Disney’s Animal Kingdom, the park famous for its entrance sign meme, is one of the more visual stunning theme parks in Orlando. Opened in 1998, the park focuses on a limited number of wildlife experiences, an elaborated selection of rides and outstanding shows.
Tree of Life and It’s Tough to be a Bug!
Once you entered the park through the Oasis, you will find yourself in front of the Tree of Life, a large artificial Baobab tree featuring all kinds of animals modelled into its trunk and branches. The Tree of Life is also home to a theatre showing It’s Tough to be a Bug, a 9-minute-long 3D film starring the characters of A Bug’s Life. Interestingly, the attraction premiered first. Like the animated feature film, the attraction nowadays is a bit dated. In its heydays, the attraction was a visual stunning experience featuring top of the notch animatronics and never to be seen animations. The edutainment aspect of the movie makes it interesting, yet partly boring. The big musical finale is nice to see.
In the evening, the Tree of Life awakes. It then becomes an impressive backdrop of a projection mapping show showing various animals, which the guest might have encountered on their day at Disney´s Animal Kingdom. Unlike other evening spectacles, Tree of Life Awakening is not based on a Disney IP.
Pandora – The World of Avatar
Pandora – The World of Avatar might be the most ambitious themed area so far ever created in a theme park. The area features a bunch of floating rocks and a vegetation never to be found in a place before. It’s just astonishing! The overall theme fits in perfectly with the trilogy of movies, where two still needs to be published. It was a weird IP choice back in the days, as the first movie just had an impact due to its 3D effects in a time when 3D movies where actually popular.
Avatar Flight of Passage
The main attraction of Pandora – The World of Avatar is the flight simulator Avatar Flight of Passage: An attraction unlike anything else. Where most flying theatres just simulate a flight using a machine of some sorts, Avatar Flight of Passage simulates the flight on a living being. Storywise, the guests are experiencing a flight on a banshee – a keystone species for the planet Pandora – using their avatars. The flight sequence itself is fast paced and full of surprises. Additional effects increase the immersion.
During the flight, I was sensory overloaded and just wanted to leave the attraction. The simulated breathing of the banshee is a nice feature for sure, yet a very unpleasant one for me. I understand, why many people love this attraction, as the quality of the attraction is top notch, and the overall experience is great; it was just a little bit too much for me. I might give the ride another chance in the future, but if the waiting time is high, I will for sure give it a miss.
Na’vi River Journey
The dark ride Na’vi River Journey is the second ride in the realm of Pandora – The World of Avatar. The ride itself is a rather calm, but very impressive one. The boat ride guides us through a series of caves and into a bioluminescent rainforest – which is quite impressive. The main draw of the ride is the Na’vi Shaman of Songs – probably the most interesting animatronic figure by Disney so far. Na’vi River Journey for sure is a dark ride, which you should not miss when visiting Walt Disney World.
The African themed section of the park is probably the most immersive one. The port village of Harambe serves as the starting point for the Kilimanjaro Safaris and is home to the Festival of the Lion King show.
Festival of the Lion King
One of the biggest attractions in the Africa section of Disney’s Animal Kingdom is the Festival of the Lion King. The show features a central stage visible from all sides. Here, various actors sing, dance and perform circus acts. During the show, floats featuring puppets of Pumbaa, Simba and other animals are driving into the arena. The meerkat Timon is the only character of the Lion King, who plays along on the main stage.
Festival of the Lion King is a great variety show offering a colourful experience for all park guests. The floats are a great idea to bring Simba and Pumbaa to the action, the singing and dancing is just fine, and the circus acts are an impressive sight. I just expected the show to be a bit closer to the musical and was therefore a bit surprised. It’s a very fine show, don’t get me wrong, yet it could be even better.
The guided Safari Kilimanjaro Safaris is the highlight at Disney’s Animal Kingdom. During the 18-minute (or longer) expedition, we explore the Harambe Wildlife Reserve, home to 34 species. As we drive through the 110 hectares of picturesque open plains, shady woodlands and rocky wetlands, an expert guide tells us all sorts of fascinating facts about the African wildlife and helps us to identify the animals. Due to the nature of this attraction, it is not easy to spot all animals, which is why the Kilimanjaro Safaris is best to be experiences multiple times.
Gorilla Falls Exploration Trail
Just after you exit Kilimanjaro Safaris, you immediately find yourself on the Gorilla Falls Exploration Trail. This trail is probably one of the highlights at Disney’s Animal Kingdom, as you can take a glimpse on some African animals, e.g., your favourite meerkat and warthog.
Wildness Express Train
I don’t fully understand the reason why the Wildness Express Train is still in operation today. The train ride leads you to Rafiki’s Planet Watch and back. It is the only mode of transport available to this area of the park. Here you can inform yourself a little bit about conservation, learn to draw some characters and/or visit a small-scale petting zoo. For a normal day visit at the park, there is no real reason to visit this corner of the park and therefore no reason to take the train.
The Asian themed section of Disney’s Animal Kingdom is dominated by the artificial Himalayas of the Expedition Everest roller coaster and many temples. The area has a great atmosphere and is home to two of the parks main attractions.
Feathered Friends in Flight!
Feathered Friends in Flight! is probably the most impressive bird show I’ve seen outside of the one at Parc LePal in France. It starts with a very fun running gag before the edutainment part of the show takes over. During the show, you learn a lot about the different birds and their behaviour.
Kali River Rapids
Unfortunately, I could not test the large scale Intamin rapids ride Kali River Rapids during my visit, as the ride was currently scheduled for maintenance. The atmospheric immersion of the ride speaks for itself, and I really wanted to experience the large drop during the ride for myself.
Maharajah Jungle Trek
The trail Maharajah Jungle Trek focuses on the presentation of Asian animals. Next to the graceful Asian tigers, you can find gibbons, Komodo dragons and many more species in a very immersive area of the park.
When the roller coaster Expedition Everest was built, it was the most expensive roller coaster ever created – a fact many websites are still stating even after all these years. Truth is, the ride is pretty impressive with its massive mountain structure, its steel bridge lift hill and the large drop going down the mountain.
The ride on Expedition Everests starts with a small lift hill after a right-hand curve directing towards the artificial Himalaya. A wide left-hand bend, we now move over hill and dale before approaching the main lift hill. Once on top of the mountain, we follow the path through a hole till we encounter a dead end at the other side. Without having any other chance, we now travel backwards. After passing a switch track element, we then run through a curve in pitch darkness. After an encounter with the Yeti, our journey continues straight forwards. With momentum, we now take the large drop out of the mountain. Close to the ground we then pass through a left turn before we climb upwards and continue our way through the mountain for another time. On the other side of the mountain, we then race though a tapering helix before entering the mountain once more. Here, we have another encounter with the Yeti. Shortly after, we reach the brakes, and our wild ride soon comes to an end.
Expedition Everest is probably the most impressive of all roller coasters at Walt Disney World. The scale of the coaster itself speaks for itself. The large drop and the tapering helix are my highlight of the ride. You cannot do anything wrong with a ride on Expedition Everest, especially when the waiting times are low.
I love a good musical and of course the updated version of the Finding Nemo musical should not open before summer 2022. In the meantime, Disney’s Animal Kingdom presented Disney KiteTails, which of course was suspended due to high winds on the day of my visit.
DinoLand U.S.A. is often criticked as Walt Disney World’s less ambitious themed area. The main areal of the land resembles a typical fun fair with a bunch of gaming booths and seemingly transportable rides. As always in Disney parks, a Telecombat style of ride shall not be missing, which in this case is the Tricera Top Spin. The area used to be home to the two Primeval Whirl roller coasters, which have not yet found a replacement.
The main attraction of DinoLand U.S.A. is the dark ride DINOSAUR. This Intamin enhanced motion vehicle ride is one of the best dark rides in existence. To fit the theme with the long-forgotten Disney movie Dinosaur, we are in a time travel rescue mission. Our goal is to bring an Iguanadon to our present time before a fatal meteor will hit earth. On our way, we encounter many other dinosaurs and some aggressive ones as well.
DINOSAUR is a very impressive dark ride. The use of the enhanced motion vehicles makes our ride a rather wild one. In combination with the immersive surroundings and impressive animatronics, DINOSAUR for sure is a ride which should not be missed.
Pictures Disney’s Animal Kingdom
Conclusion Disney’s Animal Kingdom
Disney’s Animal Kingdom is indeed a very immersive theme park. The atmosphere at the different sections of the park is just great. Unfortunately, the park lacks a bit in its number of attractions. During my visit, many of the park’s signature attractions could not be experienced, as they were either currently upgraded, under maintenance or just got suspended. The park could easily benefit by focusing a bit more on the animal exhibits such as similar parks in Europe do. The attractions on their own are a good reason to visit the park, yet currently there is something missing.
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