Touring with a Toddler (Animal Kingdom plan)

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Welcome back to the next park in my Touring with a Toddler series.  Today I’m going to walk through the Animal Kingdom One Day Touring Plan for Parents with Small Children and break it up, down, sideways, and crossways to help those of you with children under three.

If you somehow missed my epic two-parter about the Magic Kingdom here is part 1 and part 2.


It is often argued whether or not Animal Kingdom is a park that one can spend a whole day touring.  I think that the theme of the Africa and Asia sections contain detailing work as good as anywhere in any Disney park.  If you are willing and able to take your time and really explore these areas you can easily spend at least one day in Animal Kingdom.  Of course, if you have a toddler with you the odds that you can slow down and poke around are slim (for some reason, my 2 year old daughter is wholly unimpressed by the authentic Nepalese touches).

If you do have a little one, you are most likely looking for a plan of attack…well, you’re in luck, because here comes one.  As usual, please refer to the original plan if you want to know all the extra-special secrets of touring (disclaimer: plan may or may not contain extra-special secrets).

1. Arrive at Animal Kingdom Entrance 25 minutes prior to opening.  This is always good advice when you can manage it.  If you can’t, at least get there within 30 minutes of opening to avoid long waits.

2. Kilimanjaro Safaris – This is one of my daughter’s favorite attractions (mine too) because animals are awesome.  Be aware that this ride is extremely bumpy (especially in the back of the vehicle) so you may want to keep a hand on the little one’s leg…they will get some air.

3. Kali River Rapids – I am not a huge fan of Kali for a few reasons, the chief one being that I don’t like to get soaking wet (yes, I know I am an old cranky man.  I have accepted it).  Some toddlers may feel exactly the same about being soaked to the bone and there is no chance that they’ll get the conservation theme.  With there also being a 38” height requirement, a toddler being able and wanting to ride is iffy at best.

4. Maharajah Jungle Trek – This, along with the Pangani Forest Exploration Trail, are fantastic with toddlers, especially if you happen upon them when they are not very crowded.  The paths allow you to go your own pace and get reasonably good viewpoints of all the animals.

Alone time on the walking trails

Now the downside:  If the viewing paths are not crowded your toddler will most likely go through them at a jog (seriously…look at that picture –>), keeping animal appreciation to a minimum.  On the flipside, if they are crowded, you will want to go through them at a jog after the fifth time you have to lift your child over your head to see the animals (even I’m not sure what I’m recommending here).

5. Flights of Wonder – Yes, it is a bird show but that does not mean that it is without its charms.  I tend to skip this show a lot, but yet I never regret the times that I go.  My daughter has only seen about 5 minutes of it because the “look honey, there’s a bird” wore off pretty quickly.  If you’re toddler has a little more focus or really likes birds go ahead and try.

6. It’s Tough to Be a Bug! – I’ve been a little wishy-washy on the last two, so here’s some nice, decisive advice; No, don’t do it!  It’s Tough to Be a Bug is a very cute show and a well done experience, but it will scare a toddler.  If you haven’t seen the show, it involves bugs, darkness, and being jabbed in the back (yeah, really).  I’ve seen kids much older than mine react to this show like the girl in The Blair Witch Project.

7. Tree of Life Exhibits – Another skip on my plan (meaning that you skip it, not that you start skipping.  Actually go ahead and start skipping through the park here, that sounds hilarious).  These exhibits are interesting and definitely worth seeing, but a toddler just won’t care.

In place of steps 6 and 7 (and possibly 5) I would suggest seeing either Festival of the Lion King or Finding Nemo: The Musical instead (see steps 10 and 11 for more nonsense…uh, I mean advice).

8. Lunch – As the wise Homer Simpson once said; mmmmmm.

Now is a good time for a nap.  Bellies are full, it is most likely hot, and you’ve seen quite a bit already.  It is time to slow down and recharge for the afternoon.  Under normal circumstances I would suggest going back to your hotel so that everyone can get a proper rest.  While that would still be ideal, the problem with Animal Kingdom is that it closes as early as 5 p.m., meaning that you may only have an hour or two on the other side of the break.

What I personally do is go back to the resort for my daughter’s nap (she won’t sleep in a stroller) and then hop to a different park for the evening, only doing Animal Kingdom in the morning.  If that is undesirable or undoable (feel free to insert your own un-word) for you, I would suggest either a short stroller nap (for the kid, although if you can fit in the stroller…) or no nap and an early bedtime.  Remember, if the toddler doesn’t get proper rest you’ll all pay for it tomorrow (as will everyone in earshot and poor Dale…that’s another story).

Okay, back to the park…

9. Character Trails at Camp Minnie-Mickey – My daughter loves the characters, which is why we like to do multiple character meals.  Dining with the characters allows me to skip the potential long lines in areas like this.  If your child also enjoys characters, this is a good spot to knock off a bunch of greetings at once.

10. Festival of the Lion King– I really enjoy this show.  My wife is less enthusiastic about it.  My daughter was completely uninterested in everything except the big floats.  I think many toddlers will enjoy the visual and aural overload here even if mine didn’t.  I say give it a try although be warned that it is not easy to get out once the show starts, so be prepared to sit through the show in its entirety.

See, animals are awesome

11. Finding Nemo: The Musical – I enjoy good musical theater (comments to yourselves please) and this show is good.  Honestly, my daughter hasn’t seen it because she has a limit to the number of shows she will sit through in any given day.  I’ll probably try it with her when we’re there in a few weeks, but in the meantime I would say that this depends on your toddlers penchant for sitting, shows, songs, sea creatures, and…uh, samba (ran out of alliterative gas there).

As I mentioned above, I would jump one of the last two steps up to the morning if for no other reason than to avoid doing two shows in succession.  If you do Lion King in the morning, also try to do the Character Trails (number 9) at that time.

12. The Boneyard – I’m not a huge fan of this play area for a toddler, mostly because I’m a grumpy old man (we established that already).  It’s fun and all, but it’s big and that makes it difficult to have an eye on your child unless you follow them around.  If you are security paranoid like I am, that is not an ideal situation.

13. TriceraTop Spin – This is a boring, spinning, midway, Dumbo-style ride that most Disney fans will say has no place in Walt Disney World.  Naturally, little kids will love it.  On our last trip Dinoland was so empty that my wife and daughter rode this alone four straight times while I went to ride Expedition Everest…lucky them.

The next (and last) step on the plan is to watch the parade.  Depending on what you decided about a nap, you may or may not be in the park.  If you are it is nothing special, but still an enjoyable parade.

Attractions Not on the Plan:

– Expedition Everest – Not for the toddlers unless they happen to be 44” tall or more.  This is a must ride for most parents though so I strongly suggest using rider swap or taking turns using Fastpass while the child is riding something else.  Remember to look for the Yeti in the cave towards the end and also remember that it is Disney’s most advanced animatronic figure that you just had to search and squint to see (yeah, a touch bitter).

– DINOSAUR – Another height requirement, this time 40”.  Even if the kids are tall enough I would avoid this.  It is very loud and very rough.  I have a headache just thinking about it.

– Rafiki’s Planet Watch – This is a tricky one.  There is the petting zoo-esque Affection Section, and the behind-the-scenes Conservation Station, both of which can be very interesting.  The problem is that, depending on when you go, there may be little or nothing happening.  If you have extra time and feel like a short train ride it may be worth a look.  Someone should invent a phone application that would tell you when something was going on back there.

Frankly, there’s not a lot to do at Animal Kingdom for a toddler since the park is more atmosphere and less attractions.  I strongly suggest a visit just to see the fantastic work done on Africa and Asia as well as the few really great attractions and shows that the park offers.  With a few excellent attractions and shows and some wonderful themes, Animal Kingdom can be very enjoyable (especially if you avoid Dinoland U.S.A.  Sorry, I had to squeeze one shot in there).

Thanks for reading!

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Brian McNichols

In addition to blogging, I also do some analyzin' here at Touring Plans. I am a travel nut, planning nut, Disney nut, wall nut. Husband of 1, father of 2. Hilariously funny in my own mind. Find me on Twitter @YesThatBrian if you like really dumb jokes.

10 thoughts on “Touring with a Toddler (Animal Kingdom plan)

  • August 18, 2011 at 10:13 am

    It truly is a know-your-own-kid thing when it comes to touring the parks. For our last trip, our child wasn’t quite a year old, and Epcot and Animal Kingdom were the two favorite parks. The only thing that was of interest for her at the Studios was the Osborne Lights and she gave the Magic Kingdom an unenthusiastic meh (but then again, if you’ve not seen many Disney movies, you have no frame of reference).

    I absolutely agree with you about It’s Tough to be a Bug. We’re going to try the safari this time (child at age 16 months), however on our last trip, seeing animals from afar was nowhere near as interesting as seeing plants and ducks close up. We may also try Lion King with her, but Nemo is just too long to hold her attention. And certainly doing Triceratops Spin means that we don’t have to do Dumbo later on…and have no wait. (Plus, growing up in Florida and traveling the I-95 corridor to the northeast each summer, I love the theme of Dinoland with its total mockery of roadside attractions. It’s like South of the Border without the adult shop. Totally rockin’.)

    Overall,her favorite parts of the park were the Oasis, the Tree of Life gardens, Conservation Station, and the drummers in Africa. The petting zoo in Conservation Station was worth the train ride, but I don’t think our kid would have any interest in anything inside the building. Add to that, there’s some odd jungle sounds in the bathroom that scared our kid–and I’m with her. Being startled by a howler monkey just isn’t my idea of a rest-room.

    Hoping you can finish up these posts before we take our kidlet down in October, now that she’s made that magic cross into toddlerhood. Keep up the great work!

  • August 18, 2011 at 11:17 am

    Enjoyed reading this! I will be traveling with a 3-year-old niece in my group in September and have been mentally preparing myself for how the flow might go. We will also have two 8-year-olds and a 14-year-old so we will be trying to pacify everyone. I agree about the Bug’s Life attraction. I took my then 4-year-old on it in 2007 and it ruined it for him (and us) for all other 4D attractions. He is still talking about being poked in the back and basically hates anything that is 4D. Thankfully we’ve never ridden Dinosaur. Thanks for the article!

  • August 18, 2011 at 12:07 pm

    Some of our favorite memories of our trip with our 19 month old son were in Animal Kingdom. The character trail was good though lines were a bit long. We did happen upon the pooh characters near the dinos with nobody else there! Also, an unexpected surprise was the characters at the conservation area, Pochantas, Rafiki, and Jiminy Cricket. There was also a strolling musician, guitar Dan, who sang a song about our son that made it extra special. The street performances in this park seemed to top the other parks.

  • August 18, 2011 at 12:21 pm

    Keep in mind that there’s a huge difference in appeal for a lot of attractions between a 2 year old and a 3 year old+. We started taking my son to AK at 3, and it’s his favorite park (seriously, all you AK dissers out there…). Of course, we never did Tough to be a Bug! (thanks Touring Plans for the info!). He adores Flights of Wonder, loves all the animal exhibits and safari ride, and we pretty much have to tear him out of the Boneyard dino dig/play area in Dinoland. That’s definitely a do not miss for littler kids (unless you’re planning to leave the park soon, in which case don’t go or you’ll be yanking a screaming kid away from it…). Also, he loves brushing the goats and whatevers at the Rafiki area. And you can’t beat the lines (especially the Pooh one, as already pointed out) for characters at AK- WAY shorter and better than any of the other parks! Maybe I shouldn’t have given that tip away!~

  • August 18, 2011 at 2:05 pm

    Nice post, Brian. We took our daughter last January when she was 21 months old, and the only park that was tough was The Animal Kingdom. The crowds were light in the other parks, but the walkways were crazy (and surprisingly hot) at the AK. We also had issues with the walking trails, where there was little room for her to run around. We’re planning on going back next January, and I’m wondering if we should try it again. She did great at the other three parks, but this one was a chore.

  • August 18, 2011 at 7:20 pm

    My boys are 5 and 3. They have been visiting the parks pretty much their whole lives and until this year, Animal Kingdom was the undisputed favorite. This park gave them lots of opportunities to do their own thing. They can walk the trails without having to hold our hands the whole time and without any waiting. They loved the parade. They both loved the Boneyard. We also always have a great time at Rafiki’s Planet Watch and we always meet at least one new character over there. I know we have met Pochantas, Jiminy Cricket, Flik, and Rafiki. Both my boys love the petting area. Camp Minnie Mickey is great, too, especially if it’s not crowded. My older son has now switched his favorite to Magic Kingdom but when he was a toddler, he definitely preferred Animal Kingdom.

  • August 19, 2011 at 7:07 am

    I definitely agree with ‘It’s Tough To Be A Bug’. My then 8 year old was so freaked out that he was in tears halfway through. Funny thing is that my 4 year old and 18 month old thought it was great. 🙂 And I definitely would be careful about Dinosaur. On that same morning I took my 8 year old on it and he was also seriously traumatized. I’m not sure what scared him so much (of course that’s because I had MY eyes closed through most of it so I really didn’t see the giant T-Rex at the end). Poor kid. When they say the ride is ‘dark and scary’ they really mean it!

  • August 19, 2011 at 10:49 am

    Well, I guess I have the child that is different from normal. My son’s first two trips (13 months & 19 months) we hit “Tough to be a Bug” just before naptime and he fell asleep at the beginning and we enjoyed a break in the air conditioning! On the third trip, he stayed awake and loved it! We attempted Nemo, but he lasted all of five minutes before we had to sneak out because he was not interested in it at all.

    We did experience losing him in the Boneyard on our third trip (he had just turned three). He came down one of the slides ahead of us and when we got to the bottom he was gone! We looked around for a minute, and then notified the cast member at the exit so he couldn’t get out. About five minutes later (seemed longer than that) she pointed him out to us. Turns out he had come off the slide and ran back up to the top to go again without waiting on Mommy & Daddy. Scary, but they do watch the exit very closely. We learned to send one ahead and one behind to avoid that.

    He made it on Kali, barely, but then hated it because he got soaked and it was cold. I did have a change of clothes so not all bad. He is now over the 40 inch requirement and really wants to ride Dinosaur on our upcoming trip, but he is a little daredevil so I’m going to let him try it.

  • August 23, 2011 at 9:30 am

    Wow – after that write-up, I’m not sure it is even worth going!

  • August 23, 2011 at 1:42 pm

    Thanks so much for this series! We are planning a trip in Nov/Dec with out [then] 2.5 year old. This is great info!


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