Disney’s Animal Kingdom is the newest of the four theme parks at Walt Disney World in Lake Buena Vista, Florida. Its 500 acres are home to more than 1,700 animals making it the largest animal-themed park in the world. Visitors to the park experience first-hand Disney’s commitment to conservation and the preservation of wildlife through attractions, rides, shows, and entertainment.
Most visitors to the Animal Kingdom can enjoy the park in a single day, but animal and nature enthusiasts may want to plan a second trip. With 500 acres divided into seven areas, guests should plan to do a lot of walking, so wearing comfortable shoes and clothing is a good plan. On most days, the park opens at 9 a.m.
The Oasis is the first encounter all visitors pass when entering the park. It is an area of tropical garden paths teeming with wildlife, including wallabies, exotic birds, and more. Shady, lush, and colorful, a wandering stroll through this area is the perfect way to end a day at the Animal Kingdom.
Many guests immediately move forward into the park via the Oasis and begin their adventure in Discovery Island. To avoid crowds, save the leisurely stroll through the Oasis for later, cross to Discovery Island and follow the pathways to Dinoland U.S.A. the first park area to the left.
Dinoland is home to Dino-Sue, a 13-foot tall, 40-foot long replica of the most complete T-Rex ever found. She lives at the Dino Institute near the Dinosaur ride entrance. After grabbing a picture with Dino-Sue, bravely venture onto Dinosaur the ride. A thrill ride for big kids, teens, and adults, riders are transported back in time for a close encounter with some not-so-friendly dinosaurs. Portions of the ride are very loud, are in darkness, and feature scary dinosaur moments.
After Dinosaur, take a spin on the Primeval Whirl. This fast-paced ride will have you laughing and gasping at the same time. Younger children will enjoy the TriceraTop Spin, a ride similar to the Dumbo ride in the Magic Kingdom.
Parents should plan to allow plenty of time for their children to play in The Boneyard, a dinosaur playground for preschoolers through school age children. Guests can also wander through the Cretaceous Trail, a lush footpath through a prehistoric garden area located near The Boneyard.
Don’t miss, Finding Nemo The Musical a 30-minute musical performance inspired by the Disney-Pixar movie. It is located in the Theater in the Wild, near the pathway to Asia.
Guests can take the pathway located near the Theater in the Wild, cross over the lagoon, and arrive in Asia. Rising majestically is the centerpiece of Asia, the amazing Expedition Everest. If meeting the Yeti is too intense, guests can stroll through the area enjoying the many Himalayan artifacts on display.
Containing some of the park’s best special effects, Expedition Everest is a roller-coaster style ride for big kids, teens, and adults. Thrilling, entertaining, and even educational, Everest is one of the park’s newest attractions so wait times can be long, making the use of a Fast Pass advisable.
On the hottest Florida days, ride the Kali River Rapids to cool off but only if you’re prepared to get wet. To dry off after the Rapids take the Maharajah Jungle Trek, a walking tour and great way to see native Asian wildlife up close including three Asian tigers. The tigers tend to be more active in the morning hours.
Asia’s must-see show is the amazing Flights of Wonder, a 25-minute live bird show featuring eagles, hawks, and other birds of prey. The seating is outdoors, but has shady covering. Be aware, the birds do zoom over the audience closely.
It may be the farthest area in walking distance to the park’s entrance, but Africa is one park area no guest will want to miss.
The number one must-see in the Animal Kingdom is the Kilimanjaro Safari. Ideal for all ages, the safari allows guests to see giraffes, lions, and elephants in their natural habitat. Other animal sightings might include antelope, black rhinos, and even a cheetah. Lucky safari guests might get to snap a picture of a baby elephant drinking from the watering hole. The ride can be a bit bumpy but the sights seen and memories made are worth every jolt and jounce.
Guests can take the Wildlife Express Train from the Harambe, Africa station to Rafiki’s Planet Watch. Trains leave every 5 to 7 minutes and provide riders a behind the scenes look at the housing and care of several Animal Kingdom animals.
A great way to stretch your legs after the Safari and Train Ride is a walk through the Pangani Forest Exploration Trail. The walking trail offers guests the opportunity to see everything from meerkats to hippos.
Rafiki’s Planet Watch.
Only accessible via the Wildlife Express Train, this area provides guests the opportunity to experience conservation hands-on. Visitors with children should not miss this vibrant, interactive area especially the Affection Station, a petting zoo for children of all ages. Habitat Habit! is a fun way to explore wildlife trail and get close to the entertaining tamarins. This area is teeming with amazing photo opportunities.
Don’t miss the Conservation Station. Within air-conditioned exhibits, guests of all ages can meet animal handlers, learn about the veterinary care of the park’s animals, as well as the many conservation issues our planet faces every day.
The center hub of the park, Discovery Island is home to Animal Kingdom’s most iconic image, the Tree of Life. The Tree stands 14 stories tall and measures 50 feet wide. Guests can admire the more than 300 carved images of animals that adorn this stunning tree. Visitors can take several photos from multiple angles and still see something new. Postcard images of the Tree are available in several park gift shops. Make sure to roam the Discovery Island Trails that surround the base of the Tree. Here guests can get close to lemurs, cockatoos, and even a Galapagos tortoise. At the base of the Tree enter into It’s Tough to Be a Bug!, an 8 minute 3-D movie inspired by the Disney-Pixar movie. Hosted by the lovable Flik, it’s a show for kids of all ages.
This is “the” place to meet, greet, hug, and get autographs from all your favorite Disney characters. At the Character Greeting Trails, everyone can meet Mickey and Minnie dressed in their finest safari gear as well as all their Disney friends. Appearance times are listed available at the park entrance as well as near the entrance of Camp Minnie-Mickey.
If guests want to choose only one show experience, it must be The Festival of the Lion King. Inspired by the movie, this is a 30-minute Broadway style extravaganza in an air-conditioned theatre. All the favorite Lion King characters are there plus stilt walkers, puppet masters, dancers, singers, acrobats, and more. Stunning, spectacular, and presented in the most vibrant Disney fashion.
Dining in the Animal Kingdom offers several theme restaurants like Tusker House in Africa. This fantastic restaurant is home to Donald’s Safari Breakfast in the morning and African-influenced cuisine at lunch and dinner. Other fun eateries include the Yak & Yeti in Asia, Pizzafari in Discovery Island, and Restaurantosauras in Dinoland. Near the park’s entrance is the famous Rainforest Cafe.
Before leaving the park, choose souvenirs from Africa, Asia, or even the Himalayas at shops like the Mombassa Marketplace, Serka Zong Bazaar, or the Ziwani Traders.
A visit to Disney’s Animal Kingdom offers more than just looking at animals on display. It is an interactive experience and multi-cultural immersion presented with the showmanship and magic that is trademark Disney.