This trip included my first visit to Disney's Animal Kingdom. Somehow, due to an early morning breakfast reservation snafu, it got pushed out of our visiting schedule when we were in Walt Disney World in 2008, and during my last visit prior to that Animal Kingdom didn't even exist.
Of the four Florida Disney parks Animal Kingdom occupies the most land, but a lot of ride and attraction oriented guests feel that it has the least to offer of the four parks. I'm strongly divided on my feelings towards Animal Kingdom.
On the negative side: One popular food service station was so poorly designed that you could witness guest after guest spilling their trays as they were forced to work their way back through congested lines, with no lids provided for their heavy drink cups. Another restaurant that was open for business had no cashiers in evidence while people stood waiting for fifteen minutes in clear view of the food preparers who said nothing.
My kids are old enough now that Camp Minnie-Mickey didn't hold much appeal for them, so we did not visit it. I was also underwhelmed by Dinoland. Granted, the thought put into the props, detail, signage and so forth was first rate Disney, the idea of theming it as a tacky roadside attraction with rides not much different from what you see in county fairs seemed to run counter to what Walt Disney set out to accomplish with his theme parks. The gardens surrounding the Dino Institute were far more appealing to me and I wish the rest of Dinoland had been more like this.
The absence of the fantasy animal area of the park. For me the idea of a section of Animal Kingdom dedicated to mythological creatures has great appeal, and I can easily imagine how cool it would be as a kid to see realistic animatronic griffins and dragons seemingly as real as the giraffes and elephants seen elsewhere in the park. This area was part of the original concept for the park and Animal Kingdom still features a dragon in it's logo and prominently displayed over one of its gates, yet this area has never been developed.
On the Plus side: Just about everything else. Animal Kingdom is built on the same hub and spoke system as Magic Kingdom with seven areas or "lands" making up the park. Here the division between the areas is less defined and more fluid the result of heavy foliage which fills the park which blurs the lines separating the regions as well as obscuring sight lines between them. Unlike Magic Kingdom, where you can stand in certain places along Main Street USA and turn and locate the entrances to Fantasy land, Adventure Land and Tomorrow Land, as well as the entrance to the park, at Animal Kingdom there are signs to direct you, but you pretty much just walk the paths leading from one place to another. I found this in no way to be a deterrent. It's a complete immersion in a world that it suggests, one of the wild celebrating natural ecosystems and their intersection with the human world. The limited sight lines draw you down paths and side streets because that's the only way to discover what's down them.I also found that it quickly became easy to navigate the park.
Three areas really dominate the park; Africa, Asia, and Dinoland. Dinoland, I've mentioned didn't really appeal to me, but Africa and Asia were simply amazing in their execution. The only thing missing from Africa was someone walking their flock of goats down the middle of the street. Looking at all the authentically weathered buildings in both Asian and Africa did make me wonder if this park would have turned out the same had Walt Disney been alive during it's development. I couldn't help but think of his decree on the Haunted Mansion not looking ramshackle on the outside and wondered if he'd allow buildings with faded and tattered posters on their walls covered with crumbling plaster and masonry.
Most of Africa is built around the fictitious town of "Harambe" a Swahili word that means "working together." Here are some photos taken around Harambe as well as some of the wildlife seen in other parts of Africa. You can see some details of Africa and other areas of Animal Kingdom by looking at these earlier posts.