Overlooked Attractions of
Disney's Animal Kingdom

by Debra Martin Koma
AllEars® Senior Editor

Feature Article

This article appeared in the December 14, 2010 Issue #586 of ALL EARS® (ISSN: 1533-0753)


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.


More than a few years ago, AllEars® ran a series of features on what we called "Overlooked Attractions" around the parks and resorts. You know, those little things that actually make you detour from your beeline to the thrill rides, the additional touches that demonstrate Disney's well-known attention to detail and make the World the fascinating place that it is. So much has changed at Walt Disney World over the last few years, that we realized that our overlooked attractions lists have themselves been overlooked -- it's time to revisit these articles and update them. I started a few months ago by updating the Overlooked Attractions in the Magic Kingdom, Disney's Hollywood Studios and, most recently, Epcot. This week I'm sharing my favorite overlooked attractions in the youngest Walt Disney World theme park, Disney's Animal Kingdom. Truth be told, this park is itself often overlooked as a whole. Critics deem it a "half-day" park, saying there isn't enough to DO. Yet, proponents argue that just being there is in and of itself a wonderfully peaceful, relaxing experience, communing with nature at its finest. So maybe the best thing for me to suggest is that you just GO to Disney's Animal Kingdom and judge for yourself.

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BEGIN AT THE BEGINNING
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Being an Early Bird has its advantages at Animal Kingdom. The park starts every morning with a little ceremony called "The Adventure Begins," about 15 minutes before official opening time. Rafiki welcomes you, followed by a number of his friends, including Mickey, Minnie, Baloo, Louie, Timon, and Terk. Lots of cast members are also on hand, with small creatures of all kinds -- lizards, snakes, insects and more. It's a great chance to see them, and the characters, up close.

One crowd-pleaser that you may walk past without realizing it is DiVine -- creeping kudzu never looked so good! DiVine is really a performance artist dressed in foliage from the top of her green-painted head to the bottom of her stilt-wearing toes. She rests unobtrusively against a tree or a wall, suddenly springing to life to tease an unsuspecting passerby or chase down disrespectful teenagers or others who dare make light of her art. You might find DiVine along the path from the entrance leading to Discovery Island, or on the way from Africa to Asia.

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DISCOVER DISCOVERY
ISLAND... AND BEYOND
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Once you've made your way up to Discovery Island to the Tree of Life, stop and really look at the park icon. Most people who see it admit that it's impressive, but if you take the time to examine it, both from a distance and then up close, you'll be amazed at the excruciating detail that went into crafting the more than 320 animals carved into the trunk. Spend a few minutes pondering how they screwed those branches on, how they attached each one of the 102,000 leaves. Maybe the Tree of Life isn't overlooked so much as it is underappreciated -- it is truly a modern work of art.

If you walk up the path to the left, toward Harambe, you'll pass by the counter service restaurant Pizzafari, one of the most brilliantly decorated buildings in the Animal Kingdom. The bright colors are eye-catching, of course, but stop in before the lunch crowds gather so that you can study the different rooms with their ornate murals, walls and ceilings. Can you identify which room is which? The Home Room, Nocturnal Room, Upside-Down Room, Camouflage Room, Four Seasons Room, and Bug Room. In addition, there are some Hidden Mickeys in the murals, as well as a few "errors" -- for example, there's a group of opossum hanging from a tree, yet one has no tail.

Did you know that each of the stores in Discovery Island has a theme? According to AllEars® Blogger Jack Spence, it's true. The stores are: Creature Comforts, Disney Outfitters, Beastly Bazaar and Island Mercantile. The themes are: animals that work, water animals, animal stripes or spots, animals that travel in herds. See if you can match the store to its theme!

Taking the "Wild by Design" tour sure helped me appreciate all the thought that went into making Disney's Animal Kingdom seem like the real Africa and Asia. So many of these little touches are worth taking the time to observe at length. For instance, stop and look down at the walkway under your feet. Did you know, for example, that the leaf prints and mud cracks were made by a mold? The Imagineers actually took a large patch of mud, made a cast of it, then reproduced it for the walkways of Disney's "Africa." They even distressed and widened the naturally occurring cracks by squirting them with a hard stream of water from a hose.

As you wander into Harambe, stand outside the door at the Dawa Bar. You'll swear that you can hear dishes clinking, voices talking, a radio, as well as a persistent knocking. The story is that the landlady who runs the "hotel" above the bar is trying to collect the rent from the delinquent students who live there.

Across from the Dawa Bar is what appears to be an old fort. Don't assume, as I did, that the area's off limits -- there are actually tables and chairs in there! Harambe Fort is the perfect quiet spot to take a cool drink or a snack and get out of the flow of traffic. You can even catch a glimpse of the afternoon parade if you're sitting in the right spot. I hear that there's even a hidden Baloo on the wall in here. If you are walking from Flights of Wonder and you take a right into this area, the hidden Baloo will be on the wall inside the area to your left.

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ASIA DELIGHTS
THE SENSES
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The mythical land of Anandapur in Asia, too, is rife with little things to look for and enjoy -- things that will not only delight your eyes, but enrich your experience, helping create the illusion that you've been transported to another place and time. For example, you'll note the authentic prayer trees, draped with both faded and new scarves that commemorate dead loved ones. (My husband, who's been to India, confirmed for me that this was a very genuine touch!)

You might dread the fact that you're stuck in the queue waiting to get doused on Kali River Rapids. This is actually one of the BEST places in all Animal Kingdom to linger! The details and thought that went into designing the queue are evident. Be sure to note the Kali Tiger Temple, the Balinese puppets, the prayer wheel and the brass gongs as you meander through the various chambers. And don't miss Mr. Panika's office -- the owner of the "business" may be "out to temple" as the signs indicate, but the two resident geckos who reside in his gecko cabinet are in all the time. Children will enjoy spotting the little critters, which are very much alive!

Another queue to enjoy is the one at Expedition Everest. If you've ever walked it, you realize that it is an attraction in itself -- so much rich detail in every inch! If you're unlucky enough to have a long wait for the ride, don't despair -- it will give you plenty of time to thoroughly examine every deserving item in the Yeti Museum along the way. Also, don't forget the surroundings of the attraction. Did you realize that much of the low plantings you see around the "village of Serka Zong," is actually tea? It might be worth visiting Expedition Everest some time JUST to poke around the queue, undistracted by fighting your way to the roller coaster.

If you like looking for Hidden Mickeys, you won't be disappointed here. There's one in Mr. Panika's back yard (look for the Mickey shirt!) at Kali River Rapids, as well as several in the beautiful gilded murals along the Maharajah Jungle Trek (check out the one prince's earring).

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TAKE THE "W" (AS IN
WILDLIFE EXPRESS) TRAIN
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Speaking of Hidden Mickeys, take the Wildlife Express train to Rafiki's Planet Watch and spend a few minutes searching for the Hidden Mickeys in the magnificent mural in Conservation Station -- some counts estimate there are 27 of them!

Rafiki's Planet Watch itself is often passed by, and wrongfully so. Many think there's not much to do and that it's not worth the train ride, but I find it to be a very interesting diversion. If you make the effort, be sure to stop in at the listening booths in Conservation Station to hear Grandmother Willow's presentation of the Sounds of the Rainforest. Slip on the earphones and the cool, dark room almost convinces you to take a snooze -- until you hear the eerily realistic rain, booming thunder and the buzzing insects.

While you're at Rafiki's Planet Watch, be sure to take your little ones to the Affection Section. At first blush, it appears to be a typical petting zoo, with sheep and goats, but if you talk to the Cast Members there you can also get an enlightening mini-history lesson in the species of animals maintained there. They may even bring out small animals for hands-on demonstrations -- I had the chance to hold a hedgehog there once.

If you get to Rafiki's Planet Watch early enough in the morning, you'll probably get to see a medical procedure or two performed. I've personally witnessed the doctors there spaying a tiny rat, and removing skin that failed to shed from a python's eyes. On a visit last week, we just missed a toad enema -- although perhaps it's a good thing we were a little late for that!

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DIG THIS IN
DINOLAND, USA!
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Kids certainly won't want to overlook the Dinoland Boneyard -- the play area is specially made for them to blow off some steam. But be sure they find at least one of the special little treats. If they look off to the right, behind the jeep, they'll see a row of fossils set into the wall. Just hit one and find out what happens -- it's musical! If you can't find the so-called "xylobone," a cast member will point it out to you.

The Boneyard also has several large wooden boxes with handles on top. If you can find an unoccupied one (they make great resting places for tired moms and dads), pull the handle up, and the box will growl, or make other animal sounds.

And before you leave Dinoland, USA, don't miss Dino Sue, the replica Tyrannosaurus Rex stationed outside the Dinosaur ride. The real bones are at the Field Museum in Chicago, but this copy, which is 40-feet long, sure looks authentic to me!

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LOOKING FOR MORE?
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Whew! See what you've missed if you haven't been taking the time to stop and look around? There are *so* many other spots located around Animal Kingdom that offer the opportunity to make a magical memory. They're there waiting for you -- all you have to do is look for them!

AUTHOR'S NOTE: Do you have a favorite "overlooked attraction" in Animal Kingdom that *I* overlooked? Let us know! http://allears.net/forms/feedback.htm

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RELATED LINKS
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AllEars.Net's Animal Kingdom pages start at: http://allearsnet.com/tp/ak/ak.htm
More on DiVine: http://allearsnet.com/tp/ak/ak_art1.htm

AllEars® Blogger Jack Spence has written some fascinating, in-depth pieces on Animal Kingdom, too. You can read them here:
http://land.allears.net/blogs/jackspence/walt_disney_world/theme_parks/animal_kingdom/

Overlooked Attractions in the Magic Kingdom (2010 edition): http://allears.net/ae/issue559.htm
Overlooked Attractions in Disney's Hollywood Studios (2010 edition): http://allears.net/ae/issue564.htm
Overlooked Attractions in Epcot (2010 edition): http://allears.net/ae/issue583.htm

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Debra Martin Koma, AllEars.Net's Senior Editor, fell in love with Walt Disney World on her first visit there -- when she was 35! She's lost count of how often she's returned to her Laughing Place in the ensuing (16!) years, but knows that she still isn't tired of it. (And doubts she ever will be.) Read more of her writing for AllEars® here: http://allears.net/btp/dkoma.htm


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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.