Roaring Good Time in Disney's Animal Kingdom
Family travel expert Kate Pocock discovers
this theme park
harkens back to the roots of Walt Disney himself.
It was only after I'd passed under the elephant archway and into
the tropical Oasis, strolled through the Safari Village and came
up against the cracked ochre walls of the Harambe river port, that
I realized that Disney's Animal Kingdom was not a gimmick. This
newest theme park really did have the sounds, the smells and even
the look of Africa. Sure, there were stores along the way selling
Goofy watches. Some of the "trees" on the African savannah were
actually made of concrete and topped with "lazy susan" dinner trays
of acacia shoots and bamboo. And the dinosaur bones that the kids
were digging out of the Texas gritty sand in DinoLand, U.S.A. were
not authentic four thousand-year-old quadrupeds.
But the fact that the 500-acre-site was enlivened with 200 species
of creatures, more than 1000 breathing animals, was proof enough
that the Animal Kingdom moniker was justified. And the setting -
the dusty streets, the cracked walls of the buildings, the open
grasslands savanna, the parading drummers dressed in brilliant robes
- was so reminiscent of parts of Africa that some of the friendly
African cast members were reminded of home. Rather than be turned
off by peeling paint, graffiti written on walls and the animal smells
(where do they put all of that poop?), I was delighted that the
park had not been gussied up and polished to the point of theme
Of course, the kids probably won't notice any of this. Rather,
they'll have a ball traveling from the energetic show of the Festival
of the Lion King to the 3-D "It's Tough to be a Bug" film and on
to an exciting safari journey past elephants and zebras in an open-sided
lorrie. And if they're the type of kid who knows his brontosauri
from his diplodoci and whose idea of an excellent day is to watch
a veterinarian treat a 500-lb Galapagos sea turtle with a stomach
virus, they'll be in heaven.
If you arrive early, just after the gates open at 7 a.m. (and on
some days they open at 6 a.m.), head for the Kilimanjaro Safaris
before the heat lays low the animals who roam the 100 acres of African
savanna. It's the highlight for many visitors. "Fasten your seat
belts. This could be a rough ride," instructed our driver as we
lurched off down a road filled with ruts and rocks. The kids will
love the adventure of trying to stop the "elephant poachers" as
the vehicle races over bridges and swoops past animals before it
comes to a stop in a flooded ditch. Even some of the adults looked
aghast when the guide joked, "Oh no, I knew I should have had this
truck serviced last week." There we were, stuck in water, with wild
animals seemingly all around.
|The Riverboat ride
in Disney’s Wild Animal Kingdom
Photo by Kate Pocock
During one 20-minute safari ride, we came so close to a white rhino
that passengers could reach out and touch its very un-Oil of Olay-treated
skin. One word of caution - because the sides of the trucks are
open and the ride very jerky, younger children should not ride on
Another sure hit with kids is the "It's Tough to be a Bug" film
in the impressive Tree of Life. The audience shrieks with delight
as the Stinkbug lets loose. And if you've got too-cool teens along,
the terrifying Countdown to Extinction ride should shake their attitudes.
Tired parents who want to park themselves under a shady tree should
guide their offspring to the Boneyard in DinoLand U.S.A., where
the kids can enjoy some downtime unearthing dinosaur bones from
a large sand pit. But be warned: the kids may not want to leave.
I kept seeing parents drag their reluctant paleontologists away
from their "dig".
After hours of excitement, it's time to travel on the Wildlife
Express train, with a steam whistle right out of a British mystery
movie, to the very heart of Animal Kingdom - the Conservation Station.
Here, the keepers, dieticians and hospital veterinarians both entertain
and educate. Through large glass windows, kids can watch a wounded
bird being fed with an eyedropper, a chinchilla rolling herself
in a volcanic ash dust bath to clean herself, or someone's misplaced
key chain being surgically removed from the stomach of an unfortunate
parrot. A nursery for baby animals is decorated with, what else
- murals of Bambi and Simba. As for the food preparation, it's massive.
Imagine chopping and dicing three tons of dinner each day.
|Three friendly staffers
greet visitors to the Harambe Village.
Photo by Kate Pocock
Last year, the park added two new attractions: Maharajah Jungle
Trek, where tigers, gibbons and other animals roam freely without
apparent barriers, and Kali River Rapids, a high-speed, white-water
raft trip down a raging river through the rain forest. Next year,
visitors will also be able to see animals from their hotel windows.
The new Animal Kingdom Lodge will recreate the feel of a South African
game reserve lodge and offer views of some 100 grazing animals and
130 birds on the property's private savannah.
In a way, this theme park - the fourth at Walt Disney World in
Orlando and the largest ever constructed - harkens back to the professional
roots of Walt himself. As the creator of the Steamboat Willie cartoon,
with its mouse squeaks and parrot squawks, Disney was the first
to give animated creatures a voice. Before that, the cartoon cats
had never opened their mouths. People thought Disney was crazy when
he decided to make a film on the life cycle of Alaskan seals, with
no human in view. The resulting True-Life Adventure series was a
huge success. For his animated features, he would hunt for the perfect
specimen - a round, furry calico for the animated Lucifer in Cinderella,
for example, and he often brought live animals to the studio, to
pose for the animators on large beds of hay. He loved to travel
and he loved zoos, to the point where when his wife, Lilly, heard
of a proposed trip to Europe, she warned him, "Walt, if you're going
to look at more zoos, I'm not going with you!"
Disappointed that his Magic Kingdom's Jungle Cruise ride couldn't
feature live animals, Disney was furious nevertheless when a ride
operator whizzed a boatload of passengers past the plastic hippos
and parrots. He wanted his guests to get more than a glimpse of
jungle animal life.
Well, Mr. Disney, Animal Kingdom more than makes up for this shortcoming.
Enough lions and tigers and hares. Oh yes! And the setting of far-away
continents to house them all.
Animal Kingdom Details:
In USA or Canada, Phone: 1-407-DISNEY
Canada 3000 Holidays flies direct Toronto to Orlando every day
except Sundays and offer a great deal on Walt Disney World passes
to their passengers. An Unlimited Magic Pass with Disney's Flex
Feature gives four days of fun at the Disney theme parks and attractions
as well as admission to the water parks and one character breakfast;
$340 for adults, $278 for kids three to nine (taxes included). The
Park Hopper Plus Pass for those who are not staying at a WDW resort
offers a five-day or seven-day Park Hopper Plus pass with unlimited
admission to the theme parks and transportation; from $358 for adults
and $291 for kids. For these passes (good until December 15, 2000)
and flights, consult your local travel agent.
Walt Disney World's new FASTPASS system, where families can arrange
visits to the most popular attractions at a specific time (and avoid
the long lineups), are available in Animal Kingdom.
To rendezvous with Mickey, Minnie and Winnie-the-Pooh, head to
Camp Minnie-Mickey. To attend the daily 10 a.m. character breakfast
at the Restaurantasaurus in DinoLand U.S.A., call 417-WDW-DINE;
$14.95 U.S. for a full breakfast, $8.95 for kids ages three to 11.
One-day, one-park admission to Animal Kingdom is US$46 for guests
10 years and older, and US$37 for guests ages 3-9.
Kate Pocock’s "Family Fare" column appears in the Toronto Sun newspaper.
She is also senior editor of Travel & More, magazine for the Air
Miles program in Canada, and recently contributed to National Geographic
's Guide to Family Adventure Vacations.