Disney's Animal Kingdom, Asia: A Photo Tourby Donald and Bonnie Fink, contributing writer
You would think that a combination amusement park and zoo wouldn't work. When Disney decided to build one at Walt Disney World, many people believed it would be a disappointment, but Disney seems to have a way to work their magic, and Animal Kingdom is no exception.
This month we'll take a walk through Animal Kingdom's Asia, where we'll enter the mythical village of Anandapur. We'll see street performers teaching Bollywood style dance moves, maybe sample some great pan-Asian food, and of course, view some animals along the Maharajah Jungle Trek. Behind Anandapur, there's Expedition Everest - Legend of the Forbidden Mountain. If you dare, you can board a train ride that takes you to the Forbidden Mountain at the base of Mount Everest, and the realm of the Yeti.
Dining in Asia
The principal restaurant in Animal Kingdom, Asia, is Yak and Yeti. You can choose either the full service restaurant where you can enjoy Asian dishes including sweet and sour chicken and pork, seared miso salmon, and prawn crisps, or you can enjoy a faster service from Yak and Yeti Local Foods Cafe. At Yak and Yeti Local Foods Cafe, you can expect a variety of Asian foods including sweet and sour chicken with White Rice, or an Asian chicken sandwich with chips.
We were a little surprised at the quality of the shopping in Asia. Normally, when you're shopping in Walt Disney World, you expect to see the usual Disney trinkets. It seems after entering one store to see its items, you've seen all there is in all of the stores. Not true at Animal Kingdom, and this is especially not true in Asia. Sure, there are many of the usual Disney branded items that you would expect, but there is also a variety of things you normally wouldn't expect to see unless you were in, you guessed it, Asia.
There are several shopping opportunities in Animal Kingdom, Asia. Surprisingly, many of these shops don't feature the usual Disney tourist items, but actual tourist items from Asia. It's worth a look. Photo by Donald Fink.
Village of Anandapur
The back story of Asia is that the Village of Anandapur was once part of a larger kingdom, also called Anandapur. Anandapur, by the way, means, "place of delight." It was ruled originally by benevolent Maharajahs. Today, and for the past few years, Anandapur is more independent. They have dedicated their time and resources to the study and conservation of the earth and the animals around their village.
Walking through Anandapur, you could almost forget that you're at Walt Disney World and start believing that you're in an Asian village. Well, except for the fact that just about every third person is wearing Mickey ears. But the point is, like all of Disney imagineering, the local "sets" are completely believable. The experience is as real as it can get without actually going to Southeast Asia.
The DJ Anaan cultural Dance and Street Party is a fusion of Punjabi and western pop. Dancers take to the street in the square in front of Yak and Yeti Local Foods Cafe where they lead the crowd in Indian-style dance moves. Check the Times Guide for current times of this event. Photo by Bonnie Fink.
Gibbons are small apes that inhabit the jungles of Southeast Asia. This exhibit, consisting of a troop of gibbons at Animal Kingdom is located on an island near Yak and Yeti Local Foods Cafe. Photo by Donald Fink.
On your way to your Everest expedition, you can stop by the Anandapur Ice Cream Truck for a soft serve ice cream treat. The ice cream is pretty good, and the truck is fun to look at. Photo by Bonnie Fink.
Attractions and Shows
There are three attractions and one show in Asia. They include:
- Flights of Wonder
- Expedition Everest
- Kali River Rapids
- Maharajah Jungle Trek
Flights of Wonder
A good first stop in Asia is the Flights of Wonder bird show. This 25 minute show displays more than 20 species of birds that are not necessarily exclusive to Asia, but still entertaining and educational to watch. Our favorite birds were the harris hawks and the great horned owl. The show runs several times a day, every day. Pick up a Times Guide when you enter the park so you can see when these shows run.
Expedition Everest - Legend of the Forbidden Mountain
One story we've read about Expedition Everest is that the train was originally used by tea merchants, but they abandoned the route years ago because of trouble with the Yeti. It seems that the Yeti is a bit territorial. Then came entrepreneurs and business partners Norbu and Bob, who rebuilt the steam train and created the tour company, Himalayan Escapes - Tours and Expeditions. Norbu and Bob transport tourists from the small town of Serka Zong through the Forbidden Mountain to the base of Mount Everest.
As you make your way through the queue for the train, you can still see tea plants growing along the side, remnants of the old tea trade. Walking through the Queue you'll also encounter holy totems, many of which were carved in Tibet. You'll pass through an equipment room featuring items from previous successful Everest expeditions, and finally a Yeti museum.
If you go through the single rider line, you skip all these displays. We recommend that you go through regular line the first time you experience this ride. Like so many Disney rides, the queue is a significant part of the experience.
You finally board a train that is supposed to take you to the base of Mount Everest, but along the way, you travel through Yeti country. And there's trouble. Yeti trouble. We won't go into the details here because we don't want to spoil the ride.
One of the highlights at Animal Kingdom is Expedition Everest - Legend of the Forbidden Mountain. This roller coaster train ride takes you through the Forbidden Mountain on your way to the base of Mount Everest. Photo by Donald Fink.
Kali River Rapids
The queue for the Kali River Rapids winds through temples and shops. It passes by ancient statues and shrines, finally ending at the offices of the Kali Rapids Expeditions Company. From there, you board a twelve-person raft for an excursion down the mythical Chakarandi River. On the way you pass an area of illegal logging and subsequent habitat destruction.
You'll encounter rapids along this ride. You'll get wet. And if the rapids aren't enough, there are stations along the ride near the end where your friends, family, and even total strangers, can operate water nozzles to spray more water in your direction. Great ride in August. Maybe not so much in February.
The twelve person rafts of the Kali River Expeditions will take you along the Chakranadi River in search of illegal logging and other environmental catastrophes. With names like Himalayan Hummer and Sherpa Surfer, these rafts will get you wet. Photo by Bonnie Fink.
Maharajah Jungle Trek
As the story goes, the forest surrounding the Maharajah Jungle trail was once owned by a Maharajah who enclosed it to make hunting easier. After the Maharajah died in a hunting accident, the forest was managed by other Maharajahs—including the original Maharajah's twin brother—who transformed the area into a nature preserve. The villagers then lived in harmony with nature. You can see portraits of several Maharajahs who worked to transform the hunting preserve into a wildlife preserve along the walls in the tiger enclosure.
At one time, the area was under the rule of imperial British visitors, and you can still see at least one sign indicating the Royal "Anandapoor" Forest. When the British left, they turned over administration of the forest to the local villagers.
Along the Jungle Trek, you can see many different animals from southeast Asia, including bengal tigers, Komodo dragons, fruit bats, Blackbuck, Eld's deer, and various birds. Like many modern zoos, the enclosures are made for the animal's comfort first, and viewing is secondary. For that reason, you may not see all the animals in one visit if they're not in an area where they can be seen. But it's worth the visit.
As full time Florida residents, we've been to Animal Kingdom many times over the last few years. Our first impressions were that it is one of the most attractive and well themed parks we’ve ever seen. As we learn to appreciate the theming and uncover more of the back stories that went into the design, we appreciate them even more. After researching this photo tour, we can't wait to get back to Asia to see it with a new perspective.
We recommend that if you have a choice in the matter, visit Animal Kingdom in the late fall or winter. Our feeling is the park, for whatever reason, tends to be a little warmer than other Walt Disney World parks. Maybe it's that the walkways are a little narrower, or the sunlight reflects differently from the adobe buildings, we're not sure. We do know that, as much as we enjoy this park, we tend to go more in winter than we do in summer. It's still worth the visit any time of year, so make sure not to miss it.