One of the more impressive and breathtaking parks boasted by Walt Disney World Resort is Disney’s Animal Kingdom. This park covers 500 themed and landscaped acres that feel more like a mini tour of the animal world than part of a park in Orlando, Florida. Over 1,700 animals from 250 different species call Disney’s Animal Kingdom Theme Park their home.

The park contains seven themed areas – Africa, Camp Minnie-Mickey, Dinoland, U.S.A., Asia, Oasis, Rafiki’s Planet Watch, and of course, the Discovery Island Area. All of these unique places are worthy of your time and attention, and yes, your money. Each holds its own secrets, wonders, treasures, attractions, restaurants, animals and opportunities for discovery.

In the center of Disney’s Animal Kingdom is an area to be given special consideration for its absolute essentialness to your Animal Kingdom experience: the Animal Kingdom Discovery Island. There are many reasons you should prioritize this fun and exciting place as worthy of a good chunk of your valuable vacation time, but these five should sum it up well enough.

Great shopping, attractions, and fun await in Discovery Island.

Great shopping, attractions, and fun await in Discovery Island.

Discovery Island is home to a third of the Walt Disney World Resort Shops in the Animal Kingdom. The Beastly Bazaar, Creature Comforts, Disney Outfitters, and Island Mercantile shops can all be found in the Discovery Island Area. This is more than can be found in any of the other six of the Animal Kingdom Park’s areas. Better shopping may not seem like an automatic selling point, but good shopping widens the overall appeal of the Animal Kingdom to your family.

Souvenir crazed kids, stylish shopaholic teens, and you, yourself, the responsible parent who wants to have a convenient place to buy extra sunscreen and water, will enjoy the ready availability of the Shops at Discovery Island. Shopping in the Animal Kingdom encompasses everything from the Disney classics – Mickey and Minnie plush toys in Safari hats, animal-themed Disney T-shirts, and other souvenirs – to more unique and exotic imports like jewelry and masks.

Dining with a View

Part of any good vacation is good food, and Discovery Island’s Flame Tree Barbeque will not disappoint in this regard. Smokey, delicious barbecue pork or chicken sandwiches and ribs make for perfect vacation faire, and at a reasonable price too – under 15 dollars a plate! The absolute best part about this restaurant is its outdoor seating overlooking the beautiful Discovery River.

Of course if barbecue isn’t your thing, there’s always the Pizzafari restaurant, serving fresh made personal pizzas, minus the view, but on the plus side, they serve beer!

Morning Magic Hours

One hidden benefit of the Animal Kingdom is that their Magic Hours are in the morning, from 8:00 a.m. to 9:00 a.m. Walt Disney World Resort Magic Hours are extra theme park hours available to guests who are staying in select Disney World resorts. They are often after hours from 9:00 p.m. until midnight.

While early Magic Hours may not seem like much, they are a bonus if you are eligible.

If you are staying at a Disney resort that allows you to take advantage of the Magic Hours, early morning magic hours allow to jump start your day, and if you feel the need, divide your time between the Animal Kingdom and another park that is open later.

If you don’t have a vacation package that allows you to take advantage of Magic Hours, you don’t have to feel like you and your family are missing out on all the park has to offer after hours its regular hours, which are often from 9:00 a.m. – 8:00 p.m.

The Tree of Life

The Animal Kingdom’s iconic centerpiece is located on Discovery Island. This sculpture is 145 feet tall, 50 feet wide and has 325 animals carved into its bark. This absolutely massive attraction is the symbol for the Animal Kingdom Theme Park, and truly a spectacle to behold.

The Tree of Life is surrounded by the Discovery Island Trails and has opportunities for small animal viewing – lemurs, tortoises, axis deer, monkeys, kangaroos and a rainbow of colorful exotic birds. Wandering the trails to where the Tree of Life towers in the middle of the park and getting to pick out your favorite animals carved intricately into its bark will give your family a feeling of fulfillment that can only be attained through such an iconic experience. It is truly the perfect way to celebrate sharing a day in Disney’s Animal Kingdom Park.

In addition to being breathtaking during the day, it is perhaps, even more wondrous at night when colored lights illuminate its carvings.

It’s Tough to Be a Bug!

In the off chance you wondered whether the Tree of Life in the center of Walt Disney World Resort’s Animal Kingdom Theme Park couldn’t get any cooler; you should know that inside the Tree is an air conditioned 3-D movie theater. This theater is host to an 8-minute 4-D Movie experience Disney simply calls, “It’s Tough to Be a Bug!

You’re not misreading; that’s not a typo – a 4-D Movie. 4-D refers to a multimedia 3-D adventure on the screen hosted interactively by Flik and Hopper, with theatrical lighting, animatronics and loads of other special effects. An adventure so big was never given an ensemble cast so small. This creepy crawly movie is full of spiders, ants, butterflies and more! So educational, but at the same time equally entertaining; you’ve got to see it to believe it.

When planning your Walt Disney World Resort vacation, you may find yourself balancing your books, syncing your schedules, and, unfortunately, cutting corners here or there in what you have the time to experience. When this happens, you will no doubt be scanning over the vast expanse of the Animal Kingdom Park, fretting that it is the largest single Disney theme park in the world. Remember then, at the center of this vast expanse of Animal Theme Park Wilderness, there is an iconic Tree, acting as a great beacon and calling you to vacation on Discovery Island.