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!
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.
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.
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!
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.
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!
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.
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.
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!