Disney’s Animal Kingdom. It’s that sweet spot between zoo, theme park, and botanical garden. An amusement park that’s meant to be savored. It’s also really, really big. We’re talkin’ 580-acres big. That makes it the largest theme park in the world.
So, just how is one supposed to get everything done in the largest theme park in the world while still taking time to truly enjoy it? No worries – we’re here to help with our 1-Day Disney’s Animal Kingdom touring plan. (UPDATED September 28, 2021)
A FEW CONSIDERATIONS
This comprehensive walkthrough will guide you through our Park Savers-tested-and-approved Animal Kingdom itinerary. With our simple tips, you might not be able to get everything done in the park (especially due to current COVID-19 closures), but you should get all the main things done, plus a few extras, and still have time to explore some of the beautiful trails the park has to offer.
Keep in mind that with FastPass+ out of the picture, if you want to skip the lines, you’ll now need to pay to take advantage of Disney Genie+, Individual Attraction Selections, and the new Lightning Lanes. At this time, we still don’t know the complete list of Animal Kingdom attractions getting a Lightning Lane.
As you can imagine, people aren’t exactly thrilled with the idea of needing to pay to skip the lines at Disney World. At $15 per person per day for Genie+ and who knows how much for each Individual Attraction Selection, it isn’t cheap. But, if you do decide to invest, you should be able to experience quite a bit. In the spirit of all those Genie+ skeptics, we’ll approach this Disney Animal Kingdom itinerary as if you aren’t really investing in anything extra.
For our last trip, we were able to see Flight of Passage, Na’vi River Journey, Kilimanjaro Safaris, Expedition Everest, Festival of the Lion King, DINOSAUR, Kali River Rapids, and It’s Tough to Be a Bug, plus Gorilla Falls Exploration Trail and Maharajah Jungle Trek. Pre-COVID, we also would have been able to fit in Finding Nemo the Musical and Up! A Great Bird Adventure.
For those keeping track, that’s a ton of rides, shows, and some old-fashioned wandering. And with a bit of planning and the help of our 1-Day Animal Kingdom itinerary, you’ll be able to do the same.
Fortunately for guests, the size of Disney’s Animal Kingdom is also its strength. Because it is so big, it is able to comfortably hold more people than its smaller counterparts. In other words, even if the park is relatively full, there is still a lot of space to go around. That being said, all that space can translate into a whole lotta walking, especially if you don’t plan right and are forced to do a ton of backtracking.
Furthermore, as we previously mentioned, Animal Kingdom is a theme park that is meant to be savored. The winding passageways through forests and past animal overlooks want you to slow down and really look at what is around you. The stage shows and street performers that ask you to sit and stay awhile. The rides that transport you to a different place and time. Even the buildings you walk past are trying so hard to immerse you in Africa one minute and Asia the next that the tiniest details may have you believe you’re actually there. As long as you let them, that is.
Finding the right balance between getting everything done and taking your time to stop and smell the Flame Tree Barbecue can be an incredibly tricky thing. That’s why we wanted to create the perfect one-day plan for Disney’s Animal Kingdom. With our park experience and simple guidance, you should be able to have the perfect mix of checking off the must-dos and taking time to just enjoy what’s around you.
And one final thought. When you think of everything there is to do at Animal Kingdom, how many people there are, and how big it is, the whole thing can seem a bit daunting. But, as long as you do your research and follow the plan (while also being ok with saying “whatever!” to the plan and letting Disney magic take over), you should be able to:
- Accomplish the best the park has to offer and the things that mean most to you first, and…
- Still have time to wander around and enjoy the beauty of nature.
If you think that sounds like a tall order (and we don’t blame you), keep reading to see our perfect one-day itinerary for Animal Kingdom.
MOST POPULAR DISNEY ANIMAL KINGDOM ATTRACTIONS
Animal Kingdom might not be the first park people think about when they think of Walt Disney World, but this zoo-meets-theme park has some of the best attractions on property. You may have even done a virtual walkthrough during a moment of weakness (i.e. a severe depletion of pixie dust) during quarantine. While some of these are new favorites, others have probably held a place in your heart for a while. Whatever the case may be, you can bet your bottom dollar that these attractions will always have some of the longest lines in the park.
- Avatar Flight of Passage
- Expedition Everest – Legend of the Forbidden Mountain
- It’s Tough to Be a Bug!
- Kilimanjaro Safaris
- Na’vi River Journey
- Festival of the Lion King
- Finding Nemo the Musical (currently closed due to COVID-19)
While these next rides and shows are still very much worth a watch, ride, or walkthrough or two, they aren’t as popular as those above and, as a result, usually have shorter lines. This makes them the perfect “in-between” attractions if you need to find something to do or if you’ve already seen everything else on your list.
- Up! A Great Bird Adventure (currently closed due to COVID-19)
- Kali River Rapids
- TriceraTop Spin
- Affection Section
- The Animation Experience at Conservation Station
- Conservation Station
- Discovery Island Trails
- Gorilla Falls Exploration Trail
- Maharajah Jungle Trek
- Tree of Life trails
- Wildlife Express Train
- The Boneyard
- And much more!
Our 1-Day plan is a pretty good mix of rides, shows, nature trails, and general exploring. However, if there’s an area that you’d like to explore more, make a note of it so that you can return once you’ve seen everything else. When you want to get a lot done, the important thing is trying to stay ahead of the crowds throughout the day, which is what our plan is designed to do, then filling in the gaps with things you’ve missed or enjoyed after. Depending on when you’re visiting, you’ll also want to try and allow some time to wander around the park after sunset to truly enjoy the beauty of the park lit up at night.
If you fall behind or start to notice big crowds during the day, don’t stress – just keep moving through the plan. Luckily, with some attractions closed for COVID, you should actually be able to get just about everything done in a very comfortable amount of time.
1-DAY TOURING PLAN FOR DISNEY’S ANIMAL KINGDOM
This first plan is meant for groups without any height restrictions, meaning guests who can go on any ride. It has been designed to hit the most popular attractions in the park without using Disney Genie+ or Individual Attraction Selections, making it perfect for those who don’t want to pay for the service, while still allowing some free time to explore the park more deeply.
Similar to our 1-day plans for Magic Kingdom Park, Epcot, and Disney’s Hollywood Studios, you need to be at the park one hour early. This helps you get ahead of the pack early and stay there. Plus, it also allows you to capitalize on the recent trend of Disney allowing entry into the parks about 45 minutes to an hour before they officially open. For anyone that doesn’t know the craziness of a Walt Disney World rope drop, that’s a huge head start. In short, might as well take advantage of it while it’s happening.
If you’re staying on Disney property and are tempted by the ease of Disney’s bus system, don’t give in. At least not for park open – it’s likely that, due to traffic and stops, you’ll get there only 30 minutes early instead of our suggested 60 minutes. Save yourself the time by taking an Uber or Lyft or driving your own card instead.
Once you’re in, avoid the temptation of the trails through the Oasis at the front of the park. You’ll have time to look at some amazing animals later; right now, you need to focus on getting to Pandora so you can ride Flight of Passage. Not only one of the newest rides in the park but one of the best rides at Walt Disney World, the line can get extremely long throughout the day. So, you’ll want to check it off your list before everyone else does.
If you’ve never done it before, you can make a quick pitstop at Na’vi River Journey, a slow-moving-but-beautiful technicolor boat ride through Pandora in evening bloom, before making your way up the back path to Africa for an early-morning ride on Kilimanjaro Safaris. The animals are most active in the mornings and the evenings when the temperatures are low, making this – and an encore trip after everything else when the sun is down – the perfect time to ride.
From there, you’ll cross over Expedition Everest, where your encounter with the mysterious yeti awaits. This is a perennial favorite with consistently long lines (which are, admittedly, quite pleasant to wait in if you do get caught in one thanks to some incredible, story-building details), so let’s take care of it as early as possible. If it’s an especially hot day, feel free to hang out in Asia just a bit longer with a thrilling (and chilling!) ride down Kali River Rapids.
Next, you’ll want to head on over to DINOSAUR for a blast into the past. In a perfect world (i.e. not during a pandemic), you would then want to make like you’re going back to ride Expedition Everest again, but then stopover near 42 Wallaby Way in Sydney for Finding Nemo the Musical. Unfortunately, you can’t do this now as the musical is currently on hiatus due to COVID-19.
After that, it’s lunchtime. Given where you’re at and where you’ll be going next, we’d recommend that you check out Flame Tree Barbecue near the front of the park. The portions are huge, the food is tasty, and the little seating pavilions are a secluded and shady spot to sit down and eat. Alternatively, you could also go to Restaurantosaurus or grab something quick and easy to go from Trilo-Bites.
When lunch is through, pop on over to It’s Tough to Be a Bug. Tucked under the Tree of Life, it’s dark and blissfully cool, making it an excellent way to keep the good vibes flowing after a relaxing lunch. While you’re there, feel free to wander through the trails the weave around the tree. Some provide some amazing, close-up views of the animals carved in the trunk of the tree that you can’t see from anywhere else. Or, if you’re more of a real-life animal person, be sure to check out Gorilla Falls Exploration Trail for African animals or Maharajah Jungle Trek for Asian animals.
By this point, you have basically accomplished all the best rides at Disney’s Animal Kingdom. All that’s left to do is round out the list of must-dos before spending the rest of your time checking out Pandora at night, as well as anything else you’d like to see again. Festival of the Lion King is a feel-good celebration of the music from the movie and arguably the best show at Animal Kingdom. Check it out before catching the Up! A Great Bird Adventure show (once it’s back up and running, of course). Take care to get there 30 to 40 minutes early to make sure you get a seat for the show.
Finally, wrap up your night (or at least start to) back in Pandora for the nightly light show. From there, you can either keep on exploring the lights of Pandora, ride on Flight of Passage again (and again and again), or go back to one of the rides or areas you really loved from earlier in the day.
The beautiful thing about Animal Kingdom is that there’s so much to see and do. The entire land has been lovingly crafted by Disney’s Imagineers and is filled to the brim with details that only make your trip more memorable. So, feel free to explore a different area each time. You’re sure to notice something new. Plus, each area brings a new perspective at night. Additionally, when acts aren’t canceled due to COVID, try to enjoy at least one of the street acts such as the Harambe Village Acrobats, the Tam Tam Drummers of Harambe, or the Viva Gaia Street Band. These live performances only help to immerse you further in the Animal Kingdom experience.
Wherever you choose to explore, be sure to finish your day with dinner somewhere. Check out our section on Disney Animal Kingdom dining below for suggestions. Whatever you do, choose somewhere that is in or at least close to the area you are choosing to end your day in. That way you don’t need to backtrack unnecessarily.
1-DAY TOURING PLAN FOR DISNEY’S ANIMAL KINGDOM WITH KIDS
Traveling with kids can be magical – the look in their eyes when they meet Mickey, the screams of joy as they slide down Splash Mountain, the shouts of anger when they don’t get a Mickey balloon, the cries of despair as they watch said Mickey balloon float away. Ok, ok, you’re right. Sometimes traveling with kids can feel like anything but magic. But, it’s those perfect times, those we’re-making-memories-that-will-last-a-lifetime kinda moments that make all the other bits worthwhile.
Luckily, with our 1-Day itinerary for Disney’s Animal Kingdom with kids (and patience fortified by pixie dust), you should be able to do all the things the kids might want to do while still making sure the adults have fun too. Even better, most of the park’s kid-friendly must-dos also happen to be adult-friendly must-dos too. So now, all that’s left to do is weave everything that’s not into the mix.
Thankfully, Disney makes it simple for each parent to enjoy rides their children still aren’t big enough to go on with their Parent Swap (or Rider Switch) program. Although this is a bit of a hidden secret at the parks, doing a parent swap is easy. Just let the cast member know that you’d like to do a rider switch at the entrance to any ride with a height restriction.
For example, let’s say you and your family want to ride Expedition Everest but you have a little one who can’t go. Just tell the cast member at the entrance that you want to do a parent swap. From there, one parent will stay with the kiddo while the other goes on the ride.
In the past, the parent who stayed behind would then receive a return time from a cast member which allowed them to use the FastPass+ line, along with two other guests, after the first parent is done with the ride. Unfortunately, we don’t yet know whether guests will simply use the Lightning Lane instead, so stay tuned for updates as they become available.
We love a good Disney hack that saves both time and fun! You can parent swap on any ride with a height requirement, so remember that as you and your family explore the park. At Disney’s Animal Kingdom, attractions with a height restriction include:
- Avatar Flight of Passage – 44 inches (112 centimeters) or taller
- DINOSAUR – 40 inches (102 centimeters) or taller
- Expedition Everest – Legend of the Forbidden Mountain – 44 inches (112 centimeters) or taller
- Kali River Rapids – 38 inches (97 centimeters) or taller
If you have at least one child who doesn’t meet the above requirements, here is our 1-day Disney’s Animal Kingdom plan for those with kids:
As you can see, of all the things there are to do at Disney’s largest theme park, only four rides have a height requirement. That sounds like a whole lot of family fun just waiting to be had. Since the park is already so kid-friendly, really all that’s left to do for our 1-Day Animal Kingdom itinerary with kids is add in a couple more rides.
To begin, get to the park an hour early. Once you’re in, make a beeline for Flight of Passage over in Pandora. This is our first parent swap of the day, so let the cast member know at the entrance that you’d like to do a rider switch. After each parent has gone, take a relaxing boat ride on Na’vi River Journey before leaving Pandora. There’s no height restriction for this ride, plus there are so many different things to see during the ride that your kids won’t know where to look.
Then, take the back path to Africa to go on Kilimanjaro Safaris. Again, there’s no height limit and your kiddos will love seeing all the animals’ early-morning antics. At the end of the journey, make your way next door to Asia and use rider switch to go on Expedition Everest. Don’t forget to let the cast member know at the entrance! Keep in mind that this is a rollercoaster that *spoiler alert* goes backward in almost complete darkness, creating the effect that you’re going upside down. So, even if your little one is tall enough, you may want to consider checking in with them first so they know it could get intense.
Once everyone has ridden, you’ll keep moving around the park to DinoLand USA. But first, if it’s extra hot, feel free to take on Kali River Rapids – and parent swap if necessary – to cool off. Keep in mind that getting wet (possibly soaked) is basically a certainty, so make sure you’re prepared with ponchos or plan on walking around to dry off.
Over in DinoLand, you’ll next go on DINOSAUR. This is our last ride with a height restriction, so remember to let the cast member know at the entrance. One thing we will make note of: Even if your kids are tall enough to ride, they could find the attraction very intense depending on how old they are. It’s mostly in the dark with flashing lights and a big, loud, scary dino that jumps out at you at the end. Oh yeah, and it’s kinda set during the time right before all the dinosaurs went extinct. So, it’s not just dark, but dark. Make your choices wisely.
Before you head out of DinoLand, shake off the screaming with a primeval whirl (You see what we did there? Too soon?) on TriceraTop Spin. When we’re not in a pandemic, you’ll next want to backtrack a smidgen – don’t worry, it’ll be worth it – to see Finding Nemo the Musical. When it’s running, it’s the perfect way to unwind and catch some shade (and possibly a nap).
Since it’s currently on hiatus, go ahead and skip right to lunch. Although Restaurantosaurus is a tempting choice with plenty of kid-friendly options and tons of cute theming, we’d recommend sticking to our previous suggestion of Flame Tree Barbecue. You and your kids will love the food, but you’ll especially appreciate all the shaded outside space.
After lunch, head to the Tree of Life to see It’s Tough to Be a Bug. While there’s no height restriction, this is another attraction that requires a warning. During the attraction, Hopper, the big bad from A Bug’s Life drops by for a visit and let us tell you, some kids will be terrified. That being said, it’s also a ton of fun, as long as you and your kiddos are prepared. Afterward, step out into the sunshine for a bit of hiking down one or two of the park’s animal trails. These are great opportunities for your little ones to get up-close-and-personal with some incredible animals and are a highlight of the Animal Kingdom experience that you won’t want to miss.
From there, keep the nature vibes flowing over at the Up! A Great Bird Adventure show before finally wrapping up your to-do list with the Festival of the Lion King. The Festival of the Lion King is especially popular, so be sure to get there at least 30 to 40 minutes ahead of time to make sure you get a seat.
Finally, wrap up your day back in Pandora with dinner at Satu’li Canteen and a non-alcoholic, super-fun, and frozen Night Blossom from Pongu Pongu. With fun ingredients like boba pearls and bao buns, your kids won’t be able to resist. Take some time to enjoy the beautiful lights. If you like, you can also revisit areas or rides from earlier in the day.
As you’ll notice, we didn’t incorporate any character encounters or the Affection Section or Conservation Station in our plan. Due to COVID, you won’t be able to do any character meet-and-greets, but you can keep an eye out for one of the character cruises/flotillas throughout the day. And while you can still go to the Affection Section (i.e. petting zoo), it is quite out of the way from the rest of the park and will take up a big chunk of your day.
This isn’t a big deal during a pandemic when things like shows are canceled, but it becomes considerably harder to squeeze everything else in while they’re running. With the current state of things, we’d say you should be able to get everything else done on your list first and still have a bit of time to head out to Rafiki’s Planet Watch if you plan accordingly. If you can make it out there, however, we highly recommend going as your kiddos will love the up-close encounters with the animals.
DON’T PLAN YOUR TRIP TO DEATH
Having a plan is crucial to getting as much done at Disney as possible, but it can also place a huge amount of stress on yourself if things don’t go the way you expect. Weather in Central Florida can be an absolute pain thanks to heavy rain, lightning, and extreme heat. So, just be ready to adjust your plan to go with the flow as needed. If lightning closes the next ride on your list, ride the next one and come back to it later. If it starts to pour, reach for the poncho and/or umbrella you packed and keep going while everyone else hides from the rain. You did… pack one of those, right? With a bit of creative thinking and a sense of humor, you can turn a bad situation into a positive memory.
Kids, bless their hearts, are another thing that can throw a wrench in best-laid plans. But trust us, no one is going to have fun if the little ones can’t enjoy naptime or mealtime. Luckily, each park is equipped with a baby care center, making finding a place to nurse or have a quick break easy. At Animal Kingdom, the baby care center is on the left in front of the bridge that goes from Discovery Island to Africa. Of course, you are also free to nurse throughout the park as well. To really make the most of your time (multitasking, baby!), consider nursing during one of the shows. And if a kiddo needs a nap, just head to a ride that has a height restriction so the parents can ride while the child gets some sleep.
DON’T TOSS THE PLAN OUT
You may have noticed that with our plan, you end up moving around the park in a large, clockwise circle. This is something we’ve been doing for a while – because it works.
By moving this way, you should be able to largely stay ahead of the crowds, unless it happens to be a very busy day. One way to tell if you’re falling behind is by paying attention to the wait times. If you’re at a ride with a wait longer than 45 minutes, you’re behind schedule. But don’t stress, just move on to the next must-do or cut out an in-betweener ride or show that you feel like you can skip. You can always come back to it later when the lines are shorter and you’re caught back up. Additionally, you can also try to plan around the crowds with our Walt Disney World Crowd Calendar.
DINING AT DISNEY’S ANIMAL KINGDOM
The rides may be what first come to mind when you think of Disney, but for us, where and what you eat are just as important for your experience. Why? Because unlike at other theme parks, the menu and theming at Disney restaurants usually help to immerse you further into wherever it is you are. That is especially the case at Animal Kingdom.
Similar to Epcot, one of the best things about eating at Disney’s Animal Kingdom is the incredible variety. From African- and Asian-inspired dishes to barbecue, from sit-down to quick-service, there’s sure to be something for everyone. When you do want to take a break, your best bet is to find something that is as close to where you are as possible. You can also check out all your options ahead of time and plan your break accordingly if you find something that strikes your fancy. You might even consider bringing some snacks into the park with you to keep you satisfied until you’re ready to eat.
Around Pandora, Satu’li Canteen is a fun option if you want something quick and easy with a few out-there ingredients. In contrast, nearby Tiffins is excellent for unwinding with a cocktail and an adventurous bite or two. If you’re in Africa (and if the pandemic isn’t happening), Harambe Market has an array of African-inspired options in a very atmospheric setting for quick-service dining, while neighboring Tusker House offers character dining with Donald Duck.
Next door in Asia, the table-service Yak & Yeti has an assortment of familiar Asian-inspired dishes, as do a few other quick-service locations in the land. DinoLand, meanwhile, is filled with kid-friendly favorites like burgers and pizza. You’ll also have one final table-service option before you leave the park: a Rainforest Café.
PARADES AND FIREWORKS
When it comes to parades and fireworks, Disney’s Animal Kingdom is in a bit of a weird place. With the cancelation of Rivers of Light (and with us being in the midst of a global pandemic), there isn’t really much in the way of nightly entertainment. Fortunately, with the nightly light show in Pandora, the “awakening” of the animal carvings on the Tree of Life once sun sets, and the new Disney KiteTails show that’s set to be unveiled with the start of Disney World’s 50th anniversary celebration, there’s just enough happening to make your day feel complete. Plus, Animal Kingdom is all about the beauty of nature, and this helps keep the focus where it should be.
SOME FINAL THOUGHTS
Well, that concludes our one-day Animal Kingdom plan both with and without kids. Hopefully, you should have been able to accomplish quite a bit all while making the entire family happy. Of course, for those who really want to maximize your day, you could also invest a bit in Genie+ or Individual Attraction Selections. Tough decisions, we know.
Having said all that, these recommendations are based on how things were prior to the launch of Disney Genie. Part of the program’s functionality is giving guests complimentary suggestions on which ride to go next based on current and projected wait times. So, it remains to be seen whether those recommendations change how crowds typically move through Disney’s Animal Kingdom Theme Park. Once Disney Genie is unveiled, you may also want to use those recommendations to stray away from our suggestions. Whatever you do to maximize your time, we support you fully in your decisions.
For all you Animal Kingdom fiends out there, we’d love to hear your thoughts on our plan. Is there anything we should change, add, or drop? Leave us your thoughts in the comments below or send us an email. If we like your ideas, we’ll be sure to add them. Looking for other Walt Disney World touring plans? Find itineraries for Magic Kingdom, Hollywood Studios, and Epcot here.
Amber is a proud former Walt Disney World Cast Member, an unabashed travel addict, and a hospitality and tourism specialist with over 10 years in the industry. She likes getting her wanderlust fix by sharing her favorite park tips and tricks with other Disney fans. When she isn’t working, you can usually catch her in a hot power yoga class or spending way too much money at Disney Springs.