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DISNEY'S ANIMAL KINGDOM OPENS
Alese & Morton Pechter
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Jungle Safari Boat TourTwo by Two .. those animals Two by Two .... well, not exactly two by two but somehow that old Danny Kaye show tune comes to mind when we think of our recent visit to Walt Disney World's newest attraction .. Disney's Animal Kingdom. Animals, animals, animals .. everywhere ... some real, some extinct, some pure Disney fantasy ... but all fun, exciting, entertaining and educational. This park is not a zoo ... and it is nothing like The Magic Kingdom or Epcot. It is a great place to visit either by yourself or to take your kids or grandkids along with you. It certainly has something for every age.

Entrance to Animal KingdomDisney artists have taken a barren stretch of land and created forests, streams and waterfalls, dense tropical jungles and savannas filled with natural beauty where the animals live. There are thrilling attractions, dramatic landscapes and close encounters with exotic creatures.

TREE OF LIFE...


The Tree of Life.We were in awe on our first visit ... and we plan to be there lots more. The centerpiece of the park is The Tree of Life, rising 14 stories into the sky with its leafy canopy spreading 160 feet across. You have to see this to believe it. All man-made, it tells the story of all of Earth's animals and the interconnected nature of all living things. Carved into the tree's roots, trunk and branches is a tapestry of more than 325 animals, from the mighty lion to the playful dolphin. To study this fully could take the whole day. The tree is surrounded by pools and small meadows with tortoises, otters, flamingos and other exotic animals.

After we walked around the tree several times, we went INSIDE the massive trunk. There we found a state-of-the-art 3-D film, It's Tough to be a Bug, about our planet's most populous and sometimes scariest creatures ... Bugs! It is a humorous adventure about insects .. from the bug's point of view. The program is outstanding but we will not tell you more as there are special treats and surprises in store when you see it for the first time. The amazing special effects, physical as well as visual, made it great fun for us. We intend to make it our first stop when we take the children on our next visit.

OASIS...


Animal Kingdom Street Musicians.Another surprise for us was the absence of rows and rows of stores tempting you to spend money .. no costumed characters milling around and no vendors selling the Mickey balloons. In keeping with its message of conservation, the commercialism of the other parks is muted. Animal Kingdom is five times larger than the Magic Kingdom but has about a third of its stores and restaurants. When you enter the park area you are greeted by a botanical garden which they call The Oasis .. and go via two paths through some thick vegetation that is home to tree kangaroos, two-toed sloths, miniature deer, brilliant macaws, iguanas and other exotic wildlife. You know your are someplace different.

The park took nearly four years to build and covers five hundred acres. Workers planted 40,000 mature trees, along with thousands upon thousands of bushes and grasses collected from around the world. Animal Kingdom has more plants than Disney World's three other parks combined. Artisans on the Indonesian island of Ball spent three years carving all of the elaborate animal figurines that decorate the building exteriors. Zulu tribesmen were flown in from South Africa to build the thatched roofs in the Aftrican-themed village, Harambe.

Wow! ... and all so we could have a great time! "We've tried to be very thorough in inventing this place," said Joe Rohde, the park's chief designer. "We sent probably 30 people over five or six years to Africa, six or seven different trips, and took thousands and thousands and thousands of photographs."

AFRICA...


The park is divided into "Lands" .. Africa is where the real, wild animals roam freely and you don't want to miss Kilimanjaro Safari, a park highlight. The area is designed as a typical wildlife reserve in the coastal village of Harambe, with its bustling marketplace, white-washed walls and reed-thatched roofs typical of present-day Swahili architecture. A huge, gnarled baobab tree, traditional icon of the African savanna, serves as the starting point for the safari.

You climb aboard a 32-passenger canopied safari vehicle for a bumpy trek across a 110-acre savanna filled with lions, elephants, antelope, rhinos, hippopotamus, zebra, warthogs, giraffes and other wildlife. The vehicle almost plummets off a Safari vehicle.rickety bridge and a serious story unfolds of poachers killing elephants for their ivory. It is a two mile, 20-minute ride that travels on a winding dirt road through a recreated savanna, with realistic-looking touches, including termite mounds and sausage trees. Beyond natural barriers (not obvious to visitors) are the animals.

We loved this journey but found the ride quite bumpy .. for little ones ... and would have liked to spend more time driving through at a slower pace so we could see more of the animals. Next time we shall just have to take the ride twice.

GORILLA FALLS...


Dense Jungle atmosphere.This park will always have animals as its main attraction. There are 1,000 of them representing 200 species. At the end of our safari, we were right at the entrance to the Gorilla Falls Exploration Trail and proceeded to walk through a bamboo forest on the self-guided tour .. We saw troops of lowland gorillas, hippos from an underwater viewing area, birds in an aviary and a strange looking meercat and the gerenuk, a member of the antelope family. We liked this area as we were able to go at our own pace, stop and look for some of the animals, read the information about them and listen to the Disney cast members tell their animal stories. We had to remember, though, that the animals are not stage actors and so do not always appear and do what we might expect and want to see. Sometimes we had to search to find them.

CONSERVATION STATION...


From there, we took the Wildlife Express steam train to Conservation Station. This is the heart of Disney's conservation effort. As visitors we were able to look backstage at animal care and conservation and hear animal experts talk about Disney's global commitment to wildlife. Glass walls reveal animal examination and nursery rooms and we were able to watch the animal-care workers.

"I think what surprises people is we're not just talking about conservation," said Dr. Beth Stevens, director of conservation and science for Walt Disney World animal programs. "It's very much a part of what we're doing here." Dr. Stevens holds a doctoral degree in animal behavior from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and completed a post-doctoral internship at the National Zoo in Washington, D.C.

Though we loved this area, we can see that small children, might not be as enthralled ... but just going through it quickly, they will learn something .. and then move on with them to.... DinoLand!

DINOLAND...


In DinoLand U.S.A., the kids play amateur archaeologists and uncover fake dinosaur bones in the sand at The Boneyard. Nearby you can watch scientists restore the real bones of a Tyrannosaurus Rex, preparing it for display in a Chicago museum. This is also where you find the one thrill ride, Countdown to Extinction, which hurls riders (not us) .. back in time to the dinosaur age to save the last of the iguanodons, a creature that dates to the Cretaceous period 65 million years ago. We, ourselves, do not go in for the thrill rides but know that all those exiting loved it.

SAFARI VILLAGE...


Elephant SculptureThe five major lands are laid out in a traditional spoke-and-wheel pattern around the Tree of Life. Safari Village is the hub of the park where the tree is located. There is live street entertainment from music to storytelling and twice-daily March of the Animals, a colorful procession of performers dressed in animal costumes, begins here and proceeds along the edge of Asia, past Dinoland USA. Bridges lead across Discovery River to the other lands and attractions. In addition, Discovery River Boats provide a water-level view of the other lands with surprises along the way, taking you on a relaxing interlude to Asia's Upcountry Landing. On each boat a Disney cast member has a "show-and-tell" with some of the smaller animals but along the way you may spot a 30ft dinosaur (an iguanodon), steaming geysers and the lair of a fire-breathing dragon.

ASIA...


Asia is still in the planning stages ... expected to be completed in early 1999 ... and will focus on live animals from the eastern regions. At present it features the Caravan Stage with one of the several live shows .."Flights of Wonder," a free-flying demonstration of the skills of falcons, owls and other exotic birds. The open-air theater seats 700 and so there is not much of a wait for each of the performances.

CAMP MINNIE-MICKEY...


Jungle Book Stage ShowAnd never fear, Mickey enthusiasts ... Pith-helmeted Mickey does have a presence at The Animal Kingdom. There is a complete area ... Camp Minnie-Mickey which is the site for the costumed, animal characters from Disney classic films. This is where you can encounter Mickey, in safari attire, snap family photos and obtain autographs from the characters. A great place for little ones. Though the live animals are billed as the main attraction in this park ... at Disney, they are probably relegated to supporting roles, as the real stars are always Mickey, Minnie and the stuffed animal pals. Here is where you will see Festival of the Lion King, one of the best Disney productions we have seen. It gives you a taste and feeling for the new Broadway show, The Lion King, that won the Tony as best show of the year. You can also find tales of Pocahontas at Grandmother Willow's Groves.

The park's stage shows all convey messages of conservation .. about preserving forests and wildlife. "Festival of the Lion King", "Colors of the Wind", "Friends from the Animal Forest", "Journey into Jungle Book", "The March of the Animals", and the "Flights of Wonder" entertain Disney style but teach as well. We loved each one and are most anxious to return with some of the kids. We know they will have a ball.

SPECIAL THOUGHTS ABOUT ANIMAL KINGDOM....


200 Species of AnimalsWhat we also found most exciting was the whole atmosphere. It is Africana in every way. Live musical groups, characters, daily processions of costumed animals, parades, special streetshows ... all have the African sound, rhythm, beat and feeling. African drum rhythms surround you as you walk the area, rather than the brass bands that are present in the other Disney parks. And the Oasis at the park's entrance is a place to "decompress". The lush tropicals, subtropicals, flowering trees, vines and shrubs ... like jacarandas, tabebuias and orchids, and the broad canopied evergreens .. all create a sense of quiet and escape.

Though we were entirely taken in by the new Disney theme-park .. we know it has its detractors. Animal conservationists have found fault. Several of the animals did die prior to the grand opening. We must tell you that we had misgivings about going. We do not like or approve of zoos, aquariums and the like. We have always felt that all creatures should be allowed to remain in their native environment ... but we also realize that, for many animals, extinction in their native environment is happening ... that we must make people aware of these situations ... and one of the best ways is by having zoos and aquariums and parks where the masses can get to see and learn about the animals and learn to love them and be concerned for their lives.

Jacques Cousteau has said that we do not destroy what we love. Hopefully, an area such as this will help teach our young people to love the animals and care about their safe existence.

Jane Goodall standing with Bald Eagle and trainer.Jane Goodall, the guru of chimpanzees, was present at the opening and the main question asked of her was about interning the animals in any kind of surroundings outside their natural habitat... and the deaths of the animals at the Disney park. Her answer was straightforward, honest and sincere. She told all of us that she sees animals die all the time in their natural surroundings ... that she has seen the kind of care given at The Animal Kingdom ... and that many would have a better chance of survival in this park.

Walt Disney World Resort has developed a comprehensive animal conservation program which includes research, breeding and educational facilities ... that will further promote the cause of endangered species in the wild. They work directly to save endangered animals and hope to motivate millions of guests to support wildlife programs when they return home. At Conservation Station there is information about conservation organizations worldwide.

A trip from Palm Beach to Orlando to see The Animal Kingdom? Absolutely! Whether you are off by yourself for a change of pace .. or want to take visiting friends, relatives, kids ... to see something new and spectacular ... you will find it at Disney and particularly at this new park.

Guess we are just kids at heart .. we love the place ... and think you will too.

JUST THE FACTS:


Location: Animal Kingdom is at the end of Osceola Parkway, just north of U.S. Highway 192

Hours: Presently 7 A.M. to ... varies by season

Ticket Prices: Adults, $44.52; children ages 3-9, $36.04; children under 3, free. Prices include sales tax.

Parking: $5.

Information: Call Walt Disney World .. 407-824-4321 or Disney's Web site ... www.disneyworld.com ... (Click on the Walt Disney World Icon, then theme parks and finally Animal Kingdom)

PARK STATISTICS:


Animals: 1000 representing 200 species ... most acquired from zoos accredited by the American Zoo and Aquarium Association.

Landscaping: Approximately 4 million trees, plants, shrubs, ferns, etc., representing 3,000 species.

Lands: 5 (Africa, Camp Minnie-Mickey, DinoLand, U.S.A., Safari Village and Asia (which will open in 1999)

Employees: 2,500

Size: 500 acres

Parking: Up to 6,000 cars

Estimated cost: $800 million

WHERE TO EAT:


Rainforest Cafe (full-service/Entrance Plaza)

Flame Tree Barbecue (quick dining, outdoor seating/Safari Village)

Kusafiri Coffee Shop and Bakery (quick service counter/Africa)

Pizzafari (quick dining/Safari Village)

Restaurantosaurus (quick dining/character breakfast/DinoLand U.S.A.)

Sundowner Terrace (cocktails/Africa)

Tamu Tamu Refreshments (snack shop/Africa)

Tusker House Restaurant (quick dining/Africa)

ESSENTIAL SERVICES:


Baby Care Center (Safari Village)

Banking ATM (Entrance Plaza)

First Aid (Safari Village)

Guest Services (Entrance Plaza)

Kennel (Entrance Plaza)

Lockers (Entrance Plaza)

Lost and Found (Safari Village)

Lost children (Safari Village)

Package pickup (Entrance Plaza)

Stroller rental (Entrance Plaza)

Wheelchair rental (Entrance Plaza)

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