Disney Park Strengths and Weaknesses: Animal Kingdom

by on November 30, 2015 20 Comments

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©Disney

©Disney

Are you a Disney Park critic? I know, it’s hard to be critical of anything Disney (at least I think so), but even I have to admit that I’ve experienced a few things that some parks don’t do as well as others. Of course, there’s also a number of things that each park does very well! Today, I’m breaking down Disney Park Strengths and Weaknesses beginning with a park that’s somewhat in transition right now: Animal Kingdom.

Disney’s Animal Kingdom Park is still a new park when compared with the other Disney World Parks and perhaps the most difficult to explain. What you should know right off is that Disney did not intend for this park to be a zoo, but rather a new type of theme park where the entertainment and is living and breathing. Animal Kingdom opened for guests appropriately on Earth Day in 1998 and is currently home to more than 2,000 animals and currently in a transition as construction continues for new nighttime entertainment and the addition of Pandora – The World of AVATAR.

So let’s start with Animal Kingdom’s strengths, shall we…

AK4Strengths:

Awesome AttractionsKilimanjaro Safaris, found at Animal Kingdom’s Africa, is one of the most amazing attractions Disney has ever produced and possibly one of the most ambitious! Kilimanjaro Safaris is pretty much the closet thing to a real Africa safari. Seriously, you will have a hard time remembering that you’re in Central Florida while aboard this attraction. Guests of all ages begin their adventure with boarding an open air vehicle and then set off for a ride through the Harambe Wildlife Reserve to observe the 34 different species of African wildlife. The best part is that these animals are roaming free, just as they would in the wild, and they may pass right by your vehicle! It’s one of the best experiences Disney offers, a huge hit with every member of the family, and embodies the idea that this park offers a whole new type of live entertainment! Another awesome attraction at Animal Kingdom is Expedition Everest. This coaster, found in the Asia section of the park, is packed full of thrills and is the perfect example of Disney storytelling. The attraction takes place in a massive, snowy mountain, Mount Everest, where guests aboard a expedition train are chased in and out of the mountain by the legendary Yeti! This coaster is especially unique in that it goes backwards at one point during your ride! In my opinion, Kilimanjaro Safaris and Expedition Everest are worth a visit to Animal Kingdom alone.

Expedition Everest

Expedition Everest

Less Structured – Something particularly refreshing about Animal Kingdom is that it’s much less restrictive than the other parks. What I mean by this is that there are a number of things to do that don’t require lines or queues. For example, consider the Oasis at the entry of the park. There is no set path to reach Discovery Island. Instead, guests are free to wander whatever way they please, possibly seeing some wildlife along the way. The Discovery Island Trails to explore, Pagani Forest Exploration Trail, and the Maharajah Jungle Trek all allow guests to take their time and see what they want to see for as long as they want to see it.

Animal Kingdom Lodge – While this resort isn’t exactly in Animal Kingdom, it’s right next door and allows guests the ability to stay immersed in exotic cultures and close to the wildlife. The lodge consists of two buildings: Jambo House and Kidani Village. Jambo House is home to the main lobby, which is truly something that everyone should see, and a number of the resort’s famous restaurants like Jiko and Boma. Kidani Village houses the resort’s Disney Vacation Club Villas and the popular restaurant, Sanaa. Both Jambo House and Kidani Village offer Savanna View Rooms which allow guests to watch African wildlife from their guest rooms. The only problem is that you may have a hard time pulling your kids away to go to the parks! I have to mention Zebra Domes too. They can only be enjoyed at Animal Kingdom Lodge and seriously one of the best desserts you will ever have. Trust me on this. I may or may not have driven to Animal Kingdom Lodge just for Zebra Domes in the past…

kusafiri_coffee1Unique Snacks & Treats – Animal Kingdom is home a to a number of unique snacks and treats which I make a point to sample when I visit the park. The Beastly Kiosk at Discovery Island offers yummy baked lobster macaroni and cheese and Mickey pretzels, and the Gardens Kiosk has several unique salads and beverages such as Cucumber-Mint Pomegranate Lemonade and Chilled Green Tea infused with orange blossom honey. The new Harambe Market features a wide selection of snacks, ranging from skewers to ribs to a curry corn dog, but Tamu Tamu Refreshments, Zuri’s Sweets Shop, and Kusafiri Coffee Shop and Bakery is where I go to satisfy my sweet tooth. Tamu Tamu offers Pineapple Dole Whips, Kusafiri is famous for their “wild” gourmet cupcakes, and Zuri Sweets Shop is a bakery featuring a variety of healthy and exotic treats and animal-themed cupcakes.

Rare Characters – At Animal Kingdom, guests get to meet and greet with characters that they probably won’t find regularly at the other parks. Currently, Animal Kingdom guests can meet Tarzan, Russell and Dug from Up, Rafiki from The Lion King, Pocahontas, Baloo and King Louie from The Jungle Book, and even Flik from A Bug’s Life!

Weaknesses:

Finding Nemo The Musical appeals to a broad audience.

Finding Nemo The Musical appeals to a broad audience.

Hot and Exhausting – I don’t know what it is, but Animal Kingdom always feels hotter than anywhere else on Disney World property. Can anyone else relate to this, or am I the only one? There’s also less indoor things to do here than at other parks, so be sure to carve out time for the park’s awesome shows, such as Festival of the Lion King, Finding Nemo – The Musical, and It’s Tough to Be a Bug! in order to get some much need A/C and to rest your feet.

Off-the Mark Attractions – Some attractions at Animal Kingdom are a little scary. Which ones? It’s Tough to Be a Bug, while funny, provides a little too much stimulation and can creep out little ones. While adults and older kids may chuckle a time or two during the show, it’s not exactly geared towards them either so it falls a little short. Also, adults who hate bugs will find it just as scary as the kids. DINOSAUR is also more terrifying than it is fun, and not impressive enough to earn a spot on teens and adults favorites list; and while some of you readers may not agree with this, I feel that Kali River Rapids is somewhat of an off-the mark attraction too. While raft rides in general are fun and it can feel good to get soaked, particularly if visiting during the summer, it can also create discomfort for the rest of the day and the ride experience itself isn’t a stand-out. Finally, there’s the attractions at DinoLand U.S.A. such as Primeval Whirl and TriceraTop Spin. I don’t think guests totally get the theme of this area and the attractions themselves don’t seem to live up to the standards or creativity that Disney World guests expect.

©Disney

©Disney

Lack of Attractions – While Animal Kingdom does have some great attractions, as I’ve mentioned when discussing its strengths, there isn’t exactly a lot of them. This has caused many Disney guests to refer to Animal Kingdom as a half day park. Personally, I think that depends on your approach to the park. If you’re looking to slow down, appreciate the scenery and wildlife, and explore, then Animal Kingdom is easily a full day park. If slowing down and a more discovery based park experience isn’t for you, then Animal Kingdom may be a half day park. Fortunately, the park is working on some new additions, such as Pandora – The World of AVATAR and the new “Rivers of Light” show which should hopefully give guests more of a reason to visit and to stay all day.

©Disney

©Disney

Lack of Table Service Restaurants – Walking and exploring can really make a guest hungry! Unfortunately, Animal Kingdom doesn’t have a wide variety of table service restaurants, or at least restaurants that I would consider dropping a lot of cash for. I like the Yak and Yeti Restaurant, but I should add that the cuisine isn’t a hit with everyone in my family, and I also love Tusker House. But honestly, that’s about it unless you count Rainforest Café, but I’m not a fan of their menu and I can dine at one of their other locations anytime. Perhaps Disney realized this weakness as well as they recently announced that the park is getting a new signature restaurant called Tiffins in 2016! In the meantime, I may take advantage of Animal Kingdom Lodge’s dining options when visiting the Animal Kingdom Park.

The good news is that I believe Animal Kingdom has more strengths than weaknesses, and despite it’s faults it’s still one of my favorite places to be in all of Walt Disney World. But what I want to know is your opinion of my list of Animal Kingdom strengths and weaknesses? Do you agree or disagree? Do you have a strength or weakness to add to the list?h

Posted on November 30, 2015

20 Responses to “Disney Park Strengths and Weaknesses: Animal Kingdom”

  • Animal Kingdom was my favourite park on my first visit to WDW, and it still holds a very special place in my heart. Hotter than hades, certainly, which stops me from spending a full day there we will pop back and forth during a trip to make sure we get a few full days in, just a little spread out.

    I may be holding a rare opinion here, but I love Its Tough to be a Bug. The final song is marvellous, a real show tune as only Disney could create. I’ll be humming it for weeks. All together now ‘the best thing about us, you can’t live without us…’

    They also have the best tour of all the parks, again in my opinion. If you haven’t done the Wild Africa Trek yet, start saving now for your next trip. We did it for the first time on our last trip out and wish we had done it sooner. Its awesome, in the truest sense of the word.

  • by Ruth Woodhouse on November 30, 2015, at 8:49 am EDT

    I have also noticed that Animal Kingdom seems to be hotter than the other parks and have always wondered why – maybe its the heat of all the animals??? Probably not though. Animal Kingdom is actually my least favourite Disney park – not because I particularly dislike it – I just like the others more! However, I am looking forward to the new bits and pieces which may move it up my list – I am so much more comfortable in the new Festival of the Lion King arena for example as it was so hot in the old one. I don’t like any of DinoLand USA as all the attractions are ones you are likely to find at any fairground whereas other Disney attractions are more unusual and mostly unique. I love its Tough to be a Bug but I’m not keen on Dinosaur. All I can say is thank goodness we don’t all like the same things – or life would be really boring!

  • OH my gosh, I totally agree–Animal Kingdom feels hotter than any other park! The humidity in that place is beastly.

  • I’ve heard other people complain about the heat at Animal Kingdom too, but I don’t get it. It’s the only park with a fair amount of shade, and because of that I’ve always thought it was cooler than the others. I also find it more peaceful than the other parks too – the ability to meander through the pathways makes it seem like there is less hustle and bustle.

    And I know I am in the minority, but once I understood the backstory of Dinoland USA, I was hooked. I think it is one of the best themed areas in all of WDW.

    • I agree with Scott. I’ve never had problems with the heat there either. The shade seems to make it bearable for me. I wouldn’t exactly call Dinoland USA one of the best themed areas but I do think it is good and I enjoy it.

  • My guess on the heat issue may be that some areas (Discovery Island, The Oasis) are very well shaded with trees, but the trees also block the wind so there is less of a breeze.
    Other areas such as Harambe (Africa) are very open with less shade in the street areas.

  • My family LOVES Animal Kingdom. Maybe it’s just because we’re all animal lovers, but it’s always been a full day park when we’ve been there. The point about the lack of structure is what I like the most. There’s more areas to get lost and just look at all the detail.
    Also, I heard an odd rumor about AK; it’s the only park where all the bathrooms have doors. Supposedly this is to provide a shelter for guests if the animals get loose, but can anyone else confirm this?

  • A key strength that’s missing from the article is that DAK’s daytime entertainment is far and away the best in WDW. The Finding Nemo show is fantastic, the Festival of the Lion King is great and energetic, and Flights of Wonder is very well-presented.

    Compare those offerings with fun but aging stunt shows and awful stage versions of animated movies (Little Mermaid & Beauty and the Beast) at DHS, corny castle forecourt stuff at MK, and streetmosphere at Epcot, and DAK blows them away.

  • “I feel that Kali River Rapids is somewhat of an off-the mark attraction too. While raft rides in general are fun and it can feel good to get soaked, particularly if visiting during the summer, it can also create discomfort for the rest of the day and the ride experience itself isn’t a stand-out.”

    While I agree that the ride is not a huge standout (basically because it is way too short in length), I don’t agree that it “can also create discomfort for the rest of the day”. If this is happening, you haven’t dressed properly. Wear sandals (and put your feet up on the railing in the ride vehicle), and wear quick-dry nylon fishing-type clothing for the day (and no cotton undergarments). Put all your stuff in the free lockers, and have fun getting soaked! On any day with a temp above 70, you’ll be dry again before you know it! We have done this many times, and never experienced discomfort.

  • STRENGTH. Two words: Wilderness Explorers. For our 6-year old twins this fun scavenger game made all the difference between DAK being a full-day park or a half-day park. And it gave purpose to the young ones, while the adults enjoyed the “less structured” environment.

    • I’ll second the praise for Wilderness Explorers. My daughter is 6, and it changed my entire feelings about the park. I was pushing my younger daughter around in the stroller and really got the chance to see the park. It was one of my favorite days on our whole trip.

  • by Skip Seglipse on November 30, 2015, at 1:30 pm EDT

    I don’t think lack of attractions is a problem at Animal Kingdom. In fact, it’s very difficult to see all the shows in a single trip because of how they are scheduled.

    If you are into wildlife and nature, add in character photo ops, etc., there is more than enough to do at AK over the course of even multiple days. It just depends on what you want out of your theme park experience.

    Yak and Yeti is fairly benign Americanized Asian food, but it’s really solidly done. I’m surprised that it’s not a place that wouldn’t appeal to just about any diner.

  • Don’t forget that you can get rum in your Dole Whips at AK. 😉

  • For our family, a notable strength of AK is the unique merchandise that won’t see anywhere else at WDW. Especially in Harambe, the handmade items available in the shops can be quite beautiful.

    • by Savannah Sanders on December 1, 2015, at 10:37 am EDT

      You’re so right, Joe. AK does offer a lot of unique merch and the fact that some is handmade makes it even more special.

  • My family has always found it difficult to navigate around DAK even when the bottlenecks aren’t clogged with crowds. I really wish they would put in a themed railroad around the circumference of the park! How many train fans would be in heaven with a themed railroad and themed stations?

  • I find Animal Kingdom to be the coolest park- there’s much more shade. It encourages us to slow down and appreciate all of the details. They’ve hidden many that you only find if you take your time. One of my favorite secrets is the Triassic garden near Dinosaur. It’s a short loop that contains plants that appeared in the fossil record (or their relatives). But if you spend time there, you will gradually become aware of the sound effects that Imagineers included- at least you hope they’re sound effects, and not a velociraptor stalking you! A nighttime visit is even more vivid. Animal Kingdom is already magical at night; I hope that the new nighttime show doesn’t disturb the residents or the unique ambiance of this wonderful park.

  • by James Rosemergy on December 1, 2015, at 11:37 am EDT

    I would add the overall theming of the park as a major strength. There are few places in WDW that convey a sense of place as well as Africa and Asia. The attention to detail is next level as compared to some of the older parks. Even without a ton of attractions, it is a great park to just wander around and take in the sights…