Visit the African Savannah
1. Kilimanjaro Safaris
Kilimanjaro Safaris takes visitors to Disney's Animal Kingdom out and about on the African Savannah for up close, photo-inspiring encounters with dozens of exotic species found in the real African Savannah setting.
Encompassing about 100 acres of Animal Kingdom's grand total of 500 acres, Kilimanjaro Safaris is by far the largest attraction in the largest Disney World park - making it the largest Disney World attraction.
Driven by Disney cast members, the open air ride vehicles are reminiscent of vehicles you might find roaming the actual Savannah. Besides doing the driving, the cast members are also storytellers as the ride follows a loose (mostly forgettable) storyline.
Ride vehicles hold 32 guests. Groups of 3-5 guests can squeeze in together on a single row.
Most guests focus on animal spotting and picture taking. With 100-acres to cover in just a few minutes, the ride vehicles must continuously move along at a pretty good clip. There is no chance for vehicle drivers to linger.
A long list of animals calls Kilimanjaro Safaris home. On most days, especially early when the animals are most active, guests have a great chance at seeing more that 20 species including Rhino, Cheetah, Crocodile, Elephant, Giraffe, Hippopotamus, Lion, Warthog, Wildebeest and Zebra.
Nothing like a typical zoo, the design of the attraction makes barriers between dangerous animals, the ride vehicles and incompatible species entirely inconspicuous. This design feature makes the environment feel more natural and realistic.
As the day-to-day, visit-to-visit availability and activity level of the animals is somewhat unpredictable, Kilimanjaro Safaris is one of those rides that is a bit different each time you go - adding to the attraction's popularity and ultimately putting it on top of our list.
The Forbidden Mountain
2. Expedition Everest
Animal Kingdom's only roller coaster, Expedition Everest, brings Disney World a fresh take on the roller coaster genre.
The mountain itself is not actually a representation of world-famous Mount Everest, but is known as the fictitious Forbidden Mountain. The backstory is that the coaster train is providing transportation for an expedition TO Everest by way of this imaginary, Yeti-dominated mountain.
Expedition Everest does not have any loops or inversions - what makes it most interesting as a thrill ride is that:
- it speeds (up to 50 mph) riders in, out and around the 200 ft high mountain. During the day, the effect of alternating light and dark brings extra energy to the attraction.
- it includes a high speed encounter with a menacing, swooping 22 foot Yeti.
- during the ride, the coaster stops, reverses course and slides backwards at high speed taking riders from light into near darkness before again returning to forward motion and continuing back outside the mountain for the grand final plunge back towards base camp.
As is standard throughout Disney World, the detailed theming from the queuing area and throughout the ride is amazing. The elaborate displays that line the queue tell an entire story that sets the backdrop for the ride. The 2011 Guinness Book of Records listed Expedition Everest as the most expensive coaster construction in the world.
The views from the coaster during the first lift up to the mountain are some of the most spectacular available from any Disney World ride. If the mountain were real, it would be the second highest point in Florida!
Exotic Animals Up Close
3. Maharajah Jungle Trek
The Maharajah Jungle Trek is an enjoyable, relaxing, self-guided walking tour through a south Asia-themed animal habitat. Trekkers have the opportunity to observe dozens of exotic animals including:
- Komodo dragon - world’s largest lizard
- Malayan tapir - half black, half white animal
- Rodrigues fruit bat
- Malayan flying fox bat
- Blood python - giant snake
- Bengal tiger - magnificent striped large cat
- Eld's deer
- Green peafowl
- Bar-headed goose
- plus dozens of other types of exotic birds
The well manicured tropical grounds along this tour add to the enjoyment. Fragrant honeysuckle and jasmine abound. Alongside the animals, guests wind their way through well-executed murals, ruins and waterfalls set in the theme of the fictional Royal Anandapur Forest.
One of the highlights of the tour is the Asian tiger paddock. Here, guests have six different viewing areas from which to observe the often-active cats. Tip: the tigers tend to be more active in the morning prior to settling down during the heat of the day.
Touring note: The Maharajah Jungle Trek opens 30 minutes after regular opening of the park.
The entrance to the Maharajah Jungle Trek is located in Asia tucked in past the entrance for Kali river Rapids.
Frenetic Trip to the Cretaceous
Climb aboard the six-seater CTX Time Rover, one of Disney’s most complex ride vehicles, for a frenetic trip back in time - some 65 million years to the Cretaceous age of DINOSAUR.
The mission is to capture a friendly dinosaur, an Iguanadon, without being devoured by the giant, carnivorous Carnotaurus.
DINOSAUR uses a pre-show briefing towards the end of the queue where guests are given the details of the story.
After the pre- show, riders head down to the underground CTX Time Rover loading area. Once in the vehicles, which resemble flattened Hummers, guests are whisked away back in time just moments before the dino extinction-causing meteor is set to hit - to rescue the Iguanadon from extinction.
In this dark and fairly loud ride, the CTX Time Rovers jolt back in time through the Time Tunnel and subsequently hurtle around a course filled with impressive animatronic dinosaurs. Quickly, an ear-blowing encounter with the feared Carnotaurus occurs. A chase (somewhat reminiscent of the famous chase seen in Jurassic Park the movie) and an ultimate, nick-of-time escape ensues.
The CTX Time Rover vehicles are responsible for most of the gyrations felt be guest during the ride. The vehicle can buffet up, down, side-to-side from corner to corner to give the impression of extremely rough terrain when, in fact, the actual track is smooth - its the ride vehicles that create all the movement.
In the end, the Time Rovers return guests through the Time Tunnel along with the target Iguanadon.
All in all, the vehicle’s range of movement combined with the light and sound show in the darkened arena make for a brisk wake-me-up type of ride.
This attraction is only very loosely integrated with Dinosaur the movie. The ride existed well before the movie and was superficially adapted to include a few elements of the movie - namely the Iguanadon was made to be Aladar, the title character from the movie.
The darkness and loud noise on the ride may frighten younger children. As the name implies, DINOSAUR! is tucked in the south corner of Animal Kingdom’s DinoLand USA section.
A Bugs Eye View of the World
5. It's Tough to be a Bug!
It’s Tough to be a Bug! is a humorous, whimsical 3D movie and multimedia experience based on the Disney/Pixar movie A Bugs Life. It’s essentially what other theme parks often refer to as 4D where, in addition to the 3D movie, many tactile events occur during the show that help add the extra dimension to the proceedings.
Water nozzles, air jets and fans deliver liquid and wind effects on the audience throughout the show. At one point, specially designed seats add a sensation of bugs moving throughout the the theater. Altogether, It’s Tough to be a Bug! excites not only the senses of sight and hearing, but also touch and even smell as well.
Hosted by a giant animatronic Ant named Flik, the show transports audience members down into the world of bugs. Wearing giant oversized bug-eyed 3D glasses, audience members even begin to resemble bugs.
Hopper, the villain of the show, is one of the most complex animatronic characters ever created by Disney. The shear number of moving parts (he has over 70 movement functions) and their collective range of motion is an impressive feat of Imagineering that makes Hopper a vibrant part of the show.
As your host, Flik begins the show by introducing the audience to a few of his acquaintances. Needless to say, each brings his own eccentricity that is played out in 4D for the audience.
Things heat up when confrontation ensues as a certain faction of bugs notes how humans should be regarded as enemies of bugs due to their general disregard for the whole class of creatures.
A number of gags are played on the audience in 4D - some of which can actually be intense enough to frighten young children in the darkened theater. And, if you really don’t like bugs in the first place, the effects will either produce an abundant amount of laughter or give you the willies (or both).
The theater for the show is located in the root system beneath the Tree of Life on Discovery Island.
Up Close and Wild
6. Pangani Forest Exploration Trail
The Pangani Forest Exploration Trail is a self-guided walking tour featuring exotic animals found in Africa.
The trail winds along a lush jungle setting in which to observe the following animals:
- Okapi - relative of the giraffe
- Yellow-backed Duiker - antelope family
- Colobus Monkey
- Naked Mole Rat
- Western Lowland Gorilla
- Exotic birds of Africa
An aviary awaits on the trail that presents a theater-in-the-round for bird watchers. See African pygmy geese, great blue turacos and bearded barbets among many other types of exotic birds.
The naked mole rat exhibit allows guests to view a colony of the creatures through a clear plexiglass wall as they scurry about in an underground borough system.
Also of particular note is the viewing area for the hippos. Here, patient guests can watch these enormous animals from a unique underwater perspective. Similar to the mole rats, the side of an outdoor tank is made of plexiglass so that guests can view both above and below the water line at the same time.
Always active and animated, the meerkats tend to draw a large crowd as they work together in their outdoor habitat to keep it safe from predators above.
As the tour concludes, guests walk through the middle of a spectacular western lowland gorilla habitat. The setting is unique in that the physical barriers between guests and gorillas are not plainly noticeable, giving the feeling that you are a guest in their territory.
Theater of the Sea
7. Finding Nemo - The Musical
Finding Nemo - The Musical is a stage adaptation of Finding Nemo the movie - all with a creative use of puppets.
Every character in the show is a movable, larger than life puppet controlled by one or more costumed actors who move the puppet around the stage, direct the movement of facial and/or body features such as eyes, and supply the voice for the character in terms of dialogue and singing.
It’s quite remarkable how actor and puppet flow together. The expressiveness of the puppets adds an unexpected depth to the presentation. As for the story - it's a much abbreviated version of the movie. This stage version times in at about 35 minutes.
Another noteworthy facet to the show is the sophistication of the digital backdrops. Their eye- catching nature help to drive home the feel and energy of an undersea environment. These backdrops add another dimension to the show and can be considered another ever present character invaluable to the retelling of the story.
Finding Nemo - The Musical is located in the Theater of the Wild which sits in the shadow of Expedition Everest’s Forbidden Mountain.
Rafting with an Asian Twist
8. Kali River Rapids
Kali River Rapids is a superbly-themed rafting adventure along a wild river in southeast Asia.
After a 90-foot scenic lift with a cool misting effect accented by jasmine scents, the large round 12-seat rafts wind through jungle rainforest scenes including ever present water features like spitting geysers and flowing waterfalls.
There is one fairly mild 20 foot drop that highlights this somewhat tame river. Kali River Rapids is less a thrill ride and more of a scenic journey into lush Disney design detail (with the requisite opportunity for getting really wet).
About the Drench Factor
The currents, spin of the raft, weight distribution of guests in the raft, wind, etc. all play a part in the variability of the ride in terms of who gets wet and how wet they get. This variability is an important detail if you’ve waited in line over an hour on a hot, steamy summer day expecting a refreshing blast of water.
Don’t hold us to these numbers, but if you ride Kali River Rapids five times you will probably:
- Get drenched to the bone once
- Get soaked once
- Get moderately wet once
- Get sprinkled upon once
- And, once, be as dry when you get off as when you got on
The point being, don’t count on getting wet and don’t count on staying dry.This variability of outcomes adds to the interest in the ride. No two ride experiences are exactly the same.
Opposite of the summer example, if it’s Christmas season and you don’t want to risk spending the rest of the day touring the park shivering because Kali drenched you, you may want to invest in one of the ponchos Disney conveniently sells at the entrance to the attraction.
Kali River Rapids is located in the Asia section of Animal Kingdom not too far from Expedition Everest.
Let 'em Run Wild
9. The Boneyard
The Boneyard is an oversized (half-acre) tri-level playground fashioned as an paleontological dig site.
For children, the Boneyard captures the imagination and is a fantastic place to burn some energy. Features of the Boneyard include:
- Multiple multi-story slide tubes
- Sandbox dig sites where kids can actually uncover dinosaur bones
- A “xylobone” - xylophone facsimile made out of bones that can be played like the musical instrument
- Numerous passages and pathways filled with rope ladders and slides to explore
- Limited covered seating for adults who want to take a load off while the kids play
One extra for little ones is the set of dino tracks on the western side of the playground. Be sure to step on each footprint for a different surprise.
The Boneyard is located in DinoLand USA near the bridge to Discovery Island.
Slip-Sliding into the Past
10. Primeval Whirl
Primeval Whirl is a carnival-style coaster ride with a twist.
The circular 4-seater coaster cars ride on mildly winding and dipping rails. After slow climb up a 40 foot hill to start the ride, the coaster is set free to wind its way back down the track.
The twist is that the cars are programmed to spin throughout the ride - sometimes a half rotation one way, sometimes two rotations the opposite direct, etc. throughout the ride.
This feature makes for a different ride experience every time. Sometimes guests will be facing backwards going down a particular dip, or sideways, or forwards.
Or, sometimes a turn will have a little extra kick if the coaster car is spinning in the same direction as the turn.
There are two sides to the ride, an A track and a B track. They are mirror images of one another, so which track you ride does not fundamentally alter the experience.