We were excited to be heading up to Disneys Animal Kingdom from the Sarasota area as we hadn’t been to an Orlando Florida Theme Park in a while. A nice, sunny October morning with temperatures starting out in the low 70’s and a less than 2 hour short drive away, we were ready for some fun.
We met up at the Disney Coronado Springs resort with others we were going to spend the day with. Side note: The nice thing about staying at a Disney Resort is that they provide free and convenient transportation to all of the Disney Theme Parks in Orlando. This made logistics a snap for us since we were meeting our friends at a Disney Resort.
So our party of 5 adults spent a leisurely Sunday roaming through Disney's Animal Kingdom in Orlando, Florida. While we “old-timers” didn’t see everything, I did encounter enough adventure to provide you with a pretty good glimpse and sense of what to expect at this highly popular theme park.
One of the most striking exhibits you’ll find just after entering the Animal Kingdom is the giant Tree of Life. This is definitely the “signature” piece to Disneys Animal Kingdom as Cinderella’s Castle is to Disneys Magic Kingdom.
You’ll want to spend some time looking at the carvings in the Tree of Life. It’s mesmerizing and features the faces of many of the animals found in the park.
This is one exhibit in which a pair of small binoculars would have come in handy, but I had a telephoto camera lens along, so that did help to view the intricacies of the Tree of Life.
Disneys Animal Kingdom Park is divided into several sub-themes or “adventure-land” areas: there’s the Oasis, Discovery Island, Camp Minnie-Mickey, Africa, Rafikis’s Planet Watch, Asia and Dinoland USA.
Areas in the park that are specifically children-focused include Camp Minnie-Mickey, where children may greet the Disney Characters as well as explore attractions such as Pocahontas and her forest friends as well as the Festival of the Lion King where your kids can sing along with their favorite Lion King characters.
It’s all very kid-friendly, not to mention the greeting trails where Mickey, Minnie and their friends are there to greet your children.
The other place for kids is Dinoland USA where you’ll find a maze called “The Boneyard,” which is built around dinosaur fossils, “Fossil Fun Games,” which is an area of carnival style games and then there’s “Finding Nemo – The Musical” live on stage as well as a spinning roller coaster called the Primeval Whirl.
We didn’t have any children in our group but we still found the park had plenty of adult-friendly exhibits to enjoy and we soon found out that Animal Kingdom was large enough that we weren’t going to see all of it in our time there. We had arrived about 10 a.m.
So knowing that we weren’t going to be able to see everything we focused mainly on the Africa and Asia theme areas of Disneys Animal Kingdom. With that decision we found that we had more than plenty to absorb and experience.
We first drifted toward the Africa area of Disneys Animal Kingdom. When you walk into this area of the park you’ll be made to feel as if you’re walking into an African trading out post or village. Now, I’ve never been to Africa, but the look, design and feel of the village makes you feel as if you’re there. All you have to do is just “imagine!” (This is what the Disney experience is all about.).
Within the Africa area at Disneys Animal Kingdom there are two major attractions: The Kilimanjaro Safaris and the Pangani Forest Exploration Trail. You’ll want to do both of these. BUT – get your FastPass (it’s basically a free advance ticket reservation) to the Kilimanjaro Safaris first, then take a leisurely stroll through the Pangani Forest Exploration Trail.
On the Pangani Forest Exploration Trail you’ll encounter birds and fish, an underwater hippo viewing area and a troop of gorillas in the forest.
This magnificent troop of gorillas was quite active the day of our
visit; foraging for food, breaking down tree branches, sometimes hiding
in the bush and sometimes walking through the lowlands up to where you
could get a fantastic view of the great apes.
It was about as an up close view of these magnificent creatures
as you could get. I had the feeling that as one gorilla got closer and
closer into view that he might have thought that all of us were a little
crazy as we waved at him. What did we expect, after all, that he was
going to wave back!
After our walking tour through the Pangani Forest Exploration Trail some in our group were hungry, so while we were waiting for our reservation time for our excursion on The Kilimanjaro Safaris we took a break for lunch.
While still in this authentic looking African village, we just rolled the dice on which restaurant to choose and stopped for a bite at the Tamu Tamu café. This was just your basic hamburger, salads or sandwiches kind of place. The authentic African look and feel of the outdoor courtyard café was more impressive than the food. The sandwiches were about $6 - $7.
The Tamu Tamu café was the only place we stopped for food but we did run into another, more impressive place after lunch, also in the square of this African village: The Tusker House Restaurant, which looked a little more interesting and they offered an all you can eat buffet for what was a pricier $20. They also offer an all you can eat breakfast with Donald Duck and his friends.
After lunch it was on to The Kilimanjaro Safari. We were loaded into a Safari Buss after a short wait in line, thankfully due to the Fast Pass we picked up earlier. The bus was comfortable with wide bench seats that would give wide open views of our safari adventures to come.
The Kilimanjaro Safari Buss excursion is a bumpy ride – so be ready! You are, after all, on safari in Africa, with a specially trained safari guide, who is in constant radio contact with other park rangers, just in case of any encounters with danger or poachers while on the Kilamanjaro Safari!
You’ll have wide-open views of crocodiles, elephants and rhinos, gazelles and lions, as well as a giraffes family, all freely roaming the savanna through which you’re traveling.
Something to be aware of on the The Kilimanjaro Safari bus excursion at Disneys Animal Kingdom is that the bus doesn’t stop, if at all, for very long. It mostly keeps moving, so you have to look fast. They don’t linger in any one area for long. This is probably due to the huge amounts of park visitors that want to experience this attraction.
And the nature of the ride is also bumpy due to the terrain and safari “feel” they’re trying to recreate for this excursion. This makes it hard to get photos. A fast speed camera setting and luck are your best bets.
I won’t give away all of the experience of Disneys Animal Kingdom “The Kilimanjaro Safari” here so you can experience it first hand and fresh. I just wished it was either a slower or longer excursion because it was fun...but bumpy!
Next up: Asia! Yes we were off to see Mt. Everest, or at least a reasonable facsimile! But on the “Sherpa” trail toward Expedition Everest we came across something called “Flights of Wonder” and found that the next show was starting in 5 minutes. So off we went, quickly finding our seats in a shady arena out of the afternoon sun.
This show was definitely for the birds! I didn’t know birds could be trained to do some of the feats they performed in this colorful show. There were parrots, an eagle and hawks and others just to name a few. And a few of these birds are real characters! Well worth a stop for about a half hour show.
After “Flights of Wonder” and on the way to Expedition Everest we took a detour through the Maharajah Jungle. Whoa! This is the place. Suspend your disbelief. Unlock your imagination and you’ll find yourself wandering through the ruins of an ancient palace in India surrounded by exotic birds, even giant fruit bats, in countless numbers, hanging upside down in their habitat.
You’ll also gaze upon Komodo dragons and come face to face with (danger lurks around the next corner!) Siberian tigers!
The tigers are as near as the other side of a glass barrier. These are big kitties that you can actually come face to face with in the Maharaja Jungle in Disneys Animal Kingdom.
After your trek through the Maharajah Jungle you’ll show up at the Kali River Rapids. This is a white water rafting trip down the Chakranadi River rapids. There wasn’t a raft that came past my view that did not get wet.
On a hot, steamy, Florida summer afternoon this can be quite refreshing. But you won’t want to take a camera or other delicate personal gear along on this river raft ride.
There are height requirements for the Kali River Rapids experience: 38”/97cm. Get a FastPass for this fun experience so you don’t have to wait in line long.
As you continue through the Asian village after the Kali River Rapids you will finally reach the attraction known as “Expedition Everest – Legend of the Forbidden Mountain!”
If you’re into roller coasters, this is exhilaration at its highest. This high speed train buzzes through Expedition Everest into the unknown. You’ll even come upon the Yeti – yes, the dreaded Abominable Snowman, as you race through the turns, tight corners and dips, thrills and chills of Expedition Everest.
There are height requirements to be able to tackle Expedition Everest: 44”/11cm. And you can get a FastPass for this attraction so you don’t have to wait for hours in line.
As the time approached 4 p.m. our party of 5, by unanimous agreement, started winding our way out of the park as we had done a lot of walking in 6 hours.
As we did we ran right into Mickey’s Jammin’ Jungle Parade. So we stopped to watch the fun and snap a few more photos.
How whomever put all of this together at Disneys Animal Kingdom, from the Tree of Life to the African trading post village and Kilamanjaro Safari to a walk through the ruins of an ancient Indian palace to Expedition Everest, it’s a wonder.
But, if you’ve been to any other Disney theme parks, you know that they pull it off, seemingly, without much effort. This really shows how hard they’ve actually worked at it.
Disneys Animal Kingdom is a place for the young and young at heart. And if you’re willing to suspend your disbelief and let your imagination run free for a little while, you may actually come to believe that you really are in a trading village in Africa or walking through the Maharajah Jungle in India.
The park is clean and there are always amenities such as food, drink, snacks, shops and restrooms nearby. You can have a great experience at Disneys Animal Kingdom whether you’re with family, friends or, simply by yourself.