I have a confession to make. I had never been to Disney’s Animal Kingdom until I stepped through the park gates as dusk approached to check-out their new evening initiatives. I was expecting a pleasant evening of animal viewing and light shows, but was dazzled by lights soaring across riverways, sunset safaris and high-energy. It was so much more than I expected.
Over the years, I had heard from family travelers that Disney’s Animal Kingdom was worth the visit, but only if you went early in the morning. Because the park closed relatively early, the ticket price seemed hard to justify for families who wanted to pop in during the late afternoon. The Disney cast members were well aware of the feedback, but there were limitations to what Animal Kingdom could provide by way entertainment. After all, they can’t exactly set off fireworks with wild animals at play over in the safari.
Illuminate Your Senses
Instead, Disney focused on transforming the park into an evening spectacular filled with illumination, and perhaps more importantly, an authentic experience that left visitors happy to come back for more. Mickey addicts know exactly what type of experience and thrills they’ll get at the Magic Kingdom or Epcot, and Animal Kingdom will prove no different. They won’t have to wait long. Disney’s Animal Kingdom is poised to open their doors for evening dwellers on May 27, 2016.
To kick off the night, we settled in for Rivers of Light and watched as larger than life animals came to life through the magic of lights and music. It was pretty incredible, and felt more like watching a carefully animated film than sitting in the evening air under the moonlight. But the crowning centerpiece of Disney’s Animal Kingdom is its Tree of Life. Visitors may know it from its meticulously carved animals. With over 300 creatures to see, even season pass holders say they still see new ones when they stop for a look. With a black sky as its backdrop, The Tree of Life captivated with animated animals dancing across its trunk. After a while, we forgot we were staring at the tree and felt like a floating movie was being played before a captivated crowd.
Sunset in the Safari
The sunset ride through the Kilimanjaro Safari was my favorite part of the new evening experience, where dozing lions roar to life against a setting sun. Disney’s cast members were delighted to see their furry friends playing and romping through the safari. And they swore they didn’t train the lion to let out a big yawn (let’s call it a silent roar) under the moonlight right when we passed.
We were also treated to a group of giraffes running through the grasslands, and rare and exotic animals peering at us from just feet away. Meanwhile, the newly welcomed painted pygmy dogs were seen playing a game of chase and didn’t seem to notice we were there. It really struck our group that during the day, visitors usually just see sleeping animals or lightly grazing elephants. But at night, the safari is like a whole new world.
Thrill Rides in the Dark
Kids who need an adventure won’t be disappointed. Come May, wild teenagers, brave parents and young-at-heart grandparents can scream down the Himalayas on Expedition Everest roller coaster. Did I mention this all happens in the dark? Seasoned pros who know Expedition Everest inside and out will feel their stomach lurch as they make their way out of the dark tunnel and into the night air. For visitors who need even more thrills, Disney’s Animal Kingdom is also opening up the Kali River Rapids for an evening ride down the Chakrandi River.
Join the Party
Here’s where the second wave of fun comes in. The Harambe Wildlife Parti swings into high energy fun in the marketplace with live entertainment, music, song and dance. We swayed to the beat while trying samplings of African and exotic fare that will open for visitors at the new Tiffin’ restaurant. Meanwhile, the Nomad Lounge just next door will offer libations from Africa, South America and Asia. Perfect for grown-ups while the kids wind down and trade their near-death stories on Expedition Everest.
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