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One of the most commonly discussed topics in the Disney community is Disney’s Animal Kingdom and if it holds a candle to the other Disney theme parks. It seems that people tend to have a love/hate relationship with Animal Kingdom and to be honest, I can see why. After all, there are only seven actual rides in the park if you’re not including shows and walk-through exhibits. To some guests, it might be a let down after experiencing an attraction packed park like Magic Kingdom. Other reasons that Animal Kingdom’s quality is often questioned are the size of the park which leads to extensive walking at times, Expedition Everest‘s semi-defunct Yeti, and the eyesore that is DinoLand U.S.A. All of that being said, I think that there are many overlooked reasons to value Animal Kingdom.
Animal Kingdom opened in April of 1998 with the concept of a theme park that focuses on animal and nature conservation but doesn’t emulate the typical zoo. At 500 acres, Animal Kingdom is easily Disney World’s largest park on property. Within that space there are over 1000 animals to discover and learn about.
A month ago, I was on a totally rad solo trip (the first of many to come) and on my first full day at Disney World, I headed to Animal Kingdom to see if I could approach this beautiful theme park in a new way. I was one of those “Animal Kingdom is a half day park” kind of people. On previous trips, I would ride a couple of attractions, see Finding Nemo: The Musical, and leave the park. After talking to a few of my Disney fanatic friends, I discovered that not everyone does it that way. In fact, there are many people who spend more time at Animal Kingdom than any other park. Surprisingly, with just one attempt at a new approach to the park, I found myself appreciating it in a whole new way.
If you want to take my advice and challenge yourself to see Animal Kingdom from a different perspective, start by forgetting that there are attractions in the park at all for the first hour after park opening. I know you diligent Touring Plans users are gasping right now, but you have to trust me. Take your time to observe the animals living in The Oasis right away and let other guests run right by you.
Stroll over to Royal Anandapur Tea Company and grab yourself a coffee, tea, or if you’re feeling particularly naughty…a pastry. Begin investigating the exquisite details that go into each of the themed lands. I’m a pretty artsy fartsy person so I really found myself appreciating everything. Try to get camera happy at Animal Kingdom. You don’t have to have a big fancy camera do to this either. I took a lot of time to photograph buildings, doors, windows, pavement, and even little “props” that are placed strategically to enhance theming. Think about it: during the development of Animal Kingdom, creative minds went so far to pick out artistic elements that enhances your touring experience and truly makes you feel submersed in your environment. If you’re just blowing past it all, you’re missing out on so much hard work that deserves to be valued.
I truly believe that Animal Kingdom has some of the most awesome and unique shopping in all of Walt Disney World. While many stores in the other theme parks sell many of the same things, shops in Animal Kingdom tend to sell more “non-Disney” logo merchandise. Ladies, you can find some really stylish accessories at a fair price.
In my opinion, Animal Kingdom has some of the best shows on Disney property. I think they all far surpass the Broadway-centric Hollywood Studios. On my solo trip, I finally saw the bird show, Flights of Wonder. I was amazed! The whole show was so well put together and turned out to be educational and comedic all at the same time. At the end, I sat in the front row holding back tears. Clearly I’m too sentimental at times. Try and take the time out of your day and catch at least a couple of the fantastic shows available to you.
On top of the spotlighted shows, Animal Kingdom has without a doubt the most unique street performances in any Disney park. Divine, a stunningly beautiful camouflaged stilt walker, is something like you’ve never seen before. You can find her on the pathway between Africa and Asia. See the Tip Board in Discovery Island for her schedule to make sure you don’t miss her. I’m also a huge fan of Tam Tam of Congo, a group of dancers who perform authentic African dances set to music. They even pull in guests to join in on the fun! It’s a riot to watch or participate in. Speaking of street performances, every afternoon Mickey’s Jammin’ Jungle Parade goes through the streets of Animal Kingdom. The whimsical parade doesn’t use typical floats. You’ll see cast members control a unique contraption by peddling on a bike and moving a handle which makes an attached bird open and close its wings. Beloved Disney characters go by waving on safari vehicles, enticing you to jam along with them. Without question, it’s my favorite parade currently in any Disney theme park.
If you find that your kids haven’t really “gotten” Animal Kingdom in the past, give this suggestion a try: before you leave home, go to the library and pick out some books on animals. Ask your children to flip through the pages and point out animals that they’d like to see in real life. Make a note of them and then do some research online to find where in Animal Kingdom you might be able to see some of creatures that your kids are interested in. Your kids will look forward to Animal Kingdom and feel as though they have a purpose to be there.
Overall, my biggest tip to enjoy Animal Kingdom more is to just keep your pace slow. Really take everything in and don’t rush from attraction to attraction. Give yourself a full day or more to tour the park and don’t allow yourself to cut that short. Enjoy your newfound appreciation for this truly magnificent park.
What are your opinions on Animal Kingdom? Think you’ll tour a little differently next time? Let me know in the comments!