Animation Experience at Conservation Station

Animation Experience at Conservation Station

Now Boarding!

Great news! The Wildlife Express Train now departs from Harambe Station to Conservation Station where you can now visit Rafiki’s Planet Watch and participate in the Animation Experience at Conservation Station.

And yes…that’s a lot of nomenclature for one attraction.

Harambe entrance to Rafiki’s Planet Watch. Photo by J. Jeff Kober.

But the attraction is open and the experience of visiting this remote corner of Disney’s Animal Kingdom is very much alive! For that I’m very excited. I love this train–perhaps more than any other locomotive experience in any Disney parks anywhere. That’s because the whole thematic detail is so wonderful. While the setting is more Africa and Asia, The Eastern Star Railway reminds me of riding the rails in the campos of Colombia as a young man. The sense of adventure is palpable as you enter the Harambe station and step on board.

Locomotive for the Eastern Star Railway. Photo by J. Jeff Kober.

With seats facing to the outside, every seat should offer a good view. Unfortunately, most of the ride still has a terrible vista. Billboards advertise the new Lion King movie. It’s at least an updated billboard, but it does nothing to help. I don’t really care to see the animal padlocks. The behind the scenes experience takes away from the hundreds of millions of dollars Imagineers put in to create an authentic African safari experience.

Still, you arrive at Conservation Station and you begin your walk toward Rafiki’s Planet Watch. All of the signage and conservation exhibits are still along the way.

One of the nicer touches marks the beginning of your path toward Rafiki’s. Photo by J. jeff Kober.

Some of it is informative–even inspiring. Too much of it is crass and commercial. All too soon you arrive at Rafiki’s. My recommendation while you are walking through is to look up. You see some beautiful foliage that immerses you in this space. It’s really beautiful.

Rafiki points you down the path to your destination. Photo by J. Jeff Kober.

A Revived Rafiki’s Planet Watch

Upon arrival I’m pleased to say that the entrance to Rafiki’s looked refreshed and ready for business.

Entrance to Rafiki’s Planet Watch. Photo by J. Jeff Kober.

When you step inside you are treated to a beautiful montage of animal life. Yes, this is the part of Disney’s animal kingdom that looks most like a typical zoo. But it’s done extremely well.

Mural of animals greet you at Rafiki’s Planet Watch. Photo by J. Jeff Kober.

Accompanying that montage is a trifold sign. Unfortunately it wasn’t working. It was fixed on one image.

Tri-fold conservation message at Rafiki’s Planet Watch. Photo by J. Jeff Kober.

Worse, this isn’t the current entrance, unless you are going to the restroom. Guests are being sent around the side entrance to enter the building. And why? Because much of the interior open space has been designated for the new animation experience. To that end, they have re-directed traffic.

New mural created for Animation Experience. Photo by J. Jeff Kober.

The whole center section has been re-equipped with rows of chairs, all facing monitors and an animation stand. Lined along the walls are images of Disney animal characters, and of Disney artists who brought them to life.

Ollie Johnson and Frank Thomas shown drawing animal characters. Photo by J. Jeff Kober.

What remains of this center experience is for lining up guests for the experience. That cuts off certain exhibits. For instance, public access to Song of the Rain Forest with Mother Willow is not readily available.

Image taken in 2012. Photo by J. Jeff Kober.

Still, other exhibits are there. Rumor was that there would be no view of the veterinarian surgical center. I was pleased to see it was still very much available for view. But I’m not sure how many procedures are currently being carried out in that location.

Surgical room at Rafiki’s Planet Watch. Photo by J. Jeff Kober.

I had the opportunity during a press event on one occasion to see a lion asleep during a procedure. It was a profound experience. I would hope more than people would have the privilege of seeing the care these animals receive.

Female lion under anesthesia. Photo by J. Jeff Kober.

Other spaces behind windows were taken up with a host of terrariums. It was interesting, but fairly static. The presentation felt temporary.

Display of terrariums. Photo by J. Jeff Kober.

You should also know that the Affection Section is still very much accessible to guests. This image of a black sheep among other white lambs reminded me of a recent article I posted on the value of black sheep. Check it out.

Affection Section invites friendly petting of gentle livestock. Photo by J. Jeff Kober.

The Animation Experience

I have done many of these learn how to draw. I love all of them. I have been drawing Disney characters since 4th grade. With a knowledge of some basics, and a little practice, you can make a fairly decent drawings. I love how the sheets they hand out to you during this experience have light blue lines to guide your drawing. Too many times the image is either too small or too big, because the individual doing the rendering doesn’t know the context of the first lines they are drawing.

Sample completed drawing. Disney offers both picture frames and complimentary delivery back to your hotel room on Disney property or to the front of the park. Photo by J. Jeff Kober.

Added to the potential success of this attraction is the availability of a FastPass.

Note that these are arrival times, not show times.

These aren’t as popular as Flight of Passage, but they are still a big draw for guests looking for something different. I recommend you obtain one if you can, though I would still plan on visiting anyway. Note the times when such classes are being given, and plan to be there 15-20 minutes prior. That means you need to move toward boarding the train 35-45 minutes before the scheduled event.

The following is a video of the experience. It has been edited some so you don’t have to sit through all of the experience. It’s intended to give you a sense of how the experience flows. It shows the audience learning to draw Ed. While it’s not step-by-step, it does show you the flow of the show.

Video by J. Jeff Kober.

Disney also offers a video showing how to draw Simba.

Video by Disney

This I must admit that I’m not a big fan of the adjustments made to create this animation experience. But the guests there were, and seemed to really take it all in. And I’m thrilled that the trains are again running and that this attraction is again available. It will be interesting to see what occurs after The Lion King experience. But if you want this attraction to stick around, visit when you’re in the park.

Returning to Harambe Station

Soon it’s time to catch the train for a trip back to Harambe Station. Here’s where the show breaks down. There are usually two trains running (there are three altogether, a red, black and green train). After 3:30 I found that they retired one of the trains for the day leaving only one remaining in operation. It takes about 15-20 minutes to do a full round, but when they have to retire one train, it takes much, much longer. There were a lot of guests waiting for the next train. And many who were not boarded when one eventually arrived.

Crowds gathered waiting for a train. Photo by J. Jeff Kober.

My sources say that they are having maintenance problems. I’m not sure if that translates to mean that the trains require more attention then should be expected. Or if there aren’t enough trained maintenance people. It’s probably a little of both. But the latter is a wide-spread concern across property. We are building major attractions, but Disney has to make sure they are maintained.

I should also note that upon returning to Harambe I thought it might be nice to grab a bite to eat at Harambe Market. But at a few minutes past 4:00 pm, not one, not two, but all three kiosks were closed. Yet I observed several people walking around looking for a place to eat. Yet another missed opportunity for Disney.


While I wouldn’t have approached implementing the Animation Experience in the same way, I applaud that they did something, and that there are full trains heading toward Conservation Station. I hope that something could be done to make these experiences more permanent, while keeping some of the really great original offerings alive.

If you love this corner of the park, you may want to check out this article I wrote for Disney at Work, entitled, “Stop Instructional Graffiti” It has implications beyond Harambe Station.

J. Jeff Kober

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