Animal Kingdom may not make it to the top of everyone’s favorites list, but it IS on my favorites parks list (maybe even in the top spot, depending on the day). This guide to Disney’s Animal Kingdom will tell you everything you need know about visiting the park in 2021 — from the way to see characters to how to hop on the best rides. Plus, we still have information from before the pandemic, so if you’re planning a trip post-COVID you’ll know what to do if things are operating normally again.
For almost my entire life I have been ride or die for Magic Kingdom. It’s the park where I spent the most time growing up, and it’s of course where you can find Disney at its most classic. Animal Kingdom opened in 1998, so I didn’t get a lot of time there as a kid. But on our last trip to Disney World, I have to say…I FELL IN LOVE.
Disney’s Animal Kingdom is unique from any other park on property. It’s half zoo, have theme park. And when I say theme park I mean that word in the most literal sense because the theming of Animal Kingdom is STUNNING. (SORRY FOR ALL MY CAPS. I’M EXCITED.)
So let’s get going with this guide for Disney’s Animal Kingdom — everything you need to know from rides and food to characters and entertainment.
COVID-19 Note: Not all rides, attractions, or dining are open. Be sure to check before you go. Also know that you must have a Park Pass Reservation as well as a park ticket to enter the park. Fastpass+ reservations are currently unavailable as are dining plans.
Getting to Animal Kingdom
Animal Kingdom is the only park on Disney World Property that doesn’t offer more than one transportation option to the park. Because Animal Kingdom is set apart from the other parks (to give them animals space, keep them away from the fireworks, etc.) the resort-offered transportation to Animal Kingdom is taking a bus. You’ll find a bus to Animal Kingdom at every Disney resort.
If you are staying a non-Disney World resort, check to see if they offer free shuttle services to the parks. Many of them do.
If you are driving to Animal Kingdom, you will park in the Animal Kingdom parking lot.
Getting Around Animal Kingdom
The only way to get around Animal Kingdom is walking.
There is, however, a section of the park that is set away from the rest of the park — Rafikia’s Planet Watch where you will find Conservation Station (where you can get a peek inside the veterinary facility and find The Animation Experience) and Affection Section (a petting zoo area). To get to Rafiki’s Planet Watch you will take the Wildlife Express Train in Africa.
Guide to Disney’s Animal Kingdom Rides & Attractions
Animal Kingdom is a celebration of our planet, and you’ll find 4 main sections centered around Discovery Island (where the Tree of Life, the park’s main icon, sits) plus Rafiki’s Planet Watch, which you can take a train to. For our Disney’s Animal Kingdom guide, we’ll start with the park entrance and Discovery Island and then work our way clockwise around the park.
COVID-19 Note: Please remember that currently all Animal Kingdom shows and character meet and greets are closed. Cast Members for the shows were laid-off in October of 2020, but we are leaving the shows here hoping they will return one day soon.
Animal Kingdom Entrance and Oasis
When you enter Animal Kingdom you immediately enter into the Oasis. You will have to choose to go right or left, but don’t worry — the two paths meet back up before going into the main part of the park.
In the Oasis there are several animal viewing locations. Here you will usually find several kinds of exotic birds, as well as wallabies and babirusas.
Discovery Island is home to the Tree of Life. Definitely take some time to walk the winding trails around the Tree of Life and admire all of the intricate animal carvings. There are also several animal viewing areas including otters, vultures, and flamingos.
Discovery Island Attractions:
- It’s Tough To Be a Bug! (a 3D show based on the movie, and I do not recommend it if you are scared of bugs at all or have easily startled children)
- Meet Minnie and Mickey at the Adventurers Outpost (currently closed)
- Discovery Island Trails (animal viewing)
Pandora – The World of Avatar
Pandora is based on the movie Avatar, but even if you haven’t seen the movie you should still make this section a priority. It is such an immersive and beautiful area and is truly one of my favorite “lands” in all the parks.
Pandora – The World of Avatar Rides and Attractions
- Na’vi River Journey
- Avatar Flight of Passage
Africa is set in the fictional village of Harambe, and it has some of my favorite theming in the whole park.
Africa Rides and Attractions:
- Kilimanjaro Safaris
- Festival of the Lion King (stage show, currently closed but opening in summer 2021)
- Wildlife Express Train
- Gorilla Falls Exploration Trail (animal viewing trail)
Rafiki’s Planet Watch
This is the section of the park you get to by taking the Wildlife Express Train. Here you can see some behind the scenes of the park, plus there is a petting zoo.
Rafiki’s Planet Watch Attractions
- Affection Section (petting zoo)
- Conversation Station (behind the scenes look)
- The Animation Experience at Conservation Station (animation class)
- Habitat Habit! (walking trail from train station to Conservation Station with some points of interest)
Asia is set in the fictional kingdom of Anandapur, and it is kind of split into two sections — the more India-esque section near the UP! A Great Bird Adventure show and the more Nepal-esque section near Expedition Everest.
Asia Rides and Attractions
- Expedition Everest
- Kali River Rapids
- Maharajah Jungle Trek (animal viewing; this is where the tigers are!)
- UP! A Great Bird Adventure (outdoor stage show, currently closed)
I’m just going to be honest here…DinoLand isn’t my favorite. It has an detailed backstory and the Imagineers clearly put a lot of work into it, but in my opinion this area of the park really needs some love.
DinoLand U.S.A. Rides and Attractions
- TriceraTop Spin
- The Boneyard (playground)
- Chester and Hester’s Dino-Rama (featuring county-fair-like games)
- Finding Nemo – The Musical (stage show, currently closed)
Most Popular Attractions and Fastpass+ Reservations You Need
COVID-19 Note: Fastpass+ Reservations are currently unavailable.
The first thing you should know is that Fastpasses for Animal Kingdom are tiered. This means that when you book your first 3 Fastpass+ reservations in advance, you can only get one Fastpass+ for Tier 1 and your other 2 must come from Tier 2. After you use your first three, you can book from any tier.
By FAR the most popular rides are going to be the two rides in Pandora – The World of Avatar, which is why these are the only two rides in Tier 1.
- Avatar Flight of Passage
- Na’vi River Journey
- Kilimanjaro Safaris
- Expedition Everest
- Kali River Rapids
- It’s Tough to Be a Bug
- Festival of the Lion King
- Finding Nemo – The Musical
- Adventurers Outpost Character Greeting
- UP! A Great Bird Adventure
- The Animation Experience at Conservation Station
Your first priority Fastpass+ should be for Avatar Flight of Passage. If you can’t get that one, then get Na’vi River Journey and rope-drop Flight of Passage (i.e. go there first thing when the park opens).
If you do end up with a Flight of Passage Fastpass+ then rope drop Na’vi River Journey.
For your Tier 2 Fastpass+ reservations, top priorities should be Expedition Everest and Kilimanjaro Safaris. DINOSAUR and Kali River Rapids are also solid choices if those are priorities for you.
Since fastpasses are not currently available during COVID-19, we recommend you rope drop Flight of Passage if it’s important to you. Otherwise, Kilimanjaro Safari is probably the best to head to first (especially because animals tend to be most active in the morning!)
Where to Meet Characters at Animal Kingdom
COVID-19 Note: Characters are currently appearing in character boat cruises along the Discovery River around the Tree of Life. Character meet and greets are currently closed. We’ve included information about both below in case character meet and greets have returned by the time of your trip.
Here’s a guide to the characters you can meet at Disney’s Animal Kingdom. Beyond these, though, be on the lookout for other characters. You never know who Disney will decide to pull out for meet & greets.
Animal Kingdom Character Cavalcades
Unlike the other parks, where character cavalcades happen along parade routes and roads, the character cavalcades at Animal Kingdom take place on the river! This makes for a fun and unique character experience during a time when you can’t meet characters.
Here are the character cavalcades you’ll find at Animal Kingdom:
- Discover River Character Cruise usually featuring either Pochantas and Meeko or Timon and Rafiki
- Donald’s Dino Bash Flotilla featuring Donald, Daisy, and Launchpad McQuack
- Goofy and Pals Set Sail featuring Chip and Dale (in their dinosaur costumes) and Goofy
- Mickey and Friends Flotilla featuring Mickey, Minnie and Pluto
- Discovery Island Drummers featuring…the Discovery Island Drummers
Cavalcades happen at unscheduled times throughout the day, but you will usually hear the music change when they are on their way.
Animal Kingdom Character Meet and Greets
When traditional meet and greets return to Animal Kingdom, this is probably what you can expect. Always check your My Disney Experience app for the latest on when and where to meet specific characters!
Mickey, Minnie, & Friends
You can meet Mickey and Minnie at the Adventurers Outpost on Discovery Island. You can meet Mickey, Donald, Daisy, and Goofy at Tusker House Restaurant.
Discovery Island Characters
There is a handful of characters you’ll be able to meet around Discovery Island, including Kevin (the bird from Up! who I have also seen in Asia), Russell and Dug from Up!, and Pocahontas. Check your My Disney Experience app for character meet-and-greet times.
Dinoland U.S.A. Characters
Dinoland U.S.A. has several unique character meet-and-greet areas including Chip and Dale, Launchpad McQuack, and Scrooge McDuck. Plus some of the Fab 5: Goofy, Pluto, and Donald.
Wilderness Explorers is a unique program to Animal Kingdom. It’s a bit like KidCot at Epcot, where kids can go around the park to different stations and earn rewards for completing activities — in this case badges (stickers).
It’s a free program, and it’s an extra bonus that some kids really love, especially if they’ve been to the park several times. (My honest advice…if you’re new to Animal Kingdom, don’t stress about doing it on your first trip.)
There are Wilderness Explorer stations set up in every section of the park, so if you are interested, pick up a handbook (available at the Wilderness Explorers Headquarters near the bridge right as you enter Discovery Island from the Oasis), check out the map, and be on the lookout for Wilderness Explorers locations.
Need help planning your Disney Trip? Check out our 9 Steps for Planning Your Disney World Trip!
COVID-19 Note: Almost all outdoor entertainment is currently unavailable.
Entertainment is a big part of Animal Kingdom. From the stage-shows to the street entertainment, it’s all created to immerse you in a world beyond you own. Aside from the stage shows (mentioned above in attractions), here is a brief outdoor entertainment guide for Disney’s Animal Kingdom.
One feature that makes Animal Kingdom so fun is the variety of street entertainment you can stumble upon throughout the park. There are musicians and performers in almost every section of the park, meant to transport you to a different land or country, often with a dance party included.
If there is a particular small performance you want to see (like the music performances in Africa, which are very popular), be sure to check out the times guide (found at the front of the park) or your My Disney Experience app.
This popular bird show takes place in front of the Tree of Life several times a day. Learn about macaws and watch them fly overhead! (COVID-19 Note: This is one of the few outdoor entertainment options still available.)
Tree of Life Awakenings
This short night time show makes the Tree of Life come alive with lights. It takes place after dark and cycles through about every 10 minutes. Honestly, I really love this short show and think it’s incredibly underrated. After the “show” ends, keep you eye on the tree…some of the animals might move!
Guide to Disney’s Animal Kingdom Dining
Animal Kingdom has some of the best food on property I think, and the creative dishes here can sometimes be a relief from the more standard theme park fare you will find at most other parks. (And I’ll just tell you right now — Sautu’li Canteen was probably my favorite meal I had at any restaurant on my last trip.)
From Quick Service to Table Service, there is so much great food at Animal Kingdom. Here’s a list of all the restaurant options you can find at Animal Kingdom, and we’ve tried to include a note about what types of food is served (unless the title makes it obvious…like Pizzafari).
The easiest way to do this here feels like to break it up into park sections, so that’s what we’ll do.
COVID-19 Note: Some dining options are currently unavailable. Check to see what is available before you go, especially if there is somewhere particular you want to eat!
Animal Kingdom Discovery Island Dining
Discovery Island Table Service Restaurants
- Rainforest Cafe (chain restaurant at park entrance; you can also access this restaurant from outside the park)
- Tiffins Restaurant (fine-dining global cuisine)
- Pizzafari Family-Style Dining (Italian, only available for dinner)
- Nomad Lounge (mostly for cocktails and drinks, some small plates)
Discovery Island Quick Service Restaurants
- Flame Tree Barbecue
Discovery Island Quick Service Snacks and Drinks
- Creature Comforts (Starbucks location)
- Eight Spoon Cafe (mac & cheese dishes)
- Isle of Java (coffee and breakfast pastries)
- The Smiling Crocodile (pulled pork tacos and tamales)
- Terra Treats (pizza)
Pandora – The World of Avatar Dining
Pandora has just two options, both quick service.
- Satu’li Canteen (healthy custom bowls and unique snacks)
- Pongu Pongu (drinks, some breakfast options, and a spring roll)
Africa Table Service Restaurants
- Tusker House Restaurant (African cuisine and character meal)
- Dawa Bar (bar attached to Tusker House)
Africa Quick Service Restaurants
- Harambe Market (Mediterrean rice bowls and salads)
Africa Quick Service Snacks and Drinks
- Harambe Fruit Market (fruit + hot dogs and Mickey pretzels)
- Kusafiri Coffee Shop & Bakery
- Mahindi (popcorn and nuts)
- Tamu Tamu Refreshments (the only place in Animal Kingdom for Dole Whip)
Asia Table Service Restaurants
- Yak & Yeti Restaurant (Asian fusion)
Asia Quick Service Restaurants
- Yak & Yeti Local Food Cafes (Asian entrees + a burger)
Asia Quick Service Snacks and Drinks
- Anandapur Ice Cream Truck
- Caravan Road (Asian inspired hot dog and pork dish)
- Drinkwallah (drinks and nuts)
- Thirsty River Bar and Trek Snacks (park snacks and drinks)
- Warung Outpost (drinks + Mickey pretzel)
- Yak & Yeti Quality Beverages (turkey legs + chicken wrap and salad)
Dinoland U.S.A. Dining
Dinoland U.S.A. Table Service Dining
- Restaurantosaurus Burgers & Sundaes (a temporary dinner option within Restarauntosaurus)
Dinoland U.S.A. Quick Service Dining
- Restaurantosaurus (American cuisine)
Dinoland U.S.A. Quick Service Snacks and Drinks
- Dino-Bite Snacks (desserts)
- Dino Diner (snacks and hot dogs)
- Trilo-Bites (ice cream and buffalo chicken chips)
Special Events at Animal Kingdom
Disney After Hours at Animal Kingdom
COVID-19 Note: Disney After Hours and other special ticketed events are currently unavailable.
This is the main special event at Animal Kingdom. Like After Hours at Magic Kingdom, this will grant you access to the park well into the night. It is a separately ticketed event that runs from 8:30 to 11:30 p.m. on select dates, although you are granted park access beginning at 7:00 p.m. You do not have to have a park tickets, just the After Hours ticket.
Lots of people love After Hours events because they allow for shorter ride waits, come with some snacks included, and give you a different feel for the park with a bit of nighttime magic.
Do be aware that not all rides are open for After Hours though, including Kilimanjaro Safaris, Kali River Rapids, and many of popular shows.
Animal Kingdom Current Closures and Upcoming Attractions
Primeval Whirl, a coaster that operated seasonally in Dinoland U.S.A. has now closed permanently. Rivers of Light, a nighttime show, has also been permanently discontinued.
Disney’s Animal Kingdom Tips and Secrets
Of course we need to include some insider tricks in our Animal Kingdom guide! Here are some tips to get the most out of your visit:
- The section of seating behind Flame Tree Barbecue is one of the best places to sit down and chill at the park! It’s peaceful and has a great view of the river and Expedition Everest. It’s usually pretty un-crowded, too. So much so that I’ve gone back there and wondered if I was allowed because there was literally no one eating back there during dinner.
- Nighttime in Pandora is THE BEST. Don’t miss it!
- Time your safari rides for early morning and/or evening so you can see animals at their most active.
- Balloons are not allowed in Animal Kingdom because of their potential harm to animals, so you won’t find them being sold here.
- If you want to try to see the vet room in action at Conservation Station, head there first thing in the morning. Procedures for animals are usually scheduled for the morning.
- As at every Disney park, free cups of water are available at every Quick Service location. So don’t spend your money on bottled water!
- There are lockers near the entrance to Kali River Rapids. They are free to use, so take advantage of them so your belongings don’t get wet!
- If you are looking for a great view of the character cavalcades, try the outdoor seating at Nomad Lounge!
We hope this guide for Disney’s Animal Kingdom help you understand the park a bit better — from the attractions you want to experience to the restaurants you want to prioritize.
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