The Return of AKA: 15 Years of Animal Kingdom

Exactly a year and a day ago, I launched AKA, Animal Kingdom Appreciation, a month-long series celebrating a park that I felt didn’t get as much love and attention as it should. In 13 months, I’m happy to report I’ve befriended others who find this little park to be special, a place to spend an entire day, and somewhere we really enjoy exploring when we visit Walt Disney World.

I wasn’t sure if I would revive the series but after our visit to Animal Kingdom last week, I just knew I had to. It’s hard to sort the parks in order of favorites (it changes from day-to-day for me) but the wildlife, the amazing details, and the unforeseen potential of the park just sweep me up into a great big hug whenever I’m there.

So welcome to Round 2 of AKA. I do hope you enjoy! Be sure to stop by DisTherapy’s 15 Days of 15 Years + Disney on Wheel’s Animal Kingdom Month.

In preparation for this series, I decided to finally read “The Making of Disney’s Animal Kingdom Theme Park” (which, like many of my books, I bought a year ago and have yet to pick up). In the first few pages, I was already struck by so much that went into the inspiration and creation of the park.

First, a quote from Joe Rohde, Executive Designer on the project:

“It is my hope, and I believe all of ours, that we have created a place that will awaken our hearts to the beauty and wonder of the creates that surround us, and renew our dedication to conserving those places on Earth where they may survive until a wiser time when we have learned the lessons of the Earth and can share in harmony with our partners on this small planet, the animals.”

I’d have to think this was the most organic beginning of any of the other Disney parks, don’t you? Yes, the parks are constructed and opened to make money for a company but when you are adding live animals into the mix and the mission to educate, I think this makes it an entirely new venture as far as new projects were concerned.

What intrigued me most was their decision to make “love” the heart and soul of Animal Kingdom. “The park was not only about animals but also about people’s emotional reaction to animals. It was not to be an information park or an issues park, but a park about love.”

It’s such a beautiful idea, and they grew on it but establishing three stages of which we love animals, explained by Joe Rohde:

“A child’s love for animals is self-centered, anthropomorphic, projected. It’s the world of stuffed animals, first pets, fairy tales. In adolescence, a love of animals is expressed by adventure, a longing to have a physical experience of them. Kids are excited by animals; they want to know about them, be like them, be with them. As adults, our love of animals grows more intellectual. This mature, respectful love is expressed as appreciation, understanding, protection.”

For such a textbook explanation, it’s also sort of romantic — the magic, the adventure, and a learning experience — and the fact we can be all of those things, and for a precious amount of time, one or two.

But as I read that quote, and come to understand why Animal Kingdom was created the way it was, I still feel each of those stages are little seeds, awaiting the right kind of TLC before they reach their full potential.  After 15 years of operation, AK itself is an adolescent making moves and making mistakes. But, ultimately (I hope), making memories. (It’s also true that “love” is not the first word that pops into people’s heads when they think about Animal Kingdom. There’s more like hot, huge, or, the frequent, not enough to do.)

Expedition Everest Animal Kingdom

More than the other parks, AK feels like a constant work in progress. Even with projected rumors (facts?) about improvements and additions, you get the sense that because it is such a living and breathing being… it really is never done. But if I refer back to those stages, I can see the middle ground of the park — the adventure portion — is the one that has had the most attention. It’s why people go to the park just to ride Everest, go on the Safari, or hop in a time rover to find a Dinosaur. And can you blame them? They are all fun, well-themed attractions, that cater to so many of our senses (as long as you are paying attention).

In time, I hope the areas will be better defined. Perhaps animals will trump franchises once again. Walking trails will reign. And more animals will make their home in Florida. For many of us (me included), this is the first park we have been able to really experience since its conception. It’s not inspired by another place on the another coast; it’s an entirely new aspect unfolding right in front of our eyes, flaws and all.

I’m curious about what you think. What areas do you believe are the strongest and the weakest when it comes to AK’s original philosophy?

Interested in last year’s posts?

2 thoughts on “The Return of AKA: 15 Years of Animal Kingdom

  1. Awesome! I love reading about this park I have yet to see for myself. Ever since it was first announced and opened there has been a romantic vision of this place in my mind. And out of all parks at WDW, I think I have the strongest urge to visit Animal Kingdom. The detail, the animals!!!! and the beauty of it draws me. As much as Epcot Center captured my imagination when I was young, now I feel some parts of it may have changed so much I would possibly be disappointed there. And the Magic Kingdom, well I’ve been to Disneyland, Tokyo Disneyland and Disneyland Paris, so I don’t have the same urge to get there just yet. But Animal Kingdom is so unique, and offers so many great opportunities and natural beauty and wonders that I can’t wait to see it one day. -Q

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