I’ve made it to the final installment of my Walt Disney World parks character experience series. I can admit that initially before doing research I assumed Animal Kingdom was going to be lacking in the meet and greet field. Boy, was I wrong! Once I looked at all of my information in front of me on paper (in my super cool/nerdy brainstorm web) I was shocked… truly. I know Animal Kingdom provides some killer thrill rides and animal interactions but I never realized just how many characters from Disney animation can be found.
Right off the bat, before the park even opens, characters seep out from behind the scenes and greet guests. Seeing Rafiki, Baloo, Louie, Timon, and Terk interact with visitors and welcoming them into the park really gets me revved up for a good time at Animal Kingdom. Often times I’ve seen characters surprising guests while they’re waiting in line to get tickets. This is an opportunity for characters to break away from a formal meet and greet line and have some off the cuff fun. Just before park opening, Mickey, Minnie, Goofy, and Pluto gather on a truck and perform a little welcoming ceremony.
As you come to Discovery Island, home of The Tree of Life and It’s Tough to Be a Bug, you can find my personal favorite characters in all of Animal Kingdom… Lilo and Stitch! This is the only place that you can regularly meet Lilo so take advantage of it! These two characters really like to have fun with guests and sometimes their line can build up and become quite long. If you walk over to Flame Tree Barbecue and look across the way you’ll see a meet and greet location for Pooh, Eeyore, and Piglet. Keep in mind that not all of them are there at once. Most of the time it’s one or two characters at a time with a rotation.
Coming up on Dinoland U.S.A. you’ll find only one formal meet and greet location across from TriceraTop Spin. Goofy and Pluto come out ready for a hug. I haven’t personally seen them out at the same time, not to say that it doesn’t happen. What’s great about this location is that because it’s not on a main path people sort of don’t notice the characters as easily. Gotta love shorter lines for two members of the fab five. For Finding Nemo fans, be sure to see the live stage show Finding Nemo – The Musical. As a girl that grew up in a family of musical theater geeks, I think I am a pretty good judge of top notch peformances and I can tell you that this show is nothing short of spectacular. In fact, if I could only do one thing in Animal Kingdom it would be Finding Nemo – The Musical. There is no meet and greet after the show but if you make sure to get a seat along the catwalk you’ll feel truly immersed in the big blue world along with Nemo, Marlin, and Dory.
If you take the Wildlife Express Train over to Rafiki’s Planet Watch you will be greeted by… you guessed it! Rafiki! The characters here are sort of random and not regular except for Jiminy Cricket and Pocahontas who are pretty much always there and ready to say hello. Before taking the train over, check with a cast member to see if they can find out what characters are currently out doing greetings.
I’m simply obsessed with one character in particular that can be found in Animal Kingdom and she isn’t from any animated feature. DiVine is truly a sight to behold. If I told you she was a stilt performer you’d probably think, “Sure, but I can see that anywhere!” DiVine isn’t just any performer though. She is disguised by a combination of leaves, vines, grapes and body paint. You could walk right past her and not even know she’s there. DiVine blends into her surroundings and then will slowly move out into the walkway and tower over you. She even stops to pose for pictures with a couple of guests! You can find DiVine on the path between Africa and Asia. Also along this path you can find Baloo and King Louie from The Jungle Book.
The most popular and busy character greeting location in Animal Kingdom is without a doubt Camp-Minnie-Mickey. While the live show, Festival of the Lion King, is a great place to see the lively characters from the animated feature, there is no meet and greet before or after the show. If you’re looking to get photos with characters then check out the nearby pavilions in the area. If the line is lengthy and you can’t see which character is at the end, Disney provides signs at each line entrance to let you know which character is on call. Typically, you’ll find members of the fab five unless one of them has a stand-in. The “filler” characters often times are characters from Winnie the Pooh and Song of the South. On top of those characters, Disney sends out other ones randomly to greet guests in the area. On a trip last year I ran into the adorable Thumper for the first time as well as Chip and Dale.
If you’re interested in dining with characters in Animal Kingdom, check out Tusker House for breakfast where you can dine with characters like Donald, Daisy, Mickey, and Minnie. Be sure to get an Advanced Dining Reservation since this tends to get book up quickly! Luckily, Disney noticed that and come December 4, 2011, lunch at Tusker House will switch over to a character meal experience. While this used to be a fairly reasonably priced buffet option, I have a feeling that when character lunches begin the price will increase.
For those of you that see Animal Kingdom as a half day park, like me, and want to stay a little longer, try filling up your day with all of these character meet and greets! On top of all of the scheduled character experiences, you never know who is going to pop up and where. Has anyone had some really memorable character meetings at Animal Kingdom? Share them with us! I’d love to hear!