Animal Kingdom Update: Club 33, Pandora Perfection, Otter Oddities, Entertainment Cuts

We pay a visit to Animal Kingdom for the final stop of our October 2019 Walt Disney World Construction Updates & Photo Reports. In this, we’ll take a look at progress on Club 33, entertainment changes, Pandora – World of Avatar at sunset, Otter Grotto, and more.

It’s been a while since we last shared an update from Animal Kingdom, which is for a couple of reasons. First, it’s the park we’re least likely to visit during the hot summer months. Second, it seems like there’s the least here that’s worthy of an update. Even after skipping a few months of updates, I don’t feel like there’s a ton of news that’s particularly compelling to report on from Animal Kingdom.

One thing that’s always compelling is otters. In a previous Animal Kingdom update, I blessed you all with some of my favorite otter facts and a bunch of otterific photos from Otter Grotto. I’d love to do the same here. Unfortunately, the editor is censoring my attempts at scientific enlightenment, calling the beautiful acts of nature we witnessed “disgusting” and saying “you can’t possibly post those photos.”

I will honor that request, at least in part. The photos that I unintentionally captured are pretty gross. What I will say is that you should talk to the Cast Members here about the otters, as they have some great anecdotes. Specifically, inquire about why the otters aren’t using their slide for fun (well, not in the traditional sense of the word) anymore. Failing that, Google “otters play in latrine” and read the first couple of results. (Seriously. It’s wild.)

Here’s an unrelated photo of otters either about to kiss or engaged in a tense territorial standoff:

Joking aside, this is exactly why Otter Grotto is so great. Otters are such smart and social animals, with a lot of personality and quirks. It’s easy to foresee the dawning of the sea otter. Know this, time child!

In other otter-related pop culture news, Emmet Otter’s Jug-Band Christmas is being rebooted by Flight of the Conchords’ Bret McKenzie. Not sure how I feel about this. Hollywood needs to quit with the reboots, but bringing new attention to a largely forgotten and under-appreciated classic is definitely a plus.

The final Club 33 lounge continues to take shape at Animal Kingdom, over a year after the third Club 33 lounge opened at Walt Disney World.

The lounge above Hollywood Brown Derby (in the former Catwalk Bar) was the first Club 33 to debut, opening last spring. Epcot followed with a Club 33 lounge seemingly inspired by Disney Cruise Line. Then came Magic Kingdom with the Captain’s Quarters Adventureland location featuring properties like 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea and bearing some resemblance to Walt’s at Disneyland Paris.

Above is the Harambe Village Acrobats, one of several acts that performs in this area of Africa throughout the day. Burudika Band, another such act, had their last performance in Harambe Village last week.

In our recent Disney’s Hollywood Studios update, we discussed how it’s essential to that park to have streetmosphere. I’d argue that it’s equally as important–perhaps more so–in certain areas of Animal Kingdom. Harambe Village is one such location.

Unlike the romanticized lands of Magic Kingdom or World Showcase that feel warm and welcoming, Animal Kingdom has a certain grittiness to it. This has been both praised and criticized for a variety of reasons with varying degrees of validity (in my mind), but my main qualm with the approach is that it’s not naturally inviting.

When you walk into the France pavilion at Epcot, there’s an inherent romanticism to the design. Even without performers, the spaces have a certain quality to them that is charming and inviting. By crafting an idealized version of France (and leaving out the unpleasantries of Paris like the smell of urine or rats engaged in ‘relations’), the Imagineers have made somewhere you want to inhabit.

I think that’s true with several areas of Animal Kingdom, especially around Discovery Island. (I’d also say it’s true in Pandora – World of Avatar; it’s not true in Dinorama, but for different reasons.) It’s only true in Africa or Asia to the sense that guests want to embrace a sense of exoticism or adventure.

It’s thus necessary, to at least some degree, for performers to inhabit these spaces, giving them warmth and humanity. Animal Kingdom’s entertainment acts aren’t just something to actively watch and enjoy–they’re what makes these areas come alive, feel welcoming, and provide a sense of joviality and fun in an area that might otherwise feel cold and uninviting in their absence. At least that’s my take–your mileage may vary.

Despite falling off of the Walt Disney World Refurbishment Calendar, Primeval Whirl remains closed. It now has “seasonal” status, which is almost always WDW code for “closing soon.”

One could argue that the hula hoops that have replaced it are an upgrade.

Here’s hoping Disney announces a replacement for this land sooner rather than later. Pandora, the last big addition, will be roughly 10 years old before a new land could open in this spot, given the most conceivable and realistic timelines. Ten years between major additions is a good amount of time. Animal Kingdom needs another major draw to keep guests in the park late.

I can’t speak to the veracity of the rumored Indiana Jones land, but I’d be totally on board with it, especially if it’s in the spirit of Lost River Delta. From my perspective, that makes the most sense of any recent rumors for Animal Kingdom. Dinorama is a logical option for a partial reimagining, and would be more efficient that developing a plot of land back by Rafiki’s Planet Watch (or in between). Plus, anything popular that requires the Wildlife Express Train to access is pretty much a non-starter–that’d be an operational nightmare.

Changing gears, some new menu items have debuted around Animal Kingdom as part of Walt Disney World’s plant-based push.

There’s now a Hot Link Smokehouse Sandwich at Flame Tree BBQ. I’ll have to convince Sarah to skip Satuli Canteen in favor of this at some point in the next few weeks.

Then there’s the Sicilian-Style Pizza Slice at Pizzafari.

This one should be a far easier sell. While she’s trying these things, I’ll do some ‘quality control’ checks on the mac & cheese with pulled pork and the ribs at Flame Tree BBQ. You know, for research.

Moving to the park’s gift shops, we checked out what’s new.

PSA for whoever needs to hear it: “if you can dream it, you can do it” is not a Walt Disney quote. It’s a Tom Fitzgerald quote.

Next, we check out the Pandora – World of Avatar store to preview next month’s Disney Character Warehouse Outlet Report.

It was one thing when a bunch of weird stuff was released for the debut of the land. But the hits just keep on coming!

At the front of the park, there’s a small section of merchandise devoted to Pandora – World of Avatar with the best normal items and a few goofy-but-fun novelty items that I could see buying after spending a bit too much time at Nomad’s Lounge. This should be the extent of the Pandora gift shop–convert the rest of the space to something useful, like a bakery.

We’ll end this Animal Kingdom update with a few photos of Pandora – World of Avatar at sunset:

Jokes about the merchandise aside, I really love Pandora – World of Avatar. The environment itself is breathtakingly designed, and really lends itself to wandering and exploration. It’s not totally perfect (Navi River Journey remains one of my bigger disappointments of the last few years, and it could look better at night), but nothing is.

Pandora is one of the few recent Walt Disney World additions that I’ve grown to appreciate and enjoy more with the passage of time. I simply love spending time there, and that’s pretty much perfection for me. Looking back with the benefit of hindsight, it’s almost hard to believe there was so much disdain for the land before it debuted–I think it ended up being something truly special.

Now that the weather is getting nicer, we should start spending more and more time at Animal Kingdom. Between the new menu items and upcoming Christmas Celebrations at Disney’s Animal Kingdom, we’ll likely be spending a lot of time there this holiday season. I’m still cautiously optimistic that these Christmas offerings (at least some of them) will be solid additions. The entertainment and decor on Discovery Island has a lot of potential–we’ll report back on whether it lives up to that potential in a couple of weeks!

Planning a Walt Disney World trip? Learn about hotels on our Walt Disney World Hotels Reviews page. For where to eat, read our Walt Disney World Restaurant Reviews. To save money on tickets or determine which type to buy, read our Tips for Saving Money on Walt Disney World Tickets post. Our What to Pack for Disney Trips post takes a unique look at clever items to take. For what to do and when to do it, our Walt Disney World Ride Guides will help. For comprehensive advice, the best place to start is our Walt Disney World Trip Planning Guide for everything you need to know!


What do you think of the latest changes at Animal Kingdom? Have you seen Otter Grotto in all of its glory? Disappointed by the loss of Burudika Band? Purchased any Pandora merchandise? Other thoughts about Animal Kingdom? Any questions we can help you answer? Hearing your feedback—even when you disagree with us—is both interesting to us and helpful to other readers, so please share your thoughts below in the comments!

26 Responses to “Animal Kingdom Update: Club 33, Pandora Perfection, Otter Oddities, Entertainment Cuts”
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