The largest Disney theme park in Florida (500 acres), Disney’s Animal Kingdom is enjoying attention after years as an also-ran—it was Disney’s second-most popular park in 2019 (13.9 million visits), boosted by a new Avatar-themed area, opened in 2017. Animal Kingdom debuted in 1998 at a reported cost of $800 million as a competitor to Busch Gardens. Most of its land is devoted to a menagerie of exotic animals; instead of cages, they’re kept in paddocks rimmed with trenches cleverly concealed by landscaping. Most attractions carry a mild environmentalist message (ironic, considering how much swamp was obliterated to build this resort, but never you mind).

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Because animals retire to the shade as the Florida heat builds, a visit here most times of year should begin as soon as the gates open, usually around 8am, yet there really isn’t enough to keep you here for 15 hours until the summer sun goes down. If you only have one day here, you really should choose whether to come in the morning (more active animals) or skew toward the evening (Pandora alight, a nighttime spectacular, but fewer animals).

Tips: Check the weather, because if it’s excessively hot or wet, you will be miserable: Only five major attractions take place in air-conditioning. There is currently no night show at Animal Kingdom, but there is a minor daytime show, KiteTails.

Getting In

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Locker and stroller rental are just past the gates in what’s called the Oasis, a lush buffer zone that gradually acclimates guests to the world of the park. Disney isn’t diligent about helping you find specific animal enclosures—they’re not listed in the app and an info leaflet isn’t always available; you just have to ask around. For general location info, try disneyworld.disney.go.com/attractions/animal-kingdom/disney-animals.

Generally speaking, the biggest animals and the most astute design collects at the back of the park (Africa and Asia), the thrills to the right (Asia and DinoLand U.S.A.). Nowhere will you find balloons—they choke animals—and straws, if they are issued at all, are made of paper for the same reason.

The first thing you should do, like everyone else, is beeline it to the back of the Africa section. That’s where the Kilimanjaro Safari is, and first thing in the morning is the best time to do it. Crowds grow more ferocious than the lions.

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The Best of Disney’s Animal Kingdom

  • Don’t miss if you’re 6: Festival of the Lion King
  • Don’t miss if you’re 16: Avatar Flight of Passage
  • Requisite photo op: The floating mountains of Pandora
  • Food you can only get here: Frozen chai, Royal Anandapur Tea Company, Blueberry Cream Cheese Mousse at Satu’li Canteen 
  • The most crowded, so Fastpass or go early: Kilimanjaro Safaris
  • Skippable: Rafiki’s Planet Watch
  • Quintessentially Disney: It’s Tough to Be a Bug!
  • Biggest thrill: Expedition Everest
  • Best show: Festival of the Lion King
  • Biggest store: Biggest store: Island Mercantile, Oasis
  • Where to find peace: Discovery Island Trails