Rafiki's Planet Watch: A Hidden Attraction at Disney's Animal Kingdom

by Cheryl Pendry, PassPorter Featured Columnist
Last modified 11-30-2010

Photo illustrating Walt Disney World - Touring

Every Disney theme park in the world is packed with a combination of what used to be called E-ticket rides that almost every visitor heads towards at some point in their trip and less popular areas that are often more hidden away from the crowds. Rafiki's Planet Watch certainly falls into the latter category.

Animal Kingdom - Rafiki's Planet Watch photo
Animal Kingdom - Rafiki's Planet Watch

The mural on the ground ouside Conseration Station at Rafiki's Planet Watch.

To get to Rafiki's Planet Watch, you need to board the Wildlife Express Train, with regular departures from Harambe in Africa. Take a close look at the theming on the platform as you wait for your train or step aboard. Just like everything else in Harambe, you really feel as if you've stepped into an African village. You may not have time on the way out to Rafiki's Planet Watch, but when you return, it's worth taking some time to note all the little details, like the luggage lying around and the various signs on the platform.

The trains leave regularly, and just like the platform, you can imagine that it's probably just like the trains you’d find in Africa, complete with luggage on top of your train. Again, it’s worth taking a moment, perhaps when you arrive, to look back at the train and take in all the detail.

It's a really enjoyable journey, with all the seats, long wooden benches, facing one way, and offering views over the animal enclosures as you travel out there. If you're lucky, you might catch a glimpse of a rhino, giraffe or an elephant on the way. On our last visit there, two rhinos were in their paddocks, right in front of us. I always find it a fascinating glimpse into the backstage world of Disney and one of the few opportunities you get for such a glimpse, without paying to take a tour.

When you arrive, again take your time to wander towards the main building. As you head along the path, you'll find various signs scattered along the way, some explaining how seriously Disney takes conservation, while others give you details of what you can do to help nature in your own backyard. They all make a fascinating read and you'll probably learn some interesting facts along the way.

Finally, you'll arrive at the Conservation Station building, with various animals above the entrance to welcome you inside. As you enter, it immediately becomes a lot darker, although brightened up by the colourful murals of hundreds of animals. Let me say here that it's worth checking out the restrooms here, if only because it's a bizarre experience to hear the background noise, which includes birds tweeting and the sound of an elephant trumpeting! There aren't many places you get that.

There's so much to enjoy here that you probably won't have time to see it all in one short visit. We spent the best part of a morning here on our most recent visit and still there were attractions we didn't have time to see. One of those is the Sounds of the Rainforest, although we had experienced this in the past. As the name suggests, it envelopes you in a rainforest and all the noises you'd hear there.

What took our attention when we first entered though was the sight of a Cast Member with a beautiful owl on her arm. We couldn't tear ourselves away from talking to her about the owl, who was called Mr. Magee, because of his exceptionally short sight. The beauty here is that any Cast Member you encounter with an animal will always have a wonderful story to deal about that animal and this was no exception. It turns out that Mr. Magee was involved in a car crash on Disney property about 17 or 18 years ago and that's how he ended up being cared for by them. You may have heard this before, but the veterinary team at Disney doesn’t just look after the animals in the various attractions. They're also responsible for any animals that venture on to property, so their work can include indigenous alligators or birds or animals such as Mr. Magee that are injured on property.

Tip: Evening Extra Magic Hours
Please be aware that Evening Extra Magic Hours at Disney's Animal Kingdom only includes limited attractions. We were disappointed to find that the Wildlife Express, Rafiki's Planet Watch, Pangani Forest Exploration Trails, and Kilimanjaro Safari were closed during the evening extra magic hours. We returned to the park to do the trails in the cooler evening hours only to find them closed. When asked about this, the cast members stated that the animals have their routine and return to their shelters and would not be able to be seen. So be sure to plan accordingly! - tip contributed by Michele
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It's worth spending some time viewing the various live animal cams that they have here. You'll usually be able to find some species around, although not all the cameras will yield success and you may have to do some work, turning them round, to find your target.

The beauty, and sometimes the problem, with Rafiki's Planet Watch is that what's happening there isn't really something you'll know before you get there. The main attraction for many people is the Veterinary Exhibit, where you can see operations and check-ups being carried out right in front of you. Understandably, when something exciting is going on, it will draw the crowds, as this is the biggest attraction here. Having said that, you may visit and find that everything is quiet on this front for the whole duration of your visit.

We were lucky enough to see some routine examinations carried out on two geese, and what amazed us was how long it took to get them to sleep. The Cast Member narrating the procedure explained that the problem is that birds can hold their breath for long periods of time when they're underwater, so it’s not a quick job to administer anaesthetic to them.

Although the veterinary examinations are a major attraction, step outside and the kids will love the Affection Station, where they can get up close and personal with a variety of farmyard animals. You don’t need to worry about any hygiene issues, as there are plenty of hand washing facilities here, if the younger members of the family want to pet any of the animals here. I must admit to developing a very soft spot for Joe the sheep, who was very happy for me to stroke him, before he was taken away to be the star in a show, highlighting recycling. Only at Disney could you find a show like this!

Keep an eye out for Cast Members with animals that you can stroke, as we found one with a python. I politely declined the opportunity to get too close to him, but there were plenty of willing takers for that experience!

If you prefer your animals to be a bit tamer than that, you can also find Disney characters up here. Unsurprisingly, given the area's name, Rafiki is a regular and we've also found the likes of Jiminy Cricket, Meeko and Pocahontas here as well.

It's worth knowing that, while you can easily spend a number of hours at Rafiki's Planet Watch, if you get hungry, you'll need to head back to Harambe to get some food, as there’s nowhere to eat here.

If you haven't been to Rafiki's Planet Watch or if, like us, you don't get there that often, don’t forget to add it to your list. Although it's very easy to miss this place although on a visit to Animal Kingdom, once you get here, you'll find plenty to entertain you and will probably find yourself wondering, as we did, why you don't come here on every visit.

Animal Kingdom - Rafiki's Planet Watch photo
Animal Kingdom - Rafiki's Planet Watch

The entrance to Conservation Station at Rafiki's Planet Watch.

About the Author:
Cheryl and husband Mark live in England and love to travel, particularly to Disney, and they have made numerous visits to destinations across America and Europe. They recently completed their tour of every Disney theme park around the world, which culminated in their visit to Japan, including the Tokyo Disney Resort. Click here to view more of Cheryl's articles!

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Reader Comments:

The owl was named Mr. McGee for his short sight? The character who was famous for being short-sighted was Mr. McGOO.

     EASchechter on December 2, 2010 @ 9:31 pm
You mentioned that you would need to head back to Harambe to get food. They don't have actual food, but the last time we went to Rafiki's Planet Watch, we did enjoy ice cream from the cart. smiley for :)

     jessicat on December 3, 2010 @ 1:35 pm
I agree with making Rafiki's Planet Watch a must see each time you come to the Animal Kingdom. Not only is it a relaxing ride, but there are animals here that you won't see anywhere else in the park like the Tamarands. We have also seen Push the talking trash can when we've visited. I especially enjoy Sounds of the Forest. Sitting in the cool darkened booths with headphones on listening to the sounds of the animals, birds, etc. is so relaxing I almost feel as if I've gotten a 10 minute nap. I love the voice of the narrator also.

     brant007 on December 3, 2010 @ 1:57 pm
Thankyou Cheryl. Always enjoy your travelogues, but this one in particular, as we have planned to see Rafiki's for the first time next week. Now I have a better idea of what to look for and at while there. And now I know to allot more time than I thought we'd need!!

     luce on December 3, 2010 @ 2:04 pm
Animal kingdom was new the same time as our toddlers, and since roller coasters and loud shows were out of the question, Rafikis Planet Watch became one of their favorite spots in WDW. Their delight and attention to the animals and vistas here eventually led to them agitating for bigger wildlife adventures and trips to the Alaskan wilderness, the jungles of Costa Rica and African safaris. You just never know what the smallest, quietest travel experience might start!

Thanks Cheryl for encouraging people to explore these less than headliner places- they are far more likely to truly capture your childs imagination than any "ride"

     Familygoboston on December 11, 2010 @ 5:12 am
Thanks for the article. This is a must-do each and every trip for us! We love the train ride up and back, and we have had interesting conversations with CMs about various animals that they care for. It's a nice place to spend an hour or two winding down and painlessly learning more about animals, plus you may get to meet both animals and characters up close. The restrooms are nice, and yes, there seems to be an ice cream cart there now. I encourage everyone to take the time to fully explore this underappreciated attraction. smiley for :D

     yalibrarian on April 14, 2011 @ 11:37 pm
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Updated 11-30-2010 - Article #549 

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