Walt Disney World’s Animal Kingdom

Lisa Fritscher November 10, 2010 No Comments

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Walt Disney World's Animal Kingdom

Exploration is the name of the game at Animal Kingdom

Opened in 1998, Disney’s Animal Kingdom is perhaps best described by its tagline: “Nahtazu.” This made-up Swahili word refers to the fact that Animal Kingdom is much more than a simple zoo. Rides and shows blend seamlessly into the animal exhibits, creating a wilderness romp for all ages. Note that Animal Kingdom is mostly an outdoor park, so try to visit on a cool, dry day. Many attractions and exhibits close during thunderstorms, and the heat can be brutal in the late summer.

The Oasis  

The Oasis Disney World's Animal Kingdom

The Oasis is your introduction to the park

The Oasis serves as the bridge between the real world and the exotic adventures that await you. To your left is Guest Relations, your one-stop service center for any questions or concerns. If anyone in your party is disabled, stop by to learn about the various accommodations that the park can provide. On your right, you can rent wheelchairs, strollers and ECVs. The prices are high, so it is best to rent from an outside company, but it is comforting to know that they are there if needed.  

Kids Discovery Club Disney World's Animal Kingdom

Look for games and activities at Kids Discovery Club stations

As you move further into the Oasis, note the heavy jungle foliage. When Animal Kingdom first opened, no guide maps were distributed! The idea was for guests to explore the park at their leisure, discovering things as they went. The concept was extremely unpopular, and guide maps quickly appeared. Nonetheless, much of Animal Kingdom’s charm is in its hidden walkways. Over 200 species of animals can be found in the park, so slow down and keep a sharp eye out. Also look for Kids Discovery Club spots throughout the park, where kids can participate in all sorts of science-based activities.  

Discovery Island  

Tree of Life Disney World's Animal Kingdom

How many hand-carved animals can you spot on the Tree of Life?

Like virtually all theme parks, Animal Kingdom is laid out in a roughly circular pattern, with individual themed lands extending from the central hub like spokes on a wheel. Discovery Island serves as the hub, connecting all of Animal Kingdom’s lands. The Tree of Life is 145 feet tall and features 325 hand-carved animals. Inside is a 4-D movie called It’s Tough to Be a Bug. The attraction uses effects built into the seats which, while not inherently scary, can be startling. If you have a sensitive child, consider placing him on your lap.  

Camp Minnie-Mickey  

Festival of the Lion King Animal Kingdom Disney World

Festival of the Lion King presents the classic story in a whole new way

Originally conceived as a temporary expansion to the park, Camp Minnie-Mickey proved enormously popular. This is the best place in the park for character meet and greets, so get your camera and autograph book ready. In addition, don’t miss the spectacular Festival of the Lion King stage show, easily one of the best on Disney property. Elements of Cirque du Soleil, world-class gymnasts and high energy singer/dancers present the Lion King story in a whole new way, and your kids may even be invited to participate!  

Africa  

Africa Safari Animal Kingdom Disney World

Embark on a 2 week safari

Themed as the fictional village of Harambe, Swahili for “coming together as one,” Africa is filled with street performers. Not all shows are detailed on the park guide, so be on the lookout for impromptu entertainment. The major attraction in Africa is the Kilimanjaro Safari, a 2-week exploration trip that goes by so quickly, it feels like only 20 minutes! The Safari is great fun for all ages. Try to ride early in the morning, late in the evening, or just before a thunderstorm, when the animals are the most active. Don’t miss the Pangani Forest Trail, a walking path past a number of animals including hippos and gorillas.  

Rafiki’s Planet Watch  

Rafiki's Planet Watch Animal Kingdom Disney World

Watch the animals get veterinary care at Rafiki's Planet Watch

Accessible only by train from Africa, Rafiki’s Planet Watch is a great place to take a break. A small petting zoo and conservation exhibits are among the highlights. Try to visit before 11 a.m. to see veterinary procedures in action. From routine checkups to major surgery, virtually all veterinary care takes place behind a large plate glass wall with educators providing detailed information.  

Asia  

Kali River Rapids Animal Kingdom Disney World

Kali River Rapids uses a whitewater ride to teach a message of conservation

Like Africa, Asia is heavily themed as a fictional town. Anandapur is Sanskrit for “place of delight.” There are two major attractions here, both of which have height restrictions and may not be appropriate for small children.  

Kali River Rapids is a relatively mild whitewater raft ride that teaches a message of conservation. The height requirement is 38 inches. The whitewater and scenes of a burning forest may be frightening to some children, but if your kids are brave, this can be an excellent introduction to thrill rides.  

Expedition Everest Animal Kingdom Disney World

Expedition Everest is one of the most detailed attractions at Walt Disney World

Expedition Everest is a high-speed roller coaster in which you will come face to face with the mythical Yeti. You can see part of the track from outside the attraction, so let your kids watch for a few minutes before deciding whether to ride. The height requirement is 44 inches. Both attractions offer Child Swap, in which one adult waits with the children while the other rides and then switches places without standing in line again. See an attraction attendant for details.  

Maharajah Jungle Trek Animal Kingdom Disney World

See tigers and bats on the Maharajah Jungle Trek

Other attractions in Asia, such as the Flights of Wonder bird show and a plethora of street performances, are well suited to the entire family. Look for small reminders of daily life in Asia, and don’t miss the Maharajah Jungle Trek, where you can spot a variety of wildlife including both tigers and bats.  

Dinoland U.S.A.  

Dinoland U.S.A.

Get up close and personal with a variety of dinosaurs in Dinoland U.S.A.

Dinoland U.S.A. is two lands in one, both revolving around a dinosaur theme. According to the back story, a group of scientists and dinosaur enthusiasts unearthed a major fossil site, turning a tiny town into a tourist hotspot. Two guys who owned a gas station wanted a piece of the action, opening up a carnival in the parking lot.  

Chester and Hester's Dino-Rama

Visit Chester and Hester's Dino-Rama for carnival fun

The carnival area, known as Chester and Hester’s Dino-Rama, is great fun for both kids and adults, featuring an assortment of midway games, rides and fun foods. Watch out for the Primeval Whirl coaster, though. With a height requirement of 48 inches, this spinning wild mouse-style coaster is much more intimidating than it appears!  

Dinosaurs of the Cretaceous Trail

Kids are welcome to climb on the dinosaurs of the Cretaceous Trail

The main section of Dinoland U.S.A. has a more educational theme, but the adventures are no less exciting. Kids love playing on the dig site equipment at the Boneyard and coming face to face with replica dinosaurs on the Cretaceous Trail. Although oddly placed in Dinoland, Finding Nemo: The Musical is a must-see stage show featuring giant puppets in a musical version of the beloved film.  

Parental opinion is split on the Dinosaur attraction, originally named Countdown to Extinction. This part-motion simulator, part-track based ride with oversized animatronic dinosaurs takes place largely in the dark. The dinosaurs are quite realistic, and even the premise–saving a baby Iguanodon from a deadly meteor strike–is intentionally scary. The 40 inch height requirement precludes very small children, but even some who meet the requirement may be afraid. Consider previewing this one before taking younger children for a ride. Child Swap is available if needed.  

Dining at Animal Kingdom  

The Rainforest Cafe Florida

The Rainforest Cafe is located just outside the park gates

As an outdoor park, the majority of available dining consists of carts and fast-food windows. A particularly fun option is the Picnic in the Park, in which you can preorder a boxed meal for pickup at a time of your choosing and carry it to any of the park’s outdoor tables or benches. Table service dining is offered at both Tusker House and Yak and Yeti. Animal Kingdom generally closes before dusk, due to the animals’ schedules. For a relaxing dinner, stop by the Rainforest Café, located just outside the park gates.

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Lisa is a full-time travel writer. She lives in an RV with her disabled father and writes about their experiences. Although she has no children of her own, Lisa loves being an Aunt to her own relatives and the children of all her friends. You can follow her adventures on her blog, Travel Confessions.

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