Tuesday, March 6, 2012

How do you recreate Africa in Orlando?

I recently returned from my first trip to Disney World in Orlando, Florida for the first time in over twenty years and I'm exhausted, but my kids had a great time. At 2 and 4, they were rather overwhelmed, but my 2 year old son really took to Animal Kingdom, which was the one I was most looking forward to as well. And it got me thinking - how did the designers really make it possible that the flora and fauna that is adapted to an African climate can survive in a former swamp like Orlando? I would have thought that the two climates would be too different, but as I sat outside of my room at the Animal Kingdom at night with a constructed savanna outside my balcony, they somehow did it.

Africa is so large that it encompasses the majority of biomes on the planet, from arid desert to tropical rain forest, and the animals at Animal Kingdom are from a variety of African climates, from the savanna to the forest to the swamps. But the Disney experience is only possible, of course, with heavy management and density. It is a zoo on steroids and it could not exist without heavy management - tigers sit atop a constructed hill just above gazelles, separated by a carefully concealed electrical fence. Fish swim in ponds so densely they are rarely 6" from another. Alligators climb on each other for sunny perches. And from my balcony, I would see managers driving in food for the zebras and giraffes to eat because they are too densely packed to survive by grazing.

But in it's own way, it's lovely. Although a true African safari is still on my "bucket list", it is far off in my future. And the ability to travel a few hours from my parent's home in south Florida and see large, magnificent animals is an experience I'm glad to have had - and to expose my children to. On a 25-minute safari, I saw all of this as well as termite mounds which I thought were just for show but supposedly they are real because certain animals feed off of them. And the Lion King show was fantastic! Seriously - FANTASTIC.

I'm not sure how much I learned about the world by coming here, but my kids had a good time seeing exotic animals and being outside all day. And they now love to hear me read about different animals from the First Animal Encyclopedia I bought there, so it was worth it.

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