Jambo! And welcome to Disney’s Animal Kingdom. I’ve always loved the Animal Kingdom, but I’ll be honest…it’s really grown on me the last few years.
Not only does this park have some really solid rides and attractions, but I think it has the best atmosphere and entertainment of any of Disney’s theme parks in Florida. You really just can’t emphasize how entertaining it is to watch live animals.
This is also my #1 recommendation for people visiting the area who aren’t major Disney fans or who get a little overwhelmed with being in a theme park for 12+ hours a day.
The theming here is just soooo well done that it impresses even the most well traveled visitor.
It’s also a very manageable park. Unlike some of Disney’s other parks like the Magic Kingdom or Hollywood Studios that have such a high concentration of rides and things to do, you can pretty comfortably enjoy the best of Disney’s Animal Kingdom in one day and not feel like you’ve been run ragged.
But there are so many fun things to see and do at Disney’s Animal Kingdom and honestly, whenever I bring people to Disney World for the first time with me, we usually end up having the best overall day at Disney’s Animal Kingdom.
Animal Kingdom Tips
So let’s get on with it…in this post I’m going to dish on what I think are the “must dos,” things you can skip, the best entertainment, character meet and greets, where to eat, etc. PLUS strategies for putting together an itinerary.
Before we get going, here’s something important to know…Disney’s Animal Kingdom is much more of a morning oriented park. It opens (and closes) earlier than the other parks and that’s mostly because everything revolves around the animals. But while there are a few things to lure visitors to stay after dark (or at least until dark) like the projects on the Tree of Life or Pandora at night, there’s really not a whole lot to do here after dark.
Things to Do at Disney’s Animal Kingdom
It’s all about the attractions and “doing the things” right? Well even though Animal Kingdom is a very manageable park, there’s still a lot to do and you’re going to want a plan for your day. Here’s my breakdown of what you can’t miss, what’s worth your time, extra things to do besides rides, etc…
Under No Circumstances Should You Miss These
Here’s what you need to plan your day around. You don’t want to end your day at Disney’s Animal Kingdom not having experienced these four things. Whether or not you arrive early for rope drop and knock them all out first thing in the day or you pay for Genie+ to avoid the lines or you just end up waiting in a few lines, GET ‘EM DONE!
Avatar Flight of Passage: This is Animal Kingdom’s star attraction and easily the ride that pulls that most crowds. If you can’t get to the park 30-45 minutes before it opens and take advantage of early entry time for Disney resort guests, then expect a 90-120+ minute wait on average. But it is GOOD so it’s 100% worth the hassle of showing up early, waiting in line, or paying extra (more on that later) to ride. You DO NOT want to come to Animal Kingdom and skip this.
So what exactly is it? With the help of some amazing “science,” you’ll sit on the back of a Banshee and fly through Pandora. It’s a 3D screen, but the motorcycle-like apparatus that you sit on moves just slightly and you really do feel like you’re flying.
Kilimanjaro Safari: Kilimanjaro Safari has been Animal Kingdom’s flagship attraction since the park opened and it is DAZZLING. And it’s mostly because of the animals! You’ll board a safari jeep for a 20+ minute drive through many of Africa’s different climates and ecosystems to see dozens and dozens of the country’s most iconic animals.
What makes this attraction so great is the animals themselves…each safari is different and you never know exactly what you’re going to see. On my last safari, we ran into a “giraffic-jam” on the savannah and I was almost close enough to reach out and touch a giraffe.
Plan to ride Kilimanjaro Safari AT LEAST once and it holds up for repeat rides really well.
Expedition Everest: Expedition Everest is one of my favorite Disney coasters and the detail in the village and through the queue is just unmatched. It’s a great first “big coaster” for kids because it doesn’t have any loops, and only one big drop but a lot of speed and thrills.
Festival of the Lion King: This is the best show that Disney has ever come up with and I’d argue that this 20-25 minute theme park version is even better than the Broadway version : )
They run the show pretty much every hour, but it fills up 100% every time so plan to get there early for a better seat.
You don’t have to be a Lion King superfan to enjoy the show, or necessarily even a big fan of “shows” to enjoy this. They get the music, theatrics, and crowd participation just right so it feels more like a high quality sing along than a passive show.
These Aren’t “A Listers” But They’re Worth Your Time
Okay, depending on what you’re interested in, who’s in your travel party, the weather, etc. these are all things you may want to add to your day or you may want to skip. I’ll give my two cents on each one:
Kali River Rapids: Here’s the deal…I’m just not a big fan of water rides so I tend to skip this one (I think I’ve only been on it once or twice), BUT if the weather is warm (which it usually is in Florida) and you’re “ride focused” then you’re not going to want to miss it! It’s a circular raft ride so you’ll either end up absolutely soaked or with just a sprinkle. And I guess that’s part of the fun!
Navi River Journey: I like to call this Pandora’s version of the “It’s a Small World” ride. Visually, it’s a really pretty ride. It’s slow moving, calm, great for little kids and older folks or anyone who just wants a little break, but I wouldn’t call it a must do. And mostly that’s because it usually has a pretty decent line just because of its proximity to Flight of Passage. If you’re paying for Genie+ for the day, then definitely book a reservation for it. But I wouldn’t be rope dropping it or anything.
Finding Nemo: The Big Blue…and Beyond! I’ll be the first to tell you…I am not a big show/musical person but people who are absolutely LOVE this one. I don’t think it’s a “must do” like Festival of the Lion King, but it is a really solid show. It’s inside in the air conditioning which is always a nice option to have on a hot day.
Dinosaur: This is a totally skippable ride for me (I rarely ride it), but if you’ve got kids who are into rides then you’ll definitely want to add it to your list. It’s showing its age and honestly it sounds like it (and all of Dinoland) are on the chopping block in favor of a new expansion featuring either Moana or Zootopia, so catch it while you can!
It’s Tough to Be a Bug: This is such a classic and I think it’s a fun way to get a closeup of the Tree of Life (the theater is located down inside the tree), but BEWARE IF YOU HAVE LITTLE KIDS. No attraction in Disney World sends kids into a meltdown like this one haha. It’s a 3D show with a mix of darkness, loud noises, bugs, and “special effects” that sometimes make it seem like you’re getting attacked. It’s all good fun, unless you’re a toddler and then it’s probably terrifying.
Other Things to Do in the Park
Okay, I think this is where Disney’s Animal Kingdom really shines. Yes, they have some top notch rides and attractions, but they also have some spectacular entertainment and exhibits that make the park such a nice place to just “be.”
Some of these things run on a schedule (check times in the app), some are continuous all day and some are just kind of random, but don’t sleep on these because I think they’re the “magic” of the Animal Kingdom.
Gorilla Falls Exploration Trail: I’m going to call this a “must do.” It’s just an animal nature trail, but it’s soooo well done and it’s easy to burn a fair chunk of time here depending on what the animals are doing. Obviously, the gorillas are the star of the show, but I’ve always been partial to the meerkats plus there’s naked mole rats (I can’t look away!!), a pretty impressive bird area (and I’m not really a bird person), hippos and MORE!
They give you the option to funnel through here when you exit Kilimanjaro Safari, but if you’re there first thing in the morning, I would save this for later and come back when lines for attractions start to get longer during the day.
Maharajah Jungle Trek: Another must do for me. It’s similar to the trail in Africa, but obviously this one features Asian animals. The tigers are the big attraction here but I think the bats are fascinating.
And you kind of have to go out of your way to find this one. It’s tucked back in Asia behind Kali River Rapids.
Rafiki’s Planet Watch: When the park starts to get crowded and unbearably hot, take the train from Africa to Rafiki’s Planet Watch for a nice little getaway. Part of its charm is you never know exactly what you’ll find out here. There’s a veterinary station with windows where you could stumble upon something as wild as a lion getting a root canal! But you’ll always find zookeepers who are passionate about their jobs and willing to interact and answer your questions, a petting zoo, AND the Animation Experience where you can join a live animation class.
The Animation Experience runs on a specific schedule (check the times in the My Disney Experience App) and only a limited number of people are allowed into each session so be sure to arrive early!
Winged Encounters: The Animals Take Flight This has been on my list to experience on my last few trips, but I never seem to time it right. You kind of have to stumble upon it but it supposedly happens somewhat continuously in front of the Tree of Life. The group of macaws really put on a show though and I’ve seen them doing their loops from other places in the park.
Divine: Watching Divine is one of my family’s favorite things to do at Disney’s Animal Kingdom. She usually hangs out in the mornings near the entrance to the park in the Oasis. When you go through the ticket turnstiles, take the path to the right and she usually makes appearances in that area from roughly 9 to 2ish.
AND if you happen to be visiting on Earth Day (April 22), you’ll see her BLOOMING. I got to see it last year and it was AMAZING.
Village Performers: Keep your eyes peeled when you’re in Africa and Asia because you never know what’s going to pop up. There’s a stage in the middle of Harambe that hosts the Harambe Village Acrobats and the Tam Tam Drummers of Harambe throughout the day, but you may also stumble upon the “Kora Tinga Tinga” (an African harp player) near the Harambe Market or Chakranadi playing the sitar near the Anandapur Theater.
Character Meet & Greets
I don’t think Disney’s Animal Kingdom has quite as many character meet and greets as some of the other theme parks, but they’ve got some good ones:
Safari Mickey & Minnie: Meet Mickey and Minnie in their safari gear at the Adventurers Outpost. This is an indoor meet and greet and the lines usually average 30-40 minutes because they’re there all day and people know where to find them.
Kevin: Seeing Kevin from UP is probably one my favorite character experiences. She roams around Discovery Island mid to late afternoon (the app will tell you specific times) but you kind of have to just follow her around. She doesn’t stop for too many photos.
Dinoland: Donald and Daisy Duck and Chip n Dale all have meet and greets in Dinoland in cute little dino themed costumes.
Character Flotilla Parades: These flotillas started during COVID to accommodate social distancing protocols, but they ended up being such big crowd pleasers that they’ve hung around. Different pairings of characters float down the Discovery River on pontoon boats with a bit of music and fanfare throughout the day.
You mostly just tend to see them randomly, but they do actually have specific schedules.
Safari Mickey & Minnie (& sometimes Pluto)
Pocahontas & Meeko
Timon & Rafikik from the Lion King
Russell & Dug from UP!
Scrooge McDuck & Launchpad McQuack
The times for each flotilla are listed in the app and the start time is usually when you’ll see them appear on the river in between Pandora and Africa. From there they make their way towards the big amphitheater in Asia so you’ve got plenty of opportunities to see them. If there’s someone in particular you want to see, I’d check the schedule and then stake out a spot on one of the bridges in Africa or Asia or by the little landing near Mr. Kamal’s in Asia. That’s the best place to catch the Tree of Life in the background.
Where to Eat at Disney’s Animal Kingdom
If you want to make reservations for a sit down meal at Disney’s Animal Kingdom, your best options are Tusker House which is served buffet style with an African flair and features characters like Donald and Mickey or Tiffins which is an upscale “signature dining” restaurant.
If you can’t get reservations, or just don’t want to commit, the good news is that Animal Kingdom has GREAT counter service options.
Satu’li Canteen in Pandora probably has the best food in the park. They make custom bowls (pick your protein, pick your carbs, sauce, etc.) and whether you’re a health conscious vegetarian or a plain Jane kind of meat and potato lover, you’ll find something that suits.
The cheeseburger pods are fun and their desserts taste as good as they look. The purple chocolate mousse and raspberry one is my favorite.
Also Pongu Pongu nearby makes a great margarita.
My other go to spot in Animal Kingdom is Flame Tree BBQ. Pretty much everything here is solid but I think the real standout is the mac and cheese topped with pulled pork. Their dining area is all outside and pretty expansive, but I like to wander down and get a table with a view of the amphitheater so you can see the flotillas going by.
One of the best (not so hidden anymore) dining experiences in Disney World is the Nomad Lounge on the backside of Tiffins. It’s a little hideaway overlooking the river and bridge to Pandora that serves upscale drinks and small bites.
Besides the in park options I’ve laid about above, if I were you, I would book a dinner reservation at Boma at Disney’s Animal Kingdom Lodge. You’ll either need to drive or take the bus to get there, but it’s close and I think it’s easily one of the best dining experiences on Disney property.
Animal Kingdom Plan of Attack (aka Itinerary)
Okay, now that I’ve told you about all of the great things to do in Disney’s Animal Kingdom, here are some tips for how to actually get it all done…
Depending on your budget, let’s run through a few different scenarios…
With Genie+ & Lightning Lane
If you’re willing to pay for Genie+ AND an Individual Lightning Lane, you can have a VERY smooth day at the Animal Kingdom.
Genie+ fluctuates in price daily depending on demand, but seems to be between $15-25/person. Besides the attractions covered by Genie+, the park currently offers an Individual Lightning Lane to AVATAR Flight of Passage that usually costs $11-14/person.
So depending on the time of year, let’s say this option could cost you between $25-40/PER PERSON in addition to your park ticket.
If you’re staying at a Disney resort, you can book your Lightning Lane for AVATAR Flight of Passage and make your first selection for Genie+
Throughout the day, you’re going to want to make Genie+ reservations for:
Navi River Journey
Kali River Rapids (if it’s warm)
And I would do them in that order. That will give you the best shot of being able to still have availability for all 5 by the end of the day. Dinosaur will have return times available still later in the day and Kilimanjaro Safari will run out first, etc.
And I would pick your Lightning Lane return time for AVATAR Flight of Passage close to lunch time (if you can) so you can eat at Satu’li Canteen while you’re there without having to back track.
AND. If you’re planning to get to the park when (or before) it opens, I would probably try to squeeze in an extra ride on Kilimanjaro Safari first before you use your Genie+ reservation so you can do it twice. Or if you only want to do it once, do it first thing as a walk on (just wait in the line) and then start your Genie+ reservations with Navi River.
Besides your Genie+ reservations and Lightning Lanes, fill in the rest of your day with the shows, animal trails, and live entertainment.
With JUST Genie+
Going this route, we’ll pay for Genie+ ($15-25/person) but plan to wait in line for AVATAR Flight of Passage.
If you’re going to do the standby line for Flight of Passage, you want to arrive at Disney’s Animal Kingdom AT LEAST 30 minutes before the advertised opening time. And that includes early entry. So if Animal Kingdom opens to the public at 8AM and resort guests have early entry starting at 7:30AM then you want to be at the park by 7AM. That’s not necessarily going to put you right at the front of the pack headed for Pandora (be there an hour before at 6:30AM for that) but you should still more or less walk straight on the ride with a minimal wait time of 30 minutes or less.
Then just start making your Genie+ reservations as I suggested above:
Navi River Journey
Kali River Rapids
If you are NOT a morning person or just not up to rope dropping Flight of Passage, just plan to go to the bathroom, get your snacks and drinks, and brave the line midday. Since you’re using Genie+ for pretty much every other ride in the park, it should be the only thing you end up waiting for.
With JUST Lightning Lane
With this option, we’ll pay for the Individual Lightning Lane for AVATAR Flight of Passage but nothing else.
Even without using Genie+, you’ll still want to tackle the big attractions in pretty much the same order.
Being at the park for rope drop (before opening) is really important if you’re not using Genie+ even if you’re buying the Lightning Lane for Flight of Passage.
Head to Kilimanjaro Safari first, then Expedition Everest, Navi River Journey, Kali River Rapids, and Dinosaur.
That’s not really that many attractions, so if you can get there early and buckle down to knock all of that out early, then you can spend the rest of the day enjoying the shows, live entertainment, animals, atmosphere, etc. Or just hit at least two rides when the park first opens and then slow your day down and just be ready to wait 30-40 minutes for rides as the day goes on.
Without Genie+ or Lightning Lane
Here’s the best plan of attack if you’re determined to do this day without spending any extra money on options to bypass the lines.
***First of all, here’s my disclaimer…this is really only going to work if you’re staying at a Walt Disney World resort with early entry (30 minutes before the park’s official opening time to the public) and you’re willing to show up for rope drop.
To have the smoothest day possible, I hate to say it but you’re really going to want to be at the front of that pack going to Flight of Passage and that means showing up at 6:30ish an hour before the park opens to early entry guests.
Do Flight of Passage and Navi River Journey since it’s right there then head over to Kilimanjaro Safari and hit Kali River Rapids. Expedition Everest usually has the shortest line of the major rides in the park so if you’re going to wait for something in the afternoon, then make it Everest. And wrap up with Dinosaur which usually also has a shorter wait as well.
Here’s a tip to keep in mind: Expedition Everest has a single rider line which is usually quite a bit shorter than the regular line. They use this line to fill in when they have uneven parties in the regular line so you will NOT ride with your group, but if you’re all adults and okay riding with a stranger (you’ll still stand together in line), then it can be a much faster way to ride Everest.
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