What I Wish I Knew Before My Trip to Animal Kingdom

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Head under this majestic sign to enter the wild Magic Kingdom.
Head under this majestic sign to enter the wild Magic Kingdom.

If you are planning your very first visit to the Walt Disney World Resort, I’m sure you’ve made lists of what attractions you want to see, what characters you want to meet, and I bet you even made those dining reservations the day you booked your trip, right? But despite all your planning and newly accumulated park knowledge, it’s still easy to make those Disney World Rookie mistakes. My goal today is to let you in on some tips and info that I wish I had known before my park visits to help your first time trip to Walt Disney World run smoothly. I’ve already covered What I Wish I Knew Before My Trip to the Magic Kingdom and Epcot; and so for today, I’m tackling What I Wish I Knew Before My Trip to Animal Kingdom!

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Asia’s Maharajah Jungle Trek

It Is Meant To Be Explored & Discovered

Disney’s Animal Kingdom is all about the magic of nature and living things, and in staying true to that theme this park features a more organic design and encourages guests to explore. The Oasis–the entryway into the park–is quite a departure from the Magic Kingdom’s Main Street, U.S.A. or Hollywood Studios’ Hollywood Boulevard in that there’s no one way to reach the main part of the park and no visible icon pulling you down the pavement. Instead, The Oasis is thick, lush, and has a number of exhibits to enjoy at your own leisurely pace.

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A resident of the Discovery Island Trails

Animal Kingdom also offers a number of wildlife trails throughout the park, such as the Discovery Island Trails and the Maharajah Jungle Trek. Unlike centerpiece attractions or eye-catching shops, these trails somewhat blend in with the environment and may be missed if you’re not looking for them. Unlike shuffling through a line or seeing a choreographed show or effect, the trails are self-guided and can be enjoyed at a guest’s own pace. I also appreciate the little paths and hidden seating areas that lay off the beaten path throughout the Animal Kingdom Park and some of which offer spectacular views! So when you visit Disney’s Animal Kingdom, remember that this is a different kind of park that it’s meant to be explored and discovered.

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Kilimanjaro Safaris

It’s Really Really Hot

I’ve often heard Disney World regulars remark that Animal Kingdom is hotter than the other Disney Parks, and I would agree with them. Why? Many of Animal Kingdom’s queues and attractions are outdoors, such as Kilimanjaro Safaris, Expedition Everest, Kilimanjaro Safaris, The Boneyard, Kali River Rapids, Primeval Whirl, Pangani Forest Exploration Trail, and so guests aren’t being plunged into A/C as much as they would be at other parks. Granted, there are attractions ideal for a cool down to be found at the park too, such as DINOSAUR, It’s Tough to be a Bug, Festival of the Lion King, and Finding Nemo – The Musical, as well as the shops and restaurants; however, a lot of what guests want to see at Animal Kingdom expose them to the Florida humidity. Another reason for why the park might feel hotter is because it’s massive. Much of the park’s size is due to the space needed for the animals and their care, but even the sections of the park designated for guests is spacious and very spread out. So when you visit Animal Kingdom, remember to  slather on the sunscreen, stay hydrated, take breaks, and have a plan and a park map to avoid hiking back and forth across the park all the day. It’s what I wish I knew before my trip to Animal Kingdom.

DINOSAUR is Truly Terrifying

I love thrill rides. I can’t get enough of the Twilight Zone Tower of Terror and Rock n’ Roller Coaster at Disney’s Hollywood Studios, and Expedition Everest at Disney’s Animal Kingdom is one of my all-time favorite coasters. But for me, DINOSAUR is the most terrifying! It doesn’t go upside down, nor is it all that fast, but my heart pounds just thinking about it!

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DINOSAUR Time Rovers

For those who don’t know, DINOSAUR is located in DinoLand U.S.A. and the story is that guests are being sent back in time aboard a Time Rover to save a particular dinosaur from extinction. The problem is that guests are visiting moments before a meteor is supposed to hit the earth and there’s the dreaded Carnotaurus to deal with. The Time Rover ride vehicle simulates rough terrain and sharp curves where they aren’t any, and it even reacts to danger making for a rough and exhilarating ride! The jerky ride movements, darkness, close proximity to the dinos, and that chase sequence are what make this ride experience extra scary. It’s a blast for thrill junkies, but parents with young kids and guests with ride preferences like mine should be aware.

Note: Guests must be at least 40 inches tall to experience DINOSAUR.

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Welcome to Harambe!

There Are Great Cultural Experiences

Just like Epcot’s World Showcase, Animal Kingdom guests can enjoy experiences from different cultures without ever having to leave the Walt Disney World Resort. At both the Africa and Asia sections of the park, guests will feel as if they have walked into living communities to sample the entertainment, culture, and variety of cuisine from these two continents. InAfrica, guests are in the town of Harambe, while in Asia they are in the village of Anandapur. Personally, I believe that these two areas of the Animal Kingdom Park are prime illustrations of Disney’s attention to detail and historical accuracy, so be sure to take some time to explore and enjoy what they have to offer!

You Can See Rare Characters

At Animal Kingdom, guests who love meeting characters have the chance to meet with a few that they probably won’t see anywhere else on property, such as Pocahontas, Tarzan, Flik from A Bug’s Life, Russell and Dug from Up, Baloo and King Louie from The Jungle Book, and members of the Fab Five in their safari apparel!

Finding Nemo The Musical appeals to a broad audience.
Finding Nemo The Musical appeals to a broad audience.

Don’t Make a FastPass+ Reservation for Shows

A common mistake many Disney Park Rookies make is getting FastPass+ reservations for shows. Animal Kingdom’s Festival of the Lion King, Finding Nemo – The Musical, and It’s Tough to be a Bug all offer FastPass+; but those FastPass+ reservations rarely save guests much, if any, time. Theaters at Walt Disney World are massive and designed to handle large numbers of guests. Oftentimes the only waiting guests have to do is waiting for the show ahead of them to end, and that’s something FastPass+ can’t help with. Also, if a guest does use a FastPass+ reservation for a show, they may enter the holding area before other guests; but when those theater doors swing open, the advantage ends as almost all seats offer great views and Cast Members will have everyone move to the far end of the aisle to accommodate all guests anyway. So take it from me and don’t waste those FastPass+ reservations on shows. Instead, use them for Kilimanjaro Safaris or Expedition Everest! It’s what I wish I knew before my trip to Animal Kingdom.

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Kali River Rapids

Waterproof Yourself for Kali River Rapids

Located in Animal Kingdom’s Asia, Kali River Rapids is a river raft ride famous for drenching park guests. It’s the most enjoyable way I know to cool down, but finishing out the day in wet clothes or with water damaged items can ruin the fun real quick. So guests with Kali River Rapids on their to-do list need to waterproof themselves and their belongings before stepping aboard their raft. I always encourage guests to wear clothes and shoes that dry quickly, or to just splurge and buy a poncho. They will be glad they did later! They should also remember to keep their feet on the circular footrest in the middle of the raft as the bottom fills up with water. Now when it comes to waterproofing belongings, I know that some guests keep their cameras and phones in plastic bags; but in my opinion, the best option is to use Disney’s free lockers located across from the ride entrance. Note: Lockers are available at a first come basis and are only for those riding Kali River Rapids.

Flights of Wonder is a fun and educational show about birds, and can only be seen at certain scheduled times throughout the day.
Flights of Wonder is a fun and educational show about birds, and can only be seen at certain scheduled times throughout the day.

There are no Plastic Straws

As Animal Kingdom features live wildlife, this park operates a little differently in order to keep the animals happy and healthy. One of the ways that is most noticeable and surprising to first time guests is the lack of plastic straws. When guests order a drink or refreshment at Animal Kingdom, it often comes without a straw and sometimes even without a lid! This is because the plastic can be harmful to the animals. Now the park does offer thick paper straws, but some guests think it affects the flavor or don’t care for the texture. It’s just something to be aware of. Even the park’s Starbucks, known here as Creature Comforts, follows the rule and offers green paper straws instead of its trademark green plastic ones.

Don’t Miss Flights of Wonder

A true hidden gem, Animal Kingdom’s Flights of Wonder is an educational bird show set among the ruins at the Caravan Stage in Asia. The show is very funny, informative, and lets guests get off their feet and take in species such as the Great Horned Owl, Blue and Gold Macaws, the Harris Hawk, and even a Bald Eagle! Of all the shows at Animal Kingdom, this one is my favorite and I encourage guests to carve out time to see it during their trip and to have their cameras ready!

Are you planning your first visit Walt Disney World’s Animal Kingdom? If so, be sure to note a few of these tips to maximize your experience at the park. Also, as always, fellow Disney World Experts are encouraged to share their park wisdom with readers in the comments!

Savannah Sanders

Savannah has been visiting Disney World since she was a year old and has gone back almost every year since. In the real world, she teaches high school history and government and enjoys writing about all things Disney. Savannah can be reached on Twitter @DisneyParkSavvy.

19 thoughts on “What I Wish I Knew Before My Trip to Animal Kingdom

  • May 13, 2016 at 8:02 am
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    My advice is to ask questions of the cast members! We were there on Tuesday and talked to a lot of cast members. We learned why the bald eagle doesn’t fly in Flights of Wonder, why the Komodo Dragon is alone in her habitat, and the best time to see the tiger get in the water for a swim. Ask some questions, you won’t regret it!

  • May 13, 2016 at 8:29 am
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    The first time we went to AK, my boys were 6 and 8. We made the mistake of doing Bug’s Life. It ruined them for the rest of the vacation. Because they were so scared, and their parents had taken them into that terrifying tree, they didn’t trust us when we said other things wouldn’t be scary. The 6 year old was especially freaked out.
    And yes, AK is sooooo hot. If we weren’t so far away from Florida, and could go to WDW more frequently, I would save AK for the cooler months.

  • May 13, 2016 at 8:40 am
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    Also, Wilderness Explorers programs ROCKS! My 9 year old loved it!

    • May 13, 2016 at 12:57 pm
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      Second this comment. Wilderness Explorers is a great way to slow down and enjoy the park. More interaction, more discovery, more exploration. Highly recommend it. We ended up skipping a bunch of shows to finish WE with my son, and it was one of his highlights of the trip to WDW.

  • May 13, 2016 at 8:41 am
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    It must be because I live in Florida, but I have never understood why people think AK is hotter than the other parks. The trees and shade make it seem cooler to me than the vast expanses of heat-holding concrete found in the other parks, IMHO.

    • May 13, 2016 at 10:04 am
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      Not from Florida, but I was thinking the same thing. All those wonderful trees, giving so much shade. I think the issue might be that there’s more humidity present (lots more water around, plus different circulation patterns due to all the foliage?), making it feel hotter. All that aside – my favorite park. Well, top two, anyway!

      • May 13, 2016 at 11:07 am
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        I also think part of the issue is AC, and the fact it isn’t as available as in other parks, and at least doesn’t feel like it. Most of the rides are outside- the only exception is Dinosaur right now which isn’t the same sort of restful break other dark rides. A lot of the best quick service has outdoor seating, and a lot of the Stores have really big wide open doors which means the AC isn’t as strong inside. There are 3 great inside shows (Lion King, Nemo, and Tough to be a bug), but that would only add up to about an hour and a half of the day. Add in the abundance of water features (which add the humity in my mind) and the fact Dinoland is basically in a “Parking Lot”… well, I think there’s definite reasons AK feels the hotest of the parks.

        • May 13, 2016 at 6:04 pm
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          The hottest area of any park has to be walking the world showcase in Epcot. Blazing. No shade!

    • May 13, 2016 at 11:05 am
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      In addition to the reasons Savannah listed, the park is also constructed as a giant bowl in order to limit disruptions to the theming & animals or any other uncontrollable elements from the outside world. The result is that there is less of a breeze throughout the park which creates a sort of solar oven.

    • May 13, 2016 at 4:24 pm
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      I couldn’t agree more.

      I think that for all the complaints about AK being hot, it has less AC and just as many outdoor lines (percentage-wise) as Magic Kingdom. And yet, when we go in August I can make it through a day at AK just fine, but on our last trip I swore that if I never set foot in the Magic Kingdom before 4PM ever again it wouldn’t bother me in the least.

  • May 13, 2016 at 8:54 am
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    AK always seems hotter than other parks. We also find that you always seem to be walking uphill. I know you’re not, but it feels like you always are. Don’t forget signing up as Wilderness Explorers. Wife and I have spent many hours wondering around getting stickers….something we would not normally do. A great way to see other stuff in the park and interact with cast members. Highly recommended.

    As for Dinosaur, I’ve always found it way too loud, but I think over the years they’ve turned the volume down…either that or I’m just losing my hearing.

  • May 13, 2016 at 9:17 am
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    I wish someone had told me not to overlook the area with Rafiki’s planet watch. We took the train ride and ended up spending so much time over there! It didn’t even feel like we were in the same park anymore. It was a relaxing respite where my kids could just explore, pet the animals, etc. It may be a minor “attraction”, but we allow an hour for it.

  • May 13, 2016 at 11:19 am
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    I’ll second the It’s Tough To Be a Bug comment; if you’re at all scared or creeped out by bugs, especially wasps and spiders, this show is terrifying. And it’s much scarier than the A Bug’s Life movie, so you may be very surprised as well as scared.

    • May 13, 2016 at 11:36 am
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      You misspelled “awesome”…this show is very well-done, but it is pretty scary for toddlers.

  • May 13, 2016 at 1:34 pm
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    When I took my boys (then 10 & 9) to Disney World, AK was the first park we visited, and after killing time riding Primeval Whirl in Dinoland USA while my pregnant wife ran to get fastpasses for Expedition Everest (settle down, she was only 4 months pregnant, but didn’t ride any thrill rides), we road Dinosaur, our first real Disney ride experience. Definitely true about it being scary! There is one part I remember when I swear a giant, meat-eating dinosaur was climbing in the vehicle with us! My wife (who was waiting for us at the exit) laughed when she saw the on-ride picture of us with me visible jumping back and my oldest hiding his eyes!

  • May 13, 2016 at 3:16 pm
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    Our oldest daughter is now 22. We have ridden Dinosaur every time we visit WDW right from when she was little. We have to laugh at the photo at the end – there is always a gap where my daughter should be sitting (she is practically under the seat) so there is just my husband, our youngest daughter and me! Yet we don’t make her go on Dinosaur – she does choose to go on. She will be 23 next time we go – maybe this time she will be on the photo!

    • May 14, 2016 at 8:11 am
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      My husband and son were laughing so hard when our picture came up after the ride. I managed the “Home Alone” face for the pic, the one where he’s wide eyed & holding his cheeks – 😮 lol.

  • May 15, 2016 at 3:59 pm
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    Another thing about Animal Kingdom is very aggressive and loud beggars.
    The fine feathered kind. So, watch your french fries.

  • May 17, 2016 at 6:20 pm
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    Going with the tone of prepping for a first DAK visit:
    For anyone familiar with Disneyland and nervous about the “thrill level” of Dinosaur, it’s worth noting that if you were to close your eyes and plug your ears, it’s EXACTLY the same ride (same vehicles, track layout, everything) as Indiana Jones Adventure in Anaheim. I think Dinosaur is definitely scarier (it’s darker, louder, and you’re being terrorized by a big dino), but in terms of physical stress/motion sickness, expect Indy.

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