Animal Kingdom is a theme park that is dedicated to conservation, education and discovery. The Imagineers have worked to infuse each attraction with those ideals, while making sure that guests are having a fun and magical time at the park. I would argue that you haven’t truly done Animal Kingdom until you’ve done the following 7 things while also keeping in mind the true spirit of the park.
7. Become a Wilderness Explorer
Some write this off as something for kids, but it’s a really wonderful way to experience Animal Kingdom. The challenges will take you all over the park, giving you a chance to talk with cast members and discover new things about nature, conservation, other cultures and even the park itself. When you complete a challenge you will receive a badge/sticker for your accomplishment. There are a number of badges to be earned like the Animal Find Badge, where you keep track of all the animals you see while at the park, or you can earn the Veterinary Badge by helping to diagnose an animal’s health issue. You can pick up a guide at the Wilderness Explorer headquarters located between Oasis and Discovery Island, and then start by picking a challenge to tackle either on your own or with your friends and family. You don’t have to complete all the challenges in one go, you can choose to complete only a couple each time you visit. By becoming a Wilderness Explorer you may find that you engage with the park in a way you haven’t before.
6. Visit Pandora – The World of Avatar
Pandora – The World of Avatar is the newest land in the Animal Kingdom theme park. Here you will find two extremely popular attractions known as Avatar Flight of Passage and Na’vi River Journey. You can expect a thrilling ride on Avatar Flight of Passage as you climb aboard a Banshee (dragon-like creature) and ride through the beautiful World of Avatar. The Na’vi River Journey is a perfect family-friendly attraction as guests boat down river and see just how beautiful the Na’vi tribe’s rainforest is with bioluminescence lighting and the latest animatronics. Outside of these two attractions, the land is almost like an attraction itself with stunning beauty and ability to interact with guests… especially as it glows at night!
If you haven’t been to Flame Tree Barbecue then you truly haven’t experienced some of the best food Animal Kingdom has to offer. It may be a quick-service restaurant but this restaurant packs in the flavor with their fall-of-the-bone ribs, their ½ chicken entree and pulled pork sandwich – the jalapeno cornbread deserves an honorable mention as well. There’s something so satisfying about just digging in and eating this barbecue with your hands, not to mention licking the sweet and tangy barbecue sauces from your fingers. It also offers a lovely atmosphere. The outdoor covered patios overlooking the water at Flame Tree Barbecue are tucked away from the bustle of the park making it the perfect spot to dine on delicious comfort food as you refuel for the rest of your day at the park.
4. Expedition Everest
This may be an obvious one but it has to be on the list. Expedition Everest is the most thrilling ride at Animal Kingdom. If you can spare the time, perhaps when the wait is shorter, walk through the queue. The attention to detail and the story that the Imagineers have built in the queue is really quite incredible. The Yeti museum is not to be missed or just merely walked by in the queue without a second glance. It has so many interesting little gems of information about the folklore surrounding the Yeti all of which help build the anticipation of coming face to face with him in Mt. Everest.
3. See the Shows
Animal Kingdom has fantastic live shows, and I would say you haven’t really done Animal Kingdom unless you’ve seen them! There is Finding Nemo the Musical which is a live version of the Pixar film featuring giant theatrical puppets with bright and beautiful costumes. This show is worth seeing simply for the unique form of storytelling through puppetry. Another show (and probably the most popular) is Festival of the Lion King, which is inspired by The Lion King film and features some of the characters, but it is not a re-telling of the story. In this show you will see a variety of theatrical performers such as aerial artists, acrobats, singers and stilt walkers. You are bound to recognize some of the music and the colors and costumes alone are a feast for the eyes. Rivers of Light is a nighttime show at Animal Kingdom. This 15-minute show is held in an amphitheater next to Expedition Everest and boasts dramatic storytelling and animal folklore through beautiful floats, inspiring music, impressive water screens, and all the latest technology and special effects. Truly a celebration of nature’s beauty. These productions offer theatrical spectacle that won’t disappoint!
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2. Wild Africa Trek
If you really want to see animals at Animal Kingdom, you should consider spending the extra money for the Wild Africa Trek tour, especially if you’ve visited Animal Kingdom before. The Wild Africa Trek is similar to that of Kilimanjaro Safaris but it is a 3-hour tour with a total of 12 guests and it offers a much more personal and in-depth safari experience. You will cross a rope bridge over crocodiles, you will be strapped into a harness allowing you to peer over the edge of the hippo pool, and your guide will have the opportunity to share more detailed knowledge with you about the animals, their habitat, and how the park operates. You will also feast on a meal that is prepared by the chefs at Tusker House. The Wild Africa Trek is definitely an indulgence but totally worth it to experience the park in such a unique way.
1. The Tree of Life
The Tree of Life is the icon of the park and therefore, you haven’t really done Animal Kingdom until you have experienced all that the Tree of Life has to offer. You can admire the tree from afar while getting your picture taken with the tree in the background. Get up close to the carvings in the roots by walking the Discovery Island Trails. The Tree of Life also houses a theater, so to fully experience the Tree of Life you must go see It’s Tough to Be a Bug. It is a 3D show featuring Flik from A Bug’s Life and even Hopper makes an appearance. The show is entertaining and funny but also sneaks in a few facts about insects and how helpful they are. The Tree of Life really is an awe-inspiring centerpiece to the park. Part of truly experiencing Animal Kingdom is to remember why it is there, and the Tree of Life helps remind us that all animals and creatures are connected and that we must continue to learn and discover ways to protect our shared home. You’ll especially want to see it again in the evening as Tree of Life Awakenings lights up the tree with beautiful projections and music.