Animal Kingdom is a unique park in so many ways. Not only do they have amazing rides, but there are also tons of animals and breathtaking shows! I used to be a Cast Member at Animal Kingdom, and I wanted to share my best tips on how to prepare for spending a day there. I’m always surprised at how little some guests seem to know about Animal Kingdom compared to the other parks-hopefully, this serves as a handy guide, and will help you fall in love with Animal Kingdom the same way I did!
11 – Research Pandora: World of Avatar
Pandora: The World of Avatar is one of the newest lands at Walt Disney World. It’s very busy, so it’s important to know everything about it before your trip- it’s easy to get overwhelmed and feel let down if you don’t manage to do it all. This may seem obvious, but try to get Fast Passes for either Na’vi River Journey or Avatar: Flight of Passage as far in advance as you can. Research what type of ride Avatar: Flight of Passage is, even if it means watching videos on YouTube- on my most recent trip, I noticed a lot of people who had no idea that Flight of Passage was a motion simulator, and ended up getting off the ride feeling sick. Disney Cast Members do post warnings and explain the ride system briefly before you board, but it never hurts to make sure that you’re psychically capable of handling it; it can be intense for some (my mom went on it, and didn’t enjoy it at all due to motion sickness).
Also, research the restaurant in the land, which is Satu’li Canteen- they offer unique fare that differs from anything else you can find at Disney World (though it is delicious), as well as mobile ordering! The shops are worth looking into as well- a big draw for kids is “adopting” a banshee that you can wear on your shoulder. These are expensive, so I would decide ahead of time whether you’re planning to spend money on them or not. Pandora: The World of Avatar is one of the only places at Disney where you can’t buy anything Mickey-shaped or merchandise that features other Disney characters, so keep that in mind as you browse through Windtraders, the main shop (they really strive to keep to the theming of Pandora)!
10 – Plan to Arrive Early, and Stay for the Evening
Animal Kingdom used to be the park that closed the earliest out of the four, never staying open longer than 5 or 6 pm. With Pandora: World of Avatar, that’s all changed- now, Animal Kingdom offers many nighttime offerings, such as the show Rivers of Light, and the Tree of Life Nighttime Awakenings (projection shows on the Tree of Life, which occur intermittently starting at sunset). However, it still pays off to visit Animal Kingdom first thing in the morning- I can tell you from experience that morning is when the animals are most active, and it is still the best time to ride Kilimanjaro Safaris, or attempt to ride Flight of Passage with a lower wait time.
My best advice to is to visit Animal Kingdom at rope drop and visit all of the animal exhibits/top tier attractions you’re most interested in. Leave the park for a break around noon (skipping the hottest part of the day) and return at night to enjoy one of the shows or a nighttime safari. If you haven’t gotten to the Avatar rides yet, another tip is to get in line right before park closing- wait times are usually lower by then, and plus, Pandora is beautiful at night.
9 – Get a Times and Animal Guide As You Enter
When you enter Animal Kingdom, please grab a times guide and an animal spotting guide! They’re bunched together with the maps and are located in kiosks right as you enter the park. Even if you don’t need a map, the times of the shows, character meets, and locations of animals are really important for planning your day at Animal Kingdom. They can change daily, and a lot of guests don’t even realize that the park has certain animals until they look at the guide. I saw a guest exclaim in surprise once, having just realized that there was an American Crocodile over in DinoLand U.S.A. She had been coming to the park for years, and never knew! Also, some shows and character meets will end early, even if the park is open to 9 or 10 pm- so it’s important to have a guide; you don’t want to miss any characters or show times!
8 – Know the Height Limits for Attractions
As a cast member, one of the hardest things to do is tell an excited child that they are too short to ride an attraction. We don’t like disappointing them or their parents. It’s for the child’s safety- they need to be a proper height in order to ride attractions such as Expedition Everest or Dinosaur. If you are travelling with kids, look up the height limits for rides in advance, and measure your child- that way, you’ll be prepared if a cast member denies you entry. Keep in mind that cast members aren’t doing this to be mean- they just don’t want anyone to get hurt!
7 – Prepare for Storms
Animal Kingdom has a lot of outdoor attractions, and when lightning is in the area, these attractions will be shut down. This includes Expedition Everest and Kali River Rapids, two of the most popular rides in Animal Kingdoms. Some animal walkthrough trails will also close until the weather clears up. When this happens, people flock to indoor attractions like Dinosaur and Flight of Passage and wait times will skyrocket. Some other options are to see the shows while it’s raining or to visit Rafiki’s Planet Watch, which has a large indoor building filled with cool insects and other interactive exhibits/character meets. It rains a lot in Florida, and the weather can be unpredictable, so it’s good to be prepared and not let it ruin your day!
Also, if you can, bring your own ponchos and umbrellas. During storms, guests will crowd the stores buying ponchos, so you’ll want to avoid this if at all possible. Many times, storms can end after just half an hour, and by bringing your own rain gear, you’ll be saving money! On the other hand, If it is just light rain or drizzle, then definitely go ride the safari or see the animals- they love playing in the rain!
6 – Make Dining Reservations or Use Mobile Ordering
There are a lot of good restaurants in Animal Kingdom, one of the best being Tusker House, a character dining experience. Other good dining options are Yak and Yeti, Rainforest Café at the front of the park, and Tiffins, at the entrance to Pandora. Reservations are highly recommended- you can make them right from your My Disney Experience app, and it will save you time waiting for a table- which leaves you more time to enjoy the park!
Another good tip is to utilize mobile ordering, which you can also do with the MDE app. Research ahead of time which quick service restaurants offer mobile ordering in Animal Kingdom (Pizzafari and Satu’li Canteen are two that I know of), and instead of waiting in a busy line for your food, just order from your phone and pick it up right at the counter! I used mobile ordering in Pandora on my last trip, and it saved us so much time- definitely download My Disney Experience, and start looking up dining options in Animal Kingdom.
5 – It’s Tough to be a Bug…Can be Tough!
When I worked at Animal Kingdom, I was often stationed at the Kid’s Discovery Club (now Wilderness Explorer location) at the exit to It’s Tough to be a Bug. It’s Tough to be a Bug is a 3D Show inside the Tree of Life, and features characters from A Bug’s Life. It can be very scary for little ones- there are moments of extreme darkness, loud noises, and fog. Also, it’s not ideal for those with a phobia of spiders or other insects. Some kids do fine with it, but during my Cast Member days, I would see so many parents exit the show early with screaming, crying kids in tow. My sister, who is 25, refuses to sit through it. Just like with Avatar: Flight of Passage, make sure everyone in your party can handle It’s Tough to be a Bug before viewing.
4 – Unique Tours and Activities
If you want to get more out of your day in Animal Kingdom, you should research the tours offered throughout the park (at an extra price). These require advance reservations, so definitely head to the Internet to check them out! Special Animal Kingdom tours include Caring for Giants (a closer look at the African elephants), Savor the Savanna (an evening safari experience), and Wild Africa Trek (close-up encounters with the animals featured on the Kilimanjaro Safaris attraction). Make sure to book early if you’re interested, as these tours can fill up quickly!
Animal Kingdom also offers other activities that you can do for free. Any guest can become a Wilderness Explorer by visiting the first stand in Discovery Island, getting started with a booklet and an oath, and collecting animal badges throughout the park. There are over 30 different badges and animal-themed challenges to complete, and it’s a really fun, free way to enhance your day and increase your knowledge of animals and the environment. I may be a little biased, since this was my old job- but I get so much joy every time I see a guest in the park with a Wilderness Explorer book!
3 – Leave Your Balloons and Plastic Straws Behind
Animal Kingdom cares deeply for all animals within the park, and their safety is one of the top priorities. Another top priority is remaining environmentally friendly. This means no plastic straws or lids for drinks- they’re bad for the environment, and can injure an animal if one were to fall within an enclosure. Animal Kingdom will serve your drink with a paper straw, but don’t be alarmed when you see that no lids are available- this can catch a lot of guests by surprise at first. Also, balloons are not allowed or sold in Animal Kingdom- if you do have a balloon, you can “park” it at Guest Relations and pick it up again at the end of the night. Safety first!
2 – Prepare for the Heat
Take it from someone who worked outside in Animal Kingdom for six months- this park is hot! A lot of people say that Animal Kingdom just feels hotter than the other parks, and it’s true. The Oasis has lots of greenery, but the other lands are very open to the elements. Be sure to bring portable fans and drink lots of water, keep hydrated, and step into air-conditioned shops often. Ride Kali River Rapids, watch a showing of Festival of the Lion King for some relief, or head back to the hotel for a swim in the afternoon. The animals will seek shade and sleep in the heat, and guests should do the same.
1 – Bring Your Walking Shoes
Animal Kingdom is the biggest out of all the parks. You will be doing a lot of walking. Wear proper shoes, and try to stay away from sandals or flip-flops. Instead of wandering aimlessly and needlessly tiring yourself out, grab a map and plan to take the shortest route between attractions, shows, and restaurants. Unlike Epcot and Magic Kingdom, there are no boat or train transportation options (unless you count the Wildlife Express, which is more of an attraction). Animal Kingdom also has two major walking trails, which you shouldn’t miss out on just because your feet are tired. Pace yourself and take breaks. Animal Kingdom is a huge, amazing park- if your feet are happy, you will be too!
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