Disney’s Animal Kingdom Park is without a doubt the wildest theme park in all Walt Disney World Resort. Encompassing well over 500 acres, it also happens to be the largest. Because it is the youngest of all four, it’s still quite possible that someone who hasn’t gone on vacation to Disney World in quite some time has never even been.
There are also those vacationers who come to Disney with the pretense that the Animal Kingdom is less “Disney” than the other three Parks. Well, this couldn’t be more untrue, as the Animal Kingdom truly emulates those dreams and interests that Walt Disney himself so longed to inspire in people with his own love for animals and nature.
If you have never been to Disney’s Animal Kingdom for whatever reason, then it’s high time you get to it! And while you’re wondering which experiences are absolute must-do pursuits and which ones you can forego entirely, here is a list to help you in the decision-making process. These are the 12 things that a Disney rookie must do at Animal Kingdom Park.
12. Explore the Tree of Life Up Close
The Tree of Life serves as both an Animal Kingdom Park icon and an attraction. Central to the Park at its Discovery Island location, it’s truly a marvel to behold at 145 feet tall and with a base trunk that spans 50 feet.
While it is not a “real” tree, it’s still a really cool tree to come up close and explore in person; you will have fun finding the shapes and carvings of well over 300 different animals that are carved into the trunk and all through its branches. It’s an awe-inspiring sight to behold indeed, and definitely something every first-timer needs to observe.
On a separate note, the Tree of Life houses the 4D theater show attraction It’s Tough to be a Bug! in an interactive auditorium at its base.
11. Visit Rafiki’s Planet Watch
There is a section of Animal Kingdom Park known as Rafiki’s Planet Watch. Accessible only by train, it’s a unique albeit oftentimes overlooked little area that features several explorative and interactive pursuits all in one place.
The main building is known as the Conservation Station. It houses several smaller exhibits and also serves as the site for the Animal Nutrition Center, a Veterinary Treatment Center (with a window that Guests may watch through), and more.
Just outside there is the Affection Section — a petting zoo that allows Guests to get up close and personal with a host of farm animals.
Rafiki’s Planet Watch also happens to be the site of the Animation Experience — a circa half-hour drawing class in which experienced artists teach Guests how to draw a Disney animal character from start to finish.
10. Walk the Walking Trails
While there is so much to see and do within the Animal Kingdom, don’t get lost in all the hustle and bustle and forget to take in the relaxing low-key experience that comes with an enjoyable and leisurely sightseeing stroll. And there are several go-at-your-own-pace trails all throughout, each one boasting its own unique callouts and opportunities to observe different animals.
Discovery Island Trails, located near the Tree of Life, features a series of paths, wooden bridges, and even cave-like tunnels. Gorilla Falls Exploration Trail is a tropical oasis-like setup on location within the Africa section of the Park and is teeming with a wild menagerie of creatures native to the African continent.
Then there is the Maharajah Jungle Trek, set within the Park’s Asia section and encompassing a mystical forest theme.
9. See Feathered Friends in Flight
If you love birds then you have to take in this 35-minute show, hosted within the outdoor Anandapur Theater area. Featuring a wonderful and vast display of diverse bird types, some as different as night and day, here you get to see animal behavior specialists in action, showcasing and teaching eager onlookers about these remarkable feathered friends.
8. Join in with Festival of The Lion King
Disney’s Animal Kingdom Park is also home to several live stage shows. And one of the most impressive ones is Festival of the Lion King. Instead of a retelling of the classic Lion King Story that you already know, this is an entirely separate show spanning 40 minutes and featuring stunning acrobatic feats and all the classic music you know and love from the film.
As the audience, you get to be a part of the show with its unique central stage setup.
7. See the New Nemo Show
Splash your way on in for a chance to “sea” a performance of the all-new theater/puppetry live-stage musical show Finding Nemo: The Big Blue… and Beyond! While the predecessor show was great, this new feature retains all the same elemental standouts as the original but with more vibrant scenery and animation effects that are thrown in. It’s a thumbs up — or rather, fins up — all the way!
6. Grab Some Grub
Stay the day at the Animal Kingdom, and you’re bound to get hungry at some point. And rather than returning to your Resort, we recommend direct dining within the Park. There are plenty of places to choose from, so don’t make the mistake of assuming all eats here are of an exclusively exotic nature. While you’ll certainly find those as well, you can also enjoy all those familiar favorites you might be craving.
Most of the dining venues are done up in quick-service format, with some of the most beloved favorites being Flame Tree Barbecue, Pizzafari, Restaurantosaurus, Satu’li Canteen, and many others. But there are also several notable sit-down restaurants that offer full table service. These include The Rainforest Café, Tusker House, Yak & Yeti, Nomad Lounge, and the Park’s very own signature restaurant — Tiffins.
5. Meet Disney Pals
Like all Disney Parks, there are many opportunities to meet classic Disney favorite characters. For instance, you know you’re liable to run into Mickey and Minnie, of course. And if you dine at Tusker House, do take note that this is a character meal featuring Donald, Daisy, Goofy, and — yes — Mickey, all donning safari attire, nevertheless.
But did you know that Animal Kingdom Park is an exclusive hideout for a couple of hard-to-find characters? Some of the pals you can only meet at Animal Kingdom Park include Kevin, Russell, and Dug (all from Up), Rafiki and Timon from The Lion King, Pocahontas, Launchpad McQuack, Scrooge McDuck, and the very elusive DiVine.
4. Experience DINOSAUR
There are several exceptional classic ride experiences you’ll definitely want to experience while visiting the Park, one of which is DINOSAUR. Rightly housed within the DinoLand U.S.A. section of the Park, this trackless dark wild ride takes you on a bumpy adventure through prehistoric terrain and features impressive animatronic dinosaurs in addition. It’s just one of those rights of passage, for sure and certain.
3. Go on Expedition Everest
While DINOSAUR is an appealing classic, many would agree that the Park’s resident high-speed roller coaster is the ultimate must-do. For this adventure, you’re taken to elevating, exciting heights — those up a steep mountain nevertheless. And it’s from there that things get interesting, with speedy backtracking, zipping in and out of the imposing forbidden mountain, and even having a close encounter with the legendary Yeti of local lore.
2. Peruse Pandora
Several years ago, Animal Kingdom Park expanded a bit when they created a new land: Pandora – The World of Avatar. Rightfully based on the Avatar film franchise, this whole section of the Park follows suit in recreating the world as depicted in the films.
There are even floating mountains plus two awesome must-do attractions. First, there is the quiet Na’Vi River Journey dark ride — a more docile undertaking. But the arguably more impressive of the two is that simulated harrowing ride you can take on a banshee: Avatar Flight of Passage.
There are numerous other aspects to Pandora – The World of Avatar, so don’t fret if you don’t get to do everything. But do make it a point to stop by and take in as much of it as you can.
1. Kilimanjaro Safaris
This is without a doubt the most iconic of all pursuits to take on when visiting Animal Kingdom Park. Who can miss the opportunity to experience the most authentic demonstration of an African safari outside of Africa?
While a nice theme is incorporated into the ride (in true Disney fashion), this attraction’s greatest charm comes with the breathtaking views of a vast range of different animals, great and small. This is, hands-down, the ultimate must-do endeavor any visitor to the Animal Kingdom has to experience, no question.
Depending on the unique interests of you and your party, there are just so many other things you can opt to see and do while making your rounds about Animal Kingdom Park for the very first time. There’s also plenty to consider in planning for a second visit, once you’ve tackled all of these must-dos.
Brand-new magical experiences are forever being added into the mix at this Disney Park as well as at all others, letting each and every visit become its very own enticing experience unlike any others before.