The Wild Life at Disney's Animal Kingdom

 Timon awaits to greet visitors on a mini "Pride Rock"

I remember when Animal Kingdom (AK) first opened. The introductory ad campaign used a cultural melding to stress the park's uniqueness: "Disney's Animal Kingdom, it's alot of things but remember, it's Nahtazu" (Get it?? NOT A ZOO? LOL Clever to us feeble minded simple folk!). While it's certainly not suitable to assign AK the simplified label of "zoo", it's also not altogether unique or ground-breaking. AK joins the ranks of the modern wildlife amusement parks. Think Busch Gardens, Sea World,... you get the idea. Frankly, being an annual passholder and frequent visitor to all of the previously referenced parks, I must admit that AK is not particularly remarkable amongst the trio. However, like all things Disney - it's just different.

One feature unique to Animal Kingdom that IS remarkable is the iconic Tree of Life, a 145 ft marvel with 325 animals carved into it. (See photo to the left). You could spend hours just discovering all of the featured creatures! Don't miss the transforming show, It's Tough to Be a Bug housed within the tree base!

Animal Kingdom has a fair balance between their animal habitat locations and the presentation of the various species. Walking tours offer bountiful aspects of natural beauty and serene winding pathways that allow for a change of theme park pace. While exploring these pedestrian zones, you'll find wildlife to gawk at, including bats, tigers, gorillas, siamangs and an aquarium full of busy marine life. Most staged animal viewing areas come complete with their very own well-informed, bubbly Disney Cast Member, who's always anxious to share knowledge about the area's wildlife with anyone who is willing to listen. Don't neglect the hidden nooks scattered throughout the park that play home to macaws, flamingos, babyrusa and more, or the petting zoo at Rafiki's Planet Watch in Africa!
Of course, the famed highlight of the animal adventures at AK is the Kilimanjaro Safari. Each experience is different, as this is not the type of attraction that can be completely predictable or staged. As someone who has experienced the safari more times than I can count, I will confirm that sometimes it's amazing and sometimes it downright stinks! A couple of things I've learned along the way: a light rain, or the end of a shower seems to lure the animals out, AND... it's true what they say - get there early. The morning safaris are always the best to catch!

There are five primary "rides" at Animal Kingdom: Dinosaur, Expedition Everest, Kali River Rapids, Primeval Whirl and Triceratop Spin. Dinosaur is a turbulent jeep-style ride through our prehistoric past as we battle to survive along with (or despite) the dinosaurs. Kali River Rapids is a standard round-raft, rapids style ride, but it's a bit of a disappointment to be blunt. I consider these rapid rides to be my favorites, so I'm appointing myself a connoisseur. With that in mind, I have to say - it's more of a teaser than a soaker. I'm not the type who goes on a water ride wearing a poncho. For crying out loud... it's a water ride! I WANT TO GET WET! Kali seems to threaten the "big splash" or "waterfall of doom", but it pulls a Houdini as the rafts approach. Busch Gardens has Disney beat on this one! Triceratop Spin is simply a Dumbo mimic. Personally, I tired of that long ago. I don't care if it's an elephant, a dinosaur or a magic carpet, it's lost its spark for me, ok? Primeval Whirl is rather hard to describe. It's almost as if a mild roller coaster took over a tilt-a-whirl. Personally, I could go on this one all day long. It's the one thing in this world that gets my teenage daughter giggling like a toddler again. That's enough for me! Everest is a sight to behold... that's for sure, but I can't much speak of the ride itself. I don't mean that as in I have negative opinions of it. I mean that I have yet to work up the nerve to ride it! It's a bit embarrassing, I admit. I've been told by many that I have conquered much greater obstacles on my path to conquering my coaster phobia, but there are certain aspects of Everest that just horrify me (SPOILER ALERT!!!!!).... I mean... BACKWARDS? I do shamefully confess, however, that my 13 year-old son loves this ride. Someday, Everest - I will conquer you too!

As for the shows and the edibles as Disney's Animal Kingdom... well, that deserves a "Part II", don'cha think? Then there's characters, and all the little fun details like Hidden Mickeys! And just how does Animal Kingdom measure up to Busch Gardens, by the way? Hmm... the gears, they are a-turnin'...!