Disney’s Animal Kingdom
Disney’s Animal Kingdom covers more land than any other Disney park, yet has seemed small and has remained overlooked. With many of its attractions featuring live animals, Disney has fought the “zoo” label, with only moderate success.
With short hours limited to daytime and only two thrill rides (three if you count Dinosaur), the “Not a Zoo” theme has made for a hard sale… until now!
The 2018 addition of Pandora – The World of Avatar expanded Disney’s Animal Kingdom and added the realm of fantasy. Disney also expanded the park hours into the early evening with a new water/light show.
Is Disney’s Animal Kingdom now a full day park and more than just a glamorized zoo? Do the new offerings work? Let’s see.
Pandora – World of Avatar
The initial concept for Disney’s Animal Kingdom had three different realms of animals: prehistoric, present, and mythical. Dinoland covered the prehistoric. The rest of the park was devoted to the present. The mythical element has come to fruition with Pandora – the World of Avatar.
Based on the movie Avatar (with 4 upcoming sequels), the land transports you to the fictional movie land. For those 12 or 13 huge Avatar fans, this land of floating islands and florescent plants is magical. For the rest of us, it is all about having more to do.
Many declare the new attraction Flight of Passage to be the best ride anywhere. Actually, every single person that I have asked have made this claim. I found it exhilarating and unique, but still not the best ride ever.
In Flight of Passage, you board the flying beast called a Banshee and soar over Pandora. It feels much like Soarin’ at Epcot or Disney’s California Adventure, but with added tactile and sensory input. I don’t want to give too much away, but you do actually feel like you are strapped on the back of a beastie and are soaring above a strange world. It is fun and unique.
There were two downsides for me. The queue is nothing special. The outside is Pandora and the inside the interior of rusty space ship. Second, the world of Pandora that I sailed over is much less interesting to me than the real world, or Hogwarts, or Middle Earth. That said, Flight of Passage is an excellent ride and definitely adds to Animal Kingdom.
Na’vi River Journey, the other attraction, takes you on a boat ride through the glowing forest of Pandora. It is a classical Disney dark ride, including animatronics. The line for it is not near as bad as for Flight of Passage. I found it enjoyable with impressive special effects. Not being a huge Avatar fan, though, I am not in a rush to do it again.
The floating islands with waterfalls and odd flora of Pandora are interesting. I thought that much of it, especially the plants looked fake. Except for Flight of Passage, Pandora pales to rest of Animal Kingdom. With it, Pandora adds much needed activity and new life to the park.
Expanded Park Hours
Animal Kingdom hours remained roughly 9 a.m to 6 p.m for years. The park now closes 1- 2 hours later, with possible longer hours in the summer. I enjoyed walking through the park after dark. It takes on a different dimension and works well.
DinoLand U.S.A., the weakest land in Animal Kingdom shines at night. Literally, the neon lights add light and excitement. Even though the rides are all the same, the carnival atmosphere comes to life. While still not in the league with the Africa and Asia sections, it is improved.
Kilimanjaro Safari in Africa offers a new perspective when taken in the evening. In Asia, swirling in and around Mt. Everest in search of the Yeti on Expedition Everest gives a new experience, too.
After dark, Animal Kingdom’s central icon comes to life in the Tree of Life Nighttime Awakening. The Tree of Life glows with a rainbow of colors and multiple animal scenes, much like the evening projections on Cinderella Castle at Magic Kingdom.
Rivers of Light
A show of music, lights and fireworks has served as a grand finale at every Disney park except Animal Kingdom. Now, Animal Kingdom presents Rivers of Light on the Discovery Lagoon with stadium style seating at the border of Asia and DinoLand.
Rivers of Light uses music, boats, water. lights and lasers to present a tribute to nature and animals. The show presentation is similar to the World of Color show at California Adventure at Disneyland. The show disappointed me. It is the weakest of the Disney light shows. While not bad, I expected much more.
Does the “new and improved” Disney’s Animal Kingdom live up to the hype? While some of the new attractions and shows are weaker than most, none are bad. In my opinion, for theme parks, more is almost always better. Animal Kingdom now offers more to see, more to do, and longer hours in which to do it. This makes it a better value and a better park.
With three (arguably four) thrill rides, two stage shows (Finding Nemo the Musical and Flights of Wonder), the wonderful Kilimanjaro Safari, beautiful landscaping, excellent dining choices, and of course, lots of animals, Disney’s Animal Kingdom hits on all marks.
Tips for Animal Kingdom
- Animal Kingdom is best toured slowly. Do not rush. Take time to enjoy the details, the animals, and the atmosphere.
- Get a FastPass+ for Flight of Passage online at the earliest possible moment! Or, you will not get one.
- Animal Kingdom at day and night really do offer different experiences. Check out both.
- Do NOT waste a FastPass+ on Rivers of Light. There is plenty of seating. It is neither needed nor worth it.
- The Expedition Everest single rider line works wonderfully. Enjoy this thrilling roller coaster over and over, without using a FastPass+.
- You will enjoy DinoLand much more in the evening.
- Your best FastPass+ options are Flight of Passage, Festival of the Lion King, and Kilimanjaro Safari.
- Make sure to watch Grace, the beautiful, baby gorilla on the Gorilla Falls Exploration trail in Africa.