Dear Animal Kingdom,
Today is your 22nd anniversary. It's a different one than you're used to. And different than we're used to, for sure. There are no special celebratory cupcakes for us to savor, and no commemorative t-shirts for us to wait in line to buy. No one-day-only photo ops with little placards for guests to hold to remember the day. In fact, there are no guests present at all to help you mark the big day. Nonetheless, you're on our minds. And, from where we are, we'd like to celebrate you. After all, you've taught us so much. Here goes.
You've taught us that navigating a theme park can have a different rhythm. When we enter the park, we have a decision to make, and the path isn’t as straightforward as it might be in other parks. We can turn to the right or the left, and any way we choose reveals different things to see and do. Your paths are not always smooth and straight; they are rough and uneven (and sometimes uphill), and they are imprinted with markings of things that have gone before us like grooves left behind by cart wheels and prints left by people or animals or plants.
Some of your pathways lead to quiet places where we can sit and gather our thoughts or enjoy a snack or simply cool off. You invite us to get lost, if only for a moment. For that, we are thankful.
You’ve reinforced the idea that a backstory can make all the difference. Whether it’s the storyline of the paleontology students in DinoLand USA, or the remnants of the walls of a fort in Harambe, each story contained within your park enriches our experience. You invite us to look more closely, to observe more adeptly, and to notice the small details: the bricks on top of the Yeti Palace Hotel in Anandapur, the hiking equipment hanging from the ceiling at Gupta’s Gear, the trinkets and memorials found in the queue of Expedition Everest; they all combine to tell a story if we’re willing to stop and investigate.
Speaking of seeing, you invite us to see you differently after the sun goes down. Your strings of lights, the glowing sights and sounds of the Tree of Life, and your bioluminescence in Pandora all create a beautiful (and very different) picture at night. There’s a sense of community in the evening; we are experiencing something shared and unique. There’s a hush to the park (well, except for the screams emanating from Expedition Everest), and it’s a treat for those who stay just a little bit longer at the end of their park touring day.
You remind us of the importance of the care and conservation of animals. While we're exploring your park, whether we realize it or not, we are surrounded by animals. Yes, we know from your commercials back in the day that you're not solely a zoo (Nahtazu), but that you're an experience in which we have a part to play. We can donate to the Disney Conservation Fund or we can pet a furry goat in the Affection Section of Rafiki's Planet Watch or we can come so close to a noble gorilla on the Gorilla Falls Exploration Trail. From the spoonbills at the park's entrance to the white rhinos on Kilimanjaro Safaris, we have the chance to observe the most majestic creatures.
And, as I think about all of the ways that we can interact and learn from the animals while exploring the park, while we don't really know what Walt would think of the park, I can't help but think that he would have a gleam in his eye if he could watch a child gaze in wonder at a tiger resting in the shade on the Maharajah Jungle Trek. Walt loved animals, and we're thankful that you, as a park, reflect that.
Dear Animal Kingdom, happy 22nd. We wish were were with you today. Thank you for inviting us to wonder and wander. We're looking forward to celebrating with you again in person.
Until then, kwaherini. Go well.