Animal Kingdom is the newest addition to the four major parks of the Walt Disney World Resort in Orlando, Florida. This park, as the name implies, has an animal theme. You will be able to see not only audio-animatronic wildlife as at the other parks but also a huge variety of real animals in beautiful settings. I think the Animal Kingdom does the best job of any of the theme parks of keeping its grounds clean and well-maintained. After several years, the park still looks as new as it did when it opened and the animal environments have gotten better and better.
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The following is a very effective touring plan for a one-day visit to the park. Descriptions of the attractions are included as well, so you can feel free to skip those that dont interest anyone in your party. This plan will allow time to visit the major attractions with minimal waits and even a break for lunch. I have visited this park dozens of times, and we have figured out that this schedule seems to work the best for our family.
The Animal Kingdom is divided into lands around a central area Discovery Island, which is home to the large tree which is the symbol for the park. Visitors enter through an Oasis consisting of several minor exhibits and lush greenery. Once you are through the Oasis, I find it useful to think of the park as a square. To the bottom left Camp Minnie-Mickey. To the top left is Africa and an entrance for the train to Rafikis Planet Watch. At the top right is Asia, and the bottom right is Dinoland U.S.A. The center of the square, of course, is Discovery Island. If you are not familiar with the park a map is available at http://www.wdisneyw.co.uk/akmap.html so you can visualize the touring plans more effectively.
1. It is very important to arrive at the park well before opening time. Even when we stay onsite, the Animal Kingdom is the one park I recommend driving to because the bus ride there can be long and the parking lot is located conveniently close to the park itself. If you arrive a half hour early you should have less than a five minute walk to the park entrance. You will be allowed to enter the park with your ticket and proceed as far as you can in the direction of Africa before bumping up against the rope. Many times you will be able to see the characters arrive in safari gear to open the park.
2. As soon as the rope drops, proceed to Kilimanjaro Safaris. This attraction is one of the parks best, offering a safari ride through the plains of Africa. You will see lions, wildebeast, elephants, giraffes, and many other animals. There are several advantages to riding early in the day. For one thing, lines on this attraction can grow to over two hours later on. Also, from my experience the animals will be most active early in the day and you will see many more walking around or even crossing the tracks of the safari vehicle. This is a fabulous attraction, be sure to take note of the great theming as you walk through the waiting area.
3. After enjoying the safari, its time to do a little walking. You will be heading to Dinoland. On the way, stop and check out the FASTPASS booths near the tree of life for Its Tough to be a Bug. The time will most likely be at least an hour or two away. Stop to get FASTPASS for the film for all those in your party, then proceed to DINOSAUR. This is my very favorite attraction at any Disney park. Visitors board time travel vehicles on a mission to bring back an iguanadon from the days when dinosaurs roam. However, the trip becomes a bit rocky and your car must avoid not only giant, carnivorous dinosaurs but get out in time to avoid the asteroid collision. DINOSAUR takes place almost entirely in the dark and children must be 40 inches tall to ride.
4. At this point, stop and check out the fun Dino-themed midway, Hester and Lesters Dino-Rama. This is the newest section of the park. There are two carnival style rides here. Triceratops Spin is basically Dumbo, but children ride in dinosaur shaped cars instead. This is nothing really spectacular, but a nice choice for young children who are too small to ride DINOSAUR but want to get a dino fix. Primeval Whirl is a tougher than it looks ride where your car dips and spins unpredictably. I skip this one personally, but if you are the person who rides the Tilt-a-Whirl a dozen times straight at the fair then you will enjoy this ride. I recommend these minor attractions early in the day simply because they are slooooooow loaders and even a short line results in a lengthy wait.
5. By this point, your FASTPASS window should be up for Its Tough to be a Bug. This cute 3-D show is loosely based on the characters in Disneys Bugs Life movie. After being escorted into a theater at the base of the huge tree, guests put on bugs eyes and get to see (and smell) butterflies, ants, dung beetles, stink bugs, and more. A few children may be frightened by the creepy crawlies, but the show in itself isnt really scary and most of the bugs are quite friendly.
6. This is probably a good time to stop for a lunch break. I try to eat earlier rather than later at Disney parks. Lines become unbearable from about 12:30 to 2 in most places. On your way to eat, stop and pick up a FASTPASS for Kali River Rapids in Asia. This is a water ride on a large round raft. It is difficult to predict when the window will be by this point, but most likely sometime in the afternoon or early evening. You will then need to break into the touring plan and ride whenever your window comes up. My favorite pick for lunch at the Animal Kingdom is Tusker House Restaurant in Africa because of the great rotisserie chicken and ample indoor seating space. Fresh fruit stands are available right outside the restaurant for those wishing to add something healthy to their meal.
7. After lunch, proceed to Camp Minnie-Mickey to enjoy Festival of the Lion King. This show is great fun, with lots of audience involvement. Visitors are seated in four sections around the room and you will be expected to root for your team, whether you are a warthog or an elephant. The tumbling monkeys are my favorite, and all the Lion King favorites make an appearance. Dont discount this as a kids show, as it features great dancing and music. Everyone in our family enjoyed this show much more than we expected. The line looks long but the whole thing is generally swallowed up every thirty minutes except on extremely busy days.
8. I dont really think the Animal Kingdom is the best place for character autographs. The characters arent as numerous as the Magic Kingdom, so there tend to be long waits. I prefer character meals to get several autographs at once without taking away from park time. However, if character greeting is a priority, now is a good time to do it at Camp Minnie-Mickey Character Greeting Trails. The set-up is similar to Mickeys Toontown Fair at the Magic Kingdom where children wait in line to greet their favorite characters. Frequent visitors to the Animal Kingdom include safari-clad Mickey, Minnie, and Goofy as well as characters from the Jungle Book and Lion King.
9. The afternoon is a good time to get away from the crowds by taking the train out to Rafikis Planet Watch. The train boards near the Africa area. This attraction may be referred to as Conservation Station on some maps or guidebooks. The train ride is relaxing, but there are not as many behind the scenes sites to see as I had originally hoped. Out at the planet watch, there are a variety of indoor and outdoor attractions. For kids who love petting zoos, the Affection Section provides hands on fun with goats and sheep. Habitat Habit focuses on adorable tamarins. You can also watch some animals being cared for through glass display cases. On some visits, I have run into a garbage can that moves, talks, and throws trash back at people. Characters sometimes make an appearance, particularly Rafiki. On the whole, this section of the park has an unfinished feel to me and there isnt quite as much to do as I had hoped. Its a good way to escape the crowds, but you probably wont want to spend more than an hour here.
10. Head on back to the train. The rest of the afternoon can be spent on some of the less major attractions the park has to offer, according to your interest. I love the trails which allow better views of the animals, but small children may enjoy some of the other attractions more. You can choose between the following, according to how much time you have:
Flights of Wonder: This is a well done bird show, but for some reason people havent been that interested and you will likely see a cast member yelling out to people to come check it out. The show is performed several times daily and you will not have trouble getting a seat at the last minute. (Between Africa and Asia)
Pangani Forest Exploration Trail: This trail takes you through the wilds of Africa and features many of the same animals shown on the safari ride. Its location near the exit of that popular ride can cause crowds, but its worth a walk through. The hippo underwater viewing area is awesome, and there are great views of gorillas available as well. (Africa)
Maharaja Jungle Trek: This is my pick for the best of the walk through exhibits. Crumbling walls and lush forests give the impression that these animals have lived in the area forever. The Tiger Forest offers spectacular views of six tigers. You can also see bats, tapirs, and Komodo dragons. (Asia)
The Boneyard: Located in Dino-Land USA, this is a great playground for kids to blow off some steam. The boneyard is well done with an archaeology theme. As with all Disney playgrounds, it can get quite crowded. (Dino-land)
Pocahontas and Her Forest Friends - This show features Pocahontas, Grandmother Willow, and live animals of various types. The plot centers around conservation and the role of humans in saving the forests. Not my favorite show at Disney, but small children may enjoy it. (Camp Minnie-Mickey)
Discovery Island Trails: These little trails are located around the Tree of Life and offer hidden viewing areas for some small animals. You may see a Galapagos tortoise, kangaroo, lemur, birds, or a variety of others. (Discovery Island)
Shopping: The Animal Kingdom shops are attractively themed and offer some interesting merchandise. This is the best place to get safari Mickey or Minnie and many plush animals. The stores are themed to their lands at least somewhat, which means the best selection of dinosaur merchandise is available at Dino-Land USA and so forth. I have found the staff at Animal Kingdom shops to be the friendliest at any park and they will be glad to help you find an item or give advice. Guests staying at Disney resorts can have their purchases sent directly back to their hotels, so there is no need to carry a bag around all day.
11. Youre done! If you see everything you want to see before the park closes, you can grab a quick meal here. The Rainforest Café at the entrance remains open even after the park closes. I also recommend a quick bus or car ride to the nearby Animal Kingdom Lodge for a wonderful meal at the beautifully themed Jiko or Boma to finish out your day in style.
This touring plan requires quite a bit of walking and criss-crossing the park. However, it will hopefully allow you to see all the major attractions and leave time to relax and enjoy the trails in the afternoon. The Animal Kingdom is a beautiful and well-maintained theme park and you will have a great time whether you stick to a touring plan or not.
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