Giraffe in front of lodge building
Disney's Animal Kingdom Lodge © Walt Disney World

18 Best Disney World Experiences for Animal Lovers

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While Walt Disney World may be known for its incredible dark rides, thrilling roller coasters and innovative simulator rides, not to mention must-see stage shows and character meet-and-greets, there’s a whole lot more to this Central Florida resort than the typical theme-park attractions. Disney’s Animal Kingdom Theme Park changed the face of the resort forever when it opened in April 1998, bringing with it some incredible wildlife and animal encounters unlike anything else at Disney Parks around the world.

But this isn’t the only place at the Walt Disney World Resort where you can get up close and personal with some fascinating creatures. The Seas with Nemo & Friends isn’t just home to that wayward clownfish and his pals. It also boasts one of the biggest aquariums in the United States, second only to Atlanta’s massive Georgia Aquarium. And, of course, we can’t forget all of the outdoorsy fun that’s available at Disney’s Fort Wilderness Resort & Campground, including animal experiences like horseback riding, wagon and carriage rides and the Tri-Circle-D Ranch.

As you can see, there’s something for animal lovers of all stripes, whether you’ve always dreamed of going on an African safari, diving with dolphins or plodding through the great outdoors from the back of a trusty steed. Are you wild about the Earth’s furry, feathered or finned friends? Then saddle up for adventure as we explore the best animal experiences at Disney World.

Harambe Village in Africa at Disney's Animal Kingdom Theme Park

18 Animal Encounters at Disney World Wildlife Lovers Won’t Want to Miss

Believe it or not, you don’t need to book a plane ticket to Kenya, go on a cruise to the Caribbean or reserve a stay at a dude ranch in Montana to have an unforgettable animal encounter. For those wanting a wild and woolly experience that’s a little closer to home, look no further than the Walt Disney World Resort. With amazing African wildlife in Disney’s Animal Kingdom Theme Park, underwater creatures in Epcot and a veritable herd of horses at Disney’s Fort Wilderness Campground, there’s a must-do experience for whatever kind of animals you’re into. Bring your binoculars, and let’s take a look!

Disney’s Animal Kingdom Theme Park

There’s no better Disney World destination for animal lovers than Disney’s Animal Kingdom Theme Park. After all, it’s right there in its name! Animal Kingdom is a loving ode to the world’s creatures in theme-park form, exploring everything from the wildlife of Africa and Asia to dinosaurs and mythical beasts like the legendary yeti. As you can imagine, animal-inspired experiences can be found around every corner of Disney’s Animal Kingdom, including wildlife trails and creature-themed attractions like It’s Tough to Be a Bug.

However, some of the best parts of Animal Kingdom are those that bring guests up close and personal with some of the park’s furry or feathered inhabitants or allow travelers to experience them in a way that isn’t typically available without making a pricey pilgrimage to Africa. For tamer animal encounters geared toward little ones, there’s even a petting zoo. Best of all, while some of these experiences are certainly on the expensive side, others are priced at less than $50 per person (before tax) or, better yet, either completely free or already included in the cost of your park ticket.

Warden post building

So, keep reading as we uncover the best experiences at Animal Kingdom Theme Park where the creatures are the stars, whether everyday attractions that are included in the price of your ticket or exclusive behind-the-scenes encounters that will give you a whole new perspective on these amazing animals.

Wild Africa Trek

For many people, an African safari is a bucket list experience. Fortunately, thanks to Disney’s Animal Kingdom Theme Park, you don’t need to book a pricey plane ticket to Tanzania to go on one. While you can certainly see the park’s menagerie of African wildlife on Kilimanjaro Safaris (more on that in a bit), consider taking your animal adventures up a notch with Disney’s Wild Africa Trek.

This three-hour VIP expedition through the Harambe Reserve’s Safi River Valley comes with a private guide, closer views of the creatures that call the savanna home, African-inspired snacks and a complimentary photographer to capture the action throughout your experience. Traversing rope bridges and grassland paths, you’ll have a chance to see and learn about animals like rhinos, giraffes and hippos.

Cost: $199 per person plus tax

Availability: 7 days a week, reservations highly recommended

Savor the Savanna

Similar to Wild Africa Trek, the two-hour-long Savor the Savanna gives guests a thrilling look at the creatures of the Harambe Wildlife Preserve. Only instead of tasty African-style cuisine being just a tasty bonus, they’re the main course. After enjoying a private guided safari through the savanna, you’ll indulge in delicious tapas and regional beers and wines, all while drinking in the savanna vistas from a private viewing platform.

Cost: $147.90 to $174 per person plus tax

Availability: 7 days a week, reservations highly recommended

Tree of Life at Disney's Animal Kingdom Theme Park

Up Close with Rhinos

Ever since I was lucky enough to see white rhinos in the wild roaming through Kruger National Park in South Africa, I completely fell in love with these gentle giants. However, while the white rhinoceros may be the second-largest land animal on the planet, the mighty creatures’ population is threatened due to poachers. That’s why it’s so important that conservation efforts like those at Disney’s Animal Kingdom Theme Park exist. (One of Africa’s largest wildlife reserves, Kruger National Park isn’t immune to poaching. As a result, safari guides in Kruger National Park speak in code so they don’t alert poachers in the area to a rhino’s location.)

For this hourlong behind-the-scenes tour, guests adventure backstage into the rhinos’ habitat. With the help of their knowledgeable caretakers, you’ll learn all about their fascinating behaviors and biology, as well as their care and in-the-wild threats like poachers and habitat loss. If you’re lucky, you might even get a chance to pet one, making this the only backstage animal encounter at Animal Kingdom where you can get hands-on with one of the creatures.

Cost: $45 per person plus tax

Availability: 7 days a week, reservations highly recommended

Caring for Giants

Elephants are another incredible African animal that are beloved by people the world over. Possessing enough self-awareness to recognize themselves in a mirror and enough compassion to slow down when a member of their herd is injured so as not to leave them behind, these empathetic creatures are truly amazing. They’ve even been known to mourn their dead and “bury” them with debris like branches. However, like rhinos, elephants are another popular target for poachers due to their incredibly valuable tusks.

During Caring for Giants, guests explore the inner workings of Animal Kingdom’s African elephant herd, learning about their daily care and the efforts Disney Conservation is taking both in the park and throughout Africa to help protect these gentle beasts with the help of Save the Elephants. And while you won’t be able to give Dumbo a pet, you will get the opportunity to observe the herd from around 80 to 100 feet away, much closer than you would during the likes of Kilimanjaro Safaris.

Cost: $35 per person plus tax

Availability: 7 days a week, reservations highly recommended

Off-road vehicle surrounded by forest

Kilimanjaro Safaris

Animal Kingdom is the largest of the Disney Parks around the world, and much of that is due to the Harambe Wildlife Reserve, a 110-acre section of the park that is home to more than 30 species of African wildlife and faithfully recreates the various habitats of the animals that live there, including picturesque savannas, rocky wetlands and shady forests. This is where you’ll find Kilimanjaro Safaris, the centerpiece of the park’s Africa land, which allows guests to explore the reserve in true safari fashion: from a rugged open-air vehicle.

Just like a normal African safari, go on an expedition in search of amazing animals. With an expert guide behind the wheel, this 18-minute adventure will put you within camera-shot of everything from hyenas, crocodiles and giraffes to Big Five creatures like lions, elephants and rhinos. Since the animals are free to mosey about as they wish, you never know what kind of experience you’re going to have. (We once got stuck waiting for a stubborn ostrich to get out of our path.) For the best experience, plan to go early in the morning or closer to the evening, as the animals tend to be more active during these times.

Cost: Included with theme park ticket

Availability: Open daily

Asia at Disney's Animal Kingdom Theme Park 1

Feathered Friends in Flight!

Located in the Anandapur Theater on the path between Africa and Asia, Feathered Friends in Flight is a fascinating and entertaining 35-minute stage show about some of the free-flying birds that call Animal Kingdom home. You’ll learn all about these feathered friends, including their habitats and species-specific characteristics, from the people who know them best: the animal behavior specialists who work with them. Watch as they put their natural behaviors and trained skills to the test as they swoop and soar around the theater.

Cost: Included with theme park ticket

Availability: Several showtimes daily

Rafiki’s Planet Watch

Located a train ride away from the hustle and bustle of Africa’s Harambe Village, Rafiki’s Planet Watch feels like a serene animal oasis. Here you’ll find two more notable animal encounters: Conservation Station and Affection Section. Of all of Disney’s Animal Kingdom Theme Park, this is the area that feels most like a zoo. Conservation Station is where you might be able to catch a glimpse of a veterinary procedure in the works or see some of the animals’ meals being prepped. Affection Section, meanwhile, is an expansive petting zoo with friendly sheep, goats and cows, as well as other domesticated animals like donkeys, pigs and llamas.

Though possibly not as exciting as getting to see elephants and lions while on safari, this hands-on, educational area helps to bring the mission of Animal Kingdom Theme Park closer to home. Hours for Rafiki’s Planet Watch do vary from the rest of the theme park, so be sure to refer to the My Disney Experience app for the most up-to-date times.

Cost: Included with theme park ticket

Availability: Open daily from 9:30 AM to 5:00 PM

Exterior of station building with animals


Disney World’s Epcot is about more than just fun festivals, great food and drinking around the world. It also boasts some pretty awesome animal experiences. Located in World Nature, The Seas with Nemo & Friends Pavilion happens to be home to a 5.7-million-gallon saltwater aquarium, one of the globe’s biggest man-made ocean environments and the second-largest aquarium in the United States, and is stuffed to the gills with thousands of sea creatures. It’s so large, in fact, that it could swallow up Spaceship Earth, Epcot’s massive geodesic sphere. This is the setting for our next top animal experiences at Disney World. Let’s dive in!

Dolphins in Depth

Like elephants, dolphins are one of the smartest species on Earth. Also like elephants, these marine mammals happen to be just as adorable as they are intelligent. So, it’s no wonder that dolphins often top the list of people’s favorite animals. If you’d like to know the sea-crets behind these amazing creatures, then Dolphins in Depth is for you. Throughout this two-hour animal encounter, you’ll get up close and personal with Epcot’s pod of bottlenose dolphins, interacting with them in waist-deep water. You’ll also take a peek backstage with the pavilion’s marine mammal specialists, where you’ll learn about the animals’ care and training sessions, as well as issues threatening ocean life across the globe.

Keep in mind that while dolphins tend to be incredibly friendly and social creatures, their human partners will never force them to interact with guests if they aren’t in the mood. That said, their participation is highly likely. Be aware that Dolphins in Depth is limited to an intimate group of only eight guests per day. So, be sure to make reservations in advance.

Cost: $219 per person plus tax

Availability: Tuesday to Saturday, reservations highly recommended

The Seas with Nemo and Friends at Epcot


Do you like exploring the big, blue world with a scuba tank on your back? Then consider meeting the denizens of the deep during DiveQuest, an underwater adventure through The Seas with Nemo & Friends Pavilion’s massive saltwater aquarium. Unlike normal scuba diving, you don’t need to worry about poor visibility, swift currents or choppy seas. It’s all smooth sailing here, with crystal-clear views of sea creatures like sharks, sea turtles, stingrays and plenty of reef fish.

While the dive itself only lasts around 40 minutes, this two-hour tour also includes a look backstage at the aquarium’s inner workings. Keep in mind that SCUBA certification is necessary to participate. And don’t worry about needing to lug your gear on the plane with you—the use of diving equipment is included in the cost of the tour.

Cost: $199 per person plus tax

Availability: 7 days a week, reservation highly recommended

Coral Reef Restaurant

If you’re looking for a truly unique place to have a meal at Disney World that also offers some animal-inspired ambiance, Coral Reef Restaurant certainly fits the bill. (It isn’t our favorite, however. That title goes to Sanaa at Disney’s Animal Kingdom Lodge, which we’ll get to in a bit.) This seafood-focused table-service restaurant features front-row seats to Epcot’s epic saltwater aquarium, offering immersive views of the many sea creatures that live there. There’s even a QR code you can scan on the menu that directs you to the Coral Reef Restaurant Spotting Guide, which includes fun facts about various aquatic animals you’ll see as you dine.

Cost: $15 to $34.99 per adult

Availability: Lunch and Dinner

Finding Nemo statue at Epcot

Disney World Hotels

You won’t just see a magical menagerie of animals in the theme parks. Some creatures can also be found at a few of the Disney World hotels, including Disney’s Animal Kingdom Lodge, Fort Wilderness Resort & Campground and Port Orleans Resort – Riverside.

Disney’s Animal Kingdom Lodge

If you’re wild about animals, then there’s no better place to stay at Disney World than Disney’s Animal Kingdom Lodge. Nestled just next door to Animal Kingdom Theme Park, this African-inspired resort offers sweeping views of three lush savannas teeming with wildlife. Viewing areas are located around the resort, and, for those wanting to stay there, you can even splurge on a savanna-view room. Otherwise, if you’d rather just catch a glimpse of the over 30 species that call those savannas home, you can also do that for free when resort hopping, before or after a meal at one of the restaurants or by participating in the resort’s Starlight Safari.

Giraffe in front of lodge building

Starlight Safari

Since it tends to be incredibly hot in Africa during the daytime (and Central Florida, too!), many animals usually rest when the sun is up and are more active at night. Animal Kingdom Lodge’s Starlight Safari takes advantage of this wild time, just like moonlit game drives at Africa’s safari lodges. Armed with night-vision goggles and a knowledgeable guide, you’ll hop in an open-sided safari vehicle and take to the savanna for an hour-long adventure through the wilderness, where you’ll see wildebeests, giraffes, antelopes, ostriches, zebras and more. Best of all, although Starlight Safari is located at Disney’s Animal Kingdom Lodge, you don’t need to be a guest there to enjoy this creature encounter.

Cost: $75.65 to $89 per person plus tax

Availability: 7 days a week, reservations highly recommended


One of the best dining experiences at Walt Disney World can be found at Disney’s Animal Kingdom Villas – Kidani Village. Featuring Indian flavors with African flair, Sanaa cooks up one of Disney World’s more interesting menus. (The Indian-style Bread Service is an absolute must.) But that isn’t all. This unique table-service restaurant also serves up breathtaking views of the resort’s Sunset Savanna through a wall of massive windows. Honestly, what could be better than noshing on vibrant curries while gazing out at giraffes and zebras? We’ll admit—unless you have a vehicle, getting here can be a bit of a pain, but trust us, it’s worth it. Sanaa even offers a quick-service breakfast in the mornings that is anything but standard, with dishes starring house-made South African-style sausages and masala-spiced potatoes.

Cost: $14.99 and under per adult for breakfast, $15 to $34.99 per adult for lunch and dinner

Availability: Breakfast, Lunch & Dinner

Giraffe in middle of woods with yellow backlighting

Disney’s Fort Wilderness Resort & Campground

Wanting an animal experience at Disney World that feels a bit closer to home? Then giddy up and go over to Disney’s Fort Wilderness Resort & Campground for close-up encounters with Disney World’s herd of horses.

Tri-Circle-D Ranch

Ever wondered where the horse that pulls the Magic Kingdom trolley up Main Street, USA lives? Split into two parts at Fort Wilderness Campground, the stables at Tri-Circle-D Ranch are home to over 90 noble steeds. Horse lovers will appreciate the sheer variety of breeds that live here, from Quarter Horses, Arabians and Appaloosas to draft breeds like Clydesdales, Belgians and Percherons. (No horsing around, horse-crazy elementary school-aged me would have gone nuts over this place.) And if that wasn’t enough to convince you to visit the Tri-Circle-D Ranch, this magical neigh-borhood is also completely free to visit. Talk about a unique (and cheap) way to spend some time outside the parks!

Cost: Free

Availability: Open daily from 10:00 AM to 5:00 PM, no reservations necessary

Horseback Riding

Not content to just admire the herd? Then saddle up for a 45-minute trail ride through the campground’s picturesque woodlands. If you’re lucky, you might even get to see some other creatures along the way, like deer, armadillos, ducks or rabbits. This horseback riding experience is ideal for both beginners and intermediate riders, as horses will usually keep to a steady walking pace throughout. That said, there may be an opportunity to speed things up to a trot if you feel comfortable.

Don’t worry if you’ve never ridden a horse before, as there is a quick tutorial on how to correctly mount, steer and stop your steed. Horses are also equipped with western-style saddles, which come with a horn at the front that you can hold on to if you ever feel unstable. Just be sure to dress appropriately (that means long pants and reasonable shoes), as rubbing your bare legs up against a saddle or knocking your ankles against stirrups can be very uncomfortable.

Cost: $55 per person plus tax

Availability: Friday to Sunday, reservations highly recommended

Cabin in the woods

Pony Rides

Smaller members of your party who would like to horse around, too, can also do so at the Tri-Circle-D Ranch with an easy, breezy pony ride. Meant only for aspiring cowboys and cowgirls under 80 pounds and 48 inches in height, this pint-sized animal experience is a great way to give your kiddo a taste of being up in a saddle.

Cost: $8 per person plus tax

Availability: Open daily, no reservations necessary

Horse-Drawn Wagon Rides

Rather not take the reins? You can still enjoy the relaxing clip-clop of a horse by setting out on an old-fashioned wagon ride. Offered in the evenings on select days of the week, this 25-minute group animal encounter is a fun way to take in the idyllic scenery of Fort Wilderness. Work it into your day before a showing of the Hoop-Dee-Doo Musical Revue for a thoroughly Wild West-inspired evening.

Cost: $8 or $12 per person plus tax

Availability: Friday to Sunday, reservations not accepted

Horse-Drawn Carriage Rides

Looking for a more intimate way to enjoy the sights around Fort Wilderness? Book an enchanting 25-minute carriage ride instead. With enough space for two adults and three children or up to four adults, this is the perfect choice for animal-loving families.

Cost: $55 per person plus tax

Availability: 7 days a week, reservations highly recommended

Hotel with watermill and river

Disney’s Port Orleans Resort – Riverside

The scenic banks of Port Orleans’ Sassagoula River may not be the first place you think of for a Disney World animal encounter. However, with its trees dripping with Spanish moss, charming buildings and waterfront views, Disney’s Port Orleans Resort – Riverside also happens to boast what is arguably Disney’s most romantic animal experience.

Horse-Drawn Carriage Rides

Whether you’re looking for a memorable addition to a Disney date night or an enjoyable way to let the calories sink in after a comfort-food feast at Boatwright’s Dining Hall, horse-drawn carriage rides at Port Orleans Riverside are an ideal choice. Just like at Fort Wilderness, you’ll embark on a 25-minute ride around the resort, drinking in dreamy riverfront views and plenty of Southern charm along the way.

Cost: $55 per person plus tax

Availability: 7 days a week, reservations highly recommended


Well, folks, that brings our guide to the best animal experiences at Disney World to an end. Have you had a chance to try any of these wild encounters? Let us know in the comments! Then, learn how you can save some cash to splurge on one of the pricier options on our list with our discount Disney World tickets.