After the sun has gone down and the moon has come up the parks and resorts of Walt Disney World begin to take on a different feel. For Epcot, the futuristic curves of Future World gleam and the pavilions of World Showcase seem to come alive and shine as the jewels of the countries they represent. At Disney’s Hollywood Studios, there’s nothing quite like the glow and hum of the neon lining Hollywood and Sunset Boulevards. Meanwhile, the Magic Kingdom seems to transform into deeper, darker jungles, a lively turn-of-the-century town festival, and a sparkling ideal of tomorrow, depending upon where you happen to be standing. But what about Disney’s Animal Kingdom?
This park, which receives the least amount of attention of the four parks during the day, shares this same fate in the evenings. Of course, this is mostly due to the fact that Disney’s Animal Kingdom so rarely has park hours that allow it to stay open beyond sunset. With animal experiences shuttering at dusk, that doesn’t leave a ton of other attractions to partake in. Walt Disney World realizes this and has adjusted hours accordingly, even removing evening Extra Magic Hours from the park in favor of an additional morning set during any given week. Of course, no matter how slim the hours of Disney’s Animal Kingdom are trimmed down to, there are still times the park can be experienced after dark, especially during the shortened days of winter.
So, what’s so special about a park that features only a limited selection of attractions and dining opportunities that operate at night? Quite a bit actually!
As you make your way through the Oasis, between Asia and Africa, or from Discovery Island to anywhere, you almost get that feeling like you are lost in the woods. Oh sure, there’s a lamppost lighting your way every couple of steps, but there is a vast wilderness just beyond your reach that looks as if it could swallow you whole. Local, un-exhibited, wildlife comes out after dark and you can hear the chirps, croaks, birdcalls, and other noises beckoning from out in those murky woods. Of course, the lampposts are warm and the background music cheery, and anything scary is soon pushed back into the darkness where it belongs.
Meanwhile, Harambe and Anandapur take on new life at night. These are not the glorified corners of the globe seen in World Showcase, these are outposts to the wild areas of the world. As such, there is very little in the way of modern conveniences. The cables strung with lights can present an uneven glow on the buildings and sidewalks. The crumbling buildings returning to the earth from which they once sprung up are filled with shadowy gashes that give each structure a wonderful personality not seen in bright sunlight. Particularly in Harambe, where the area is closed after dark to exploration, as there are no attractions left open, there is an eerie desertedness to the town that is as beautiful as it is disconcerting for those who notice their surroundings.
Expedition Everest is one of the few attractions open at night in Disney’s Animal Kingdom, and it is a whole new brand of terrifying after dark. You thought the backward plunge into the cavern filled with blackness was bad during the day? There is literally nothing to see after the sun has set in this scene. It is more difficult to tell when and where the interior mountain scenes are that race by at breakneck speeds, and when you are actually charging through the open night spaces. However, the vista overlooking Walt Disney World from the front of the train is even more splendid at night and the lights that illuminate the Forbidden Mountain do an amazing job of making the mountain appear ferocious and yet enticing at the same time.
The carnival that is Dino-Rama gets into full swing at night, as is the fate of most carnivals, right? Thousands of light bulbs light up the game booths and Primeval Whirl, and you truly believe this could be a festival that has just rolled into to town and popped up overnight, if you didn’t already know better. Further into DinoLand U.S.A., Dinosaur comes with all the shimmering light effects you’d expect to find in a modern museum, and the way light washes over and around Restaurantosaurus reminds guests that this was a fishing lodge once upon a time.
I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the Tree of Life. I love Spaceship Earth and Cinderella Castle at night, and with is flashing sparkles it’s hard not to notice the Sorcerer’s Hat, but the Tree of Life seems to glow with an internal energy in the evenings. From the illuminated waterfalls to the radiating leaves of the canopy, it is as if the Tree of Life is teaming with millions of fireflies ready to make sure you don’t miss a branch or carving in this masterpiece.
I am the first to admit that it is tricky to find a time when Disney’s Animal Kingdom is open after sunset. Heck, it took me a couple of years of trying to get there for the park hours to fall out in my favor. However, there is nothing in Walt Disney World, and I do mean nothing, that compares with the feeling of wilderness and the intriguing vistas afforded by a nighttime excursion through this park dedicated to the natural world.
Have you ever experienced Disney’s Animal Kingdom at night? Let us know!
Ryan is the owner and editor of Main Street Gazette, providing perspective on the world of yesterday, tomorrow and fantasy. He shares personal thoughts, historical perspectives, tasty bites, photographs and layered details found throughout the Vacation Kingdom.