Our Animal Kingdom 1-Day Itinerary is an efficient touring plan for what attractions, shows, and dining we’d do in our ideal day at the park. This itinerary is how we’d recommend experiencing all of what we consider Animal Kingdom essentials. While other touring plans focus on fitting in every attraction in one day, we’ll be more focused on how to have the best day possible. Instead of constantly running from attraction to attraction, this plan will also have you enjoying some of the little things that make Animal Kingdom special. Yes, we’ll get to the majority of the attractions but some are left behind in favor of what we believe are better options. If you are more ride focused then check out our Animal Kingdom attractions rankings. We also have entertainment, table-service and counter-service rankings to help out your trip planning. To view more of our itineraries, click here!
Animal Kingdom has become a drastically improved park over the last five years. The headliner in these changes has been Pandora – World of Avatar which lives up to the hype. On top of that, there have been entertainment additions, nighttime hours and cosmetic changes to the park that have made Animal Kingdom one of the better theme parks in the country. Filling up an entire day at this park will be no problem at all, and I’d even consider adding extra time here if your vacation allows. I won’t hide my opinion, Animal Kingdom is my favorite Disney World park so I’m cramming as much into this itinerary as possible. With all of these new additions in the last few years, I don’t think we’ll see many significant additions to Animal Kingdom in the coming years. As always, we’ll try to keep this post updated if there are significant changes.
Speaking of changes, all theme parks are slowly making their way back from COVID. That means that some entertainment won’t be running. If there’s something in this itinerary that isn’t showing while you’re at the park then just skip that step.
There are many different factors that go into a theme park day, so we do have to keep this plan somewhat general. I don’t know how busy the park will be when you visit, whether you splurged for genie+ or Lightning Lanes (this plan assumes you didn’t), where you are staying, etc. What I do assume in this itinerary is that you are spending the full day inside of the park, getting there before the gates open and leaving after the park closes. Getting to the park about half an hour before opening would be a wise choice if you only have one day there.
While we prefer staying on-site and there are a few advantages to it, staying anywhere will do as long as you get there before park opening. If you are extremely Animal Kingdom focused and the budget allows, staying at Animal Kingdom Lodge would be ideal. Coronado Springs Resort is also close by but doesn’t come close to how amazing Animal Kingdom Lodge is. If you aren’t staying at either of these resorts, don’t worry. Just get to the park before opening one way or another. If you’re looking for vacation packages or tickets then follow those links for our recommended sites.
On to the plan!
Pandora at Park Opening
Now that FastPass is no more, getting to the park early and heading straight for Pandora’s Flight of Passage is the best way to go. The earlier you get there, the shorter amount of time you’ll wait for the attraction. This is one of the best rides in all of Walt Disney World so it is worth the extra effort. If you’re early enough, then hopping over to Na’vi River Journey after Flight of Passage is an option. I wouldn’t join that queue unless it’s under 20 minutes though.
Let’s assume for a second that you are running late and don’t get to Animal Kingdom until opening or a few minutes after. It happens, don’t fret. If that’s the case then skip right over this first step and go for Kilimanjaro Safaris and the next step in the plan. Come back for Flight of Passage before park closing and ride it then. It will save you a good amount of time and is a decent park touring strategy anyway.
If you did get there early enough for Flight of Passage then take a minute before moving on, soak in Pandora’s sights. While this plan will have you back in the land several times throughout the day, it is beautiful in the morning light. Get a lay of the land and enjoy one of the most enveloping areas Disney has ever created. For more information on Pandora, here is our touring plan.
Cinnamon Roll and Safari
Once you have spent a few minutes exploring Pandora, head across the bridge to Africa and the village of Harambe. Kilimanjaro Safaris shouldn’t have much of a line, assuming you beat the crowds to Flight of Passage. If it’s over half an hour then move on to the next step in the itinerary. If not, enjoy this extraordinary ride that takes guests on an expedition to see animals from all across the world.
Depending on the time and how hungry you are, grab a Colossal Cinnamon Roll from Kusafiri Bakery to share with the rest of your group. This is my favorite cinnamon roll on property mainly because it’s actually three cinnamon rolls in one! Get this before or after your safari as we’ll take a (not really) long walk to Asia after this.
Don’t Get Eaten!
If you have been following these itineraries, you know that morning is when we get most of the attractions done. Animal Kingdom is no exception as the next step has us crossing off the last three major attractions off the list. These attractions feature giant creatures (well maybe not the third) who would like to have you for lunch if you aren’t careful. Fortunately, we’ll be careful. We’ll start with Expedition Everest which will continue our loop around the park. Again, we should have beaten the masses to this hike up the mountain and the wait time should be relatively low.
After Everest, it should be early enough in the day that Dinosaur’s wait time is minimal. The exception is if it’s an exceptionally hot day. Again, we’re trying to beat the crowds and if it’s very hot already then crowds form at the river rapids once it gets steamy. If it’s not terrible out yet (you know, relative to the usual Florida sauna) then go Dinosaur first followed by Kali. If need be, flip that itinerary. Your mileage may vary on both of these attractions as Dinosaur is fun but dated. We love river rapid rides but Kali misses the mark in that the story robs the ride of any joy. Still, these are both worth doing.
If you finish up in DinoLand then explore at your own risk. There’s a spinner to go on (Triceratop Spin) and that might be fun for smaller children. The Boneyard is also for kids but actually cool, as a playground that plays as an excavation site. Have I, as an adult, ever played for a while in The Boneyard sans kids? Maybe. Do I feel shame? No, it was in the name of research for our loyal readers. Obviously.
Discovery River Trails and Tree Sightings
From an ugly land to a gorgeous one, we have completed our morning loop of the park ending back at the Tree of Life. Around the park icon lay a number of trails and animal exhibits. With whatever time you have left before you need lunch (or have a lunch reservation), explore the paths and see any animals in the area. There are paths both in front and behind the tree that will give you a unique view. I especially like the path that leads directly behind the tree and the flowing water around there. Once in a while kangaroos will be hopping around in front of the tree, making for a captivating scene. Otter Grotto is also beautiful, sitting to the left of the tree if coming from the entrance. See what different animals you can find on the Tree of Life. On top of all of this, the gardens are gorgeous and worth exploring on their own.
Lunch at Tiffins
Animal Kingdom has no shortage of good food options. We’ve settled on Tiffins, one of the best theme park restaurants in the world, for lunch. Tiffins showcases some of the Imagineers travels that inspired Animal Kingdom. The décor is beautiful and interesting and the food features dishes from around the world. I picked lunch here as it is a little bit cheaper than dinner but either way is a good option.
Tiffins is somewhat expensive, although there is some value in a few dishes, so if you don’t want to spend the money then Flame Tree Barbecue is a great option for carnivores. Harambe Market and Yak & Yeti Local Foods Cafe are other good choices.
Enjoy the Shows
After you have stuffed yourself to the brim we’re going to continue to stay out of the heat and enjoy some shows. Head back to Africa for the great Festival of the Lion King. This is a variety show (kind of) that is inspired by Lion King. Festival of the Lion King showcases incredible talent and is one of my favorite shows in Disney World.
If you want to continue the show theme for the afternoon then It’s Tough to be a Bug! and Up! A Great Bird Adventure are quality options. The former is a somewhat terrifying 3D show that is well done and under the Tree of Life. Up! A Great Bird Adventure is more of an educational show with live birds. There are a few characters from Up that come out during the show. Finally, Winged Encounters is a quick atmospheric show to watch from the front of Tree of Life, with a number of birds flying in. This is typically done every hour, ask a Cast Member when the day’s shows are.
Maharajah Jungle Trek
We’ll then make our way over to Asia, to enjoy one of my favorite attractions in the park – Maharajah Jungle Trek. This walk-through attraction takes guests through a beautiful path that ultimately leads to a tiger exhibit. Along the way there are many other animals to enjoy, as well as some beautiful art work that tells the story of poachers and tigers. Spend some time here and don’t rush through, this is one of the attractions and areas that makes Animal Kingdom unique. Maharajah Jungle Trek will close earlier than the rest of the park so make sure to catch it before it closes, you may have to move it up a step or two in some cases.
While in Asia, enjoy a few of the details that include views of Everest and some of the best sign work Disney has ever done. There are also animals to see and snacks to dive into! Soft serve, anyone?
Africa in the Evening
Heading back to Africa will lead us to the other animal trail that the park offers – Gorilla Falls Exploration Trail. This is another beautiful area that leads to gorillas and many other animals. While this attraction doesn’t tell the story that Maharajah Jungle Trek does it is still worth seeing. Many times there will be animal specialists or other cast members (some native to Africa) along the trails. Stop and talk to them, as they are eager to share what they know. If you only have time for one trail then make it Maharajah Jungle Trek but they are both worth exploring.
Something that shouldn’t be missed in Harambe is whatever entertainment is playing in the town center. There will be live music or other acts playing throughout the day and they’re all worth seeing. While there, check out the Dawa Bar for a drink and the shops in the area. All of Africa has an idealistic lived-in atmosphere and is worth walking around.
This leads us back to Kilimanjaro Safaris around sunset. Animals can be fairly active around this point and the experience at that time is much better than going when it’s completely dark.
Dinner at Satu’li Canteen
Right around sunset and after your safari is when you should head back to Pandora. Watching the land transform from daytime into night is fascinating. I actually prefer the day lighting as the colors are really exuberant but there are some beautiful aspects to Pandora at night. While there, it’s time to enjoy dinner at Satu’li Canteen. This is one of the best counter-service restaurants at Disney World. The inside of the restaurant isn’t all that impressive but the food is great and the value is strong. If the weather cooperates, eating outside is a great option.
After dinner, it’s time to explore! Animal Kingdom has an energy that you can feel during the day thanks in part to all of the animals and water throughout the park. Along with that, the colors really make for a beautiful environment and unique energy. That transfers into nighttime via live entertainment and beautiful settings. As I’ve already mentioned, Pandora is well worth seeing at night.
The entertainment in both Africa and Discovery River at night are wonderful. Whether you enjoy dancing, singing or just sitting and watching there is something for everyone in terms of entertainment here. It is one of the more unique environments that the American parks have. My favorite form of entertainment at Animal Kingdom is the Tree of Life Awakenings. These are little vignettes shown via projections on the Tree of Life after the sun goes down. There are several different stories told. Find a spot to watch a few shows throughout the evening.
Making your way back to Asia for a nighttime ride on Expedition Everest is a must. The roller coaster is a fairly different experience at night, spookier and more thrilling since there isn’t much way to see what’s going on. Being over in this direction again adds the bonus of seeing Asia at night, my favorite lighting package that Disney World currently has. The string lights illuminating the prayer flags in Asia are spectacular, as well as the giant mountain looming overhead.
Pandora at Night
The final step of the night is more of a choose your own adventure. I ultimately chose Pandora and one last ride on Flight of Passage in the itinerary. The other option would be to hang out in Asia and do a few more rides on that side of the park. Since we’ve already done Everest twice, a second ride on Flight of Passage will probably be the preference for most. There’s a chance that you’ll be able to accomplish both of these steps, depending on closing time and what in the itinerary you’ve had to skip.
On your way out of the park, enjoy more picturesque settings and another showing of Tree of Life Awakenings. If it’s not already clear, we think Animal Kingdom is a park to slow down in and enjoy the details. There are so many environments and lands that should be soaked in rather than rushed by. This is true from the start of the day to on your way out of the park. Instead of a day running from attraction to attraction, make Animal Kingdom a day of wandering the park with attractions thrown in. Of course, there are times when you should be more attraction focused (the morning) but most of the time slow down and enjoy everything the park has to offer.
As always, if you have questions or thoughts on our Animal Kingdom itinerary then leave a comment below. If you are planning a trip to Disney World, then check out our planning guide. If you enjoy what you are reading here on Wandering in Disney please share this post with your friends, as well as like our social media pages. You can also subscribe to the blog via WordPress or email. You can do all of that on the right side of this page. Thank you for reading, we really appreciate it!
Categories: Park Itineraries