When you think of Disney theme parks, there’s certain things that come to mind – queues, cleanliness, beloved characters, immersive attractions. It’s no wonder the original Disneyland in California is called “The Happiest Place on Earth”. What Walt Disney created was truly magical and millions of people, 150 million every single year in fact, visit a Disney theme park. There’s twelve altogether by the way – 2 in California, 4 in Florida, 2 in Paris, 2 in Tokyo and 1 each in Hong Kong and Shanghai. Animal Kingdom in Walt Disney World, Florida is the largest and probably the most unique – none of the attractions listed below exist in any other Disney theme park.
Disney’s Animal Kingdom opened in 1998, the fourth theme park at Walt Disney World in Orlando. What makes it so unique is the focus on animals. It was conceived as a cross between a zoo and a theme park with animal exhibits sitting alongside roller coasters, shows and other attractions. There are 6 lands in the park – Oasis (the entrance), Discovery Island, Africa, Asia, Dinoland USA and Pandora – The World of Avatar. You’ll be able to meet all your favourite Disney characters like in the other parks but in Animal Kingdom, the animals really are the stars.
Pandora – The World of Avatar opened in 2017, based around the James Cameron film and set around the Na’vi people of the planet Pandora. It’s really amazing, especially at night. It’s massively popular though with queues reaching over 3 hours on busier days! I would recommend you get a FastPass+ online as soon as you get your ticket. FastPass+ lets you book a time in advance to save you queuing. You can pick 3 attractions at a time but only 1 of the Pandora – The World of Avatar attractions. You can pick 30 days before your visit, or 60 days if you’re staying in a Walt Disney World hotel. I would recommend choosing Avatar Flight of Passage, Expedition Everest and one of either Kali River Rapids or Kilimanjaro Safaris. Once you use a FastPass+, you can pick another one on the app.
Just another word of advice. You can get 2 park, 1 day tickets etc for Walt Disney World. I would advise against it. Animal Kingdom is HUGE. It takes a lot of time to get around and it’s worth spending the time exploring the trails, seeing the animals and watching the shows. You’ll have a really good day that doesn’t feel as frantic as other theme parks.
So with that being said, here’s my list of the top attractions at Disney’s Animal Kingdom park. Feel free to let me know if you agree or disagree in the comments or on social media.
10. Primeval Whirl
I’ll be honest and say I put this one in because I wanted to make the list a round 10. Primeval Whirl is a wild mouse style spinning coaster and is ideal for anyone not big enough to ride the park’s other roller coaster, Expedition Everest. It’s a family coaster that’s not too intense so if you’re after big thrills, this isn’t it. It’s good fun though and it’ll put a smile on your face. The area it’s located in, Dinoland USA, is probably one of the worst lands in any Disney theme park I’ve been to, feeling disjointed and out of place in Animal Kingdom. The kids will probably love it (I didn’t ask any so can’t confirm that!)
Also located in Dinoland USA is Dinosaur. The thing is, unlike Primeval Whirl which is based on travelling carnivals with cheesy cartoon prehistoric characters, Dinosaur is located in the fictional Dino Institute. It fits much better into Animal Kingdom. It’s based on the Disney film Dinosaur which was released in 2000 and follows a storyline which sees you going back in time in a vehicle called a Time Rover to rescue the film’s protagonist, Aladar the Iquanodon. It’s a fun ride that kids seem to love, even though it’s based on one of Disney’s lesser known animated movies (again, I can’t be sure because I didn’t ask any.)
8. Finding Nemo – The Musical
Finding Nemo – The Musical is a stage show based on the Pixar movie. It features puppeteers on stage playing the characters we all know and love like Marlin, Dory and Nemo. It follows a condensed version of the movie with songs and effects to help bring the undersea world to life. It’s a good chance to get out of the hot Florida sun for 40 minutes and take a break from all the walking! The songs are all written specifically for the show so you won’t know them but the story, although condensed, is recognisable. Some of the ways they’ve brought the characters to life on stage are fantastic. It’s definitely worth a watch so make sure you fit it into your day at Animal Kingdom.
7. Festival of The Lion King
This is another show, located in the Africa section of the park and based on The Lion King. It’s designed in the same style as a circus tent, with the audience sitting around the edges facing into the middle. It features humans leading you through the show where you meet the characters from the movies, some in costume and some as massive props. There’s lots of interaction, acrobatics, dancing and of course, singing! You’ll know the songs and as sure as Kilimanjaro rises like Olympus above the Serengeti, you’ll be singing along to Hakuna Matata, I Just Can’t Wait to be King and all the rest. It’s great fun. Kids will love it. Adults will love it. You’ll leave with a smile on your face, guaranteed.
6. Na’vi River Journey
Na’vi River Journey is one of the attractions in Pandora – The World of Avatar that sees massive queues. I’m glad I put it on FastPass+ (and the only time I could get was late in the day so do book one of the Pandora attractions early!) The standby queue when I arrived was over 3 hours long! Na’vi River Journey is a boat ride using the same kind of system as Pirates of The Caribbean or It’s A Small World that you may be familiar with from other Disney parks. You board the boat and are transported into the Na’vi forest where you see the creatures and plants that you’d expect to see on the planet Pandora. There’s lots of luminescent foliage and the effects really are amazing. I think, after hearing so much hype about it, I was left slightly disappointed. It’s still a really great ride though, especially if you’re an Avatar fan.
5. It’s Tough to Be a Bug!
Full disclosure – I love A Bugs Life! Pixar’s second movie is a quirky film with lovable characters and a brilliant take on the world of bugs. It’s Tough to Be a Bug follows that same formula to create a really fun 4D experience. Located inside the enormous Tree of Life at the centre of the park, you’re taken underground to the world of bugs for a variety performance hosted by Flik. There’s 3D effects, animatronics, special effects and lots of laughs. At only about 10 minutes long, it’s a perfect length and something all the family can enjoy.
4. Kali River Rapids
I’ve been on lots of rapids rides in various theme parks like Alton Towers and Thorpe Park but Kali River Rapids is probably my favourite. It’s themed around a raft excursion in India which is affected by illegal logging, bringing with it a very important conservation message. The theming is really good and there’s some brilliant effects. There’s a good chance you’ll get soaked but on a hot Orlando day, it’s a nice way of cooling off and you dry out pretty quickly anyway. Watch out for the little feckers shooting water cannons at you at the end!
3. Kilimanjaro Safaris
This is a really great way to see all kinds of African animals like rhinos, giraffe, elephants and LOTS more. You board a safari vehicle and are brought out into the reserve to see lots of animals, just like a real safari. The animals are all in habitats recreated to look like their own and you actually manage to get quite close to them. The driver of your vehicle also acts as your tour guide and you get a great, personal experience. The drivers point out the animals and even stop so you can get better pictures. I’m sure kids love it (again, none were interviewed for this article) and adults will enjoy sitting back and seeing the animals.
2. Expedition Everest – Legend of the Forbidden Mountain
Walt Disney World doesn’t have a lot of roller coasters. In fact, none of the Orlando theme parks are roller coaster heavy, focusing mainly on dark rides and experiences. Expedition Everest – Legend of the Forbidden Mountain, as a result, stands head and shoulders above everything else in Walt Disney World and runs neck and neck for best in Orlando with Incredible Hulk in Universal’s Islands of Adventure. You’re taken up Mount Everest and plunged back down. You meet the Yeti and things take an unexpected turn. I’ve been on a lot of roller coasters and in terms of theming, it’s easily one of the best in the world. It’s the most expensive roller coaster ever built so it would want to be! Get a FastPass+ and go on it more than once.
1. Avatar Flight of Passage
As I’ve said a lot, I’ve been to lots of theme parks and experienced lots of roller coasters and attractions. Avatar Flight of Passage is easily the best in the world. I came out absolutely speechless. It’s easy to see why it’s getting so much attention. I queued for nearly 2 hours and it was worth it. The story takes place after the movie and you sees you becoming a Mountain Banshee pilot. You’re brought through some great effects rooms simulated as the training programme before “linking” with your avatar, just like in the movie. The Mountain Banshee takes you into the air over Pandora and the visuals are absolutely stunning. At times, it’s hard to believe it’s not real. The smells, the mist, the spray of the water, the wind in your face. It’s incredible.