Disney’s Animal Kingdom was the last park that Walt Disney Word Resort added to its repertoire. It is a theme park, zoo and safari park and has a strong emphasis on animal care and conservation. It is the largest animal themed park in the world at over 500 acres and features over 1700 animals from over 250 species.
Similar to Magic Kingdom, Disney’s Animal Kingdom has 7 distinct areas, all of which can be accessed from the hub in a centre – Discovery Island. Like a wheel, where this is the centre, it then has spokes out to all the other areas. Each area has a different focus.
Oasis is the first section you come to after you’ve been through the entrance gates. More than anything it serves as a passage way to get everyone to Discovery Island, where the park really starts. It does have a few animals though – there are a couple of ways to go, although they bring you out at the same place, and the displays on each side of these walk ways feature a Giant Anteater, birds and an exotic boar among others. At the very start of this area is a Rainforest Cafe. As you come out of Oasis and are about to cross the bridge into Discovery Island is your first photo opportunity – an amazing view of the Tree of Life.
This is the hub of the park – you’ll end up here several times during the day, unless you’re very disciplined in your park touring. The main feature of this the Tree of Life – also the symbol of the park. I can’t stress enough how impressive this artificial tree is. It is 145 foot tall and 50 foot wide and the trunk has 325 animals carved into it. You can’t help but be awed at the amount of care and attention must have gone into creating it. the main attractions in this area are:
- It’s Tough to be a Bug – located beneath the Tree of Life, this is (in my opinion) Walt Disney World’s best 3D movie attraction. Join Flik from ‘It’s a bug’s life’ to learn about different bugs in a really fun way. Keep a look out for various animals on the way down to the theatre and get a closer view of the Tree of Life. Make sure you have a read of the film posters in the waiting area too – they’re fun.
- Discovery trails – these are walkways that walk you round the base of the Tree of Life. They always seem quite quiet so I think are probably generally overlooked, but these are a great way of getting a closer look and some great photos of the tree.
The first land to the left of Discovery Island as you enter, this is probably Disney’s Animal Kingdom most wasted opportunity, as really, there is very little there. It was originally meant to be Beastly Kingdom – which was to be devoted to creatures from legends. However, due to costs, this kingdom was postponed (possibly indefinitely) and instead, Camp Minnie-Mickey was created. This however caused Disney to create one its best attractions, Festival of the Lion King. This is a show telling the story of the Lion King and featuring all the best songs from the movie. It is extremely popular and definitely worth a watch. Also in this area is the character trails – a number of characters are available for photos and autographs, usually dressed in their Safari clothes. These are separate ‘attractions’ though, meaning you queue up for each character separately. It is also outside so can be extremely hot whilst waiting.
The next land around the ‘wheel’ is Africa – which is as it sounds, African themed. It features animals form this continent and African themed merchandise. It has two major attractions:
- Kilimanjaro Safaris – this is really THE attraction of the park (along with Expedition Everest). You climb aboard a safari vehicle and are driven around the savanna at the back of the park where you can see numerous animals roaming freely. These include hippos, giraffes, elephants, lions and white rhinos among many others. The zebra photo to the right was taken from this ride. It is probably the closest you’ll get to going on a real safari without actually visiting Africa. Your tour guide will also take you on a ‘rescue mission’ which adds some fun to the ride. They don’t guarantee that you’ll see specific animals, as the animals are free roaming, but they obviously position food to attract them and the ride is such a way that you will almost always see everything. My tip though is to go early in the morning, or just before the park closes – the animals are more active than in the warmer parts of the day.
- Pangani Forest Exploration Trail. This is a walking tour through the ‘forest’ where you can see birds, gorillas and hippos. The gorillas are particularly impressive.
Rafiki’s Planet Watch
To get to this area, you have to take the train out to it, from Africa. This land is quite educational, and will teach you about conservation and animal habitats. It also has a petting station where you can get up close and personal to domesticated animals such as goats.
Surprisingly enough, this area features animals and merchandise from the Asia continent. You can access it from either Discovery Island, Africa or DinoLand USA. Major attractions are:
- Expedition Everest – The Legend of the Forbidden Mountain is the other big player in Animal Kingdom’s attractions. Try to avoid the yeti as you explore the Himalayas on this rollercoaster. It’s a really fun ride, and very popular.
- Kali River Rapids – a traditional rapids ride. This can definitely help you cool off in the hot Orlando weather, but be aware you’re very likely to get wet and if you’re unlucky, this can be head to toe soaked! I seem to sit in the wrong seat every time,
- Maharajah Jungle Trek is another walking style tour that lets you see more animals, including tigers.
- Flights of Wonder – this is a bird show. I can’t comment as I’ve never seen it – I’m petrified of birds so this is my worst nightmare.
DinoLand focuses on prehistoric animals – although really just dinosaurs! You can get to it via Discovery Island or from Asia. Here’s what it offers:
- Finding Nemo – the Musical. So having said this is DinoLand, this is the one attraction that has nothing to do with Dinosaurs! But I’m listing it first as it’s my favourite thing to do in this land. Located at the entrance to the land, as you enter from Asia this is a stage show that uses puppets, the dark and reflective clothing to tell the story of Nemo. It features some really lovely musics, that isn’t in the film and is generally a really nice show.
- DINOSAUR is a dark ride that takes you back in time to save a dinosaur. A little bit ‘Jurassic Park’, it would probably be too scary for little ones, but its a great ride and quite popular. It always makes me jump, even though I know what’s coming.
- Primeval whirl – this is a small coaster, but the seats spin you round as well as move forward – a bit like the tea cups but on a coaster. Its made to look old and a bit rickety, which just adds to the fear factor. I actually find this one of Disney’s scariest rides, but I’m fairly sure I’m pretty much alone in that!
- Triceratop Spin – ride in a flying dinosaur, ‘Dumbo’ ride styley’
- The Boneyard – a kiddies adventure playground
Disney’s Animal Kingdom also has a daily parade – Mickey’s Jammin Jungle Parade, which starts in Africa, goes around Discovery Island, through Asia and back to Africa again. It’s a nice parade to catch – lots of fun.
Disney stresses that the animals are a big priority at this park. For that reason, in addition to the normal park regulations you also can’t bring in or buy balloons, drink lids or straws, for the safety of their animals. Last time I was there Disney were using paper straws, but they felt horrible in your mouth so I’d suggest you avoid them! The lack of lids can be awkward for kids and their drinks, so plan in some stops rather than trying to drink on the go!
Disney’s Animal Kingdom also closes much earlier than the other parks – you wont find any night time activities and generally it shuts early evening, although times change. This is to give the animals and break and allow the keepers to do everything they need to to make sure they’re well looked after.