What to do before you go
Please see our guide to the Magic Kingdom for advice on booking hotels and buying tickets to the Walt Disney World Resort and its four theme parks. Advance dining reservations are not essential at Disney's Animal Kingdom, but if you have the cash, you might consider booking a guided wildlife tour for part of your day in the park.
For the closest look at the park's wildlife, book the Wild Africa Trek, a three-hour guided tour through the park's Safi River Valley, where you'll walk on a rope bridge over hippos and crocodiles, then ride in a safari vehicle to see rhinos, giraffes and other African animals. The tour includes photographs of your expedition, taken by a Disney photographer, as well as an African-inspired gourmet breakfast or lunch. It's not cheap -- $189 per person, and you must be at least 8 years old and 48 inches tall to participate. Call +1-407-WDW-TOUR or visit Disney's website to book in advance of your visit.
When planning which day to visit Disney's Animal Kingdom, note that the park closes earlier than the other Walt Disney World theme parks, usually at 7 or 8pm, even during the busy summer months. So many visitors with park-hopper passes choose to spend the rest of the evening in another park. To beat the crowds early in the morning, choose to visit on a day when the park is not offering early admission to Disney hotel guests through the Extra Magic Hours program. On those days, you might find long waits for the park's most popular rides even by the time the park opens to "regular" visitors. Check Disney's website for operating hours.
What to do when you get to Disney's Animal Kingdom
Disney's Animal Kingdom is the largest and most remote from the three other Disney World theme parks. There's no monorail or boat service connecting Animal Kingdom to the other parks -- you'll have to drive or take a bus to get there. Like all Disney World theme parks, it's $14 to park, but your parking pass is good for the rest of the day at all four parks, so you can come and go as you please without having to pay again for parking.
Given Animal Kingdom's immense size -- 580 acres -- you'll need to ask yourself if you think it worth the time and effort to spend 20 minutes or more walking back and forth across the park to reduce your wait for a particular attraction. Disney's Animal Kingdom includes fewer than 20 attractions, only about half of which earn high ratings from Theme Park Insider readers. Three recommended attractions are walking trails that never have a wait, and three others are shows, one of which runs continuously with rarely more than a short wait between performances. Get a show schedule when you enter the park, and check the show times for the Finding Nemo -- the Musical and Festival of the Lion King shows, as they run at specific times during the day and you'll need to show up at least 30 minutes before their show times to get seats.
Ideally, start your day with Kilimanjaro Safaris. Animal Kingdom's animals tend to be much more active in the cooler mornings than in the often hot and humid afternoons. A perfect visiting plan would have you continue around the park from there, clockwise, visiting the Pangani Forest Exploration Trail and Maharajah Jungle Trek, before riding Expedition Everest, watching the Finding Nemo show, riding Dinosaur, then wrapping up with the It's Tough to Be a Bug and Festival of the Lion King shows. If it's a hot day, and you're in the mood to get wet, cut back across the bridge from Discovery Island to Asia after the Nemo or It's Tough to be a Big shows to throw in a mid-day ride on the Kali River Rapids.
The one problem with that itinerary is that it puts you in the Everest queue after it's built up to a long wait on most days. Here are your potential solutions:
Options 1, 3, and 4 are best if you want to minimize walking around this huge park. Everest's single rider line tends to move swiftly. It's not as quick as the Fastpass return queue, but you're not stuck with an inflexible ride time, either, so we'd recommend using the single rider option if you don't have small children in your group who need a reassuring parent or older sibling with whom to ride.
In general, attractions in this park have better-than-average capacity and none of the major attractions here ever gets an insufferable wait, so seeing everything worth seeing before the park closes shouldn't be too difficult.
Where to eat
Theme Park Insider readers' favorite restaurant at Disney's Animal Kingdom is the counter-service Flame Tree Barbecue, located near the center of the park in Discovery Island. It's also conveniently located if you're using our touring plan described above, as you can dine there before or after the Nemo or It's Tough to Be a Bug! shows.
Readers also give high marks to two table-service restaurants that accept advance dining reservations: The Tusker House Restaurant in Africa, which offers a character buffet with Donald Duck at breakfast and lunch, and the Yak and Yeti restaurant in Asia. Call +1-407-WDW-DINE or visit Disney World's website to book.
Disney's announced that it will be a major new land for Disney's Animal Kingdom, based on James Cameron's Avatar. That land will replace the current Camp Mickey-Minnie land, and the Festival of the Lion King show will move to a new theater in the park's Africa section to make way for Avatar. No opening date has been set.
We have updated this post since it was first published, in response to reader comments.
Next week: Disney's Hollywood Studios
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