Disney’s Animal Kingdom Theme Park Celebrates 20th Anniversary

Disney’s Animal Kingdom marked its 20th anniversary on Earth Day, April 22, with a parkwide celebration featuring animal encounters, family-friendly activities, specialty food & beverage offerings and more. The party will last two weeks with an expanded Party for the Planet celebration running through May 5.

The anniversary festivities kicked off with a breakfast exclusively for Cast Members who have worked at the park since its opening in 1998. In addition to receiving a print created by Walt Disney Imagineer Joe Rohde, these heritage Cast Members were celebrated by executives from around Walt Disney World and enjoyed sharing their favorite memories with fellow opening team members.

The morning was highlighted by a celebration where drummers, dancers, stilt performers and characters joined Disney executives in ceremonies observing the 20th anniversary and the kickoff of Party for the Planet. Djuan Rivers, vice president of Disney’s Animal Kingdom, cited the park’s transformation over its two decades and remarked that “it will always be dedicated to helping our Guests create a personal connection with the natural world.”

Over the two-week Party for the Planet, Guests will be able to enjoy unique animal encounters, backstage tours at Rafiki’s Planet Watch, specialty food & beverage offerings, and special photo opportunities with frames and props made for the occasion.

April 22 also marked the debut of two new entertainment experiences at the park: UP! A Great Bird Adventure and the Pandora Utility Suit. The first features Russell and Dug from the Disney•Pixar animated comedy-adventure film “UP” in a new adventure that includes encounters with exotic birds from around the world. And visitors to Pandora – The World of Avatar may encounter the towering mechanical suit piloted by a scientist who shares details about the land’s otherworldly landscape and the importance of preserving nature.

The fun doesn’t stop when Party for the Planet concludes May 5. Memorial Day weekend kicks off summer-long activities including fun with Donald Duck and friends. DinoLand, U.S.A. will rock out with playful character greetings and a DJ-powered dance party from the truck-o-saurus stage as Donald’s Dino-Bash! debuts.

To conclude, let's take a quick look back in time to learn more about the park's history:
  • April 22, 1998: Disney's Animal Kingdom Theme Park opens.
  • Jan. 1999: Disney's Animal Kingdom receives its accreditation from the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (formerly American Zoo and Aquarium Association).
  • March 1999: Asia opens including Kali River Rapids and Maharajah Jungle Trek.
  • Oct. 2000: Rafiki's Planet Watch opens.
  • Dec. 2000: Safari Village becomes Discovery Island.
  • June 29, 2001: A baby white rhino named Hasani is born at Disney's Animal Kingdom. He traveled to Uganda in 2006 as one of the first white rhinos ever reintroduced from the United States.
  • Oct. 2001: Mickey’s Jammin’ Jungle Parade premieres. Since there was no sound system covering the parade route, the units had to supply their own sound sources, blending together to build each of the world beat songs, from rhythms to chants to lyrics. The parade delighted Guests for 13 years.
  • Nov. 2001: The first phase of Chester & Hester’s Dino-Rama opens with Triceratop Spin attraction and midway games.
  • April 2006: Disney Wildlife Conservation Fund  (now Disney Conservation Fund) achieves $10 million milestone since its 1995 creation.
  • April 7, 2006: Expedition Everest - Legend of the Forbidden Mountain takes Guests on the first trek in search of the elusive Yeti. This artificial mountain is built with 4,424 feet of track and stands 199.5 feet tall at its peak, making it the tallest “mountain” in Florida.
  • Jan. 24, 2007: Finding Nemo - The Musical debuts. 
  • April 22, 2007: The inaugural Party for the Planet is held on the park's ninth anniversary. 
  • Jan. 16, 2011: Wild Africa Trek debuts.
  • June 1, 2013: Wilderness Explorers program invites Guests to complete challenges and earn badges.
  • June 1, 2014: Festival of the Lion King, the top-rated show at Walt Disney World, debuts in its new home, the brand new Harambe Theatre
  • May 2016: Nighttime experiences debut including Harambe Wildlife Parti, Discovery Island Sunset Serenatas, Discovery Island Carnivale, Tree of Life Awakenings and the nighttime version of Kilimanjaro Safaris. In addition, Tiffins and Nomad Lounge open.
  • October 2016: The Animal Nutrition Center is awarded platinum-level zero waste certification by the U.S. Zero Waste Business Council.
  • May 2017: The largest expansion in Disney’s Animal Kingdom’s history is completed with the opening of Pandora – The World of Avatar. The new land attracts record attendance, and Avatar Flight of Passage becomes the top-rated attraction at Walt Disney World.
  • August 2017: Sohni, a Sumatran tiger, gives birth to a pair of cubs, the first in the park’s history. Jeda and Anala were bred through the Species Survival Plan, which is overseen by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums and ensures responsible breeding and diverse populations of threatened and endangered species.
  • January 13, 2018: Augustus is the first Nile hippopotamus born at the park in 13 years. 

PHOTOS: © 2018 Walt Disney World Resort. All Rights Reserved.

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