Animal Kingdom is Walt Disney World’s most underrated park! Many write off Animal Kingdom as a half-day park or a glorified zoo. This park is indeed a premier animal care facility, but the attractions are as good as any of the other parks. I think the balance of exciting rides and nature is what makes Animal Kingdom so special.
I worked at Animal Kingdom for seven years before I transitioned into writing. Instead of making this article easy to write, it makes it that much harder. There are so many special parts of Animal Kingdom that I want to share with you. Trust me when I say that I’ve put together the perfect Animal Kingdom itinerary!
👉 More than one day at the Disney World parks? I have a Disney World itinerary that covers all the theme parks and entertainment offerings!
Table of Contents
- 1 Day Animal Kingdom Itinerary
- Things You Can’t-Miss at Animal Kingdom
- Best Hotels for Visiting Animal Kingdom
- Itinerary Planning – Animal Kingdom Tips
Disclosure: Travel Lemming is an independent reader-supported blog. You can support us by purchasing via the affiliate links on this page, which may earn us commissions when you make a purchase or hotel reservation through one of our affiliate partners. Note that this site has no affiliation with The Walt Disney Company or its subsidiaries. The opinions expressed are those of the author.
1 Day Animal Kingdom Itinerary
Oasis and Discovery Island
When you enter Animal Kingdom, you’ll be immediately greeted by beautiful foliage and hidden animal habitats. This area is known as Oasis and the name is fitting. Keep your eyes peeled as you walk toward the middle of the park because you could see an anteater, lots of birds, or some babirusa.
As you walk over the bridge onto Discovery Island, you’ll be greeted by Animal Kingdom’s icon, the Tree of Life. This beautiful focal point can be seen from most areas in the park. Similar to the area in front of Cinderella Castle in Magic Kingdom, you will see lots of parties lining up for photos in front of the tree.
👉 Pro Tip: There are excellent photo locations between Africa and Asia. You can get the perfect photo with the Tree of Life and no crowds in the background.
If you need a morning pick-me-up, take the path to the left of the Tree of Life and stop at Creature Comforts. You can get Starbucks and pastries to start your day at Animal Kingdom.
Pandora – The World of Avatar
Don’t be surprised when you see many guests heading into Pandora in the morning. Avatar Flight of Passage is one of the best attractions at the Walt Disney World Resort, so everyone wants to fit it in. You can save it for later in the day, but I think the land of Pandora is beautiful in the early morning and the lines for the attractions are long regardless of the time.
Explore the intricately designed environment around you. The Walt Disney Company spared no expense to transport their guests to this fantasy planet. If you’re looking for that perfect Instagram photo, this is the place to take it.
Unless you’ve been able to get a Lightning Lane reservation, settle into the long line at Avatar Flight of Passage. Luckily, there’s plenty to look at in the queue. Flight of Passage is an immersive experience that allows you to ride on a Banshee (one of the creatures on Pandora) through the landscape.
After you ride Flight of Passage, it is up to you if you want to ride the Na’vi River Journey. This is a slow-moving boat ride with gorgeous theming. I think it is worth a stop if the wait time is less than 40 minutes. Na’vi River Journey is a great ride for younger kids because the scenery is mesmerizing (if visiting with smaller children, see my guide to Disney with toddlers).
One of the best-kept secrets in Disney’s Animal Kingdom is the boardwalk that takes you from Pandora to Africa. This allows you to move between the two lands while avoiding the crowds on Discovery Island.
The boardwalk takes you directly to the Celebration of Festival of the Lion King show. This is a classic Animal Kingdom experience featuring the Lion King characters and other performers. I’m sure you know the words, so sing along and enjoy the show.
After walking through the village of Harambe, hop on Kilimanjaro Safaris. This is one of the most popular attractions at Animal Kingdom (and all of Walt Disney World). Every safari is different because the animals are free-roaming throughout the ride. You can see rhinos, hippos, antelope, elephants, and lions (among other animals). If there is one thing you include on your Animal Kingdom touring plan, it should be Kilimanjaro Safaris!
👉 Pro Tip: Animal viewing is typically better from the left side of the truck.
After getting off your safari vehicle, you’re in the perfect spot to take a trek through the Gorilla Falls Exploration Trail. This is a walk-through animal viewing attraction. I love the underwater viewing window for the hippos and walking through the gorilla habitats. Along the trail, you’ll see education cast members who will be happy to answer your questions and tell you all about the animals that you see.
If you have kids or animal lovers in your group, this is a great time to take the Wildlife Express Train out to Rafiki’s Planet Watch and Conservation Station. There you can learn more about how keepers care for animals at the park, visit the petting zoo, and draw your favorite characters at the Animation Experience. Skip this part of the park if you’re not that interested because the train ride can take up a lot of time.
My top recommendation for lunch is Satu’li Canteen in Pandora. The food here is fresh and delicious. It is served with real dishes and flatware so it feels like a table service meal without the extra cost. The bowls are delicious and can be customized to your preference. Disney fans also love the cheeseburger steamed pods, which are enclosed bao buns.
If you are more of a grazer, there are several stack stands located throughout the park. You can enjoy options like street corn in Africa and tacos on Discovery Island. Some of the stands have unusual operating hours, so check the My Disney Experience app for menus and hours.
A table service lunch option is Tusker House in Africa. This restaurant serves all-you-can-eat African-inspired dishes. It is also a character meal location, so you can meet Donald Duck and all his friends.
Asia and Dinoland U.S.A.
Once you’ve eaten your fill, make your way into Asia. When you first enter the land, you’ll see the Feathered Friends in Flight bird show. The animal experts will teach you about the care and training of the free-flighted birds at Disney’s Animal Kingdom.
If it is a hot day, definitely take a ride on Kali River Rapids! This water raft ride is guaranteed to get you wet. On most days in Florida, it will feel very refreshing.
When you exit Kali River Rapids, you’ll be next to the entrance of the Maharajah Jungle Trek. This walking trail features tigers, bats, and monkeys. Spend some time hanging out in the aviary on the Maharajah Jungle Trek because some precocious birds like to show off for guests.
Now, onto the main attraction in Asia: Expedition Everest. You’ll be able to see the mountain long before you get there. This high-speed roller coaster takes you forward and backward as you try to avoid the yeti that lives on the mountain. I find that the wait times to ride Expedition Everest are not that bad, especially compared to similar rides around Disney World.
While you walk towards Dinoland U.S.A, you’ll notice some seating along the water. Animal Kingdom has hosted many shows at the Discovery River Amphitheater, but none of them have lasted too long. The current show is Disney KiteTails, where large character kites are flown from jet skis. In my opinion, the only way to enjoy this show is with a refreshing drink from the Thirsty River Bar.
You’ll see that Dinoland U.S.A. looks pretty lackluster right now. The main attraction is DINOSAUR and it is an excellent adventure back in time. Other than that, you can skip the street carnival attractions and the TriceraTop Spin (a Dumbo knock-off).
For a filling quick-service dinner, you can’t beat Flame Tree Barbecue. These delicious platters come with plenty of food. If you’re looking for something smaller, enjoy one of the kid’s meals. Grab a seat down by the water for excellent views of Expedition Everest.
Tiffins Restaurant is the most upscale of Disney’s Animal Kingdom dining locations. The cuisine draws inspiration from around the world, creating unique and delicious dishes. The restaurant is also located in the center of the park between Pandora and the Tree of Life, putting you in the perfect spot to start your evening.
Disney’s Animal Kingdom does not always stay open until after dark. The park hours vary based on the time of year and crowd levels. The animal trails close earlier than other attractions because the animals need to rest and the trails do not have lighting.
If you are lucky enough to visit when the park closes after dark, try to ride Expedition Everest and Kilimanjaro Safari after the sunsets. Kilimanjaro Safari has special sunset and moonlit lighting to make the animals visible without disturbing their sleep. Additionally, the entire land of Pandora lights up with bioluminescence. The area looks unrecognizable compared to the daytime.
Out of respect for the animal residents, Animal Kingdom has never and will never have a fireworks show. Instead, you can enjoy the Tree of Life Awakenings. These short projection shows play on Discovery Island throughout the evening. For your Animal Kingdom itinerary, I recommend grabbing a drink from one of the bars and finding a bench to sit and enjoy the shows.
- 🛎️ Where to Stay: Disney’s Animal Kingdom Lodge ($$$, animals outside your window), Disney’s Coronado Springs Resort ($$, newly renovated), Margaritaville Resort ($$, tropical villas)
- 🍽️ Where to Eat: Tiffin’s Restaurant ($$$), Flame Tree Barbecue ($), Satu’li Canteen ($), Tusker House Restaurant ($$$)
- 🍺 Where to Drink: Dawa Bar ($), Nomad Lounge ($$), Thirsty River Bar ($)
Things You Can’t-Miss at Animal Kingdom
Animal Kingdom For Young Children
The best way to keep kids excited and engaged during your visit to Animal Kingdom is to participate in the Wilderness Explorers program. This free activity has stations throughout the park where kids (of all ages) can learn about animals and nature. They will earn badges along the way to keep in their booklet.
Many kids love seeing animals, especially some of the unique species at Animal Kingdom. You may be worried that there isn’t time in a 1-day Animal Kingdom itinerary to sit in front of animal exhibits, but you’d be surprised how special the moments are. The main animal viewing locations are:
- ✨ Oasis Exhibits
- 🏝️ Discovery Island Trails
- 🌳 Maharajah Jungle Trek
- 🦍 Gorilla Falls Exploration Trail
- 🐒 Rafiki’s Planet Watch
Not all of the Animal Kingdom rides are suitable for young children. However, when you visit Animal Kingdom, you may find that it is more kid-friendly than other Disney parks. For young children, the best Animal Kingdom attractions are:
- 🐞 It’s Tough to be a Bug (unless your child is afraid of the dark)
- 🏞️ Na’vi River Journey
- 🦁 A Celebration of Festival of the Lion King
- 🎋 Kilimanjaro Safaris
- 🐦 Feathered Friends in Flight
- 🦖 TriceraTop Spin
Finally, the best-kept secret for children at Animal Kingdom is The Boneyard in Dinoland U.S.A. It can be hard to spend the day in a stroller or waiting in long lines, so kids can benefit from getting the chance to run around. The Boneyard has a dig site and several paths to explore.
👉 Looking for More Kids Activities?: I put together a list of my favorite Things to Do with Kids in Orlando.
Animal Kingdom For Animal Lovers
If you love animals, your Disney World vacation must include a visit to Animal Kingdom. I recommend using early entry or getting there at the park opening. The animals are most active in the morning because they have just been put in their habitats for the day and the keepers usually leave out treats for them to find.
Don’t head straight to Kilimanjaro Safari as many people recommend. The reality is that the animal keepers have a lot to get done in the mornings and the animals don’t always finish their breakfasts before the park opens. Wait until an hour after the park opens to ride. Alternatively, you can ride in the evening because the animals are more active after the heat of the day passes.
Take your time walking through each animal trail to see as much as possible. Some fun animals to see include the gorillas and okapi on Gorilla Falls Exploration Trail, the Malayan flying foxes and great argus pheasants on Maharajah Jungle Trek, babirusa and muntjac in the Oasis Exhibits, and the kangaroos and lemurs on the Discovery Island Trails.
If you want to make your visit truly special, book a backstage tour to meet the Animal Kingdom residents up close and personal. The tours currently available are:
- 🇿🇦 Wild Africa Trek
- 💮 Savor the Savannah
- 🦏 Up Close with Rhinos
- 🐘 Caring for Giants
All of the experiences are exceptional, but I recommend Wild Africa Trek. This allows you to see the most animals and you get to dine on the savannah.
📚 Related Reading: I included some other animal experiences in my list of the Best Things to Do in Central Florida.
Animal Kingdom For Adults
I think the two things adults look for when they visit a theme park are alcohol and thrill rides. Animal Kingdom has those and the bonus of cool animals. The best attractions for adults to include in their Animal Kingdom touring plan are:
- 🚀 Avatar Flight of Passage
- 🌊 Kali River Rapids
- ⛰️ Expedition Everest
- 🦖 DINOSAUR
As for bars, Animal Kingdom has quite a few spread out throughout the park. My favorite is the Dawa Bar in Africa. It is next to Tusker House Restaurant and the cultural performers have a stage nearby. In Asia, you can wet your whistle at the Thirsty River Bar. For a more relaxing experience, visit the Nomad Lounge behind Tiffins Restaurant. The outdoor seating overlooks the water and the bridge into Pandora.
Best Hotels for Visiting Animal Kingdom
Note: You can also check out my guide to the best hotels near Disney World.
Disney’s Animal Kingdom Lodge
Disney’s Animal Kingdom Lodge is located directly next to Disney’s Animal Kingdom. The hotel has its own savannah that the rooms look out onto. Between the restaurants and the pools next to the savannahs, you’ll think you have been transported to Africa. Unfortunately, there is not a walkway to Animal Kingdom from the hotel. The bus ride is very quick between the park and the hotel.
Disney’s Coronado Springs Resort
Disney’s Coronado Springs Resort recently added the Gran Destino Tower and upgraded the rooms. It is a huge resort with multiple pools and restaurant options. It has a central location on property, making it quick to get to any Disney park.
Margaritaville Resort Orlando
The Margaritaville Resort is located 10 minutes away from Animal Kingdom. This tropical resort has villas that can fit any size of family. There is shopping and dining located right next to the resort.
📚 Related Reading: Margaritaville is located in Kissimmee, one of my recommended Places to Stay in Orlando.
Itinerary Planning – Animal Kingdom Tips
Tip #1 – See the Animals Early
For most of the year, Florida is hot in the middle of the day. Plus, you can bet on afternoon showers in the summer. This means that the best times for animal viewing are in the morning and the evening. Many of the animals are being shifted into their night housing in the evening, so the morning is your best animal viewing time.
Tip #2 – Don’t Backtrack on Your Animal Kingdom Itinerary
I give this tip for most of the Walt Disney World theme parks, but it helps to move in the same direction throughout the park. Make the most of your Animal Kingdom itinerary by not crisscrossing through the park. Using your time efficiently will allow you to see and do more during your day.
Tip #3 – Consider a Backstage Tour
If you have a true animal lover in your group, consider booking one of the backstage tours. Caring for Giants gives you a behind-the-scenes look at Disney’s elephant herd and Up Close with Rhinos takes you, well, up close with rhinos. I recommend Wild Africa Trek, where you can meet a hippo keeper, walk on bridges above the hippo and crocodile habitats, take a personal safari, and enjoy a meal on the savannah.
Tip #4 – Use Early Entry and Lightning Lane Features
Guests staying at certain Disney World resort hotels get the perk of early entry into the theme parks. 30 minutes may not seem like a lot of time, but you can usually ride Flight of Passage and Na’vi River Journey before the park opens. Genie+ and Lightning Lane reservations allow you to skip the long waits for the best attractions.
Tip #5 – Pack Your Bags Wisely
What you bring to Disney World can really impact how relaxing (or stressful) your trip is. Just use my handy checklist of Disney essentials to make sure you’re not forgetting anything!
This 1-day Animal Kingdom itinerary is my perfect day at my favorite park. In the comments, let me know which animal you’re looking forward to seeing on your visit!
📚 Related Reading: For more Disney theme park planning advice, check out our other itineraries:
- 6-Day Disney World Itinerary
- 1-Day Magic Kingdom Itinerary
- 1-Day Epcot Itinerary
- 1-Day Hollywood Studios Itinerary
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