Animal Kingdom at Night: What You Need to Know

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©Disney
©Disney

Ever since the Animal Kingdom Park opened in 1998, guests could only enjoy the park during the day as it regularly closed at dark. Fortunately, that has now changed! On May 27th, Animal Kingdom introduced new extended hours and rolled out a variety of new nighttime entertainment and experiences. However, it’s important to note that Animal Kingdom is a different creature at night; and its signature nighttime show, Rivers of Light, and new land, Pandora – The World of AVATAR, haven’t even made their debuts yet. So, if you’re planning a night venture to Disney’s Animal Kingdom Park in the near future, here’s what you need to know…

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Kilimanjaro Safaris Artificial Sunset

Opt for a Sunset Kilimanjaro Safaris

When Animal Kingdom first announced it was staying open after dark, it also promised a nighttime version of the park’s famous Kilimanjaro Safaris attraction, but with a constant sunset! While it sounds awesome and was highly anticipated, it has been met with criticism since it debuted. Why? The problem is that animals can’t be controlled. If they don’t want to be in view of the safari vehicles, they won’t; and while this is true of the daytime safaris as well, the animals are still often visible. This is not the case at night, even with new lighting effects.

Speaking of lighting, I can say that I was impressed with the constant sunset. While it wasn’t totally realistic, it looked fantastic and the glow and shadows from the effect looked great. I was, however, completely fooled when it came to the artificial moonlight towards the end of the safari, but it still did little to reveal the animals.

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Lighting aboard the Kilimanjaro Safaris Vehicles for the nighttime safaris

Now I’ve heard from other guests and Disney Park regulars that riding the safari around the time of the actual sunset is so much better. While each ride varies, the animals are often very active and visible. So try to experience Kilimanjaro Safaris as soon as you arrive at the park for your evening experience in order to see the animals and have the best ride possible. It’s also much more ideal for photographers who need daylight and for families with kids eager to see the wildlife.

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Artificial Moonlight!

Not Everything is Open at Night

As of right now, not everything Animal Kingdom offers during the day is available during night hours. For instance, Finding Nemo – The Musical and Flights of Wonder hold their last shows before the sun sets, so nighttime guests may not get a chance to enjoy these offerings if they don’t arrive early enough. Fortunately, the popular Festival of the Lion King show offers performances into the evening, but does stop a few hours shy of park closing.

A number of the park’s wildlife trails and exhibits are also closed for the night, such as the Maharajah Jungle Trek in Asia, the Gorilla Falls Exploration Trail in Africa, and Rafiki’s Planet Watch. Finally, for those who love meeting and greeting with characters at Animal Kingdom, most character interactions currently end in the afternoon or early evening, except for Mickey and Minnie at the Adventurers Outpost. Personally, I think this will change in the near future.

Note: Animal Kingdom’s Wilderness Explorers also closes at 7:45 P.M.

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Wait Times During Animal Kingdom Nighttime Hours

Low Wait Times for Park Attractions

On May 27th, when the park kicked off its nighttime hours, I booked a number of FastPass+ reservations in advance thinking that the wait times would be outrageous for this debut night. Halfway through the evening, I checked attraction wait times on the MyDisneyExperience app and found that most of Animal Kingdom’s attractions, with the exception of Kilimanjaro Safaris, hardly had waits at all! This pattern has somewhat continued throughout the month. Perhaps after dark is the new ideal time to take advantage of the park’s headlining attractions?

Skip The Jungle Book – Alive with Magic

Rivers of Light was intended to be the park’s signature nighttime show; but when it was delayed until later this year, Disney realized they needed something to entertain the summer crowds in the meantime. Their answer was The Jungle Book – Alive with Magic which packed in the crowds during its first night on the Discovery River. Sadly, the show hasn’t lived up to expectations and truly does look like a short-term substitute. What I suggest for guests wanting the nighttime Animal Kingdom experience is to skip the show and use that precious park time to ride Animal Kingdom attractions with minimal waits, to take in the Tree of Life projections, and just to explore the park in cooler temperatures than they would ever experience during the day.

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The Tree of Life

There is No Set Schedule for the Tree of Life Awakenings

In addition to promising a nighttime show on the water and the nighttime Kilimanjaro Safaris, Disney’s Animal Kingdom Park also promised special projections on its massive icon, the Tree of Life. Disney has been employing projections for sometime now, most noticeably on the Magic Kingdom’s Cinderella Castle for its nightly Celebrate the Magic show. But trust me when I say that Animal Kingdom’s Tree of Life awakenings take projection entertainment to a whole new level and just have to be seen in person!

Animal Kingdom guests should also note that there are four different mini-shows or “awakenings” projected on the Tree of Life, each lasting around three minutes. There’s also no set schedule for these mini-shows either, something I wish I had known before my first visit to Animal Kingdom at night. Also, in between showings, guests should keep their eyes on the tree. At times, an animal carving may spring to life on the Tree of Life via projection, and the effect is stunning!

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My view of Animal Kingdom from the top of Expedition Everest!

Ride Expedition Everest – Legend of the Forbidden Mountain at Night

Expedition Everest – Legend of the Forbidden Mountain is one of my all-time favorite attractions; and several years ago, for special extended park hours or something like that, I had the chance to ride Expedition Everest at night in the dark!

To this day, that nighttime ride is my favorite Expedition Everest experience; and when I first heard that Animal Kingdom would be staying open at night, I couldn’t wait to enter the Forbidden Mountain after dark yet again.

I secured at FastPass+ reservation weeks in advance; but when it was time for my ride, the sun hadn’t quite set just yet. So learn from my mistake and check the time for the sunset if you too would like to experience Expedition Everest in the dark. Still, it was darker than usual when it was time for my ride; and needless to say, I was not disappointed. Expedition Everest just feels faster and scarier at night, and the dark truly compliments and even enhances the overall experience. Even if you have ridden Expedition Everest dozens of times, be sure to experience it in this new way when you visit!

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Gotta love Expedition Everest merch

There’s A LOT of New Live Entertainment

Animal Kingdom has always offered a variety of live entertainment, my favorite being the Tam Tam Drummers of Harambe; but just for the park’s new nighttime hours, Animal Kingdom has introduced a lot of new live entertainment! I’m not kidding either, there’s A LOT and you probably won’t be able see all of the acts in a single visit.

To kick off the night, Animal Kingdom has the Discovery Island Carnivale with its lively music, super colorful costumes, and the invitation to dance along with the performers. In Africa, the new Harambe Wildlife Parti offers a range of acts such as Muziki, the Harambe Village Acrobats, the Karibu Sisters, and the Harambe Soccer Meerkats! Burudika is also offered throughout the night as well.

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Is it bad I like the cupcake more than the show?

Creature Comforts is Open Until Park Closing

Creature Comforts, otherwise known as Animal Kingdom’s Starbucks, is conveniently open until park closing. I typically head straight for Creature Comforts to caffeinate myself for the evening ahead when enjoying an evening at Animal Kingdom, but it’s truly a comfort to know that it’s open when heading for the parking lot and bus stops for a late night boost for when someone in your family is begging for a quick snack to take back to the resort room. Creature Comforts is also a prime destination for some of the park’s best cupcakes, which are already packaged to-go. How perfect is that?

If you’re planning to check out Animal Kingdom at night, these are a few things that you need to know to hopefully help you and your family maximize your park time!

Have you experienced Animal Kingdom at night yet? If so, share what you think park guests need to know 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.

10 thoughts on “Animal Kingdom at Night: What You Need to Know

  • June 22, 2016 at 8:53 am
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    Hi Savannah. We plan to see the Safari on 6/28 around 7:00 PM. We had a FP @ 4:30 for Lion King, but switched it for a 7:10 Safari. Was this wise? Last visit, we got closed out of the Lion King and had to wait for the next show. Projected TP wait times for Safari are low @ 7:00 PM, but shoot up around 8:00 PM. Do you sense that Safari will be getting more crowded in the early evening now?

    • June 22, 2016 at 9:41 am
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      We got in line on 6/15 at 8:00 PM with FPP for the Safari and were on the vehicle by 8:20. It was the perfect timing to capture the sunset and lots of active animals.

      I was glad we had used our other FPP beforehand, as overall lines were extremely short for everything during our evening at AK. We loved it!

      • June 22, 2016 at 11:27 am
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        So glad you enjoyed your time at Animal Kingdom and that you too took advantage of the short wait times at night! Thanks so much for commenting!

    • June 22, 2016 at 11:25 am
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      It’s hard to say because the safaris and the animal activity can be unpredictable. Sunset during this time of year occurs around 8:30 PM; but with your 7:10 PM FastPass+ time, you should be aboard your vehicle by 7:30 PM which I would think would still allow you a great experience. If you plan to spend the day at the park, I would suggest catching Festival of the Lion King during the heat of the day; but if not, there is often a show every hour in the afternoon and into the evening. I do think the safari will be become more popular in the early evening hours, but I don’t think people have learned the best times to check it out just yet with Animal Kingdom’s nighttime experiences still in their infancy. Hope this helps and I hope you have a wonderful trip!

  • June 22, 2016 at 12:42 pm
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    Has there been any indication about the Fall/Winter plans for the evening activities? When this was first announced I thought I read it was going to be a “permanent addition” but when I look ahead to my November/December trip the park hours show AK closing at 5:00 just as in years past? The evening hours seem to stop after the Labor Day weekend. I realize I am asking you to speculate but just wondering if you had heard anything about future hours? Thank you!

    • June 22, 2016 at 3:43 pm
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      Excellent question! The upcoming park hours schedule has me puzzled as well, especially since Rivers of Light is supposed to debut later this year. My best guess is that the park may begin to only offer night hours on certain days of the week in the fall and winter, but perhaps those dates haven’t been scheduled or announced yet. I’m thinking we will hear info on this soon once the summer season gets well underway. Again, great question and thanks for commenting and I hope we will get an official answer from Disney soon!

      • June 23, 2016 at 9:50 am
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        Savannah – Thank you for your reply. Your thought about the parks only offering night hours on certain days of the week sounds likely to me too. I also thought I may not see a schedule change until Rivers of Light has actually debuted allowing Disney to not commit until it is fully up and running and have some idea of the crowds and popularity? I have also noticed that the HS schedule makes no mention of the fireworks yet for that time as well. So, I will wait patiently and keep watching for updates! Thanks again!

  • June 22, 2016 at 12:53 pm
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    Just a quick note, it is still light for a while after sunset. If you want to ride Expedition Everest in the dark, you should wait until around Nautical Twilight, which is currently about an hour *after* sunset at AK.

  • June 22, 2016 at 6:00 pm
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    Does Expedition Everest operate during the Jungle Book show?

    • June 22, 2016 at 10:41 pm
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      It does, and it’s a great time to ride. It was virtually a walk-on during the show.

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