Disney Imagineer Joe Rohde led Imagineers in the development of Disney’s Animal Kingdom with the mission of sharing an appreciation of our natural environment and animal conservation. Rohde walks in inspiring footsteps, as Walt Disney himself once shared this exact philosophy through his nature film series. All animals large and small, alive and extinct (and imagined), share a feeling of appreciation in Walt Disney World’s youngest theme park. While saying hello to furry and feathered friends, guests of this park can also enjoy a handful of highlight attractions. Let’s look at the most popular ones.
With Animal Kingdom’s mission in mind, we start this list off with the granddaddy of all Animal Kingdom attractions – Kilimanjaro Safaris. The largest attraction in any Disney resort covers over 100 acres of ground. In fact, the vast size of the safari puts Animal Kingdom atop the list of the largest Disney theme parks worldwide.
Hop on board an open-air sightseeing bus as you tour the Harambe Wildlife Reserve in East Africa. This simulated African Serengeti tour offers sightings of (and in some cases interactions with) elephants, giraffes, antelopes, crocodiles, hippopotamuses, lions, hyenas, warthogs, flamingos, wildebeests, and many others. The tour guide cheerfully informs guests with interesting facts and fascinating stories of the animals with which we share our planet. Many of the animals are allowed to roam freely throughout the savannah, which can lead to entertaining and often humorous interactions with the tour buses and the guests aboard them. These unpredictable moments are what make the safari such a rich experience, and one that is unique and new with each trip.
True to its name, Expedition Everest holds the distinction of being the tallest mountain (in fact, the tallest attraction) at Walt Disney World.
Upon first arrival, you’ll first visit the “Himalayan Escapes” travel agency, where you’ll have the opportunity to board a train to head to Mount Everest. On your way up and around, you’ll pass the ruins of a temple that has been claimed by the legendary Yeti snow monster. As you reach near the top of the mountain, you encounter more evidence of the Yeti’s handiwork, in the form of a torn apart rail track.
Watch out for the Yeti! Here’s where your ride literally spirals out of control. Your train will roll backwards and around the inside of the mountain, then rock forward again, where you’ll encounter the Yeti himself. Thankfully, the train is moving so fast you’ll slide by the Yeti en route to the base of the mountain and back to the tourism office. Phew, that was a close one! You’d think the Himalayan Escapes travel agency might consider refunding your money.
This runaway train makes Magic Kingdom’s Big Thunder Mountain Railroad look like child’s play. Guests fleeing from the ominous snow monster will reach speeds of up to 50 mph!
Avatar Flight of Passage
Pandora: The Land of Avatar is an attraction unto itself. Although completely fantastical, it embodies Animal Kingdom’s spirit of preservation, conservation, and cultural awareness. This living, breathing land thrives during the day, and glows brightly at night.
Flight of Passage is the marquis attraction in Pandora. Humans and the Na’vi natives are attempting to restore the flying banshee population to natural levels. Alpha Centauri Expeditions (ACE) has reactivated the avatar program through the Pandora Conservation Initiative as a method of conducting research, and allows guests to link with an avatar and partake in the Na’vi’s tribal coming-of-age tradition.
Guests race through the Pandoran skies on their very own flying (and breathing) banshee (think of it as a flying dragon). Hold onto your banshee – and your 3D glasses. Things will be a bit fuzzy without them.
Flight of Passage is exhilarating, and the virtual reality experience is amazing. The one detriment to this experience is that the visuals feel animated, in a video game sort of way, undercutting the realistic experience that is being attempted. This attraction is great, but Soarin’ is better in my opinion.
Na’vi River Journey
While still in Pandora, Na’vi River Journey is the opposite of Flight of Passage. Instead of a frantic flight through the skies, guests take a gentle cruise through a bioluminescent rainforest. Think of this as Pirates of the Caribbean meets Living With the Land. There’s no real story plot – you’ll learn about the residents of Pandora’s natural world, and be reminded of the need to protect them. The message of protection and conservation are delivered forcefully here, even more directly than in the rest of the park.
The lighting and effects of this attraction are exceptional, and the big payoff at the end is meeting the Na’vi Shaman – one of Disney Imagineering’s most advanced animatronics to date. The effects on this attraction are eye-popping and continue to draw huge crowds, but a lack of engrossing story makes this a not-every-visit kind of attraction for frequent guests.
Kali River Rapids
Here, you and eleven of your closest friends will bob your way down the Kali River. Your clothing ensemble will be completely at the mercy of the river current, as you’ll get hit from the front, back, side, and above. This is one of only two rides in the four WDW theme parks specifically designed to get you very wet. The other is Splash Mountain in Magic Kingdom. Not everyone is up for this degree of waterlogging, but if you enjoy getting wet (and cooled off), then you will love this trip.
The attraction offers lockers, and you’re gonna need one! Phones, wallets, change of clothes, Mickey Mouse plush – stuff it all in there. You’ll be happy you did. For folks in the party who don’t wish to get wet, there is a viewing platform where you can watch your party from a safely dry perch.
Some folks love ‘em. Some folks hate ‘em. Big, fluffy, cuddly dinosaurs! They may no longer walk the planet with us, but this is your chance to jump in a time machine and briefly visit the age of dinosaurs – something many imaginations have dreamt of since being a kid. This attraction may be the most exciting classic dark ride in all of Walt Disney World. Guests travel back to the Cretaceous period to rescue a baby Iguanodon. The time traveling Jeep-like vehicle will endure bumps, perform jumps, be chased, and come face to face with a surprisingly frightening Carnotaurus. And of course, that is the very moment Disney captures your ride photo.
Ride photos from this attraction run the gamut from terrified to party time. It is worthwhile to spend a few minutes at the ride-photo viewing area on the way out, to check out the faces of some unsuspecting guests.
It’s Tough To Be a Bug
Animal Kingdom’s iconic Tree of Life does a lot more than just look good in your Instagram photos. It is home to the attraction It’s Tough To Be a Bug. Here, guests get to hang out with all their creepy crawly friends as they learn the ins and outs of the unappreciated life of a bug.
Flik from A Bug’s Life hosts an approximately 10-minute show which features dazzling 3D effects, audio-animatronics figures, and 4D surprises. Things always feel *almost* out of hand with visits from a tarantula (and its flying quills), a soldier termite, and the very appropriately named stink bug. The show climaxes when Hopper (the grasshopper villain from A Bug’s Life) unexpectedly shows up, with his grasshopper army. All’s well that ends well, but this attraction may make you think twice the next time you’re about to step on a bug!
Festival of the Lion King
Located in the Africa neighborhood of Animal Kingdom, Festival of the Lion King may be the best live show in all of Walt Disney World. It is currently scaled down due the COVID pandemic, but once back to its full operation, the color, style, and acrobatic performances in this indoor venue are second to none in the parks. Think of this as being a half step away from Cirque du Soleil. It has the Disney storytelling touch around a high energy stage show. Adults or kids – it doesn’t matter. This performance is brilliant every time, as the consistently high crowds will confirm.
Disney’s Animal Kingdom is a lot more than a glorified zoo, and aside from these super popular attractions, there is still plenty of stuff to see and do, starting with the wildly whimsical KiteTails, and continuing with several overlooked attractions and shows. Check out our list of the most overlooked attractions in the park.
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