Disney’s Animal Kingdom has been the runt of Walt Disney World theme parks since it first welcomed guests on Earth Day 1998. Instead of building theme parks that could stand in their own right as better than the parks that had come before, Animal Kingdom was built in an era when the Walt Disney Company launched parks lacking the variety of attractions, entertainment and dining options guests of Disney Parks had come to expect. But what was there, the core of what was built, from Kilimanjaro Safaris and Countdown to Extinction to Festival of the Lion King and the Tree of Life were of supreme quality. It is a core that even from the very beginning made me believe in Animal Kingdom, in its potential to be not just another theme park but one of, if not the best in the world. Yet realizing potential is never easy and Disney allowed Animal Kingdom to languish in mediocrity by Disney’s own high standards. Glimpses of hope such as the addition of Expedition Everest showed the potential of the park to the world but it alone couldn’t be the answer for a park that was brought to life with comparatively so little. For that you’d need a much grander vision one that could finally put Disney’s Animal Kingdom where it should always have been, competing in guest’s minds as to whether it should be their first destination on their vacation and not relegated to the, “if we have time left over.” But before Disney could really hint at their grand renewed vision for Disney’s Animal Kingdom, something struck at one of the cores of the park and Disney’s reaction to it struck a chord with me. For I had seen Disney many a time, squander their own greatness with subsequent poor decisions. Whether it be to leave temporary icons for years after their expiration date at Disney’s Hollywood Studios and Epcot, or leaving entire sections of their theme parks without the sort of investment that is necessary for greatness not just to be a memory of the past as much of Future World is today as are entire swaths of the park formerly known as Disney-MGM Studios. When two years ago an artificial tree limb from the Tree of Life came crashing down after an all too familiar passing Florida thunderstorm and Disney decided to erect protective netting all around the icon, I was fearful that this temporary fix could be something we would all have to live with for far too long if not forever. And though it may seem to be relatively insignificant in the grand scheme of things, for a park that has been teetering between greatness and mediocrity since its inception, for me it was the symbol at the park’s icon no less, of the direction of Disney’s Animal Kingdom. How could a park whose message was about life, nature and freedom have its greatest work of art, the Tree of Life, tarnished by netting that destroyed some of the sight lines and utter beauty that made the parks symbol so unique and special in the world. For two years it looked like all was lost. But with the Walt Disney Company prepping Disney’s Animal Kingdom for what should be a triumphant relaunch with an AVATAR inspired land, new nighttime entertainment and more turning Animal Kingdom into its latest construction kingdom, Disney thought it would be a great time to fix the core of its park, its icon, to return the vigor to its Tree of Life. To me the message has been sent. Disney’s Animal Kingdom is coming and its core is quality worthy of the Disney name.
A symbol of the future direction of Disney’s Animal Kingdom.
Symbolic of the new day at Animal Kingdom that culminates in 2017.
Where once stood nets and the poles that held them up behind the Tree of Life are now clear pathways with nearly no signs that the protective patchwork was ever there. Now vistas that were once lost shine against the beautiful Florida sunsets as you shall see in our latest photo essay embedded below. Though I now have renewed confidence and optimism in the management of Disney’s Animal Kingdom and believe all the netting will one day be removed that is still not yet the case as it still covers most of the It’s Tough to Be A Bug queue. But even the latter couldn’t take away the joy I felt from the sight of a park whose icon I treasure and had been largely unshackled. It was symbolic of the new day that has been slowly but steadily taking shape over at Disney’s Animal Kingdom and should culminate sometime in 2017. For then the potential of this park may indeed prove to have been worth the wait.