If we were going to spend a “perfect” day in Disney’s Animal Kingdom, the touring plan in this post would be how we would do it. These are the attractions we would do, the restaurants at which we’d dine, the zoological exhibits we’d see, and the trails we’d explore. This post continues our series of single-day itineraries designed to answer the frequently asked question, “what would you do if you only had one day in ____ Disney park?”
This Animal Kingdom touring plan was last updated in August 2016 with a revised full day itinerary to account for the new Animal Kingdom After Dark entertainment. Right now, this lineup isn’t as impressive as it will be once Rivers of Light and Pandora: World of Avatar open in 2017, but the Tree of Life Awakenings, Everest at Night, and some of the other offerings make it worth spending the evening at Animal Kingdom.
During the day, Animal Kingdom is an interesting mix of zoological offerings and traditional theme park attractions that requires a more balanced approach that juggles the two. This is because it’s possible to experience what we call “animal fatigue” than you are to run out of time to do everything you want at Animal Kingdom. As always, we aim for a fun, well-rounded day as opposed to crossing as many attractions off “the list” with this plan. We think a well-rounded day is the key to a great time at Animal Kingdom.
This post assumes moderate crowds at Animal Kingdom; actual crowds will vary. Consult our When to Visit Walt Disney World post to determine how bad crowds might actually be, or to plan your visit. If you’re looking for something more comprehensive to plan every aspect of your Walt Disney World vacation, from where to purchase discount tickets to transportation to what to pack and more, read our Walt Disney World Trip Planning Guide.
FastPass+ complicates our other 1-Day itineraries, but not this one. We aren’t saying you shouldn’t use it for Animal Kingdom, but by arriving at park opening and staying until park close, you can easily accomplish everything in this plan without issue. Use FastPass+ at your discretion to experience more or change things up.
One of the biggest hassles about Animal Kingdom is its proximity to everything else. If Animal Kingdom is the most important park on your trip, you might consider staying at Animal Kingdom Lodge, which is (no surprise given the names) very convenient to Animal Kingdom. It’s an incredible hotel that will put you in the right mood for Animal Kingdom. If you don’t factor in location, Animal Kingdom Lodge is arguably the best hotel at Walt Disney World.
Now, on with the 1-day Animal Kingdom itinerary…
Start the Day on a Two-Week Safari – Kilimanjaro Safaris is one of the most popular attractions in the park, but that’s not why we are putting it first. Do it first because early morning is one of the best times for animal activity and also for photographing the animals with nice, soft light. Late afternoon is also good in terms of light, and has a decent amount of animal activity. Whatever you do, we highly recommend not doing Kilimanjaro Safaris during the middle of the day.
Crazy Cupcake Time – Kusafiri Coffee Shop and Bakery is famous for its crazy animal cupcakes. They have Lion Cub, Zebra, White Chocolate Elephant or Cotton Top Tamarin cupcakes that are each like 3 feet tall. Honestly, I think these cupcakes are more about the novelty of the giant cupcake than they are the taste. They taste fine, but I wouldn’t put any of them up there amongst Disney’s Best Cupcakes. Rather, these are a large, filling breakfast/snack that will make for a fun Instagram photo that will make you the envy of all your friends stuck back home. SUCKERS! 😉
See the Awesomest Animals – Everyone knows dinosaurs are the best animals ever. Unfortunately, Dinoland/Dino-rama are unquestionably the most disappointing theme park lands anywhere, ever. However, the much-maligned DINOSAUR is actually a pretty good attraction. Do it, then act like the rest of this blighted area is extinct to you…
Flights of Wonder – This is one of Walt Disney World’s most under-appreciated attractions, and it’s truly one of the highlights of the park. Ostensibly, it’s just a bird stunt show that might have limited appeal, but it’s so much more. From the cheesy humor that works surprisingly well to the effective conservationist message to the birds themselves that are equal parts beautiful and talented, this show offers much more than the two-line description in the park map implies.
Showtimes are sporadic, so you might need to fill time before/after this (and other) shows that are included in this plan. In any of these cases, take time to explore trails or watch various animals in the park. From fully-fledged attractions like Pangani Forest Exploration Trail to smaller exhibits around the Oasis, Animal Kingdom has a lot to see that’s often overlooked. Slow down and take the time to explore, discovering various animals and details tucked away in quiet corners. Stumbling upon these hidden gems is very rewarding!
Lunch – Animal Kingdom really brings it when it comes to dining. For lunch, we have three favorites. Currently, our #1 pick for those wanting an exceptional, fine dining caliber (in a realized setting) meal is Tiffins. The best meal at Animal Kingdom, and one of the best overall at Walt Disney World. For families, Tusker House is one of the best buffets at Walt Disney World (and is also a character meal). If you don’t want something fancy and a buffet sounds like too much food, opt for the excellent Yak & Yeti instead. You can’t go wrong with any of these 3.
Festival of the Lion King – Acrobats, singers, and other performers in tribal attire and vibrant costumes, plus parade floats with Lion King characters and other creatures enact scenes inspired by the Lion King in a very lively theatrical show. There’s a lot of stuff going on, in what basically amounts to a lot of audio-visual stimulation. The show just flat out works, and its almost abstract nature allows the audience to just sit back and enjoy the wow-inducing performers.
Kali River Soaking – Although we skip it most of the time, Kali River Rapids is a crowd-pleaser that is worth doing if you haven’t done it before, especially on a hot day. It’s a fun raft ride through cool environments (albeit lacking show scenes) with a conservationist message. Keep in mind that the potential for getting soaked is incredibly high, so don’t do it if it’s cold out. This is a good use of FastPass+ on hotter days.
Maharajah Jungle Trek – You could really do this whenever, but we have it here so you’re not going directly from getting soaked to an air-conditioned theater. Maharajah Jungle Trek is another under-appreciated Animal Kingdom attraction, as this walk-through exhibit has some beautifully imagineered environments. Definitely don’t skip it, but you also don’t necessarily need to do it in this spot.
More Shows – Both Finding Nemo: The Musical and It’s Tough to be a Bug are good options to round out the middle of the afternoon here. They are excellent, and a good balance to the animal exhibits. However, if you do these plus Festival of the Lion King, plus Flights of Wonder, you might get “show fatigue” instead of “animal fatigue.” The problem is that all 4 are so good that we can’t really suggest skipping any of them.
Peak XV Summit – There’s probably going to be a lot of temptation to do Expedition Everest earlier in the day, but waiting until sunset is great in terms of both lines and ride experience. This is one of Disney’s best themed coasters, and it offers sweeping views of the park (and beyond). Oh, you’re also going to want to do it again at night, but we’ll get to that…
Two-Week Sunset/Dusk Safari – People complain that there’s no way to fill a full day in Animal Kingdom, but in one day, we’ve gone to different corners of the earth, scaled the Earth’s highest mountain (a few times), and done 4 weeks worth of safaris. (That’s more impressive than going around the world at Epcot in a day!) As for the second safari, we highly recommend timing this (perhaps via FastPass+) so you are boarding your vehicle right at official sunset time. This will mean the tail end of your sunset will occur around dusk, you will get to see the new “eternal sunset” effect, and some of the evening lighting now used on the safari. If you wait until after dusk for the nighttime version of the safari, you won’t be able to see anything (besides the lions, which are most active at night).
Unwind at Flame Tree – One of the greatest things that Animal Kingdom After Dark brings to the table is nighttime views of Everest from the Flame Tree BBQ seating area. Of course, the food is amazing at Flame Tree BBQ, which shouldn’t be overlooked, either. The meats here are smoked on-site, and the smell will beckon you from remote areas of the park. I’m partial to the St. Louis Ribs, but you really can’t go wrong with anything on the menu. Delicious smoked meats and a wonderful view makes this an almost transcendent Walt Disney World experience. (Well, for hardcore, mountain-loving carnivores like me… 😉 )
Awaken the Night – The Tree of Life Awakenings are the highlight of Animal Kingdom After Dark. Occurring without a set schedule, you’ll want to linger up in front of the Tree of Life for up to 20 minutes after your meal to see one of these. During these “Awakenings,” the animals on the Tree of Life come alive via projections. This is pure Disney magic, and the experience reminds me a lot of (a technologically more impressive version of) the Kiss Goodnight at Magic Kingdom.
Parti Time! – Discovery Island Carnivale and Harambe Wildlife Parti are fun for the family dance parties, that are really, really entertaining. Unlike the dance parties in other parks, these are on-theme, with appropriate music and engaging performers. They are a ton of fun.
Jungle Book: Alive with…Something – The interim filler for the delayed Rivers of Light feels both like “filler” and an “interim” option. See it for yourself to see how bad it is, but don’t say we didn’t warn you.
Expedition: Night Time – Option A: you see the second Jungle Book: Alive with Magic show, and still have 5 minutes after it ends to jump in line for Expedition Everest once before Animal Kingdom closes for the night. Option B: you don’t see Jungle Book: Alive with Magic, and are able to do Everest as a near walk-on ~5 times. (Pssst…choose Option B!)
As you walk out after that last ride on Everest, you should catch the final Tree of Light Awakening. A satisfying end to a long, full day at Animal Kingdom. It will become more difficult to do everything at Animal Kingdom in a single day once Pandora opens next year, but for now, enjoy what should be a really fun day, fairly relaxed day in Walt Disney World’s most underrated park.
If you want to experience other attractions besides those we’ve listed, make sure to check out our Animal Kingdom Park & Attractions Guide, which rates and reviews all attractions.
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What would you include in your ideal day in Disney’s Animal Kingdom? If you haven’t visited Walt Disney World, what do you plan on doing? Share your questions and thoughts in the comments!