What Are the Best Themed Rides at Animal Kingdom?

Perhaps no theme park in the world accomplishes more than Disney’s Animal Kingdom.

Here, you’ll find dozens of animal species living in their own natural habitats. Unbeknownst to them, Disney zoologists have built these structures.

(David
Roark, photographer)

Yes, Disney is so good it can even mimic mother nature.

Still, that’s only half the park. The rest consists of theme park attractions, ones that tell stories as they entertain you. And that leads to a fascinating debate.

Kali River Rapids

Photo: Disney

Which Animal Kingdom attraction includes the best theming?

9) Tricera Top Spin

Disney operates several versions of this same ride concept. It’s a spinner with a different coat of paint, depending on the theme.

Shortest Wait Times

You’ll find versions with Aladdin and Dumbo the Flying Elephant at Magic Kingdom.

Meanwhile, Animal Kingdom’s DinoLand USA hosts TriceraTop Spin, whose dinosaurs look likeā€¦Dumbo the Flying Elephant.

Triceratop Spin

Photo: Disney

Almost all the theming at DinoLand USA reflects budget cuts from the 1990s. There’s just not much here worthy of the Imagineering brand.

8) Festival of the Lion King

The next two attractions prove tough to judge, as they’re show attractions rather than rides.

auditions

As such, I’ve slotted them near the bottom even though I adore each one.

Festival of the Lion King finishes behind its peer because the show building is relatively plain.

auditions

The magic doesn’t reveal itself until the show begins.

7) It’s Tough to Be a Bug!

Some of what I said about Festival of the Lion King applies here as well. However, the exterior waiting area looks like the interior of an ant farm.

mosquitoes

Also, while you don’t realize it until the show’s ending, the seats include a touch of theming as well.

Finally, the staging comes with a bit of ambiance that differentiates it from the other show.

It's tough to be a bug

Oddly, I vastly prefer Festival of the Lion King as an attraction. Still, I must acknowledge the clever thematic touches at It’s Tough to Be a Bug!

6) Kilimanjaro Safaris

Here’s where the debate starts. At its core, Kilimanjaro Safaris symbolizes the heart and soul of Animal Kingdom.

Kilimanjaro Safaris

Photo: Disney

After all, you’re driving through the back portions of the park as you watch animals sleep, eat, and play in their natural habitats.

From that perspective, the theme of the attraction mirrors the park’s overall concept…which is AMAZING!

Kilimanjaro Safaris

However, when we evaluate Kilimanjaro Safaris in isolation as a themed attraction, well, I honestly have no idea what to do with it.

So, I slotted it lower than the five attractions that proved more straightforward to define. I cheated. I admit it!

Kilimanjaro Safaris

Photo: Disney

5) Kali River Rapids

You may not appreciate the meticulous theming at Kali River Rapids, and that frustrates Imagineers.

These kind folks lovingly detailed a story about illicit loggers causing an ecological disaster.

Kali River Rapids

Photo: D23.com

To you, Kali River Rapids is a wet ride and probably little more. You may not even know the logs at the start and throughout the ride prove the crimes.

Yes, these loggers have caused a collapse of the infrastructure of the place where your raft is heading. Their reckless behavior endangers you.

So, the theming here is impeccable, but it also comes with a core flaw. Kali River Rapids has proved too subtle for its own good!

You can read more about the theming here.

Kali River Rapids

Photo by Judd Helms via WDW Magazine

4) Avatar Flight of Passage

Here’s the other challenging option on this list, and I recognize its ranking may prove controversial.

Avatar Flight of Passage features one of the most detailed ride queues in theme park history. Honestly, it might be the best.

flight of passage navi

Photo: Theme Park Tourist via Wikipedia

You start outside in the wilds of Pandora before you enter what looks like a long-abandoned building.

Later, you uncover the scientific research labs that reveal the inner workings of the Avatar program.

That part of this attraction is a ten out of ten. Some would argue that the same logic applies to the ride itself.

Flight of Passage

Credit: Disney

You board a Tron-like cycle and then wait for the screen to reveal the augmented reality world of Pandora.

On the one hand, it’s absolutely breathtaking and often described as Soarin’ on Steroids.

Photo: Disney

On the other hand, everything here feels artificial, and I’m aware of it.

Unlike the other attractions on this list, something about Avatar Flight of Passage breaks the illusion.

Flight of Passage

Photo: Disney

So, while parts of it are perfect, I feel like Animal Kingdom offers superior options.

3) Expedition Everest

To wit, Imagineers traveled to several countries while researching Expedition Everest.

Expedition Everest

Photo: Disney

The end goal involved the creation of an attraction that completely sold the theme that you’re riding a steam engine train that will take you across the Himalayas.

Disney imported thousands of antiquities for the line queue, positioning it on a par with Avatar Flight of Passage’s line queue.

Expedition Everest

Photo: bestoforlando.com

The difference is that the immersion never drops on Expedition Everest. Your train encounters broken tracks and comes to a complete stop.

Then, your engine driver slams the train in reverse and carries you away from the danger of a Yeti.

Yeti Expedition Everest

Once your ride cart goes in reverse, you’ll forget the outside world entirely and fully buy into the notion that you may not survive.

Frankly, the most stunning part of Expedition Everest is that two Animal Kingdom rides somehow come with even better theming.

rides at night

2) DINOSAUR

The highlight of Avengers: Endgame involves a time heist. Even though DINOSAUR existed 15 years before that film, I think about the two a lot.

Before Endgame, Disney had already told the story of a time heist on this attraction.

Grammys

You board an Enhanced Motion Vehicle that looks like a time-traveling Jeep, and you visit the era of the dinosaur.

Your goal is to capture one of these creatures before the comet strikes and wipes out the entire species in an extinction-level event.

Dinosaur in Animal Kingdom

The theming here goes all-in on the concept, complete with a pre-ride video involving a careless scientist.

This person leaves his ethics at the door as he ships you off into the great unknown. And the worst part is that he’s your ride home!

dinosaur

Photo: Disney

Once the ride begins, you’ll encounter many dinosaurs from the era, some of which are Audio-Animatronics that move…and intimate.

This entire ride experience is a storytelling masterpiece, and, for a time, it was the best at the park. That’s no longer the case, though.

Dinosaur ride Animal Kingdom

1) Na’vi River Journey

The idea is simple. You’re a stranger in a strange land, a person who doesn’t belong in the heart of Pandora.

You board a boat and ride down the planet’s lush rivers, watching the fauna and flora as you float by.

The natural predators of these jungles are well aware of you, as well as other prey they determine will require less effort.

Thankfully, you don’t wind up as something else’s dinner. Still, the fear remains palpable throughout the journey.

Audio animatronic

(Kent Phillips, photographer)

Even so, you’re an explorer who seeks to learn more about this planet. During your boat trip, you’ll savor the splendor of Pandora.

Imagineers have pulled out all the stops in constructing a fully immersive alien jungle, complete with bioluminescent creatures that will take your breath away.

na'vi

Photo: D23

By the time you reach the Shaman of Songs and listen to her music, you’ll be utterly transfixed.

Simply stated, Imagineers had never constructed a more realistic otherworldly environment than at Na’vi River Journey.

Galaxy's Edge

That statement remained accurate until the introduction of a couple of years later.

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Feature Photo: Disney

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