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Disney Parks 101: Animal Kingdom

Updated on October 3, 2013

What You Should Know Before You Go

Disney's Animal Kingdom is not like any of the other parks. It is the largest of the four theme parks, the Kilimanjaro Safari ride alone is larger than the Magic Kingdom. This park is also set up differently than the other parks. Although their catch phrase is 'notazoo' Disney's Animal Kingdom is a leading member of the AZA (Association of Zoos and Aquariums). The park itself is set up kind of like a zoo and a theme park. Also, like many zoos across America, the park puts its animals health first. Did you know that you will not find any straws at the park? This is because they do not want them to end up in the animal exhibits and possibly endanger the animals.

If you could only have one perfect weather day on your Disney vacation you want it on your Animal Kingdom day. When you look at a park map you will understand why. This park is a lot of walking. It is a good five minute, or so, walk from Africa to Asia, and then nearly seven minutes to Dinoland USA. I know five or seven minutes doesn't sound like a lot of time, but just think about how much ground you are covering in that time. All that walking can be absolutely miserable in the rain. Also, the park gets hot. What does that mean? Take a warm summer day, typically 90 degrees with 90% humidity in Florida. It typically feels a few degrees warmer when you are at Animal Kingdom. Perhaps this is because of all the walking or maybe even all the open areas, either way it feels warmer at that park.

Animal Kingdom is also unique in that it closes earlier than all the other parks. This is because the majority of the attractions are animal based and the animals need to stay on a regular sleep schedule. The park also is the only one that does not do some form of a night show, this is also so the wellbeing of the animals.

There are a few tips and tricks that you should keep in mind before you spend your day at Animal Kingdom.

Disney's Animal Kingdom

There is entertainment everywhere you look at Disney.
There is entertainment everywhere you look at Disney.

What Should You Bring?

What you bring with you to the parks can make or break your day. Its true. If you bring too much you will either be lugging it around with you all day or eventually break down and rent a locker and be forced to walk back and forth to your locker all day as you need items. If you bring too little you may end up having to spend money on things that you already have back at your hotel room, and most of these items are a little pricy at the parks.

That being said what exactly should you bring to the park? Well, that depends on a couple different factors. Are you traveling with children? How many and how old are they? Do you have any medical needs? To stroller or not to stroller? Do you have your kids carry their own backpack, or do you carry their items?

Disney is Heaven on Earth for children, and the young at heart of course. If you have young kids, stroller age, it is not a good idea to have your kids carry their own items. Take advantage of the strollers. I know non-stroller people (myself included) sometimes get annoyed when they see the strollers coming onto the bus but they do come in handy. Think about it, you will have a place for your child to sit when they get tired, and you will have room for all of your needed items for the young ones and yourself. (And any mom with young kids knows that you need a well stocked bag when traveling with kids.) If you can't travel with your own stroller for any reason Disney, as well as many outside companies, offer rental strollers. There are a few essentials that you will want to have with you: ponchos, water, bathing suite (if you intend to ride Khali River Rapids), snacks, and any other essentials your children require (diapers, wipes, ect).

If your children are out of the stroller age you may consider having them carry their own bag. This is a great way to teach responsibility. Your child will have to learn that if they want it they will have to carry it. That being said you don't want to let them pack too much into their bag. After all by the heat of the day when your kids are cranky and don't want to carry their heavy bags anymore who is going to end up with the extra load? That's what I thought. So what should they carry? The least amount as possible. A child's poncho, a bottle of water, and a snack or two. That way they don't have too much weight on their shoulders and they have access to their items whenever they want, a bonus for parents who are tired of 'mommy, can I have ___' every five minutes. Most kids are excited for the opportunity to be responsible for their own items, it makes them feel grown up. In your bag you should keep a few gallon sized plastic bags and their swim suites, you will understand why later.

If you have older kids, say tweens and teens, they should be responsible for their own bags. They should know what they should need throughout the day. But, just incase: the basics would be a poncho (if you haven't guessed already it tends to rain in Florida, especially in the summer), water, and any spending money they want to bring. In today's age cameras are everywhere and chances are pretty high that they will want to take pictures so you might want to make sure that they have at least their cell phone on them. That being said if you trust your teen or tween to be off on their own you will want them to have their phone on them so that if you need to get a hold of them, or vice versa, you will be able to. A few extra items include a bathing suite, plastic bags, and fresh socks.

For your bag. You don't want to weighed down like a pack mule so make sure that you only bring what you need to. Water, poncho, snack, and camera. Of course there are a few extras you may need depending on what you plan on doing during the day (like swim suite and gallon size plastic bags) Disney does allow you to bring snacks into the parks, and to be honest they are cheaper and more convenient than buying them at the park. Trust me when your sever year old tells you he is hungry while you are in a 45 minute line for Dinosaur you will be glad that you packed a granola bar or two. You might also want to consider sunscreen and small personal fans.

There are some things that you don't have to bring with you. All Disney parks have first aide stations, and most rides have first aide kits with them. So if you need things like band aides they've got you covered. Of course you might want to bring some advil just in case, that way you have it on hand if you need it and don't have to walk a mile to get it. There are park maps, complete with show times for stage shows and parades, everywhere you look so don't be too concerned about bringing one into the park.

On The Topic of Shoes

Make sure your shoes:

  • Offer support
  • Can breathe
  • Are not too tight
  • Are broken in (new shoes can cause blisters when worn for long periods of time)

What Should You Wear?

Believe it or not what you wear to the parks is important. In the summer you want to make sure that you are cool enough and in the winter you want to make sure you are warm enough. A good tip for winter vacation is to dress in layers. You can always take off that sweatshirt if you get hot, but if you didn't bring one and get cold you will most likely end up buying one. For the summer you will want clothes that are loose. They will be much more comfortable when you start to sweat than more fitted clothing, there will also be less chaffing.

Footwear is a big deal. What you choose to wear can make the day awesome ore completely miserable. Socks and sneakers are a must. Flip flops may seem like nice summer footwear but after a few miles you will be regretting that decision when you have blisters on your feet and its only noon.

If it is going to be a sunny day you should strongly consider a hat and a pair of sunglasses. They will help to keep you cool and offer you extra protection from the sun.

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The Rides and Attractions

So what exactly is there to do at Animal Kingdom? Plenty. Chances are pretty good if you are familiar with this park at all you are already familiar with the Kilimanjaro Safari ride, Expedition Everest, and Khali River Rapids. But, there are so many more rides and attractions at this park.

The big three are well known for a reason. Kilimanjaro Safaris lefts you get up close and personal with several different species of animals native to Africa. It, essentially, simulates a real African safari. The main thing is whereas you can spend weeks looking for animals in Africa you are guaranteed to see animals on this ride. On a side note, this is one of the most popular rides at the park. My advice is to ride it first thing, when the animals are more active, and then get a fast pass. That way if you want to ride it again later in the day you will not have a long wait in line, and that line is known for a two hour wait during the busy season. Expedition Everest is one of the newest rides at Disney. It is a high speed roller coster that goes both forwards and backwards. If you are looking for that big thrill then this ride is for you. On a hot day there is nothing better than getting soaked on Khali River Rapids, though a Mickey ice cream bar is a close second. I would recommend changing into a swim suite and putting anything you don't want to get wet into gallon sized plastic bags. Trust me, it is no fun to have to go walking through the parks with wet socks and underwear. The ride does have an area where you are supposed to be able to secure items where they won't get wet, but I don't like to take chances when it comes to my electronics. After all a zip-lock bag is pretty cheap when compared to a new iPhone. Special note for this ride: you might get a little wet, not wet at all, or you could get soaked to the bone each ride is different and it just depends on how your raft takes the drops.

Dinoland USA is home to a few attractions that the family will love. Dinosaur is probably the most intense ride at Walt Disney World. This is one of the few rides I would not recommend for young children. Is it a great ride? Absolutely. It is actually one of my favorites. But, it is very loud, dark with flashing lights, and there are scary dinosaurs that do jump out at the truck. All of this can be a little much for kids to handle. This is one ride where I would read all the warning signs before deciding if this is appropriate for your child. I've ridden it with young kids that have done just fine, but I have also been on it when young children have cried the entire time and for a while after the ride ended. If Dinosaur is not for you, or if you just want to get all the thrills you can at the park give Primeval Whirl a try. This is my favorite ride at Animal Kingdom. Why? I have no idea, but it is fun. Think of a mouse roller coster and the tea cups rolled into one ride. Add in a little bit of dinosaurs and a roadside fair feel and you have Primeval Whirl. It is a short ride that can get pretty long lines, but it is a great starter coster. Though, be advised if you don't like the tea cups, or get motion sickness, you might want to sit this one out. Dinoland USA itself has a fair like feel. There are a bunch of play to win games and a few fan favorite rides. However, Dinoland USA is best known for its giant playground. That's right, playground. It is really something else, there are gravel boxes where kids can dig up dinosaur bones, ropes for climbing, and so much more. It's a nice break for both the parents and kids.

Animal Kingdom has two stage shows: Finding Nemo the Musical and the Festival of the Lion King. Both are around thirty five minutes and are inside. They are amazing. It is a nice break in the day and kids love the colors and seeing their favorite Disney movies brought to life.

There are many other things to do and to go into detail into them all would take far too long. Camp Minnie Mickey is a great place to meet some of your favorite characters. Rafiki's Planet watch is home to an amazing petting zoo. The Oasis is home to many different exotic animals.

A complete meal from Pizzafari
A complete meal from Pizzafari

Places to Eat

Animal Kingdom offers many different restaurants. Pizzafari is a great place to get a quick meal. The pizza is really good, or we were just really hungry, and the different rooms are fun for kids to explore. Flame Tree Barbecue is consistently one of the highest ranked restaurants at the park. The Rainforest Cafe is right at the front of the park. There is even a special exit and entrance in the restaurant so you can go whenever you want. The Yak and Yeti offers tasty Asian cuisine, and is owned by the same company that owns the Rainforest Cafe. Fresh fruit is found in abundance throughout the park. And of course there are ice cream carts all over the park so you can get that Mickey ice cream bar.

Things to Keep in Mind

  • Don't try to do too much in one day
  • The Jamin' Jungle Parade is at 3pm everyday
  • There are many different trails where you can see exotic animals
  • Many people that work in the park are actually from the areas in which they work (Africa and Asia) and they love talking about where they grew up
  • There are photopass photographers stationed throughout the park
  • There are nursing stations set up for nursing mothers
  • If you are ever lost at a Disney park simply ask the nearest cast member for assistance
  • Water in a cup if free at any food service stand

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