Disney History: Disney's Animal Kingdom Then & Now

The creation of Disney's Animal Kingdom was a hugely ambitious venture. Nature and conservation were two of the many things that Walt Disney was passionate about, so it was not a stretch for the Eisner administration to add a fourth gate to Walt Disney World that centered around animals. One of the greatest hurdles to the creation of Animal Kingdom was convincing critics that the concept was viable as a theme park and that it would be substantially different from a zoo. In a tongue-in-cheek way, the park was affectionately known as "Nahtazu". Even though Animal Kingdom is the youngest of the Walt Disney World parks, it has seen its fare share of changes.

The first change happened when the park was barley open. From the dedication speech and the official signage that remains today, it is evident that Animal Kingdom was originally supposed to feature animals from today, animals that used to be, and fantastical animals that only exist in our imagination. The historical animals found a home in Dinoland U.S.A. and of course our modern animals are featured throughout the park, especially at Kilimanjaro Safaris, on the walking trails, and in Flights of Wonder. But what of the fantastical animals? Dragons, unicorns, sea monsters, and the like were originally conceived as the inhabitants of "Beastly Kingdom", but budget constraints caused Beastly Kingdom to be put on hold indefinitely.

Animal Kingdom's Icon: The Tree of LifeAnimal Kingdom's Icon: The Tree of Life
Festival of the Lion King Tumble MonkeysFestival of the Lion King Tumble Monkeys

Camp Minnie-Mickey, originally built as a temporary replacement for Beastly Kingdom, has also now been shuttered. In the most significant change in Animal Kingdom's short history, Pandora: The World of Avatar is slated to open in 2017. Not only will this land bring the original idea of fantasy in Animal Kingdom to life, but it will also mark the beginning of permanent nighttime entertainment options to the park.

Expedition EverestExpedition Everest
Mickey's Jammin' Jungle ParadeMickey's Jammin' Jungle Parade

Of course other small changes have happened around Animal Kingdom during its 17-year run, but this park exists in a similar state to the way that it did at the start of the millennium. At Discovery Island, we said goodbye to the Discovery Riverboats/ Discovery Island Taxis and to their reincarnation, the Disney Radio River Cruise. Last year Mickey's Jammin' Jungle Parade ran for the last time, leaving the Magic Kingdom as the only Florida park with a daytime parade. When we lost Camp Minnie-Mickey, we lost the character greeting trails and Festival of the Lion King (previously Pocahontas and her Forest Friends) moved to a new theater in Africa. Dinoland has bid farewell to three attractions - Tarzan Rocks, Journey into Jungle Book, and the 1999 Dinosaur Jubilee.

Primeval WhirlPrimeval Whirl
Bald Eagle in Flights of WonderBald Eagle in Flights of Wonder

Given the age and size of Animal Kingdom, it's nearly impossible to speculate at what the future could hold for this 500-acre property. What's your favorite Animal Kingdom attraction? What else would you like to see at this park?

A big thanks goes out to Guest Author Holly L. for sharing a little bit of her time in Walt Disney World with us. If you'd like to read more about Holly's trip, you can find her sharing her adventures on our member forum.

Lynn D wrote on Tue, 11/03/2015 - 17:10:

Lynn D's picture

My favorite attraction is Kilimanjaro Safaris. It is a must ride at least once every trip. I would love to see an Australia Land.

JH wrote on Sat, 03/17/2018 - 14:32:

JH's picture

Festival of the Lion King was NOT previously Pocahontas and Her Forest Friends. Pocahontas was its own show, running for over 10 years in Camp Minnie-Mickey.

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