Overlooked Attractions in Animal Kingdom
by Debra Martin Koma
Senior Editor, ALL EARS®
This article appeared in the
March 25, 2003, Issue #183 of ALL EARS® (ISSN: 1533-0753)
Updated February 2008
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.
If you're a regular reader of ALL EARS®, you've probably read our periodic features on observing the little things at Walt Disney World. I'm sure many of you already do that, but perhaps some of you are thinking, "What are they talking about? What 'little things?' I'm in a hurry to get to (Splash Mountain, Test Track, Rock n' Roller Coaster, fill in major attraction of your choice)!"
This is another in ALL EARS®' occasional series designed to give you an insight into some of the little things you might have missed — some of those "stop-and-smell-the-roses" details (often free!) that help enhance the magic of a Disney trip.
This week we take a look at Disney's Animal Kingdom, the newest of the four Florida theme parks. Truth be told, this park is itself often overlooked. 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?!
Because the park's barely 5 years old (its birthday is coming up on April 22!), our list of "little things" isn't as long as it is for the other parks, but we'll point out as many as we know — and encourage you to share whatever special "Overlooked Attractions" you've found in the Animal Kingdom.
BEGIN AT THE BEGINNING
One of the most enchanting, yet most overlooked, experiences at Disney's Animal Kingdom occurs about 15 minutes before the park even opens — The Awakening. Mickey and friends rewards early risers with a greeting of the new day and is soon joined by many costumed characters. All this great start to the day costs you is a little early morning sleep — it's worth it!
Have you ever seen PUSH, the walking, talking trash can in the Magic Kingdom's Tomorrowland? Then you won't be surprised when you stumble across Wes Palm, an equally eccentric and entertaining palm tree that teases guests throughout the morning in the Oasis. (Wes Palm… West Palm Beach… get it? I love plays on words!) Take a few minutes and try to spot Wes Palm's "traveling companion" — he's really quite clever at blending in with the oblivious crowds. (I hear there's also a talking recycling can, called Pipa, that performs at Conservation Station, but I've never seen it myself — definitely worth keeping an eye out for!)
Another 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 can find DiVine along the path from Africa to Asia.
ISLAND… AND BEYOND
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.
Taking the "Wild by Design" toursure 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.
It also pays to look UP in this park now and then, too. In Harambe, for instance, you might spy a genuine Coke bottle perched atop a utility pole as an insulator for a power line.
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! It's the perfect quiet spot to take a cool drink or a snack and get out of the flow of traffic.
ASIA DELIGHTS THE SENSES
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!
Want to wreak revenge on someone, anyone! after getting drenched on the Kali River Rapids? Be sure to stop on the bridge after exiting the ride. You'll find two elephants whose trunks will spout water at the unsuspecting riders below if you push their buttons.
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).
TAKE THE "W" (AS IN
WILDLIFE EXPRESS) TRAIN
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.
DIG THIS IN DINOLAND, USA!
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 newest section of Dinoland, USA — Chester and Hester's Dinorama — has met with mixed reaction. Patterned to look like a tacky carnival set up in a vacant parking lot, I think the area's theming succeeds in its goal. Don't bypass this area if you've heard negative reviews — stop by for a peek yourself, and maybe try your had at the midway games tucked behind Primeval Whirl (which I think is one of the best rides at WDW).
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!
LOOKING FOR MORE?
In recent months, some efforts have been made to popularize Animal Kingdom — including the addition of more live acts. Be sure to stop and see at least one of these talented performers — Karuka, a group of limber, limboing Kenyan acrobats, are exceptional, as is the percussion group Kobake. Both groups can be found performing around the Dawa Bar.
Are there more Overlooked Attractions waiting to be uncovered at Animal Kingdom? I'm sure there are! And since I've shared some of my favorites with you, please feel free to share yours with us!
Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org
AllEarsNet®'s Animal Kingdom pages start at: http://allears.net/tp/ak/ak.htm
More on Devine: http://allears.net/tp/ak/ak_art1.htm
Overlooked Attractions in the Magic Kingdom: http://http://allears.net/tp/mk/issue140.htm
Overlooked Attractions in Epcot: http://allears.net/tp/ep/issue099.htm
Overlooked Attractions in Disney-MGM Studios: http://allears.net/tp/mgm/issue085.htm
More Overlooked Attractions: http://allears.net/tp/ola.htm
Other ALL EARS® Articles by Senior Editor Debra Martin Koma: http://allears.net/btp/dkoma.htm
READER-SUGGESTED OVERLOOKED ATTRACTIONS IN THE ANIMAL KINGDOM
Debra G.: My husband and I love Animal Kingdom the best of all the Disney theme parks. It is a different experience at every visit, depending on the time of day, weather, season, etc. These things influence which animals you will see and what they will be doing. Since we are avid birdwatchers we love the aviaries in both Africa and Asia. However, our favorite attraction is the Flights of Wonder bird show. If you have seen the show more than once you probably know that they have several parrot performers that they rotate from show to show. If you have would like to catch a particular bird's performance, don't hesitate to ask a cast member at the theater entrance which bird will be performing in which show. My husband and I are very enamored of Groucho, the singing Amazon parrot. We went so far as to make ourselves t-shirts that say, "I'm a Groucho groupie." These shirts made such a big hit with the show's cast members that they honored us with a private audience with Groucho. Groucho can sing seven different songs, but they have taught him cues for only 3 or 4 of these. We found out that when he gets flustered in the middle of any of his usual songs, he breaks into "Alouette." Apparently this is his default melody!
Setvic: You did mention the Dinoland boneyard, however, I have met many people who think it's just the slide and jungle gym. If you go in and up across the bridge that leads over the walkway, you will find my children's favorite stop in Animal Kingdom — the dinosaur graveyard. It's shady, cool, and the best non-sand sandbox we have ever seen!
Karen: We went to eat at Pizzafari and it was a slow time of day. We explored all the different rooms there. Each one has beautiful paintings all over the walls/ceilings. Two of the cast members working there joined us and gave us a detailed tour of each room. They guided us to find the Hidden Mickeys and there are several painting "errors" — a group of possum hanging from a tree, yet one has no tail! It was a great low-key retreat in the hustle and bustle of the big adventure!
Amy Phillips: Behind Tusker House in the outside seating area there are sound effects of what seems to be a man cooking a meal. If you sit there long enough you can hear him sharpening his knife, chopping, and frying food. It really adds a fun touch. We usually grab breakfast and sit there to eat it. Most of the times we are the only people sitting in the area. It's a ritual that we really enjoy!
The Hart Family: One of our favorite attractions at the AK is the sea otter habitat on Discovery Island. The little guys are constantly running, swimming, and "talking" to park guests! An added bonus, if you grab a spot on the walkway opposite of the sea otters for the parade, cast members only allow folks on that side for the parade. This means all of the characters' attention is focused on only that side and the kids love it. The otters make waiting a half an hour for the parade so much easier.
Jean from Maine: Thought I'd share my favorite "overlooked attraction". It is in Rafiki's Planet Watch. If you go there early in the morning, there are tons of interesting things to do and learn. First of all, the majority of the animal treatments (which guests can watch through glass windows) happen in the morning. Secondly, I discovered one morning, if you look to the left of the observation windows you will see an open window area. This is the area where, more often than not, there is a cast member measuring out the diets for the animals in the park. One day I spent a long time watching the cast member preparing the food packets for all of the parrots (even finding out which ones were on a diet!). This is a truly fun area if you interact with the cast members. They have a great love of the animals and their care.
Natalie Strole: I wanted to also add the Vet clinic inside the building at Rafiki's Planet Watch. My kids were 5 and 2 the last trip and really enjoyed seeing the care of the animals.
Cliff H.: You mentioned the noises you hear outside the door of the Dawa Bar, but I didn't see a mention of something I discovered there (at least I think it was at the Dawa Bar). If you go behind the building, past the smoking area, you can hear the sound of a baby crying from one of the second floor windows, then what sounds like a mother nursing the baby while singing to it. The first time I heard it I had to listen for a few cycles to make sure I really had heard it. But it is there. These types of details are just some of the things that make WDW so far ahead of any other "theme park" anywhere. There are so many "hidden" things to discover! They are things that I wouldn't miss if they weren't there, but when I discover them I just think, "It's so amazing that someone thought of that!"
Jean Scanlon: Also a fun thing for kids to do in AK (similar to passport stamps at Epcot), is to receive conservation stamps at interactive areas throughout the park. It encourages the kids to think, look, listen and appreciate the surroundings. It's just another fun way to learn at Disney, keeps the kids engaged, and is included in the price of admission. It's easy to miss as you're rushing to the next "big" attraction.
Stephanie F. in Idaho: We were in the World for the first time in 5 years this past February (2003). Our favorite park was the Animal Kingdom. We noted a couple of overlooked attractions you might like to add to your list. In the Boneyard there are several large wooden boxes with handles on top. If you can find one without parents crashed on it, pull the handle up, and the boxes will growl, and may make other animal sounds, but the growl was the only one we found. It was great theming to make you believe they were animal crates. The other overlooked attraction that we found was located on the banks of Discovery River across from Tamu Tamu refreshments I believe. They had one cast member, lots of African type instruments, and everyone was welcome to join in the music making. My 6 yob, and 10 yob loved playing the unique instruments, and it gave us a chance to give our feet a break.
Pam: I don't think many people realize that there is a character stop along the main path leading to Dinosaur. Since Eeyore is our family's favorite we always make it a point to make a photo stop with our favorite characters. There has never been a line longer than 2 or 3 families so you do not feel so guilty spending a little longer taking pictures.
Melissa: I in the old fort across from the Dawa Bar you can see part of the parade, which is great on a very hot day. There is also 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.