Disney’s Animal Kingdom Theme Park Evaluation

3198 words (13 pages) Essay in Tourism

08/02/20 Tourism Reference this

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Into the Wild

“Disney’s Animal Kingdom promises to do for zoos what Snow White and the Sven Dwarfs did for the animated feature- elevate it to grand and important new heights” (Malmberg 1). Walt Disney Imagineers were very skeptical at first with the idea of a theme park about animals, due to the fact that zoos did not make a lot of money. However, Walt Disney was fascinated by animals, which gave rise to the creation of Mickey Mouse. Disney wanted to make sure no one forgot that the one that started the whole company was, in fact, a mouse. Throughout history, every Disney movie or short-filmed included an animal, whenever it was live-action or animation. The company decided to take a leap of faith with this project, which ended up being tremendously successful. With the success of the theme park, it gave rise to the two Disney’s Animal Kingdom resorts, the Lodge and the Kidani Village. The resorts were initially created for the purpose to be an extension of the theme park, so it will help lengthen guest experience and journey. Both the theme park and resort value the creation of “personal experiences for guests that celebrate wildlife, renew everyone’s connections to the natural world and inspire conservation action”(Dierking 1). While some differences between Walt Disney World’s Animal Kingdom theme park and the Animal Kingdom resorts are evident, the similarities are exceedingly distinct.

One reason Disney’s Animal Kingdom theme park and the Animal Kingdom resorts are enormously similar is based on how they are revolved around Animals and their importance on Wildlife.  According to Carol Magee, “The entire theme park focuses on animals: real (in the Africa and Asia sections), imagined (Camp Minnie-Mickey; the Yeti of Mount Everest), contemporary (again in African and Asia), and historic (Dinosaur land U.S.A)” (130). Right before entering the theme park, there is a sign showing a quick preview of animals that the audiences will see. What they refer to as “the oasis”, is the first section a person walks through when entering the theme park, this helps the guests set the mood and get a sneak peek of the different animals and plants the rest of the day awaits for them. The big tree of life also known as the “weenie” of the theme park, is the middle main focus of the theme park encompassing the heart of the theme park, which exhibits over 300 animals on it. The weenie is first seen while guests are going through the oasis land and are also seen all around the theme park. There is a total of 41 attractions at the Animal Kingdom, with over 16 attractions being animal encounters alone. The exhibits at the Animal Kingdom give the people a chance to learn more about the animals. The animal encounters are strategically placed all around the theme park, so people will get the chance to at least see/visit a couple per visit.  Many of the attraction rides at the Animal Kingdom have the attention on the “animals” as well, such as “It’s tough to be a bug!” which allows the audience to see the world from a bug’s point of view. Not only do many attractions’ focus revolve around the animals, but many restaurants in the Animal Kingdom theme park and resorts as well. One popular restaurant is the rainforest café, which is themed in a tropical rainforest. At the Animal kingdom resorts, they also have exhibits, which includes a large area full of different animals. At the resort, on their recreational calendar, they have a section just for “Animal Programs and wildlife discoveries. One of the restaurants in the hotel is right next to the exhibit, so a person could watch the animals while eating. Depending on the location the animals can be seen from the balcony, in the hallways and even in the rooms. The animal encounter is basically the backyard of the resorts. The resorts try their best to incorporate animals in as much as possible, for example in their scavenger hunts where a person tries to find as many animals as they can. They also have many events, such as making noises of animals by the pool or decorating animal cookies. In both the Animal Kingdom theme park and the resorts, visitors can go on a thrilling safari experience, where they get to go even closer to the animals and visit the area where the animals live in. Animals and wildlife are one of the most notable features in both the Disney’s Animal Kingdom theme park and the Animal Kingdom resorts.

A second reason Disney’s Animal Kingdom theme park and the Animal Kingdom resorts are exceptionally similar is due to their educational component. In DinoLand U.S.A., at Animal Kingdom theme park, they have a section called “The Boneyard”, where kids get the chance to be Archaeologists. While the kids are discovering and digging up bones, they are getting the chance to learn a little bit more about the specific dinosaur, about what they ate and how they became extinct. The safaris as referred in the last paragraph can be very fun, but they can also be very educational as well. While on an open-air vehicle, the driver will explain what the animals are as the vehicle passes and a fun fact about them. Disney has private VIP tours in both the resort and the hotel as well. In the private tours, they expand the knowledge learned in the safari by giving insights about the breathtaking animals being viewed and by explaining the general operation of Disney’s Animal Kingdom theme park and details about the theme park’s dedication to animal conservation. Informative tables can also be seen while walking around in both the theme park and resort. In the Animal Kingdom theme park, they try to have a table teaching kids and adults more about specific animals. In Animal Kingdom theme park they were once teaching about how a snake may shed their skin, and they had a real-life snake as well. In the resort, they had teeth and poop (replicas, not the real thing) from specific animals, and children got the chance to learn more about what animals eat. As explained in Africa in the American Imagination book, “These events provide guests the opportunity to learn a variety of African peoples and places as well as animals. A similar experience is offered in Disney’s Animal Kingdom Park, where one can attend educational lessons at various times throughout the day at Harambe school” (Magee 145). In both the Animal Kingdom resort and theme park, they try to incorporate and teach the audiences more about distinct cultures. They try to teach the languages in different cultures, such as in the theme park they have signs translated in Swahili and in the resort, there are mini-language sessions to learn some words. Not only do they teach the language in a culture, but they also expose people to the culture’s dances and music. At the resort, on their recreational calendar, they have a section just for culture called “Cultural Immersion”. Guests get the opportunity to learn a lot throughout their day in both the Animal Kingdom resorts and Animal Kingdom theme park’s educational factors.

Another reason animals Disney’s Animal Kingdom theme park and the Animal Kingdom resorts are incredibly similar is because of their Architecture. Before the making of both the Animal Kingdom theme and resort, the architects visited different regions of Asia and Africa, they wanted to be able to give guests an experience of an African safari expedition. In both the resort and the theme park, they use American materials and try to resemble them to material that may be used in Africa, such as manipulating steel and concrete to look like wood. Many of the patterns used on walls and draperies at the theme park and resort are based on African patterns. The Harambe section found in the Animal Kingdom theme park is a “recreation of a present-day village in eastern Africa that’s on the edge of a large preserve” (Malmberg 68). The Imagineers tried to incorporate as many African materials as the building codes would allow them. For the roof of the Animal Kingdom resorts, they tried to copy the look of a straw covered roof, known as a thatched roof, by making it a faux thatched roof. Light fixtures which are inspired by the Zulu shield, which is a traditional cowhide oval-shaped shield used by many groups in the South region of Africa, can be found all around the main lobby of the resort. The main lobby at Disney’s Animal kingdom resort lodge also features vine-like metal railings resembling the savanna. The interior design of the Animal Kingdom resort as seen on the Out of Africa Article, “The Africa that lies over the threshold of the main lobby is neither cartoon nor caricature, but an innovation reconstruction of Africa’s art, culture, and way of life” (237). With their visit to South Africa, the Imagineers got their design planning from Zulu communities. In Zulu communities, they use the “kraal” design in which the livestock is the main focus and the huts surround it, similar to the U-shape of the Lodge surrounding the savanna. Both Walt Disney World’s Animal Kingdom theme park and resort have very similar African architecture and use many of the same materials as well.

Nevertheless, the canny similarities, Disney’s Animal Kingdom theme park, and the Animal Kingdom resorts have their differences, such as in the theme. In the theme park, guests can find many cultural themes such as from Asian to African cultures, while in the resort, the theme is more based in South Africa.  Going into more about the focus at the Lodge, “The Walt Disney World Resort’s Disney’s Animal Kingdom Lodge, focuses solely on Africa and Africans. More specifically, it presents Africa south of the Sahara, a geographic divide that distinguishes between Arab Africa to the north and black Africa to the south” (Magee 139). The cast uniforms are either in between safari looking based (with khakis and a safari hat, also known as a pith helmet) or they are very colorful and contain many different patterns. At the resort, they have activities such as storytelling African folktales around the campfire and music mini-lessons where guests get to learn how to play African musical instruments such as a resemblance of a slit drum and the mbira. In Asia at Disney’s Animal kingdom theme park, they try to focus on the animals that could be found there, and they also even teach some of the stories or legends in their theming as well. One of the legends that are covered in the land of Asia is “Expedition Everest – Legend of the Forbidden Mountain involves a high-speed train bound for Mount Everest, which takes passengers on a daring ride over rugged terrain and along icy slopes and contains both roller coaster thrills and yeti mystique” (Steinberg 67). The Expedition Everest attraction design is based on the Himalayan mountains found in Asia with Tibetan-style stone structure from China. The folk story of Nepal in which the Yeti originates from explains how the abominable snowman is the guardian that protects the treasures found in the Himalayan mountains. The theme can also be seen in the food choices at the Animal Kingdom theme park and resort, in which the food choices specifically goes with the culture or country depicted in either the theme park or the resort. While Disney’s Animal kingdom resorts focus more on African culture theme, the Animal Kingdom theme park tries to focus on diverse cultural themes not only on Africa.

Additionally, another reason why Disney’s Animal Kingdom theme park and the Animal Kingdom resort are different is on their focus between real and mythical topics. As it is found on the dedication plaque of the Disney’s Animal Kingdom theme park, “Welcome to a kingdom of animals… real, ancient and imagined: a kingdom ruled by lions, dinosaurs, and dragons; a kingdom of balance, harmony, and survival; a kingdom we enter to share in the wonder, gaze at the beauty, thrill at the drama and learn. Dedicated this 22nd day of April, 1998″ as explained by Michael Eisner. Disney’s Animal Kingdom theme park specifically focuses on both fantasy and real such as in their logo, a silhouette of dragon can found right in the middle. Before entering the theme park, guest pass right under a dragon head, which can be found next to the elephant and triceratops.  A stone dragon that was once along the river bank of camp Minnie-Mouse creek, which is now part of Pandora- The World of Avatar, it can still be seen today but it is covered in plants. Another mythical subject found at the theme park is the unicorn theme parking lot, which has been open since 1998. One newly added mystical section in the theme park is Pandora- The World of Avatar, which is based on an alien world where the Na’vi live. This new land is promoted as “the beautiful land that celebrates the magic of Nature”.  A section that can technically count as both mythical and real is DinoLand U.S.A., as the name explains the theme of this section is around dinosaurs. Unlike the Animal Kingdom theme park which focuses on mythical and real creatures, the Animal Kingdom resort focuses more on real animals.  There are many activities in the resort with the depiction around real animals, such as learning how to feed and about the feeding strategies of pelicans and flamingos. Another activity offered from the many found on the recreational calendar for that week that they have in the resort is Animal Enrichment, in which guest get the chance to talk to and learn from real life animal experts as they prepare and present interactive objects to the animals on the Savanna. Both the Animal Kingdom resort and theme park may focus on real creatures, but the Animal kingdom theme park focuses on fantasy and mythical features.

Yet another reason how Disney’s Animal Kingdom theme park and the Animal Kingdom resort are different is based on their cuisines. At the theme park, guests get the chance to pick from a variety of different countries and sections such as Africa and Asia. In Asia, guest can sit down and enjoy some Chinese food in a Nepalese-style restaurant called “Yak & Yeti™ Restaurant.” They also have many different restaurants or quick service choices for African cuisine such as “Harambe Market”, “Mahindi” and “Tamu Tamu Refreshments”. Another African restaurant that can be found at the theme park is “Tusker House Restaurant”, which has American food choices but with African flavors. There are restaurants that have multiple country cuisines all in one that can also be found at the theme park, such as “tiffins restaurant”, and “Kusafiri Coffee Shop & Bakery”. The “normad lounge” is also somewhere guests can o if they are only looking for something light to eat but still want to experience a multicultural dining. In both Animal Kingdom resorts, the Kidani Village and lodge, there is a vast variety of African themed restaurant choices. A restaurant that can be found at the lodge is “Boma- Flavors of Africa” which resembles an African marketplace featuring over 50 African counties in their Buffets. “Jiko – The Cooking Place” is another restaurant at the lodge, Jiko specifically focuses on South African, while featuring Indian and Mediterranean cuisines.   At the villas, in the restaurant “Sanaa “while the guests are eating they also get a beautiful view of the animals in the savanna roaming around them. Some other dining choices that can be found, such “The Mara”, “Cape Town Lounge and Wine Bar”, and “Victoria Falls Lounge”. At the resort on the recreational calendar, they also have a section for food called culinary exploration. They both have some similar food choices, the typical pizza, hamburgers, and chicken nuggets, but they each specialize on their own thing as well.

Disney’s Animal Kingdom theme park and the Animal Kingdom resort may have many similarities, but they still have their differences. Disney’s Animal Kingdom theme park and the Animal Kingdom resorts revolve and focus on wildlife. They both try to incorporate animals in all their activities, from the thrill rides to the restaurants. While guests are having fun, both the theme park and resorts try to make it educational as well. As Baba Dium explains “In the end, we will conserve only what we love. We love only what we understand. We will understand what we are taught” (Malmberg 163).  Education is very important because they can inform and teach many guests about different animals and ways Disney help them such as in their conservation center and ways guests can help them as well. The architecture of the Animal Kingdom theme park and the Animal Kingdom resorts are very similar as well. The materials and African design used to make both the theme park and resorts help guests escape reality and imagine as if they really were in Africa. The Animal Kingdom resort focuses more on an African theme, on the other hand, the theme park has many different themes relating to their specific land such as Asia. Due to the themes of the theme park ad theme park being slightly different from each other, they also have different cuisines. In the resort, they have a variety of cuisines from different African countries, one of the restaurants features over 50 different country food choices. While in the theme park, they have African, Asian, Latin and many more different cultural cuisines to pick from. In the Animal Kingdom theme park lands, they each have their mythical and real concept to it. Such as the lands based on African and Asian countries, or the fantasy land of Pandora- The World of Avatar. In contrast to the Animal Kingdom resorts which only focus on real-life concepts. Disney’s Animal Kingdom resort was originally based on the Animal Kingdom theme park, so they will have their similarities, but they are each still unique in their own way.

Work Cited

  • Dierking, Lynn D., et al. “Using a Behavior Change Model to Document the Impact of Visits to Disney’s Animal Kingdom: A Study Investigating Intended Conservation Action.” Curator, vol. 47, no. 3, July 2004, pp. 322–343. EBSCOhost, doi:10.1111/j.2151-6952.2004.tb00128.x. Accessed 3 Dec. 2018.
  • Magee, Carol. Africa in the American Imagination: Popular Culture, Racialized Identities, and African Visual Culture . University Press of Mississippi, 2012.
  • Malmberg, Melody. The Making of Disney’s Animal Kingdom Theme Park. Hyperion, 1998. 
  • Out of Africa.” Interior Design, vol. 72, no. 8, June 2001, p. 236. EBSCOhost, db26.linccweb.org/login?url=http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=a9h&AN=4767932&site=ehost-live. Accessed 2 Dec. 2018.
  • Steinberg, Phyllis, et al. DK Eyewitness Travel Guide: Walt Disney World Resort & Orlando. DK Publisher, 2012.
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