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Planning a Perfect Day at Disney Animal Kingdom Park with Kids

Planning a Perfect Day at Disney Animal Kingdom Park with Kids

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Are you heading to Walt Disney World in Orlando, Florida, and trying to figure out your itinerary? Find out exactly what to do at Disney’s Animal Kingdom Park with kids and determine if you’ll just want to do a half day or plan for two days!
This post about Disney’s Animal Kingdom Park with kids was written by Disney travel expert Marcie Cheung and contains affiliate links which means if you purchase something from one of my affiliate links, I may earn a small commission that goes back into maintaining this blog.

Disney’s Animal Kingdom Park

When I told people we were starting to plan our Walt Disney World trip, I keept hearing that we only needed a half day at Disney’s Animal Kingdom Park because “there’s not much for little kids.”

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That totally worried me because I was really excited to go there since it’s so different than the other Disney Theme Parks of the Walt Disney Company!

Because of all the feedback, at one point, I even thought about skipping Animal Kingdom Park since my kids aren’t super interested in animals.

HOWEVER, let me tell you that I’m so happy I didn’t listen to anyone!

Disney’s Animal Kingdom Park is such a unique mix of rides, shows, play areas, animal attractions, and cultural showcases. Seriously, there’s so much at Disney’s Animal Kingdom for kids!

Here are the different areas:

The Kilimanjaro Safaris at Disney Animal Kingdom Park will make you think you are on a real African Safari! #hippo #waltdisneyworld #animalkingdom #disneyanimalkingdom #safari
I can’t believe we got to see hippos on the Kilimanjaro Safaris at Disney’s Animal Kingdom Park! Photo credit: Darren Cheung

AFRICA

I can’t begin to describe just how cool the Africa area is. Harambe Village feels exactly what I would expect an African village to be like. Or at least the Epcot version!

This is where you’ll find Tusker House Restaurant (the only character dining at Disney’s Animal Kingdom Park.)

You won’t want to miss the “Festival of the Lion King” show and lively street musicians.

This is home to Kilimanjaro Safaris, where you can see real animals like lions, zebras, elephants, giraffes, and hippos.

ASIA

This is where you’ll find Expedition Everest, Legend of the Forbidden Mountain, Kali River Rapids (thrill rides), and the Maharajah Jungle Trek playground.

And this is where you’ll go for the “Rivers of Light” water show and the “Up! A Great Bird Adventure” show.

Plus, you can see real gibbons and tigers!

DINOLAND U.S.A.

This is a fun mash-up of a retro-Americana theme and dinosaurs; it somehow works!

You’ll find a ton of dinosaur-themed rides like DINOSAUR (kind of scary for kids), Primeval Whirl, and TriceraTop Spin. There’s also The Boneyard play area.

Additionally, kids can play carnival games! However, you will need to buy vouchers before you can play.

Plus, you can see Dino-Sue, a full replica of the largest T-Rex ever found!

Oh, and this is where you’ll find Donald’s Dino-Bash! See “Finding Nemo: The Musical” (although it has nothing to do with dinosaurs!)

DISCOVERY ISLAND

This is where you’ll find Disney’s Animal Kingdom Park icon: The Tree of Life!

It is surrounded by lovely walking trails and several character meet-and-greets, including a spot with Mickey and Minnie dressed in safari gear!

You can also sit and watch the “It’s Tough to be a Bug!” or “Winged Encounters — The Kingdom Takes Flight” shows.

And kids will love shaking their booties at the Hakuna Matata Time Dance Party!

Plus, you can see real flamingos!

OASIS

I’m just going to call this the “bird area” because it’s where you’ll find a lot of birds.

But you’ll also see boars, anteaters, wallabies and more!

PANDORA — WORLD OF AVATAR

This is the newest area at Disney’s Animal Kingdom Park and is home to the Flight of Passage and Na`vi River Journey.

Pandora is the newest area of Disney Animal Kingdom Park and features characters from Avatar. #avatar #pandora #disney #animalkingdom #animalkingdompark
You’ll be completely immersed in the world of Avatar in the Pandora area of Disney’s Animal Kingdom Park. Photo credit: Darren Cheung

They do a drum performance, and you can see cast members walking around in Pandora Utility Suits.

They also have a tree where you can touch a certain spot, and it will shoot out water, which is a huge hit with kids!

RAFIKI’S PLANET WATCH

While this was closed while we were there, it was reopening in Spring 2019.

There’s usually a petting zoo, animals, and trails, and it’s the best spot to learn about Disney’s conservation efforts.

Plus, you can get there on the Wildlife Express Train!

We spent a full day at Disney’s Animal Kingdom Park, and I can see how families staying longer could easily add another day.

Trying to figure out your Disney World budget? See how much it costs for a family of four.

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Top Questions About Disney’s Animal Kingdom

Okay, so now that I’ve given you the rundown, I want to answer some of the top questions parents ask about Disney’s Animal Kingdom Park at Walt Disney World.

Where Should I Eat at Animal Kingdom?

TUSKER HOUSE

If you want a character meal at Animal Kingdom, Tusker House Restaurant is the ONLY place to go, and you’ll want to make reservations.

The restaurant is visually stunning and immersive. We saw Mickey, Donald, Daisy, and Goofy, and the kids got a kick out of all the special attention!

You can read all my Tusker House Tips and Tricks.

YAK & YETI

This is another coveted dining reservation. They serve a selection of Asian and Indian-inspired dishes, and their food is really tasty!

They also have a grab-and-go section next to the regular restaurant that serves a smaller menu—you don’t need reservations!

FLAME TREE BARBECUE

I keep hearing many people say this is their favorite spot to eat at Animal Kingdom.

You’ll find many hearty entrees, including pulled pork sandwiches, BBQ sampler plates, and salad.

RAINFOREST CAFE

If you don’t have one of these restaurants near where you live, it’s worth checking out.

Kids love that the whole restaurant looks like a rainforest, and there’s lots of kid-friendly food.

TAMU TAMU REFRESHMENTS

This is where they have Dole Whip! And for parents, you can get it with rum!

Is Disney’s Animal Kingdom for Toddlers?

We had our 2-year-old with us, and he couldn’t go on many of the rides. Here are the Animal Kingdom rides for toddlers:

  • Kilimanjaro Safaris
  • TriceraTop Spin
  • Na’vi River Journey
  • The Wildlife Express Train
Adventurer's Outpost in Disney Animal Kingdom Park is a great place to meet Mickey and Minnie Mouse dressed up in either safari gear or holiday attire! #animalkingdom #waltdisneyworld
Our toddler couldn’t wait to see Mickey! Photo credit: Disney PhotoPass

There’s also the Maharajah Jungle Trek (a cool walking path) and The Boneyard (a play area for kids.)

And toddlers might like to meet a few favorite Disney characters. Just be sure to check the app to see where they are roaming around!

There are also lots of shows that toddlers may enjoy, including: Finding Nemo – The Musical, the Festival of the Lion King, Donald’s Dino-Bash, Up! A Great Bird Adventure, the Hakuna Matata Time Dance Party, and Rivers of Light.

What Should You Ride FIRST at Disney’s Animal Kingdom?

If you are going with young kids (or don’t care about Flight of Passage), definitely head straight for Kilimanjaro Safaris.

The line can get excruciatingly long, so it’s best to snag a spot when it’s manageable.

However, if you don’t have a FastPass for Flight of Passage and it’s high on your list, you should probably head there first. But keep in mind little kids cannot go on it.

Does Disney’s Animal Kingdom Have Real Animals?

Yes! Isn’t that so cool?

You can see real elephants on the Killimanjaro Safaris at Disney Animal Kingdom Park at Walt Disney World in Orlando, Florida #elephants #waltdisneyworld #animalkingdom
We felt like we were on a real African Safari during the Kilimanjaro Safari at Disney’s Animal Kingdom. Photo credit: Darren Cheung

The best opportunity to see animals is on the Kilimanjaro Safaris.

But you’ll have a few opportunities to see animals during Up! A Great Bird Adventure and on some of the nature walks.

Do You Need a Full Day at Disney’s Animal Kingdom?

I think this is completely dependent on your family.

Since Disney’s Animal Kingdom feels less hectic than Magic Kingdom, you might want to take your time and go slowly.

And we all know travel with little kids can go a lot slower than we plan.

Even if you aren’t interested in animals, plenty keeps kids entertained and engaged.

Animal Kingdom at Christmas

Just like the rest of the Parks, Disney’s Animal Kingdom Park is festive during the holidays, including a big Christmas tree right at the Park entrance!

Mickey and Minnie Mouse dress up in holiday sweaters during the Holiday Season at Disney Animal Kingdom Park. #mickey #minnie #wdw #waltdisneyworld
Mickey and Minnie Mouse were all decked out in their holiday sweaters at Adventurer’s Outpost. Photo credit: Disney’s PhotoPass

We found DinoLand U.S.A. to be especially decked out in kitschy Christmas decorations.

You can also see special characters like Scrooge McDuck, Santa Goofy, and Mickey & Minnie in their holiday attire.

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How We Spent 1 Day at Disney’s Animal Kingdom with Kids

If you’ve made it this far in the post, you might be wondering how to fit all this into your Animal Kingdom itinerary.

So, here’s exactly what my family did (My husband, my mom, myself, and our 2yo and 5yo boys):

ARRIVAL

We took the bus from Disney’s Animal Kingdom Lodge to the Park (I think it took about 10 minutes.)

Security only took a few minutes, and there was no line at the main gate.

KILIMANJARO SAFARIS

We headed straight there as soon as we got to the Park (even bypassing coffee!), and we still had a 55-minute wait.

About 30 minutes into the wait, our 5-year-old announced that he needed to pee, so my mom took him out of line to find a restroom.

The nearest one was back near Tusker House Restaurant, and then they were invited to cut the line to meet us where you load into the jeeps.

TUSKER HOUSE BREAKFAST

I won’t say too much since you can read all about our Tusker House Character Breakfast in my previous post, but I will say that our 10:45 a.m. reservation gave us access to both breakfast AND lunch items.

Even though we had only done one attraction, it was nice to sit down and discuss our plan for the day.

NA’VI RIVER JOURNEY

We had a 12:40 p.m.- 1:40 p.m. FastPass for the Na’vi River Journey in Pandora. Even though we were a few minutes early, we got on.

This ride is beautiful, even if you aren’t a fan of the Avatar movie. Both my kids were in awe the entire time. It’s very well done!

AVATAR FLIGHT OF PASSAGE

So, my husband lucked out and got a FastPass for Flight of Passage to use at any point in the day.

Since we were already there, we figured he should do the ride and catch up to us later.

He reported back that the ride was incredible and definitely worth a FastPass!

TRICERATOP SPIN

While my husband was on Flight of Passage, we explored Pandora for a few minutes before heading to DinoLand, U.S.A.

As soon as my 5-year-old saw the TriceraTop Spin ride, he pleaded to go even though there was a 40-minute wait.

I (mistakenly) thought my 2-year-old would take a stroller nap, so we hung out in the carnival game area while I watched my toddler not sleep.

My mom took my oldest on the ride, and he loved it! We almost waited in line again for it, but we thought we should explore a bit more instead.

Are you bringing kids to Walt Disney World in Orlando, Florida? Find out exactly how to spend one day at Disney Animal Kingdom Park with toddlers and preschoolers. Get my one day itinerary, plus tips for parents about where to eat, which shows to watch, and where to see animals. Click to read more or pin to save for later. www.marcieinmommyland.com #wdw #waltdisneyworld #animalkingdom #pandora #treeoflife

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WILDERNESS EXPLORER

My husband met up with us right outside DinoTown U.S.A. We started to make our way to the African area to prepare for the “Festival of the Lion King” show.

As we were walking, we noticed a Wilderness Explorer kiosk.

This is such a cool kids’ program! Basically, they have stations set up all over Disney’s Animal Kingdom Park with cast members who will talk about different cultures, animals, and environments.

We stopped at a few throughout the day, but this one was all about Thailand, and we learned how to say a few Thai words, which was cool!

They have a little booklet that gets stamped for every kiosk they visit. I think they can turn it in for a prize at the end. We lost our pamphlet at some point.

FESTIVAL OF THE LION KING

Before we went, I knew little about this show. I thought it would be a mini version of The Lion King.

Instead, it’s more like an arena circus performance with acrobats, talking floats, characters, stilt dancers, and many songs. There isn’t a bad seat in the house.

We had FastPasses for the show from 2:30 p.m. to 2:45 p.m. and from 3 p.m. to 3:30 p.m.

DOLE WHIP

Since we had brunch from 10:45am-Noon, we skipped lunch and just did a mid-afternoon Dole Whip.

Tamu Tamu Refreshments is in the Africa section near where the “Festival of the Lion King” takes place.

We bought 4 Dole Whips and walked over to a large sitting area. We ate slowly and took turns heading to the restroom.

It felt nice to sit in the sun for a bit and let the kids just chill. We brought out a few more snacks, packed them, and spent about 30 minutes hanging out.

TREE OF LIFE

We had a bit of time before we needed to line up for the “Rivers of Light” show, so we just wandered around the Park.

We tried to head to a PhotoPass spot with the Tree of Life, but there wasn’t a photographer there. So, my husband just took some photos of us there.

During our walk, we found a PhotoPass photographer on a bridge, and he took quite a few family shots, just of the boys, and a magic shot!

MICKEY & MINNIE PHOTO SPOT

My 2-year-old is OBSESSED with Mickey Mouse, so for our family, we stand in line to meet Mickey whenever possible.

What’s cool about Adventurer’s Outpost is that you can meet Mickey and Minnie together.

Since we went in December, they wore their holiday dress! Otherwise, I think they are usually in their safari gear.

The line was about 30 minutes long, and it was mostly indoors.

RIVERS OF LIGHT

We had 5:35 p.m.- 6 p.m. FastPasses for the Rivers of Light show, which goes from 6:15 p.m.- 6:30 p.m.

River of Lights is the big evening light show at Disney Animal Kingdom Park at Walt Disney World in Florida #wdw #riveroflights #animalkingdom
You absolutely cannot miss the River of Light show! Photo credit: Walt Disney World

Let me just say this show is BEAUTIFUL, and these photos really don’t do it justice!

At first, you’ll see some little boats on the water. But once the show starts, a parade of giant artistic animal floats appears, and they begin to change colors.

You really have to see it in person to understand the full scope, but it’s a definite must-see attraction at Disney’s Animal Kingdom Park, and one of the most popular Disney Animal Kingdom shows.

YAK & YETI LOCAL FOODS CAFE

The “Rivers of Light” show ended at 6:30 pm, and by the time we got our stroller and started talking about dinner, it was close to 7 pm.

I had heard amazing things about the fried rice at Yak & Yeti (mostly that it was tasty and the portions were large enough to share), so we headed to their quick service window.

We ordered a ton of food, and it all hit the spot! We even had leftover fried rice to take back to our hotel room to give the kids for lunch the next day.

HEADED BACK TO HOTEL

Our family was tired, and it was getting chilly, so we walked to the buses and headed back to Disney’s Animal Kingdom Lodge.

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Animal Kingdom Tips for Parents

KILIMANJARO SAFARIS

We’ve heard that the animals are most active in the morning, so I’d suggest trying to do this first thing in the morning.

Kilimanjaro Safaris features tons and tons of animals at Disney Animal Kingdom Park in Walt Disney World.
The Kilimanjaro Safari is just one of the coolest experiences at Disney’s Animal Kingdom! Photo credit: Darren Cheung

And, if your family is really interested in wildlife, do it again in the evening. You will get on a jeep as long as you get in line before they close.

I mean, this might be the closest you’ll come to a real African safari, so you might as well get the full experience!

WILDERNESS EXPLORERS

This free program is fun for all ages but probably most interesting to grade school kids.

You can pick up your booklet at any Wilderness Explorer station.

DINOLAND U.S.A.

Parents need to know that the Fossil Fun Games cost money to play.

If you don’t want to pay for the games but are afraid your kids will want to play, you can easily avoid that area by sticking to the perimeter. My oldest only saw it because I decided to cut through that area on our way out.

RIVERS OF LIGHT

You can let your kids stay in their strollers in the line. Then, you can pass off the empty stroller to the cast members, who will park it.

You won't want to miss the evening show River of Lights, which is perfect for ending a day at Disney Animal Kingdom Park with kids.
Kids will be in awe of the colorful animal floats during the River of Lights show. Photo credit: Walt Disney World

The stroller parking is super far away. But don’t worry, they have signs along the way so you know to keep walking.

Also, you can bring food in. Since it’s right at dinner time, I’d suggest getting takeout and eating it while you wait for the show to start.

DISNEY CHARACTERS

There are a bunch of characters that you can only find at Disney’s Animal Kingdom Park including: Rafiki, Pocohontas, Russell & Doug, King Louie & Baloo, Launchpad McQuack and more!

While we were there during the holidays, we also saw photo ops with Scrooge McDuck and Santa Goofy.

You can get a FastPass for Adventurer’s Outpost to save time when getting photos with Mickey and Minnie.

Hotels Near Disney’s Animal Kingdom Park

DISNEY’S ANIMAL KINGDOM LODGE

So, my top pick is Disney’s Animal Kingdom Lodge, which is a very short bus ride away from the Park. It’s comprised of Jambo House and the newer Kidani Village.

I mean, you can see giraffes out your window. *mic drop.

You can read all about our experience at Kidani Village and see if it right for your family and your budget.

DISNEY’S CORONADO SPRINGS RESORT

One recently renovated hotel near Disney’s Animal Kingdom Park is Disney’s Coronado Springs Resort. It’s actually still under construction as of this post.

There’s a replica of a Mayan pyramid in their pool area, and they have a two-story lobby.

DISNEY’S ALL-STAR RESORTS

One of the All-Star Resorts—Disney’s All-Star Music ResortDisney’s All-Star Movies Resort, or Disney’s All-Star Sports Resort—is a budget-friendly Disney hotel option.

Each one has a different theme, but all are just a quick bus ride from Disney’s Animal Kingdom Park.

I hope this helps you figure out what to do with kids at Animal Kingdom!
Are you planning a trip to Walt Disney World with kids? Find out how to spend one day at Disney Animal Kingdom Park including toddler-friendly rides, best places to eat, and which shows to watch. Click to read more or pin to save for later. www.marcieinmommyland.com #waltdisneyworld #animalkingdom #wdw

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