How to Plan a Day at Disney’s Animal Kingdom
Are you ready to visit one of the best and most unusual theme parks on the planet?
A trip to Disney’s Animal Kingdom will thrill you no matter your age.
Children will get a kick out of the animals, while adults will love Pandora – The World of Avatar.
Yes, you’re sure to have the time of your life…as long as you know what you want before you arrive.
Here’s how to plan a day at Animal Kingdom.
Should You Arrive Early?
Answering two simple questions will go a long way in determining your park visit plan.
When you arrive at Animal Kingdom moments before the park opens, you enjoy a rare opportunity.
Disney fans call it Rope Drop, the time when nobody is in the parks. So, the lines are nearly non-existent.
At Rope Drop, you can speed-walk (don’t run!) to your favorite attraction. In fact, if you time it well, you could knock out two rides during your first hour!
That may not sound like much, but a quick look at the wait-times tells the story here. Some rides will require an hour or more in line on their own.
As such, arriving early can help you experience both Pandora attractions at the start of your day.
Alternatively, you can avoid the mob that inevitably heads to Pandora. If you go right when everyone else goes left, you could ride SEVERAL things quickly.
The catch is that you may peak too early and get a bit burnt out. Riding Expedition Everest several consecutive times may sound great in theory.
In execution, your stomach may turn on you even more than the Disco Yeti does during the ride.
I strongly suggest that people arrive at Rope Drop at parks. However, Animal Kingdom provides an equally good backup plan.
Should You Visit After Dark?
Did you know that Animal Kingdom only recently remained open after dark? Disney extended park hours around the same time that Pandora debuted.
Yes, that’s less than five years ago! Disney had good reasons for this approach, though.
The real residents at Animal Kingdom aren’t the humans. Those people leave and go home at night. The animals live at the park 24-7.
If Disney had kept the park open during its early days, the animals would have struggled in acclimating to their new surroundings.
After nearly 20 years, the caretakers finally felt comfortable expanding hours after dark without displeasing the animals.
Now, you can watch how differently these creatures act at night. You’ve heard of nocturnal animals, right? At Animal Kingdom, you can watch them in action.
That’s not the only bonus of a nighttime visit, either. Disney has added lighting effects to several areas, notably Pandora.
Bioluminescence plays an integral role in the movie, and Imagineers miraculously brought the premise to life here.
When you explore Pandora after dark, it looks like an entirely different world.
How Long Will You Stay?
The following two questions also tie together, as they’ll determine your approach. When you’re staying for less time, you must push harder while you’re there.
That’s never overwhelming at Disney, although Animal Kingdom will ask more of you.
As the largest theme park at Walt Disney World, it requires the most walking. Also, the temperature here runs a few degrees warmer.
The animal climate requires some temperature sacrifices for the humans. So, more walking at hotter temperatures can wear you out.
In two sections, I’ll discuss options that can reduce your fatigue. Still, you should have a general idea about how long you will stay.
If you’re planning to visit for four hours or less, you can get plenty done. However, you may need to skip Pandora or, at least, spend less time there.
Conversely, if you arrive early and stay late, you should get to ride virtually everything…and some stuff two or three times.
You’ll feel like you got the most out of your park day, and you’ll sleep well that night.
Will You Leave the Parks Any?
Do you like Park Hopping? Are you someone who goes back to your hotel for a couple of hours to avoid the afternoon heat?
Both these approaches work well with an Animal Kingdom visit. You can Rope Drop and hang out at the park after dark.
In the interim, you can do stuff elsewhere on the Disney campus, recharging your batteries a bit during the downtime.
I’m a big fan of an afternoon dip in the pool at my Disney hotel. The theming at these pools is always immaculate, and the water cools me down on a hot day.
If you don’t plan to leave the parks any, you should be careful at Animal Kingdom. For starters, make sure to wear your sunscreen!
Also, spend some time at shows like It’s Tough to Be a Bug! and A Celebration of Festival of the Lion King.
You can sit down indoors in an air-conditioned room and watch a show. Plus, you’ll get off your feet for a while.
So, you can leave the park to take a break, or you can plan to catch a show when you’re tired. Either approach works.
By staying in the park, you do avoid the somewhat mercurial Disney transportation system, though. That’s a plus.
Would You Rather Eat Fast or Eat Well?
Here’s a tough one that Disney fans debate incessantly.
Do you prefer a quick bite to eat at a theme park? Are you the opposite of a foodie, someone who doesn’t expect high-quality cuisine at Animal Kingdom?
If so, counter service meals should work well for you. Disney calls it Quick Service dining and offers several fast food-ish eateries.
I’ll spoil you that the best of them is Satu’li Canteen at Pandora. However, Flame Tree Barbecue is phenomenal, too.
You can eat well while spending less on meals at these places.
On the other hand, you can treat yourself, as Animal Kingdom features several Table Service restaurants.
Think of them as fine dining experiences where theme park attire is perfectly fine!
Places like Yak & Yeti Restaurant and Tiffins Restaurant will dazzle your palate with their haute cuisine.
The hidden benefit of Table Service meals is that they’ll take an hour or more. So, that’s time you can recover during a park visit.
My family usually takes this approach, as we’re fanatical about Yak & Yeti. Parents may take a more generic approach, though.
At the front of Animal Kingdom, near the park entrance, you’ll find a Rainforest Café that your kids will love.
Another good option involves a quick bus ride to Disney’s Animal Kingdom Lodge, which is only a few minutes from the park.
The restaurants here are arguably the best in Orlando, as this recent TripAdvisor ranking demonstrates.
How Much Will You Play with the Animals?
Here’s a factor you should settle before you reach the park. Are you going to Animal Kingdom for the rides, the critters, or both?
If you picked either of the last two answers, you’ll want to schedule time for the animal interactions.
Part of that will involve a ride on the Wildlife Express Train, which will carry you to Conservation Station.
Here, guests can watch actual Disney vets treat animals. Plus, there’s a petting zoo that you don’t want to miss!
I can’t tell you how many people have said to me after the fact about their greatest Animal Kingdom regret!
They didn’t pay enough attention to the animals! People get so invested in Expedition Everest and Avatar Flight of Passage that they forget the animals!
Don’t make that mistake. The park is named ANIMAL KINGDOM!
Feature Image Rights: Disney
Good article! I could see two days of rope drop; one focused on Pandora and one focused on Kilimanjaro Safaris and Expedition Everest. I’m also looking forward to when the special tours like Savor the Savanna, Wild Africa Trek, and Ultimate Nights of Adventure return. For us, with all the many other attractions, animals, shopping, and restaurants this will easily turn AK into a solid 3-day park visit. Now, just need to club level rooms at Animal Kingdom Lodge to come back and we’re talking one heck of a Disney visit.