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, including how to minimize waits for Pandora – World of Avatar. 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 on May 27, 2017 with a revised full day itinerary after our experience in Pandora – World of Avatar. Before that, it was updated to account for the new Animal Kingdom After Dark entertainment. Thanks to nighttime entertainment and attractions, plus Rivers of Light, and Pandora – World of Avatar, Animal Kingdom is now unquestionably a full-day park.
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. Pandora – World of Avatar helps with this balance, and most people will want spend more time in the rest of Animal Kingdom as a result. Plus, for Summer 2017, Animal Kingdom is the park with the longest operating hours everyday!
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 this 1-Day Animal Kingdom Touring Plan. It used to the be the case that you could do most of Animal Kingdom without even using FastPass+ by just strategically timing your experiences. This is no longer the case, as wait times have increased across the board due to Pandora, and Flight of Passage now seeing the longest wait times of any attraction at Walt Disney World. Suffice to say, you absolutely need to score (at least) a Flight of Passage FastPass+, or be prepared to wait. More recommendations can be found in our FastPass+ Strategy Guide for Walt Disney World.
Now, on with the 1-day Animal Kingdom itinerary…
Travel 4.4 Light Years Away… – The first stop of your day needs to be Pandora – World of Avatar. Arrive at Animal Kingdom before rope drop, and immediately rush to Pandora upon entry. If you were unable to get an Avatar Flight of Passage FastPass+, do that first.
Hopefully, you were able to score a Flight of Passage FastPass+, in which case Na’vi River Journey should be your top priority. Then, you might consider doing Flight of Passage via the standby line if its wait time is not too bad, because it’s an attraction you’ll definitely want to do more than once.
Two-Week Safari – If you finish both Pandora attractions before 10 a.m. (which is possible depending on the status of Extra Magic Hours and crowds), do Kilimanjaro Safaris. If it’s already after 10 a.m., skip this step. You’ll be doing Kilimanjaro Safaris later in the day, so it’s not the end of the world to skip it here.
The reason we recommend Kilimanjaro Safaris early morning is because it’s one of the best times for animal activity and also for photographing the animals with nice, soft light. From 11 a.m. until around 4 p.m., animal activity is typically much lower. Late afternoon is also good in terms of light, and has a decent amount of animal activity.
Crazy Cupcake Time – Creature Comforts Coffee Shop and Bakery is Animal Kingdom’s Starbucks location, and they also have some crazy animal cupcakes. They have a rotating lineup of 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, 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 recommend slowing down and having a table service meal. Animal Kingdom gets pretty hot midday, and this is a great time to escape that heat with a longer, relaxing meal. 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 for table service dining in Animal Kingdom.
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 – We’ve already gone to different corners of the globe, scaled the Earth’s highest mountain (a few times), traveled 4.4 light years from earth, and now, we’re going to do a few weeks worth of safaris. That’s more impressive than going around the world at Epcot in a day!
For this ride aboard Kilimanjaro Safaris (either your first or second of the day), 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 “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 Dinner Time – One of the biggest “problems” you’ll have with visiting Animal Kingdom is that there are too many good places to eat. I guess that’s a good problem to have. The newest of these, and the one we’re now recommending is Satu’li Canteen in Pandora – World of Avatar. This counter service restaurant has inventive, high-quality, and even healthy cuisine that is excellent.
If you’re looking for something unhealthy and distinctly carnivorous, Flame Tree BBQ is our next pick. One of the greatest things that Animal Kingdom After Dark brings to the table is nighttime views of Everest from the seating area. Of course, the food is amazing at Flame Tree BBQ, which shouldn’t be overlooked. 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 – If you wind up in Pandora – World of Avatar for dinner, you can stick around to enjoy nighttime there, but we’re going to recommend leaving and coming back later once the crowds die down a bit. This is particularly true if you’re staying on-site and can stay in Pandora until 1 a.m. with Extra Magic Hours.
Instead, head to the front of the park for the Tree of Life Awakenings. This is one of the highlights 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.
Rivers of Light – While waiting to return to Pandora – World of Avatar for evening Extra Magic Hours, you should have some time to kill. While Rivers of Light has been polarizing among guests, we’d recommend giving it a chance. You might hate it…but you might love it, too.
Expedition: Night Time – At the end of the normal park operating hours, you should have a bit of time to jump in line for Expedition Everest. By this point, the waits should be relatively short, and the experience will be exceptional. If waits are still on the long side, consider doing Expedition Everest via the single rider line.
As you walk out after that last ride on Everest, it’s time to head to Pandora – World of Avatar for evening Extra Magic Hours. Now, it’s still likely to be busy (these nightly EMH make Pandora the land that’s open latest each day in all of Walt Disney World), but consider it ‘bonus time’ to experience the beautiful bioluminescent land at night. At the very end of Extra Magic Hours, we’d recommend jumping in line for one final banshee ride on Avatar Flight of Passage.
That should mark the conclusion to a long (up to 15 hours!), satisfying and full day at Animal Kingdom. Now that Pandora – World of Avatar is open, it’s going to take most of that time to actually do everything worth doing in Animal Kingdom during the course of a single day. While the park was once relaxed and relatively uncrowded (especially after the 3 p.m. mass exodus), you can expect all of Animal Kingdom to be significantly busier in Summer 2017 (and beyond). Pack your patience! 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.
What would you include in your ideal day in Disney’s Animal Kingdom? Have you had a chance to experience Na’vi River Journey and Avatar Flight of Passage in Pandora – World of Avatar? What did you think of the new land? If you haven’t visited Walt Disney World, what do you plan on doing during your day in Animal Kingdom? Any questions? Share your questions and thoughts in the comments!