Disney’s Animal Kingdom is an absolute wonder that immerses guests in the lands of Asia, Africa, and much more. Located in Walt Disney World, it is relatively young, opening in 1998. Other areas include the Oasis, Pandora- The World of Avatar, Discovery Island, and DinoLand U.S.A. It is lush, bursting with life, well cared for, and offers a diverse range of shows and attractions.
Animal Kingdom is my absolute favorite park, surpassing even Magic Kingdom. I am, of course, not alone in this. However, for many, this park is far from a favorite. That is fine. Everyone’s tastes, and what they are looking for when visiting Walt Disney World, is bound to vary. But many guests still see Animal Kingdom as a half-day park, or do not see it as worthwhile on a short visit, or as a park that could compete with parks such as Epcot in filling a whole day.
However, with the diversity of attractions, shows, restaurants, and other immersive activities, it is quite easy to fill a full day in Animal Kingdom. It can be done without exhausting yourself or ‘just looking at animals all day’.
Skeptical that it is possible? If so, let’s get on our inter-resort transportation, and head on an adventure together.
We are in Disney World, so we need to be quite flexible in working with park hours, show times, weather, and more. But, by using a general outline, you and your family can have a full, eclectic, and truly magical day at Walt Disney World’s Animal Kingdom.
In crafting this day, I am obliged to make some assumptions. This is an itinerary that assumes that one is staying on property, has three FastPasses which have been booked in advance, and that you have either the Quick Service or Regular Disney Dining Plan.
We are starting this day relatively early, as Animal Kingdom is a bit of distance from much of the rest of Disney World. Let’s assume it is not Extra Magic Hour, and that the park opens at 9am. Coming from most every resort on property, you’ll probably want to be up and waiting for a bus by 8:15am. We’ll hop on our bus at the Wilderness Lodge with about a 15-20 commute ahead of us. If we wait ten minutes for a bus, we should arrive by 8:40am, with time to get through security and wait for rope drop.
Where exactly one can go in a park prior to park opening can vary widely, but, on my last visit, guests were permitted to walk past the Tree of Life, and up to the entrances to the various lands. With crowds continuing to flock to Pandora- World of Avatar, other areas of Animal Kingdom should be accessible with relative ease.
Heading back to Africa, we can first hop on Kilimanjaro Safaris, with a length of 18 minutes and 30 seconds. Once that attraction is complete, one might be fortunate enough to be able to ride again with a minimal wait. Whether you decide to ride again or not, the entrance to the next attraction, the Gorilla Falls Exploration Trail is right next to the exit of Kilimanjaro Safaris. This trail is an excellent companion to the safari. On this walking trail, there is a wide variety of animals such as gorillas, gazelles, hippos, and okapis. How long you spend depends on your own taste, as well as the animal viewing opportunities that are available. It is probably about a 20-30 minute experience.
It is now time for your first FastPass (FP), and you head over to Asia. With a 10:00am-11:00am Expedition Everest FP, you should arrive at the beginning or comfortably within your window. At 2 minutes 51 seconds, this attraction is somewhat brief, but on the intense side. For a member of your party who is unable or unwilling to ride, a delightful ‘Monkey City’ is nearby, and makes for some pleasant viewing.
If the simian denizens are not in a lively mood, then there is the Maharajah Jungle Trek. This is a walking trail through an Indian temple, which has been slowly returning to nature. Animals that you might see include bats, tapirs, Komodo dragons, tigers, and much more. In my own opinion, while both trails are great, this one is quite a bit more sumptuous, and includes a more interesting mix of animals. The Maharajah Jungle Trek is probably about a 25-minute experience, but, if the tigers begin playing, it could take longer.
Now, at this point, we are going to have to start doing some capricious and arbitrary guesses in terms of wait times. But, as midday begins in earnest, it is time to begin to head to the center of the park. On the way, a quick ride (with perhaps a fifteen-minute wait) on a DinoLand U.S.A. attraction might be in order. Two “off-the-shelf” attractions, Primeval Whirl and TriceraTop Spin, will hopefully offer a brief wait and a few minutes of enjoyment. Any children in your group? They may enjoy some play in the Boneyard, or a meeting a character at Donald’s Dino-Bash.
Depending on wait times and the pace at which you choose to go about your day, it’s likely right around 11:00-11:30am. Stomachs are probably beginning to rumble at this point. As you leave DinoLand U.S.A., and head toward the Discovery Island section of the park, several excellent quick service food options await. These include Flame Tree Barbecue and Pizzafari, which are located near Discovery Island. Of course, many other excellent quick service food options, such as Harambe Market, exist. The two indicated above are great dining choices right near where we have ended up. Let’s say we choose to enjoy lunch at Flame Tree Barbecue, and take our time just a bit. We have just done a lot of walking, after all.
It is about 12:00pm, and we have done a massive amount today, especially pertaining to the world of live animals. But your months of planning, researching, and scouring the DisBoards have paid off, and you were able to score a 12:15-1:15pm FastPass for Flight of Passage. Therefore, we are now going to head to the fictional world of the Na’vi and Pandora- The World of Avatar (Pandora). Arguably one of Disney World’s greatest attractions, this is essentially guaranteed to cause a high degree of enjoyment. Unfortunately, not all guests are able to ride this attraction either due to size or motion sickness, however, there is more than enough to look at in Pandora while others in your party go on the attraction.
Pandora- The World of Avatar includes a merchandise location, Windtraders, which is also accessible as one exits Avatar Flight of Passage. The Quick Service and Regular Dining plans currently offer two snacks a day, and a Night Blossom at Pongu Pongu would be perfect. The Night Blossom is a cold and extremely fruity drink.
While enjoying a Night Blossom, marveling at the sights of Pandora- World of Avatar are great, you have some time to cool down and relax before your 3:15-4:15pm DINOSAUR FastPass.
An indoor show would be a great way to spend a scorching afternoon. Show schedules vary, so we will now need to do some serious estimation, but a general plan can intelligently be compiled. Two shows, Finding Nemo – The Musical and Festival of the Lion King are great choices. Along the way, stopping to see It’s Tough to be a Bug would be a good option. Depending on show times, you may have some time to browse the Discovery Island trails around the Tree of Life with animals such as flamingos, parrots, and kangaroos. We have a FastPass for DINOSAUR, so heading to Finding Nemo – The Musical would make the most sense as the show and theatre are darker, cooler, and closer. But heading to Festival of the Lion King would not be an extravagant walk.
Depending on what you have chosen to do, you should have time to browse some of the merchandise locations, if you have not already. Please remember that 3:15pm DINOSAUR FastPass. This is another attraction which can be quite jarring for many guests, and unfortunately, alternatives are not readily available. Maybe those in your party could go see another show while you ride? Or go to a character meet and greet location? A gentler riding experience could be offered if your group splits, and some could use their third FastPass for Kali River Rapids.
Evening & Dinner
It’s approximately 4:00pm at this point, and I am sure most people in your party, and possibly yourself, are getting hot and tired. Luckily, over the course of your fictional day, you checked the My Disney Experience app and saw that there is a 25 minute wait for the sometimes criticized Na’vi River Journey.
Once you are done completing this journey (if you so chose) located in Pandora- The World of Avatar, you probably really need rest and relaxation. Therein lies many possibilities in terms of dinner.
For the Quick Service Dining Plan, Satu’li Canteen offers interesting twists on traditional food, and the previously mentioned Flame Tree Barbecue or Pizzafari offer very good meals as well. On the Table Service Dining plan, Tusker House includes character dining, and the Rainforest Café provides an environment friendly to children.
In no way do I wish to discourage those options, but we are now pushing eight hours in a hot, crowded park. Therefore, I would like to boldly recommend hopping on a bus and taking a trip to Animal Kingdom Lodge for a meal at either Boma, Sanaa, or The Mara.
Animal Kingdom Lodge absolutely respects and continues the theming of Disney’s Animal Kingdom. It is a few minutes’ bus ride away, and offers excellent dining options. This can provide the break that will be much needed by this point in the day. Boma is a table service buffet, Sanaa is a table service restaurant, and The Mara is a quick service dining location. The resort is darker, and is relatively calm. While you do need to leave the park to go to Animal Kingdom Lodge, it will hardly feel like you have left. Both traditional and exotic food tastes are respected on these menus. In a group of strictly adults, perhaps enjoy an adult beverage at the Victoria Falls Lounge. Because this resort is somewhat isolated, perhaps you have never been here before. It is a visit which is easily worthwhile, and it provides a break for the last few hours you have remaining in Animal Kingdom.
What time it is currently depends on where you went to dinner and how long that took. If we assume that you headed to the Animal Kingdom Lodge and enjoyed Sanaa (and engaged in some animal viewing), is it probably about 6:30-8:00pm by the time you return to Animal Kingdom. As of summer 2019, this park’s nighttime show, Rivers of Light: We Are One, is performed most days at around 8:45pm and 10:00pm.
You and your party have done a lot today. Maybe you decide to not wait for Rivers of Light and head back to your resort. I would assert that by bowing out at this point, you have had a full day. Who knows how many miles you have walked, and how many remarkable animals you have seen.
If not, Rivers of Light and the bioluminescence of Pandora- The World of Avatar await. Filling the time until then is a minor challenge. If you are fortunate, perhaps Flight of Passage has a 60 minute or less wait. Is there a particular merchandise location that you were not able to go to earlier? Any characters you or your children might prefer to meet? Plenty of options exist until (and after) the sun goes down over Animal Kingdom. Once the park closes, most probably at 9:00pm, it is time, with sore feet, to head back to the bus and to the wilderness of the Pacific Northwest.
The above is simply an example of one full day at Animal Kingdom. Again, the precise timeline may differ based on how long everything took and the pace of yourself and your party. Depending on age, fitness level, and medical conditions, it may not be possible to complete a full day in any park. The day you go could be 100 degrees or pouring rain. But prior to dismissing the park as a part-day experience or a glorified zoo, please remember all it has to offer.
I certainly hope you had a truly magical day at Walt Disney World’s Animal Kingdom. Perhaps you got a great view of tigers at play or enjoyed some delicious barbecue with Expedition Everest in full view. This park showcases everything a Disney park should be at its absolute finest with its innovative attractions, natural environments, and clean, family-friendly entertainment. As we have seen, with some planning and strategizing, it can easily be a full day park. Hopefully it will have a commanding presence within the itinerary of your next Walt Disney World vacation.