All of Walt Disney World’s park “icons” have a special place in my heart for many reasons (when Hollywood Studios can decide what it’s icon is going to be) . . .but the Tree of Life at Animal Kingdom is more than just an icon. It is really a stunning piece of artistry. The attention to detail in planning and design resulted in an organic, incredibly lifelike, sculpture as the centerpiece of the park. I love how you can see it from a distance but once you approach the gates and walk through the Oasis it is hidden from view until it appears before you in the clearing once you surface from the jungle/rain forest environment of the Oasis. Here are 8 really cool things about the Tree of Life to make you appreciate it even more:
8. PhotoPass Opportunities
The Tree of Life is a beautiful backdrop for family photos and other magic shots with PhotoPass photographers. And there are many areas where you can stop to get the perfect shot. If you have Memory Maker as part of your vacation package I recommend stopping at as many as you can! As you cross the bridge from the Oasis to Discovery Island you will start seeing photographers who can snap a few photos, then as you get right in front of the tree Disney will have several photographers. They even have props. And don’t forget to ask for some magic shots—there are some cute ones. You may even find PhotoPass photographers on the backside of the tree on the path between Asia and Africa that make for a really unique angle. And don’t forget to take your own photos—zoom in on the amazing details.
7. The Leaves
Again, so much time and effort was put into making this sculpture appear as a huge living tree. The individual leaves on the tree are made out of Kynar which is a synthetic material chosen for its color retention, durability, and realistic movement to blow and shake in the breezes (but still strong enough to withstand 74 mile per hour winds in a hurricane prone area). There are over 102,000 individual leaves (each over 12 inches long) in 5 shades of green to enhance the realism of the tree.
6. It’s Tough To Be a Bug
Like Spaceship Earth in Epcot, the Tree of Life houses an attraction within its structure. Down below the tree, in what would be the roots and dirt is the 400 seat theater that features the 4D attraction, “It’s Tough To Be a Bug.” This is a perfect use of space—not only does it capitalize on the space below the tree, but in real life it is the habitat those bugs would actually live in. While the show is sometimes a little intense for little ones (and anyone who is creeped out by creepy crawlies), this fun tribute to the insect world hosted by the stars of A Bug’s Life is worth checking out.
5. Live Animals
Like the Oasis with live animal exhibits as you wind around the pathways, you will find some live animals living in the shade of the Tree of Life. You’ll see several species of birds including flamingos, storks, and macaws. There are some water exhibits where you will find some unusual fish species. Some of my favorites are the otters, porcupines and kangaroos. And the Galapagos Tortoise can be found here too. Take some time and enjoy these exhibits while you are waiting on your FastPass times to open, they are really worth the time to see. Please note that the animal exhibits are subject to change, at the entrance you can pick up a current Animal Guide with your maps so you can locate the various animal species throughout Animal Kingdom Park.
Did you know that the Tree of Life is built from an oil drilling platform? Those ingenious Imagineers found that the oil rigs that operate the off shore drilling in the Gulf of Mexico would be the perfect solution for the construction and stability of the Tree—they were already built to withstand hurricanes and tropical storms in the Gulf. With the structure in place it would leave an area to build for the It’s Tough To Be A Bug theater, and have the basic form in place for the Tree of Life itself, which is based generally on the shape of the Baobab tree. From there they added secondary, tertiary and end branches to create the realistic look of a branching tree with unique twists and turns throughout the structure. It was important to make it as naturalistic as possible and keep it from becoming too symmetrical or uniform. The finished product is 145 feet tall and 165 feet wide.
3. The Sculptures
Once the structure was secure and in place it was time for the artistic portion of the Tree of Life with the sculpting of 325 individual animals into the bark of the tree. Rebar and metal lath were attached so that concrete could be applied in sections. Each section had to be carved and sculpted by the team of artists while it was still soft enough to work with. The artists formed creatures great and small—and you will notice that size and scale were not a consideration as ants appear the same size as tigers (maybe a comment that all of the animals are important in the Circle of Life). To make the animals blend in to the bark of the tree they are textured to resemble the bark of three different trees: cedar, oak & banyan. Then the sculptures were painted with shades of greens and browns to give a natural look and coated with Polyurethane to protect them from Florida’s weather. I love to stand and look at the tree hunting for animals—it makes for a great game of I Spy. I always seem to find one I haven’t seen before.
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2. Walking Trails
While many people snake around the Tree of Life in the line for It’s Tough To Be A Bug, there are walking trails that are separate from the line that get you up close and personal with the Tree. They are usually fairly uncrowded and make for a relaxing getaway from the rest of the park. You’ll see animals that you can only see from the pathways, and get a closer look at the artistry of the sculptures overall. You’ll be amazed at the details of not only the carvings but the overall design of the tree with its snaking roots. And there are some very pretty waterfalls along the way that make for beautiful photo opportunities.
1. The Awakening
While the Tree of Life is beautiful all day, with the nighttime lighting it becomes spectacular. As dusk draws near the Tree is highlighted with beautiful colors and lightning bugs start to flicker in the leaves. Then you will start to see some of the animals on the tree awaken and move. That will turn in to a serious of beautifully arranged projection shows that take place on the trunk of the tree. Throughout the night there are multiple showings and I recommend that you try to see one or two of the stories. I find them to be truly breathtaking.
What is your favorite thing about the Tree of Life at Disney’s Animal Kingdom park?