There is so much to see and do at Disney World and the greater Orlando area it is impossible to do everything there is to do in one trip. Some sites and activity options can get lost in the shuffle or overlooked. Because of this I like to highlight specific areas of interest one can plan an itinerary around.
In this blog I will be discussing activities, sites, attractions, and information that would appeal to animal lovers. Those who would love to be surrounded by, see, or interact with animals while on vacation. There are tons of opportunities for animal lovers at Disney World and many of these activities go under the radar especially for first time visitors so I am here to point them out for you.
A quick note up front. Some people have varying opinions about zoos, aquariums, and animals in captivity. If you are upset by or have uneasy feelings about these places and topics then I would suggest skipping this blog or even using it as a guide of things for you to avoid while at Disney World. Personally, I have done my research and I find zoos and aquariums to be a vital and valuable way for us to learn about, and ultimately help animals, both those in the wild and in captivity. As well as an important tool for fostering appreciation for animals and conservation with the public. While also being of great educational importance to the public. I find a lot of joy in visiting these places, so if you do too I am here to share with you all your opportunities to enjoy animals at Disney World and the Orlando area.
Bringing Your Own Animals
Several of the Disney World Resorts are dog-friendly resorts. For an additional fee your dog can stay with you at these Disney resorts.
- Art of Animation Resort
- Port Orleans Resort – Riverside
- Yacht Club Resort
- The Cabins and Campgrounds at Fort Wilderness
These rooms all have access to outdoor walkways and designated dog-relief areas. Dogs must be on leash at all times in public areas. A maximum of 2 dogs per room are allowed and at this time dogs are the only pets allowed. Proof of up to date vaccinations is required. Keep in mind that these specific resort grounds are the only place at Disney World where dogs are allowed, with the exceptions of service animals.
Upon arrival each dog receives a Pluto Welcome Kit which includes food and water bowls, a feeding mat, a toy, waste bags, dog walking map, and puppy pads.
Fort Wilderness even has a dog park that is fenced in and leash free. The Waggin’ Trails Dog Park is a big perk for those traveling with a dog that needs to get their energy out.
Specific floors and sections of the resort are designated a pet rooms so guests with allergies don’t need to worry that a dog was in their room previously.
The other option for traveling with your pets at Disney World is the on site kennel, Best Friends Pet Care. Here they offer daily and overnight pet care at this “resort for pets” that welcomes dogs, cats, and smaller pets such as birds, reptiles, and rodents.
Best Friends is open an hour before the theme parks open to one hour after closing and is located on Disney World property and very close to the Port Orleans Resort
For overnight accommodations there are several levels of service and “suites” available for all of your pets. Animals can enjoy one on one playtime and social group interaction, bed time stories and special snacks.
For daily visitors looking for “pet day care” they have that as well with convenient morning drop-offs and afternoon pick-ups, your pet will enjoy the same luxurious suites, condos, amenities and services as overnight Guests.
There is also a grooming salon on site.
Check out their website for all the details.
Resorts With Animals
A great way to build some time with animals into your trip is to stay at a resort that has animals on site.
Animal Kingdom Lodge & Animal Kingdom Villas – Kidani Village are the number one place to see animals at your resort. Both of these resorts, which are neighbors and you can walk between them, have savannahs on the grounds with African animals such as giraffe, zebra, gazelles, ostriches and more. You can see the animals from throughout the resort. You can even book a savannah view room and wake up to the site of giraffes from your balcony. The resort offers wildlife guides and there are signs throughout so you can learn all about your new neighbors. Of course you can always just visit the resort as well and grab a meal at one of the many restaurants just to check out the animals. If you want to plus your experience there are even some additional paid tours you can book including a nighttime safari on the savannah complete with a ride in a safari vehicle and night vision googles. Or you can tour behind the scenes with a morning tour that includes breakfast at Boma and a look at how the cast members care for the animals at the Lodge.
If you want to get really up close to some animals you’ll want to consider Fort Wilderness Resort with it’s campground and cabins. Here you can visit the Tri-Circle D Ranch where you can just visit with the horses and ponies who live here, including those who you see work in the parks and even pull Cinderella’s carriage for Disney Weddings. You can even take a ride yourself as the ranch offers, at an additional cost, horseback riding, pony rides for kids, wagon rides, and horse drawn carriage rides.
You can also take a horse drawn carriage ride at Port Orleans Resort – Riverside.
Animals In The Parks
At Magic Kingdom you can see some of the horses form Tri-Circle D Ranch at work as they pull the trolley and other transportation down Main Street. You can also see Merida, Gaston, and others riding horses in parades.
At EPCOT you can find perhaps a surprising amount of animals.
At the Seas Pavillon there are tons of aquatic animals to visit. The Seas With Nemo And Friends ride includes views of the aquarium while you are on the ride. You can also explore the pavilion on your own and look at the expansive aquarium displays with all sorts of fish, dolphins, and sharks. This includes a portion with several rescued Florida manatees. If you want an extra special experience at the Seas Pavilion there are several extra tours you can sign up for as well. These include an up close encounter the dolphins, scuba diving, and snorkeling tours.
Seasonally, in the spring when the Flower and Garden Festival is happening part of the festival is a butterfly garden where you can get up close and admire the butterflies and their plants.
Of course Animal Kingdom is full of opportunities to see and interact with animals. There are zoo style animal exhibits throughout the park especially in the Discovery Island and the Oasis section where you can find many smaller exhibits. Keep your eyes open and check the maps as some can be easy to miss. The more elaborate and large exhibits can be found at the Gorilla Falls Exploration Trail where you can see gorilla’s and other African animals. Then on the Maharajah Jungle Trek you can see tigers and other Asian animals. At Rafiki’s Planet Watch, which you will need to take a train inside the park to get to, you can visit Affection Section which is a petting zoo with goats and other domesticated animals. Also at Rafiki’s is Conservation Station with several educational exhibits about animals and caring for them. If you are lucky you may even spot a veterinarian working on an animal in the viewing windows.
There are two opportunities to catch bird shows one in an amphitheater with Feathered Friends in Flight and one shorter show in front of the tree of life with macaws, Winged Encounters.
The star attraction for animals here is Kilimanjaro Safari where you board a jeep and take a 20 or so minute ride thought the African Safari and get fabulous views, some up close with animals like giraffe, rhino, elephants, cheetahs, lions, and zebra. This ride is not to be missed for any animal kingdom visitor.
If you want to get even closer to the animals there are two behind the scenes tours where you can learn about how these animals are cared for, one with rhinos and one with elephants. Additionally there is an evening safari experience, Savor the Savanna where you can take a private savannah tour and dine on the savannah for the evening.
For those who want a little more adventure the Wild African Trek tour gets you closer to the animals on the safari as you take the exhilarating trek through and over the savannah including a rope bridge, a jeep, and a walk along the savannah. This experience includes photos, a meal, and is truly one of a kind.
Around Orlando and Beyond
If you have the time and means to travel off of Disney World property while in Orlando there are a few animal attractions you may want to consider.
The biggest being Sea World where you can see all sorts of sea creatures, they also offer many behind the scenes or up close tours. Along with all the animals Sea World also offers big thrills with their roller coasters and has an immersive Sesame Street area for the youngest set. The park offers something for every age group.
Discovery Cove is part of the Sea World family but a much different experience. This all inclusive experience allows you to spend the day in a relaxing pool setting surrounded by birds, and sea life. The highlight of a day here are the dolphin experiences including the opportunity to swim with them.
At Universal Studios park at Universal Orlando Resort you’ll want to catch the Animal Actors on Location where you will meet some real animal actors and learn what it takes for them to work on screen. I certainly wouldn’t plan a visit to Universal Orlando for this show but if you are already building Universal into your plans you’ll want to add this to your itinerary.
If you want to see and learn all about Florida’s iconic alligators then Gatorland is a great opportunity. See tons of alligators along with other Florida native species. There is also a petting zoo here and an opportunity for a zip line experience.
If you are up for a day trip to the Crystal River area about 80 miles away there are also several companies that offer the opportunities for manatee tours including opportunities to swim with them. Nearby you can also visit the Homosassa Springs Wildlife State Park where you can see lots of Florida wildlife including manatees and an underwater viewing area.
If you are visiting at the right time of year, nesting season is May – October, you could head over to the Space Coast and Cape Canaveral to try and see sea turtles. There are also locations here you can can try and spot manatees, including Manatee Sanctuary Park. There are also many parks and the like in and around Orlando where you may see some native wildlife.
Spotting animals in the wild can of course be hit of miss so do your research before you make the drive to spend you day at one of these locations.
Wether you want to vacation with your pets or see animals on your vacation there are a lot of opportunities for animal lovers at Disney World and the surrounding areas.
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