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I’ve heard over and over again that Animal Kingdom is a half day park. This is true if you are only there to do ride attractions. If you go to the park to really explore what it’s all about, then you need a lot more time than a half day. It’s true, Animal Kingdom does have the least amount of attractions, however the theme and details are excellent. There are five different lands at Animal Kingdom: the Oasis, Discovery Island, Africa, Asia and Dinoland.

We’ll start with the Oasis area of the park, you know the one you run through to get to Everest or the Safari in the morning. The Oasis has many exotic birds and animals, although there is not a Castmember to explain what they all are, all of the time. There are plaques posted with pictures to explain what each animal is. However, on most mornings you can find a Castmember in the area holding an animal so you can get up close to them and learn what it is.

Next we come to Discovery Island. Here you can find shops, dinning and the park icon, the Tree of Life (which also contains a show in it). In the Tree of Life you will find Its Tough to be a Bug. This 3D show gives insight into insects from around the world and is hosted by Flik from A Bug’s Life. The special effects in the show are pretty good with the 3D movie, with scents and a few other surprises I won’t give away. This may be a tough attraction for younger guests because of the effects, but it’s a fun show. Before leaving Discovery Island for your next show or attraction explore the Discovery Island Trails. On the trails you can see turtles, lemurs or even a kangaroo. Discovery Island acts as the hub and you can branch out to the other themed lands from there.

While in Africa explore the local culture, music and art. There are African musicians and dancers through out the day or if you are feeling up to it, try the African drums, there is a set opposite the Tamu Tamu. The Africa section of the park now contains the Festival of the Lion King show which is a fun interactive show based on the movie, with tumble monkeys and your favorite characters from the film. After that, head over to the Kilamanjaro Safari which is a must on any trip to the Animal Kingdom. This attraction is probably the closest you can come to an African Safari without going to Africa, complete with tour guide pointing out different animals. Heading over to the Pangani Exploration Trail take time to view the animals at your own pace. In areas where there are no Castmembers to talk about the animals, you can find plaques that tell you about the animals you are seeing. Among the favorites here are the Meerkats (Timon from the Lion King), hippos and a favorite to view, the gorillas. While in Africa, hop on the train to Rafiki’s Planet Watch, in my opinion this is an under rated area of the park. While on the train you get a quick view of the “back stage” area where the animals are cared for and sleep. As part of Rafiki’s Planet Watch go to Conservation Station where you can see all sorts of animals. Castmembers are there throughout the day with animals to pet such as Blue Tongue Skinks and snakes. A highlight of this area is the working veterinarian exam room where you can see all the equipment the vets use and possibly see them work on some of the animals at the Animal Kingdom. You will also find Affection Section in this area. My kids love the area, but it is similar to your local petting zoo, no exotic animals.

In Asia there is a lot going on. Check out Flights of Wonder where birds of all shapes and sizes put on a show displaying their skills. On the Maharaja Jungle Trek you can learn all about exotic animals found in Asia. Some of the highlights on the trek are the bats (which you can bypass if you would like) and the tigers. Similar to the Pangani Exploration Trail, Castmembers will be on hand to tell you about the animals or there will be signs explaining them to you. Kali River Rapids is a must for any visit to the Animal Kingdom, however heed the warning “you will get wet, you may get soaked”. The queue for this attraction is set up with many ancient artifacts, “shops”, equipment and destination information for the tours given by the rafting company. This is a great raft ride with a powerful message behind it. The story is that you are on a raft traveling through a lush tropical forest when you come to an area where the forest is being clear cut and the loggers have left the area and left behind vehicles and logs which are piling up in and along the river ( there use to be a neat effect with fire, but they stopped it a few years ago). After crashing through the logs, and getting soaked in the process, you are back in the lush green forest complete with ancient artifacts. The ride remains a little bumpy but calms down towards the end with onlookers trying to spray you. Just outside of Kali River Rapids take time to enjoy watching the monkeys near the queue entrance, they are fun to watch. Before departing Asia, you have to conquer Expedition Everest. As you enter the queue and prepare for your journey up the forbidden mountain you are treated to local arts often bearing pictures of the elusive Yeti warning you of the dangers if you encounter him. After you ignore the warnings and board the train, your ride starts out as a simple train ride until something goes amiss, like the tracks at the peak of the mountain being torn apart causing your train to go backwards. When your train gets going in the right direction again prepare yourself to meet the cause of the ripped up track. Making a narrow escape with a quick drop you arrive shaken but safe at your destination.

After surviving the Yeti, head to Dinoland. This area is set up to be a carnival you would find along side of a road in the middle of nowhere. As you enter from Discovery Island, you are drawn in by Triceratops Spin. This ride is similar to Dumbo in the Magic Kingdom, but with a carnival feel to it. The carnival theme continues with side show games and a tacky dinosaur themed roller coaster called Primeval Whirl. On the edge of Dinoland go to the Theater in the Wild which is enclosed (and air conditioned) to watch Finding Nemo the Musical. This is an uplifting show based on the movie, Finding Nemo. It’s fun for the whole family and a place to get out of the heat for a while. While in Dinoland don’t forget to stop by the Dino Institute where you can ride Dinosaur. Dinosaur is not a ride I suggest for kids. The ride is bumpy as you travel back in time to the age of the dinosaurs right before extinction. You get chased by large dinosaurs, have to avoid meteors and get back to the present time before the big one hits. It can be pretty intense even for some adults (my wife always cowers at the end even though we have ridden it many times). Before leaving Dinoland, a must for my family is the Boneyard. This is a place for the kids to run and play and also gives them some free time. There are slides, dig sites, and places to run and explore. Typically we use this area to let the kids play while we take turns on Dinosaur or even Expedition Everest.

As you can see, there is a lot to see and do here and it is not a half day park at all. The drawback to Animal Kingdom is that it’s the hottest park with very few places having air conditioning to get out of the Florida heat. If you have young children, check out the baby care center for some air conditioning (see Baby Care Center blog). This may be part of the reason people only spend a half day there, so come prepared and drink a lot of hydrating fluids. There are many hidden gems to discover here and they may not be on any map, so keep an eye out and be aware of your surroundings. You never know what animals, or characters will pop up, or when “Devine” vegetation may walk right in front of you. So stick around and enjoy the day.

On a side note there is also a large expansion going on at the Animal Kingdom with Avatar opening in 2017. There has been news and rumors about this area, some people are skeptical about it and some are extremely excited. Although I have never seen the movie it is based on, I am looking forward to see what comes of this new land and what they have planned for the future.

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