1-Day Animal Kingdom Itinerary
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 Lightning Lanes.
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 (slight exaggeration).
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.
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. If you want a character meal, Tusker House has also returned as a family-style meal, although our experience there was not the best.
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.
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 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!
“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..”
..edit needed 😉 Could not make out the above
Is this a good plan for 4 seniors (ages 74-82), 2 of whom have had open heart surgery? t
Three of us would be using scooters to get around, although 1 his willing to try using their walker. This will probably be our last big girl’s trip and we really are hoping to experience all we can & make some great memories.
2 things we never pass up in AK are Gorilla Falls Trail and Winged Encounters. Stunning every time!
It would be awesome to have a list of suggested ride order to go along with the great explanations 🙂
On December 1st, I got up super early for EE and was on the first floor from AKL to AK. Arrived around 7:10ish and there was a small pack of people in front. About 10 minutes later we were all let in and everyone swiftly walked to Pandora. It was a bit stressful thinking about how many people were around at this early hour. But once we got in the FOP line we waited no more than 10 minutes and then went immediately to Navi. Then after we did EE, had a snack/bathroom break, KS (just before 9am and the lion was out!), Dinosaur, Tricera Top (why not…), and It’s Tough to be a Bug. We also stopped for a few photos and such. By this time it was going on noon and we could have easily finished up the park but we were planning to come back another day for the shows and lunch so we went back to AKL and ate lunch on our balcony and saw a giraffe (despite not being in a savannah view room!) It is an amazing memory. And proof that early risers get the worm at AK.
Currently the park hours and your strategy for rope drop state 7:30am is park open but when I look at park hours for when we are planning to be there on 6/11/22 it says hours for Animal Kingdom are 9am-7pm, significantly shorter than park current hours. Will that change closer to the summer do you think? If not that’s a lot less time to get the big attractions done and also doesn’t give us any hours after dark or even close to sunset in the park, so no Pandora after dark which would be sad.
So you’re cheap tips pay for all your vacations? You insult myself as well as many hardworking servers!
Don’t hate the player hate the game. Oh and he clearly is a good writer, took risks, has a supportive wife and must be smarter than you or I. So many people including myself have benefited from his unbiased advice.
Hi Tom-is the comment about temperature screening obsolete? I am hoping they are no longer doing those when I visit in August.
@Liz – We were there about a week ago and there were no temperature screenings and other than Disney Transportation, no enforcing of any mask wearing. Who knows how things will look in August. Hope that helps; have a great trip!
Animal Kingdom is my absolute favorite park to wander through after dark. Not only is Pandora breathtaking; the ambiance in Africa and Asia can’t be beat. We do spend one morning / early afternoon in AK, but for the most part we park hop here after our afternoon resort break. Grabbing Starbucks and strolling through this glowing park is always one of the highlights of our tips.
Do you have any predictions as to when Everest will re-open? It’s listed as closed during our visit (we’ll be in AK on 4/18) but I have a sliver of hope that it’ll reopen early!
We are heading to Disney world May 4-9. What day of the week should we go to Animal Kingdom? Should we save Saturday or Sunday for Animal Kingdom and Epcot?
Does anybody know what time the first safari runs? Going in 12 days and would love my 2 year old to see the animals first thing in the morning
Hi Tom! When you say showing up 30 minutes late do you mean 30 min after Early entry or after park opening?
Hi! We’re planning to visit when Expedition Everest will be closed. We don’t necessarily want to do Lion King or both animal walks. In short, we’d like to be in & out of AK in far less than a day. Given that, should we do FoP first? Even skipping Navi River is on the table since I’m not sure it’s worth it for our family. Any thoughts advice on options? Thanks in advance!
I’ve used early entry twice to do Flight of Passage. The trick is really what Tom says — if you are one of the first people in the parkinglot, or on the first bus in the morning from your resort — then it’s worth it to hit FoP first thing in the morning. Each time I did it, I was near the front of the pack and in the first or second theater, and then heading for Everest which I could loop probably five or six times with no one else on it. Then, I’d go back for FoP later in the day when the lines were low again. But if you’re rolling into the park any time after 730am? You might as well skip it first thing.
What I’m most interested in with modern itineraries is how much early entry for on-site guests impacts things. Is bee-lining Avatar unadvisable even with early entry? I do realize the new early entry policy is relatively new, and that it might take some time to be able to answer that question.
This is so helpful; thank you! We are not going to be staying at a Disney hotel; can we still arrive before official opening as you referenced? When is the earliest we can get in the park?
I’m a mother of a 2 (ages 6 & 4) and we just did this itinerary yesterday (8-24-21) and it was perfect! We had never been to Disney World and were so overwhelmed with how to plan our day at the park and then I found your blog! We arrived 35 min before park opening and walked right onto FOP and then right onto Na’vi And had them both done by 8:13am. Then headed straight for Expedition Everest and walked right on and preceded to ride it 2 more times because there was no line. We then continued with your itinerary the rest of the day and it alleviated so much stress to have a plan that was working! Later in the afternoon, we were able to ride FOP 2 more times with the max wait time being 25 min. All 4 of us are completely obsessed with that ride and we now know what the hype is all about! We were able to finish out our day eating at Flame Tree BBQ which was delicious! The only hiccup we had was that our children were exhausted from walking by noon and my husband had to rent a double stroller (next time I’d rent one right after Pandora) but I believe the stroller is the only reason we made it almost until park close with 2 young kids!
Thank you so much for your hard work and time making these itineraries! We had the perfect days at Animal Kingdom and Magic Kingdom (8-23-21) by following your advice!
Great advice. We managed to catch first bus and be #3 and 4 to enter FOP queue last weeks before the line held at 140 min most of the days!!! We were off FOP and NRJ before park opened and did the Safari as the animals were just coming out! NOTE: The UP bird show changed over the winter to a new one that is the BEST of any of them! Not for kids only at all and excellent chances to learn about birds and see them fly… not to miss with new version!