Welcome back to another Disney Top 5. As always, I hope you’re all healthy and safe out there.
As I write this very article, mask mandates are being lifted quite rapidly here in New York. This week, we will go to school with masks optional for the first time in two years. I’m sure there will be some trepidation as we continue to slowly move forward. We’ve thought things were normalizing before, and then they rather unfortunately came screaming back. I do admit, this time feels a little different. It feels a little more promising. We’re all hoping that we’re on the verge of normalcy and this past week or so…and I don’t want to jinx it…but, it’s felt a little like things might really be going back to normal.
Of course, normal is all relative. Typically in March, I start putting things on hold for a summer Walt Disney World trip. While I don’t have any concrete plans as of yet, the discussion has been opened. We’re narrowing down dates, checking on airfares and I’m hoping that Disney will announce some sort of summer room deal similar to ones they have offered in the past. And then, the long awaited countdown will begin. Until then, let’s keep counting down our favorite stuff from the most magical place on Earth, shall we?
I left off in the Asia section of Animal Kingdom drying off after another water-soaked spin on Kali River Rapids. I’d have to say that Asia is my favorite section of Animal Kingdom. I think it’s the most detailed of all the locales in the park. Everywhere you look there is something beautiful to observe. Whether it’s the richly detailed shops, the impressive greenery or the ever-ubiquitous Everest looming in the background, Asia is one of my favorite places to take a stroll on Disney property. And speaking of strolling, there are two often overlooked attractions in Animal Kingdom that involve taking a walk and soaking in the atmosphere. One is in Africa, the Gorilla Falls Exploration Trail and the other is in Asia, the Maharajah Jungle Trek. Anyone that dismisses these walk through attractions is, in my humble opinion, missing the whole point of Disney’s Animal Kingdom.
The Imagineers, with Disney legend Joe Rohde at the helm, intended Animal Kingdom to be a place that inspired exploration. You’re actually supposed to walk around, admire the details and seek out the animals, much like you would if you were in fact visiting places in Asia or Africa. The two aforementioned trails are not just a place to spot gorillas and tigers. They are places to explore, places to inspire and places that you are literally supposed to slow down and take your time experiencing. Every time I walk these trails, I find something new that I never noticed before and a great deal of peace comes over me. I’m not desperately trying to make it to my next ride. I’m not concerned with schedules. I’m literally exploring and soaking in the atmosphere, just like they intended. So, what’s so great about the Maharajah Jungle Trek? Let’s take the proverbial closer look with my Top 5 things to love about the Maharajah Jungle Trek at Disney’s Animal Kingdom.
I’m going to be very up front here; I’m not all that crazy about bats of any kind. Interesting animals, for sure, but they kind of creep me out. So, why would I put them here on my list? As usual, the Disney Imagineers took things up a notch. What you quickly notice when you enter the Flying Fox area is that there’s essentially nothing between you and the bats, and these are some pretty large bats.
Enjoy the Royal Anandapur Forest Jungle Trek where you walk through temples and ruins in search of tigers, bats, dragons, and more. Photo by Bonnie Fink.
From what I understand there are two things at play here. The bats, apparently, don’t have much interest in bothering you. Now, for someone that doesn’t like bats all that much – like yours truly – that’s not too comforting. I’m prone to feeling that if those bats want to come and get me, they’ll come and get me. The more major thing at play here is the way the Imagineers designed the enclosure. The wingspan of the bats prevents them from flying through the spaces created by the vertical wood beams separating us from them. It’s an ingenious design, obviously created with the help of some bat experts. It’s a little disconcerting at first, thinking that there’s essentially nothing preventing them from getting close to you, but that’s part of the excitement and wonder of getting up close and personal with the animals. It’s what Imagineer Joe Rohde wanted when he was in the planning stages of this park, and the bat area of the Maharajah Jungle Trek is a wonderful example of bringing that dream to fruition.
Leave it to Disney to get something as interesting and unique as Komodo Dragons in their theme park devoted to the wonders of the animal kingdom. In a park full of incredible creatures, you should consider yourself lucky to be able to watch these tremendous members of the monitor family up close. Komodos have been on the endangered list for several years now and they are apparently difficult animals to keep in captivity.
A Komodo Dragon springs to life in the Maharajah Jungle Trek. ©Disney
Considering they can only be found on four islands in Indonesia, having them here to admire in Orlando is pretty awesome. The dragons are the first animals that you come upon when you enter the trek. That said don’t rush off to the tigers right away. Take your time and watch them on your next visit to the Jungle Trek.
When the Imagineers designed the Kilimanjaro Safaris attraction at Animal Kingdom they went to great lengths to disguise certain barriers between the guests and the animals. For example, there is a massive pit between the ride vehicles and the lions that you can’t see. It appears that they could just walk over to you if they wanted to, which of course they cannot. In the aviary section of the Maharajah Jungle Trek, there are literally no barriers. The birds are free to make their way around the enclosed area and that means mingling with the guests.
Some residents of the Maharajah Jungle Trek aviary enjoy an elaborate bird feeder. ©Disney
There are about a dozen different species of birds in the aviary and there will typically be a guide in there to point out the different birds to you. As always, my suggestion is to linger, search for the birds and enjoy the atmosphere. The architecture, the paintings on the walls, the thick vegetation and the water features make this one of the most tranquil spots in the whole park. Take your time and experience it.
Let’s face it, escaping the crowds and mayhem at Disney isn’t always an easy task. But one of the things that has always impressed me about Walt Disney World is that there are more places to get away from it all than most guests are aware of. The Maharajah Jungle Trek is one of those incredible places where you can go off the beaten path, escape the crowds and feel, dare I say it, tranquil.
The decaying ruins of the Royal Hunting Lodge are an inspiring place to get away from it all at Animal Kingdom. ©Disney
I feel that way about the Discovery Island trails, which I already covered in a previous Top 5 and the Gorilla Falls Exploration Trail, which I’ll get to in a later article. All of these wonderful tranquil places in Animal Kingdom are further proof of Animal Kingdom’s concept. Trust me, I’m pretty darn happy in a crowd of 10,000 watching Fantasmic or in front of Cinderella Castle with just about the entire park watching the fireworks, but I need my tranquil places and this is definitely one of them.
Of course, the big stars of the Maharajah Jungle Trek are the tigers. I put them here in the top slot not just because they are one of my favorite animals, but also because this section of the Jungle Trek is, once again, the Imagineers doing what they do best, conjuring atmosphere out of thin air. If you read the backstory of the Jungle Trek, which is laid out for you on a sign at the entrance, you learn that this area is supposed to be the ruins of King Bhima Disampati’s Royal Hunting Lodge. When you set up a backstory like that, you’d better be prepared to build something that fits the bill. The Imagineers did just that. The architecture, despite being in somewhat ruins, does have a regal air to it.
Tibetan prayer flags adorn these ruins in the mythical Royal Anandapur Forest. These ancient ruins are now the Bengal Tiger enclosure. Photo by Bonnie Fink.
Lose yourself in the moment and you will feel like you are actually walking through the ruins of a Maharajah’s hunting lodge. The structures are quite stunning adorned with paintings and prayer flags. And then there are the felines. Over in Africa, you can’t get too close to the lions, but here, you can get real close to the majestic tigers, sometimes just behind a sheet of glass. In the middle of the day, they tend to be sleeping in the hot Orlando sun, but if you get lucky and see them in their pool, or walking along the ridge by the fountain, you’ll soon realize the true purpose of Animal Kingdom.
Let’s not forget that when Imagineer Joe Rohde wanted to sell the Disney execs on the whole notion of creating an entire park devoted to wildlife, he arranged for an actual tiger to be brought into a conference room. In no time at all, the suits realized that Joe was right, that animals were fascinating and celebrating them in natural habitats at a theme park was a stroke of genius. Walt Disney himself knew this way back in the beginning of the Disneyland days. He wanted The Jungle Cruise to feature real life animals and not animatronics, but things were different back then. People hadn’t quite figured out how to design attractions so that the animals could be safely on display and “interact” with guests. Attractions like the Maharajah Jungle Trek succeed in doing just that and all the while, it never leaves the Disney storytelling tradition behind.
Do yourself a favor on your next Walt Disney World trip. Don’t disembark from Kali River Rapids and head out of Asia running to your next ride. Dry off a little and then turn right into the Maharajah Jungle Trek. I’m not fond of making the following type of statement, but I’m quite sure that this is just the kind of thing that Walt was hoping to do one day in one of his theme parks. He wanted to take his viewers and his guests on wildlife adventures. He did that with his True Life Adventures series of films, but you are extremely fortunate that you can experience it for yourself, in person, in places like the Maharajah Jungle Trek at Disney’s Animal Kingdom.
That’s all for this time. As always, I’d like to hear what you have to say. Click on the link below to share your thoughts. Stay safe and I’ll see you next time with another Disney Top 5.
I really enjoyed your Top 5 just like I enjoy 99.3% of your Top 5’s. I do not have anything else to add to it. What I would like to know is what you think about hotel room prices now that you are looking again at coming down?
Have you had sticker shock?
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