The Top Seven Animal Kingdom Attractions
In recent weeks, MickeyBlog has ranked the various rides at Disney’s Hollywood Studios and Epcot, the latter of which we divided into two categories. Today, we’re going to talk about Disney’s Animal Kingdom, which is my choice for Walt Disney World park of the year due to its addition of Pandora – The World of Avatar. Are the finest Animal Kingdom attractions the ones at Pandora? Let’s find out by ranking Animal Kingdom’s seven best rides.
7. Primeval Whirl
There are very few rides at Walt Disney World that I don’t like. Primeval Whirl is unfortunately one of them. This attraction is integral in fostering the perception that Michael Eisner, the then-CEO of The Walt Disney Company, cut corners in building Animal Kingdom. He also chose poorly in building the DinoLand U.S.A. area instead of Beastly Kingdom, a themed land with much greater potential. Eisner wanted to reinforce the upcoming Disney animated title, Dinosaur, which led to mixed results for reasons we’ll explain in a bit.
Primeval Whirl’s flaws are that it’s basic and kind of annoying. It’s a generic roller coaster track that with theming that would seem right at home at a local carnival, which isn’t what anyone wants or expects from Disney. The creative aspect of this coaster is that you can spin your coaster cart a la Mad Tea Party, but it doesn’t add much to a ride that’s thin on production value or creativity. Worst of all, Primeval Whirl only lasts about 90 seconds for the actual ride portion.
Viewed in totality, Primeval Whirl is one of the least interesting rides at Walt Disney World. On the plus side, the lines are always short. If you are a fan, you can ride it to your heart’s content.
6. Kali River Rapids
Let’s be blunt. Animal Kingdom can get hot. I mean scorching Eye of Sauron staring into your soul, Hell in July hot. Anything that delivers a reprieve from the scalding temperatures at the park is warmly (or coldly?) welcomed.
Having said that, Kali River Rapids is one of the most derivative rides at Walt Disney World. At its core, it’s a generic river raft ride, the kind that people have enjoyed for 30 years now. So, while Kali River Rapids isn’t special by any stretch, it’s still perfectly functional for what it does.
This attraction provides a mesmerizing view of the various natural wonders of Disney’s Animal Kingdom while offering tips about conservation, the overriding park theme. Plus, the splashes of water cool people down during those scorching hot park visits. A lot of people feel that Kali River Rapids is in desperate need of some plussing, and I’m one of them. Still, its utility is immeasurable at a place with few true rides.
5. Na’Vi River Journey
I like to think of Na’Vi River Journey as the 2017 alien version of It’s a Small World. At their cores, both attractions are “little boat rides,” just as Walt Disney had envisioned. The difference is half a century of technology of some inventiveness from one of the few minds on a par with Disney’s, that of James Cameron. The daring director of Avatar conceptualized a fully realized alien world, and then Disney Imagineers brought it to life with Pandora – The World of Avatar.
Na’Vi River Journey is deemed the lesser attraction at the new themed land, which is valid to an extent. It’s gentle and simple, like so many of Disney’s greatest rides. It tells a story visually, painting pictures of an entire realm through background imagery and technologically advanced habitats. It also features what Imagineers claim is the best Audio-Animatronic ever made, the Shaman of Songs. While this ride isn’t as showy as the one ranked higher on this list, it’s a wonderful attraction that should remain a classic for many years to come. Imagineers outdid themselves in updating the little boat ride concept. I’m a firm believer that all of the rides listed from this point forward are A to A+ attractions.
No, conventional wisdom doesn’t favor DINOSAUR over Na’Vi River Journey, and I realize that. Everyone has an opinion on this stuff, and mine is that DINOSAUR is one of the most underrated attractions at Walt Disney World.
A stylistic clone of Indiana Jones Adventure at Disneyland, this attraction uses specially designed Enhanced Motion Vehicles (EMVs) to create an original ride experience. In fact, the only place in the world where you’ll find this ride style is at a Disney theme park. The intentionally bumpy EMVs recreate the erratic sensation of traveling on the unpaved “roads” of the Cretaceous period.
Guests are sent back in time to view dinosaurs, only the journey quickly takes a turn. The date of arrival happens to be the same day that the entire dinosaur species gets wiped out by asteroids. So, that’s…not good. The educational exploration of the age of the dinosaur immediately morphs into a kinetic escape from doom. It’s a thrilling and surprising change that makes the ride’s final act rather intense by Disney standards. DINOSAUR is one of the best rides at Disney and generally has a short wait-time, making it a wonderful option during virtually any Animal Kingdom visit.
3. Kilimanjaro Safaris
When you visit this theme park, you’re entering a kingdom full of animals. It’s right there in the lexicon that the joy of this place involves interactions with animals. Kilimanjaro Safaris is the most straightforward option in that you get in an oversized RV and head through the natural habitats of dozens of species. It’s like a Discovery Channel special, only you’re part of the film crew.
Kilimanjaro Safaris also claims something that no other ride at Walt Disney World can. Every time you get onboard the RV, your journey is different. The tour guide/driver cannot influence the animals in any way. So, you never know which ones will appear and which ones will hide.
I’ve seen a complete list of all the animals that live on the various paths of Kilimanjaro Safaris. Despite the fact that I’ve ridden it many times, I still have at least ten different creatures I’ve yet to see. Conversely, I have many stories to tell about the oddities of animal behavior, such as the time that a group of smaller animals grouped together and stood up to a bullying elephant. It was like we were watching a coup d’état in the animal world. And I for one welcome our new zebra overlords.
I actually struggled with where to rank Kilimanjaro Safaris. In terms of theme and appropriateness to Animal Kingdom, it’s clearly the best choice. Does it deserve a higher position than a pair of wonderful rides based on imagination and creativity? Maybe. I’m honestly not sure how to rank it relative to the top two. Ultimately, I enjoy them more, which is why I placed them higher. I still feel kind of bad about it, though. Thematically, Kilimanjaro Safaris is perfect.
2. Expedition Everest
I recently wrote 2,000 words about Expedition Everest. Obviously, I have strong opinions about the attraction and love it dearly. I view it as one of the true architectural triumphs of Disney-owned theme parks. As for the ride, I deeply admire the genius of building expectations about a trip down the outside of a mountain only to blur the minds of riders by thrusting them backward into the darkness. Expedition Everest is in the discussion for most satisfying ride at Walt Disney World and a true masterpiece. It’s an A+ attraction if ever there were one. It was also clearly the most enjoyable attraction at Animal Kingdom from its inception in 2006 until the arrival of…
1. Avatar Flight of Passage
Look, this attraction has an unfair advantage. It’s the newest ride at all of Walt Disney World, and the blue sky phase for its creation goes back at least five years, possibly even to 2011. That’s when Disney announced that they were constructing an entire themed land based on the James Cameron movie, Avatar. Given the importance of the banshees in the film, their placement in an attraction always seemed likely.
How Disney incorporated the banshees is what differentiates them from their peers in themed entertainment. Disney created an augmented reality simulator that mimics some of the behaviors of Soarin’ Around the World. You see onscreen projections as the augmented reality simulation mimics the movements. The outcome is an untethered sensation of flying through the alien world known as Pandora, experiencing all of its wonders from a first-person perspective.
In the same way that Kilimanjaro Safaris aptly reflects Animal Kingdom as a whole, Avatar Flight of Passage marvelously encapsulates all the wonders of the world of Pandora. It’s escapism in its purest form, causing guests to forget for a time that they’re on Earth…and that the world of Avatar isn’t real. Currently, Avatar Flight of Passage is the bar against which all other new attractions are measured, which means that the new attractions at Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge have their work cut out for them. Exceeding the quality of this ride isn’t an easy task.
While Expedition Everest had its extended reign as the best attraction at Animal Kingdom, Avatar Flight of Passage has clearly surpassed it.