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; Camp Minnie-Mickey, the Animal Kingdom equivalent of Mickey's Toontown Fair in the Magic Kingdom but without any of the fun little rides; 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.