Welcome back everyone! It’s been a while since I visited my Disney World 101 Series, but we’re down to our last park – Animal Kingdom! Animal Kingdom is the newest Disney theme park and one of its grandest endeavours yet. The purpose of my Disney World 101 Series is to help you learn the complete ins and outs of this amazing resort and we have made it to the last stop on our tour of the theme parks! In addition to being the newest, it is also the largest park at the resort. So strap in for my Animal Kingdom review and breakdown!
What exactly is Animal Kingdom? Strap in for a safari into the animal world and let’s dive into what makes this park so amazing!
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Disney’s Animal Kingdom in 1998. We really have Imagineer Joe Rohde to thank for this amazing park – Animal Kingdom really is his brain child! The idea behind Animal Kingdom is simple – bringing real life animals, NOT animatronics, into the Disney magic. This obviously posed lots of problems that the Imagineers had to figure out how to navigate. How did they create an environment that resembled the real life habitats of these animals? How did they create the illusion that you were on the savannah, not in a zoo? Over the course of the last two decades Animal Kingdom has added new attractions and lands and become the second most visited park at Disney World behind the Magic Kingdom!
Fun fact – the sign for Animal Kingdom has a dragon on it, which alludes to one of the planned lands that was never built. It was going to be centered around mystical creatures like dragons and unicorns!
The first place you enter when you head into the main gates of Animal Kingdom is the Oasis. This secluded area is a scenic nature walk to the main hub of Animal Kingdom – Discovery Island. The main attraction in this area aside from shopping (where you can get adorable Animal Kingdom themed shirts and ears) and park information is the Rainforest Cafe. You do not need a park ticket to eat at this famous restaurant chain as you can enter from outside the park (and yes, it is the second Rainforest Cafe at Disney – the other being at Disney Springs). Along the trails on the way to Discovery Island you can see a number of animal exhibits such as warthogs and various bird species.
In Discovery Island, the main focal point is obviously the Tree of Life – the park icon of Disney’s Animal Kingdom. It’s not a real tree, but instead a towering structure with dozens of animals carved into the trunk by Disney Imagineers. It’s truly a sight to behold, and even more beautiful when it’s all lit up during their new nighttime hours!
Inside the Tree of Life is one of my favorite 3D shows, It’s Tough to Be a Bug! This show features the cast of bugs from Pixar’s “A Bug’s Life” and may be a bit scary for kids. The song might get stuck in your head all day, so be careful!
While the 3D show is the only real “attraction” at Discovery Island, but here is where your young kids can sign up for the Wilderness Explorers! This challenge, based on the scout inspired club from the Pixar movie “Up” requires your kids to stop at various checkpoints around the park to earn badges. Sign your kiddos up and see if you can get all the badges in the park!
As for food, there are a ton of good eats to fill your stomachs before you head out to explore the rest of the park! Flame Tree Barbecue is a quick service restaurant specializing in – you guessed it – barbecue delights. The macaroni and cheese with pulled pork? Absolutely AMAZING! If you need to energize before you head to your first Fastpass, check out Isle of Java for some coffee inspired drinks to get your caffeine buzz on. Additionally, Creature Comforts is the area in Animal Kingdom where you can find Starbucks coffee and get your macchiato for the day, and is found on the opposite end of Discovery Island from Isle of Java.
If you’re really craving some good old fashioned comfort food, check out Pizzafari for quick service personal pan pizzas, in addition to a family style dining option. For those who are craving a more elegant dining experience, Tiffins is a dining option that actually requires 2 dining credits if you’re on the dining plan and is considered a “signature dining” experience. If you’re a big foodie and want to experience true Pan-Asian and African flavors, this is a must-do for you.
If you just want a quick snack, be sure to check out the counter service stands on the way to the rest of the park. Terra Treats is where you’ll find savory dishes like meatball subs with cider to pair it with. The Smiling Crocodile is near the entrance to Asia and specializes in sandwiches, and Eight Spoon Cafe is perfect for mac and cheese lovers!
Based on the archeological dig sites of the American Southwest, Dinoland USA is a kitschy escape into the fantastical world of dinosaurs. The main attraction in this area is DINOSAUR, based on the lesser known Disney movie of the same name. It’s very similar to the Indiana Jones ride at Disneyland – you hop in a Range Rover-esque ride vehicle and take an adrenaline pumping ride back in time to the age of the dinosaurs! Naturally, things don’t go QUITE as planned. This is a cult classic attraction and one of my favorites at Animal Kingdom. There are some less intense rides there as well, including TriceraTop Spin (think Dumbo, but with flying dinos) and Primeval Whirl, a spinning roller coaster which is only open at certain times of the year. If you really need the kids to burn off some energy, take them to the Boneyard – a playground where they can dig up dinosaur bones and climb around to their heart’s content! There are also tons of fun midway style games to play!
Need a break for some food? Restaurantosaurus is your best bet for quick service dining, where you can get burgers and chicken nuggets for a quick bite. Dino-Bite snacks is also a good option for delicious ice cream dishes, or you can check out Dino Diner for some chocolate covered churros! For something more savory check out Trilo-Bites near the entrance to Dinoland USA and order their buffalo chicken chips!
On the way to Asia, you’ll find the theater housing Finding Nemo: The Musical. If you’re a huge fan of this Pixar movie, as many people are, make sure you catch a show before you leave!
As you enter the Asian section of the park, you simply cannot miss the towering mountain peak that is Expedition Everest – Legend of the Forbidden Mountain. This ride is loosely based off the Matterhorn at Disneyland park. This roller coaster is quite the thrill ride, even going backwards at some points! Unfortunately, the huge animatronic Yeti that guards the mountain and is meant to be the climax of the ride hasn’t worked in over a decade. BUT it’s still a sight to behold as you zip past it, and the strobe lights give a little bit of an allusion that it’s moving!
On a sweltering hot Florida day, there’s no better way to cool off than by riding Kali River Rapids. This raft ride is guaranteed to get you SOAKED! If you’re going during the summer, expect relatively high wait times as guests desperately try to escape the heat. Nearby, you can find the entrance to the Maharajah Jungle Trek, one of my favorite walk through exhibits in the park. This trail takes you past the habitats of various Asian animals. You’ll find various bird species, bats, even tigers in this exhibit!
Looking for some good eats around the Asian pavilion? Near Expedition Everest you can find tasty smoothies at Thirsty River Bar and Snacks, and you can get ice cream at Anandapur Ice Cream Truck on a hot summer day. If you’re coming from Discovery Island, you can find similar cool drinks at Drinkwallah. The main table service restaurant in this area is the Yak and Yeti Restaurant that serves Asian delights in a themed atmosphere. If you’re in a hurry, Yak and Yeti also has a counter service section where you can sample some of their famous dishes on the go. Caravan Road and Warung Beverage Outpost are located along the path to the Africa section of the park. Caravan Road offers Asian dishes that are quick and easy to eat as you move. Warung Beverage Outpost is a margarita stand – why is there Mexican food in Asia? I have no idea, but if that’s your drink of choice here is where you’ll find it!
The two main attractions in the African part of the park are two of the biggest show stoppers in the park! Kilimanjaro Safaris is one of the most unique attractions Disney has ever come up with. The safari cars take you through an African savannah, where you’re able to see all sorts of animals – giraffes, lions, hyenas, elephants and more! Each time you ride is different, as the animals are just going about their day. I personally find the best time to go is near dusk, around dinnertime. The animals are all getting fed at this time as well so they’re more active than during the day! During our last trip an adorable baby giraffe ran right up to us!
The other big attraction is the Festival of the Lion King show. We saw this show for the first time at our last trip and I absolutely loved it! They go through all the music you love from the original movie, while classic characters interact with the hosts and audience. It’s not so much a new rendition of the show as it is a sing along, but I loved it all the same!
For a relaxing walk with some animal companions check out the Gorilla Falls Exploration Trail. Similar to the Maharajah Jungle Trek, you can walk along and see exhibits featuring gorillas, hippos, snakes and more! For a more up close and personal experience, take the Wildlife Express Train to Rafiki’s Planet Watch. This new, revamped area of the park has a petting zoo and behind the scenes look at conservation and animal care at the parks. Perfect for your aspiring veterinarians!
One of my favorite Disney character dining experiences is also in the African pavilion – Tusker House Restaurant is a great buffet dining experience at Animal Kingdom and one of my favorites! If you’re looking for a quick place to grab a drink instead of a meal, Dawa Bar is located right outside the entrance to the restaurant. Tamu Tamu Refreshments is another option across the way, serving up dessert items including everyone’s favorite dole whips! Looking for a souvenir popcorn bucket? You’ll easily find it at the Mahindi food stand.
For a lighter option, check out the Harambe Fruit Market. If it’s early in the morning and you need your daily fix of caffeine be sure you check out the coffee and pastries at Kusafiri Coffee Shop and Bakery. The main counter service restaurant in this area is the Harambe Market, where you can grab street food inspired African cuisine between rides!
The final and newest land in Animal Kingdom is Pandora. This area of the park is modeled off the Avatar movie series, and is one of the most elaborately themed areas in Disney parks! The two main attractions in this area are Flight of Passage and Na’vi River Journey. Flight of Passage is ALWAYS a long wait and definitely the ride you should be getting a Fastpass for when you’re booking your passes. Imagine Soarin’, but on your own personal ride vehicle that mimics riding a Banshee – the Pandora equivalent of a dragon, basically. The ride is extremely detailed – you can even feel the Banshee breathing underneath you!
Na’vi River Journey is a relaxing boat ride into the wonders of Pandora. This boat ride takes you through a Pandora forest, complete with bioluminescent plants and animal animations. The main attraction of this ride is the Na’vi shaman at the end. It’s a completely new level of animatronic that will blow your mind! Because this ride is continuously loading, you usually have a much shorter wait here compared to Flight of Passage.
There are two dining options in Pandora. The first one (and my favorite) is Pongu Pongu. This is where you can get the legendary Night Blossom drink, which is one of my favorite Disney snacks! They also have various bite sized snacks, like french toast sticks for breakfast. For a quick service meal, head to Satu’li Cafe. Here you’ll find healthy bowl type dishes featuring rice, veggies and meats. Perfect if you’re looking for a healthier option in the parks!
Animal Kingdom is full of SO MANY amazing things! I hope you enjoyed my complete breakdown of this park and all the wonderful attractions here. What is YOUR favorite part of Animal Kingdom? Personally, I love Expedition Everest, DINOSAUR and the drinks at Pandora! Let me know in the comments below!
Need more information on Animal Kingdom? Be sure to check out my favorite Disney vacation planning manual, The Unofficial Guide to Walt Disney World. You’ll be able to read restaurant reviews, in depth reviews of each attraction and so much more!
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