Animal Kingdom tends to get the short end of the stick compared to the other parks, but if you know what you want to get out of it, it can be a fantastic day. Be aware, though, there is very little to do indoors. You won’t have as much opportunity to duck into air-conditioning as you do at the other parks. We visited in mid-June, and the heat was intense.
Okay! Here we go!
As you already know, my family is very big on seeing shows and meeting characters. (In fact, I’m going to later devote a whole article to the characters we visited.) All set? Here we go!
Festival Of the Lion King — We saw this show previously in the summer of 2017 and we could not wait to see it again! When you enter the showroom, you’ll sit in a round air-conditioned area full of benches. Don’t worry, there won’t be a bad seat in the house. When the show starts, giant automated animals take their positions in four opposite spots along the room. One of those enormous animals is Simba himself! You will next have four people in traditional African garb leading the show, two men and two women. I think the actors and actresses were different this time around from 2017, but all of them were amazing singers. Dozens of dancers will next appear dressed as animals, some of whom are even on stilts! These are not realistic costumes. Rather, they are very artistic and interpretive; however, you will easily be able to figure out what animal each dancer is supposed to be. At that point, the festival begins! There is an amazing acrobatics display, a fire dancer that will blow your mind, a mesmerizing wire/aerial performance, and plenty of rousing singing, dancing, and jokes throughout. This show is incredibly entertaining and performed with such precision–it’s impressive to behold.
Finding Nemo: The Musical — I had no idea what we were getting into with this one. But, my wife really wanted to try it out, and so we did. Let me tell you–I loved it! This air-conditioned show essentially recreates the story of Finding Nemo, but it’s set to live, original music. The singers hold large puppets representing Nemo, Marlin, Dory, and the rest. These are not stationary actors–far from it! They are running, dancing, and even lifting off the ground at times thanks to wires. The puppets are exquisitely made, and some of them are absolutely enormous. This is a full-scale production and really something to witness. Even if you’re not a fan of the movie, I think you’ll still enjoy it immensely.
Rivers of Light — We saw this show back in the summer of 2017 on our first trip. We liked it, but not enough to endure the heat and stay until nightfall this second trip. Definitely worth seeing at least once, though. You will sit in a large outdoor amphitheater facing a lake similar to Fantasmic. When the show begins, two boats float out which precedes a giant laser show displayed on water shooting up and out of the lake. It’s a story depicting the importance of animals and conservationism, but with a mythical slant. Between the water and the lasers, it’s quite an experience!
Kilimanjaro Safaris — As a family, this is our favorite Animal Kingdom ride. You board a large safari truck that holds about six rows of people. (We were fortunate enough to always be in the first or second row.) We’ve done this 20 minute ride several times, and it’s never the same because you are viewing actual living animals throughout. We’ve seen crocodiles, giraffes, rhinos, hippos, cheetahs, zebras, elephants, and more! Some of the docile animals, like giraffes, are allowed to roam free and have been very near our truck. Be aware, though, this is meant to approximate an actual safari, so it’s a bit of a rough ride as you drive over uneven terrain, through water, and over dubious bridges.
Na’vi River Journey — We experienced this calm, floating ride in the summer of 2017. We didn’t have a fast pass and got in line right before Animal Kingdom closed. Even so, we still waited thirty minutes! The Pandora–World of Avatar is a very popular area in Animal Kingdom so plan ahead and use those fast passes! We didn’t opt to do the Na’vi River Journey again this latest trip because it’s basically a stroll through the underground world of Avatar. It’s cool at night because of all the black lights and artistry involved, but if you’re not a huge fan of the franchise, you might find it underwhelming. Even so, the architecture, fabricated plant life, and automated Na’vi figures are pretty extraordinary. At the time, my youngest daughter was five years old, and she did not appreciate the Na’vi. She was ready for that ride to be over!
Avatar Flight Of Passage — Staying in the world of Pandora, I had to ride Avatar Flight Of Passage on my own during this latest trip. It’s similar to Soarin’ in that you literally feel like you’re flying through the sky. For Flight of Passage, you sit on something like a motorcycle without wheels. Braces pop up behind your calves and lower back which is meant to keep you from bucking off once the ride begins. I’m a little claustrophobic, but these braces didn’t bother me at all. Soon enough you are flying through the world of Avatar! The device you’re straddling is meant to be one of the winged dragons the Na’vi ride (called ikran in their culture). They make it as real as they can, even going so far as to have cushions expanding in and out between your legs to make it feel like the creature’s breathing! The device tilts up and down and from side to side and that, coupled with your 3D glasses, creates a thrilling experience. I absolutely loved this ride. It’s incredibly realistic and electrifying. With Soarin’, you actually lift up off the ground and move over a pit. I’m not sure if that happened with Flight of Passage or not. I feel like my device stayed put, but I was so engrossed in the adventure that I didn’t notice one way or the other. The lines for this ride are always crazy long, so be sure to sign up for it with your fast pass.
Expedition Everest — This is my brother and his family’s favorite ride at Animal Kingdom, so in the summer of 2017 I rode it with them while my family looked on. This summer of 2018 I had to ride it by myself, and I honestly feel like it would probably have been too intense for my nine year old. I agree with my brother, by the way–it’s an awesome ride! The idea is that you are in a carriage riding the rails through the Everest mountains in search of the Yeti. From the beginning, it’s a very high, fast ride, but when you reach the peak of the tracks to see them bent up and broken, your heart will skip a beat. The ride comes to a complete stop and they will keep you there just long enough to make you think something has gone terribly wrong. Then the real fun begins. I first rode this at night with my brother, and that was a surreal experience. I almost think it might have been even more intense during the day, though. You can see a lot more in the daylight, trust me. In fact, when you reach the broken tracks and get stuck, if you look down, you’ll see thousands of hair ties strewn about. I don’t know if that’s a thing to do, like throwing coins in a fountain, but I couldn’t believe how many were on the cliff face below us. I absolutely recommend this ride, but you have to love roller coasters and have a high tolerance for abrupt twists, turns, and heights.
Rafiki’s Planet Watch — We visited Rafiki in the summer of 2017. You hop on a train and ride on it for a few minutes before arriving at Rifiki’s own little part of Animal Kingdom. While there, we learned a bit about conservationism and met Doc McStuffins! We didn’t stay long, and they had several activities we didn’t try out. We even saw Rafiki himself wandering around! This area typically isn’t very crowded, so it might be a nice place to go, learn a little, meet some characters, and get away from all the people.
The Boneyard — My kids really wanted to try out this play area. It’s got lots of high slides, nets to climb, and mazes to explore–all centered around a dinosaur theme. It’s outside, so they tuckered out quickly in the heat, but it’s a nice area for them to run and climb. There were lots of kids, but it’s fairly spread out and didn’t feel overly crowded at all.
We didn’t do everything there is to do at Animal Kingdom, but we tried! Thanks again for reading. I hope you’re enjoying our perspective on Walt Disney World and that it’s helping to inform a possible trip of your own. (By the way, all of the above photographs were taken on my wife’s phone camera. Some of them are blurry because the focus of the picture never stopped moving!)
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