December 2011: After entering Animal Kingdom, you pass by a number of small animal exhibits (doesn’t matter if you go left or right; all end at the same place), then cross a bridge onto Discovery Island, which serves as the park’s hub. Each “land” is an island that extends from there. Upon entering Discovery Island and facing the Tree of Life, Camp Minnie-Mickey is at 8 o’clock, Africa is at 10 o’clock, Asia is at 10 o’clock, and DinoLand is at 4 o’clock. To enter Camp Minnie-Mickey, you cross a bridge, return the same way, and make a left into Africa. From Africa, you can take a roundtrip train ride to Rafiki’s Planet Watch, walk to Asia without returning to Discovery Island, and then do the same to DinoLand U.S.A. If starting your trek by making a right turn on Discovery Island, read the Ride Describe: Animal Kingdom in reverse.
Small animal trails discovered on foot aren’t listed here. All require walking and watching only.
For a quick guide that doesn’t include descriptions or ruin surprises, go directly to the Ride Guide: Animal Kingdom.
It’s Tough to be a Bug
This theater-style show takes place inside the Tree of Life, the central icon of Animal Kingdom. The queue line is interesting in its own right since it’s the closest guests can get to the animal images carved in its trunks, branches, and roots – though the tree (no surprise) is fake. The show takes place in the dark as guests wear glasses and watch a 3-D movie, though it also includes animatronic characters and other effects that jump, poke, or splash water at the audience. The main characters come from Disney’s “Bug’s Life” movie, and include the ant, Stitch, and the grasshopper, Hopper. Two things tend to scare younger children: At one point, an army of spiders drops from the ceiling; and, at the end of the show, the back of each seat bulges slightly to make it feel as if a wasp has stung each guest. It doesn’t hurt, and fearful kids should be encouraged to sit forward a little bit and avoid the back of the seat. If the movie gets scary, take off the 3-D glasses.
Festival of the Lion King
Some people consider this the best show in Animal Kingdom. Covered but outdoors, the audience surrounds a large stage. Once the show begins, parade floats with characters from The Lion King roll on and sing show-stopping songs from the movie. Acts include acrobatics, singing, and circus-type acts.
Disney’s safari takes place in real trucks that wind their way through a faithful recreation of Africa, though animal sightings occur more frequently than in the real world. Some animals don’t cooperate on every ride, and you may see no more than a white rhino’s butt. On the savannah, it’s not uncommon for wildebeests, giraffes, or Thompson’s gazelles to graze within fee of the truck. On rare occasion, they get even closer. The mud road is actually carved concrete, and at the end, a guide asks guests if they want to help catch some poachers. Guests always do, and for the final five minutes, the ride turns bumpy and fast as the truck makes sharp turns and hits ruts in the fake mud/concrete road. The animals retire to cages at night, and early morning is the best viewing time since they all just woke up to meander into the woods. In the middle of a summer day, many tend to be asleep.
Pangani Forest Exploration Trail
Gorillas take up most real estate in Pangani Forest, with bachelors on the left and a family on the right. The trail winds around, however, and guests generally get at least a glimpse of a gorilla. At times, they see a lot more. An aviary and other animals are also discovered along the way.
Rafiki’s Planet Watch
Wildlife Express Train
The train replicates a non-American form of rail transit and does more than connect businessmen to New York from Philadelphia. This train looks as if it hosts only poor families who store luggage on the roof, though seats that face only one direction clearly exist only at theme parks. However, the Wildlife Express Train’s main job is to connect tourists to Conservation Station and, once they’ve finished there, return them to Africa. Along the way, the train passes animal holding facilities – buildings where Kilimanjaro safari animals sleep at night.
Conservation Station has a “behind the scenes” feel, and it’s the one spot where Animal Kingdom doesn’t pretend guests have been transported to some other geographic location. It also has a hodgepodge of small attractions, including:
- • Vet services. On rare occasion, guests can see animal surgery, which fascinates and repulses at the same time.
- • Affection Section. This petting zoo changes lineup, but always has a lot of goats, plus, perhaps, pigs, llamas, donkeys, and cows.
- • Grandma Willow. A series of sound-proof booths inside the main building allow up to eight people to put on headphones, shut the door, close their eyes, and hear sounds so real that the human brain has trouble believing a snake is not in the room.
- • Animal exhibits. Smaller animals – snakes, bugs, lizards, spiders, etc. – are displayed in small cages.
- • Character greetings. Pocahontas, Meeko, and others sometimes make an appearance.
Flights of Wonder
Animal Kingdom’s bird show offers a bit of education along with acts that display either the beauty of the birds or an example of what they can do.
Kali River Rapids (Fast Pass)
Up to 10 people buckle into giant inner tubes to travel along the rivers of Asia. The ride includes a lesson about saving the environment, as many Animal Kingdom rides do, and passes a section razed by bulldozers and devoid of trees. The ride has some bumps along the way, but not enough to deter most people. However, it has one long slide that, while not bad, looks ponderous from the top. And while everyone gets wet, some people get soaked – it depends on where you sit when the boat hits choppy water. In general, the two people facing backward when the boat goes down the slide get drenched. Height restriction: 38 inches/97 cm
Maharajah Jungle Trek
Asia has brighter birds than Africa, but the Jungle Trek focuses largely on a herd of tigers. Given the herd’s size and the way the trail winds through them, you almost always get a good view somewhere along the way. Guests walk the trail throughout.
Expedition Everest (Fast Pass)
Animal Kingdom’s newest ride is arguably its best. The Yeti (abominable snowman) is a clear focus, and the queue leading to the ride winds through a cheap tourist museum dedicated to the elusive monster. The train ride (coaster) doesn’t travel quite as fast as some other Orlando coasters at non-Disney parks, but it goes backward at one point, fast at others, and includes a lot more intrigues as it winds through the mountain. Height restriction: 44 inches/112 cm
Finding Nemo-The Musical
This theater presentation has two defining features: Music produced in a Broadway-style theater, and artistic costumes similar to those created for The Lion King’s show in New York.
This coaster doesn’t create thrills by going fast; instead, it makes riders feel as if they’re hovering in the air and might fall off. It includes jerks and quick dips. Cars move independently from the tracks, and sometimes spin like a top if you hit a turn right. Height restriction: 48 inches/122 cm
Essentially a carnival ride upgraded to Disney standards, Primeval Whirl is identical to three Magic Kingdom rides (Dumbo, Aladdin’s Magic Carpets, and Astro-Orbiters), but it features young dinosaur vehicles. Guests go around in a circle but controllers inside each car allow riders to make them go higher and lower. Height restriction: 48 inches/122 cm
DINOSAUR (Fast Pass)
The quick story: A time machine has been invented, and it takes tourists back to the Cretaceous period, just minutes before a giant asteroid hit the earth and wiped out most dinosaur species. While ride vehicles go somewhat fast, their independent movement – up/down, side-to-side – makes the ride feel like a jeep trip through rocky terrain. The ride takes place in almost total darkness with an occasional dinosaur illuminated along the way. On a few occasions, it appears that a flesh-eating one has a decent shot at gobbling down the first tourist it can catch. Height restriction: 40 inches/102 cm
The Boneyard (playground)
This playground for kids mimics a dig site where archeologists have discovered dinosaur remains. It includes a lot of slides, rope bridges, sandboxes, and caves to explore. It has only one entrance and exit, so parents can allow non-toddlers to run free if one of them guards the main gate.