Walt Disney World/Animal Kingdom

Another train ascends the Forbidden Mountain on an expedition to Everest.

At Disney's Animal Kingdom, you can learn how tough it is to be a bug, dig for dinosaur bones, challenge the mysterious Himalayan yeti, and view hundreds of live animals in authentic settings.

This sprawling park in the southwestern corner of Walt Disney World is equal parts theme park and zoological park, with both aspects receiving a unique Disney touch. Nearby is the second-most-popular water park in the world, Disney's Blizzard Beach.

Understand

"Welcome to a kingdom of animals, real, ancient and imagined: a kingdom ruled by lions, dinosaurs and dragons; a kingdom of balance, harmony and survival; a kingdom we enter to share in the wonder, gaze at the beauty, thrill at the drama, and learn." Michael D. Eisner, April 22, 1998

Walt Disney World's fourth and newest theme park opened in April 1998, joining the Magic Kingdom, Epcot, and Disney-MGM Studios. When it first opened, park advertising used the faux-African word "nahtazu" ("not a zoo") as a slogan to emphasize that it was not just a collection of animals in small iron cages. The animals here spend their days in expansive habitats that are as close to their natural environments as possible, with subtle and camouflaged barriers keeping them away from guests (and each other). At night, they sleep comfortably indoors in the park's extensive housing area backstage.

Although the animals are nominally the main attraction, they may finally have been overshadowed by the park's newest thrill ride, Expedition Everest. Towering 200 feet over the surrounding terrain, this mini-mountain is visible from some distance away and even threatens to overtake the Tree of Life as the park's most visible icon. The Tree, perhaps by contrast, is most impressive up close, where its size and detail can truly be appreciated.

Welcome to Pandora

In partnership with James Cameron, the world of Avatar is coming to Disney's Animal Kingdom. The Imagineers will be creating a whole new land based on Cameron's groundbreaking film franchise, expanding the park into a true full-day activity. Camp Minnie-Mickey, an Adirondacks-themed meet-and-greet area, has closed to make way for the aliens of Pandora.

The other major rides and attractions include It's Tough to be a Bug, a 3-D movie based on the Pixar film A Bug's Life; Kilimanjaro Safaris, a jeep ride through the recreated African savanna; Kali River Rapids, a soaking raft ride; and Dinosaur, a time travel ride into the late Cretaceous. Two musical stage shows are also very popular: Finding Nemo: The Musical and Festival of the Lion King

Not far from Animal Kingdom is Blizzard Beach, a large water park themed as a melting ski resort.

Get in

Animal Kingdom used to close at 5PM, but current schedules show the park open until 6, 7, or even 8PM some nights. The animals generally won't be on display after 5PM, but feel free to go on Expedition Everest as much as you like! The park also participates in the Extra Magic Hours program (both morning and evening).

By car

Animal Kingdom is in the southwestern part of the Walt Disney World property. Head west on Osceola Parkway from World Drive. Parking is $20 per car, although Disney resort guests can park for freejust show your Key to the World card at the toll gate.

Blizzard Beach is on Buena Vista Drive between World Drive and Osceola Parkway. Parking is free.

By Disney transportation

Due to the security measures in place for the protection of the animals, you cannot walk to Animal Kingdom, not even from the Animal Kingdom Lodge. If you're not driving, you'll be taking a bus no matter where you're coming from.

From Disney Springs

There is no direct transportation from Disney Springs. Take the bus to any resort hotel (or walk to the nearby Saratoga Springs resort) and transfer to the Animal Kingdom & Blizzard Beach bus.

From all other parks and resorts

Just take the direct bus marked "Animal Kingdom & Blizzard Beach". From the Magic Kingdom, you'll need to get to the Transportation and Ticket Center first.

Get around

Map of Disney's Animal Kingdom

Animal Kingdom is a very large park, and most of the attractions are outdoors. You will be walking, and walking a lot, so prepare accordingly.

After going through the entrance gates, you'll be in the Oasis area. While there are no rides or shows here, there are two well-shaded paths that pass by a number of animal enclosures. The main purpose of the Oasis is to lead you into the park toward Discovery Island, which is the hub from which you'll explore the rest of Animal Kingdom. You can't miss Discovery Island, thanks to the humongous Tree of Life in the center. It's here you'll find most of the shops and a couple restaurants, along with the 3-D movie It's Tough to Be a Bug.

Animal Kingdom has four themed "lands" that surround Discovery Island. The first one was originally Camp Minnie-Mickey but is now the location where the World of Avatar is being constructed. Next is Africa, where the Kilimanjaro Safaris take you into the park's savanna. Asia has the Kali River Rapids and, at its far end, Expedition Everest. Finally, DinoLand U.S.A. is where you'll find Chester & Hester's Dino-Rama and the Dino Institute.

Rafiki's Planet Watch, a "backstage" area with information on the park's research projects and animal maintenance, is accessed via a short train trip from Africa.

Although Discovery Island is the hub, there's a bath that lets you walk from Africa to Asia to DinoLand U.S.A. without returning to the center.

See and Do

Animal Kingdom has a broad mix of attractions, from simply looking at the many animals on display, to tuneful stage shows, to high-energy thrill rides. There's a little something for everyone here, but families with divergent tastes may want to split up, so Grandma and Grandpa can take a stroll through the animal enclosures while the kids go on Expedition Everest for the third time.

No fences, no wires, just beautiful open savanna as far as you can see

There's one very important thing to keep in mind if you want to get good views of the animals. Remember that it can get very hot during the day, and it's not just tourists who seek shade when the sun beats down. The animals will be more active and more visible first thing in the morning and at the end of the day, and that means closer looks and better pictures for you.

As you walk around, you may spot an animal handler exhibiting one or two small animals up close to a small crowd of gueststhese encounters occur randomly throughout the day at a variety of locations, so keep your eyes peeled. There are also several character greeting locations; these will be marked on your guide map and schedules will be listed in your Times Guide.

FastPass, the system that allowed you to go to an attraction and get a ticket to come back later and skip the standby queue, is no longer available. All Animal Kingdom guests will be using FastPass+, where you choose your own return time for each of three attractions. FastPass+ queues are available for virtually every ride in the park, along with some shows and character greetings.

FastPass+ kiosks are located at Island Mercantile and Disney Outfitters on Discovery Island, Kilimanjaro Safaris in Africa, Kali River Rapids and Expedition Everest in Asia, and Primeval Whirl and Dinosaur in DinoLand, U.S.A. As FastPass+ is new, cast members are stationed at nearly every major attraction; they have tablets and can help you schedule your FastPass+ reservations if the kiosks are too confusing, or not convenient. If you're staying at a Disney resort, you can also use a smartphone with the My Disney Experience app to schedule your FastPass+ reservations.

For parade and stage show performance times, which change daily, please see the Guide Map and the Times Guide you'll receive when you enter the park. You can also check the Wait Times Board on Discovery Island, which lists current wait times for rides and show times for shows.

The denotes rides with safety restrictions. See Stay safe in the main Walt Disney World article for more information.


Oasis

The Oasis is just the entrance area of the park, taking you from the gates to the central hub of Discovery Island. It's a wooded setting, with several animal enclosures; look for the giant anteater, capybaras, macaws, and many others. Make sure you take both the left and the right paths; each has different animals.

Discovery Island

Tree of Life

The Tree of Life is one of Disney's most complex creationsthat's right, creation; it isn't even a real tree. Its trunk and branches are made of fiberglass, hung over an inner steel framework, and its leaves are polyvinylidene fluoride. On a more interesting note, the tree's surface contains sculpted images of 325 animals - see if you can identify them all.

Discovery Island is the central hub of Animal Kingdom. The Tree of Life is located here, as are the majority of the park's shops and a couple of very good restaurants. "Discovery" isn't just a name, either; if you wander off the main drag you'll find yourself in the Discovery Island Trails that wind around the base of the Tree. There you'll find a number of birds and other small animals on display. You'll also be able to take a look at some of the Tree of Life's animal carvings up-close, although the queue area for It's Tough to be a Bug provides the best vantage points.

Africa

Another jeep heads out for a two-week safari.

Welcome to Harambe, or as they say in this fictional east African town, "Jambo!" The detail here is incredible, from the consistent overarching storyline (of a town on the outskirts of the Harambe Wildlife Reserve) all the way down to a faded Coca-Cola advertisement painted on a wall. Take some time, if it's not too crowded, and see if you can't convince yourself you're in Africa.

Rafiki's Planet Watch

A trainer introduces a vulture to the crowd at Rafiki's Planet Watch.

Rafiki's Planet Watch is accessible only via the Wildlife Express train from Africa. This is an interactive learning center documenting wildlife conservation efforts around the world. Best of all, it includes a petting zoo!

Asia

A tiger relaxing on the Maharajah Jungle Trek

Much like Africa, the Asian section is meant to represent a fictional community somewhere on that continent; in this case, it's Anandapur, a South Asian village on the edge of a jungle and not far from the Himalayas. Again, the attention to detail is incredible and worth some exploration if you have the time.

DinoLand U.S.A.

Beastly Kingdomme

Here and there, you'll see hints of what once was to be. The original vision for Animal Kingdom included not just live animals but extinct and imaginary ones as well. The extinct dinosaurs got their own section of the park, of course, but what about the legendary creatures of myth? They were to be found in a land called Beastly Kingdomme, located where you'll now find the World of Avatar being built. With the appearance of the mysterious yeti in Expedition Everest, creatures of legend have begun appearing in the park, but will they ever get a land of their own? As they always have, the dragons, griffins, and unicorns simply bide their time, waiting....

Dinosaurs play a dual role in popular culture, representing both ancient mystery and thrilling fantasy. Both aspects are represented in DinoLand U.S.A.. As the story goes, when the Dino Institute, a dinosaur research facility, opened up along a dilapidated stretch of highway, the local service station owners, Chester and Hester, had a brilliant idea. They collected material from the junkyard nearby and created a roadside attraction called Chester & Hester's Dino-Rama! The Institute represents the educational, realistic side of dinosaur enthusiasm, while the carnival atmosphere of Dino-Rama represents the sense of fun and excitement dinos can generate.

Parkwide

Blizzard Beach

Teamboat Springs. It's not as cold as it looks, really!

What's a ski resort doing in central Florida? The Disney Imagineers who created Blizzard Beach claim that they built it after an unusual freak winter storm blanketed the area, only to have it experience a massive meltdown shortly thereafter. When a stray alligator splashed down the former ski jump on his belly, they realized the area would make a swell water park!

Blizzard Beach is the second-most-visited water park in the U.S. (behind only its sister park Typhoon Lagoon), and the incredibly inventive theme is a big reason why. It's almost eerie to see guests walking around in swimsuits while there's snow everywhere. Enjoy the cognitive dissonance by going on some great water slides, including the tallest and fastest body slide on the continent.

Blizzard Beach is not far from Animal Kingdom, and the two parks share bus routes. The park is usually open from 10AM5PM (closing for a couple of months each winter and, ironically, whenever the temperature dips close to freezing), and admission is $52 for adults or $44 for kids ages 3-10. Admission to the water park counts as one of your "Fun Visits" if you've added the Water Park Fun & More option to your Magic Your Way ticketsand note that just one admission almost pays for the cost of the option. Closed for annual refurbishment October 25, 2015 January 3, 2016.

Disney's Winter Summerland

Buy

Giraffe on the Kilimanjaro Safari
NOTE: Disney's Animal Kingdom is an accredited member of the Association of Zoos and Aquariums, and as such, no balloons are sold here. That same policy also stipulates that balloons may not be brought in from the other three parks.

Animal Kingdom is decidedly not a shopper's paradise. Oh sure, there are stores around, mostly on Discovery Island, and they do sell a variety of animal-related merchandise. But that's pretty much it; you won't generally find foreign specialties like you do in Epcot's World Showcase, or extensive licensed merchandise as found in Hollywood Studios.

But there are a couple of exceptions!

At the resorts, Zawadi Marketplace at the Animal Kingdom Lodge does have unique African merchandise not available elsewhere, not even at World Showcase. It's definitely worth a look if you're interested in handcrafted goods from exotic locales.

The Beach Haus, the largest of three stores at Blizzard Beach, is primarily a place to find swimwear, sundries, or other items you may have forgotten to bring for your visit.

Eat

Food at Animal Kingdom has improved in the last few years, with two table-service restaurants opening up inside the park. Added to a small selection of fairly good counter-service restaurants, you now have a decent variety of options for dining. If you have food allergies or sensitivities, be sure to drop by the Animal Kingdom Gardens kiosk on Discovery Island; cast members there are available 9AM-3PM to discuss dining options within the park, and you can purchase gluten-free, dairy-free, and other allergen-free packaged foods.

Keep in mind that, under AZA animal safety policy, Animal Kingdom's restaurants do not provide lids for drinks. However, paper straws are now available. The local duck and ibis populations like to stroll around looking for handouts, especially around Flame Tree Barbecue's outdoor seating areas. It's best if you resist the urge to oblige; human food just isn't healthy for them.

See Eat in the main Walt Disney World article for information on the Disney restaurant pricing system, character dining, dietary restrictions, and advance dining reservations. The telephone numbers below are for extraordinary circumstances only; for reservations and most health or diet issues, call the main Disney Dining number at +1 407 WDW-DINE (939-3463).

Please note that exact opening and closing times may vary with the park hours; check your Times Guide for official restaurant hours. Breakfast is usually served until 10:30AM, and dinner usually starts between 3:30PM and 4:30PM.

Counter service

Table service

A view of the Rainforest Cafe store through a large aquarium, with fish on three sides

Resort dining

Animal Kingdom Lodge

Coronado Springs

All-Star Resorts

Each of the three All-Star Resorts has its own food court, virtually indistinguishable from one another except for the bold, colorful decor (which is heavily themed to each resort). You'll find End Zone Food Court at All-Star Sports, Intermission Food Court at All-Star Music, and World Premiere Food Court at All-Star Movies. Each one is open from 6AM until midnight (although only the pizza stations are open past 11PM or so) and offers the standard burgers, salads, chicken, and pizza options for $7-10.

Blizzard Beach

Drink

There's not much in the way of nightlife around Animal Kingdom, although that's not really surprising considering how early the park closes. If you want some after-dark entertainment, head to Disney's BoardWalk or to Disney Springs.

The three sit-down restaurants do serve a limited selection of alcoholic beverages. There are two other locales of note inside the park, although not for alcohol:

Disney's Coronado Springs Resort

The All-Star Resorts, being value resorts, are similarly devoid of nightlife, but Coronado Springs and the Animal Kingdom Lodge have lounges:

Coronado Springs and the Animal Kingdom Villas also have pool bars: Siesta's at Coronado Springs, Uzima Springs at the Jambo House villas, and Maji Pool Bar at the Kidani Village villas.

Sleep

This guide uses the following price ranges for a standard double room:
Budget $0-150
Mid-range $150-250
Splurge $250+

You'll find a full range of lodging options in this area of Walt Disney World. Unfortunately, none of them are connected to Animal Kingdom by anything but buses. Even at the Animal Kingdom Lodge, you'll need to hop a bus to get to the park. Don't let that hold you back, though; the All-Star Resorts and the Animal Kingdom Lodge and Villas are among the most popular hotels on the property.

Budget

On par with the Pop Century Resort near Hollywood Studios, the three All-Star Resorts are the cheapest hotels at Walt Disney World. That doesn't mean they're in any way bad; they just lack many of the amenities that have become standard at other Disney hotels. They're also among the most popular, as parents discover that they can pay reasonable rates for a Disney hotel and know that their kids won't even notice the lack of a sit-down restaurant or concierge service. If all you need is breakfast, a pool, and transportation to the parks, these hotels will do just fine.

Each resort has exterior-entrance rooms grouped into one of five sub-themes. The decor varies among the three resorts, according to their themes, but in all cases it involves larger-than-life icons and bold, colorful shapes. The gigantic decor is great fun for kids but may be sensory overload for adults. Aside from the whimsically-shaped pools, there's not much to do besides catch a bus to the parks, but that's why you're here, right?

Unlike most Disney hotels, check-in time at the All-Star resorts is 4PM (rather than 3PM).

Mid-range

Splurge

Sunrise over the Animal Kingdom Lodge savanna
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