Disney's Animal Kingdom
Disney's Animal Kingdom Logo


Lake Buena Vista, Florida, USA




Walt Disney Company


500 Acres (202.3 hectares)

Disney's Animal Kingdom is an amusement park located in Lake Buena Vista, Florida. It is one of four parks that make up Walt Disney World. The park has a focus on shows, animal viewings, and scenery. However, there are currently three roller coasters.


Already an entertainment master, Walt Disney wanted to expand the Disney name further. He accomplished this by opening Disneyland, a one-of-a-kind park in Anaheim, California in 1955. The park was divided into different themed lands to create the theme park environment. The park was a huge success, more so than Walt ever dreamed. It continued to grow but the growth was limited by the small amount of land the park sat on. Walt was determined a way to fix this.

The search for a new resort location began only four years after the opening of Disneyland. Initially a population survey was conducted to see where the best area of the United States would be to build this new resort. Early on, Walt decided that he wanted it to be located on the eastern end of the Mississippi River where the majority of the U.S. population was located. Many sites were flown over, but eventually land just outside Orlando, Florida was chosen. At the time it was mostly swampland but Walt favored the location due to its close proximity to major Florida highways and a nearby airport.

This time around Walt made sure that his new project would have plenty of leg room to avoid the “neon jungle” that had sprung up just outside the borders of Disneyland. Due to the area’s minimal usage the land rates were low, but they would have been jacked up if the owner found out who was buying the property. To avoid this, fake companies were invented to buy the land separately although they were all actually Walt Disney Company employees. The first land was bought in October 1964 by the Ayefour Corporation which is a gag on Interstate 4 which runs just outside of Walt Disney World. Land was bought by these fake companies for the cheap price of about $185 per acre.

This went on for a year before the information was leaked. Fortunately by this time most of the land had been bought. The prices spiked to a whopping $80,000 per acre. Soon after the incident Walt held a press conference to explain the new project. The Magic Kingdom was revealed along with EPCOT, the Experimental Prototype Community Of Tomorrow. Walt’s vision was a futuristic city where people lived and worked, however the plans would dramatically change after Walt’s death. The company had purchased so much land that their own district was formed, entitled Reedy Creek Improvement District. This allowed Disney to have their own “government” and weren't under the control of anyone but themselves. Later on two new cities would be formed, both within the Walt Disney World property. They were the City of Bay Lake and the City of Lake Buena Vista both named after artificial lakes constructed by Disney on the property.

On December 15, 1966 a wrench was thrown in the project and brought about the end of an era. Walter Elias Disney died of lung cancer at the age of sixty-five, five years before his Florida project would be completed. Roy Disney, his brother, canceled his retirement and went on to lead the project until its opening. In memory of his brother Roy officially gave the resort its name, Walt Disney World. Despite Walt’s death, construction officially began in 1967.

The Magic Kingdom was the complex’s first theme park and the only to open on the resort’s opening day, October 1, 1971. It featured a very similar layout to the original Disneyland, with some unique ideas to call its own. A system of utility corridors, coined utilidors, were made for cast members to get around the park without guests seeing them. Since nothing can be built very far underground in Florida these utilidors were built at ground level. The Magic Kingdom was then constructed on top of these, so the Magic Kingdom is actually built about twenty feet above sea level. When the property was bought, the only body of water on site was Bay Lake. Just next to it the 172 acre Seven Seas Lagoon was constructed by Disney. After it was filled over 70,000 fish were added.

For opening day, the Magic Kingdom would have a total of twenty-three attractions and six themed lands. Of the fairly small number of attractions, twenty were copies of rides at Disneyland and only three were brand new, unique rides. It was a similar situation with the lands; five were from Disneyland and only one was new, Liberty Square. The park would expand rapidly over the next few years as guests continued to pour in. Things slowed down a bit as 1980 neared however, as a new construction project was underway.

The slow development of the late seventies was due to the planning and construction of EPCOT Center, Walt Disney World’s second theme park. However, Walt Disney himself had not intended for EPCOT to be a theme park. It was originally designed as an Experimental Prototype Community Of Tomorrow (EPCOT). It would be an actual functioning city and was supposed to be the headline attraction of the entire Walt Disney World Resort. From the beginning Walt had a hard time convincing everyone else the idea would work. When Walt died, the original idea for EPCOT went to the grave with him.

Originally Walt Disney Imagineers were designing two separate theme park models, one of which focused on different nations of the world. The other was like a permanent World’s Fair, and explored all the ideas of the future. One day someone pushed the two models together, and EPCOT as we know it was created. When EPCOT Center was built it was the largest Disney theme park on Earth and would remain so until Disney’s Animal Kingdom in 1998. The plans for EPCOT Center were revealed to the public in 1978, four years before the park would open. Like Cinderella Castle at the Magic Kingdom, the park needed an icon. Spaceship Earth was decided on and designed with the help of Ray Bradbury, a science fiction author. At the time, the construction of EPCOT Center was the largest construction project on Earth.

The park opened in 1982 and was divided into two main sections, Future World and World Showcase. Future World consisted of multiple pavilions each exploring something different, and was sponsored by a different real-life corporation. World Showcase allowed guests to become world travelers in a just a few short hours, with pavilions hosted by a variety of countries from around the globe.Amidst all of the changes being undergone at the Walt Disney World Resort, a new man stepped into the CEO position of the Walt Disney Company in 1984. When Michael Eisner first took control of the company, the parks progressed the same way as they had previously, with no noticeable difference from the change in management. However, this would drastically change beginning in the late 80s and continuing until his resignation. EPCOT Center was continually growing, and Disney executives requested two new pavilions to be drawn up for the park. One of these was Wonders of Life which would go on to open in 1989 in Future World. The second, called the Great Movie Ride pavilion was to explore the history and magic of the movies. Eventually, this idea would morph into the third Walt Disney World theme park, the Disney MGM Studios (now Disney's Hollywood Studios).

As competitor Universal Studios came on to the Central Florida theme park scene, Disney began a hotel-building craze in an attempt to keep guest on Disney property. Two new resort hotels opened at the far end of the Walt Disney World property in 1994 and 1995. Disney’s All-Star Sports became Walt Disney World’s first value resort. This large hotel contains approximately 1,900 rooms spread out over five brightly colored buildings with the following themes: football, basketball, baseball, surfing and tennis.

The next year, Disney’s All-Star Music Resort opened as the sister to the previous year’s All-Star Sports. Like its sister hotel, All-Star Music features five different sub-themes; Calypso, Jazz, Rock, Country, and Broadway. Compared to all the other hotels then open at the Walt Disney World Resort, the two All-Star Resorts were located the farthest away from any theme park. The reason for this soon became clear, as in 1995 Walt Disney World announced their fourth theme park, Disney’s Animal Kingdom. The park was set to open sometime before 2000.

On April 22, 1998 Disney’s Animal Kingdom officially became Walt Disney World’s fourth theme park. At the dedication Michal Eisner proclaimed, “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.” Something along the lines of Disney’s Animal Kingdom had been something Walt himself envisioned in the distant future.

The park opened with six themed area spread out over 500 acres, which makes Disney’s Animal Kingdom the largest Disney theme park in the world. In fact, Kilimanjaro Safaris is larger than the entire Magic Kingdom. The first land of the park which acts as the entrance area is the Oasis. Immediately after the entrance gates is Walt Disney World Resort’s second Rainforest Café, the first being in the Marketplace of Downtown Disney. Throughout this area are multiple animal exhibits including giant anteaters, ducks, turtles, deer and more. Once through the Oasis, the path opens up to Discovery Island which acts as the hub of the park. In the heart of this land is the park’s icon, The Tree of Life.

This massive man-made tree stands at 145 feet and is carved with more than 300 different animals. The icon was created using steel, and actually houses an attraction. It’s Tough to be a Bug! is a 3-D movie attraction based on Disney-Pixar’s A Bug’s Life. During this nine minute film, Flik shows guests why bugs should be seen as friendly and that their life is much more difficult than it seems. The show is a comedy geared towards younger crowds, but has fun surprises that can be enjoyed by all ages.

To the southwest is Camp Minnie-Mickey. This is the area that is most familiar to younger visitors as it features more recognizable Disney characters than anywhere else in the park. While there are no rides in this area, there are four character greeting spots and two shows. The two shows are Pocahontas and Her Forest Friends and Festival of the Lion King. As one would expect, the former features Pocahontas and other characters from the Disney animated film. Festival of the Lion King is the more popular of the two shows and is more upbeat and wild than Pocahontas’. The show is made up of many songs from the 1994 feature film, and also features acrobats, dancers and even some parade floats.

Found to the northwest is Africa. The land is set in the fictional African village of Harambe. This massive land features what is arguably the park’s flagship attraction; Kilimanjaro Safaris. Guests board trucks that seat about twenty people, and then embark on the nearly twenty minute attraction. Along the way, riders will see many of the hundreds of animals who live on central Florida’s only savanna. Elephants, giraffes, flamingos, rhinos, gazelles, crocodiles, hippos, lions and cheetahs are among those animals. Imagineers go as far as to say it is even better than an actual African safari because in that scenario it would be rare to see as many different species as one will see on Kilimanjaro Safaris. Also in Africa is the Pangani Forest Exploration Trail, which as the name implies is a trail that passes by many animal exhibits and is nearly a half mile in length. The highlight of this attraction is a close up encounter with a group of gorillas. There are also many rodents, reptiles, exotic birds and fish as well as an underwater hippo viewing area.

To the north of Discovery Island is Rafiki’s Planet Watch. This is a very educational area of the park, and is accessible only by the Wildlife Express Train. On the way, the train passes by a few animal exhibits and even some backstage areas where animals go to get a break from being viewed by the public. Once at Rafiki’s Planet Watch, there are three exhibits/attractions. At Habitat Habit! guests learn about endangered animals and how everyone can help to make sure these animals survive. Affection Section is basically a petting zoo that features pigs, sheep, goats, llamas and chickens. The largest of the three is Conservation Station. Conservation Station is where Disney promotes wildlife conservation and takes care of any sick animals. There is a window that shows a fully functional doctor’s room for animals.

The final section Disney’s Animal Kingdom opened with is DinoLand U.S.A. At the main entrance to DinoLand U.S.A. is The Boneyard which is a large playground mainly designed for younger children. Undoubtedly the most popular attraction here was Countdown to Extinction, now named DINOSAUR. DINOSAUR is an intense dark ride using state-of-the-art ride vehicles that move and bounce simulating rough terrain. The vehicles are known as Time Rovers and are owned by the fictional Dino Institute. The rider’s mission is to go back to right before a huge comet hit Earth and wiped out the dinosaurs to bring back an Iguanodon for research. As it gets closer to impact time, the dinosaur encounters become more and more intense, concluding with a dangerous meeting with a huge carnivore. Also found in DinoLand U.S.A. was Tarzan Rocks!, an acrobatics show synchronized to upbeat jungle music.

Disney’s Animal Kingdom did not open without controversy. Many environmentalist groups including PETA were very opposed to Disney having animals in captivity. They went as far as trying to convince travel agents not to book trips to the park, and on opening day about two dozen protesters showed up. To counter these complaints, Disney stated that for consideration of the animals, it is the only Disney theme park without a fireworks show, and closes considerably earlier than the other parks on property, usually about an hour before dusk, and even as early as 4:00. On top of that, many animals are switched out of the safari and other exhibits to backstage areas so they don’t get too stressed from being around thousands of people.

Like the Disney M.G.M. Studios before it, Disney’s Animal Kingdom opened with few major attractions, especially in comparison to parks like the Magic Kingdom. Originally, another major area had been planned, to be known as the Beastly Kingdom. It would feature mythical animals such as dragons and unicorns, and was even set to have an intense roller coaster. However, the budget soon became too large and the Beastly Kingdom was cut from initial park plans. Camp Minnie-Mickey replaced it as a temporary land, although it still stands today more than a decade after the park opened. Rumors of the project being revitalized come up every once in a while, although there has been no official announcement from the Disney company.

In 1999, the third and final All-Star Resort opened, completing the trio. Disney’s All-Star Movies was very similar to its sister hotels, in that it was a value resort with five different themed buildings; 101 Dalmatians, Fantasia, Toy Story, Herbie: The Love Bug and The Mighty Ducks. The end of the twentieth century was when the Disney hotel building craze finally began to slow down. While there would still be new hotels added, they opened far less frequently and many were expansions to existing resorts.

Just before the new millennium, Disney announced a breakthrough feature that would soon spread to many other parks around the world. Disney’s FASTPASS, which premiered in 1999, would allow guests to skip the line for some of the most popular attractions in each park. The system is free, and easy to use. Guests simply insert their admission ticket at the respective FASTPASS station for the attraction they desire. After a moment or two, a new ticket comes out at the bottom with the attraction’s name on it, and a one-hour time span, such as 1:00-2:00. After taking back their admission ticket, guests simply return during the given time to that attraction, present their ticket to a cast member, and cut a large portion of the line, drastically reducing the wait. This was one of the most successful ideas introduced by Walt Disney World, and continues to be one of the most popular services available at Disney theme parks worldwide.

In 1999, a large addition came to Disney’s Animal Kingdom. Unable to be ready for opening day in 1998, the Asia section of the park opened a year later. Flights of Wonder allows guests to interact with a bird trainer who handles multiple different species of birds, such as cranes, bald eagles, hawks and vultures. The Maharajah Jungle Trek is another walking trail, similar to the Pangani Forest Exploration Trail. On this trail guests will see deer, tigers, bats, snakes, antelope, peacocks and more. However, the largest and most popular attraction here was Kali River Rapids. Kali River Rapids takes guests on a trip through a rain forest in Nepal. Guests first are able to see the beauty and importance of the rain forest, but then witness the destruction caused by humans, all while getting soaking wet. The conclusion of this ride is a thirty foot drop, which is quite large for a rapids ride.

And with that, what had been known as the Disney Decade was over. Some of the highlights of the successful decade were Disney’s Animal Kingdom, Blizzard Beach, a plethora of hotels, dozens of new attractions and the innovative FASTPASS system. It was arguably the most expansive period in the resort’s history, and changed the map of Walt Disney World forever. The first year of the new millennium however, saw relatively few changes to the overall resort.

2001 saw the opening of Disney’s first new hotel of the new millennium, Disney’s Animal Kingdom Lodge. This deluxe hotel features more than thirteen hundred rooms and suites. It is divided up into four areas, the Kudo Trail, Giraffe Trail, Zebra Trail and Ostrich Trail. Most of the rooms offer balconies, and all of the rooms overlook a savanna home to many African animals. Hotel guests can go on special tours, similar to Kilimanjaro Safaris at Disney’s Animal Kingdom. The hotel bears many similarities to Disney’s Wilderness Lodge because they were designed by the same architect.

2005 brought another celebration to Disney parks worldwide. The Happiest Celebration on Earth was initiated to spread the festivities over Disneyland’s fiftieth anniversary. At Walt Disney World, each of the four theme parks received a new attraction from Disney parks around the world, along with updates and improvements to various existing rides. While it seemed on first blush that Animal Kingdom got the short straw in this deal, their new "addition" being a park roving, audio-animatronic dinosaur, big things were on the horizon.

Disney’s Animal Kingdom received two new attractions in 2006 as part of its ongoing expansion to increase its number of attractions. Finding Nemo- The Musical debuted in November 2006, taking the place of Tarzan Rocks. The largest addition of 2006 in the Walt Disney World Resort though was Expedition Everst. The park’s second roller coaster, Expedition Everest focuses on the myth of the Yeti and is located in the Asia section of Disney’s Animal Kingdom. This Vekoma-developed coaster reaches a height of 112 feet and tops out at fifty miles per hour. However, the structure where a large portion of Expedition Everest takes place is far larger. This model of Mt. Everest is 199.5 feet tall, making it the tallest attraction at Walt Disney World. The building is six inches below the maximum height mandated by the local government, where if it was higher, a flashing light would have to be placed on the structure due to its proximity to Orlando International Airport.

Expedition Everest is unique in that the ride goes both forwards and backwards. The backwards section takes place in total darkness and is completely different from the forwards section. In order to design and build this attraction, Disney Imagineers spent six years researching the myth of the Yeti and the culture of Nepal. This included many visits to the region. The queue line is highly themed and much of it is set in a museum dedicated to the legend of the Yeti. The Yeti itself is seen by riders at the end of the ride, and according to Disney, is one of the most complex and largest audio-animatronics ever built by the company. The Yeti stands twenty-two feet tall and can move five feet horizontally as well as two feet vertically. Unfortunately, the extreme forces generated by this mechanical behemoth have cause it to become stationary in recent years.

The Walt Disney World Resort has surpassed anything Walt Disney himself could ever have dreamed of. Encompassing four theme parks, two water parks, an entertainment complex, multiple golf courses, a massive sports arena, more than twenty hotels, and more, Walt Disney World is the largest theme park resort on Earth. With many announced additions and many more secretive additions waiting to be unveiled, the resort will only continue to grow, and make dreams come true.

Present Roller Coasters (3)Edit

Name Manufacturer Type Opened Status
Expedition Everest Vekoma Mine Train 2006 Open
Primeval Whirl (Track 1) Reverchon Spinning 2002 Open
Primeval Whirl (Track 2) Reverchon Spinning 2002 Open

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