Pandora: The World of Avatad
Rafiki’s Planet Watch
Disney’s Animal Kingdom is perhaps the most immersive theme park at Walt Disney World. The park, previously billed as “nahtazu” (pronounced Not-a-Zoo), is more than just it’s animal exhibits, combining adventure, story, and thrilling attractions to provide a well-rounded experience.
The theme park is made up of seven distinct lands: the Oasis, Discovery Island, Africa, Asia, Dinoland USA, Rafiki’s Planet Watch, and soon to be Pandora. All of which are surrounding the Tree of Life, the park’s icon. Each land is meticulously detailed, and while not recreating any specific cities or towns, the intricately detailed lands make you feel like you have left Central Florida and are traveling the world. The trails in Africa and Asia will bring you close to animals native to those parts of the world. Expedition Everest in Asia will keep any thrill-seeker entertained. The park is also home to two of the best stage shows at Walt Disney World in Festival of the Lion King and Finding Nemo: The Musical. Animal Kingdom also gives Epcot a run for its money in the dining category with restaurants like Tiffins, Flame Tree Barbeque, and the Nomad Lounge.
While the park has traditionally been known as a daytime park throughout most of its existence. During the Summer of 2016, the park began staying open later new attractions like the Tree of Life Awakenings, which breathes new life into the park’s icon, more nighttime entertainment throughout the park. The Kilimanjaro Safari also stays open into the night hours now.
Disney’s Animal Kingdom is also involved in conservation efforts for many of the animal species at the park including Rhinos, Elephants, and Gorillas. There are also researchers that work at the park studying the animals. Animal Kingdom has also had many births at the park over the years, including welcoming baby Giraffes, Elephants, Gorillas, Rhinos, Warthogs, and many others.
Disney’s Animal Kingdom opened on Earth Day, April 22, 1998, as the fourth and most recent theme park to open at Walt Disney World. Creating this park was a massive undertaking for Imagineers as it’s the largest theme park in the world at over 500 acres. Imagineers, led by Joe Rohde, traveled the world seeking inspiration for the park and to be able to design an immersive environment that’s as realistic as possible. Some of the Imagineers travels and research are documented in the artwork in Tiffins on Discovery Island.
Many people might not realize it, but the Animal Kingdom was supposed to have an additional land when it opened in 1998, Beastly Kingdom. It would have been home to mythical creatures such as dragons and unicorns, but was a late cut from the park due to budget constrictions. The land was replaced by Camp Minnie-Mickey which closed in early 2014 to make room for Pandora. There are still references to the land that can be found at the park, including the Dragon in the park’s logo and the Unicorn parking lot. There is also a Dragon head decorating one of the ticket booths at the park entrance.
Besides operating as a theme park, Animal Kingdom is accredited by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA), which means they have met the standards in animal care initiatives, education and conservation programs.
When the park opened in 1998 Disney CEO Michael Eisner was on had to deliver the dedication, “Welcome to a kingdom of animals… real, ancient and imagined: a kingdom ruled by lions, dinosaurs and dragons; a kingdom of balance, harmony and survival; a kingdom we enter to share in the wonder, gaze at the beauty, thrill at the drama, and learn”