in search of a lost world.
No, it is not that door under the Everest bridge. Deal with it.
The final page will turn. The book will close. And the scales will tip in favor of the winner. A quest that began weeks ago comes to a thrilling climax, with our hero in some kind of manufactured dramatic peril. Three parks have already sealed their fate, and the last horcrux unexplored locale (possibly a picnic area or side-trail smoking area) will be unveiled.
Here, as the old charts say, there be monsters. A land never seen by mortal eyes. One man’s adventure must end and the chips may fall, to be swept up by a random Disney sweeper crew, who really don’t like chips polluting the themed environments.
The rules are simple. It must be a definite location, with a palpable sense of place. It must be accessible to all guests, and not just employees of Kodak Corporation, Disney Visa card holders, and AAA Diamond parking hall-pass monitors. Finally, it must have never before experienced the awe-inspiring wonder of my physical presence — proving itself a truly new place for a theme park veteran.
First, there was the Speedway Grandstand in the Magic Kingdom.
Followed by a visit with the Epcot’s lovable yet oddly unsettling Hat Lady.
And now… Disney’s Animal Kingdom.
In many ways, this was the most rewarding find of all. There is a difference between unknown and unvisited. I had always known about the Speedway Grandstand and the Rose & Crown, but had never visited before, so I can’t say those were special finds.
There is also a difference between a worthwhile place and a stupid place. While Rose & Crown definitely qualifies as worthwhile, I would never recommend seeking out the Grandstand and the Tower of Terror Breezeway, as they are simply boring, downright useless locations. But not until Animal Kingdom did I find something simultaneously unknown and worthwhile.
For the record, I’m not talking about the petting zoo (though they did have cute new pigs for petting). The Affection Section has been part of the park since Day One, accessible via train to Conservation Station. I’ve visited the petting zoo numerous times, even going so far as to write an entire post about the old hand washers, because Parkeology is nothing if not obsessively focused on the sublimely obscure.
Yet somehow, I’ve never really noticed that there is an entire stage off to the side. I had never seen it in use before. There are always animal encounters happening at Conservation Station, but I always see them inside the building, not out on a stage, surrounded by bleachers. Possibly they only use the stage during peak periods.
Pure luck of timing had me searching out the new pigs while a scheduled skunk encounter was going on, and I finally became aware that there was a large theatrical area nearby that had somehow eluded me since 1998. I quickly exited the pig pen (Cast Members can get really annoyed when you climb back there with them), and hustled around to snap shots of two hosts with microphones (yes, microphones!) showing off a rare species of roadkill.
Later they brought out a porcupine, and while the staged animal encounter was great fun in and of itself, I was flabbergasted to find that there are actually two more permanent animal exhibits back her, similar to the exhibits inside Conservation Station. There are glass enclosures showing off a Gopher Tortoise and a water Monitor Lizard, both of whom I had never seen before.
The exhibits are right near the stage, set into the exterior wall of the Station. For the record, this is to the immediate right after exiting the building. I guess I must have always gone left, through the merchandise area full of stuffed lions and hippos, or straight into the Affection Section.
I can without reservation recommend that you try to track down the tortoise and the lizard and give them some face-pressing love against their glass. I’m sure they feel ignored. I think there’s also a snake or two in there as well, though we parkeologists have a deathly fear of snakes due to a childhood adventure on a circus train.
Now I consider my task complete, and only a month or two overdue. But I did beat analyst expectations, which is more than I can say for the Facebook IPO. For my next act, I think I will try something harder, like trying to eat three square meals in a single park, for less than my mortgage payment.
This is part of a series of posts on unexplored theme park locations. You can read about our discoveries in the other parks by clicking the links below: