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11 Ways to Do Walt Disney World’s Animal Kingdom Like a Pro

Rebekah B.

Does your vacation bucket list include going on safari, photographing lions up close, experiencing the beauty of elephants as they roam the savanna, counting the spots on giraffes as they feast on acacia trees, taking a trip back in time to observe an extinct dinosaur, playing games at a roadside carnival, scaling a magnificent mountain in search of the legendary Yeti and taking a ride on the back of a flying banshee through the Valley of Mo’ara?

 

If it weren’t for the magic of Disney, that bucket list would seem more like something from the pages of a Lewis Carroll book, but thanks to the brilliant minds of Disney’s Imagineers at the Walt Disney World Resort in Florida, you can experience all of these things and more, and all in one fascinating place called Disney’s Animal Kingdom. Since the gates first opened to this magical park in 1998, Guests have enjoyed observing every facet of the animal kingdom, and all with Disney’s magical twist to it.

Here are 11 ways to experience Disney’s Animal Kingdom like a pro and get to cross things off that vacation bucket list at the same time.

11. Go early and stay late.

One of the best ways to experience Disney’s Animal Kingdom is by getting to the park early, preferably when the gates open, and by staying until park closing, which is later in the evening now than it was even a year ago. Part of the reason for the longer park hours is that the World of Avatar has taken Disney World by storm, and Guests are thrilled and hungry to experience it over and over. Another reason for the later closing is the new nighttime spectaculars, including The Tree of Life Awakens, Rivers of Light and the Discovery Island Carnivale.

A good reason to go early is that some attractions, like Rafiki’s Planet Watch via the Wildlife Express Train, close in early evening—usually around 5:00 p.m. If you will only be at Animal Kingdom for one day during your vacation, you’ll want to make sure not to miss any of the magic offered by this fascinating park, so plan to stay all day!

10. Use your FastPass+ selections.

To make the most of your time at Disney’s Animal Kingdom, it has always been a good idea to reserve your FastPass+ selections in advance (60 days before if you’re staying on property and 30 days before if you’re staying off property), but using the FastPass+ service is even more important now that Pandora – The World of Avatar has opened. You will have to reserve a FastPass+ time for Na’vi River Journey or for Avatar Flight of Passage as far in advance as possible. Please note, these two attractions are on a Tier System, meaning you can only make a FastPass+ selection for one of these in your initial three FastPass+ selections. These two Tier 1 attractions are just that popular (and just that amazing!), and if you haven’t reserved a FastPass+ time, you’ll more than likely stand in long lines for the attractions (in excess of 120 – 180 minutes, depending on the day of the week and attendance in the park). The best trick here is to arrive at rope drop to visit one of these attractions and FastPass+ the other.

Attractions on Tier Two that you may want to use FastPass+ for include DINOSAUR, Expedition Everest, Kali River Rapids and Kilimanjaro Safaris. You may also want to use a FastPass+ selection for one of the fabulous shows at Disney’s Animal Kingdom, including Festival of the Lion King and Finding Nemo – the Musical. You can’t go wrong with any attraction in this park. The only mistake you’ll make is NOT reserving FastPass+ times before you get to Disney.

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9. Don’t skip the musicals.

Disney doesn’t skimp on any attraction, and the musicals at Animal Kingdom are no exception. “The Festival of the Lion King” is a creative re-telling by Simba and his pals, of his journey from cub to King and runs about 30 minutes in duration. All your favorite characters from the animated film have a part in this theatrical masterpiece. You can sing along with your favorite songs too. You’ll enjoy acrobatics performed by the Tumble Monkeys, and you’ll even get to “act like an animal” – a giraffe, a warthog, a lion or an elephant, depending on where you’re sitting for this amazing theater-in-the-round experience.

“Finding Nemo – the Musical” is another stage show that proves Disney is all about offering world-class entertainment. You’ll be amazed by the puppetry and the camouflaged puppeteers. It’s unlike anything you’ve ever experienced in a stage show. Fall in love with some new songs that get their inspiration from music from Disney/PIXAR’s animated hit. In every way, this is a show you’ll have to see to believe.

8. Meet the elusive characters.

Mickey and Minnie (and a few other beloved characters) are so endowed with the Disney Magic, that they are able to be at each of the four parks at Walt Disney World, seemingly flawlessly. How do they do it? Again, it’s the Disney Magic. But there are a few characters who love Disney’s Animal Kingdom so very much, that they have chosen to take up permanent residence at this park and only at this park. These include Flik from A Bug’s Life, Baloo and King Louie from The Jungle Book, Tarzan, Pocahontas, Rafiki from The Lion King, Russell from Disney/PIXAR’s UP and Jiminy Cricket (he’s only there on Earth Day, so we’ll consider him ultra-elusive!). Make sure to have these characters sign your autograph book, and be sure to have your Magic Band with you so you can easily add PhotoPass pictures of them to your Memory Maker account.

7. Trade those pins!

One of the most fun activities to be a part of at Disney’s Animal Kingdom (or any of the four parks) is official Disney pin trading. Collect pins to trade and pins to keep. It’s great fun, and it only costs you the price of official Disney trading pins, which can be purchased in most shops inside the parks and in several shops at Disney Springs, including the Pin Traders shop. If you want to save money when purchasing trading pins, or if you’re looking for a hard-to-find pin, try eBay. Many merchants on eBay will sell pins for as low as $0.40 each when you purchase several pins in a lot of 25, 50, 75, 100 or more pins. As long as they are official trading pins, you can trade with any Cast Member at the parks, and you might just get lucky and trade an inexpensive pin for a pin you’ve been in search of for a while!

6. Sample the food.

Because there are many continents highlighted at Disney’s Animal Kingdom, you can sample foods from different places on the globe. In Africa, you can try such foods as a masala chicken and a coconut custard milk tart. You can drink an African Bibo, which is a fruity drink. At the Tusker House, you can try tabbouleh and couscous, as well as different roasted meats. At Yak & Yeti in Asia, you can try sweet slaw with your Mahi Mahi, seafood curry and for dessert, you should really try the cream cheese and pineapple wontons. Other places in Asia have such offerings as teriyaki sliders, glazed nuts, noodle salads, egg rolls and vegetable lo mein. There’s even a tea shop that boasts over 20 different teas. Try them at the Royal Anandapur Tea Company in front of the Yak & Yeti restaurant.

In a hurry? Sample the cuisines like a pro with Mobile Food and Beverage Ordering now available on your My Disney Experience App at multiple Quick Service Restaurants throughout the park.

5. Sample the culture.

Because there are multiple continents represented at Disney’s Animal Kingdom, there are numerous opportunities to immerse yourself in the culture of other countries. One of the best places to do this is along the streets of Animal Kingdom. Watch live entertainment along the streets as you walk from one attraction to another. You can dance with other Guests while native music is played in the streets. Enjoy street performers as well—some playing traditional instruments and others on stilts!

4. Experience the wildlife.

Naturally, at Animal Kingdom, you can absolutely expect to see animals—lots and lots of animals. But don’t misunderstand; Disney’s Animal Kingdom is NOT your run-of-the-mill zoo. It’s not a zoo at all. It’s a fantastic theme park, centered around the animal kingdom, from extinct animals like dinosaurs and aquatic animals to insects and birds and everything in between. Instead of just observing the animals, you are able to truly experience them thanks to several attractions in the park. If you don’t mind a bumpy ride, you can board a huge safari truck at Kilimanjaro Safaris, see elephants graze the savanna and watch lazy lions sleep on the rocks. (Note: for the best possible chances for seeing lions, go in the early evening or at night for this attraction, as the lions tend to come out more and be more active in the evening.) At Rafiki’s Planet Watch, you can learn about conservation and preservation efforts, and you can even take a look into the veterinary procedures being used for animals living at Disney’s Animal Kingdom who become sick or injured. On the Maharajah Jungle Trek, walk an exotic trail and see a Komodo dragon, bats, water buffalo, a skink and tigers! There are so many opportunities to experience the wildlife; you’d have a much more difficult time NOT immersing yourself in the wonder of all these creatures—great and small.

3. Have some thrills!

Don’t be fooled. Disney’s Animal Kingdom is all about animals, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t thrill rides! Expedition Everest is one of the most thrilling rides at the Walt Disney World Resort. Who doesn’t love a roller coaster? But this one is super-thrilling thanks to a combination of 4 things: an 80-foot drop, speeds of up to 60 miles per hour, a backwards ride and an angry Yeti. No other coaster in the world boasts such a buffet of thrills! And Kali River Rapids isn’t a boring theme park water ride. On the contrary, this exciting raft ride that holds 12 people per raft boasts one really steep drop, the almost guarantee of getting either damp or drenched and a very important message about the dangers of deforestation.

2. Be a Wilderness Explorer.

This is especially fun if you have children in your party. When you first get to Animal Kingdom, head to the Wilderness Explorers’ Clubhouse and say hello to Russell from Disney/PIXAR’s UP. Then walk back toward the bridge, and get your Wilderness Explorer’s Adventure Guide. You can help your little ones earn their Wilderness Explorer’s badges by going to different areas throughout the park and completing a learning activity about animals, their habits, habitats and favorite foods. Upon completion of an activity, your child can show his Adventure Guide to the nearest Cast Member and receive a Wilderness Explorer badge for that particular activity, just like Russell did in the animated feature. Your kids can learn about animals and conservation and have fun doing it!

1. Experience the Pandora – The World of Avatar.

You cannot go to Disney’s Animal Kingdom and miss the wonder and amazement that is Pandora – The World of Avatar. Visit the Valley of Mo’ara (which means “a place to gather” in Na’vi), and begin to explore Pandora. Take in the scenic landscape, the waterfalls and enjoy (at night) the bioluminescent glow all throughout the land, giving it an even more magical feel. As you proceed through the Flight of Passage attraction, scientists link you to an avatar who can ride on the back of a banshee for a chance-of-a-lifetime flight over mountains that float, majestic waterfalls and breathtaking coastlines. Travel down the Kapsavan River in a reed boat when you head to the Na’vi River Journey attraction inside Pandora. Experience the caves and rainforest in this spectacular journey. And even if you choose not to enjoy these attractions, you owe it to yourself and your family to walk around Pandora at night, just to see the “glow.” You’ll be talking about this new world at Disney’s Animal Kingdom for years to come. It’s just that phenomenal!

When you’re planning a trip to the Walt Disney World Resort, don’t leave out Animal Kingdom, and don’t mistakenly compare it to a zoo because it’s so much more than that. Enjoy animals and experiences of every kind, all while feeling the Disney Magic in every corner of the park, and even explore a world beyond our own at the newly-unveiled World of Avatar. And follow these 11 tips for doing so like a pro!

About Rebekah Tyndall Burkett

Rebekah grew up in Forney, Texas and lives just outside of Dallas. She’s been a Disney superfan since childhood, experiencing the magic at Walt Disney World for the first time at the age of 11. Journeys to Neverland are at least a yearly occurrence for her, her husband and her four children (the Fab Four). When they go to the parks, they stay in Florida for three weeks at a time. Rebekah loves exploring the history of the parks, the genius behind the Magic in the person of Walt Disney, and she is intrigued by all things Disney World and Disney Imagineering. When in the parks, Rebekah and her husband Scott make the most of their time by enjoying every minute with their Fab Four, by delving deeper into Walt’s vision for the parks and into the history behind the Walt Disney World Resort, and by photographing the many different types of architecture at Magic Kingdom, Disney’s Hollywood Studios and on the World Showcase at EPCOT. When she’s not in the parks, Rebekah is excitedly setting travel dates and planning her family’s next adventure to their happy place deep within the Sunshine State. On breaks from planning her next trip, Rebekah is a writer, journalist and children’s author, penning children’s books about kids with special needs that she affectionately calls “believement-achievement” stories. Her hobbies include creative writing, paper crafting and interviewing Imagineers. She is also an advocate for Autism Awareness and for children with developmental disabilities of all kinds.