Animal Kingdom Appreciation

by on February 21, 2012 47 Comments

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One of the most commonly discussed topics in the Disney community is Disney’s Animal Kingdom and if it holds a candle to the other Disney theme parks. It seems that people tend to have a love/hate relationship with Animal Kingdom and to be honest, I can see why. After all, there are only seven actual rides in the park if you’re not including shows and walk-through exhibits. To some guests, it might be a let down after experiencing an attraction packed park like Magic Kingdom. Other reasons that Animal Kingdom’s quality is often questioned are the size of the park which leads to extensive walking at times, Expedition Everest‘s semi-defunct Yeti, and the eyesore that is DinoLand U.S.A. All of that being said, I think that there are many overlooked reasons to value Animal Kingdom.

Animal Kingdom opened in April of 1998 with the concept of a theme park that focuses on animal and nature conservation but doesn’t emulate the typical zoo. At 500 acres, Animal Kingdom is easily Disney World’s largest park on property. Within that space there are over 1000 animals to discover and learn about.

A month ago, I was on a totally rad solo trip (the first of many to come) and on my first full day at Disney World, I headed to Animal Kingdom to see if I could approach this beautiful theme park in a new way. I was one of those “Animal Kingdom is a half day park” kind of people. On previous trips, I would ride a couple of attractions, see Finding Nemo: The Musical, and leave the park. After talking to a few of my Disney fanatic friends, I discovered that not everyone does it that way. In fact, there are many people who spend more time at Animal Kingdom than any other park. Surprisingly, with just one attempt at a new approach to the park, I found myself appreciating it in a whole new way.

If you want to take my advice and challenge yourself to see Animal Kingdom from a different perspective, start by forgetting that there are attractions in the park at all for the first hour after park opening. I know you diligent Touring Plans users are gasping right now, but you have to trust me. Take your time to observe the animals living in The Oasis right away and let other guests run right by you.

Stroll over to Royal Anandapur Tea Company and grab yourself a coffee, tea, or if you’re feeling particularly naughty…a pastry. Begin investigating the exquisite details that go into each of the themed lands. I’m a pretty artsy fartsy person so I really found myself appreciating everything. Try to get camera happy at Animal Kingdom. You don’t have to have a big fancy camera do to this either. I took a lot of time to photograph buildings, doors, windows, pavement, and even little “props” that are placed strategically to enhance theming. Think about it: during the development of Animal Kingdom, creative minds went so far to pick out artistic elements that enhances your touring experience and truly makes you feel submersed in your environment. If you’re just blowing past it all, you’re missing out on so much hard work that deserves to be valued.

I truly believe that Animal Kingdom has some of the most awesome and unique shopping in all of Walt Disney World. While many stores in the other theme parks sell many of the same things, shops in Animal Kingdom tend to sell more “non-Disney” logo merchandise. Ladies, you can find some really stylish accessories at a fair price.

In my opinion, Animal Kingdom has some of the best shows on Disney property. I think they all far surpass the Broadway-centric Hollywood Studios. On my solo trip, I finally saw the bird show, Flights of Wonder. I was amazed! The whole show was so well put together and turned out to be educational and comedic all at the same time. At the end, I sat in the front row holding back tears. Clearly I’m too sentimental at times. Try and take the time out of your day and catch at least a couple of the fantastic shows available to you.

On top of the spotlighted shows, Animal Kingdom has without a doubt the most unique street performances in any Disney park. Divine, a stunningly beautiful camouflaged stilt walker, is something like you’ve never seen before. You can find her on the pathway between Africa and Asia. See the Tip Board in Discovery Island for her schedule to make sure you don’t miss her. I’m also a huge fan of Tam Tam of Congo, a group of dancers who perform authentic African dances set to music. They even pull in guests to join in on the fun! It’s a riot to watch or participate in. Speaking of street performances, every afternoon Mickey’s Jammin’ Jungle Parade goes through the streets of Animal Kingdom. The whimsical parade doesn’t use typical floats. You’ll see cast members control a unique contraption by peddling on a bike and moving a handle which makes an attached bird open and close its wings. Beloved Disney characters go by waving on safari vehicles, enticing you to jam along with them. Without question, it’s my favorite parade currently in any Disney theme park.

If you find that your kids haven’t really “gotten” Animal Kingdom in the past, give this suggestion a try: before you leave home, go to the library and pick out some books on animals. Ask your children to flip through the pages and point out animals that they’d like to see in real life. Make a note of them and then do some research online to find where in Animal Kingdom you might be able to see some of creatures that your kids are interested in. Your kids will look forward to Animal Kingdom and feel as though they have a purpose to be there.

Overall, my biggest tip to enjoy Animal Kingdom more is to just keep your pace slow. Really take everything in and don’t rush from attraction to attraction. Give yourself a full day or more to tour the park and don’t allow yourself to cut that short. Enjoy your newfound appreciation for this truly magnificent park.

What are your opinions on Animal Kingdom? Think you’ll tour a little differently next time? Let me know in the comments!


Posted on February 21, 2012

47 Responses to “Animal Kingdom Appreciation”

  • We LOVED Animal Kingdom and only wish we’d had more time to spend there – 6 daytime + 2 evening hours were not enough when our family of 6 visited in late October 2010. It took us more than 20 minutes to get through the entry gates (even though the park had been open for more than 90 minutes). A significant challenge is the spoke layout of the park, and the need to retrace steps back to the center in order to move around. Also unlike MK, EP, & HS, AK is ON A HILL, doubling the challenges of getting around w/young kids & strollers. I didn’t know central Florida could be so hilly! Finally, we found it very difficult to balance available show times with our Touring Plan and FastPass times – the choices we had were not great. Now that we’ve visited AK once, though, I would love to go back and do and see more, especially the shows!

    • by Kevin Crossman on February 21, 2012, at 8:28 pm EST

      >A significant challenge is the spoke layout of the park, and the need to
      >retrace steps back to the center in order to move around.

      Other than Camp Minnie-Mickey I don’t see this at all. You can’t get from Tomorrowland to Frontierland without going through the hub too. What’s the difference?

      • Generally speaking, we felt the park was not as connected as the others and was more difficult to traverse. While MK is disconnected in the area you referenced, the other lands are connected at the outer edges. If I go to Pagano Trail, I have to go all the way back out to go to Asia. If I go to Kali River Rapids, again, have to go all the way back out to the ‘entrance’ to that land. I’m sure that the increased acreage of AK makes this experience feel more dramatic; it is clear that AK & MK are laid out in a similar fashion. Just our experience; I felt like we did a lot of walking without seeing a lot, trying to balance seeing shows with our fastpass times & recommended attractions for our kids ages (9, 7, 5 & 3).

        • I agree with the layout being a little funky. I STILL find myself using the signage provided in the park to make sure I’m heading in the right direction because when I come out of certain attractions I sometimes forget where I am exactly. I’ve ran into a couple of strange dead ends in the park that made me feel like if I were just a typical first-time guest, I would be frustrated and confused.

    • My advice to balance out the showtimes and your Touring Plans is to use the new Optimized Touring Plans and/or check the entertainment schedule the day before you plan to visit. Get a rough idea of what shows you want to see and what showtimes you’re going to aim for. Fit everything else around the showtimes. If you wish to see street performers, it’s a little more tricky but you can do it as long as you’re in the right spot at the right time. No one wants to walk 15 minutes across the park just to see a quick street show and then go all the way back to an attraction. Give yourself two half days and try seeing some shows in the morning and some in the afternoon.

  • Great article! When we went to Animal Kingdom for the first time in June 2011 we blew through the Park in about two hours and left feeling a little disappointed. We then read a great article (might have been on here) about seeing the Park after dark so gave it another shot on our trip last month. Boy were we surprised at how much there is to discover when you aren’t trying to just ride the attractions! We enjoyed it so much that we also went back the next morning for a few hours before we had to head back to our resort for the Magical Express.

    We are already planning to visit multiple times on our trips in June and December!

    • That’s great to hear! I still haven’t been to Animal Kingdom when it’s dark outside but I’m dying to see how different it is and all of the things that you probably don’t notice in the daytime.

      • They put all of the animals away but Expedition Everest is a completely different ride! It’s nice going through the mountain in complete darkness and not being able to see all the scaffolding like you can during the day. Also, the Tree of Life is really beautiful all lit up at night. 🙂

        The best park is that the Park completely empties out at sunset so it’s pretty awesome/spooky to walk around and not see a lot of people.

  • The first time I went to Animal Kingdom I was that person that ran from attraction to attraction and didn’t enjoy the park at all. I even said I wouldn’t go back. We did end up going back, and I slowed down, just as you said. We ended up loving the park and having a blast as a family.

  • My family really loves Animal Kingdom and has never been able to understand the bad rap it gets from the WDW Today podcasters. Did you see Festival of the Lion King yet? Your daughter would be spellbound.

    • I forgot to mention that, even though we love AK, we do hate Dinoland and think it should be paved over!

      • It’s a funny thing about Dinoland. I get the theme and back story but I think the joke is lost on just about everybody that visits the area. If they’d have made Dinosaur more of a marquee attraction instead of shoving it away like an afterthought I think the execution of Dinoland would be way more apparent though I think they need to toss the midway games. They can’t possibly make enough money to justify remaining open.

        • by Kevin Crossman on February 21, 2012, at 8:31 pm EST

          There’s nothing wrong with the eastern half of Dinoland, which mirrors the reality-based theme of Asia and Africa. It’s the Chester and Hester carnival section that everyone objects to. And, as much as I love DAK, I can’t say the haters are out of line.

          • I couldn’t agree more about the carnival games. Witnessed a small child dissolve into tears after losing agame to an adult! Really not what Walt had in mind.

          • I feel the exact same way. The eastern half of Dinoland I’m okay with but when I walk into Chester and Hester I want to run away. It FEELS carnivaly. I know that’s what they were going for but I just feel that it cheapens the overall concept.

        • You’re very right, Graham. The visual that you get when walking up to Dinosaur doesn’t fit with Chester and Hester and is actually much more pleasing to the eye than loud carnival colors. Even Restaurantosaurus is really cool visually and looks out of place in the Chester and Hester area.

    • We love the Festival of the Lion King show also. Last time my daughter (20) and I went we had a perfect view of two Disney cast members doing the entire show in sign language. I was in tears the entire time; so proud of Disney for making that extra effort. There was a male and a female each doing the different parts and they were so animated. It was the best time we’ve had at the show.

    • by Kevin Crossman on February 21, 2012, at 8:30 pm EST

      Some of those podcasters haven’t even seen Festival of the Lion King too. Talk about not giving the park a fair shot.

  • Thanks for sharing. My wife and I love this park and consider it the best themed park at Disney World save for Dinoland which struggles a bit. It easily rivals Disneyland in the detail department. The attractions are world class but there’s plenty see while going from one to the other. From the incredible structures all the way down to small details like bare foot prints and other tracks on the ground it’s easy to stay there from opening to closing without seeing everything.

    Whether you have a pricey DSLR or an iPhone you can still snap incredible photos but you have to take it slow and really soak it all in.

  • I have to say, this article shocked me…simply because I did not know that there were people who did not like this park! From the moment my family and I first stepped into the park, I knew it was something SPECIAL! This was the slow, lovely, and ENJOYABLE part of our vacation, that which we frequent Disneylanders, tend to associate with the California Adventure portion of our trip. To us, this was an oasis to be treasured.

    I LOVED every one of the shows. From the Lion King to the Flights of Wonder, this park truly amazed us!

    • I was one of those people that didn’t fully “get” Animal Kingdom! Many other people that I’ve talked to skip the park all together on vacations because they feel like there isn’t enough to do to justify giving up a park day to visit.

      So glad that you understand the park and enjoy it nice and slow.

  • by Laurel Stewart on February 21, 2012, at 3:40 pm EST

    I love the Jammin’ Jungle parade with an enthusiasm that borders on embarrassing.

  • BTW – there is a great spot to watch Jammin’ Jungle Parade right where it turns left for the first time in front of a store (I can’t remember the name off the top of my head). Anyhow, if you watch it from that spot you can quickly get to Camp Minnie/Mickey for the Festival of the Lion King and be one of the first people in line while still getting to see the entire parade! Some CM friends of ours taught us this trick.

  • Our family has visited Animal Kingdom 3 times and each time we have discovered new things that entertain us. During our last trip we actually went back for a 2nd day because we felt we didn’t see everything. The Team Company is one of my favorites! This year we also rode the train and visitied Affection Station…our son loved it! We also experienced the Flights of Wonder show and loved it too! A great park with many great learning experiences!

  • Thank you! Thank you! For speaking up for AK. I walk this park like a living animal museum now (slow and easy), but I have to admit I didn’t get to this point until my thrill quotient exhausted itself on Everest more than 20 rides. I take all the extra time to observe the animals now. I have always enjoyed Flights of Wonder even though I thought it had to be lame while deciding if I should watch it for the first time. Surprise, I watch it on every visit now.

  • Our family absolutely loves Animal Kingdom – even Dinoland. Our five year old loves dinosaurs so this is his favorite part of the any Disney park. If you slow down and take a look around you’ll find some amazing things.

  • I loved Animal Kingdom on my first visit to the World in September 2004. Unfortunately, it’s also the Park I’ve sort of ignored on subsequent trips. My last trip in May 2011 was only a few days and even overslept on what was supposed to be my DAK day. I still need to see Flights of Wonder myself. Don’t get me wrong cus I really love DAK and I will take this article with me on my next trip in October.

  • Animal Kingdom is my second favorite park, for many of the reasons you have stated here. The intricacies that Disney is famous for are everywhere.
    And I’m sorry, I understand Dinoland USA. It fits its story well, along with the overall flow of the park; anthropologically that is.

  • by Kevin Crossman on February 21, 2012, at 8:34 pm EST

    Thanks for writing this. Animal Kingdom is my favorite park in Florida for all the reasons you mentioned. I love to linger over the trails and the atmosphere. It’s kind of like how people love to get immersed by Streetmosphere at the Studios. You gotta stay with it so you really buy into the experience.

    I’d take any of the shows at Animal Kingdom over Fantasmic or Illuminations.

    • You said it right there… “You gotta stay with it so you really buy into the experience.” I think Magic Kingdom is obvious with what the “point” of the park is. Animal Kingdom is a totally different animal (no pun intended) in order to entice guests. It’s the guests job to explore themselves.

  • Thank you for this! It always saddens me to hear people compare Animal Kingdom to the other parks as if it’s apples-to-apples. So many folks miss the whole point, that it’s a different kind of park on purpose. When I went, cast members literally had to beg people to explore the Pagani Nature Trail, which is sad, because it is AMAZING!

    • We LOVED the nature trails! They were an amazing, terrific contrast from the computer-generated, animatronic (but still awesome in their own way!) entertainment from the other parks. Our kids weren’t thrilled at first, but once they started seeing the animals, really got into it.

      • I totally agree with you about the trails… they are beautiful. Typical zoos just have boring walkways with the usual wooden fences. Animal Kingdom amplifies everything to be beautiful as well as practical for the animals. A great example is the tiger area. It’s such a visual location that it makes you want to stop and stare for just longer than a second.

    • I think guests naturally think of Disney parks as “action packed” and the attractions being the most important part. That’s the struggle with Animal Kingdom because the park’s intention is NOT attraction focused, in my opinion. If every guest took the time to really explore every nook in the park then I think more people would “get” it.

  • Animal Kingdom is my family’s “lucky park”. The past two times we’ve been there we’ve been chosen to do something special. The first time we were asked if we wanted to go on a free behind the scenes tour to see the animal holding pens and talk to an animal keeper. We got to see the lions up close, see newly born ibexes, hold an ostrich egg and learn all about the animals’ care and feeding. On our last visit my daughter and I were invited to ride on Mickey’s float in the Jingle Jungle Parade – what a thrill!!!! Animal Kingdon holds some special memories for us and the theme/landscaping is some of the best Disney has ever done. We love it!

    • That’s so cool that you’ve been chosen to do those special things! I feel like the Studios is my “lucky park” for many reasons that give me great feelings about that park. It’s always nice to feel like you’re special and Disney does a great job of that!

  • Let me tell you in two words what I like to do when I’m visiting the animal kingdom… DINO SAUR.

    I have 2 more words for you CLAIR HUXTABLE. Not since pudding pops have I been so excited about something in all my life. CLAIR HUXTABLE as the stern (yet fair) boss and that dude from Veronica’s Closet as some sort of crazy rebel who wants you to bring back a dinosaur for some reason only known to him.

    I know this perfectly written article by one of the best writers of our generation is about stopping and smelling the roses, but when I’m riding Dinosaur 143 times a day I don’t really have time for anything else.

    Dinosaur 4 life.

  • My 11 year old son and I LOVED Animal Kingdom. We can’t wait to return. I wish we would have done the trails, but I had some bad blisters that were not cooperating. He even loved riding Primeval Whirl over and over again. It is a lovely park and I don’t understand the bad rap.

  • Love the post, Stacey!! Animal Kingdom is a park to be savored and I’m glad to see it getting the credit it deserves! 😉

  • by nathalie green on February 29, 2012, at 4:01 pm EST

    Our first WDW trip was in 2009 when my son was 8. We absolutely loved Animal Kingdom the best out of all the parks, and used our “bonus” day to do this park a second time. So much to see and do besides just rides, rides, rides. If that’s all you want, just go to your local state fair instead!