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Today I am going to take you through Disney’s Animal Kingdom. Think zoo a la Disney! It is a really neat park that is not to be missed. This park won’t take as long to see as the others, which is good because it closes earlier too (I think it has to do with taking care of the animals). With that being said, if you want to see all the shows you will need to plan your day a little bit to get it all in.
NOTE: This park, more so than the others, gets HOT! I am not sure if it is the construction of the theming, less trees, or what – but just know it gets HOT!
What our day at the Animal Kingdom looks like. . .
We usually do the Donald's Safari Breakfast at Tusker House
- We get the slot 1 hour before the park opens (Note: we try to do this park on the day with evening magic hours/ not morning magic hours as then our breakfast would be during magic hours)
- This way we get a hearty breakfast, see characters first thing, and are at the back of the park (by the VERY popular Kilimanjaro Safaris) when the park opens – that gets CROWDED)
- Note: by starting this way you will miss the opening park ‘ceremony’ – Each park does this about 10 minutes before the park opens. It is a short thing where a couple characters come out & pretty much say have a good day, there is a short theme song on the loud speakers and they count down – cute, but I wouldn’t change our plans for this.
Since we are already at the back when the park opens we are just enough ahead of the crowd! We get a Fast pass for Kilimanjaro Safari and ride it immediately. This is an AMAZING ride! You will go on a bumpy jeep (there is a reason expectant mothers shouldn’t ride!) through the safari. Every time you go is different as the animals are allowed to roam. If you want to see the animals up close & more active go FIRST THING!! We got amazingly close to Elephants (so much I was surprised – but don’t worry Disney has a vey well hidden barrier to keep the animals at a safe distance). This will take about 15 minutes. (Note: If you brought a stroller watch Disney at its finest –they take your stroller from you in line and it will magically appear at the exit for you! But make sure to take your valuables with you just in case). If lines are short you may consider riding it twice!
Nearby is the Pangani Forest Exploration Trail Walking Tour. Take 15 minutes to walk through to see naked mole rats burrow, birds, hippos, meerkats, and my favorite – Gorillas!
We skip Rafiki’s Planet Watch at this point. If we have time later in the day we take the train back. The 15 minute each way train ride is relaxing and scenic and you will see various characters (possibly Jimmeny Cricket, Pocahontas, Rafikki, Pinocchio, etc.) and there is a petting area, but it will eat up about an hour of your day.
You might see Baloo & King Louie (from Jungle Book) or Flik & Fiona (A Bug’s Life). To the right is also a WONDERFUL place to take a picture with the iconic tree the park is known for. You will probably find a Disney Photographer there.
You can always have them take your picture using your camera too!!I recommend having them take your picture & using the Photo pass. Why? It costs nothing to take the picture. Then, heaven forbid something happens to your camera, you have back-ups!! Or in case you weren’t smiling or the picture was not in focus or what-not. Isn’t it nice to know there is another choice! If you are interested in buying the Photo pass CD – BUY IT BEFORE your trip for $99 instead of the $149 it will cost you afterwards. Afraid you won’t like a picture, they will give you your money back if you are not satisfied!! The CD includes EVERY picture from Photo pass Photographers at all 4 parks plus some freebies of the characters they throw in there. There is a release on the CD saying you own the rights to those pictures and can print & use in Christmas card, etc.
If you are interested in seeing Flights of Wonder (bird show) note the show times to come back later. We’ve never cared enough to carve out 25+ minutes for this show.
At this point you will be in Asia. If you have thrill seekers in your group, you will want to send one person over (with park tickets) to get Fast passes to ride Expedition Everest. This is AWESOME!! The theming starts in line and is beautifully carried throughout. I LOVED that it went backwards – the ride does not disappoint! My 6 year old LOVED it. (Note: you need to be 44” tall to ride) There is a great spot to watch family members on the ride! If there is only one member of your group who wants to ride ask for the single passenger entrance and expect a VERY short wait!!
Now on to Kali River Rapids. This is a fun boat ride whose main purpose (if you ask me) is to get you soaking wet. It is much appreciated on a hot day! (Note: you need to be 38” tall to ride) The theming in line is beautiful and you feel like you are on the mountain in Tibet. The ride itself, like I said, is about getting wet! Some folks bring ponchos and what-not, but let’s just face it – you are going to get WET!! There is a storage in the middle with a lid for phones, backpacks, etc. You MUST wear your shoes to ride!
Maharajah Jungle Trek 15 minute walking tour nearby where you will see tigers, Komodo dragon, birds, and deer.
Make sure to break for lunch – it’s not just kids that need to refuel and sit down for a couple minutes. You can grab Yak & Yeti nearby in Asia or go to the Flame Tree BBQ in the nearby middle of the park.
It’s probably about 12:30 at this point and you are ready to get out of the HEAT! Walk to the beautiful Tree of Life and observe this 145 foot tall tree incredibly carved with 325 animals. WOW! At the base of the tree is the 8 minute 3D show It’s Tough to be a Bug. I LOVE this show & think it is SO well done. You will see, smell, and feel the excitement (Spoiler alert: You will feel movement in your chair that feels like bugs!) If you have very small or scared children you may need to skip this.
Next up, DinoLand USA. There is a Dumbo style Triceratops ride, a roller coaster, Dino Dig Area (very cool if it’s not too hot), and the Dinosaur ride. You need to be 40” tall to ride, but I want to give you fair warning the the Dinosaur ride is very cool, but VERY scary! It is pretty much just an attempt to scare you and is a little jerky. My 6 year old was scared, and he LOVES thrill rides. There are also carnival type (pay) activities. Honestly, this area just seemed odd to me – like it didn’t fit with Disney.
I also wanted to point out the characters Pooh, Eeyore, and Tigger make appearances just North of DinoLand throughout the afternoon (in case you aren’t planning on seeing them at the Magic Kingdom or at the Crystal Palace character meal).
Make sure you plan to go to the Finding Nemo The Musical show. Times may vary, but aim for the show around 3:15pm. This is one of the lowest attended shows (still VERY full). The other show times you have to line up for an hour before and still may not get in…. for the 3:15pm show you should be there 30 minutes early for a GREAT seat! This 30 minute show is AMAZING! It uses puppets, bubbles, music, lights, and is an amazing show! Don’t miss it!! Plus who doesn’t want to sit in the air conditioning at this point of the day?!
Immediately after the show go through dinosaur land to Discovery Island to catch the 3:45 Mickey’s Jammin Jungle Parade. It is a LOT of fun!
If you are big into seeing characters now’s the time to go to Camp Minnie Mickey to get pictures with some of your favorite characters. There are 4 shelters with different characters in each. Characters vary but you might see Donald, Daisey, Chip & Dale, Goofy, Mickey, Minnie, Winnie the Pooh, Pocahontas, Timon, Baloo, and others.
And you are right in front of the theatre for the AMAZING Lion King Show. I suggest seeing the 4:30pm (or similar) show as it is also the least crowded show. This 30 minute show is filled with amazing music, floats, costumes, acrobatics, audience involvement, and more. It is not to be missed!! (Hint: Have your kids sit towards the isle and front to possibly be picked to participate in the show. My son participated when he was 4 and LOVED it!!)
Depending on the hours when you visit, this may be the end of the day. See –it fills up quickly! If you are lucky and/or planned it well you will be there for evening magic hours and you will have 3 more hours to see your favorites again or check out Rafiki’s Planet Watch. The lines get lighter and lighter throughout magic hours.
As this park closes early it is a great night to swim at your hotel or catch Dinner at the nearby Boma (click to see my review of this scrumptious restaurant).
Park Tidbits & Curiosities:
- Straws are made of paper so that they don’t pose a hazard to the animals
- It gets HOT – make sure to drink lots of fluids!
- There is a LOT of walking in this park – you will want a stroller for kids 4 and under!
- TO maximize your time try to only see unique characters (Bug’s Life, Pocahontas, Jungle Book, Jungle costumed Mickey & friends)
- I try to see this park before the others as there are fewer rides here. If my kids have been at the other parks first they tend to be disappointed by the number of “rides”
- There are lots of events that are unscheduled that can be very magical – street performance on the African drums where children get to participate, etc.
What to see if you are squeezing it into a 1/2 day: I know some people try to do Animal Kingdom in a 1/2 day along with Hollywood Studios in the other 1/2 day. Although you would be missing some fun, I think you could hit the major highlights in about 3-4 hours (in order with my #1 choices first):
- - I would still do breakfast early (that allows you to see some Safari characters, to not ‘waste’ park time eating, and to be in the back of the park when it opens
- - Kilimanjaro Safari (The biggest MUST SEE in my book)
- - Expedition Everest (if you have older kids or thrill seekers in your group)
- - Finding Nemo the Musical (if you can line up the show times)
- - Lion King Show (again, if you can line up the show times)
- - It’s a Bug’s Life (short, VERY cool, and it gets you up & personal with the iconic Tree of Life the park is known for)
*Please visit Disney’s website for any updates, changes, and current ride closures/refurbishments.
LOOKING FOR MORE?!?
Check out other helpful topics in the Dreaming of Disney Series below!
- When to take your kids (what is the 'perfect' age)
- Planning for your trip (time of year, how long to stay, Disney hotels, and affordability/deals)
- Tidbits (20 tips from the best place to see Mickey to strollers to super cool Disney features you may not know about)
- Dinning: My top picks for snacks, quick meals, and reviews on 12 restaurants (including character meals)
- Magic Kingdom
- Animal Kingdom
- Hollywood Studios
- Mickey’s Halloween Party at Disneyland, CA
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