I visited Walt Disney World a few weeks ago, and it was just as magical as it always is. This was my 14th trip to the Disney parks in Orlando, and the people I went with relied on my expertise to make our way around the parks in an efficient manner (read: they used me to optimize the number of rides and attractions we rode/saw in each park). Since they considered me a Disney expert, I figured I’d share my knowledge of Mickey’s realm to help others plan their trips to the most magical place on Earth.
Looking for wild rides and wild animals? Visit Animal Kingdom, the only Disney park themed around animal conservation.
Animal Kingdom is the newest of Disney’s Big 4 parks, and it’s the perfect place to visit if you want a taste of Disney magic mixed with the beauty of the natural world. In addition to all the rides, there are shows and attractions designed to let you learn about a myriad of creatures, whether they’re real, ancient, or imaginary. Each section of the park is themed as a different part of the world, with shops and attractions (including the animals on display) native to that location. And in the middle of it all is the Tree of Life, the massive sculpted Baobab tree covered in intricate carvings of—you guessed it!—animals. The park is as much a conservation facility as it is a theme park, and visitors who may be tired of rides can easily find amusement in the animal habitats, which are natural and beautiful enough to make you forget you’re in the middle of a Disney park in Florida. Of course, the rides are thrilling, too, whether you’re looking to beat the heat with the Kali River Rapids or get up close and personal with giraffes, rhinos, and zebras on Kilimanjaro Safaris.
Favorite Ride: Expedition Everest- Legend of the Forbidden Mountain
Get ready for a wild ride through the Himalayan Mountains and come face to face with the legendary Yeti!
Most roller coasters, despite dips and loops and high speeds, only run in one direction, but Everest is not most coasters. After speeding through the mountain like usual, the track switches and sends you careening backwards back the way you came, and in the dark, no less. On top of that, at several points, you catch glimpses or the Yeti—seeing his shadow, seeing his handiwork, hearing his roar—until you finally meet him head-on before the final drop. The whole thing is an experience; the ride essentially tells a story in that unique way that Disney is so good at. FastPasses are available, as the line is usually pretty long, but even then, the queue is interesting, winding through a number of travel-themed rooms and a Yeti museum containing about 8,000 artifacts brought over from Nepal specifically for the ride. Everest is an adventure from start to finish, guaranteeing screams from riders young and old.
Underrated Ride: Primeval Whirl
Take a ride back in time on this wacky dinosaur coaster full of spins and drops.
In Dinoland USA, the gaudy tourist trap designed around a fossil discovery park, lives Primeval Whirl, the silliest, whippiest coaster I’ve ever ridden. While that may not seem endearing, Whirl is a unique type of coaster characterized by tight turns and small but quick hills; together these features produce high G-forces similar to those produced in bigger, more traditional coasters. In other words, you get much of the same experience as riding Everest but with a much shorter line, thanks to Whirl’s kiddish appearance. I promise your cart won’t fall off the track, despite how it looks and feels, so if you like coasters but the drops make your stomach flip, give Whirl a shot.
Other Recommended Rides:
Dinosaur: Dodge meteors and the terrifying Carnotaurus as you take off on a prehistoric tour to save a dino from extinction. (Note: This ride is legitimately frightening, so it may not be suitable for young children. Or even older children—I’ve seen high schoolers cry on this ride.)
It’s Tough to Be a Bug: Let Flik and friends teach you what it’s like to be a bug in this 3D show.
Kilimanjaro Safaris: Ride in an open-air vehicle through the African savanna and see dozens of animals in their ‘native’ habitats. Picture opportunities abound.
Animal Kingdom is one of a kind, seamlessly blending theme park and conservation station for an unforgettable experience. The rides are exciting, and the animals and their habitats are both fascinating and educational. If you want a park that’s a little on the wild side, Animal Kingdom is the place for you. Don’t forget to charge your cameras!