Just like the Earth it celebrates, this newest Florida gem is lovingly created and intelligently designed. Nothing is left to chance- it is a work of art. It is a fully immersive experience, a wonder for the eyes, very satisfying to the soul. The entry gardens set the pace for the park: there are multiple paths to explore and animals and birds all around. The vegetation is lush and green with tropical flowers, streams, and small waterfalls to be found. Nooks and crannies to be discovered contain animal exhibits quietly hidden for the folks who choose to take the time to find them. All this adds a sense of mystery. The chattering of birds and small creatures is intermingled with the sounds of human laughter and anticipation. What lies ahead does not disappoint!
Let's start with the Tree of Life found in the first land, Discovery Island. This mid range shot only gives you a glimpse of the abundance of care put into the design and execution. Even if this structure did not house the 3D production, "It's Tough to Be a Bug", it would still be worth the land use. Surrounding the tree are gardens, streams, and footpaths for exploration.
In spite of the surroundings, it is the tree itself that pulls in the interest. In fact, over three hundred animal carvings are found in the trunk. The next shot shows one of the animals on display, a chimp. Impressive, huh?
My last Tree photo is filled with animals- made possible by zoom lens. The detail is enough to make adults and children scream with delight upon each animal discovery- and it does.
Moving away from the Tree of Life and onto Dinoland, U.S.A., we see rather quickly that the theme changes but the attention to detail does not. I am not a big fan of the mini-land found here, Dinorama, but there is still a lot of thought and planning put into the area in general. The next two shots are of The Boneyard, a children's play area themed to a dinosaur bone dig. I intentionally cropped the first shot to show the beautiful bougainvillea. It is not just the man-made areas that are wonderful here: the foliage adds so much to the park, and in fact, is another reason this place is more than a zoo. The second shot shows a jeep in the play area in more detail.
The artistry extends to the theater productions as well. Two of Walt Disney World's best shows are found at the Animal Kingdom: Finding Nemo: The Musical, and The Festival of the Lion King. This Nemo photo shows fine detail- and this shot was taken 3 rows from the back in a theater that holds several thousand people for each performance.
In recent years, one of the most anticipated additions to Disney's Florida resort is Expedition Everest: Legend of the Forbidden Mountain. It was worth the wait! Here are three images I am very proud of taking: the mountain range from afar; a close-up of the attraction sign; and a shot taken at the top of the mountain before the extremely fun backwards portion of the ride. Take time to look at each photo for all the show elements.
The rest of Asia, is not lacking for detail either. A simple ice cream stand resides inside this piece of art, a truck, and an elaborate carpet announces the Flights of Wonder bird show.
The tiger and bat habitat trail, Maharaja Jungle Trek, is another fine example of the commitment to design in this park. Contained along the trail is this full length mural- just an extra piece of eye candy as your adventure takes you to the ruins of this once opulent palace overtaken by nature.
The last stop on our tour is Africa and the town of Harambe. The hand posted advertisements notify us of what is available here, including the Tusker House restaurant. The local telephone system may be old, but it gets the job done. The layering of detail upon detail makes it difficult to remember that this park was created from nothing and opened only ten years ago.
Aside from the safari tour, a nature trail takes us through a small valley filled with gorillas. These animals are majestic! The Greatest Imagineer must have found much pleasure in creating these regal animals.
As you can tell, the combination of lush landscapes, detailed structures, thrilling adventures, and live creatures, makes Disney's Animal Kingdom one wonderful park. This is the kind of park that sets Disney above its competitors. Surely, more is planned for Animal Kingdom in the years to come- and I can promise you, if given the chance, I will return.
(Photos copyright Mark Taft.)