LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- Disney's Animal Kingdom was far from
deserted recently even though it was not yet open to the public.
Following standard operating procedures, Disney has been
staggering invitations to its 52,000 employees and their families
to "prescreen," or take part in a "cast preview," in its corporate
parlance. The purpose: get the kinks out during a dress rehearsal,
while providing employees with a sense of participation.
As a member of an invited trade press group, it was my
impression that this park seems to offer more room to roam with
fewer rides than at other Disney parks, such as Disney's Magic
Kingdom, which opened here more than 26 years ago, Epcot and
Disney-MGM Studios. But when Animal Kingdom opens April 22, it will
be, at 500 acres, Disney's largest park.
We arrived at the Dinosaur parking section shortly after 8 a.m.,
which is the time when the park will open in the spring. It will
close at 5 p.m. daily until summer, when it may remain open until 6
or 7 p.m. From the parking lot tram we observed workers installing
ticket booths and adding other finishing touches.
Our adventure began in Animal Kingdom's Safari Village , where
we encountered the park's signature attraction, the 14-story Tree
of Life, which contains a 435-seat theater. The tree, visible from
all over the park, can sway in the wind because each branch unit is
encircled by a giant expansion joint. Our group briefly debated
whether to see more of Safari Village or proceed to other sectors
of the park, including DinoLand U.S.A., the Oasis and Camp
We took the safari to the land of Africa, an area portraying a
dusty African village comprised of thatched-roof huts and baobob
trees -- man-made, of course. Walking the wide and deliberately
cracked pathways, we saw long-armed gorillas grooming each other on
the Exploration Trail and then boarded the back seat of an
open-sided lorry for the Kilimanjaro Safari ride.
We soon spotted hippos, elephants, zebras, various birds and
other animals separated from us by natural barriers such as deep
moats. Lion sightings were limited this day. We glimpsed a lion's
paw upraised as he slept on his back behind a rock. "Too few
animals" complained some Disney employees. But they probably were
unaware that not all of the park's 1,000 animals had arrived yet.
Also, because Animal Kingdom conforms to natural habitats, animals
might not always be visible. Visitors disappointed at not seeing
specific animals should return at another hour, officials said.
The Countdown to Extinction ride resembles an inside roller
coaster that tends to jerk and leap through a meteor-streaked sky
during a frenetic journey into a dinosaur-populated prehistoric
forest. But it does not make any huge ascents or descents. The car
is called a 12-passenger, all-terrain time rover. "I screamed all
the way through it," said one member of our party, laughing.
Another guest kept her eyes shut through the entire ride. "Were
there menacing dinosaurs?" she asked. There were.
Afterward, someone in our group wanted a picture with the Disney
characters for her children, so we went to Camp Minnie-Mickey to
find them. The characters were as silently affable as always. From
the reaction of my group, the nearby Affection Section, where
visitors can pet goats and other animals, is definitely not for
children only. Unlike zoos, however, no feeding is allowed.
Likewise, visitors in my group restrained themselves from joining
the children hand-digging the dirt covering the immense, artificial
bones of a Mammoth Woolly buried daily four-feet deep in the
Boneyard, an obviously popular children's playground.
We also viewed two live stage performances. One was the "Journey
into Jungle Book," where a trampoline-jumping Baloo, raised by
animals, reluctantly leaves his nonhuman companions. Of more appeal
to adults is the rollicking, rousing "Festival of the Lion King,"
which features head-bobbing animal characters on parade-like
floats, highly energetic drum and dance routines, and breezy,
aerial acrobatics. After the final 4:30 p.m. show of the day, we
peeked into a few stores before boarding a crowded parking lot tram
as the orange sun disappeared.
Longer Stays, Higher Commissions
Animal Kingdom added one day to Disney's previously suggested
visit of at least five days, according to Randy Garfield, senior
vice president of sales and travel operations for Walt Disney
Attractions. This extra day translates into a higher commission, he
said. Although one can see most of Animal Kingdom in a day, a
minimum day-and-a-half might be set aside to see it all -- provided
the park is not crowded.
Multiday tickets are included in wholesaler packages, or they
can be purchased separately after arrival; all include admission to
Animal Kingdom. Choices are:The six-day All-in-One Hopper pass, $263.96 for visitors age 10
and older and $210.95 for those ages 3 to 9 (all prices include
tax). The six-day pass offers unlimited admission to all theme
parks, the three water parks, Pleasure Island and Disney's Wide
World of Sports complex for six days; freedom to visit multiple
parks on the same day, and use of the Disney transportation system.
Unused days never expire.The five-day pass provides unlimited admission to all Disney
theme parks; freedom to visit all parks on the same day, and Disney
transportation. The five-day Park Hopper pass is $200.34 for adults
and $160.06 for children, with tax.One-day, one-park passes cost $44.52 as of April 22, $36.04 for
children 3 to 9.Animal Kingdom access: The Magic Kingdom and Epcot are linked
by monorail and bus to other Disney points; Disney-MGM Studios and
the Animal Kingdom have no monorail stations. They can be reached
by Disney bus from anywhere in the Disney destination resort,
including buses serving the monorail transportation center.