10. I have no real interest in backstage tours except at this park. The Wild Africa Trek is well worth the steep price as it is such a different experience.
And the new Caring for Giants tour is inexpensive and fun. I can't recommend it enough. Disney often presents tours for limited times that explore the details and behind the scenes animal care of the park. If one is going on at your next visit, sign up. You will learn a lot about the backstory.
9. I have always said on the podcast, there needs to be more for little kids. Too much of what Disney is putting out is geared to adults or thrill seeking teens. There is nothing wrong in my mind with a good spinner ride or playground. Toddlers need stuff to do too. How many times does a parent have to sit with the toddler while everyone else enjoys Space Mountain or the Tower of Terror. There is a lot at the Animal Kingdom though. The Boneyard is the best playground in Disney bar none. The trails are awesome for little ones, as is the Safari, Triceratops Spin and the river journey. And nothing is better than the Wilderness Explorers, a wonderful game that has kids going all over the park learning things and collecting badges, aka stickers, for their wilderness book.
8. One of the most important diversions at any theme park is entertainment, and the Animal Kingdom does a great job at that. I am not talking shows like Festival of the Lion King but more smaller things like Viva Gaia. Yes, we all lament the loss of Burudika. And with layoffs from Covid-19, we are unsure what the entertainment slate will be when the park reopens.
But the park has always had a solid array of cultural entertainment. Hopefully, acts like the Harambe acrobats, Viva Gaia and Winged Encounters (a personal favorite) survive.
7. Food is another important aspect of the theme park experience. And the Animal Kingdom does not disappoint there either. The sit down restaurants like Yak & Yeti and Tiffins are solid but it is counter service where the park really shines. Harambe Market, Sa'tuli Canteen and Flame Tree BBQ are all in my Top 5 of any counter service at any park. I also really enjoy the counter at Yak & Yeti. This is an area where Magic Kingdom and Hollywood Studios suffer but the Animal Kingdom does very well.
6. On a related note, drinking should not be dismissed. Easily the best lounge/bar in any park (and its not close) is the Nomad Lounge. There is no place I would rather spend an hour relaxing than there. And the Dawa Bar, where you can really soak in the Harambe experience, is no slouch either. Dawa compared to Nomad when Burudika filled the area with music every afternoon. Its not quite the same now. If Burudika was still around, this might be farther up this list, same with #8.
5. Yes, theme parks are crowded, noisy places. When one decides to hit up a theme park for vacation they don't expect tranquility. But at the Animal Kingdom, peacefulness is in abundance. The animal trails are one place, especially the Tree of Life trails where no one goes. If there are no meet and greets, the Cretaceous trail is as quiet as one can get surrounded by thousands of tourists. And the aforementioned Nomad Lounge, especially on the deck, is relaxation personified.
4. It used to be that night time touring at the Animal Kingdom was nearly non-existent. The rare late nights were a treat. Not anymore thanks to Avatarland. And this is also where night time touring is incredibly unique thanks to the bioluminescent plants that cover the alien "planet." But its not just there. Have you ever ridden Expedition Everest at night? Amazing. There are new night time safaris that make for an entirely different experience from the day time version.
And Harambe and Anandapur are much more mysterious after the sun goes down. Even Chester and Hester's seems different at night. Finally, we now have not only Tree of Life Awakenings (which is maybe my favorite night time event anywhere) but the underrated Rivers of Light to cap your evening.
3. With all due respect to Spaceship Earth and Sleeping Beauty Castle, the Tree of Life is without a doubt the best icon of any Disney park. It is a stunning piece of architecture and sculpture. Who hasn't walked around the Tree trying to find new animal sculptures (there are over 300).
And in terms of fitting the theme, what is better than that? Then there is Tree of Life Awakenings, which is an amazing night time show that makes incredible use of the icon as a screen. Anytime I exit the park at night
2. When the park first opened, its catch phrase was that it was "Natahzuh." That quickly went away, because it is, in fact, a zoo. At least in part. And it's a very good one too. There are no animal trails like the Maharajah Jungle Trek in any other zoo, combining cultural references and back story with the animals on exhibit. And there is really nothing as grand as Kilimanjaro Safari.
Yes, other zoos have safaris where you ride trucks or monorails through a giant landscape of African fauna, but not like here.
1. What separates Disney parks from other theme parks? One of the biggest things is back story. And no Disney park comes close to the back story developed by Joe Rohde and his team. I won't go into all the details (this blog and Radio Harambe delve deep into all of that) but the stories behind the jungle trek, all of Dinoland and even the new World of Avatar are extremely detailed. Yes, its true 99% of the guests have no idea who Chester and Hester are, or know that Avatarland takes place 100 years after the movie with new conservation tourism taking root, or the story of the rajahs and the trek. But that commitment to a story is reflected in everything done in the park and creates a unique cohesion seen nowhere else.
I hope you enjoyed this list of all the things that make this park, the best park in the Disney lineup. And why Dave and I have done this blog and the Radio Harambe podcast for years.