Disney's Animal Kingdom
Welcome to a kingdom of animals… real, ancient and imagined: a kingdom ruled by lions, dinosaurs and dragons; a kingdom of balance, harmony and survival; a kingdom we enter to share in the wonder, gaze at the beauty, thrill at the drama, and learn.
These words were spoken by Disney CEO Michael D Eisner when Animal Kingdom, Disney’s largest park, and at a cost of nearly $1 billion, the most expensive, officially opened on April 22, 1998. Nowadays, more than 10 million people visit this 500 acre attraction each year, the first Disney park to be themed entirely around animal conservation.
Animal Kingdom, which contains 1700 animals across 250 different species, is divided into seven themed areas; Oasis, Discovery Island, Africa, Rafiki's Planet Watch, Asia, DinoLand U.S.A. and Pandora: The Land of Avatar.
… Pandora: The World of Avatar
Discover this magical land at Disney’s Animal Kingdom and watch the extraordinary blockbuster come to life as you become immersed in the world of Avatar. It’s an experience unlike any other and you don't need to be an Avatar fan to appreciate the revolutionary attractions here. The land also features two rides including the 3D ride Avatar Flight of Passage and a relaxing indoor boat ride on the Na'vi River Journey.
Pandora is filled with unforgettable expeditions, floating mountains, winged creatures you can fly, rivers that glow, an illuminating forest and more. It's a cinematic experience you won’t want to miss!
Oasis is the park's main entrance and this is where you can wander through the lush tropical landscape full of plants and trees, as well as seeing a small waterfall and pond that is home to brightly coloured flamingos. Further viewing points in this area will allow you to spot exotic creatures such as giant anteaters, two-toed sloths, wallabies, tree kangaroos, a breed of wild pig called babirusa. African spoonbills, a bizarre looking bird that many people confuse with flamingos, can also be found in this area.
… Discovery Island
Discovery Island is next as you follow the path out of Oasis and this is the central hub of the park linking most other sections. This is where you will see the iconic Tree of Life. This artificial structure stands 145ft (44m) tall and 50ft (15m) wide and has 325 creatures hand-carved into its trunk. Trails and animal enclosures around the tree showcase lots of different exotic birds and other creatures. Souvenir hunters should head for one of the park's largest gift shops Island Mercantile or, if it’s clothing that is required, Disney Outfitters.
Inside the base of the Tree of Life is the theatre that shows It's Tough to be a Bug, a comical 8 minute 4D film featuring special effects and characters from A Bug's Life.
Head to the Africa area by crossing a bridge over the Discovery River and enter the village of Harambe (Swahili for 'come together'), which, according to Disney legend, was once part of a colony until a peaceful revolution made it self-governing. Today the village is the namesake of the Harambe Wildlife Preserve, the fictional home of Kilimanjaro Safaris. Guests climb aboard an open-sided safari truck to see African animals roam through 100 acres (40ha) of savanna, muddy creeks and rocky hills that can be full of bumps and jolts.
Get your cameras ready to snap away at the 34 different species of birds and animals that your tour guide will point out to you including cheetahs, elephants, giraffes, springboks and rhinos. The ride lasts for almost 20 minutes and is a very popular attraction so we suggest arriving at the park either first thing in the morning, when the animals are most active, or get a FastPass to enjoy the experience.
Following on from your safari you should head for the Pengani Forest Exploration Trail where you come across the family of silverback gorillas on your trek into the 5 acre forest as well as monkeys, hippos, meerkats, tarantulas and an aviary full of exotic free-flying African birds. This walk-through tour is designed to inform and entertain you at your own pace. Along the trek you will enter a 'field hut' that displays nests, bones and other interesting exhibits including a colony of naked mole rats. Experts are available along the route to answer any questions you might have about any of the creatures you spot.
The most popular live show at Animal Kingdom is Festival of the Lion King, a 30 minute production where you will hear some of The Lion King's most popular music performed on stage. Trampoline acrobatics, beautiful headdresses, stilt walkers and live costumed characters are all introduced on enormous moving stages. Although 1500 guests at a time can see the show, it is advisable to use a FastPass here at busy times.
The Asia area, again reached by a bridge crossing the Discovery River, was the first expansion area added to Animal Kingdom, first opening in 1999. Here visitors can roam around the kingdom of Anandapur, meaning 'place of many delights', which comprises of a riverside village and Serkas Zong, a village in the foothills of the 'Himalayas'. Attractions and shows in this area include Up! A Great Bird Adventure, a 25-minute live bird show in a shaded theatre, where Russell and Dug tell the story of natural bird behaviour, the effects of habitat loss and conservation efforts on birds.
If you still have enough energy left, then why not meander through the self-guided Maharajah Jungle Trek of Southeast Asia with its rainforest-like surroundings. An old hunting lodge and palace ruins now serve as home to lots of exotic animals including tapirs, tigers, bats and even a Komodo dragon hiding in a rocky pit area by a rushing waterfall. As you begin the tour, make sure you pick up a brochure that describes the wildlife you are about to encounter and gives some helpful viewing tips for you as well.
The Kali River Rapids allows riders to travel for 3 1/2 minutes along the turbulent Chakranadi River on a 12-passenger raft. You will get wet, you might even get soaked, as you glide up a 90ft (25m) knoll before skimming across an erupting geyser. The journey continues gently bobbing up and down beneath a lush canopy of vegetation and passing waterfalls before plummeting down a dramatic slope. Beware also the elephant-themed squirters positioned strategically on a bridge so that non-riding members of the family can drench you as you pass by.
Perhaps the most iconic attraction in this section is the incredible 200ft (60m) high Expedition Everest - Legend of the Forbidden Mountain ride. This very 'family friendly' 3 minute ride takes guests aboard an old mountain railway destined for Mount Everest, passing through bamboo forests, waterfalls and glacier fields. The excitment starts when the train tracks end in a twisted wreck of metal, and the train hurtles backwards through the darkness. A face-to-face encounter with the mythical yeti that is guarding the mountain, brings the ride to its dramatic conclusion.
… DinoLand U.S.A.
The last area to visit is DinoLand U.S.A. which you enter under a 50ft (15m) tall skeleton of a brachiosaurus that spans the Oldengate Bridge. Inspired by the public's curiosity about dinosaurs, the fictitious Dino Institute where 'the future is truly in the past', attracts fans of these long-extinct creatures and is home to Dinosaur, formerly known as Countdown to Extinction. Guests board the 12-seat Time Rovers and begin their exciting time travel journey to the past. The 3 1/2 minute moving simulator ride, bounces and jerks in the dark to help save a dinosaur from extinction.
Riders will experience some terrific special effects designed to stimulate all your senses, which may be too intense for the faint-hearted or very young - the ride is very dark, loud and can be quite scary.
With lights flashing and bells ringing, Chester & Hester's Dino-Rama, a mini park within a park, pays homage to the many roadside attractions that were once popular across the USA and is great fun for all the family, with carnival games such as Comet Crasher, Dino-Whamma, Fossil Fueler, Mammoth Marathon and lots more games with equally bizarre names. Animals on display in this area, such as crocodiles and tortoises all have evolutionary links to the dinosaur era.