Animal Kingdom is undeniably Disney World’s most beautiful park. It was not built as a zoo but as a completely immersive experience with nature featured as the shining star. Lands are inspired by African Villages, Asian Rivers and Mountains, and animals of the past, present and fictional worlds.
Want to experience your best day ever in Animal Kingdom? The key is creating a balance. Enjoy all the best Animal Kingdom rides and shows. But also make time to take a break from the hustle and bustle and soak in the beauty of nature on the trails and at the animal viewing locations.
Stop unexpectedly and join in on some of the singing and dancing of the “Streetmosphere.” Then, catch a glimpse of a Flotilla sailing down the river with your favorite characters. Let’s explore these so you and your family can curate your perfect Animal Kingdom day.
First, A Little History
Disney’s Animal Kingdom just celebrated its 25th anniversary. But did you know that Walt Disney himself partly inspired the park’s concept? Walt originally wanted the Jungle Cruise to include live animals when building Disney.
His brother Roy, the finance expert, quickly put that idea to rest, citing the sheer amount of room needed to house live animals, not to mention the cost of the project and the vast resources required to care for the animals properly. But, fast forward to Earth Day 1998, Walt’s dream became a reality when Walt Disney World’s fourth park, Disney’s Animal Kingdom, opened its gates.
It’s Not Just Rides And Shows
From fact-finding missions to Africa and Asia to consultations with animal and plant experts, the Imagineers did their research to make the park a genuinely authentic experience and make it a place worthy of the animals that would be living there. Their top priority was to create a quality living environment with a vast space for the animals to roam freely and for veterinary staff to provide around-the-clock care.
Flora from 6 continents was planted in the park long before the animals were brought there. As a result, Disney’s Animal Kingdom is proud to be accredited by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums. They are recognized for their high standards of animal care, advancements in educational research and conservation, and thoughtful creation of natural-setting inspired by native habitats.
7 Animal Kingdom Nature Attractions
Since nature is the main attraction, there is something to explore at every turn, with each land offering its unique tribute.
Your immersive adventure starts here after entering the park. First, soak in the beauty of the tropical garden. Then, as you explore, get your first look at the animals – Giant Anteaters, Babirusas, Barking Deer, Wallabies & Spoonbills.
Discovery Island serves as the hub of the park. Here you will find paths leading to each of the lands, a great landmark to use when navigating the park. In addition, this land is the home to the icon of Animal Kingdom, The Tree of Life.
Gaze endlessly at over 300 animal carvings beautifully intertwined throughout the tree trunk. Then, take a peaceful self-guided stroll on the Discovery Island Trail. Finally, explore below the Tree of Life across bridges and through cave-like tunnels.
Along the way, you may encounter Asian Small-Clawed Otters, Cotton Top Tamarins, Flamingos, Kangaroos, Lemurs, Tortoise, Porcupine, Cane, Macaw, Stork & Vultures.
Expert Tip: Get younger travelers involved in the journey. Stop by a stand to grab your Wilderness Explorer booklet. Engage kids with challenges and earn badges in each land.
Welcome to the fictional Village of Harambe, home to the Harambe Wildlife Reserve and ever popular Kilimanjaro Safari. Escape from the park crowds and walk peacefully on the Gorilla Falls Exploration Trail.
While in Africa, look for the following animals: African Birds, African Elephants, African Hogs, African Lions, Ankole Cattle, Black Rhinos, Flamingos, Giraffes, Monkeys, Gorillas, Hippos, Meerkats, Okapis, White Rhinos, & Zebras.
Expert Tip: Use your My Disney Experience App to check times for animal viewings. They often close before the park does.
Explore the fictional riverside village of Anandapur and make your way to the foothills of the Forbidden Mountain. Take the opportunity to escape from the park crowds and enjoy a serene walk on the Maharajah Jungle Trek. While in Asia, try to spot the following animals: Asian Birds, Bats, Gibbons, Komodo Dragons, Migratory Birds & Tigers.
Rafiki’s Planet Watch
Board the Wildlife Express Train from Harambe Station in Africa on a 7-minute journey to Rafiki’s Planet Watch.
Interested in learning how the animals are cared for? Check out the Conservation Station. Watch animal experts work in the Veterinary Treatment Room, at the Nutrition Center preparing meals, and at the Science Center. Observe Amphibians, Reptiles, and Invertebrates and the peaceful butterfly garden outside the Conservation Station.
A visit is not complete without stopping by the Affection Station. Get the chance to meet and interact with domesticated animals and their animal care experts.
Note: The last train departs at 4:30 pm, and Rafiki’s Planet Watch closes at 5:00 pm.
A tribute to nature’s past. Visit a small highway town that gained popularity after fossils were discovered there. It was bought by a team of scientists who created a fossil discovery park and ultimately founded the Dino Institute to take people back in time to save extinct dinosaurs.
Chester and Hester, who owned a gas station there, didn’t take The Dino Institute seriously but saw an opportunity to make money. So they turned their gas station into a Fossil Souvenir shop and built Chester & Hester’s Dino-Rama -packed with dinosaur-themed carnival games and rides.
Pandora – The World of Water
Experience the magic of nature at one of the most popular Animal Kingdom attractions. Become immersed in an unbelievable fantasy world inspired by the movie “Avatar.” Journey through the bioluminescent rainforest, admiring the spectacular plants, waterfalls, trees, flowers, and floating mountains.
Expert Tip: Pandora is the land that brings Animal Kingdom into the night. Even if you visited Pandora in the morning, you MUST return at night. You will not be sorry!
10 Animal Kingdom Rides: All You Need To Know
It’s Tough to be a Bug! (Discovery Island)
It is located inside the Tree of Life. Inspired by the Pixar movie “A Bug’s Life,” this 3D film and show let you experience what it feels like to be a bug. Although it has no height restrictions and is excellent for family fun, it is dark, loud, and scary for some kids.
You should have no problem using the standby line for this attraction, but it is also available for a Lightening Lane on Genie +. It’s also open for resort guests during Early Entry.
Kilimanjaro Safaris (Africa)
Fun Fact: Kilimanjaro Safari is over 110 acres in size. To put that in perspective, it is the same size as the entirety of Magic Kingdom.
This family-friendly, slow ride takes you for a 20-minute journey through Harambe Village Wildlife Reserve in an open-air vehicle. A knowledgeable cast member guide points out animals and tells their stories during this bumpy ride. Every safari experience is different, with African animals freely roaming in their natural habitats.
Get a close-up view and be lucky to spot animals such as Rhinos, Giraffes, Hippos, Zebras, Elephants, Lions, Cheetahs, and so much more. It is one of the most popular Animal Kingdom rides, however. The standby queue is available; however, if you have purchased Genie+, I highly recommend booking a Lightning Lane, as wait times can be long for this attraction.
Expert Tip: The animals are more active in the morning, so head there early. Get a seat in the back of your truck. It’s the best view of the animals.
Kali River Rapids (Asia)
Cool down and take a wild water raft ride with spinning and small drops through the jungle. This thrill ride has a 38-inch height requirement and allows you to use Rider Switch.
Tip: This ride is often closed in the winter for refurbishments. Check first before you go! You will get wet – I like to wear a poncho!
Expedition Everest-Legend of the Forbidden Mountain (Asia)
On this thrill ride, you will board a train to the top of the Forbidden Mountain. After encountering the Yeti and a broken track, your train races to escape. Be prepared for forward and backward motion, big drops, dark caves, high speeds, and loud scary sounds and effects.
Make sure to smile for your PhotoPass photo (now ride photos are free with the purchase of Genie+). There is a 44in height requirement, and it is eligible for Rider Switch. This ride is open to resort guests for Early Entry. A standby queue is available, or you can book a Lightning Lane with Genie+.
Tip: If it’s open, use the Single Rider Line and enjoy a shorter wait time. Ensure you are OK being separated from your party and riding in any leftover seats.
Na’vi River Journey (Pandora – The World of Avatar)
On this calm boat ride, perfect for the entire family, take an unforgettable journey through a bioluminescent rainforest. Sit back, relax, and enjoy the serene sounds of Pandora and the beautiful song of the Shaman. This is one of the most popular Animal Kingdom rides and has long waits. It is available for resort guests to take advantage of Early Entry. You can also hop on the Standby Line or book a Lightning Lane if you have purchased Genie+.
Avatar Flight of Passage (Pandora-The World of Avatar)
Through this exhilarating, emotional journey, experience what it is like to ride on the back of a Banshee and fly through Pandora. This thrill ride is a 3D simulator; you must ride 44 inches or taller. Each passenger sits in their own vehicle.
It requires you to lean forward like on a motorcycle, and a restraint comes down by your back. The seat can be restrictive and uncomfortable for some riders. There is a seat outside the ride entrance to try out. Rider Switch is available for this attraction.
Expert Tip: This ride is incredibly popular and is not available on Genie+. If you plan to use Standby Lane, my best advice is to go first thing in the morning. If you’re a resort guest, take advantage of Early Entry. If you are not interested in waiting, buying the Individual Lightening Lane for this attraction is completely worth it. Log into your My Disney Experience App at 7:00 am to book your ride. Prices vary from day to day.
TriceraTop Spin (DinoLand USA)
Board a dinosaur and fly around in this carnival-style ride—a slow, spinning ride for the whole family.
The Boneyard (DinoLand USA)
(currently closed for refurbishments until mid-June 2023) For a change of pace, kids love visiting this open-air play space. Let them explore this dino dig site with slides and plenty of opportunities for climbing.
Dinosaur (DinoLand USA)
Travel back to prehistoric times and join this scary adventure to help save an extinct dinosaur. Say cheese for your PhotoPass photo. This thrill ride is dark and contains small drops. It can be loud, rough, and scary for some children.
You must be 40 inches or taller to ride. Use the Standby Line or book a Lightning Lane through Genie+. This attraction is open for resort guests with Early Entry. It is available for Rider Switch.
The Animation Experience at Conservation Station (Rafiki’s Planet Watch)
Learn to illustrate a Disney character during this 25-minute class with a Disney animator. Don’t worry; no skill level is needed. Just bring your creativity. You’ll use real animals as inspiration. The Characters even change periodically!
Check the My Disney Experience App for class times. To get there, board the Wildlife Express Train to Rafiki’s Planet Watch. Taking the train at least 40 minutes before your experience starts is a good idea. If you purchased Genie+, feel free to make a Lightning Lane Reservation.
Animal Kingdom Entertainment – Shows, Character Experiences, and “Streetmosphere
Festival of the Lion King (Africa)
Great live, Broadway-quality show in an air-conditioned round theater in Harambe Theater. Enjoy a 30-minute performance packed with live singing, dancing, acrobatics, and elaborate character floats. Feel free to sing along to your favorite songs from The Lion King.
Check your My Disney Experience App for showtimes. Standby is available, but if you have Genie+, a Lightning Lane is highly recommended.
Expert Tip: This attraction is VERY popular. If you cannot book a Lightning Lane, getting in line 30 minutes before the next show is essential. They do fill up!
Feathered Friends in Flight (Asia)
It is located in the Anandapur Theater. Animal behavioral specialists lead this spectacular show, which features free-flying birds.
Finding Nemo: The Big Blue and Beyond! (DinoLand USA)
Stunning stage show inspired by Pixar’s “Finding Nemo.” A performance set underwater featuring puppets, singers, and performers. Fun for the whole family!
Tree of Life Awakenings (Discovery Island)
Watch the carvings come to life in this stunning, colorful display of projections on the Tree of Life. They begin each day after dark and happen every 10 minutes until the park closes. Be sure to catch one of the three variations. It’s the perfect way to end your night in Animal Kingdom.
Just so you know, during Daylight Savings Time, the projections are not shown because sunset happens after the park closes.
Animal Kingdom Character Experiences
Check your My Disney Experience App for specific times to meet your favorite characters!
- Take a trip to Discovery Island and look for Kevin from UP, Mickey Mouse, Minnie Mouse, and Moana Tip: Meet Disney Pals at Adventure Outpost (Mickey and Miney) is eligible for Genie+.
- In DinoLand U.S.A, stop by and meet Chip, Dale, Daisy, and Donald Duck.
- Hang out in Asia by the Discovery River Lagoon to catch a Flotilla sail by. See characters from The Lion King, Pocahontas, UP, Scrooge McDuck, Launchpad McQuack, Goofy, and Pluto!
Check your My Disney Experience App for daily showtimes.Stumble upon or schedule a time to enjoy live entertainment. Just follow the music and join the dance party in the streets.
See a Caribbean band on Discovery Island—experience music from the African Harp, drumming, dancing, and acrobats in Africa. Relax and listen to traditional Indian melodies on the sitar in Asia.
Want to try something different? Animal Kingdom Rides and Attractions for an Extra Fee
Caring for Giants
Want to take a closer look at African elephants? With this experience, observe them as close as 80-100 feet away. Then, learn what the elephants need daily and how they are cared for while listening to stories about Disney and conservation. This is a 60-minute experience and costs $35 per person, not including tax.
Upclose with Rhinos
Go backstage to meet the white rhinos and learn about their behaviors and challenges in the wild. This is a 60-minute experience that costs $45 per person, not including tax.
Wild Africa Trek
A guided tour that takes you on a walking journey and adventure riding in an open-air vehicle through the open savannah. Enjoy gourmet eats and complimentary PhotoPass Service. This experience requires all participants to be eight years or older. It is 3 hours and costs $199 per person, not including tax.
Don’t Overlook the Disney Details
On your next trip, whether you plan it yourself, or work with a top Disney Travel agent for free, take a second to look at the details mixed into Animal Kingdom rides, attractions, and scenery. Every little detail in Animal Kingdom has a purpose, from color palates to architecture to animal habitats and encounters. The buildings and structures were intentionally weathered to convey that old feeling. Thatchers from South Africa built the roofs, antique props were handpicked, and wood carvers from Indonesia created some of the pieces.
Their number one message is conservation and wildlife education – and oh, is it embedded throughout the park using that classic Disney storytelling style we all know and love.