Disclaimer: Disney sent me to Walt Disney World on an all-expenses paid trip, in exchange for my coverage of the #ZootopiaEvent, which included a visit to Disney’s Animal Kingdom Theme Park – Behind the Scenes. All opinions are my own.
We were at Walt Disney World to cover all things ZOOTOPIA for Disney, and that meant a focus on animals – imagined and real. So imagine my excitement when I realized we were heading to Disney’s Animal Kingdom Theme Park, behind the scenes.
Though I say behind the scenes, know that much of what I’ll show you is available for YOU too! Some are as part of your regular admission into the park. Some are as a unique animal experience that you can purchase and add on to your stay. Follow along as I take you step by step….. (Note…..I’ll talk about all the New Fun to expect in 2016 as well)!
I had on comfortable shoes and an animal print shirt. Was that a smart move? Might I get mistaken by the animals? Ha!
The 25 of us and our fearless leader left the luxurious Animal Kingdom Lodge Resort and ventured to the park, though we didn’t exactly go through the main entrance.
We had an early morning appointment, one that began well before the park opened for the day.
Arriving by bus, we stepped out into another world.
It was like I was transported into a village deep within Africa.
Without tourists around………..wouldn’t you say this could pass for an African village? I sure would. It was near here, next to Harambe Market, where we would have a quick sit down breakfast to fuel us for the morning adventure.
Until I saw this guy here, Mickey Mouse, painted on a seemingly old wall, there were no signs that I was in the heart of Disney World.
Isn’t this so unique?
FUN FACT – “Fichwa”, painted above, actually is a Swahili word and means “Hidden”. So there you have a hidden Mickey. Well played, Disney!
(NOTE – You’ll find this to the left of Harambe Market – keep your eyes peeled)
After breakfast it started to seem more like Disney.
The park had begun to let guests in, though still small in number. Ah……..and then we passed it. We weren’t in Africa anymore (sort of)…….we were greeted by Cast Members, one with a Mickey hand, standing in front of a STARBUCKS! Oh, glorious Starbucks. Hey, it was an extra early morning!
After a quick stop at the Tree of Life and another fun attraction, “It’s Tough to Be a Bug”, it was time for our backstage experience.
We were headed on the Backstage Safari Tour to find out what happens behind-the-scenes at Disney’s Animal Kingdom Theme Park!
We would become VIPs at this point and would have access, with guides of course, to what was behind this wall and beyond. I’ve always wanted to go behind walls like these. Now was my chance.
Our tour guide, Jeff, was amazing and led us during this in-depth program.
We would get an insider’s look at conservation, animal nutrition and medicine, animal care and behavioral studies. Highlights included visits to the backstage animal housing area, the Animal Nutrition Center, the Veterinary Hospital and an experience on Kilimanjaro Safaris!
We were off and walked behind those walls, just as if we were Cast Members ourselves.
But here’s the thing……no photos were allowed. For a group of bloggers, this was incredibly difficult. We always have phone/camera in hand……….but we made the sacrifice. You may have followed along, as many of us were live-tweeting instead of taking pictures.
Why no photos? Well, let’s just say I saw things that are very much confidential and in process at Animal Kingdom Theme Park. You may have heard of an Avatar-inspired area? Yep – saw some of that as we went by! My lips are sealed.
FIRST STOP – ELEPHANT HOUSING
Walking over railroad tracks and through grass, this truly was behind the scenes. And it felt like it. We were heading to the area where Disney elephants (think Dumbo) are kept at night, or during storms. We even had an elephant to greet us!
- 3.6 elephants means 3 males and 6 females in “zoo talk”!
- Elephant gestation period is around 22 months. I’d never make it!
- Every elephant begins their morning with a bath….. either a wet bath or dry rub.
- Husbandry training for the elephants is 100% voluntary…..they help in their own care.
NEXT STOP – ANIMAL NUTRITION CENTER
As Jeff reminded us, when you are dealing with animals (and some big ones at that), there are two things you deal with all day long – food and poop. Ha! I’ll avoid the poop except to say that it was brilliant to see how they monitor certain animals if they are concerned about health, etc. They put food coloring or the like in food, so they can find their poop! I’d hate to be “that guy” by the way. Just saying!
The Animal Nutrition Center was full staffed and busy. It was quickly approaching meal time and you could tell. Areas for partitioned off for different types of food – one person was dealing just with meat (beef, seafood, etc). It was quite a process and everything was labeled just so, with binders to help them figure out what to feed each animal.
- They don’t serve animal “mice” at Disney World. Mickey would not approve…. so they serve “rodents”! (HA!)
- Gorillas like big bowls of flavored tea…. especially to take their medicines!
- On the animal enrichment good cart, I spied applesauce, cinnamon, and even pumpkin pie spice.
- When preparing diets, the animals get the same quality of food as is offered in Walt Disney World restaurants! Impressive!
Here’s what I took away from this part of the tour more than anything. Disney’s Animal Kingdom Theme Park is regulated like a zoo, as well it should be seeing just how many animals it cares for throughout. But here’s the thing…….I’ve been to many zoos. I cannot imagine regular zoos that they have the infrastructure that Disney does, nor the resources. The shelters for the animals are top notch – must be, since Orlando can take on the force of hurricanes.
Overall, I’m impressed!
Photo by Alex Kang. ©2016 Disney
Next up on the Tour – Kilimanjaro Safaris
Kilimanjaro Safari is an attraction available to everyone at Animal Kingdom Theme Park. You can glimpse animals in their natural habitats during an 18-minute expedition into the Harambe Wildlife Reserve. It is not to be missed and I suggest you head there first thing when you enter the park, before the heat of the day slows animals down.
Photo by Alex Kang. ©2016 Disney
You hop on board on these specially made vehicles and enjoy the ride.
Best part is, the ride is never the same twice. Why? Animals might cross the road right in front of you. Animals might be more active during the rain (yes – head here during a rainy afternoon)! You just never know what the animals will be up to.
We clearly came upon the giraffes at a great time as they were all feeding from the trees, though I couldn’t get them to look right at the camera!
My other favorite moment from the safari was this one – the hippos.
Why? Every single time I’ve visited any zoo, the hippos are always submerged in water, with ears sticking out. This cool morning was the exception, and I loved seeing them basking in the sun. You can see just how awe-inspiring these animals are.
And then there was this shot, as if it was a still taken right out of Disney’s “The Lion King”! See him up there being camera shy?
One place not to be missed while at Disney’s Animal Kingdom Theme Park is the Conservation Station, a wildlife conservation center which is home to animal encounters, interactive exhibits and a veterinary facility. To get there you’ll have to take a train (shown on park map)!
This was the last stop on our Backstage Safari Tour. Though open to the public, we once again headed behind closed doors and went INSIDE a live laboratory.
Animal health is something Disney takes very seriously. Stepping inside the lab, one could tell immediately how important this was. While theme park guests can view a particular room in the veterinary facility from one window, we were watching through another, the lab window.
It is inside this room where medical procedures are performed. On animals of all sizes – as big as tigers and as small as birds. All kinds of procedures are performed in this room. We watched as a small bird was brought in for examination.
TIP: If you want to see an animal medical procedure, best to go 9-12 except on Wed. They don’t advertise it.
It was an amazing adventure, one I soon won’t forget! I even had a few moments to spend with my friend Rafiki!
There’s much fun to be had at Animal Kingdom Theme Park in 2016:
- New “Rivers of Light” nighttime show, debuting this Spring – With a waterway as its stage, the innovative new show will feature entertainers, floating lanterns, water screens and swirling animal imagery in a performance that truly brings the animal kingdom to life at night.
- New Kilimanjaro Safaris at Night – Staring in spring, guests will get to experience this attraction in a whole new light – at night, amid the orange glow of the setting sun.
- Dine at Tiffin’s – The park’s newest eatery will open this spring to offer a menu inspired by the places the Imagineers traveled to when developing Disney’s Animal Kingdom. Open for both lunch and dinner, Tiffin’s will celebrate the art of traveling and include waterfront views from both indoor and outdoor seating areas. “Tiffin” is an Indian English word meaning midday meal or type of container used to carry food while traveling.
Speaking of animals, have you seen ZOOTOPIA yet? It just surpassed FROZEN as the best debut gross in the history of Walt Disney Animation – $73.7 Million!
ZOOTOPIA Now Playing in Theatres Everywhere!
Be sure to check out my other posts from the ZOOTOPIA Event:
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