Animal Kingdom 1-Day Itinerary 2023- Disney World Must Do Attractions, Shows, Restaurants

If you only have one day to spend at Animal Kingdom, our Animal Kingdom 1-day itinerary 2023 includes all your must do rides, shows and experiences for the day.

We also figure in utilizing Genie+ which is a paid service that allows you to access a shorter line for attractions called the Lightning Lane.

Keep reading for everything you need to know for a perfect day at Animal Kingdom at Walt Disney World.

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Animal Kingdom 1-Day Itinerary PrepExpedition Everest 1day animal kingdom itinerary

Before you arrive to the park, there are some essential steps you should take care to be prepared for your day at Animal Kingdom.

  • Make a Park Reservation for everyone in your group. It’s required for park entry along with your park admission to Walt Disney World!
  • Walt Disney World has an app that you can download for either Android or iPhone that will give you the most accurate wait times for rides. This app is a must have for anyone visiting Walt Disney World. You can link your park tickets to it, make dining reservations, use the mobile food ordering feature, link your PhotoPass tickets, and utilize the important Disney Genie+ system!
  • Download and link your tickets to this app PRIOR to your trip and become familiar with it. This way when you show up to the gates you are already a pro at using the app. Take a look at the layout of each park on the app so you have a rough idea of where you are going once you enter.
  • Decide which attractions at Animal Kingdom are the top priority for each member in your group. Have each family member pick at least one attraction that they do not want to miss. This way you can make sure that no matter what each person does their top ride. Keep in mind how spread out Animal Kingdom is so create a plan to make sure no one’s top pick gets skipped!
  • Check your park operating hours for the day. Walt Disney World is known for changing park hours at the last minute!
  • Make sure to pick a day when Animal Kingdom is staying open late enough to see Pandora at night! This will often be a weekend unless you’re traveling during a peak time of year. Pandora will light up at night with the ground to the trees glowing so you cannot miss it!
  • Make your dining reservations ahead of time. The restaurants at Walt Disney World fill up fast, especially the reservations slots for some of the more popular restaurants.
  • Learn about Genie. Be sure to spend some time reading about Genie+ and how it works before you arrive. We have a great guide to Genie+ at Walt Disney World, updated often with the Genie+ service updates.

Animal Kingdom 1-Day Itinerary MorningAnimals at Animal Kingdom- Disney World Park strategy

Guests will be allowed into the park 30 minutes prior to park opening. This helps control the flow of the crowds and can be a big advantage for arriving to the park early. The access points of the park will be blocked off with ropes (hence the term: rope drop!) until the park officially opens. But being inside the park and ready to go at the entrance to the land you want to head to first is a great advantage.

Walt Disney World Early Entry: Guests staying at Walt Disney World resort hotels are given access to select attractions 30 minutes prior to park opening giving those guests an advantage for some popular attractions. Read more about early entry and our advice on what you should prioritize during that 30 minutes if you have it in our Walt Disney World Early Entry guide!

The hotel guests don’t have access to all the attractions during the 30 minutes so it won’t impact your day too much if you’re not staying on-site except for those most popular morning rides will already have a line forming by the time you’re let in.

Animal Kingdom Rope Drop

Plan to arrive at least one hour prior to the park opening. You want to be lined up at the front gate roughly 45 minutes before opening which means giving yourself at least 15 minutes to get through security and manage any transportation delays.

Animal Kingdom Breakfast

Get breakfast to go and eat while you’re waiting to be let in through the turnstiles, this will help make the time pass quicker or allow some extra time to eat at your hotel. Just make sure you eat before you arrive! If you do wait and need breakfast when you arrive in Animal Kingdom you’ll find sausage breakfast sandwiches sold in a couple of locations. You could also wait and mobile order and early lunch – see our recommendations for best dining in Animal Kingdom below.

Animal Kingdom Genie+ Strategy

Walt Disney World FastPass+ has been RETIRED and replaced by the Genie Plus service which allows guests to make reservations for attractions from the My Experience app for a starting fee of $15 per person per day- the price varies depending on day of the season, crowd levels. If you are only planning on spending one day at the parks, in this case I absolutely recommend you plan on purchasing it for your day. This will allow you to access the quicker line, called the Lightning Lane, for attractions rather than the longer standby line which will save you hours of time during your day. Read our full guide to Genie+ to get a sense of how it works and use it in conjunction with our 1-day itinerary!

Animal Kingdom 1-Day Morning ItineraryTree of Life- Disney World Park strategy

Animal Kingdom is by far the largest park, in terms of how much you’ll walk, all the attractions are at a distance from each other making your decision on where to go first in the morning an important one.

You have two options with Animal Kingdom: go to Pandora first or do Pandora later. I only recommend doing Pandora first if you are literally in the first group inside the park. And by this I mean, you have successfully arrived at security early and you have been let into the park before the official opening time- if this is the case, then yes skip your tush straight to Flight of Passage! This will work even better in your favor if you do Animal Kingdom on a day that it opens really early like 7AM or 8AM.

If you are not in that first group, and many families will see how much dedication it takes to be in that first group, then you should go in the opposition direction of the crowds and save Pandora for later in the day. You could always opt to purchase access to Flight of Passage via the Lightning Lane which is a separate charge- it may be worth it! You will see the absolute highest wait time for Flight of Passage in the first 2-3 hours after park opening so don’t be tempted to jump into that line with everyone else and waste a big part of your day.

Regardless, this is the order I recommend tackling the rides which is more feasible for most families with the option of saving Pandora for later in the day:

  • Kilimanjaro Safaris
    • Always prioritize this for early in the day as the animals will be more awake/lively and this ride will close for any weather related circumstances. This ride is a staple at Animal Kingdom, you have to do it!
  • Expedition Everest- Legend of the Forbidden Mountain
    • This ride stays well under a 30 minute for at least the first 90 minutes of park opening as most of the crowds are still in Pandora. We often ride this multiple times during this time!
  • Kali River Rapids
    • This is a water attraction, you may get wet!
    • Usually a reasonable wait for most of the day unless bad weather occurs and then you will see wait times climb as this is an indoor attraction.

These rides always have really low waits so you don’t have to worry about prioritizing these:

  • It’s Tough to be a Bug!
    • This is an interactive show so it’s a good one to save for the afternoon.
  • TriceraTop Spin
    • This is by DINOSAUR, so if you want to ride this do this while you’re in that area in the morning.

Pandora Animal Kingdom

What about Pandora?

I recommend saving the two rides in Pandora for later in the day around dinner time when you will see wait times drop significantly for both attractions. Keep an eye on wait times on the app. Usually most guests treat Animal Kingdom like a half day park and you will see wait times start to drop mid-afternoon as many guests leave. I usually save Pandora for the end of the day just for this reason! Once you’ve seen wait times begin to drop for both these rides past their highest points (which will always be peak in the morning!) head this way.

Pandora features two popular rides:

  • Flight of Passage
    • The best ride in Animal Kingdom… maybe even in Walt Disney World… don’t skip it!
  • Na’vi River Journey

Flight of Passage is an absolute must see attraction in Animal Kingdom… even in all of Walt Disney World. This attractions gives you the experience of riding a Banshee and soaring across the landscape of Pandora. It’s one of the best rides Disney has ever done!

Don’t forget to come back to see Pandora once darkness falls so you can see how the immersive land changes at night and everything begins to glow just like in the films. It’s truly spectacular.

Should I purchase Genie+ for Animal Kingdom?

Honestly, no you don’t need Genie+ for Animal Kingdom. If you have the funds to spare then absolutely, make that purchase but if you’re trying to save money and avoid it then you can get away without Genie+ in Animal Kingdom. Especially if you arrive early and follow my plan of saving Pandora for later in the day. You can easily knock out all the other attractions in the first two hours of park opening while most of the crowds are sitting in line for Flight of Passage in Pandora! You might want to consider buying Individual Lighting Lane access for Flight of Passage but even then the line for this will drastically go down by evening and you could wait until then. Even if the wait time says 60 minutes, we’ve found that wait is often closer to a 45 minutes.

Genie+ Lightning Lanes- Animal Kingdom

  • A Celebration of Festival of the Lion King
  • It’s Tough to be a Bug!
  • Kali River Rapids
  • Kilimanjaro Safaris
  • Na’vi River Journey
  • The Animation Experience
  • Feathered Friends in Flight

All of these attractions and shows are included with your Disney Genie+ purchase. You can reserve a Genie+ Lightning Lane reservation once every two hours or once you’ve redeemed your previous Lightning Lane reservation. Na’vi River Journey and Kilimanjaro Safaris will be the first to start booking up on this list.

Individual Lighting Lane- Animal Kingdom

  • Avatar Pandora Flight of Passage

Lightning Lanes Individual Attractions service is an option for guests to purchase one off access to the most popular Walt Disney World attractions on the same day of their visit. Price ranges from $8-$15 per person, per ride. Limit of two per day.

If you want to, definitely purchase this for Flight of Passage! This ride is easily the most popular in the park and always has a long line- even at park closing and opening. Although the line towards the end of the day is much more doable if you don’t mind waiting 60 minutes or so, depending on the time of year you visit!

Animal Kingdom Best Iconic Lunch SpotsRainforest Cafe 1day Animal Kingdom itinerary

For an iconic Animal Kingdom lunch spot, here are my top three table service (sit down dining!) recommendations:

  • Rainforest Cafe– Kids will absolutely love this themed restaurant right outside Animal Kingdom’s park entrance. It’s not too tricky to snag reservations to this popular themed dining location. The restaurant is filled with jungle animal animatronics, fish tanks, mysterious thunderstorms and a over the top themed atmosphere. The food? Not the best but that’s not why you pick this place! My son has loved the Rainforest Cafe ever since his first Disney trip at age seven and to this day won’t ever let us skip a meal at this place.
  • Yak & YetiYak & Yeti is a Nepalese-style restaurant located in the Asia area of Disney’s Animal Kingdom is a popular place for foodies. The menu includes a variety of pan-Asian food dishes from various regions across Asia but also some American options too. The restaurant is located right at the base of Expedition Everest and is themed to be a village home filled with a collection of Southeast Asian artifacts. This restaurant is a perfect fit for families looking for higher quality food but also options their kids will enjoy too.

Yak & Yeti Animal Kingdom

  • Tiffins– Tiffins is definitely for the more adventurous eaters as the menu here features a wide variety of options ranging from Spiced Chickpea Falafel to Charred Octopus. This restaurant is also considered a signature dining experience in Walt Disney World so you can expect high-quality cuisine on the menu as a result along with an optional wine menu to cruise. Take in the artwork which includes photograph collages, paintings and sculptures inspired by actual notes and field sketches of the Imagineers who created Animal Kingdom park. Kids that are picky eaters may have a harder time finding menu options they enjoy here as even the kids menu offers a bit more upscale options than your run of the mill mac n cheese.

For a quick service lunch to add to your one day at Animal Kingdom, here are two options.

animal kingdom food

  • Satu’li Canteen – With some of the freshest quick service food offered at Walt Disney World, this restaurant has options for the most health-conscious eaters and those who just love freshly made food. Many consider this to be the best quick-service restaurant at Walt Disney World. The top option here is the “Create-Your-Own-Bowl” option where you get to pick your own protein, base, and sauce. As you can see in the photo below, the final meal product could really vary for each member of your party. The meats are all freshly made – you’ll literally see chicken on the grill as you walk into the restaurant. They also have bao buns. This is a great option for a mid-day break at Animal Kingdom.

  • Harambe Fruit Market – For plain theme park fare, Harambe Market is a nice choice. Grab a pretzel from a stand in this area and enjoy this seating. The stand of the Harambe Market itself also has chicken bowls, salads, and ribs bowls that are worth considering. We added this particular Animal Kingdom quick service to our guide because of the comfortable seating and clever thematic setting.

Animal Kingdom Disney CharactersAnimal Kingdom 1-day Itinerary

The nice thing about Animal Kingdom is you can view Disney characters spontaneously throughout your day as they’re often incorporated on passing boats on Discovery River! This means no long lines for meet and greets and you can wave at them as they go by. Characters you can expect to find in Animal Kingdom include:

  • Discover River character cruise features Pocahontas and Meeko or Rafiki and Timon.
  • Goof and Pals Set Sail features Goofy and characters from Dino Bash (usually Chip n Dale).
  • Mickey & Friends Flotilla features Mickey, Minnie, and Pluto.
  • Discover Island Drummers will pass by playing music.
  • Donald’s Dino Boat Bash features Donald, Daisy, and Launchpad McQuack.

A great place to sit and make sure you take all these characters in is the outdoor theater across from Expedition Everest. There’s a few snack stands over there and you can take your food there to eat and watch the characters float by. This area of the river is where the cast members access the river for the first time so if you hang out there long enough, you will see them all.

You can also find more unique characters to Animal Kingdom as you enter the parks that are part of nature.

If you’re looking for more traditional meet and greets at Animal Kingdom you can still find them over by Adventurers Outpost where you can meet Mickey & Minnie. Genie+ is usually offered for this meet and greet. Other popular character meet and greets include:

  • Donald’s Dino Bash- DinoLand, U.S.A.
    • Donald Duck
    • Chip ‘n’ Dale
    • Goofy
    • Daisy Duck
    • Scrooge McDuck
    • Launchpad McQuack
  • Russel & Dug– near entrance for It’s Tough to be a Bug!
  • Timon & Rafiki – Discovery Island
  • Pocahontas– Discovery Island Trails
  • Kevin- unscheduled appearances on Discovery Island

We usually just make do with see the characters pass us by on the Discovery River so we can enjoy everything else Animal Kingdom has to offer! Although the character meet and greets you won’t find elsewhere too easily are Russel, Dug, Kevin, and Pocahontas so might be worth making the time to go find them!

Animal Kingdom Entertainment & Animal TrailsAnimal Kingdom 1day Itinerary

I am always first to defend Animal Kingdom when some guests say there is not enough to do to spend an entire day there. There is more to do at Animal Kingdom beyond the rides! The park itself is filled with animal trails, entertainment options and opportunities to learn more about animals. We have spent an entire day at Animal Kingdom and still found we didn’t cover everything we wanted to!

Feathered Friends in Flight

Here are some of the most popular entertainment options at Animal Kingdom:

  • A Celebration of Festival of the Lion King
    • If you only pick one entertainment option to watch, it should definitely be Festival of the Lion King!
  • Feathered Friends in Flight
  • Finding Nemo: The Big Blue… and Beyond!
    • This is a super fun broadway-style show with catchy songs. It runs about 25 mins and is definitely worth your time. The show was recently updated to even better integrate digital.

Wildlife Express Train

Along with some overlooked experiences:

  • Rafiki’s Planet Watch
    • Board the Wildlife Express Train for a peaceful 7-minute, 1.2-mile journey to Rafiki’s Planet Watch, an area dedicated to the preservation and conservation of animals.
    • Includes an ethical petting zoo for guests to enjoy along with the Animation Experience (learn how to draw Disney cartoons from Disney animators) and reptile exhibits. You can even look at the schedule to watch veterinary procedures and exams!

Plus multiple animal encounters:

  • Animal Encounters: Winged Encounters – The Kingdom Takes Flight- by the Tree of Life
  • Gorilla Falls Exploration Trail
    • Meander along the winding paths through Pangani Forest and encounter African animals at every turn. Peer at a meerkat on a rocky perch, or a Grevy’s zebra on the savanna. Come face-to-face with a gentle troop of western lowland gorillas on a grassy hillside.
  • The Oasis Exhibits- near the park entrance
    • Explore the untamed beauty of the natural world. Stroll shady trails past gentle waterfalls, meandering streams, imported flora and fascinating creatures.
    • Animals you may see in this area include:
      • giant anteater
      • boar
      • barking deer
      • wallabies
      • spoonbills
  • Discover Island Trails- around the Tree of Life
    • Animals you may see in this area include:
      • White Stork
      • Asian Small-Clawed Otter
      • Red Kangaroo
      • West African Crowned Crane
      • African Crested Porcupine
      • Galapagos Tortoise
      • Lesser Flamingo
      • Macaw
      • Ring-Tailed Lemur
      • Saddle-Billed Stork
      • Lappet Face Vulture
  • Maharajah Jungle Trek
    • Cross towering footbridges, roam around jungle bends, behold cascading waterfalls and stand in the shadow of a palace frozen in time. Hop into a chirping aviary where over 50 species of birds soar free.
    • Animals you may see in this area include:
      • Asian Tigers
      • Gibbons
      • Elds deer
      • Blackbuck
      • Komodo dragon
      • Malayan flying fox
      • Water buffalo
      • Over 50 species of birds

You can easily spend a large chunk of your day exploring the park on these animal trails, encounters, and watching the entertainment options. I highly recommend spending more than half a day in Animal Kingdom to find all the unique options it offers!

Tree of Life Awakenings- Nighttime Entertainment

After the sun goes down, you can view the Tree of Life Awakening every 10 minutes until the park closes. During this awakening you will see flickering fireflies and light up the animal spirits carved into the tree’s trunk- displaying colorful visuals and images. The awakening celebrations the balance and harmony of living things. This nighttime show incorporates seasonal elements during the holiday season or celebrations like the Walt Disney World 50th Anniversary. Currently, you can see a short scene celebrating the new Avatar: The Way of Water film that showcases the relationship the Na’vi have with water.

Since the Tree of Life Awakening ceremony plays every ten minutes, we usually save this viewing for when we’re exiting the park. The two largest stores right in front of the Tree of Life, Discovery Trading Company and Island Merchantile, will stay open for an hour after official park closing. During this time the Tree of Life Awakening ceremony will continue to play through all the different scenes so you will have plenty of time to view it.

Animal Kingdom is one of my favorite parks at Walt Disney World and is gravely under-appreciated. Take the time to explore the tributes to nature and animals that Disney has provided and you will have a magical day in this park.

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Disclosure: We have used all the products recommended on Mickey Visit. We may receive compensation when you click on links to some products featured.

About Lindsay Brookshier

Lindsay is a college English instructor and has years of writing experience through various nonprofits, charities, newspapers, and online magazines. As the content director of Mickey Visit, she oversees article content and leads our fantastic team of writers to meet guest vacation needs. You can still find her writing weekly content to help make your Disney Parks trip fantastic here on Mickey Visit and Disney Dose- you can also view her recently featured posts on Disney Parks travel on Visit Anaheim, Nerd Wallet and SFGate. Lindsay comes from a dedicated Disney family and enjoys taking her son to the Disney parks as often as possible.

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