Disney’s Animal Kingdom has always offered a different type of theme park experience. The attractions at Animal Kingdom vary from coasters to simulators and safari trips. How do you decide which rides are the best Animal Kingdom rides?
Disney’s Animal Kingdom contains some amazing theme park attractions. However, many of them would not qualify as classic theme park rides. Animal Kingdom theme park sometimes receives criticism for being a half-day park. If you are looking for a traditional theme park adventure, that might be a fair criticism.
However, Animal Kingdom is so much more. Despite that, you want to use your theme park time wisely on the best rides and attractions. This resource will list the best Animal Kingdom rides to be noticed, describe the attractions at Animal Kingdom, and provide some basic theme park itinerary suggestions.
Is Animal Kingdom a Zoo or a Theme Park?
Before we look at the not to be missed rides and attractions at Disney’s Animal Kingdom, we should reference a debate about this theme park. Is Animal Kingdom a zoo or a theme park? Theme parks like SeaWorld Orlando and Busch Gardens Tampa Bay do not get questions about whether they are zoos or theme parks. Still, this comes up with Animal Kingdom often. Whether Animal Kingdom is a zoo or a theme park, we would say YES!
Though that answer does not directly answer the question, Disney’s Animal Kingdom does not fit the mold of a theme park.
Imagineers of Disney combined many outstanding elements of zoos and theme parks into what we know as Animal Kingdom. For example, hundreds of species of animals reside in a facility with traditional theme park attractions.
There are hundreds of species of animals with plenty of traditional theme park rides and attractions. Disney fans would argue that Animal Kingdom balances theme parks and animals in a beautiful relationship. So, is Animal Kingdom a zoo or a theme park? The answer is YES to both.
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Best Animal Kingdom Rides
So, what are the best rides at Animal Kingdom? We will rank them from fifth best to number one in terms of not to be missed attractions at Disney’s Animal Kingdom.
Though this attraction has seen better days and undergone several changes since Animal Kingdom’s opening day, DINOSAUR continues offering thrills. This enhanced motion vehicle-style ride combines action-packed fun with visual effects.
The plot of this motion simulator track ride revolves around you helping Dr. Seeker acquire a dinosaur from the past. As you quickly learn, Dr. Seeker often does not follow the rules, even with a classic TV mom watching over him. The mission becomes to acquire a 3.5-ton Iguanadon back to the present day. During this process, things go differently than planned. Oh, a giant meteor will be landing soon, wiping out everything in its path, including you.
The two dinosaurs featured in the ride have always been an Iguanodon and Carnotaurus. These connect the attraction to a lesser-known Disney movie entitled “Dinosaur.”
DINOSAUR, the Disney attraction, creates an anxious, dark, and unpredictable experience. The attraction provides lots of bumping around. Secure your belongings in the proper pouches before this ride begins. We lost personal belongings on this ride after failing to take this advice.
Though this attraction offers some Disney thrills, small children may be scared during this ride. The height requirement is 40 inches or taller. Also, this best ride at Animal Kingdom will be open during early theme park admission time. If you are not making it to Universal Islands of Adventure for the Jurassic Park area during your vacation, this provides your best scary dinosaur experience at Walt Disney World.
This attraction has seen better days. Still, it offers some decent thrills. Also, unless lousy weather hits Disney’s Animal Kingdom, the wait time for this attraction remains reasonable. The weather drives guests to indoor attractions like DINOSAUR.
#4 Festival of the Lion King
Okay, this is not a ride but an incredible attraction. “Festival of the Lion King,” a Broadway-level show, deserves to be on this list. This stage show rates as the best live show at Disney’s Animal Kingdom. We might suggest this qualifies as the best show at any of the four Walt Disney World theme parks.
Either way, this show will fill up for most performances. If you visit during a busy crowd-level week, you will see people turned away and unable to sit for the show.
“Festival of the Lion King” brings the Disney narrative to life with fine acting, incredible music, impressive athleticism, and creative set design. The 30-minute celebration contains a variety of elements. Guests will enjoy music from Disney’s “The Lion King.” The costumes and choreography earn high marks. Some of the most talented entertainment cast members perform in this show.
The first show usually happens at 10:00 a.m. After that, shows happen every hour until the day’s final show at 5:00 p.m.
“Festival of the Lion King” involves singers, dances, stilt walkers, and percussion to bring it all together. Also, the popular Tumble Monkeys performances create excitement for all. The moving stages and audio-animatronics establish why this attraction should not be missed. Of course, the “Circle of Life” song plays a prominent role in this show. “Festival of the Lion King” shows off things the Disney company does well.
#3 Expedition Everest – Legend of the Forbidden Mountain
This well-themed roller coaster attraction offers some solid thrills. Some experienced Disney guests say this coaster is their favorite at Walt Disney World Resort.
Expedition Everest can be found in the Asia section of Animal Kingdom. From a theming standpoint, this coaster runs at the base of Mount Everest near a Tibetan village. Disney guests board the coaster that takes them up to the mountain peak. Ancient legends indicate that a snow monster known as the“Yeti” lives in the mountain area. We have been told he does not like visitors of any type. Some say the legend of the Yeti has no truth. Others say the Yeti is real, but no one has seen him up close. They only see his shadow or some light that might be the Yeti.
This thrilling roller coaster involves sharp climbs, dark sections, a sudden stop, and a backward section. For those familiar with coasters at regional theme parks or Universal Orlando Resort, the thrills of Expedition Everest do not measure up to those. Still, the scenery while on this attraction deserves some respect. In fact, an evening ride on this coaster brings even more enjoyment.
Of course, with more enjoyment comes the possibility of motion sickness and children being scared. Though the ride feels smooth, the visual effects, darkness, sudden drops, and loud noises may cause some children to dislike this attraction. The backward portion might cause people to experience motion sickness. Though this backwards section causes fewer cases of motion sickness compared to other attractions in the Orlando area that go backward for a section of the coaster, you should bear this in mind.
One of the best features of this coaster involves the single-rider queue. Even though a single-rider queue should not move very efficiently with this attraction style, the single-rider queue moves quickly. If your group does not want to ride Expedition Everest, you can go by yourself using the single-rider line.
This attraction opens for early theme park admission time. The rider must be 44 inches tall to ride Expedition Everest.
Kilimanjaro Safaris, located in the African area of Disney’s Animal Kingdom, offers an experience unmatched in terms of theme park attraction. This attraction does not have a height requirement. All ages can like Kilimanjaro Safaris.
Kilimanjaro Safaris served as the signature attraction at Disney’s Animal Kingdom until our number one attraction arrived. If there is such a thing as a must-do ride, this one is it.
The ride starts with boarding an open-air vehicle. Though the storyline of this attraction has changed from the early years, one constant remained. This attraction speaks of conservation and enjoying the animals of our planet. On this journey, guests experience a guided tour of Animal Kingdom’s African savanna. You might see animals up close, depending on your luck with the animals.
The animals have immense freedom to travel in this savanna. In fact, animals sometimes block the path of the safari vehicles leading to an African traffic jam.
The ride takes you through Harambe Wildlife Reserve, a 110-acre landscape of forests, rocky wetlands, and tranquil open plains. Your guide will point out different species of animals that reside here. In addition, the safari guide will divulge interesting information about the wildlife while you are on this safari. Some animals you can expect to see are giraffes, hippos, lions, elephants, rhinos, okapi, and gazelles, to name a few.
This attraction deserves as many pictures as you can take. This might be the attraction you go home and talk about most after your Walt Disney World vacation.
Kilimanjaro Safari does not open for early theme park entry time. Also, it is known to close early. If it closes early, a sign will be posted near the queue entrance to inform guests.
Avatar Flight of Passage changed the theme park landscape at Walt Disney World. The addition of Pandora – The World of Avatar increased the profile of Animal Kingdom along with this attraction. For good reasons, Avatar Flight of Passage continues to be the most popular attraction at Disney’s Animal Kingdom. In addition, we see this attraction as the best Animal Kingdom ride.
Avatar Flight of Passage opened in 2017. As you might expect, this attraction builds from the culture created in James Cameron’s “Avatar” films.
Avatar Flight of Passage is a flying simulator attraction set in the Avatar universe. Guests climb aboard the back of a “banshee” to experience Pandora’s landscape. As a part of the avatar program, guests are linked with an avatar to fly on a “banshee” in this Na’vi tribal rite of passage.
The simulated effect of flying works wonderfully on Avatar Flight of Passage. As Dr. Stevens says during the pre-show of this attraction, “Okay, um, first we need to find a compatible match of your genetic material with the genetic material of one of the avatar bodies that we already have. Once we do that, you’ll be able to link to that avatar, and, uh, fly.”
After you experience this attraction, you will see why this wins the battle of bets Animal Kingdom rides. This attraction will have a long wait time most of the day. Disney knows this attraction is popular. That is reflected by this attraction offering an individual paid access lightning lane. Guests that purchase Genie+ cannot use that system to access the lightning lane for Avatar Flight of Passage.
This attraction will open during early theme park admission. The height requirement to ride is 44 inches tall.
Animal Kingdom Rides and Attractions
Disney’s Animal Kingdom consists of seven distinctively themed areas. These lands are Africa, Asia, DinoLand U.S.A., Discovery Island, Oasis, Pandora – The World of Avatar, and Rafiki’s Planet Watch. The signature icon of Animal Kingdom is the “The Tree of Life.” As you enter the theme park, the large artificial baobab tree will be hard to miss.
Even though the rest of these attractions do not make the best Animal Kingdom rides list, they will be worth some of your theme park time.
This area functions as the welcome area for Animal Kingdom. No theme park attractions exist in this area. Still, several animal viewing areas will be worth checking out during your day at Animal Kingdom.
From Oasis, you will take a bridge over the Discovery River to enter Discover Island. Three main theme park attractions exist in this section of the theme park. They are “It’s Tough to be a Bug!”, Discovery Island Trails, and Adventurers Outpost.
The most significant attraction in this area is “It’s Tough to be a Bug!” This show happens inside The Tree of Life. This show provides several creepy-crawly aspects as guests learn what it is like to be a bug. Small children might get scared during this show because of the effects used. This 3D show offers a nice, air-conditioned seating area, but you should not expect a relaxing show.
The Discovery Island Trails provides another relaxing opportunity for viewing some of the animals that make Animal Kingdom their home.
Adventurers Outpost houses some different animals. This place provides a meet and greet with Minnie and Mickey Mouse in their safari outfits.
Discovery Island serves as a hub for Disney’s Animal Kingdom. From Discovery Island, you can venture to the other areas of Disney’s Animal Kingdom.
Pandora- The World of Avatar
This area of Animal Kingdom will draw most of the crowds each day. The best Animal Kingdom ride, Flight of Passage, creates most of that traffic. Satu’li Canteen, the best counter-service dining option, also draws people to this area.
The other ride in Pandora – The World of Avatar, Na’vi River Journey, also creates longer queues than attractions at Animal Kingdom. Na’vi River Journey takes guests on a mystical boat ride into Pandora’s glowing bioluminescent rainforest.
This slow boat ride might be worth your time. However, nothing remarkable happens on this attraction. One incredible animatronic will be seen. Besides that, this slow boat ride helps you cool off some. When we ride this attraction, we often hear first-time guests say something like “Was that it?” when they exit it. Based on the long wait time, guests expect something more impressive. In fairness, many attractions will look slow and tedious compared to Flight of Passage.
The two-starring attractions in the African area of the theme park are Kilimanjaro Safaris and “Festival of the Lion King.” Those made our top five list.
Two other attractions are left to discuss in the Africa section. One of those attractions is Gorilla Falls Explorations Trail. This walk-through attraction allows some more views of the animals in this theme park area.
On its website, Disney says guests can “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.”
This attraction allows guests to take their time and move at their pace through the path. During this walk, visitors will encounter several observation stations. Cast members will be along the trail to help with questions and dispense information about the animals.
The gorilla habitat highlights this trail. Also, during this attraction, you can take pictures and learn about Walt Disney World’s continued commitment to global conservation.
Wildlife Express Train
The last attraction in the Africa area of Animal Kingdom involves a train ride to another area of the theme park. Guests can board a calm seven-minute train ride to Rafiki’s Planet Watch. That area offers several other attractions. After enjoying Rafiki’s Planet Watch, guests will also take the Wildlife Express Train back to the African area. This train will travel past the rhino’s and elephants’ animal housing and veterinary facilities.
Rafiki’s Planet Watch
This land of Animal Kingdom often gets overlooked. Rafiki’s Planet Watch can only be accessed by train. This area resides at the back of the park.
Rafiki’s Planet Watch is usually open from 9:30 a.m.-5:00 p.m. This means that the area does not open when the park opens. Also, this area closes a few hours before the park closes. If you want to enjoy this area, we recommend visiting before 3:00 p.m. This would allow you adequate time to experience the area.
The Affection Section area at Rafiki’s Planet Watch serves as a draw for many families. While you can see the animals in most of Disney’s Animal Kingdom, you can touch them here. The Affection Section makes an ideal diversion for families with younger children. Since you get to touch the animals, there are hand washing stations in numerous places in this area.
The animals commonly seen here will not impress families familiar with farm animals. For example, one should expect to see cows, pigs, donkeys, sheep, and goats. Cast members will be stationed in the area to teach guests about the different animals.
As you would expect, the Conservation Station area of Rafiki’s Planet Watch emphasizes conservation. According to Disney, guests can explore various activities In this section, such as the veterinary treatment room. Depending on the schedule, guests might get a view of a medical procedure for one of the animals.
Also, guests can watch expert cast members care for many species of animals. The list Disney gives includes sections featuring amphibians, reptiles, and invertebrates. A creepy crawly section allows guests to view tarantulas, scorpions, millipedes, and snakes safely.
Also, a very Disney activity occurs in this section of Animal Kingdom. The Animation Experience at Conservation Station allows guests to be guided in drawing a Disney character by an actual Disney animator. Though this may seem out of place in this area, this serves as the best way to practice or learn to draw like a skilled Disney animator.
Finally, you might be lucky enough to see Rafiki and some friends here in Rafiki’s Planet Watch. The schedule appears to be inconsistent. We would not recommend visiting this area just for characters.
Rafiki’s Planet Watch fails to be a headliner at Disney’s Animal Kingdom. If you are looking for thrilling attractions, this area can be skipped. Based on the time commitment of boarding a train twice to experience this land and then returning to the rest of the park, we would make this area a low priority.
The headliner attraction in the Asia section of Animal Kingdom is the theme park’s roller coaster, Expedition Everest. That made our top-five list. The rest of the land offers one ride, a show, and a walking trail.
Kali River Rapids is Walt Disney World’s only operating water ride in the theme parks at the time of writing. With Splash Mountain at Magic Kingdom being converted to Tiana’s Bayou Adventure, Kali River Rapids offers only water ride that might get you very wet in the Florida Disney theme parks. Other water rides might lead to a small splash of water but Kali Rivers Rapids offer the greatest chance of getting wet.
This water ride rates as an average attraction. You may get wet at this attraction. However, we have ridden it several times on the same day and have not gotten wet at all. Though this looks similar in terms of vehicle design to attractions like Popeye & Bluto’s Bilge-Rat Barges over at Universal Islands of Adventure, this lacks the thrill factor of most other water rides.
Nevertheless, the wait time for this attraction increases dramatically on warmer Florida days. If you want to ride it on those days, visit during the first two hours the theme park is open.
“Feathered Friends in Flight!”
The Anandapur Theatre in the Asia section of Animal Kingdom has offered many shows consisting of birds. The current version, “Feathered Friends in Flight!” focuses on the birds’ natural talents and characteristics. This show started in the summer of 2020. The show’s hosts are Disney’s animal trainers. During the show, they explain different bird species’ habitats and characteristics. Several of the birds will fly directly over the audience. This show offers continuous entertainment, but some guests find it too long since it lasts over 30 minutes.
The last attraction in the Asia section is the walkthrough exhibit, Maharajah Jungle Trek. Like Gorilla Falls Explorations Trail, this offers a self-guided tour of several Disney-level animal exhibits. The stars of this trail are the tigers. Other animals you may encounter include gibbons, Eld’s deer, blackbuck antelope, Komodo dragons, Malayan flying foxes, and water buffalo.
DinoLand U.S.A often receives ridicule for looking below Disney standards. The headliner attraction in this area made our list of the top five best rides at Animal Kingdom. DINOSAUR is an excellent stop for thrill ride seekers in this area of Animal Kingdom. However, several other attractions exist in DinoLand U.S.A.
A major show, “Finding Nemo: The Big Blue… and Beyond!” happens in this area. This stage show consists of puppets, singing, and imaginative sets based on the Disney movie “Finding Nemo.” The plot starts with the fish Nemo meets at Dr. P. Sherman’s office. These fish have traveled across the ocean to the Marine Life Institute.
The current version of this show removes several elements from the previous version. This show lasts about 25 minutes. Though we do not find this show as entertaining as “Festival of the Lion King,” we acknowledge that this type of show displays what Disney does best.
TriceraTop Spin serves as the only other ride in DinoLand U.S.A. This standard carnival-style flat ride spinner allows guests to enjoy a ride on a dinosaur. Disney says this attraction “is a blast from the prehistoric past.” The younger crowd enjoys this attraction.
Speaking of young children, The Boneyard area provides a play area. Especially if you have an aspiring paleontologist in your group, they can dig for fossils here. Grown-ups can enjoy a break in a nice shady area nearby while kids play. Younger kids love this area, but you might want to bring a change of clothes for them after playing in the dirt.
Basic Touring Strategy to Enjoy the Best Animal Kingdom Rides
Animal Kingdom can be a relaxing but frustrating Disney theme park. The number of attractions overall is not very high. The most popular attraction generates a long queue for most of the day. Due to the few choices, you may be waiting a lot if you do not value animal encounters and walk-through areas.
A good strategy to enjoy the best Animal Kingdom rides involves arriving early. If you have early theme park entry privileges based on staying on-site at Walt Disney World, expect most of the waiting crowd to head to the Pandora area to ride Avatar Flight of Passage. If you are not in the first group of people for that attraction, you will wait even during early theme park entry time.
Since Avatar Flight of Passage is not part of the Genie+ options, you can buy an individual access lightning lane at 7:00 a.m. for this attraction if you stay on-site. This would allow you to visit Na’vi River Journey first in the morning and avoid the mass of people heading to Avatar Flight of Passage.
Another option to enjoy Avatar Flight of Passage would be to wait until the last two hours of the park day. Walt Disney World posts inflated estimated wait time, then. You should ignore those and expect a shorter wait during the last hour.
If not utilizing Genie+, your basic plan of attack should look something like this:
- Avatar Flight of Passage (if unwilling to buy an individual lightning lane or wait until the end of the day)
- Na’vi River Journey
- Kilimanjaro Safari
- Expedition Everest
Once you have completed that circuit around Animal Kingdom, you can take in the shows, view animal exhibits and enjoy the excellent food at Animal Kingdom.
If buying Genie+, we recommend selecting your attractions in this order at Animal Kingdom:
- Na’vi River Journey
- Kilimanjaro Safari
- Expedition Everest
After that, depending on the crowd level, we recommend selecting “Festival of the Lion King” or DINOSAUR.
Best Animal Kingdom Rides Conclusion
Disney’s Animal Kingdom sometimes gets accused of being a half-day theme park. If your goal is to knock out all the rides and have no interest in the rest of the theme park, then that assessment shows validity. Still, Animal Kingdom offers far more than just rides.
Yes, Flight of Passage continues to be one of the best rides at Walt Disney World. Expedition Everest provides guests with some of the best thrills at Walt Disney World. Kilimanjaro Safari provides an animal-based attraction unlike any other.
Nevertheless, Animal Kingdom presents a different style to a theme park day. Does this type of theme park day appeal to you?
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