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8 of the Best Kept Secrets at Disney’s Animal Kingdom

by Brittany DiCologero

8) Conservation message

The conservation message portrayed to guests in Animal Kingdom is no secret in itself, but the extent that the park goes to achieve this message and all of the places that reference the importance of conservation might be less known to the average guest. For instance, when you donate to the Disney Worldwide Conservation Fund (which you can do at Animal Kingdom, the resorts, and the Land and Sea pavilions in Epcot) you’re helping to save animals all over the world, and support research in different conservation areas. The best part about the DWCF compared to other similar organizations is that Disney covers all the overhead costs (so whatever you donate will go directly to the cause itself, and not towards payroll for administrative staff for example) and Disney will match every dollar you donate. The conservation message is also best seen in shows like Flights of Wonder, and even in areas like Dinoland USA. You may not think about it too much while visiting Dinoland, but next time you’re exiting the Dinosaur ride, take a close look at the mural across from the monitors in the gift shop. The mural shows dinosaurs and other animals that have long been extinct, walking along a timeline, the end of which features animals we live with today that are endangered. This reinforces one of the messages of Dinoland (conservation) and how important it is to work towards keeping some of these amazing animals from going extinct.

7) AZA Status

While you may not compare Disney’s Animal Kingdom to your local zoo, it is worth noting that the park is part of the AZA (Association of Zoos and Aquariums.) The AZA is a nonprofit organization that accredits zoos and aquariums across the country, and to be a part of this group the individual zoos must have certain credentials and meet all of the AZA standards for animal care. I think the fact that Animal Kingdom is part of the AZA is really interesting and important, because so many people miss out on seeing all of the animals that live in the park, but really that’s the reason why you should be going in the first place! I love that Animal Kingdom is unlike other zoos in that the animals are in a more open, and natural environment, as opposed to behind glass cases, and I highly recommend making an effort to go and see all of the animals during your next visit.

6) Cost of Expedition Everest

Many Disney fans are well aware of the amount of detail and research that went into the design and storyline of Expedition Everest, but did you know that this attraction is actually the most expensive roller coaster in the world? At $100,000,000, no other roller coaster has yet to exceed the building cost of this attraction.

5) Building the Tree of Life

Speaking of constructing Animal Kingdom, the physical construction of the park’s icon is quite interesting. The Tree of Life is actually constructed from an upside down oil rig, with over 300 animals carved into its trunk. The tree stands at 145 feet tall, and 50 feet wide at the base, and it also includes about 103,000 leaves, all of which were hand painted.
4) Wilderness Explorers

One of my favorite parts of Animal Kingdom is the Wilderness Explorers program. This experience is highly underrated, I’m assuming because many guests do not feel the need to do this if they do not have kids, but it’s definitely worth a go even as an adult. For fans of any age of the movie Up! Wilderness Explorers are very familiar as they are the group that Russell is a part of while he is trying to earn his badges throughout the film. At the park, guests can complete different tasks to collect their own badges. It’s a great way for guests of all ages to learn a little bit more about animals and the places represented in the park, and it’s also helpful for parents to have something to keep kids focused on while also doing something educational during a visit to the park.

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3) Dinoland USA

The entire land of Dinoland USA is really a secret in itself, simply because many guests do not fully understand the story behind it. I’ll admit that I did not really understand Dinoland fully before I ended up working there, but there’s a lot more to this part of the park than a tacky carnival that you might not think fits in a Disney park. The basic story is that the Dino Institute is a scientific research facility that employs interns to study the fossils, and Dr. Seeker, who works on the time rovers. The other part of Dinoland, Chester and Hester’s Dinorama is run by Chester and Hester, a couple who originally owned a gas station in Diggs County, near the Dino Institute. As more and more tourists flock to the Dino Institute, Chester and Hester want to get in on the action and make a quick buck, so they build the carnival in the parking lot of their gas station, and turn the gas station into a gift shop. They only hire family because they’re cheap (which is why you’ll sometimes hear Dinoland cast members calling each other cousins.) The whole land really does have a lot of details if you give it a chance, so even though I know you might just think it’s tacky and out of place, you will get more out of it if you just go through it slowly and allow yourself to indulge the story and notice the details.

2) Beastly Kingdom

Ever notice the dragon silhouette in some of Animal Kingdom’s logos? That’s because the park was originally going to feature of land for mythical animals called Beastly Kingdom. While this land never came to be, it is cool to still see some piece of the original concept around the park today.

1) Animal walking trails

It might sound crazy to place the animal walking trails at the top of a best kept secrets in Animal Kingdom list, but you’d be amazed to learn how many guests skip out on seeing the animals in this park! I can’t even begin to count how many times I would be working in Animal Kingdom listening to a guest tell me that he or she had already done everything in the park… everything except actually see the animals that is. I know it’s more walking, I know sitting down for a show might sound more appealing, and that the queues for rides are at least air conditioned, I get it. But I still don’t think a trip to Animal Kingdom is complete without seeing the animals. In addition to the safari, make sure you visit the Pangani Forest Exploration Trail, the Maharajah Jungle Trek, the Oasis Exhibits, and even Rafiki’s Planet Watch. In my opinion, the only reason why people see Animal Kingdom as a half day park is because they’re only focusing on the rides and shows– but the animals are truly what makes this experience worth it.

About Brittany DiCologero

Brittany is a graduate of St. Anselm College, where she earned her bachelor of arts degree in History. She completed two Disney College Programs, one at Dinoland U.S.A., in Animal Kingdom, and one at Lights, Motors, Action! Extreme Stunt Show at Hollywood Studios. She is the author of “Brittany Earns Her Ears,” a memoir about her experiences on the college program, and she currently resides in Massachusetts.