12-Year-Old Lily Erlinger's Account of Her Trip to Disney's Animal Kingdom and Its New Lodge

Going to Disney's Animal Kingdom and its new lodge with my parents and sisters sounded like a great privilege, but there was a hitch: I had to work. My father is a photographer, you see, and he needed my twin sisters and mother and me to be his models for a Travel + Leisure Family fashion story (check it out in the fall/winter 2001 issue). I love to write, so while we were on the trip I kept a travel diary to share with friends at home in Miami. Word about my journal got out, thanks to my parents, of course. Now guess what's happening?My story is being published (or, at least, posted)! Here it is:

Day 1

6 A.M.: Rise and shine: we're going to Disney. Bags are packed and we're ready to roll. We have the long journey from Miami to Orlando ahead of us.

8:45 A.M.: Oh, no, another two hours in the car. My hands are sticky from the cinnamon buns that we got at the gas station. Will I ever regain full use of my legs?

10:30 A.M.: We're here! Time to check in and meet the guide who will take us through the park. Our team for the fashion shoot (my father—the photographer—and my mother; my seven-year-old twin sisters, Ivy and May; me; and a boy named Matt, who was hired to be our "brother" in the pictures) get to do special things for the sake of the pictures—like sneak in before the park opens. I can't wait!

We go up to the room and . . . Wow! This suite is big. It even has bunk beds. I call, "Top!" There's a savanna in the hotel's backyard. My mom gave us binoculars for the shoot, but we can put them to good use now. I see giraffes and zebras and gazelles. Look! One of the rhinos has a baby!

I wish I could check out the lodge's activities for kids (I saw a poster for a treasure hunt down in the lobby); unfortunately, I have to study for my finals (Spanish, English, social studies, math, and science). It's so exciting here—I can hardly pay attention to my work.

7:10 P.M.: Boy, am I stuffed. I have never eaten so much in my life. We went to the lodge's buffet-style restaurant, which has some original African recipes, but my favorite dish was the macaroni and cheese with Mickey Mouse–shaped pasta. Well, actually, my favorite part was the desserts. I took a little of everything—tiramisù, brownies, passion-fruit meringue.

Now I just want to relax. My sisters are watching a cartoon in our room, Mum and Dad are watching the news in their room, and I am watching Lizzie McGuire on the Disney Channel in the "living room." Wait—that is one, two, three TV's!

8:34 P.M.: Zzzzzz . . .

Day 2

6:30 A.M.: The twins are awake and bouncing off the walls (as usual). I have to get up and get ready. There's almost no time to eat. We have to beat the crowds to Animal Kingdom.

7:30 A.M.: In the lobby we meet up with Matt, who is nice but a bit shy. He won't smile. Matt looks a lot like the rest of us—blond hair, blue eyes—and when we all walk out of the hotel we must look like one big family.

8 A.M.: We just entered the park through a back way that only the media and Disney staff can use.

This place is amazing, even aside from all the rides, shows, and attractions. It's divided into six sections: Asia, Africa, Camp Minnie-Mickey(for the little ones), Dinoland U.S.A., and Discovery Island. My mom is in heaven. She's been on safari in Kenya and says in a single day you actually get to see far more animals here, in Orlando.

1 P.M.: Whew! The morning went by fast. On the Kali River Rapids we had a raft all to ourselves. May was a bit scared—she didn't want to get wet or do the final drop—but I liked it. I stayed dry because of my poncho, but the others were absolutely soaked. Thank goodness the cameras didn't get wet. Now we're going to change into different outfits and have lunch.

1:40 P.M.: Now we're back at the park. We were really hot, so we bought ice cream from one of the little trolleys. Whenever you're modeling, you have to wear the opposite season's clothing. You either freeze or boil.

8:55 P.M.: I'm about to drop into bed, exhausted. But I'll probably have trouble falling asleep, because I'm so excited about what we're going to do tomorrow.

Day 3

6:01 A.M.: We're up so early because we're going to be allowed into the park before all the other tourists. We're heading for the safari ride in the Africa section.

6:30 A.M.: On the way to the ride we spot a Hidden Mickey, outlined in pebbles on the ground; it's one of the Mickey Mouses (heads, profiles, full bodies) that are placed here and there throughout the park. The fun is to try and find them.

The guide tells us a story about Big Red and Little Red, two elephants that are being chased by poachers. We have to help save them by catching the poachers.

Everything here looks so real. The lions, elephants, and zebras are real, of course, but the mud we're driving through is actually cement. Disney uses all sorts of tricks to get the animals to go where people will be able to see them. (I heard that the rocks most visible to the passengers in the safari jeep are made of a special material that stays cool to attract the lions.) The fences that keep the animals in are so well hidden you can barely see them.

8 A.M.: We took the safari ride twice, for the sake of the pictures, but finally we had to get off. This day is a bit more relaxed because we fit in so many shots yesterday. I'm wearing my favorite outfit: a safari shirt and beige capris with an army belt and a canteen. Hooray for short sleeves!

12:30 P.M.: Mom, the twins, and I are going back for lunch and to change. While Dad does some detail shots at Animal Kingdom, we'll watch the giraffes being fed at the hotel.

2 P.M.: Dad is now taking pictures of tuna teriyaki, and snapper wrapped in banana leaves, at the hotel's fancy restaurant, Jiko—The Cooking Place. We're going to our room to put on pajamas, then up to the presidential suite for more pictures.

2:15 P.M.: The presidential suite is magnificent! It's so big it could be someone's full-time apartment. The view is great—you can see almost all the animals. We got to jump on the bed, and I gave Dad the idea for a pillow-fight picture.

2:35 P.M.: We have to take a few more shots in the park, so back we go. Ivy is being photographed with Blessing, a member of the Disney staff, who is from Zimbabwe. All of the Animal Kingdom staff members come from the countries their sections of the park represent, which shows, I think, how authentic Disney really is.

2:55 P.M.: It's Tough to Be a Bug! is a fabulous movie. It has 3-D animation and all sorts of special effects: fog, rain, bug spray, bug stink, black widow spiders dropping from the ceiling (not real ones), and tiny creatures bumping into your legs. So much fun. After it ended, we waited until everyone cleared out and then put on our "bug eyes," which are 3-D glasses, and posed underneath the Tree of Life. This is a huge, man-made tree with all the animals in the park carved into it. It even has a Hidden Mickey, made out of moss, that our guide pointed out.

3:19 P.M.: We just saw the Festival of the Lion King, a musical circus (but without real animals). My favorite part was when the "birds" (humans dressed in costumes) fly to the music "Can You Feel the Love Tonight?" The acrobat monkeys and the fire-breather are also good. Ivy and May were picked to go up onstage and make some music with the "animals."

4 P.M.: Mom and I went on the Dinosaur ride, which takes you—in the dark—into prehistoric times. Other than the water rapids, this ride is the only amusement-park–style attraction at Animal Kingdom. Sometimes dinosaurs just appear and frighten you half to death. Your mission is to capture a special herbivorous dinosaur while being chased by a carnivorous one. It's thrilling.

4:20 P.M.: So hot. Ivy and May are still modeling for photographs. I'm tired and want to go home.

4:50 P.M.: I got my wish, but I'm not so happy: I like Disney and now we have to leave. Four hours back to Miami. I'm exhausted after so much excitement, but hope to come back soon. Now it's time to get sticky again from cinnamon buns!