A lot of the cool stuff at Walt Disney World’s Animal Kingdom is tucked away in the park’s forested nooks – like Rafiki’s Animal Planet.
Located all the way in the back of the park, Rafiki’s Animal Planet is like a combination zoo-museum. You enter under an arched sign and walk down a small path to the train, which takes you to a large area filled with animals and educational displays. Here’s a short video tour:
Finding Animals at Disney World Animal Kingdom
Photo by Jamie Bartosch/Suburban TravelingMom Rafiki welcomes visitors to Rafiki’s Planet Watch at Disney World Animal Kingdom
I was impressed by the cool-looking African styled train, with faux luggage attached to the top, and wooden pews that face out. The train moves really slowly. While it’s billed as a behind-the-scenes look at Disney World Animal Kingdom, I didn’t think there was much to see during the train ride. The interesting stuff comes when you get off the train.
Take the 5-minute walk down the “Habitat Habit” trail. You walk by some unique caged animals – look for the Golden Lion Tamaron – a small Brazilian monkey with a head that looks like a lion. And there’s a spot to get a stamp for your Animal Kingdom Wilderness Explorer Handbook (that’s the kids scavenger hunt that covers all of Animal Kingdom).
The trail is dotted with signs and displays, offering environmentally-friendly facts and ideas for things you can do at home, like creating animal habitats in your own backyard. They’re realistic ideas, like setting up a bird feeder.
Rafiki himself – the area’s namesake – pokes out of the trees and plants. In case you needed a refresher, he’s the wise, old baboon in “The Lion King.” Make it a game to have the kids search for him after you get off the train.
Affection and Conservation in Rafiki’s Planet Watch
When you reach the end of the path, there are two main areas: Conservation Station, and Affection Section. I’ll talk about the one I like better first: Affection Section.
Affection Section a really nice petting zoo, with a variety of goats and sheep to pet and brush. You don’t feed the animals, which I sorta liked (at those festival petting zoos, the animals can get kind of aggressive). The animals were all very calm, approachable and gentle with kids. They’ll pose for selfies, too, as I learned.
Photo by Jamie Bartosch/Suburban TravelingMom Goat photobomb!
There’s a hand-washing station before you leave. A Disney cast member will insist – somewhat militantly, but importantly – that everyone washes their hands after petting the animals.
Conservation Station, on the other hand, is more like an indoor museum. You can move between hands-on exhibits or peek through the glass windows at the operating room, where veterinarians sometimes do animal surgeries (we saw a small turtle being prepped for surgery). As always at Disney, everyone on the staff was talkative and friendly.
My favorite part of Conservation Station was the area where you can see the different kinds of foods animals eat – and even sample them. The bowls of food they put out are edible for humans. But it smells like animal food, so I took a pass. It would make a fun video – and memory – if you captured the reaction of a fearless family member sampling the animal food. If you do that, definitely share it with me on social media because that kind of stuff cracks me up (sometimes, when I’m feeling down, I’ll watch Babies Eating Lemons videos on YouTube).
Photo by Jamie Bartosch/Suburban TravelingMom You can taste the animal food – it’s edible for humans – if you dare.
While Conservation Station is full of interesting information, my kids (ages 9 and 11) just kinda wandered from window-to-window and nothing held their attention for very long. That’s probably more a reflection of my kids’ personalities than Disney’s presentations. I enjoyed seeing and reading the displays. But I gotta admit, I also just liked the indoor air-conditioning break the place provided.
The Beauty of Disney World’s Animal Kingdom
Animal Kingdom is the most beautifully decorated park in Disney World, and there is so much stunning attention to detail. Don’t miss that part. While people love the giant tree in the middle, or the view of Mt. Everest, there’s all sorts of incredible detail. Look at the ground by the Expedition Everest roller coaster, for example. There are horseshoe prints in the cement.
I recommend visiting Rafiki’s Planet Watch. It’s a great multi-generational spot in Animal Kingdom.
Jamie Bartosch is an award-winning newspaper reporter in suburban Chicago. She loves to travel, and blogs for TravelingMom.com from the viewpoint of a "typical suburban mom." Her goal is to provide honest, useful information to help families save time and money, and to make the most of their family vacation. A married mother of two, Jamie grew up in suburban Chicago, lived in the city for 16 years, and then moved back out to the suburbs to raise her kids. She writes as Suburban TravelingMom. Learn more about her at www.JamieBartosch.com