Updated: May 21, 2015
Guide to Disney Animal Kingdom - Best RidesAnimal Kingdom is Disney's newest theme park at Disney World. Opened in 1998, Animal Kingdom is a combination theme park, nature conservatory, and zoo. And its a big park, in fact the biggest park out of all the Disney parks - over 500 acres, which means lots of walking to get from place to place within Animal Kingdom. The park itself is divided into several different sections. The first section you encounter is the Oasis - a zoo-like area with lush foliage all around and animal exhibits. When the park opens, you will find cast members here with small cages and terrariums displaying animals as you head for Discovery Island. Discovery Island is the central hub of the park - you reach it after crossing a bridge from the Oasis, and now you are deep into African and Asian animal themes.
The central feature of Discovery Island at Animal Kingdom is the Tree of Life. In keeping with the Disney tradition, the Tree of Life is of course fake, made out of concrete and plastic. However, despite that, it looks terrific, towering over the surrounding vegetation and carved with the visages of countless animals. The Pixar attraction here, Its Tough To Be A Bug, is located under the tree stump, and as you wind your way in to see the show, you will see the forms of many of the animals carved into the tree's surface. To enter the attraction, veer to the right as you enter Discovery Island. This is a 3-D movie that you watch with polarized glasses to get the effect of things jumping out of the screen. The theater is equipped with a variety of sensory and tactile experiences, meaning you will get sprayed (slightly), stinked, and crawled as you sit there watching this delightful attraction - we recommend it for kids and adults (the "mean" bug Hopper makes an appearance as do some "stinging" bugs, but overall it is a great experience).
Best Rides at Animal KingdomBranching off from the lower left corner of Discovery Island is the path to Camp Minnie Mickey. This land features character greeting (Greeting Trails) areas where you can stand in line to meet Minnie, Mickey, Goofy, and Donald Duck - this is a shady, cool spot to take kids any time of the day. Also in this area is the Pocahontas And Her Forest Friends live show, with live animal exhibits, and Festival of the Lion King, a live performance with scenes and music from the Lion King (along with amazing costumes). We'd say skip Pocahontas and see the Lion King show - the Broadway version gets rave reviews, and this is your chance to see the free version of the same thing.
Getting Around Animal Kingdom - What to SeeVeering off to the lower right from Discovery Island takes you to Dinoland. The Boneyard there is a kid-friendly discovery playground you can easily spend an hour in -- its a great way to let the little ones let off some steam, crawling around dinosaur bone excavations, climbing on nets and slides, and playing in a giant sandbox (shady!). There is a bridge built out of a dinosaur skeleton and much more - kids love it better than most of the rides in the park. There is also a carnival-like scene here, with the Dumbo-like TriceraTop Spin and the bolder Primeval Whirl mini-roller-coaster (meant for bigger kids, 10 and up). The Dinosaur ride is here as well, where you climb into a jeep-like vehicle and shoot into the time of dinosaurs, trying to avoid carnosaurs and escape meteors. This is a bumpy ride that is often dark and scary for kids under 8 - use your good judgement. Exit out the right side of Dinoland and head for Asia and the newest attraction to Animal Kingdom, Expedition Everest. This towering roller coaster ride packs incredible detailed Himalayan ambience with the thrills of an exciting high speed ride. It is popular and crowded, but fortunately also open to FastPass visits - so get your Fastpasses and avoid the crowds. As you circle around the Discovery River, you'll come to the Kali River Rapids and Maharajah Jungle Trek on your right. The Jungle Trek is a self-guided walk through a zoo-like exhibit. We found a lot of sleeping, boring animals on our visit - consider skipping this one, though there is no line and it takes only 15 minutes. Kali River Rapids is a WET ride, where you float downstream in a raft that gets inundated by waves and splashes, often soaking you seriously. You will see riders wearing plastic tarps and jackets to protect themselves - this is no joke. You may get only splashed, or you may take bath with your clothes on -- be sure to protect cameras and any other valuables, and ride during a warm part of the day.
Flights of Wonder is here as well, an outdoor natural bird show. This is a fun attraction and worth the 20 minute visit (and probably 15-20 minute wait). A little further along brings you to the upper left area of the park, Africa. There is a train ride here that takes you out to Rafikis Planet Watch - this is a less popular, low-traffic area with some live animal exhibits. But the main attraction here is Kilimanjaro Safaris. This is a semi-natural bus tour of the artificial Disney jungle and savannah. Your bus will take you past animal pens and cages, and out into the open savannah where you can spot freely wandering giraffes, ostriches, zebras, and other animals. There are also carefully concealed pens for lions, elephants, and other animals - if you are lucky you will see them all, even if some are napping. Overall, this is a long, fun attraction with lots of nature scenes and animals - everyone enjoyed it on our recent visit. So you can see, like MGM Studios, Animal Kingdom is a little light on the rides and heavy on the atmosphere. Take some time to see the Lion King and Flights of Wonder shows, hang out at the Boneyard, wander around the Oasis and Discovery Island. If you play your cards right, you can see most of Animal Kingdom in 5 hours or so, giving you time to head back to the pool at the hotel or an afternoon and evening at Magic Kingdom or MGM Studios.
Tips for Visiting Animal Kingdom - Secrets for having the best visitSince there are only 3 or 4 popular rides at Animal Kingdom, all the morning crowds head there first. A good strategy is to head quickly through Dinoland to Everest and get a Fastpass there, then head back and go directly on Dinosaurs while everyone else crowds Kilimanjaro and Everest. After Dinosaur, try Its Tough To Be a Bug show under the Tree of Life, usually only a 10 minute wait early in the morning. Check your FastPass tickets - you can probably get another one now for Kilimanjaro Safaris. Go to the Flights of Wonder, then the Maharajah Trek, and you can probably get your last Fastpass for Kali River Rapids. Now use your Everest pass, hang out in Dinoland for a bit, cross over to Camp Minnie Mickey and see some character greetings and catch the Lion King show, then back up to Kilimanjaro with your Fastpass, and close out a hot afternoon on Kali River Rapids with your final Fastpass. How do Disney World Fastpasses work? Read out MGM Studios Guide for more detailed instructions.
Map of Animal KingdomWhere can I see a map of Animal Kingdom? This is a common question. Disney posts maps on their Disneyworld website that show you where the various attractions, restaurants, bathrooms, etc., are located throughout the park. Go here, then click on the MAP item at the bottom right of the animated picture greeting you. You can zoom in and out on the map and drag it around to see whatever you want to see. You can also see a large labeled map of Animal Kingdom here.
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