Prior to heading to Disney World with toddler in tow, I did loads of research on what would be the best attractions for our son at this age. I found very mixed reviews about both Rafiki’s Planet Watch and the other walking trails at Animal Kingdom, saying everything from being wonderful and a must see, to waist of time and top of our “skip list”. After reading about what each of them had to offer and knowing what kind of things Lil’ enjoys, I added the planet watch and trails to our must-do list when visiting this park.
If you can only pick one of these attractions for your family, I would select Rafiki’s Planet Watch over the others. Right from the start, this attraction offers the most for you and your family to do. Located near the entrance of the popular Kilimanjaro Safari attraction in Africa, Rafiki’s Planet Watch starts at a train station where you board a train, taking you behind the scenes of the safari ride, allowing you to see where the animals are housed and cared for then they aren’t on the “African Plains” for viewing eyes. Your tour guide has some interesting facts for you as you pass this area and move along to your final destination, Rafiki’s Planet Watch and Habitat Habit, which is basically in the same area. After you de-board, you can take your time walking up the paths to look at all sorts of animals and listen to the handlers talk about each one, while making your way to the top of the path that is the main attraction. We stopped for a couple of these talks but they didn’t hold Lil’s interest long, so we quickly moved on and skipped several along the way. At the top is Rafiki’s Planet Watch which is indoor and air conditioned and where those that are interested in the science of animals can really dig in and become sponges, learning all sorts of fun facts. We were able to see a presentation about birds, listen to all sorts of animal and bug sounds in a private booth and look behind the scenes of animal care and sciences. Characters like Rafiki himself were there for pictures and while we only saw him, I have heard that other rarely seen characters can also show up from time to time so keep your eyes out! Most of this was a little more then a three-year-old would be interested in, so we didn’t spend as much time in here as people with older children did. What we really enjoyed was the petting zoo where we could get up close and personal with some very friendly pigs and goats! Lil’ loved petting and brushing each of them. He would go around introducing himself and asking if they would like to be friends. The animal handlers were also very friendly and would stop to answer any questions about the animals. After getting an ample fill of animal petting, we headed over to the hand washing station to get cleaned up before walking back to the train station, so we could enjoy the rest of the park.
Overall, we loved this attraction and will be doing it again while Lil’ is still young. I would highly recommend this for young children and animal lovers alike. Might be a skip for those with teenagers in tow because there is no thrill factor here but it is nice and relaxing if you are looking for a mid-day break with aircon in the back of the park!
One of the other walking trails that we enjoyed was the Maharajah Jungle Trek located in the back of the Asia section of the park, complete with tigers and bats and dragons… Oh My! This was a nice, mostly shaded walking trail that allows you to see these animals in a natural feeling-type environment, as if you were actually on a trek through the jungles of Asia. The animals lounge about and playfully dart in and out of the ancient Asian ruins that really sets this attraction apart from the others. The details that Disney put in were so amazing, at times, I forgot to even look at the animals that were being showcased. This was very much an on-your-own-pace attraction and due to the amount of shade available, pretty cool. As with most animals, they are most active in the early morning due to the cooler temperatures so try to head there early to see the tigers on the prowl!
If gorillas and hippos are some of your favorite animals, then be sure not to pass up the Pangani Forest Exploration Trail also located in Africa near the safari and planet watch. We were not able to make it to this trail as we intended but it would have been nice to be able to see those animals up close!
Another trail that is raved about is the Discovery Island Trail located in the middle of the Animal Kingdom surrounding the symbol of the park, the Tree of Life. On this trail, you can get a closer look at this huge tree and all the detailed carvings on it of the animals in the park. I have read that the Disney artists really out did themselves on this one. Another helpful hint is that many people that frequent this park, use this trail as a short-cut around the crowds so they can be first in line for the safari since the main path can get pretty jammed up during peek seasons. This was also on our to-do list, but we weren’t able to make it to this one either, so we will just have to save it for our next WDW adventure which will hopefully be sooner then we expect!