My Disney Top 5 - Animal Kingdom Tipsby Chris Barry, contributing writer
I started this series with the intention of documenting all of my favorite tips for visiting the four parks of Walt Disney World. My desire to do so was brought on by the fact that we were eagerly anticipating our upcoming trip to the most magical place on Earth this summer, but more so, because we had a bonafide newbie coming along with us. My daughter's friend Syd was slated to be tagging along with us this time around. He has never been to Walt Disney World before, or any Disney park for that matter. We have been busy immersing him in the Walt Disney World ethos, filling him in on all of our little secrets that we have accumulated over the past 13 years of family trips.
As it turns out, Syd is unable to accompany us on our Disney adventure this summer. For sure, he will be missed, but he is stockpiling the info and tips so that when he finally does make it down there to the most visited travel destination on Earth, he'll be ready. One of the places he was looking forward to seeing on this trip, and one of my all-time favorite places to visit, is Disney's Animal Kingdom. The most recently built of the four Walt Disney World theme parks, Animal Kingdom recently turned eighteen on April 22; this amazing place has come a long way and has a very promising future ahead of it.
If you're reading a site like MousePlanet, you're probably already aware of two things in regards to Disney's Animal Kingdom. The first is that a whole new magical land based on the James Cameron Avatar films is currently under construction. One can only hope that Pandora – The World of Avatar will live up to the incredible concept art and remarkable potential that this future land holds.
The second thing that you probably already know, and one of the things I truly can't wait for, is that Disney's Animal Kingdom is right on the verge of finally becoming a nighttime theme park. I've seen some photos and read some reports about just how wonderful this place looks at night by the few people that have actually been fortunate enough to catch it open after dark and if it's anywhere near as awesome as they say it is, we're in for a big treat this summer. The new nighttime safari, the Rivers of Light show on Discovery River and new Tree of Life projection show, The Tree of Life Awakens, have me chomping at the bit to finally stay at Animal Kingdom past dinnertime.
My family and I have always loved Disney's Animal Kingdom. Ever since our first visit, we have flat out rejected the commonly heard complaint that this is only a "half-day park at best." If you have been viewing Animal Kingdom as a "half-day park" then, in my personal opinion, you've been missing out on the true magic of the place.
Animal Kingdom is a place to explore. It's not meant to be rushed through with your face in a park map. The details in this park are truly astounding. They are everywhere you turn. It's more than a "half-day park" as many have said. If you do Animal Kingdom right, and give it the attention that it deserves, you're in for a one-of-kind Disney experience. So, with that said let's take a look at my Top 5 Animal Kingdom tips.
5 – Use the Expedition Everest Single Rider Line
One of the rarest things you can find in all of Walt Disney World is a single rider line. Epcot has one at Test Track and Disney's Hollywood Studios has one for the Rock ‘n' Roller Coaster, but the Magic Kingdom has a grand total of… none. The one and only single rider line at Animal Kingdom is at one of Walt Disney World's best attractions, Expedition Everest. You shouldn't miss Everest in any way, shape, or form. The ride is awesome. The area around the attraction is beautifully themed and inviting. It also has one of the all-time best and most immersive queues of any attraction anywhere. Even the gift shop is awesome.
The crown of Disney's Animal Kingdom is Expedition Everest. Photo by J. Jeff Kober.
One of my favorite Expedition Everest tips is just how easy the single rider line makes it to ride this amazing coaster. I have repeatedly walked onto the single rider line and walked straight onto the ride, sometimes without even stopping, even while the standby wait is at 40 minutes plus. You should see the remarkable queue at least once, but if you don't mind splitting up your group, the single riders line is a true blessing.
4 – Ride Kilimanjaro Safaris in the Rain
This tip was one of those indispensable cast member tips that we received many years ago at Animal Kingdom. Most of our Walt Disney World trips have been during the summer. One thing you can pretty much set your clock on in the summer in Orlando is the afternoon rainstorm. Despite the consistent deluges, we have always been proponents of throwing on the Mickey ponchos and staying in the parks watching as other guests flee for the exits and buses.
Stay dry in your ride vehicle and watch the animals come out of hiding. Photo by Donald Fink.
One particular time, the rain erupted while we were back in the Africa section of the park. We ran towards the Fastpass distribution area of Kilimanjaro Safaris to dig out the previously mentioned mouse rainwear and a cast member passed on the following tip. "Head into the safari when it rains. The queue is covered, the ride is covered, and the animals all come out of hiding to cool off in the rain." That sounded reasonable and sure enough, the animals were more than plentiful as they tried to find some relief from the Orlando swelter. It's a great tip that has never failed us.
3- Sit Behind Flame Tree Barbecue to Eat
Nestled in the trees, these tables and chairs are hidden behind Flame Tree Barbecue. Photo by Alan S. Dalinka.
Animal Kingdom has a lot of great spots, but one of our favorite spots anywhere on Walt Disney World property is the dining area nestled in the trees adjacent to Flame Tree Barbecue. There are several dining pavilions down along the river with beautiful views of Everest off in the distance. There are others hidden in the trees. Each eating area is unique; don't forget to gaze up at the ornate carvings of animals eating other animals. Better yet, sit beside the duck pond with your pulled pork sandwich, Safari Amber beer and the delicious key lime mousse for dessert and while away some time in the shade at one of the most serene spots in all of Walt Disney World.
2 – Walk the Pangani Forest Exploration Trail
So many people seem to walk right on by this amazing attraction as they exit Kilimanjaro Safaris. The Pangani Forest Exploration Trail is one of the most incredible places you will come across in Walt Disney World and you'd be wise to not walk past it as you rush to your next attraction. From start to finish, Pangani doesn't disappoint.
A couple of bachelor silver-back gorillas watch the guests as the guests watch them on the Pangani Forrest Exploration Trail at Disney's Animal Kingdom. Photo by Alan S. Dalinka.
The lowland gorilla habitat that you end up in is incredible. It's a Disney masterpiece for sure. Before you get there, you pass through some other wonderful animal areas as well, such as an aviary, the meerkats, the hippo pool, okapis, and the research station. Once you pass through all that and arrive at the gorilla exhibit, the greenery, waterfalls, rockwork, the suspension bridge, and the opportunity to get some close up time with these regal animals make this one of the most unsung highlights of the whole park. Don't miss it.
1 – Explore the Discovery Island Trails
You can't miss the Tree of Life. As soon as you come over the bridge and enter the heart of the park, there it is in front of you in all its glory. It's a true work of art and the most impressive Disney park icon there is, and yet, the majority of guests visiting Disney's Animal Kingdom will skip walking the trails around its base. These areas are exactly why Animal Kingdom was created.
A waterfall on Discovery Island passes through thick foliage. Photo by Chris Barry.
Walk along the trails and be amazed at the intricate carvings in the Tree of Life. Stop and enjoy the waterfalls. Spend some time watching the kangaroos, cotton-top tamarins, or the Galapagos turtles. It's a lush peaceful escape from the craziness and crowds that tend to overtake Walt Disney World sometimes. I'm hesitant to suggest the trails to people because we have spent so much time wandering the trails essentially by ourselves. As much as I think other people should appreciate an area so wonderful, I'd hate for it to lose its tranquility. To me, it's the most special place in a very special park.
Obviously, I have very strong feelings for Disney's Animal Kingdom. It's not just because I'm an animal lover. I certainly adore the animals in this wonderful park, but it's more than that. Animal Kingdom embodies the very spirit of nature. The flora and fauna combine with an astounding amount of detail and carefully thought out environments to make you completely forget where you are. You're not in a former cow pasture in Central Florida. You are in Africa or Asia. If you take the time to let Animal Kingdom sink in, you'll find that it's "natazu," nor is it a "half-day park."
If you begin to slow down, appreciate the details and really let the park in, hopefully you'll find Disney's Animal Kingdom to be the unique and magical place that my family and I consider it to be.
And of course, no later than a few hours after this is posted comes word that Pangani Forest Exploration Trail will be renamed to Gorilla Falls Exploration Trail (which was the original name) on Memorial Day weekend. Great article though!
Very good article.
I'd add Maharajah Jungle Trek in with Pangani and Include the Oasis with Discovery Island. The theme of course being don't discount the smaller exibits with animals (well, also the Tigers are in Maharajah! )
I saw some birds (Spoonbills?) making a nest in the Oasis on Sunday. It was pretty neat. The (presumably?) female was staying at the nest and re-arranging the twigs/grass, and the male was walking around the exhibit and bringing more twigs and grass for the construction.
I would assume that will help more people realize that gorillas are in fact in the attraction?
Thanks for the kind words!
I was juggling all three of them as I wrote the article, but Pangani always impressed me the most. Although I love entering the park through the Oasis. Brilliant idea to slowly immerse you in the whole place.
Definitely agree with #3 and #4. My favorite place to eat at WDW is Flame Tree, going back to my very first trip. The food is great, but the atmosphere in the "jungle" seating area is awesome. Especially with a view of ExEv (not sure if that's still there with all the construction).
And #4: I ran into a friend at WDW and he said, "I'm not going to AK tomorrow. It's raining and the animals don't like it." Make you wonder what animals do in the wild??? Anyway, we went and were on the Safari when the heavens opened up. It ended up being our favorite and most memorable safari by far!
My #1 tip would be to watch the Lion King show at Animal Kingdom. It is completely awesome and air-conditioned!
I didn't actually wander down all the way into the Flame Tree Seating area since I was hitting Sanaa for lunch, but I 'm pretty sure the nice views across the lake towards EE still exist, you just now have the seating stands for the nighttime show blocking the base of the mountain. There might not be the free line of sight to see the riders come down the big drop, but there is probably still a decent view.