Best Possible Day at Disney’s Animal Kingdom
In recent weeks, MickeyBlog has suggested itineraries for spending a full day at Disney’s Hollywood Studios and Epcot. This time, we’re taking on a tougher challenge. Here’s our guide to the best single-day itinerary at Disney’s Animal Kingdom.
The Start of a Big Day
Animal Kingdom is Disney’s largest park. It’s not close. In fact, you can fit the other three parks at Walt Disney World into Animal Kingdom…and still have almost 50 acres of extra space. Planning a day here requires a lot of assumptions and awareness. Out of all the Disney parks in America, Animal Kingdom is the one where guests can have things go very wrong if they aren’t prepared. Fortunately, this guide should take care of you.
At the start of the day, you should follow the herd. I never recommend that as a rule at Disney theme parks. In this case, however, crowd traffic will flow toward Pandora – The World of Avatar. That’s where you should go, too. Yes, you could do other stuff while everyone else is at Pandora. The problem is that this themed land will only get more crowded as the day goes along. It’s the reason why Animal Kingdom traffic spiked dramatically last year.
You need to visit this place before the afternoon mob arrives. I suggest two things that I haven’t done in the other itineraries. The first is that you MUST get at least one FastPass. While I believe that everyone should book three FastPasses each day that they visit Walt Disney World, I haven’t pushed the concept in the other itineraries. Animal Kingdom is different.
To ride the two attractions at Pandora, you’ll need a FastPass for one and some patience for the other. Book a FastPass for whichever one is available. Your priority is Avatar Flight of Passage, but it also sells out quicker. You’ll have to stand in line for the other. I’ll presume that you book a FastPass for Na’Vi River Journey and then enter the ride queue for Avatar Flight of Passage. If you’re more fortunate and do it in reverse, you’ll save 30 to 60 minutes, because Flight of Passage has longer lines.
You’ll also want to take some time to walk around Pandora. Disney’s immersive Imagineering techniques here are the height of current theme park design. You should explore the lands as much as possible. My expectation is that riding Avatar Flight of Passage and Na’Vi River Journey plus wandering through Avatar will take you through about 11 a.m.
A Meal or a Walk?
Now, you have a tough decision. Are you hungry or can you wait? Hangry is a real thing at Animal Kingdom due the hotter temperatures and massive park size. You’ll walk a lot. It’s important that you keep your body fueled during your visit.
I would suggest a snack, but the best Quick Service restaurant at Animal Kingdom is also here. You may prefer to use Mobile Ordering to grab a pod or protein bowl at Satu’li Canteen. I recommend that along with a notation that you should snack more than usual in the afternoon. By using Mobile Ordering to eat more quickly, you should exit Pandora by 11:45 a.m.
I Apologize for the Toto Earworm
Once you’ve finished your delicious, novel meal at Satu’li Canteen, it’s time to walk. To avoid backtracking later, your next destination is Africa. Hurry, boy, it’s waiting there for you.
You’ll see two paths to this themed land. Take the inside one so that you will walk past some shops and other stuff. The far left path is fairly barren. Once you reach Africa, you’ll have a couple of must-do attractions. Those are Kilimanjaro Safaris and Festival of the Lion King.
The former attraction is what I describe as the backbone of Animal Kingdom. You board a giant vehicle and ride through the various animal habitats. Each time you go through the Kilimanjaro Safaris area, the experience is different, as the animals have their own behavioral patterns. The ride exemplifies everything that Disney has accomplished in building a harmonious wildlife preserve at Animal Kingdom.
Festival of the Lion King is a show that’s only VERY loosely based on the movie, The Lion King. It’s more of a Cirque du Soleil tumbling and acrobatics display along with a few shouting matches between various sections of the crowd. It’s a wonderful 30-minute interlude during a hectic park day. You should target FastPasses for both attractions here, too. So, that’s all three of your daily FastPasses that you’ll use by 1 p.m.
I presume that the walk from Pandora to Africa will take 15 minutes, and then you’ll spend 15 minutes in the FastPass queue for Kilimanjaro Safaris followed by a 20-minute ride through the animal habitats. The next show of Festival of the Lion King should start at 1 pm. Since it’s only available on the hour, you may need to switch the order with Kilimanjaro Safaris if you run a bit behind.
Like Pandora, the Africa themed land has more to it than just rides. You’ll want to visit Rafiki’s Planet Watch and Gorilla Falls Exploration Trail while you’re here. It’s also a great place to grab a mid-afternoon snack. Tamu Tamu Refreshments serves Dole Whips!
Next Up, Asia!
Once you’re done in Africa, you’ll take the path east to Asia. This themed land has a pair of wonderful attractions and another two rides. The attractions are Maharajah Jungle Trek and UP! A Great Bird Adventure, both of which you’ll want to visit.
As for the rides, I’m of the opinion that one is vastly superior to the other. Expedition Everest is quite possibly the greatest overall attraction at Animal Kingdom. It’s either this one or Avatar Flight of Passage. It’s a must-do ride for your entire family.
Conversely, Kali River Rapids is a nondescript raft ride that’s best for cooling people off during a hot day. That’s also its curse. Lines swell on the hottest days, forcing you to stand next to a lot of sticky, sweaty people in a small space. I’m of the opinion that you’re better served at an indoors attraction or eating inside a restaurant than riding it. Should you disagree, you should be able to grab a FastPass for it after you use your original three…unless the temperature is 95+ degrees. On those days, Kali River Rapids FastPasses go fast.
Not Quite Jurassic Park
Once you’re done (for the moment) in Asia, the time should be around 4 pm. You still have a couple of themed areas to squeeze in before dinner and fireworks. Head Southeast to DinoLand U.S.A., your next destination. It’s better for kids than adults, but one of the rides here is worth everyone’s time. That attraction is DINOSAUR, a brilliantly structured time travel journey at the bottom of DinoLand U.S.A.
Along the way, you could catch your breath and cool down by visiting Finding Nemo – The Musical. It’s a wonderful show that celebrates one of Pixar’s most beloved franchises. You could also ride the carnival rides, Primeval Whirl and TriceraTop Spin. I’m not a huge fan of either one, and Primeval Whirl sometimes makes me nauseous. Most guests love both, though. Since the lines are short, you have good reason to take a chance on each one.
Parents with small children will spend more time in DinoLand U.S.A. Park builders designed lots of play areas here specifically for kids. Disney recently added a character meeting section called Donald’s Dino-Bash!, which is great for people young and old alike. You’ll find seven or eight characters here on average, meaning that it’s the best meeting spot at Animal Kingdom.
The Tree of Life
You should be close to dinner time now, but don’t pick a restaurant quite yet. You want to head west to Discovery Island first. The first thing that you’ll see here is It’s Tough to Be a Bug!, a fun show based on A Bug’s Life. Take the time to watch it if you can. Then, you’ll continue west to the Discovery River area, home to the best photo op at Animal Kingdom, the Tree of Life. You should definitely take some pictures here, as they’re timeless. Also, see if you can trick your companions into believing that the Tree of Life is a real tree!
Assuming that you’re not tired of character meetings, Discovery Island is home to one more. Better yet, it’s right on the way to your next destination! Stop at Adventurers Outpost to meet Mickey Mouse himself! Mickey has designated hours each day, so check the My Disney Experience app to verify that he’ll be there when you intend to visit.
The Rest of the Evening
Dinner and a show will take up most of your remaining time at Animal Kingdom. I heartily recommend a meal at Yak & Yeti Restaurant, which serves Pan-Asian cuisine through a deep roster of menu items. I think it’s the best restaurant at Animal Kingdom and one of the best overall at Walt Disney World.
You should also consider Tiffins at Discovery Island and Tusker House at Africa, too. They have an advantage in that you may book a package that includes reserved seating for Rivers of Light, the nighttime exhibition at Animal Kingdom. You can read the details here.
Since I prefer Yak & Yeti Restaurant by a lot, I’d still suggest that you eat here. Once you’re done, you can simply stand in line for Rivers of Light seating. It rarely sells out. The show is the perfect way to end the day at Animal Kingdom, though. It’s a transcendent display that illuminates the dark. The one-two punch of an exquisite Yak & Yeti meal (splurge on the appetizers and desserts, my friends) and this exhibition will send you home smiling.
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