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Touring the Tree of Life Garden

Friday, May 13, 2011

Disney’s theme parks; each known and recognized for their iconic symbols located in the center.  Cinderella’s castle at the Magic Kingdom, Spaceship Earth inside EPCOT, Mickey’s Scorcerer’s hat at Hollywood Studios, and The Tree of Life at the Animal Kingdom are all in place to communicate a common theme for their specific park.  Another common aspect about each park, and specifically around these park symbols, are guests walking through them to get from one area of the park to another area, or stopping to enjoy a character meet and greet, or simply admiring the scenery around them. 

Over at Disney’s Animal Kingdom the park’s theme extends out from the Tree of Life into a garden that surrounds the park’s symbol.  Located in the center of the park the Tree of Life Garden is a set of pathways with nature in mind.  Some park-goers also refer to this as the Discovery Island Trails.  Not only does this garden provide paths from one section of the park to another it has great scenery.  Joe Rhode, who was the chief Imagineer for designing Disney’s Animal Kingdom, said “The park’s theme is about the intrinsic value of nature.  The animals in the park are only there to enhance the message”.  What you will find as you walk through the Tree of Life Garden is this message carried out perfectly.  Although the garden was artificially developed it has great plant life, carved animals throughout the rock work, real animals that are part of the landscape, and even Cast Members who are present to discuss various animal characteristics. 

Some Disney park fans say the Animal Kingdom is a “half day” park.  Depending on your daily plan or intentions that may very well be true.  I’ve come to the conclusion that there are 3 types of people who visit the Animal Kingdom.  Those only seeking attractions (half day), those who only wish to view nature at its best (three quarters of a day), and those who want both attractions and nature (full day). For those of you looking to photograph nature at its best the Tree of Life Garden is a place you will enjoy. 

I used to think the Tree of Life Garden only had one entrance and one exit, but I discovered there are a few more garden entrances or exits located around Discovery Island.  There are two main highlights to the Tree of Life Garden.  The carved animals on the various rocks and on the Tree of Life branches.  You really need to look closely because some of the carvings are camouflaged very well.  Secondly, the foliage along the trail provides photographers and nature lovers a treat.  As you walk through the garden you will see several flowers and plant life worthy of space on your camera’s memory chip. 

There are other features of the garden less prominent than the carved animals and foliage.  As you stroll along the pathways you’ll run into various animals and waterways filled with different species of fish.  Additionally, where some portions of the path dead-end you’ll find Cast Members waiting for you to discuss a particular insect or small animal.  These insects and animals are usually alongside the Cast Member.  They will give you an overview of the creature and answer any questions you have about the Animals, Animal Kingdom Park, or animal care-taking in general. 

The amount of time you can spend in the Tree of Life Garden can vary greatly.  It really depends on what you are trying to accomplish.  If taking photos is your goal then you could spend a few hours getting lost inside the garden.  If you simply want to take a shortcut from one area of the park to another you’ll only spend about 90 seconds.  The time you spend along the pathways really depends on you and your intentions. 

Disney’s Animal Kingdom is full of pathways throughout the park.  There are a couple animal trails like the Pangani Forest Trail and the Maharajah Jungle Trek, however if you really want to get caught-up in the parks theme head to the center.  Don’t be one of those guests who continually walks by the entrances and exits of the garden.  Try walking through the pathways, but be careful or else you may end up in the 'Tough to be a Bug' attraction.  Its attraction queue runs along the Tree of Life Garden pathways.  Make sure you don’t get lost or else you could spend a lot more time in the garden than you thought. 

If you are headed over to the Animal Kingdom for some pictures or to simply view the parks theme and setting do not miss the Tree of Life Garden.  With its central location it's hard to miss.  Nature is calling and you won’t be disappointed. 

Next Up:  The barbeque season is right around the corner.  Let’s go to Disney’s backyard and see what’s on the grill. 

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About this column

Aaron DelPrince looks at the various activities you and your family can experience at Walt Disney World


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