As a dad who's navigated Walt Disney World with a four-year-old in tow, I've picked up a few key tips that make the experience much easier.
There has long been debate about which Walt Disney World parks deserve a full day of your attention. As lines get longer and costs continue to escalate for a vacation to the Central Florida area, the consideration of time management while visiting the parks is becoming more important.
The youngest of the parks, Disney’s Animal Kingdom, has repeatedly been the recipient of the undue labeling as a “half-day park” on Disney forums for years, and this madness needs to stop.
Without question, Animal Kingdom has developed into a vibrant and dynamic park since its opening in 1998. With a range of attractions, rides, and culinary experiences, Animal Kingdom now holds up against any of the other Disney World parks as an enjoyable addition to a Disney trip. The question at hand, however, is whether that range of attractions is worth dedicating an entire day to explore and experience. The short answer is: Absolutely!
1. The Sheer Size of Animal Kingdom
Disney’s Animal Kingdom is made up of six distinct lands spread out over a staggering 500 acres. That is massive. For comparison, that is nearly five times the size of the Magic Kingdom. The sheer size of the park alone makes it an all-day destination.
The cynical traveler may say, “Wait a minute, Kilimanjaro Safari takes up more than a fifth of that land in the park. It’s really not that big.” It’s a fair point, but to that I say, so what? Take out the Safari—which is a spectacular attraction, by the way, and worth the visit to the park alone—and you’re still larger than Epcot and four times the size of the Magic Kingdom.
Its size can feel intimidating, especially if mobility and stamina are issues, but this simply adds to the need to devote the time needed to explore and enjoy a very diverse park.
2. Pandora – The World of Avatar
While the Animal Kingdom theming received a little stretch with the addition of the new Pandora – The World of Avatar land in 2017, it in no way detracts from the wonder of the park. It absolutely adds to it.
Set in the land of Pandora from the wildly successful Avatar blockbuster, this land is extremely immersive, bringing visitors into the world of the Na’vi people of Pandora. The detail found through the entertainment and attractions is second-to-none anywhere in Walt Disney World (with the likely exception of Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge opening). The tall landscape and thematic details draw in both fans of the movie and those who have never heard it.
For anyone who has had the pleasure of riding Avatar Flight of Passage, it remains a mind-altering experience. The line wait times can get insane (300 minutes for standby? Really?), it is a must-ride attraction that brings people to the land of Pandora and the rest keeps you there longer. With Pandora’s strengths as a land, there is no way you can do Animal Kingdom justice in less than a day.
3. Animal Kingdom Appeals to the Whole Family
What often takes families and groups away from a park and onto another throughout a day is a difference of opinion on things to do at the park. It takes a mix of attractions, rides, and experiences that can appeal to a wide range of people to take a half-day park and make it a full day. Animal Kingdom does just that.
Have a thrill ride fan in your group? Look no further than the previously mentioned Flight of Passage in Pandora or take a trip to Asia for Expedition Everest. Need something a little less intense but still mesmerizing? Book your trip on Kilimanjaro Safari, DINOSAUR, or Na’vi River Journey.
Have some time before your next FastPass but your young children want to go on an adventure? Head over to the Gorilla Falls Exploration Trail or Rafiki’s Planet Watch where traditional ride lines don’t exist opting for a more exploration feel.
Plus, there are shows like the Festival of the Lion King, UP! A Great Bird Experience, and Finding Nemo: The Musical to round out the classic offerings of an exceptional family trip to Walt Disney World. Even the not-so-awesome Dinoland U.S.A. offers arguably the best free play area for young kids with The Boneyard.
4. Unique Dining Experiences
No Disney park is complete without dining options that intrigue and satisfy the palate. I would argue that Disney’s Animal Kingdom successfully pushes the traditionally safe boundaries of North American cuisine keeping you interested whether it be for a quick lunch, more refined dinner, or a refreshing drink.
For those in search of an oasis from the active and, often referred to, hottest park at Disney World, escape to the Nomad Lounge for a custom cocktail like the Leaping Lizard or Spice Trader Classic. Not even a trip around the World Showcase at Epcot quite satisfies like a drink at the Nomad Lounge. Delectable food with a bit of spice can be found on the go at the Harambe Market, Flame Tree Barbecue, and even the Satu-li Canteen in Pandora for their famous cheeseburger pods.
In addition to Nomad Lounge, outstanding table service restaurants can be found throughout the park. Tiffins serves as the parks signature restaurant with Tusker House as a solid option, but both come second to Yak & Yeti which remains my go-to restaurant in the park. It would not be too far of a stretch to argue that Animal Kingdom has more diversity and delicious culinary offerings that the Magic Kingdom, which has not seen a leap forward in the food department for quite some time.
Sure, Be Our Guest is very good theming for a Magic Kingdom dining location, but the food can be quite inconsistent. You can’t say that about the range of breakfast, lunch, dinner, and snack options at Animal Kingdom that will keep you full and satisfied throughout your full day at the park.
Take Your Time and Explore Animal Kingdom
Disney's Animal Kingdom should not be overlooked simply because it is Walt Disney World's youngest park. It has matured and will continue evolving over the coming years. Devoting a full day to this park will do it justice and allow you to take in all it has to offer. Don't rush, enjoy the exotic feel and make the most out of this unique theme park.
© 2019 David Tubbs
Liz Westwood from UK on August 17, 2019:
You make a convincing case for spending longer in Animal Kingdom.