The Best Seat in the House - Disney's Animal Kingdomby Steve Russo, staff writer
"So… where do you want to sit?"
It's a question most of us hear at Walt Disney World. Typically, it comes from a traveling companion just after you enter a theater or show and usually gets a response of "I don't care. Anywhere."
I wrote that introduction just a few months ago as we took a look at the attractions in the Magic Kingdom ("Best Seat in the House"). This time around, we'll change focus a bit to those attractions in Disney's Animal Kingdom.
To set the ground rules for this discussion, we first must know that not every attraction offers a choice of seating. Often, you'll need to accept what's offered but I've learned that if you're willing to wait a bit, most cast members will honor a request.
Also remember that any recommendation from me is subjective and represents my opinion and my opinion only—and we all know what opinions are worth. You may have an entirely different take and, if you do, I'd love to hear it. The one thing we all share is the desire to pick up additional tips that make any visit to the World that much more enjoyable—I never stop learning.
I would also ask your leniency in another area. The attractions within the Animal Kingdom don't always lend themselves to a traditional "seat". In many cases, you'll find yourself standing and/or walking while viewing animals in their (sort of) natural habitat. Where it makes sense, I'll attempt to convey some things I've experienced that may help you see something a bit differently without actually taking a physical seat. No guarantees, but as I said, I'll try.
Ready? Let's get started with the World's newest park: Disney's Animal Kingdom.
After making your way through the turnstiles and into the park, the Oasis provides the transition from the outside world into that of the Animal Kingdom. Many people rush through here, anxious to get that first ride on Expedition Everest or Kilimanjaro Safari. I would urge you to take your time and investigate your surroundings along the way. You'll have to choose the path to the left or right (I'd suggest the left—then reverse it as you exit), and you might spot an African spoonbill, macaw, duck or… if you're patient and a little lucky, the often heard about but seldom seen giant anteater.
As I mentioned, there are no seats here but plenty of attractions.
The Tree of Life
Once you exit from the Oasis, you're on Discovery Island and your view will be dominated by the Tree of Life. It's 145 feet tall, 165 feet wide, and a truly awesome sight. The tree and its branches contain carvings of over 320 animals. So where's the best place to "sit"? Anywhere. Truly, the Tree of Life needs to be experienced from several vantage points throughout the park. The view from Discovery Island is great but there's also a spot on the path between Asia and Africa where the tree is framed by some dense foliage and presents a great view as well as a wonderful photo opportunity. I would also suggest viewing it from close up as well—by walking the Discovery Island Trails or the queue to It's Tough to be a Bug. And speaking of…
It's Tough to be a Bug
There will be some spoilers here so, if you've not seen this 3D film, and would prefer to not read about it, please skip ahead.
You make your way through this queue by winding through the paths around the Tree of Life (be sure to check out the carvings). You're then transitioned to an area that represents the underground root system of the tree—which disguises the lobby outside the theater. This holding area contains some very imaginative show posters…
… as well as offering some great background music. The rendition of "Beauty and the Bees" is particularly haunting. I would also warn you that this area can be a bit close. It can be very dark and very crowded and, because it now represents the underground area beneath the Tree, the walls and ceilings can seem quite confining. This won't bother most folks, but if you're at all claustrophobic consider yourself warned.
Eventually, you'll be allowed inside the theater and will, of course, heed the cast members asking you to move all the way down your row before sitting. As in most theater-type shows, you do have a few choices to make. Entering the theater immediately as the doors open will place you toward the left side of theater (as you face the screen). If you hang back a bit before entering, you should wind up toward the middle. Hang back longer and you'll be on the right side. Additionally, as you enter the theater, cheating toward your right will lead you to the front-most rows while keeping left will have you further back.
So where's the best seat? As always, it depends. My first words of advice are… if you have a child under the age of five with you, the best seats may be on an attraction in another park. Seriously—parts of It's Tough to be a Bug can be quite intense and it's a rarity to see a show without screaming toddlers and at least one that has to be taken out wailing by mom or dad. Again, you've been warned.
If you decide to see the show with a child, be aware that there's a very large and life-like Hopper animatronic that appears menacingly toward the right front of the theater. Sitting toward the rear and left may save you from a traumatized child—or at least provide a little distance from the source of the trauma.
Also, the front few rows will be accosted by a few not-very-realistic black widow spiders that descend from the ceiling. If you're with a toddler or have an aversion to arachnids, sitting toward the rear may again be best.
Lastly, there are two special effects that involve your seat. At a point in the show, Hopper calls in the wasps and you'll be "stung" through the back of your bench seat. It's a bit surprising but not really painful. At the end of the show, you're asked to remain seated while cockroaches, maggots and the like exit the theater—while crawling across your seat. It's a neat effect and may be a bit surprising but that's about it. Nevertheless, if you're sensitive or have an aversion to insects and would like to avoid these effects, lean forward and hover, respectively. You're welcome.
Festival of the Lion King
This high energy show is not to be missed. It's performed in-the-round (a square actually) so there really isn't a bad seat in the house. As you enter, the cast members will direct you to one of four sets of bleachers identified by an animal: lion, giraffe, wart hog, or elephant. At some point, you'll be asked to mimic the sound of your section and it's always fun to watch someone make a giraffe sound for the first time.
My advice? If you have a child who enjoys taking part in the show, sit as close to the stage floor as possible. They may be chosen by a cast member to join the cast. Other than that, sit anywhere—just make sure you see this show.
Here you'll board a large truck for a "two week" safari through the African savanna. Each seating row will accommodate four adults comfortably. My first piece of advice is not to allow the cast member to seat any more than four in a single row. They did this to us once when we had five in our group. Unless you all resemble the "before" photo in the Charles Atlas ads, it will be uncomfortable. My advice is to split into two groups before boarding.
You should also be aware that the Safari vehicles were retrofitted with a few extra rows in order to accommodate more guests per outing. The rows that were placed behind the rear wheels offer a significantly bumpier ride than those closer to the front of the vehicle.
The only other decision you will have to make is where to sit within your row. This will obviously be affected by the size of your group but the only rule is this: the person with the camera should sit on the outboard side, either left or right. Shooting photos from the inside makes it much more difficult to get a clear, unobstructed shot.
Should you sit to the left or right side? This answer is difficult because each safari is different and photo and viewing opportunities are available in all directions. With that said, I would opt for the left side (board the truck first). The elephants, lions, and cheetahs (assuming they're all out) are on the left, as is the hippo pool.
Pangani Forest Exploration Trail
There's really no where to sit but I'm a strong advocate of strolling through at your leisure. Plan on spending ample time with the gorillas.
Rafiki's Planet Watch
Some love it while others don't consider it worth the train ride to get there. Again, there's no real place to "sit" here but there are a few things to do and see and, if you get lucky, you might be able to witness the staff performing a medical procedure on one of the animals.
If you haven't seen DiVine, I'm not quite sure how to explain her to you. I guess "performance art" comes close. She will appear on and near the pathway from Asia to Africa, nearest the Harambe side. If you're strolling through and are wondering why a crowd of guests is staring into the foliage, you've found her. In my opinion, it's well worth a few minutes of your time.
On some coasters (Big Thunder Mountain) I might offer a recommendation to sit forward or rearward for a slightly different ride. I don't believe there's a noticeable difference here but… sitting up front does allow for an unobstructed view of the Yeti, the big drop and the broken tracks… if you like that sort of thing.
Flights of Wonder
This is a fun show featuring some humor and many varieties of birds doing what they do naturally… and not so naturally. Most of the action takes place on an elevated stage at the front so any seat provides a good view. If you'd like to be part of the action, sit about halfway forward in the center of the theater and near the end of a row. One audience member in each show is chosen to interact with a bird. Tip: make sure you have a dollar bill in your pocket.
Kali River Rapids
This one's easy… don't sit next to my wife. For some reason, she always seems to catch the tidal wave that appears after "the drop".
Maharajah Jungle Trek
See Pangani Forest Exploration Trail, above, and replace gorillas with tigers, fruit bats and Komodo Dragon.
You're going to be seated in three rows, four across. You'll be jostled and bounced regardless but, if you have a fear of being menaced by a carnivore, avoid the right side of the vehicle.
Chester and Hester's Dino-Rama
The two rides here are Primeval Whirl and Triceratops Spin. I have no real preference here and consider the seating to be about equal. Does anyone else have a preference?
Finding Nemo: The Musical
It's a fun debate. Some folks argue that Festival of the Lion King is the best live show on property. Others will sing the virtues of Finding Nemo: the Musical. My advice is to see them both but… while I have no real seating preference for Lion King, I'm very fond of sitting up close for Nemo. Why?
The first time I saw it, we sat further back and enjoyed it. The second time we sat up close—like third row close—and felt much more connected to the performance. Significantly so. Try it and let me know what you think.
Mickey's Jammin' Jungle Parade
This one's easy. About twenty or thirty minutes before the parade starts, grab a cold beverage from the Dawa Bar and take up a seat at a table near the street. The parade will pass in front of you and you'll have a great view while you relax, sip and shoot some great photos.
So… those are my recommendations for where to sit while experiencing the attractions at Disney's Animal Kingdom. They work for me but, as I said, you may have a better recommendation based on your own experience and, if you do, I'd love to hear it.
As always, thanks for reading.