Animal Kingdom is a theme park, zoo and safari park, with a strong emphasis on animal care and conservation.
Disney’s Animal Kingdom was the last park that Walt Disney World Resort added to its repertoire. It is the largest animal-themed park in the world at over 500 acres and features over 1700 animals from over 250 species. A must for animal lovers, this is far from a zoo or safari park – conservation and animal programs are the backbone of the animal element of the park and their welfare is paramount – for instance balloons and plastic straws, usually a staple in Disney parks, are banned. In addition, you’ll find your more traditional theme park rides and roller coasters, as well as some incredible shows. Animal Kingdom is also where you’ll find Walt Disney World’s latest land – Pandora. Similar to the 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 – click the links below, or scroll down to find out more.
The Oasis in Disney’s Animal Kingdom
The Oasis is the first section you come to after you’ve been through the entrance gates. More than anything it serves as a passageway to get everyone to Discovery Island, where the park really starts. However it is far more than the various paths you can take to lead you there – it is lush, and beautiful, with a range of animals and plants on display, and it serves as a transition through to the main park, and into the Animal Kingdom theme and mindset. In the displays on each side of these walkways feature a Giant Anteater, birds and an exotic boar among others. 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.
Discovery Island at Disney’s Animal Kingdom
Discovery Island 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, and a truly impressive sight. It is 145 foot tall, 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 that 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 one of 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 lookout 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 around the base of the Tree of Life. Usually fairly quiet, they are generally overlooked, but these are a great way of getting a closer look and some great photos of the tree.
Africa at Disney’s Animal Kingdom
Africa features animals form this continent and African themed merchandise. It has two major attractions:
Kilimanjaro Safaris – this is one of the key attractions of the park – climb aboard a safari vehicle to be driven around the savanna at the back of the park where you can see numerous animals roaming freely. These include hippos, giraffes, elephants, lions, zebras and white rhinos among many others. It is probably the closest that you’ll get to going on a real safari without actually visiting Africa. 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. 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.
Festival of the Lion King is a live show, telling the story of the Lion King and featuring all of the best songs from the movie. It features acrobatic monkeys, aerial acrobatics, a fire eater, stilt walkers and some fantastic singers.
Rafiki’s Planet Watch
To get to Rafiki’s Planet Watch you take the Wildlife Express train from Africa to Conservation Station; the park’s working veterinary and conversation facility. It also has a petting station where you can get up close and personal to domesticated animals such as goats. This land is quite educational and will teach you about conservation and animal habitats. Exhibits here vary, very much dependent on whatever project is currently running, or work that the vets need to do, and this coupled with the train journey to and from the area, can make it a bit hit and miss.
Asia at Disney’s Animal Kingdom
Asia is accessed from either Discovery Island, Africa or DinoLand USA. The major attractions are:
Expedition Everest – The Legend of the Forbidden Mountain is one of the other big players in Animal Kingdom’s attractions. Try to avoid the yeti as you explore the Himalayas on this rollercoaster. It’s a really fun ride, with a few twists and turns, 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!
Maharajah Jungle Trek is another walking style tour that lets you see more animals, including tigers.
Flights of Wonder – a bird show featuring a number of species, focussing on their behaviour in the wild – not trained tricks.
DinoLand U.S.A at Disney’s Animal Kingdom
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. Having said that this is DinoLand, this is the one attraction that has nothing to do with dinosaurs. 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 music, that isn’t in the film and is a popular, fun 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 it’s a great ride and quite popular.
Primeval whirl – this is a small coaster, but the seats spin you round as well as move forward – a bit like the teacups but on a coaster. Its made to look old and a bit rickety, which just adds to the fear factor.
Triceratop Spin – ride in a flying dinosaur, ‘Dumbo’ ride style
The Boneyard – a kiddies adventure playground
Pandora – The World of Avatar at Disney’s Animal Kingdom
Pandora is Animal Kingdom’s newest land, which opened in 2017. It is said to be Disney’s most compelling and immersive development so far, with every detail thought through so you feel like you’ve stepped into the world of Pandora, from the Avatar films, including waterfalls and the famous floating mountain.
The biggest attraction here is Avatar Flight of Passage, a flight simulator that sees you flying on a Pandoran banshee. The technical and visual effects that accompany this attraction are state of the art and get you as close to feeling as if you are actually flying, without actually doing so, as is currently possible. Absolutely not to be missed, but as with any new attraction, queues are expected to be heavy, so FastPass it if you can.
Na’vi River Journey is a boat ride through night-time Pandora, viewing its wildlife in plant and animal form, with stunning visual effects.