Of all four of the Walt Disney World parks, Animal Kingdom is the one Steve (DOS) and I have visited least. Not that we don’t like animals, on the contrary – we love wildlife, it just didn’t excite us the way EPCOT and Magic Kingdom did, but more importantly it used to only be open from 9 to 5 or maybe 6pm, making it impractical to go after work from our Orlando home during the week, and it usually wasn’t the first choice for out of town guests we would show around the parks. We had been on the weekend a few times, but as it is so large, we never (and still haven’t) gotten the layout of the park figured out very well.
That said, I’m happy to report that we’ve been a couple times recently, and thoroughly enjoyed it now more than ever. The Animal Kingdom park is also open later at night too, (sometimes 8 or 9pm) which makes it easier to park hop or visit later in the day.
When first entering the park, one of the first thing you notice is the iconic Tree of Life. The Tree of Life is a Disney created sculpture of a Baobab tree, which is adorned with hand carved animals along the trunks of the tree. Standing 145 feet tall, this tree replica is a centerpiece for the park, and the actual tree is an important part of the African ecosystem.
I wrote about this before on our first trip to South Africa nearly three years ago, when we first went on an actual Safari there, we felt like we were back at Disney World! By that I mean, Disney did such a good job of re-creating the essence of a real safari, complete with jeep, native wild life of Africa, the vegetation, terrain, and yes the Baobab trees, although both times we’ve been to South Africa it has been the dry season and the trees aren’t as lush with greenery like the Disney version. While writing this post to verify the spelling, I googled baobab – wow there are so many different looks to them – google it!) Here’s a few photos of the real life baobab trees we took in South Africa for comparison, alongside some native African animals.
Anyway, sorry I digress on trees . . .Back to the Animal Kingdom park. On the Kilamajaro Safari attraction at Animal Kingdom, guests ride in a safari type vehicle that is open on the sides, although (unlike) the African safaris has a roof overhead, and carries more passengers obviously.
Each safari vehicle has a Disney driver who also narrates the journey thru the Disney recreated African safari.
The narration on the Disney safari is quite informative, mimicking several of the things you would hear on a true African safari; i.e. lifespan of different animals, Hippopotamuses are the most dangerous animal to man, elephants travel in herds but the males leave the herd around 12 years of age, rhinoceros’s are endangered due to poachers etc, overall very well researched and informative. Overhead, near the roof of the vehicle is a photo of some of the various animals that may be spotted on the safari attraction.
Disney even built a sculpture of a termite mount, which is an import part of the African ecosystem, where many smaller animals build homes or nests inside holes in these mounds.
Below are some photos from the Safari ride at Animal Kingdom. What you won’t find here of course are animals preying on each other, mating etc, which you may see on an African safari. Those kind of things of things just don’t happen at Disney! Even the lion looks tame here! LOL! (Have to wonder what they feed them when the tourists aren’t around.)
After the safari attraction, there is a scenic walkway towards the exit, with exhibits along the way. If you look carefully, you may even see this huge gorilla!
One of our other favorite attractions at Animal Kingdom is The Festival of the Lion King show, which is performed in an huge indoor theater.
The theater feels like a giant ‘tent’, with high ceilings and bleacher-type seating in four sections ‘in the round’. (The theater is much larger than it looks from the photo and while waiting in line for the show. )All four seating sections face the center of the room, which is completely empty until the show starts.
When the show begins, however, the huge cast ensemble quickly gathers center stage, as the ‘stage’ is literally wheeled into place, while four gigantic and mechanical animals (lion, giraffe, elephant, and warthog) take their place; one at each section of the audience, all while the music and dancing welcomes one and all.
It’s an unbelievably amazing show, rivaling the Broadway version in quality and originality, although the Animal King version is only about 30 minutes long. Still, it’s a powerful and nonstop show and features highlights of the beautiful music from The Lion King. They do allow photography and even video, as long as you keep the light off on the camera. I took a few short videos with my iPhone and uploaded these to You Tube shown below. If you’ve never seen this show before, it’s an absolute must see if you’re visiting Animal Kingdom park.
On my You Tube channel I’ve uploaded a few videos of Africa if you want to have a look, and compare the safari footage to Animal Kingdom’s attraction. The one I made below is a composite of our two trips to South Africa and I used the background music from the Lion King’s “Circle of Life”, such a beautiful song, and so true with the lyrics . . . “From the day we were born on this planet . . . .There is more to see than can ever be seen, more to do than can ever be done”.
Finally, (if you’re still with me after all the video showings), the Animal Kingdom Lodge Hotel at Disney looks very similar to a couple Safari lodges we saw in South Africa. Disney’s attention to detail is incredible, and we really appreciated it even more after visiting Africa.
Even if you’re not staying at the hotel, you can still have dinner (or lunch) there at one of several restaurants. We enjoy eating dinner at the more casual Boma Restaurant at Animal Kingdom Lodge (which means feast in Africa), and they have a huge African-themed buffet there nightly. Reservations are a must, as it’s quite popular with families.
While we haven’t eaten there yet, there is a more upscale ala-carte restaurant across the hall from Boma called Jiko, which seemed more appropriate for adults, although there were kids there as well. We did have a drink at the intimate Jiko lounge after our dinner at Boma, before Ubering back to our Hyatt Hotel near Disney Springs (formerly Downtown Disney).
So I’ll finish up this post with a warm goodbye from Africa, or at least Disney’s version of it. While Animal Kingdom obviously can’t offer twice daily three hour safari rides like you would do staying at a safari lodge in Africa, or have wild animals in the same open area where they’d eat each other, and makes the terrain more colorful and better landscaped than it actually is in wild, natural Africa, like many things Disney, it captures the essence of being there. While I do recommend going to Africa, (sooner rather than later – i.e. while you still have your health, walking ability etc), visiting Disney World’s Animal Kingdom is a few thousand miles closer, and the next best thing to being there!