Unleash Your Wild Side at Disney's Animal Kingdom (Disney Vacation Part 3)

 

I had my heading and the bus all to myself for the drive from the resort to the park. This meant I could hum along to Disney's Animal Kingdom-themed soundtrack playing on the bus sound system free of strangers’ stares. Then again, I was in “yes-ville,” where it is 100% acceptable and even encouraged to express emotion in song.  

 

My game plan for the afternoon involved conquering two kingdoms, one featuring live animals and the other "animatronics," though the kid in me recognizes all of them as authentic.  Several good friends and I had arranged a rendezvous in Animal Kingdom where we could enjoy a couple hours frolicking through the lands of Discovery Island, Asia, Africa, and Dinoland, U.S.A. before conquering the second kingdom on our list, Magic Kingdom (MK).  It’s difficult for me to choose my favorite of the two, but there’s a special spot in my heart reserved for Disney’s Animal Kingdom (I’ll refer to it from now on as DAK), so it was only fitting it was my first stop on my return “home.”  

 

The Most Magical Bus Ride on Earth

 

The bus ride to DAK from the Beach Club is in the ballpark range of ten to fifteen minutes depending on traffic.  Disney Buses are one of my selling points when advocating for Guests to stay on Walt Disney World property.  They are completely complimentary and travel to every location on site in regular intervals.  In general, the drive to DAK is a smidgen further than to, say, EPCOT or Magic Kingdom no matter where Guests are staying.  The closest resort to the park is Disney’s Animal Kingdom Lodge, which offers spectacular room views of DAK’s private savannah.  Not staying at the hotel?  Hakuna Matata.  Guests are always welcome to stop by and explore the resort grounds.  If you’re on your way to visit DAK, you will have the chance to hitch a Safari ride through that same savannah (more on that in my next post).    

 

As the driver rounded the DAK vehicle entrance, I could see the floating mountains and progress of Pandora–The World of Avatar off to the southwest corner of the park.  Based off the 2009 James Cameron blockbuster, Avatar, this themed land is on the fast track to officially open next year.  Needless to say, my calendar has been marked since construction began in 2014.  

 

 

We’re Here!

 

I was the first one off the bus (since I was the only one on the bus), and the adrenaline pumping through my legs maneuvered them efficiently around the crowds making their way down the park entrance pathway.  Before entering any Disney Park, all Guests must pass through a security checkpoint.  Always efficient in their inspections, the Cast Members quickly yet thoroughly check each Guest’s backpack, purse, or stroller.  The more prepared the Guests are prior to going through security, the smoother the process proceeds.  

 

After a friendly exchange with security, I flashed my MagicBand up to the green-illuminated turnstiles.  A fingerprint identification verification (say that five times fast) is required, and Guests can arrange which digit they prefer to use when purchasing their park tickets.  The act takes all of eight seconds, then the fun can commence.

 

Cue the Speed-walking

 

That’s my usual form of navigating any of the four Disney Parks, but only when I’m in a hurry, excited, or both.  I first strode through the Oasis, DAK’s first glimpse of animal exposition.  Even before Guests officially crossover into the park, animal encounters are omnipresent. Eager conservation specialists are always nearby to engage with and educate Guests about any of the park’s over three-hundred different species.  The park is actually home to more than 2,000 animals (yes, that’s three zeros), making DAK one of the largest animal theme parks in the world, and, encompassing 580 acres of land, physically the largest theme park in the world, period.  

     

 

“A Kingdom of Animals”

 

Winding through brush and human bunches, I spotted one of the park’s most mesmerizing and elusive performers, DiVine.  She slinks around in disguise, unseen by the Guests thanks to her vine-spangled ensemble and camouflaged stilts.  A little boy behind me drew his pointer finger and yelled, “What is that?”  His remark prompted an entourage of cameras and iPhones recording DiVine’s perplexing show.  I imagine she enjoys having the best job in the world, that is, tricking Guests into thinking, “Did that vine just move?”  Yes it did, and isn’t it the coolest thing?  

 

Past the Oasis, I crossed the bridge to Discovery Island.  There, in the grand clear of the crowds, I took a moment to gaze at the Tree of Life.  Every Disney Park has its icon, and the breathtaking Tree of Life has proudly welcomed Guests from its central perch since DAK opened, rather appropriately, on Earth Day, April 22, 1998.  Michael D. Eisner,  Disney CEO at the time of the park’s opening, commemorated the occasion with these words:  

 

“Welcome to a kingdom of animals… real, ancient and imagined: a kingdom ruled by lions, dinosaurs and dragons; a kingdom of balance, harmony and survival; a kingdom we enter to share in the wonder, gaze at the beauty, thrill at the drama, and learn.”   

 

Carved into the 145-foot-tall, 50-foot-wide tree’s roots, trunk, and branches are the figures of over three-hundred species.  I once overheard a Guest ask, “What kind of tree is it?”  To me, it looks like a baobab tree with leaves.  The next question was, “Is it real?”  Yes, I mentally answered.  This is "yes-ville."  Of course a baobab tree can have leaves.

 

 

Such wondrous detail defines Disney’s Animal Kingdom, Walt Disney World’s tribute to the brilliant and beautiful creatures that walk (or fly or swim) the Earth and their environments.  Accredited by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums and the World Association of Zoos and Aquariums, DAK has been dedicated since its inception to conservation and animal care, education, and research.  Walt Disney had a lifelong love for animals and their natural worlds, an ideal reflected and honored prominently throughout every aspect of the park’s six lands.

 

Of WDW’s four main parks, I believe Animal Kingdom to be one of the most underappreciated.  The attractions offered definitely boost the layers of the park’s multiple narratives, but it is also feasible to enjoy an immersive experience by strolling through the bike tracks imprinted in the streets of Anandapur, Asia, then dance to the infectious percussion performance in Harambe, Africa.

Up Next: Lines and Tigers and…beers?  Oh my!   

This post is a continuation of a special Disney travel series.  Click the links below to explore more tips and tricks for enjoying the magic: 

http://www.southmag.com/A-Magical-Vacation-Only-a-Few-Hours-Away-Part-1/

http://www.southmag.com/Feel-the-Magic-of-Magic-Bands-Disney-Vacation-Part-2/