Park hours at Animal Kingdom are more consistent and straightforward than anywhere at Walt Disney World. This guide covers normal opening & closing times, Early Entry, rope drop, attractions with more limited schedules, and more. Plus, tips & tricks for beating the crowds and avoiding times of day when attendance is highest.
If you’re planning a visit to Animal Kingdom months from now, the first thing you need to know is that hours are added to DisneyWorld.com’s 5-day calendar on a rolling basis, typically 60 days in advance. Walt Disney World also has a monthly calendar that isn’t as easy to find, and this currently has hours dumped in ‘batches’ much further in advance.
Walt Disney World’s normal practice is to release boilerplate or placeholder hours before extending those based on attendance and hotel occupancy projections. For a while, the initial release of park hours was almost meaningless, as every single park and date would see extensions. This is less-pronounced of a practice now, and the hours that are released are quite often the final hours.
In terms of normal park hours, Animal Kingdom usually operates according to the following schedules:
Monday through Thursday (off-season and normal crowds): 9 am to 7 pm
Friday and Sunday (off-season and normal crowds): 8 am to 7 pm
Saturday and peak-season dates: 8 am to 8 pm
Typically, Animal Kingdom’s boilerplate hours are now 9 am to 7 pm. Expect those to be extended consistent with the above schedule for at least Friday through Sunday, plus weekdays during popular travel dates.
Extensions are still relatively common at Animal Kingdom, they just are less likely to occur across the board. Now, it’s more targeted to weekends, holidays, and specific days when the parks are forecast to be busier. In those scenarios, extensions can occur about a few weeks to about two months in advance. We’ve seen exactly this scenario play out around Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Year’s, Presidents’ Day, Spring Break, Easter, etc.
With the normal schedule out of the way, let’s turn to the extra Animal Kingdom park hours for guests of on-site hotels, which is known as Early Entry–the replacement for Extra Magic Hours, who experienced that in the past. Early Entry is not actually extra hours, plural, but rather, extra minutes–30 of them. If you’re unfamiliar with the ins and outs of the morning option, learn more in our Guide to Early Entry at Walt Disney World.
Thirty minutes may not seem like much, but Early Entry is pretty significantat Animal Kingdom. This is particularly true on days when normal park opening at Animal Kingdom is at 8 am, because this means Early Entry starts at 7:30 am. For the vast majority of people on vacation, that’s simply too early.
They either don’t want to wake up and be out the door of their hotel room at that hour, or literally cannot due to kids. As a result, it’s easy to breeze through both Avatar Flight of Passage and Na’vi River Journey–the two popular Pandora attractions–before the park opens to regular guests.
For that same reason, traditional rope drop also works pretty well at Animal Kingdom for the exact same reason–it’s earlier than most people on vacation will arrive to the park. On busier days, you’ll need to prioritize something other than Avatar Flight of Passage, but otherwise, short waits abound at Animal Kingdom for the first couple hours of the day.
It’s also worth noting that not all attractions start operating at park opening time. The most notable examples are entertainment, meet & greets, animal exhibits, and interactive areas. Additionally, Kali River Rapids and Conservation Station open after the rest of the park.
Animal Kingdom also has quite a bit that closes before the rest of the park, especially months when the park closes after sunset. Pretty much everything involving live animals closes before sunset, meaning that Kilimanjaro Safari and all trails can close 2-3 hours before the rest of the park certain times of the year. (It all depends on the timing of sunset v. park closing–winter is worst for this.)
On a positive note, Animal Kingdom’s operating hours coupled with the park’s limited ride roster make it the easiest park for beating the crowds. Strategy for Animal Kingdom essentially amounts to “don’t go during the middle of the day and stand in long lines,” which seems to be what the vast majority of guests do for some odd reason.
Avoid the hours of 11 am until 2 pm if at all possible, or at least don’t do popular rides during that time frame. Since the park operates from 8 or 9 am until 7 or 8 pm most days, this should be relatively easy. Either go early or stay late–or both, and do a table service lunch plus stage shows and animal exhibits during the busiest time of day.
Personally, I’m a fan of doing Animal Kingdom later in the day (see Animal Kingdom Afternoon Arrival Strategy). Subjectively, this is nice because Animal Kingdom is the hottest park at Walt Disney World, and hitting it when the sun is lower knocks a good 10-20 degrees off the feels like temperatures. The atmosphere at sunset and night is also fantastic, and something few fans see.
Wait times are lower in the last few hours of the day at Animal Kingdom. You’ll often find everything except Avatar Flight of Passage and Na’vi River Journey has an actual wait time of under 15 minutes after 5 pm. Many of those attractions are literal walk-ons.
We like to do the Pandora – World of Avatar rides in the last 90 minutes or so of the operating day. The exact time is crowd-dependent, but we often jump in line for Na’vi River Journey about 60-90 minutes before park closing and Avatar Flight of Passage around 5 minutes before park closing. This “last minute” approach is ideal, as you can line up for rides until the minute the park closes and then have your wait occur after the park has closed.
As an added bonus, you’ll exit the attraction when it’s dark and get to see Pandora come alive in bioluminescent brilliance. This is usually even true in the summer, when Animal Kingdom may otherwise have a closing time before nighttime. Pandora is beautiful and serene in the evening, and you absolutely want to see that–especially devoid of people!
If you’re worried about transportation back to your hotel when staying this late in Animal Kingdom, don’t. Officially, transportation to the theme parks begins approximately 2 hours prior to park opening time and runs until approximately 1 hour after the parks close. This is the info you’ll find on Walt Disney World’s website, and what Cast Members will tell you.
Unofficially, transportation after park closing continues as long as people are inside the park. Disney won’t leave you stranded at a park. Cast Members are methodical about clearing the parks and radio to bus drivers to make sure they stick around until all of the stragglers are accounted for. Despite it’s earlier closing time, Animal Kingdom is usually cleared faster, but this can still sometimes take over an hour after park closing.
We have left Walt Disney World theme parks long after park closing many, many times and have never had an issue. If anything, delaying departure as long as possible is the best course of action. You get to enjoy park closing serenity and are more likely to have a bus all to yourself!
Unlike Magic Kingdom, EPCOT, and Disney’s Hollywood Studios, there is no nighttime spectacular at Animal Kingdom. This is part of why Animal Kingdom gets cleared faster than the other parks, with the other big reasons being a lack of late night Advance Dining Reservations and the simple reality that most guests depart voluntarily faster at Animal Kingdom than any other park.
The closest thing that Animal Kingdom has to a nighttime spectacular is the Tree of Life Awakenings, which is the projection show on the park’s icon. This usually starts around dusk each night and continues until shortly after park closing. There’s no set showtime schedule for this. Tree of Life Awakenings is not a nighttime spectacular, and you will very much be disappointed if you camp out and wait for it to start.
Instead, the Tree of Life Awakenings is better treated as a diversion or something that you should stumble upon. The point from a park hours perspective, though, is that there’s no nighttime spectacular that impacts operating hours at Animal Kingdom. There are many nights in the summer when Animal Kingdom closes at or around sunset, and there’s simply no Tree of Life Awakenings on those evenings.
Thus far, Extended Evening Hours has not occurred at Animal Kingdom. We do not expect that to change until a bona fide nighttime spectacular returns to Animal Kingdom, which won’t occur at any point in 2023 (unless there’s an out of left field announcement that isn’t even being rumored). With that said, Extended Evening Hours is also a solid way to do both EPCOT and Magic Kingdom. (See our Guide to Extended Evening Hours at Walt Disney World for more.)
Another ‘currently unavailable’ way to stay late is the After Hours at Animal Kingdom. This was a hard ticket event offered pre-closure, and it was an especially great way to do Avatar Flight of Passage. Although After Hours at Magic Kingdom and DHS have already returned, the same is not true for Animal Kingdom. Perhaps this summer or holiday season?
When it comes to the interplay of park strategy & hours, another option is Genie+ and Lightning Lanes. We almost never recommend that guests purchase Genie+ at Animal Kingdom, as it is simply unnecessary if you arrive early or stay late. However, one big exception is when Park Hopping–if paired with another park, Genie+ at Animal Kingdom can make sense and be worth the money.
To that point, for Animal Kingdom strategy & planning insight see the following posts:
Ultimately, that should cover what you need to know about park hours at Animal Kingdom. Now it should also be clear why there’s a lot of nuance and quirks that are worth understanding beyond just the basics that DAK usually is open from 8 or 9 am until 7 or 8 pm.
Beyond showing up late and enduring peak wait times during the middle of the day, another common pitfall for guests at Animal Kingdom is the dreaded animal fatigue. This often occurs when focusing on rides early in the morning, finishing them up by 10 am, and then doing animal exhibit after animal exhibit, with the only reprieves coming from Animal Kingdom’s fantastic stage shows and restaurants. Suffice to say, variety is important–don’t do all the “animal stuff” back-to-back. Mix it up a bit so you can beat the crowds and enjoy a satisfying and well-rounded day at DAK!
What do you think of normal park hours in 2023 at Animal Kingdom? Prefer to arrive first thing for Early Entry, later in the morning, afternoon, or evening? How do you take advantage of the operating quirks of DAK to beat the crowds? Do you agree or disagree with anything in our guide to park hours at Disney’s Animal Kingdom? Any questions we can help you answer? Hearing your feedback–even when you disagree with us–is both interesting to us and helpful to other readers, so please share your thoughts below in the comments!