On August 4, 1995 construction officially started on Disney’s new park, Animal Kingdom. How has the park changed throughout the years? Let’s take a look.
Above, you’ll see an original map of Animal Kingdom. At the end of this article, you’ll see the park, as it is today. The basics have stayed the same, but throughout the years more has been added. This makes it the largest Disney park, and the largest theme park, in the world.
Walking into Animal Kingdom, the entrance hasn’t changed much from it’s conception. The Rainforest Cafe still stands. There are still restrooms, guest services, stroller/wheelchair rentals, and souvenir huts. The biggest change is the introduction of Magic Band scanners instead of turnstiles.
The Oasis has also remained largely unchanged. It’s designed to have the same impact of the Main Streets at the other parks. Here, visitors get their first glimpse of the natural foliage of other countries. Animals featured here include spoonbills, anteaters, and the babirusa.
If you don’t recognize the name, it’s because what was Safari Village, is now Discovery Island. The big focal point, The Tree of Life, still stands, as magnificent as ever. The Tree of Life (not a real tree), is a sculpture that contains 350 animal depictions. Underneath the tree, is one of the original shows at Animal Kingdom, It’s Tough to Be a Bug.
From the island, every other attraction area can be reached from different bridges. The bridges cross Discovery River, which at the parks opening, was the spot of the Discovery River boats. The boats sailed from Safari Village to an area between Asia and Africa called Upcountry Landing. The attraction was closed a year after the parks opening.
Today, there is a lot more to do on Discovery Island. You can find a variety of food and shopping options throughout the center. My favorite is the Baked Mac and Cheese with Pulled Pork from Flame Tree Barbecue. You can meet Mickey and Minnie at Adventure Outpost. Animals featured here are otters, tamarins, and lemurs.
Camp Minnie – Mickey
Another name that visitors may not recognize is Camp Minnie – Mickey. The land was a character meet and greet hot spot, located where Pandora now stands. It’s attractions included Festival of the Lion King and Grandmother Willow’s Grove. The land was closed in January 2014 to make way for what is now Pandora.
Pandora – The World of Avatar
Opened in May of 2017, Pandora – The World of Avatar is themed after the award winning movie, Avatar. This land features the slow ride Na’vi River Journey and Avatar Flight of Passage. Flight of Passage is one of the most popular rides at Disney. Although wait times often exceed 90-120 minutes, I recommend Flight of Passage to everyone going to Disney. It also houses 2 quick – service restaurants and a gift shop.
Pandora is fun to explore during the day. You can find interactive exhibits throughout the land, with many opportunities for photo ops. At night, the land becomes fantastic. Bioluminescent flowers and foliage light up the world at night, making it seem like you’ve entered an entirely new park. The lights are interactive, and respond to touch. It is truly a technological marvel.
The Africa section is one of the original lands at Animal Kingdom. It features Harambe Market, a vibrant African village with much to do and see. Although it looks beaten down, its been that way since its opening. In fact, the thatched roofs are authentic, made by Zulu craftsmen from Africa. A few years ago, the Harambe Market was expanded to add more to the marketplace. The true focal point of Africa though, is the Kilimanjaro Safari.
Technically considered a zoo, the safari is one of a kind. Instead of being in cages, the animal habitats are bordered by natural barriers. This allows them to live safely without fear of predators. The safari was originally more of an attraction and less informative, but this has changed over the years. Animals are added time to time as more land becomes designed. This includes the addition of zebras in 2012 and hyenas and painted dogs in 2016.
Other highlights in Africa include the Festival of the Lion King, the Gorilla Falls Exploration Trail, and Rafiki’s Planet Watch. All three have been around since the parks opening. However, Festival of the Lion King was moved to Africa from Camp Minnie – Mickey in 2014. Plus, Rafiki’s Planet Watch used to be known as Conservation Station.
This land was a part of the original plan of Animal Kingdom, but was not open when the park opened. The only attraction that opened with the park was Flights of Wonder. This bird show has since been change to Up! A Great Bird Adventure.
In 1999, Asia officially opened its doors. At this time, Maharajah Jungle Trek and Kali River Rapids opened as well. Expedition Everest debuted in 2006 as the second true roller coaster at Animal Kingdom. The only other attraction in Asia, Rivers of Light began as a nighttime show in 2017, but closed in 2019.
The final land in Animal Kingdom, Dinoland has also been around since the parks opening. However, it is one of the most changed lands in the park. There wasn’t much to do at first. There was The Boneyard, Countdown to Extinction, The Dinosaur Jubilee of 1998, and “Journey Into Jungle Book.”
The Boneyard and Countdown to Extinction are still at the park today. In 2000, Countdown to Extinction was renamed Dinosaur to promote the movie of the same name. At the same time, the Dinosaur Jubilee of 1998 was renamed the Dinosaur Jubilee of 2000. The same year, it changed again to Chester and Hester’s Dino – Rama.
Chester and Hester’s Dino – Rama contains Triceratops Spin, which opened in 2001. In 2002, Fossil Fun Games and Primeval Whirl opened in the land. Triceratops Spin was closed in 2019, and was opening seasonally, but has now been removed from Animal Kingdom’s map. Since then, rumors of Dinolands permanent closure have been rampant.
The final part of Dinoland, “Journey Into Jungle Book,” was a live show. 2 years after its opening, it changed into “Tarzan Rocks!” This show included rock music and skating acrobatics. In 2007, “Tarzan Rocks!” was closed, and replaced with Finding Nemo – The Musical. Finding Nemo – The Musical still runs today.
As you can see, although the bones of the original Animal Kingdom are still there, as the years pass, its been enhanced with some amazing attractions. What’s your favorite past or present Animal Kingdom attraction?