Disney’s Animal Kingdom – Back at Walt Disney World’s Best Park

We know the claim we make in the title for this article is lofty, but we can explain! With pictures! And words! Our first trip back to Animal Kingdom since Covid-19 shutdowns was a blast, and reconfirmed our love for this extraordinary Walt Disney World park.

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First of all, kudos to Walt Disney World for the lovely new parking lot tram drop off and security area in front of Animal Kingdom. The threshold into the park has really cleaned up nicely!

It’s been a long few months. Eager to return to Walt Disney World following their reopening, we made some revelations: Magic Kingdom, sans crowds, is actually a beautiful, relaxing day of decent rides. Epcot is a little low on content (especially without the option to parkhop to MK or Hollywood Studios), but absolutely serene on the World Showcase end. Disney’s Hollywood Studios is still a stress-mess thanks to continued Rise of the Resistance madness and the park’s overwhelmingly awkward layout and verging-on-garish aesthetic, but that’s nothing new. And then there’s Animal Kingdom.

We started with Pandora, since that’s a great place to start.

We like to argue the pros and cons of Wizarding World of Harry Potter and Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge. Picking one or the other is a hot topic, but if we’re quite honest, we’re Pandora people. Both areas may outclass Pandora in the rides / experiences department, but the lush lagoons, gravity-defying scenery, and remarkable foliage (of both terrestrial and Pandoran varieties) enchant us each time. Plus, Na’vi River and Flight of Passage are nothing to sneeze at.

We moved onto Africa, which is beautiful even in its under-attended state.

Something that has always set Animal Kingdom apart for us is that it doesn’t read like a theme park. In real-world-inspired areas of the park like Africa and Asia, the environs are so authentic and enveloping that they no longer resemble an American tourist attraction.

Look at this view of Expedition Everest from Africa. There are only three Disney parks that achieve a level of forced perspective that’s this dramatic – the other two are Shanghai Disneyland and Tokyo DisneySea.

We couldn’t resist a quick photo shoot.

We really took time to bask in the various trails this visit. The cichlid pond in the Gorilla Falls aviary will never not blow me away.

Maybe it’s just because we’ve never been zoo people, but one of the biggest criticisms of Animal Kingdom seems to be that a lot of visitors can “do this kind of stuff at home” at their local zoo. Europe has some great zoos too, however the combination of attractions here is stellar. After all, I guess we can’t relate, because we live here.

But the beauty of a place like Animal Kingdom being located in central Florida is that the natural habitats of the animals found here have been recreated with painstaking detail.

Wildlife here represents subtropical ecosystems found throughout the world, with Florida being just one of a handful of the regions on Earth that can support subtropical ecosystems year-round.

And with Disney’s level of quality always under intense review, you won’t find animals that are better cared for than these.

Asia, of course, hosts similarly enveloping animal habitats.

Ones where we find attractions seamless interwoven.

Animal Kingdom’s natural beauty and region-specific foliage performs double duty: it serves as an authentic replica of the homes in which the park’s many animals live, but also as a culturally conscientious backdrop for the park’s shows and rides.

While Epcot offers the charming-if-sterile pavilions of China, Japan, and Morocco, Animal Kingdom submerges guests within rich, thorough reflections of India, Nepal, Tanzania, and Kenya. And, again, Kali River Rapids and Expedition Everest are nothing to sneeze at. 

As far as park centerpieces go, I think even the stiffest castle purist must blush in the shadow of The Tree of Life and its 325 animal carvings.

For the record, It’s Tough to be a Bug is sorely underrated. With the Anaheim version gone, Animal Kingdom can now claim to host 100% unique attractions – nothing here can be found at any of the other 11 Disney Parks.

We can still comfortably admit that Animal Kingdom isn’t perfect, of course. For starters, there’s the little matter of…

…Chester and Hester’s Dinorama. BUT! Improvements have been made recently:

Primeval Whirl is finally dead, which means the rest of the area probably isn’t far behind. Dinoland USA as a whole isn’t terrible (though Dinosaur could use some TLC), but Dinorama needs to go.

Though it would be nice to see the much-more-practical TriceriTop Spin be repurposed in some way.

Note: this is as close as Animal kingdom comes to having a duplicate ride found at other Disney parks, but t e c h n i c a l l y none of the others are dinosaur themed, so…

Also a unique issue in the Covid era is Kilimanjaro Safaris’ claustrophobic, visibility-compromising partitions.

But at least you still get a nice view to the immediate left or right of your row. 

Drawbacks aside, there’s just something special about Animal Kingdom. It really takes your head out of Orlando, even if for just a few fleeting moments.

Maybe we’re just suckers for wild plant life, sprawling waterways, and uncanny likenesses of faraway lands, but on a practical level Animal Kingdom checks a lot of boxes with its half-dozen-or-so lineup of marquee attractions (not to mention impressive, culturally aware dining and entertainment).

While we could give you lists of ways that other 3 parks could improve, Animal Kingdom doesn’t really feel like it’s “missing” anything (though another dark ride or coaster is always welcome). Disney’s Animal Kingdom is a complete, largely cohesive product that invokes favorable comparisons to Asia’s Disney parks – and the region-specific environs upon which the park is based.

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