Conservation Station’s Final Day in Operation
One Last Goodbye
On October 20, 2018, The Wildlife Express took passengers to Rafiki’s Planet Watch at Conservation Station one final time. Rafiki’s Planet Watch was a section of Disney’s Animal Kingdom that first opened its doors to guests on April 22, 1998. Only accessible by train passage, the outpost focused solely on teaching guests of all ages about conservation and the importance of doing our part to preserve the planet we live on.
Perhaps to make room for something new, or perhaps to cut back on Cast Members and veterinary staff at the under-performing Animal Kingdom, Disney hasn’t given a reason for the closure. Already considered a ‘half day Park’ by many visitors, having one less attraction to promote at the Park has me puzzled. Aside from one less attraction, it’s equally as puzzling that Animal Kingdom would end an attraction whose focus was most closely aligned with the Park’s original concept: animals and our co-habitation of the planet.
So, in the only way that I knew how, I headed to the Animal Kingdom on October 20th to take one final ride on The Wildlife Express, and to visit Rafiki’s Planet Watch one final time. Don’t worry, I took plenty of photos on the attraction’s final day in operation, so if you missed it, re-live closing day with me!
The Original Concept
On the heels of The Lion King’s massive box office success just four years prior, Conservation Station and Rafiki’s Planet Watch opened. The use of Rafiki’s namesake and images hoped to appeal to young guests enamored with the film, mandrill monkeys, and its many animal specie stars. Not only was an entirely new building complete with live animal encounters part of the attraction, but a train ride that took guests behind-the-scenes of Kilimanjaro Safaris was introduced as a brand-new, family-friendly ride!
In the spirit of total honesty, I had an encounter with a snake at Rafiki’s Planet Watch a few years back that succeeded in scaring the living heck out of me. In the snake’s defense, it was being held by a Cast Member and was minding its own business, but serpents and I do not vibe, and since that fateful day, I’ve been too chicken to set foot into the Planet Watch since then. I took one for the MickeyBlog team on Saturday though and disembarked the train.
There weren’t any farewell signs, no tearful Cast Members, and when a woman asked why I was photographing everything, she was shocked to learn that this was the attraction’s final day in operation! The send-off by Disney’s Animal Kingdom was nonexistent, but fellow fans like me showed up in full-force as I was far from the only one who knew the importance of the day.
The Wildlife Express
The Wildlife Express is (or, I should say, was) the round-trip train that took guests to the Planet Watch and returned them to Harambe. Although my little snake encounter prevented me from going to the Planet Watch, a ride on the Wildlife Express was always a relaxing highlight of every single one of my Animal Kingdom days.
The Wildlife Express takes you behind-the-scenes of Kilimanjaro Safari’s. The narration by the train conductor explained which animals sleep in the different buildings, where veterinary services take place, and even gave information about specific animals that might be passing by!
The Wildlife Express journey stopped at Conservation Station and, from there, a winding walkway with interactive and educational children’s activities led you to the Planet Watch.
Conservation Station and Rafiki’s Planet Watch
Maybe it was because it was the last day, but I regretted that my (irrational) fear of snakes kept me from visiting the Planet Watch over the past few years. It’s the only place on all of Disney Property where you can watch real, live animals get X-rays, vaccines, get fitted for a cast, and maybe even undergo surgery!
In true educational and Animal Kingdom spirit, the Planet Watch was all about highlighting the importance of caring for our animal friends, and doing our part to ensure their survival for decades to come. Mickey sure had a ball riding the Wildlife Express on its final day, but he was just as sad to see it go as his park guests.
Seeing the relatively-empty Planet Watch made me wonder if its closing is in fact a smart move. Disney never does anything without reason, and just because we weren’t given a clear one does not mean that a good reason wasn’t in place for its closure. Did lacking guest attendance cause its demise? Is Disney cutting back on costs after last quarter’s poor guest attendance numbers at Animal Kingdom? Or will we see a new attraction in its place in the future? My guess is as good as yours, so let me know what you think by leaving a comment below!
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