New Animation Experience Launches at Rafiki’s Planet Watch, Now Reopened at Disney’s Animal Kingdom!

After suddenly closing last October, many of us feared that we’d seen the last of Rafiki’s Planet Watch in Disney’s Animal Kingdom. Luckily for us, the area reopened today, refreshed and introducing a new Animation Experience!

We caught the Wildlife Express train up to Rafiki’s first thing this morning and here’s what we found after its almost nine-month absence.


Rafiki’s Planet Watch


You still board the Wildlife Express train to get to Rafiki’s Planet Watch You’ll find the entrance in Harambe, just past the Kilimanjaro Safaris entrance.

Wildlife Express train takes you to Rafiki’s Planet Watch’s Conservation Station


Wildlife Express train platform


The train itself seems to be unchanged. You still face outward as you sit on the train, so that your focus is forced in only one direction.

Wildlife Express train

The train spiel, however, is slightly different. It now talks a little bit about the new Animation Experience and about Walt Disney’s interest in drawing animals.

The train’s route takes you past some of the backstage areas where the Animal Kingdom’s animals are housed, just as it did in the past. You sometimes catch a glimpse of the rhinos, elephants or others that are not on the savannas.


The white rhino house backstage at Disney’s Animal Kingdom

When the train drops you off at Rafiki’s Planet Watch, you have a maybe five-minute walk to get to Conservation Station.

Rafiki points the way to Conservation Station

Along the way you’ll pass a number of exhibits and hands-on activities that are perfect for the youngest conservationists among us. Don’t forget that there’s also a few Wilderness Explorers’ badges available now in this area!

Exhibit along the walk to Conservation Station


Exhibits at Rafiki’s Planet Watch


Signage directing you to the new Animation Experience at Rafiki’s Planet Watch


Conservation Station marker

Once you reach the main building of Conservation Station, it’s fairly easy to locate where the Animation Experience will be held. It’s right in the center of the common area, where handlers used to give talks on small animals.

New Animation Experience at Conservation Station


Animation Experience at Conservation Station


As you’re waiting, you’ll note that there are signposts featuring a variety of Disney animals — these are all characters that may be the subject of the Animation Experience on a given day.

Kuzco from the Emperor’s New Groove


Pua the little pig from Moana
Eeyore and Thumper adorn this pillar at the Animation Experience

You’ll also note that there are photos of Walt Disney and other Disney animators drawing animals lining the walls of the class’s waiting area.

Walt Disney sketching young fawns


Disney animator Ollie Johnson at work


If you had arranged for a FastPass+ for this program in advance, you check in when you arrive and then are allowed to take your seat first — the remaining seats are filled with those waiting in the stand-by queue.

Animation Experience FastPass+ check-in


Animation Experience Standby Entrance


When you choose your seat, you get a clipboard, some paper and a very sharp pencil.

Seating at the Animation Experience at Conservation Station


The Animation Experience at Conservation Station


The presentation began today with a short film of a live meerkat, because we were about to draw… Timon, from the Lion King! (Side note: The 25th anniversary of the original animated classic film, combined with the impending release of the new The Lion King coming out on July 19, means that everything in this area is very heavily Lion King-themed right now!) Other animals may be drawn on different days, giving this experience “repeatability”!

We understand that every class will start out with a video of a live animal — shot right there at Animal Kingdom with resident animals!

Instructor leading the Animation Experience at Conservation Station


The class itself is very similar to the Animation Academy classes that used to be held in Disney’s Hollywood Studios, at the end of the Magic of Animation attraction.

Starting out with a basic shape at the Animation Experience at Conservation Station


Animation Experience at Conservation Station


Timon takes shape at the Animation Experience at Conservation Station


We really enjoyed this new class — we’ve really missed the Animation Academy, and this is so much, even if you’re not a Rembrandt in the making! Plus, the drawing is a fun souvenir to take home!


The finished product at the Animation Experience at Conservation Station


The 20-minute Animation Experience is held multiple times each day — check the paper Times Guide when you enter the parks, or your My Disney Experience app to verify the exact schedule. Remember, if you want to guarantee yourself a seat, be sure to schedule a FastPass+ before your visit!

And, fun fact, the animators for the new Lion King movie visited Animal Kingdom and did 3D imagining of the animals in preparation for making the film. So, the Simba you see on the big screen is actually based on the male lion that you can see on the Kilimanjaro Safari ride!

After the class, we took a quick swing around Rafiki’s Planet Watch to see what, if anything, else was different about the area.

Conservation Station

A lot of the same exhibits are back on display, and, more importantly, the animal care clinic is still open for viewing. There were no procedures going on while we were there, but we hope to be able to catch one in process on our next visit!

Conservation Station
Clinic at Conservation Station


The Affection Section petting zoo area seems to be relatively unchanged, with mainly goats roaming the area.

Affection Section at Conservation Station
Affection Section at Conservation Station
Naaaaaaah. I don’t want my photo taken! at the Affection Section at Conservation Station

The stage where small animal presentations is still set up. Although we didn’t see any presentation, it appears that these little demonstrations with small critters like possums or hedgehogs will still be taking place.

Conservation Station

The outdoor gift shop is still available, as well, but we learned that there are no character meet-and-greets here any longer. (Doc McStuffins used to hang out here before the closure.)

Shop at Conservation Station

Aside from the lack of characters, about the only thing we noticed missing from Rafiki’s Planet Watch is the old Songs of the Rainforest sound booths, where Grandmother Willow, from Pocahontas, walked through the soothing sounds in complete darkness. Perhaps technology has changed enough that these listening booths weren’t very popular any more but we always enjoyed them. Oh well. Times change.

In any case, we are so glad to have Rafiki’s Planet Watch back — it’s a little out of the way, but it really helps supplement Animal Kingdom’s important conservation message. And the new Animation Experience is a welcome addition — we’ll be going back again soon to see who else we can learn to draw!

Did you miss Rafiki’s Planet Watch like we did? Will you be paying a visit on your next trip to Disney’s Animal Kingdom? Drop us a note and let us know!



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Debra Martin Koma wrote about food, travel and lifestyle issues for a number of local and national publications before she fell in love with Walt Disney World on her first visit — when she was 34! She's returned to her Laughing Place more times than she can count in the ensuing years, and enthusiastically shares her passion with readers of AllEars.Net and AllEars®. Deb also co-authored (along with Deb Wills) PassPorter's Open Mouse for Walt Disney World and the Disney Cruise Line, a travel guide designed for all travelers to Walt Disney World who may require special attention, from special diets to mobility issues.

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4 Replies to “New Animation Experience Launches at Rafiki’s Planet Watch, Now Reopened at Disney’s Animal Kingdom!”

  1. I’m happy to see the animation class return. We enjoyed doing this at Epcot during the festival of the arts this past February.

  2. I’m SO glad this animation class is available! I was heartbroken when the Animation Academy at Hollywood Studios closed. Hope this sticks around permanently 🙂

    1. Don’t get me wrong… i love the Animation Academy, however it looks like a low budget/last minute thought version that was just shoe-horned into Rafiki’s and looks out of place. There are certainly other things that they could’ve put in there that fit better thematically and reopened Animation over in DHS where it really belongs.