Disney's Animal Kingdom, which opened on April 22nd, 1998, is the Disney park I figured I'd be least interested in. On Saturday the 17th, I got up early to arrive at the park by its 8:00 a.m. opening. The parking lot plaza was done in a nice wood and rock style. I got a nice spot in row 4 (the Peacock section) and walked to the entrance. As I neared it, I could tell this was indeed a different type of Disney experience than what I'd become used to. There was tons of greenery all around, and even the sign posts were painted spotty to resemble, I suppose, animals. African-sounding music played from the loudspeakers as I walked towards a massive warehouse-sized building with water pouring down all around it. As I got closer, I noticed this was the Rainforest Cafe just outside the park entrance. The actual Animal Kingdom entranceway was similar to the parking booths but had animal heads carved into it.
I entered the park and couldn't help but notice more greenery. I picked up a map and headed out for an all new experience. It was going to be fun exploring and learning this place. I headed into the Oasis, which is kind of like a rain forest with twisty paths and mist generators and TONS of birds, turtles, and other animals all around. After passing through the Oasis, I entered Safari Village where the Tree of Life is located. The tree is massive, and holds an incredible 3-D movie based on the new movie "It's a Bugs Life." My first stop, of course, just had to be the parks only true ride, Countdown to Extinction. After asking one of the many helpful cast members how to get to Dinoland, USA, I was on my way.
Entering Dinoland USA was a real blast. Rock music played out (such as Wild Thing and Walk the Dinosaur and a large dino-skeleton bridge was there to walk under. Signs were everywhere with many great sight gags, and "trailers" turned into food stands. GREAT JOB, Disney! This McDonald's sponsored land has a restaurant (which served Happy Meals and McFries) themed very well also, with a large water tower with suction cup darts sticking out of it, and some lawn chairs and bows propped up on the rooftop with cans scattered around as if folks had been sitting up there taking shots at it.
The Bone Yard was a dinosaur version of the Honey I Shrunk the Kids playground at Disney/MGM. Walking through it was fun even for an adult, and dino footprints made loud animal sounds when you step on them. Neat. There was also an exhibit of real dinosaur artifacts in a large air-conditioned structure, and another place where you could see them working on a real skeleton, with cast members outside explaining the process. Other items of interest included the Journey into Jungle Book stage show, which pretty much covered the entire movie with the exception of the snake ;) Pretty funny, actually, and very nice sets that moved in and out, and live actors and some puppet effects.
Countdown to Extinction just screams Jurassic Park. The "Dino Institute" was rather bland and looked like a typical museum or office building. Inside the preshow consisted of a giant Carnataurus (?) skeleton (their version of a T-Rex) and a large model of Earth suspended from the ceiling. Every few minutes, Bill Nye (the Science Guy) narrated a bit of dinosaur history. (I was told Bill was a replacement for the original narrator. Good, since I dig Bill :)
The queue then continued into a room with a projection screen and TV set where a video explained you would be taking a tour to the past, then the broadcast was interrupted by another guy who talks about how we would really be going to right when the meteor hit and would be attempting to bring back a dino in our time rovers. After this, a short walk led us to a very industrial loading area (think Back to the Future at Universal Studios) and then on to the time rover. This ride seemed to follow the exact layout of the Indiana Jones Adventure at Disneyland. The ride itself was pretty good, and at least one seen got me ;) (Yeah, okay, I was suprised and screamed -- sue me...) Much of the ride is in the dark with sound effects. Meteors "blast" into the ground all around, and various dinos (about six or so?) are seen during the ride, including two appearances of the Carnataurus trying to eat us. At the end, we arrive back home safely, of course, and are told the dino made it with us. During exit, a security monitor shows the havoc the dino running loose in the institute is causing. Not a bad ride, but I'll take Indy over this any day. The "launch" back in time is nothing more than driving through what looks like a giant heater, and the return is also as dismal. The one good scare is better than anything at Indy, though, but overall I love the queue area and the alternating ride effects better at Disneyland. Great fun, though, and certainly worth at least one ride. Don't take small children unless they just love scary dinosaurs that appear out of nowhere :-)
This main area, home of the Tree of Life, is very colorful and full of shops and eating places. The 3-D movie, It's Tough to be a Bug, takes Disney's theaters into the next generation. During the presentation you see an animatronic Flik (the ant character from the movie) as well as an animated bad guy. Many in-theater effects such as wind and other suprises happen during the show. At least one thing startled me enough that I think it would easily make younger children cry. There is also a great scene involving spiders ;) I won't post any other spoilers at this time.
This is by far the best section of the park. The themeing here is incredible with so many details such as power/phone wires from buildings, a satelite disk on the roof at one spot, and great signs everywhere. A great bar is there (with specialty drinks) for those so inclined. The attraction here is the Safari which is probably the main must-see at the entire park currently. A train station takes you out of the area into the "real" world to learn a Disney-fied version of how the animals are really taken care of.
The train takes you here where, after a short walk, you enter a colorful building and can learn about animal care. Sound booths, similar to those at D/MGM, allow you to hear what it is like in a rain forest. A simple puppet show (automated) brings the Little Mermaid to near-life, and you can talk to cast memebers about the behind the scenes stuff.
Currently, this land is little more than a bird show at the Caravan Theater. The show is really funny and great, though. In the future, this will expand to a real land including a river raft ride which a CM mentioned would be 20 minutes long. I find this hard to believe, but we'll see. This will be Disney's first raft ride, and if their first log-flume ride (Splash Mountain) can be used as any kind of indicator, I am sure Tiger River Rapids will be fantastic.
There was also a neat Coca Cola themed area, but the building was empty. It was set up like a bar, so perhaps it will eventually become one.
For another view of the park, check out Jeff's Animal Kingdom page. (Jeff is a cast member for Test Track at Epcot.)