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Vintage Walt Disney World: Building an Animal Kingdom

Nate Rasmussen

by , Librarian, Walt Disney Archives

In April, Disney’s Animal Kingdom will celebrate its 15th anniversary. We’re celebrating here at “Vintage Walt Disney World” by taking a look back at this one-of-a-kind theme park over the next four weeks.
Disney's Animal Kingdom Opened on April 22, 1998

Sprawling across approximately 500 acres, Disney’s Animal Kingdom brought the world of animals (both alive and pre-historic) to life for guests at Walt Disney World Resort when it opened in 1998. Below is a look at an aerial view from the park’s entrance in September 1997. (Look closely in the distance; you’ll even see Magic Kingdom Park.)
An Aerial View of Disney's Animal Kingdom Seven Months Before It Opened

Disney’s Animal Kingdom opened with over 40,000 mature trees – 16,000 of them grown right at the Walt Disney World Tree Farm. There were roughly 2,000 species of shrubs and 260 different types of grasses throughout the park, too. Below is a look at the icon of the park, The Tree of Life, still under construction in January 1997.
The Tree of Life at Disney's Animal Kingdom Under Construction in January 1997

Disney’s Animal Kingdom is the first Walt Disney World Resort theme park where the show literally eats the landscape. And by the look of those numbers above, it’s quite the buffet for our animal friends to enjoy.

Excited about the park’s anniversary? Join the conversation on Twitter by using the hashtag #DAK15.

Check out more posts about Disney’s Animal Kingdom:


  • Maybe Nate Rasmussen and Gary Buchanan, Social Media Managing Editor Ought to get together and research this a little further.

  • Honestly, Nicholas, I was always hoping that Goliath and the rest of Disney’s Gargoyles would show up in Animal Kingdom at some point. But, there IS a yeti, so that’s pretty cool.

  • Whatever happened to the dragons? 🙁

  • My family and I were there for opening day as well, and I remember the fun and excitement! Many celebrities were out and about. I also remember the ad in the top picture, isn’t it from the old Disney News magazine? Look forward to seeing more!

  • I remember when this park opened like it was yesterday. Even though I was only 11 at the time! I refuse to believe it has already been 15 years since 1998.

  • I’m still holding on to hope for that dragon ride.

  • We were there for the special preview soft opening of the Park. It wqs my wife and myself and our two kids who met my parents there for their first time at WDW. It was amazing to see something completely different from what the other Disney theme parks had been to that time. We got to ride the boats around the river that were gone I think soon after opening. Kilimanjaro Safari was awesome….it was exciting to be one of the first people to visit.

  • Animal Kingdom is a true masterpiece of a park! It’s not even 15 years old yet, but when you walk in, you’d have no idea how new it is! It truly feels like a natural enclave that has been there since the beginning of time. Much thanks goes to everyone who designed and built the park, and to the people that work there today to make such a fun, educational and beautiful place to visit!

  • While having been to Disney World several times, my first visit to Animal Kingdom was just this past Christmas and it was truly wonderful. While I do wish that more was done to play up the “mythological creatures” aspect of the park’s pitch, Animal Kingdom is a fine addition to the Walt Disney World Resort. (The Sanaa restaurant over at the Animal Kingdom Lodge is pretty good, too!)

  • I remember coming to the park a few days after it opened! I was so excited to go on the Safarir ride I kept talking about it for days!! I hope that it will get even better with the addition of Avatar!

  • I was there just weeks after the first picture was taken! We were at WDW in October of 97 (I was almost 9 at the time), and I remember being so excited about this park opening, and very upset that we wouldn’t be coming back to see it open. I remember driving past and seeing it under construction, looking a lot like that top picture, only from the ground, haha. Very neat to see this again!

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