Disney’s Animal Kingdom is not only my favorite theme park, it’s one of my favorite places well, anywhere. Visiting Animal Kingdom is one of the most immersive experiences I believe you can have anywhere, and it’s fascinating and exciting to feel transported somewhere entirely different just by visiting the park. Even the one part of the park that I never thought I would care for at all never mind come to love (DinoLand U.S.A.) helped me get hooked on this park during my Disney College Program. Here are just a few reasons why Disney’s Animal Kingdom is my favorite place:
Each land tells a story
I realize that this is an obvious point for a land in any Disney park, but the details in Disney’s Animal Kingdom are so impressive that there are always things you can learn about various areas around the park. When I started working in DinoLand during my first Disney College Program I was so impressed hearing about the detailed backstory that makes up this land.
In short, the story of DinoLand is that dinosaur fossils were found in the area so the Dino Institute (where the DINOSAUR ride is) was set up as a research facility. Chester and Hester owned the nearby gas station, but they saw an opportunity to profit on the tourists coming to see the dinosaur fossils so they turned the station into a gift shop and their parking lot into a carnival. There are many more details that complete the story, but they could easily fill a separate post!
This level of storytelling is found all over the park though, and it carries through every walkway, restaurant, shop, and attraction. When you ride Kilimanjaro Safaris for instance, you’re not simply on a theme park attraction, but you’re actually traveling through an African savanna. And the experience is made even more completely immersive by all of the details in Harambe Village as you approach the attraction. This park even has the ability to transport you to the moon of Pandora!
You can learn about conservation everywhere
The one major theme that connects each area of Disney’s Animal Kingdom is conservation. You can learn about this message when you donate to the Disney Worldwide Conservation Fund, when you visit attractions, talk to cast members, and really just when you explore the park. This park really provides guests with a unique opportunity to learn all they can about what they can do to help conservation efforts around the world in their day to day lives.
See phenomenal entertainment
I can’t think of one performance act at Animal Kingdom that I would not want to see again. From the musicals like Festival of the Lion King and Finding Nemo: The Musical to the street performers like DiVine and the Tam Tam Drummers, all of the entertainment here is truly not to be missed. I’ve spent days exploring the park without even visiting any attractions because you can easily fill an entire day just by taking in all of the entertainment offerings and seeing the animals. Which brings me to my next point…
See animals in a more natural environment
Don’t get me wrong, I love visiting zoos simply because I love seeing the animals. (And I don’t mean this point as a knock on zoos because they’re also doing tons of conservation work and helping animals with all of the resources they have). But given the limited resources and space of most zoos, you’re usually viewing animals in less than authentic environments and from behind glass.
In Animal Kingdom however, the animals are in a more natural environment. It’s not entirely natural obviously since they’re in a theme park, but it’s pretty darn close. With Kilimanjaro Safaris for instance, the barriers that keep the animals separated are all made with natural materials and hidden in ways that are not visible to guests. This combined with the space of the attraction gives for a more natural look, and it makes for a more enjoyable guest experience and I’m sure it makes for a better experience for the animals as well.
Eat some of the best food in Walt Disney World
If you thought Epcot was the go-to park for food, Animal Kingdom can actually give it a run for its money. You can’t entirely eat your way around the world the same way you would in Epcot, but there are plenty of items here that you won’t find anywhere else. The table service restaurants are all delicious here with character dining over a mix of American and African cuisine at Tusker House, Asian-inspired entrees at Yak & Yeti, and the park’s first signature restaurant in Discovery Island, Tiffins. (Note that I left off Rainforest Cafe– please do yourself a favor and dine somewhere more unique when visiting Animal Kingdom!)
But it’s the quick service that really gets me– I think Animal Kingdom has the best quick service restaurants of any Disney park. I was already under this assumption before, but Satu’li Canteen in Pandora really just confirmed this for me. Flame Tree Barbecue is my favorite quick service restaurant in Walt Disney World, and all of the others in this park are right behind it. (Plus I love the option to have quick service from Yak & Yeti if you don’t have time for a table service meal). If quick service meals are your go-to in Disney make sure to spend some serious time in Animal Kingdom, you won’t be disappointed.
And drink some of the best drinks
Again, Epcot has some serious competition for the best park to drink at with Disney’s Animal Kingdom. While you can get a Safari Amber at a couple of places at Disney, Animal Kingdom just feels like the best place to have it. (Safari Amber as an Anheuser Busch brew that is made exclusively for the Walt Disney World Resort.)
Aside from the Safari Amber, the Dawa Bar in Africa and Pongu Pongu in Pandora are some of my favorite places anywhere to stop for a margarita, and the Thirsty River Bar in Asia is home to one of my favorite drinks at Walt Disney World: the Himalayan Ghost made with Snow Leopard Vodka, Guava and odwalla® Lemonade.
It’s constantly evolving
Since the park opened (20 YEARS AGO!) I think it’s probably evolved (LOL) more than any other park. If you asked someone about Animal Kingdom even about five years ago or so they’d probably try to make the argument with you that it was a “half day park.” The same really can’t be said at all today, though I never saw the park as a half day park ever.
In the time that Animal Kingdom has been open a few pretty notable attractions have come (and gone), entertainment offerings have changed, new characters have arrived, and an entirely new land has been introduced. You could probably make the same argument for Epcot, but that’s for a park that has been around since 1982! Animal Kingdom is always changing to meet the times, and I love seeing where this takes us.
What kind of post about a theme park would this be if we didn’t mention the rides? I really don’t think the rides in general are the best part of Disney’s Animal Kingdom (that would go to entertainment and seeing the animals) but there are some true standouts here in terms of rides that add to the whole experience. If you’ve even seen just the line for Flight of Passage, you know that is one super memorable experience, but others can also be found in rides like Expedition Everest, Kilimanjaro Safaris, and Dinosaur.
Even Kali River Rapids (which is far from my favorite attraction) is really an excellent ride because of the detailed conservation story that guests are able to take away from what would otherwise be a simple water ride. And for the record I don’t think Na’vi River Journey gets the hype it deserves– JUST SAYING. Be sure to check it out when you visit Pandora.
It’s completely different at night
The park takes on a whole new look after dark, with new entertainment, different ride experiences, and more. If you haven’t been to Animal Kingdom at night, well you really haven’t experienced some of the best parts of this park. The Tree of Life Awakenings (the projection shows on the tree) are one of my favorite ways to end a day in Disney, and riding Kilimanjaro Safaris at night gives you the opportunity to see animals that typically aren’t active during the day. And of course, Pandora at night is truly a sight to see.
It feels like home
Animal Kingdom feels like home to me because of my Disney College Program. I spent so much time there during my program that even though I wasn’t crazy about my location at first it really did come to feel like home. Now that my program is over, it still feels like home not only because it’s so familiar but because the whole atmosphere is so welcoming. The overall vibe of the park from the music to the cast members, and all of the details that make Harambe really feel like a village and DinoLand really feel like a family-owned operation just add to this comfortable homey feeling that I don’t think another theme park could ever replicate.
What do you love about Disney’s Animal Kingdom? Or if you haven’t been at all (or in a while) what are you most excited to fall in love with on your next visit? Let me know in the comments, I’d love to hear what you think!