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Kingdom Hearts Games at 20: Disney & Square Enix’s Unlikely Success
With more than 35 million units sold across the world, Kingdom Hearts is one of the most popular entertainment titles in the world. Not to mention, it went from an experiment born from an unlikely partnership — Disney teamed up with Japanese role-playing game (JRPG) powerhouse, Square Enix ( Final Fantasy series, Chrono Trigger ) — to an elite IP. That’s quite a journey. Even though the Kingdom Hearts games are now 20 years old (and no longer a Nobody), you still might be wondering: What was the franchise’s recipe for success?
An Unlikely Duo: The Origins of the Kingdom Hearts Games
Before Goofy and Donald teamed up with Sora — the Keyblade-wielding protagonist of the Kingdom Hearts games — The Walt Disney Company and Square Enix formed their own real-life partnership. So, how did the idea for this beloved action RPG come about?
Former Square Enix producer Shinji Hashimoto and Final Fantasy creator Hironobu Sakaguchi wanted to make a 3-D hit like Super Mario 64 (1996) , but felt only Disney had characters popular enough to rival Nintendo’s Mario . Luckily for Square Enix, they shared an office building with Disney’s Japan-based branch at the time. When Hashimoto had a chance encounter with an executive from Disney in an elevator, he pitched the idea.
A top-notch game needs the best of the best working on it. Square Enix’s Tetsuya Nomura, who was then-known for his memorable character design work for Final Fantasy VII (1997), offered to direct the project. At first, Nomura and his team focused their efforts on Kingdom Hearts ’ gameplay , believing the Disney audience would prefer a simple story. But Sakaguchi stepped in, insisting that the game needed Final Fantasy -level story, world-building and lore.
The Original Kingdom Hearts Hits PlayStation 2
Featuring a mix of characters from the Final Fantasy series, Disney and Pixar’s films and a few originals designed by Nomura himself, Kingdom Hearts has quite the broad appeal. And, despite being an entirely new IP in 2002, it already had a lot of brand recognition thanks to this ensemble.
Released in Japan on March 28, 2002 — and, later, in North America on September 17, 2002 — the first Kingdom Hearts introduced players to Sora, Kairi and Riku. These original characters live on the idyllic Destiny Islands — until their home world is suddenly overtaken by darkness. As destiny would have it, Sora is a Keyblade-wielder — yes, a giant key-shaped sword serves as his weapon — and can fight off the dark beings known as Heartless.
Sora, Kairi and Riku end up separated, and in the middle of a plot that involves the Heartless, other worlds infected by their darkness and a missing king. That king, of course, is Mickey Mouse; before vanishing, he instructed Donald Duck and Goofy to find the Keyblade wielder. Soon enough, Donald, Goofy and Sora band together to save the worlds from the Heartless, and the Disney villains who control them.
Of course, there are some complications. Maleficent ( Sleeping Beauty ) is the head villain, and she also enlists a Heartless-possessed Riku to help her find seven maidens — the Princesses of Heart — who have the power to open a doorway to the “heart of all worlds”. (Mostly, they’re Disney princesses, but Alice, of Alice in Wonderland , and Kairi are also among their ranks.)
The master manipulator behind all of this (at least for now) is a Heartless researcher, Ansem — one of the many forms taken on by Sora’s main antagonist, Master Xehanort , in the Dark Seeker Saga , which wrapped up with Kingdom Hearts III .
There’s also, of course, a lot of lore about hearts. Princesses of Heart, for example, are all light — there’s not a trace of darkness in them. Characters like Riku, on the other hand, struggle with darkness. Jealous of Sora and Kairi’s relationship, Riku opens their world up to evil, only to find himself manipulated time and again. For most of the cast, the struggle between light and darkness is ongoing.
Even Mickey’s intentions don’t seem pure at a certain point. For one, it’s surprising that Disney allowed that kind of “gray area” storyline, especially in regards to their mascot. But it’s also what sets the Kingdom Hearts games apart.
We won’t delve into too much spoiler territory for the first game. And we certainly won’t get into the details of the many sequels and prequels either, mostly because the Kingdom Hearts games are known for being… confusing , to say the least. But, above all, Kingdom Hearts is a testament to the power of friendship.
Disney isn’t quick to license its IP, but the novelty of the pitch clearly hit execs the right way. Not to mention, Square Enix is known for character-driven stories. So, yes, on paper it might sound strange to mix the playfulness of Disney with the self-seriousness of Final Fantasy , but both properties resonate deeply with fans — and, together, made even more of an impression.
The Enduring Success of Kingdom Hearts
Aside from casting familiar characters in a new, interactive light, the Kingdom Hearts games have a lot of other things going for them. For starters, although Sora isn’t the protagonist of every game in the long-running series, he is front-and-center in the mainstay titles. At the end of the day, he’s the hero whose story we care about most.
Some of our favorite cartoon characters never grow up, but Sora’s different. Over the course of several games, we’ve watched him grow up and make (sometimes fatal) mistakes. He’s kind of the perfect “in” for players; everything is new and exciting to him, including the cast of Disney characters, and there’s something about the freshness of that experience — that childlike excitement combined with the game’s high stakes — that makes for a winning recipe.
Not to mention, Kingdom Hearts — along with late ‘90s and early 2000s shows, like Dragon Ball Z , Sailor Moon , Pokémon and Naruto — helped introduce even more kids in Western countries to anime, JRPGs and J-Pop. Even if you weren’t a huge Kingdom Hearts fan, odds are you’ve heard Utada Hikaru’s “Simple and Clean” , for example. Much like anime and manga, the Kingdom Hearts games didn’t wrap up neatly. Instead, the epic storyline goes on, hooking players who are eager to see what happens next.
The Kingdom Hearts games certainly wouldn’t be as successful as they are without the series’ tried-and-true gameplay. Unlike ‘90s installments in the Final Fantasy series, which were generally turn-based RPGs, Kingdom Hearts took a more active approach. Instead of waiting for your turn to attack, you can just hack and slash your way through hordes of Heartless.
This real-time combat isn’t all slicing up enemies with your Keyblade, though. With the support of Donald and Goofy, you’ll also employ magic, summon Disney characters to aid you and use special abilities and items. Some entries in the series do stray from the hack-and-slash elements of the first game. The turn-based, card-centric gameplay of Kingdom Hearts: Chain of Memories (2004), a sequel that came out on the GameBoy Advance (GBA), is one such example. But, by and large, the controls remain pretty much the same across the tentpole releases.
Square Enix, of course, improves upon the gameplay when needed. Kingdom Hearts II , for example, felt so much smoother than the first game when it came out in 2005. Gameplay improvements and better graphics always pair well with consistency and nostalgia, and the Kingdom Hearts games are certainly proof of that.
The Future of Kingdom Hearts
Now, 20 years after the first Kingdom Hearts game debuted, the world of the series has grown and grown. In release order, the franchise encompasses the following titles:
- Kingdom Hearts (2002) (PS2)
- Kingdom Hearts Final Mix (2002) (PS2)
- Kingdom Hearts: Chain of Memories (2004) (GameBoy Advance)
- Kingdom Hearts 2 (2005) (PS2)
- Kingdom Hearts 2 Final Mix (2005) (PS2)
- Kingdom Hearts Re: Chain of Memories (2007) (PS2)
- Kingdom Hearts: Coded (2008) (Mobile)
- Kingdom Hearts: 358/2 Days (2009) (Nintendo DS)
- Kingdom Hearts: Birth By Sleep (2010) (PSP)
- Kingdom Hearts Birth By Sleep Final Mix (2010) (PSP)
- Kingdom Hearts Re: Coded (2010) (Nintendo DS)
- Kingdom Hearts 3D: Dream Drop Distance (2012) (Nintendo 3DS)
- Kingdom Hearts X (2013) (Internet Browser)
- Kingdom Hearts: Unchained X (2015) — Rebranded as Union X (2017) — (Mobile)
- Kingdom Hearts HD II.8 Final Chapter Prologue (2017) (PS4/Xbox One/Switch) — a compilation of remastered games to play ahead of Kingdom Hearts III
- Kingdom Hearts: Birth By Sleep 0.2: A Fragmentary Passage (2017) (PS4)
- Kingdom Hearts X Back Cover (2017) — short film composed of cutscenes
- Kingdom Hearts III (2019) (Xbox One/PS4)
- Kingdom Hearts III: ReMind DLC (2020) (Xbox One/PS4)
- Kingdom Hearts: Dark Road (2020) (Mobile)
- Kingdom Hearts: Melody of Memory (2020) (Xbox One/PS4/Switch)
Note: Unbolded titles are remakes, remasters or “director’s cut”-like versions of other titles.
Playing them in canonical order, though, is a bit more complicated:
But even with the long-awaited release of Kingdom Hearts III , just one epic story has come to a close. If the 20th anniversary stream was any indication, the Kingdom Hearts games have a long, fruitful life ahead. Square Enix has already announced the final chapter of Dark Road as well as theiOS/Android game, Kingdom Hearts: Missing Link , and Kingdom Hearts IV , a console game that will kick off Sora’s next epic adventure (the Lost Master Arc ).
It’s difficult to find a series that has been with you for so many of life’s ups and downs. But so many gamers who play Kingdom Hearts know the series to be a familiar, constant companion. At 20 years old, the franchise really has been around for a lifetime for some players. No matter where you are on your Kingdom Hearts journey, there’s no wrong way to jump in — one sky, one destiny, after all.
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What to Know Before Visiting Disney World
Visiting Florida’s Disney World promises to be a vacation to remember. With so many options for touring and big-action fun, it’s smart to gather as much intel as you can before you get to Orlando so you can make the most of your time.
Timing Your Visit
Once you’ve decided to head to Disney World, one of your next decisions will be when you go. Be forewarned, however, that aside from the summer break, school breaks that are longer than one week are the busiest times of the year at Disney. Disney World shares information about planned refurbishments for the upcoming year, so you can look ahead to see when maintenance is scheduled for specific attractions. Time your visit accordingly if you have your heart set on seeing and doing specific things that could be closed when you get there.
A week-long stay is probably the minimum for most families who want to see and do a lot. If you want to go to other theme parks while you’re there, and if you want to have a day or two of relaxation, you’ll need more time.
Packages are popular for some, but you won’t be able to choose the park tickets you buy. Instead, buy your tickets individually from authorized third-party sellers, which gives you flexibility and helps you save money in many cases. Disney shares information about authorized resellers on its website. Purchasing multiday tickets will be cheaper than single-day tickets, especially if you buy for more than three days.
You can also make reservations for meals at Disney restaurants up to 180 days in advance of your vacation. These meals fill fast, so book as early as possible to get seats. You can also prepay for meals with the Disney Dining Plan, which enables you to use credits for meals at various restaurants.
Downtown Disney, Orlando, FL
Downtown Disney is a diner’s and shopper’s paradise with a pleasing mixture of shops and restaurants. Having recently been reinvented, Disney Springs is a delightful spot to spend at least a day exploring. Some of the shops and eateries are Disney-owned while others are third-party establishments that deserve a look.
Disney Springs includes four different districts. The Landing is a waterfront area with many Disney restaurants. The Marketplace is the iconic shopping district. Town Center features must-see shops and a sizable bar. The West Side is where you’ll find the traditional entertainment facilities that date back to the Downtown Disney days.
Epcot Center, Orlando
A day in Epcot Center will be one to remember for years. Epcot has both attractions and rides that will enthrall people of all ages. You can try a hang-glider simulator in Soarin’ Around the World, design a SimCar or take a boat ride at Frozen Ever After. Epcot’s World Showcase is your chance to tour countries around the world, experiencing entertainment and cuisine of each country in distinctive environments.
Universal Studio in Orlando
Universal Park Orlando is full of fun attractions that will delight everyone in your party as well. You’ll find thrill rides, tamer rides for little ones, water park rides, shows, dining and more. The shopping in Universal Studio is full of unique boutiques where you’ll find wizarding items, comic books, sweet treats and more. Packages are available, which can include theme park tickets and hotel accommodations.
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"Backstage Safari Tour" Reviews More reviews →
"review" 18 years ago by computer magic.
We were placed on a small bus at Rainforest Cafe and taken to the the Safari area. We saw all types of animals although the tour information states you won't. My wife hair was chewed on by a Giraffe that was on loan by a Zoo. She was standing next to the fence and the Giraffe leaned over. The duration was a little long, we became bored looking at the food prepartions for the animals and then the look at where the hay is stored. We received a free pin at the end. Great tour
"Behind the scenes at DAK" 18 years ago by akiraraptor
Backstage Safari is a behind the scenes on how Disney runs an animal themed park. We've done this tour several times over the years, and it has changed a little each time. As of the last time we took this tour, it begins with a ride through the regular Safari ride for your group. You then move on to the backstage area to see several barn, and sometimes animals and the caretakers. Since this is a working backstage, things cannot always be "scripted" so your experiance will vary from tour to tour. We've been able to feed a girraffi once, see the elephants play in the out side pen area, touch a reptile and bird, and talk and ask questions of several care takers. This all happened across several tours, so do not expect much, but you may get surprised if things work out. You then are moved on to the food prep area, and are show how all the food is created and readied for the animals. You can sometimes get some juicey information like the lions favorite treat in a rabbit frozen in ice. The bunny pop. Then the tour finishes with a walk through the vet areas that you can see at the Conservation Station. As a side note, the tour has become more about pleasing the "common man" than in previous years. The first year they had the tour, there was no ride in the begining. Instead the used the time in the middle of the tour in a classroom setting. A cartaker would bring in an animal (an American Alagator once) and have an Q & A session. The previous tours were more centered around education, and I believe, were better than the current format. Thus I would have given excelent in years past, but now I consider it good. In any case, it is still one of the better Disney tours you can take, and well worth the money.
The Education Team at Disney's Animal Kingdom Theme Park invites you to find out what happens behind-the-scenes at an incredible "New Species of Theme Park!" at Walt Disney World Resort.
During this in-depth 3-hour program you'll get an insider's look at the innovative ways that we are meeting challenges in areas such as conservation, animal nutrition and medicine, animal care and behavioral studies.
Highlights include visits to:
- Backstage animal housing areas to meet some of our keepers and learn how we care for our animals on a daily basis
- The Animal Nutrition Center, where all of our animal's diets are prepared
- Our state-of-the-art Veterinary Hospital
- Animal Programs Administration to learn how we are constantly seeking new ways to ensure our animal's health and well being
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Why Animal Kingdom Has the Best Behind-the-Scenes Tours at Walt Disney World
The whole world’s a stage; well, at least Disney World is! Walt’s philosophy that started with Disneyland and that has now carried over to the rest of the parks is that guests should see as little of the down-and-dirty park operation as possible, portraying life at the parks as a play and the employees as Cast Members.
We human beings have a certain itch to discover the unknown, however, and taking a tour at one of the Disney World parks can help elevate the appreciation for the level of detail Disney puts into these experiences.
Some of the best tours can be found at the park designed with exploration in mind: the highly-detailed Animal Kingdom .
Caring for giants.
Do you love elephants? We mean really love elephants because this tour is all about the giant grey mammals with the floppy ears. On this 60-minute experience you will get a chance to talk to the animal care experts that look after the African savanna’s elephant herd and learn more about Disney’s conservation efforts.
While you won’t be able to actually walk up and touch the elephants due to probably a number of safety issues, you will be able to watch them from a distance approximately 80 to 100 feet away. This is a relatively inexpensive tour (by Disney World standards) at $30 per person (all that extra money can go to a nice Malva Cake Sundae afterward).
Caring for Giants - Animal Kingdom
Savor the savanna.
You know when you get off of Kilimanjaro Safaris and you see those other open-air jeeps that seemingly don’t do anything? Well, that’s how you actually get to enjoy the Savor the Savanna tour! This takes you back out to the African savanna section of the Harambe Wildlife Reserve for a more private viewing experience.
The private viewing area not only gives you a vast look at the savanna, but also provides a little bit of refreshment and appetizers for any hunger you may have worked up. This includes some regional beer and wine choices for you adults.
The best part about this tour might be that it actually does feel private. Each tour is only limited to twelve guests, so while you are enjoying the beauty of nature you won’t have to deal with a ton of other people. You can Savor the Savanna for $169 per person.
Savor the Savanna: Evening Safari Experience - Animal Kingdom
Wild africa trek.
If you want to get really into adventurer-mode, than the Wild Africa Trek is probably right up your alley! On this tour, you’re definitely going to get physical, physical so you’ll need to have the proper attire and maybe do some stretches beforehand.
Once you’re on your journey, it’s unlike anything else at Disney World really. How many opportunities do you get to hike through the African jungles, traverse a suspension bridge, and cliff-hang over hippos?
After your excursion, you’ll get to relax at another wildlife viewing platform where there will be some African-inspired snacks waiting for you. Where do we sign up? This is the most expensive tour, at $139-$249 per person.
Wild Africa Trek - Animal Kingdom
What’s your favorite tour at Disney World? Let us know down in the comments below!
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Disney’s Animal Kingdom Tours
Backstage Safari at Disney’s Animal Kingdom® Theme Park (8:30 am – Monday, Wednesday, Thursday & Friday – 3 Hours)
You are invited to find out what happens behind-the-scenes at Disney’s Animal Kingdom® Theme Park. During this in-depth 3 hour program you will get an insider’s look at the innovative ways that Disney Cast Members are meeting challenges in areas such as conservation, animal nutrition and medicine, animal care and behavioral studies. This program takes place entirely behind the scenes and includes visits to backstage animal housing areas. Animal viewing is extremely limited. No photography is allowed backstage.
Guests must be at least 16 years old to attend this program. Guests are required to have a photo ID in their possession during the program. This is an outdoor program, including moderate walking and stair climbing. Guests with special needs can be accommodated with prior notice.
Wild by Design at Disney’s Animal Kingdom® Theme Park (8:30 am – Tuesday, Thursday & Friday – 3 Hours)
Wild by Design presents Guests with an opportunity to learn some of the stories behind the making of Disney’s Animal Kingdom® Theme Park. Guests learn how art, architecture, historical artifacts and storytelling are combined to transport them to exotic lands filled with wild animals. This 3 hour on-stage, walking tour will provide insights into the design and building of this new species of theme park as well as a glimpse into the complexities of caring for animals and habitats. A light continental breakfast will be served midway through the program.
Guests must be at least 14 years old to attend this program. This is an outdoor program, including moderate walking. Guests with special needs can be accommodated with prior notice.
VIP Tour Services (Daily, 6 hour minimum) Experience the VIP treatment as only Disney can provide. Our VIP Tour Services team customizes your vacation so you spend your time playing, not planning. From the moment you arrive, your personal VIP Guide is there to take care of everything – from creating your ideal itinerary to getting you the best seats in the house for live shows, parades and nighttime spectaculars. Prepare to be pampered with a Disney VIP Tour.
VIP Tours cancelled with less than 48 hours advance notice are subject to a fee equal to 2 hours at the booked rate per VIP Tour Guide. To Schedule a VIP Tour.
Wild Africa Trek Led by specially trained guides, the three-hour experience begins with a trek through the Safi River valley where expedition harnesses will allow guests to cross precarious rope bridges and enjoy up-close views of hippos and crocodiles. The journey continues through a wide-open African savannah onboard a specialized vehicle. The adventure concludes with a 30-minute stop at a private safari camp where guests will be offered extended animal viewing and a sampling of authentic African cuisine.
Call Pixie Vacations at 678-815-1584 to have a tour added to your reservation package. Or email [email protected]
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Behind-The-Scenes Tours To Resume In Magic Kingdom And Animal Kingdom
If you’re looing to add something special to your already magical Walt Disney World vacation, we have good news for you. Some behind-the-scenes-tours will resume beginning February 6, 2022! One returning tour is located in Magic Kingdom and the others now available for booking are available in Animal Kingdom .
These tours are perfect for anyone who would love to learn (a lot) more about all things Disney, and also could be appropriate for the Disney-lover who has been to the parks many times. Whatever your age or experience with Walt Disney World, these tours will give you an up-close and personal experience and surely make special memories for your entire travel party. Let’s take a closer look at each tour that is set to return as they all vary in length, content, and price.
Disney’s Keys To The Kingdom Tour
Put on your walking shoes, because this five-hour tour will take you all over Magic Kingdom. Not only will you explore little known facts about popular attractions, but your guide will give you backstage access to “hidden areas” of the park including the Utildor underground service tunnels! This tour also includes lunch and sends you home with a keepsake. Price is currently set to $114 per person plus tax and you must be 16 years or older to participate.
Caring For Giants Tour
Calling all elephant lovers: this tour is for you ! Spend 60 minutes with a guide who will educate you about African elephant herds and how they are taken care of each day at Animal Kingdom. While you view these beautiful animals from a private backstage area, you will only be 80-100 feet away from these giants! You will also learn about Disney’s conservation efforts and its worldwide impact. Price is currently $35 per person plus tax.
Up Close With Rhinos Tour
If you’re curious about white rhinos, choose this backstage tour to to learn more about their genetic make-up and go backstage to observe their behavior firsthand. Your guide will also speak on the dangers that threaten these animals in the wild and how Disney is helping to preserve the species. Price is $45 per person plus tax.
Wild Africa Trek Tour
Curious to explore deeper into the animal habitats at Animal Kingdom? This 3-hour behind-the-scenes tour will take you exploring while also educating you on the many species found in the Safi River Valley. Get up close to crocodiles and crash the party on the savanna as your cruise through on your safari vehicle. You will also learn ways in which Disney is invested in worldwide animal conservation. African-inspired snacks are provided as well as a photographer to catch all of your special moments during the adventure. Price is $199 per person plus tax and you must be 8 years old and 48 inches tall to participate. All participants will receive a souvenir to take home!
Savor The Savanna Tour
This tour is for those that love animals AND food! Begin with a tour of the Harambe Wildlife Reserve where you pause at a private and secluded viewing area. Afterwards, trade the burgers and fries for African-inspired cuisine during this experience. Enjoy a specially selected sampling of food carefully paired with regionally selected beer and wine as you continue to marvel at the view. Your guide will educate the group on the animals that you see as well as the special care that they receive at Animal Kingdom. Price is $174 before tax and includes a keepsake for all participants. You must be at least 8 years old to participate in this experience.
Have any of these tours spiked your interest? One important things to note is that all these experiences do require a valid park admission and park reservation for the day that you schedule the tour, so you will need to secure those before booking the tour. Tour bookings are able to be made on disneyworld.disney.go.com or through the My Disney Experience App .
Have you ever taken a behind-the-scenes tour at Walt Disney World? If so, what is your favorite memory from it? Let us know in the comments below.
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Backstage Tales Tour of Disney World’s Animal Kingdom
PLEASE NOTE: Backstage Tales Tour of Animal Kingdom is no longer offered.
Go behind the scenes at Animal Kingdom park to learn how the park’s star residents — the animals! — are cared for.
Welcome to Animal Kingdom!
More than 1,500 animals reside in Animal Kingdom, and this 3-hour and 45-minute guided tour takes guests to backstage animal housing areas, the Animal Nutrition Center, the park’s veterinary hospital, and the Animal Programs Administration building.
Note: No dining component is included with this tour.
Check in takes place at Animal Kingdom’s Main Entrance 15 minutes prior to the tour.
This tour is offered daily starting at 7:30 am.
- Guests must be 12 years of age or older.
- The tour takes place in both indoor and outdoor locations. The length is approximately 3 hours and 45 minutes, so comfortable shoes are recommended.
- If the day is going to be very hot, guests are advised to bring their own water.
- Photography is not allowed in backstage areas; however, it is permitted in non-backstage areas.
- Cancellations must be made at least 2 days in advance to avoid forfeiting the entire price of the tour.
Call (407) WDW-TOUR or (407) 939-8687
NOTE: Prices and inclusions are subject to change. Please visit the Disney World Backstage Tales Tour Page to confirm information prior to booking.
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25 things to do at disney’s animal kingdom ® theme park.
May 15, 2023
Disney’s Animal Kingdom® Theme Park has been showcasing the magic of nature and wildlife for 25 years. In honor of a quarter of a century of celebrating a vast array of fauna, we compiled a list of 25 of our favorite things to do, see and experience there . While you’re planning your next romp around the park, watch Magic of Disney’s Animal Kingdom , a backstage pass to explore the enchantment behind the scenes, only on Disney+. And remember, when you use your Disney® Premier Visa® Credit Card to purchase the Disney Bundle directly at DisneyPlus.com or Hulu.com , you’ll earn 5% in Disney Rewards Dollars . 1
1. Speed through the Himalayas on Expedition Everest – Legend of the Forbidden Mountain
Careen through icy Himalayan peaks on a speeding train while you race to escape the cursed mountain before the mythic Yeti claims another expedition. Hold on as your train climbs up and then plunges into the darkness, only to reveal a broken and twisted track ahead. With no way to move forward, you plummet backward and enter a cavern where you spot the ominous shadow of a hulking beast and hear his mighty roar!
2. Marvel at rare Sumatran tigers at Maharajah Jungle Trek
Explore a lush tropical paradise on a self-guided tour, where you’ll bask in the beauty of a tropical rainforest, cross footbridges and catch a glimpse of sleek and powerful tigers, among other amazing wildlife. The Sumatran tiger, which is only found on the Indonesian island of Sumatra, is classified as critically endangered, making it the rarest of tigers.
3. Set off on a culinary expedition at Tiffins Restaurant
Inspired by exploration and adventure, Tiffins Restaurant is a treasure trove of mouthwatering delights from far-off places. Enjoy fancy fare like Spiced Chickpea Falafel, Charred Octopus or the signature bread service, before digging into the Tamarind-braised Short Rib or Surf and Turf. Best of all, Cardmembers can receive 10% off at Tiffins Restaurant for most meals, most days with the Disney® Visa® Credit Card 2 3
4. Meet some Disney pals at Adventurers Outpost
Mickey and Minnie Mouse are gearing up for their next grand adventure. But they’re waiting for a special visitor to wish them well before they embark: you! Mosey to their exploration headquarters to browse the trinkets and mementos they’ve collected on their adventures before posing for a picture with the pair.
5. Watch lions be the mane event at Festival of the Lion King
This larger-than-life show is sure to make any crowd roar. Experience The Lion King like never before as you sing, dance and discover the “Circle of Life” alongside Simba, Mufasa and more in the colorful Harambe Theatre.
6. Create your own Disney Character at the The Animation Experience at Conservation Station
Disney’s animators created the Characters you know and love by spending time with live animals and observing their behavior. At The Animation Experience at Conservation Station, you’ll discover the influence of real life animals as you illustrate your very own version of a popular Disney Character. Let your creativity and love of all things wild collide.
7. Experience the exhilarating Tam Tam Drummers of Harambe
The Tam Tam Drummers of Harambe invite audiences to come together, dance and celebrate. These righteous rhythms and vibrant beats are sure to have your toes tapping. Before you know it, you’ll be clapping, shaking and chanting with the iconic drum group.
8. Raft down a rip-roaring river on Kali River Rapids
Sure, there are other ways to cool off, but none as thrilling as Kali River Rapids. This adrenaline-pumping, nature-filled adventure will take you through a lush jungle in the heart of Asia before the harmony is disrupted and your raft plummets 20 feet, ending with a magnificent splash.
9. Take a trip with your tastebuds at Nomad Lounge
Inspired by distant locations around the globe, this vibrant abode will take your tastebuds on a trip with its fun fare. At Nomad Lounge, you’ll experience mouth-watering small plates and an eclectic selection of beer, wine and spirits (including the Hightower Rocks cocktail below).
10. Invigorate your senses with Savor the Savanna
This privately guided safari will pique all your senses. With Savor the Savanna, you’ll discover the sights, sounds and tastes of Africa as your expert guide tells tales of the magnificent animals who call the Harambe Wildlife Reserve home. Enjoy a stunning view of the reserve while indulging in a sampling of African-inspired cuisine. And best of all, Cardmembers can receive 15% off the regular price of this tour with the Disney Visa Credit Card. 2 4
11. Bond with a banshee on Avatar Flight of Passage
Not many people can say they have bonded with a banshee and ridden on its back, but after Avatar Flight of Passage, you can. You and your banshee companion will embark on an enchanting 3D flight over Pandora to get a bird’s—or banshee’s—eye view of this moon’s lush landscape.
12. Learn about animal care at Conservation Station
Go wild at Conservation Station. Witness expert veterinary care at the Veterinary Treatment Room; watch the animal nutritionists prepare meals in the Nutrition Center; observe frogs, lizards and tarantulas in the Amphibian, Reptile and Invertebrate Windows; and see what the resident scientists are uncovering in the Science Center.
13. Get a close look at the Tree of Life
The Tree of Life is the beloved symbol of Disney’s Animal Kingdom ® Theme Park, and it honors animals and the important place they all share in the great Circle of Life. At 145 feet tall, the massive tree towers over the surrounding land, giving onlookers an epic view of over 300 animals carved into its branches.
14. Become an official Wilderness Explorer
The wilderness was meant to be explored! And you’re ready to embark on the journey. Through fun, self-guided activities like animal observation and nature-themed challenges, you’ll start racking up badges in no time. After you earn 25, you’ll become an official Wilderness Explorer (just like Russell from Up ) and earn the right to echo the Wilderness Explorer call: Caw! Caw! Roar!
15. Meet gentle giants at Up Close with Rhinos
Become acquainted with the world’s second-largest land animal, the white rhinoceros. Up Close with Rhinos is a 60-minute guided adventure in which you’ll learn all about rhinos’ behavior and biology as well as the challenges they face in the wild. What’s more? Cardmembers can receive 15% off the regular price of this tour with the Disney Visa Card. 2 4
16. Take a walk on the wild side with Discovery Island Trails
This isn’t any old walk in the park. The picturesque pathways surrounding the Tree of Life give way to chance encounters with captivating species. Stop along the convenient observation stations to spot animals like the white stork, red kangaroo, lesser flamingos, ring-tailed lemur and so many more.
17. Transport your imagination to India with Chakranadi
During this musical performance, if you close your eyes, it’s almost like you’re in India. But, you won’t want to miss this show. Let the sounds of the sitar take you on a voyage through the enchanting rhythm and mesmerizing tunes, including traditional Indian songs and Disney originals.
18. Dive into Finding Nemo: The Big Blue… and Beyond!
This one-of-a-kind stage show delivers the fan-favorite tale of Finding Nemo in an unforgettable new way. Catch up with the fish previously holed up in Dr. P. Sherman’s office before diving into live performances from some favorite underwater friends. With the theater’s innovative lighting, sound and special effects, you’ll feel like you’re swimming out to sea with Nemo.
19. Trek along Gorilla Falls Exploration Trail
The Pangani Forest is home to some of the most majestic African animals, and you can take a walk along the forest’s winding paths for chance encounters with a few of them. From the convenient observation stations, you can take a gander at a Grevy’s zebra’s stripes, snap photos of adorable meerkats perched about or simply revel in the magnificent size of western lowland gorillas.
20. Find stylish souvenirs at Island Mercantile
You’ll have no worries looking great in Lion King souvenirs from this store, where animal influence meets ferocious fashions. Remember to use your Disney Visa Card to save on select merchandise purchases of $50 or more. 2 5
21. Float into another world on Na’vi River Journey
Discover the enchantment of a mystical river ride. Unlike any boat ride you’ve ever experienced, Na’vi River Journey will guide you through a glowing bioluminescent rainforest thick with exotic plants and creatures at every turn. Rounding out your journey, you’ll witness the Na’vi Shaman of Songs send positive energy out into the forest through the power of her music.
22. Go behind the scenes via the Wildlife Express Train
All aboard the Wildlife Express Train! This relaxing 7-minute, 1.2 mile journey takes you to Rafiki’s Planet Watch, an area dedicated to the preservation and conservation of wildlife. There, you’ll get an up-close look at what goes on behind the scenes of Disney’s Animal Kingdom ® Theme Park, like veterinary facilities.
23. Set off on a savanna tour via Kilimanjaro Safaris
Take an expedition through the Harambe Wildlife Reserve, a magical place home to over 30 species. There’s so much to discover throughout the 110 acres. Your Kilimanjaro Safaris expert guide will point out the reserve’s inhabitants, answer questions and share interesting wildlife facts as your open-air vehicle glides through open plains, lush forests and mossy lowlands.
24. Meet the park’s largest residents with Caring for Giants
Have you ever wondered how the animals of Disney’s Animal Kingdom® Theme Park are so well cared for? The Caring for Giants tour takes you closer to the African elephants who call the Harambe Wildlife Reserve home. This 60-minute guided experience gives you a glimpse at the average day in the life of these amazing animals and shows what goes into caring for them. Use your Disney Visa Card to save 15% on the non-discounted cost of this tour! 2 4
25. Meet some furry friends at the Affection Section
Cozy up with some adorable domesticated animals at the only petting zoo at Walt Disney World® Resort. Learn from animal care experts who care for these unique, heritage breeds while basking in the picturesque outdoor space.
There’s an adventure for everyone at Disney’s Animal Kingdom® Theme Park. Discover our top 25 and more on your next getaway. Cardmembers, be sure to take advantage of special vacation financing when planning your getaway to visit Disney’s Animal Kingdom ® Theme Park at Walt Disney World ® Resort. 6
October 6, 2022
Before you let your tastebuds go wild on your next vacation, get a glimpse at every restaurant in the park!
January 29, 2021
Take a walk on the wild side with these epic ideas for making the most of your Disney Rewards Dollars!
December 2, 2022
Questions about your Disney® Premier Visa® Card or Disney® Visa® Credit Card? We've got answers!
NEW CARDMEMBERS CAN
EARN A $300
after spending $1000 on purchases in the first 3 mos. from account opening. 7
Review of Backstage Tales Tour at Animal Kingdom
Disney's Backstage Tales tour at Animal Kingdom is one of a handful of tour offerings that expose you to backstage magic. As fans of Keys to the Kingdom , we were excited to check out a backstage experience at a different park. Here's our review of Backstage Tales at Animal Kingdom.
Note: New Tours at Animal Kingdom
As of 2020, Backstage Tales no longer operates. We have reviewed two of the tours that have (more or less) replaced it at Animal Kingdom:
Review of Caring For Giants (Elephant Education Experience)
Review of Up Close With Rhinos (Rhino Encounter Experience)
Booking and Arrival
We booked by calling 407-WDW-TOUR about two weeks before our trip, and we were fortunate to get our first date. The price for two came out to $191.70. We should have booked with our Chase Disney Visa card to save 15%, but we forgot.
The only note about this experience is that the call was a total of 45 minutes, about 35 of which were spent on hold (but that Disney hold music is great). In the future, I would have our travel agent book this for us.
Our tour started at 7:30 AM and it was suggested we arrive at Animal Kingdom at 7:15. The Animal Kingdom Lodge club level concierge suggested we leave between 6:45 and 7AM to be safe.
They also gave us a taxi voucher for the ride from Animal Kingdom Lodge . This was a rare instance of getting a significant perk from staying Club Level at Walt Disney World . Around this time, Uber prices shouldn’t be too high , particularly for this short of a ride.
We left at about 6:55 and arrived at about 7:05AM.
The area outside the park was pretty empty, so the staff quickly identified us as tour guests and asked us to wait. Nothing really happened until about 7:25 when we got our earpieces and name tags and signed the waivers.
The Backstage Tales Tour
We don't want to spoil too much, but the tour comprises three main chunks: Gorilla Falls Exploration Trail and the Aviary, Animal Care and GRACE, and Close Encounters.
Gorilla Falls Exploration Trail & The Aviary
You start with walking through the park, primarily Gorilla Falls Exploration Trail. Your guide provides a variety of factoids along the way.
We were able to get a good amount of time seeing the gorillas. This segment also includes a stop in the aviary to feed the birds. At the aviary, you'll be able to speak with one of the cast members assigned to care for the birds.
It's pretty impressive to hear how much attention goes into maintaining the aviary. You don't think about it, but it's pretty hard to lose track of rhinos. Birds in an aviary are tougher to track.
Animal Care & GRACE
The second segment takes you backstage to see some of the operational aspects of animal care like food preparation and the vet. The diversity of these services is pretty impressive.
Disney cares for a wide range of animals, more than many zoos. This requires a wide range of experts whose sole mission is to care for these animals. It's an interesting change of pace for a company usually known for being focused on (human) customer service.
We had a snack while a cast member gave a presentation on Disney's partnership with GRACE. GRACE (Gorilla Rehabilitation and Conservation Education) is located in the Democratic Republic of Congo.
An underrated (vastly underrated, in our opinion) aspect of Disney's Animal Kingdom is the work they put into conservation. As part of that work, Disney sends staff to GRACE to help train and assist staff working to care for gorilla populations.
Our final segment involved some closer encounters, with backstage looks at the invertebrates and the white rhinos.
We absolutely loved the passion of the invertebrates’ keeper. Honestly, we can't give a kind enough description of those bugs/critters/creatures that would match her love for them. Seeing the invertebrates themselves wasn't our favorite (but we get that some people would love it), but the keeper’s passion was really unparalleled.
The rhinos were really great, and our favorite part of the tour. It was interesting to see them interacting with each other and their keeper. It's easy to forget that animals other than household pets have personalities too.
The keeper was very aware of the animals and their behaviors, and she shared a great deal of information about who hangs out with whom, when they’re out on the safari, and what life is like for them both onstage and backstage.
The tour ends after about 4 hours. While it wasn’t as good as Keys to the Kingdom , we found Backstage Tales to be worth the cost. If you haven't seen backstage Disney, you’re really in for a treat.
Backstage Tales is heavily focused on the animals and their care. If you're looking for a wealth of information about Disney's Animal Kingdom and it's design, you'll need to look elsewhere.
What Backstage Tales really brings to life is another side of Disney. These are people whose number one concern actually isn't that guests have the most enjoyable time.
Their number one concern is the health, safety, and conservation of these animals and their populations. In that regards, Backstage Tales is maybe better than Keys, because is shows you an entirely new layer of the Disney experience.
All Your Other Disney World Planning Questions Answered
Don't be overwhelmed by Disney World planning! Take a second to check out our most important content and you'll not only be an expert, but you'll save big $$$ along the way.
Just starting out? Check out our Walt Disney World planning guide! If you're still picking dates, we've got everything you need to know about Disney World crowd calendars . For picking your hotel, check out our Walt Disney World hotels guide.
When it comes time to book we’ll help you find discount Disney World tickets . Decide whether you need a dining plan in our Complete Guide to Disney World Dining Plans ! And at 180 days out it's time to book those Disney World Advance Dining Reservations !
Don't forget to master your Disney World FastPass+ strategy a few months in advance. We'll keep you out of long lines so you can maximize the magical time in the parks! We've got park-specific guides as well: Magic Kingdom FastPass , Epcot FastPass , Animal Kingdom FastPass , and Hollywood Studios FastPass .
Know what to ride with our guides to: Magic Kingdom rides , Hollywood Studios rides , Epcot rides , and Animal Kingdom rides ! Plus learn about the water parks with our guide to Blizzard Beach and our guide to Typhoon Lagoon ! And for some some fun prep, check out our Ranking of Every Ride at Walt Disney World .
Finally, before you head out, be sure to check out our to-the-point packing list, 10 essentials you forget to pack for every Disney trip . And if you're interested in saving, there's no better list than our 53 Ways to Save on your Disney trip from start to finish .