Disney's Animal Kingdom - Beyond the Rides and Animals

The one reliable tip that almost every Animal Kingdom receives - Do the safari first!! Okay, the safari is done... now what? Naturally, there are other rides, but I have to confess to a HUGE pet peeve here. The Disney minds have gone to great lengths to consider every little detail of the parks. I know I'm being petty and snide, but it just agitates me to realize how many people rush through line after line, ride after ride, bickering - shoving - RUSHING! Take time to sit on a bench and notice a garbage can! Sounds ridiculous, but I'm serious! Hey - in the Magic Kingdom, that garbage can just may walk, talk and ask you for a hug! Don't look at me like that! I have the pics to prove my tale! One such feature at Animal Kingdom that busy bees over fly right by is DiVine. I'll let umm, her... "speak" for herself...

Of course, DiVine is not the traditional, scampering, furry or elegant Disney character, but don't worry - they're here too! If you haven't had enough of the lines for the rides, you can get your fill while waiting for character photos and autographs! ;) Sorry... I couldn't resist that one. Seriously though - I cannot let the opportunity pass to slip in a little PSA here from someone who visits the parks enough to know what a HUGE problem this really is. When in line for a character greeting, PLEASE get your autograph items and camera READY! Additionally, nothing is more obnoxious than the family of five that has to take 15 different photo combinations, monopolizing the characters for ten minutes. You know that  family... "Oh, just the kids"... "Now with the parents, too" ... "Three generations!!"... "Alright, just the ladies now!" Yeah - IT'S RUDE, GENIUS! See that line you were just in? Other people are still in it and they are not a figment of your imagination! Okay, soap box put away. For those wishing to track down the Disney cuddlies, here ya go:

  • Discovery Island is home to Russell and Dug from "Up", as well as Tigger and Pooh 
  • Mickey and Minnie can be found at Adventurer's Outpost 
  • Pluto and Goofy like to hang out in Dinoland
  • Jiminy Cricket and Rafiki greet guests at Rafiki's Planet Watch
  • Camp Minnie-Mickey is a character-palooza, hosting Baloo, King Louie, Pocahontas, Donald Duck, Chip and Dale
  • You can enjoy breakfast with Donald and Daisy Duck, Goofy and Mickey at Tusker House's Safari Breakfast

While we're on the subject of edibles... let me stress the uniqueness of the cuisine at this park! I'll give credit where it's due - Disney has been overhauling the menus "World-wide" as of late, and I do acknowledge the improvements. BUT - Animal Kingdom has always been different. Of course, you can still find the carts full of ice cream, pretzels and popcorn galore, but in terms of snacks, the gem of the park is the cinnamon glazed almond cart! All I can say is YUM! As for counter service, I can only speak for two - Pizzafari (guess what they serve?), and Restaurantosaurus (burgers, hot dogs, nuggets). While they were nothing to shoot fireworks over, they were adequate for midday break lunches - overpriced, overcrowded... you know, Disney! Rainforest Cafe is one of my favorite full-service dining options at Disney. The really nice little perk to Rainforest is that you can dine here prior to entering the park gates, so admission to AK is not required. (There is also a second location at Downtown Disney - FYI.) Among the fabulous dinner options, they have amazing original drinks, desserts and appetizers. I highly recommend one of everything, so save this for dinner at the end of the day! Flame Tree BBQ (counter service), Tusker House (African themed; character breakfast/ lunch, counter service chicken and sandwiches for dinner) and Yak and Yeti (Asian full-service) also seem highly recommended, but you can't have my confirmation on them... yet!

Hands down, there is no greater talent on Disney property than the performers from the Festival of the Lion King! As far as shows go, this is the "don't miss". In other words, it's the safari of shows! Animatronics, character, dancers, acrobats and soul-piercing vocals combine so perfectly to create synergistic glory in front of your very eyes and ears. Even those who usually find shows to be a waste of their blessed line-to-line rush time will agree that this is an experience to insist on. Beyond the Lion King, AK hosts Flights of Wonder - a conservation angled, trained bird showcase and Finding Nemo - a musical show featuring puppets, acrobats, special effects and dancers. Both are certainly worthwhile, but rather anti-climactic after the Lion King. Plan accordingly! 

Recently, AK added a fun new interactive adventure, themed around the movie "Up". Much like the film's character, Russell, you'll be tasked with challenges around the park to earn up to 31 badges... think Scouts - Disney style! Highlights - FREE (souvenirs... for free... at Disney???) and you're cleverly educating the youngsters under the witty guise of fun! They feel oh so accomplished as they reap the rewards!

Last, but not least, let's close our Animal Kingdom chapter with a few rapid AK highlights:
  • The park is home to over 1000 animals of more than 250 species!
  • A kudu was the first animal to be born at the park.
  • The park opened on Earth Day, April 22, 1998.
  • Animal Kingdom was the first Disney park to use the Fastpass system.
  • There are no "regular" straws served with drinks at AK. For the safety of the animals, all straws are made of paper (no cup lids, either).
  • Animal Kingdom (from above) is in the shape of Africa.
  • Animal Kingdom is the largest Disney park worldwide (580 acres).
  • The large rock slabs on the safari are climate controlled to encourage the lions to emerge for viewing.

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