20 Things We Love About Disney’s Animal Kingdom on Its 20th Anniversary

Animal Kingdom Night
Animal Kingdom Night

AK 20 Anniversary

We here at Disney Addicts get asked quite a lot what our favorite theme park is and we have to admit that we have a special place in our heart for Animal Kingdom.  With an eclectic array of attractions, unrivalled theming and something for everyone from thrill ride enthusiasts to nature lovers you can visit and have a different experience each time you go! To celebrate Animal Kingdom’s 20th Anniversary, we thought we assemble a list of 20 of our favorite things about this magic theme park! So jot down your favorites and be sure to stop here during your next Walt Disney World visit.

Flight of Passage

1.Flight of Passage –  Even if you’ve never seen the Avatar film, most people agree that Avatar Flight of Passage is hands down the coolest ride at Disney just now.  This state-of-the-art flight simulation will have you actually believing that you’re in another world as you soar through the sky, plummet from beautiful floating islands, and soar above amazing ocean creatures.  Consider this space-aged version of Soarin’ one of your summer must-do’s but make sure to get a FastPass if you can as lines are long!

Flame Tree BBQ

2. Flame Tree Barbecue –   A trip to Animal Kingdom just wouldn’t (and shouldn’t) be complete without a visit to Flame Tree BBQ.  Not only does this Quick Service eatery offer an amazing menu filled with smokehouse favorites like BBQ ribs, pulled pork sandwiches, baked beans and jalapeno cornbread, Flame Tree also has a seating area with the most magical views of the Animal Kingdom as you look across the Discovery River toward Expedition Everest.  It may not get you out of the Orlando heat but its a great place to take a deep breath, relax and recharge before heading back out into the throng.

3. Dole Whips with Rum –  For guests heading to Animal Kingdom,  you can now Dole Whips at Tamu Tamu in Africa at the Harambe Marketplace.  On offer is the original Dole Whip cup for $4.49 or 1 snack credit. Unlike Magic Kingdom, Animal Kingdom also serves alcohol and have created a special boozy take on the Dole Whip float.  For $7.00, guests can enjoy their favorite Dole Whip with either a shot of dark rum or coconut rum.  Perfect for those Disney afternoons!

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4. Kilimanjaro Safari – This headlining attraction at Animal Kingdom is definitely not to be missed.  Guests board a safari vehicle and head of into the parks expansive wildlife preserve where you’ll encounter all sorts of amazing animals.  Last year, Disney also started offering an “after dark” version of this attraction and we think its extra special.  During this evening adventure, you’ll be able to observe the nocturnal habits of many of the animals including lions, elephants, hyenas, rhinos and so much more.

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5. Gorilla Falls Exploration Trail-  You’ll find some amazing forest trails and walk-through animal exhibitions at Animal Kingdom but for us, none of them rivals the Gorilla Falls Exploration Trail which you’ll find in Africa. During your trek through the lush and beautiful path you’ll find exotic animals including meerkat, zebras and our favorite and incredible group of western lowland gorillas sprawling on a grassy hillside.  With several viewing locations you could easily spend an hour watching these amazingly beautiful creatures interact and may even be lucky enough to catch feeding time!

AK 20 Anniversary

6.  Festival of the Lion King –  If you only have time to take in one stage show while at Walt Disney World make it Festival of the Lion King.  Combining elements of circus, musical theater and parades,  the production is so rich and vibrant that it’s hard to take it all in. The production takes you through many of the key scenes from The Lion King film with musical highlights including The Circle of Life, Can You Feel the Love Tonight, and I Just Can’t Wait to Be King.  Performances take place several times throughout the day

Tusker House

7. Tusker House – You’ll find this buffet restaurant at the Harambe Marketplace at Animal Kingdom. It consistently ranks as one of our favorite Disney eateries.  Here you’ll find an eclectic array of tasty dishes inspired by the flavors of Africa with a few trusted favorites thrown in for the kids.  What makes this restaurant even more special is that it is considered a character dining experience with guests being visited by Safari Mickey and friends.  Prices here range from $35 – 59 per adult and it will set you back one table service dining credit for those on the meal plan.

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8. Meet Pocahontas – Down by the landing at Discovery Island you’ll be able to meet Pocahontas in a setting inspired by her love of nature.  Be sure to have your autograph books and cameras at the ready.

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9. Kali River Rapids –  Before the advent of Rivers of Light and Pandora – The World of Avatar, Animal Kingdom was closing as early as 5 pm which meant a majority of guests never got to experience this awe-inspiring park under the cover of darkness.  Now open later in the evening there are a fair share of attractions at Animal Kingdom that are nighttime must-dos.  Kali River Rapids definitely falls into this category.  I typically recommend that guests (who don’t want to walk around in soggy sneakers) save this attraction until the end of the day because you will definitely get wet.  The lighting surrounding Kali after the dark certainly lends itself to the sense of adventure! With the route hard to discern at night, you never really know what dip, plunge or waterfall awaits you next.

AK 20th Anniversary

10. Amazing Street Performances –  For those willing to take the time to slow down and really enjoy the sights and sounds of Animal Kingdom you’ll be amazed at the incredible under-the-radar entertainment you’ll find throughout the day.  Two of our favorites are the Tam Tam Drummers of Harambe which will definitely have you dancing to the beat as well as Burudika who performs sing-along Afro-pop versions of songs like “You Can Call Me Al” and “Iko Iko”.  The band also will jump at the chance to show you their African style dance moves.  These street parties are wonderful and have the ability to magically transport you to another land.

AK 20th Anniversary

11. Rivers of Light – This beautiful and tranquil evening show will wow visitors with dazzling special effects, gorgeous water projections and theatrical storytelling that celebrates the beauty of all living things.  Performances typically take place twice an evening and FastPass and Dining Packages are available for those who don’t feel like scurrying for seats.  Though this evening offering may lack some of the over-the-top elements of the nighttime shows at the other theme parks, it is a whimsical and wonderfully relaxing way to end your theme park days.

AK 20 Anniversary

12. Satu’li Canteen – This Pandora Quick Service eatery is located between Avatar Flight of Passage and the Na’vi River Journey. Travelers can tuck inside this Quonset-hut structure, for a taste of Pandora’s riches.  The interior has been transformed with colorful Na’vi items inspired by the film  Avatar such as hand-woven tapestries, cooking tools, and natural Pandorean elements. The food is also nothing short of eclectic, from steamed vegetable pod to a blueberry cheesecake that is an edible work of art.  Like everything in Pandora, dining here is a pretty immersive experience.

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13. Tree of Life – We’ve now been to Animal Kingdom countless times and have to say that the first glimpse of the Tree of Life during each visit still has the ability to make us weepy.  This towering structure is made of wonderfully intricate carvings of animals and we guarantee that no matter how many times you look at it you’ll see something different every visit.

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14. Rope Drop – Speaking of weepy, Animal Kingdom does a wonderful early morning welcome.  The park typically starts letting guests in somewhere between 8 – 8:30 depending on the season and visitors are able to congregate in front of the Tree of Life on Discovery Island.  Just before the park officially opens at 9am, the many feathered friends that call Animal Kingdom home, will give Disney visitors a morning welcome that is so beautiful it just might bring a tear to your eye!  I think it’s definitely worth experiencing.

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15. Wilderness Explorers – Disney’s Animal Kingdom offers many unique opportunities to learn about animals, cultures, and conservation.  For an educational way to approach the parks, look no further than the Wilderness Explorers experience. Pick up your Wilderness Explorer Handbook at Discovery Island and take your little ones on 30 different challenges that will teach them about the animals and the park’s culturally rich environment. Each challenge is led by a Cast Member (aka troop leaders) that will hand out badges as each task is completed.  Kids will learn fantastic little facts that they can share with their classmates upon their return.  The handbook also makes a nice souvenir and can be a great talking point for class presentations.

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16.  Expedition Everest – Pay a visit to the Himalayas in search of the elusive Yeti during this thrilling Animal Kingdom coaster ride.  From the  queue to the mountain itself, guests will be wowed by the amazing details that went into the planning of Expedition Everest really conveying the feeling of being in Southeast Asia. The view from the top of the mountain also offers beautiful views of Animal Kingdom, Epcot and Hollywood Studios.


17. It’s Tough To Be A Bug – Its Tough to Be a Bug –  This 3-D show takes place in a theater that is actually housed in the base of the iconic Tree of Life.  The perfect afternoon show,  visitors young and old will learn about the neat characteristics and habits of many of our tiny insect friends. There’s also some fantastic 4-day elements to the production which will have guests squealing with delight.

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18. Discovery Island Trails – One of the things that we love most about Animal Kingdom is that you can be in the middle of a bustling park and still have your own quite adventure with nature. Discovery Island Trails are the incredible gardens surrounding the Tree of Life. This area is brimming with plants and trees.  You’ll also find a wide range of wildlife including storks, cranes, kangaroos, flamingoes, lemurs and so much more.  Be sure to take some time and explore these paths during your next Animal Kingdom visit.

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19. UP! A Great Bird Adventure – Animal Kingdom’s latest stage show makes it’s debut today (April 22nd) and boy are we excited.  UP! A Great Bird Adventure will feature Russell and Dug from the Disney•Pixar animated film “UP.” The show will give guests the chance to see Russell and Dug set off on an adventure that includes encounters with exotic birds from around the world.  The show will take place multiple times daily. Visitors should consult the Times Guide upon arriving at the park for an up-to-date schedule.

20. The nightly awakening of the Tree of Life.- As the sun sets watch this massive Disney landmark come to life complete with animal spirits and fireflies in a series of colorful, enchanting and wonderful stories that need to be seen to be believed.

These are just a handful of the countless reasons why we think that Animal Kingdom is one of Disney’s best theme parks.  Here’s to another incredible 20 years!

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