Three of our Favorite Rides and Two Must-See Shows at the Animal Kingdom
The Animal Kingdom offers lots of entertainment, but here are three rides and two shows we believe you must experience when visiting. For a complete review of all entertainment offered at Disney’s Animal Kingdom, get The Unofficial Guide to Walt Disney World today!
Kilimanjaro Safaris Animal Kingdom’s premier zoological attraction, Kilimanjaro Safaris offers an exceptionally realistic, albeit brief, imitation of an actual African photo safari. Thirty-two guests at a time board tall, open safari vehicles and are dispatched into a simulated African veldt habitat. Animals, such as zebras, wildebeests, impalas, Thomson’s gazelles, giraffes, and even rhinos roam apparently free. Predators, such as lions, as well as potentially dangerous large animals like hippos, are separated from both prey and guests by all-but-invisible, natural-appearing barriers.
Although the animals have more than 100 acres of savanna, woodland, streams, and rocky hills to call home, careful placement of water holes, forage, and salt licks ensures that the critters are hanging out by the road when safari vehicles roll by. Disney has done an amazing job of replicating the sub-Saharan east-African landscape. The main difference that a Kenyan or Tanzanian would notice is that Disney’s version is greener and, generally speaking, less barren. As on a real African safari, what animals you see, and how many, is pretty much a matter of luck.
We’ve experienced Kilimanjaro Safaris more than 100 times and had a different experience on each trip. We can’t wait for Disney to start offering nighttime tours. It will give guests additional after-dark entertainment options and it will be a unique viewing experience.
The first true roller coaster in Animal Kingdom, Expedition Everest earned the park’s longest waits in line from the moment it opened—and for good reason. Your journey begins in an elaborate waiting area modeled after a Nepalese village; then you board an old train headed for the top of Mount Everest. Throughout the waiting area are posted notes from previous expeditions, some with cryptic observations regarding a mysterious creature said to guard the mountain. These ominous signs are ignored (as if you have a choice!), resulting in a high speed encounter with the Abominable Snowman himself. The ride consists of tight turns (some while traveling backward), hills, and dips, but no loops or inversions.
From your departure at the loading station through your first high-speed descent, you’ll see some of the most spectacular panoramas available in Walt Disney World. On a clear day, you can see the buildings of Coronado Springs Resort, Epcot’s Spaceship Earth, and possibly downtown Orlando. But look quickly because you’ll immediately be propelled, projectile-like, through the inner and outer reaches of the mountain. The final drop and last few turns are among the best coaster effects Disney has ever designed.
Kali River Rapids
Whitewater raft rides have been a hot-weather favorite of theme park patrons for more than 20 years. The ride itself consists of an unguided trip down an artificial river in a circular rubber raft with a top-mounted platform seating 12 people. The raft essentially floats free in the current and is washed downstream through rapids and waves. Because the river is fairly wide, with numerous currents, eddies, and obstacles, there’s no telling exactly where the raft will drift. Thus, each trip is different and exciting.
What distinguishes Kali River Rapids from other theme park raft rides is Disney’s trademark attention to visual detail. Where many raft rides essentially plunge down a concrete ditch, Kali River Rapids flows through a dense rainforest and past waterfalls, temple ruins, and bamboo thickets, emerging into a cleared area where greedy loggers have ravaged the forest, and finally drifting back under the tropical canopy as the river cycles back to Anandapur. Along the way, your raft runs a gauntlet of raging cataracts, logjams, and other dangers.
Animal Kingdom Shows
The Festival of the Lion King
A major attraction inspired by the Disney animated feature, Festival of the Lion King is part stage show, part parade, part circus; in 2014, it relocated from Camp Minnie-Mickey to Africa, behind and to the left of Tusker House. Guests sit in four sets of bleachers surrounding the stage and organized into cheering sections, which are called on to make elephant, warthog, giraffe, and lion noises. (You won’t be alone if you don’t know what a giraffe or warthog sounds like.)
Festival of the Lion King is a big draw, so try to see the first show in the morning or one of the last two shows at night. For midday performances, you’ll need to queue up at least 35–45 minutes before showtime; to minimize waiting in the hot sun, don’t hop in line until cast members give the word to do so. The bleachers can make viewing difficult for the height-deficient—If you have small children or short adults in your party, try to snag a seat higher up. Tip: This is rarely a good use of FastPass+.
Finding Nemo: The Musical
This is arguably the most elaborate live show in any Disney World theme park. Larger-than-life puppets are used to tell Nemo’s story. To be fair, ”puppets” doesn’t adequately convey the size or detail of these props, many of which are as big as cars and require two people to manipulate. Special effects, sophisticated backdrops, and some Disney magic deliver a most memorable show. Like the Lion King, this show is an absolute must-see, even if you do not have any children in tow!
Once the Rivers of Light nighttime show debuts this spring, make sure to add it to your touring plans. Stay tuned for more info on what will be the Animal Kingdom’s first ever nighttime event.
What are your favorite rides at Disney’s Animal Kingdom?