Animal Kingdom 101 – Everything You Need to Know
Perhaps no theme park in the world confuses, intrigues, and delights guests like Disney’s Animal Kingdom.
To outsiders who have never visited, the confusion and intrigue stem from the underlying concept.
Disney has somehow married two disparate concepts: a zoo and a theme park. So how well does it work, and what do you need to know?
In Intro to Animal Kingdom 101, we’ll evaluate Disney’s most daring and shockingly successful park.
About Animal Kingdom
The name doesn’t lie. Disney’s Animal Kingdom is a theme park that resides on the same grounds as dozens of animal habitats.
You’re the guest here when you visit. The residents are the animals who spend all their days and nights at the park.
Disney hired so many zoologists for this project that the entire industry suffered a brief shortfall.
Disney suffered from its own unforced errors, which caused the park to stagnate for a while.
Then, one themed land singlehandedly reversed the entire park’s fortune. Of course, I’m referring to Pandora – The World of Avatar, the most popular part of Animal Kingdom.
All those machinations are beside the main point, though. Yes, Animal Kingdom does host and nurture hundreds of wild animals. But, no, it’s not easy.
At Animal Kingdom, natural predators reside in the same general areas.
So, Disney bears the onus in ensuring that they have enough to eat such that they don’t look at other species as food.
There’s a complete Disney+ series about this called Magic of Disney’s Animal Kingdom. I highly recommend it.
People sort of take for granted what Disney has accomplished here. It’s a staggering feat of human ingenuity, all in the service of animals.
About the Animals
Okay, you should calibrate your expectations here. No, you won’t notice any animals roaming around the park alongside the people.
If you do, something has gone VERY wrong.
Instead, Disney has carefully constructed natural habitats for all its animal residents. Of course, we’re talking about complicated stuff like places to eat, drink, and sleep.
Since every animal is different, the various habitats offer divergent styles. For example, some rhinos and other creatures prefer water and mud.
Lions like heights from which they can survey all their lands and feel like Mufasa. And zebras just don’t want any hyenas to eat them, which is fair.
Obviously, you’ll want to watch the action and maybe even participate. The best way occurs on a ride we’ll discuss in a moment.
However, you may prefer a visit to the Conservation Station and Affection Section, both of which will require a train ride within the park. It’s called the Wildlife Express Train.
Disney has intentionally designed the park this way. It has segmented the park into an area mainly for humans and another for animals.
The train carries you to their neck of the woods, a place where you can watch interactive exhibits and pet the animals.
Of course, toward the front of the park, you’ll discover other places to watch the animals.
The Gorilla Falls Exploration Trail and the Maharajah Jungle Trek are excellent examples of this.
In short, you can see the animals as much or as little as you want. Disney has cleverly subdivided the park.
About the Rides
To wit, if you’re all about the rides, you may never even consider the animals here.
Attractions like Expedition Everest, DINOSAUR, and Kali River Rapids provide enough thrills that you may forget you’re visiting a massive zoo.
Similarly, Pandora includes two E-ticket attractions, Avatar Flight of Passage and Na’vi River Journey, each of which will dazzle you with its technical wizardry.
Still, the signature ride at Animal Kingdom is Kilimanjaro Safaris. I say this because it’s the attraction that transports you through those habitats I mentioned.
On this ride, you’ll ride in a 30+ person jeep. A cast member will drive you through the various sections of the park, the ones you cannot visit otherwise.
Along the way, you’ll watch nature unfold before your very eyes as animals eat, sleep, and frolic in their homes.
They’ve done this for so long now that many of them won’t even glance up at you as you drive by their habitat. After all, they see dozens of tours a day.
You’ll watch a few dozen animals during your park visit. All these animals see thousands of humans each week. You’re not even a curiosity to them by now.
About Pandora – The World of Avatar
Realistically, you may show more interest in Animal Kingdom now than ever before, and Pandora is the reason.
When Disney announced this project, people scoffed. Critics asserted that Avatar, while the world’s biggest blockbuster ever, lacked cultural impact.
They believed that a Disney theme park shouldn’t construct an entire land based on something as temporary as the Avatar franchise.
Imagineers had the last laugh here. They built an awe-inspiring themed land complete with floating mountains and sounds that will make you fearful at night.
The conceit at Pandora is that you’re a human guest in a dangerous land, one where you’re a source of protein more than anything else.
In this way, Disney has reinforced the underlying concept of Animal Kingdom itself, something people don’t appreciate enough.
You don’t need to get that part to enjoy your visit, though. You’ll be too dazzled by the immersive theming.
The sights, sounds, and colors at Pandora are the gold standard for Disney, even over Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge.
Plus, those two rides I mentioned are ridiculous.
Several years after its debut, Avatar Flight of Passage remains one of the five most popular attractions at Walt Disney World.
Opinions are more divided about Na’vi River Journey, but I happen to prefer it to Avatar Flight of Passage.
This boat ride through a Pandora night amazes me with its detail. As for Avatar Flight of Passage, it’s basically Soarin’ in Space, and it WORKS!
About the Meals
You’ll eat well during your Animal Kingdom visit. I know that may surprise you, but there’s a simple explanation.
Disney has themed its various lands here with unique premises. For example, Harambe Village celebrates Africa, while Asia…well, you can figure that one out.
DinoLand U.S.A. and Pandora serve meals that fit their themes as well. So, the overall impact is that you’ll find a wealth of unique menu items.
At Pandora, you can eat the local cuisine at Satu’li Canteen, one of the best overall Quick Service restaurants at Walt Disney World.
DinoLand hosts the gloriously named Restaurantosaurus, and you’ll find Pizzafari nearby at Discovery Island.
In Asia, my favorite place, Yak & Yeti Café, serves delicious cuisine from India and China.
Africa hosts the best character meal at the park, Tusker House. Also, a pop-up shop here serves street corn so good it will melt your brain.
The newest restaurant at the park, Tiffins, provides a Signature Dining experience you will also adore.
Still, I’m a simple man, and I usually just go for the delicious barbecue at Flame Tree Barbecue. It’s ridiculously good.
Among the four Disney theme parks in Florida, only EPCOT serves food that surpasses Animal Kingdom’s cuisine.