Let’s head to the place where “Hakuna Matata” is the motto, colorful creatures are around every corner, and that inner wild child can roam free! We’re talking about Disney’s Animal Kingdom, of course! If you’ve never been or if you haven’t been in several years, don’t let this incredible park overwhelm you. Before you fly off into Animal Kingdom’s jungle, let’s run through a few basic tips every first-timer or long-since visitor needs to know.
Editor’s Note: We understand that with the phased reopening of Walt Disney World, some of the advice in this article may not apply if you visit while park hours are reduced, capacity limits and physical distancing are in place, and some of our favorite experiences—fireworks, parades, and character greetings—are temporarily suspended. (You can read everything you need to know about the phased reopening by clicking here). We will continue to share articles that give guidance on a “normal” vacation to Walt Disney World, along with any special changes or instructions you may need to be aware of during the phased reopening to provide the best tips we can regardless of when you are visiting. ~ Chad & Cindy
1 – Only a One Day Park? Try Two!
When Disney’s Animal Kingdom opened in 1998, it was known to be a half-day park experience. With early closing hours and limited experiences, it was easy to leave shortly after lunch and head off to the next big thing at Disney. Animal Kingdom is no longer a half-day park, but dare we say one day isn’t even enough anymore?! With later closing hours, a tiered FastPass system, and multiple attractions and venues not to be missed – two days is the ideal amount of time needed to explore all Animal Kingdom holds.
2 – Know When to Go
Did you know Animal Kingdom is known as the hottest (temperature-wise) of the four Disney parks? With the lush, foliage surroundings, it’s easy for humidity to sit in one spot despite a few shade areas here and there. For this reason, we encourage guests to visit Animal Kingdom in the late fall or winter, if possible. Not only will you avoid the late spring and early summer heat, but you’ll also avoid the summer crowds. Crowds are inevitable just about any time you visit Disney, but there are some weeks during the late fall and winter (non-holidays) that are less crowded than others.
3 – Understand the Lay of the Land
Study up because this one will pay off when you’re standing in Animal Kingdom! Check out the park map well before arrival and be aware of how the lands connect and which attractions are in which part of the park. There are defined lands in Animal Kingdom, including the Oasis, Discovery Island, Dinoland U.S.A., Asia, Africa, and Pandora – World of Avatar. Do your best to understand the lay of the land to alleviate any stress as to where to go next or how to get there. The My Disney Experience (MDE) App makes for a great map right in the palm of your hand!
4 – Rise & Shine, Then Go Right
Whenever you decide to go, waking up early and waiting as the park opens is key! Make the most of the early morning cool weather and smaller crowds. As most of the crowd goes left towards the newest and most popular land, Pandora – World of Avatar, head right. You’ll have an opportunity to tackle much of Asia and Dinoland U.S.A well before the rest of the crowd gets to those areas of the park.
5 – Must-Do Attractions
There are several attractions not to be missed at Animal Kingdom, but we’ll list our top 5:
- We start off with Kilimanjaro Safaris as this attraction is what Animal Kingdom is all about! Head over to Africa to take an 18-minute expedition aboard a safari vehicle to get up close and personal with many of the 34 species available on Animal Kingdom’s wildlife reserve. This is an unbelievable attraction that spans 110 acres!
- If you’re a thrill-seeker, Expedition Everest – Legend of the Forbidden Mountain in Asia is the attraction for you. Take a ride through a mountain that the Yeti calls home on this fast and thrilling roller coaster. Watch out as the Yeti is sure to cause trouble with your track.
- Have you ever wanted to fly? This is the closest simulation we have yet to experience! Take a ride on the back of the banshee on Avatar Flight of Passage located in Pandora. Soar through some of the most beautiful scenery while feeling the banshee breathe beneath you.
- Also located in Pandora, you’ll find the Na’vi River Journey– a visually appealing and calming boat ride through what the Na’vi people call home.
- To finish off our personal must-do attractions, we end with DINOSAUR located in Dinoland U.S.A. Head back in time on a time rover vehicle that will have you being chased by dinosaurs as a giant meteor is about to crash down!
6 – Must-Do Entertainment
Editor’s Note: During the phased reopening of Walt Disney World, the Festival of the Lion King is temporarily suspended. It is set to return in summer 2021. Finding Nemo the Musical is not operating. UP! A Great Bird Adventure has been modified but is running.
If you’re looking for entertainment, you’ve come to the right park! Animal Kingdom has two Broadway-style shows and plenty of other entertainment options for you to enjoy. Here are our top three recommendations for Animal Kingdom entertainment:
- Hands down – Festival of the Lion King in Africa is our absolute must-do. This 30-minute show boasts live entertainers, including vocalists, dancers, acrobats, and more. Relive the story of The Lion King through the beauty of music, performance, and costuming. A stunning performance!
- Another incredible live performance is Finding Nemo The Musical in Dinoland U.S.A. This is a 40-minute show that takes guests through the story of Finding Nemo with live performers, puppetry, and a vibrant set.
- Our third must-do entertainment is UP! A Great Bird Adventure located in Asia. Watch as Russell and Dug meet several exotic bird friends that fly in and around the outdoor arena. This entertainment will have you up close and personal with stunning birds.
7 – Must-See Characters
Editor’s Note: During the phased reopening of Walt Disney World, character greetings are temporarily suspended. You’ll see characters come through each park in short parades. Click here for more information on how to see characters during the phased reopening.
Animal Kingdom has some of the most unique characters, many of which you can’t see anywhere else. Our top picks here are the characters from UP, including Russell, Dug, and their bird friend, Kevin. We also recommend seeing Pocahontas, the only Disney Princess available for a meet and greet at Animal Kingdom. Plus, Donald and friends are available for meet and greets in Dinoland U.S.A. for Donald’s Dino-Bash. If you’re lucky enough, you may catch a view of DiVine – a beautiful woman/vine that blends in with her surroundings so well, you might just miss her. Lastly, don’t forget about Mickey and Minnie together at Adventures Outpost in their Safari gear. Be sure to check your My Disney Experience (MDE) App for character availability.
8 – What to FastPass?
Editor’s Note: During the phased reopening of Walt Disney World, FastPass+ is temporarily suspended.
FastPasses (FP) are free and available to all park guests and allow guests to skip the standby line and head straight for the front of the line via the FP line. Three initial FP can be selected 60-days in advance for Disney Resort guests or 30-days in advance for non-resort guests. The two Pandora – World of Avatar attractions (Flight of Passage and Na’vi River Journey) are on Tier 1, meaning you can select only one of these attractions. Two Tier 2 attractions can be selected to make three total FP. Our recommendation for Tier 1 is Avatar Flight of Passage, and Tier 2 is Kilimanjaro Safari and Festival of the Lion King. Try to book these for late morning or early afternoon, so you’ll have the early morning to tackle big attractions such as Expedition Everest first thing in the morning when there are no lines (as mentioned in #4). If you are able to visit Animal Kingdom for a second day, this will be a perfect chance to snag the other Tier 1 attraction (Na’vi River). Regardless of how you decide to work out your FP, be aware that once you’ve used all three initial FP, you can book a fourth FP and so on until the park closes. This is where the MDE App will be your best friend!
9 – So Much Good Food!
Editor’s Note: During the phased reopening of Walt Disney World, Tusker House is not operating. Also, the dining booking window is 60 days.
There is a fantastic supply of tasty food at Animal Kingdom. If you want a character dining experience, reserve a meal at Tusker House where you’ll see friends like Donald, Mickey, Goofy, and Daisy. We also enjoy the Yak and Yeti restaurant from a great meal. Just be sure to book these restaurants 180-days in advance as they do book up! Besides table-service restaurants, we’d recommend Flame Tree Barbecue for quick-service dining as well at Satu’li Canteen. Both have great menus! Plus, you can Mobile Order off your MDE App at both of these locations, so you don’t have to worry about the lines. Snacks are plenty, as are alcoholic-specialty beverages. If you’ve never had a Dole Whip outside of Magic Kingdom, you can do this at Animal Kingdom… and even have the option of adding rum to it!
10 – Stay for the Nighttime Entertainment
Animal Kingdom comes to life at night, so stick around! Look for the Tree of Life Awakenings. You’ll see the Tree of Life dances with an impressive projection display. On your way out, be sure to drop by Pandora – World of Avatar to see how it transforms into a bioluminescent land once the sun goes down. Truly a remarkable park at night!
Enjoy your wildly unforgettable visit to Disney’s Animal Kingdom!
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