On Earth Day, April 22, 1998, Walt Disney World Resort invited guests to discover a one-of-a-kind theme park where they could be inspired by the magic of the natural world. The opening of Disney’s Animal Kingdom Theme Park introduced a whole new way to appreciate, enjoy and interact with animals while also delivering incredible new stories that celebrated our relationship with the environment.
The fourth Walt Disney World theme park was also Disney’s largest, spreading over 500 acres and adding a new draw to Central Florida as a top tourist destination in the world.
“Disney’s Animal Kingdom, like the world itself, will evolve and grow. It’s truly a living thing” Roy E. Disney said at the park’s official dedication ceremony on April 21, 1998.
Disney’s Animal Kingdom combined Walt Disney’s love of animals, both real and imaginary, with exciting attractions, spectacular stage shows and entertaining characters.
True, there were – and are – breathtaking animal encounters, from an African safari adventure to a meandering, mystical trail that leads guests on an exciting search for tigers, to live shows highlighting animal behaviors and beauty – and so much more. But this park was also a way for Disney to inspire people with the spectacular breadth and beauty of nature and animals through the power of entertainment and attractions, including a hysterical 3D journey into the world of insects (It’s Tough to Be a Bug!), a larger-than-life musical celebrating the circle of life (Festival of the Lion King), and encounters with beloved characters.
“At Disney, we believe building a brighter, more sustainable future starts with imagining what’s possible. Through our conservation and sustainability programs, we take tangible actions to inspire change around the globe,” says Dr. Mark Penning, vice president, Animals, Science and Environment, Disney Parks. “I’m proud of our animal care cast members who are the most passionate conservationists I know and who put their hearts into taking care of the animals at Walt Disney World every day.”
Everything in Disney’s Animal Kingdom takes inspiration from nature and the animal world. For example, the park icon – the towering Tree of Life – features 337 sculpted animals in its trunk. Similarly, building architecture, light poles, benches and countless other elements feature animal designs that range from subtle to dramatic. Nowhere else are animals so richly and creatively celebrated.
Over the last 25 years, the park has continually evolved with new attractions, entertainment and even entirely new lands such as Asia and Pandora – The World of Avatar, giving guests new reasons to visit Disney’s Animal Kingdom and all of Central Florida again and again.
Expansions introduced new wild adventures that send guests swirling on a whirling white-water raft ride (Kali River Rapids), rocketing on a runaway-train adventure (Expedition Everest – Legend of the Forbidden Mountain), diving into another stellar musical stage show (Finding Nemo: The Big Blue…and Beyond!), taking flight on a banshee (Avatar Flight of Passage) and exploring a bioluminescent rainforest (Na’vi River Journey).
More than 5,000 cast members at Disney’s Animal Kingdom continue the park’s mission today, from scientists and animal care experts, to critical frontline cast members who work in operations, entertainment, merchandise, food and beverage and guest services. They are among the 75,000 cast members who are the heart of Walt Disney World.
Celebrating the Park’s 25th Anniversary and Earth Day
In celebration of the park’s milestone anniversary and Earth Day, guests will have the opportunity to enjoy new limited-time sweet and savory treats, specialty merchandise and a character sighting. Visitors can dig into tempting treats such as the Colossal Elephant Roll, a jumbo cinnamon bun with banana caramel, milk chocolate crispy pearls, and 25th anniversary logo available at Isle of Java and Kusafiri Bakery on April 22 only; and the 25th Anniversary Alive with Magic Cupcake Vanilla cake featuring chocolate toffee mousse, chocolate buttercream, white chocolate crispy pearls, and an Alive with Magic 25th anniversary chocolate logo. Taking the magic of the celebration home is easy with commemorative items like the 25th anniversary mini Loungefly backpack, special pins, shirts, a tumbler and more.
There will be more surprises on April 22 when the park officially turns 25. And, just in time for the festivities, Moana will begin greeting guests at Discovery Island Character Landing for the first time that day.
Helping the Animals It Celebrates
Over the past 25 years, Disney has made significant contributions to the preservation and wellbeing of animals and the environments around us – not only at the theme park, but also around the community, state and globe. Most recently, Disney announced a $500,000 donation to five conservation organizations in Florida to help make a happier, healthier planet possible for all: Conservation Florida, Florida Wildlife Corridor Foundation, The Nature Conservancy, Trout Lake Nature Center and Wekiva Wilderness Trust.
With each organization receiving $100,000, these grants made a number of projects possible – from expanding land protection initiatives, to ensuring healthy tree canopy coverage in underserved communities, finding solutions to clean drinking water for those in need and funding educational opportunities for youth in our community.
As an accredited institution of the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA), Disney’s Animal Kingdom has also collaborated with other AZA members to help increase populations of endangered and extinct in the wild species, such as the Guam rail and Guam kingfisher birds. Following AZA Species Survival Plans, the park has welcomed a variety of animals from endangered species into the world, including Sumatran tigers, western lowland gorillas, African elephants, cotton-top tamarins and okapi to name just a few. In fact, Disney’s Animal Nutrition Center has served as a model kitchen for a number of other AZA-accredited facilities who have adopted many of the nutritional diets developed specifically for the animals here at Disney’s Animal Kingdom.
Today, 45 animals that have been at Disney’s Animal Kingdom since opening day or before still reside at the park.
For more information on how Disney cares for animals and helps protect species in the wild, visit DisneyAnimals.com. And seasons one and two of “Magic of Disney’s Animal Kingdom,” streaming on Disney+, give viewers unprecedented access to some of the most rare and beautiful creatures on the planet and a chance to meet the animal care experts who have formed remarkable bonds with the park’s thousands of animals.
Guests can visit DisneyWorld.com/AnimalKingdom for more information about planning their visit to Disney’s Animal Kingdom Theme Park.