Disney’s Animal Kingdom theme park at Walt Disney World is a favorite of many Disney guests. It took me a couple of visits to really get into this park, though. I went completely unprepared the first time, and it made for a lot of walking and my family leaving the park feeling like we really hadn’t done much.
Dozens of visits later, it’s one of my family’s favorites, too. Here are my best tips for visiting Disney’s Animal Kingdom:
While many die-hard Disney fans insist on being at every park before it opens, I am of the softer approach. If your family is not an early-rising one, don’t push yourself, except for on Animal Kingdom day. Animal Kingdom closes early, so it’s best to be there when it opens to enjoy a full day.
2. Be there for “rope drop.”
All Disney parks “drop the rope” to open a park with some sort of ceremony and fanfare. Animal Kingdom’s rope drop is one of my favorites. To see it, you will want to be at the park 20-30 minutes before it opens. You will generally be let through the turnstiles 15 minutes before park opening, and the show will start 10 minutes before the park’s opening.
3. Fastpass Everest / Ride Kilimanjaro Safaris first.
And here’s where the controversy sets in. There’s the Expedition Everest camp and the Kilimanjaro Safaris camp. The Expedition Everest camp argues that the ride is the most crowded, so should be ridden first. The Kilimanjaro Safaris camp says that on a morning safari you will see more animals because they are most active while the weather is cool and many of them tend to sleep the afternoon away in the shade. I say there is a way to get the best of both worlds. When the rope drops, have one person in your party hustle to Expedition Everest carrying everyone in your party’s tickets and pick up Fastpasses for everyone. If that person heads through Dinoland USA, they will beat most of the crowds going toward the attraction through the Asia section. The rest of your party can head toward Kilimanjaro Safaris and meet the Fastpass runner there to get in line and ride the safari. Something you should know about the Fastpass: Once you have it, you can use it all day. You can’t use it until after the start of the window printed on the Fastpass, but you CAN use it after the time window ends.
4. Or, use the Everest single-rider line.
If you don’t have kids with you who want to ride, adults and teens may want to use the single-rider line at Expedition Everest to reduce waits. This line is rarely more than a 15-20 minute wait and is often a walk-on. The only disadvantage is that you don’t get to sit with your companions.
5. Try not to zig-zag through the park.
There’s a lot of ground to cover at Animal Kingdom. After the initial rush to get on one or two of the more popular rides, plan to see the park in a loop or everyone will be exhausted before lunch. After that safari, you can head through Asia to Everest and on around, but I would recommend heading through Africa to Discovery Island, and then on to Camp Minnie and Mickey and through Dinoland USA. You will be going the opposite direction of many park-goers. If you arrived at opening, you should have plenty of time to see it all.
The shows are the real must-sees at Animal Kingdom, so try to plan your day around show times. Don’t miss “Festival of the Lion King,” which is THE best theme park show ever, in my humble opinion. If you can’t catch the first Lion King show of the day, plan to go to the last one. “Finding Nemo” is also excellent, and the bird show “Flights of Wonder” is very good, as well. And don’t overlook some of the trails you can take to see animal habitats. The Discovery Island Trails around the Tree of Life and the Maharajah Jungle Trek in Asia are my family’s favorites. We like to stop and chat with the cast members stationed on the trails. They know a lot about the animals and often have cute stories to tell about their personalities.
7. Think twice about Kali River Rapids and Dinosaur.
Two rides at Animal Kingdom give me pause. You can leave Kali River Rapids drenched. I mean soaked down to your undies and walking around in soggy shoes and socks drenched. If you’re going to ride it, just go in with your eyes open about that. You may want to bring a change of clothes or at least flip flops and a poncho to put on before the ride. As for Dinosaur, it is loud, jerky and scary. Every mom I have ever talked to says her kids are way more scared of Dinosaur than of Everest. Just keep that in mind. My 8-year-old is still not good with loud noises and chooses not to ride this one.
8. Try to eat lunch at off-peak times.
While this is true of most theme parks, it is especially true at Animal Kingdom. Stop for a snack at 10:30 or so, and then try to hold off on eating until around 2 p.m. You’ll be rewarded with way shorter lines and more empty tables no matter where you choose to eat. If you have advance dining reservations at a table service restaurant at the park, you can ignore this, of course, and blissfully be led to your table at noon. (For more Animal Park foodie advice, see my post on where to eat at Animal Kingdom.)
9. Animal Kingdom is a great park for character photos.
You will often find shorter lines at Animal Kingdom for character greetings than at any other Walt Disney World park. Take advantage of that here.
10. Stay until the park closes.
Because this park closes earlier than other Walt Disney World parks, it also clears out earlier. This has never really made sense to me, but that’s the way it goes. Crowds start getting lighter at Animal Kingdom around 3 p.m. or 3:30 p.m. So stay through, and you should be able to hop on a ride or two that you want to see again, go to a final show or let your kids spend some more time playing the drums in the Africa section with ever-dwindling crowds.