On an average day, Disney's Animal Kingdom is probably Walt Disney World's most beautiful park – but perhaps because it's so very dedicated to immersive theming, until now their holiday decor has been pretty sparse. There's always been the stunning tree out front, and perhaps the rare burlap wreath or similar around the park. But never what I would consider to be all out holiday decor. So when Disney announced a few months ago that Animal Kingdom would be embracing the season, I was incredibly excited to see what was to come.
All of this said – it goes without saying that I was thrilled to be invited by Disney to see the holiday sights of DAK with my family yesterday. And I was even more thrilled that they did not disappoint.
And you can catch it all between now and January 1st.
The animal tree at the park's entrance will greet guests as it always has when you enter the park. You'll also find PhotoPass opportunities there – including a bit of magic.
Upon entering the park, you really start to see the magic that's new this year.
Front and center are the new life- (and-larger-than-life-) sized animal puppets that roam and interact with park guests. They are so lifelike and expressive – I could have watched them all day. (And make sure to get to the park during the daylight hours so that you don't miss them!)
The shops are decorated beautifully with garlands, wreaths, and rooftop luminaries celebrating the season.
And at the center of everything, the Tree of Life awakens each night with a series of projections set to music that were so beautiful that honest-to-goodness they moved me to tears.
As you start to walk toward Pandora, you'll start to understand just how well done and thought out Animal Kingdom's holiday decor is. The theming is so spot on with each area of the park that you almost don't realize it's there.
The wall across from Tiffins, which was recently a Lion King-inspired sunset, is now this beautiful mural.
The Nav'i nutcracker at Pongu Pongu stole my heart. Not to mention…if you look very closely…the menorah tucked away on the other side of the sign.
And if you look very, very closely…you might just spot the ONLY hidden Mickey in all of Pandora.
The storyline here is a bit of fun – as the idea is that ex-pats living and working on the moon of Pandora have brought a little holiday fun to their interstellar home.
But perhaps most stunning of all? The garlands – decorated with the most ornate banshees. When you stop to appreciate the work that went into all of this, it's breathtaking.
As you leave Pandora and head toward the village of Harambe in Africa, you'll start to see a subtle shift in the holiday decor. Here the decorations are a blend of Western traditions and the colors and textiles of authentic African celebrations.
Perhaps my favorite are these intricate wreaths made of bicycle wheels and bottle caps on the bridge overlooking the water as you enter.
You'll also find some holiday treats over at Zuri's Sweet Shop near the Safari.
And while I haven't yet been inside, I'm told that the wonderful Tusker House, which is one of our favorite buffets on property, is touched with a bit of extra holiday cheer.
From here, stroll over to Asia, where the residents of Anandapur have decorated the theater district in celebration of Diwali – India's holiday festival of lights. This is one spot you'll want to see during the day and at night – as the bright colors go from shining under the sun to glowing against the night sky.
And if you're in the mood for a treat…you might just find a little holiday cheer over at the Anandapur ice cream truck!
And from Asia…make your way to Dinoland – where the imagineers have finally let loose with the sort of fabulous and campy decor that would ONLY work here. And it's perfect.
It probably goes without saying that this is another area that you'll want to see during the day…
And at night.
And do NOT miss all of the little details at each of the character meets. Like Scrooge McDuck's golden decor. Or Launchpad's plane covered wreaths.
You'll also find some seasonal snacks here….
And mayyyyybe a little extra fun if you wander into the shops….
All in all, seeing what Disney's Animal Kingdom has managed to pull off this holiday season makes me realize why they were so careful not to jump into holiday decor before now. Every single section is so perfectly thought out that it meshes into the theming of its surroundings almost unnoticeably. There were places in certain sections where I found myself wondering if a particular garland was new or I'd just never noticed it before.
The look of it all took my breath away and really made me stop to appreciate the degree of work that went into it all.
The puppets are, I'm calling it now, the single must see item at Walt Disney World this season.
And like I said, the Tree of Life after dark literally moved me to tears.
I am so very excited for all of you to see it for yourselves.