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    Animal Kingdom Overview

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With its lush flora, winding streams, meandering paths, and exotic settings, Disney’s Animal Kingdom is stunningly beautiful. The landscaping alone conjures images of rainforest, veldt, and formal gardens. Soothing, mysterious, and exciting, every vista is a feast for the eye. Add to this loveliness a population of some 1,700 animals, replicas of Africa’s and Asia’s most intriguing architecture, and a singular array of attractions, and you have Disney’s most distinctive theme park.

Animal Kingdom comprises six “lands”—The Oasis, Discovery Island, DinoLand U.S.A., Africa, Asia, and Pandora: The World of Avatar—but it offers relatively few attractions in its 500 acres: eight rides, several walk-through exhibits, an indoor theater, three amphitheaters, a conservation exhibit, and a children’s playground.

Once upon a time, Disney’s idea of animals in theme parks was limited to cartoon characters and Audio-Animatronic figures. Meanwhile, 84 miles away in Tampa, Busch Gardens had been slowly building on a successful combination of natural-habitat zoological exhibits and thrill rides since it opened in 1959.

TouringPlans Tip

Disney’s Animal Kingdom is four times the size of the Magic Kingdom and almost twice the size of EPCOT, but most of it is accessible only on guided tours or as part of attractions.

Of course, there’s nothing like competition to make Disney change its tune, and in 1989, shortly after the opening of what is now Disney’s Hollywood Studios, then- Imagineer Jim Rohde presented then-CEO Michael Eisner with his proposal for a zoological park. Disney went public with its plans for Animal Kingdom in 1995, and the park opened three years later.

Even if Disney largely copied its recipe from Busch Gardens, Animal Kingdom serves up more than its share of innovations. For starters, there’s lots of space, allowing for sweeping vistas worthy of National Geographic or the Discovery Channel. Then there are the enclosures— natural in appearance, with few or no apparent barriers between you and the animals. The operative word, of course, is apparent: That flimsy stand of bamboo separating you from a gorilla is actually a neatly disguised set of steel rods embedded in concrete.

Animal Kingdom has gotten mixed reviews since it opened in 1998. The animal exhibits, along with the architecture and the landscaping, consistently draw praise, but guests also complain about the park’s layout—in particular, the necessity of backtracking through Discovery Island to reach the themed areas—as well as its congested walkways and lack of shade.

Yet in spite of its weaknesses, Animal Kingdom works. It’s a place to linger in, to savor. Of course, Disney, with its crowds, lines, and regimentation, has conditioned its theme park guests to do just the opposite of that; nevertheless, many visitors understand instinctively that Animal Kingdom must be approached differently from, say, the Magic Kingdom.

Animal Kingdom’s best features are its animals, nature trails, and cast members. The Wilderness Explorers scavenger hunt ties together all of the park’s best elements, and it’s part of our Animal Kingdom touring plan described on page 571. It’s a lot of fun to play, and you just might learn something along the way.

Pandora—The World of Avatar is Animal Kingdom’s newest “land.” It completes an expansion project begun in 2011, when Disney signed Avatar filmmaker James Cameron to a development deal. Pandora has two attractions: Avatar Flight of Passage, a stateof- the-art flight simulator, and Na’vi River Journey, a slow-moving boat ride through colorful forests and swamps. Readers rate Flight of Passage as one of the best attractions at any Disney or Universal theme park in the US.

Like other Disney parks, many Animal Kingdom shows, character greetings, and dining locations were closed during the pandemic, with no reopening date announced. Most, if not all, of these should return once an effective vaccine is widely administered. We’ve noted in this chapter the attractions and restaurants closed at press time and updated the Animal Kingdom touring plan accordingly.

Arriving

TouringPlans Tip

If you want to beat the lines at Pandora, arrive well before opening or wait until the last hour the park is open.

Disney's Animal Kingdom is off Osceola Parkway in the southwest corner of Walt Disney World and is not too far from Blizzard Beach, Coronado Springs Resort, and the All-Star Resorts. For driving directions. Animal Kingdom Lodge is about a mile away from the park on its west side. From Interstate 4, take Exit 65, Osceola Parkway. Animal Kingdom has its own vast pay parking lot with close-in parking for the disabled. Once parked, you can walk to the entrance or catch a ride on one of Disney’s trams.

The park is connected to other Walt Disney World destinations by the Disney bus system. If you’re staying at a Disney resort and plan to arrive at Animal Kingdom before park opening, use Disney transportation rather than taking your own car.

Operating Hours

The Animal Kingdom's opening time corresponds to that of the other parks. Thus, you can expect a 9 a.m. opening during less busy times of the year and an 8 a.m. opening during holidays and high season. With the nighttime landscapes of Pandora, expect Animal Kingdom to be open until at least 10 p.m. during summer, and at least 8 p.m. in winter. That’s a couple of hours after sundown, enough time to tour Pandora, and take a nighttime Kilimanjaro Safaris ride.

Animal Kingdom’s standard opening procedure lets all guests through the turnstiles about 45–60 minutes before the official park opening. Most of the crowd will go towards Pandora to ride Flight of Passage, which often begins running 15-30 minutes before the rest of the park. If you want to ride it without a significant wait you should get to Animal Kingdom 60-90 minutes before the park opens and head to Pandora with everyone else. Other rides like Na'vi River Journey, Kilimanjaro Safaris, Expedition Everest, and DINOSAUR open at the official park opening time or maybe a few minutes before.

TouringPlans Tip

Arrive at the entrance turnstiles, admission in hand, 90 minutes before official opening during the summer and holiday periods, and 75 minutes before official opening the rest of the year.

During slower or colder times of year, Disney may delay the daily opening of Kali River Rapids in Asia, as well as the Boneyard playground, the Wildlife Express Train, and Conservation Station. These procedures may change, so check the Times Guide or Lines for the exact schedule when you arrive. The rest of the attractions come online at official park opening time.

Animal Kingdom Services
Baby Care Center On Discovery Island, behind Creature Comforts
Banking Services ATMs at the main entrance and near DINOSAUR in Dinoland U.S.A.
Camera and Photo Supplies Just inside the main entrance at Garden Gate Gifts, in Africa at Duka La Filimu and Mombasa Marketplace, and at other retail shops throughout the park
First Aid On Discovery Island, next to Creature Comforts
Guest Relations and Information Inside the main entrance on the left
Live Entertainment Information Pick up a park map and Times Guide just after going through turnstiles and before entering Discovery Island
Lost and Found At Guest Relations. After park close, all items are taken to the resort's main Lost and Found at the Transportation and Ticket Center
Lost Persons Can be reported at Guest Relations, the Baby Care Center, or to any Cast Member
Storage Lockers Can be rented for day-use to the left after entering turnstiles
Wheelchair, ECV, and Stroller Rentals To the right after you go through the turnstiles

Getting Oriented

At the entrance plaza the temperature-screening area, security checkpoint, and ticket kiosks front the main entrance. To your right, before the turnstiles, is an ATM. After you pass through the turnstiles, wheelchair and stroller rentals are to your right. Guest Relations—park headquarters for information, guide maps, entertainment schedules (Times Guide), lost and found, and lost persons—is to the left. Nearby are restrooms and lockers. Beyond the entrance plaza, you enter The Oasis, a lush green network of converging pathways winding through a landscape punctuated with streams, waterfalls, and misty glades and inhabited by what Disney calls “colorful and unusual animals.”

Animal Kingdom is arranged somewhat like the Magic Kingdom, in a hub-and-spoke configuration. Similar to Main Street, U.S.A., The Oasis funnels visitors to Discovery Island, at the center of the park. Dominated by the park’s central icon, the 14-story hand-carved Tree of Life, Discovery Island is the park’s retail and dining center. From here, guests fan out to access the themed areas: Africa, Asia, DinoLand U.S.A., and Pandora. Discovery Island also hosts a theater attraction in the Tree of Life and several short nature trails.

You should be able to take in all of Animal Kingdom in one day— but we encourage you to take your time.

Last updated on March 24, 2021

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