Disney’s Animal Kingdom is the largest of the Walt Disney World parks. Don’t let that intimidate you though. Most of the land is set aside for the use of the animals who make this park so interesting.
Disney’s Animal Kingdom is divided into six distinct areas. They are the Oasis, Discovery Island, Africa, Asia, Dinoland USA and Pandora The World of Avatar.
Because of the name many guests expect Disney’s Animal Kingdom to be a huge zoo. There are two walking trails there might remind you of a zoo but Disney has woven a story into them. There is also one show, Up! A Great Bird Adventures Show, where the animals take center stage. The biggest draw for animal lovers is Kilimanjaro Safaris.
But Disney’s Animal Kingdom is not a zoo (or not just a zoo!) There are plenty of attractions and shows to wow even the non-animal loving members of your party. Of course Mickey and some of his pals are in the park to remind you that you are at Disney and after all it did start with the Mouse.
Grumpy Highlights: Many people consider the Animal Kingdom to be a half-day park. Grumpy, however, thinks there is enough in this park to keep many guests busy. In fact Grumpy likes to spend more than one day at the Animal Kingdom. This is especially true now that Pandora-The World of Avatar is open.
But if you want to run from one ride to the other this is not the park for you. There are not as many rides in this park as there are in the Magic Kingdom.
Rides and attractions: Kilimanjaro Safaris, Expedition Everest, Festival of the Lion King and Dinosaur. I would say Flight of Passage is one of my favorites but I haven’t got to ride it yet!
Restaurants: Tusker House and Flame Tree BBQ (Grumpy hesitates to recommend Flame Tree BBQ because the last time he was there it was not great. It was every other trip though.)
Animal Kingdom Overview
Walt Disney’s Animal Kingdom is divided into six distinct areas. The entrance area is the Oasis. From the Oasis guests take the bridge to Discovery Island. Discovery Island is the hub of the Animal Kingdom. Each of the other areas (Africa, Asia, Dinoland USA and Pandora – the World of Avatar) are connected to Discovery Island by bridges.
Disney parks are known for their immersive nature. When you step into a park it is like stepping into another world. The Animal Kingdom is no exception. In fact, it may be the best example of Disney immersion. Note: there are two entrances into the Animal Kingdom. One that most people use and a “secret” entrance that you can access by going through the Rainforest Cafe.
- The Outpost Shop
- Garden Gate Gifts
Guests can reach the Oasis by one of two gates. The first gate is the standard gate guests have come to expect. It cannot be missed. There is a second gate that is easily overlooked. This gate is reached by going into the Rainforest Cafe and heading to the right. You will exit the Rainforest. Follow the path to the second (and often overlooked) gate.
Both gates lead directly to the Oasis. The Oasis has no rides, shows or attractions. Instead it has Guest Services and bathrooms. There are also several live animal exhibits for those who do not rush through the Oasis. Occasionally cast members will be on hand with animal related displays. Devine has also been seen in the Oasis.
There are two paths that lead to Discovery Island. They are equal in length. The one on the left is usually less congested when going into the park.
Discovery Island is surrounded by Discovery River. It connects to all other areas of the park by bridge.
The first thing guests notice when crossing the bridge from the Oasis is the Tree of Life. The Tree of Life is huge and remarkably life-like. Most people will think it is a real tree to they get close enough to see that it is covered with hundreds of animal carvings. The Tree of Life serves as the icon for the Animal Kingdom.
As the central hub of the Animal Kingdom there is only one major attraction on the island. There are however dining and shopping locations.
- It’s Tough To Be A Bug: Located beneath the tree of life in the in the Bug’s Life Theatre this nine minute production emphasizes the importance insects play in the world. This is a 3D experience requiring guests to put on their bug eyes. There are also smell and touch elements and small children (and some not so small) may be frightened.
- Discovery Island Trails: Look for all the animals taking refuge in and under the Tree of Life.
- The Tree Of Life: Not an attraction in the typical sense but still wonderful to behold. Look for the many animals carved into the trunk of the tree.
- Flame Tree Barbeque: Without a doubt this is the best counter-service restaraunt in the Animal Kingdom and might be for all of Walt Disney World. The food is great and if you are on the dining plans provides one of the best bargains around. The seating is all outdoors but there is lots of shade and scenic places to sit. Note: This was not so good on my last visit. Most reviews are still enthusiastic so take my recommendations with a grain of salt.
- Pizzafari: Satisfy your taste for pizz here. Good but not great in my opinion.
- Creature Comforts
- Disney Outfitters
- Island Mercantile
The Africa area of the Animal Kingdom resembles an African village. This particular village is called Harambe. Harambe is Swahili for “all pull together.”
Harambe is authentic enough that guests can forget they are not in Africa. This is particularly true on hot Florida afternoons.
- Kilimanjaro Safaris: Unlike on the Jungle Cruise all the animals seen during Kilimanjaro Safaris are real. Guests board open sided trucks and venture out onto safari. The landscapes are surprisingly realistic. A variety of animals may be seen but the highlights are lions, elephants, giraffe, hippos and rhinos.
- Pangani Forest Exploration Trail: This is a self guided walking tour. The entrance to Pangani Forest Exploration Trail is at the exit of Kilimanjaro Safari. You can access the tour without riding the safari. Guests get up close encounters with many African animals. The highlight of the tours are the gorillas.
- Festival of the Lion King: The Festival of the Lion King is a musical. The show is a theater-in-the-round experience. It features many of the best songs from The Lion King. The show has a few audio-animatronics but relies mainly on performers in costume. Grumpy thinks this is the best show at Walt Disney World.
- Wildlife Express Train: The Wildlife Express Train is a short train ride to Rafiki’s Planet Watch. It is the only way guests can reach the Planet Watch. It is also they only way they can return to Africa.
- Rafiki’s Planet Watch: Rafiki’s Planet Watch is only a short ride from the main Africa section of the Animal Kingdom. The main attraction here is Conservation Station. Guests can view animals on close circuit video and visit Affection section, a small petting zoo. There are also opportunities to watch the Disney veterinarians at work. This is the location for the Pocahontas and Rafiki meet and greets.
- Dawa Bar: African inspired specialty drinks, South African wines and African beers.
- Gardens Kiosk: Healthy snacks and dietary information.
- Kusafiri Coffee Shop & Bakery: This walk up eatery features continental breakfast options. Offerings include: cinnamon rolls, freshly baked pastries, assorted cereals, milk, yogurt, fruit, juice and specialty coffees. There is no seating
- Tamu Tamu Refreshments: This walk up restaurant, whose name means “very delicious” in Swahili, offers African inspired fare. It also offers Dole Whips. The Dole Whips can be kicked up a notch with rum. There is no seating at Tamu Tamu.
- Tusker House: Tusker House is an African themed buffet. It serves breakfast, lunch and dinner. Breakfast and lunch are character meals with Donald, Daisy and Goofy. There are a variety of carved meats as well as side dishes. Child
- Harambe Market: African inspired ribs, chicken and beer.
- Africa Hub Cart
- Mariya’s Souvenirs
- Mombasa Marketplace
- Ziwani Traders
The Asia section of the Animal Kingdom is the fictional village of Anandapur. Anandapur is Sanskrit for place of delight. According to the Disney back story the village was once part of a larger kingdom also called Anandapur. The kingdom was ruled by benevolent maharajahs. The kingdom has faded but they village remains. The villagers have devoted themselves to conservation efforts.
- Up! A Great Bird Adventure: This show replaced Flights of Wonder (which was one of my personal favorites!) The show is still an interactive showcase of birds but instead of Guano Joe it now features Russel and Doug from the movie Up!
- Kali River Rapids: Disney has given it’s creative touch to the white water rafting ride. In addition to the traditional thrills of white water rafting guests are exposed to the destruction man is causing in the jungles of the world.
- Maharajah Jungle Trek: Another self guided walking tour. This one is in Asia. The architecture is beautiful. Tigers are the highlight of Maharajah Jungle Trek.
- Expedition Everest: Expedition Everest was once a contender for the most popular ride in the Animal Kingdom but has been upstaged by Flight of Passage in Pandora-The World of Avatar. It is still a great ride and one of my personal favorites. Expedition Everest is a roller coaster but like all Disney attractions it has a story. Guests are invited to climb Mount Everest. Unfortunately that climb is interrupted by the mysterious yeti. He, evidently, is not happy to share his home with strangers. An excellent ride. This coasters most unique feature is that it starts as a forward coaster but then becomes a backwards coaster for part of the ride. Then it returns to being a forward coaster. Do not miss Expedition Everest unless you hate coasters.
- Upcountry: Not many food choices here, only chips and pretzels. The main offering are margaritas. There are also non-alcoholic options available.
- Yak and Yeti Local Food Cafes: A walk up eatery featuring Asian favorites like beef lo mein, egg rolls and fried rice. Kid friendly options available.
- Yak and Yeti Quality Beverages: The lounge area for the Yak and Yet Restaurant. Features food, beer and specialty drinks.
- Yak and Yeti Restaurant: Large variety of Asian dishes. Also has a large variety of mixed drinks, wines and beers. Children’s menu does include a hamburger for those who are not adventurous.
- Mandala Gifts
- Yak and Yeti Bhaktapur Market
- Serka Zong Bazaar
- Fossil Fun Games: Just your typical carnival games. The games are included in the price of park admission. If you want to play you have to pay.
- Triceratops Spin: Dumbo has come to Dinoland USA, sort of. This is a spinner ride just like Dumbo except this time you are in a Triceratops. Bet you didn’t see that coming did you.
- Primeval Whirl: This is a carnival like mini-coaster. There are two separate tracks but the ride is similar on both. In addition to the normal hills, drops and turns the ride vehicles themselves spin.
- The Boneyard: The Boneyard is a childrens play area. It is themed as an archaeological dig.
- Finding Nemo-the Musical:
- Restaurantosaurus: Standard theme park fare in an archaeology themed dining room. Foods include hot dogs, burgers and chicken nuggets. There is a black bean burger for vegetarians.
- Chester and Hester’s Dinosaur Treasures
- The Dino Institute Shop
Pandora – The World of Avatar
On January 5, 2014 Camp Minnie-Mickey closed permanently. Normally this would be a sad time for Disney fans but considering Camp Minnie-Mickey was a pale shadow of what was originally meant for this land (the never built Beastly Kingdom) it did not break many hearts. The best part of the Camp (Festival of the Lion King) was moved to Africa, where it fit much better anyway, and construction began on Pandora – The World of Avatar.
Pandora – The World of Avatar opened to the public on May 27, 2017.
- Avatar Flight of Passage: Strap on to the back of a banshee and ride through Pandora. This ride has some similarities to Soarin over at Epcot but there are some major differences. The biggest difference is seating. The seats are similar to a bicycle but once you are seated there are back and leg restraints. There are also “flght goggles” aka 3d glasses that you wear. Then you are ready to start your flight. Good luck! Avatar Flight of Passage is probably the most popular ride at Walt Disney World and definitely the most popular at the Animal Kingdom. Get a Fastpass if you can!
- Na’vi River Journey: Take a boat ride and explore Pandora. This dark ride gives you a chance to up close with the flora and fauna of an alien world. As you might expect there are animatronics (including the Na’vi Shaman of Songs, Disney’s most advanced animatronic ever) but there are also screens in use to bring the world to life.
- Satu’li Canteen – a quick service restaurant with a very unique menu. Most of the items are listed as bowls but there are also cheeseburger pods. Got questions? Click here for the official menu.
- Pongu Pongu – exotic beverages (including the adult variety) and two snack options, pineapple cream cheese spring roll or giant pretzel with cheese sauce.
There is one shop located at the exit to Flight of Passage.
Visit the official Walt Disney World site for more information.