Disney’s Animal Kingdom theme park is a favorite in my family. Where else can you watch magnificent animals roam the savanna, enjoy 2 evening street parties, see amazing stage shows, enjoy one of Disney’s biggest thrill rides and be transported back to the Dinosaur Age all in one day. That’s why I cry a little bit inside each time I hear people say that they’ve been told to give Animal Kingdom a miss or that they’ve heard its just a half day park. If you’ve never been to Disney World before or if its been a while since you’ve visited this amazing theme park, try these 10 Tips to help you get the most out of your next visit. With a bit of forward planning and a sense of adventure, I’m confident you’ll love this park just as much as I do.
1. Nab an 8:05 Tusker House breakfast reservation – This is a lovely character dining experience tucked away in Africa’s bustling Harambe Market. Not only do guests at Tusker House get to enjoy a hearty meal with almost every breakfast dish you can imagine (including Mickey waffles) but you also get to meet by Mickey, Minnie, Daisy Donald, and Goofy all dressed up for a safari. And if you’re lucky enough to nab an 8am reservation, you can beat the lines, walk through an empty Discovery Island, stop for photos, have a hearty breakfast and still have time to line up for your favorite attractions before the morning crowds start to descend on the park.
2. Use the single rider line at Expedition Everest or ride at the end of the day – Chances are, even if you’re using a Fastpass for Expedition Everest, you’ll want take a ride up this thrilling Disney mountain more than once. Remember that this is one of the few rides at Walt Disney World that offers a single rider option. If you don’t mind splitting up your group its a great way to avoid the long lines and wait times. However visiting the ride during the last hours that the park is open is also a strategy that has really worked for my family in the past. So go it solo or line up once crowds start to dwindle.
3. Ride Kilimanjaro Safari early in the day or in the rain – For many visitors, Kilimanjaro Safari will be a highlight of your time at Animal Kingdom. That’s why you’ll want to make sure that you can see as many of the animals as possible that make the savanna their home. With this in mind, I have had the best luck with viewing the animals earlier in the morning. Once that Florida heat sets in, the animals will usually find a nice shady spot (normally out of sight) and you may find the ride rather uneventful. Similarly, another great time to ride is during those plentiful Florida afternoon rain showers when the animals come out to cool off.
4. Head to Dinoland USA first – Most people entering the Animal Kingdom will either make a mad dash through Discovery Island, across the bridge to Africa and straight to Kilimanjaro Safaris or over to Expedition Everest in Asia. To enjoy smaller crowds go against the grain and head over to Dinoland USA first. You’ll be able to enjoy Finding Nemo the Musical, Boneyard, Dino-Rama, Primeval Whirl, Triceratop Spin and headlining attraction DINOSAUR (when it re-opens later this year) all with minimal wait times. However, if you follow this strategy, be sure to use your Fastpasses for rides like Kilminjaro Safaris and Expedition Everest both of which will have long lines come mid-day.
5. Don’t miss the amazing stage shows – Many first time visitors to the Animal Kingdom don’t realize that here you’ll find two of the best stage shows on Disney property. Part Broadway musical, part circus, the incredible Festival of the Lion King is sure to be one of the highlights of your park day. Slots fill up fast though so check the Times Guide and head to an early morning show or use one of your Fastpasses! Finding Nemo the Musical, is also in my opinion one of the most underrated attractions at Disney World. A favorite with younger visitors to the park, this playful musical meets puppet show is so magical, it will have you wondering how they did it!
6. Use the “hidden gate” near Rainforest Cafe to enter the park – If you’re noticing heavy crowds at the main gate to the Animal Kingdom, veer left as if you were heading to the Rainforest Cafe for a meal. Once there, you’ll see an additional gate from which to enter the park. Though it can occasionally be a bit crowded , more often than not, you’ll find that you can walk right on through leaving you feeling like an Animal Kingdom VIP.
7. Take time to meet the characters – When most people think about character meet and greets it’s usually Magic Kingdom that springs to mind. But, Animal Kingdom has some amazing opportunities to interact with much loved Disney friends including: Pocahontas, Rafiki, Russell , Dug, Baloo, King Louie and even Tarzan. However, some of these( particularly Pocahontas and Tarzan) can be a bit off-the-beaten path so if you can’t find them be sure to ask a Cast Member.
8. Cool off with Its Tough to Be a Bug – For some reason especially during mid-Summer, Animal Kingdom can really feel like the hottest of the theme parks so be prepared to sweat it out. However, I’ve found that a great way to beat the afternoon heat is by checking out It’s Tough to Be a Bug. This 3D show is housed in a theater located in the base of the Tree of Life. Its cool, dark and a relaxing change from the hustle and bustle of the park. Best of all, it rarely has a wait time. You can usually walk right up before a scheduled show and get a seat. However, parents with little ones be warned for some reason tiny tots can find the insects on show here a bit creepy. If you have a little one that scares easily then give it a miss!
9. Stay for the later in the day festivities – Even though Disney may be dragging their feet with Rivers of Light, there’s still a lot to love about Animal Kingdom when the sun starts to go down. The Tree of Life awakens periodically throughout those evening hours in a display that is nothing short of breathtaking. You also have two evening events designed to get you moving and shaking, the Brazillian-influenced Discovery Island Carnivale and the Harambe Wildlife Parti. You can also enjoy Expedition Everest all lit up or take a nighttime ride through the savanna with Kilimanjaro Safari.
10. Enjoy the view while having some BBQ – For me, a trip to Animal Kingdom just wouldn’t be complete without a visit to Flame Tree BBQ. Not only do they have an amazing menu filled with smokehouse favorites like BBQ ribs, pulled pork sandwiches, baked beans and jalapeno cornbread (that is to die for). Flame Tree also has a seating area with the most magical views of the Animal Kingdom as you look across the Discovery River toward Expedition Everest. It may not get you out of the Summer heat but its a great place to take a deep breath, relax and recharge before heading back out into the throng.
So next time time you head over to the Animal Kingdom give a few of our trusted tips a try! Whether its your 1st or your 40th there’s so much to love about this exotic, educational and fun-filled theme park.
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