This is the sixth in a series of articles by our resident photographer, Craig Hood. See his other works in the Photography section.
“I have learned from the animal world, and what everyone will learn who studies it is a renewed sense of kinship with the earth and all its inhabitants.
- Walt Disney
In keeping with our last Focus topic, Animal Kingdom Lodge, I thought I would continue our “safari” overview into what I think is the most unique park on Disney property, Animal Kingdom. Opened on April 22nd 1998, Animal Kingdom was the fourth theme park addition to the vacation kingdom. Animal Kingdom is made up of 7 themed lands; Oasis, Discovery Island, Camp Minnie-Mickey, Africa, Rafiki’s Planet Watch, Asia and Dinoland USA. Walt always wanted to have live animals inside a Disney Park and with animals having such a strong influence on his creative style, it just seems natural for Disney to have an Animal Kingdom. If you’ve never been to Animal Kingdom and are wondering if it’s “just another zoo”, actually it‘s Nahtazu. I’ll let you think about that one. It’s so much more than a zoo. At more than 500 acres, it is the largest single Disney theme park in the world; and believe me, your feet will attest to this after a day of touring Animal Kingdom. It is a massive space with what seems to be miles of meandering pathways that can be quite confusing. Unless you’re a seasoned Disney Park commando, I highly recommend choosing one of Josh’s Touring Plans for Animal Kingdom.
From a photography standpoint, Animal Kingdom is a shutter bug paradise. If you have a zoom lens in your bag, this is where you will enjoy using it. A zoom lens is especially useful on Kilimanjaro Safaris, one of the top attractions in the park. The size of this attraction alone is immense. To give you some perspective, the Magic Kingdom would fit inside Kilimanjaro Safaris with room to spare. I have been on the safari more times than I can count and while there are always plenty of animals to photograph, they may not be as close as you would like them to be. They are “free roaming” for the most part, no Animatronics here…well almost. Also, this is a very bumpy and sometimes fast moving ride. You will need a fairly fast shutter speed to keep your photos reasonably sharp. For you point and shoot users out there, just set your camera to “Sports” mode and you should be okay.
Here’s a good example of making use of that zoom lens on Kilimanjaro Safari. You won’t get this close to these guys. They like to hang out in the shade of the trees far from the ride vehicle. This was taken with a 70/300 VR Zoom lens at full 300mm of zoom.
I thought these guys were cute, they look like they’re talking. Again with a zoom at 185mm.
As fun as it is to use zoom in Animal Kingdom, there are some opportunities for some fairly wide angle shots. This shot of Expedition Everest was taken from what I think is the best vantage point to view Everest. It’s the dining area for Flame Tree Barbecue. Go all the way down to the seating area on the shore of Discovery Lake and you will have an unobstructed view of this…
As opposed to this…
Here’s a shot from the same Flame Tree dining area vantage point zoomed to 70mm.
Another wide-ish angle shot. This is at 30mm from the bridge connecting Discovery Island and Africa.
You’ll find these guys in Camp Minnie-Mickey. You won’t see a lot of this type of theming in Animal Kingdom, it’s all about nature and the animals here.
The interesting thing about the theming in Animal Kingdom is how the Imagineers invoked the “circle of life” into practically every aspect of the park. The design of Animal Kingdom is meant to be a living, growing, constantly evolving entity. Take notice of how there are no buildings towering over the tree tops. Even the structures that do happen to be above the tree line are recreations of natural things. When you are approaching Animal Kingdom from the parking lot, what do you see? The architecture is completely subservient to the natural environment, and that wasn’t by chance.
One particular thing of interest about the architecture in Animal Kingdom is that each building tells a story or has a very specific theme, even the gift shops. A great companion to explore and explain those stories with is “The Imagineering Field Guide to Disney’s Animal Kingdom“. It’s one of a series of pocket books to the four parks. Each book is loaded with in depth information and facts from an Imagineering standpoint about how each park was conceived and came to be. I have each of these books and highly recommend them. I like to use them to find interesting tidbits to photograph. The animals are not just applied to the surfaces as decoration, they become a part of the buildings design.
Here is Creature Comforts gift shop on Discovery Island.
Look at how the animals’ bodies on the roof and awnings become a part of the structure,and the ladybugs’ bodies serve as the lamp domes on the lamp post. I love this stuff!
If you have the opportunity, it really is worthwhile to experience Animal Kingdom at night. This usually means enduring the crowds during evening Extra Magic hours, but to me it just becomes a completely different atmosphere after dark.
I could go on and on about Animal Kingdom and I know this is a very small sampling of what AK has to offer, but I have a Disney trip to get ready for. I think Animal Kingdom is the often over looked and underrated gem on Disney property simply because it lacks an abundance of rides. For me, it definitely offers the most photo ops, but also is a great Disney experience to boot. You may even learn something along the way. Hakuna Matata!
Josh’s Note: Animal Kingdom is actually my favorite of the four theme parks. I am perfectly aware that I am in the minority opinion in that respect. Hour for hour, I don’t think you could do any better at one of the other theme parks. Kilimanjaro Safaris, Expedition Everest, and Festival of the Lion King are all amazing experiences and rate among the best theme park attractions in the world. While I would concede that there needs to be more, including a nighttime “spectacular” of one variety or another, I have always enjoyed my time spent at the Animal Kingdom and recommend it highly to anyone who lends an ear.