I’ve always had an affinity for animals, and while I always admit to being somewhat conflicted about seeing animals in captivity, I will admit that Disney’s Animal Kingdom does a great job at creating the illusion that many of the animals are in a natural-esque looking habitat.

Opening its doors in 1998, Disney’s Animal Kingdom was founded with the purpose of education and conservation of the natural world.  While the definition of that mission may be stretched a bit with some of their attractions (e.g., Expedition Everest and Avatar: Flight of Passage, the purpose of the park is, overall, present in everything they do. 

So let’s look at my top 13 rides and attractions at Disney’s Animal Kingdom (including three Honorable Mention included at the bottom of this article!

10) The Boneyard

This one’s strictly for the kids, as it’s a dinosaur-dig-themed playground, designed for persons under the age of eleven.  There are rope courses, slides, climbing equipment, active “digs” – basically a sandbox with dinosaur skeletons buried in it – and even interactive musical elements. 

They even have a Jeep that the kids can climb on.  A Jeep.  Fast food restaurants can only dream of being this awesome.

9) It’s Tough to Be a Bug

This short film – presented in the typical Disney 4D manner – is housed in a theater nestled beneath the great roots of the Tree of Life.  If you’re not sure what the “typical Disney 4D manner” refers to, then you should do your homework first, okay? 

Oh, wait . . . you’re reading this, which means you are doing your homework . . . which means it’s my job to explain that to you. 

My bad – you’re totally fine.  Let’s see…

When Disney refers to something as a “4D film,” what they’re saying is that the film is in 3D (so you get to wear the funny glasses), but they add physical elements to the experience, as well. 

So, utilizing air cannons, surround sound, moving seats, and other techniques, it feels like the movie isn’t just visually three-dimensional—it feels like it’s actually happening because all of your senses are being engaged. 

As an example, at one point in this attraction, a soldier termite fills the screen and, to protect the nest, sprays “acid” on intruding bugs.  The audience physically gets sprayed with concentrated water mists, from jets hidden within the seatbacks in front of it. 

So, basically, “4D” is 3D on steroids.  Okay, back to the movie.

This Bug’s Life-themed movie educates viewers on the different kinds of insects and bugs that we can find on our planet, from tarantulas to termites and ants to dragonflies.  It’s hosted by Flik, with a “guest appearance” by Hopper, and is an entertaining and enjoyable show.  The highlight is the end of the movie, when the bugs in the audience leave the theater first.  You’ll see what I mean when you watch it.

I will say this though—the sequence with Hopper can be a bit intense.  He gets more than a little angry in this scene.  So, while as an adult you’re not in any danger of being scared (well, maybe if you’re very, very verrrry easily scared), but the little ones in your group might be a bit disturbed. 

Luckily, this sequence only lasts for a couple minutes.

8) Primeval Whirl

Primeval Whirl is an old-fashioned carnival coaster that often goes by the name of things like “Crazy Mouse” and “Wild Mouse.”  You sit in freely-rotating car, which spins and tips as it makes its way down a track filled with hair-pin turns and steep drops. 

The thing with this ride is that, no matter where you ride it, or what it’s called, it is pretty fun.  This one is dinosaur-themed, and loosely tells a story of the extinction of the dinosaurs by a giant meteor. 

You know, as I typed that, it sounded way more grim than I wanted.  I promise, it’s not traumatic (unless you don’t like roller coasters, at which point I would question why you’re even on it).

7) Discovery Island Trails

Wrapped around the Tree of Life, the Discovery Island Trails offer you the chance for a bit of a nature hike.  On this impromptu (but still very controlled and engineered) hike, you can observe animals such as lemurs, otters, tortoises, and even a kangaroo or two.  Like other areas of the park, it’s the kind of walk-through wildlife preserve that makes Animal Kingdom what it is.

6) The Tree of Life

This is Animal Kingdom’s centerpiece.  The 145-foot manmade tree towers above the park, creating a grand (even imposing, but in a good way) focal point.  It holds more than 300 carvings of plants and wildlife –- all of them highly-detailed and beautiful.  This definitely provides something to look at as you explore the Discovery Island Trails. 

Nestled inside the roots, of course, is the theater that presents It’s Tough to Be a Bug (see #9 above), but the tree itself is really its own attraction.  Like Cinderella’s Castle at Magic Kingdom, it is most definitely worth examining all on its own. 

Oh, but a word:  please don’t try to climb it.

5) Finding Nemo – The Musical

A 22-foot tall Nigel neck is a terrifying thing. 

Nigel, just in case you have no idea what I mean, is a pelican in Pixar’s film, Finding Nemo.   Since Nemo was a hit, and since it involved animals, what better thing to do than make it into a musical stage play and set it as an attraction at Animal Kingdom? 

It worked with The Lion King, right? 

The thing is, even with the terrifyingly large puppets used (Crush is the size of a small car), the play is still pretty good.  Disney, in their trademark style, uses a combination of technology, engineering, and sleight-of-hand to make an animated movie come to life. 

4) Kilimanjaro Safaris

This is exactly what it sounds like – you board a multi-terrain jeep, and travel through landscaped areas designed to look like Africa, all the while viewing things like hippopotamuses (or is it hippopotami?  Hmmmmmm. . . .), lions, and gorillas.   

If you can’t travel to Africa to go on your own safari, this is a pretty good alternative.  The most interesting thing about this, in my opinion, is that there does not appear to be any barrier or protection from the animals, giving you a real feel of being on an African Safari in the wild. 

Now, Disney assures everyone that the animals and guests are both safe and secure, but – as with much of Disney’s magic – things certainly appear different to what they are.  It’s a fun experience! 

You’ll even get to see lions on this safari.  But, since lions sleep about 18 hours of the day, don’t expect to see them do a whole lot.

3) Expedition Everest

Expedition Everest takes you on a journey through the Himalayan mountains and deep into the heart of the Yeti’s sanctum sanctorum.   The ride has changed for the worst, I will admit, since its inception in 2006. 

There is an animatronic Yeti at the end, whose arm used to swing out over the car in an attempt to grab you as you rocket by him.  Now, because of engineering issues, the Yeti remains stationary, with strobe lights flashing around him to give the appearance of movement.  This has earned him the unfortunate moniker of “Disco Yeti.” 

However, even with that, t’s still a pretty cool ride.  If you’ve never had a roller coaster change directions (twice!) during a ride, then you haven’t lived.

Okay, so there are things in life better than that, but it’s still an awesome experience.  The wait is never terrible, but even if it is a bit of a wait, the queue is very well-designed.  If you’re a fan of coasters, this one is a must.

The food in the park leaves much to be desired, I suppose, but that’s a topic for another post. 

2) Dinosaur

This is actually my favorite ride at Disney’s Animal Kingdom.  Hosted by Phylicia Rashad and Bill Nye the Science Guy, you travel back to the jurassic era in hopes to recover a dinosaur.  But beware—this is a Disney World ride…so something is bound to go wrong on your journey.

Based on the animated Disney movie of the same name, this is an attraction that I won’t spoil for you.  I’ll just say this: there’s benevolent dinosaurs on this ride…and then there’s dinosaurs that want to eat you.

This is a ride in which you board a jeep-like vehicle and travel across what feels like very bumpy, winding terrain.  Therefore, if you have any physical issues, this might not be the ride for your because it can be fairly intense.

On top of that, this is a LOUD ride.  Lots of intense sound effects, including dinosaur roars and other audible effects.  Know that going in, and either decide to pass on this attraction if you have super sensitive ears, or just opt to pop in some ear plugs to dull the sound a little.

If you do hop on this ride, make sure you strap in tight.  You’re in for one exciting journey into the past!

1) Festival of the Lion King

This is one incredible show.  If you love “The Lion King,” you are in for a serious treat.  It’s easily one of the best live shows at Disney World, and you might just walk away shocked that you didn’t have to pay extra to see it.

This show is a mix of singing, animatronics, and even a bit of Cirque de Soleil-like magic.  Before the show even begins, the show’s main cast comes out for a pre-show that involves warming up the crowd.  The theater is siphoned off into sections, and so if you’re in the “Warthog” section, for example, one of the singers will come up and select someone at random to come down on the stage and do an impression of a warthog.

That actually happened to me once way back in 2009.  My warthog impression could use some work.

From there, the show rolls through all of your favorite hit songs from The Lion King.  With songs of great performers bringing excellent energy, choreography, and vocals, The Festival of the Lion King is arguably the best attraction in all of Animal Kingdom.

HONORABLE MENTION

Let’s start with a relatively new ride in Avatar: Flight of Passage.

Avatar: Flight of Passage

This is a relatively new ride, so it hasn’t quite had the time to totally settle in and leave a lasting mark on my mind. With that said, it’s never too early to recognize a great ride when you experience it.

You can read my entire review of Avatar Flight of Passage here, but suffice to say, if you love the ride “Soarin” at Epcot, there’s a high likelihood that you’ll really enjoy Flight of Passage—especially if you’re a big fan of the movie “Avatar.”

Fossil Fun Games

This is a collection of old-fashioned, dinosaur-themed carnival games.  I’ve only played carnival games once in the last five years, and it was right here.  Here, you can enjoy classics such as:

  1. Whack-a-mole (er, Whack-a-dinosaur, rather)
  2. Basketball
  3. Goblet Toss
  4. Test Your Strength
  5. The Water Pistol Game

Overall, this is a fun diversion at Animal Kingdom—and a great way to part with lots of money in exchange for a large stuffed animal.  Because THAT’S fun to carry around the park (hint:  if you’re going to do this, do it last!). 

Oh, and just like every State or County Fair, you can end up dropping a lot of money on these games, so maybe it’s best to skip this attraction if you’re trying to do Disney on a budget.

The Maharajah Jungle Trek

This trek is a fun, fascinating walk through Southeast Asia—through jungles, temple ruins (a la King Louis’ house), and beautiful gardens.  The sole purpose of the trek is to view exciting and unique animals (remember, this is Animal Kingdom; just about everything here involves exciting and unique animals). 

There are elephants, komodo dragons, various kinds of birds, and – the great kings and queens of India themselves – tigers.  The tiger display puts them so close to you that, were the glass not there, you could reach out and pet them.  But the real star of the trek is the scenery and landscaping itself. 

Then again, it’s this kind of attention to detail that makes Disney what it is.

Conclusion

There you have it—these are my top picks for the best rides and shows at Animal Kingdom at Disney World.

Of course, the park also offers the standard meet and greet with Disney world characters too (such as Pooh and Tigger), additional rides and shows (including live animal exhibitions and training seminars), and a host of other things to occupy your time. 

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