Park: Animal Kingdom
at: Disney World
Animal Kingdom is the fourth park at Disney World. And, in one
of those funny incidents of timing, we found ourselves there when
the park was celebrating Earth Day as well as its fifteenth anniversary.
side thought… the length of time between the opening of the Animal
Kingdom and today is the longest stretch Disney has gone without
adding a theme park to the Orlando property. Mind you… I don’t
expect a fifth park any time soon… there is the Fantasyland expansion
wrapping up, the Avatar expansion kicking off, and lots of whispers
of other options for existing Disney World parks. There are questions
and rumors and limits about what Universal Studios using Marvel
characters and themes at Islands of Adventure means to Disney
(the owners of Marvel). There are all sorts of possibilities from
Star Wars and LucasFilm. Plus, expansion and new parks are happening
in other corners of the United States and overseas. Long story
a bit shorter… Disney would also love to see you to spend a week-plus
at Disneyland, the Tokyo Disney Resort, Disneyland Paris, and
Hong Kong Disneyland. They are working in Shanghai. So… while
they want you to return again and again to Disney World… and there
almost definitely will someday be another park (or more) in Disney
World… don’t look for it to happen or be announced soon. And yet…
2021 is closing in. Disney World’s 50th anniversary. And by then
many of the efforts in existing parks will be complete and operating.
It may not be soon… but it may not be that long either.)
Kingdom is the park Terry and I have been away from the longest…
our last visit here was part of the November 2005 family trip.
And… in a few ways… it is the one that has changed the least over
that isn’t completely true… since back in 2005 Expedition Everest
was nearing completion and not yet open. The grand opening of
that attraction was held in April of 2006, with previews beginning
in January of that year. So we got pictures of the mountain, but
had never been inside until this trip. And Expedition Everest
is a significant part of the Animal Kingdom.
than Expedition Everest though, it would be a challenge to take
a map from 2005 and a map from 2013 and find many differences.
The new Fantasyland (Magic Kingdom), Test Track renovations and
return of Captain Eo (Epcot), and the addition of Toy Story Midway
Mania! (Hollywood Studios) have been part of updates and upgrades
around Disney World… while Animal Kingdom has remained very consistent
over the past 8 years.
if you want to get into debates that range item by item, attraction
by attraction, in order to defend the Animal Kingdom, then let’s
think outside the attractions-dining-retail foundation and consider
the animals and holidays. While decorated and gorgeous for special
times of the year, there are no truly late hours in this park
or show-stopping attractions. (And rightly so… as one of the reasons
I’ve often seen cited is that something like a fireworks extravaganza
would disturb the live animals.) There is no Halloween or Christmas
party, Candlelight Processional, or Osborne Family Spectacle of
Kingdom is today… as it has been pretty much since the gates opened…
the largest and the smallest Disney World theme park.
is going to change… in an incredibly significant way. The announced
plans for an Avatar-themed section is causing the big news right
now for the Animal Kingdom, and Disney World. The additions from
this project appear headed in a direction that will transform
this park… in perception and reality.
that’s good… because honestly, even at a slow pace you can hit
all of the major attractions very quickly in this park. They can
tell you it’s the biggest park at Disney all they want… it’s a
false claim based on sheer size and not content. This park is
great and fun… and it also needs more.
while I know some people love it… to me, a portion of DinoLand
U.S.A. (specifically around the Primeval Whirl and TriceraTop
Spin) is the most un-Disney-like place in all of Disney World.
It’s more carnival midway than land of dreams and imagination.
I really view it as something thrown together to add a few rides
and distractions in the park. I see none of the magic, none of
the attention to detail that usually is at the foundation of Disney
we went on:
Pangani Forest Exploration Trail
It’s Tough to be a Bug!
Maharajah Jungle Trek
Nemo – The Musical
Mickey’s Jammin’ Jungle Parade
Festival of the Lion King
we ate… or food we enjoyed:
best of the best: I do wish that the Yeti in Expedition
Everest was operational. Apparently there is some major structural
problem that has prevented full operation for four years that
can only be repaired during a major refurbishment of the ride
because of the extent of the work involved. And that’s a shame.
That said… very good ride and a well-designed attraction. Thrilled
I finally had a chance to experience it.
had an awesome driver for Kilimajaro Safaris, and I want to name
that as one of the best features of this visit. Funny… personable…
and always smiling or laughing.
I want to give a nod to the Restaurantosaurus here. Ok… look…
the food there was good. Nothing more. Chicken and burgers and
fries. Basic stuff. But in several visits to the park, I have
found their location always seems to match up perfectly with the
timing of our visit to the Dinosaur attraction, the desire to
eat, and a menu that seems to have everyone saying they can find
something they’ll be happy eating. And, they always seem to have
something more going on that other dining locations either don’t
offer or can’t top.
off… a full condiment bar. (Not too uncommon, as Disney offers
a wide range of toppings for sandwiches and such in all of the
second… free refills. I pulled aside a manager because we had
a couple of people that bought commemorative refillable mugs.
I wanted to know… since there was a beverage station in this place
on the main floor near the toppings bar and not just behind the
counter, what beverages could and could not be refilled. He told
me any drink could be refilled, but the special for the mug was
that you could return to Restaurantosaurus with that mug later
on, and pretty much even on a different day, and get refills with
it. According to him, he didn’t know of any other place at Disney
that offered such an option.
I’m not planning on multiple days in the Animal Kingdom during
the same visit. In fact, once I’ve left the area, I’m not even
planning to head over to Restaurantosaurus from other parts of
the park during a visit on the same day just to refill the mug.
Heck, they probably know you wouldn’t go running from Africa over
to DinoLand just for a refill, which is why they offer it… they
know you honestly won’t use it. But the idea that you could
do it is pretty cool and a neat feature. I have seen similar ideas
in the resorts and water parks at Disney. Did not find it at any
other theme park during this visit.
really need to know (and other observations): We arrived
at the Animal Kingdom a few minutes after 9am and made the decision
to head straight to Kilimanjaro Safaris. The reasons were the
old reliable concepts: (1) When it comes to this ride, I have
been told the animals are more active in the mornings, either
out of hunger, because of the fresh energy of a new day, or simply
because the afternoon sun presents the strongest heat and reason
to be less active. (2) It is a popular ride, and as such the line
can get longer as the day moves along and, regardless of how you
use them, the longer you wait to get a FASTPASS the later your
time slot will be.
finished Kilimanjaro by walking the Pangani Trail. From there
it was over to Expedition Everest, where the FASTPASS was actually
being issued for about thirty to forty minutes away while the
ride wait was around 20, so we decided to just stay in line.
finished our day with Finding Nemo, the Jungle Parade, and Lion
did we not do? I already told you I am not feeling Disney at the
Primeval Whirl or TriceraTop Spin… and yes, we skipped those.
But realistically there are only two attractions you could argue
that we missed… the Kali River Rapids and the Wildlife Express
had talked, and not one of us was interested in getting wet on
the Kali River Rapids. It was a unanimous group vote.
Wildlife Express Train is also connected to the Habitat Habit!,
Conservation Station and Affection Section. These are all fine
areas and I have no problems with them at all. However, my main
interest for seeing animals in the Disney park comes from -- if
not along the Kilimajaro Safaris -- the gorillas and hippos in
Pangani or the tigers and komodo dragon along Maharajah.
than that we missed nothing. I didn’t list them, but we saw The
Oasis Exhibits during our arrival and exit from the park… we walked
through the Discovery Island Trails while at the Tree of Life
for It’s Tough to be a Bug!. So other than the rapids and train,
the only thing… and I mean the only thing… would be The
Boneyard or Fossil Fun Games.
few moments ago, I said this area was (my words): “It’s more carnival
midway than land of dreams and imagination.” And now, I quote
the Fossil Fun Games description: “Play carnival-style games in
the heart of DinoLand U.S.A.” (Let’s move on.)
so, all aspects covered, I repeat -- Kali River Rapids... fun
ride, great ride, and I would say do it if you want to, as I have
in the past (and hope to again) -- Wildlife Express Train… nice
area (looking forward to a future visit) -- we missed nothing.
Nemo show we attended was at 3pm. We walked from Dinosaur over
to the Maharajah Jungle Trek because it wasn’t yet 2pm and we
had plenty of time before the next Nemo show.
point I’m trying to make is simple… you can see everything in
this park as it exists right now in less than a full day with
no problem at all. Maybe not every-little-specific-thing. There
are almost definitely treasures to be found, details to be appreciated,
and fun we missed. Still, when you consider our stop for lunch,
that we moved at a very leisurely pace, and never used a FASTPASS,
I think you could conservatively say that we covered everything
other than one ride (Kali River Rapids) and caught all of the
shows (Nemo, Lion King and parade) in just about five hours. We
were there for more than that, but the rest of our day was based
around investing some time until the next show started, stopping
by Guest Relations, and a few other details.
I said, you will hear that Animal Kingdom is the biggest Disney
theme park. It is. It has animals and a lots of acreage used for
those animals. But when you say “biggest” you cannot confuse that
with what that park contains. In many ways, the Animal Kingdom
is the smallest Disney World theme park.
unexpected fun we had (or special moments we experienced):
For our trip, this was the first park we entered. That made it
the first Disney theme park Kim had ever visited. There were no
real surprises with the content in this park -- though as I noted,
when Avatar arrives, that will change. But… because it was her
were giving out special pins for the park’s anniversary. And that
reminded me to check on the pins that Disney makes available for
birthdays, anniversaries, and… yup… first visits.
is the park where we stopped at Guest Relations and got the pin
praise (or complaints): Ok… I just spent some time talking
about the number of attractions, the un-Disney-like zone in DinoLand,
and how the park can be covered by the ambitious… from a to z
(or at least a to w)… before lunch.
still a pretty great place and should not be dismissed.
Everest is a fantastic ride. It’s Tough to be a Bug! holds up
surprisingly well. And I think that -- when you are talking about
the shows offered multiple times during the day… and not something
of a park-closing-event stature such as Fantasmic!...
the Festival of the Lion King is arguably the best in-park live
show and the only one worth marking with do-not-miss status.
enjoyed being back in the Animal Kingdom park on this trip to
a ribbon on the day: Our visit suffered from only one
thing… the times for the shows.
each of the other parks, there is at least one reason to be thinking
FASTPASS. Here, while I’m sure it is worth it… especially on the
busiest of days… we did better without it. The ride waits were
so short that it would have taken us longer to leave and walk
back than to wait in line.
end result is that, from our perspective, moving from point-to-point
could have a bit of an order to it. That doesn’t work as far as
navigating lines. Pathways here (and to a degree in Hollywood
Studios) are not as obvious as they are in the Magic Kingdom and
Epcot. But if you wanted to follow Kilimanjaro with Everest and
then head off to the Tree of Life… that worked.
was in the afternoon, with shows (Nemo and Lion King) on opposite
sides of the park, that we found ourselves staring at the map
and the times guide, trying to make some sense out of the best
places to move and when.
Animal Kingdom is where you will be thinking about shows and parades,
and likely more than you will be at any other park. Worth keeping
that in mind from the moment you first enter the grounds and pick
up a map.