Guide to Planning the Perfect Day at Animal Kingdom
Disney’s Animal Kingdom is the park of Walt Disney’s dreams. He had desired an animal presence on Jungle Cruise before harried Imagineers talked him into fake ones. More than 30 years later, a new generation of cast members finally brought Uncle Walt’s fantasy into reality when they opened Animal Kingdom on Earth Day, 1998.
Over the years, the park has changed quite a bit. Its massive size (four times as large as Magic Kingdom) combined with the temperate conditions needed for the animals can cause problems for first-time or infrequent guests. Don’t worry, though! That’s why we’re here! Read on to learn how to have the perfect day at Animal Kingdom.
Plan Your Day around Pandora
Pandora – The World of Avatar is the most significant expansion in the history of Animal Kingdom, possibly even the entirety of Walt Disney World. This immersive land will take your breath away. It’s the culmination of Walt Disney’s vision for theme parks. He wanted guests to believe that they had left the real world behind and traveled to a distant land.
The moment that you step into Pandora, you will buy into this illusion. The immersion is so good that you will feel like you’re a tourist who has traveled to a distant planet. While the animals are now and always will be the stars of Animal Kingdom, Pandora is the featured attraction for now.
You should book a FastPass for one of its rides, either Na’Vi River Journey or (preferably) Avatar Flight of Passage. Should you arrive at Rope Drop, you should walk straight to Pandora. It’ll be easy to find, as most of the other guests will travel the same path. Plan to spend at least two hours at Pandora, more if you want to do a lot of shopping here and intend to eat at Satu’li Canteen, something I’d recommend.
The reality of an Animal Kingdom park day is this. You can fit in most of the other stuff easily. Pandora is where you’ll hang out for a disproportionate amount of time…and that’s totally fine! You’re there to have the best possible time. Pandora is the ideal way to achieve this goal.
I Recommend Two Other FastPasses
When you visit Animal Kingdom, one ride distinguishes itself from the rest. Kilimanjaro Safaris embodies the heart and soul of the park. This attraction involves a journey through the natural habitats of many of the animals who live at the park. You’ll see everything that Disney has accomplished in building a combination zoo and theme park.
The best part of the ride is that every Kilimanjaro Safaris experience is different. Sometimes, creatures will frolic around the Jeep, getting so close that the tour guide aka driver will grow a bit uncomfortable. It’s hard to turn left when a giraffe is in the way. On other occasions, you’ll see the animals fight, and they DO go at it hard. We once watched a smaller zebra angrily chase a scimitar oryx across multiple habitats. Even the other animals were surprised.
When you ride Kilimanjaro Safaris, you’re appreciating the best of Disney theme park magic. Due to the quirky nature of the line queue, however, a wait in the regular line can take a surprisingly long time. The FastPass line, on the other hand, moves extremely fast. You’ll want a FastPass for this one, both for the convenience and as a reminder that it’s a can’t-miss attraction.
The other FastPass I recommend, presuming that you don’t mind shows, is Festival of the Lion King. It’s like Disney Does Cirque du Soleil, with a bunch of cast members performing impressive tumbling routines. Since the attraction is indoors and lasts 30 minutes, it’s a great way to escape the heat and savor a different kind of park experience. Plus, you’re strongly encouraged to yell, which can be an excellent stress release.
Play with the Animals
This advice may seem strange to those of you who have never been before. Something tends to happen with frequent park guests, though. They get so locked in on the rides and excellent cuisine that they forget about the name of the park. It’s ANIMAL Kingdom. Please don’t forget that.
As great as Kilimanjaro Safaris is, you shouldn’t think of it as the only time that you spend playing with animals on your trip. You can interact with the animals during several attractions. The Discovery Island Trails, Gorilla Falls Exploration Trail, and Maharajah Jungle Trek are all highly recommended. You should plan to spend some time at Rafiki’s Planet Watch as well, although that attraction is temporarily closed at the time of publication.
Don’t Forget about the Rides
Even before Pandora opened, Animal Kingdom hosted a couple of my favorite rides. I’m a massive fan of DINOSAUR, a time-traveling trip through the age of the dinosaurs. You’ll see (more than) life-sized Audio-Animatronics of dinosaurs along the way, and the unique ride cart gives you unparalleled views of each one. Plus, the ending is excellent, and the ride photo is tremendous.
Expedition Everest reflects years and years of Imagineers hearing that Disney parks didn’t have any rides for adrenaline junkies. This roller coaster does not mess around. You’ll travel straight up a mountain, only to discover that the tracks are broken. Then, you’ll get thrust backward at 50 miles per hour before eventually going straight again. As you try to exit the mountain, the largest Audio-Animatronic ever built tries to swipe you out of your ride vehicle. It’s intense.
A few other attractions that are worthy of your time at Animal Kingdom are Kali River Rapids, It’s Tough to Be a Bug!, Finding Nemo – The Musical, Primeval Whirl, and TriceraTop Spin. Don’t forget about the new character meeting spot at DinoLand U.S.A., either.
Go Clockwise or CounterClockwise…and Wear Comfortable Shoes
The most important advice that I can give about Animal Kingdom addresses the landscape. A 580-acre park requires a lot of walking. You should have a strategy for how you’ll approach the park. The first step is wearing comfortable shoes. Guests foolish enough to break in new shoes or wear uncomfortable ones will regret it.
The other strategy involves the park map. You should examine it carefully and develop a plan for your walking path. Since I’ve suggested that you start with Pandora, I would add to that by recommending that you go clockwise through the various themed lands, making Africa your second destination. That way, you won’t do any circling back, thereby adding unneeded steps to your already-high daily step count. It’s pretty easy to walk 5+ miles at Animal Kingdom if you’re not smart about the situation.
Those of you who prefer to save Pandora until the end should do the opposite. You should start in DinoLand U.S.A. and then visit the other themed lands in counter-clockwise order. Your precise strategy should be to begin in the Oasis (you have no other choice), walk to Discovery Island, and then take the eastern path to DinoLand U.S.A. Once you’re done in that themed land, walk to Asia next.
By taking one of these approaches, you’re likely to have the best possible day at Animal Kingdom. To max out, I’d add one other tip: eat at Yak & Yeti Restaurant. It’s easily my favorite place at the park, even over Satu’li Canteen, my favorite Quick Service meal. If you pick those two places for lunch and dinner, you’ll have the perfect day!