Disney’s Animal Kingdom

Last weekend we made a trip to Disney’s Animal Kingdom. It was the first time in a few years I’d been there and I’d forgotten just what a wonderful place it is.

I can still remember the day the park opened back on April 22, 1998, as it was a year after I moved permanently to Florida. Animal Kingdom is the largest single Disney theme park in the world and covers more than 500 acres. It is the first Disney theme park to be themed entirely around animal conservation… a  philosophy once pioneered by Walt Disney himself.

The park is centered on the Tree of Life. The tree itself is a fascinating sculpted 14-story, 145-foot-tall, 50-foot-wide  tree, and is the icon of Disney’s Animal Kingdom theme park.  The Tree of Life has 325 animals carved into it’s bark and it’s a lot of fun trying to spot them all.

Animal Kingdom is made up of seven different areas. The Oasis is the park’s main entrance and features a number of animal habitats. Guests can encounter muntjacs, spoonbills, ducks, wallabies and giant anteaters in this area before moving on the main pathways through to Discovery Island and the Tree of Life.

The Rainforest Cafe  is also located at the entrance of the Oasis, although technically it is outside the park boundaries. Guests can dine at the restaurant without entering Disney’s Animal Kingdom, while guests entering the restaurant from within the theme park are actually exiting the park and must present their admission tickets to return to the park.

Apart from the Tree of Life, Discovery Island’s plays host to It’s Tough to be a Bug! It’s here you can find the comical 4-D movie  featuring appearances by Flik and Hopper from Disney·Pixar’s “A Bug’s Life.”

Moving clockwise around the park you come across Camp Minnie-Mickey. Camp Minnie-Mickey is themed as a rustic summer camp and it’s here that park guests get to meet the Disney characters such as Mickey Mouse, Minnie Mouse, Goofy and more. Located in the area’s main theatre is the Festival of the Lion King which is a live stage show featuring acrobatics and musical performances inspired by The Lion King.

Africa comes up next and the setting is the fictional east African village of Harambe.  According to Disney legend, Harambe was once part of a Dutch colony, but a peaceful revolution made Harambe self-governing in 1963. The area is home to the Kilimanjaro Safaris and guests get to climb aboard an open-sided safari vehicle for an expedition to see numerous African animals freely roam through acres of savanna, rivers and rocky hills. On the safari you may be lucky enough to see giraffes, hippos, African elephants and lions. On the adjacent Pangani Forest Exploration Trail visitors can trek into the forest and discover birds, fish and magnificent troupes of gorillas.

Rafiki’s Planet Watch is the one section of the park that is not connected to Discovery Island and the only way to get there is by boarding the Wildlife Express Train which will take you to explore Habitat Habit!, Conservation Station and Affection Section.   Habitat Habit!, is the place to see cottontop tamarins and learn about the efforts to protect these endangered primates in their natural homes. Conservation Station showcases the various conservation efforts supported by the Walt Disney Company and also gives a behind-the-scenes glimpse into Disney’s Animal Kingdom’s animal care facilities, including a veterinary examination room complete with a two-way communications system so the veterinary staff can answer guest questions. Outside, Affection Section is a petting zoo featuring goats, sheep and other domesticated animals.

Asia was opened in 1999 and was the first expansion area added to Disney’s Animal Kingdom. Like Africa, the section’s attractions are part of a fictional place, the kingdom of Anandapur (which means “Place of many delights”). Anandapur comprises two villages: the riverside village of Anandapur and Serka Zong, which is in the foothills of the Himalayan Mountains. Portraits of Anandapur’s royal family, the Maharajah and his wife, can be found in most of the businesses within the two villages, and a map of the kingdom, featuring both villages and their location relative to the mountains and river can be found on the wall of the Disney Vacation Club kiosk located there. Much like Harambe, Disney legend states that Anandapur is now a center of animal research and tourism. At the Caravan Stage, these two “worlds” meet in Flights of Wonder, a live bird show where one of Anandapur’s bird researchers educates a tour guide with a fear of birds about natural bird behaviors and the effects of habitat loss and conservation efforts on bird species, such as the Black Crowned Crane and American Bald Eagle.

The Maharajah Jungle Trek leads guests through the forests and ruins outside the village, which are home to a number of animal species, such as Komoda dragons, fruit bats, tapirs and tigers.  Nearby, Kali River Rapids is a short river rapids ride along the fictional Chakranadi River through a rainforest, past an illegal logging operation and down a waterfall. The ride is shorter than other river rapid rides at other theme parks but be warned, you will still get very very wet!

The Forbidden Mountain is the home of Expedition Everest – Legend of the Forbidden Mountain. Here you get to board a high speed train and zip through the Himalayas. You’ll need to be careful, not to mention wary, of coming across the fierce Yeti, a.k.a., the Abominable Snowman.

The final area is DinoLand USA, an area inspired by the public’s general curiosity about dinosaurs.  Like the other sections of Disney’s Animal Kingdom, there are animals on display as well as information about the creatures that walked the earth before us.

You can also see species like the American Crocodile and the Asian brown tortoise both having evolutionary links to the age of the dinosaurs. At the edge of DinoLand U.S.A. is the “Theater in the Wild,” which hosts Finding Nemo – The Musical which is  a fabulous live-action musical stage show based on the story of the Disney·Pixar movie.

The Dino Institute is the home of DINOSAUR , a thrill ride featuring a trip through time to the late Cretaceous Period.  Just outside the Institute is “Dino-Sue”, a casting of a Tyrannosaurus rex  fossil and nearby is the Boneyard where kids can enjoy a multi-leveled playground area.

Also located in DinoLand USA is the Tricera Top Spin which  is a colorful ride for families, while the Primeval Whirl is a spinning roller coaster for thrill-seekers. There are also carnival games  and gift shops and another chance to meet some of the Disney characters.

Animal Kingdom is a great park and place to have fun. Make sure you visit it on your next Orlando trip…meanwhile here’s a video I created so whet your appetite…

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