Like Rich, I’m catching up on these next two posts that cover our time at Disney, as we’ve been on the go so much. While I’ve spent plenty of time at Disneyland, I’ve never been to Disney World before. A long-time Disney fan, I’d looked forward to seeing Animal Kingdom. This park contains 7 themed areas: Oasis, Discovery Island, Camp Minnie-Mickey, Africa, Rafiki’s Planet Watch, Asia, and DinoLand U.S.A.
From the minute I walked up to the entry, I was impressed by Animal Kingdom. It was the fourth and final park built at Walt Disney Resort, and is largest single theme park of all the Disney parks in the world, with over 500 acres. I was also thrilled to learn that it is the first of it’s kind, in that it is the first one to be built around animal conservation, a cause that Walt Disney supported – and which I do, too.
As we wound our way into the park entrance – a section called Oasis, it welcomed us with inviting paths and the sounds of exotic birds. Directly in my line of sight was an immense tree, called the Tree of Life, which stood 14 stories high! It is the central theme of the park, and sports a menagerie of 325 animal figures that were carved into the trunk.
Oasis connects to Discovery Island, the park’s central hub that links you to the other parks. It is located in the center of the park, and is surrounded by the Discovery River waterway and it contains two large gift shops, as well as an attraction called It’s Tough to Be a Bug! We went to this 3-D show, which was entertaining and filled with surprises like sprays of water and the smell of stinkbugs. I wouldn’t bring a young child into it, however, as it might prove to be too scary.
In the interest of time, we skipped Camp Minnie-Mickey, which I understand houses several Disney Characters, as well as a Lion King show. So we went directly over to Africa, which is a fictional east African village called Harambe. I was taken in by the authentic-looking stucco buildings and outposts, which housed souvinirs, restaurants and restrooms in the themed style. I later learned from our friend, Sid, that the main designer on this park took over 15 trips to Africa in order to accurately replicate the country’s villages.
Our first stop was the area’s main attraction, a ride called Kilimanjaro Safari. We hopped into an open-sided, over sized Jeep, which was equipped with all the Disney-style safari trappings such as suitcases , lanterns and other gear. I really love Disney’s attention to detail. We were driven along a road while we listened to our friendly driver, who took us through rolling hills, Savannah’s, and rivers. We spotted zebras, giraffes, ostriches, lions and hippos roaming freely. I was curious as to how they managed to keep the lions from eating the zebras and other animals, and I learned from our friend, Sid, that this area is carefully designed to ensure this serene setting for Disney guests looks natural while keeping predators away from prey. Apparently, if we had looked back in our Jeep we might have seen some electric fences hidden in the grass, or perhaps a large moat that had been hidden by a burm or hill from its’ approach.
We then trekked by foot into the Pangani Forest Exploration Trail, where we saw exotic birds, Nile hippos, gorillas and reptiles, including some lazy looking crocodiles. We particularly enjoyed watching a large gorilla, who who seemed to enjoy entertaining the group with his gestures.
After completing Africa, we went to the Asian section, opting to pass over Rafiki’s Planet Watch. Rich and I are both advocates for our environment, which is the theme there, but had been told such good things about Asia that we wanted to take it in first. Besides, the heat of the day and the jostling in the Safari took a toll on a few of us.
I learned that like Africa, Asia was also set in a fictitious place. In this case it was called Anandapur, which means ‘place of many delights.’ We decided to start out with lunch, to recharge our energy. We chose a place called Yak and Yeti, where the meal was overpriced but tasty Pan-Asian fare. The lemon ice water helped to revive us, and we were on our way to the next attraction.
The Maharajah Jungle Trek was situated a little ways from a jungle river, and provided a beautiful display of forests, ruins and animals. The first character we saw was a Komodo Dragon who slyly lay resting in the greenery by a lazy lagoon. I’ve never seen one of these guys, so was intrigued by him. Next we saw the most unique bats I’ve ever seen! These fox bats are part of the fruit bat family, and about the size of a small fox or a large cat, hanging upside down from the trees in a drizzling forest. Only wooden bars separated us from them, and I stared curiously into their little, black faces. They shared the space peacefully with a large tortoise, who munched some greens patiently.
Despite the heat of the afternoon, I loved the next section of the park the best. This village called Serka Zong was patterned after Nepal, and situated in the foothills of the Forbidden Mountain and Mt. Everest reaching far up behind. Traditional Tibetan-style flags ushered us into the village, while a group of monkeys entertained us by swinging from a power structure.
We decided to brave the Expedition Everest roller coaster ride that ascended steeply up the mountain and twisted its’ way back down to the ground in a twisty frenzy inside the mountain. After the twisty we rewarded our endurance of the heat with a creamy ice cream cone and retraced our path back to Asia’s entrance. On the way, we opted to skip a fun looking river rafting ride, called Kali River Rapids, as the rafters looked soaked when they walked past us. Instead we took in the entertaining Flights of Wonder, which featured birds of prey and an interactive show. I enjoyed seeing a Bald Eagle up close for the first time ever.
Animal Kingdom closed at 7pm and, so we skimmed over the DinoLand U.S.A. section. DinoLand was inspired by the public’s general interest and curiosity in dinosaurs. We walked past a place called The Boneyard, where children and their parents were on a ‘dig’. We went into a ride called The Dino Institute, which takes you back into the time of the dinosaurs. You get into a Range Rover style of vehicle in this Indiana Jones-style ride, where you dodge velociraptors. There were several other attractions in this section that we missed.
This park provided a full day’s entertainment for us, even though I understand it has had quite a controversial background because the animals are all held in captivity. PETA and other animal rights groups protested it in the beginning. That said, Animal Kingdom has provided a sanctuary and breeding location for a number of endangered species. The park closes at 7pm to support the animal’s needs, and there are no fireworks. I personally feel that Disney does an outstanding in providing a safe and natural-feeling habitat, which many animals would envy in our world. In any case, thanks for reading and ’till next time!