As the youngest of Disney World's theme parks, the Imagineers (those creative guys behind creating Disney World's amazing attractions) spent a considerable amount of time and energy designing all the intricate details that make Disney's Animal Kingdom such an amazing park. Here you don't want to rush through your day, rather you should take it easy so you can appreciate all the individual details that the Imagineers hid in plain sight. In fact, you may not be able to tell from walking around, but even the shape of the park is a fun little detail: When seen from above it's clearly the shape of Africa. Another fun fact: A concept that was bounced around the imagineer design team was to have the park entrance be Noah's Ark, but they abandoned it as it could be seen as controversial.
Without further ado, here are a few of the best-kept secrets and amazing facts about Disney's Animal Kingdom (please let me know in the comments if I left any out, or if some are no longer around)...
1.) It's MASSIVE!
The 500-acre Animal Kingdom is Disney World's largest theme park, and the only Disney Park dedicated to wildlife conservation. A little-known secret to look out for is the highway sign in Dinoland, which says "Route 498", this is in reference to Earth Day when the park was officially opened (April 1998).
2.) The Tree of Life is actually an oil rig.
A major feature of the park is the Tree of Life, a massive 14 stories (145-foot tall, 160-foot wide) "tree", which was made out of an old oil barrel, and allegedly took 10 artists and 3 Disney imagineers to create the 325 carvings on the tree, which took about 18 months, working full-time.
3.) There was supposed to be a "Beastly Kingdom" with unicorns and dragons!
You'll find signs throughout the animal kingdom that have the silhouettes of various animals AND a dragon. Originally, the park was supposed to include a "Beastly Kingdom" area which would have mythical creatures (such as dragons and unicorns), but Disney ran over budget and that section was never built. This area is now being redesigned and built as Avatar Land. An interesting side note: The imagineers working on Beastly Kingdom's roller coaster "Dragon Tower" went over to Universal Studios to work on the Wizarding World of Harry Potter's "Dragon Challenge" roller coaster. The imagineers were also reportedly working on an epic maze that would be called “Quest for the Unicorn.”
4.) It's sorta like a real-life Jurassic Park...sorta...
Animal Kingdom isn't just a theme park, scientific research is also conducted there. Park scientists have been observing the mating habits of male and female herds of elephants, in particular, their flirting rituals.
5.) Zebras are animalia non grata.
You won't see any zebras in the Animal Kingdom. They were introduced in 2012 for the Kilimanjaro Safari ride, but had to be removed, allegedly they were too aggressive.
6.) It's a sanctuary!
The park is also a sanctuary for one of the world's most endangered species, the white rhino. There's only a little over 10,000 white rhinos left and eight have been born at the Animal Kingdom. But, the first live-birth at Animal Kingdom was an African antelope. Also, because of the risks to animals, you won't find balloons, or disposable plastic straws and cup lids at the Animal Kingdom. On the safari ride the rocks are climate controlled so as to encourage the lions to sit while the safari vehicles pass by.
7.) Overpopulation isn't a major problem.
There are about 250 species living in the park, and over 1,000 animals in total. In order to control potential overpopulation, it's been reported that some of the park's birds sit on fake eggs, this is in order to trick them into thinking they don't need to produce more young.
8.) Home to the world's most expensive roller coaster.
Animal Kingdom is home to the world's most expensive roller coaster. Expedition Everest cost over $100 million dollars and stands at 199.5 feet tall.
9.) Did I mention, it's MASSIVE!
The Kilimanjaro Safari savannah is 3 acres larger than the Magic Kingdom park. That's one ride, that's larger than an entire theme park. The park itself is five times the size of the Magic Kingdom. The Animal Kingdom parking lot is almost 100 acres large.
10.) Did I also mention, it's like Jurassic Park...
In Dinoland definitely take some time to visit Sue. Sue is an exact replica of the world's most-complete T-Rex skeleton ever found (currently on display in Chicago).
11.) There's a LOT of water here...
Lots of water flows through Animal Kingdom. It's been reported that 27 million gallons of water flow through Discovery River, and 2.6 million gallons of water flows throughout the park. Every day the water is treated and filtered, five times.