Walt Disney World is a truly magical place, but going as a twentysomething can feel a bit overwhelming. Fret not, for I’ve developed a 4-part series for surviving Disney in your twenties. Follow this guide to have the wildest experience possible at Disney’s Animal Kingdom!
Disney’s Animal Kingdom
Walking into Disney’s Animal Kingdom feels like you’re in the middle of forest. Everything is lush and vibrant and you can hear birds from every direction. The best part of Disney’s Animal Kingdom is how animals are literally everywhere you turn, as the exhibits have been flawlessly integrated with the paths weaving around the park. Some people choose to use Animal Kingdom as a “park-hopping day”, but I am not one of those people – I firmly believe that Animal Kingdom takes every part of the day to get through. From the classic, conservation side of Animal Kingdom to the new Pandora expansion, Animal Kingdom is a truly remarkable experience.
Some “lands” in Animal Kingdom lack rides, as they tend to focus on exhibiting animals in those areas. These lands include the Oasis, which is the area upon entering the park, Discovery Island, which is the area surrounding the Tree of Life, and Rafiki’s Planet Watch, which you have to take a train to get to. Each of the other lands has at least one ride, which are all a joy to go on!
The Asia area of Animal Kingdom is home to two rides. The most popular of these rides is Expedition Everest – a rollercoaster that takes you in to the heart of Mount Everest while exploring the Himalayan myth of the Yeti. The queue to the ride walks you through traditionally themed Himalayan temples and a Yeti museum. Next, you board the coaster and immediately start ascending the mountain, which offers a killer view of Animal Kingdom! There is also a single-rider line option if the queue is too long for your liking.
The other ride in Asia is the Kali River Rapids. The Kali River Rapids is a raft ride that takes you through a jungle that has been torn apart by illegal logging. On Kali River Rapids, get your adrenaline rush, cool off, and learn a bit about the importance of conservation. Make sure put any valuables in waterproof bags before boarding this ride, as you will get wet.
The main ride in Africa is Kilimanjaro Safari. On the Safari, you load up into a truck and embark on about a 20-minute venture through Disney’s version of the African wilderness. Along the way, you’ll get close views of giraffes, elephants, baboons, cheetahs, black rhinos, ostrich, crocodiles, zebra, wildebeests, warthogs, and, my personal favorite, hippos. Recently, a baby hippo was born at Disney and can sometimes be seen on the safari. Certain animals rotate throughout the day, like the painted dogs and hyenas, while other animals are only out at certain times of day, like the lions. If you miss an animal that you had your heart on seeing, go back on the safari later in the day and they’ll likely be there! You can also go on the safari after dark, which is an incredibly unique experience.
Africa is also home to the Wildlife Express Train, which transports guests to Rafiki’s Planet Watch. On the train, you get a backstage look at some of the animal storage facilities.
DinoLand, U.S.A. is home to the majority of the Animal Kingdom rides. In Chester and Hester’s Dino-Rama, you’ll find carnival rides. These include the TriceraTop Spin and Primeval Whirl. The TriceraTop Spin is essentially the same as Dumbo the Flying Elephant in Magic Kingdom, but with dinosaurs popping up as you go around. The Primeval Whirl is an old-fashioned style rollercoaster where you load into a time machine in order to witness the meteor that killed the dinosaurs. Primeval Whirl is a bit jerky, but is a ton of fun! In Chester and Hester’s Dino-Rama, you can also try your luck at traditional carnival games!
Outside of the carnival is the Dino Institute, where you can find Disney’s Dinosaur! The queue to the ride takes you through a dinosaur museum where Bill Nye the Science Guy narrates the theory that a meteor killed the dinosaurs. When you reach the front of the line, Dr. Grant Seeker (funny, right?) tells you of his plan to load an Iguanadon into your time machine while you’re on your journey, which is definitely a no-no to the higher-ups at the Institute. On the ride, you encounter several famous dinosaurs and are chased by a hungry carnivore, all while trying to outrun the meteor. It’s definitely a must-do!
Pandora – The World of Avatar
Pandora – The World of Avatar is the newest expansion to the Disney’s Animal Kingdom. Based off of the world created by James Cameron in his 2009 film, Pandora is an alien planet with beautiful plants that glow at night and floating islands. In Pandora – The World of Avatar there are currently two rides: Na’vi River Journey and Flight of Passage. The Na’vi River Journey is a boat ride that takes you through the jungles of Pandora while exploring traditional Na’vi music and traditions.
Flight of Passage is a 3D ride where you feel like you’re flying on the back of a mountain banshee. I don’t want to give any details of the ride, but trust me when I say Flight of Passage is the most amazing ride in Disney! There is usually a really long wait because of the newness of the ride, but the wait is worth it. The queue to this line takes you through Na’vi caves and the human camp from the original Avatar movie (and gives you an inside look at the Avatars!). If you can, snatch up a Fastpass for these rides!
The exhibits are my favorite part of Animal Kingdom! I could spend days just staring at all the magnificent animals that can be found prowling around the park. While some people choose to skip the exhibits, I strongly suggest going! Disney has put a lot of effort into conserving species that are in danger of losing their habitats around the world.
The largest exhibit in Asia is the Maharajah Jungle Trek. This trail is home to Asian tigers, elds deer, blackbucks, water buffalo, kimono dragons, and Malayan flying foxes, which are, surprisingly, bats. Jungle Trek currently has baby tigers (yes, really!) who have started making appearances. If you’re lucky, you’ll get to sneak a peek at these cuties!
Aside from the Maharajah Jungle Trek, there are gibbons on a small island in a replica temple complex. These lesser apes are playful and are often swinging around with each other or sitting down eating fruit.
Around the Tree of Life are the Discovery Island Trails. Along the way, you’ll pass ring tailed lemurs, flamingos, Tamarins, and even vultures! You can also take in an up-close view of the animals carved on the Tree of Life.
The birds of the Oasis are likely going to be the first animals you’ll see when walking into the park, as they’re just off the park entrance. In the Oasis, you’ll find a variety of migratory birds and vibrant Macaws!
The Gorilla Falls Exploration Trail in Africa is home to some of Africa’s most iconic creatures. You’ll view meerkats, zebras, tons of African birds, Thomson’s gazelles, antelopes, and hippos before seeing the namesake of the trails: lowland gorillas. In huts along the trail, find naked mole rats and a variety of frogs and lizards. For additional information on the animals on the trail, talk to cast members stationed at each exhibit. All other animals in Africa are can be viewed on the Kilimanjaro Safari.
Rafiki’s Planet Watch
At Rafiki’s Planet Watch, you can pet a variety of farmyard animals at Affection Station. You’ll find goats, sheep, donkeys, cows, and pigs that love to be given some love. There is also a play yard for kids at Rafiki’s Planet Watch, so know you’re going to be around tons of children if you decide to hang out with these adorable animals. To reach Rafiki’s Planet Watch, take the Wildlife Express Train from Africa.
Unfortunately, dinosaurs went extinct millions of years ago, so there aren’t any roaming around Animal Kingdom. Disney has many famous dinosaur skeleton replicas displayed throughout DinoLand, U.S.A, including a replica of Dino-Sue!
Animal Kingdom has tons of awesome dining options and is an alcohol friendly park. If you’re looking to cool off, head to Tamu Tamu in Africa to grab a Disney delicacy – Dole Whips! Quick service asian food can be found at Yak and Yeti in Asia. You can find classic American food like burgers and chicken nuggets in Restaurantosaurus in DinoLand, U.S.A. Grab quick snacks and some delicious cocktails at Thirsty River Bar and Trek. If you’re wanting some water, go to the Starbucks at the front of the park, where you can get it for free! Check the Disney app to make reservations for meals while at the park.
My absolutely favorite thing in Disney’s Animal Kingdom is the Festival of the Lion King show. Every time I go to DAK, I see this show at least twice, though I think my personal record is around five times – seriously. The Festival of the Lion King is high-energy, gets the audience involved throughout, and is entertaining throughout. You can find daily showtimes on the app or the website.
Another stage show in Animal Kingdom is Finding Nemo – The Musical! Finding Nemo – The Musical mixes gorgeous glowing puppets with costumed sea creatures in order to bring the fantastic Pixar movie to life. The best part of this show is the Just Keep Swimming song. Showtimes can be found on the app or the website (though it is closed Feb 2018 for refurbishment).
Disney pays homage to A Bugs Life with It’s Tough to Be a Bug, an indoor stage show in the Tree of Life. It’s about 9 minutes long and is basically a 3D movie that manages to incorporate smell and touch. To be very honest, I always skip this attraction because a very giant animatronic spider comes out of the ceiling, which traumatized me as a child (my parents still tease me about this). The show runs throughout the day, so I recommend stopping by whenever you want to see it.
In my opinion, Animal Kingdom is the best park for photo-ops! With all the vibrant colors, attention to detail in the recreated continents, and nature everywhere, it’s impossible to leave without a good shot.
Throughout the park, there are a number of murals! In Maharajah Jungle Trek, there are a number of tiger murals, especially leading up to the tiger exhibit. The windows through the exhibit also serve as great backdrops for a quick shot.
In the Harambe Market in Africa, there’s an awesome quote on the wall that reads “It does not matter who you are or where you are from. We are all children of the world” that makes for a great snap!
In DinoLand, U.S.A., there are a number of fun murals and cutouts you can grab a photo with.
The most iconic image in Disney’s Animal Kingdom is the Tree of Life, which boasts over 300 unique animal carvings! Since this shot is so popular, it can be difficult to get a clear view of the Tree from the main entrance. If you can’t manage one there, try to capture it from the riverside in Asia where the restaurant seating is when it isn’t peak meal time.
In Asia, there are a number of prayer banners that promote compassion, peace, wisdom, and strength. Traditionally, the wind blows these banners in order to spread gifts to those below! The mantras recorded on the flags are so intricate and make for great photos.
As mentioned above, the newest attraction in the park is Pandora – The World of Avatar. One of my favorite photo ops in the park are the floating islands. For a great shot of the islands, head to Pandora from the back entrance, which is a long trail connecting Pandora to Africa near the Festival of the Lion King. Go to Pandora just before sunset so you can get photos in the daylight and of the land glowing at night.
Animal Kingdom recently underwent a major overhaul in order to provide more nighttime options for entertainment. Now, the park truly comes to life at night. Nighttime entertainment begins at sunset, when the plants of Pandora begin to glow. After the sun has set, the Tree of Life begins to illuminate with the Tree of Life Awakenings show that occurs approximately every 10 minutes. The crown jewel of nighttime entertainment at Disney’s Animal Kingdom is Rivers of Light, a river boat show that uses projections on mist to bring traditional animal mythology to life.
What’s your favorite part of Disney’s Animal Kingdom? Let me know in the comments below! If you’re planning on spending more than a day at Walt Disney World or park-hopping, check out my guides to Magic Kingdom, Hollywood Studios, and Epcot!