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    Animal Kingdom Overview

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With its lush flora, winding streams, meandering paths, and exotic setting, Disney’s Animal Kingdom is a stunningly beautiful theme park. 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 more than 1,700 animals, replicas of Africa’s and Asia’s most intriguing architecture, and a diverse array of singularly original attractions, and you have the most distinctive of all the Disney theme parks.

At 500 acres, Disney's Animal Kingdom is five times the size of the Magic Kingdom and more than twice the size of Epcot. But unlike those parks, most of the Animal Kingdom's vast geography is only accessible on guided tours or as part of attractions. The Animal Kingdom features seven sections or "lands": The Oasis, Discovery Island, DinoLand U.S.A., Africa, Asia, and Pandora: The World of Avatar.

Its expansion notwithstanding, Animal Kingdom offers a limited number of attractions. To be exact, there are nine rides, several walk-through exhibits, an indoor theater, three amphitheaters, a conservation exhibit, and a children’s playground.

TouringPlans Tip

Four of the attractions - Flight of Passage, DINOSAUR, Expedition Everest, and Kilimanjaro Safaris - are among the best in the Disney repertoire.

Animal Kingdom’s opening was seen as Disney taking dead aim at Busch Gardens in Tampa, a theme park known for its exceptional zoological exhibits. Up to that time, Disney had preferred the neatly controlled movements of Audio-Animatronic animals to the unpredictable behaviors of real critters. Unfortunately for Disney, however, the combination of creative natural-habitat zoological exhibits and roller coasters developed by Busch Gardens became immensely popular, and as any student of The Walt Disney Company can attest, there’s nothing like a successful competitor to make the Disney folks change their tune. So, all press releases aside, Animal Kingdom was designed as a combination of natural-habitat zoological exhibits and thrill rides. Big surprise!

Even if the recipe was copied, the Disney version serves up more than its share of innovations. For starters, there’s lots of space, thus allowing for the sweeping vistas that Discovery Channel viewers would expect in, say, an African veldt setting. 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. The Imagineers even take a crack at certain animals’ unwillingness to be on display: A lion that would rather sleep out of sight under a bush, for example, is lured to center stage with cool, climate-controlled artificial rocks.

Disney’s Animal Kingdom has received mixed reviews since it opened in 1998. Guests complain loudly about the park layout, the necessity of backtracking through Discovery Island in order to access the various themed areas, congested walkways, and lack of shade. However, most of the attractions have been well received, as have the animal exhibits and the park’s architecture and landscaping. We marvel at the fact that readers of similar backgrounds come away with such vastly differing opinions.

Our opinion is that Animal Kingdom is a wonderful park, but that it takes a few visits to really begin to appreciate it. In truth, Animal Kingdom is a park to linger over and savor—two things that Disney, with its crowds, lines, and regimentation, has conditioned us not to do.

Pandora—The World of Avatar is Disney World’s newest land. Opened in May 2017, it completes a major expansion project that began when Disney signed Avatar filmmaker James Cameron to a development deal in 2011. Besides two new headliner rides—Avatar Flight of Passage and Na’Vi River Journey—Disney has brought to life the floating mountains and glow-in-the-dark plant life of Cameron’s blockbuster film. Of course, you’ll want to stay well into the evening to see all these new effects—and making Animal Kingdom a full-day park is exactly what Disney wanted to do. In addition, Pandora has an abundance of themed merchandise as well as two dining locations: a large quick-service restaurant and a walk-up bar. The quick-service restaurant, Satu’li Canteen, offers an imaginative, themed menu that features an impressive array of customizable items. Ordering can be done on-site or in advance via the Disney World app.


TouringPlans Tip

Take a picture of the row you're parked in with your cell phone or digital camera.

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 are ticket kiosks fronting 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 Guides), missing persons, and lost and found—is to the left. Nearby are restrooms, public phones, and lockers. Beyond the entrance plaza, you enter The Oasis, a lushly vegetated 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.”

The park is arranged somewhat like the Magic Kingdom, in a hub-and-spoke configuration. The lush, tropical Oasis serves as Main Street, funneling 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 Discovery Island, guests can access the respective themed areas of Africa, Asia, DinoLand U.S.A., and Pandora. Discovery Island also hosts a theater attraction in The Tree of Life and a number of short nature trails.

Even if you dawdle in the shops and linger over the wildlife exhibits, you should easily be able to take in the Animal Kingdom in one day.

Last updated on July 16, 2020