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Without Mickey and the traditional Disney movie trappings Disney’s Animal Kingdom can sometimes be overlooked. We explain why even toddler parents should plan a day at Animal Kingdom. Let us guide you through the best rides and shows for toddlers ages 1-4.
As far as parks at Walt Disney World go Animal Kingdom sometimes gets a bad rap. It’s larger than the other Disney parks, tends to be lighter on characters and movie tie-ins and is less “Disney” and more world experience and animal sanctuary characteristics. There is a lot of walking and with less rides than the other park many toddler parents choose to skip it if their Disney itinerary is tight. They prioritize Magic Kingdom, Hollywood Studios and Epcot. I’m here to tell you don’t skip it! Disney’s Animal Kingdom with toddlers can absolutely be done. Here are our best tips for making it an enjoyable experience.
Take in a show at Animal Kingdom with toddlers.
Animal Kingdom with toddlers isn’t a half day theme park- there’s a lot to see and a lot of ground to cover. Plan to spend one day at Animal Kingdom. However, there is a lot of walking involved so planning some indoor activities to get out of the Florida sun makes the day manageable. Luckily, there are some great show options at Animal Kingdom for toddlers.
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Finding Nemo- The Musical (Temporarily Unavailable)
Finding Nemo, as you may remember, was an animated movie about Nemo the fish who ends up in the aquarium at a dentist’s office. His father goes on a quest to find him and bring him home meeting Dory and Crush along the way. It was not a musical. This adaptation is in a large air conditioned theater with fourteen original songs. The show is 40 minutes long so it makes a great break for nursing baby or trying to sneak in a toddler nap.
Things to note- some portions of the show can be a little frightening for kids. In my opinion, those moments were scarier for kids in the 5-7 range who could think through the idea of a parent or child being hurt more clearly. For toddlers, the ideas would have flown over their heads.
Watch acrobatic Lion King performers.
Festival of the Lion King is a whirling experience of color, music, acrobatics and familiar characters. Toddlers will be captivated by this show and at 30 minutes long it’s just the right length for their attention span. With some audience participation they’ll be involved and excited!
Check out birds up close at UP! A Great Bird Adventure. (Temporarily Unavailable)
Located in the Asia section of Disney’s Animal Kingdom this show is a fantastic way to get off your feet and give toddlers a break from walking. The birds are trained to do some really neat things and the UP movie tie-in with Russell and Kevin is cute. The shows happen throughout the day and it’s usually simple to get in so don’t worry about a Fastpass+.
Check out toddler-friendly rides at Animal Kingdom.
Ride Kilimanjaro Safaris.
The Kilimanjaro Safari is a great family friendly option. Young children will love seeing animal favorites like lions, elephants and giraffes. There are usually low wait times on this ride as well. One thing to be aware of is that the animals tend to be more active early in the day and later in the evening. In the hot afternoon they tend to be snoozing.
Take a boat ride in Pandora-The World of Avatar.
Located in the Pandora- The World of Avatar area of Animal Kingdom, the Na’vi River Journey is fantastic for babies, toddlers, and preschoolers. This ride doesn’t have a height requirement so you can babywear on it. Although parts of it are dark there are glowing and bioluminescent elements that make even the dark parts very friendly to kiddos. This should be on your Animal Kingdom with toddlers list. I know that mine was captivated by the lights and the music.
Ride the Wildlife Express Train to Rafiki’s Planet Watch.
Rafiki’s Planet Watch is a hidden delight tucked away in the far reaches of Animal Kingdom. Because it is slightly removed from the rest of the theme park it’s something that gets skipped by a lot of folks. It should definitely be on your Animal Kingdom with toddlers list. First, you wait at the Wildlife Express Train station in Harambe, Africa. You’ll board the well-themed train and it will wind you over a mile to Rafiki’s Planet Watch on a 7 minute ride, giving you glimpses of behind the scenes enclosures and barns along the way. The train runs back and forth all day dropping off and picking up passengers. Rafiki’s Planet Watch itself has the Affection Section- a petting zoo area with goats, donkeys, and more that the kiddos will love. In addition, animal demos take place in front of the building.
Inside the Conservation Station small children can explore nutrition learning stations, see snakes and reptiles, and see some live animals as well. While littles may not be able to read signs and info on displays they will love being able to look into the Veterinary Treatment Window. Seeing vets in action working on animals is one of the coolest parts of Rafiki’s Planet Watch. There is usually a cast member available to answer questions and talk to the kiddos.
Take a ride on TriceraTop Spin.
Not to be confused with the Dinosaur ride (trust me it’s nightmare inducing for littles), this ride is essentially Dumbo with dinosaurs. Climb into a Triceratops and enjoy the view of Dinoland USA from above.
Heading to Animal Kingdom with toddlers? Check out play areas and trails.
Get out some energy at The Boneyard. (Temporarily Unavailable)
This fun fossil themed play area in Dinoland U.S.A. is perfect for kids 10 and under. Some rope bridge areas may be a little too adventurous for toddlers but there are shaded seating areas with fans nearby so that you can keep an eye out. When kiddo needs to unwind this is the perfect spot to head to for a reset.
Play I Spy at Discovery Island.
You may be asking what’s Discovery Island? Do you know the big tree with all the animals carved in? Giant photo opportunity that it’s almost a requirement to take a picture of? That’s the Tree of Life and it’s located on Discovery Island in Animal Kingdom. It soars over the area at 145 feet tall and has more than 300 animals carved into it! You can get much closer to it than most people go though. While people admire it from afar you can walk the Discovery Island Trails to get up close and personal. Small children will love spotting animals they recognize and pointing them out! Your path will also wind you path observation areas for animals ranging from red kangaroos to otters to porcupines. Enter the paths across from Creature Comforts and the First Aid/Baby Care Center.
Walk the trails.
At some point in time it will be nap time. The trails are fantastic spots for stroller naps. They’re also great for awake toddlers! The Discovery Island Trails, The Gorilla Falls Exploration Trail (formerly the Pangani Forest Exploration Trail) or the Maharajah Jungle Trek are walking trails that have animal sightings (both real and carved), educational placards and learning opportunities along them. The Gorilla Falls Trail is always a favorite because of the viewing area with the hippos!
TravelingMom Tip: Have older kids too? Keep them busy during the nap/walk on the Play Disney Parks app. It offers them opportunities to learn about the animals and play along to become a conservation hero! It’s also a great reason to pick up a Wilderness Explorer handbook for them to complete activities in.
Animal Kingdom with Toddlers – Rides That May Be OK for Some Kids
Kali River Rapids
The toddler label encompasses a wide variety of ages and with that age range there will obviously be different abilities. Rides like Kali River Rapids can be fun for some older toddlers. The height requirement is 36″ so if you have a four year old at that height who is a thrill-seeker, they’ll probably love it. Be aware that you’re going to get soaked so bring a poncho for kiddo if that will make the rest of the day miserable. If you’re traveling with mixed ages younger kids will love squirting Kali River Rapid riders from the bridge near the end of it. Heck, it might have been my friend’s favorite part of our day and she’s in her thirties. There is also a fountain play area nearby for toddler to get a little bit wet without the rapids.
Dinoland Ride- The Primeval Whirl
Let me tell you about a little ride called the Primeval Whirl. It looks like a harmless little roller coaster. I got dragged onto it by my kids thinking it was a kiddie coaster. Surprise! Not only does it whip around that track- the car spins the entire time. Think teacups on a coaster track. This is not a kids ride. Or maybe I’m just a wimp. (Update: This ride was closed permanently in July 2020. I swear I didn’t have anything to do with it, but I can’t say I’m sad about it.)
While the height requirement on this ride (38″) and constant screaming emanating from it should make it obvious that this attraction isn’t toddler friendly I’ve seen some folks try to bring their tall young kids on. Make no mistakes, this is a thrill ride. We’re talking backwards, forwards roller coaster fun with a scary Yeti thrown in. Not for the faint of heart.
TravelingMom Tip: If you aren’t interested in the Rivers of Light Nighttime Experience at Animal Kingdom it is a great time for adults and teens to ride Expedition Everest. You can usually sneak through the single rider line pretty quickly with no need to use a Fastpass+. Read more Animal Kingdom Secrets here.
Animal Kingdom Experiences That Might Be Too Scary for Toddlers
It’s Tough to Be a Bug A Bug’s Life
This show has loud noises, sudden surprising character appearances and the added fun of audience interactive elements (the seats do something funky). If kiddo is pretty fearless and on your lap they’ll likely be okay but I’ve never been in a showing that didn’t involve crying kids and people leaving.
My daughter is 10 now and still vividly remembers the time we brought her on DINOSAUR because she was tall enough to ride. She was a tall almost 4 year old. I’m not saying she developed trust issues from it but… it’s intense. You spend half the ride thinking that you’re about to go extinct. It jerks around a lot, in the dark. Even if your kiddo is 40″ tall you may want to think about whether they handle impending doom well.
Best Dining Options at Animal Kingdom with Toddlers
You’ve entertained them and now you need to feed them. Here are a few great dining options to hit up with toddlers at Animal Kingdom.
Pros: Quick Service, Pizza and other kid-friendly options, You can order through the My Disney Experience App ahead of time, Price is decent
Cons: Pizza (yes, it’s both- there are great culinary options at Animal Kingdom and pizza isn’t a top choice for us), food was meh, can get REALLY crowded
Pros: Can use Disney dining credits, Don’t need a park ticket to get in, Theming is definitely there (small kids may be scared by the “storms”), varied menu with something for everyone and special dietary accomodations
Cons: Service can be hit or miss, storming theming can be scary
Yak and Yeti
Pros: Food is fabulous, theming is very cute, service is generally attentive and there are allergy friendly food options, good kids meal options
Cons: Price is a little higher (worth it in my opinion) so lunch is a great option, wait can be long if you don’t have reservations, more in line with a sit-down “upscale” restaurant so make sure kiddos are prepared for it
TravelingMom Tip: The Yak and Yeti is a Landry’s restaurant (as is Rainforest Cafe). If you are a Landry’s Select Club member you’ll get preferred access on the wait list so it’s a great idea to join before your trip!
Pros: Character breakfast and lunch meals that kids love, Simba and Nala waffles at breakfast, safari characters, buffet style
Cons: Can be pricey, definitely make a reservation
Pros: Excellent theming, out of this world desserts, great options to mix and match proteins and other items
Cons: Seating can get crowded during peak meal times, some kids menu items may be too different looking for picky eaters