Animal Kingdom represents the culmination of one of Walt Disney’s greatest dreams. Walt was an animal lover who produced a series of nature films known as True Life Adventures. Long before Steve Irwin made Wildlife Warrior a household term, Walt’s True Life Adventures documented exotic animals in their natural habitat. When Walt built Disneyland, he wanted to use live animals in the Jungle Cruise. In that era, however, zoos were dismal places in which animals were enclosed in small cages. It was beyond the capacity of even the talented Imagineers to bring to fruition a ride through a naturalistic habitat in which live animals would surround the vehicle. Walt was eventually convinced to scrap the idea in favor of animatronics which would perform on cue.
Now, of course, we live in a far different time. Modern zoos consist solely of naturalistic habitats and zookeeping technology is vastly improved. Animal Kingdom takes Walt’s dream a step further, encompassing not only a ride but an entire theme park full of a blend of animals and attractions. It is necessary to understand the history behind the park in order to fully appreciate the experience. Animal Kingdom is much more than just another theme park, and it is in the small details that the vastness of Walt’s dreams can truly be explored. Many claim that Animal Kingdom is only a half-day park, which is true in terms of major attractions. However, for those who wish to gain the full experience, this leaves an entire half day in which to explore the park in detail.
One of your greatest Animal Kingdom experiences will be the discovery of your own hidden secrets. Nonetheless, Animal Kingdom is the largest of the Disney parks in terms of square footage, so it can be difficult to know where to begin exploring. To help you get started, here is this author’s list of the top ten overlooked attractions at Animal Kingdom.
1) The Awakening. This show takes place daily at 15 minutes prior to scheduled park opening. Many characters are on hand to help you start your morning, and it is at the Awakening that guests are selected for special programs such as First Family. You might be chosen for a private early morning in-depth safari or other event. Whether you are selected for a private program or not, however, the Awakening show is highly entertaining and very much worth seeing.
2) Rafiki’s Planet Watch. This area is accessible only by Wildlife Train, and gives a behind the scenes view of animal care throughout the park. Medical procedures from routine checkups to major surgery take place in the mornings behind a glass wall and are fully narrated by Cast Members. The area also houses a petting zoo (ask a Cast Member about the history of the animals) and several environmental exhibits.
3) DeVine. Hard to spot but entertaining to watch, DeVine is a performance artist who blends in perfectly with the flora and fauna. Once you have seen her the first time, she is much easier to see. While away a few minutes or a few hours watching her sneak up and frighten other guests.
4) Dawa Bar. Located in Africa by the Tusker House Restaurant, the Dawa Bar is a center of activity throughout the day. Acrobats, drummers, and other performers do shows regularly. Additionally, be sure to listen in the corner outside the door. You will overhear a lot of “local” activity.
5) Maharajah Jungle Trek. This walking trail is located in Asia, and most guests visit primarily for the tigers. While the tigers are quite beautiful, be sure to take your time on the rest of the trail as well. From fruit bats to Komodo dragons, there is an extensive collection of exotic creatures. Some are hard to spot, so be sure to look carefully.
6) The Tree of Life. Everyone sees the Tree of course; as the central hub of the park it is impossible to miss. However, many never stop to notice the incredible detail work. It is rumored that the Tree contains more than 320 distinct animal carvings. Each leaf was attached by hand. The longer you study the Tree, the more details you notice, so take your time.
7) Chester and Hester’s Dinorama. This is the newest section of Dinoland, USA and is themed as a roadside attraction. The Primeval Whirl roller coaster is a wild and exciting “spinning mouse” style, and the midway games are a lot of fun. Stroll through the area and appreciate the tacky 1950s-style amusement park feel even if you don’t want to do the rides or games.
8) Expedition Everest Queue. Most guests see queues as a necessary evil of life, and are not happy to see a long line at an attraction. Fast Passes were created in response to guest complaints about wait times. However, early in the morning and late in the afternoon lines tend to be much shorter. If you can catch Everest with a reasonably short wait time, bypass the Fast Pass machines in favor of waiting in line. The queue is elaborately decorated and could pass as a walkthrough attraction on its own.
9) Flights of Wonder. This bird show is exceptionally well done. The show takes place in an outdoor amphitheatre in Asia and appeals to both children and adults. Kids love the whimsy while adults will appreciate both the setting and the environmental message.
10) The excitement is everywhere. Everywhere you turn in Animal Kingdom, there is something new and different to see or explore. Lush hiking trails, exotic animals, sounds and smells all combine to convince you that you are truly in a far off land. Take a never before explored pathway or peek around a new corner. Look up and down as well, as many of Animal Kingdom’s most hidden gems exist in the unlikeliest of places.
Animal Kingdom is a half-day park in terms of rides and shows. However, Animal Kingdom is the largest of the Disney parks in square footage, and every square foot is packed to overflowing with interesting and exciting details. See the major attractions, then spend the rest of the day simply exploring and enjoying the atmosphere.