Disney’s Animal Kingdom was the last park to open in Disney World back in 1998 — a piece of Disney trivia that ALWAYS makes us feel old (that was 23 years ago!!).
There are TONS of really cool details about this park that make it a completely immersive wildlife experience, and today we’re talking about the ones that are so hidden, they’re basically top secret. A land that never came to life, a fake waterfall, and lots of other things packed into the park that you may never notice!
The Beastly Kingdom
It’s no secret that Animal Kingdom was built with animals as the focus, but did you know that it once included mythical animals? That’s right! In the original plans for the park, the area we now know as Pandora — The World of Avatar was actually named The Beastly Kingdom, which featured encounters with dragons, unicorns, and more. Budget woes halted its creation and it was never picked back up and later the space reserved for it transformed into the place that you can now ride on a banshee.
But, there are still some remnants of the dragon land. Before you even get into the park, take a look at the ticketing building on your left. Now, that doesn’t look like any animal we’ve ever seen roaming Earth!
And, if you’ve looked close enough at the lamps around the entrance to Animal Kingdom, you might have noticed that there’s a dragon in the middle of the design. That’s another nod to the forgotten land!
Because the Beastly Kingdom was meant to take up the area that is now Pandora, you can even spot a few dragon-looking fountains on your way into the area. Keep your eyes peeled!
You’re on Route 498
Now to the land dedicated to the well-known extinct animals — DinoLand U.S.A.! This area has some pretty elaborate theming and even has a VERY detailed backstory. Basically, back in the 1940s, Dinoland was a quiet town off Highway 498 in Diggs County. Fossils were discovered near a local gas station causing paleontologists and graduate student assistants to travel to the town, forming the beginning of the Dino Institute headquarters.
As time passed, a museum was created to display all the dino fossils on-site, and a new president was named for the institute — Dr. Helen Marsh. New research contributed to the creation of a vehicle that let scientists go back in time (featured in the ride DINOSAUR), and the married couple who owned the original gas stations where the fossils were found (Chester and Hester) expanded their business into carnival (Dino-Rama) and gift shop (Dinosaur Treasures). Those college students that came to help dig? They set up shop in what is now Restaurantosaurus!
You can spot the city signs around DinoLand that say “Diggs County — U.S. 498.” And, Disney wouldn’t go through all the trouble of making an elaborate backstory without adding more secret details, now would they? No, that doesn’t sound like Disney at all!
Route 498 is actually a nod to the opening of Disney’s Animal Kingdom! The park opened on April 22nd, 1998 hence 498! If you know to look for it, you’ll be able to find the numbers all around DinoLand.
Fake Waterfall in Pandora
Okay, so this secret is one that no matter how hard you look, you might not spot it still. Over in Pandora — The World of Avatar, you can explore the luscious green landscape that makes up this other world. And, you’ll probably notice that there are quite a few waterfalls coming out of the floating rocks and landscape. Would you believe us if we told you that one of them is entirely fake?
Up near the tippy top of the mountain that makes up the entrance to the Flight of Passage, there are three waterfalls. They APPEAR to be real, but they’re actually an optical illusion! It’s a rotating wheel that looks like white water but “falls” much slower than a real waterfall would, forcing it to appear further from you than it actually is. Disney even added fabric at the bottom to make it look like mist from the water! Tbh, our minds are STILL blown by this one.
Do You Know The Scientific Make-Up of Condiments?
When you head into The Dino Institute to check out the “museum” and travel to pre-historic times on DINOSAUR, you might notice that there’s one section of piping that’s extra colorful. Look up when you’re boarding the ride and you’ll get a closer look at the chemicals written on them. And, it’s Disney so they don’t just go writing formulas on pipes for fun.
They are actually the formulas for the chemical makeup of ketchup, mustard, and mayonnaise (colored accordingly). How did condiments become a hidden detail in the ride? It was originally sponsored by McDonald’s from 1998-2008! We know, weird. What interest did THEY have in dinosaurs? What’s really in those nuggets? Ah, we digress… . But hey, now you know!
It’s Not a T-Rex on Dinosaur!
Let’s stick to the topic of DINOSAUR. The ride was originally known as “Countdown to Extinction” which kind of makes sense when you think about it. You’re LITERALLY trying to beat the countdown to the meteor shower that made the dinosaurs go extinct. It was renamed in 2000 and this new name seems like it doesn’t give enough details about just how many dinos you’re going to encounter on this terrifying journey. BUT, there’s one type of dinosaur you WON’T find on your journey, though you’ve probably always thought you had.
Just around the corner from Disney World, there’s another amusement park that features a pretty big focus on dinos (hint, hint, wink, wink). Okay, you’re thinking Universal Orlando, right? It’s okay to say their name here! Well, Disney didn’t want us confusing this Dinosaur for the arguably MUCH more famous ones over at Universal so they dug into their pile of Intellectual Properties. They just so happened to have made an animated film appropriately named Dinosaur in 2000 featuring dinos they could repurpose on this ride. Instead of battling t-rexes and raptors, they distinguished themselves by sending us on a search for an Iguanadon.
And, that big baddie that scares you into a photoshoot isn’t actually a T-Rex! It’s a Carnotaurus! He looks a lot like a T-Rex but actually would have had horns on the top of his head to take down enemies and was a bit smaller than his relative.
A Work of Art Featuring Michael Jackson
Did you know that Michael Jackson LOVED Kali River Rapids? It’s true! The water ride was his favorite at Walt Disney World so Disney decided to commemorate him in a painting that you can find in the ride queue.
See him above with his arms in the air?? You’ll find Michael Jackson sitting in the raft on a painting in the last room of the queue!
Spray people on Kali River Rapids
And, speaking of Kali River Rapids, did you know that you can guarantee that your family gets waterlogged on their journey? Instead of standing on the bridge overlooking the portion of the ride surrounded by elephant statues and snapping a photo, look for buttons!
When you hit them you’ll activate the elephants and they’ll spray water from their trunk at all the passengers. So, this is a case that you would definitely want to duck when you see an elephant trunk looking ready to spout (unlike when you’re on Jungle Cruise).
Chimpanzee Carving on Tree of Life
Animal Kingdom’s park icon is the Tree of Life and the trunk of this ginormous tree is made up of over 300 hand-sculpted animals. And, one of the animals that you might spot carved into the tree actually has a name (and backstory!). There’s a little chimpanzee carving that is named David Greybeard, after one of the chimps that Dr. Jane Goodall studied.
The primatologist actually had a hand in the park’s creation so ‘lil David is meant to honor Goodall and her work. She had made such a mark in the beginnings of the park that she even came back to speak at the 10-year anniversary event!
Over in the Pandora — The World of Avatar, the entire area was built to be interactive in a way you would actually find in Pandora in the movies! The Na’vi have a strong connection with wildlife so Disney thought it was important to make the land as immersive as possible for guests. So, when you walk into the land, don’t breeze by the HUGE plant that is set out to greet you on your right.
It’s actually alive! If you touch the pink area on the plant, it will respond to you by glowing, spraying water, and making a noise! This has been closed off since the parks reopened but, when it was accessible, it was a guest favorite — especially for kids! So, yes, even the plants are honorary Cast Members making sure you feel welcomed.
Flight of Passage Handprints
And, we’re still in Pandora for this next one! After you’re done taking the ride of your life on the back of a Banshee, you might find some rather human-looking handprints on your way out of Flight of Passage. So, who are these people who got to put their hands AND initials on one of the most popular rides in Disney World?
The creators, of course! They belong to James Cameron (Avatar’s director), Joe Rohde (Pandora’s lead designer), and John Landau (Avatar’s executive producer). It is just us or is this WAY cooler than leaving your handprint in wet cement?
Some Beers Are ONLY Found in Animal Kingdom
Now onto all the snack secrets in Animal Kingdom (our favorite part, obvi)! This park is actually home to two VERY exclusive beers. So exclusive that you can ONLY get them when you’re in the park! Over at Satu’li Canteen or Pongu Pongu in Pandora, you can grab a GREEN beer called GREEN Hawkes’ Grog Ale. This is the only place you’ll be able to get your green beer fix outside of St. Patrick’s Day (and this is probably better than any of the beer you dye green anyway).
And, you can find the exclusive Kungaloosh Spiced Excursion Ale at Nomad Lounge and neighboring Tiffins. You can alllllsssoo get Kungaloosh at Jungle Navigation Co., Ltd. Skipper Canteen, in Magic Kingdom, FYI! If you’re a fan of beer, these two are must-tries during your visit!
Restaurantosaurus Lounge Secret Menu Drink
We wouldn’t be doing our job if we didn’t bring you a secret menu item on our secrets list! So, we present you the Raspberry Fizz! You can order this at Restaurantosaurus Lounge and it’s made with Bacardi Raspberry, Sprite, and cranberry juice and garnished with a strawberry.
We stumbled upon this hidden gem one day when we were searching for new holiday drinks and the bartender flipped our frown upside down by offering us this Disney insider drink! It turns out this drink used to be served at a Disney World pop-up bar in the past but disappeared from the menu. It was a secretive, refreshing, fruity delight — everything you could ask for as a Disney snack fan. You won’t find it on the menu, but just ask and you might be pleasantly surprised!
There’s Another Place to Order Tiffins Bread Service
If you’re a big fan of carbs like us and you’re wondering where you can load up on bread in Disney World, we’d be inclined to direct you to Tiffins at Disney’s Animal Kingdom. The menu features Tiffins Signature Bread Service which includes Naan, Lavash, and another bread, in addition to three accompaniments: Harrisa Yogurt, Lime Chutney, and Black-Eyed Pea Hummus. But, what if you can’t get a reservation or would rather eat your full meal somewhere else? You’re in luck!
The appetizer is served in the bar that shares the same building as the restaurant — Nomad Lounge. The bar can be much easier to get into and you can use the Mobile Walk-Up Waitlist so you don’t even need to plan that far ahead to give the bread a try. And, while you’re there you can try some of the delicious drinks that they serve!
Do You HAVE to Use the Mobile Walk-up Waitlist to Get a Table in Disney World? Here’s What You Need to Know.
Winged Encounters Show
Now, this next one isn’t really a secret, but not many people know about it when they’re visiting Animal Kingdom! Every day, macaws fly around the Tree of Life, make a pit stop for a short show in front of the tree, and then fly off towards DinoLand to return home to their enclosures backstage.
The show is called Winged Encounters and you can find the showtimes in the park guide! The birds usually make their flight a few times a day so you can find what time works best to catch some wildlife in action! If you DO catch it, though, it’s a fantastic sight having dozens of macaws soar inches over your head!
Pandora Utility Suit
And, the last secret at Disney’s Animal Kingdom is another one that isn’t necessarily a secret, just not many people know about it! Over in Pandora — The World of Avatar, you might find yourself walking around near Satu’li Canteen and spot a man in a HUGE robotic suit putting on a bit of a show. No, he’s not man-splaining Transformers (though his suit kind of looks like one), he’s actually a Pandora Ranger showing off a Panroda Exo-Carrier Utility Suit!
The suit stands 10-feet tall and does all kinds of cool tricks. This is another show that you can find times for in the park guide, so be sure you grab one on your way in if you want to be there for some of the more unique experiences! Note this hasn’t been occurring since the parks reopened, but we’re keeping an eye out for their return!
So, how did we do? Hopefully, you learned something from all our rambling because these wouldn’t be very secretive if you all knew them! Well, we guess now you do…so shh! Let’s keep this between each other. Well, actually we entirely give you permission to do a total Disney flex with these facts the next time you visit with your family! 😂
Join the DFB Newsletter to get all the breaking news right in your inbox! Click here to Subscribe!
What’s your best-kept Disney World secret? Let us know in the comments!