I Was Wrong About Disney’s Animal Kingdom.


If you’ve been a regular reader of this site, you’ve probably come across some of my posts regarding Disney’s Animal Kingdom that are fairly critical of the park. For a while, it was my least favorite park at Walt Disney World, and I’d say I was almost bitter at the park for squandering so much potential. This year, we have spent more time in Disney’s Animal Kingdom than in any previous year (given that we’ve visited Walt Disney World fewer times this year than in any past year, this should be doubly impressive), and I will admit that my opinion of the park has changed. In short, I was wrong about it.

Phrases like “I was wrong” are not the norm on the internet. The standard modus operandi is to establish a position, entrench oneself in that position, and refuse to relent no matter what countervailing reason and opinion are offered. Sorry, fellow internet commentators, if I’ve broken some sort of unspoken code of conduct by admitting that I was wrong. In my defense, while I will admit that I was wrong, I’m not saying I was totally wrong. In fact, I still think several of my specific points are valid. What I was wrong about were my general conclusions about the park, and my general demeanor and attitude towards it.

Let’s take a look at why I am now an Animal Kingdom fan.

Park Tone

Disney’s Animal Kingdom is a substantial departure from the typical Disney theme park archetype, and I think this fundamental difference in tone and structure causes many people to misunderstand Disney’s Animal Kingdom. Conversely, this same difference in tone and structure does give Animal Kingdom its own group of fervent fans who call it their favorite park, many of whom take great offense to criticism of the park. We definitely fell into the former group until this year.

In recent years, we’ve basically renounced the commando style (except in the mornings in Tokyo, where it’s almost a necessity), but my ‘epiphany’ that we might have been missing something with Animal Kingdom didn’t come until last year, of all places, in Disneyland Paris. Since we weren’t sure if we’d ever be back there, we made a point to soak up as much of that park as we could, doing a lot in the way of exploring, savoring details, and even reading signs or “historical” placards throughout the park. It was an incredible experience and gave me a deep appreciation for Disney’s most beautiful castle park. I later dubbed it a park that’s like a fine wine, and is meant to be sipped, not chugged.

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I realized that there was a good chance that Animal Kingdom was the same way, so on our next trip to Walt Disney World, we opted to spend two days there–more time than we spent in any other park. This ‘fine wine’ analogy definitely applies there, too. Simply put, it’s an ambiance park.

Much like World Showcase at Epcot, you can’t go in expecting to do a lot of exciting attractions. Rather, the joy of the experience is in the atmosphere, and in discovering little things that make the theme park a place, rather than a collection of rides. To me, the atmosphere and these details are a big part of what separates Disney theme parks from other theme and amusement parks. If all you care about is running from attraction to attraction, why do Disney parks at all? There are better options for that.

In terms of “Disney Details,” Animal Kingdom ranks as some of Imagineering’s best work. It’s staggering, really, and even seasoned Animal Kingdom fans are likely to notice new things with each visit. I’ve made an effort to use photos of some of the lesser-known elements of Animal Kingdom in this article. If you don’t recognize a lot of what you’re seeing here, it might be time to rethink how you experience Animal Kingdom.



At Disney’s Animal Kingdom, the park tone is manifested in the many winding animal trails throughout the park, some of which are listed as attractions on the park map, some of which are not. It’s stopping to take a few minutes to watch a couple of animals play. It’s reading what one of the many posters plastered in Africa says, and thinking about how that relates to the theme of the area. It’s sitting back and watching a fountain flow while snacking. It’s all of these things and many more, all of which make Disney’s Animal Kingdom the most detailed and heavily themed park at Walt Disney World. What it lacks in nostalgia for most of us, it should make up for in character.

Attractions

It’s safe to say that everyone knows about Expedition Everest, Kilimanjaro Safaris, It’s Tough to Be a Bug, Finding Nemo: The Musical, Dinosaur, Kali River Rapids, and Festival of the Lion King. We think it’s fair to call these all moderately good to great attractions. In the cases of Dinosaur and Kali River Rapids, we think there’s some unrealized potential, but they’re still fun.

It used to be the case that we’d do these attractions (besides Kali River Rapids), eat, wander a bit, and call it a day. It wasn’t until this year that we did Pangani Forest Exploration Trail, Flights of Wonders (I had done it as a kid, but not in recent years), and Maharajah Jungle Trek. These changed our outlook on Animal Kingdom, as they provided additional hours of entertainment, and also contradicted the notion that Animal Kingdom didn’t do enough to distinguish its animal exhibits from a zoo.

Add to that Rafiki’s Planet Watch, and you have four solid attractions that take a considerable chunk of time to experience right. There was no real reason that we skipped these in the past, we just did.

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Our favorites of these are definitely Flights of Wonder and Maharajah Jungle Trek. Flights of Wonder is entertaining and engaging, with a bit of self-aware, cheesy comedy that works really well in the context of the show to balance out the serious conservationist message. The intelligence of birds is on full display here, and it’s really quite impressive. There was no real reason we had skipped it in the past, it was always just a matter of timing, but now we will be sure to prioritize it in order to make the time for Flights of Wonder. It really is a great blend of Disney entertainment and wildlife, and a prime example of how conceptually strong Animal Kingdom is as a theme park. Actually, I wish there were more shows similar in nature and tone to this one.

Maharajah Jungle Trek is a walk-through attraction, but it shouldn’t be dismissed as just a walk-through exhibit. Here, there are scenes that bring you up close to various animals, all while traversing through an elaborately themed Asian environment. While the animal encounters are great, as are the Cast Members here sharing information about them, the environments through which you walk (and even through which the animals roam) are the real star. At one point it seems as if you’re going through the ruins of a remote temple that has existed for thousands of years, and details abound everywhere. Disney could have just let the animals be the show here, with utilitarian paths between them, but by going further and creating the environments, it feels like you’re an active participant in some sort of exploration. It’s difficult to articulate, but it works really well as an attraction and is very rewarding for guests who take the time to soak it all in.

Pick 8 or so of these attractions, add in dining (some of our favorites, like Flame Tree BBQ and Tusker House, are in Animal Kingdom), roaming entertainment, and wandering around the park to enjoy its many details, and you have a day of entertainment that stacks up well to the other three theme parks at Walt Disney World.

Half Day Park?

Disney’s Animal Kingdom is not a half day park. Now, there is the artificial limitation of shorter park hours, but inherently, Disney’s Animal Kingdom is not a half day park.

The misconception concerning this status is likely perpetuated by theme park commandos, who race from E-Ticket attraction to E-Ticket attraction and try to complete parks in almost a checklist fashion. Experiencing Animal Kingdom in this manner is, flat out, the wrong way to do it. The main reason–that it’s an ambiance park meant to be slowly enjoyed–is set out above.

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The other main reason is sort of related to that, and it’s the attraction distribution of Animal Kingdom. If guests are working from a ‘checklist’ of sorts, once they complete the big name attractions listed in the first paragraph of the “Attractions” section, what is left for them to do? The walk-through animal attractions and meandering trails, while very well done, don’t cater to the commando type because there is no instant gratification with these experiences. Now, this is their fault for viewing a theme park as a list of items to accomplish as quickly as possible, and not Animal Kingdom’s fault. However, even for more patient guests, the walk-throughs and trails are similar enough to one another that at some point it’s understandable if fatigue from similarity sets in and they grow restless.

To avoid encountering this same fatigue ourselves, we made sure to mix-in these walking and self-guided attractions with more “typical” theme park attractions. This definitely isn’t the most efficient way to experience Animal Kingdom, but it did nicely break up our days there. We think this is a good way to approach the park if you commonly find yourself ready to head for the buses around 1 pm.

So What Is Wrong?

I’m not suggesting Animal Kingdom is without fault. The biggest thing that I think is wrong is the aforementioned attraction distribution. This might seem to fly in the face of what I said above, as I described Animal Kingdom as a different kind of theme park and it being guests’ own problem if they skip the brilliant animal-centric attractions. While true, these things don’t change the fact that Animal Kingdom could use more traditional theme park attractions that further distance it from a zoo and provide better balance to its slate.

Beastly Kingdom would have accomplished this brilliantly. Its attractions could not have been anything featuring actual animals, unless Imagineering pulled off some sort of Jurassic Park-type feat and found a way to bring to life beasts that have up until now been mythical. (In which case, I doubt many people would be complaining about more “animal”-centric exhibits.) I won’t even bother speculating on what “that one” proposed land would do for the park, as it is highly divisive, and rekindling played out controversy over it is not the point of this article. Plus, despite its limited presence at last month’s D23 Expo, I don’t believe it’s actually happening.

The point remains, though, that Animal Kingdom could use some attractions about mythical or extinct animals that use Disney ride systems found in other parks. Not necessarily dark rides, but some sort of rides. A few attractions like this would bridge the gap between Animal Kingdom and traditional Disney theme parks. Animal Kingdom would still have its own, unique identity, and would also have better balance and more ways for guests to break up their time in the park.

Camp Minnie Mickey is the obvious location for such growth to occur, but I think it should also occur in Dinorama. While some people have taken to praising the “clever” backstory in Dinorama, this backstory is nothing more than lipstick on a pig. I think the majority of guests look past this lipstick to see the pig for what it is, and it’s time for this pig to become bacon. That carnival is an embarrassment to the rest of the theme park, and truly disappointing given how much potential there is for a land themed to dinosaurs. Cleaning the slate and building a worthy dinosaur themed land would be a huge success for the park. Dinosaurs are our greatest national treasure, and it’s time Disney started treating them like it.

I wouldn’t describe Animal Kingdom as lacking in entertainment acts, but it does lack entertainment “spectaculars.” Rivers of Light is the oft-discussed, but never realized nighttime show for Animal Kingdom that doesn’t seem like it will ever come to fruition at this point. Whether it’s Rivers of Light or something else, Animal Kingdom needs some sort of nighttime entertainment as an evening draw since so many attractions close at sundown. Additionally, I think another daytime show would be great (or perhaps instead of the parade). Legend of Mythica will soon be retired at Tokyo DisneySea, and while this is a total pipe dream, it’s a beautiful show that would be a great fit for Animal Kingdom. In a world of realism and finite budgets, there are other things I’d rather see added first, though.

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Additionally, maintenance is not where it should be in Animal Kingdom. The Yeti and nets around the tree of life are the prime examples of this, but smaller issues abound throughout the park. I wouldn’t say Animal Kingdom is worse than any of the other parks, it’s probably the best, actually. Animal Kingdom benefits from having an intentionally gritty, real world feel. Due to this gritty realism, if a light here or there is burnt out, you’re much less likely to recognize it, or you might just assume it’s intentional.

This list of qualms and areas that should be addressed might seem so long that it almost “swallows” the rest of the praise in this article, but it’s not. If it’s any consolation, my list of what needs to be addressed to perfect Epcot and Disney’s Hollywood Studios would be far longer.

Overall, Disney’s Animal Kingdom is an excellent theme park that people (like me) under appreciated because it’s not what we’re used to experiencing. It is not perfect and it has clear room for improvement–but not necessarily any more room for improvement than Epcot or Disney’s Hollywood Studios. Even without improvement, it’s a park that many of us could stand to spend a little more time enjoying and exploring, as it has a great deal of beauty that many Disney fans have never seen.

Your Thoughts…

Disney’s Animal Kingdom is unquestionably the most divisive theme park at Walt Disney World…where do you stand on it? Are you a fan of it, or is it your least favorite park? Think you’ll give some of its “lesser-known” attractions a chance? Hearing from you is half the fun, so share your thoughts in the comments!

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86 Responses to “I Was Wrong About Disney’s Animal Kingdom.”

  1. DoctorK says:

    Fantastic write up – and thanks for admitting that you were wrong! It’s frustrating to hear people call Animal Kingdom a half-day park, and then watch them stare blankly when you recite 10-15 attractions they didn’t experience. We’re lucky to have been to Animal Kingdom many times (we also own DVC at Animal Kingdom Lodge so you know we love the theme) and that gives us the opportunity that you two had – to slooooow down and experience the park.

  2. Dave Cohen says:

    “That carnival is an embarrassment to the rest of the theme park, and truly disappointing given how much potential there is for a land themed to dinosaurs.”

    This.

    Dino-rama kills me a little inside everytime we walk by it to get to DINOSAUR. It’s a mockery, and while I hate bringing up the tired “Walt wouldn’t have…”, it finally seems appropriate. There’s a great archived story of Lily asking Walt why he’d want to build an amusement park when they’re such unpleasant places. Walt said (paraphrased) “Mine won’t be like that,” yet Chester and Hester’s is an homage to the type of park Walt precisely didn’t want.

    I’m with you on the rest of the park. Last month we were in the world for almost two weeks, and made a conscious decision to spend more time in the Animal Kingdom. Without feeling rushed, we were able to see a lot of the details you talk about. The music in Africa, the signs at Mr. Kamal’s, and the monkey enclosures. Did you realize the monkeys have their own temples!? That’s incredible. I just wish there were more slow attractions, like a leisurely ride (DAK’s own TTA, except a train or boat), to help encourage people to take it slow.

    Anyway, great article.

  3. Jaclyn says:

    Great write-up! My family went to DAK in it’s opening year and generally found it lacking – we barely went back at all in subsequent trips. It wasn’t until I did the Disney College Program in 07 and ended up at Kilimanjaro Safaris that I REALLY came to appreciate the park (though I also agree with the issues you have above). I loved spending a morning or afternoon there just taking in the weird little nooks and grabbing a quick snack.

  4. Emily says:

    This was a wonderful article. Whenever anyone asks me what my favorite park is, I instintively say: “Animal Kingdom”. And then they ask me why. And I find I have a hard time putting it into words.

    This article does a great job of summing up why I love this park so much. Because when it comes down to it, it’s the ambiance. I feel like AK actually tries to slow you down, so you can enjoy it more. But that feeling gets lost on a lot of people.

  5. Kayla says:

    I set aside extra time on our last trip for the AK experiences we normally skip. Maharaja Jungle Trek is excellent, and I prefer it to it’s African counterpart. Flights of Wonder is amazing for what you first think is just a show about birds. Your picture of the bald eagle is fantastic.

    A few dark rides or a boat ride à la Living with the Land would be great additions to help round out the AK experience.

    Bring back evening EMH, and I’d be at it in a heartbeat. Animal Kingdom is particularly magical at night.

  6. Matt says:

    Good article, but I have to say no, you were right the first time. All that has happened is the annoyance with all the problems has worn off to the point that you can appreciate what is right with the park. Things that were overshadowed by the overwhelming sense of nothingness that so many felt when AK opened. That, and the issues with DHS and Epcot that have intensified in recent years are making AK look better.

    Yes, there is atmosphere in AK, there are some very nice areas in the park, and you CAN spend lots of time just taking it all in. But the same can be said for Disneyland, and if that was all DL could hang it’s hat on, it would never have spawned the empire it did.

    But Disneyland delivers the whole package. You can ride all day, or you can explore all day. Magic Kingdom does the same, though to a somewhate lesser extent. Epcot did at one time, though it is faltering.

    These are the standards for Disney’s parks, and AK still does not come anywhere close to that standard. In fairness, neither does DHS or DCA, though of course DCA has made big strides lately.

    Disney and their apologists have tried to blame the guests for not “getting” AK ever since it opened. Same with DCA. But the truth is we aren’t talking about calculus here. The guests “get it”, they just don’t like it (relatively speaking).

    One thing I agree on completely though is that had Disney continued with its original plans, and built Beastly Kingdom, it’s very possible AK would be in a much better place today. But alas, Disney’s collective sphincters tightened and they instead added the much less expensive (but much more offensive) Dino-Rama in a panic.

    Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy my time in the park. There are some good attractions, though I’m a little more down on Dinosaur and Kali than you. Certainly the animal trails are pleasant, and while the foliage kills any possible air circulation, it does give a nice feel otherwise. But this is a WDW park, and to attract all-day crowds and repeat visits from the masses, it needs more quality things to do.

    • Tom Bricker says:

      Disneyland itself wouldn’t have lived up to this same standard in the first few years of its operation. I haven’t actually counted, but I would hazard a guess that the number of attractions in Disneyland up until 1959 would have been fewer than the number in Animal Kingdom. And Disneyland was wildly popular in those years–it did spawn an empire in despite its attraction lineup. Disneyland has been built up over the course of its nearly 60 years in operation, and while it has a great mix of environment and attractions, I don’t think its environment is as good as Animal Kingdom’s. There are options for exploring at Disneyland, but I don’t think they even come close to Animal Kingdom.

      A comparison to Disneyland is like comparing a basketball player to Michael Jordan. It’s just not a reasonable thing to do–and not just for objective reasons, but because Disneyland is an American icon that will never have a true equal, no matter the actual quality of what’s built.

      Now, this isn’t to say that Animal Kingdom or any other park is as good as it should be. All of the parks mentioned have ways they could–and should–improve, and I think it’s very fair to say that the Florida parks are not living up to the Disney legacy, and are not being operated at their 1990s standards.

  7. Steve Boutet says:

    Great post….During my last visit, one morning I found I’d spent over two hours in just The Oasis, at the front of the park. The anteater had been particularly active that morning, as were the rest of the tenants of The Oasis. It was amazing to see the vast majority of guests hurrying past me to get to the “rides”. What really amazed me were some of the youngest guests noticing the animals…trying to get a look, while their parents (oblivious to the beauty in front of them) hurried those children along. AK is one of those places that the slower you take it, the more you’re rewarded. And a side note….for the solo traveler, this park is perfect.

  8. Christina says:

    I agree with a lot of what you’ve said. I went to AK on the last day of a five day vacation and only made it a half day because we were caught in a downpour and were exhausted. . We skipped a majority of the big rides such as Expedition Everest because I was traveling alone with a seven year old. Maharajah Jungle Trek was our favorite. Simply because of how beautiful it was and how it truly felt more authentic than anything we had seen before. I’m looking forward to a longer visit next time

  9. Pam says:

    Your comment, “To me, the atmosphere and these details are a big part of what separates Disney theme parks from other theme and amusement parks. If all you care about is running from attraction to attraction, why do Disney parks at all? There are better options for that.” is perfect!
    Can’t tell you how many times I’ve tried to explain why Disney is the place I want to visit, and that is exactly the reason why. The whole experience is what the visit is all about.
    We’ve visited Disney World every five years for the last 25 years and are returning again this Christmas and looking forward to our day at Animal Kingdom, always my husband’s favorite park!

  10. Alex says:

    Thanks for your review, we are spending 8 days at WDW in December and this is the first of the parks we plan to visit. I think it would be a good introduction to the parks, sounds like there is plenty to do and we will be stamping our passes and making our way around, nice and slowly! Who would possibly want to do the parks commando style, there is not possible way you can see it all! Anyway, it’s an excuse to come back, isn’t it? ;)

  11. Wayne says:

    I really enjoyed your updated assessment Tom. Nice job on the update! My wife and I especially enjoy the beauty and immersion of Maharajah Jungle Trek and the combination of fun and education of Flights of Wonder. We have seen Flights several times with different casts, and have always enjoyed it immensely. I believe these are both “hidden gems” of the park, with Flights being an attraction that most people never see. But you are right that AK is an immersion park. I think some areas of the park are very close to feeling like you are seeing the real deal, especially in Africa and parts of Asia. I also agree with you that Dinoland is a blight on an otherwise great park. AK could definitely stand some more interesting rides and attractions, but we enjoy it for what it is.

  12. Dan Heaton says:

    I do like DAK and agree that the walking trails are very well done. The theming is good throughout the park, and I don’t mind that the number of attractions is smaller. What I find tricky is the fact that bottlenecks can be created because of the way the attractions are spaced. Crowds gather at Africa near Kilimanjaro Safaris and near Expedition Everest. The paths can get tight and often surprisingly hot, even in the cooler months.

    Dinorama is also a big problem like you mention. Given that DAK arrived in the same timeframe as the original DCA, there is a similarity in the way theming was put on top of cheap rides. That area needs serious help and should get rid of all the carnival games. It just feels weird in the middle of such a green park. I also think Dinosaur is a missed opportunity and doesn’t seem to have as much as it did original as Countdown to Extinction. Compared to Indiana Jones, it’s a miss.

    Still, there are a lot of positives, and the potential is there to make DAK an amazing park.

  13. Kevin says:

    I’m glad you’ve come around! We love AK and I can spend a fair amount if time just watching the tigers on the jungle trek, or just sitting and staring at the Tree of Life. (You are still total right about Chester & Hester’s, though. Calling it a pig might be an injustice to swine.)

  14. I’ve always been surprised when people say they don’t enjoy Animal Kingdom. It’s my favorite park to photograph. I can easily spend days there just wandering around, taking in the art and animals.

  15. Spirit of 74 says:

    While I just enjoy hearing bloggers, even those I respect such as yourself, admit they were wrong, I get far more joy out of the fact that it still didn’t take you THAT long to get it.

    Far too many Disney ‘fans’ are just OCD rideaholics who somehow fine joy in riding the MK’s old and largely poorly maintained attractions over and over again. I can’t whether it is an all’time favorite like Mansion or a new mediocre plastic ride with Ariel and pals.

    DAK is the only WDW park that has kept true to its mission statement, while the other three parks have become messes of varying levels. Indeed, its rides (again, largely due to neglect) are much weaker than the whole of the environment. Sure, if you don’t care about animal exhibits, lush scenery, amazing attention to detail, the best quick serve food at WDW and some very nice shows, then DAK can easily be ‘a half day park’ … Being that I can’t spend more than 4-5 hours at MK without being bored to tears, I get that people are different.

    But I think people need to slow down and enjoy this masterpiece for what it is instead of complaining that it isn’t another MK (thankfully).

    If it weren’t for DAK and EPCOT’s World Showcase, I would have very little value for what WDW offers in the 21st century.

    But I guess that’s why my next ‘real’ (that means not as an add on while in O-Town for Horror Nights) Disney trips will be a cruise and a return to DLP.

    Anyway, great to see you coming around, Tom.

    • Tom Bricker says:

      I definitely agree that DHS and Epcot have been going downhill in recent years, but I actually think Magic Kingdom is starting to turn things around. Main Street is looking better than ever, as is Liberty Square, and even the Frontierland mountains are looking the best they have in years. Tomorrowland is the biggest blemish there right now, and just looking out at that land from the TTA shows how bad its land-wide maintenance really is.

      Of course, I’ll readily admit that I enjoy Magic Kingdom a lot for the nostalgia I have for many of its attractions. I think I can compartmentalize that nostalgia and judge it for what it actually is, but who knows…

  16. Stephen says:

    I absolutely love Animal Kingdom. It’s fun, interesting, beautiful and a perfect counterpoint to the more hectic Magic Kingdom. To me, the Maharaja Jungle Trek, the Tree of Life Gardens and the waterside dining area of Flame Tree Barbeque are some of my favourite spots on Disney property. But it is a shame that so many people overlook these.

    However, it’s a park that feels like it is stagnating a bit with no new developments since Everest. I hope that they plough some money in to keep it fresh. I also hope that they alternate “conventional attractions” (like Pandora) with animal attractions, to hammer home the message that it is an animal park! To me, the biggest danger is that 15 years down the line, Disney decides that the animals are not the major draw and are expensive to keep, and quietly retires them all, leaving it as another “conventional” theme park (much like they did with the Studios – removing all of the actual “studio” parts).

  17. Tyler Bliss says:

    We have typically only made DAK a half day park because of the seemingly endless heat. For some reason it ALWAYS seems hotter in AK. There is definitely a lack of air-conditioned/indoor areas/attractions which could provide a much needed break from the sun. Say what you will about the impeding World of Pandora, but adding a large air-conditioned land would certainly help us spend more time there. (I know……. whah)

  18. Heather says:

    I’m so glad I just came across this blog. I have been to Disney the last 3 years, and have yet to visit DAK. We will be there for 8 days in Dec., and will be finally vising DAK park. I always heard about the negatives and wasn’t ready to give it a try. But since reading this I am finally excited about visiting. We will even be staying at the Villas at Animal Kingdom. I am really hoping I can get my whole family to take time and enjoy the park as you have said. Thanks for all your input!

  19. Ashley says:

    Thanks for this post. My boyfriend and I did a 7 day trip to Disney World in May and visited every park (some twice) and my favorite was definitely Animal Kingdom which had been the park I was least excited about visiting. AK was the first park that I truly felt like I was entering a different place–the theming was that enveloping. It also wasn’t so crowded with attractions that we went commando style in the morning and then enjoyed a leisurely afternoon seeing shows like Flights of Wonder. Also, the Safari experience in the morning and late afternoon was completely difference. If there is a park at Disney that needs updating and is a half-day park, to me that park is Hollywood Studios.

    • Tom Bricker says:

      We think the best times to do Kilimanjaro Safaris is definitely early morning or late afternoon. Much more activity then, and you’re right, it’s a totally different experience in the morning v. in the late afternoon!

    • Tom Bricker says:

      Agree that unless it’s Star Wars Weekends, DHS is a half day park for anyone who has already been there. With the exception of Indy (which we haven’t done in a while), I think the stage shows there are all one and done. Plus, anyone who has been to Disneyland will probably have little reason to see Fantasmic!

  20. TC says:

    I have to admit that out of the 4 parks, AK is my families LEAST favorite… I think the main reason for this is that my children (and husband) have very short attention spans…hahaha.. therefore, we cannot enjoy the park for all its worth. I personally LOVE Maharaja Jungle Trek!! Its always been my favorite attraction. (is this the one with the bats? I LOVE the bats!! lol) I’m also a big fan of Its Tough to be a Bug though… so take that to heart. hahaha We have never seen Flights of Wonder though.. I think we will have to make that a priority on our next trip. (whether the others like it or not.. haha)

    I also agree about the Carnival set in Dinorama!! Horrible… we never even go IN to that section!! (sigh)

    Thanks for your input. Always enjoyable reading. :o)

  21. Chip Rohrbach says:

    I completely agree with your old and new assessment of Animal Kingdom. Until last year, when my wife and I took a trip to Animal Kingdom without the kids in tow, we always ran through the park to hit the major attractions. But during our kid free trip we took the time to smell they hibiscus and really see the beauty of the park. The two of us spent an entire day just walking around and taking in all the beautiful foliage and fauna that DAK has to offer. We stopped and watch “De-vine” stroll through the park, we took the time to enjoy the animals at the entrance to the park…it was simply breathtaking. Maharajah Jungle Trek is probably the most well themed and most beautiful spots in all of Walt Disney World. Every time I go I feel I have uncovered a secret area of the park for the first time. Thanks for a great article!

  22. Wendy says:

    Great post. I’ll admit that I’ve viewed DAK as more of a half-day park in the past, but this post certainly makes me want to rethink that mentality. For starters, I need to explore the Maharajah Jungle Trek (never have) and see Flights of Wonder (again, never done it).

    The one thing I do disagree with was your suggestion to remove the parade. I’m not big on parades, but the Jammin (or Jingle) Jungle Parade is my favorite – well, really, the only one I enjoy of the regular parades (gotta love Boo to You!). So unique compared to most of the others.

    • Tom Bricker says:

      My suggestion wasn’t necessarily to remove it, just that I’d give it up if that meant getting Legend of Mythica. I think that’s a trade just about anyone who has seen Legend of Mythica would be willing to make!

  23. maarch says:

    Magic Kingdom will always be my favorite park, but Animal Kingdom is in my opinion one of the best park in Disney World.

    Don’t get me wrong I love Epcot and Hollywood Studio. But what I love about Magic Kingdom ( or Disneyland Paris and soon Disneyland when I’ll visit it ) Is the attention to details. Animal kingdom is THE park for this. It’s incredible how everything was taught of. In the meanwhile, even if I simply love World Showcase, the remaining of Epcot seem to be lacking in recent years. Same go for Hollywood Studio which seem to have so much potential ( can’t wait to see Buena Vista street which look like what HS should be ).

    Animal Kingdom do exactly what it’s suppose to be. Like Magic Kingdom / Disneyland change the way attraction park should be. Animal Kingdom for me redefine what a “zoo” should be. They took it to a new level and made it an experience you have to go to.

    The park isn’t perfect and could improve, but so is HS and Epcot at the moment.

    • Tom Bricker says:

      Good points, although I don’t know if I’d put it above the Magic Kingdom, even setting aside my nostalgia for the MK. I think DAK has the potential to be the best, but I still don’t think it’s quite there.

  24. Kerry W says:

    I agree completely! We were always one of the families who slated AK for a 1/2 day, did the headline attractions, and then spent the afternoon and evening at Downtown Disney or our resort. But this last trip we took more time there, mainly because our oldest daughter LOVES animals. She talked to the cast members along the pangani trail, we saw flights of wonder for the first time, and thoroughly enjoyed all of it! So much so that on our last morning, we changed our plans and returned to AK instead of MK to enjoy it a bit more! While we still don’t care for anything in the dinorama area (even dinosaur), and we hate Its tough to be a bug, we will make an effort in the future to spend more time wandering around AK for the animals!

  25. AM says:

    Love the article! For myself- I was sold after my first trip to Disney World eight years ago [I've since become a crazy "mousejunkie"]. We stayed at Animal Kingdom Lodge and DAK was the first park we went to. The whole experience was immersive and magical. Aside from Rock’n’Roller Coast and Toy Story Midway Mania, without a doubt, my least favourite park has to be DHS.

  26. Cris says:

    Great article. I don’t understand why some people don’t appreciate DAK for what it is. In terms of the details, it probably is the US’s closest thing to DisneySea. The Imagineers really did a great job with all the landscaping and architecture. Asia and Africa are amazing. Discovery Island and the Oasis are relaxing. Plus the Tree of Life is the best icon at any of the second gates, tie with Spaceship Earth.

    Of course there is room for improvement. DinoRama should be gone. A new thrill ride, and a couple of dark rides need to be added. Beastly Kingdom would have been the perfect fit.

    Animal Kingdom (with Epcot) should be the more “real” parks at WDW, with limited exposure of Disney films or other IPs. Avatar would be a mistake going there as it would divert the focus from the animals and real world to a Hollywood blockbuster. Beatly Kingdom fits in with the theme of the park so much more. It is a much broader theme with more possibilities for attractions and demonstrates mankind’s perception of animals.

    • Tom Bricker says:

      I’d agree that it’s the US park closest to DisneySea in terms of design, but substantively, it’s not on the same level. I like Animal Kingdom now, but not quite that much!

  27. Dave says:

    Ahh, so there is potential for you to see the light of Phineas and Ferb…

    I think the story of Dino-Land can work, but it needs to be made more clear and while they can keep Chester and Hester’s as an attraction aspect of the land, it should be made into a well-themed, family-friendly (ie – not overly loud, scary or fast), but super-interesting dark ride – think Sinbad good. I mean, c’mon, it’s dinosaurs! How do you screw that up? ;-)

    I haven’t been able to fully experience the park despite visiting twice, because my kids were so young (still haven’t been on Everest or Kali, even though I’ve really wanted to), but I think you’ve got the right idea. I absorbed as many of the rich details as I could where we did go.

    My major complaint there is how bone-jarring the ride on Kilimanjaro can be. I’d accept a rough ride, but sometimes it can shake your teeth out.

    Dave

    • Tom Bricker says:

      Phineas and Ferb are fine with me so long as they stay out of park attractions that will exist in the long term. No issue with their World Showcase game, as that can be easily re-skinned to something else. Journey into Imagination will receive a top-to-bottom overhaul probably once per decade (if that). I don’t see P&F being relevant in 2025. I have issues with their rudimentary animation and the idea of a television cartoon with a significant presence in EPCOT, but their staying power is my biggest concern.

      • Dave says:

        I was just ribbin’ ya on that based on your other post about it. ;-)

        Keep up the good work, I don’t know how you do all the traveling, blog, photo processing, podcasting AND working, I wouldn’t be able to do it even if I didn’t have kids, but keep it up if you can, it’s terrific and so useful.

        Dave

  28. Aly says:

    Good review! It’s good you’re able to admit you’re wrong…a quality I’m sure Sarah appreciates!

    I’m so so glad you liked Flights of Wonder. While AK is probably one of my least favorite of the four WDW parks, it’s a park you can definitely either choose to hurry up and do everything or fill an entire day. I love Dinosaur, the Safari, and Everest, but my favorites are probably Flights of Wonder (possibly my favorite stage show in all WDW) and the jungle treks. It’s almost like a choose-your-own-adventure, and you can make the day as long or short as you want. I’m glad you went back and really experienced it!

    I should note that I completely ignore the Dino-Rama part. What were they THINKING?!

  29. Annie says:

    I have definitely had a similar epiphany, though I’m still not a huge AK fan. When I was planning our honeymoon, I planned more time there than I typically would because I wanted to make sure I had plenty of things my husband would especially enjoy. I knew he would love Flights of Wonder and the various trails. What surprised me was that I enjoyed them as well. I am still working on reforming my commando ways, but I’ve gotten much better!

    You really should hold a seminar on being critical without sounding like cynical old grouch.

  30. Holly Myles says:

    Animal Kingdom park has been one of our top parks since our first visit, for all the reasons you listed above. We love the details, so many that we still haven’t seen them all, & they make great photographs as you’ve discovered. Quite often people will look at the pictures from this park & think they’re from another country, the realism is so striking. Flights of Wonder & Majarajah Jungle Trek have long been 2 of our favorite attractions in any park, again for the reasons you listed. I think people give it short shrift by only spending half a day there just to hit the “highlights”–it’s a beautiful park with so much to offer to those who are willing to give it a shot :)

  31. Monochrome Eye says:

    I have spent hours shooting waterfalls in the park! I have my light tripod and can stand with it and not botherrr anyone else for some very fine shots. The imagineering details in Asia are amoung the best in any disny property. I have taken some nice ribbons at the photo club with the images of the bicycle just before the tigers. In some ways this is really a photographers park. Your great work from other parks not withstanding Tom ;-). I have told people that the animals are the gravy. Shoot the park as B&W is a real joy. Thanks for all the work at this sight Tom.

    • Tom Bricker says:

      I don’t think there is any single “photographers’ park.” It all depends upon your style. If you like abstracts, details, or nature photography, Animal Kingdom is probably for you. If your style is architecture, landscapes, etc., Animal Kingdom isn’t as good of an option. All depends upon the person.

      I still think that Animal Kingdom is the worst park for my style of photography, but I enjoy it as a park regardless. YMMV.

  32. Beth says:

    I have to admit that my husband and I love primevil whirl in Dino land. Yes we are usually the only people without kids on this ride, but who cares! It is just fun and wilder than you think. It is a good little stop on your way to dinosaur. Theming may not be perfect, but I am there to have fun too, and if primevil whirl is fun then why not ride it!

    • Tom Bricker says:

      I’m not suggesting that it’s not fun (although I don’t particularly enjoy it, I understand some people do), but if “fun” were the sole criteria for whether or not something should be in a Disney theme park, we’d have a parking lot with fun rides thoughtlessly plopped down. Disney’s standards are higher than fun. Fun is a definite requirement, but they must also be well-designed, on-theme, etc.

  33. BJMRamage says:

    We leave for Disney this Saturday AM. I am trying to get every last bit of Disney info in beforehand. and love your articles.

    That said, your impression of AK reminds me a bit of the Bush Gardens amusement park (in VA).
    It has been a top-rated park for years and going back there recently I noticed there weren’t as many rides as other parks. and somewhat disappointed but then I realized it is the details in the park that give it the ambience. BG has a European feel in country/regions and the food there is terrific compared to other park’s way-overpriced hot dogs. And with a child, I realized that BG was nice to sit and relax and enjoy the park setting more than a simple carnival attraction pit like other parks.

    Hopefully with 2 kids in tow at Disney we can enjoy these moments like you mentioned above.

    • Tom Bricker says:

      I haven’t been to Busch Gardens Williamsburg in years, but I remember it being lush and having a lot of natural beauty. I don’t recall it being especially well designed, but I was a kid, so that wasn’t really my focus. I’d love to return someday.

      • Jenn says:

        For years we lived an hour from BG Williamsburg and considered it our “home” park. Most summers we went at least one day a week during school break. It really shouldn’t be compared to Disney, it has a completely different feel, but you should try to go and see it for yourself again. It is a beautiful park in its own right, with unique food offerings and shows. It is also a GREAT park for small children which I didn’t expect considering the number of roller coasters.

  34. Mi Mi says:

    My husband & I agree with your “relax-and-enjoy-the-ambiance” approach. AK is his favorite. Yet there is unrealized potential here, and I don’t think it is at night. The extensive foliage & sleeping animals are issues. However a few substantial additions would fill out the park, making it a worthy destination for more of us.

    Dinoland was a good Route 66 sort of idea, but is unrealized. From the horrid shaking of Dinosaur and the carny roller coaster, to the lack of real attractions of merit, we have learned it’s all show and no go.
    How about an enjoyable dino dark ride? Similar to Disneyland’s? Realism on a small scale shouldn’t be too costly. It would be nice for a cool break and something for the littlest ones.

    We love Festival of the Lion King. It is top notch entertainment. There are gems in the AK. But most of it is mere decoration. Nice decoration, but surface treatments don’t hold our interest long.

    • Tom Bricker says:

      Personally, I think the Route 66 concept is fatally flawed because the inspiration itself is tacky and cheap. No matter how well done, the land will reflect that. Some things just shouldn’t be the inspiration for theme park lands, and Route 66 is one such thing.

      • Amanda says:

        But Route 66 IS the inspiration for an extremely successful park — Cars Land. I think the main issue with Dinoland is that the theming is intentionally inconsistent, with tons of layers and different time periods superimposed on top of one another. I think if they went wholeheartedly 50′s roadside attraction-meets paleontology site it could be fantastic. I love the Dino Institute element, but I think expanding it too much would make the whole thing seem too Jurassic Park, which is probably the best Dinosaur theme park concept possible.

      • Laura B says:

        Isn’t it interesting how many different views there are? I’d never spent much time in Dinoland until I visited last month, at which point I walked away wondering what took me so long? Maybe it’s nostalgia, or maybe I had some brain trauma as a child, I don’t know. But I thoroughly loved Dinorama. I can’t tell you how many spots exactly like that I visited as a kid when traveling out West. I loved them!
        Now, I’ll admit that I don’t like the midway games there. But the attractions, the theming, yes, the hodge-podge that IS Dinorama – that is what I loved so much about it!
        That said, I would gladly trade that entire area for something like Mythica (or Beastly Kingdom, etc), b/c I do believe that it would make DAK a better park. Just so long as they have SOMETHING dinosaur-related….

  35. Kimberly says:

    I love Zoos and living near San Diego I have been to two of the best zoos around many times. I went to Animal Kingdom for the first time two weeks ago and I have to say it was breath taking, and add to that awesome rides and I was hooked. We didn’t get to stay in the park for more than half a day, becasue the heat and humidity and traveling all day the day before drained us much faster than we thought it would, but oh boy did I want to do so much more and we never got to see any of the shows. We did one of the trails (the one by the Safari) and it was so awesome and the detial beyond the animals made me wish on our first day that we would have added another day so we could go back.

    • Tom Bricker says:

      Having never been to the famed San Diego Zoo, I’d be interested to hear how the animal exhibits compare at DAK to the San Diego Zoo. Obviously the zoo will lack what the rest of the park has, but just with regard to animals, how do they compare?

      • Kimberly says:

        While we only saw a small portion of DAK I would have to say that it is on par with the San Diego Zoo. While the San Diego Zoo is much larger the exhibits of the animals are done in much the same way with trails and open areas to observe the animals There is much more detail on the trails at DAK and there are more cast members at each exhibit to give information at DAK. I went to both this year and I saw no real diffence in quality in the exhibits. As to the Safari the one in San Diego is much better in terms of animals aviliable to see and lenght, its much longer and more comfortable. The information and story given on the Safari is more intersting in DAK.

      • Amanda says:

        Thanks for this article! I love both this site AND Animal Kingdom, so I’m happy that you’ve come around to it.

        I totally agree that AK needs some sort of end-of-day spectacular to round things out and tie in other parks, but I think there might be a good reason there isn’t one — the noise would upset the animals. Of course, there are ways around that, like not using fireworks and pyrotechnics, and I think it would be worth taking the time to figure out a spectacular endcap to the AK experience.

        You know what I think AK needs? Indiana Jones. I just took my first trip to Disneyland, and I think the Indy ride would fit right in. I also think maybe — just maybe — the space that had been set aside for Avatar might be used for something Star Wars themed. Yes, it might just take over a big chunk of DHS, but I think adding it to AK would be so superior aesthetically. The transition from the environments of Asia and Africa to those of Tatooine, Naboo, and Endor would be pretty spectacular and, again, seamless. And a Star Tours “owned” dark ride taking you on a tour of the Galaxies creatures — animatronic tauntauns and bantha? That’s a winner, right?

      • Amanda says:

        Eeek! Sorry for commenting in the wrong spot!

  36. Tina says:

    Great and insightful article as always Tom!! AK has long been a family favorite for all the reasons you listed. We generally go on the first day of our vacation as I believe this park eases you into that “theme park state of mind”. I was wondering what your thoughts are regarding the whole “Avatarland” proposal? One, do you think it will actually happen? Two, do you think this is a good fit for AK? I’m really on the fence about it as I do believe Disney Imagineering could create amazing attractions with this story line, however I am not sure the Avatar franchise falls in with the rest of the park. From my understanding there was talk regarding Avatarland at the D23 Expo in August, your thoughts?

    • youtube.com says:

      I’m not that much of a online reader to be honest but your sites really nice, keep it up!
      I’ll go ahead and bookmark your site to come back later.
      Many thanks

  37. Don Livingston says:

    Great job Tom. First, you are turning this into the top Disney blog on the internet. Articles on Disneyland vs Disney world, the Tokyo series, great resort and restaurant reviews are entertaining and well thought out. Thank you.

    AK has always been a solid park for me primarily due to its theming and the animal treks. And Everest is one of my favorite attractions at WDW. I visit the World about 3 times a year and always go to this park. It’s also great for photography!

  38. Mary says:

    Our household is divided on Animal Kingdom. My husband and son love it, my daughter doesn’t care for it much and I like it but don’t love it. My biggest complaint is that if you have small kids there isn’t much for them to ride there. They can go on the safari and ride the dinosaur version of Dumbo. DINOSAUR would terrify my daughter and she’s not tall enough for Expedition Everest. It makes it a long day when there isn’t much for the smallest member of the family to do! However, we loved the Finding Nemo and Lion King shows. I seeing the Bald Eagle and the other birds in Flights of Wonder was amazing!

    • Tom Bricker says:

      I can understand that. Does she enjoy seeing animals? Ride-wise, DAK is lacking for the entire family, but we think it’s the non-ride experiences that make up for that.

  39. Becky says:

    On our most recent Disney trip (April 2013), we spent our first morning and last day at the Animal Kingdom – the pace there is so much slower than any of the other parks that I find it to be a great way to ease into and out of my rather rapid Disney touring style.

    I know in the comments on a previous post you talked about how you thought Wild Africa Trek was overpriced. Now that you’ve found a new appreciation for AK, I would highly recommend the experience. It’s admittedly very pricey, but the behind-the-scenes views and info, and the unique animal experiences can’t be beat. We’re definitely travelers who stick to an incredibly strict budget (even while at Disney), but we thought the Trek was 100% worth the hefty expense.

    • Tom Bricker says:

      I shared that opinion of Wild Africa Trek after I gained this new appreciation for AK. This post has been brewing in my head since April, I just now finally had a chance to write it!

      We’d love to do Wild Africa Trek sometime, but the price point keeps us away. There are so many other things we’d rather do for that amount of money. Maybe someday!

    • Don Livingston says:

      We took my twin girls on this trek for their birthday back in May and it is one of our best Disney Memories. It is pricey but totally worth it. Our guides were phenomenal and lunch on the Savanna was fantastic. The guides take a lot of pictures and you get the digital photo album as a keepsake. It’s the best “behind the scene” tour we have taken and don’t regret it at all.

  40. Kelly M says:

    Giving the Animal Kingdom the love it deserves is fine by me! The walking trails are simply wonderful and I have whiled away many a moment watching the meerkats in Africa. oh. So. Cute. I want one!
    AK is just so much more….chilled than the other parks. Definitely a great place to slow down and take it all in, the monkeys on their islands, a silverback gorilla appearing out of the forest, the tigers taking a dip, the hippo’s ears in the pool….

    I agree with you Tom on the land that shall not be named – firmly believe it will never happen. Take that budget and space and make Beastly Kingdom, would be my 2 cents to the ‘suits’.

  41. Terri Torrez says:

    AK is definitely a favorite for us. And if you love it, you should definitely try Wild Africa Trek. Pricey but worth every penny.

  42. mitch says:

    I appreciate Animal Kingdom more every time I visit, but I just can’t seem to fall in love with it. If there is any park that gives me that worn out, drained, I need to go take a rest sort of feeling, it’s AK. I do love Flights of Wonder, Festival of the Lion King, and Kilimanjaro Safari. I think it’s an aesthetic thing that causes me not to love the park- I am more of a Yacht Club/Grand Floridian person as opposed to Animal Kingdom Lodge / Fort Wilderness.

    • Tom Bricker says:

      The heat and amount of walking at Animal Kingdom can make it difficult. I think it can be tough to love, too, if you’re not really interested in nature. I think that’s another reason why it would strengthen the park if it had fleshed out extinct and mythical creature worlds. Everyone loves dinosaurs and unicorns! ;)

  43. Laura says:

    I love that you compare it to World Showcase–that’s an excellent observation! I never thought of it that way, but yes, I agree, that’s how you should approach Animal Kingdom. Spot on!

  44. Samantha says:

    I can’t understand people that don’t like AK! I’m glad you changed your view a bit. I’m a huge Disney details person and this park is so beautiful! Every park has the tiniest details in the tiniest corners and most people walk right by them, it’s so sad to me. I’m a huge animal lover and that’s part of the reason I love AK, the good rides are fantastic and the shows and walk throughs are just beautiful. I just got back from a trip and we went to AK only one day and it rained from 3 til closing, we stayed but I felt SO jipped! We went over to Rafiki’s planet watch and spent some time in the affection section with the goats, sheep and piggies which seems silly since you can do that at home but it was so great! Disney magic doesn’t even fail in a “petting zoo”. My boyfriend and I are really considering the Wild Africa Trek tour next time we’re there! I’m not really sure what’s going on with the whole Avatar themed land but I’m not sure I like that too much.

  45. Sarah says:

    I’m so glad you have changed your view of AK! It is MY personal favorite Disney park. I love going down to WDW and have been about 12 times in my life (I’m 25), I’ve seen the parks change a lot for better and for worse, I even remember River Country! I believe Animal kingdom was an excellent Disney decision! Yeah, the whole “zoo” feeling is not typical for the rest of Disney but that’s the point. Every park is different and is SUPPOSED to be different for a reason. AK has a lot of hidden gems and a lot of potential as well. after all, it’s really not that old. So you can’t expect it to be perfect. Hopefully more people will follow your lead in giving AK a second chance as your disney opinions seem to Influence a lot of people’s disney travels. I would HATE to see the park close or turn into something else.

  46. Stacy says:

    Where do I start?

    “It really is a great blend of Disney entertainment and wildlife, and a prime example of how conceptually strong Animal Kingdom is as a theme park.”

    1. Flights of Wonder is not actually a Disney show. It is contracted out by Disney to an outside animal entertainment company. Just FYI. It is a great show, however!

    “I won’t even bother speculating on what “that one” proposed land would do for the park, as it is highly divisive, and rekindling played out controversy over it is not the point of this article. Plus, despite its limited presence at last month’s D23 Expo, I don’t believe it’s actually happening.”

    2. If you’re referring to Avatar land, it IS happening, no matter what your opinion is. Camp Minnie Mickey is being closed, and Festival of the Lion King is in the process of being moved to Africa, if it hasn’t move already.

    “Additionally, maintenance is not where it should be in Animal Kingdom. The Yeti and nets around the tree of life are the prime examples of this, but smaller issues abound throughout the park.”

    3. The Yeti will never be fixed. It is physically impossible unless the entire ride is completely disassembled, as the mountain was built around the mechanics for Yeti. It’s not going to happen.

    4. I don’t know what “nets” you’re referring to, but it is likely that if there are such nets, they are in place either for guest or animal safety.

    “The other main reason is sort of related to that, and it’s the attraction distribution of Animal Kingdom.”

    5. Once Avatar land opens, there will be more attractions on that end of the park. However, you must keep in mind that this park deals with real, live animals. It would not necessarily be in the best interests of many of these animals to have loud roller coasters and screaming guests stressing them out all day, every day. Disney takes its animals’ welfare seriously, as do its Animal Programs cast members.

    “The point remains, though, that Animal Kingdom could use some attractions about mythical or extinct animals that use Disney ride systems found in other parks. ”

    6. See #2

    That being said, I do agree that DAK is a hidden gem, and that so many guests don’t get the experience out of it that they could because they just don’t take the time to experience or they just flat out don’t know what it’s all about.

    • Tom Bricker says:

      2. See my reply to JT.

      3. This is flat out wrong. An urban legend that has been rebuffed by Imagineers (including Joe Rohde at the recent D23 Expo).

      4. If you don’t know what I’m referring to, why are you addressing them?

  47. JT says:

    Last September, I ended a horrendously long 16-year WDW drought – but that’s a whole other story. Point is, when I arrived, DAK wasn’t necessarily something I was looking forward to. It was the only WDW park that I hadn’t visited, which definitely peaked my interest; on the other hand, I’m not really a zoo/wild animals person, so I was struggling to get my excitement level ramped. After spending the better part of a day, I was incredibly impressed with the theming, but I wasn’t sold.

    It wasn’t until return trips to DAK in March of this year, that I had a change of heart and mind. The more time I spent at DAK, especially after witnessing the identity crisis that is DHS, the more appreciation I had for its special charms. While it may not yet have the number of attractions it needs, it’s got character and ambience to spare. This is a park to savor and marinate in all the details.

    I do mourn for Beastly Kingdom – I understand the economic and pop cultural importance of building attractions around IPs, but Disney has always excelled at creating vital and engrossing attractions based on original concepts, and Beastly Kingdom was the perfect opportunity to continue that legacy.

    As for Avatarland, I have to agree with you, Tom – I don’t think it’s going to happen. Yes, they’re clearing that land, but I’m not convinced it’s ultimately for Avatarland. That movie isn’t even remotely in the current pop consciousness, nor has it been for some time. The film itself wasn’t popular because of the setting and the characters, but for the, what was at the time, revolutionary technology. I can’t imagine building an entire land on an IP that pop culture has basically tossed in the bargain bin.

    • Tom Bricker says:

      I think that DAK is a park that grows on you, especially if you’re not really into animals. The more time you spend there, the more you like it. At least, that’s what we found happening. (Oddly, we both love animals, so I’m not sure why it took us so long!)

      As for AVATAR Land, I find it humorous whenever someone emphatically states that it is happening, and points to minor site prep. Perhaps these fans, don’t have a history with the company, but here’s some fodder for Google for them: Equatorial Africa, David Cooperfield’s Magic Underground, Port Disney, WestCOT, Disney’s America, Beastly Kingdom, Dick Tracey’s Crime Stoppers, Discovery Bay, etc.

      …and those are just things that immediately come to mind, all of which had concept art released at some point (many of which had earth moved and more) and most of which were killed FURTHER into development than AVATAR Land.

      There have been numerous reported tensions between James Cameron (who has a reputation in Hollywood for being very difficult to work with) and Disney leaked from both camps. The fact that this land was announced two years ago and not a single piece of concept art has even been released for it speaks volumes to me. As do the evasive answers from Iger and Staggs when asked questions about it.

      I’m not saying definitely that it won’t happen because I don’t think there is a definitive answer. Obviously, that cuts both ways…the idea that anyone would say “for sure” that it is happening is preposterous. No one who isn’t subject to an NDA knows for sure–and even they probably don’t know “for sure” since there’s still plenty of time for it to be killed or moved forward.

      I don’t think it’s going to happen, but that’s just my gut.

      • JT says:

        Don’t forget Hyperion Wharf! But yeah, something about the whole Avatarland thing just doesn’t feel right. It almost seems like for whatever reason it was prematurely announced – especially considering there’s been no concept art for it, etc.

  48. Nicole says:

    I love DAK! It is my second favorite park. MagicKingdom will always be my favorite. However DAK gives Disney World a whole new experience. Animals! Something none of the other parks offer. Who doesn’t love animals. I love that I can be a child again and escape reality in the fairy tale and fantasy that MK offers. But then I love how I can go to DAK and escape to a whole new place. A place that offers you to see and explore creatures of our world up close. The fake animals on the MK jungle cruise gets boring after a while. I love that at DAK the animals are doing something different every time you see them or their attraction. The way DAK decorated Africa makes me feel like I have escaped to An African village. I love walking through there. The ride Dinosaur is one of my favorites and my husband’s as we’ll even though it has broke down on me 2 times. I do agree that the dinoland is cheesy and should be changed. The 3D It’s tough to be a Bug is my favorite 3D show in Disney. It’s a very cool experience and neat theatre. The safari ride is great too. It’s not your normal Disney animated motorized ride. It’s real and it’s fun, even the cast member who drives the jeep says he sees something different every ride. This park is never a half day park for me. I like to take it all in and explore. DHS (my least favorite park) is a half day park for me. I also love the AKL and have stayed there numerous times. I love having a balcony overlooking the beautiful Giraffes and zebras. What other hotel offers this? The AKL is so beautifully Decorated as well. The only downfall is that this hotel is so far from everything else in Disney but DAK. I will most likely stay somewhere else next time I go.

  49. Amanda says:

    (I’m just going to comment again even though I accidentally commented in a reply above, and I’m also taking the opportunity to fix a typo. Sorry about that!)

    Thanks for this article! I love both this site AND Animal Kingdom, so I’m happy that you’ve come around to it.

    I totally agree that AK needs some sort of end-of-day spectacular to round things out and tie in other parks, but I think there might be a good reason there isn’t one — the noise would upset the animals. Of course, there are ways around that, like not using fireworks and pyrotechnics, and I think it would be worth taking the time to figure out a spectacular endcap to the AK experience.

    You know what I think AK needs? Indiana Jones. I just took my first trip to Disneyland, and I think the Indy ride would fit right in. I also think maybe — just maybe — the space that had been set aside for Avatar might be used for something Star Wars themed. Yes, it might just take over a big chunk of DHS, but I think adding it to AK would be so superior aesthetically. The transition from the environments of Asia and Africa to those of Tatooine, Naboo, and Endor would be pretty spectacular and, again, seamless. And a Star Tours “owned” dark ride taking you on a tour of the galaxy’s creatures — animatronic tauntauns and bantha? That’s a winner, right?

  50. James says:

    Honestly, I think people are so critical. I admit Im a huge Disney fan, but I went to AK for the first time last year, and I was blown away. The tree of life is stunning! Its an amazing park filled with amazing detail and theme. The resturants were amazing as were the attractions, and of course the animals. I can not wait to Avatar Land is complete. P.s. Yak & Yeti resturant is amazing people!

  51. Zilmita says:

    AK is one of my favorite parks. I love the animals. All though I think that Dino Rama is cute, I just don’t think that it fits in AK. Maybe in Magic Kingdom. But, not AK. It would have been nice if they had a Dinosaur Safari Ride. Kinda like the movie Jurassic Park. Or, maybe some sort of simulation ride? I heard that they were going to start soon building an Avatar area in AK. I wonder what types of rides & experiences they’ll be building. Another thing that they can do is build an area about animals that live in the water. They do have Nemo & Friend @ Epcot. But, this being AK why not build ride(s) about water animals?

  52. Laura says:

    So happy to see some love for AK! My husband and I went to WDW last year for our honeymoon. He’d been a few times as a child and to DLP during a study abroad year. I’d only been to a Disney park once–a day a Disneyland.

    We loved all the parks, and Magic Kingdom was truly magical and nostalgic, but we both agreed, Animal Kingdom was our very close second favorite. We’re big fans of animals (my husband proposed after a day at the zoo), we liked the slower pace and wandering around the pretty parks, esp. for a honeymoon, Expedition Everest was a “scary” ride we both loved, and one of the few rides we made time to go back to over and over, and Festival of the Lion King was our favorite show by far. We finished off the day at AKL with a fabulous dinner at Jiko and animal-watching. That’s not AK proper, but it was a nice continuation of similar theming. If we were going back tomorrow, we’d spend the bulk of our time in MK and AK.

  53. Kirsten Harrison says:

    I am new to your site and I LOVE this article! You’re totally right about AK being about the atmosphere. It’s my favorite park and I just love strolling around and enjoying the details. One of my favorite memories is from our last trip, which coincidentally was exactly when you wrote this article – and my daughter, me and my mom all got henna tattoos. It was such a unique experience, and afterwards we watched my (introvert) husband get pulled into a street show in Africa. It is such a special place and I absolutely treasure it.

    P.S. You are spot on about Dinoland USA. It’s a shame.

  54. Allison says:

    Both my husband and I love Animal Kingdom. While I agree that it could use some more actual rides, personally, I’d like to see them find ways to make it more inviting to couples. There are tons of things at Disney oriented towards the young and young at heart but not as much towards lovers, newlyweds, and longtime married couples.

    Animal Kingdom with its “slow down and sip it” feel, already has a great potential for becoming just that. A place where you can enjoy something a bit more romantic and adventurous than the typical Disney markets to the public.

    Epcot’s around the world showcase does this already in some ways but there is so much more room to expand on it in Animal Kingdom.

    Maybe a “tunnel of love”/dark ride themed with animals seen at night? Or a restaurant with a dance floor? Or maybe that old boat ride would do better as gondolas? Or a place couples can leave tokens of love? Or even an environmental area where folks can learn or help wildlife?

    This doesn’t mean it can’t be for families, but maybe the problem is who it might be better suited for.

    That being said, I could also see potential for a more ride oriented area too for the rest of the family.

    Its a matter of focus and balance.

  55. Meredith says:

    When my husband and I went in October, 2013 our favorite thing was their new Wilderness Explorers club. It was based off of the movie Up and the character Russell. Kids (big and small) were given a book close to the entrance and then sent to adventure around the park and get as many stickers as you could. There was no prize for completing everything, but it had you going to the nooks and crannies in the park to find as much as possible. As an added bonus, you had to do the Explorer’s call too!

  56. Jeff says:

    I’ve always viewed attractions like the Oasis as something for the suckers who don’t know how to navigate a Disney Theme Park. I would laugh as I zipped past them running towards marquee attractions like The Safari and mumble under my breath “thanks for not filling up the lines on the “real” rides…hahahaha!!!!”

    Your article is very interesting. Perhaps on my next visit to AK i will be more inclined to “stop and smell the roses” before knocking over innocent women and children admiring the parrots on my way to Expedition Everest…..perhaps….

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