Disney’s Animal Kingdom is hands down our favorite park of the entire Disney park system the world over. Animal Kingdom pays homage to the land on which it is built, reverently mimicking the landscapes of the continents which it emulates. The Kingdom is comprised of five different lands, all representing a different part of the planet Earth, or a concept that emulates giving life and growing: Oasis, Discovery Island, Dinoland U.S.A., Pandora, Asia, Africa and Rafiki’s Planet Watch. The cultures and belief systems of the native people in the named area’s represented at Animal Kingdom are well integrated and offer exploration and discovery in their respective counterparts.
► Ranking: #cleandiaper
Disney’s Animal Kingdom
Walt Disney World
In blunt terms, you could call Animal Kingdom a zoo, but it is much more than that. It is a completely immersive experience, that does a remarkable job of transporting you to the African safari or the Himalayan Mountains, all in Disney fashion of course. You can find a bird show and a reptile show. You can go on two nature walks and see a tiger and her cubs, a cave of bats, and gorillas. In this regard, Disney’s Animal Kingdom doesn’t feel like a theme park. It feels like a habitat. There are rides, attractions, restaurants and merchandise around every corner, but betwixt all that, there is a life that is blossoming. It is inviting and welcoming.
This park, interestingly enough, is the hottest park out of all four Disney theme parks in Orlando. Due to the density of the trees and foliage, it traps in extra heat and humidity, and you can definitely feel it. This park was traditionally a half day park, opening at 9a and closing at 5p. This was said to provide quiet time for the animals to rest, though as they’ve since expanded the Kingdom to include Pandora this park has grown to a full day park. I suspect it had less to do with the animals, and more to do with the size of the park and getting guests to stay for a full day.
The exterior entrance to Animal Kingdom showcases a beautiful marquee covering the span of the gates with wildlife, foliage, plants, flowers, and shrubbery covering every square inch of the landscape aside from the walkways. Passing through the front gates places the guest inside the Oasis. This area is easy to overlook, and walk directly through, but if you take the time to look at what this area has to offer you’ll find tropical garden exhibits and exotic animals. There are tunnels through the overhanging tree trunks, while the exhibits themselves blend into the scenery. Walking through these gardens truly sets the stage for what you’ll experience at Animal Kingdom.
From the Oasis, you’ll continue across the bridge to the center of Disney’s Animal Kingdom, and the tree of life. The tree is a monolith sized tree where from each of the individual lands branch out from. The paths weave around the tree forming not just pathways, but trails to appreciate the beauty of the land, and of the tree, including many of the animals that reside here. The tree itself is a work of art. It has carvings and stories etched on the tree itself, and underneath it is an auditorium. It can be seen from every area of the park. At night, it comes to life with a light show that depicts the great circle of life through Disney showmanship.
The land of Asia is found North of Discovery Island and just to the west where you are transported to the land of Anandapur, a blended mix of India, Cambodia, Thailand and other Asian countries. Here lies the vast and treacherous Mt. Everest with it’s foreboding tales of the abominable snowman who lives in its shadow. With so many highlights in this park, Mr. Everest is just one, but it is the solitary roller coaster and the main attraction. This land also shares part of its jungle trek nature walk with Africa and is home to a very impressive bird display.
Contrary to planetary geography, Africa lies east of Asia in Animal Kingdom. Africa contains the other half of the Exploration Trail and our absolute favorite experience of the park: Kilimanjaro Safaris. There isn’t much else here, because Kilimanjaro is the penultimate attraction that Disney has to offer the world over.
The oasis found here provides an unparalleled experience in a theme park, a habitat where you forget where you are. Animals on this safari roam freely in a world that as closely as possible resembles the home from where they originated. The plants are native, the surroundings are invisible, and the animals live as if they were unencumbered. Each safari is unique in what is witnessed or seen, and each one is not restricted by a specific time. If an animal is on display, it is meant to be revered without restraint.
Rafiki’s Planet Watch
North of both Asia and Africa, by way of the Wildlife Express Train, is Rafiki’s Planet Watch. Part of what is so unique about this aspect of the park is that the train will guide you past the housing sections of the park where the animals are kept at night. Disney’s Animal Kingdom encompasses just shy of 600 acres of land. Rafiki’s Planet Watch is made up of two sections, the Affection Section and the Conservation Station. Both areas offer a hands on experience. The Affection Section with a petting zoo full of escaping pigs, goats, and sheep, reptiles housed indoors, and a self guided sustainability walk about. Chip and Dale are often found here conducting activities and Rafiki will pose for pictures indoors at the Conservation Station as he surveils the kingdom therein.
In the southwest corner lies, Pandora, Disney’s newest creation fashioned after James Cameron’s feature film Avatar from over 20 years ago. If you’re like me and weren’t that impressed with the movie, that will have absolutely zero bearing on enjoying this area of the park. It is replete with everything that was breathtaking and tantalizing from the movie including a plethora of new species of plant, animal and wildlife. This land is brimming with creativity and illusory enchantment from the floating mountains to the bioluminescent plants that come alive at night. This is an area of the park that should be visited and explored both day and night.
As you can guess, Dinoland USA pays tribute to the yesteryear of planet Earth with a bit of hokey commercialization mixed in. It’s more of a carnival type affair with an Indiana Jones from Disneyland California ride type ride but with Dinosaurs. It’s our least favorite part of the park, but does have a rather impressive playground for little tykes including a boneyard to play in and dig up old fossils amongst the slides, ropes and old crates.
There are plenty of character meet and greets from the fab four to even getting the opportunity to meet Doug and Russell. After meeting Doug and Russell you can go on a wilderness explorers adventure and earn your very own badges that will lead you all over Disney’s Animal Kingdom. There are also a few shows scattered throughout the park including two phenomenal Broadway style retellings of Nemo and Simba that should not be missed, a few animatronic ones we could do without, and one on the water, which we have mixed reviews about.
Restaurants and Food Options
Of course, the greatest aspect of this park are the truly fantastic restaurants scattered throughout the park. Flame Tree BBQ offers mouth watering ribs, the chicken at Yak and Yeti is crispy with the perfect blend of sweet and sour, Satu’li Canteen offers rice bowls with mix and match options that are unique with every combination, plus giant safari cupcakes, fruit popsicles dripping with flavor, funnel cakes, character dinners, and even some pizza and hamburgers.
► For Kids: We may be biased as this is our favorite park, but the immersion with which Disney creates at this park is a sight to behold. From getting lost in the jungle to a petting zoo and a real life safari there is something for everyone from young to old. Our children love this park as much as we do and running to and from each attraction, animal and adventure is as exciting as anything else that Disney has to offer. They don’t mind that there aren’t as many thrill rides, and recognize that those aren’t what make this park special.
Have you visited Disney’s Animal Kingdom in Orlando, Florida? Are you as enamored with it as much as we are? We’d love to hear your opinion, whether you agree or not!
► Nap-Time Version: An in depth family review of Disney’s Animal Kingdom at Walt Disney World Resort in Orlando, Florida.
Check out our many other family reviews of Disney parks across the globe, including our favorite restaurants, Disney’s newest attractions, and even some of the things we hate about Disney if you dare.