Florida: Walt Disney’s Animal Kingdom

When I was 10, my Aunt won a Safari Trip in a photography competition. When she and my uncle arrived home they brought us souvenirs. I was given a necklace featuring “The Big 5” (Lion, Leopard, Rhinoceros, Elephant and Buffalo). I’ve never worn it but the symbolism is something that has always stayed with me: You are an exceptionally lucky person if you get to view The Big Five (or any endangered creature) in the wild.

Not long after I got my necklace, Walt Disney World announced it was opening Animal Kingdom. I knew I might not ever get the chance to experience the real thing, but a Disney safari seemed like the next best thing to 10-year-old me.

Fast forward a couple of decades and (through hard work and some very good fortune) I found myself in Florida on a work trip. So as you can imagine, Animal Kingdom was the first park I wanted to visit.

I made a beeline for “Kilimanjaro Safaris” as soon as we were through the park gates.

I have to be honest, visiting as a 30-something, the safari area was a little smaller than my childhood memory had led me to believe, but of course I was much smaller back then…

Some animal rights campaigners don’t support zoos, for obvious reasons (lack of space, enrichment, animal welfare, etc) but most reputable keepers of big game will off-set that by directing some of their profits toward conservation. I also think parks such as this have a vital role to play in educating children and adults alike about the magic of the natural world and the need to protect and conserve it.

Looking at the wildlife documentaries and films available on Disney+ it certainly feels like this attraction is more than just an amusement park to the corporation. For honesty’s sake though I will say it would have been nice to see some more mental enrichment in this area of the park (which wasn’t overly large).

These guys in particular seemed a bit bored of their enclosure…

The safari itself is certainly educational and there are other resources dotted around for visitors too.

I had to share this as (being tall) I have a certain affinity with the Giraffe.

Back out in the main park there’s colour and life, everywhere you look. It’s classic Disneyland and makes you feel like you are wandering through one of their live-action remakes.

The street acts were just as impressive as the rides and attractions too.

Everest is a ride with a twist. I loved every second on that runaway cart.

We saved the best for last though. The Avatar Flight of Passage is billed as an immersive 3D ride through the world of Pandora (from James Cameron’s Avatar). Personally, I would have described it as 4D. It’s the best theme park ride I have been on to date. It’s that good. Get there early because naturally, everyone wants to ride the Banshee!

Visiting in February (2019) meant that nightfall came early so we finished our day with the Rivers of Light show on the lagoon.

Maybe it was the magic of Disney, or maybe it was the jet lag, but I found this show and it’s message very moving. Visually, it was stunning, and a real feat of aquatic engineering.

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