Disney's Animal Kingdom Combines Whimsy and Wildlife

The fourth theme park built at the Walt Disney World resort in Orlando, Florida, Disney's Animal Kingdom is the largest of all the parks, covering about 500 acres. Opened on Earth Day 1998, the park centers on the theme of animal conservation and is accredited by the U.S. Association of Zoos and Aquariums.

Touted by Disney public relations experts as much more than a zoo, the park consists of seven unique themed areas, not unlike the other parks in the Disney realm. Upon entering the park, guests arrive in Oasis, an introduction to the park and a central area with paths that lead to the other "lands.'' Oasis consists of a pretty tropical area where guests can view typical flora and fauna and is also home to the Rainforest Caf,, a unique dining experience inside a simulated rainforest.

Africa is the largest area of Disney's Animal Kingdom and guests who enter this section find themselves in the fictional village of Harambe. The main attraction here is the Kilimanjaro Safaris, where guests climb aboard a safari-type vehicle to explore the savanna beyond. Visitors should expect to see a number of species of animals, including lions, elephants, giraffe, hippos, and rhinoceros. Also part of Africa is the Pangani Forest Exploration Trail, an area where guests can travel on foot to examine an African valley complete with gorillas.

The atmosphere changes in Camp Mickey-Minnie, an area of the park that's a favorite of small visitors. Here, guests can view the energetic Lion King live show and travel trails that lead them to favorite Disney characters, usually dressed in jungle attire.

Discovery Island sits in the center of Disney's Animal Kingdom and is home to the iconic Tree of Life, a 14-story sculpted tree that boasts more than 300 animal carvings. The bottom of this magnificent tree accommodates the theater for It's Tough to Be a Bug, a charming 3-D movie hosted by "A Bug's Life'' movie characters. Discovery Island Trails lead to "encounters'' with other animals as well.

Visitors to the Rafiki's Planet Watch area can climb aboard the Wildlife Express Train for a close look at the behind-the-scenes animal care areas of the park. Additional attractions include the Conservation Station, where guests learn about animal conservation, and the Affection Station, a petting zoo-type attraction with mostly domesticated animals.

Dinoland U.S.A. features extinct animals from days gone by. The centerpiece of this themed area of Disney's Animal Kingdom is DINOSAUR (formerly Countdown to Extinction), a scary ride that takes visitors back to primeval times in search of a stray dinosaur. While this ride can be too intense for young visitors, Dinoland is home to plenty of kid-friendly attractions, like Finding Nemo - the Musical, the Boneyard exploration area, and the tea cup-style TriceraTop Spin.

Asia, the last land to be added to Animal Kingdom, includes two of the park's thrill rides. Kali River Rapids is a high-energy raft ride that travels through the Asian rain forest, while Expedition Everest, one of the newest rides in the park, is a runaway train-style attraction that puts visitors face-to-face with Yeti, the abominable snowman. Additional animal attractions allow guests to experience the flora and fauna of the Far East.

Throughout Disney's Animal Kingdom, themed restaurants and shops complete the picture. Eateries include table service restaurants, quick-service locations, and a buffet restaurant that hosts a character breakfast.

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