How to Do Animal Kingdom in One Day

How to Do Animal Kingdom in One Day

Animal Kingdom is Walt Disney World’s largest park. And yet with over 300 acres of land, this park can be done in one day. However, with popular rides, restaurants, and attractions as well as an early close time, you may still find yourself unable to get it all done. Here are our best tips on where you should spend your time during your one day at Animal Kingdom park.

With the addition of Lightning Lane and Disney Genie+ getting onto rides has become more complicated. And with Avatar Flight of Passage continually seeing long line waits, how can you strategically plan your day? From deciding your top rides, to where you’re going to eat and which restaurants will need reservations, there is a lot to plan. Thankfully you can make a  few decisions up front which can make your One day in Animal Kingdom easy, fun, and manageable! Get ready to plan your day. 

When does Animal Kingdom Open? 

Animal Kingdom is typically open from 7:30 am- 8:30 pm, but hours vary. There are, however, some times throughout the year when Animal Kingdom closes by 5:30 pm, so keep an eye on park hours during your vacation.

If you’re hoping to maximize the day or rope drop Flight of Passage, arrive at least 30 minutes prior to opening. If you’re staying at a Disney Resort you’ll have access to both Early Theme Park Entry and Extra Evening Hours throughout your stay. Check the 5-day Disney Calendar for the schedule. 

Animal Kingdom Tree of Life

Planning Animal Kingdom Rides for One Day

Disney Genie+ and Lightning Lane Passes at Animal Kingdom may be necessary for certain rides, but definitely not all.  But never fear, there are many ways to get on your favorite rides. Check out our Disney Ride Strategies post for all your options. 

What are Disney Genie+ and Lightning Lane?

This new service and skip the line ride pass system have replaced FastPass throughout all of Walt Disney World. This allows you to wait in a “shorter” line than the regular standby line and therefore adds more rides to your day. 

And while you can use the Disney Genie service as part of your My Disney Experience app, to help plan your park day the paid version gets you access to 2 Lightning Lanes. Disney Genie+ is a service you pay for, daily, for each person in your party who will want to take advantage of the Lightning Lane Passes. Disney Genie+ Lightning Lane Passes only include certain rides. As part of Disney Genie+, you can only hold one Lightning Lane reservation at a time. And you can’t choose what time your Disney Genie+ Lightning Lane reservation is for, which makes planning your Animal Kingdom day tough. 

If you are a Disney Resort guest then you get to make Disney Genie+ and Lightning Lane reservations early- at 7 am- which means you have a better chance of getting your highest priority ride. 

Read about the Rides included in Disney Genie+ at Walt Disney World.

An alternative to purchasing Disney Genie+ for everyone in your travel party is to purchase Individual Lightning Lane Passes. These passes are most costly than Disney Genie+ but do include different rides that may be on your Magic Kingdom day bucket list. Read about the rides included in Individual Lightning Lane.

Pandora World of Avatar Review, Things to Do

What are the Best Rides at Animal Kingdom? 

Avatar Flight of Passage is by far the BEST ride in Animal Kingdom and completely worth whatever effort you can throw at it! In other rides, be sure to ride this ride! Avatar Flight of Passage is by far the most popular ride and is currently available as stand-by and as an individual Lightning Lane Pass. Know that you can also strategically head to this ride in the evening when lines are lower, or during meal times; typically between 12 pm- 2 pm. And just wait in line. You technically only need one day at Animal Kingdom, but so much of it will depend on crowds. And some rides are naturally more crowded than others. The Disney Genie selections in Animal Kingdom worth choosing are Kilimanjaro Safaris, Na’vi River Journey, and Expedition Everest. Other rides typically worth your time are Kali River Rapids, and DINOSAUR. 

Highest Waits

  • Avatar Flight of Passage
  • Na’vi River Journey
  • Expedition Everest

Average Waits

  • Kali River Rapids
  • Kilimanjaro Safaris

Low Waits

  • Celebration of the Festival of the Lion King
  • Feathered Friends in Flight!
  • It’s Tough to Be a Bug!
  • The Animation Experience at Conservation Station

Disney Lightning Lane Options at Walt Disney World

What are the Best Rides to Use Disney Genie+ for in Animal Kingdom?

You’re only allowed two rides when you purchase Disney Genie+. And these rides are the best rides to try to get, as you’ll want to want to add to your 1-day itinerary regardless. 

  • Na’vi River Journey
  • Expedition Everest

Other rides offered as part of the Disney Genie+ service that may warrant a Disney Genie+ reservation if those two rides are already “sold out,” are, DINOSAUR, Kali River Rapids, and Kilimanjaro Safaris. The rest of the rides on the Disney Genie+ list, typically have lower or average waits and don’t warrant using a Disney Genie+ selection. 

Is getting Disney Genie+ at Animal Kingdom worth it?

For our time and money and we say NO. Unless you are visiting in the middle of the busy summer months, Disney Genie+ may not be worth your money. Especially since most rides at Animal Kingdom, with the exception of the Pandora rides, are lower waits, than others across Walt Disney World. If there are top rides for you and you are a Disney Resort Guest, able to reserve your selections early, then buy the Disney Genie+ service. Otherwise, we’d recommend heading for popular rides in the mornings, and during meal times for the lowest waits. 

What are the Best Rides to Use Individual Lightning Lane for in Animal Kingdom?

The ride available for purchase as part of the Animal Kingdom Individual Lightning Lane is Avatar Flight of Passage. If you do not want to wait in line, you will need to purchase an Individual Lightning Lane pass for this ride.

Disney Character cavalcades at Animal Kingdom

Characters at Animal Kingdom

If you’re adding characters to your day in the park, the main characters to visit are Mickey and Minnie, Tarzan, Rafiki, Timon and Pumba, Russell and Dug, Pocahontas, and Kevin, Scrooge McDuck, and Launchpad McQuack. Disney Character meet and greets generally have low waits. If you’re looking to meet Mickey, Minnie, Donald, Daisy, and Goofy, then booking a meal at Tusker House is your best bet for seeing these characters with ease. You can also see Animal Kingdom Flotillas with your favorite characters floating down Discovery River. 

  • Mickey and Friends Flotilla: Mickey and his friends set sail on the Discovery River.
  • Discovery Island Drummers Flotilla: Discovery Island Drummers take their music to the water, performing live as they sail around the Discovery River.
  • Discovery River Character Cruise: Catch a glimpse of Characters from Disney’s Pocahontas or Disney’s The Lion King as they float along the Discovery River.
  • Donald’s Dino-Bash Flotilla: This float features Donald, Daisy, Scrooge, Launchpad, and sometimes Chip and Dale too. 
  • Goofy and Pals Set Sail: Leaving their posts at Donald’s Dino-Bash, Goofy and his Pals cruise down the Discovery River.

satuli canteen pandora animal kingdom

Planning Animal Kingdom Meals for One Day

We are big fans of the Disney Dining Plan layout; the best of which is 2 quick service meals and 1 table service meal per day. This setup gives you the treat of having a special meal and is a good way to stick to your Disney Dining Budget.  If getting the Disney Dining Plan as part of your Disney Vacation Package this will be built in for you as meal credits. But you can easily implement this strategy on your own, by choosing a special restaurant ( table service) to book ahead of time, and then choosing 2 quick service places for your 2 other meals. Here are our recommendations. 

Breakfast at Animal Kingdom 

Breakfast at Animal Kingdom is easiest when it’s simple. We typically head to Creature Comforts, just to the left of Tree of Life on the way to Africa. This Starbucks location in Animal Kingdom offers up breakfast sandwiches, coffee, parfaits, and anything you need for breakfast. It’s budget-friendly and coffee and a sandwich are about 12 bucks per person. Other options for breakfast include the Colossal Cinnamon Roll at Kusafiri Bakery and Character Dining at Tusker House

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Lunch at Animal Kingdom

Lunch at Animal Kingdom is easy. With a selection of non-dessert Disney snacks throughout the park, you can easily grab lunch for under 10 dollars a person if needed. Eight Spoon Cafe serves loaded mac and cheese, and Trilo-Bites Cafe has buffalo chicken nachos. Nomad Lounge is fantastic for small plates and a break on the porch. But you can also grab our favorite lunch in Pandora. Satu’li Canteen offers up power bowls of fun flavors and is by far one of the best meals at Animal Kingdom. This quick-service restaurant is budget-friendly and also offers mobile orders. 

Dinner at Animal Kingdom

Finding dinner at Animal Kingdom may or may not be necessary depending on when the park closes. If the park is open later, then good dinner options include Yak and Yeti Cafe, Satuli Canteen, Tusker House, Nomad Lounge, and Flame Tree Barbecue. All of these have different options when it comes to flavors and food. So check menus before you go, to find your favorite. If Animal Kingdom closes early and you’re looking for somewhere to eat, we highly recommend Sanaa over at Animal Kingdom Lodge- Kidani Village. It’s a 10-minute bus ride and well worth it, with African dishes, and views of the animals on the savanna. 

Animal Kingdom Tree of Life at Christmas
Disney/ David Roark, photographer

Planning Animal Kingdom Entertainment for One Day

Morning Shows at Animal Kingdom

Animal Kingdom does not offer any morning shows.

Afternoon Shows and Parades at Animal Kingdom

Character Flotillas at Animal Kingdom happen intermittently throughout the day on Discovery River. Pocahontas and Meeko, the Discovery Island Drummers, Mickey and Minnie and more can be seen from the riverbank in their best style. 

Evening Shows at Animal Kingdom

Beacons of Magic is a digital projection show covering the Tree of Life and takes place in the evenings. With scenes from nature, this is a beautiful show to watch. Music also plays throughout the courtyard area in front of the tree, where people gather. 

Animal Kingdom Statues for 50th Anniversary

Animal Kingdom Itinerary for One Day

Getting through Animal Kingdom in One Day sometimes proves difficult due to limited park hours and the mere vastness of the park. With animal trails and winding pathways, this is a large park to cover, especially if you hope to see the animal habitats.

If purchasing Disney Genie+ for your Animal Kingdom day plan to buy it between 12 am-7 am the day you’re hoping to use it. That way you will already have Disney Genie+ attached to your travel party before you need to select your Lightning Lane selections. This will give you your best chance at getting the ride at a decent time. 

If purchasing Disney Individual Lightning Lane for Avatar Flight of Passage you have to grab that the second you step into the park. As they will sell out by late morning. 

Get there Early

Frankly, the earlier the better. Whether you’re grabbing breakfast in the park or heading to your favorite ride, being there earlier is better. As Disney’s most out-of-the-way park, there are only two ways to get to Animal Kingdom. Either by Disney bus or by driving and parking in the Animal Kingdom parking lot. Know that the busiest times for guest arrival are typically between 10-11 am. With heavy crowds happening from 11 am- 6 pm each day. This 1-day itinerary for Animal Kingdom is easy to get through but does include a variety of shows, rides, animal trail walks, and experiences. 

Do Popular Rides in the Morning

When figuring out what to do at Animal Kingdom it’s best if you organize your day so that your most important things are done early. That way you can spend the rest of the day simply enjoying the park and meandering the trails. For this reason, we recommend trying to tackle Avatar Flight of Passage and/ or Na’vi River Journey in the morning. These rides will have high waits throughout the day, so getting them out of the way early is a good idea. 

7:00 AM: Arrive

Animal Kingdom typically opens at 8 am, making 7:30 am the Early Theme Park Entry time. That said, plan to arrive at 7 am if you’re hoping to be through the gates as soon as they open. 

Disney Rides Attractions Animal Kingdom

What Rides are Included in Early Theme Park Entry at Animal Kingdom?

The rides included with Early Theme Park Entry at Animal Kingdom include 3 top rides; Avatar Flight of Passage, Na’vi River Journey, and Expedition Everest. Know that everyone arriving early will be heading to Flight of Passage, which routinely sees 2-3 hour waits. As such, if you’ve gotten up early to be at Animal Kingdom, have a plan before you go, so you know which ride you are going to race to first. 

  • Avatar Flight of Passage
  • Expedition Everest – Legend of the Forbidden Mountain
  • It’s Tough to be a Bug!
  • Na’vi River Journey
  • TriceraTop Spin

7:30 AM: Early Entry Starts

30 minutes before Park Opening ( Early Theme Park Entry starts. So, if the park opens at 8, the earliest you can get in is 7:30 am.

8:30 AM: Park Opens

Ride lines will automatically start to fill, so be prepared to wait in a bit of a line. Decide when you’re heading to Breakfast, and then moving on to average wait rides. Try working any or all of these into your morning rides.

12:30- 1:30 PM: Rides with Long Waits

Anything you were unable to get to in the morning should be checked for wait times between 12:30-and 1:30 pm. This time of day has people either eating lunch or park hopping to their next park. 

  • Avatar Flight of Passage
  • Na’vi River Journey
  • Expedition Everest

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Plan a Late Lunch

1:30/2 PM: Lunch

There are a bunch of places to eat lunch at Animal Kingdom, for whatever dining experience you’re up for. Whether it’s a quick snack or a table-service meal. Check out all the Best Restaurants at Animal Kingdom to get a handle on where to eat.

Afternoon Rides, Shows, and Walks

2-5 PM 

The best part about Animal Kingdom is the range of rides, shows, and walks. Thankfully, this is the only Walt Disney World park that offers so much shade! And options for getting out of the sun. For the afternoon hours at Animal Kingdom, we recommend the following. 

  • Celebration of the Festival of the Lion King Show
  • Kali River Rapids
  • It’s tough to be a Bug 4-D Show
  • Gorilla Falls Exploration Trail
  • Feathered Friends in Flight Show
  • Maharajah Jungle Trek

Mickey at Tusker House

Break for Dinner

5-7 PM 

Animal Kingdom park is a fairly easy day and atmosphere, so by dinner time, while you won’t be exhausted, you may be worn out from all the walking! That said, any place for dinner will do. Maybe head to Harambe Market to see what’s on the menu at these counter-service windows, or book dinner at Yak and Yeti. If you’re ready to leave the park and will not be staying late, you can grab dinner back at your resort, or anywhere else you fancy. 

Evening Entertainment

When Animal Kingdom is open later, you can see Beacons of Magic on the Tree of Life. And also a nature projection show called Awakenings. Both of these are beautiful and set to music. And well worth the watch if you’re staying until park closes. During times when Animal Kingdom closes earlier, like 5 or 6, these shows are not available. 

Hidden Mikcey in Animal Kingdom Gorilla Falls Trek

How to Make the Most of Your Animal Kingdom Day

Early Theme Park Entry

Reserved for Disney Resort Guests only, Early Theme Park Entry allows you to get into the park 30 minutes before other guests. This is most worth it for riding Avatar Flight of Passage. If this is not a high priority for you, feel free to sleep in. Other rides, won’t have long enough waits throughout the day to warrant arriving early.

Choose a Day with Extra Evening Hours

Extra Evening Hours are reserved for Disney Guests, staying at SELECT Disney Resorts. Typically, Disney Deluxe Hotels are included. This allows you the opportunity to stay later than park closing on certain days. Often on a 9 pm-close, extra evening hours are extended to 11 pm. This gives you two more hours to ride what you didn’t during the day. Check the Disney Calendar to see when your Animal Kingdom day falls, and if these hours are offered. 

Take Breaks When You Can

While this may feel counterintuitive, remember you are still on vacation! So, it should feel like a vacation, and less like a checklist. That said, we like grabbing one of the best Animal Kingdom Snacks sometime throughout the day and just relaxing. There are hidden areas with tables near Mr. Kamals Cart, and Harambe Market, Shaded trails to explore. And Nomad Lounge also offers up a great spot to take a break. 

Don’t Save More than One Popular Ride for the Evening

A rule of thumb in any Disney park is not to save important rides for late in the evening. At Animal Kingdom this applies most to Flight of Passage as not getting to this ride earlier in the day means you may miss out. While other rides do see high waits throughout the day, we’d recommend reserving the evening hours for the shows, walks, and relaxation. 

Mobile Order your Meals

An easy way to keep out of lines, be sure to check out Animal Kingdom Quick-Service Restaurants that offer Mobile Order. This means you can select and purchase your meals in your My Disney Experience App. Quick Service Restaurants we like, that offer Mobile Order, are Satu’li Canteen and Harambe Market. 

Ride popular rides during the 12-2 pm hour

Between 12-2 pm most people are either eating lunch or heading to their next park for the day via the park hopper. This is because 2 pm is the earliest you’re allowed to be at your second park for the day if you’ve purchased the park hopper ticket. This means between 1-2 pm many people are traveling to their next park, leaving parks across Walt Disney World a little emptier as people travel between parks. As a result, 12-2 pm is an IDEAL time to try and finish up your morning batch of high-priority rides. 

While You’re Waiting for Your Lightning Lane

If purchasing Lightning Lane passes or using Disney Genie+ you want to make the most of the time while you’re waiting. Since the times given for these scheduled rides has a cushion of waiting, we recommend you fill this time with browsing the giftshops, seeing a show, or riding the low-wait rides. That way your Animal Kingdom day is filled with fun, even when it’s not scheduled. 

One Day at Animal Kingdom

Luckily, one day at Animal Kingdom is all you need. Hopefully, this one-day itinerary has helped you see some options for filling your day. As Disney’s largest park, it may feel overwhelming to walk it all. But know that with the fewest rides, and mostly just animal trails, you can pace yourself throughout your day and still see most everything on your must-do list. Happy Planning! 

How to do Animal Kingdom park in one day at Disney