Disney’s Animal Kingdom: A Visitor’s Guide
Introduction: Disney World is the place where dreams come true and your inner child comes out. From the iconic Cinderella’s Castle at the Magic Kingdom to walking the world at Epcot to trekking at the Animal Kingdom, Disney World has something for everyone! Disney’s Animal Kingdom is Disney’s park focusing on nature and the connection between wildlife and the human race. Throughout the park you will find over 200 species of animals that will delight you as you observe them in their natural habitats.
Highlights: Take a ride on an African Safari, get your thrill on riding Expedition Everest, get wet on the Kali River Rapids, dance with Chip and Dale at Donald’s Dino-Bash Dance Party, catch a live performance of the Lion King or Finding Nemo, and journey through an underground bioluminescent cave.
How Much Time is Needed?
To fully experience Disney’s Animal Kingdom, and any Disney World Park, I would recommend at least 2-3 days. If you only have one day to visit the Animal Kingdom, don’t let that deter you. You will be able to experience plenty at the Animal Kingdom in one day. Find some must sees to make sure you add to your list for visiting and do some planning before your visit to maximize your time.
How Much Does it Cost?
Tickets can be purchased as one day tickets or in a package. The longer the number of days you are visiting the less you will pay per day for the tickets.
One day tickets to the Animal Kingdom will vary based on the time of year, but start at $126.74 for single day ticket. If you are looking for a longer stay, park combinations, and park hopper options visit Disney’s website for package deal pricing.
As with any Disney Park, free transportation is available to the park for Disney Resort guests. Buses are available from the Disney Resorts and from park to park. You should make sure you are leaving time to get to the park, as taking the bus can take anywhere from 5 minutes to 45 minutes to arrive at the park. This will depend on where you are coming from and the crowds.
You can also reach Disney’s Animal Kingdom by car. There is parking available and trams to take you from the parking lot to the park entrance. Find more information on the parking options below.
Parking is available at the Animal Kingdom, with options for standard parking and preferred parking. Standard parking is further away from the park and involves either a long walk or ride on the passenger tram. Preferred parking will get you closer to the gate, but will cost you a bit more.
For guests staying at a Disney World resort, standard parking at the park is included. If you wish to upgrade to the preferred parking you can by paying the difference (about $25).
- Preferred Parking: $45-$50 per day
- Standard Parking: $25 per day
While the operating hours of Disney’s Animal Kingdom vary, the park is generally open from 8am to 6pm. There are special events available with reservation that will allow you to stay in the park after closure and the River of Lights show takes place after the rest of the park has closed.
Extra magic Hours: Extra magic hours are a perk of staying at one of Disney’s on-site hotels. Hotel guests are allowed into the park either before the park opens or after it closes for enjoyment of the rides with less crowds (speaking from experience-these extra magic hours are well worth getting up a little earlier! We were able to do so much in the so little time). Be sure to check the daily park hours for your visit to the park so you don’t miss these extra magic hours.
Fast Pass + is a great service offered to all guests, included in the price of your ticket. For guests who are staying in a Disney World resort fast pass reservations can be made 60 days in advance and for ticket holders staying off grounds reservations can be made 30 days in advance. It is recommended to make your reservations as soon as possible for the best availability.
You can make up to three fast pass reservations at once per day. Once you have used the three fast pass reservations you can then schedule up to three more. For this reason, I would recommend making your fast pass reservations for the morning so you will have the afternoon to make new fast pass reservations.
****Note: Fast pass reservations will be limited on the day of, so don’t expect to get reservations for the best attractions after you have used up your three already made reservations. There will, however, be some availability, so don’t hesitate to make three more reservations.
The Sections of Disney’s Animal Kingdom
The Animal Kingdom has seven distinct areas:
- The Oasis: The entrance section of the Animal Kingdom which leads to the Tree of Life and other sections of the Animal Kingdom. Along the Oasis you will find many gift shops. Also on the Oasis be sure to grab a Wilderness Explorers guide book for the little ones. Find more on the Wilderness Explorers program below.
- Discovery Island: Discovery Island is in the center of the park and holds the Animal Kingdom’s iconic Tree of Life. Also on the island are trails around the tree of life for a nature escape experience and the Its Tough to Be a Bug experience.
- DinoLand USA: DinoLand USA is the dinosaur world of the animal kingdom. Here you will find a few dinosaur themed rides, the bone yard (a playground area with occasional character run-ins), and Donald’s Dino Bash Dance Party.
- Africa: Africa is the African themed section of the park and home to the village of Harambe. In this section you will find the popular Kilimanjaro Safaris and the Lion King performance.
- Asia: The Asian themed section of the park. Here you will find Expedition Everest, the Kali River Rapids, and the Jungle Trek.
- Pandora: The World of Avatar: The newest section of the Animal Kingdom, Pandora takes you into a world of floating islands and colorful lights. In this section you will find two of the Animal Kingdom’s newest, but most popular rides: Avatar Flight of Passage and the Na’vi River Journey.
Must Sees at the Animal Kingdom
This one goes without saying, but one of the main reasons to visit the Animal Kingdom is to see the animals! The Animal Kingdom is home to a wide diversity of animals, from rhinos, elephants, lions, hippos, and gorillas in Africa to tigers and monkeys in Asia and otters and flamingos on Discovery Island. There are also plenty of special experiences that will get you more up close and personal with the animals. Find more on them below.
The Tree of Life
The Tree of Life is one of the most iconic features of the Animal Kingdom. Sitting near the front of the park, the Tree of Life is an artificial, 145 foot tree that contains 325 carvings of living and extinct animal species. Inside the tree sits the theater that is home to Its Tough to Be a Bug, a 4-D show featuring some of your favorites from It’s a Bug’s Life. You can’t visit the Animal Kingdom without coming upon the Tree of Life.
The Kilimanjaro Safaris are one of the top attractions at the Animal Kingdom, especially for those looking for a wild life experience. The Kilimanjaro Safaris, located in the Africa section of the park, will make you feel like you’ve been transported to an African Safari. Hop on the safari vehicle as you are taken through the Savannah, where you will be able to observe many animal species. Be aware that sightings vary as the animals are permitted to wander the area as they desire.
Kali River Rapids
The Kali River Rapids prove to be one of the best attractions in the Animal Kingdom after exploring the park on a hot Florida day. The Kali River Rapids will take you through Jungle landscapes on a raft (and you will be splashed!)
The perfect ride for those looking for a thrill, Expedition Everest is a roller coaster that will take you through the Himalayans while trying to escape the Yeti.
- The Oasis
- Animal Exhibits
- Wilderness Exhibits
- Discovery Island
- It’s Tough to Be a Bug
- Tree of Life
- Discovery Island Trails
- DinoLand USA
- Chester and Hester’s Dino-rama
- Primeval Whirl
- Triceratop Spin
- Kilimanjaro Safaris
- Gorilla Falls Exploration Trail
- Rafiki’s Planet Watch
- Maharajah Jungle Trek
- Kali River Rapids
- Expedition Everest
- Pandora: World of Avatar
- Avatar: Flight of Passage
- Na’vi River Journey
Restaurants to Experience
The Rainforest Cafe is located near the entrance to the Animal Kingdom. The décor of this restaurant is the major draw. The restaurant will take you into a jungle experience with animated animals, singing birds, moving elephants, waterfalls, and thunder storms. The Rainforest Café offers American style food. The restaurant is also home to the Magic Mushroom Bar, featuring the Mongoose Mai Tai and Cheetah Rita for those over 21.
The Tusker House is Disney’s Animal Kingdom only character dining experience. It is located in the African section of the park. The Tusker House is an all you can eat buffet with a mix of African cuisine and traditional American food, making it the perfect spot for even the picky eaters. A major draw of this dining experience is the character meet and greets. While dining you will be greeted by Daisy Duck, Donald Duck, Goofy and Mickey Mouse, all in their safari outfits.
Pizzafari is a quick service restaurant serving Italian style food, including pizzas, salads, pasta, desserts. The rooms are decorated in colorful murals and mosaics, a big hit with the kids. While the food at this restaurant isn’t anything to brag about, it is a decent quick service meal that even picky eaters can enjoy.
***There is a River of Lights Dining Package available with two restaurant options. You can choose between the Tusker House Restaurant and Tiffins Restaurant. For the Tusker House Restaurant you can choose from any of the meals, but you have to arrive at least two and a half hours prior to the show. At Tiffins you can choose between lunch and dinner. The Tusker House is a buffet style, while Tiffins will give you a choice of an appetizer, entrée, and dessert.
Tusker House Prices
Breakfast: $50/adults $32/children ages 3-9
Lunch/Dinner: $63/adults $41/children ages 3-9
Tiffins Restaurant Prices
Lunch/Dinner: $68/adults, $26/children ages 3-9
Must Try Snacks at Disney’s Animal Kingdom
Found at Pongu Pongu in Pandora, this slushee drink is layered with pear and apple limeade and topped with passion fruit boba balls.
Dole Whip Float
Found at Tamu Tamu Refreshments in Africa, the Dole Whip Float is the traditional Disney dole whip, but with a little extra treat. The dole whip is mixed with your choice of coconut or dark rum.
Colossal Cinnamon Roll
The colossal cinnamon roll, found at the Kusafiri Bakery in Africa, is a cinnamon bun shaped as Mickey Mouse and drizzled with icing.
The Pongu Lumpia, found at Pongu Pongu in Pandora , is a pineapple cream cheese spring roll that is dusted with sugar.
Mickey Mouse Ice Cream Bar
This is a classic in any Disney park. The Mickey Mouse Ice Cream bar is a simple vanilla dipped with chocolate ice cream bar in the shape of a Mickey head. This can be found in varying locations throughout the park.
Entertainment at Disney’s Animal Kingdom
Festival of the Lion King
The Festival of the Lion King is a live musical performance that boasts some of the Lion’s King most popular songs and scenes. The show uses a combination of color, feathers, beads, fringe and costumes and gets the audience involved in the show. One of the main features of the show are the floats featuring favorite Lion King characters such as Simba and Pumba. Any Lion King fan will love this.
Finding Nemo: The Musical
Finding Nemo is a live musical performance that transports viewers into the sea using a combination of graphics and live actors. The performance combines high quality graphic backgrounds with large “puppet” characters to tell the story of Nemo. The performers frequently step off stage and wander into the audience. Finding Nemo: The Musical is a hit for any age.
Rivers of Light
Rivers of Light is the end of the night show at Disney’s Animal Kingdom that lights up the night. The lagoon, found near Asia, Dino Land USA, and Discovery Island, will fill with images of nature through water screens, fountains, lasers, music, boats, floats, and fire. The show’s purpose is portray the connection between nature, wild life, and humans. While Rivers of Light is not the most popular show at Disney World, it is worth seeing at least once.
Up! A Great Bird Adventure:
Previously known as Flights of Wonder, Up! A Great Bird Adventure is located in the Asia section of the Animal Kingdom. During the performance you can learn about a number of bird species and will be able to see them interacting with the hosts. Also during the show special appearances will be made by Disney characters Russell and Dug.
Donald’s Dino Bash:
Found in DinoLand USA, Donald’s Dino Bash is a dance party with special guests Chip and Dale in their best dinosaur costumes. The party is complete with a host, music, dancing, fog, and bubbles. The kids will love dancing with two of their favorite Disney characters. The Dino Bash takes place at select times throughout the day, be sure to check for times on the day of your visit.
Donald’s Dino-Bash Dance Party.
Tree of Life Awakening
Every night the Tree of Life comes alive with animal sounds and light effects. The awakening occurs approximately every 10 minutes and is quite the sight to see.
Characters at Disney’s Animal Kingdom
- Discovery Island
- Pocahontas at Character Landing
- Russel and Dug
- Tarzan and Jane at times
- Micky and Minnie at Adventurers’ Outpost
- DinoLand USA
- Chip and Dale, dressed in their dinosaur costumes, can be found at Donald’s Dino Bash Dance Party (guests will even get the chance to dance with them!)
- Donald, Daisy,and Pluto found alternating at Donald’s Dino-Bash
- Tusker House: Mickey, Goofy, Donald, and Daisy (this is a character dining experience)
- Rafiki at Rafiki’s Planet Watch
- Baloo and King Louie: At Upcountry Landing
Kevin-meet Kevin, the gigantic bird from Up. Kevin appears as a roaming character, going from Discovery Island to Asia and then to Africa.
Shopping at the Animal Kingdom
Windtraders is the only gift shop located in Pandora. Windtraders offers lots of unique Avatar themed souvenirs, including t-shirts, hats, posters, mugs, and unique to this shop Na’vi tails, light up flip flops, and most notable guests can adopt their own pet banshee.
The Mombasa Marketplace is an open air market found in the village of Harambe in the African section of the park. The marketplace offers a variety of unique souvenirs, including artwork, clothing, toys, collectibles, and wine.
Chester & Hester’s Dinosaur Treasures
Chester and Hester’s Dinosaur Treasures is another unique shop that can be found in DinoLand USA. You can find dinosaur themed souvenirs, including clothing, toys, accessories, collectables, and decor.
Serka Zong Bazaar
The Serka Zong Bazaar is located in the Asia section of the park near the entrance of Expedition Everest. The shop offers many Asian themed souvenirs and is the must stop shop for souvenirs related to the Himalayan Mountains, Yeti, and Expedition Everest.
Unique Experiences at Disney’s Animal Kingdom
Disney’s Animal Kingdom offers many unique experiences to get you up close with the animals, private or small group tours to experience the park at your pace, and plenty of great food experiences!
Rivers of Light Dessert Party
The Rivers of Light Dessert Party is the perfect combination of sweet treats and great viewing for the end of the night show: Rivers of Light. Before viewing the show you will be able to help yourself to a selection of Disney desserts and beverages (alcoholic and non-alcoholic). You will then be brought to a reserved section for viewing of Rivers of Lights. This experience is $89/adult and $53/child.
Savor the Savanna: Evening Safari Experience
The Savor the Savanna experience is available with special reservations. You will be given a privately guided tour through the Animal Kingdom’s Harambe Wildlife Reserve. During the experience you will also be provided with African-inspired cuisine and a combination of wines and beers. The experience is $169/person.
Ultimate Nights of Adventure VIP Tour
The Ultimate Nights of Adventure VIP tour is a four hour guided night tour of the Animal Kingdom, during which you will be able to experience many of the popular rides, including Expedition Everest, Kilimanjaro Safaris, Avatar Flight of Passage, Na’vi River Journey, Dinosaur, and the Rivers of Light show. Also included in the tour are snacks and beverages (alcoholic for those over 21). Tickets to this event are very pricey, at $249/person.
Up Close with Rhinos
Up Close with Rhinos is a unique experience that will allow you to get up close in a special viewing area to the Animal Kingdom’s white rhinos. Your tour guide will also give you an overview of the animal, its habitat, and threats. This is one of Disney’s most inexpensive special tours at $40/person.
Caring for Giants
The Caring for Giants experience will get you within 80-100 feet of the Animal Kingdom’s elephants. During this experience an animal specialist with talk to you about the species and the day to day care of the animals. An African cultural specialist will also be there to discuss Disney’s efforts at preserving these animals in their natural habitat in Africa. This experience is $30/person.
Wild Africa Trek
The Wild Africa Trek experience is a three hour experience that will have you through a grassland path, crossing a rope bridge, and enjoying a ride through the park’s African safari. After completing the tour you will have you will be treated to some mouth watering African snacks. There is a morning and mid day option for this tour. The price ranges from $139.00 – 249.00.
The Wilderness Explorers
The Wilderness Explorers program is a free program that will transform your little ones into explorers within the Animal Kingdom. The program is a scavenger hunt type program and as the kids complete the tasks they will be awarded with a badge (sticker). Troop Leaders and Badge Guides are stationed around the park and will help the kids complete the tasks at each station with the activities geared towards the child’s age. This program is a lot of fun for the whole family.
Special Events at the Animal Kingdom
Earth Day Celebrations
The Animal Kingdom is the perfect park for Earth Day Celebrations. With nature and wild life central to the theme of the Animal Kingdom, it only makes sense that a celebration of our connection with Earth and wild life. During the celebrations you will find the Photo Ark Exhibition, special guest conservation specialist speakers, a special dining experience with Joe Rohde (A Disney imagineer), The Animation Experience at Conservation Station (drawing experience), and special treats.
Photopass/ Memory Maker
Photopass is a service that Disney offers to capture photos of your whole family on your Disney vacation. There are several photopass photographers set up throughout the park (character meet and greets and other select spots) where you can get your photo taken and then almost instantly they will show up on your photopass account. This can be accessed online or through the My Disney Experience App.
For me, photos are one of the most important souvenirs you can get from a destination, so I always choose to go with Disney photopass. You don’t have to worry about carrying a camera around and capturing the photos and another plus-you can get in the photo as well. Photopass can be purchased in advance for $169, or the day of for $199. It is important to note that if purchasing for the discounted price in advance you will not be able to use it for the three days following the purchase, so you will want to do this far in advance for your trip.
Important Tips You Need to Know
- If you book a breakfast reservation at the Tusker House you will find yourself entering the park before opening.
- Mickey, Minnie, Goofy, and Donald do an opening performance at the Tree of Life first thing in the morning
- You can find a less crowded entrance to the Animal Kingdom through the Rainforest Cafe gift shop.
- Visit Pandora at night time to see the area all lit up. It is magical!
- Avoid the hottest times of day for the Kilimanjaro safaris. The animals tend to be less active.
- Take the Maharajah Jungle Trek at night around sunset. The animals, especially the tigers, will be more active.
- Take the hidden walkway to Pandora. Past the Lion King theater and bathroom building you will find a less crowded bridge that will take you into Pandora.
- Download the My Disney Experience App. The My Disney Experience App will allow you to make fast pass reservations and dining reservations, as well as view wait times, character locations, photo pass locations, and can serve as your map to the Animal Kingdom.
- Bring plenty of fluids! You are allowed to bring beverages into the park as long as they are non-alcoholic and not glass bottles, so pack your bag with plenty of fluids. You will need them in the Florida heat and it will save you money in the long run.
- Head to the back of the park-when entering the park upon opening always head to the back of the park. A lot of the crowds will be staying towards the front as people tend to jump on the first attractions they see. This will make the back attractions less crowded first thing in the morning and allow you to do more.
- You need to do some planning. While going to a theme park does not generally require much advanced planning Disney World is a different story. There is so much to do and see that you need to spend some time planning in order to maximize your time.
- Plan to arrive an hour to an hour and a half before park opening. It will take time to park, get transportation to the front gate, time to get through security, and time to get through the ticket turnstiles.