Disney’s Animal Kingdom is pure magic. Yet, it’s one of the most underrated theme parks (in my opinion). When most people are asked what their favorite Disney theme park is, Animal Kingdom is usually not at the top of the list.
But, it should be. It’s a hidden gem. And here’s why.
Animal Kingdom History
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Opening on April 22, 1998, Animal Kingdom has unfortunately been dubbed a “glorified zoo” by some, but it really is so much more. Covering over 580 acres of land, the park is dedicated and themed around the natural environment and animal conservation, a philosophy once pioneered by Walt Disney.
The brainchild of retired Imagineer Joe Rohde, Animal Kingdom was inspired by the lush landscapes and wildlife of Asia and Africa. Disney Imagineers traveled often to these countries to immerse themselves in the history and design in order to effectively and accurately replicate them in the park. True to form, the Imagineers did an incredible job. As you wander through the park, you really do feel as if you are transported to these places through the sights and sounds around you.
Disney’s Animal Kingdom is the only Disney park that is dedicated entirely to animals and their habitats. While Walt Disney World is home to over 10,000 animals collectively (including EPCOT, Disney’s Fort Wilderness and Disney’s Animal Kingdom Lodge), Animal Kingdom alone is home to over 2,000 animals from 300 different species, making it a very unique and educational experience for visitors. Animal welfare is at the forefront of the park’s mission and they place a strong emphasis on wildlife conservation and raising awareness about endangered species. It’s one of the many reasons Animal Kingdom ranks high on my list of favorite theme parks.
Animal Kingdom Overview
The park features a mix of thrilling rides, shows and exhibits, which are all centered around animals and nature. It is also known for its stunning detail and elaborate theming from the lush greenery to the animal habitats. One of the nicest features of Animal Kingdom (and one of the reasons I love it so much) are the quiet spaces. More than any of the other theme parks on Disney property, you’ll find plenty of peaceful and tranquil areas offering their Guests time to slow down, relax and reflect on nature and the world around us.
I will admit, the first time I visited the park in September 1998, I was underwhelmed. It was not my favorite park at first, not even close. Although admittedly not appreciating the fact that the park was not fully finished at that point, all I remember was the blistering heat, very little shade, lots of bugs, and all of the animals were hiding because of the sun and heat. It was a less than desirable experience and I recall park hopping only a few hours later to another park.
Fast forward nearly 25 years later and it’s one of my favorite parks. I have grown to love and appreciate it, what it offers and what it stands for.
Because Disney is focused so heavily on conservation efforts and the welfare of its animals and animals around the world, they create, support and promote multiple initiatives in an effort to raise awareness and educate Guests on the importance of protecting endangered species and their habitats.
Here are a few of the initiatives that Disney has created over the years in support of these efforts:
Animal Kingdom Species Survival Plan
Disney’s Animal Kingdom participates in the Species Survival Plan, which is a collaborative breeding program among zoos and aquariums aimed at maintaining genetic diversity and promoting the survival of endangered species. Read more here on the Special Survival Plan program and some of its successes at Animal Kingdom.
Elephant and Rhino Conservation
Animal Kingdom has partnered with the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW) to support elephant and rhino conservation efforts. The Disney Conservation Fund supports both local and global nonprofit organizations to positively impact wildlife, ecosystems and the communities closely linked to their survival. To learn more about IFAW and how you can help support, click here. Disney’s Animal Kingdom also offers two unique tours to get up close and personal with the Rhinos and Elephants. These educational, guided 60-minute adventures will take you behind the scenes to meet these incredible animals, learn about the day-to-day care they receive and the importance of the conservation efforts to keep these majestic creatures alive. I highly recommend either (or both) of these tours.
Animal Kingdom Education and Research
Animal Kingdom offers a range of educational programs and research opportunities to help visitors learn more about conservation efforts and animal welfare. Here is just one example of an educational program targeted to preschoolers and children to learn more about the animals and their habitats through self-guided activities from animal observation to learning important wilderness skills. The park also has a team of dedicated veterinarians and researchers who work around the clock to improve animal care and health.
The park has implemented several sustainable operations practices to reduce waste and energy use, including the use of solar panels and the reduction of single-use plastics. One example is you will receive a paper vs plastic straw at Animal Kingdom. If you prefer, you can always bring your own reusable straw with you, that will help even more on cutting down on waste and you’ll feel great doing your part to help the environment!
Disney Conservation Fund
Animal Kingdom supports the Disney Conservation Fund, which has donated over $120 million to conservation efforts worldwide since its inception in 1995. You can get in on the action too and donate to this worthy cause.
Earth Day 2023
Each year on the park’s anniversary, which coincides with Earth Day, Disney celebrates this milestone with various activities and events around the park. Here is a glimpse of what took place in 2022. While Disney hasn’t yet announced any planned activities for this year, the park will be celebrating its 25th Anniversary, so there will undoubtedly be some amazing things happening around the park. Stay tuned for more information as we get closer to the anniversary date. Love of the Magic will share everything you need to know!
Top 5 “Must-Do” Attractions
Heading to Animal Kingdom for a visit? Here is your “must-do” list, I’ve included my top 5 favorites throughout the park:
Animal Kingdom Ultimate Top 2
- Kilimanjaro Safaris: This is one of the park’s most popular attractions, and for good reason. Visitors can board a safari vehicle and go on a journey through the African savanna, where they can see animals such as lions, elephants, giraffes, and more. This is an incredibly enriched experience you won’t want to pass up. My best advice is to enjoy this attraction first thing in the morning. You’ll be sure to see more animals this way before the heat of the day kicks in. It’s so much fun!
- Avatar Flight of Passage: I promise you don’t have to see the movie to enjoy and appreciate everything about this incredible attraction. This immersive ride takes guests on a breathtaking journey through the world of Pandora. Using state-of-the-art technology, riders feel like they are flying on the back of a banshee. It’s an awesome experience and one of my favorite attractions among all four parks.
Animal Kingdom Final 3
- Expedition Everest: This roller coaster takes guests on a thrilling journey through the Himalayan mountains, encountering a fierce Yeti along the way. For anyone that loves thrills, this is for you! Hit this one first thing in the morning, it’ll wake you up more than coffee does!
- Festival of the Lion King: One of the park’s most popular shows. This Broadway-style show features incredible singing, dancing, and acrobatics, all inspired by the movie The Lion King. The entire audience gets involved and it’s fun and entertaining. You’ll be dancing and singing along.
- Tree of Life: This massive tree, located at the center of the park, is an impressive work of art with intricate carvings of animals on its trunk. Walk around the base of the tree and see how many animals you can find. At night, the tree comes to life with a stunning projection show called Tree of Life Awakenings. It’s a continuous show, so no need to stand and wait for it. You can catch the show on your way out of the park.
And there you have it. Animal Kingdom is an incredible park and one that should be at the top of the list. It is rich with immersive theming, unique attractions, wildlife, education and conservation. There is truly no other park that can match what you will find at Animal Kingdom.
Looking for help with Animal Kingdom and Genie +? Check out our Guide to Genie+ Priorities for Animal Kingdom.
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