This week’s SATURDAY SIX looks at Reasons We LOVE Disney’s Animal Kingdom. For July, we are going to try something new around here. It’s our first ever themed series of articles for the SATURDAY SIX, and we’re going to put a spotlight on Walt Disney World. That’s right, we are going to take a look at each one of Disney’s four parks and explain why they are some of our favorite places on Earth. First up, the oft-maligned Animal Kingdom which has completely transformed itself from a “half day park” to possibly the best theme park in all of Orlando.
Disney’s Animal Kingdom. (photo by Tim Grassey)
While Animal Kingdom was originally designed to keep people on WDW property, and not make a side trip to Tampa for Busch Gardens, it has become one of the most interesting theme parks you’ll ever see. By far and away the biggest park at Disney (the Kilimanjaro Safaris attraction by itself is larger than the entire Magic Kingdom) Animal Kingdom has a combination of terrific thrill rides, world class shows, and amazing safari adventures. Filled with unforgettable experiences, Animal Kingdom simply has it all. But what do we love most about this park? Well, sit back, pour out a 40 for Little Red, and let’s start our countdown with…
# 6 – The Tree of Life
With Cinderella Castle and Spaceship Earth, WDW already had two of the greatest – and most recognizable – theme park icons in the world. With the majestic Tree of Life, Animal Kingdom’s park icon immediately joined them. Despite being completely man-made (even the leaves are made out of a special plastic called Kynar), the Tree of Life looks as if it sprung from the ground and it’s only when you stare at it do you begin to see over 300 animal designs carved into the trunk and roots. The details will make your jaw drop.
Recently the Tree of Life became even more breathtaking with the introduction of projection mapping for the Tree of Life Awakens shows. These three minute shows make it appear that some of the animals in the trunk come alive before your eyes, along with spellbinding special effects in the leaves above. This is true Disney Magic.
This week’s SATURDAY SIX takes a look at the Six Best Attractions at Walt Disney World. Hot off the heels of our All Star Panel getting together and voting for the Six Best Attractions at the Universal Orlando Resort, it was only natural to take a look across the street and get to the bottom, once and for all, of what the six best attractions at Walt Disney World were. But this is The World after all. The Vacation Kingdom. The most popular theme park resort on Earth. So naturally we had to go big. We contacted 25 experts for Universal? Well we’re getting 50 for Disney! And after negotiations that took so long that Disney could have taken down two Sorcerer’s Hats in the same time, we finally heard back from some of the most well known names in the Disney Universe. An all star, blue ribbon panel made up of members from some of the best Disney podcasts (Disney Hipsters, WDW Today, Radio Harambe, and the Mighty Men of Mouse), the most amazing Disney photographers (including Tom Bricker, Morgan Crutchfield, Brandon Glover, and Dirk Wallen), the greatest Disney bloggers/authors (Epcot Explorer, Sam Gennaway, FoxxFur, and Jim Hill), the nicest Disney fans we know (Scarlett Litton, Daisy Lauren, and Drunk At Disney), the meanest Disney fans we know (Tom Corless and Josh Humphrey), legitimate members of the Theme Park Media Elite (Orlando Sentinel’s Dewayne Bevil, Attraction Magazine‘s Banks Lee and Matt Roseboom), and the only guy in the entire world who admits to liking Disney’s Hollywood Studios (Matt Hochberg).
SATURDAY SIX staff tabulating votes.
But that’s just the tip of the iceberg. Maureen Deal of Autism at the Parks? Here. Gary Bruckner, creator of the Frost Bitten Rum Cider at the Dolphin’s Todd English bluezoo? Here. Fan Favorite Disney Twitter accounts? How about Mearn, Mark Diba, and Adam Roth. Not to mention both Jenn and Tim Tracker! They’re ALL HERE, and many more.
The Criteria: Each of the 50 experts voted on what they consider to be the six best attractions at the Walt Disney World Resort. These attractions could be any ride, show, nighttime spectacular, or parade currently in Walt Disney World (including the water parks.) Anything that was holiday exclusive – such as the Boo to You! parade, Happy HalloWishes, or the Osborne Family Spectacle of Dancing Lights – were not eligible. Each attraction listed would be awarded ONE point, except for the attraction that the voter ranked in his #1 spot – that received TWO points. The votes were then sent to a top secret location in Florida and counted no less than 22 times. (We’ve had some problems in the past. We can’t apologize enough, Mr. Gore.) The results are in, and we now proudly present….
The DEFINITIVE GUIDE to the SIX BEST ATTRACTIONS at Walt Disney World.
# 6 – Big Thunder Mountain Railroad (12 points)
Big Thunder Mountain Railroad. (photo by Tom Bricker)
Laurel Stewart (TouringPlans Disney Cruise Queen) – Opening Date – 1980: Big Thunder has it all – story, visual puns, theming, great effects… a bluegrass soundtrack. It’s not as great a coaster from a technical standpoint as Expedition Everest (Yeti aside, which it turns out, was a mechanical overreach on Disney’s part) or Rock ‘n’ Roller coaster. And it’s not a thrill ride by any means – there are more intense coasters all over Orlando. But this one is Disney at its best. It anchors Frontierland in a way that I don’t think Disney has come close to in years with the exception of Everest in Animal Kingdom’s Asia, which I think is its successor (and my would-have-been number one pick except that the ride is way too short). Because it opened in 1980, I never had to worry about the height requirement and was able to ride it from the start. Which I did, because I LOVE ROLLER COASTERS. On the other hand, my younger brother may have been tricked onto it when I told him it was “just a train ride, like the one at Main Street.” Suffice it to say, I have plenty of nostalgia for Big Thunder and love it just as much today as 35 years ago. And if you don’t take my word for it, take it from the French. Big Thunder Mountain is by far the most popular attraction at Disneyland Paris. And the French are never wrong. Just ask Jerry Lewis.
The weather could not have been more perfect this weekend. There wasn’t a cloud in the sky and the air was cool and crisp. It was even cold in the evenings! If you take a look at the photo on the left you’ll notice the fountain in front of Spaceship Earth isn’t working. It actually hasn’t been for a while. Our joke has been it’s the mosquito breeding exhibit. 😉 Hopefully they’re able to repair it soon.
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Earlier this year at the SATURDAY SIX we did an article looking at six things we wish theme park fans would stop complaining about. One of those complaints was that Animal Kingdom is a half day park. We gave our reasoning for why this isn’t true, but we wanted to get an expert opinion on this controversial subject. We reached out to Michael McBride of JamboEveryone.com and the Radio Harambe podcast, two of the best resources on the Animal Kingdom park. So today we are proud to present Six Reasons Animal Kingdom is NOT a Half Day Park. Take it away Mike…
It drives me crazy when people call Animal Kingdom a half day park. Yeah, I know, it’s a common observation, but still I know those people are missing out on a lot that the park has to offer. Yes, Animal Kingdom has fewer “rides” than the other parks. But there is so much more to a park then plopping down in an omnimover or coaster. The meaning of the word attraction is a lot broader than that. So when people say that Animal Kingdom is a half day park, they are not enjoying the shows, the trails, or the entertainment offerings that this place does so well. Those people skip Flights of Wonder, don’t bother with Rafiki’s Planet Watch, and have no idea what a Burudika is.
To be fair, Animal Kingdom is a different kind of park. It’s not really conducive to hustling from one attraction to the next as fast as your feet can take you. It’s a park that needs to be lingered over and meandered through. Rivers of Light will surely be a game changer, much like World of Color was at Disney California Adventure at Disneyland Resort. When that comes, guests will stick around to see the nighttime closing event, but that does not mean Animal Kingdom is a half day park now. It’s not. And here are 6 reasons why.
6 – Wilderness Explorers
Channel your inner Russell and try Wilderness Explorers (photo by Brandon Glover)
Wilderness Explorers is so stinkin’ great! Imagine that you are Russell from Up (I often do, but that’s a separate issue) and you need to earn badges. Now imagine, just for a moment, that you need to earn over 30 badges. Yes, 30! That’s this game. I have spent a lot of time discussing the little things that set this park apart from the rest. What do you do when some of your party are Disney touring commandos? Play this game. It has you delve into the little places of the park. For example, it is the best way to discovery Rafiki’s Planet Watch, which is often skipped. I think Planet Watch, alone, is a strong reason that Animal Kingdom is not a half day park. Alas, this is a list of six, so I am jamming that into this entry. This is true throughout the park. One badge takes you into a little side path along the Discovery River, and another takes you to little traveled section of DinoLand U.S.A. And the Explorers game is also a fun way to work your way through the town of Harambe in Africa and Maharajah Jungle Trek.
This weekend I went over to Animal Kingdom to test FastPass+ and to check out the former site of Camp Minnie-Mickey. I thought you guys would like to come with me! Saturday was very cold by Florida standards! The high was only 57 degrees, so I was thankful afternoon FastPass+ slots were available for Kilimanjaro Safaris. I secured our 3:40 – 4:40 time slot. Since all FastPass+ reservations come in trios, I was also assigned FastPass+ to meet Mickey and to see Finding Nemo – The Musical. Upon arriving at 2:30pm I discovered parking attendants weren’t even directing cars where to park! This suggested that crowds would be manageable. Here is what it looked like walking in: