Animal Kingdom, Walt Disney World
On the third day of my latest trip to Walt Disney World it was my Animal Kingdom day. This park does not always get the love I think it deserves from some in the Disney community. It has been typically known as a half-day park. Well you can certainly see all the attractions in about half a day, but you would be doing yourself a huge disservice if you didn’t take the time to explore all this park has to offer.
Up until I started getting serious about photography I used to be one of those guests that would rush from attraction to attraction at this park. When I finally slowed down to capture some pictures I discovered whole areas of the park I did not know even existed. There are numerous trails throughout the park to explore and I would encourage everyone to do just that. There are floral and fauna tucked away around every corner. There are trails around the Tree of Life that allow you to view all the wonderful animal sculptures carved into the tree. The park is still in the process of updating these areas to include even more artwork.
I thought it would be fun to highlight the animals I discovered while exploring this park during my trip. If you wish to follow along with my exploration you can view the park map here. I’ll start off with the entrance to the park. I tried for a straight picture of the entrance but found these purple flowers complimented the sign much better.
The area most people are racing through to get into the park and start at the Tree of Life is the Oasis. There are small trails winding through this area as you work your way into the park. There are plenty of opportunities to catch some familiar and even some unique animals. If you get to the park right as it opens you can even find cast members feeding some of these animals and they are always willing talk about each species.
The first image is my attempt at some slow water stream action with the water fowl in the background. I rested the camera on a small fence to allow me to leave the shutter open longer than I could hand-hold myself. The second image is a Scarlet Macaw. There were some cast members in this area talking to any interested guest about these beautiful birds.
Continue on through the Oasis and you will be presented with your first view of the park icon as you walk over a bridge to Discovery Island, the Tree of Life. You will actually be let into the park about 15 minutes before the official opening time. Just in front of the Tree of Life cast members will stop everyone and wait until the park opens. I usually am exploring the Oasis while this happens but in years past there was an opening show with Mickey Mouse but I do not think they still do that. I guess I’ll have to find that out on my next visit.
The picture of the Tree of Life is intended to show the new carvings in this area of Discovery Island. You will also notice that the entire trunk of the tree is adorned with over 300 carvings of animals, birds, insects, etc. Inside the Tree of Life is the 3D show starring Flik from A Bug’s Life called It’s Tough to be a Bug.
The second picture is another new addition to this area. It is a bird stand for a show about the Macaws. The Macaws are released from another area of the park and fly here to be fed while cast members talk about the birds. While I was watching this show the Lemurs in the area startled the birds and they took off unexpectedly back to their roost. The cast members explained that since the entrance to the roost was still closed the birds will return, and they did! I made sure I had my camera ready to catch the landings.
Discovery Island is another area of this park that bears exploring. This is the area I discovered the trails around the Tree of Life. You can also find numerous animals scattered throughout the trails. The first image is a pair of Asian small-clawed Otters who were wrestling around the log. I stood there for quite a few minutes before I realized I should be capturing some pictures. lol The second picture is a Cotton-top Tamarin. There was a pair climbing all over their house and trees. I had to wait until I had my zoom lens on to capture a good picture. The zoom lens let me focus through the netting and practically make it disappear.
Typically the first area or attraction you want to visit is the Kilimanjaro Safari Ride in the Africa section of the park. I have done this safari first thing in the morning before so I was going to take my chances and ride it later in the day. I thought maybe I would experience a different set of animals out roaming the safari.
I decided to still go to Africa but instead I took in the Pangani Forest Exploration Trail. This is a walking tour through different animal habitats. I actually did this tour twice, once with my Sigma lens which allows me to go wide to a medium telephoto but it has a macro feature which would allow me to capture any interesting floral I discovered. My second trip though was with my telephoto lens to get in nice and close to the animals.
The first picture is of a Teveta Golden Weaver in the aviary section of the trail. These little birds were zipping all over gathering building materials for their nests. This guys was so intent he didn’t seem to mind me as I got as close as possible to get this picture.
Farther along the trail you come to a nice sheltered patio overlooking an apparently wide open area. Once you look closer you can make out the deep trenches dividing the different sections. In the back you will find Grant’s Zebras but in the front you can get great pictures of Meerkat. Depending on the time of day you might have a lot of activity or be out of luck. My luck was running high as I was able to get a nice picture of this guy as he paused while digging his hole.
The main attraction along the trail are the Gorillas. My first time through I was hoping I wouldn’t be wishing I brought the zoom lens first (I did wish it!). There are two areas, one for the females and any babies they might have and then another for the males so they can do all their playing. The first image I had to capture with the Sigma lens. It is as close as I could manage but I loved watching this gorilla climb over the rock. At one point she beat her chest and let out a small roar. Such a stereotypical action but it was the first time I got to see it in person.
The second picture is one of the males. They had started to work their way into the resting spots but notice his eyes. Believe me, they see everyone. When he started staring back at me while I was capturing this picture it startled me.
Another nice walking trail is in the Asia section of the park. The Maharaja Jungle Trek is where you will find the Asian Tigers but your timing has to be pretty good. Those cats sleep somewhere around 15-18 hours a day. You have to catch them near feeding time to have any chance. On this one my luck was not so good. The majority of the animals you will find are the birds in the aviary. I decided not to spend a lot of time in there but I did manage to come away with one picture from this trail. These are Rodrigues Fruit Bats which are about 14 inches long with a 30 inch wing span.
I finally made it to Kilimanjaro Safari. My Fastpass was actually later in the day but around 1:30pm the stand-by wait was only ten minutes so I hopped in line. You ride through the safari on big trucks with eight rows of bench seating. The driver narrates the story and points out all the animals along the ride.
Since I am going to be trying to capture as many pictures as I can I always ask if I can sit in the back of the vehicle. This way I am usually on one side with no one behind me. I am then able to shoot behind the truck without any heads in the way and I am not in anyone’s way. Well on this particular day I ended up with the entire back seat to myself! I was one happy photographer. I spent the entire ride sliding back-n-forth from one side to the other. I tried not to waste this golden opportunity! For the remaining pictures I added the animal info to the captions…
There are more animals than I was able to successfully capture. The safari ride is notoriously difficult as the ride vehicle is bouncing all over. Some areas have glass viewing areas which greatly hinders any attempt at a good picture and the netting does not always disappear. This is part of the fun for me. It gives me a chance to capture something new next trip.