There’s a lot going on in Walt Disney World these days. Disney Springs is undergoing a huge makeover, the future of Disney’s Hollywood Studios is up in the air, and Animal Kingdom is looking more like a construction area than a sanctuary for animals.

In this series, we’ll outline some of the reported closing and reopening dates and major changes expected and rumored in each area.

Let’s take a look:

Animal Kingdom: A brief history

Disney’s Animal Kingdom opened on Earth Day, April 22, 1998 as the largest Disney theme park in the world and the second largest theme park in the world (Six Flags, NJ is the largest).  The park has a huge footprint of 500 acres.

Walt Disney himself was a huge proponent of conservation and especially protecting animals and their habitats. Animal Kingdom was the last theme park to be built in the Orlando-based Walt Disney World Resort, and it has received accreditations from the Association of Zoos and Aquariums and the World Association of Zoos and Aquariums.

In 2014, Animal Kingdom welcomed over 10 million guests and taught them about education, conservation, and research.

As noted in then CEO Michael Eisner’s dedication speech, this “…kingdom of animals… real, ancient, and imagined: a kingdom ruled by lions, Dinosaurs and dragons…” was original intended to highlight animals that are familiar to us today, those that have lived in the past, and those that only exist in our dreams. The sign at the entrance of Animal Kingdom even depicts all kinds of animals, but this vision never came to fruition… until now!

Interesting Facts

The Rainforest Café at the entrance of the park is the largest Rainforest Café in the world, but it often isn’t very busy because of its otherwise out-of-the-way location.  The same restaurant (though smaller) in Disney Springs is often much busier.

The Tree of Life, the park’s main icon, is a man-made structure standing 145 feet tall and 50 feet wide. The tree has over 8,000 branches and 102,000 man-made leaves and is designed to withstand hurricane-force winds while allowing the leaves to move naturally.

Many animals have been born in the park since it’s opening including six elephants, eleven giraffes, and eight white rhinos. Because of Disney’s conservation efforts including re-introducing white rhinos to Ziwa Animal Sanctuary in Uganda, Nanda, a white rhino from Animal Kingdom, gave birth to a male calf in Uganda. This was the first white rhino birth in 25 years.

What’s coming?

Disney concept art depicts a potential nighttime overlay of the Tree of Life. Photo credits (C) Disney Enterprises, Inc. All Rights Reserved

Disney concept art depicts a potential nighttime overlay of the Tree of Life. Photo credits (C) Disney Enterprises, Inc. All Rights Reserved

The Land of Pandora, sometimes called Avatar Land, will be themed after the 2009 film Avatar and will be one of Disney’s largest expansions to date. However, no major attractions had to close to make this area possible.  Animal Kingdom was already so large and the originally intended Beastly Kingdomme never opened. Camp Mickey-Minnie inhabited the area that was supposed to be Beastly Kingdomme as a temporary placeholder, so this area closed permanently.

The new land will offer an attraction much like Epcot’s Soarin’ in that it will feature 3D projection, at least a couple mirror-image theaters, and be a totally immersive experience. The state of the art attraction and land will feature a soaring banshee, a walk-through area with bioluminescent, interactive plants, and a brand new boat ride.

Disney concept art for the new boat ride in Avatar Land. Photo credits (C) Disney Enterprises, Inc. All Rights Reserved

Disney concept art for the new boat ride in Avatar Land. Photo credits (C) Disney Enterprises, Inc. All Rights Reserved

Along with this new area, Disney is adding a nighttime spectacular and expanded hours for the park. Even though the live animals will likely be removed from on-stage areas a couple hours before dark for their safety and sanity and for the safety of the guests, Pandora will add several nighttime attractions to the existing attractions like Expedition Everest, Dinoland, and Kali River Rapids to give guests plenty to do in the evening hours.

The new nighttime show is expected to be called Rivers of Light. It will probably be different than other nighttime shows, though, in that it will likely be void of fireworks. Why? Because live animals are often scared of fireworks. Instead, the show is expected to feature free flight bird shows, live music, floating lanterns, water screens, and swirling animal imagery.

Some dining areas like Flame Tree Barbeque were temporarily moved to make room for the construction walls for Rivers of Light.  The beloved BBQ restaurant returned to its original location after that construction was completed.

All of these new elements are set to open in early 2017 and are expected to cost between $400 and $500 million dollars.

What changes do you hope to see at Animal Kingdom? What do you hope doesn’t change?
Leave your comments below.