I’m here to give a little love to one of the least frequented parts of all of Walt Disney World: Affection Section at Rafiki’s Planet Watch in Disney’s Animal Kingdom. The Affection Section is my personal oasis of calm in what can sometimes be the chaos of a Disney vacation.
Rafiki’s Planet Watch is accessed only via train from a station located near the exit to the Kilimanjaro Safaris ride. The train ride, itself, is a pleasant five minute journey into the far reaches of the Animal Kingdom. On the way, you pass many of the animal keeping buildings where the four-legged residents of the park spend their evenings. You can often get a glimpse of a rhino or elephant taking a break from being “on stage.”
After the train ride, you disembark at a walking path which takes you past several small primate exhibits. Oooh and ahhh at the tamarins for a while, then continue walking to the main Conservation Station building. Inside you’ll find character greetings, instructional displays, and sometimes animal medical care taking place. Much of this is fascinating, but I find myself being drawn out the back door to where the really good stuff is: Affection Section.
This area includes a few dozen sheep and goats, and five kunekune pigs, just wandering around. You are encouraged to enter their enclosure to observe them, brush them, and hug them. That’s all there is to it, just time hanging out with some live creatures.
On the surface, Affection Section appears to be a petting zoo. And, yes, there are animals which you can pet. But there are five outstanding features which make this particular petting zoo exceptional:
- The location. I obviously love Walt Disney World. I love the music and the colors and the excitement. But sometimes even the calmest of souls can be thrown into sensory overload at the parks. There is no music or movement or artificial lighting at Affection Section. Just warm living creatures doing their thing, and you get to hang out with them. It’s a place to just be.
- The animals. I am generally not a fan of petting zoo situations. Either the animals are kept in cramped cages and I feel badly for them, or the animals are crazy aggressive and I’m afraid of them. I live near New York City and had many experiences at the Central Park Zoo where the goats in petting area nearly jumped a rail to get at the visitors. Nothing like this ever happens at Affection Section. The animal are calm and relaxed. After many visits, I’ve learned that a big part of their temperament is due to the fact that guests do not feed the animals. They goats here aren’t expecting treats from you, so they don’t attack you. When they’ve had enough human interaction for a while, they simply walk into the roped off shaded-area to take a break. There’s no pressure on them to be constantly available.
- The cleanliness. This a farm-like setting that barely even smells of animals. Of course, there are “deposits” made by the animals, but keepers are at the ready to clean up after them.
- The cast members. Every time I’ve visited Affection Section, there were two or three animal professionals walking around, both to ensure that the sheep and goats are doing well, and to chat with the guests. These are some of the nicest, most helpful cast I’ve ever encountered at Disney World, and that’s really saying something.
- The crowds. Well, I should really say the lack of crowds is what I find appealing. Because of the remoteness of this location, it is rarely bustling. Even when the rest of the park is, well, a zoo, the Affection Section is a haven of calm.
Whenever I’m at the Animal Kingdom, I sneak away to Affection Section to unwind. I can’t help but smile when I watch toddlers grin from ear to ear when they’re nose to nose with a goat. And I get my own share of warm fuzzies when I spend some time brushing a sheep or two.
Next time you need a break at Walt Disney World, Affection Section is the perfect place to take it.
Have you taken the trek to the Affection Section? Do you want to? Tell us about your experiences in the comments below.