Overlooked Attractions 2017: Disney's Animal Kingdom

by Debra Martin Koma
AllEars® Editor

Feature Article

This article appeared in the August 22, 2017 Issue #935 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. Every so often we like to go back and update the Overlooked Attractions, and in the case of Disney's Animal Kingdom that update is long overdue – it's been seven years since we last updated the list, and there's a whole new Pandora: The World of Avatar waiting to be explored!

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DISCOVER DISCOVERY
ISLAND... AND BEYOND
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DiVine at Disney's Animal Kingdom

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.

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.

Several times a day an unadvertised show called "Winged Encounters" takes place near the Tree of Life. Six species of macaw soar around the tree, while cast members discuss the bird and conservation efforts underway to protect it.

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.

Many years ago, I took the now-defunct "Wild by Design" tour, and it 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 originally 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. 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.

Finally, as you close out your day in Animal Kingdom -- which you can do now that it is truly a full-day park, with nighttime hours! -- don't forget to pause and look back at the Tree of Life. Several times each evening around closing little mini-shows called "Awakenings" are projected onto the majestic park icon, set to familiar Disney melodies and telling charming stories of nature and its creatures.

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PANDORA OBSCURA
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Truth to tell, Pandora - The World of Avatar is such a new section of Disney's Animal Kingdom that we haven't had the chance yet to find all of its hidden delights. Imagineer Joe Rohde, who oversaw the development of the land, as he did the rest of Animal Kingdom, has been providing us with some clues of where to search, however, on his Instagram account. Rohde has conducted what some have called an insightful "master class" on the new land, divulging secrets and detailed backstory. For example, he has pointed out the intricate handiwork that went into "every single knot in the entire ceiling" of the queue area for the Na'vi River Journey. Rohde says that each knot is hand-tied, as are all the knots and all the weaving of all the totems in the land, and every other woven object.

Na'Vi River Journey at Disney's Animal Kingdom

Rohde's also written about the exhibits you'll find in the science lab along the queue of Avatar Flight of Passage -- not just the obvious giant-sized Na'vi floating in a tank, but also the smaller displays, like the "unobtainium" and the squirmy "Velocivirus," which Rohde describes as a "colonial-cooperative virus that can use its own micro-vibrations to echolocate and travel."

Another little thing to look for in the queue of Avatar Flight of Passage are subtly placed creatures. For instance, after you've walked the length of the outdoor queue, just as you're about to enter the caves, you might spy a small cluster of little Pandoran "stingbats," which were mentioned in the original Avatar.

I guess the moral is that instead of complaining at that hours-long wait at the park's two newest rides, spend the time not looking at your phone, but at examining the details that the Imagineers have so carefully installed to help immerse you in the fantasy.

If you feel the queues to the attractions don't qualify as "overlooked attractions," try exploring to find some of the other fascinating details interspersed around this land, like the downed helicopter that's overgrown with vegetation -- a callback to the film Avatar, it's tucked back off the main path that leads into Pandora.

A short distance away you'll find a giant plant, with glowing patches. If you strike these patches, the plant begins to sing and eventually spews forth a stream of water and "seeds" that shoot across the walkway.

There are other opportunities for interactivity in this new land, as well. There's the drum circle, or "Sacred Place of Song," known as "Swotu Waya" in Na'vi. The small area is home to a variety of musical drums that children can test out. And don't miss the trio of musicians who perform a traditional Na'vi Drum Ceremony in this same spot several times a day.

If you're active on Instagram, you may have already heard about the "moss wall," the hip new place to have your photo taken. It's located just outside Windtraders, Pandora's shop, and if you want to be one of the "cool kids" you'll have to stop and pose there for a selfie.

Finally, some of the most easily overlooked attractions in this land are the Hidden Mickeys. While we're sure there must be many, we're only aware of a few with the help of our friend Hidden Mickey Guy Steve Barrett. There are three rust circles on the walkway near Pongu Pongu that form a Mickey, and there's a bioluminescent Mickey in the Flight of Passage queue. Where are the others? Time will tell!

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ASIA DELIGHTS
THE SENSES
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The mythical land of Anandapur in Asia, too, is filled 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. (I've never been to India, but my husband, who has been, confirmed 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 long standby 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. You even get a fair number of interesting tidbits walking the Fastpass queue. Also, don't forget the surroundings of the attraction. Did you realize that many of the low plantings you see around the "village of Serka Zong," are actually tea? It might be worth visiting Expedition Everest sometime 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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Song of the Rainforest at Disney's Animal Kingdom

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, though I've never been able to spot that many. (Hint: Look in the pupils of the eyes of some of the creatures.)

For my money, Rafiki's Planet Watch is itself an overlooked attraction. Many think there's not much to do there and that it's not worth the train ride, but I find it to be a very interesting diversion. 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 in the animal clinic. I've personally witnessed the doctors there spaying a tiny rat, doing a blood draw on an injured turtle, and removing skin that failed to shed from a python's eyes.

Also, be sure to stop in at the listening booths in Conservation Station to hear Grandmother Willow's presentation of the Song 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, 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 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.

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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

More on DiVine

VIDEO: DiVine in action

Pandora - The World of Avatar

Backstage Tales Tour Reveal Animal Kingdom Secrets


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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.