Disney’s Animal Kingdom
Lake Buena Vista, Florida, USA
“Florida’s most stunning theme park”
Space isn’t an issue at Wait Disney World. Unlike the resorts in Anaheim and Tokyo, Walt Disney World is free to use as much land as they need. That’s probably why the world’s largest Disney theme park was built here in Orlando. I’m talking about Disney’s Animal Kingdom, a park that has been part of Walt Disney World since 1998. Combining animal exhibits and amusement rides wasn’t new at that time, though. Busch Gardens Tampa, for example, had been doing a similar thing for many years and the concept also existed here in Europe. But you know Disney… and you know that Disney usually wants to do things in the most perfect way. In other words: Disney’s Animal Kingdom isn’t just your average zoo with a roller coaster.
The Asian section is my favourite part of the park: the theming is top notch and you’ll find one of the most iconic attractions Disney has ever created. I’m talking about Expedition Everest, a spectacular roller coaster that is set within a huge replica of Mount Everest. Although it never really met the expectations I had for a 100 million dollar ride, this sure is one of Disney’s most thrilling experiences. It doesn’t only look stunning, but it’s also extremely fun to ride. And of course, a ride on Everest isn’t complete without saying hi to the one and only Disco Yeti.
Thanks to its three roller coasters, Disney’s Animal Kingdom offers more credits than many other Disney parks. Unfortunately, Expedition Everest is the only one that’s really worth a visit. Both other coasters are located at Dinoland USA and they look like they belong on a cheap funfair. What did Disney Imagineers think when they added Primeval Whirl to this stunning theme park? The whole Dino-Rama area actually feels like it doesn’t belong here.
The only dino-inspired attraction that doesn’t disappoint is Dinosaur, named to the 2000 Disney animated film. This is a so-called EMV dark ride and it’s nearly identical to the incredible Indiana Jones Adventure rides in Anaheim and Tokyo. The Dinosaur story line isn’t that impressive, but this is an excellent ride nonetheless. Dinosaur is very dark and somewhat scary, so this may be a bit frightening for younger visitors.
Dinosaur is a spectacular ride and the wait times are generally low. The park’s other dark ride, however, manages to create triple digit queues. I’m talking about Na’vi River Journey, one of the attractions at the brand-new Pandora – The World of Avatar. The long wait seems logical for an attraction that opened just 5 months before our visit, but I’m very happy that we got to bypass the queue thanks to FastPass+. Na’vi River Journey is a beautiful, but pretty short boat ride. And despite the fact that it features the most advanced audio-animatronic ever, I wouldn’t wait more than 30 minutes for it.
Another ride you’ll definitely need FastPass+ for is Flight of Passage, the star attraction of Pandora. The World of Avatar is simply breathtaking: exotic vegetation and soaring mountains create the illusion of entering a totally different world. A ride on Flight of Passage will make the experience even crazier, as this is one of the most immersive theme park attractions to date. This flight will blow your mind, but honestly… I expected it to be more than just another 3D simulator. Don’t get me wrong: Flight of Passage is amazing and it’s probably the best simulator-type ride on Earth, but I’ll always prefer classic dark rides like Indiana Jones Adventure, Mystic Manor and Pirates of the Caribbean over this.
Captain Obvious draws your attention to the fact that animals play an important role at this park. These animals can be spotted at Discovery Island (the area surrounding the park’s iconic Tree of Life) or in one of the park’s wildlife trails. The African section is home to the Gorilla Falls Exploration Trail, but I prefer the gorgeously themed Maharajah Jungle Trek in Asia. However, the most popular wildlife attraction is Kilimanjaro Safaris. On its own, this ride is bigger than many European amusement parks. Don’t believe me? Well, then you should definitely visit this attraction to witness the sheer size of it. For the duration of the ride, Kilimanjaro Safaris makes me forget that I’m visiting a theme park in Central Florida. This looks and feels like being transported to the African savannah. Very impressive.
Disney’s Animal Kingdom isn’t located in Africa, but the heat is often comparable. Fortunately, the Asian park section offers a perfect way to cool down. Kali River Rapids is Walt Disney World’s wettest attraction, but it’s more than just a soaking rapid river. As you’d expect from Disney, the level of theming is remarkable. However, due to its short ride time, I still prefer the rapid rivers at Disney California Adventure and Shanghai Disneyland.
Disney’s Animal Kingdom offers quite a lot of entertainment. There’s a bird show in Asia, a Lion King-themed performance in Africa (this was a bit of a disappointment and I definitely prefer the version at Hong Kong Disneyland) and Theater in the Wild features a unique Finding Nemo Musical. These daytime shows have been there for a long time, but Animal Kingdom is also taking its first steps in the world of nighttime entertainment. The Tree of Life is used for a projection show, but the main draw is Rivers of Light. In all honesty… I wasn’t impressed. I totally understand that fireworks and loud music can’t be used because of all the animals living inside the park, but Rivers of Light really lacks some punch. May I even insert the word ‘boring’ here?
WORTH A VISIT?
Despite Rivers of Light’s underwhelming performance, I’d definitely recommend to pay a visit to this park. Disney’s Animal Kingdom is much more than a zoo, that’s for sure. The park is very impressive when it comes to theming and atmosphere. On top of that, Animal Kingdom is home to several cool attractions, shows and wildlife exhibits. However, I still don’t consider it as a full-day destination. Pandora was a big step forward, but I’d really like to see another world-class ride added to Animal Kingdom. Future will tell whether my wish will be granted or not.
Disney’s Animal Kingdom
Photo Gallery 2014 & 2017
PANDORA – THE WORLD OF AVATAR
What’s your favourite attraction at Disney’s Animal Kingdom? Is this the world’s best zoological theme park? And have you been able to see the Yeti in its original operation mode? Share your thoughts in the comments section at the bottom of this page.