Walt Disney World Celebrates 25 Years of Animal Kingdom

April 22, 2023, 4:01 PM · Happy 25th birthday today to Disney's Animal Kingdom! Walt Disney World's fourth theme park opened April 22, 1998.

The crowning achievement of former Disney CEO Micheal Eisner's "Disney decade," Disney's Animal Kingdom was designed to provide Disney with a park to compete with Central Florida rivals Busch Gardens Tampa Bay and SeaWorld Orlando. But as the popularity of non-fiction attractions, especially animal exhibits, has waned, Disney has pushed IP into the spotlight at Animal Kingdom.

Not that the animals have gone away. Nearly 2,000 animals, from more than 200 species, call the theme park home, seen most prominently by many visitors on Kilimanjaro Safaris, one of our readers' top-ranked attractions in the park. But imaginary animals - whether anthropomorphized versions of actual species or imaginary creatures - drive the park's top-ranked draws, including Expedition Everest...

and Flight of Passage and the rest of Pandora - The World of Avatar.

For more information about the park, please visit our visitors guide to Disney's Animal Kingdom.

Again, happy anniversary to the park and the cast members who helped create and sustain the park over the past quarter-century.

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Replies (7)

April 22, 2023 at 6:16 PM

My family visited in June 1998 and did like it well enough. Then the next year they had Asia section open with Kali River Rapids but to be honest, it wasn't as "must-see" for me as the other parks.

I am happy I went in March 2006 right when Everest opened as the actual working Yeti effect was fantastic. I would like to go back for the Avatar section yet still seems a park good for either morning or later afternoon but not all day even if some fun stuff there.

April 22, 2023 at 6:46 PM

I remember being able to tour that park before its official opening as part of a passholder preview. It’s amazing to see what has changed and how much more beautiful it has grown to be. I still remember the boat ride around the river and the flame effects that would blow when you passed the dragon’s cave, near what would have been the “Imaginary Beasts” land. I remember the iguanadon AA in the river as well, meant to show that he has ventured that far after he “escaped” during to conclusion to Countdown to Extinction (aka Dinosaur) and lastly I remember just how much more aggressive that rides original iteration was before Imagineers tweaked it after previews.
And special shout out to the original storyline of Kilimanjaro Safaris where you had to help rescue Little Red from poachers. Ahhh, now I feel old. Happy Birthday Animal Kingdom! Here’s to 25 more!

April 22, 2023 at 7:17 PM

I love walking around this park. it has only a half-day's worth of attractions, but it's hard for me to use that as a criticism because I enjoy spending time in the park so much.

April 22, 2023 at 7:39 PM

That's always been a great touch for DAK, from the areas to the entertainment to the animals about, it's wonderful to walk around and take in the sights. I always loved the performers in the Africa section doing great music stuff.

April 22, 2023 at 10:26 PM

My favorite park I've been to, god I love this place. The most immersive theme park in the US, and it also contains Disney's best coaster in Expedition Everest. Yeah, it doesn't have a ton of rides, but the animal exhibits are world-class, making this an incredibly well-rounded park with a lot of variety in its experiences. A slow-moving boat ride or another coaster (maybe in Pandora) would revitalize this park and give it what it needs to compete attraction-wise with the other Walt Disney World parks.

April 22, 2023 at 11:57 PM

The two best things about DAK that make it the one of the best theme parks in the world.

1: All of the attractions are original and there are no clones or attractions at any other parks that are clones of its attractions. And the attractions pound for pound are fantastic.
(I realize Tough to be a Bug was put in at DCA but I don't really count that because, I mean who cares about that, and Dinosaur's track is a clone of Indiana Jones however it is a totally different experience). Here is to hoping that Avatar doesn't get cloned for DLR.

2: It is one of the only theme parks in the world that has stuck to its original core purpose. Even Avatar which is supposed to be a different planet was tied in really well to the core purpose of celebrating the natural world. Hopefully Zootopia is NOT built here (Zootopia is a city and tells what is very much a human narrative about racism etc, it has nothing to do with animals, it just happens to use animals as characters)

When the park opened it seriously lacked infrastructure and attractions, they clearly spent all the money on the Safari at the time, the Chester and Hester area was/is awful, and its a shame about the river show. But other than that i'd say the park is pretty flawless nowadays, if they replace Chester and Hester with something spectacular it will be probably the best park in the world.

April 24, 2023 at 1:50 PM

The best park in WDW (DHS is a close 2nd for me). This place really puts the "theme" in theme park. It's worth the price of admission just walking around, which makes up for the fact there are few actual rides. My only criticism is I kinda wish they kept the poaching storyline in Kilimanjaro Safaris lol

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