Tess Disney Bday: Mommy Day at AK

Tess LOVES animals. Like truly just loves them ALL. We don’t have many animal lovers in our family. But I understand Tess’s love, because it’s the same one I felt as a child. I dreamed of having a house filled with pets and an animal shelter in my basement. I think a love of animals shows her nurturing side and I believe it’s what helped lead me to be the mom I am today.

Since our crew is very ride-focused at the parks Tess rarely gets to SEE the animals at Animal Kingdom. I talked to her about it and we decided that we would visit Animal Kingdom for our special time together for her birthday and just walk around and truly LOOK at every animal. Take our time. See them all. Soak it in! She was SO PUMPED about it!!!

Humidity = 100%

We had legit just arrived. I was already soaked haha

First stop was to pick up her Wilderness Explorer book so she could earn her badge! My plan was to truly cover the entire park, see every animal possible and fill out her book with her during our together time!


As one of her birthday surprises I booked us both for the Caring for Giants Elephant Tour. Elephants are Tess’s FAVORITE animal so I knew she’d love getting to go behind the scenes at the park and to get to see them up close and personal. The tour was only $15 per person (that includes my pass holder discount) and was an hour long. I figured for that price, why not right?

Our tour was scheduled for 4:00 but they called me that morning and told me they were expecting bad weather and if I was able to come to the park earlier we could do the 1:30 tour instead just to make sure we didn’t have it get canceled. We hustled (and that’s why I met Zach to scoop her up from MK that morning!)and made it in time for the 1:30. I kept checking the weather and my app kept saying it was no chance of rain or any issues so I was wondering why they were so worried about rescheduling. I didn’t realize until that night that my app had an issue and wasn’t reporting the correct weather all day. Ugh.

On this tour we got to walk behind the scenes of Animal Kingdom. We got to see the safari trucks in their lot, where many of the animals are kept during the night or for check-ups etc, and had a nice air conditioned van to take us to our destination. This tour is for children ages 4 and up and the cast members were super cute about keeping what we were doing a surprise for Tess 🙂

I will go ahead and give my review from the start: Worth $15 each? Sure. Worth more? Heck no. I wasn’t disappointed to the point that I regretted doing it but they could have done SO MUCH MORE. Basically we were just stationed on the other side of the elephant exhibit on the Safari ride. Sure, it was a longer view of the elephants and slightly closer because we weren’t in a safari jeep…but still not all that close or all that impressive. It’s kinda like on Jungle Cruise where they joke about being super pumped to see the backside of water. We were seeing the backside of an area we can see on a ride.

It also wasn’t super organized. It was basically our group sitting around with a guide who answered questions. A few facts were tossed in but it was mostly based on interaction…which none of our group was prepared for. I was expecting to learn about how they care for the elephants and had expected to see some true behind the scenes stuff. Like the area where they, ya know, care for the giants?

While Tess behaved fine during it, the elephants were much too far away to really hold her interest or be excited about. And she’s much too young to have any real questions or anything. Maybe we will try it again when she’s older if she continues to love animals. I know for a fact that both Kye and Britt would have been super bored and not into this at all.

It would not take much effort for Disney to make this a more worthwhile experience. A walk through of the elephant caring area, for example, would take only a few minutes and would dramatically increase the enjoyment and excitement of the tour. I understand the needing to be so far away from the animals, but an hour of just standing there at that distance was rather disappointing.

Am I glad we did it, yes. Did Tess enjoy it? Eh. She played with a toy elephant they had on hand and with a mini fan most of the time. She talks highly of it now because I’ve amped it up haha Would I recommend it? If you have an animal lover who has elephant knowledge already and is old enough to think the behind the scenes stuff is cool then yes!

These are highly zoomed in on my camera 🙂

Showing the distance we were away. They never got closer than this!

As a DISNEY lover I was more into talking to the cast members about Disney stuff than I was about the elephants. This cast member is actually from Africa. It was so neat hearing about how she applied to come to Disney and got the job etc. Oh yeah and she told us some stuff about elephants too 😉 One interesting thing is that elephants are considered pests in Africa and a big reason they get killed is that they intrude on farmland. They discovered not too long ago that elephants are terrified of bees. Now farmers in Africa have beehives around their crops that prevent the elephants from intruding and help improve the bee population which is also great for farming!

This shows you the view of the safari ride!

Can you find baby Stella?

Little kids LOVE poop haha Tess was so excited to touch the elephant poop and even hold it!

I love this picture so much! When the cast member handed Tess the poop she immidialaty did this pose and face babahaa

One of the collars the elephants will wear

Poop was the topic of our day 😉 Our name tags were made of it!

Once the tour ended I tried to map out the rest of our day the best I could and the cast member recommended for us to go ahead and head to Rafiki’s Watch as it closes early. We’ve actually NEVER done it before because it’s ALWAYS closed when we try to go. I’m SO glad we got to experience it this trip because I just heard that there are plans to close it permanently soon. If you have a trip planned to Animal Kingdom be sure to try to go asap!

There is a train ride to reach the area and that meant snack break!

Besties! See why couldn’t we be this close to the elephants? 😉

Once the train arrives you have the option to use one of their strollers that are provided. I’m SO THANKFUL a fellow mom gave me that tip on the train ride because I wouldn’t have gotten one and it’s a bit of a haul to get to the actual area. Once there they have an outdoor petting zoo as well as an indoor area with animals and animal conservation information.

I’m not shocked at all that this area will be closing. It’s just not very DISNEY in it’s design or execution. The petting zoo was just a run of the mill petting zoo. Very similar to the one we see at Zoo Atlanta. The train ride was probably the most exciting part of the trip and even that wasn’t filled with any sights or things to see on the way. Tess enjoyed seeing all the animals but, surprisingly, wasn’t very interested in actually petting them!

“He is all alone because no one loves him”

Poor thing!

One she got more comfortable she got more brave with petting the animals 🙂  

I loved the talking pigs!

This face!

I had planned to buy Tess a stuffed elephant at the park so she’d always remember our special tour and time together. I also let her pick out her pin for the trip!

Yall know the walking and holding hands parts of our days are my FAV!

Inside Rafiki’s Planet Watch we were able to meet Doc McStuffins! As in just walk right up to her! The line for Rafiki was long and Tess had no interest in meeting him so I didn’t push it. It was HER day so I tried the best I could to let her lead the show! I love when my kids meet characters but there is something extra special when it’s just one kid because the character is really able to interact with them!

Showing off the four candles on her button!

If we hustled I had planned for us to watch the new Up Bird Show but Tess really wanted to just walk around and see all the animals so we skipped the show. And I’m so glad we did because it started raining as we were looking around and I knew the show would be canceled as they have to be so careful with the birds!

She said “My favorite!” And ran over to the cockroach tank bahaha

She looks at animals, I look for hidden mickeys 😉

There are little sound booths set up to listen to facts about different areas and their wildlife.

The best part of the area was the bathroom stall and the poop facts hanging on it! How hilarious is that? Our poop theme kept on going as Tess was CRACKING UP about the poop facts while we used the potty!

Heading back in the rain…so thankful for the borrowed stroller!

It was downpour. Not just a light rain. Or a summer rain. Or a typical Orlando rain that lasts 30 min. It was the type of rain that I knew we were going to be soaked. There was no way around that! I covered up Tess the best I could and got my own rain gear on and kept on trucking.

When in doubt, eat another sticky foot

I love Disney planning and read a lot of groups on FB and such that post about Disney World planning tips and tricks. A topic that often comes up is about what to do when it’s raining and SO MANY people say to head to Animal Kingdom.


I really wasn’t too worried about the rain. I figured our plans could continue…I’ve always heard/read that animals are more active in the rain. So I’d be soaked but at least we could still go about our plans of seeing all the animals. Right? Right?


When it’s lightning the park basically shuts down. Seriously. No outdoor shows (obviously) but also NO ANIMAL EXHIBITS. They close them off and don’t allow guests to enter. I don’t get that. Like at all. Because hello the animals are still in the storm right!?! It’s something to do with codes regarding lighting strike prevention. Without shows or animals the natural thing to do would be rides, right?


Animal kingdom doesn’t have a whole lot of rides that are little kid friendly and indoors. Tess specially said she did NOT want to do Bug’s Life. And we’d already missed both the last Nemo Show AND the last Lion King Show of the evening. She loves the dinosaur playground: closed. She likes the dinosaur spin ride: closed.

But the park sure was empty…

I felt frazzled because all my kid wanted to do for her birthday was SEE DANG ANIMALS and I couldn’t give her the one thing she wanted. So I did what any mother would do: I bought a snack. Surely an extra special Disney snack would solve it all right? Distract with sugar? Surely the rain would clear up after we finished our special treat!


Tess was so upset she wouldn’t even look at the treat let alone eat it so we were crapped under a tiny cover while she cried and I tried to eat a melted mess of a treat before just tossing it.

I know a Disney meltdown when I see one. And this wasn’t that. I felt her pain. I understood her tears. We’d been talking about this day FOR MONTHS. I’m careful to only amp my kids up about stuff that I can pretty much guarantee will happen. Seeing ANIMALS at ANIMAL KINGDOM I felt pretty dang sure about!

She wasn’t crying because she wanted something I wouldn’t buy for her. She wasn’t crying because she was overly tired. Because she’d had too much junk. Because she was overstimulated.

She was crying because her heart was sad. She was disappointed. She didn’t understand.

I. Felt. Awful.

In that moment I just wanted to break down in tears too. I was so disappointed with her. I felt like I’d let her down and like this special time was just ruined. Zach texted me about the weather and we realized my app was wrong and seeing the weather report, like the actual one, it broke my heart even more. It wasn’t going to let up. It was going to continue to be constant rain and storms the rest of the night.

I had to rally. I couldn’t hope for the rain to clear because it wasn’t going to. I couldn’t just sit there with a crying kid. I couldn’t leave either. I mean I guess I could leave but yall know I can’t have a Disney Day be miserable! I had to turn it around!

I went back to the animal viewing area and asked them what to do. They said the safari will actually still run in a rain storm. So I headed that way. It was a 25 min wait which isn’t too bad and I figured waiting in line to DO something was better than sitting around doing NOTHING!

I used the line time as a time to PUMPED TESS UP. We named her elephant (I tried for Stella since that’s the baby elephant’s name but she wanted Ellie). We talked TO her elephant a lot and got the elephant excited about the safari. We talked about the animals we’d get to see and how pumped we were about seeing them all!

Introducing Ellie to her family 🙂


We had a fastpass for the safari and some time before we could redeem it. I tried again for the animal exhibit (I kept hoping that maybe if I bugged them enough they’d just LET US IN DANGIT). But when that was a no-go I figured let’s just do this thing. Let’s walk in the rain. Let’s dance. Let’s explore areas of the park we’d never noticed before. The cast members at the animal exhibit were super nice and encouraged me to walk around the tree of life and check it all out. So that’s what we did!

Tess is at an age where getting to be the leader is SUPER FUN. So she lead the way. Which was nice because there we no people so she literally could lead and I could just follow since we had no agenda or anything!

Embracing the moment and making memories!

I’m SO THANKFUL I wore this hat!!! Truly a game changer for my day…protected from the sun early on then the rain! 

Hear music…will dance! I LOVED the dance in the rain moments of our day. That joy and her laugher was everything!

Not too sure about this dance move though!

The rain seemed to clear so I went back to try again and the fourth time was the charm! ACCESS GRANTED! The cast members literally cheered for us!

They also told us that once we were allowed in that we couldn’t be kicked out, even if it downpoured or stormed. So we took our time! I let Tess to continue to lead and she loved looking at each and every animal 🙂

Hidden Hippo!

We took our time and then headed over for our safari fastpass! It was so cute in line a little boy who didn’t speak English really liked Tess and her elephant and I enjoyed watching them interact. Language barriers don’t matter yall. Not one bit!

Whoop whoop for ROUND TWO!!!

And we even got to sit up front!

(Which, duh, I amped up BIG TIME. Every little positive moment of this afternoon was magnified by how EPIC I made it sound haha)

Our pals again!

We needed to eat some dinner and ran into another snag in the day. Fries. Tess’s favorite food is french fries. She’s obsessed with them and I made another dumb move for the day by assuming SOMEWHERE IN THE PARK WOULD HAVE FRENCH FRIES. Yall. They don’t. Or at least not at anywhere that was open at that time. Because the cast members told me that the only fries available were specialty ones. Which she wouldn’t like.

These sweet cast members felt SO BAD for us. They ended up giving us TWO Mickey Pretzels for free. It was so, so sweet. It was downpour again at this point and I was so excited to see a cart that was closed up under a nice big umbrella. Dry seating to eat our dinner! But nope. We got all settled and a cast member came over to tell us we had to move because no one was allowed to sit there. Sigh.

We hunted down another spot and nothing was going to steal our joy about our Mickey Pretzel Dinner!!!

You never forget your first Mickey Pretzel!!!

And more rain dancing for dessert 😉

We had a fastpass to meet Mickey and Minnie which I’m so thankful we had! It was perfect and they were awesome and Tess LOVED every second of it. She adores the classic Disney characters (which I love about her) and would prefer them over any other character meet and greet. She was excited to show Mickey her new elephant friend on her birthday at Disney!

So. Much. Cuteness.

I had a fastpass for Na’vi River Journey. I had planned for us to stay that night for Rivers of Light (yes, even though Zach and I didn’t like it AT ALL ha!) but yall I was just done. Our Na’vi pass wasn’t for another hour and then the night show was a good hour or so after that. We had another park morning the next morning and were driving home after that. I was soaked. She was soaked. We’d had our fill.

I am team bribe my kids when it’s wise to do so. So I got Tess super mega pumped for a Disney treat to eat on our way home 😉 She went for it and was so content and happy to be heading out. I felt like it was the perfect time to go as Mickey and Minnie were the perfect send off. I wanted to leave on a HAPPY note rather than stick around for the Rivers of Light to most likely be canceled anyway!

Of course AS we are leaving the park it stops raining. The sun comes out. It FINALLY cleared up. Ugh. Thankful for the easier walk to the car but mannnn why couldn’t it have cleared up a little earlier for us, right?!?!

I hate that Tess’s special time at AK was so dampened (literally). BUT if I had to choose an experience to not work out I’d choose mine with Tess over Zach’s with Tess. I am planning the special getaway with Tess that I did a few years ago with Britt and with Kye. I took Britt right at age 4 and it was GREAT. I felt like Kye was a little too old when I took him so I want to take Tess while she’s four but want to plan it for next spring so our family schedule won’t be as filled and so the weather will be nice for swimming at the resort but not overly hot.

My plan is to incorporate an Animal Kingdom day into that weekend with her. That way we can have a redo on our day together and hopefully get to see ALLLLL the animals! I feel pretty certain by Mayish she’ll still be an animal lover 😉

It’s so nice to have our home SO CLOSE to the parks. When I was OVER the day it was great that it was only a 10 min drive to get to where we needed to be so I could SHOWER 😉 If you’re planning a Disney trip be sure to see our discounts for blog readers on renting our home!

what to expect at the caring for giants elephant tour at animal kingdom
how to handle a rainy day at disney's animal kingdom

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