Whether you visit during the summer or a holiday weekend, when kids are out of school, it’s a busy time at Walt Disney World. Disney’s Animal Kingdom is not as busy as the other Disney theme parks, but it still has its moments. With many of its attractions focused on outdoor animal encounters, it can take a different strategy than the other parks in order to have a good time. Here are some of my favorite tips for visiting Disney’s Animal Kingdom on a busy day.
By Dani Dennison Meyering
Rent your stroller or wheelchair elsewhere
The Oasis area of Disney’s Animal Kingdom is one of my favorite theme park entrances. It’s calm and simple, full of shade and tranquil areas with small, exotic animals. But, it has one really big flaw: the stroller and wheelchair rental creates a bottleneck first thing in the morning. If you’re able to, it can save you time to rent a stroller or wheelchair from an outside company so you can have it ready to go, rather than waiting in line to rent one inside the park.
Choose your first attraction wisely
Years ago, before Pandora – The World of Avatar, my advice would have been to head straight for Kilimanjaro Safaris, as the animals are most active first thing in the morning. But, the best window for the shortest wait times at Avatar Flight of Passage and Na’vi River Journey are first thing in the morning, or the very last hour of the day. My recommendation is to start your day “off-world” in Pandora.
If Expedition Everest and Kilimanjaro Safaris are also on your list, consider saving them for the end of the day. Both attractions tend to take a dramatic dip in their wait times during the last hour of park operation.
Mobile order your meal early
This next tip applies to all four Walt Disney World theme parks: if you’re going to have your lunch at a quick-service location, place your mobile order early, no matter what park you’re in. Time slots fill up fast, and by noon, the quick-service locations get slammed. However, at Disney’s Animal Kingdom, lunch is especially busy. Most guests do not have dinner in this park, making lunch an especially busy meal period.
Try the walk-up list
Reservations at Disney table-service restaurants can be hard to come by, especially during busier periods. Disney’s Animal Kingdom tends to be the easiest park to get a walk-up seating.
Just open up the My Disney Experience app and look for “Check Dining Availability,” then select today’s date and the “Now” time slot. This will show you any restaurants that have walk-up availability. You may still end up with a wait, but you’ll be notified when your table is ready.
Order food at the bar
If you’re not able to get a table service reservation, nor a walk-up spot, then check out some of the restaurants that have bars. Yak and Yeti has a small bar that does fill up fast, but if you get there around 11 a.m. or an hour before closing, you can usually find a spot. They have great drinks there and you can order from the full menu.
There is also Nomad Lounge, which is in the same building as Tiffins, the signature dining restaurant of the park. When this spectacular venue first opened, you could order from the Tiffins menu — even when at Nomad Lounge. Now the ability to do so is hit-or-miss. Even if you’re not able to order from the Tiffins menu, there are still lots of delicious eats on the Nomad Lounge menu. And, no other theme park lounge has the quality of cocktails like Nomad Lounge.
Be prepared to wait for “A Celebration of the Festival of the Lion King”
After a very long closure, the popular “Festival of the Lion King” show has roared back to life, sort of. A shortened version of the show is currently running as part of Disney’s COVID-19 precautions, and the theater has reduced capacity.
Be prepared to wait for this show (see what I did there?). If you don’t get there 45 minutes before showtime, you may end up having to wait for the next show, as the line for which already forms as the previous show’s guests are seated. If you aren’t able to get there early enough, consider one of the last shows of the day — but they will still be very crowded.
Take a mid-day shopping break
If you like unique merchandise and exotic gifts, consider taking a shopping break to browse some of the merchandise shops at Disney’s Animal Kingdom. Pandora – The World of Avatar, Harambe Market, and Discovery Island have some of my favorite merchandise shops for unique finds.
Currently the convenient Package Pick-up service is still on hold at Walt Disney World, which is a shame because this service makes it easy to make purchases and have your items sent to the front of the park to pick up later in the day. This way, you don’t have to lug your items around with you. Hopefully this service will resume soon. Still, taking a break in the air conditioned shops is a treat, especially at Disney’s Animal Kingdom, because it tends to be the most humid of the parks.
If it rains, head to Kilimanjaro Safaris
Rain is an absolute blessing at Disney’s Animal Kingdom, as the animals throughout the park tend to behave much differently. Riding Kilimanjaro Safaris in the rain is so much fun. Yes, you’re probably going to get wet, but you’ll also avoid crowds and you’ll see some really interesting animal behavior. Many guests head for the exit when the rain starts. Pack some rain gear with you and when everyone heads out, head for Kilimanjaro Safaris.
Pace yourself and stick around
Many guests who focus just on rides tend to hit the rides and head out the moment that park hopping hours begin at 2 p.m. You can watch Guest Relations around 1 p.m., as many guests head inside to ask about park hopping elsewhere.
I love Disney’s Animal Kingdom. I love the animal encounter areas. I love the many pathways throughout the park that you can walk down to explore and get away from crowds. I love the music. I love the entertainment, the food, the drinks, all of it. So for me, Disney’s Animal Kingdom is easily a full day.
If you can pace yourself to stick around the whole day, you will be rewarded with much lighter crowds after 3 p.m. You’re also likely to find availability at some of the table-service restaurants here for dinner, since many guests head out in the afternoon. Drink water, take breaks, and make a full day of the most beautiful park at Walt Disney World Resort.