by Amy Kawa
Jambo, and welcome to the Animal Kingdom! Walt Disney World’s newest theme park, built in 1998, celebrates the beauty and majesty of all living things on this planet. See animals of all different kinds, as Disney has recreated their natural habitats to give the animals and guests the most authentic experiences possible.
Like Magic Kingdom, Animal Kingdom is broken up into several different lands. Discover the animals wandering the Oasis, wonder in awe at the magnificent Tree of Life on Discovery Island, explore the streets of an African village and go on safaris in Africa, experience the whimsy of the carnival-like atmosphere of Dinoland USA, battle the Yeti on Expedition Everest that casts a shadow over Asia, and board a train and head to Rafiki’s Planet Watch to see Disney scientists in action as they work with endangered species and treat injured animals.
A new addition to the park, Pandora: The World of Avatar, came to life in the summer of 2017. Disney truly outdid itself when it comes to immersing their guests in another world. While Pandora is a hotly debated topic among Disney fans, there is no denying that the land is beautiful and awe-inspiring. The addition of two new attractions has also taken Animal Kingdom from a typical half-day park to a full-day stop.
The Animal Kingdom was a park that always closed earlier than Disney’s other three parks. Disney always held to the principle that the early closing time was needed for the safety and well-being of the animals. However, with the addition of Pandora, Animal Kingdom now stays open as long as the other parks, which is also controversial for Disney fans, as it appears as though they may be compromising the animals’ well-being to make a bit of profit.
Although there may be a lot of new changes for Animal Kingdom, they are all for the good of the park. No matter what adventures you have, you are sure to have a wild time! Whatever you do, don’t call this theme park a zoo! It is so much more than a zoo.
Just like we have done for each of the other theme parks, we have created a list of each attraction in Animal Kingdom and alongside each attraction, you will find our ratings on a 10-point scale as well as how important it is to use a Fastpass+ on the attraction. Our ratings may not be exactly in line with other guide books or Disney websites, but hear us out. The ratings are based on overall impressiveness, fun-level, ability to immerse the audience in another world, and add in a pinch of nostalgia. The animal trails are not rated.
*Animal Kingdom has a tier fastpass system, but just the two attractions in Pandora are on a tier of their own. All other attractions will then compete for your two other fastpasses.
Animal Kingdom- Attractions and Shows
Affection Section (N/A)
This is you standard petting zoo within Rafiki’s Planet Watch. You and your kiddos can pet goats, sheep, donkeys, and even pigs.
*Fastpass+ is not available, and they will only let a certain amount of kids in to pet the different animals at a time.
Avatar Flight of Passage (10/10)
You’ll be paired with a banshee and fly off with the Na’vi in this 3D simulator- type attraction. You board your ride vehicle that almost appears to be a motorcycle, put on your 3D glasses, and the world of Avatar opens up in front of you. See all of the beauty of the Avatar landscape in a way that has not been possible before thanks to the new intricate and advanced ride technology on full display in this attraction. This is the most life-like attraction I have ever had the pleasure of experiencing. It makes you feel as though you are actually riding on a banshee’s back and flying through the air. Take Star Tours and Soarin’ combined and then multiply the thrill level by 10, and then you are close to Flight of Passage levels.
*Fastpass+ is available and is a MUST if you plan on riding Flight of Passage. It is on the first tier along with the Na’vi River Journey, but this attraction can boast wait times of nearly 4 hours during peak seasons, while the River Journey tends to max out at about 90 minutes. Use a fastpass, but you’ll need to book one 60 days out to get one!
The Boneyard (8/10)
Are your kiddos into dinosaurs, or do you want them to blow off a little bit of energy? Then, head to the boneyard, which is essentially an incredibly well-themed, enormous playground. Climb some rocks, cross rickety bridges, and unearth some fossils in the sandpit.
Fastpass+ is not offered and not needed, as this open-air playground is huge. Make sure you take special note: The Boneyard is for kids 10 and under.
Conservation Station (8/10)
You’ll need to board the Wildlife Express Train to go to Rafiki’s Planet Watch where you can get up close and personal with some animals habitats, go behind the scenes to watch veterinarians and animal nutritionists work in the lab, and explore interactive exhibits that focus on Disney’s efforts to promote conservation awareness.
*Fastpass+ is not available and is not needed to walk around this area of the park.
Go back in time thanks to the Dino Institute to rescue an Iguanodon and bring it back to the present before the great meteor shower wipes out all of the dinosaurs. You’ll board a Time Rover and encounter all different kinds of dinos, including a pretty hungry-looking T-Rex! This attraction is one, big adrenaline rush! Your Time Rover bounces you all over the place in the pitch black, so every dino you encounter is a surprise, making your meet and greet with that T-Rex even more exciting! There’s a countdown that ticks down as well until that meteor shower hits, so it’s a race against time to “get our dino!”
*Fastpass+ is available and not a bad option for your tier 2 fastpass, but other attractions like Everest and the Safaris may be better options.
Discovery Island Trails (N/A)
Get up close and personal with the Tree of Life, as these trails take you right under the beautiful centerpiece of the Animal Kingdom. Admire the different carvings on the tree as you wander past different types of birds and other small animals along the pathways.
*Fastpass+ is not available or needed.
Expedition Everest – Legend of the Forbidden Mountain (10/10)
Walt Disney World’s newest mountain, Expedition Everest takes you on a wild train ride up the forbidden mountain where you quickly realize that the Yeti- protector of the mountain- isn’t too keen on you invading his territory. He may have even mangled your train track, so there’s only way to get down the mountain – backwards! You free-fall backwards, catching glimpses of the HUGE audio animatronic Yeti inside the mountain, as he swoops down to try and grab you. The mountain itself is so impressive just to look at and the detail that went into the creation of the queue and the surrounding area really sets the tone before you even board the attraction.
*Fastpass+ is available and SHOULD be one of your tier two fastpasses if you plan on riding this attraction.
Festival of the Lion King (10/10)
A true celebration of one of the best soundtracks in movie history, Festival of the Lion King mixes the music of The Lion King with aspects of African culture. The festival is led by four singers who each take their turn singing songs from the film before a “Celebration Finale” combines all of the songs in the best mashup ever. The performers’ rendition of “The Circle of Life” won’t leave a dry eye in the theater.
*Fastpass+ is available for this show, but I would never recommend using it. You will always have to wait until the next show and the fastpass line hems you into a particular section of the theater that might not offer the best views.
Finding Nemo: The Musical (10/10)
“In a big blue world…” Take a journey with Marlin across the ocean to find his son Nemo is this re-telling of the movie with the same name. Add an amazing lineup of original songs to this heart-warming father-son story, and you have a Broadway-caliber show inside a Disney theme park. During the show’s finale, when the whole theater comes to life around you, I dare you not to shed a tear.
*Fastpass is available, and if you are going to use a tier 2 fastpass on one of the two shows in Animal Kingdom, I would suggest this one. It will get you closer to the front of the line, and you can really pick any row you want to sit in once you get into the theater. Oh, and I recommend sitting behind the break aisle. You get a better view of everything that comes to life during the show.
Flights of Wonder (N/A)
Let me preface this review by saying that I have a very strong, unhealthy fear of birds – big birds, small birds, ALL birds – so I have never seen this show. However, I have heard nothing but rave reviews of Flights of Wonder. A bird trainer will show you several different kinds of exotic birds that will swoop and soar overhead as the trainer explains the ins and outs of the species. The show also relies on audience participation, so you can get in on the fun!
*Fastpass+ is not offered or needed. Just make sure to line up for the show a little before the scheduled starting time.
Gorilla Falls Exploration Trail (N/A)
Explore these walking trails that feature some of the most well-known animals of Africa: zebras, meerkats, and gorillas.
*Fastpass+ is not available or needed.
It’s Tough to be a Bug! (5/10)
Join your friend Flik from A Bug’s Life, as he introduces you to some of his friends from the insect world in this 4D show. You’ll feel a bee’s stinger in your back, spiders under-foot, and smell the nasty stench of a stink bug. Hopper crashes the party and sends the theater a-buzz, showing the audience that it really is “tough to be a bug!” I am not a fan of the creepy crawly feeling you get when the theater comes to life around you, but for some, it is a very cool experience. Just not for me.
*Fastpass+ is available but not needed, as wait times are usually just until the next show starts.
Kali River Rapids (7/10)
There are very few guarantees in life, but one that I can promise you is that you will get wet on Kali River Rapids. How wet? Well, some people need to buy new clothes, while others just get a nice cool down. Set off on a white-water rafting ride through the jungles of Asia. You’ll go tumbling down waterfalls, get sprayed by geysers, and float past a dismaying scene of deforestation and illegal logging that is destroying acres of land across the world.
*Fastpass+ is available and is a decent tier 2 option, especially in the heat of summer when wait times are the longest.
Kilomanjaro Safaris (9/10)
The closest thing to a real African safari outside of actually being in Africa, you will see giraffes, zebras, elephants, rhinos, hippos, lions, and maybe even a cheetah or two, all from your safari vehicle. Every tour is different, as the animals are free to interact with their surroundings as they please (with some restrictions to ensure guest safety). It is truly amazing to see wild animals up close and to then remember that you are still in a Disney theme park.
*Fastpass+ is offered and is a fantastic tier 2 option.
Maharajah Jungle Trek (N/A)
Explore these walking paths through ruins of Southeast Asia, where you’ll encounter majestic tigers, different birds, and even a flying fox.
*Fastpass+ is not offered and is not needed for this self-guided tour.
Na’vi River Journey (9/10)
In this new take on a classic boat ride, you journey through the bioluminescent rainforest, where the beauty of the lights around you bring the entire attraction to life. The grand finale of the ride features the most advanced audio animatronic built to date – the Shaman of Songs.
*Fastpass+ is available on the same tier as Flight of Passage, so as long as you can get a fastpass for Flight of Passage, you will have to wait in line for this one, which maxes out at around 90 minutes.
The Oasis Exhibits (N/A)
The Oasis is like the red carpet for the entire park. You walk past lush gardens, home to different types of birds and small animals, like deer and boar, before turning the corner to see the Tree of Life.
*Fastpass+ is not offered or needed for this pathway.
Primeval Whirl (8/10)
Spin around and around on this wild-mouse-looking attraction. This open-air coaster in Chester and Hester’s Dino-Rama features little hills and sharp turns as your car constantly spins throughout the whole attraction. Chester and Hester’s is themed after a classic carnival, and Primeval Whirl definitely fits the bill.
*Fastpass+ is available and a good tier 2 option, as the line is relatively slow-moving, as only a few cars can be accommodated on the track at once.
TriceraTop Spin (6/10)
For this classic kiddie-ride, take Dumbo, move it into the Animal Kingdom, and you have TriceraTop Spin. Sitting four guests to a car, cute triceratops spin around and gently move up and down. Guests sitting in the front of the dino control the back and forth motion of the dino and the guests in the back control the up and down motion (opposite of the Magic Carpets of Aladdin).
Tree of Life Awakenings (8/10)
After the sun goes down, Animal Kingdom comes to life like never before! Every 10 minutes or so, the Tree of Life comes alive itself when fireflies ignite animal spirits that jump, fly, and swim over the tree in a range of vivid colors. Leave it to Disney to take a projection show and put so much lively spirit into it.
*Fastpass+ is not available or needed. You can see the show from any angle on the Tree of Life.
Rivers of Light (8/10)
The widely-anticipated nighttime experience for the Animal Kingdom, Rivers of Light, debuted in 2017, over a year later than it was expected to. After all of this hype, I think my expectations were just too high. The show takes place on the water connecting Dinoland and Asia in an open-air amphitheater. Rivers of Light is beautiful. The lotus blossom flower fountains, the glowing animal floats, and the animal spirits that come to colorful life on water projection screens all display the beauty of nature. The tone of the show is set by ancient storytellers who have a voice throughout the show and the show’s theme song, “We Are One” is an instant Disney classic. While the show is beautiful to watch, it desperately misses a cohesive storyline the likes of Fantasmic or Happily Ever After have.