Sandwiched between two jam-packed days at EPCOT and Magic Kingdom, our day at Animal Kingdom was a lovely respite from the larger, crowded parks. I love those busy Disney days, but several in a row is exhausting so we alternated them on this trip with more leisurely days at the “half day parks” which made everyone happy and none of us got too tired. Win win!
Animal Kingdom gives off a different feeling than the other three Walt Disney World parks, almost like you’re not at Disney World at all. The theming is so immersive and authentic. The scenery is lush and cozy.
It’s often referred to as a “half day park” because, for some, Animal Kingdom only boasts enough attractions to fill half a day. This might be true, but we don’t consider this a negative aspect of the park at all. We find it’s the perfect way to spend a slower-paced park day without the need to rush from attraction to attraction in order to accomplish everything the park has to offer in one day. We can take our time exploring the animal trails, work on as many Wilderness Explorers badges as we want, and repeat our favorite attractions without worrying that we might not get everything done by the end of the day.
On this, the boys’ first ever visit to Animal Kingdom, the special feeling the park evokes began the moment we tapped our MagicBands at the front entrance and entered the park a half hour before the official opening time. Immediately, we were approached by cast members with various shadowboxes of animals and photos – one with mounted scorpions and another with gorilla pictures. They immediately engaged with Gavin and Jasper, asking them questions without being pushy, and taught our animal-loving boys their first lessons of the day.
||Meet Russell at his club house
||It’s Tough To Be A Bug
||Maharajah Jungle Trek
||lunch – Yak & Yeti Local Foods
||snack – Royal Anandapur Tea Company
||Flights of Wonder
||Expedition Everest (FP+) (plus Mom rides once more as a single rider)
||Dinosaur (FP+) (plus Mom and Gavin two more times)
||The Boneyard (while Mom rides Expedition Everest 6 more times)
||dinner – Flame Tree BBQ and Pizzafari
||Kilimanjaro Safari (FP+)
||Discovery Island Sunset Serenatas
||shopping – Discovery Trading Company
||snack – Landscape of Flavors at Art of Animation
After our initial animal introductions, we moved with the crowd through the lush Oasis to the Discovery Island bridge. There, we visited the Wilderness Explorers headquarters to pick up our badge booklets. We were taught the Wilderness Explorers call and earned our first badge of the day. We would continue working on badges throughout the day, as the full Wilderness Explorers post already detailed.
We continued following the crowd and split to the left side of the Tree of Life en route to the Kilimanjaro Safaris in Africa, our first attraction of the day. The park opened ten minutes early with a brief welcome over the PA and the release of beautiful macaws overhead. This took us delightfully by surprise.
We’d already accomplished so much and the park wasn’t even open yet! When the proverbial rope dropped, we were off to the safari. Highlights from this safari were seeing the new baby elephant who was introduced to the savanna just earlier in the month and the lions. Of course the kitties are always my favorite! These kitties were actually awake, the male standing proud atop the rocks, and the lionesses gazing at the surroundings.
From Africa, we would be exploring the park in clockwise direction throughout the day. Next up was a return to Discovery Island, walking through the trails behind the Tree of Life, noting all of the animals etched into its bark and seeing more and more the closer we looked. We made our way around to the front where Russell was greeting explorers at his club house. Gavin wanted to stop for a picture. Then, we entered the adjacent It’s Tough To Be A Bug entrance. As expected, the boys loved this 3D movie, especially the dung beetle and the stink bug!
On to Asia, we ventured back to the Maharajah Jungle trail to see animals while crowds were light in the morning. The kitties here did NOT cooperate. Not a tiger to be seen! This was rather disappointing after they had been so visible and adorable back in November.
After completing the trek and a few Wilderness Explorer badges, we beat the lunch crowd at Local Foods, the Yak & Yeti quick service restaurant. The honey chicken was tasty and Gavin selected a quiet table far in the back away from the main thoroughfare. Solitary restaurant seating would be a theme of the day! It’s definitely possible to escape the crowds in Disney parks and the large outdoor seating areas at Animal Kingdom are definitely one of them!
We wanted to catch the Flights of Wonder bird show before leaving Asia but had a little time to spare before the next show, so we completed a few more badges and got the famed frozen chai latte from the Royal Anandapur Tea Company kiosk. The drink was decent enough, but nearly impossible to drink with the provided paper straw (no plastic straws in Animal Kingdom!) and it wasn’t fluid enough to drink without one, so the experience was disappointing.
Flights of Wonder is a great show. Birds fly into and over the audience, and the script is entertaining without being too cringe-worthy. We all enjoyed this show.
Our first FastPass of the day – a 12:40-1:40 window at Expedition Everest – was now open. The boys aren’t fans of roller coasters but were eager for new experiences on this trip. Still, I was surprised that both wanted to ride Everest! Even after we strapped in, they were still excited. The fear started to set in as we climbed the first main incline and they were DONE when our train descended backwards into the dark mountain cave! It’s safe to say the boys experienced enough of Everest with that one ride, but Mom wasn’t done! After exiting through the gift shop, I hopped right in the single rider line while they waited a few minutes as I conquered Everest again.
We continued on to DinoLand U.S.A. Animal Kingdom is my least-visited park and I only remember riding Dinosaur in this land years ago. DinoLand gets lots of flack from Disney fans who feel the tacky carnival theming is out of place at a park like Animal Kingdom. After experiencing it in full for the first time, I have to agree. We rode TriceraTop Spin, another spinner, not unlike Dumbo or the magic carpets at Magic Kingdom but missing the charm and history of those rides. TriceraTop’s unique feature is that riders on the front bench control the pitch of the dinosaur while those on the back bench can make it rise up and down.
Jasper is still too short for Primeval Whirl so we skipped it and went straight to Dinosaur where our second FastPass was already active. The boys both enjoyed it but only Gavin was excited enough to go again – which we did together twice more.
By now it was mid-afternoon. We had completed all of our attraction goals for the day so the boys played in The Boneyard for TWO HOURS! Again, recall what I said earlier about these “half day parks” and the leisurely pace they provide. While the boys played and Dad rested, Mom spent nearly an hour riding Expedition Everest six more times through the single rider line. With eight total treks up the mountain, it officially became my favorite Disney mountain on this day!
When the boys finally had enough digging and climbing at The Boneyard, we made our way towards Africa again where we had an evening FastPass for another safari ride. We’d stop for dinner along the way: Jeff got ribs from Flame Tree BBQ and met us at Pizzafari. There is ample seating inside but the weather was lovely outside and we found a great out-of-the-way courtyard to eat our meal in peace and quiet. This patio area is near the entrance to Tiffins and along the pathway that leads to Pandora so this space likely won’t stay quiet for long with foot traffic coming soon.
After dinner, we returned to Harambe and our second safari ride of the day, this time with a FastPass although the stand-by line was rather short as crowds were already leaving the park for the day. The Kilimanjaro Safari is a great attraction to repeat in one day because every safari is so different. On this day, the morning safari was far superior. Our guide was better and more entertaining in the morning and the animals were much more plentiful and active then. Still, I got to see my kitties so it was all worth it!
The sky was getting dark and we had one last event on our itinerary. We stopped to listen to the Discovery Island Sunset Serenatas. This Paraguayan harpist is such a great example of what makes Animal Kingdom so special. We love all of the unique street music that adds so much to the ambiance of the park.
Our last stop was a quick shop in the Discovery Trading Company for some souvenirs. We always try to save our shopping for the end of the day if possible to avoid carrying around our purchases all day. Our trip was only a few weeks before Rivers of Light opened, so there were no nighttime shows to keep us at the park longer.
We were back at the hotel by early evening and decided to take a walk down Memory Lane to get a treat from Landscape of Flavors across the pond at the Art of Animation resort. I’d heard great things about the Nutella gelato there and it didn’t disappoint. What a great and refreshing way to end our relaxing Animal Kingdom day!