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