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Why We Love Disney’s Animal Kingdom

Animal Kingdom has seen an explosion in popularity thanks to Pandora the World of Avatar opening last year. But the theme park has always been incredible. On the 20th anniversary of the opening of the fourth park at the Walt Disney World resort let’s look back and see why we love Disney’s Animal Kingdom.

For the haters out there that describe Animal Kingdom as just a zoo, my friends you have not truly experienced what this incredible park has to offer. What these individuals might be not realizing is a common mistake. With a name like “Animal Kingdom” you immediately put the focus on the animals. Which makes sense but what you really should focus on here are the stories. The stories of how animals and nature impacts our everyday. Disney shows you that this kingdom is really ruled by animals and that we, in many ways are along for the ride. If you aren’t looking closely then it might be a little hard to realize that.

Stories and Details

So how does it get past the tag of being just a zoo. For that I think it’s all in the details and the places you go.

The areas you go are more than just an idea, they’re meant to be actual places. This is common in the other Disney parks as well but, I think this is where Animal Kingdom goes to the next level. Their lands are themed around certain places like Africa, Asia, Pandora and DinoLand U.S.A. but where it goes beyond that is making you feel like this place actually exists in real life. Where it differs from like a World Showcase pavilion at EPCOT is that rather than being an ode to a country, this is a place that you are meant to believe actually exists that you’ve never heard of before.

Entrance to Harambe: One reason we love Disney's Animal Kingdom
You don’t just enter Africa you enter a real life village of Harambe.

Africa isn’t just Africa it’s Harambe. This quaint town is where you will find great attractions like Kilimanjaro Safaris and The Festival of the Lion King but the town itself is an attraction unto itself. You can feel how villagers actually live here. You can feel the history of the town. You can taste the cuisine indigenous to here. You can understand the impact that the safaris have on the village. Harambe is rooted in its history and what you’re able to understand about the village only enhances the story.

Everest is one of the reasons we love Disney's Animal Kingdom
Residents of Anandapur respect the elements of the world around them.

The other lands are impacted by stories and details as well. In Asia the kingdom of Anandapur welcomes you before the adventures you are about to head on. But there is a feeling of mystery that impacts the kingdom itself, mystery that ties to the forbidden mountain that lies in the distance. Incredible to think that theming can impact an attraction before you ever set foot in the queue itself. But here in Anandapur that is possible because of the town’s relationship to the mountain and the beast you might incur.

Pandora one reason we love Disney's Animal Kingdom
The history of Pandora at Disney’s Animal Kingdom is filled with a past that’s waiting to be discovered.

In Pandora you’re transported to a different planet which is incredible and it truly is awe inspiring. But what you quickly realize is how this exotic planet has had an interesting past. You walk through old barracks and areas once owned by a mining company that tried to destroy the native lands. The little details help you realize what this place has experienced.

DinoLand U.S.A. just one reason we love Disney's Animal Kingdom
Great theming helps you realize the past of DinoLand U.S.A.

In DinoLand U.S.A, you find yourself in what looks to be an amusement fair. If you look closer you notice that these roadside attractions weren’t always here. Two locals, Chester and Hester, have seem to capitalized on the tourism that was brought about when dinosaur fossils were found in their hometown. If you venture into Restaurantosaurus you’ll discover how this is also the mess hall for the student paleontologists that help in the excavation on fossils. Only helping to enhance the past filled with stories of this area.

Every place you look in Animal Kingdom you realize the story goes back further than the park itself. It continues in Disney’s great line of story first design and helps to immerse you in a new world. But 20 years ago when Animal Kingdom first opened its doors early guests would realize that while it was a brand new theme park the stories you find and the places you go show that this place has been here much longer than opening day.

What Disney was trying to do was show the importance of the natural world. How we coexist with animals and how in many ways our world is dictated by nature itself. In Harambe the animal preserve helps the village by bringing in guests same with DinoLand U.S.A. and its discovery of dinosaur fossils. In Asia the inhabitants of the kingdom of Anandapur show great respect to the animals indigenous there, whether real or mythical. But they are also aware of the dangers they can present if not treated right. In Pandora you learn how fighting against the natural elements of an area can lead to more harm than good but also how partnering with its indigenous inhabitants can bring great success.

Animal Kingdom isn’t really a park focused on animals, rides or entertainment. The thesis of Animal Kingdom is a park defined by stories. Stories of things long before us and nature that will be here long after us. The stories will define your adventure and it’s those stories that contribute to why I love Animal Kingdom so much.

The next time someone tries to tell you that Animal Kingdom is just a zoo you can respond by saying, “it isn’t but, you just have to let the details and the stories speak for themselves.”

What do you think about Animal Kingdom? What’s your favorite detail or story in the park? Share your opinion with us!

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