This guide to Disney’s Animal Kingdom attractions contains short reviews and numerical scores for every ride and show in the park. Animal Kingdom is a park that is light on attractions, but has more than enough quality entertainment to fill a day, and it’s now open nightly until 11 p.m. for Summer 2016! If you’re planning a trip to Walt Disney World, this post is a great place to start when determining which attractions to do, when to do them, and how you should use your three FastPass+ in the park.
This guide for Disney’s Animal Kingdom includes headliners and smaller attractions, plus shows and animal exhibits. Despite Animal Kingdom’s “half day park” reputation, there’s a lot to do. Be warned that this list of Animal Kingdom attractions is deceptive: it appears short, but many of these shows and trails take a lot of time to complete. If you go at a slow pace or stop for table service meals, you’ll have a full day in the park.
The “half day park” reputation comes from those who don’t give Animal Kingdom’s shows or animal exhibits a chance (it took me a long time to discover the beauty of Animal Kingdom, but I finally admitted being wrong about Animal Kingdom in this blog post). Plus, Animal Kingdom now features more nighttime entertainment. We offer thorough reviews and strategy for these offerings in our Animal Kingdom at Night Review & Tips post.
Animal Kingdom ranks right up there with World Showcase as an excellent spot to just relax and spend some time. The park has a great sense of place to it, and the thematic execution is top notch, save for some criticism that it has too much real world “grit” and not the same sense of whimsy you might find from other Disney parks. It’s truly an exceptional “ambiance park,” and although it could use a shot in the arm in terms of rides that aren’t predicated upon living animals, that will occur in 2017 when Pandora: World of Avatar opens.
This guide assumes that you have a full day to spend in each of the Walt Disney World theme parks. You may have more or less time depending on how many day tickets you purchase and whether you add on the Park Hopper option (read our Walt Disney World Ticket Guide to determine which tickets are best for you). If you want to read our other Walt Disney World park guides, you can find those here:
Numerical scores are on a scale of 1 to 10, and only take into consideration overall quality relative to that specific type of attraction. In our ratings, we only consider how well done the attraction is, overall and within its category, when experienced by its target demographic.
Top Disney’s Animal Kingdom Attractions
Kilimanjaro Safaris: Daytime (10/10) – Animal Kingdom’s flagship safari ride through “natural” environments exposing guests to a wide array of animals. This attraction used to have a bit of a storyline, but it was widely viewed as lazy pretext. Now it doesn’t have any real storyline and it’s viewed as lacking ‘substance.’ It just can’t win. Regardless of the story or lack thereof, Kilimanjaro Safaris is an amazing attraction, exposing guests to a multitude of animals in what appears to be their natural environments. The ride can be bumpy, but it adds an element of authenticity. Drivers are usually quite knowledgeable about the animals, so definitely ask questions that you may have. Animals are most active first thing in the morning or last thing in the evening. This works well, as these are also the best times to experience the attraction to avoid waits. We recommend using FastPass+ and trying to get on one of the last safaris of the day. Nothing beats a sunset ride on Kilimanjaro Safaris!
Expedition Everest (9/10) – Everest-themed roller coaster that goes backwards and encounters a yeti. Everest is Disney’s most ambitious roller coaster, and quite impressive in terms of theming and attention to detail. Many effects on Expedition Everest now do not work; the most notable of these effects is the large Audio Animatronics yeti (dubbed the “Disco Yeti” by Disney fans), which now does not move, but has strobe lights flashing on him to simulate motion. Despite these nonworking effects (the basis for it losing a point in our score), it’s still an impressively fun coaster, with one of the best queue lines at Walt Disney World. Expedition Everest has a minimum height requirement of 44″. It’s a good use of FastPass+, but know that it has short lines very first thing in the morning, and the wait time through the Single Rider line is typically less than 10 minutes, so if you can’t score a FastPass+ (or choose not to), it’s not the end of the world. Everest is also better at night and has a shorter line then, so if the park is open after dark during your visit, definitely ride it then, too!
Kali River Rapids (7/10) – Whitewater raft ride spinning freely down a river through rainforest, ruins, and deforested areas with message of conservation. Kali River Rapids has a pretty setting, but there isn’t enough substance to the scenes. For some, this will be okay because the suspense of whether you’re about to get soaked will have your full attention. You will get wet on Kali River Rapids, and there’s a pretty good chance you’ll get absolutely soaked–it’s all random. There are free (2-hour) lockers nearby, and we strongly recommend using them for a change of clothes (or wear a poncho on the ride). The queue is arguably more interesting than the attraction itself, and is quite gorgeous. Kali River Rapids has a 38″ height requirement. Kali River Rapids is a good use of FastPass+, and we highly recommend booking as late of a slot as possible so you’re soaked for as little of the day as possible.
Dinosaur (8/10) – A high-speed, wild drive in a time rover through dark show scenes with Audio Animatronics dinosaurs trying to capture a particular dinosaur before the moment of extinction. Dinosaur has a humorous pre-show video and some memorable scenes and encounters with dinosaurs. It utilizes the same ride technology as Indiana Jones Adventure in Disneyland and is often (negatively) compared to that attraction as a result. However, the two rides are just as different from one another as Haunted Mansion and Spaceship Earth (both of which use the same ride systems as one another). We really enjoy Dinosaur, although there is admittedly a lot of dead, black space and it lacks interesting scenes (most dinosaur Audio Animatronics are standing in dark patches of foliage. A letdown in terms of what a dinosaur attraction could be, but still good. Dinosaur has a minimum height requirement of 40″. It offers FastPass+, but is only a good use of FastPass+ if you are skipping Kali River Rapids.
Festival of the Lion King (9/10) – 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. In its new location, Festival of the Lion King feels less temporary, and even better than before. FastPass+ is available for priority access, but we don’t recommend you use it here unless your seating location really matters.
Finding Nemo: The Musical (9.5/10) – Human performers are paired with creatively-made puppets in a condensed retelling of Finding Nemo. The big draw here is how the entertainers manipulate the puppets. Are the humans the focus or the puppets they’re controlling? (Both are, we think.) It’s an interesting concept, and the presentation and music are excellent. We’re not huge fans of the story simply being a condensed version of the film, but this show brings enough novelty to the table that it just works. The best-done show at Walt Disney World. FastPass+ is available for priority seating, and may not be a bad idea given the large theater in which this is performed. You won’t need FastPass+ to get into a showing, though.
Flights of Wonder (9/10) – Exotic bird ‘stunt’ show in an outdoor amphitheater. Flights of Wonder is entertaining and engaging, with a bit of self-aware, cheesy comedy that works really well to balance out its conservationist message. The intelligence of birds is astounding, and pretty funny, too. It’s a great blend of Disney entertainment and wildlife. It’s easy to dismiss as a “bird show,” but that would be a big mistake.
It’s Tough To Be A Bug (8.5/10) – 3D show about touting the benefits of inspects with the cast of A Bug’s Life. This is a prime example of how you use Disney characters to make an educational (at least partially so) film feel like pure entertainment. It’s a lot of fun and there are some great “interactive” moments in the show. FastPass+ is available, but you won’t need it for this.
Maharajah Jungle Trek (10/10) – Walk-through animal exhibit with birds, bats, and tigers. Its scenes that bring you up close to various animals, all while traversing through an elaborately themed Asian environment. While the animal encounters are great, as are the Cast Members here sharing information about them, the environments through which you walk (and even through which the animals roam) are the real star. At one point it seems as if you’re going through the ruins of a remote temple that has existed for thousands of years, and details abound everywhere. All of this makes it feel like you’re experiencing the actual environments where these animals live, rather than just observing them in their pens. It truly feels like you’re an active participant in some sort of exploration. This is the best animal ‘exhibit’ we’ve ever experienced anywhere.
Gorilla Falls Exploration Trail (8/10) – Formerly Pangani Forest, this is a wildlife walking trail, with (you guessed it) gorillas as the highlight. There are also hippos underwater and being close to them and the gorillas is pretty awesome. Space this and Maharajah Jungle Trek out during your day, so you don’t get “trailed out.”
Tree of Life Awakenings (10/10) – The Awakenings that occur throughout the night are truly magic moments that are the best element of Animal Kingdom at night right now. You can’t plan for these, but if you’re enjoying the Discovery Island Carnivale (or really wandering around at all), you will see them at some point.
Primeval Whirl (3/10) – This attraction, along with the rest of Dinorama, is a blight on Disney’s Animal Kingdom. We’ve heard this area defended as “misunderstood” thanks to its convoluted backstory time and time again, but all that is lipstick on a pig. Primeval Whirl only earns points because it’s a decent mild thrill. It loses significant points because it’s the kind of tacky carnival garbage that doesn’t belong in a Disney theme park.
TriceraTop Spin (3/10) – Spinner ride. Basically, they replaced flying Dumbos with triceratops. Instead of nice views of Fantasyland, you get an elevated view of Dinorama. Don’t bother subjecting yourself to that unless your kids are addicted to spinners.
Kilimanjaro Safaris: Nighttime (4/10) – Seeing the lions at their most active time of day is pretty cool, and the “eternal sunset” effect is neat. Otherwise, it’s a nighttime ride around in the dark, difficult to see the wildlife, and nearly impossible to take photos. We’d highly recommend seeing this at sunset or before the dusk blue hour, so there’s still enough ambient light to see the animals.
Rafiki’s Planet Watch (6.5/10) – Board the Wildlife Express Train to Rafiki’s Planet Watch to see a petting zoo and a number of exhibits concerning animal care. The only place the Wildlife Express Train goes is Rafiki’s Planet Watch, and everything (besides the petting zoo) is in the same small-ish area. What you will see in these exhibits varies based upon what’s going on (inquire about the surgery/procedure schedule), which is where the true variance in quality exists. The big downside to Rafiki’s Planet Watch is the time commitment–at the very least, you’re looking at about an hour of your day doing this given the commute, and the payoff is relatively low for the time investment. Also note that the Wildlife Express Train, while offering some interesting views, is point A to point B transportation. It’s not a “high speed thrill ride” a la Big Thunder Mountain, as one drunk couple in line behind us once suggested it was. If you’re not going for a specific surgery or procedure, the best time to do it is the middle of the day when everything else is busy.
This leaves out random pieces of entertainment like Divine, Harambe Wildlife Parti, Burudika, Chakranadi, character meet & greets, and play areas, but it’s the significant attractions. Now that Animal Kingdom is open until 11 p.m. nightly, you should be able to do everything, so give even the stuff we don’t like a try–you’ll likely disagree with us on at least a few of these attractions!
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Which Disney’s Animal Kingdom attractions are your favorites? Which ones do you normally skip? Do you agree or disagree with our ratings? If you haven’t visited Walt Disney World yet, which Animal Kingdom attractions are you most excited about? Hearing from you is half the fun, so please share your questions and thoughts in the comments!