I hope you have been enjoying our time together in Disney’s Animal Kingdom as much as I have. So far this month we have looked at one of the best live shows, Festival of the Lion King, and a behind the scenes tour, Wild Africa Trek. Both are such great experiences, and both very unique to this park in Walt Disney World. Well, today we are going to explore one more area in Disney’s Animal Kingdom, and I’m guessing you may not be as familiar with it. This section of the park is so tucked away it takes a train ride to find it. In fact, I had never been here in all my journeys to Walt Disney World until my most recent trip. Without any further ado, let’s find out just what is awaiting you at Rafiki’s Planet Watch!
It’s time for our know before you go essential facts.
- There is no height requirement
- The fright factor is 1 out of 5
- Fastpass + is NOT available
- Guests may remain in a wheelchair/ECV
- Assistive listening and handheld captioning are available
- Operating hours are normally 9:30 – 5:00
- Originally named Conservation Station, this area opened on April 22, 1998.
- This attraction is only accessible by riding the Wildlife Express Train
- The train station is located in the Africa section of Disney’s Animal Kingdom
As our friend Rafiki would say, “It is time!” Yes, time to discover all that’s going on at Rafiki’s Planet Watch. As the name suggests, this area is home to a wildlife conservation station, interactive exhibits, animal encounters, and a working veterinary center. Perhaps you have heard of Habitat Habit! or seen Affection Section on your park map. Well, they are all part of Rafiki’s Planet Watch. Before I went back to this area, I had no idea there was anything like this at Disney’s Animal Kingdom. To say this is an overlooked part of the park would be an understatement. If you are like me then today should be pretty enlightening. There is a lot to break down, but let’s start at the beginning. That means all aboard the Wildlife Express Train!
This train runs between the back of Africa and Rafiki’s Planet Watch. If you pull up your My Disney Experience App and look at Africa you will see the entrance for the Wildlife Express Train. When you zoom in on the Africa Section, you will see the train station just a little beyond and to the right of the entrance to Kilimanjaro Safaris. Next, you can zoom out or scroll up to see where the train takes you. Almost even with the furthest point north on Kilimanjaro Safaris is the station for Rafiki’s Planet Watch. Now, if you don’t have a map in front of you, let me put this in perspective because I think it is important. The distance from the Harambe Railway Station at the back of Africa, up to the next station is just as far, if not further, than the distance from Disney’s Animal Kingdom main gate to the back of Africa. In other words, when you look at a map of the park, you probably won’t even notice Rafiki’s Planet Watch because it is so far removed from Discovery Island, Asia, Africa, and certainly DinoLand U.S.A.
Well, now that you know it exists and have an idea of where to find the train, let’s chug along! There are usually two trains making the round trip to and from Rafiki’s Planet Watch. That equates to about a 10 minute wait, assuming you get on the next train to arrive at the station. Hopefully that will be the case the next time you are there. As soon as the train pulls up, you will notice it is a little different than other trains. Rather than forward facing seats, the Wildlife Express Train has two rows of seats that face to the side. So, you won’t be able to see on both sides of the train once you get moving, but honestly there isn’t even that much to see on the side with a view. What I enjoy about the Wildlife Express Train is the train station itself as well as details in the train.
The Harambe Railway Station looks like a real working station that you would find in the heart of Africa. The interior is full of sand colored columns resting on faded blue walls which both contrast the rich brown beams above. There is a closed booking office as well as signs showing the Northbound and Southbound stops. Unfortunately, these are imagined stops and you won’t be exploring Nairobi, Khartoum, or Dodoma. Still, the details help put you in a wilderness explorer state of mind. This is capped off by the luggage racks aboard the train. Look closely and you will see suitcases, folded chairs, sleeping bags, and other items you might need while exploring the wild.
I do wish this level of Imagineering continued once the train left the station, but sadly that is not the case. Instead, you see the backside of Disney’s Animal Kingdom, or what Disney would call “back of the house.” While this backstage area doesn’t put on a show like the front of the house, it does help you to appreciate the hard work that goes into making you feel like you have been transported to a magical realm the rest of your time in Disney parks. In this case, it is probably appropriate that we don’t feel part of a show. Why is that? Well, Rafiki’s Planet Watch is all about what goes on behind the scenes at Disney’s Animal Kingdom.
After your short five minute ride aboard the Wildlife Express Train, you will arrive at your destination. I feel I should point out the second train station doesn’t exactly drop you off at Rafiki’s front door. From here you will have about a five minute walk through the forest before arriving at the main building. If you have little ones traveling in strollers this is especially good to know. Strollers must be folded if you bring them on the train. There is a spot to leave strollers back at the Harambe Railway Station, but doing so will mean you have to hike those kiddos a good distance back to Rafiki’s Planet Watch. Now, this also brings up another tip. You can actually ride the Wildlife Express Train round trip without getting out. So, if your kids love train rides and you want to give your feet a little break, you can ride the train around once or twice and never disembark for Rafiki’s Planet Watch.
For our adventure today we are going to get off the Wildlife Express Train and go exploring. Not long after starting up the path to Rafiki, you will come across the area known as Habitat Habit! Here you can see the adorable cotton topped Tamarin Monkeys! Not only are they fun to watch, but they are also one of the world’s most endangered primates. You have just encountered your first opportunity to learn about conservation! At Habitat Habit!, you will see who is caring for the Tamarin Monkeys and what you can do to help other animals like them. Parents should be warned there is a board here that shows kids how to share their backyard with animals by creating a backyard habitat. Great message, but just be ready to make your backyard snake-friendly when you get home from vacation! One quick tip here before we move on. With this being the first stop after the train lets out, you may find it difficult to get an up-close look at the monkeys. Everyone likes to stop here for a couple of minutes on their way to Rafiki’s Planet Watch. If you aren’t in a big hurry, just wait a few minutes and the crowds will slowly move on. It will be about 10 minutes before the next train unloads so you will have a few minutes to explore without too much hassle.
Once you do move on, you will come across a Wilderness Explorers Outpost as well as a stop on the Lion Guard Adventure. Tuck that away for a minute and we will come back to this before we wrap up today.
Finally, your walk will bring you to a clearing in the trees and ahead you will see a giant mural featuring a tiger, elephant, gorilla, and many more. This brightly colored landmark is the entrance to Conservation Station. Through the red trimmed glass doors is the real heart of Rafiki’s Planet Watch. This building houses numerous activities for kids as well as Rafiki himself! You can go at your own pace and investigate as much or as little as you like. Preservation and conservation is the real message here and there are 10 care areas designed for the animal lover in your group. Most of these are located inside and run along the perimeter wall. There are large glass windows that allow you to look into each station and there are Disney Experts nearby eager to answer questions and show how you can help protect the animals you encounter. We don’t have the time to go into great detail with each one, but here is the rundown:
Song of the Rainforest
Here, a 20 foot cutout of Grandma Willow overlooks several small audio booths. Once you step inside the booth, the lights dim and the sounds of the rainforest build. While the sound of wind and water can be quite soothing, the sound of monkeys howling or insects chirping in the dark can be a little overwhelming. Rachel only lasted about 10 seconds before jumping out of the booth. At first I laughed, but about 30 seconds later I decided it was a little too immersive for even my taste. Proceed with caution.
Veterinary Treatment Room
Large glass windows allow you to look into the healing facility. This looks just like a doctor’s office or emergency room, only it is equipped for animals. This is a live facility and you may have the opportunity to see some of the park’s animals receive care. Most of the surgeries take place in the early morning hours, so don’t expect to see a major operation each time you visit.
At this care center you can control the animal cams that look into the backstage habitats of the park’s most popular wildlife. This can be fun for kids as they try to locate the different animals in their habitat.
What does conservation look like around the globe? Well, here you will learn about efforts all over the world as well as some in your own backyard.
Animal handlers are busy preparing meals for the park’s stars at this station. You can ask questions and learn about the different animal diets from the handlers. This is a neat interactive exhibit. However, I have to say I wasn’t ready to trade any Disney Dining Credits for what the handlers were preparing!
Amphibian, Reptile and Invertebrate Windows
If you like creepy crawlies, this is the stop for you! You can get a good look at snakes, frogs, tarantulas and more. There aren’t a lot of live animals inside Conservation Station, but this is one of the best spots to really get up close, if you dare.
Learn what working scientists do as they look for ways to help protect and conserve the planet’s wildlife.
When you have finished filling those young minds with lots of fun facts about creatures and conservation you will want to say hi to Rafiki. He will be located inside at the center of Conservation Station. There is a Disney Photopass photographer here so you can get some great pictures. When we went we had one of the shortest lines of any character meet ’n’ greet. Rafiki has been joined in the past by some other character buddies so be sure to check your character guide when you are in the park.
Before you leave Rafiki’s Planet Watch there is one more area you will definitely want to see. Just outside of Conservation Station is Affection Section. Aptly named, this is your only chance to show some hands-on affection to the animals of Disney’s Animal Kingdom. This outdoor petting zoo is home to cows, sheep, goats, pigs, and donkeys. After washing your hands you will be free to roam the ground and pet the animals. If you find a brush you can even give some of them a nice brush down. Some of the animals are actually endangered species, so the story of preservation continues through all parts of Rafiki’s Planet Watch.
Just next to Affection Section is the Animal Encounters Stage. This stage is home to a rotating cast of animals that put on a fun show for kids. Disney experts educate the audience about the habitats of the wildlife on display. While the show is performed throughout the day, it is not going on at all times. So, if you go outside to enjoy Affection Section and find the show is going be sure and stop here first. You can move over to petting the goats after the show ends.
With the Affection Section, Conservation Station, and Habitat Habit all explored you might be ready to head back to the main area of the park. However, there is still a little more to discover here at Rafiki’s Planet Watch.
Remember I mentioned the outpost and the Lion Guard Adventure just a few minutes ago! Well, to really cover both of these in detail we would need a whole other blog, and that may be a while in coming. So, let me give you a quick introduction today.
When I was a kid going to Walt Disney World, my adventures came through experiencing the magical storytelling of rides like Peter Pan’s Flight. Well, today many of those same great rides are awaiting a new generation, but now there is even more to engage kids at the parks. Some examples are Wilderness Explorers and Lion Guard Adventure! These are both great scavenger hunts looking for new adventurers. Both have a spot in Rafiki’s Planet Watch, but only the Lion Guard Adventure can claim this area as its final destination. For that reason, we are going to focus on it for this podcast. Be sure and check out my good friend Russell and Dug at the Wilderness Explorers Club House! The wilderness must be explored!
If your tv is currently tuned to Disney Jr., then you already know about the newest chapter in the Lion King story, The Lion Guard. This new show features Kion, the lion cub of Simba and Nala. Kion and his friends have come to Disney’s Animal Kingdom looking for new protectors to help them watch over the Pride Lands. To take part in this scavenger hunt, you must find all five of the characters from the show. Kion, Ono, Bunga, Fuli, and Beshte are hidden throughout the Animal Kingdom, one in each of the five lands. Each land has a colorful kid-size animal statue that you can take your picture with. To get started you will need to pick up a complimentary Lion Guard Adventure guide map. These can be found in several merchandise locations throughout the park. In addition to providing the hidden locations of each character, the map includes kid friendly clues and fun facts. Just like Rafiki’s Planet Watch, this activity is designed to teach them how to help protect our wildlife. You can search for the characters in any order you like, so it is easy to fit this in with your normal touring plan for the day. Just be sure to get over to Rafiki’s Planet Watch before 5:00 so you don’t miss out on the reward. Rafiki himself will be congratulating any brave explorers that complete the Lion Guard Adventure. As part of the ceremony, kids take the Lion Guard Pledge, receive a Lion Guard shield button, and become an official member of the Guard! What a great way to conclude your time at Rafiki’s Planet Watch.
So, are you going to add Rafiki’s Planet Watch to your day at Disney’s Animal Kingdom? Well, if you have young kids I hope you do. This park doesn’t have the largest selection of kid-friendly rides, but it makes up for it with unique animal encounters and educational opportunities. I do recommend you plan at least an hour for this adventure. With its location in back of the park, it is easy to let your day slip away and find yourself out of time. Don’t be like me and wait too long to discover this fun interactive gem.
Plus, I have a friend that recently moved from our city to Orlando and guess where she works? That’s right, Rafiki’s Planet Watch! She has the greatest passion for wildlife. Look for the cast member with the biggest smile on their face and then check their name badge. Chances are it will say Missy! If you see her tell her I said hi.
With all the interactive exhibits, petting zoo, Rafiki photo op, message of conservation, and a friendly cast members working there, it should be no surprise that I give Rafiki’s Planet Watch two kid-sized thumbs up.
I hope today has taken you for a little ride as we explored this often overlooked and out of the way spot. If you’ve been to Rafiki’s Planet Watch and have any tips or stories to share, please do! Leave us a message on our Facebook page or send an e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org. Thank you so much for joining me today. I’ve had a great time exploring this corner of Disney’s Animal Kingdom this past few weeks. Until next time, have a great week make each day a ride worth taking.