Animal Kingdom Through Your Eyes


by Deb Wills, ALL EARS® Editor-in-Chief

Feature Article

This article appeared in the
September 6, 2005, Issue #311 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.


We asked and you answered! A few weeks ago we asked you to send us your best tips for Animal Kingdom -- about touring, attractions, little-known treasures -- anything you've discovered that would help someone else have a magical vacation. Thanks to everyone who wrote in -- we were really overwhelmed by your enthusiasm, and enjoyed reading all your tips. So many of you responded that we decided to devote an entire feature article to showcasing your ideas. And, as we promised when we solicited your tips, those whose tips we selected will receive an Allears.net goody bag. (Goody bag recipients have already been notified by email.)

So, without further ado, here's our look at Disney's Animal Kingdom through YOUR eyes!

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STARTING THE DAY
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So, it's your first or maybe even your 20th visit to Animal Kingdom and you still aren't sure what to do? First things first -- you have to get through those crowded turnstiles! We hesitate to share this "secret," but since so many of you submitted this tip, maybe it's not such a secret after all. If the regular turnstiles are mobbed, go to the Rainforest Cafe store to the left and use the side entrance.

Interestingly enough, the top tip for how to begin your touring day was split between three very different approaches.

About a third of you suggested to not hesitate, but to head straight for the Kilimanjaro Safaris. Many of those who wrote commented that the animals are only out in the morning, and that the lines get long later in the day. There was also a variation of this tip -- to first get a FastPass for the Safari and then walk the Pangani Forest Exploration Trail. By the time you are finished, your FastPass will be ready for the Safari.

The second approach suggested it was best to avoid the crowds and instead start in DinoLand USA. Along with this, many suggested that you make Advance Dining Reservations at Breakfastosaurus in DinoLand before the park officially opens, so you can have a nice breakfast with the characters and get into the park before it's too crowded.

The last group of early-starters suggested heading straight to Camp Minnie-Mickey for almost "private" character meet and greets. These tipsters claimed that there are no lines at the Character Greeting Trails at this time, with the added benefit that you're near the Festival of the Lion King for the first show of the day, which also tends to be the least-crowded show of the day.

A few of you echoed my favorite way to begin a day at Animal Kingdom -- to just get a cup of coffee and slowly explore the animal/bird viewing areas in the Oasis and Discovery Island Trails. It really is amazing what appears before your eyes when you are patient. I often think of the boy who stopped next to me to watch the anteater one morning. The animal had momentarily disappeared from view when the boy's father came by to tell his son to keep up. "But Dad, there are animals here." The dad responded with, "I don't see anything; let's go," and off they went. Everyone enjoys different things in Animal Kingdom -- the music, the birds, the flowers, the... well... you get the idea. This is a very different kind of theme park.

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ATTRACTION TIPS
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You all shared many tips about the individual attractions and touring the park -- here are our favorites:

Kali River Rapids

Suzie: As one who HATES getting wet when I'm not in a swimsuit, I always avoided this ride like the plague. But my husband and I figured out a great way to ride it... We packed our backpacks with dry clothes (and a towel or two) and stowed them in a locker at the entrance to Animal Kingdom. In nothing but our swimsuits, cover-ups and flip-flops, we made our way to Kali River Rapids. We rode fives times in succession! After we'd had our fill, and as it was starting to get a little chilly, we scampered back to the lockers and changed in the bathrooms right there.

Pangani Forest Exploration Trail

Kathy Coppola: Of course, the gorilla exhibit is a big draw, but it was very crowded at the observation window. After about 15 minutes of jockeying for a good view, we decided to move on. Well, just as we rounded the next turn, we were on a bridge overlooking the gorillas from the right-hand side. We had a perfect view of the male silverback, and also of a couple of females and youths. Now we know that if the viewing area is crowded, keep moving along and good (if not better) viewing opportunities await!

EDITOR'S NOTE: Though just past the glass viewing area gives you a view of the Family Troop section of the exhibit, if the gorillas are extremely close to the glass, it's difficult to see them from that point. Also, the bridge and the area beyond are the only spots from which you can view the Bachelor Troop.

Rafiki's Planet Watch

Jean Betses: I know that everyone is running to get to the E-ticket rides, but the first thing I do on each trip is take the first train to Rafiki's Planet Watch. If you get there early and are interested in animals, this is the place to be. It is a hive of activity. There are medical procedures being performed, animal food being prepared and lots of characters (Rafiki often sits on the floor meditating). The early morning at this oft-overlooked treasure is a wealth of information and fun. Also, the Affection Section presents animals wide awake and eager to be hugged, petted and brushed, and Cast Members are full of fun information and stories about the animals.

EDITOR'S NOTE: Medical procedures are most likely to be seen first thing in the morning (usually taking place at 9 a.m. and/ or 10 a.m.). Rafiki, Pocahontas and Stanley are the characters usually available for pictures and autographs here.

Tarzan Rocks

Kathy Balderston: When seeing the Tarzan show you might want to consider sitting in the upper part because the rollerbladers come up into the walkway behind you if you sit in the lower section. A lot of the people in the lower section were turning around to see parts of the show. By the way, it is a great show!

Maharajah Jungle Trek

Laura G: If you love the tigers on the Maharajah Jungle Trek, but would like to see them do something other than sleep, visit the Jungle Trek at the end of the day, sometime after 4 p.m. The tigers know that they will be going backstage "soon," and they all congregate near the fountain (the first tiger viewing area -- go up the stairs after passing the bats). It's a great opportunity to see them moving around, and often you'll see them chase each other or even take a dip in the water!

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FOR KIDS, BIG AND LITTLE
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Jane Johnson: If your little one (or not so little one!) loves animals -- that is, if they'd rather stand and watch the anteater than rush off to the TriceraTop Spin -- be sure to catch the Pocahontas and Her Forest Friends Animal Training Show. They demonstrate how they train the animals for the show, and since the animals are still learning, sometimes things don't go perfectly. If you have time later, go to one of the other performances of this show, and you'll appreciate it more, knowing the work that goes into putting this show on.

EDITOR'S NOTE: The Times Guide indicates the shows designated as Training Shows. (Currently it's the 12:55 p.m. show.)

Teresa E.: While visiting the Animal Kingdom, play Animal ABCs. As you are touring the park and see the animals, rides, or attractions, make note of their names and try to make a list by going down the alphabet. A-Africa, B-Boneyard, C-Cretaceous Trail, etc. What a challenge when looking for X, Y & Z! You may not want to actually write them down, but it might be fun to keep a mental list. This is a great way to kill time while waiting in lines. Just go back over your list, and think of the letters left to "C"!

Sam Walls: If you have younger children, head over to the Boneyard in DinoLand. Once inside the play area, go to the upper level and cross over the Dinosaur bridge, which goes across the entrance to DinoLand. On the far side is a wonderful shaded "archeological dig" complete with large fans and fun music. The parents can relax on the rocks while the kids dig up bones in the large dig site. This area is filled with granular pebbles that are very smooth, cool to the touch, and best of all, fall off easily when one stands up!

Pam Lau: If you are looking for great pictures with the Winnie the Pooh characters, from the entrance head toward the Tree of Life and hang to the right. Watch for the not-so-obvious sign pointing you to a Character Photo Op that is set back from the main path. There has never been a line here to see Pooh, Tigger, or our favorite, Eeyore. They are waiting under a covered landing to take pictures. We have never encountered any crowds and it allows us to take our obligatory picture of my son, now 12 (who still cherishes his original Eeyore), with his good buddy and without a long wait.

EDITOR'S NOTE: The Discovery Island Landing Character Greeting spot is located between the restrooms and the bridge to DinoLand. It is marked (as are all Character Greeting locations) on the Animal Kingdom guidemap with the traditional Mickey finger character greeting spot icon.

Kim Kilgore: One tip I can offer for riding the Kilimanjaro Safaris with youngsters is NOT to try to point out the animals. What?! I'll explain: The first few minutes of our safari were an exercise in frustration as I would listen to the guide, then ask my daughter, "See the bongo?" and attempt to point it out. Inevitably, she wouldn't see the (whatever animal) as we cruised on by, and then she d become upset, meanwhile missing out on the next creature coming up in our adventure. So I closed my mouth and let her see what she could spot on her own, and we all thoroughly enjoyed the rest of the safari.

disner2: My best friend and I love to compete against each other playing the games in DinoLand. We usually end up with a collection of stuffed animals that we really don't need. At the end of the competition, when one of us finally admits defeat, we search out children and/or parents who look like they can use a little pixie dust, and after clearing it with the parents, we deliver a few stuffed dino friends. The smiles from the children and parents alike are worth admitting the defeat. After delivering the stuffed animals to good homes, we head over to Tamu Tamu in Africa for a couple of root beer floats and pick out a shaded table in the Dawa Bar to toast the winner and enjoy the afternoon.

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SPECIAL NEEDS
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Laura K: The seats at Primeval Whirl are tight if you're of any kind of size... We just quietly leaned over to the Cast Member and said, "I don't want to be embarrassed, but my sister and I don't fit in the seats comfortably together." The Cast member said that it was no problem, and gave us our own car... They were very nice and accommodating.

Lisa Edmonson: If you or your family get overwhelmed by packed crowds on the narrow path on the walk from the Wildlife Express Train Station to Conservation Station, just stay behind at the Train Station just outside the loading/unloading area. Once most of the crowd has headed down the path, you and your family will be able to enjoy the walk at your own pace and will be able to enjoy the cotton-top tamarins and the habitat exhibits without as many people crowding for the same view.

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IT'S IN THE DETAILS
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Brian Sieve: Be sure to look down when touring Animal Kingdom! Not only are the paths themed to be packed mud, but each "land" has different imprints to reflect the story of that area, from animal prints only in the Oasis to bicycle tracks in Asia (since bikes are the major form of transportation there). In Asia, notice the many bicycles as they move from place to place throughout the course of the day and the week. (The villagers are using them, of course.) The restrooms near the exit to Kali River Rapids are also the bath and laundry basin for the village of Anandapur. The fountain is on several hours a day and is a way to cool down while maintaining a little more control over "the wet" than one is able to when riding the rapids.

Jodi Cain: Many people don't seem to know that you can walk up close to the Tree of Life. For those of you who go frequently, or if you are just exploring it for the first time, an animal scavenger hunt on the tree can be a lot of fun! Kids love looking all around for specific animals hidden in the artwork. We like to see who can find certain creatures the fastest or the most creatures in a short period of time. It is a great way to slow down from the busy pace of Disney and enjoy a truly spectacular piece of artwork.

Laura Dawson: One thing our family likes to do at Animal Kingdom is see how many wild animals we can find -- we use the "Wild Animals Spotter's Guide." When we see a new animal, we mark it in our guide along with the date. The book can be taken on each trip to Disney, and you can keep up with the many different animals you see with each visit. It is a neat way to keep track of the many animals that can be found at the park!

W. Fisk: The Village Beatniks percussion group will let kids play their drums and show kids some of their dance moves as well. This was a big hit with my dance-obsessed daughter, age 7, as well as a group of young boys who said it was "way cool"...

Donna Brewer: My favorite "little-known treasure," tip, or whatever you want to call it, is to search for the "royal couple" while in Asia. There are small photos of the couple scattered about. You may find one in a rickshaw or in a shop. I've even taken to snapping photos as I find a picture of them I haven't seen before! I think, at last count, I've found 8 or 10 photos!

EDITOR'S NOTE: Here's a photo of the Royal Couple of Anandapur that we've spotted ourselves -- we learned about the strategically placed duo on the Wild by Design tour: http://allears.net/tp/ak/royal.jpg

Deb Fansler: There are Halloween Meet and Greet surprises at Animal Kingdom! At Camp Minnie-Mickey, we were thrilled to see Chip and Dale appearing at a Meet and Greet in their ghost costumes! What a neat family picture! We also saw Mickey and Minnie in costume and were told by a Cast Member that every 1/2 hour, when Mickey and Minnie would go in for a break, they would change and come out in a different costume! On Discovery Island behind Disney Outfitters, just before going over the bridge to DinoLand U.S.A. you may be familiar with this spot as the place to meet Pooh and his friends -- but we were elated to find him and his friends also in costume and an extra-special friend who is rarely spotted -- Rabbit!

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DINING
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Cathy: One of my favorite places to eat at Disney's Animal Kingdom is the Tusker House. It has great variety, great food and if you would like a little quieter atmosphere than the noisy dining room, go through the doors near the restrooms and there are tables with umbrellas along the outside wall. An earlier lunch betters your chance of getting one of these tables and it will not be as hot as later in the afternoon.

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We hope that that all these tips give you some new ideas about things to see and do in Disney's Animal Kingdom, the theme park that we feel is most underappreciated. And, as always, if you ever stumble across any other items of interest, please send them along. We're always eager to see Walt Disney World through our readers' eyes!

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Special thanks to ALL EARS® Reseacher and Animal Kingdom Devotee Kenny Cottrell for fact-checking and offering clarification on many of these tips!

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Related Links:

Animal Kingdom Fact Sheet: http://www.allears.net/tp/ak/ak.htm

Animal Kingdom Fun Facts: http://www.allears.net/tp/ak/ak_fact.htm