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Disney's fourth major park opened in 1998 and combines exotic animals, the elaborate landscapes of Asia and Africa, and the prehistoric lands of the dinosaur. Animals, architecture, and lush surroundings take center stage here, with a handful of rides thrown in for good measure.

A conservation venue as much as an attraction, Animal Kingdom ensures that you won't find the animals blatantly displayed throughout the 500-acre park; instead, naturalistic habitats blend seamlessly into the spectacular surroundings. This unfortunately means that, at times, you'll have to search a bit to find the inhabitants. Expect your experience here to be quite different from that at Disney's other parks. It's the spectacular surroundings, meticulously re-created architecture, and intricate detailing, not so much the attractions sprinkled throughout (even though Expedition Everest is pretty impressive), that make the park so unique and so interesting. First bonus: Because this is one of Disney's less ride-intensive parks, it's easily enjoyed in a single day, usually less, making it a good choice when you need to cut back and take it a bit slower and easier. Second bonus: The best shows in all of Disney can be found here: Finding Nemo-The Musical and the Festival of the Lion King should definitely be on your to-do list.

Animal Kingdom is divided into the Oasis, a shopping area near the entrance that offers limited animal viewing; Discovery Island, home of the Tree of Life, the park's unique icon; Africa, where you can wander the village streets and head out on safari (you'll find the largest concentration of animals here); Asia, with Mt. Everest looming on the horizon (within it, the coolest thrill ride in the park), plus a raging river ride, exotic animal exhibits (including Bengal tigers and giant fruit bats), and a bird show; and DinoLand U.S.A., filled with carnival-style rides and games, a large play area, and a herky-jerky thrill ride that transports you back in time.

The park covers more than 500 acres, and your feet will tell you that you've covered the territory at the end of the day.

Most of the rides are accessible to guests with disabilities, but the hilly terrain, large crowds, narrow passages, and long hikes can make for a strenuous day if there's a wheelchair-bound person in your party. Anyone with neck or back problems, as well as pregnant women, may not be able to enjoy rides such as Expedition Everest, Kali River Rapids, and Dinosaur.

The 145-foot-tall Tree of Life is in the center of the park. It's an intricately carved free-form representation of animals, handcrafted by a team of artists over the period of a year. It's not nearly as tall or imposing as Spaceship Earth, which has come to symbolize Epcot, or Cinderella Castle in the Magic Kingdom. The tree is impressive, though, with 8,000 limbs, 103,000 leaves, and 325 mammals, reptiles, bugs, birds, dinosaurs, and Mickeys in its trunk, limbs, and roots.

Dehydration Alert! -- Animal Kingdom (and the other parks, too) can get very hot, especially during summer, and despite all the foliage, shade can sometimes be hard to come by. Bring bottled water (freeze it the night before to keep it cold), refilling at the fountains inside the park. Remember to bring sunscreen and wide-brimmed hats for the whole family, and plan to ride Kali River Rapids during the hottest part of the day (be sure to bring a change of clothes, as you will get wet . . . and possibly soaked).

Arriving -- From the parking lot, walk or (where available) ride one of the trams to the entrance. If you do walk, watch out for the trams and autos -- the lot isn't designed for pedestrians. Also, make certain to note where you parked (section and row). Lot signs aren't as prominent as in the Magic Kingdom, and the rows will look alike when you come back out. Upon entering the park, consult the handout guide map for special events or entertainment. If you have questions, ask park staffers.

Hours -- Animal Kingdom is open from at least 9am to after dark most days, but it sometimes opens an hour earlier and stays open an hour or so later.

Ticket Prices -- A 1-day park ticket is $114 (Peak season)/$102 (Regular season)/$97 (Value season), but those prices go down with multi-day ticket purchases that cover the other Disney parks.

Services & Facilities in Animal Kingdom

ATMs -- Animal Kingdom has an ATM near Garden Gate Gifts to the right of the entrance, as well as in DinoLand across from the Primeval Whirl. It accepts cards from banks using the Cirrus, Honor, and PLUS systems.

Baby Care -- The Baby Care Center is located near the Creature Comforts gift shop on the west side of the Tree of Life. As in the other Disney parks, you'll also find changing tables in restrooms, and you can buy disposable diapers at Guest Relations.

Cameras & Film -- You can drop off film for same-day developing at the Kodak Kiosk in Africa and Garden Gate Gifts near the park entrances. Cameras and film are available in Disney Outfitters in Safari Village; at the Kodak Kiosk in Africa, near the entrance to the Kilimanjaro Safari; and in Garden Gate Gifts.

First Aid -- The First Aid station, staffed by registered nurses, is located near the Creature Comforts gift shop on the west side of the Tree of Life.

Lockers -- Lockers ($7-$9, plus a $5 refundable deposit) are located in Garden Gate Gifts to your right as you enter the park. They're also located to the left, near Rainforest Cafe.

Lost Children -- A center for lost children is located near Creature Comforts at the Baby Care Center on the west side of the Tree of Life. This is also the site of same-day lost and found. At the risk of repeating myself, make your younger kids wear name-tags inside their clothing.

Package Pickup -- Any purchases can be sent to the front of the park at Garden Gate Gifts. Allow at least 3 hours for delivery. WDW resort guests can have their purchases delivered directly to their hotel; if purchased by 7pm, the item will be delivered by noon the next day.

Parking -- The cost is $18 a day.

Pet Care -- Accommodations are offered at Disney's new luxury pet facility, the Best Friends Pet Care Center (tel. 877/493-9738), for $10 to $76 per day, depending on whether your pet is staying overnight, the type of pet you have, the accommodations and extras you choose, and whether you are a Disney resort guest. Proof of vaccination is required.

Strollers -- Stroller rentals are available at Garden Gate Gifts to the right as you enter the park ($15 for a single, $31 for a double). Length-of-stay rentals are available at $13 per day for a single, $27 per day for a double; payment in full is expected at time of rental. There are also satellite locations throughout the park; ask a Disney employee to steer you.

Wheelchair Rental -- You can rent wheelchairs at Garden Gate Gifts to the right as you enter the park. Rentals are $12 for a standard wheelchair, $50 for an electric wheelchair (plus a $20 refundable deposit). Ask Disney employees for other rental locations throughout the park.

Animal Kingdom Tip Sheet

1. Arrive at opening or stay until near closing for the best view of the animals.

2. Expedition Everest offers the biggest thrills in the park, and a FASTPASS may be your only ticket to avoiding the ride's excruciatingly long lines.

3. Kilimanjaro Safaris is one of the most popular rides and the best place to see a lot of animals in one sitting. But in summer, the animals can be scarce during the midday heat. If you can hoof it there first thing, do it. If not, try late in the day. The same applies to viewing the gorillas on the Pangani Forest Exploration Trail.

4. Finding Nemo-The Musical and the Festival of the Lion King shows are a must.

5.Make Advance Reservations for a meal at Yak & Yeti, the park's newest themed full-service restaurant.

Nighttime Shows

Rivers of Light at Animal Kingdom is a lakeside spectacular that is mounted after dark. There's stadium-style seating on the lakefront around Asia.

Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.