Disney Animal Kingdom Guide: Best Rides, Food, Shows, and Insider Tips
Animal Kingdom might be Walt Disney World’s most interesting park — with the best Disney ride of all. Here's how to make the most of your visit.
Having opened in 1998, Disney’s Animal Kingdom is the newest of the Disney World parks, featuring a design and layout that differs from Disney’s Hollywood Studios, Epcot, and Magic Kingdom. Here, the emblematic Tree of Life sits in the center of a lagoon, as lands including Africa, Asia, Discovery Island, Pandora - The World of Avatar, and DinoLand U.S.A. surround it in a loop. (For easy reference, pick up a complementary Disney Animal Kingdom map in The Oasis, Animal Kingdom’s lush entrance.)
It’s also filled with live animals; winding paths lead to zoo-like displays of exotic animals like Sumatran tigers and gibbons playing in acrobatic displays while a safari attraction takes passengers through a 110-acre expanse of elephants, giraffes, and lions.
Unlike other Walt Disney World parks, Disney’s Animal Kingdom emphasizes conservation and actual regions of the world above Disney characters. You’ll still come face-to-face with favorites from "The Lion King" and "Finding Nemo," but will do so in an idyllic retreat that feels transportative. (There’s even a hotel, Disney’s Animal Kingdom Lodge, with the same design aesthetic as the park.)
From coasters to child-friendly Animal Kingdom rides, there is plenty for all ages to enjoy at this Disney park, but children 3 and under are admitted for free and do not require Disney World park tickets. Summer and holidays are the busiest times to visit Disney World parks, and the same applies here at Disney's Animal Kingdom.
For everything you need to know about Walt Disney World’s most interesting park — and why we think the best Disney ride is located here — read on:
Getting to Disney's Animal Kingdom
Standard parking for a car or a motorcycle costs $25 per day, while preferred parking is $50 per day. (A complimentary parking lot tram is available to alleviate long walks.) Buses from Disney hotels and non-Disney hotels, Lyft, Uber, local taxis, and Minnie Vans all operate near Animal Kingdom’s front entrance.
Disney's Animal Kingdom Hours
Disney World park hours vary throughout the year, but Animal Kingdom hours have recently changed significantly. Previously, Animal Kingdom was only open until sunset, but with new nighttime programming, the park has transformed to now close much later. Since Disney’s Animal Kingdom is home to so much wildlife, it takes a different nighttime approach and tones down its lighting; expect a quieter yet still enjoyable experience after sundown.
Guests staying at Walt Disney World hotels and select hotels offering Extra Magic Hours can gain access to Disney’s Animal Kingdom before opening or after closing on select days. They can also purchase Disney tickets to events like Early Morning Magic or Disney After Hours to gain exclusive Disney World park hours within Animal Kingdom, which feature smaller crowds and shorter waits.
Purchasing Disney's Animal Kingdom Tickets
Animal Kingdom ticket prices vary depending on which day of the year you visit — a change recently introduced for all Disney World park tickets.
Most guests only need one full day at Animal Kingdom, but the Avatar Flight of Passage ride tends to have an extremely long line, so you may want to visit more than once. In this case, purchase your Disney World park tickets with a “park hopper” option, which allows you to travel between all four Florida Disney parks for one price.
How to Use a FastPass+
FastPass+ comes included (it’s free!) with all Disney World park tickets and can be scheduled at least 30 days prior to arrival — 60, if you stay in a Walt Disney World resort or hotel with benefits. FastPass+ lets guests “skip the line” during an hour-long return window on three attractions per day, and because of this, you’ll want to plan ahead.
FastPass+ for Animal Kingdom rides are offered in two “tiers.” Guests can select one attraction from the first group and two attractions from the second group. Sign up for My Disney Experience to schedule these Fastpass experiences in advance.
The Best Animal Kingdom Rides
With so much flora and fauna in this Walt Disney World theme park, it may come as a surprise that Animal Kingdom has four thrill rides. DINOSAUR at Disney’s Animal Kingdom provides a raucous ride back through time in search of a fabled dinosaur, and Kali River Rapids’ whitewater raft adventure is best on hot summer days.
Avatar Flight of Passage is still the most popular Animal Kingdom ride for its realistic trip through Pandora, the brilliant setting of the Avatar film series, but Expedition Everest and its roller coaster journey through the Himalayas in search of a fabled mountain yeti is our pick for the very best ride at Walt Disney World.
Kilimanjaro Safaris can’t be missed. This Disney World ride takes guests out onto a savannah in a Jeep-like vehicle to encounter real animals up-close; there is no height restriction, so everyone can take a ride.
Children will enjoy much of DinoLand, U.S.A., as its Primeval Whirl coaster and TriceraTop Spin ride — similar to Dumbo the Flying Elephant at Disney's Magic Kingdom — provide much fun, and The Boneyard play area lets kids play and dig for fossils. Na’vi River Journey is a serene boat ride that’s good for all ages, while mischievous kids and adults will both get a kick out of It’s Tough to be a Bug!.
The Best Animal Kingdom Attractions
Stop by the Tree of Life to witness Animal Encounters: Winged Encounters — The Kingdom Takes Flight, where stunning birds will soar overhead in a wondrous display. For more high-flying fun, catch UP! A Great Bird Adventure led by Russell and Dug from the movie "Up."
Animal Kingdom has two Broadway-style shows — "Festival of the Lion King" and "Finding Nemo - The Musical" — that are absolutely worth seeing; check Disney World park hours or a Disney Animal Kingdom map for showtimes.
Meet-and-greets include Mickey and Minnie at Adventurers Outpost, Pocahontas and others, but here, the animals are as compelling as the Disney characters. Take a break from the attractions and peruse Gorilla Falls Exploration Trail and Maharajah Jungle Trek, where unbelievable creatures await.
Note: Rafiki’s Planet Watch and its Wildlife Express Train are no longer open daily. Check the Walt Disney World website for this and other Disney World park hours and updates.
Exploring Disney's Animal Kingdom at Night
Disney’s Animal Kingdom only recently began offering nighttime entertainment, but Rivers of Light provides a serene and stunning waterfront display celebrating the beauty of nature each evening. Outdoor rides like Kali River Rapids and Expedition Everest provide completely different experiences when set against the night sky, and Kilimanjaro Night Safaris give a new perspective to life in the wild.
Upon exiting, don’t miss Tree of Life Awakenings. These projections are somewhat low-key, but nothing short of awe-inducing.
The Best Restaurants at Disney's Animal Kingdom
Disney’s Animal Kingdom offers plenty of quick-service restaurants. Flame Tree Barbecue, Harambe Market, Pizzafari, and Satu’li Canteen all have offerings that will please every member of the family.
Adults adore Tiffins, an elegant escape within Disney’s Animal Kingdom that is one of Walt Disney World’s best restaurants. If you can dine here, absolutely do. Walt Disney World dining reservations open 180 days in advance, so book early — and if you’re looking to save money, explore the Disney Dining Plan program.
Drinking Alcohol at Disney's Animal Kingdom
Cocktails, beer, and wine are sold throughout Animal Kingdom, along with Safari Amber Ale, a beer exclusive to Disney. Visit Africa for Dawa Bar, a crowd favorite with enticing drinks, or Tamu Tamu Refreshments across the way for Dole Whip with rum, a perfect summer treat. Still, the best place for drinks at Animal Kingdom is Nomad Lounge. The cocktail menu is both unique and delightful; you can’t go wrong with anything on their list.
Special Events at Disney's Animal Kingdom
Disney After Hours events give semi-private nighttime access to Disney’s Animal Kingdom. If you’re a big Pandora - The World of Avatar fan or simply want to ride Expedition Everest all night, it’s worth purchasing these special Disney World parks tickets.
The Best Animal Kingdom Hotels
Disney’s Animal Kingdom is the only Walt Disney World park with a similarly themed hotel. Though it’s not located at the theme park — you’ll need to take a short bus ride to reach it — Disney’s Animal Kingdom Lodge retains the same level of outdoor beauty as the parks. Thanks to on-property savannahs, guests at Disney's Animal Kingdom Lodge can spot animals directly from their hotel room balcony. Head to Kidani Village, the Disney Vacation Club section of the hotel, to dine at Sanaa. Request a table by the window for a perfect view of the surrounding savannah — it’s unlike any other experience you’ll have at Disney World.