I understand that Disney’s Animal Kingdom gets a fair amount of grief aimed at it. I also understand the basis for a lot of that grief: that Animal Kingdom is not a full day park. There is however one reasonably unique touring experience that can be found at Animal Kingdom that I would bet many of you haven’t done. In fact, you probably haven’t even realized that you hadn’t done it. No, I’m not talking about Triceratop Spin, but visiting Disney’s Animal Kingdom in the dark.
The reason that visiting Animal Kingdom in the dark is a rare occurrence is two-fold. For one, many people just don’t spend all day there. Secondly, due to the animals (and because of reason number one), the park often closes at or near dusk. The reason I am writing this piece now is because December through February is, in many cases, the only time to visit the Animal Kingdom after sundown.
Throughout the winter, Animal Kingdom is often open on weekends until 7pm with sunset being at approximately 5:30pm. Sure that’s not a lot of time, but it is all the time you will need.
I’ll start with the bad news because everyone likes a happy ending. The big drawback to wandering the Animal Kingdom at night is that all animal-related experiences are closed including Kilimanjaro Safari, Pangani Forest Exploration Trail, Maharajah Jungle Trek, and Rafiki’s Planet Watch. Since we’re talking about a park with a shortage of attractions, this cuts the list even further. That’s pretty much it for the cons…not bad, right?
You probably expected this article to be mostly positive. After all, why would I bother to write an entire post about visiting the Animal Kingdom after dark if the final verdict was that it stinks? Well I wouldn’t, so let’s get to all the good stuff.
The two main reasons for being at Animal Kindgom at night are 1) it’s pretty and 2) it’s empty. Once the sun goes down people start to leave the park in droves, leaving short lines at the attractions that are open.
Of course, the major attraction at Animal Kingdom is Expedition Everest. Let me tell you, it is spectacular at night, both to look at and to ride. The softly lit mountain is a wonderful sight in the dark and the attraction itself takes on a completely different feel. What’s different? Well, it’s kind of obvious, but it’s darker. Since the ride snakes in and out of the mountain, it normally is bright on the outer sections (what, the sun is bright? Stop the presses). In the dark it actually seems more like an indoor ride which makes the whole thing feel a little more ominous (except the stationary Yeti animatronic, which is still embarrassing).
The other thing that I always recommend at Animal Kingdom is to take some time to walk around and look. While it may not be the most exciting of the Disney parks, it is still a very pretty area. With all of the lush vegetation, waterways, and fantastic African and Asian themes there are a lot of serene spots and interesting details to see. With light crowds and few available attractions, nighttime is the perfect time to check all of those out. Africa is an especially nice area to wander in since there are a total of zero things happening there at night meaning a total of zero people hanging around (seriously, look at that picture…I know it’s fuzzy, but the only person there is a custodian).
Writing more words here isn’t going to go any further to convincing you to spend extra time at Animal Kingdom so I’ll wrap up with a final thought. Everyone wishes they had more time to relax and enjoy Walt Disney World. Night time at Animal Kingdom is that chance to see something different, or let the kids run around, or snap some wonderful pictures (I know I’m no Tom Bricker, but these are nice, right).
Animal Kingdom is a different animal (har-dee-har-har) than the other parks at night. No neon, no fireworks, no bright lights. It’s just simple; simply lit, simply themed, and simply wonderful.
Samland’s tour of the different lands within the WDW parks continues. This week he starts a series that looks at the Animal Kingdom. Every land in this park is an example in the balance between people and nature. In the Oasis, it is certain that nature is truly in command.
Once past the gateway, you enter a land that could only exist in this particular theme park. It is called the Oasis.
The Oasis serves the same function as Main Street, Hollywood Boulevard or walking under Spaceship Earth. The job is to create a shared experience that sets up the adventures that lie ahead. For this park, the Imagineers were trying to slow you down. They described the Oasis as a “cool, green decompression zone”. People will always run toward the Safari or Everest, so this is a feat is rarely achieved on the way into the park. On the way out, it is a different story.
At every other theme park, it is the destination that matters. At Animal Kingdom the best way to enjoy the park is to let the journey become the thing. This park is designed to reward the guest who takes their time.
The pathways in the Oasis meander and cross under a land bridge just like the train tunnels at the Magic Kingdom. This obstruction acts like a curtain that sets up the big reveal; your first view of the iconic Tree of Life. The wide walkway over the main bridge is designed to accommodate the large crowds who just stand there and gawk. Many visitors will not realize that from the parking lot to this point you have walked up a 20-foot hill.
Like the other Disney park entrances, the Oasis funnels you through single entrance and a narrow portal to separate you from the real world and allow you to enter the fantasy world of the park. At the end of the pathway is a hub with the various lands radiating out like spokes on a wheel.