The "Other Side" of Animal Kingdom

by Pete Saroufim
ALL EARS® Feature Writer

Feature Article

This article appeared in the Jun 8, 2004, Issue #246 of ALL EARS® (ISSN: 1533-0753)

I'd heard it a million times, from all sorts of respectable sources. They all told me the same thing: Animal Kingdom is not a half-day park. Well, as teenagers tend to do, I thought that I knew better. I'd look these "Animal Kingdom Fanatics" right in the eye and say, "You are mistaken. Animal Kingdom is a half day park." And for me, it was. Animal Kingdom was Dinosaur, Kilimanjaro Safaris, It's Tough To Be a Bug, and then off to a water park. Well, that all changed last summer. Upon visiting Disney's Animal Kingdom with one of my best friends, who just so happens to be an animal science major, my eyes were opened to countless hours of enjoyment. My half-day theory has found its way to the trash bin.

Behind Epcot, Animal Kingdom has become my favorite park. It's gone from a half-day park to a place where I think I could spend an entire week and still have plenty to see and do. The actual animal viewing is similar to touring World Showcase; it's more to see than one could ever take in during the course of a single day. From the Babirusa to the Javan Tree Duck, there are enough variations of species and absurd looking creatures for even the greatest of animal fans. But how to squeeze all the peaceful, relaxing animal watching in with the fast paced, high action exhilaration of rides like Dinosaur all before the early Animal Kingdom closing time of 5 p.m.? Well...

It all starts with a goodnight's sleep and an early rise. Now, an early rise on my family vacations is around noontime (perhaps why I never quite got that whole Animal Kingdom experience for all these years), but this mission requires at latest a 7:30 a.m. wake-up call from Mickey, depending on your choice of residence and guest-to-bathroom ratio. Grab a quick breakfast -- maybe a bagel from Tubbi's, a muffin at the Boardwalk Bakery, or the leftovers you snuck out of Chef Mickey's the night before -- hop on one of those perfectly air conditioned Disney buses and you're off to the park.

The goal here is to arrive a solid 20 minutes before opening so you can join your fellow early birds as they walk into the park and toward the Tree of Life area where Pluto, Minnie and Goofy come out to greet the lot of you. A great way to start a fantastic day. After this little celebration, I hope you're ready to walk off your breakfast... from your whole vacation. This whole morning segment can be molded to your own liking of course, but I have my own system that I developed over the years. It starts with a brisk stride over to Africa, enjoying all the scenery on the way of course, where you will acquire Fastpasses for the immensely popular Kilimanjaro Safari. Once those are obtained it's off to DinoLand U.S.A. for a short five-minute wait for what I consider to be one of the finest attractions in all of Disney, Dinosaur. Once you're off, if so inclined (as I always am) go right back on. The wait should still be under 10 minutes.

Quickly finish up DinoLand USA with Primeval Whirl and TriceraTop Spin. Your goal here is to get all the popular rides out of the way before the crowds hit. After DinoLand, if you're now within your Safari Fastpass time, go to the Tree of Life and get Fastpass for It's Tough to be a Bug -- then head to the Safari. After the Safari, it's the Festival of the Lion King, a fantastic show for those of any age. Now it's over to the Tree of Life for the aforementioned 3D extravaganza, It's Tough to be a Bug.

Now, take a break. Take a deep breath and relax. You have just completed every worthwhile popular attraction at the Animal Kingdom before the crowds get moving and that sun starts blaring. (And yes, I did intentionally skip Kali River Rapids. Although it may have great appeal to many, walking around all day with wet underwear is just too big a price to pay for that small drop.) Walk over to the Rainforest Cafor Pizzafari, grab yourself some lunch and bask in the glow of accomplishment over your marvelous morning. Before you know it, you'll be well nourished and ready to enjoy the other side of Disney's Animal Kingdom, the side still new to me, and what will, from now on, keep me in this park.

There's really no system for that "other side" of Animal Kingdom; it's entirely based on individual preference. If a Two-Toed Sloth interests you more than the Hadada Ibis, well, then you might want to spend a little more time in The Oasis. Personally, I like to see as much as I can in the time allotted to me. What makes Animal Kingdom so amazing is that you have a plethora of locations to travel to, and you really can't go wrong with any of them.

My favorite of these locales is the Pangani Forest Exploration Trail, located right beside the Safari Ride in Africa. Pangani is home to lesser-known species such as the Gerenuk and the Abyssinian Ground Hornbill, but also my favorite animal in the entire Kingdom, the Gorilla. I could easily sit and watch a gorilla's activities throughout the course of an entire day and not for one instant find myself bored. These are just such amazing creatures, and people like me know so little about them. Of course, my friend, the animal science major, was feeding me interesting facts just seconds before the Cast Member delivered them, so not everyone shares my ignorance.

The next stop is the neighboring continent of Asia, home of the Maharajah Jungle Trek. Though pronouncing the name may take a little work, the walk-through is nothing but pleasure for animal lovers. In Maharajah reside two of the most fascinating species, the well known, but still breathtakingly beautiful Asian Tiger and the beautiful-in-its-own-way Komodo Dragon. If your timing is right and your feet need a break, make sure to catch the Flights of Wonder show, a true hidden gem of the park.

After Asia and Africa, there's still The Oasis, the Discovery Island Trails and Camp Minnie-Mickey to get your dose of fauna life. There's the Galapagos Tortoise, the Rosybill Pochard, the Bahama Pintail and many more just waiting to be seen. In fact, there are more than 200 different species that live in the Animal Kingdom! And if you still have time at the end of the day, head back to Africa and try the Safari one more time. The common belief is that most of the animals are out in the cool early morning hours, but I've seen just as many or more late in the day -- and there's rarely a line.

Well, I think I just broke the unwritten rule of being a teenager... I admitted I was wrong. And boy, was I wrong. It's easy to get caught up in the mad rush from one ride to the next, and to overlook the road that takes you there. And even though it may not be roses you stop to smell (especially if you spend all day in the Pangani Forest Exploration Trail), you'll find the journey just as sweet.


Pete Saroufim is a soon-to-be high school senior from Boston, Massachusetts. He began traveling to Walt Disney World at the age of 5, and has visited nearly 20 times since. When not in WDW, he spends his time playing basketball, soccer and volleyball, film editing, writing, and creating web pages.

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Editor's Note: This story/information was accurate when it was published. Please be sure to confirm all current rates, information and other details before planning your trip.