Our 1-day Animal Kingdom itinerary details step-by-step strategy for minimizing wait times & avoiding crowds at the theme park’s most popular rides & shows, including Avatar Flight of Passage, Expedition Everest, Kilimanjaro Safaris, and more. This Walt Disney World touring plan covers attractions, restaurants, zoo exhibits, and more.
This single day Disney’s Animal Kingdom (DAK) itinerary has been updated again due to the return of more entertainment and meet & greets, as well as Walt Disney World 50th Anniversary entertainment ending. We’ve also made seasonal tweaks and accounted for changes in popularity and wait times due to Genie+ and Lightning Lanes. However, this itinerary assumes you will not be buying those line-skipping services–it instead works around them. If you do plan on spending the extra, consult our 1-Day Animal Kingdom Itinerary with Genie+ and LightningLanes.
We visit Animal Kingdom frequently “for the sake of research” (and to watch our otter homies hanging out in their grotto), monitoring wait times, testing various approaches, and fine-tuning our strategy as crowds have increased and decreased during that time. This is the revised Animal Kingdom itinerary for 2023 that we’ve devised as a result.
This post continues our series of Walt Disney World Park Itineraries & Touring Plans designed to answer the frequently asked question, “what would you do if you only had one day in ____ Disney park?” Animal Kingdom is an interesting mix of zoological offerings and traditional theme park attractions requiring a balanced approach that juggles the park’s various types of attractions.
It’s possible to experience what we call “animal fatigue” in this park, which is exactly what it sounds like–losing interest in the surplus of animal exhibits and walking trails. To combat this, we recommend scattering these throughout your day, doing a healthy mix of rides and walkthroughs. Pandora – World of Avatar helps better achieve this balance, and most people will want spend more time in the rest of Animal Kingdom as a result of that land. Consequently, you can spend a full day in Animal Kingdom if you pace yourself to avoid the aforementioned animal fatigue.
Nevertheless, Animal Kingdom is the easiest park to accomplish in a partial day; you can either arrive early or stay late at Animal Kingdom and do the entire park with relative ease. See our recent post: Animal Kingdom Afternoon Arrival Strategy. The same general principles apply when arriving during Early Entry–you essentially just reverse the order of attractions.
So long as you can do major attractions outside of the window between 10 am and 3 pm, Animal Kingdom is pretty easy on normal days at Walt Disney World. It’s gotten to the point that I don’t really see much value in buying Genie+ for Animal Kingdom at all, even on days you’re Park Hopping to or from another park.
This is less about Animal Kingdom not having enough to fill an entire day and more about the aforementioned animal fatigue and poor pacing. The end result is the same; there’s a mass exodus around 3 pm and the park is relatively quiet during the last two hours of the day.
We’ve stressed this in other recent planning resources, but figured it was worth reiterating as there’s a huge difference between early/late wait times and those during the middle of the day. If you want to know which approach is currently best for every park, see our recent Best Time-Saving Strategies at Walt Disney World. That details the best and worst ways to save time in lines, and is really useful if you’re overwhelmed and don’t want to read a dozen others!
Now, on with the 1-day Animal Kingdom itinerary…
Zig When They Zag — There’s going to be a lot of temptation to do Pandora — World of Avatar first thing in the morning, but resist that–unless you’re an on-site guest arriving for Early Entry, in which case, you should absolutely do Pandora first.
Even if you’re not at Animal Kingdom for those extended a.m. hours, consider starting with the Avatar rides if official park opening time is 7:30 a.m. and you’re there for that. It’s still early enough that you can beat the crowds and longest wait times for Avatar Flight of Passage.
However, if you’re rolling up at 8 am on a busy day, head elsewhere. Over 90% of guests (literally) will make a beeline for Pandora in the morning, resulting in the longest lines and wait times of the day at Avatar Flight of Passage in the morning hours. At that point, you’re not going to beat the Pandora crowds, so zig when others zag.
Animal Kingdom’s other headliners all should be near-walk ons for the first hour of the day—you don’t even have to arrive at rope drop for this. Sleeping in and showing up 30 minutes late is fine.
Start Your Adventure at the Outpost – If you’re arriving “too late” to start in Avatar land, begin with Adventurers Outpost, which is the Minnie & Mickey Mouse meet & greet in Animal Kingdom. It might seem silly to start here, but this is the 4th longest line in Animal Kingdom on average, and very few people think to do it first. Consequently, it’s slower in the morning and wait times are significantly longer between around 10 am and 3 pm.
There’s also a Lightning Lane to Meet Favorite Disney Pals at Adventurers Outpost, and once users of that paid FastPass system start using that in large numbers–which usually happens around 9 am–the standby line slows to a crawl. That alone can be unpleasant, which is why we strongly recommend knocking this out in the first hour of the morning. You can be in and out quickly, and on your way to the second stop of the day. (If it’s more convenient, you probably can do this second so long as you’re not visiting on a peak season day.)
Two-Week Safari — This is a great option both from a time-savings perspective and for the best possible experience.
The reason we recommend Kilimanjaro Safaris in the morning is because it’s great for animal activity and also for photographing the animals with nice, soft light. From 11 a.m. until around 3 p.m., Kilimanjaro Safaris isn’t nearly as fun, unless you like watching big cats and other creatures sleeping. Late afternoon is also good in terms of light, and has a decent amount of animal activity as everyone on the savanna starts getting hyped for dinner.
Kali River Soaking – This rapids rafting ride is a crowd-pleaser that is worth doing if you haven’t done it before. It’s fun and goes through cool environments (albeit lacking show scenes) with a conservationist message.
The potential for getting soaked is incredibly high, so don’t do it if that’s going to be a problem. Conversely, because you’ll get soaked on Kali River Rapids, it’s less popular when the weather is cooler. Heading into the winter, its popularity is dropping again–but it’s still easiest to knock out Kali River Rapids en route to the next stop.
Peak XV Summit – After you’ve gone through the wash cycle on Kali River Rapids, it’s time to air dry on one of Walt Disney World’s best roller coasters. Even an hour or more after official park opening time, Expedition Everest should still have a relatively reasonable wait time. If it’s posted time is under 45 minutes (or you’re fine going in the Single Rider line) do it now. Otherwise, save it for closer to sunset.
Expedition Everest offers fantastic thematic details, one of the best queues, and sweeping views of the park (and beyond). You might want to do it again towards the end of the day, when wait times will be nearly non-existent.
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. The backstory might be good (debatable), but unless your preferred way to experience a theme park is “reading,” then the actual land will disappoint you.
However, DINOSAUR is actually a pretty good attraction. Do it, then act like the rest of this blighted area is extinct to you.
Start Seeing Shows – When it comes to a day at DAK, pacing is paramount (that should be the park’s mantra). At this point, you’ve already done several rides, so it’s time for some shows. Since you’re in the neighborhood, it’s a good time to watching the newly-reimagined “Finding Nemo: The Big Blue and Beyond!” musical. You should be able to catch the first performance at this point, but if you’re late for it, grab a snack and do the second showing.
In this reimagined stage show, fish tell Nemo’s story in this updated 25-minute show, incorporating live performers, puppets, and screen-based visuals. The refreshed production takes place in the Finding Dory timeline and features beloved songs and numbers from the original Finding Nemo: The Musical, including “In the Big Blue World” and “Go With the Flow.”
Snack Time – If you’re getting hungry, it’s a good time for a pit stop at Dino-Bite Snacks. This location serves a variety of, as the name suggests, snacks. Without a doubt, the highlight is their ice cream sandwiches. The options vary by season, but the shared commonality is that they use freshly-baked, house-made cookies. As a result, they’re all excellent.
If you find yourself on the other side of the park, 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 (slightexaggeration).
Otter Odyssey – At this point, you can reasonably slow down and start enjoy walk-through trails and animal-centric attractions while “waiting out” the crowds.
One we’d direct your attention to that’s easily overlooked is Otter Grotto (near the aforementioned Starbucks). It’s just around the corner from Creature Comforts and features some of Animal Kingdom’s most fun and rambunctious critters.
Strategically, there is no good or bad time for any of the various animal trails and exhibits, but you’ll want to space them throughout your day at Animal Kingdom to avoid fatigue of the park’s zoological features.
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.
Flights of Fancy – Previously known as UP! A Great Bird Adventure, this show is now called Feathered Friends in Flight and has mercifully cut Russel and Dug from Up. It’s still a bird show targeted towards families with small children, but it no longer feels dumbed down to a 3 year old level. No offense to the characters from Up–a movie we love–but this show is much better without them.
Before or after the bird show, 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!
Maharajah Jungle Trek – This is another animal trail that you could really do whenever. Regardless of when you choose to do it, we strongly recommend that you don’t skip this one.
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.
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 the almost abstract nature allows the audience to just sit back and enjoy the wow-inducing performers.
Festival of the Lion King is an exceptional show–a relaxing, indoor way to break up the day. It’s now entirely back to normal, which means the tumble monkeys and aerial acrobats have returned. For lower crowds and shorter waits, we recommend one of the late afternoon shows.
Winged Encounters – Periodically, there’s a show directly in front of Tree of Life called “Animal Kingdom: Winged Encounters – The Kingdom Takes Flight.” If you can’t find showtimes for this, ask a Cast Member around the Tree of Life when it’s scheduled to occur.
This is not a major show, but it’s a magical one that is absolutely worth seeing. Try weaving it into your itinerary as you head back towards the front of the park. Also make an effort to see the other birds and critters around the Oasis, which are otherwise easily overlooked.
Insect Interlude – It’s Tough to Be a Bug is a good option to round out the middle of the afternoon here. It’s a fun 3D show housed inside the park’s iconic Tree of Life, which is arguably the coolest thing about the experience.
With that said, you can truly do It’s Tough to Be a Bug whenever. No strategy required for this one, so slot it in whenever is convenient for you.
Two-Week Sunset Safari – We’ve already gone to different corners of the globe, scaled the Earth’s highest mountain (a couple of times), 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, we recommend waiting until late afternoon, getting closer to sunset time. Along with the early morning, the animals are most active in mid to late afternoon, so this experience should be different from the first but equally eventful.
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. On the one hand, there’s Satu’li Canteen in Pandora – World of Avatar. This counter service restaurant has inventive, high-quality, and even healthy cuisine that is excellent.
On the other hand, Flame Tree BBQ is a good option if you’re looking for something unhealthy and distinctly carnivorous. One of the things this brings to the table is stunning views of Everest from the seating area. The food is also really good at Flame Tree BBQ, but we think it’s gone downhill in recent years with higher portion sizes.
Travel 4.4 Light Years Away… – The final stop of your day needs to be Pandora – World of Avatar. Right now, we recommend arriving to the land around 90 minutes before park closing. At that point, Na’vi River Journey should have a posted wait time of 55 minutes or less, with an actual wait time usually around 30 minutes. (Adjust your arrival accordingly based on the wait time in My Disney Experience.)
That should be a sufficient buffer to finish the boat ride and make your way to the park’s headliner, Avatar Flight of Passage, with 15-30 minutes left in the day. At this point, the posted wait for Flight of Passage will likely be over an hour (it might even be triple digits!), but the actual wait time will be significantly lower than that. If you don’t arrive within the first 30 minutes Animal Kingdom is open, these will be the shortest waits of the day at both Pandora attractions.
On your way out, be sure to watch the Tree of Life Awakenings, which are brief montages that play on the Animal Kingdom park icon. That should mark the conclusion to a satisfying day at Animal Kingdom. While the park is still relatively relaxed and less stressful of a touring experience than Magic Kingdom or Disney’s Hollywood Studios (especially after the 3 pm mass exodus), you should still follow this strategy to avoid the few headaches that do exist at Animal Kingdom.
Even a few years after Pandora – World of Avatar opened, wait times for both Avatar attractions can still be quite long, especially at rope drop, so 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? If you’ve been back to DAK since Genie+ and Lightning Lanes launched, what was your experience with crowd patterns and wait times? Did you do Na’vi River Journey and Avatar Flight of Passage first, last, or somewhere in between? What did you think of Pandora – World of Avatar? 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!