Greetings, Internet Stranger and welcome to a perfect Animal Kingdom itinerary. Animal Kingdom is one of the most popular parks at Disney World, possibly because it’s so unusual. Like other Disney parks, Animal Kingdom has fun rides, yummy snacks, and the opportunity to have your photo taken with an adult who takes money to pretend to be a cartoon character.
But Animal Kingdom also has an amazing collection of animals to observe, a strong environmentally conscious message, and a replica of the Himalayas. Join me for 24 hours of the best Animal Kingdom itinerary and we’ll find out just what makes this park so special.
Animal Kingdom Itinerary
What to Pack?
You’ll need comfy shoes for all the walking we’re going to do today on our Animal Kingdom itinerary. It’s very frequently hot in Orlando, though not always, so it’s smart to wear sandals. I love my special pink Birkenstocks. These aren’t your grandpappy’s Birkenstocks anymore. They come in every shade, and I always get compliments on my electric magenta shoes.
Also, don’t forget the sunscreen! The sun can get scorching! My favorite is the Neutrogena spray bottle because it’s so easy to apply. And as a solo traveler, I can actually use it myself on my own back. I just put it in my purse and re-apply throughout the day.
Finally, since we’re going to be out all day, you’ll want a battery for your cell phone. I always use the Anker charger. It’s light enough to fit in even a small purse. You don’t want to sling a heavy bag all around Disney World. It’s tough to squeeze that bag into the rides. Plus the Anker lasts for several full charges of a phone, so you’ll never run out of juice!
Animal Kingdom Itinerary
Like every Disney theme park, Animal Kingdom is divided into different themed areas. You’ll want to visit as many as you can during your Animal Kingdom itinerary. But many people would say that Asia is the most fun area in Animal Kingdom–and I just might be one of them. So it definitely pays to spend your morning here.
And it pays even more to have me as your guide to share…
Approximately Top 5: Asia on the Animal Kingdom Itinerary
1) Breakfast at Royal Anandapur Tea Company
The name of this stand sounds really fancy, but it’s really a well-disguised Joffrey’s. (Anandapur is the name of the fictional kingdom where the Animal Kingdom Asia area is set.) But even if your tea won’t actually be brewed by imaginary royalty, this is still a good place to stop for a bite to eat. People rave about the donuts here, but I needed protein for a full day of exploring, so I got a totally adequate ham and cheese croissant instead.
The drinks are the real stars here, so be sure to try one of their specialty beverages. The Lion Latte is both delicious and coconutty, and I don’t believe any lions were actually killed to make it. Unless lions taste like coconut. I’ve never eaten a lion, so I can’t be sure.
2) Expedition Everest
I love Disney rides, but if you’re a roller coaster junkie, they can be a little lacking in thrills. They tend to not go as fast as rides at more teen-friendly theme parks like Busch Gardens or Six Flags. But Expedition Everest has got to be one of the most exciting rides at Disney. It’s so popular; please get a Fast Pass or you will wait on line longer than it takes to climb Mt. Everest.
The reason Expedition Everest is so exciting is the surprising twists and turns. There will be times you think the ride is coming to a stop, but really you are just about to go backwards. Also, I’m not saying there is a Yeti on the ride, but I’m not NOT saying it either. You’ll just have to go on Expedition Everest to find out.
Animal Kingdom has tons of adorable shows, so I suggest packing as many as you can into your Animal Kingdom itinerary. One of my favorite shows was Up!, which earns the exclamation mark. In this show, you’ll see adorable Russell and his talking dog Dug from Pixar’s Up get to know the amazing tropical birds that live in Anandapur. (Russell and Dug know a lot about birds already because of their bird friend Kevin.)
All the birds are fab, but some standouts include a bird named Frasier Crane, and a parrot that can sing several songs like “How Much is That Doggie in the Window?” and “Yankee Doodle Dandy”. (Sadly, neither Frasier Crane or the parrot can sing “Tossed Salads and Scrambled Eggs”, so I call shenanigans.)
4) Kali River Rapids
Kali River Rapids is a water ride, so the lines will be shorter if you visit on one of those chilly central Florida days. (Yes, they do exist, especially if you tend to go to Disney in November or January, like I do.) Be prepared to get a little wet on the ride, but it’s worth it for the good, clean fun.
Disney tries to make you as comfortable as possible with the whole “getting soaked” thing, so you can wear a poncho on the ride if you wish. They also provide lockers in case you’ve brought your fine leather goods to Disney and don’t want them to get dunked in the rapids. Smart!
5) Maharajah Jungle Trek
It’s hard to figure out exactly where Anandapur is supposed to be, since it is a fictional country Disney made up. But it seems to have a very similar history to India because like India, it had maharajahs, and also like India, it was apparently once occupied by the British. (Those Brits! Such avid imperialists they even colonized fictional countries. But I’m American, so I have no room to talk.)
The coolest thing you can see on the Maharajah Jungle Trek are the stunning Bengal Tigers. Signs posted around the area explain how the tigers’ habitat is being destroyed and how we can help these majestic creatures. If you bring kids with you, please point out the signs to encourage them to grow up and help the tigers. If they refuse, tell them they are selfish, then threaten to feed them to the Bengal tigers. That will probably teach them a lesson.
Animal Kingdom Itinerary
Afternoon: Explore the Animal Kingdom
Asia is my favorite area of the Animal Kingdom, but all the other areas are worth your time. However, they generally don’t have as many attractions as Asia does, so you’ll be able to bop around and see the best of the best in Africa, DinoLand, Discovery Island, and Pandora. (Some of those are based on real places, and some are not. So hard to tell which is which!)
Since we won’t have time to see absolutely everything in the Animal Kingdom, I’ll narrow it down to the best of the best with…
Approximately Top 5: Animal Kingdom Itinerary
1) Flame Tree Barbecue
We’re getting a big dinner tonight, so let’s just stop for a quick and filling lunch at the Flame Tree Barbecue. There’s usually a long line, but it moves fast, so no worries. As a Southerner, I was skeptical of Disney bbq, but actually the pulled pork had a decent smoky flavor, and the baked bean side had a bit of spice too. Plus, I enjoyed the cole slaw on the sandwich.
But the best thing about Flame Tree Barbecue is the amazing view of the water from the seating area. Don’t miss it!
2) It’s Tough to Be a Bug
Remember, Disney owns all the Pixar movies now, and also Marvel and Star Wars and Avatar and YOUR IMMORTAL SOUL! So it makes sense that they’d have a 3D show based on Pixar’s A Bug’s Life. I haven’t seen this movie, but I gather it stars Kevin Spacey as a predatory bug who is kicked out of Hollywood for harassing Dave Foley?
Anyway, the show is tons of fun because it’s basically 5D since it includes features that activate your sense of touch and smell as well as your sense of sight. If you’ve ever wanted the illusion of feeling a jillion bugs crawling past you or getting attacked by stinkbugs, this is the show for you!
Have you ever wanted to travel through time and meet real dinosaurs? Well, too bad, Internet Stranger! That’s simply impossible. But with the magic of Disney, you can have the delusion that all your dreams are coming true on the Dinosaur ride. On this ride, you play the role of a hapless guest sent back into dinosaur times by an idiot scientist who refuses to play by the rules. He’s basically the scientist equivalent of Mel Gibson’s character in Lethal Weapon.
On the ride, you’ll get to experience the thrill of almost being eaten by virtual dinosaurs. But don’t worry! Disney pretty much guarantees that you’ll arrive at the end of the ride safe and sound.
4) Na’vi River Journey
Next, we’re off to the Pandora section of Animal Kingdom, based on the Avatar movies by James Cameron. I don’t really understand why Pandora gets its own section of Animal Kingdom when it’s not a real place and none of the animals that live in it are real either. But maybe that’s why I am not a gajillionaire like James Cameron.
The Na’vi River Journey is a stunning journey through Pandora at night. (Unless Pandora is eternally nocturnal? I have never seen any of the Avatar movies so I can’t be sure. Just keep in mind that the line is long, moves very slowly, and is impossible to get out of. On the plus side, you can buy snacks on line. But if you have to choose between the Na’vi River Journey and the other Avatar ride, it’s a no-brainer because…
5) Avatar Flight of Passage
As much as I like to make fun of Avatar, a movie about blue people doing…things (again, I have never even seen a trailer for this movie), I have to admit that Flight of Passage is the best ride at Animal Kingdom. You simply can’t have an Animal Kingdom itinerary without it! Beg, borrow, or steal for the chance to get a FastPass. And I suggest going on the Solo Rider line to make it move even faster.
Once you reach the end, get strapped in your bike and get ready to flight! Yes, Flight of Passage is a terrifyingly realistic flight simulator that will make you feel like you are soaring over the skies with the little winged blue people. (Are the Na’vi little? Do they have wings? I still refuse to know!) But I do know that Flight of Passage is the closest you’ll ever come to flying without wings.
24 Hour Tip
We’ve still got a little while before dinner, so tide yourself over with a lumpia from the Pongu Pongu snack shack in the Pandora area. I guarantee it’s the most delicious pineapple and cream cheese spring roll in all of Disney.
6) Kilimanjaro Safaris
We can’t leave Animal Kingdom without seeing Africa! And you can’t leave Africa without exploring Kilimanjaro Safaris. I think just before sunset is a great time to visit because there weren’t too many crowds, the animals will be reasonably active, and it will still be light enough for you to see the animals. But I still recommend getting the FastPass for this ride! Otherwise you might not make it on time.
On the safari, you’ll be driven around a massive animal preserve by an expert guide. I’ve been on a real safari in South Africa, and it felt a lot like this one, only of course in South Africa we covered a lot more ground. My favorite part was seeing a group of springbok jump. They really looked as if their legs were made out of rubber, that’s how springy they were.
We also saw okapi, which are related to giraffes and hippos, which we learned are only dangerous out of water. Perhaps the most impressive sight was seeing a donkey-like animal just hanging out near a bunch of lions. Our guide explained that the Not Donkey was relaxed because he knows he can get away from the lions easily. I really hope the Not Donkey isn’t overconfident because it would totally traumatize a bunch of schoolkids to watch him get eaten before their very eyes.
Animal Kingdom Itinerary
Evening: Dinner and a Show
Dinner and a show is basically the best thing to do at any Disney World park in the evening because each park has its own spectacular nighttime show to enjoy. At Animal Kingdom it’s Rivers of Light. Just like the Fantasmic show at Disney Hollywood Studios, Rivers of Light is totally 90s and features classics like Tarzan and Pocahontas. But unlike Fantasmic, it has giant, glowing water flowers that shoot neon beams into the sky. So basically it’s a can’t-miss show.
After Rivers of Light, enjoy a meal at Tiffins, one of my favorite restaurants at Disney. It’s a fine dining restaurant, so the prices are a little high and you’ll have to make a reservation, but I say it’s worth it, especially if you are an adventurous eater. Start with the appetizer duo which is half falafel and half octopus. The octopus is really a specialty at Tiffins, and it is super: flavorful and not too chewy. But if you’re too squeamish for the octopus, just get the falafel on its own.
The cocktails at Tiffins are also yummy and quite strong. I especially recommmend the Annapurna Zing cocktail with gin and passionfruit. Plus you get to keep the glow in the dark ice cube! It goes perfectly with Tiffins signature pomegranate bread. The bread is super light and comes with a pomegranate molasses, but I thought the bread was so tasty that it didn’t need any toppings.
The short rib is one of the most popular main courses, and after eating it, I can see why. The meat is so tender, and the flavors are very interesting with the tamarind and date and roasted cauliflower. (Apologies to Tiffins for the horribleness of my photo. It’s a much prettier dish than this IRL.)
I’m a big believer in never sticking to one dessert when you can get three. That’s why I suggest getting the trio of desserts. You have the caramel mousse, which is great for those who want a dessert that isn’t too sweet and the South American chocolate ganache, which is basically Death by Chocolate (much better than being a Not Donkey and experiencing Death by Lion).
Finally, there’s a light deconstructed cheesecake. It’s interesting looking at the different cheesecake component parts, but the important part is that it tastes exactly like a cheesecake. I don’t know how they manage to make this strange concoction taste exactly like a cheesecake, but that’s just the wonders of cheesecake science.
That’s a Perfect Animal Kingdom Itinerary!
What would you do on an Animal Kingdom itinerary? Would you be more scared of the lions if you were that Not Donkey? And what exactly is the plot of Avatar and does it involve little blue winged people riding bikes and eating pineapple cream cheese spring rolls? Please leave your thoughts below!
Note: If you want to know how I put my travel itineraries together, just click here. Keep in mind that while each article is about how to spend 24 hours on an Animal Kingdom itinerary, that doesn’t mean you should ONLY spend 24 hours on an Animal Kingdom itinerary. If you want to add itineraries for the Magic Kingdom I’ve got one here, one here and another one for Epcot over here.