Rafiki’s Planet Watch and Conservation Station, the park’s veterinary headquarters, is really worth a visit for families with young kids. Liliane Opsomer, coauthor of The Unofficial Guide to Walt Disney World with Kids, recently visited. Here is her report.
It will take a little time and effort, and it helps to be inquisitive. The area is quite removed from the rest of the park, and you will have to take the Widlife Express Train from Harambe (Africa) to get there.
The 5- to 7-minute scenic train ride starts about 30 minutes after the rest of the Animal Kingdom opens and runs till 4:30 p.m. I recommend you hop on that first train and make a Fastpass+ reservation for The Animation Experience, the latest addition to the area.
The Animation Experience Perfect for the Aspiring Artist
Once you arrive at the Conservation Station, head straight to the main building hosting The Animation Experience and take the character-drawing class. Just before checking in for your class, find out if and when there will be a wellness checkup taking place at the veterinary section of Conservation Station. Any scheduled procedures are mentioned on a monitor at the viewing area. There is also usually a cast member there that can give you information on upcoming animal care taking place that day.
While waiting for the class to begin, Cast Members brought out a goat and talked about the care the animals receive at Conservation Station.
Once the class is about to start, guests—armed with pencils, a drawing board, and paper—settle in at the auditorium where a Disney animator welcomes all to the class.
Step-by-step the animator guides guests through the process of drawing some of Disney’s most famous animal characters. When I visited we drew Simba. Did you know that Dakari, the lion that you usually see napping on his rock during the Kilimanjaro Safari, was the model for animators for the Lion King movies? A constant camera feed did provide the animators with plenty of opportunity to observe Dakari without disturbing him.
The class lasted about 25 minutes; while I had made a Fastpass+ reservation, plenty of standby spots were available for the first session of the day. The room capacity is 150 guests. Very young children will be overwhelmed by the class and I recommend it only for kids age 8 and up.
I am not very good at drawing, but I enjoyed the class and the opportunity to learn from the animator. It reminded me of the the Magic of Disney Animation classes offered at Disney’s Hollywood Studios until they were discontinued in 2015. Without further ado, here is the result of my efforts. Don’t judge me too harshly, please!
Observe a Veterinarian Providing Animal Care
After the class I hurried over to the window of the animal health care section, where one can observe veterinarians providing animal care, including, at times, surgery. The procedure I observed that day was called a “wellness check” for a goat.
Throughout the checkup, which included light anesthesia, a vet tech explained what guests were witnessing. It was truly a great experience.
There are also several behind-the-scenes exhibits at Conservation Station, including a window that allows you to watch caretakers prepare meals for the animals.
Meet Wildlife Experts and Experience Affection Section
Outdoors, guests can meet wildlife experts and learn about the animals in their care. There were also several animal encounters, including a small, free-flying bird show.
Last but not least, there is a petting zoo called the Affection Section, where goats, sheep, donkeys, cows, and pigs can’t wait for guests to come and visit. The goats are hilarious and love to be groomed. Pick up a brush and get busy. I guarantee the goat will love the spa treatment.
The Wilderness Must Be Explored!
Wilderness Explorers will want to travel to Rafiki’s Planet Watch to earn the Habitat Badge (find your troop leader post along the trail to Conservation Station), the Conservation Badge, and the Animal Nutrition Badge (both at Conservation Station), as well as the Veterinary Badge (at the veterinary window of Conservation Station). Inside Conservation Station, Wilderness Explorers can also qualify for the Recycling Badge.
All ages will enjoy The Animation Experience, the walk-through educational exhibit, the animal encounters, and the petting zoo. Rafiki’s Planet Watch also gives kids a place to let off steam, away from the overstimulation of the park. Please note that there is currently no character meet-and-greet at Rafiki’s Planet Watch.