The Animal Kingdom quickly became our favorite Disney World park, and not just because of Avatar Flight of Passage ride (which is the BEST ride by far!) Animal Kingdom is so spectacular, from it’s rides and shows to the overall atmosphere of the park, but adding a toddler into the mix can be tricky. We’re breaking down a day at the Animal Kingdom with a toddler in our Guide to Disney World’s Animal Kingdom with a toddler.
Disney’s Animal Kingdom is the biggest of all the Disney World parks, which might make it a little intimidating with a young toddler. But with it’s size also comes easy navigation. Because it is so spread out, it gives the appearance of being less crowded. We spent the day at the Animal Kingdom right before the Christmas holidays, and it didn’t seem overwhelming packed at all. We had no problems navigating our stroller, and the only time we were stuck in a large crowd was at Starbucks in the morning – gotta have that morning coffee!
The Animal Kingdom is essentially split up into 6 different areas:
Tip: Each area has different attractions and highlights, and I suggest starting wherever you see has the longest lines throughout the day. If you arrive at rope drop, you can shave off valuable waiting time.
Downloading Disney’s FREE ‘My Disney Experience’ App was the best thing we did and should be the first thing you should do after purchasing your park tickets. It’s by far the best tool you will use on your trip to the parks – especially with Lightning Lanes. The app shows you every feature of the Animal Kingdom. And more importantly, it shows you wait times of rides and the locations of various Disney Characters throughout the park.
Disney is doing away with their Fast Passes system and updating to Lightning Lanes. This is to help you skip the lines of certain rides throughout the park. And when I say “skip the lines”, I mean skip ahead to the shorter line. When we were at Animal Kingdom, they still had Fast Passes. But with the Lightning Lanes, the line should be be much shorter. You could easily be waiting in a line for a couple of hours, where the Lightning Lane will be help you skip ahead.
Keep in mind that the new Lightning Lane system is NOT FREE – it’s a PAID SERVICE. Unlike the previous fast pass system of booking them 60 days in advance, Lightning Lanes are more of a spontaneous choice that can be made on the same day you’re at the park.
There will be certain rides available for the Lightning Lanes, just as the fast pass rides were broken up into Tiers. You’ll see the list of attractions available on your My Disney Experience app – Genie +
TIP: The Lightning Lanes strategy might be a good idea to use for rides toddlers could go on. Waiting in long lines with a toddler is never a good idea!
While there are many awesome rides at the Animal Kingdom, there are really only about three main rides that a toddler can go on:
The Kilimanjaro Safari is a must-ride with a toddler in the Africa area. It has no height requirement, which means anyone can go on. It’s essentially a 20-minute safari ride inside a jeep traveling through the bush of Africa. Lots of animals can be seen roaming around you, including giraffes, lions, rhinos, etc. Just as a safari in the wilds of Africa, you’re never guaranteed to see every animal, but there’s a pretty good chance to see them.
Tip: I suggest using one of your Lightning Lanes for the safari, and a great time is in the evening, right before closing. The animals are more likely to be up and active in the later hours of the day.
The Na’vi River is also a must-ride with your toddler located in the Pandora area and also has no height requirement. The ride is similar to It’s a Small World at the Magic Kingdom, in that it’s a relaxing boat ride through the Pandora bioluminescent rainforest. The animatronics are incredible and the atmosphere is stunning. While a toddler probably has no idea what Pandora world is, the ride is filled with stimulating sites and sounds. Our toddler loved it!
Tip: This is also a great choice for a Lightning Lane or a Rope drop ride. Either way, you don’t want to be waiting in long lines with a toddler.
The TriceraTop Spin is a toddler favorite, located in Dinoland USA. It’s pretty much the dinosaur version of the classic Dumbo ride, but that doesn’t stop kids from loving it. Our toddler had a blast on it!
Tip: The lines are pretty short and fast moving, so no need for extra planning for this ride.
The Kali River Rapids has a height requirement of 38”, so depending on the height of your child, he/she might be able to ride it. But keep in mind that you can also get quite wet on the ride, and this might be a contributing factor to riding or not.
And the Wildlife Express Train is also considered to be a ride, though it’s more like a transport to Africa. It’s a great way to avoid some extra walking, and let’s face it – what toddler doesn’t love a train ride?
The Animal Kingdom has some spectacular shows and activities for toddlers and kids (and adults) of all ages. Because we were only at the park for one day, we weren’t able to see everything in one day, but if you’re going to be there for more than a day, you can definitely take in more shows and fun activities.
We knew that we had to see the Festival of the Lion King show from recommendations, which ended up being the best decision ever! It was seriously fantastic! It’s a 30-minute show that captivates your attention from minute one. I was worried that our toddler would get a bit bored because she never sits for that long, and she was mesmorized from beginning to end. Brilliant colors, fun songs, incredible acrobatics and even audience participation. If you see one show, make this the one!
Tip: The Festival of the Lion King is close to the Kilimanjaro Safaris ride. We planned it to see the show right after our Safari ride and it was perfect timing! Check times so you can co-ordinate easily.
There are a few trails in the park to choose from, and we decided to go with the Gorilla Falls Exploration Trail. It was great! Lots of animals to see and be entertained by – especially the gorillas and the underwater hippos. Fantastic for toddlers!
Tip: There’s no food allowed in the Gorilla Falls Exploration Trails area so I suggest a quick snack before entering – just in case!
Although we didn’t manage to see any of the following options, I know they are also great for toddlers. The Boneyard is fun for young ones as they play in the fossil-themed fun area in Dinoland U.S.A. Finding Neemo the Musical was on our list, but honestly, we just ran out of time. Next visit! UP! A Great Bird Adventure is another fun one for fans of the UP movie and It’s Tough to Be a Bug A Bug’s Life can be a good option as well. Maharajah Jungle Trek is another opportunity to see more animals in the Asia area.
Currently, Character Meets look quite different than they once did as Disney’s Animal Kingdom had some great opportunities to meet Disney characters, including Safari Mickey and Minnie, Donald and Daisy, and the cast of UP! Some of our most favorite moments came from meeting beloved Disney characters at the Animal Kingdom. Now you can find the characters in spontaneous parades throughout the park, so be alert – you never know when your favorite will show up!
TIP: If you’re interested in learning the best ways to meet Disney Characters with toddlers at all the parks – with NO LINES, check out my Disney Character Guide.
The Adventure Outpost is a sure and easy way to meet Mickey and Minnie, with little to no lines at all! You can also use a Fast Passes for it, guaranteeing you a fast experience. We caught Safari Minnie and Mickey at the Adventure Outpost in the Animal Kingdom with less than a 5-minute line. The great thing about the Outpost is that it’s always there. There might be a line now, but check back later and it could be gone. Plus, you can track the wait time on your My Disney Experience App.
Inside Dinoland USA you’ll find Donald’s DinoWorld – the jackpot for all duck characters. Aside from finding the man himself, Donald Duck, there, you’ll also find Daisy, Uncle Scrooge, the triplets, Goofy and more. And the lines for all the characters weren’t long at all. A great place for character meets.
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And don’t forget to be on the lookout for random characters who roam the park. Sometimes these can be the most fun – finding characters on the go!
There are some great choices when it comes to eating in the Animal Kingdom. From inexpensive to paying a bit more for a meal, you can find an option for your family from these family-friendly eateries: Tusker House, Yak & Yeti Restaurant, Restaurantosaurus and Pizzafari.
We chose to eat lunch at the Rainforest Cafe for the food and also the experience it brings. The various animals and many exotic fish tanks is great for little ones, and it is well known for its “rainforest storm” during the meal. The animals come to life, recreating an actual storm in the rainforest.
Even if you aren’t staying in the Animal Kingdom Lodge, I highly suggest going there for a visit anyway. The Lodge is stunning and there are activities to do and see there as well. During our last Disney visit, we stayed at the Pop Century Resort, but took a morning to resort hop and the Animal Kingdom Lodge was our favorite!
At the back of the resort you can actually see animals, and many times giraffes come right up to the room area. We were fortunate to see a group of giraffes, flamingos and some other animals on our visit. We also loved the interaction we had with one of the entertainment staff. He brought out a bunch of African musical instruments to play with our daughter.
Tip: Try to visit the Animal Lodge first thing in the morning and you’ll be more likely to see animals for their morning feeding.
If you’re visiting Disney World during the holidays, the Animal Kingdom is even more spectacular. From trees decorated throughout the park to special holiday events, the holidays are a special time at all the parks, especially the Animal Kingdom. We were there in December, and loved all the holiday additions.
Tip: To avoid the huge holiday crowd, plan on going before the last 2 weeks in December and the beginning of January during the school’s Christmas vacations.
Here’s a look at our day in Disney’s Animal Kingdom with a toddler:
8:30 Rope Drop: Avatar Flight of Passage
9:30: Na’vi River Journey
11:00: Dinoland USA
13:00 (1pm): Lunch at Rainforest Cafe
14:00 (2pm): Discovery Island
15:30 (3:30pm): Asia
16:00 (4pm): Expedition Everest
16:45 (4:45): Snack
17:00 (5pm): Gorilla Falls Exploration Trail
18:00 (6pm): Kilimanjaro Safaris
19:00 (7pm): Festival of the Lion King
20:00 (8pm) Park Closes
20:05 (8:05) Tree of Life Awakenings
20:30 (8:30) Catch a bus