When you think of Disney’s Animal Kingdom, you probably think of the Kilimanjaro safari ride. Yes, it’s a great way to spot everything from antelopes to zebras, but it’s not the only way to have close animal encounters. As a local, I often visit the park just to stroll around check out the various habitats. They’re rarely crowded, except on the busiest days, because many people don’t know about some of the best places to see the animals. Here are my favorites:
Walking Trails: Disney’s Animal Kingdom has two walking trails, the Pangani Forest Exploration Trail and Maharajah Jungle Trek, that take you past a wide variety of animal habitats where you’ll see meerkats, hippos, gibbons, naked mole rats, and many other creatures. The silver back gorillas are the highlight of the Pangani trail, while tigers are the stars of the jungle trek. If you’re lucky, you might see the striped cats swimming in their water hole or witness a baby gorilla riding on Mom’s back. On most mornings, I visit the trails early in the day. There are very few other people there, since most haven’t found them yet. On busy days, I do the rides first and walk the trails once the lines get long. Even when they’re crowded, you see them at your pace, so you can linger until other people go by and get up close to the fences and windows.
Park Pathways: This theme park is designed to immerse you in a jungle-like environment, and the Imagineers placed animal habitats along many of the park pathways. This is especially true of the area at the front of the park, where you enter and exit along right- and left-hand walkways. Don’t just rush in or out with your eyes straight ahead and your mind set on getting to Expedition Everest as quickly as possible. Slow down, look around, and enjoy the variety of creatures that live along the path. I like to go down the left-hand path when I arrive at the park, since most people automatically head right. Check out the other path later, since there are animals on both sides.
Affection Section: The Affection Section is a petting zoo with conventional critters like sheep, goats, cows, and llamas. Kids can pet and brush all the animals here. You have to take the Wildlife Express Train to see these animals, so I like to head out to this part of the park early, before the train line gets long.
Flights of Wonder Show: Flights of Wonder is an educational animal show featuring familiar birds, like macaws and cranes, and more exotic species, like the red-legged seriema or the Harris hawk. The animals show off their natural behaviors and talents during the performance. Check your park map for daily show times. I like to do a later show on busy days when the ride lines are long. It feels good to be out of the crowd and to sit for a while.
Kilimanjaro Safaris: Even with the other animal-spotting opportunities, this is still the most popular. You board a jeep and go out on safari on a simulated African savannah. I try to hit this ride first thing in the morning, as the animals have large habitats with shady hiding spots where they take refuge from the afternoon heat. On a cool day, I often have luck seeing a variety of wildlife all day long. Some animals are easy to spot, like the elephants, giraffes, rhinos, and a variety of hoofed creatures that often walk right up to the safari vehicles. Others, like the cheetahs and lions, like to blend into their surroundings.
Seek out all the animals that live in this richly-themed Disney park and visit all the habitats, using my tips from a local. You’ll be rewarded with wonderful sights and photo opportunities.