Expedition EverestDisney’s Animal Kingdom turned fifteen years old today. I think it often gets a bad rap – the lush foliage and dense biomass of DAK leads to the phenomenon often referred to as “Animal Kingdom Hot.” There’s no nighttime spectacular and the carnival game theming in the heart of Dinoland is much reviled. But there are plenty of great reasons to love DAK, and here are my 15 favorites:

1. Expedition Everest – the best-themed and most exciting roller coaster in all of Walt Disney World.

2. Kilimanjaro Safaris – an incredible, unique way to see animals you normally only get to see from a great distance, and an attraction the whole family can enjoy.

3. DINOSAUR! – yes, we can complain about the scaled-down effects at the beginning of the ride. And Phylicia Rashad’s wardrobe is terribly dated. But the storyline remains compelling and immersive, the animatronics are huge and incredible and make for a fantastic ride.

4. Flame Tree BBQ – One of the best, if not THE best, counter-service restaurants at Walt Disney World.

DSC_98905. DiVine – Simply captivating encounters.

6. The Animal Kingdom Welcome Show – They make being up early for rope drop a celebration. The show is “small” and short, but at the same time it is more intimate and imminent than the grander opening at the Magic Kingdom.

7. Dawa Bar – home of beers unique African beers

8. The Boneyard – Sure, it’s “just” a playground. But good luck getting a young child out of there in under half an hour.

9. Finding Nemo The Musical – a unique show, written just for Animal Kingdom, and featuring amazing puppetry work.

10. Outstanding, unique, character meet and greets. (My family is particularly partial to Flik).

11. Royal Anandapur Tea Company – A great way to start your morning, with real Indian and Asian teas.

DSC_550412. The most thorough, complete, immersive theming of any Disney theme park, such that an entire day can be enjoyed in Animal Kingdom without riding a single ride. (But why would you do that)?

13. Festival of the Lion King – Two words: tumble. monkeys.

14. Tusker House character meals – classic characters in unique outfits and food with just a bit of a twist on the standard Disney World character buffet fare. (And POG juice)!

15. Kali River Rapids – Yes, the ride is too short. No, it doesn’t do a very good job of telling its story. But it does the job of soaking riders much better than Splash Mountain does. Animal Kingdom hot makes it a welcome soaking.

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