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 2022 — from the way to see characters to how to hop on the best rides.
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 2019 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, half 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.
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 the 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 at 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 — Rafiki’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.
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
- 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 (slow boat ride)
- Avatar Flight of Passage (thrill ride)
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 (show)
- Wildlife Express Train (to Rafiki’s Planet Watch)
- 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)
Asia is set in the fictional kingdom of Anandapur, and it is kind of split into two sections — the more India-esque section near Feathered Friends in Flight and the more Nepal-esque section near Expedition Everest.
Asia Rides and Attractions
- Expedition Everest (roller coaster)
- Kali River Rapids (thrill water ride)
- Maharajah Jungle Trek (animal viewing; this is where the tigers are!)
- Feathered Friends in Flight (outdoor stage show)
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
- DINOSAUR (dark thrill ride)
- TriceraTop Spin (Dumbo-like ride)
- The Boneyard (playground)
- Fossil Fun Games (featuring county-fair-like games)
- Finding Nemo – The Big Blue and Beyond! (stage show)
How to Use Genie Plus at Animal Kingdom
What is Genie+?
Genie+ is a new system that debuted in 2021 and essentially replaced Fastpasses. Genie+ costs $15 per ticket per day, and gives you the ability to book Lightning Lane passes for rides. There is also one ride in each park that is an Individual Lightning Lane, which is a separate charge.
If you’re new to Genie+, see our complete guide to Disney’s Genie+ here.
Guests with Genie+ can book Lightning Lanes beginning at 7:00 a.m. the day of their visit.
Individual Lightning Lanes are available to be booked at 7:00 a.m. for resort guests and at park open for all other guests.
Once you book a Lightning Lane you can book your next one two hours later (or two hours after park open if you booked at 7:00 a.m.) OR when you check into a booked Lightning Lane.
Note that Genie+ is not the same as Genie. Disney Genie is a free service available to everyone in the My Disney Experience app that helps guests plan their day and book dining reservations.
Using Genie+ at Animal Kingdom
Before your trip, get into the app and play with it to understand the features. You can go to “My Day” and then “Tip Board” to see what rides are available, how long the standby lines tend to be, and what Lightning Lanes tend to get booked quickly.
Here are the rides that have Genie+ Lightning Lanes in Animal Kingdom:
- Celebration of the Festival of the Lion King
- Feathered Friends in Flight!
- It’s Tough to Be a Bug!
- Kali River Rapids
- Kilimanjaro Safaris
- Na’vi River Journey
- The Animation Experience
- Expedition Everest
There is also one ride that has an Individual Lightning Lanes available for purchase. You can book this whether or not you buy Genie+. It is NOT included in Genie+.
- Avatar Flight of Passage
If you are using Genie+ at Animal Kingdom, we would recommend getting your first Lightning Lane for either Kilimanjaro Safaris, Na’vi River Journey, or Expedition Everest. Behind Flight of Passage, these are some of the most popular rides in the park. And note that Kilimanjaro Safaris often closes earlier than the rest of the park, so availability can be more limited.
Then at rope drop (first thing in the morning when the park opens) ride one either Flight of Passage (if you aren’t purchasing an Individual Lightning Lane) or one of the other most popular rides.
From there, book your next Lightning Lane for another popular ride (Na’vi River Journey or DINOSAUR maybe) and then find rides with low wait times or explore some of the many animal viewing areas while you wait for your next Lightning Lane.
Also, note that Expedition Everest does have a single rider line. So if you’re party doesn’t mind getting split up on the ride, you can use that line to shorten your wait time.
Do I need Genie Plus for Animal Kingdom?
Honestly, while having Genie+ will really cut down on your Animal Kingdom wait times, you don’t exactly NEED it. If you have a whole day at Animal Kingdom there will be plenty of time to get on pretty much all of the rides. If you rope drop Flight of Passage and then hit Na’vi River Journey and the Safari, you shouldn’t have any trouble getting on the rest of the rides and wait times shouldn’t be too bad (this does depend on the time of year you are there though).
To me, the best money you can spend on Lightning Lanes at Animal Kingdom is the Individual Lightning Lane for Flight of Passage. To me, this is one of the best rides on property and always has an insanely long wait. I would choose to buy this Lightning Lane above buying Genie+ for my Animal Kingdom day.
Early Entry at Disney’s Animal Kingdom
If you are staying at a Walt Disney World Resort Hotel or a select number of the “Good Neighbor” hotels, you are eligible for Early Entry. This means you can enter the park 30 minutes before regular day guests. This is a great time to take advantage of shorter wait times for some of the most popular rides!
Here are the attractions available during Animal Kingdom Early Entry:
- Avatar Flight of Passage
- Expedition Everest
- It’s Tough To Be a Bug!
- Na’vi River Journey
- TriceraTop Spin
Whether or not you have Early Entry will definitely impact your rope drop plans.
If you have Early Entry and are near the front of the rope drop crowd, go ahead and rope drop Flight of Passage!
If you have Early Entry but are pretty far back in the crowd, I would instead probably rope drop Na’vi River Journey (or Expedition Everest).
If you are not part of Early Entry, I would recommend rope dropping Na’vi River Journey, Expedition Everest, or Kilimanjaro Safaris.
Where to Meet Characters at Animal Kingdom
Here’s a guide to the characters you can meet at Disney’s Animal Kingdom. Beyond these, though, be on the lookout for other surprise characters. You never know who Disney will decide to pull out for meet & greets.
Animal Kingdom Character Flotillas
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.
Here are the character cavalcades you’ll find at Animal Kingdom:
- Discovery River Character Cruise – Pocahontas usually featuring Pochantas and Meeko
- Discovery River Cruise – The Lion King featuring 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 Flotilla featuring…the Discovering Island Drummers
You can find the times for these character flotillas in the My Disney Experience app for the day you are visiting.
Animal Kingdom Character Meet and Greets
Characters have been returning to the park, so here is where you can meet some of your favorites!
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. (These have been unavailable recently.)
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 they earn 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!
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.
This show debuted in 2021 as part of the 50th Anniversary Celebration. It takes place at the Discovery River amphitheater and features kites dancing through the air to Disney favorites. This show has also become a bit of an internet sensation for the spectacularly ridiculous landings the giant kites make on the water. Previously, this show took place at set times during the day, but now shorter snippets of it are happening during the day at set times. Check your My Disney Experience app for times.
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! Check My Disney Experience for times.
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. (Satu’li Canteen and Nomad Lounge are some of my favorite meals I’ve had anywhere on property.)
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!
Also be sure to check what restaurants are open during your visit. Some haven’t opened since COVID and some are only open seasonally.
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)
- Nomad Lounge (small plates + cocktail)
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. 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
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.
Walt Disney World 50th Anniversary Celebrations at Animal Kingdom
The Walt Disney World 50th Anniversary Celebration began on October 1, 2021, and will last for 18 months. Each park has special offerings and decorations. Here’s what you can find at Animal Kingdom.
- Tree of Life transformation. Each Disney Park icon is turning into a “Beacon of Magic” at night, including Animal Kingdom’s Tree of Life.
- Fab 50 Character Statues. Gold statues of popular Disney characters will be found in all four parks, including Animal Kingdom.
- Disney KiteTails. This new kite show takes place in the Discover River Amphitheater.
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.
- As of now, nothing is closed in Animal Kingdom! Hurray!
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. Rainy safari rides also usually have active animals!
- 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.
Find the rest of our guides here: