Represented by the Tree of Life the dedication to the park upon its opening by then CEO Michael D. Eisner reads: “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.”
Opened on Earth Day in April 22, 1998 Disney’s Animal Kingdom is the fourth of the four theme parks to be built at the Walt Disney World Resort in Orlando, Florida. Because the park is entirely themed around Walt Disney’s own ideas of animal conservation it’s the largest of the Disney theme parks world wide covering 580 acres and has been accredited by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums and the World Association of Zoos and Aquariums having met their standards for education, conservation, and research. When it originally opened concern was raised as to the well-being of the animals but efforts to reduce their stress by taking them “off stage” an hour or two before Disney’s Animal Kingdom officially closes for the day and the fact that it is the only park that doesn’t have firework displays in consideration of the residents, that their park populations have thrived since its opening.
Initially the Animal Kingdom was conceptualized to focus not only on animals that exist today, or those that once existed like the dinosaurs, but also those that only exist in legends with the original design calling for the inclusion of a section called the Beastly Kingdom. Unfortunately budget constraints at the time ensured that it never came about instead having Camp Minnie-Mickey built in its place as a temporary tenant. Remnants of the kingdom were still visible when the park initially opened, however with Expedition Everest featuring the mythological yeti the park has at least one attraction based on a legendary creature, and the Walt Disney Parks and Resorts announcing their intentions in September 2011 to partner with filmmaker James Cameron and his production company to exclusively develop attractions for an Avatar-themed section of Disney’s Animal Kingdom, certainly keeps the door open to the idea of a Beastly Kingdom area. Expected to be several acres in size with an estimated $400 million price tag the Avatar section is to include components from both the upcoming second and third installments in the movie franchise along with new designs not seen in any of the films.
3 table service restaurants are available at the Park – Rainforest Café located at the main entrance; Yak & Yeti in the “Asia” section of the park; and the Tusker House in the “Africa” section of the park – in addition to the 5 quick-service restaurants and various carts scattered across Disney’s Animal Kingdom offering snacks and beverages.
As of 2011 the park was the fourth-most visited amusement park in the United States and the seventh-most visited in the world.