Disney’s Animal Kingdom Park is the youngest and largest park at Walt Disney World. It is also the largest theme park in the world, sitting at 580 acres. To put it in perspective – Kilimanjaro Safaris is 110 acres, meaning Magic Kingdom as a whole can fit inside of it!
While some people consider this a half-day park, I can spend a whole day soaking in the storytelling here. There is so much to see, and it provides a zen that most other areas of Walt Disney World simply can’t provide. So join me as I show you around some of my favorite details of Disney’s Animal Kingdom! It’s going to be a wild time.
Tree of Life Carvings
Animal Kingdom’s park icon is the gorgeous Tree of Life. Kilimanjaro Safaris teaches us about the baobob tree – or the upside-down tree. It is leafless for nine months out of the year and is considered a succulent as it absorbs water and stores it in its massive trunk. This enables it to grow amazing fruit during the dry season, providing great nourishment to creatures around it. Which is exactly why it is nicknamed the Tree of Life. The tree you see in the middle of the park is a baobob tree with leaves!
Look closely and you will see there are 325 carvings of animals in the trunk of the tree. I like to play a game every time I go – what animal do you see first when you look at it? The longer you stare, magically more animals reveal themselves to you.
Secrets of the Safari
In the 1950s, Walt Disney dreamt of an educational attraction with real animals. The budget and resources did not exist then, but Imagineers brought it to life with Kilimanjaro Safaris in 1998.
Because these animals are unpredictable, the team had to find a way to bring a bit of consistency to the Guest experience. Take the ostrich eggs for example. Ever notice they are in the same place every time? The eggs are filled with concrete. The termite hills and the baobob trees are also man-made. This provides the safari drivers with at least a few fully reliable things to point out.
Authentic Travel Gear
The Expedition Everest queue has an incredible theme. You walk through a booking office, a Yeti museum, and a Yeti shrine. The majority of the items displayed are authentic to the Himalayas or Nepal.
The greatest detail is the travel gear in the loading area. Look across the track at the backpacks. Instead of creating these props from scratch and making them look worn and weathered, Imagineers took a different tactic. They went to the Sherpa people and asked for their old gear, and they were provided new gear by the Disney Company. The props you see have stories and history behind each piece.
Most people will not think twice about these old backpacks and gear. But this thought and attention to detail to immerse Guests into the stories is what sets Disney apart.
Flight of Passage Handprints
In most types of art, the artist signs their name or initials to show the world who created it. These attractions and themed areas are pieces of art, so Imagineers try to find creative ways to sign their creations.
Look in the very back hallway of the lowest level of the exit. There are three red human hand prints on the wall with the initials JC, JL, and JR beneath them. These are the handprints of James Cameron, director of the film Avatar, John Landau, producer of the film, and Joe Rhode, the lead Imagineer for Pandora and all of Disney’s Animal Kingdom Park.
Research Artwork in Tiffins
The decor in the lobby of Tiffins is inspired by the research notes of the Disney Imagineers who created Animal Kingdom. As they traveled through Africa and Asia, they took notes and pictures of their research. The photos currently displayed are from their research.
Sprinkled in are photos of the actual Animal Kingdom they created. The areas of the park are so authentic that it is hard to spot which is which!
Dinosaur and McDonalds
In the loading area of Dinosaur, there are three pipes above your head – red, yellow, and white. They each display a different chemical compound. The compounds are the actual, accurate compounds of ketchup, mustard, and mayonnaise!
It may seem random, but when Dinosaur first opened it was called Countdown to Extinction and was sponsored by Mcdonald’s for ten years. As the attraction was updated, this detail was left to pay homage to its beginnings!
The original renderings of Disney’s Animal Kingdom included a land called the Beastly Kingdom. The idea incorporated three different kinds of animals – real, extinct, and imaginary. One of the concepts for this area was a walk-through maze called “Quest of the Unicorn.”
Ultimately, the project was scrapped due to budget. The cost of caring for the real animals caused Michael Eisner, former Disney CEO, to choose between the Beastly Kingdom and Dinoland.
When Disney announced Pandora, I was skeptical of how it fit into Animal Kingdom’s storytelling. But the land of imaginary animals was planned all along. Now it has banshees instead of unicorns.
When Eisner dedicated Animal Kingdom, he said, “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.”
Have you seen these details before? Take the time to look around different areas of Animal Kingdom! You never know what you will find.