Back in 1998 as a kid, I would see commercials advertising Animal Kingdom. I remember at the time thinking how exciting it was to see a new park with such a unique concept come to life. This led to my family’s first visit where I, unfortunately for them, quoted the commercial all trip long – it’s Nahtazu! It was so catchy back then! That slogan set the tone for the park reiterating in their ads that this park was not any ordinary zoo but rather a park bringing us closer to nature while safely appreciating the wildlife and learning about endangered species and conservation. Fast forward to 2018 where we find ourselves celebrating the park’s 20th Anniversary!
On Sunday April 22, 2018, I was fortunate enough to attend Disney’s Animal Kingdom having snatched a ticket for the D23 20th Anniversary Fan Celebration. My event pass which cost me a total of $25/per person included a few perks such as seating for the 20th Anniversary Moment at the Tree of Life, a D23-exclusive photo opportunity, three (3) Fastpass+ experiences, advanced event merchandise ordering with day of pick-up, seating for that evening’s River of Light and a D23 exclusive commemorative gift. As a newbie D23 member, this was my first park event experience only having previously attended the D23 Expo last year as a non-member. To say this event was worth every penny is an understatement.
Although getting into the parking lot was quite hectic, my day continued without a hitch once I passed the bag check line. The entrance was adorned with 20th Anniversary banners and cast members smiling from ear to ear. The enthusiasm and excitement in the air could be felt by everyone whether you were a guest running over to Pandora, the day of merchandise line or to snag a spot for the morning’s anniversary celebration. I signed in at the D23 table and received my badge and gift which included a drawstring bag, Disney’s Conservation Fund pin, postcards and park map. They even handed us all small Dasani bottles to ensure we stayed hydrated all day long. Anyone who’s visited the park before knows its known for getting quite HOT.
Due to inclement weather, the 20th Anniversary Moment at the Tree Life was moved to the Festival of the Lion King location. I quickly rushed over to get in line and ensure a good seat. Although not as iconic as the tree of life, the venue was more intimate for those in attendance and luckily provided much needed air conditioning. The event started off with some amazing performances and characters from DAK attractions such as Finding Nemo the Musical, Festival of the Lion King and even DiVine. After hearing a couple of Disney Parks Upper Management key speakers, the man the legend Joe Rohde from Disney Imagineering took the stage along with safari Mickey, Minnie, Donald, Daisy, Goofy and Pluto. Anyone who knows anything about the park knows Rohde led the Disney Imagineering team in researching and designing everything we see in the park today. I watched in aww with the rest of the world as the event itself was being live streamed online. The event concluded with a big finishing number. I found myself exiting the facility when I took the opportunity to walk up to Rohde himself for a photo. He graciously obliged and honestly how could he not? I had his face and famous earring printed across my shirt. Disney Goal accomplished!
After that amazing start to my day, I went hopping from attraction to attraction. In addition to my three Fastpasses included with admission on My Disney Experience app, I was given an additional card loaded with three Fastpass+ experiences as part of my D23 Event pass. I was able to ride Na’vi River Journey, Expedition Everest, Dinosaur, Kilimanjaro Safaris and experience both the Mickey and pals meet and greet as well as the new UP! A Great Bird Adventure show which debuted that day – all with FastPasses! I even lucked out in the early evening with only having to wait 60 minutes for Flight of Passage. I still can’t go over just how amazing that ride is. I was worried sitting at the far edge may ruin the affects a little – similarly to sitting at the top or bottom of Soarin – but thanks to all of the sensory overload, I never even noticed a difference.
One attraction I hadn’t experienced in YEARS was on my radar this trip… Rafiki’s Planet Watch. Although It tends to be on my “skip” list on most trips, I wanted to revisit it as the day was revolved around celebrating the parks history. My visit turned into one of my favorite experiences of the day. I met a wonderful Cast Member named Eva who gave me Tiana’s history with the park. Who is Tiana you might ask? She’s a brown alpaca from the “Affection Section” a.k.a. Petting Zoo located just outside of Rafiki’s Planet Watch. She was saved from a carnival and was brought to Disney’s Animal Kingdom for rehabilitation. Her first year she was extremely standoff-ish and would barely move within her enclosure. She now shares an enclosure with goats and sheep who she has bonded with. Hearing Eva describe Tiana’s journey showed me how well Disney animal care staff attend to their furry (and not so furry) friends. It was truly a joy to see that little gleam in Eva’s eyes as she talked about Tiana and the park’s progressive animal care.
All in all, it was a wonderful day at the park celebrating its legacy. We’ve seen it’s growth and changes over the year with some of the original attractions such as Camp Mickey & Minnie, Tarzan Rocks and even Beastly Kingdom (which never came to fruition) end up on the chopping block making way for new additions such as Expedition Everest and Pandora. I think Disney’s Animal Kingdom will continue to evolve over the next 20 years just as Walt always intended for the parks to always progress. I can always count on Animal Kingdom for a wild good time.