If your family loves animals, the movie Pandora, wicked fast rides that will curl your fur or for that matter Walt Disney World in general then there is no way you can leave out Disney’s Animal Kingdom from your trip.
Disney’s Animal Kingdom has some of the most eclectic artwork and fantastic food as well. But I’ll get into that more in a minute.
Map Of Disney’s Animal Kingdom
History Of Disney’s Animal Kingdom
Whatever you do, don’t call this place a zoo! The natives don’t take kindly to that at all. I wouldn’t either, being that it cost them nearly $1 Billion dollars to complete.
Disney’s Animal Kingdom Theme Park opened on Earth Day (April 22, 1998), it was meant to be a place where families could interact more closely with the animals and learn to enjoy them.
Disney’s Animal Kingdom is the largest of the four theme parks at Walt Disney World. It spreads out over 500 acres, which is more than ample room for the over 1,000 animals that call the Animal Kingdom home.
Today, Disney’s Animal Kingdom Theme Park takes the form of attractions that allows guest to enjoy, in an up-close and personal manner, some of the most amazing animals from all over the world.
Daily Operation and Hours
Depending on what time of year you visit depends on what the hours are the same here as any of the other parks. The park opens at two different times during the year. From early April until the end of December the park opens at 9 AM (not including extra magic hours). From the months of January through March, Animal Kingdom opens a little earlier at 8 AM. Seasonally, they stay open at night anywhere from 8 pm thru 11 pm.
During the slower, winter months, they tend to close the park at 8 pm. Once spring rolls around and with vacation weeks they extend to 9 pm and during their busiest months of summer and fall they are open until 10 pm and occasionally until 11 pm. It’s always best to check Animal Kingdom’s hours before making plans as it changes so much throughout the year.
Extra Magic Hours at Animal Kingdom
For guests staying on property at one of the resorts, they will occasionally open 1 hour early or stay open 2 hours later. You must have a resort reservation in order to partake in these extra hours.
Early Morning Magic at Animal Kingdom
Morning extra magic hours are a special ticketed event on select dates thru-out the year that allows the guest to enter the park one hour early and have unlimited access to limited attractions in the park. Currently, the prices are $69 for adults and $59 for kids (plus tax). We have heard that December 2nd, 2018 and after, prices are $79 for adults and $69 for kids (plus tax). You are required to have park tickets along with the extra magic hours ticket.
Rides and Attractions at Animal Kingdom
A lot of people refer to this as a “half-day park”, but I really think that depends on what you are coming here for. If you want to enjoy the full beauty and breadth of Disney’s Animal Kingdom park from its culture to its beautiful sprawling savannah then I would strongly suggest planning at least a full day for this park when visiting the Walt Disney World Resort
Animal Kingdom Lands
The park’s animals and its attractions are primarily broken up into six areas. I’ll give you a little overview of each area and all of the experiences you can expect to have with each one.
This is really the entryway of Disney’s Animal Kingdom. It welcomes you with a lush tropical landscape of the Oasis and is astounding. It’s the little things with Disney’s Animal Kingdom that most people miss and why I’m mentioning it here. As I mentioned earlier there is impressive art everywhere here. Don’t miss the animal paw imprints on the cane lamp post-lined pathways as you are entering the oasis.
It’s an Oasis in the true sense of the word, which features a plethora of tropical plants and trees, a small waterfall and a pond that houses some of the most beautiful flamingos you’ll ever see. There is a viewing area here for several different exotic animals and birds.
Cast members are standing by (as usual) to assist guests with any questions they might have about the animals. One thing of note is that the termite mounds that will often hide water feeders for birds. Disney wanted this area to be authentic but also functional for each animal. They definitely did that…..in spades!
Discovery Island sits smack dab in the middle of everything and is the home to the iconic Tree of Life from the Lion King movies. Which towers 14 stories in height and can be seen from everywhere in the park.
The tree of life is also the home to the 4-D adventure, It’s Tough To Be a Bug. This is where you can become an honorary insect and join Flik and Hopper from Bug’s life on a journey in this 430 seat theatre.
I would suggest checking this out for yourself before bringing in small children as it might be a bit much for them to take in.
But either way don’t worry, there is plenty for the little ones to enjoy at Disney’s Animal Kingdom.
Pandora – The World of Avatar
If you or members of your family are fans of the movie Avatar. Then you are going to love The World of Avatar!
The sites and sounds of this area will really blow you away even if you aren’t a fan of the movies because of how much “wow” detail there is here in general.
On Avatar Flight of Passage, you’ll soar around the mountains, jump into ancient caverns, and skim your way across roaring oceans, all on the back of a banshee. Just make sure you get fast passes for this if you want to go, because I have seen the wait time as high as 3 or 4 hours!
I strongly suggest trying out the test seat as well, which is located outside the attraction to make sure that you and other family members are able to ride this without any problems. It’s a very different type of experience and I can’t recommend it enough to anyone who likes thrill rides.
The other great thing about this area of Animal Kingdom is that you can experience Na’vi River Journey. If you’ve ever wondered what it would be like to experience Na’vi culture first hand, then this is the place to do it.
When you enter Africa through the village of Harambe you’ll immediately notice how welcoming it is. The thatched huts and water-stained buildings will make you think that you are in South Africa. Cast Members dressed as villagers are adorned in colorful, authentic African costumes to add to this atmosphere.
The Kilimanjaro Safari here will take you on a journey as you cross the stretching savannah where you will find 34 different species of animals.
The Gorilla Falls Exploration Trail will entertain your family where it is adorned silverback gorillas. The Wildlife Express steam-powered train cuts through the savannah to Conservation Station where you will get an interactive center designed to educate in addition to entertain.
There are some points of interest along the rail route that contain the buildings in which the animals are kept at night in order to be checked out medically and fed. The 1.2-mile train ride is wheelchair accessible. Assistive Listening Devices are available for visitors that are hearing impaired, check with Guest Services at the front of Animal Kingdom for more info.
If you need to rest your legs, I strongly suggest you check out Festival of the Lion King, one of the most popular theater shows at Walt Disney World. The entire family will love it as it is a virtual explosion of colors, music and amazing talent. This will give you a half-hour of awesome Disney entertainment and is highly recommended.
As you cross over the bridge, you will find yourself moving from Africa to Asia’s Kingdom of Anandapur, complete with crumbling ruins of an ancient village, its temples, and even a maharajah’s palace. The architecture is beautiful so be sure and spend time exploring your surroundings and don’t forget to grab a few pictures!
Asia is the newest land at Disney’s Animal Kingdom and opened in 1999. It features a water raft ride, Kali River Rapids, a walking animal trail called the Maharajah Jungle Trek and Flights Of Wonder an exotic bird show. If you are a bird lover then this area will appeal to you for sure.
But the crowning achievement of the Imagineers in the Asia section of Disney’s Animal Kingdom is Expedition Everest, which is a high-speed rollercoaster that climbs to the height of 199 feet and then after plummeting you down and back up, has you going backward after you venture into the lair of the Yeti.
As you pass into Dinoland, across the waterway you will see Expedition Everest in all its full glory. Then right in front of you, you will notice the boneyard and a 50-foot tall skeleton of a Brachiosaurus, which is the heart of a massive play area for kids to explore and learn about Dinosaurs and fossils.
If you are not faint of heart, then you’ll want to visit the Dinosaur ride. (and I literally mean that, as this ride is not meant for those who pregnant or have heart problems). Be prepared for something intense, as you go careening on an out of control wild ride while dodging meteors and massive dinosaurs.
Once you enter the Chester and Hesters Dino Rama area, you’ll find the Triceratop Spin which is a ride that is almost reminiscent of the Dumbo ride at the Magic Kingdom. The only difference being that your on a Dinosaur and you get to control the up and down motion. Absolutely wonderful for the little ones.
There is also a great rollercoaster here that is built for kids and adults alike. It’s Primeval Whirl, and it’s fashioned after the old carnival rollercoasters that you would find at your county fair. Very bright and colorful and a lot of fun in general.
If all this wasn’t enough, The “Theater in the Wild” has been transformed into the undersea world of Marlin and Nemo. It’s quite the animated celebration as they use puppetry, dancers, and even acrobats to perform through the 14 songs composed by Robert Lopez that make Finding Nemo come to life.
A great way to end the day at Disney’s Animal Kingdom is by visiting Donald Duck as he greets guests during Donald’s Dino-Bash! The event is a lively celebration with festive decor and character greetings galore. Guests enjoy photo ops and special character meet and greets in several locations. The day culminates with a nightly Dino-Riffic dance party with Chip ‘n Dale, along with a DJ spinning up some awesome tunes.
Daily Events at Disney’s Animal Kingdom
Rivers of Light is a vibrant, nightly show that takes place on Discovery River at Disney’s Animal Kingdom Theme Park, between Discovery Island and Expedition Everest.
Live actors and music, floating lanterns, water displays, and concealed animal visions are used throughout the operation to showcase the beauty of living things. This show boasts a celebratory mixture of tunes, light, and color using a grand finale so glorious that you’re certain to leave feeling a sense of oneness with nature.
If you choose to go a different route, you can enjoy a sweet ending to your day while enjoying a VIP view of Rivers of Light. By sweet, I mean enjoying the awesome Rivers of Light desert party which will provide you with an array of house-made desserts, snacks and specialty beverages of both the alcoholic and non-alcoholic variety.
Check-in for the party begins 60-minutes prior to the main show (8:15 p.m. for a 9:15 p.m. show) at the Rivers of Light Asia Viewing Area Terrace located across from Expedition Everest. When the show is just about to begin, guests will head to the VIP Seating Area.
Price is $79 for adults and $47 for children (including tax) and payment in full is required at the time of booking.
This experience takes place on select nights and reservations can be made by visiting the Walt Disney World website or by calling (407) WDW-DINE. Guests must be at least 21 years of age or older and able to present a valid form of ID to consume alcoholic beverages.
Dining at Animal Kingdom
All of the Disney World Theme Parks have so many delicious options for food. Although for a long time it wasn’t known for having the best food of all the theme parks, Animal Kingdom is no different. A lot has changed and we’ve got you covered no matter what meals you plan on eating there.
We’ll give you our favorite places to eat for breakfast, lunch, and dinner and let you decide what works best for you and your budget. I’m just going to go ahead and tell you right now that my all-around favorite in this park is Tusker House, which is located in Africa. You won’t see it in the lists below, because it’s a sit-down restaurant which frankly is good for any meal and it’s a character buffet which makes it even better!
Disney Food Blog did a wonderful video discussing all of their favorites and least favorites for Animal Kingdom as well.
But here are my personal favorites for breakfast, lunch and dinner.
Breakfast at Disney’s Animal Kingdom
Kusafiri Coffee Shop & Bakery – Located in the Africa section of the park, and everything on it’s menu costs only one “Snack Point” on the Disney Dining Plan! Great quick breakfast to go when you are on the run.
Donald’s Safari Breakfast at Tusker House – When you have the time to sit down for breakfast and can get a reservation, this is again, my personal favorite. You get to have breakfast with Donald, Daisy and Goofy dressed in their African safari garb. The buffet is great, and there are a lot of options, even for picky eaters.
Lunch at Disney’s Animal Kingdom
Harambe Market – This has outside only seating. Which can be a bit of a pain depending on the weather. But the food is fantastic.
Satu’li Canteen – Great for Pandora themed food. All kinds of different options for the kids and the deserts are……interesting!
Yak and Yeti Restaurant – Here you will find great Asian inspired food. I strongly suggest you get the cream cheese wontons or the mango pie for dessert as they are both killer options.
Dinner at Disney’s Animal Kingdom
Flame Tree Barbeque – This is widely known as the best barbeque in any of the Disney Parks, with the exception of The Polite Pig in Disney Springs (which isn’t technically a park). I strongly suggest you try the french fries with pulled pork and cheese.
Tiffins and Nomad Lounge – This is a rather expensive sit-down restaurant, with exceptional food. The theming is based on researchers’ trips that the Disney Imagineers took when plotting out Disney’s Animal Kingdom. — The Nomad Lounge is a traveler themed bar and is more or less an oasis away from the hustle and bustle of the main restaurant. Featuring some amazing alcoholic drinks, it’s a great place to stop and rest your feet.
Shopping at Disney’s Animal Kingdom
Of course, there are tons of places to shop and a lot of them I won’t take the time to mention here, but these are by far our favorite must stop shop places while we are visiting Animal Kingdom.
Windtraders – This is located in the area of Pandora. A fairly large, but crowded store. It has tons of Pandora themed merchandise. Everything from clothes that glow in the dark to special Na’vi instruments. Even Pandora figurines and headwear.
Mombasa Marketplace – You’ll want to come to this African themed marketplace for all of your safari-style equipment, African drums, wood carved animals, Indiana Jones hats, and much much more!
Island Mercantile – This is a very colorful bird-themed shop, with lots of generic Animal Kingdom and Disney themed merchandise.
Discovery Trading Company (Riverside Depot) – For a very large and detailed shop, this will tickle your fancy. It has all kinds of Walt Disney and Animal Kingdom merch, we found a Duffy bear in here that was Safari themed as well as many shirts, coffee mugs, throws, etc.
If you want to know more about shopping at Animal Kingdom or any of the Walt Disney World Resorts, I highly suggest checking out all of Jenna’s videos over at Resort TV 1 on youtube. She goes in-depth on all of the shops at Disney World.
Disney’s Animal Kingdom Tips
If you want a few insider tips, then you should join our good friends from Paging Mr. Morrow. They are in Animal Kingdom quite a bit. I even found a video of theirs where Nate discusses insider tips for traveling to Animal Kingdom below.
Special Events at Disney’s Animal Kingdom
There are a few special events that happen at Disney’s Animal Kingdom, but you’ll need to check the times on these as they change frequently.
Caring For Giants – This is a special event that allows you to get a closer look at these giant African elephants and learn what it takes to care for them. This might finally be the thing that dissuades your 5-year-old from wanting their elephant!
Savor The Savannah: Evening Safari Experience – This special event gives you an evening with a private safari, African-inspired tapas, beverages and more.
Ultimate Nights of Adventure VIP Tour – This is a nighttime tour of the park, including riding attractions and exploring lands with expedited FastPass+ access.
Up Close With Rhinos – Enjoy a 60 minute guided tour that allows you to go “backstage” and get up close and personal with the white rhinoceros—Earth’s second-largest land animal. This is an experience that very few people ever get to enjoy, so I suggest you take advantage of it if you get the opportunity.
Wild Africa Trek – If you want a truly unique VIP expedition of the African wildlife at Animal Kingdom then this is what you’ve been looking for. It’s a 3-hour wild trek on a private African safari.
I’ve said for years that Disney’s Animal Kingdom isn’t my favorite park in Walt Disney World, and while that’s probably true. Out of the four parks, it has so much more to offer than meets the eye! Recently, with the addition of their Holiday offerings, this park is becoming more and more of a family favorite.
There is so much to learn and so much to take in, so don’t make the mistake of thinking this is just another zoo because it’s not. Animal Kingdom is truly an experience that you wouldn’t ever get when you go to a zoo and won’t ever forget once you go and enjoy it for yourself.