8 Favorite Holiday Experiences at Disney’s Animal Kingdom
Happy holidays! Ii holide eximnandi! Chhuttiyaan aanandadaayak hon! With Thanksgiving behind us, we are now fully and truly into the winter holiday season. Though, between you and me, our Christmas tree was up before Thanksgiving. It’s been a crazy year, and we figured we’d splurge on holiday cheer. Also…there’s a non-zero chance that I am willing to listen to Christmas music year round.
Christmas at Walt Disney World always makes me giddy with childlike glee. Visions of sugar plums dancing in my head? Check. The Dream Lights on Cinderella Castle? The International Festival of the Holidays? Jingle Bell Jingle Bam? Absolutely magical. That said, don’t forget the holidays at Animal Kingdom. The immersive theming at Animal Kingdom is some of the best in all Walt Disney World, and that doesn’t change during the holidays. From the Christmas tree at the entrance to the Diwali lights in Anandapur, the park is full of wonders. Here are a few of my favorite holiday delights at the park (past and present).
1. The Christmas Tree
Before you set foot inside Animal Kingdom, you’re greeted by an enormous Christmas tree (45 feet tall to be precise) that stands in front of the park’s ticket booths. Christmas music (with a world music twist) is pumped from speakers. Colorful parcels sit around the base of the tree, along with a whole host of some of Disney’s greatest characters: Piglet, Eeyore, Tigger, King Louie, and others. They’re a great photo opportunity, and there’s typically a Disney photographer there to capture the moment or you.
A menagerie of wooden animals decorate the tree. Many of the decorations resemble hand carved African masks. Wooden stars and giant snowflakes also dot the tree, as do woven, rainbow-colored dishes. If you look closely, you might spot an arrangement of dishes that form a Hidden Mickey.
2. The Merry Menagerie
Introduced last year, the Merry Menagerie at Discovery Island featured Disney Cast Members operating intricate puppets. There were polar bears, reindeer, seals, foxes, owls, birds, and penguins. The puppets bodies were white and pale blue, and the puppeteers controlling them utilized a variety of techniques that made the animals seem alive. The birds swooped around overhead, while the fox crouched down and wiggled it’s hind quarters, beckoning Guests to play. You could pet the reindeer and polar bears, as well as pose for pictures. My favorite of all the animals were the penguins. There was an adult penguin and a baby penguin. The baby was so adorable, I may have asked if I could adopt it and take it home with me.
3. Tree of Life Awakenings
The Tree of Life is the iconic structure at Animal Kingdom, so it makes sense that it would play a significant role in Animal Kingdom’s holiday celebrations. At 145 feet tall, it commands attention from its place in Discovery Island, and one could spend a lifetime exploring the intricate animals that cover it. At night, the tree is transformed through projections known as “Tree of Life Awakenings.” The show features animal stories, each revealed by magical fireflies. The tree seems to come to life with the spirit of animals. During the holidays, the show features winter stories. Rabbits and deer slip about on ice covered creeks, snowflakes drift across the surface of the tree and animals like polar bears and foxes play in the snow. It’s breathtaking and one of my favorite ways to end a day at Animal Kingdom.
4. Decorations at Harambe Village
Harambe Village is one of the masterworks of Animal Kingdom. The theming created by Joe Rohde and other members of Disney Imagineering make it seems as though you’ve actually stepped into an African city. The dedication to authenticity extends to the area’s holiday decorations. They are made of simple, everyday items like bottle caps, bits of wire and twine. You’ll find things like a wreath made entirely of bottle caps, garlands made of gourds, hand painted dolls, and even a “tree” made of metal wire and covered with Christmas lights, rusted cans, and animals made of bottle caps.
Travel across the park and into the kingdom of Anandapur, and you’ll be greeted by the glittering lights of Diwali. The holiday is celebrated by Hindus, Jains, and Sikhs, and lasts for five days during the month of Kartika. Known as the festival of light, Diwali is celebrated in Anandapur through the colorful lanterns that hang overhead. There are more than 50 lanterns scattered throughout the land. You’ll also find garlands of marigold scattered about. The lanterns were created using traditional designs, though to increase their longevity the Holiday Services team made them out of nylon instead of cotton.
6. Character Floats
Though there are currently no character meet and greets, you can see some of your favorite characters like Pocahontas riding on floats around Discovery River. Some, like Mickey, Minnie, and Pluto, are even sporting holiday attire. There’s even a chance that you’ll see the man himself: Santa Claus. As a special tip, if you go to the amphitheater at the Discovery River Lagoon, you can get a great seat to see the character floats coming and going. There’s a lot of space and seating, so you can simply sit and watch the characters.
7. Decorations at DinoLand U.S.A.
DinoLand U.S.A. is wonderfully, unabashedly tacky. Based off of old roadside attractions, it is garish in the most delightful way, and the holiday decorations are no exception. One of the first things you spot upon entering the land is the giant skeleton of a brachiosaurus that spans the OldenGate Bridge near the Boneyard. During the holidays, a Santa hat sits atop the dino’s head. Shiny tinsel trees hang from lamps and there’s even a big read bow on the entrance to the Boneyard.
8. The Christmas Tree at the Animal Kingdom Lodge
Okay. So, this one is not technically IN the park, but it’s definitely worth the trip. The Christmas tree in the lobby of Animal Kingdom Lodge is one of the best Christmas trees in all of Walt Disney World. Like the decorations in Harambe Village, many of the decorations at Animal Kingdom Lodge are made of “found” materials like bottle caps. The tree in the lobby reaches several floors high and is covered in lights, bows, and African themed decorations. You’ll spot drums, balls with a giraffe pattern, carved animals, little musical instruments, and more.