Disney’s Animal Kingdom
While the other Disney theme parks host a healthy collection of fish, birds, and other examples of nature, Disney’s Animal Kingdom practically overflows with life and nature in all its forms. Quixotically, it is both the largest of the theme parks – five times the size of Magic Kingdom – and yet the easiest to cover, since a large portion of that extra space is accessible only by safari tour. Children and adults find great delight in the never-ending array of animals and exotic landscapes and architecture, both real and mythical, but teens and other thrill seekers have tended to find the rides too few and far-between for their tastes. To make the park a more enticing prospect for this group of visitors, it now features an exciting new attraction, Expedition Everest – opened in 2006. A thrilling highspeed train adventure, set in a reproduction of the mighty Himalayas, it offers thrills galore.
TACKLING THE PARK
The park is divided into seven Lands: The Oasis, Discovery Island, Dinoland USA, Camp Minnie-Mickey, Africa, Asia, and Rafiki’s Planet Watch. Navigation within the park is quite different from other parks. When you first pass through the turnstiles, you enter The Oasis – a foliage-festooned area offering several routes to the park’s central hub, Safari Village. The Oasis contains many little surprises, most of which are missed by visitors who race through to reach the attractions. Time spent waiting quietly at the various habitats will be well-rewarded.
The park has a strong emphasis on leisurely walks – with dozens of semi-hidden nature paths and byways filled with scenic views – and shows rather than rides, but the rides Animal Kingdom does have are all outstanding and get very crowded.
There’s plenty for young children to enjoy as well, with three areas of the park more or less dedicated to the little ones. If you love animals or are interested in conservation issues, this park is a heaven on earth, but time is needed to really absorb the experience – this is not a place for hurried tourists seeking quick excitement.
Keep your camera charged and loaded – you’ll want to take lots of stunning pictures.
Entered through the village of Harambe, Africa is the largest of the Lands. The architecture is closely modelled on a Kenyan village and conceals Disney cleanliness behind a façade of simple, run-down buildings and wobbly telegraph poles.
The Kilimanjaro Safaris® is the park’s busiest attraction, though it gets quieter in the afternoon. Guests board open sided trucks driven into an astonishing replica of the East African landscape. During this 20-minute drive over mud holes and creaking bridges you have the opportunity to see many African animals including hippos, rhinos, lions, and elephants, all roaming apparently free and undisturbed. It isn’t unusual for a white rhino to get close enough to sniff the truck. Affording an excellent opportunity to see gorillas close up, the Pangani Forest Exploration Trail® leads visitors into a world of streams and splashing waterfalls. It can get rather congested with guests exiting the safaris. The trail gets less busy in the late afternoon and you can actually spend some time watching the animals. The pleasant Wildlife Express, a re-creation of the African train system, takes you to Rafiki’s Planet Watch, which features two educational programs, Conservation Station and Habitat Habit, and Affection Section, a shaded petting yard.
This land features gibbons, exotic birds, and tigers set in a re-creation of post-Colonial Indian ruins. Kali River Rapids® offers you a chance to get completely drenched. This short ride presents some of the most striking and detailed surroundings in the park, which you may miss as yet another wave saturates the parts still merely damp. Tapirs, Komodo dragons, and giant fruit bats can be found on the Maharaja Jungle Trek, the climax of which is undoubtedly the magnificent Bengal tiger roaming the palace ruins. Through glazed walled sections of the palace, you can get within arm’s length of the tigers.
A campy, funny show with an unexpected amount of thrills, the Flights of Wonder showcases exceedingly beautiful birds demonstrating natural behavior with polished trainers and a clever “story.” Be aware that the birds fly extremely low and so graze the tops of the audience’s heads, but ducking down just causes the birds to fly even lower.
Opened in 2006, Expedition Everest - Legend of the Forbidden Mountain involves a high-speed train bound for Mount Everest, which takes passengers on a daring ride over rugged terrain and along icy slopes and contains both roller coaster thrills and yeti mystique.
EATING & DRINKING
Disney’s Animal Kingdom has only one full-service restaurant, the Rainforest Café near the entrance of the park, so reservations are a must. Character dining takes place at the amusing Restaurantosaurus, an all-you-can-eat buffet. Restaurantosaurus also features a full McDonald’s.
On opposite sides of Discovery Island are Pizzafari and the Flame Tree Barbecue lunch restaurants, while Africa boasts the Tusker House Restaurant. Asia offers only snack stands which are also located throughout the other areas of the park. Feeding the animals or throwing coins in the water supplies is strongly discouraged.
• Upon entering the park, ignore The Tree of Life for now and head directly to the back of the park in order to get a Fastpass for the safaris, as they are often gone by early afternoon.
• Don’t overlook the Oasis Exhibits in your rush to get to the rides and shows – children will be enthralled by being so close to the animals, and there’s plenty of educational opportunity both here and in the DinoLand USA portion of the park.
• Too many tourists ignore the trails and treks throughout the park, but they are essential to a full enjoyment of Animal Kingdom and an integral part of the design philosophy of the creators. In addition to being well-stocked with wildlife, the vistas and greenery are amazingly beautiful and make for great photography.
• The dinosaur bones of Dino- Sue and inside the DINOSAUR ride are painstakingly exact replicas of real dinosaurs excavated in South Dakota, and the waiting room of the DINOSAUR ride is a wonderfully detailed simulation of the layers of the earth’s crust.
TOP 10 ATTRACTIONS
1 KILIMANJARO SAFARIS
2FESTIVAL OF THE LION KING
3 IT’S TOUGH TO BE A BUG
4 KALI RIVER RAPIDS
6 FINDING NEMO – THE MUSICAL
7 FLIGHTS OF WONDER
8 PRIMEVAL WHIRL
9 TRICERATOP SPIN
10 EXPEDITION EVEREST – LEGEND OF THE FORBIDDEN MOUNTAIN