Disney: Animal Kingdom

Featuring the plains of Africa, the jungles of Asia, primeval forests and live animals, this theme park is one of Disney's biggest undertakings -- and the perfect place for your next family vacation.

By: Erica Walsh

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Disney's newest park is the fourth and largest at Walt Disney World. The Animal Kingdom was 8 years in the making and spreads across 500 acres of central Florida. Featuring the plains of Africa, the jungles of Asia, primeval forests and live animals, the theme park is 1 of Disney's biggest undertakings -- and the perfect place for your next family vacation.

Africa and the Kilimanjaro Safari
The entrance to Africa within Disney's Animal Kingdom is the village of Harambe. With painstaking attention to detail, the Disney Imagineers recreated an actual African town. Within Harambe Village you'll find the Animal Kingdom's star attraction: Kilimanjaro Safari.

This African safari adventure is Disney's most ambitious ride ever. You'll take part in a mission to stop evil poachers in the closest thing there is to a real African safari. With over 110 acres, more than 250 different animals, flooded roads and collapsing bridges, this Disney attraction is more reality than fantasy.

One of the highlights of the safari is the African savannah. Disney raised the ground over 30 feet to create a distant vista of the savannah, which itself is over 50 acres. From here you'll see the animals comingling seemingly without barriers or fences. Don't worry -- camouflaged ravines and hidden fences keep prey (and you!) safe from predators.

Dinoland USA
From the plains of Africa, the Animal Kingdom takes us to an exhibit of the evolutionarily extinct. Dinoland USA is a prehistoric playpen full of color, paying homage to the roadside Dinoramas of our childhood.

While in Dinoland make sure to ride its newest thrill, Primeval Whirl. The stomach-churning coaster tells the story of a comet that ended the dinosaur era. This unique coaster not only follows an exciting track full of twists and turns, but the cars spin like Disney's famed Tea Cups.

Another of Dinoland's featured rides is Dinosaur. You'll feel as if you're careening through a forest with deadly dinosaurs right on your tail. It's one of the park's biggest and scariest attractions where riders travel back in time from the Dino Institute straight into the jaws of a hungry Carnatourous. Keep your arms and hands inside the car at all times!

If you're feeling a little queasy from all the rides, take in 1 of the Animal Kingdom's biggest and most popular stage shows: Tarzan Rocks. The show captures the popular music from Disney's "Tarzan" and presents it in a family-friendly rock concert that features live aerial and stunt action.

Festival of the Lion King
A must for anyone who loves Disney movies (and let's face it, who doesn't?), the daily parade features all your beloved characters. The parade is action-packed with songs, dances and specialty performances. You won't want to miss the Tumble Monkeys, a gymnastic troupe comprised of many former Olympic gymnasts.

It's Tough to Be a Bug
Inside the park's central icon, an enormous tree sculpture, is 1 of Disney's most advanced special-effects shows, It's Tough to Be a Bug. Inspired by the Disney-Pixar film A Bug's Life, the 3-D show projects hundreds of images that will have your skin crawling. The theater is equipped with specially designed seats, water nozzles and air jets to complete the experience. You won't want to miss it, but you might feel like taking a shower after.

Within Asia, you'll find forbidden temples, tropical rainforests and a raging river-rapids adventure. The Kali River Rapids is another Animal Kingdom ride with a conscience. It begins in a rainforest that is undergoing cutting and burning and culminates in a breath-catching 25-foot plunge down a wet and wild waterfall. It combines thrills with a message of environmental responsibility.

For exciting encounters with Asian animals, take part in the Maharajah Jungle Trek. The first stop gives you a taste of all the trek has to offer, as you enter a room full of bats without glass or screens. Rest assured though, every bat in that room eats only fruit. Continue on the trek to see many more interesting and free-roaming Asian animals.

Camp Minnie-Mickey
If you're looking for a little relaxation in the Animal Kingdom, cross the wood-hewn bridge from Discovery Island to the Adirondack-style Camp Minnie-Mickey. Here you'll wander alongside a babbling brook with life-like images of Mickey, Minnie, Donald and Goofy at their favorite fishing hole. This stop is a must if you have little ones.

Animal Kingdom Lodge
Once you've stepped foot inside the Animal Kingdom, you may never want to leave. The Animal Kingdom Lodge, situated inside Africa, offers beautiful guest rooms where you can watch giraffes, zebras and wildebeests stroll past your windows.

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