Ultimate Guide to Animal Kingdom for 2021 (Walt Disney World)


 

REOPENING UPDATE: As of the reopening in July 2020, Disney’s Animal Kingdom will operate at a reduced capacity and some of the rides, attractions, dining options, character meet-and-greets and other Disney experiences may not available. Reservations for admission are not required and only available to current ticket holders and annual passholders.  

 

 

Opened in 1998, Animal Kingdom is the largest of all four Disney parks in the Orlando area and at 580 acres, the largest theme park in the world.  This park park welcomed more than 13.75 million guests in 2018 and features Asian jungles and African savannas to go along with rainforests and animal encounters.

There are more than 250 different species of animals at Animal Kingdom with over 1,700 in total.   Beyond the natural wonders there are a number of thrill rides and attractions that will keep you keep at the edge of your seat.  

In the past few years Animal Kingdom has been expanding to feature a number of Pandora – The World of Avatar themed rides and attractions. This expansion really has brought this park to life by adding a way to cap off the day with evening events & attractions. 

While the Pandora land is truly amazing, it is still our opinion that the best park of Animal Kingdom is the 100-acre tour of the savannah known as Kilimanjaro Safaris as you get an up close and personal experience with a number of animals that you won’t find in your local zoo.

There are six themed lands in Animal Kingdom each with its own themed rides, shops, shows and restaurants.

  • Oasis
  • Discovery Island
  • Pandora – The World of Avatar
  • Africa
  • Asia
  • Dinoland USA

Animal Kingdom is centered around the Tree of Life which is the parks icon.  The Tree of Life is a 145-foot tall, 50-foot wide artificial baobab tree that features more than 300 carvings of existing and extinct animals.

The six lands in Animal Kingdom along with their individual rides, shops and attractions are shown as follows:

Oasis

The Oasis is the main entrance route for Animal Kingdom similar to Main Street USA at the Magic Kingdom.   This area has the look and feel of a dense forest or jungle and features animal exhibits and garden pathways which lead over a well themed bridge directly to Discovery Island, the parks main hub.

In the Oasis you will find Garden Gate Gifts where you can get your MagicBand as well as set up the Disney PhotoPass.

Rainforest Cafe

Just outside the main gate to Animal Kingdom, but still in the Oasis, you will find one of the two Rainforest Cafe restaurant’s that are located within the Walt Disney World Resort.   This restaurant is a perfect addition to Animal Kingdom as they both have a similar theme.  The inside of the restaurant is designed as an “animal-filled jungle” where you will experience rain storms and thunder while to dine under the stars of a clear night sky.

The Rainforest Cafe is a table-service restaurant which is open for breakfast, lunch and dinner.  It serves a variety of American fare including burgers, seafood and pastas to accompany a full bar with beer, wine and specialty cocktails.   There is also the Rainforest Cafe Safari Bar for those looking for a drink and a quick bite to eat.

Click here to see a full menu at the Rainforest Cafe at Disney’s Animal Kingdom.

Discovery Island

Discovery Island is where the magic starts.  As you walk up from the Oasis you will be greeted by the Tree of Life which is the parks central icon.  Make sure you find the “secret” Discovery Island Trails around the tree so you can get a close up look at the animal carvings.

After the sun goes down the Tree of Life comes alive with the Tree of Life Awakenings.  The Tree of Life Awakenings is a projection and light show shown directly on the tree itself.  This amazing show can’t be missed and runs every 10 or so minutes after dusk until the park closes.

RIDES AND ATTRACTIONS

It’s Tough to be a Bug!  3D film

Right underneath the Tree of Life is a 400+ seat theater that hosts the 3D film It’s Tough to be a Bug!.   This cute and funny eight-minute show features a 3D show based on the Disney/Pixar movie “A Bug’s Life” and features not only 3D effects but 4D surprises and a number of Audio-Animatorics figures.

There are no height restrictions for this show and it is suitable for all ages.  However, it is in a dark theater and the sound could get a little loud so if you have young children to are sensitive to darkness and loud sounds, you may want to pass on It’s Tough to be a Bug!.

FassPass+ is available for this show but we do not recommend using it for one of your three initial selections as you should be able to find availability during most visit (holidays and peak summer weekends not withstanding). 

Wilderness Explorers

Explore all of Animal Kingdom while completing challenges to earn enough badges to become a Wilderness Explorer.  Wilderness Explorers is Disney’s version of an Animal Kingdom themed scavenger hunt that will take you to locations in Discovery Island, Pandora, Africa, Rafiki’s Planet Watch, Asia and DinoLand USA.  

Guests can earn up to 25 individual Wilderness Explorer badges to earn the right to echo their “call”.

Winged Encounters – The Kingdom Takes Flight

Watched as a flock of Parrots fly over Discovery Island.  There are six different species with the largest having a 48 inch wingspan.  it is know as the ultimate bird-watching experience.

Discovery Island Trails

Explore the pathways and trails of Discovery Island to view all the animals around the Tree of Life.  This is a great area of take photos of things you won’t find in your back yard at home.  Some of these animals include:

  • Asian, Small-Clawed Otter
  • Red Kangaroo
  • African Porcupine
  • Galapagos Tortoise
  • Saddle-Billed Stork
  • Lappet Face Vulture

Adventures Outpost

Enjoy an up close meet and greet with Mickey Mouse and Minnie Mouse in the exploration headquarters.  Times vary so check the app or times guide on the day of your visit.

SHOPS, RESTAURANTS AND DINING

  • Eight Spoons Cafe
  • The Smiling Crocodile
  • Flame Tree Barbecue
  • Isle of Java
  • Tiffins
  • Nomad Lounge
  • Pizzafari
  • Creature Comforts
  • Terra Treats
  • Island Mercantile
  • Riverside Depot
  • Discovery Trading Company

Pandora – The World of Avatar

When you arrive in Pandora – The World of Avatar is will be like you have transformed into a whole new world. This entire area is the newest major upgrade within Animal Kingdom and it opened in May 2017. 

Based on the move Pandora for the Avatar series, the area is extraordinarily well themed with lush tropical foliage and floating mountains.  Don’t miss the daily Swota Waya Na’vi Drum Ceremony which is an outdoor performance to show guests a traditional Na’vi drum ceremony.

RIDES AND ATTRACTIONS

Na’vi River Journey

On the Na’Vi River Journey you take a boat ride “deep into a biolumisescent rainforest in search of the Nav’vi Shaman of Songs”.  You will enjoy all the sights and sounds of Pandora in this soothing and relaxing ride.

There are no height requirements for the Na’vi River Journey and this ride is suitable for guests of all ages. FastPass+ reservation are highly recommended as wait times on a typical day will easily exceed one hour.

Avatar Flight of Passage (Endless Summer favorite)

Avatar Flight of Passage at Animal Kingdom is a 3D motion simulator type ride that is one of the most exciting that Walt Disney World has to offer.  The ride is very similar to Soarin’ at Epcot but you get a real life feeling of what it is like to ride a banshee from sitting on your individual ride vehicle.  It’s a complete experience from it’s pre-ride show to the actual ride itself and one of our favorites.

Riders must be 44 inches or taller to ride the Flight of Passage and a FastPass+ reservation is highly recommended as wait times on a typical day will easily exceed one hour.

SHOPS, RESTAURANTS AND DINING

  • Pongu Pongu
  • Satu’li Canteen
  • Windtraders

Africa

Africa is one of the original areas of the park and one of the largest as features the Harambe Wildlife Preserve, home of the Kilimanjaro Safari. The entire area is themed after an African village and marketplace.

Make sure you watch the authentic African themed live entertainment which takes place in the middle of the village marketplace.

RIDES AND ATTRACTIONS

Festival of the Lion King 

The Festival of the Lion King is one of the best shows not only at Animal Kingdom, but in all of Walt Disney World.  This 20-minute style show is filled with the music and the pageantry of Disney’s classic movie The Lion King.  

Guests will enjoy a number of the songs from the movie including “Circle of Life”, “Hakuna Matata” and “Can You Feel the Love Tonight?”  Featuring dancers, puppets, acrobatics and stilt-walkers, The Festival of the Lion King show is exactly what would you expect to see if you were watching it on Broadway.  Of all the attractions at Animal Kingdom, this is one that is not to be missed.

This show is suitable for all ages and fills up quickly so make sure you check the daily times guide to get in line before the show opens.  FastPass+ is offered but you will want to save your three initial reservations for other attractions.

Wildlife Express Train  

Board an old locomotive for a seven mile train ride across the African savanna to get a back stage look at the animals at Rafiki’s Planet Watch.  This train will take you past the animal housing and veterinary facilities for the parks elephants and rhinos.

The Wildlife Express Train is the only means to get back and forth from Rafiki’s Planet Watch and gives you a nice break from the crowds.

Rafiki’s Planet Watch

Rafiki’s Planet Watch is a special section of Animal Kingdom that is only accessible by the Wildlife Express Train.   This section shows guests Disney’s commitment to animal care & conservation and is comprised to two subsections.

  • Conservation Station: Conservation Station includes a number of exhibits that focus on animal encounters.  There is the new “The Animation Experience at Conservation Station” where you can learn to draw one of Disney’s most popular characters.   FastPass+ reservations are available for The Animation Experience at Conservation but we recommend using your initial three reservations for other attractions.
  • Affection Section:  Affection Section is Disney’s version of a petting zoo where guests can interact with the animals as well as their animal care experts.

Kilimanjaro Safaris  (Endless Summer favorite)

Kilimanjario Safaris is the PREMIER attraction at Animal Kingdom and one you will not forget for some time.  After just a few minutes of being on this ride you will think that you are in Africa, having become immersed in an African wildlife reserve.

Your 18-minute guided expedition starts after you board your safari vehicle to see the more than 30 animal species living in Disney’s 100 acre Harambe Wildlife Reserve.  During your expedition you will see lions, baboons, rhinos, cheetahs, elephants, zebras, giraffes, crocodiles and more.  

Kilimanjaro Safaris should be your first FastPass+ reservation when visiting Animal Kingdom.   Stand-by lines can get quite long and easily exceed 60 minutes on a typical summer day. This attraction is perfect for all ages as it is a slow tour through the wildlife reserve.

The expeditions are different experiences every time since the animals are wild and free to live at they would in their original habitat.  If you can select a time earlier in the day before it hot, the animals will be more active.  

You will definitely want to use a FastPass+ reservation for the Kilimanjaro Safaris if it is available on the date of your date of your visit.  Stand-by lines can get very long and easily exceed an hour on a typically summer day. 

Gorilla Falls Exploration Trail

Take a self guided tour of the Pangani Forest and see the gorillas, hippos and exotic birds in their natural habitats. This is a great place for photo opportunities as there are observation stations throughout the trails.

This attraction is suitable for all ages and since there are no queues, a FastPass+ reservation is not needed.

SHOPS, RESTAURANTS AND DINING

  • Affection Section
  • Harambe Fruit Market
  • Harambe Market
  • Tamu Tamu Refreshments
  • Dawa Bar
  • Donald’s Dining Safari at Tusker House Restaurant
  • Kusafiri Coffee Shop & Bakery
  • Mobasa Marketplace
  • Zuri’s Sweets Shop

Asia

Asia was the first expansion area that was added to Animal Kingdom. Opened in 1999, it is themed after a Himalayan village and features some of the most exciting rides and attractions of the entire park.

Expedition Everest – Legend of the Forbidden Mountain  (Endless Summer favorite)

You just can’t miss the large mountain in the middle of Animal Kingdom which is home to one of the most fun and exciting rides throughout the entire Walt Disney World Resort.

Expedition Everest is an amazing roller coaster ride and  opened in 2006 as one of the most expense coasters at that time.  The ride takes you up to a height of almost 200 feet and features an 80 foot drop at a speed of approximately 50 miles per hour.

Riders must be 44 inches or taller to ride the Expedition Everest and a FastPass+ reservation is highly recommended as wait times on a typical day will easily exceed one hour.

Up! A Great Bird Adventure

Scheduled to open in late April 2020, you will experience some of the world’s most rare and exotic bird with your friends Russel and Dug from the movie UP!. In this 25-minute show you watch as Russell tries to earn his Wilderness Explorer Bird Badge and ends up in the Village of Anandapur on a fun adventure where he learns about birds from all over the world.

There are a number of Up! A Great Bird Adventure shows offered every day so be sure to check the daily times schedule during your visit.  FastPass+ is available but we would recommend saving your initial three reservations for some of Animal Kingdom’s most popular rides.  

Maharajah Jungle Trek

Take a self-guided tour across amazing footbridges and jungle trails to see waterfalls , tigers and more than 50 different species of birds.  Although the tigers are the featured animal at the Maharajah Jungle Trek, there are also a number of different animals which include:

  • Komodo Dragon
  • Gibbons
  • Elds Deer
  • Blackbuck
  • Watter buffalo
  • Malayan flying fox

This attraction is perfect for all ages and since there are no queues, FastPass+ is not offered.

Kali River Rapids 

On a hot summer day you may just want to cool off on the Kali River Rapids.  This ride is a white water river adventure where guests board a 12-person raft thrugh fast moving rapids, gushing waterfalls and a raging current.  If that is not enough there is a 20-foot drop to make sure you get soaked.

If you are planning on visiting Animal Kingdom during the cooler time of the year, you may want to bring a poncho or waterproof jacket to remain dry.  Flip flops or quick drying footwear is also recommended.

Guests need to be 38 inches or taller to ride the Kali River Rapids and FastPass+ reservations are available.  Wait times can vary but we have seen 60  minutes waits on a typical summer day.

Rivers of Light: We Are One

Rivers of Light is the nighttime show at Animal Kingdom and begins just before park closing.  This 17-minute show has all the magic and pageantry that Disney has to offer in a story about the great circle of life.  There are a number of moments from Disney files including The Lion King as well as a very moving musical score. 

Seating is along the central lagoon just adjacent to DinoLandUSA and Expedition Everest but since this is a very popular show, be sure to get their early.  There are FastPass+ reservation offered for seating so if you have an available selection, it may be worth your while to use it for this show.

 There is a Rivers of Light Dining Package available which provides reserved premium seats for the show as well as dinner at Tiffins Restaurant or the Tusker House Restaurant (both of which are table service restaurants).

Click here for more information about the Rivers of Light Dining Package.

SHOPS, RESTAURANTS AND DINING

  • Mr. Kamal’s snacks
  • Warung Outpost
  • Drinkwallah 
  • Yak & Yeti Restaurant
  • Tak & Yeti Local Food Cafe
  • Yak & Yeti Quality Beverages
  • Anandapur Ice Cream Truck
  • Thirsty River Bar & Trek Snacks
  • Serka Zong Bazaar souvenirs

Dinoland USA

Dinoland USA is a prehistoric Dinosaur themed area at Disney’s Animal Kingdom that has rides and attractions which are more focused towards its younger guests.  

DINOSAUR

Board your Time Rover ride vehicle and travel back in time to the prehistoric era to save a 3.5-ton Iguandon from a deadly meteor strikes.   You adventure will take you through a dense forest avoiding other dinosaurs that are looking at you for their next meal.   

While DINOSAUR is a family-friendly ride, it is quite dank and a little loud so if you or your children are sensitive to it, you may want to pass on this ride.

There is a 40-inch height requirement on DINOSAUR and FastPass+ is available.  Wait times can vary but we have seen 30 to 60  minutes waits on a typical summer day.

The Boneyard

The Boneyard is a a open-air children’s play area where guests ages 10 and under can dig for fossils, climb across rope bridges and explore prehistoric caves.   It is one of the perfect spots at Animal Kingdom to take a break from the crowds.

Fossil Fun Games

DinoLand USA has a number of and exciting carnival games where you can challenge your friends and win prizes.

Finding Nemo – The Musical 

Based on another Disney classic movie, Finding Nemo – The Musical is a 40-minute show that features all the characters from this amazing Disney/Pixar film including Nemo, Marlin and Dory.   There are 14 original songs created just for this show and it is one of the most spectacular shows in all of the Walt Disney World Resort.

Finding Nemo – The Musical features colorful putters along with amazing underwater special effects that highlight this show.  And the music is something else as well.

There are a variety of showtimes offered so be sure to check the park schedule or the app on the day of your visit.   This show is suitable for all ages and FastPass+ reservations are available.

Primeval Whirl

According to Disney this ride “Operates Seasonally” and for whatever reason, we rarely see it open anymore.  So during your visit if you see the Primeval Whirl operating, make sure you jump on for a spinning dinosaur-themed roller coaster ride.

There is a 48-inch height requirement for Primeval Whirl and FastPass+ reservations are available.

Primeval Whirl Update:  As of the mid-2020, Disney announced the Primeval Whirl ride is now closed on a permanent basis.  The ride experienced operational issues for the past several years was open on a very limited basis.  It also appears to have been removed from the MyDisneyExpereince app.  All other rides in attractions in the Dinoland USA area are listed.

Let’s hope that Disney finds a fun and exciting replacement?  If the Disney Imagineers are reading this, how about a family friendly roller coaster like Goofy’s Barnstormer or Slinky Dog Dash.  Those would be a great addition to this park.

TriceraTop Spin

TriceraTop Sign is an aerial carousel-style ride after the mold of Dumbo but with a dinosaur theme.   Fly high or low and tip forwards or backwards in your 4-person triceratops gondola.  There are separate controls in both the front and back rows.

There are no height requirements to fly on the TriceraTop Spin and it is suitable for guests of all ages.  FastPass+ is not available at this ride but wait times are typically less than 20 minutes.

SHOPS, RESTAURANTS AND DINING

  • Restaurantosaurus
  • Dino-Bite Snacks
  • Trilo-Bites
  • Dino Diner
  • Chester & Hester’s Dinosaur Treasures
  • The Dino Institute Shop

Special Events at Animal Kingdom

Animal Kingdom hosts a special ticketed after hours event called Nature Glows in the Dark.   This special event is for a limited number of guests where Disney let you “see the park come alive like never before”.

Select rides and attractions remain open and due to the limited amount of tickets sold for this event, wait times are minimal.  Following are some of the rides and attractions that are open:

  • Avatar Flight of Passage
  • Na’vi River Journey
  • Pandora Drummers – Swotu Waya
  • Expedition Everest – Legend of the Forbidden Mountain
  • DINOSAUR
  • Mickey & Minnie Greeting at Adventures Outpost
  • Rivers of Light: We Are One
  • Tree of Life Awakenings
  • It’s Tough to be a Bug!
  • TriceraTop Spin

Also included with the price of this ticket is ice cream, popcorn an select beverages.  Carts will be stationed around the park and if you get hungry, select dining locations will also remain open.

This special event begins at 9:PM on select nights and ends at midnight.  Guests with tickets to Nature Glows in the Dark can enter Animal Kingdom at 7:PM on every event night. 

Tickets can be purchased in advance for $129 per person or at the day of the event for $139 per person.  Annual Passholders and Disney Vacation Club members can get a special price for an advanced purchase at a cost of $99 per person.  Click here to advance purchase your tickets.

Is Nature Glows in the Dark worth the additional cost?

It may just be worth the additional cost if you are visiting Animal Kingdom during very busy days including spring break.  As the crowd levels increase, the ability to get FastPass+ reservations on the more popular rides becomes more difficult and stand-by wait times can limit what you can accomplish during the day.

Nature Glows in the Dark limits the number of tickets so as a result, wait times for Avatar Flight of Passage, the Na’vi River Journey and Expedition Everest are quite low.  And you should be able to ride these rides multiple times.  Additionally, you should be able to get a great spot to see the Rivers of Light show.

If you don’t think you can accomplish all the fun rides and attraction at Animal Kingdom in one day (and the additional cost fits your budget) then the additional cost may just be worth it.

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What does is cost to go to Animal Kingdom?

As of Spring 2020 on Walt Disney World web site, prices at Animal Kingdom for a standard theme park single day ticket is $109 per day.  Discounts for multiple day passes are offered and the more days you buy, the more you save.  The lowest per day price is $52 per day for a 10-day pass.  Please note that these prices are for one park per day and do not include the Park Hopper Option.

Disney is always running promotions with discounts and specials so be on the lookout for what they have to offer.  There are a number of other sources which at times offer discount ticket prices.  These include:

Where ever you decide to go to purchase your tickets, please make sure they are from a reputable source as there has been ticket fraud reports over the last several years.

FastPass+ at Animal Kingdom

To minimize wait times and enhance the guest experience at its theme parks, Disney utilizes a system know as “FastPass+” which allows guests to reserve specific times for up to three individual rides and attractions.  Once all three are finished, additional FastPass+ reservations can be made based on availability.   

The original 3 selections can be make up to 30 days in advance when linking a park ticket but if you stay on site, you can make FastPass+ selections up to 60 days in advance of check-in for the entire time of the stay.  Click here to learn more about FastPass+.

Disney’s Animal Kingdom has a two-tiered FastPass+ system where guests can only select a single Tier 1 attraction among their first 3 selections.  Once all three initial selections are completed or expired, an additional Tier 1 attraction can be selected for a FastPass+, if available.  

The tiers for the individual rides and attractions are as follows:

Tier 1 (Limited to one selection for the initial 3 FastPass+ reservations)

  • Na’vi River Journey
  • Avatar Flight of Passage

Tier 2 

  • The Animation Experience at Conservation Station
  • DINOSAUR
  • Expedition Everest – Legend of the Forbidden Mountain
  • Festival of the Lion King
  • Finding Nemo – The Musical
  • It’s Tough to be a Bug
  • Kali River Rapids
  • Kilimanjaro Safaris
  • Meet Favorite Disney Pals at Adventures Outpost
  • Primeval Whirl
  • Rivers of Light
  • UP! A Great Bird Adventure

Parking at Animal Kingdom

Guests to the four Walt Disney World theme parks pay one parking fee that is good all day for all the four parks (Magic Kingdom, Epcot, Disney’s Hollywood Studios and Disney’s Animal Kingdom).  The parking fees are as follows:

  • Standard Self-Parking (car or motorcycle): $25.00 per day
  • Preferred Self-Parking (car or motorcycle): $45.00 to $50.00 per day
  • Oversized Vehicle Self-Parking: $30.00 per day.

There are no parking fees for registered hotel guests and select Annual Passholders as it is included as a benefit of being a Disney hotel guest or Annual Passholder.

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