Walt Disney World’s Animal Kingdom is a member of the Orlando, Florida quartet of theme parks bearing the Disney name. Given its smaller size in relation to other parks, it’s common for guests to wonder if Animal Kingdom is worth it? Should they carve out an entire day to visit this animal-themed oasis or reserve their time for other attractions? When determining the best Disney World park to visit, here is what you need to know about Animal Kingdom.
What is Walt Disney World’s Animal Kingdom?
Animal Kingdom is a Disney World theme park in Florida themed to all things animal, with some fantasy elements thrown in. Animal Kingdom functions as part zoo, part theme park.
When it comes to the question, “is Animal Kingdom worth it,” we need to first outline what the park is like, the theming, the layout, and the animals.
Animal Kingdom has 7 unique lands to explore and view animals in. First, upon entry into the park, you will find yourself in the Oasis. Inside the Oasis, you will not find any rides, but you will find many animal exhibits.
While walking through, be sure to look inside each opening in the rocks, and over each fence. Often times animals are hidden in plain sight in these areas. Here, you can find a variety of birds, turtles, and many other animals. It is important to note that the animals in these exhibits are often rotated, so they may be different each time you visit.
Entering the Animal Kingdom Hub
The oasis acts as a gateway to Discovery Island, which is the hub of the Animal Kingdom theme park. Whether you think Animal Kingdom is worth it can be made or broken in Discovery Island. This park section also contains no rides, but is full of some of the most unique shopping inside the Disney World resort.
If you are looking for unique souvenirs that cannot be found anywhere else, head to Discovery Island for Animal Kingdom themed merchandise. Discovery Island is also packed with restaurants, such as Creature Comforts, a common stop for that morning cup of Java.
From Discovery Island, the crown jewel of Walt Disney World’s Animal Kingdom can also be seen. The 145-foot Tree of Life, which is based on a Baobab Tree, stands tall while showcasing over 300 hand carved animals in its trunk.
Surrounding the Tree of Life are many hidden and little-known animal exhibits for guests to find and explore. Additionally, inside the tree, there is an interactive 4D show titled “It’s Tough to be a Bug.”
Animal Kingdom is set up in a similar fashion to Magic Kingdom, using a hub and spoke model. Since Discovery Island works as the hub and center point of Animal Kingdom, you can move in any direction to enter a new land. Moving to the right, the first spoke of Discovery Island leads to Dinoland USA.
Dinoland USA, a Trip into the Past
Dinoland USA is a quirky location inside Animal Kingdom. If all of the park was themed the way Dinoland USA is, many people would answer “NO” to “Is Animal Kingdom Worth it?”
Dinoland USA is fun and quirky, but the theming is a bit lackluster. Dinoland USA is themed to a roadside carnival in a fantasy town set up near the Dino Institute to draw in crowds. The Dino Institute is a Disney creation where Dinosaurs are studied based on the bones found in Dinoland USA.
Wondering Where to Spend Your Time on a Disney World Vacation? We Can Help
Welcome to Asia
Moving out of Dinoland, we go to the next spoke from Discovery Island, which is the Asia Section of the park. Asia features Animal Kingdom’s first thrill ride: Expedition Everest. This section is also known for its stunning and elaborate theming, something you will see throughout the rest of the park.
Asia is home to many themed restaurants, with delectable food, such as the Yak and Yeti. Asia is also home to a few animal exhibits, such as the monkeys. We have spent many minutes watching the monkeys swing around in their enclosures high above the river.
Near one of the monkey exhibits, you will also find the Maharajah Jungle trek. This exhibit is a walkthrough attraction that houses tigers, water buffalo, over 50 species of birds, and more animals in natural style habitats.
Onto Africa We Go
Next up, we move onto the African themed section of Animal Kingdom. When considering whether Animal Kingdom is worth it, we must spend some time discussing what is found inside the Africa section.
Africa is home to live entertainment, restaurants, stores with handmade trinkets, and the most animal exhibits. Here, you will find the Gorilla Falls Exploration trail, as well as Kilimanjaro Safari. The first is a walking trail, and the second is a ride on large trucks that takes you through an African safari.
Animals that can be seen during these experiences include: gorillas, monkeys, zebras, water buffalo, okapi, ostriches, elephants, rhinos, antelope, lions, hyenas, and more.
The Mystical Land of Pandora
The last spoke of the wheel is Pandora: the Land of Avatar. Pandora closely resembles the land of Pandora from the Avatar movies. It is elaborately themed and changes entirely in the evenings, so be sure to visit both during the day and at night to experience it all!
Pandora is home to the second thrill ride of Animal Kingdom, and one of the most popular (more on this below). Inside this land you will find themed walkways, but no animal exhibits. There are unique restaurants with quirky yet delicious food, and live entertainment.
Setting out on a Railroad Adventure
Lastly, we need to talk about the outlier section of the park. Rafiki’s Planet Watch requires you to board a train in Africa to access it. The train takes you to this land, which is focused on education and hands on exhibits.
Inside, you will find educational plaques and the conservation station, which focuses on educating the public on conserving the planet and helping wildlife. Here, you can also witness veterinarians helping the animals onsite and performing routine care.
There is also a petting zoo with animals like sheep, pigs, llamas, goats and donkeys. Outside of this, there is a small stage where more exotic animals are brought out for guests to see on occasion.
Rides in Disney World Animal Kingdom
For most, the rides are the obvious factor when deciding is Animal Kingdom worth it. Animal Kingdom does have many rides, but a few less than Magic Kingdom and Hollywood Studios.
Rides within Disney World’s Animal Kingdom run the gamut from one-of-a-kind coasters and virtual reality thrills to serene kiddie rides. You can even go back in time on a dinosaur hunt, but most of the park’s attractions are meant to foster conservatism and to promote preservation of ecological diversity.
The most famous Animal Kingdom animal attraction is the Kilimanjaro Safari. Kilimanjaro Safari is a huge reason why Animal Kingdom is worth it. The safari takes guests on large safari trucks through various ecological systems to see the animals that live there.
Some animals can even come up very close to the vehicles. Here, you will see lions, hippos, rhinos, giraffes, antelope, ostriches, elephants, zebras, and many many more.
In addition, Walt Disney World’s Animal Kingdom has three main thrill rides: Expedition Everest, Flight of Passage, Dinosaur, and Kali River Rapids. Expedition Everest is another reason Animal Kingdom is worth it. Expedition Everest is a one of a kind rollercoaster which takes you on a journey to Mt Everest, until a Yeti intercepts your train car, and causes some problems.
Flight of Passage puts you directly into the land of Pandora and allows you to ride a Banshee. This ride is a state-of-the-art motion simulator ride, unlike any other.
Dinosaur is a combination of dark ride and thrill ride. You will take a bouncy immersive journey back in time to bring a dinosaur to the future with you. But, during the journey you encounter hungry dinosaurs, and almost become extinct during the massive asteroid strike.
Kali River Rapids is not the thrill ride to ride when it is cold out. You will get soaked on this ride as you navigate the rapids of a roaring river.
Rides for younger guests include Triceratops spin; a dino themed Dumbo ride, Na’vi River; a slow river voyage through the land of Pandora, and the Boneyard; where kids can dig for dinosaur bones.
In addition to the many moving rides, Animal Kingdom is comprised of multiple animal exhibits. If you’re an animal lover or interested in conservation, a visit to the Animal Kingdom park is definitely worth it.
The animal exhibits can be found throughout the entire park. Hidden animal enclosures are found in every nook and cranny of the park, with many concentrated around the Tree of Life. More formal animal exhibits are found in the Gorilla Falls Trail, and the Maharajah Jungle Trek.
These walkthrough attractions allow close up views of many animals such as gorillas, tigers, meerkats, zebras, okapi, many exotic bird species, different varieties of monkeys, bats, reptiles, and more! These walkthrough attractions also feature expert cast members near each animal to answer any questions you may have.
Are There Any Shows, Parades, or Fireworks in Animal Kingdom
You may think no Disney park is complete without shows, and you would be right. If you are into shows, and live entertainment, then Animal Kingdom is worth it for you.
Animal Kingdom hosts two large and popular stage shows: A Celebration of Festival of the Lion King and Finding Nemo: the Big Blue… and Beyond. Both shows feature characters from their perspective movies, are wildly bright and visual, and are fun and entertaining for all ages.
Additionally, the show Disney KiteTails, which takes place at the outdoor theater across from Expedition Everest, showcases large kites and balloons floating above the river. The show features characters from the Jungle Book or the Lion King. The balloons change according to which performance you see, so there is always an element of surprise.
It’s Tough to be a Bug is hidden inside the Tree of Life. This 4D experience is hosted by Flick, who is trying to show humans how it feels it be a bug in the world.
Feathered Friends in Flight is an interactive stage show in the Asia section of the park. This show serves to educate guests on different bird species and showcase what makes each of them unique.
Last, Animal Kingdom often has live music, and performers in the street of the Africa section. Small boat parades also take place on Discovery River throughout the day.
Disney World Animal Kingdom Restaurants
Animal Kingdom has two types of restaurants: counter service and table service. Counter service restaurants, also called quick service, are just that, quick. Here, you walk up to the counter, order your food, and pick it up a few minutes later, then find your table.
At table service restaurants, you will receive a sit-down style service with waiters, and a longer wait for your food. These tend to cost a bit more, but have higher quality food, and are a great way to relax.
Walt Disney World’s Animal Kingdom hosts diverse food offerings. Asia boasts different Asian themed dishes and Africa has an array of African themed food with America twists. Pandora offers delicious food with a bit of whimsy. For more familiar food options, be sure to dine in Discovery Island or Dinoland USA, where things like burgers and pizza are served.
For our favorite restaurants that make Animal Kingdom worth it, click here.
How Much is an Animal Kingdom Theme Park Ticket?
When it comes to deciding is Animal Kingdom worth it, cost may come into play for your family. Animal Kingdom tickets vary in price based on ticket type and the day you visit.
Walt Disney World offers a couple different ticket types: Regular one park passes, and park hopper passes, which allow you to visit more than one park per day.
Prices also increase during peak travel times, such as holidays, and weekends. Also, multi-day tickets, such as purchasing a ten day pass, will be cheaper per day than purchasing a one day pass.
For the purpose of determining how much a ticket to Animal Kingdom costs, we will focus on one day passes, without the park hopper option.
One day tickets begin at $109 in 2022 and go as high as $159, depending on when you visit.
For a complete outline on Disney tickets and how to purchase, click here.
Is There an Animal Kingdom Hotel?
Yes! Animal Kingdom Lodge is located nearby, but not inside of Animal Kingdom park. At this lodge, you have the option to upgrade to a savanna view room and overlook of some of the Animal Kingdom animals, right in your backyard.
Disney rotates the animals in the safari to give them off days, oftentimes, when they are not in the safari, they are resting at the lodge.
Animal Kingdom Lodge has two sections, the regular lodge section, and the DVC Villas. DVC stands for Disney Vacation Club and acts as Disney’s version of a timeshare. When extra rooms are available, guests who are not members of the DVC can book them through Disney’s website or by contacting a Disney travel planner.
The Lodge itself was inspired by the African Kraal and has many themed elements. Inside you will find African and American themed dining options, such as BOMA, one of our favorite buffets.
There is also a large pool with waterslide and many resort activities. For a complete review of the resort, be sure to read our Animal Kingdom Lodge review, found here.
What Other Hotels are Located Near Animal Kingdom?
If you plan to visit Animal Kingdom, or spend a lot of time inside the park, you may want to consider staying nearby. Animal Kingdom requires the most commuting from other resorts, specifically Magic Kingdom resorts. This commute can be as much as 20 minutes, or even a little more depending on traffic.
Disney owned resorts nearby include Coronado Springs, a moderate level resort, and the Disney All Stars resorts, which are value resorts.
Coronado Springs is 3.6 miles away, with an 11 minute drive. The Disney All Star resorts are about 3 miles away, with a 9 minute drive.
Nearby resorts not owned by Disney include: the Wyndham Orlando Resort, (2.9 miles, 10 minutes away,) and the Maingate Lakeside Resort (2.9 miles away, 9 minute drive.)
What Could be Improved at Animal Kingdom?
Animal Kingdom has become increasingly more popular recently, with many guests realizing Animal Kingdom is worth it. To help disperse these crowds, Animal Kingdom could really use another thrill ride, or a couple new dark rides/ quiet rides. These could spread crowds out along the park.
To combat the crowding problem, Animal Kingdom should also spend time advertising the many smaller animal exhibits that are often missed by guests. Wider pathways would also help with this. Animal Kingdom contains many narrow pathways, which give a cozy village feel, but worsen crowds. This problem is especially bad in Africa and Pandora.
Animal Kingdom sees a huge uptick in guests in the morning, with crowds leaving and thinning out in the afternoons. This is because Animal Kingdom currently closes early, with no nighttime activities.
In the pre-Covid world, Walt Disney World’s Animal Kingdom had expanded to nighttime hours with a nighttime safari.
Bringing back the Safari in the evenings will draw crowds to the park at night and could spread the crowds out evenly through the day.
Additionally, a revamp of the Dinoland USA area is desperately needed. This section of the park was developed as a temporary placeholder for opening day, but has remained ever since. In today’s busy time, we need a remodel to give a resounding “Yes!” to the question, is Animal Kingdom worth it?
A Dinoland USA remodel or change, would draw crowds to that quiet side of the park, and reduce the hoards inside Pandora.
Tips for Visiting Animal Kingdom Park
We always answer “yes” to “Is Animal Kingdom worth it?” So can you with these helpful tips.
Avoiding crowds in sections of Walt Disney World’s Animal Kingdom can be very difficult. And wait times for Flight of Passage often reach 90-120 minutes. If you want to avoid this wait, without utilizing Genie+, you need to plan ahead.
Plan to be at the park early, even earlier than you think. Plan to be at the Animal Kingdom gates about 1 hour prior to opening. Often times, cast members allow guests into the park 15-30 minutes ahead of opening to stand at rope drop locations at each park section.
To ride Flight of Passage first thing, plan to “rope drop” the attraction, and beat the lines. Flight of Passage has a huge rider capacity, so by being there at opening with the early crowds, you should be able to ride with a 25 minute or (much) less wait.
Another Animal Kingdom tip is to dine at off times. Reservations are easier to obtain during off times, and it will allow you to ride more rides while other guests are eating.
If you are looking for quiet animal encounters, be sure to visit all the animal trails and the safari early in the morning. At this time, many guests will be rushing to rides, ensuring you get a more private experience during your animal visits. Additionally, the animals are more active in the cooler mornings.
Overall, Animal Kingdom is definitely worth a visit on your trip to Disney World, but like all parks, requires some special planning and consideration to make the most of the experience.
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