If you're thinking, "Oh, it's just another zoo, let's skip it," think again. Walt Disney World's fourth theme park, opened in 1998, takes its inspiration from humankind's enduring love for animals and the environment and pulls out all the stops. Your day will be packed with unusual animal encounters, enchanting entertainment, and theme rides, one of them out of this world, that'll leave you breathless.
A large chunk of the park is devoted to animal habitats, especially the forest and savanna of Africa's Kilimanjaro Safaris. Towering acacia trees and tall grasses sweep across the land where antelopes, giraffes, and wildebeests roam. A lion kopje, warthog burrows, a zebra habitat, and an elephant watering hole provide ample space for inhabitants.
About 94 acres contain foliage like hibiscus and mulberry, perfect for antelope and many other species. The largest groups of Nile hippos and African elephants in North America live along the winding waterway that leads to the savanna. The generously landscaped Pangani Forest Exploration Trail provides roaming grounds for troops of gorillas and authentic habitats for meerkats, birds, fish, and other creatures.
Beyond the park's Africa territory, similar large spaces are set aside for the homes of Asian animals like tigers and giant fruit bats, as well as for creatures such as Galápagos tortoises and a giant anteater.
Disney Imagineers didn't forget to incorporate their trademark thrills, including the astonishing Avatar Flight of Passage in Pandora; the Kali River Rapids ride in Asia; the fast-paced DINOSAUR journey in DinoLand U.S.A.; and Expedition Everest, a "runaway" train ride on a faux rugged mountain complete with icy ledges, dark caves, and a yeti legend.
The latest land to open takes you totally off-planet to a world inspired by the film Avatar. Opened in 2017, Pandora–The World of Avatar is filled with breathtaking technology, astonishing alien beauty, and the park's biggest thrill attraction, Avatar Flight of Passage. The whole park is open at night allowing for the best views of the lighted alien landscape.
The only downside to the Animal Kingdom layout is that walking paths and spaces can get very crowded and hot in the warmest months. Your best bet is to arrive very early and see the animals first before the heat makes them (and you) woozy.
Keep an eye peeled throughout the day for the spectacular appearance of a flock of macaws soaring overhead. The brightly colored birds—scarlet, hyacinth, blue, and gold and more—make periodic flights throughout the park.