April 2012: Disney’s newest park, Animal Kingdom has more acreage than any other park. If you prefer wild landscaping to buildings, it’s the best. If you prefer rides, it has fewer – but some unique ones. Many out-of-town visitors, however, don’t want to see a zoo when in Orlando. They have a zoo back home. They’ve seen gorillas and giraffes and kangaroos. If paying big bucks to visit Central Florida, they want to enjoy things they don’t have in Kansas City or Pittsburgh.
The question, then, is: Does Animal Kingdom have enough to merit a visit if I want to forego the zoo stuff? The answer: Probably.
Animal Kingdom has almost as many attractions as the Future World portion of Epcot, along with a handful of smaller, carnival-type rides. The park is good for a half-day adventure even if you ignore the animals. In addition, Disney displays animals in a seemingly natural setting, which only a handful of zoos pull off. Even if you don’t love Thompson’s gazelles, wildebeests, and ostriches, it’s impressive to see them together on a (fake Disney) savannah, with full rein to stick a head inside your tram or run in a herd at 40 miles per hour.
Discovery Island is the heart of Animal Kingdom, with the park symbol, the Tree of Life, in the center. To reach the island, guests enter from Disney’s ugliest parking lot (it’s supposed to represent a hot desert abutting the jungle), walk past a handful of birds and animals, and cross a bridge. I’m not sure what makes it “Discovery,” except the animals and rides do not easily fit anywhere else in Animal Kingdom, making it, perhaps, Miscellaneous Island.
In any case, the other four lands are reached by bridge from Discovery Island. If standing in the island’s center in front of the Tree of Life, Camp Minnie-Mickey is at 8 o’clock, Africa is at 10 o’clock, Asia is at 2 o’clock, and DinoLand is at 4 o’clock. On the far side of the island and across the bridges, a walkway connects Africa to Asia and Asia to DinoLand. Camp Minnie-Mickey can be accessed only by way of Discovery Island.
For the other parks, Disney’s original “A” through “E” ticket system described an attraction’s technology, size, and “wow” factor. The same system is used here in a roughly clockwise tour of the park, but rating the animal attractions, such as a walking tour (WT), is too subjective and described rather than rated. Don’t think of the ratings as a review, however. You may not enjoy a ride even if it’s an “E” attraction. If you’ve been there, see if you agree:
E: It’s Tough to Be a Bug (under the Tree of Life)
WT: Discovery Island Trails (Animals not in Asia or Africa)
E: Festival of the Lion King
E: Kilimanjaro Safaris
D: Wildlife Express Train (Note: The train takes you to Rafiki’s Planet Watch, a separate area with a petting zoo and educational exhibits)
WT: Pangani Forest Exploration Trail (gorillas and more)
E: Kali River Rapids
E: Expedition Everest
WT: Maharajah Jungle Trek (tigers and more)
E: Finding Nemo-The Musical (stage show)
C: Primeval Whirl
C: TriceraTop Spin
A: The Boneyard (playground)