The fourth park to open at the massive Walt Disney World Resort in Florida, Disney’s Animal Kingdom is perhaps the most unique among Disney’s worldwide portfolio of theme parks. Part zoo, it is the company’s only park to showcase live animals. Zebras, giraffes, lions, and a wide variety of other species roam freely on the park’s 110-acre safari site. You can come (nearly) face-to-face with tigers, water buffalo, gorillas, and more along walking trails. There is also an area where guests can pet and interact with animals and discover a veterinary care center.
But Disney’s Animal Kingdom is so much more than a zoo. The park also features e-ticket rides, engaging shows, and wonderful dining options. And it is home to Pandora – The World of Avatar, a highly-themed (and highly popular) land based on James Cameron's “Avatar.” The land brings the films’ mythical animals and flora to life and includes one of Disney’s best attractions. If it’s thrills you seek, Animal Kingdom delivers those as well.
In addition to Pandora, Animal Kingdom’s other lands include Africa, which features one of the park’s highlights, Kilimanjaro Safaris; Asia, where a towering mountain houses Expedition Everest; the whimsical DinoLand U.S.A.; Discovery Island, home to the iconic Tree of Life; and Rafiki's Planet Watch, which is accessible via train and offers animal encounters and Conservation Station.
Animal Kingdom Ride and Attraction Highlights
- Live animals and the natural world may be the park‘s heart and soul, but with the opening of Pandora – The World of Avatar in 2017, much of Animal Kingdom’s focus shifted to the fictional planet of Pandora and its curious creatures. The headline attraction, Avatar Flight of Passage, is a next-gen "flying theater” experience (a concept Disney developed for Soarin’) that places passengers on the backs of winged banshees and sends them on a giddy airborne journey above Pandora. It is one of Disney World's best rides–and one of the best rides on this (or any other) planet.
- Pandora’s other attraction, Na’vi River Journey, is a much gentler, almost serene boat ride through a lush jungle glowing with bioluminescent plants and critters. For the finale, passengers encounter the Shaman of Songs, one of Disney’s most complex animatronic characters.
- The most thrilling attraction at Animal Kingdom is Expedition Everest. It's near the upper end of what is considered a "family coaster,” with a top speed of 50 mph, a section that reverses direction and sends the train racing backwards (in total darkness no less), and some potent G-forces, the ride pushes the boundaries. The story and effects are very well done, however the giant animatronic Yeti that lives inside the mountain broke down soon after Expedition Everest opened, and it’s never been repaired.
- The park’s signature attraction, Kilimanjaro Safaris, brings guests through the “Harambe Wildlife Reserve” on open-air vehicles to ogle the herds of animals that live there.
- Dinosaur transports visitors to prehistoric times where its namesake animals lurk in the darkness. It uses the same trackless ride vehicles Disney pioneered for Indiana Jones Adventure at California's Disneyland.
- On the raft ride, Kali River Rapids, passengers get soaked as they brave the rapids and a 30-foot finale drop.
- The 4-D movie attraction, It's Tough to be a Bug, which is located inside the base of the Tree of Life, features characters from the Pixar movie, "A Bug’s Life." Beware the stink bug!
Animal Kingdom Shows
- The park is home to what may be Disney World’s best stage show, Finding Nemo - The Musical. Based on the popular Pixar film, it features wonderful puppetry (with the puppeteers fully visible and part of the performance), grand-scale sets, and a lovely, engaging score specially composed for the production.
- Animal Kingdom’s other major show is Festival of the Lion King. The spectacle features songs from the landmark movie and also offers a hint of Cirque de Soleil with scenes that present acrobatics and other feats of derring-do.
- UP! A Great Bird Adventure incorporates characters from the Pixar movie into a show starring trained, exotic birds.
Where to Eat
Through the years, Disney Word has really upped its culinary game, and Animal Kingdom is no exception. Sure, you can find burgers, pizza, ice cream, and other fare typically associated with parks. But there are some unique and outstanding choices as well, including the following:
- Tiffins Restaurant makes our list of Disney World’s best table service eateries, and for good reason. The menu, inspired by African, Asian, and South American cuisines, include adventurous dishes such as Ethiopian coffee butter-infused venison loin and grilled octopus with squid ink aioli. The funky dining rooms are decorated with artifacts gathered by the Imagineers that helped design Animal Kingdom. Tiffins is a great way to cap a day at the park as well as a wonderful place to celebrate a special occasion.
- At Satu'li Canteen, you can dine like a Pandoran. Enjoy “native” food, including bao buns and scrumptious grain bowls that you can custom-order with your favorite ingredients. This is one of Disney World’s best quick-service restaurants.
- Another Animal Kingdom quick-service eatery that earns kudos is Flame Tree Barbecue. The aroma of the smoked ribs, pork, and chicken is intoxicating.
- Delicious African dishes such as curry chicken, black-eyed pea salad, peri peri whole salmon, and fruit chutney are available buffet-style at Tusker House Restaurant.
- For some out-of-this-world beverages, including a Night Blossom that glows in the dark, head to Pongu Pongu in Pandora.
To enter Animal Kingdom, you’ll need a valid ticket (or season pass). You could purchase a single-day pass or a multi-day pass with or without park-hopping privileges (that allow holders to visit more than one theme park per day). We have a feature about Disney World tickets to help you wade through all of the options and determine the best choice and value for you and your park posse.
Best Time to Visit
As far as when to visit Disney World, a lot depends on your preferences and needs. Do you want to try to avoid crowds? Or would you want to plan a family trip to celebrate the holidays? (The busiest time at Disney World is traditionally the week between Christmas and New Year’s.) We have a separate article that addresses these and other issues to help you determine when might be the best time for you and your gang to visit the resort.
Getting There & Where to Stay
Unlike Disney World’s other three theme parks, which offer monorail service, ferries, water taxies, and aerial gondolas, there are only a few ways to get to Disney’s Animal Kingdom: Take the resort’s complimentary bus transportation; drive your own car; or take a cab or ride sharing service (including Disney Minnie Van that is operated by Lyft.)
All of the on-property hotels offer bus service to Disney’s Animal Kingdom. Note that there are no walking paths to the park. But if you want to stay the closest to the park and enjoy its theme even when you leave the gates, consider booking a room at Disney’s Animal Kingdom Lodge. You might be able to see giraffes and other animals roaming the savannas from your balcony at the lovely Deluxe category hotel. It also offers four of Disney World’s best restaurants.
Tips for Visiting
- With Pandora’s two popular attractions, it is virtually a requirement to make advance Fastpass+ reservations. Really, it’s necessary to become fluent and to take full advantage of the My Disney Experience website and app for your entire Disney World stay.
- For Kilimanjaro Safaris, the ideal time to see the animals bright-eyed and bushy-tailed is generally early in the morning. Later in the day, many of them tend to doze and escape the Florida sun.
- For many years, Disney’s Animal Kingdom used to close fairly early–often before sunset. Now, however, the park frequently remains open into the evening. Consider visiting at night to enjoy features such as the bioluminescent plants that come to life after dusk in Pandora, special nighttime journeys aboard Kilimanjaro Safaris, and "Tree of Life Awakenings,” projection-mapped vignettes that animate the centerpiece tree.
- For Tiffins and other table-service restaurants, it is important to plan ahead. Learn how to make Disney World dining reservations with our complete guide.
- You can dine with Mickey and his friends for breakfast, lunch, and dinner at the Tusker House Restaurant inside the park.
- Are you wondering whether you or your park companions can handle the thrills of Expedition Everest or some of Animal Kingdom’s more toned-down attractions such as Dinosaur? Wonder no more! We break it down for you in our feature, Walt Disney World for Wimps.