When I started planning our trip to Disney World, I decided that on this trip to all the parks, I had to visit Animal Kingdom. It was the only park I had never visited, and I really didn’t expect it to be as good as it is. After a day in Magic Kingdom, which was really, really crowded due to spring break and Easter weekend, Animal Kingdom was much more manageable and far more enjoyable than I ever imagined. I’m not sure why I doubted for a minute that this park would be any less of a park than the others. Animal Kingdom with kids is the perfect day out.
It definitely helps that the park was built across 500 acres. That’s far larger than the Magic Kingdom. That acreage includes lush wildlife habitat for the park’s animals, which includes everything from tigers to giraffes to gorillas. The central feature of Discovery Island at Animal Kingdom is the Tree of Life, which is the first thing you see when you walk in and it’s truly a spectacle. In keeping with the Disney tradition, it’s fake, made out of concrete and plastic, but it sure looks real. Its amazing to see, towering over the surrounding vegetation and carved with the visages of countless animals.
What I didn’t realize was just how marvelous the park’s rides would be. After a few days of exploring Disney inside and out, I knew the tricks to getting around the crowds and the tricks work on this park, as well, as the popular rides do have long lines. We got to Animal Kingdom close to the park’s opening time, for one thing, when the crowds are thinner than other parts of the day. For the more popular rides, we typically got Fast Pass tickets and went away to do some of the smaller, less popular rides, before coming back. For Fast Pass tickets, you get to the ride you desire, check to see if it utilizes Fast Pass, put your tickets in one at a time and get a time slot (an hour) to come back later in the day. By doing that, you are guaranteed a 10-15 minute wait, which can be a huge time saving and a way to squeeze so much more into your day.
There are also some great opportunities for meeting characters all over Animal Kingdom. Lines aren’t as bad as in the other parks. Camp Minnie Mickey features character greeting (Greeting Trails) areas where you can stand in line to meet Minnie, Mickey, Goofy, and Donald Duck. I was quite bummed that we’d already waited 30-60 minutes to meet the same characters at Epcot on our first day. Check for times as soon as you enter the park.
The parade is also pretty terrific and unlike at the other parks, where swarms of people head to the parades, my kids were able to sit happily on the ground and watch. It’s also very much in the vein of the Animal Kingdom theme, with characters from Lion King and the jungle and is really adorable. It features great music and dancing, too.
Here’s a snapshot of five favorite attractions at Animal Kingdom. The more focused you are, the more you will get to do, so it’s good to go in knowing what to hit:
Expedition Everest – Legend of the Forbidden Mountain: This was, by far, my kid’s favorite ride at Disney, and I was really glad my son was tall enough to ride it (44”). It’s a high-speed train that zips around a mountain. At one point, it goes backwards and is absolutely terrifying, but exhilarating. Definitely get the Fast Pass for this ride.
Kali River Rapids: If you’ve heard the rumors that you get soaked on this ride, they’re true, but it’s 100% worth it. It’s a whitewater ride in a round boat that holds about 8 people that rides the turbulent waters of the Chakanadi River. We did actually get very, very wet, but this ride was another thrill for all of us. This is another Fast Pass ride.
Kilimanjaro Safari: Another ride worth getting a Fast Pass for, as the lines can be up to “two weeks long” as revealed by park staff members. You board a jeep-like vehicle that takes you though the jungles of Africa, passing giraffes, rhinos, elephants, lions and more. I loved it when the vehicle had to stop in its tracks to watch an elephant cross the road, and I loved my children’s expressions as we rode through the jungle in a bumpy truck as they gazed at terrifically large animals we don’t often get to see.
It’s Tough to Be a Bug: A good stop when you’re really hot as the theater has AC. Inspired by the film, “A Bug’s Life”, this 3-D experience features Flik and Hopper, and some creepy creatures coming out of the screen and from the sides and roof of the theater. It features some fantastic effects, like when the exterminator sprays the bugs to rid of them and the spray gushes across the room, and when we felt bugs crawling underneath our bottoms. I can see how this show could terrify a very young child, but my own were riveted. What a bonus to come out of the theater and be introduced to the real bugs as presented by Disney team members.
Dinosaur: Another Fast-Pass ride. This is a thrilling time machine that takes you back 65 million years to save the last dinosaur. It’s a fast, dark ride that we all loved, but and we weren’t so happy when it broke down at the end of our ride. But in Disney fashion, the attendants gave us free passes to return later.
And I have to throw in a 6th choice as a runner-up, the Boneyard: This is a child-friendly discovery playground you can easily spend an hour in – mine did. It’s a great way to give the kids a different kind of exercise, crawling around dinosaur bone excavations, climbing on nets and slides, and playing in a giant sandbox. There is a bridge built out of a dinosaur skeleton and much. My kids loved it and it gave me a bit of a break.
Other attractions not to miss: Festival of the Lion King, Wildlife Express Train, Flights of Wonder, Primeval Whirl and Tricera Top Spin.
One last tip, like with other parks, it’s helpful to being in bottles of water and some snacks or sandwiches. I actually did prefer the food in this park to the others, but it’s helpful in terms of cost and convenience to have food and water readily available for your kids who will get thirsty often. It gets really, really hot and you’ll be happy to avoid lines (and saving money never hurts either).
Animal Kingdom was an unexpected delight, and next time we come to Disney, we will start with this park. It’s a wonderful Disney park for a child who doesn’t like crowds and requires some peace and quiet. It walks to a different beat; it’s not as crowded as the other parks, but it still requires a bit of foresight into what you want to see. Be ready to pull out your ticket to get a Fast Pass when necessary, and give your children breaks when they get tired. The great thing about Animal Kingdom is that you can stop to look at flowers or explore the wildlife.
Disclosure: I was provided with a complimentary ticket by the folks at Visit Orlando, but all opinions expressed are my own.