With Disney’s Animal Kingdom, head Imagineer Joe Rohde created a park that pleads to look after our earth and the beautiful diversity it made. The theme park in Orlando, Florida, gives (LGBTQ+) visitors an inside into the deep jungles of Asia, the African Savanna, and the snowy peaks of the Himalayas. But also too far-away planets and even back in time when dinosaurs ruled the world, it is the only Disney theme park that houses zoo-like attractions, rides, and shows. We went on a gay-old adventure searching for Disney’s Animal Kingdom’s Pride mural and investigated how queer the animal kingdom is. We hope you enjoy our Walt Disney World Resort adventure, including videos and photos! Let’s look at Disney’s Animal Kingdom through a Couple of Men‘s eyes!
Animal Kingdom: Disney’s way of edutaining us about our earth
Disney’s Animal Kingdom showcases the beauty of nature. It is the biggest theme park ever built by the Walt Disney Company and the last one that was built in the United States. As a zoological theme park, they focus on animal conservation while celebrating all living things. Disney’s Animal Kingdom is definitely the greenest park of the Walt Disney World Resort in Orlando. With all the stunning views, we felt many times visually transported to rural destinations across the world.
Walking around, it feels like some edutainment ideas have made way for IP-driven fun. But Disney’s Animal Kingdom still finds ways to advocate for a greener way of living on our planet. Over the last decade, many zoo’s around the world started doing the same. So it is time for The Walt Disney Company to step up and become yet again the frontrunner of edutainment.
The Tree of Life: Animal Kingdom’s Cinderella Castle
Instead of giving you Mainstreet at the entrance of the park, you walk into a forest. The wavy pathways all lead up to the Tree of Life. With a staggering 145-foot (44 m), the artificial baobab tree towers over the rest of the park. Look closely, and you will see that the tree is made up of 325 animal carvings of existing and extinct species. Standing in front of it it, the tree feels very majestic, especially with the surrounding landscape of an endless-looking jungle. The tree houses a full 3d movie theater, a queue line, and some smaller animal exhibits between its roots. At night, it lights up through the art of projection mapping. Keep looking so you can catch glimpses of the tree animals “moving” around.
Kilimanjaro Safaris is the main attraction at Animal Kingdom. It takes visitors on a jeep safari through different parts of the East African Jungle. We did this ride twice. Once before, we went on our Luxury train trip through South Africa and Namibia, and once after, we returned. It might feel a little ridiculous to compare this 20-min attraction to a full-day safari at Etosha National Park. But searching for better words, they did a pretty good job bringing the safari fantasy to Orlando.
Animatronics vs. animals
As with many zoos around the world, you can tell that some of the animal exhibitions are in heavy use. Some rock work looks unnatural, and vegetation is missing or fake. Most of the water where the animals bathe looks a little off. Nothing Disney could change because they are working with living creatures. Animals eat and poop. Back in the day, it was one of the reasons why the Jungle Cruise at Magic Kingdom Park got animatronics instead. Still, Disney does a fantastic job keeping the animals healthy and making everything else look its best.
The vegetation is flourishing with a bit of help from the Floridian weather. Some areas do look like a natural savanna. Most of the real Savannah in African national parks actually have their own artificial water holes. It lures (and hydrates) the animals so that the safari vehicles can get closer to the action. Animal Kingdom even replicates something funny from Rollercoaster Tycoon 3: Wild.
Do you remember the animal keepers walking around between the animals? We saw multiple Disney cast members with fresh and juicy leaves between the giraffes. It is the best way to entice them off the road, so the trucks can finish their tour.
Expedition Everest: The best (American) Disney Mountain
We love this gorgeous rollercoaster! It is themed like a little steam train that takes visitors up to the Himalayas for a fast-paced adventure through dangerous icy caves. Its colossal building acts like Animal Kingdom’s second wienie, Mount Everest. At 199.5 feet (60.8 m), it is the tallest attraction at Walt Disney World. It beats The Twilight Zone Tower of Terror at Disney’s Hollywood Studios by 6 inches (15 cm)! Most people don’t know that the “actual” Mount Everest is the lowermost right mountain in the “back”. Another great forced-perspective trick.
Being the highest rollercoaster on any Disney property, this beast of an attraction is not made for the faint of heart. Built and opened in 2006, this story-driven ride was way ahead of its time. The tension built up already starts in the queue.
It is filled with details and little references to the actual mountain range and the “fictional” creature that roams around the snowy mountain tops. When it is time to step into the transportation vehicle, the locomotive puts out heavy steam. Another trick from Disney’s Imagineering is to create that authentic feeling.
The ride has multiple moments that define a well-written adventure. We won’t tell you anything else because it is so much better to experience it yourself!
World Cuisine Disney-style
Just like at EPCOT, Animal Kingdom has a wide variety of food and drinks inspired by the countries that are represented in the different themed areas. One of our favorite spots in the park is the outdoor part of the “Yak & Yeti Local Foods Cafés” restaurant. As a vegetarian in a theme park, it can be challenging for Daan to find good food options. That’s why it is always really nice to find places at Disney that have some delicious vegetables on the menu. Although served in plastic, this Vegetable Tikka Masala is pretty good!
Pandora: World of Avatar
A spectacular collab between James Cameron’s Lightstorm Entertainment and Walt Disney Imagineering brought us Pandora: World of Avatar. Like Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge, this fully themed land gives you the opportunity to roam freely through the world of one of the biggest movie franchises ever made. It might feel a bit strange to put a land based on a sci-fi film’s planet into a theme park, especially when that park is all about animal conservation on Earth. But then we walked underneath the floating mountains and saw the heart that went into creating this magnificent-looking “natural” scenery. We felt the connection, and now we can’t imagine visiting Pandora elsewhere. Unless the company builds a version at Disneyland Paris… yes, please!
The two rides of this land are very nature focussed, meaning that the story is not action-driven perse. Meaning no bad guys you have to fight or the “something goes wrong” trope we have seen many times before. Both rides are an adventure, where you can take in the scenery and immerse yourself in the beauty of Pandora’s flora and fauna. That’s why Disney’s Imagineering chose to situate the land in a time after the brutal happenings of the movies.
You still see old army-based structures, but Pandora reclaimed its ground. The Na’vi and the few humans living on Pandora apparently achieved peace. The fictional tourism bureau Alpha Centauri Expeditions (ACE) organizes expeditions for ecotourism and scientific research. The land definitely reminded us of our trip to Costa Rica, with all its lush nature and diverse flora and fauna.
Flight of Passage
The E-ticket attraction of Pandora: World of Avatar is the 3D flying simulator Flight of Passage. During the ride, you are “linked” with an Avatar. This way, you can experience soaring through the mountains of Pandora while flying on the back of an Ikran. It is one of the most beloved attractions of the park. The queue line fills up quickly, and waiting times can be 1.5 hours or longer, depending on the day. The queue is half of the experience, so don’t worry too much… it is worth the wait.
While traveling, we usually don’t do sightseeing activities that use “wild” animals. We are not that fond of being allowed to touch, ride or take a picture with them. But here, we gladly accept a seat on the artificial Banshee and connect our brains with an Avatar. This attraction takes the longing that people got while watching the first Avatar movie and rewards them with 4.5 minutes of pure awe. The ride is exciting but in a relaxed and freeing way. Walking out of the simulator, we both almost felt a little reborn.
We hoped that by watching the new Avatar: The Way of Water in the cinema, we would feel the same. But honestly, we were a little disappointed that so many movie minutes were spent fighting a war. Instead, we would instead have explored Pandora. In an interview, James Cameron said he would love to add new content to Flight of Passage. Let’s hope he gets the approval to do so without bringing in action-packed battle sequences. That way, we can keep flying over Pandora forever.
Pandora by night
Pandora: The World of Avatar really comes to life at night. Disney’s Imagineering did their best to recreate the magical luminescent forest we all love from the first movie. As a director in theater, Daan has only one point of improvement.
Adding projection-mapped shadows and bioluminescent creatures onto the rocks and plants. This way, Pandora’s forest would get a bit more movement during those dark hours. Projections or not, ensure you don’t miss out on an evening at Disney’s Animal Kingdom. You haven’t been to Pandora: World of Avatar without having walked through this nighttime bioluminescence spectacular.
Sleeping at Disney World
To stay in the middle of all the magic, we advise you to book a room at one of the official Walt Disney World Orlando Resort hotels. One of our favorite Disney hotels is Disney’s Beach Club Resort. Enjoy a great pool with a slide and lazy river right next to the side entrance of EPCOT and the Disney Skyline!
Animals in a Disney Park?
Disney’s Animal Kingdom is the only Disney park in the world that showcases animals as part of the attractions. The animals are not the main reason for visiting the Animal Kingdom. But we can also travel abroad and see them in their natural habitat when we are lucky. The question is, how important is it to see a real-life animal with your own eyes? Could we instead watch them in movies, books, or over the internet? Or does this physical being close to them create a more profound interest and connection? Teaching people to take care of this planet is very essential. And with Disney’s Animal Kingdom being one of the most popular theme parks on earth, they reach a broad audience to do so.
Did you know that for elephants, giraffes, lions, and many more animals, there is extended documented evidence of homosexual behavior? “Research shows that homosexual behavior, not necessarily sex, has been documented in about five hundred species as of 1999, ranging from primates to gut worms ”, according to Bruce Bagemihl. “Teaching ourselves about our planet’s diversity is an endless process with new information. Sometimes it will go against our existing knowledge or beliefs. But by keeping an open mind, there is so much more to explore. Isn’t that what life is all about?”
Disney’s Animal Kingdom Pride Mural
Next to showing how important it is to love our planet, Disney’s Animal Kingdom shows love for the LGBTQ+ community by taking part in celebrating pride. We spotted many rainbow-colored treats, a special Disney Pride collection, and this great Disney Pride mural! It was painted on two big backstage doors on the path toward Pandora: World of Avatar. There was even a Disney photographer standing by to take our picture! Do tell any Disney Photographer how you want your picture taken, so you won’t end up with missing feet or a cut-off mural in the background saying “Love”.
We love this Pride Mural, so let’s celebrate Love all year round, Disney!
Interesting Posts for Your Gay Travels:
- Read all about our gay pride trips around the world >
- All about our gay travels around the world as an openly gay couple >
- Reviews of our favorite theme parks around the world >
- Reviews of Hotels around the world: Gay-friendly tested hotels >
- Tips & Tricks: Our gay travel guide United States of America >
Our tips for Animal Kingdom
Many still think Disney’s Animal Kingdom is only a half-day park. That’s why it gets less busy during the last few hours of the park’s opening. This is the perfect time to ride Kilimanjaro Safaris! Bring extra clothes or shoes when you want to ride Kali River Rapids. You will get soaked. Do you want to see the Yeti regularly? Expedition Everest has a single-riders line, which usually has a short wait time. At the end of the line at Flight of Passage, ask politely if you can sit as close to the middle as possible. All seats are good, but riding a Banshee from the center of the theater creates the best effect.
Karl & Daan.
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