Disney’s Animal Kingdom was designed in such a way that you would get lost. In fact, there weren’t even maps in the early days because Imagineers wanted to encourage guests to explore without worrying about where they’re going.
Part of this plan involved attractions that were both hidden in plain sight and hidden off the typical path. Sometimes you even have to wander into places where you think you shouldn’t be to find something really cool!
Today we’re going to look at the top five overlooked hidden gems in Animal Kingdom that force you to detour from what is popular (we’re looking at you Avatar) to find something that you might not have ever seen or paid attention to before.
DiVine is quite a sight to behold. She is a performance artist dressed in foliage with green painted skin. She stands on stilts, so she’s very tall, but so many people walk right by her without even seeing her! Her costume and her talent keep her very well hidden – until she’s not.
She usually rests against a wall and blends in very well, but once a couple people notice her, crowds gather quickly. Sometimes she torments rowdy teens, and other times she moves slowly and gracefully like a creeping vine. Regardless of her choice of genre, she is always impressive and somehow intoxicating.
She appears sporadically and performs for a while before she disappears again into brush. If you’d like to find DiVine, look on the path just after entering the park on your way to Discovery Island. She also occasionally shows up in Africa and Asia.
2. Tree of Life
The Tree of Life is Animal Kingdom’s icon. Each of the parks has one, but the Tree of Life is somehow different – perhaps because it’s based on real life. The tree itself stands at an imposing 145 feet tall and rests on a refitted oil platform. The leaves, all 102,000 of them, are made of kynar, which is a thermoplastic insuring that they can withstand Florida’s weather without fading, breaking, or detaching from the tree.
On the outside of the tree there are 325 live and extinct animals carved into its trunk with painstaking detail. On the inside is a 400-seat theater where you can see “It’s Tough to be a Bug”. If the Tree of Life looks real, that’s because it’s based on the real life baobob trees found in Madagascar, Africa, Arabia, and Australia.
Disney’s version is much larger than the trees that grow in real life (roughly twice the size). Take some time to examine the tree both from a distance and up close. Several times a day, animal keepers perform a show called “Winged Encounters” where six species of Macaws fly around the tree while the Cast Members discus the bird and efforts to protect it. This show takes place several times a day, but it’s not advertised in a Times Guide or on the MyDisneyExperience app.
At night, the Tree of Life Awakenings brings the tree to life in wonderful color. Disney uses projection technology to light the tree and tell stories of the creatures and of nature while familiar Disney tunes play in the background. This happens several times nightly, so don’t miss it!
3. Flame Tree Barbecue
Flame Tree Barbecue definitely fits the bill of a hidden gem. The food at this counter-service dining location is just as you would expect with a few special surprises. You’ll find St. Louis style ribs, smoked meats, Jamaican jerk spiced meats, and some kids options like a hot dog and PBJ. One menu item that might surprise you is a Watermelon Salad with watermelon, mixed greens, feta, and pickled red onions tossed in a White Balsamic Vinaigrette.
Once you get your food, head outside to the covered patios where you’ll find colorful, though interesting, décor. The whole theme is based on the predator and the prey, and this is obvious even without looking very closely. Still, some people don’t notice these details because Imagineers are sneaky about hiding things in plain sight.
One thing you cannot miss is the lush paradise you’ve stepped into. Resist the urge to grab the closest seat and head all the way to the bottom of the tiered pavilions where you’ll find the Discovery River and excellent views of Expedition Everest in the distance. In a park where it’s difficult to find a cool spot to relax, the pavilions provide welcomed shade, and the fountain and river provide a cool, calming environment.
4. Rafiki’s Planet Watch
Rafiki’s Planet watch may actually be considered an entire land, but since it’s only accessible by the Wildlife Express Train, we’ll consider it an attraction. Hop on the train at Harambe in Africa for a seven-minute, 1.2-mile trip when you’ll be dropped off at Conservation Station. Can you find the 27 Hidden Mickeys reportedly in the mural here?
Lots of people overlook Rafiki’s Planet Watch claiming that there’s not much to do here and that it’s not worth the trip. In fact, there’s a ton to do here. If you arrive early in the morning, you just might see some medical procedures. That’s right! Veterinarians perform routine and sometimes life-saving procedures on site, and you can see them from a viewing area inside the Conservation Station. You can also learn how to draw a Disney character in the Animation Experience..
Outside, you’ll find the Affection Section. It’s kind of like a petting zoo, and it’s great for kids to get up close to some really cool animals like really large pigs, sheep, goats, and even a cow. It’s so much more than a petting zoo though; Cast Members are nearby to answer questions and provide lots of information about the species and specific animals. They sometimes even have small animals in hand, and they might even let you hold them! Plus, you don’t feed the animals, so they don’t associate people with food and rush you.
5. Dinoland Boneyard
Inside Dinoland USA, there’s an overlooked play area that is actually really great for kids. The Dinoland Boneyard is a great place for kids to burn off some energy while the parents relax. Don’t worry- there are plenty of Cast Members around supervising the activities.
If your kids need some help getting started, direct them to the right side of the playground. Behind the jeep, they’ll find a row of fossils buried into the wall. When you hit them, they play music! It’s called a xylobone! On the other side of the playground, you’ll find some large wooden boxes with handles on top. They make great spots for parents to rest, but if your kids pull on the handles, they’ll growl and make other animal sounds. Finally, check out Dino Sue. She’s a replica of a real Tyrannosaurus Rex, which is located at the Field Museum in Chicago. Both Dino Sue and the real version are 40 feet long, and Sue looks very real! She’s appropriately located just outside of the Dinosaur attraction.
Your favorite hidden gem in Animal Kingdom?