The Animal Kingdom Debate

A new story in the Orlando Sentinel rehashes the debate over Disney’s Animal Kingdom. Is it a half-day park? Or with the addition of Expedition Everest, a 100+ million dollar roller coaster, will the park finally be seen as worthy of a full day of exploration?

Personally, I’ve never thought of Animal Kingdom as a half day park. Even if you arrive when the gates open, it is difficult to see every show, explore all the animal habitats, and ride all the rides before park closing. It has two of the best counter-service restaurants in the resort. With the addition of Mt. Everest, it has three great thrill rides (Dinosaur, Kali River Rapids) and one completely unique attraction in Kilimanjaro Safari that really should be ridden twice (morning and evening) to experience it all.

But I’m Disney’s ideal guest. I take the day slow and take in all the marvelous detail of the park. I love the animal exhibits, I love the rides, and I love it even more when they meet in shows and attractions. Alas, the average theme park tourist does not share all those characteristics.

The problem with Animal Kingdom is that it has never been able to shake the label that it is just a zoo. Most people see zoos as halfday parks, something to do after Church on Sunday or something they can do in their own town. The Nahtazu promotion, although it helped somewhat, mostly served to reinforce that notion. Disney has now dropped that promotion and will return to promoting the park for what it is, unique. It’s an amazingly unique themed environment that showcases animals, conservation, and good family fun.

Animal Kingdom will never be able to attract visitors who don’t like zoos and they’ll never be known as a thrill ride park. IMHO, they should stop trying to do both and instead concentrate on what makes them special – the ability to tell great stories, while showcasing the animal kingdom. This appears to be the direction they’re going now. SeaWorld has done it successfully for years, I’m sure if Disney keeps their heads in the game, they can too.