6 Things to Do in Walt Disney World If You Love Animals

I’ve already done a number of animal-themed posts here on Vacationearing, but they’ve all focused on a particular type of animal: birds, fish, dinosaurs, elephants, bears, dragons, and lions. What if you love all animals equally? That’s what we’ll talk about today: the more generalized animal experiences available at Walt Disney World.

Here are six things to do in Walt Disney World if you love animals.

1. Disney’s Animal Kingdom

I always feel like putting an entire park as a list item is kind of a cop-out, but in this case, if you love animals, Animal Kingdom is where you’re going to want to spend much of your time. You’ll see animals (both real and Imagineered) in other parks, but here you’ll find more than 1,700 animals from 250 species! Of course you’ll want to ride Kilimanjaro Safaris, but don’t forget about all the trails where you can see even more animals. The trails include the Cretaceous Trail, Discovery Island Trails, Pangani Forest Exploration Trail, and Maharajah Jungle Trek.

Harambe Wildlife Preserve sign on Kilimanjaro Safaris at Disney's Animal Kingdom, Walt Disney World

Harambe Wildlife Preserve sign on Kilimanjaro Safaris

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7 Things to Do in Walt Disney World If You Love Lions

Last month, I covered things to do in Walt Disney World if you like bears and elephants—both animals with attractions named after them (Country Bear Jamboree and Dumbo the Flying Elephant). Today I’ll talk about another animal that’s been so honored: the lion. While Simba is the most famous Disney lion, lions appear in a variety of forms throughout Walt Disney World. So, here are seven things to do in Walt Disney World if you love lions.

1. Festival of the Lion King

Simba in Festival of the Lion King in Disney's Animal Kingdom, Walt Disney WorldWe’ll start with the attraction with “lion” in the title. This show, which I talked about in my post on musical theater, is (obviously) based on The Lion King. You’ll see Simba and a variety of his animal friends. The audience is seated in four sections, each representing an animal, so ask a cast member if you can be seated in the lion section.

2. Kilimanjaro Safaris

Sleeping lions seen on Kilimanjaro Safaris in Disney's Animal Kingdom, Walt Disney World

Kilimanjaro Safaris is your chance to see real-life lions in Walt Disney World. Sometimes it’s hard to get a good photo of them because they’re sleeping, but you can usually spot a male and a female there. I’ve heard that the rock is actually air-conditioned to encourage the lions to sit there!

Male lion seen on Kilimanjaro Safaris in Disney's Animal Kingdom, Walt Disney World

3. The Tree of Life

Here’s your scavenger hunt for today: find the lion on The Tree of Life at Disney’s Animal Kingdom. Here’s a photo to help you out.

Lion carved into The Tree of Life in Disney's Animal Kingdom, Walt Disney World

4. Circle of Life

Although I didn’t count this movie in my post on elephants, I decided to include it today because Simba is the star of the show. You’ll get to see animation inspired by The Lion King accompanied by gorgeous video of real-life animals, including lions.

5. Mickey’s PhilharMagic

Marquee of Mickey's PhilharMagic in Magic Kingdom, Walt Disney WorldAs I described in my post on Aladdin, this 3-D movie is great for fans of 1990s Disney films, which include, of course, The Lion King. The scene you experience in this show is the musical number “I Just Can’t Wait to Be King.”

6. The Lion King Family Suites at Disney’s Art of Animation Resort

You can’t experience this one yet, but you will be able to soon! The family suites at Disney’s Art of Animation Resort will be opening in May, with the standard rooms following in November. In this post from the Disney Parks blog you can can get a preview of what the Lion King bedrooms will look like, and here you can see artist renderings of the exterior. I can’t wait to wander around this resort! So many new photo ops!

7. For Kids: Simba’s Cubhouse at Disney’s Animal Kingdom Lodge

If your child is the one who loves lions, there’s yet another opportunity for them: Simba’s Cubhouse. Themed after The Lion King, this activity center is for kids aged four to twelve. It’s open every evening, and you pay an hourly rate per child. In exchange, they have a fabulous experience and you can enjoy some grown-up time in Walt Disney World!

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If your lion-themed day is taking place after May 2012, it can begin the night before, because you can stay in a Lion King-themed suite! Make sure to take lots of photos in and around the resort. You’ll probably want to make Disney’s Animal Kingdom your first park of the day, because early morning is usually best for animal sightings on Kilimanjaro Safaris. Check the Times Guide when you get there so you can make the first showing of Festival of the Lion King. If you have time between the safari and the show, look for the carved lion on The Tree of Life. If not, do it after the show before heading out to the next park. You can do Epcot or Magic Kingdom next. Neither movie should have a long wait. After you’ve seen both Circle of Life and Mickey’s PhilharMagic, you can head to Disney’s Animal Kingdom Lodge. Check the little ones into Simba’s Cubhouse and enjoy an adults-only dinner at Boma, Jiko, or Sanaa.

Hakuna matata!

7 Things to Do in Walt Disney World If You Love Dragons

The Year of the Dragon began on January 23, and to celebrate, the official Disney fan club, D23, published a list of “Disney’s villainous, friendly, and little-known winged characters.” The list includes dragon characters from early animated shorts all the way up through Nessie from The Ballad of Nessie, the short that was shown in theaters before Winnie the Pooh. Many of these characters exist only in film, but some have made their way into the parks, so that’s what I’ll cover today.

Here are seven things to do in Walt Disney World if you love dragons.

1. Journey Into Imagination With Figment

I have to start with my favorite dragon, Figment. Although the current attraction in Epcot is not as good as the original, I still love seeing Figment and his upside-down house.

Figment's upside-down bathroom in Journey Into Imagination with Figment in Epcot in Walt Disney World

He’s one of the few Disney characters that originated in a theme park rather than the movies, and for that reason I hope he never leaves Epcot.

2. Elliott in the Main Street Electrical Parade

I am a huge SpectroMagic fan, but I like the Main Street Electrical Parade as well. My favorite part is when Elliott, better known as Pete’s dragon, demonstrates his ability to disappear.

3. Mushu in The Magic of Disney Animation

Mushu, the little dragon from Mulan, is not found, as you might expect, in the China pavilion in Epcot but in The Magic of Disney Animation in Disney’s Hollywood Studios. He’s the representative animated character who, along with a Disney artist, explains how animation works.

4. Maleficent in Dragon-Form in Fantasmic!

In contrast to Figment, Elliott, and Mushu, Maleficent as a dragon isn’t quite so friendly. She makes a scary appearance in Audio-Animatronic form in Fantasmic! at Disney’s Hollywood Studios.

5. Dragons in Disney’s Animal Kingdom

Disney's Animal Kingdom sign at park entrance in Walt Disney WorldThe original plan for Disney’s Animal Kingdom was that it would be a place for all animals, real and mythical. That’s why if you look at the center of the park logo, you’ll see a dragon. Unfortunately the mythical creatures (other than the Yeti) never made it into the park in any official capacity, but you still see traces here and there. In addition to the dragon in the logo, a dragon head adorns one of the ticket booths at the entrance. There’s also supposed to be a dragon-shaped fountain near Camp Minnie-Mickey, although I cannot find a photo in my archives or online. (If you find one online, please let me know in the comments.) Also, if you want to see a “real” dragon, there’s a Komodo Dragon on the Maharajah Jungle Trek.

6. Dragon Slayer Statue in Germany Pavilion

St. George Dragon Slayer Statue in Germany Pavilion in Epcot in Walt Disney WorldNow, if you love dragons, you might not like this one, but I feel like I should include it for the sake of completeness. In the courtyard of the Germany pavilion is this statue of St. George slaying a dragon. It’s OK; he wasn’t a very nice dragon, I’m sure.

7. Nine Dragons Restaurant

Finally we find ourselves in the China pavilion in Epcot. Nine Dragons Restaurant is full of dragon depictions, including a glass mural of two dragons chasing a pearl and a dragon on the ceiling in the waiting area. I’ve never eaten there, so I can’t comment on the food, but if you love dragons, there’s no better place to eat.

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I have to throw in one honorable mention here. It’s not in Disney World but in Disneyland Paris, and it’s just so cool I have to share:

This is the dragon under Le Château de la Belle au Bois Dormant (Sleeping Beauty’s Castle), so naturally it’s Maleficent. I saw it last summer, and I have to say it’s one of the coolest things at Disneyland Paris.

Now, for your dragon-themed day in Walt Disney World, you’re going to have one challenge: the Main Street Electrical Parade and Fantasmic! are both evening events, so it will be difficult, if not impossible, to do both, depending on the exact show times. If Fantasmic! is having an early show, say 6:30 or 7, you could go to that first and then get back to Magic Kingdom for a 9 or 11 p.m. performance of the Main Street Electrical Parade. If that’s the plan, you’ll probably want to start in Animal Kingdom. You can take photos of all the dragon references you find. Head to Epcot next. You can have lunch at Nine Dragons, ride Journey Into Imagination With Figment, and take photos of the statue in the Germany pavilion. Then head to Disney’s Hollywood Studios for The Magic of Disney Animation and Fantasmic! Finally, hop over to Magic Kingdom for the Main Street Electrical Parade to say hello (and goodbye and hello again) to Elliott.

Who’s your favorite Disney dragon?

8 Things to Do in Walt Disney World If You Love Bears

I had so much fun working on my last post that I decided to do another animal-themed post today. That one was all about elephants; today’s is about the “bare necessities.” Yep, we’re talking about bears. So, forget about your worries and your strife and enjoy this list of things to do in Walt Disney World if you love bears.

1. Country Bear Jamboree

If you love bears and country music, have I got the attraction for you! This opening-day attraction at Magic Kingdom is corny but fun, and full of bear-related humor…

Gomer the piano-playing bear in Country Bear Jamboree at Magic Kingdom in Walt Disney World

“Corsets: Cinch like a bear-hug”

2. The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh

Winnie the Pooh floating with a blue balloon in The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh in Magic Kingdom at Walt Disney WorldNext up is the beloved Pooh bear. As I mentioned in my post on reading, I love how the book pages are integrated throughout this attraction, as we follow this bear-of-very-little-brain on his quest for honey.

3. Splash Mountain

Br'er Fox, Br'er Bear, and Br'er Rabbit in front of Splash Mountain in Magic Kingdom in Walt Disney WorldHere we have our first bear villain: Br’er Bear, who, along with Br’er Fox, is determined to catch and eat Br’er Rabbit. Lucky for Br’er Rabbit, his hunters aren’t so smart. (Note Br’er Rabbit’s location in the photo.) Br’er Bear tends to foil Br’er Fox’s schemes by getting himself caught in their own traps.

4. Duffy the Disney Bear

Never heard of Duffy the Disney Bear? He’s only been in the U.S. parks since 2010, but he’s been a popular character at the Tokyo Disney Resort for several years. My nephew has a book in which Duffy is simply called “the Disney Bear,” and the story is that Mickey’s teddy bear came to life during a day in Magic Kingdom. Duffy’s backstory has since been changed, and now it’s that he was made by Minnie for Mickey when he was going on a sea voyage (which is why Duffy is dressed like a sailor). You can meet Duffy in Epcot near the Mexico Pavilion, and, of course, you can buy your own plush Duffy to take home.

5. Disney’s Wilderness Lodge

As soon as I thought about bears in hotels at Walt Disney World, I rememberedthis totem pole at Disney’s Wilderness Lodge.

Totem pole with Mickey Mouse, Goofy, Donald Duck, and Humphrey the Bear in front of Mercantile at Disney's Wilderness Lodge at Walt Disney World

The bear at the bottom is named Humphrey and was featured in several Disney shorts in the 1950s and more recently in shows like Mickey Mouse Clubhouse. He appears on a lot of merchandise sold in the Mercantile at the resort.

Humphrey the Bear merchandise at Mercantile in Disney's Wilderness Lodge in Walt Disney World

This photo is from 2006, so the selection may be different now.

You can find out more about Humphrey on Disney’s Wilderness Lodge Fan Site. In addition to Humphrey, you’ll see representations of other bears throughout Wilderness Lodge, including in its logo. There are even bear tracks in the sidewalk near the bus stop. Some say that if you look at the lodge from the boats, it looks like a bear face, although I have trouble seeing it.

6. The Tree of Life

As you might expect, there are bears carved into The Tree of Life at Animal Kingdom, but I don’t have any photos to help you on your hunt this time. I did find this great shot on Flickr of a grizzly bear catching a salmon. Have fun trying to find it yourself!

7. Maelstrom

As I mentioned in my post on snow, there’s a scene toward the end of Maelstrom in which you encounter some polar bears.

8. Muppet*Vision 3-D

We can’t forget everyone’s favorite bear comedian: Fozzie Bear! You can see him with the frogs and dogs and pigs and chickens and things in Muppet*Vision 3-D in Disney’s Hollywood Studios.

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Wow, there are even more bear-related things to do in Walt Disney World than there are for elephants, and we still haven’t even met the bear of “Bare Necessities” fame: Baloo. (His appearances aren’t listed in the Times Guides, but you can often find him in Animal Kingdom.) We also haven’t listed any live bears; unfortunately, there don’t seem to be any at Animal Kingdom.

Still, a bear-themed day in Disney World is going to be a long one, with all four parks and a resort represented. I’d start in any park except Epcot, because Maelstrom is in World Showcase, which opens later than the rest of Epcot, and Duffy’s appearances don’t start until late morning. Your quickest stop will be at Disney’s Hollywood Studios, because you just have Muppet*Vision 3-D to see. At Animal Kingdom, you’ll want to take some time to look for bears in The Tree of Life, and if you’re lucky, you might also bump into Baloo. By mid-afternoon, you’ll want to head over to Epcot to meet Duffy and ride Maelstrom. Magic Kingdom can be your last park stop (for Country Bear Jamboree, The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh, and Splash Mountain), because from there you can take the boat to Wilderness Lodge. Spend your evening exploring the lodge and finding bear merchandise in the shop. Don’t forget a picture with Humphrey!

Who is your favorite bear on this list?

5 Things to Do in Walt Disney World If You Love Elephants

It’s been a while since I did an animal-themed post, so I thought it was about time for another one today. We’ve covered fish, birds, and dinosaurs. Now it’s time for elephants!

Here are five things to do in Walt Disney World if you love elephants.

1. Dumbo the Flying Elephant

Dumbo the Flying Elephant at Magic Kingdom in Walt Disney WorldWhen you think of elephants and Disney, of course you have to start with the most famous elephant of all: Dumbo! Isn’t he cute?

Yes, it’s OK to ride Dumbo without a child! I’ve done it many times! You just may not be able to do it right away, because Dumbo is about to close until mid-February because of the Fantasyland expansion. When the expansion is complete, the attraction will be doubled in capacity—that’s a lot of elephants!

2. Jungle Cruise

Elephants are among the many creatures seen on the Jungle Cruise. Elephants large and small bathe in the river. Expect a joke about how it’s OK to look… because they have their trunks on.

Elephants seen on Jungle Cruise at Magic Kingdom in Walt Disney World

3. Kilimanjaro Safaris

Two elephants, Big Red and Little Red, are the stars of this attraction, although I feel like their story is less prominent than it used to be. (Maybe I just stopped paying attention after experiencing the attraction so many times. The live animals are what’s new and different each time; the poaching story doesn’t change.) Anyway, this attraction is your chance to see both real and animatronic elephants in Walt Disney World.

Elephant seen on Kilimanjaro Safaris at Disney's Animal Kingdom at Walt Disney World

Here's a real one.

Little Red elephant seen on Kilimanjaro Safaris at Disney's Animal Kingdom at Walt Disney World

Here's an animatronic one.

4. Festival of the Lion King

Elephant float at Festival of the Lion King at Disney's Animal Kingdom at Walt Disney WorldIn this show, each section of the audience is represented by an animal, and one of them is an elephant! Get there early and ask a cast member if it’s possible for you to be seated in the elephant section. You’ll have an opportunity to practice your elephant calls.




5. The Tree of Life

The icon of Disney’s Animal Kingdom is The Tree of Life, a giant artificial tree carved with hundreds of animals. There are a few elephants on there, so your task is to find them. Here are some photos to help you out. Happy searching!

An elephant carved into The Tree of Life at Disney's Animal Kingdom at Walt Disney WorldAn elephant carved into The Tree of Life at Disney's Animal Kingdom at Walt Disney World



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In the interest of completeness, I should mention that elephants also make brief appearances on video in Mickey’s PhilharMagic (in the Lion King segment) in Magic Kingdom and Circle of Life in The Land Pavilion. You can also spot a few outside of Rainforest Cafe. You can decide whether or not you want to include them in your day of elephant-themed touring. You’re going to spend the most time in Animal Kingdom on this day, so I suggest starting there. I like getting on the safari as soon as possible after opening. Check the Times Guide for performances of Festival of the Lion King, and spend as much time as you like searching The Tree of Life for your elephant friends. When you’re finished in Animal Kingdom, head to Magic Kingdom for Dumbo and Jungle Cruise.

Chime in if elephants are your favorite animal!