Hello, and welcome back to our Walt Disney World Honeymoon series! Today I am sharing with you everything we experienced at Disney’s Animal Kingdom, which is Disney’s animal, nature, safari, expedition, explorer, etc., themed park. It’s lush with plant life, incredibly beautiful, and has so much to see and do. It’s really hard to pick, but it was probably our favorite park in Disney World and the one we may have spent the most time in. It consists of a few main lands, including Africa, Asia, Pandora, and Dinoland.
The Tree of Life is also a prominent feature of the park and is Animal Kingdom’s equivalent of Cinderella’s castle. It’s a huge tree structure (not a real tree) with animals carved into it and is an identifying symbol for the park. They also do a light projection show on it a few times a night called Tree of Life Nighttime Awakenings, which celebrates all the life experienced in nature and includes scenes of forests, flowers, oceans, and animals. The Tree of Life welcomes you as you enter the Animal Kingdom, and it’s such a beautiful site to see.
The first section, Africa, is set in a fictional East-African port village called Harambe. All the stores and restaurants are themed to look like you had just walked into an authentic African village. There are African singers and dancers that regularly perform throughout the day, and it houses one of the main attractions at Animal Kingdom: the Kilimanjaro Safari.
The Asia area, located in a fictional kingdom known as Anandapur, is heavily themed to resemble areas of Southeast Asia. Since Zach is Indian and has spent a lot of time in India, he was blown away by just how similar some of the areas, especially the buildings or physical props, looked to India. There was even a beautiful river right inside the entrance to Asia. It’s also home to Mt. Everest, which houses a popular roller coaster ride, Expedition Everest. It’s a huge mountain that you can see from several vantage points in the park.
Dinoland USA was probably the weirdest Disney land I have ever experienced. As you can probably guess, it’s a dinosaur-themed land but looks more like a local carnival than a Disney imagineering creation, and from what I’ve heard, it pretty much is exactly that. It has a lot of rides that appeared to have been purchased already built rather than rides developed by Imagineers, little kiosks with games, and dinosaur-themed restaurants — and none of it looks like Disney. It really looks like an Imagineer forgot to do his homework and gave us Dinoland as his last-minute attempt to fill the space. It does host one main ride, which I will go over later.
Pandora is based on the fictional world of Pandora in the film Avatar. Avatar was a huge movie but had little critical acclaim, and in general, the public didn’t love it. However, it created a rich fictional alien world that looked incredible, and the visual effects and CGI work were some of the few things it was highly praised for. So Pandora in Animal Kingdom is probably the most impressive land Disney has ever created. It’s huge and all-encompassing. The mountains, structures, sounds, alien plant life, rides, stores, and restaurants all looked incredible and truly transported you to Pandora. It was our favorite land by far and the one we spent quite a bit of time in. It also hosts one of the most popular rides ever, Flight of Passage, which I will describe later in the post.
If any of these areas peaked your interest, next I’ll go into everything we experienced in each of these lands. Keep reading!
On Expedition Everest, you are an explorer heading out on a high-speed, turbulent, roller-coaster expedition of Everest. This ride seems to be WDW’s Matterhorn equivalent; however, the ride is quite different. It’s very fast and much more of a traditional roller coaster. There is a yeti who essentially destroys your tracks, and at one point the train can’t go any farther because the broken rails are just curling up from the side of the mountain. At this point, the coaster travels backward, which is quite exhilarating. The theming of Everest is awesome — both inside the ride and in the queue. Every inch of the line is covered in Everest- and explorer-themed decor, including Tibetan prayer flags, explorer gear, and advertisements for food, drinks, and expeditions. This quickly became one of Zach’s favorite Disney rides ever because of how fun the ride was and the incredible theming.
Flights of Wonder was a bird show in Animal Kingdom that they have since shut down. It’s full of bird puns, silly antics between the actors and birds, and an educational lesson on the different types of birds. It was fun to see the trained birds do tricks and pranks. It wasn’t all that amazing, but it was nice to take a break from walking around all day and watch a show. We ended up getting a margarita from a stand right outside the show, so it was a very relaxing part of our day at Animal Kingdom.
Kali River Rapids is very similar to the Grizzly River Run, for those familiar with Disney California Adventure. The ride takes you on a journey on the Chakranadi River, courtesy of Kali River Expeditions. Similar to Expedition Everest, the theming is incredible and immersive. There is a lot more to look at than Grizzly River Run, as it’s filled with artifacts and special effects. However, just like Grizzly, you get soaked. Zach and I packed our rain gear and wore all of it, which helped, but definitely plan to get wet.
This is a self-guided walking tour through Southeast Asia. It’s a beautiful walk full of lush plant life and a lot of animals to see. The most notable were the tigers, which included TWO BABY TIGERS. They were so cute! It’s always an awesome experience getting to see such exotic animals in person. There were also some birds and lizards — but nothing compares to baby tigers.
The safari is definitely one of the big experiences Animal Kingdom is known for. Animal Kingdom has its own African savanna that is home to real-life exotic animals. You ride in a big jeep, and your driver takes you through the savanna, pointing out animals and telling you all about them. We ended up seeing so many — giraffes, elephants, rhinos, hippos, and so many more! It’s relaxing to be out in the lush savanna and really fun to see all the animals. Everyone in the jeep gets so excited. Every time you ride it, it will be a little different since these are real, living animals, but it’s an amazing experience.
This was another self-guided nature walk that showed you different plant and animal life, ending with a viewing area of the gorillas. We got to see a little gorilla family — mom, dad, and baby — which was so cool! The adult gorillas were HUGE, and the dad slept the entire time. Mom and baby were moving around, and, yes, the baby gorilla was painfully cute. It was a lot of fun seeing the gorillas, and overall we really enjoyed the experience. While nature walks might sound a little boring, Disney does such an incredible job with the theming that it’s always beautiful and worth it. And you get to see real animals!
The Festival of the Lion King is a stage show at Animal Kingdom in the Harambe theater that celebrates everyone’s favorite lion king, Simba. The show is full of live renditions of songs from the film and giant animatronics of Pumba and Simba that talk, as well as a large elephant and giraffe that move. It also had dancers, acrobats, and Timon, who helped host the event (an actor in a character costume). The singers and dance performances were amazing. The stage itself was a circular platform in the middle of the room, which made any seat a good one. I really enjoyed the show, and it’s always fun to hear some of your favorite Disney songs live.
Rafiki’s Planet Watch starts with a short train ride, the Wildlife Express Train, that takes you from Africa to a different area of the park that hosts a small nature walk known as Habitat Habit. There, you get to see super cute monkeys and learn about their habitat, visit a petting zoo called the Affection Section, and go to the Conservation Station, which is an interactive museum of sorts that teaches you all about different animals and preservation efforts that Disney is a part of. We learn the role that we, as humans, play in ensuring species and plant life are protected. The Conservation Station is also home to Disney’s animal hospital, where they take care of sick or injured animals in the park. The operating room is visible to the public through a window, and a schedule of procedures is posted if guests want to return to see them, which I thought would have been a really interesting experience if we had the time. From what I have read, guests can even ask questions during procedures! The Affection Section didn’t have anything cool or exotic; it had your normal barnyard buddies like goats and pigs. After petting a few pigs, we went into the Conservation Station and walked around, participating in a few of the interactive experiences and reading the educational information. This is definitely a much more educational part of Animal Kingdom, and it’s pretty cool to learn about everything Disney is doing and is a great tool to teach kids about their role in protecting the natural world.
This is the main ride in Dinoland USA. The track and ride experience is very similar, if not identical, to Indiana Jones in Disneyland. You are seated in a jeep and sent into the past to see dinosaurs. While I am not a big dinosaur enthusiast, the theming is done well, and it’s a very immersive dino experience. It’s even a little creepy at times with the large dinosaurs getting a little too close for comfort to the jeep or breathing fire. Zach really hates dinosaurs, so he didn’t enjoy this much. I thought it was fun but not something I would miss if they replaced it. From what I understand, the general public is desperate for them to just turn it into Indiana Jones since WDW does not currently have that ride in any of its parks. It’s almost seems cruel to give the same ride and track essentially of Indy but not change the actual ride, which is by far better than Dinosaur.
Primeval Whirl is very similar to Goofy’s Sky School in Disney California Adventure for those familiar. It’s a small coaster with a time-travel theme that whips and spins you around, constantly making you feel as if you’re going to fly off the edge. We had fun riding it, but it was pretty silly, and like most of Dinoland, it was very dated and looked more like a carnival ride.
Na’vi River Journey is a very slow and peaceful boat ride on the Na'vi river. It’s dark but full of colorful plant life and animals. It’s very relaxing and enjoyable to just sit on the boat and look at everything. There are some screens tucked into some of the real plant props, too, which I found gave more depth to the ride, giving the illusion that you were in a lush and deep forest. Again, I know not everyone loves the screens, and it’s obvious when you see them, but it didn’t bother me at all and I think it was an overall positive addition to the ride. The river journey also hosts the most impressive animatronic Disney has ever created. The large, full-scale, Na'vi woman at the end of the river ride is so lifelike that you feel like she could just stand up, talk to you, or walk around. Her movements are smooth and facial expressions eerily real. Everyone should ride this simply to see this animatronic, but the entire experience is lovely. I have read a lot online about how people don’t like this ride because there isn’t much to it for a “ride.” There’s not really a story to it, so people complain a lot that it’s boring. However, if you go in knowing it’s a more relaxing experience, I think you’ll enjoy it. It has a long wait, but fast passes are much easier to come by. We were able to ride it about three times, each time with a fast pass.
Flight of Passage is the most popular ride at Disney World, if not at Disney Parks in general. I asked someone in line next to us if they had ridden it before and what it was like. She said, “It’s like Soarin’ except on steroids,” and she couldn’t have been more right. It has a very long line, but not one inch of space isn’t touched by the Pandora theming. As I said before, Pandora is probably one of the most immersive fantasy lands Disney has ever created, and that doesn’t end with the ride lines. You wind through tunnels and ACE labs until you reach the ride. The lab includes a full-size Avatar animatronic that is asleep in a tube of water. It ever so slightly moves and twitches, and it looks so eerily real that it’s creepy. The story of the ride is that the Na’vi have allowed tourists (essentially) to embark on a once-in-a-lifetime experience riding an ikran, more commonly known as a “banshee.” The ride takes place several years after the events of the movie and does not include characters from the film. The banshees are a core species to the Navi ecosystem, so they have partnered with ACE to educate people about this animal and their habitat so that we are encouraged to help protect it. There are several signs informing guests of the restoration efforts occurring at Pandora after the events in the film.
Only Na'vi can ride banshees, so you have to be paired with an Avatar to ride. You’re “paired” in a small room and shown an orientation video explaining the process. After the video, you enter the next chamber, which includes the vessels you’ll actually be riding. It’s similar to a motorcycle in the way that you sit and hold onto the handles. Back and leg restraints rise up after everyone is seated, and you are instructed to put on your flight glasses. I really didn’t know what to expect and was feeling really nervous that this might a very intense ride that I wasn’t prepared for. A strobe light begins to flash, the wall in front of you lifts, and all of a sudden you are just out in the open flying! It’s crazy — you really do feel like you’re flying and can even feel the muscles move on your banshee against your legs. It’s similar to Soarin’ — since you’re suspended in midair in front of a giant screen— but it’s SO MUCH COOLER. The fictional world of Pandora really comes to life, and it’s incredibly fun and breathtaking. You can be taken a little bit out of the moment if you look too far to your left or right or behind you and see the other riders, but if you stay in the moment and just pay attention to the experience, it’s so amazing. It’s definitely the best Disney ride I’ve ever been on.
It’s a long wait that never gets below about two hours, but it’s so worth it. We learned the best time to get in line is right at opening or just before the park closes. It’s incredibly difficult to get fast passes, too, so there is a good chance you’ll just have to wait. But if you find yourself in WDW, do not miss out on this just because of a wait!
Animal Kingdom hosts a live stage performance of Finding Nemo. WDW involves so much walking that any kind of experience that allows you to sit down is typically a welcome one. The characters are all performed by actors carrying truly incredible puppets. They’re bright, beautiful, and so impressive. However, we also found it to be quite boring. It is pretty much word-for-word repeating the movie with very unimaginative songs. Zach and I, due to exhaustion and boredom, both started to fall asleep during the show! We decided to leave since it definitely wasn’t a comfortable place to fall asleep, and we only made it through about 20 minutes of the show. Unless you have kids or really love Finding Nemo, I don't really think this is worth the time.
Meeting Mickey & Minnie
We randomly decided to pop in and meet Mickey and Minnie while the wait was short, and it was really fun! Since it was in Animal Kingdom, the meet-and-greet area was safari-themed and had framed photos on the wall of Mickey and Minnie on their travels to various destinations around the world. When we met them, the cast member told them that we had just gotten married, which of course they loved. Mickey started to get stressed because he thought Minnie would now want him to propose (which, aren’t they married?). We took some really cute and fun photos with them, and it might have actually been the first time since I was a kid that I took photos with Mickey Mouse!
It’s Tough to Be a Bug was also in Bug’s Land at California Adventure (that has since shut down), so Zach and I had done it a few times. It’s a show in the roots of the Tree of Life, which is really cool, and includes Flick teaching you why bugs are important with music, comedy, and, of course, some silly antics from uncooperative bugs. It has a lot of special effects and overall is a very cute show.
Hope you enjoyed getting to hear about everything we did in Animal Kingdom. We loved the park and can't wait to go back! We'll see you next time to share everything we ate!