I love Animal Kingdom. I really do. I know, I know…lots of people think it isn’t up to Disney’s usual standards or that it is a half-day park, but I disagree. Animal Kingdom is a wonderful park. It’s beautiful, well-themed, provides great views of amazing animals, has fun attractions, and features the best shows Disney has to offer. This love of Animal Kingdom led me to be super excited to celebrate the park’s 15th anniversary on April 22, and I wasn’t disappointed.
Unfortunately, Disney doesn’t always do very much for these events. Disney announced that there would be special merchandise and a ceremony, but not too much else. Luckily, during Epcot’s 30th I became aware of an unofficial group called WDWCelebrations that has been commemorating Disney park anniversaries since 2007. I knew if I combined the official Disney offerings, the unofficial WDWCelebrations events, and included a few things I wanted to do to enjoy the park on its birthday, I would have a very full and celebratory day.
I began my day in the park at 7am. While that may seem really early, it was important to me to get special anniversary merchandise (without waiting for hours in line) and to get a good spot for the ceremony they were having prior to park opening at the Tree of Life. While waiting at the turnstiles I met up with some other WDWCelebrations attendees, and the time flew by as we chatted and got ready for the day. At about 8am Cast Members began walking down the lines and handing out the special commemorative maps and buttons we all wanted to collect as souvenirs for the day.
They let us into the park a bit early so we could get a spot in front of the Tree of Life for the 15th Anniversary Ceremony at 8:40am. We had great spots right in the front! They had floats from Mickey’s Jammin’ Jungle parade, performers from all three of the large stage shows, and speeches by Josh D’Amaro (the VP of Animal Kingdom) and Dr. Jackie Ogden (VP of Animals, Science, and Entertainment). The ceremony wasn’t as spectacular as Magic Kingdom’s 40th ceremony, but it served as a good tribute to the park. It was awesome to see so many of the different performers dancing together as one of the singers belted “Circle of Life” to the crowd. They even had a giant inflatable globe they threw out into the crowd that everyone passed around like a big beach ball. Again, it wasn’t the greatest, but it was fun.
As soon as the ceremony concluded a huge mob began to rush towards the merchandise. It was at this point that I was the most grateful for our spots right up front for the ceremony…we were also at the front of the merch pack. Cast Members walked us back to Creature Comforts where we were lined up, given order forms, and let inside one group at a time to make our purchases. I was a big fan of the logo for the anniversary and needed a t-shirt, as well as a few of the pins. They also had limited edition iPhone cases in several styles…some with edition sizes as little as 50! It didn’t take long at all for us to get our stuff, but when we exited the building we could see the line stretching all the way into Africa. Cast Members were saying it was several hours long. I can’t stress enough that if you want merchandise at events like this, get there as early as possible and position yourself towards the front.
At this point we had a couple of hours to just enjoy the park. It was important to me to experience all of the things I love so much about the park to celebrate its special day. We spent the next several hours eating, riding rides, seeing shows, walking the animal trails, and meeting characters. There are so many unique experiences in the park that we couldn’t do them all, but we definitely did a little bit of everything.
At 2:30 we met back up with the WDWCelebrations group to watch the parade. I really wanted a good spot for this – not only because I love the parade, but for Limited Time Magic some rarely seen characters were going to join in the finale. Once again I was grateful to have a group of fellow crazy Disney fans to hang out with to pass the hour and a half while we waited along the route. Once the parade started I was very happy we had gotten such a good spot. The character interactions were so fun! We all got several hugs and high-fives. One friend even had Baloo nearly sit in his lap! It was also wonderful to see some of the old characters out: Flik, Atta, Koda, Kenai, Thumper, Miss Bunny…they were all there!
Although I had to leave soon after the parade, I still got exactly what I wanted out of the day. I paid tribute to the park, spent time with old friends, and made many new ones. The day was a perfect combination of official Disney activities, fan events, and doing my own thing. If you plan on attending an anniversary or other special event at a Disney park, I highly recommend you research what kinds of things are going on (both official and unofficial) and put it all together to create a day for yourself that is everything you want it to be. That’s the best part about being part of a community like this: information is out there, people are doing things, and you can pick and choose the best way to celebrate.
Have you attended a park’s anniversary? Or been to an unofficial fan event? How would you celebrate your favorite park on its anniversary?
Special thanks to Jose Castillo for providing the WDWCelebrations group photo and photo of the opening ceremony.