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 order of attractions, restaurant recommendations, zoo exhibits, and more. (Updated May 9, 2021.)
This single day Animal Kingdom itinerary has been overhauled following the phased reopening of Walt Disney World and updated again for Summer 2021. That’s due in large part to the temporary suspension of FastPass+, but there are also other reasons for the changes. Another is the end of Extra Magic Hours, shorter operating hours, reduction of park & ride capacity, and cancelled stage shows. This has caused changes in guest behavior, and certain attractions now have longer and shorter wait times than before.
We’ve visited Animal Kingdom many times since Walt Disney World’s phased reopening began, and have also monitored wait times, tested various approaches, and fine-tuned our strategy as crowds have progressively increased. This has been “interesting,” as what worked best last summer is no longer effective. Accordingly, this is the revised post-reopening Animal Kingdom itinerary we’ve devised…
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” 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. Thanks to that blockbuster land and other additions, Animal Kingdom is now unquestionably a full-day park in normal times.
However, things are not totally normal right now. While the vast majority of rides, animal trails, and dining options have reopened at Animal Kingdom, the Finding Nemo stage show and other atmospheric entertainment still has not. This is significant because Finding Nemo: The Musical is a lengthy, indoor offering that provides a needed change of pace. Musical groups and other entertainment acts help serve the same purpose of being nice diversions.
The good news is that Festival of the Lion King has now returned as of May 2021. This is a huge positive that goes a long way to address Animal Kingdom’s problems of imbalance. Doing this midday after lunch is an excellent way to split up the day and ensure you’ll be able to spend a full day in the park.
Nevertheless, most guests do not last a full day in Animal Kingdom at present. Wait times for Pandora – World of Avatar are still peaking in the first two hours of the day, which means there’s still less incentive to rope drop Animal Kingdom. It’s actually counterproductive if arriving early causes you to “hit a wall” and leave before closing time when wait times are at their shortest.
At least, that’s the case right now as of early Summer 2021. The dynamics at Walt Disney World are literally changing by the week, and it’s possible the strategy will once again change come July 2021 or this fall. We’ll keep monitoring and adjust this itinerary accordingly.
Now, on with the 1-day Animal Kingdom itinerary…
Peak XV Summit – There’s going to be a lot of temptation to do Pandora – World of Avatar first thing in the morning, but resist that. Over 90% of guests (literally) will make a beeline for Pandora at rope drop, resulting in the longest lines and wait times of the day at Avatar Flight of Passage for the first two hours of the day. Unless you’re among the first guests in line to enter the park (in which case you’re wasting time waiting to enter), you are not going to beat the Pandora crowds.
Instead, zig when others zag. Head to Expedition Everest, which should be a near-walk on 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. In fact, arriving a bit late is arguably the better approach as you’ll miss that rush of guests and lines for temperature screenings, security, and the turnstiles.
Expedition Everest is one of Walt Disney World’s best-themed coasters, and it offers sweeping views of the park (and beyond). If you have the time, you might want to do it again towards the end of the day, when wait times will once again 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.
Two-Week Safari – If you finish both attractions by around 10 am, do Kilimanjaro Safaris. If it’s already after 10:30 am, 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 3 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! 😉
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.
If you don’t want something fancy, opt for the excellent Yak & Yeti instead. You can’t go wrong with either of these for table service dining in Animal Kingdom. (Sadly, For families, Tusker House–one of the best buffets at Walt Disney World (and also a character meal)–is temporarily unavailable.)
UP! A Great Bird Adventure – This bird show is targeted towards families with small children, and the characters from Up (Russel and Dug) take center stage. It’s not great, but still worth seeing. Showtimes for UP! A Great Bird Adventure 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!
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.
A Celebration of Festival of the Lion King – One of two excellent Animal Kingdom stage shows has returned as of May 9, 2021! Technically, the show is A Celebration of Festival of the Lion King, which is a result of modifications to the full show. This essentially means physical distancing, most notably the removal of the Tumble Monkeys and aerial performers.
We’re hopeful the full show makes its triumphant return, but we’ll happily take this for now. Festival of the Lion King is an exceptional show, and Animal Kingdom really needed a relaxing, indoor way to break up the day. Its current showtimes are 12:30 pm, 1:30 pm, and 2:30 pm. The Harambe Theatre is a huge venue, but with physical distancing and lack of alternative programming, waits might be longer for the first show of the day.
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.
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 (either your first or second of the day), 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 – Animal Kingdom is not open late enough for most guests to do both lunch and dinner, but this is our advice if you don’t mind living the high life and eating twice in the span of ~4 hours. In addition to that issue, 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. First, 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.
If you’re looking for something unhealthy and distinctly carnivorous, Flame Tree BBQ is our top 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. Delicious smoked meats and a wonderful view makes this an almost transcendent Walt Disney World experience. (Well, for hardcore, mountain-loving carnivores like me… 😉 )
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 almost exactly an hour before park closing. At that point, Na’vi River Journey should have a posted wait time of 45 minutes or less, with an actual wait time of 30 minutes or less. (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 should be around 30-45 minutes, with the actual wait lower than that. These will be the shortest waits of the day at both Pandora attractions–about half of what you’d wait if you arrived at Animal Kingdom for rope drop and did them right away.
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.
Planning a Walt Disney World trip? Learn about hotels on our Walt Disney World Hotels Reviews page. For where to eat, read our Walt Disney World Restaurant Reviews. To save money on tickets or determine which type to buy, read our Tips for Saving Money on Walt Disney World Tickets post. Our What to Pack for Disney Trips post takes a unique look at clever items to take. For what to do and when to do it, our Walt Disney World Ride Guides will help. For comprehensive advice, the best place to start is our Walt Disney World Trip Planning Guide for everything you need to know!
What would you include in your ideal day in Disney’s Animal Kingdom? If you’ve been back to DAK since Walt Disney World’s reopening, 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!