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!
Disney’s Animal Kingdom Park
When I told people we were starting to plan our Walt Disney World trip, I kept hearing that we only needed a half day at Disney’s Animal Kingdom Park because “there’s not much for little kids.”Find the BEST Walt Disney World deals here.
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:
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.
And this is home to Kilimanjaro Safaris, where you can see real animals like lions, zebras, elephants, giraffes, hippos, etc.
This is where you’ll find Expedition Everest — Legend of the Forbidden Mountain and 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!
This is a fun mash-up of a retro Americana theme and dinosaurs and somehow it just 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! Although you will need to buy vouchers before you can play.
Plus, you can see Dino-Sue, a full replica of a the largest T-Rex ever found!
Oh, and this is where you’ll find Donald’s Dino-Bash! and see “Finding Nemo: The Musical” (although it has nothing to do with dinosaurs!)
This is where you’ll find the icon of Disney’s Animal Kingdom Park: The Tree of Life!
Surrounding it are 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 Hakuna Matata Time Dance Party!
Plus, you can see real flamingos!
I’m just going to call this the “bird area” because it’s where you’ll find tons and tons 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 home to the Flight of Passage and Na`vi River Journey.
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’s reopening in Spring 2019.
There’s usually a petting zoo, animals, 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 could see how families staying longer could easily add another day here.
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Ok, so now that I’ve kind of given you the lay of the land, 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?
If you want to do 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 it’s an immersive experience. We saw Mickey, Donald, Daisy, and Goofy and the kids got a kick of out all the special attention!
You can read all my Tusker House Tips and Tricks.
Watch our Tusker House Video
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, but you don’t need reservations!
FLAME TREE BARBECUE
I keep hearing tons of people say this is their favorite spot to eat at Animal Kingdom.
You’ll find lots of hearty entrees including pulled pork sandwiches, BBQ sampler plates, and salad.
If you don’t have one of these restaurants near where you live, it’s definitely 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
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 too 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 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?
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 a bit 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, there’s plenty to keep 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!
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.
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):
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.
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 5yo announced that he need to pee so my mom took him out of line to go 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.
And even though we had only done one attraction, it was nice to sit down and talk about our plan for the day.
NA’VI RIVER JOURNEY
We had a 12:40pm-1:40pm FastPass for Na’vi River Journey in Pandora. Even though we were a few minutes early, we got on.
This ride is really 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!
While my husband was on Flight of Passage, the rest of us explored Pandora for a few minutes before heading over to DinoLand U.S.A.
As soon as my 5 year old saw the TriceraTop Spin ride, he pleaded to do it, even though it 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 watch 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 thought we should explore a bit more instead.
My husband met up with us right outside DinoTown U.S.A. and we started to make our way to the Africa area to get ready 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
I didn’t know much about this show before we went. I thought it was going to 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 lots of songs. There isn’t a bad seat in the house.
We had 2:30pm-2:45pm FastPasses for the show, which was from 3pm-3:30pm.
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 not too far from 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 that we packed 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 did find a PhotoPass photographer on a bridge and he took quite a few family shots, shots of just 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 were dressed up in their holiday wear! 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 5:35pm-6pm FastPasses for the Rivers of Light show, that goes from 6:15pm-6:30pm.
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 6:30pm and by the time we got our stroller and started talking about dinner, it was close to 7pm.
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.
Animal Kingdom Tips for Parents
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.
And, if your family is really interested in wildlife, do it again in the evening. As long as you get in line before they close, you will get on a jeep.
I mean, this might be the closest you’ll come to a real African safari, so might as well get the full experience!
This is a free program and is fun for all ages, but probably most interesting to grade school kids.
You can pick up your booklet at any Wilderness Explorer station.
Parents need to know that the Fossil Fun Games costs 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 whole area by just 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 stroller in the line. Then, you’ll pass off the empty stroller to the cast members who will then park it.
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 take out and eating it while you wait for the show to start.
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.
And you can get a FastPass for Adventurer’s Outpost to save time when getting photos with Mickey and Minnie.
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 of the recently renovated hotels near Disney’s Animal Kingdom Park is Disney’s Coronado Springs Resort. It’s actually still under constructions as of this post.
There’s a replica of a Mayan pyramid in their pool area and they have a 2 story lobby.
DISNEY’S ALL-STAR RESORTS
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 at Animal Kingdom with kids!